On Saturday, best-selling mystery author Robert Crais spoke to my local chapter (Orange County, California) of Romance Writers of America. You might wonder what the writer of a hardboiled mystery series has in common with a roomful of women -- and a few men -- who tell love stories.
Of course, it’s fun for any audience to hear a personable speaker, and Robert’s darn good-looking too. But he’s blunt about the fact that he has no insights to share re plotting or characterization, because he handles those elements by instinct.
Yet he had an important point to share that resonated with us. It began when someone asked how a guy from Louisiana, whose family by his own account opposed his plans to become a writer, landed in LA and snagged a series of TV writing jobs. And how, from there, he wrote a mystery, The Monkey’s Raincoat, that won awards and launched his best-selling Elvis Cole series.
The answer was one we could all identify with, whether we’re published or not. He didn’t toss off a manuscript and get discovered. He didn’t have a friend or writing teacher or relative who introduced him to an agent.
Instead, he worked hard to learn his craft and faced rejection by submitting. His first two novels failed to sell. The Monkey’s Raincoat got rejected nine times. When it was finally accepted, he had to beat the bushes for publicity because his publisher didn’t do much to promote it.
I’m fortunate enough to know a lot of professional writers. What they all have in common is the same thing Robert Crais displayed: not just talent, not just determination, but courage.
The courage to try new things, to risk failure, and to reinvent ourselves when necessary. That’s one quality working writers – and serious aspiring writers – have to possess, or they fall by the wayside.
Developing this kind of courage helps us understand people who face a variety of situations – illness, the loss of loved ones, family problems, war, layoffs, addictions – and manage to triumph, even if it’s only one day at a time. We channel that understanding into our characters, however humorous or warm-hearted the framework.
So thanks to Robert Crais, to my fellow writers, and especially to our readers for keeping us going!