I'm delighted to welcome to Criminal Minds this week Susan Shea, a friend and a wonderful mystery writer. Susan C. Shea moved from an early career in journalism to a second one as an executive and then head of her own consulting practice. She ran marketing, fundraising, and communications programs for a variety of prestigious organizations, picking up good stories along the way. In 2006, she made the break she had been dreaming of, quitting her day job to write fiction full time as a third career. She's a member of the board of the northern California Sisters in Crime, and a past board member of Norcal's Mystery Writers of America. Susan's a transplanted New Yorker, and a lover of exotic places, fine art, great food, and sparkling events—just like Dani O'Rourke, her series protagonist. She lives in Marin County, California. You can visit Susan's website at www.susancshea.com.
Susan's new Dani O'Rourke mystery, The King's Jar, is getting glowing reviews. Kirkus Reviews call it, "[w]ickedly funny" (and we know how picky they are). Library Journal says, "This San Francisco–based cozy is fresh, fast-paced, and great fun. Shea's characters' professional and personal foibles are done especially well."
By Susan C. Shea
It took me five years and three writers’ conferences to write five chapters of my first book while I worked as an exec in higher education. Then, with the love and support of my S.O., I quit my day job. It took me five months to finish the book, which became Murder in the Abstract.
The pros of keeping your day job are easy. You won't have to sleep on the street, you can feed all the hungry mouths in your nest, and you’ll be able to buy designer jeans with holes in the knees that make it look as if you were sleeping on the street. When someone asks you what you do, you’ll have an answer that makes both you and the asker comfortable, that puts you in a safe, predictable niche. Unless, of course, your day job is wringing chicken’s necks or serving as O.J. Simpson’s newest lawyer. Either of those two jobs might give you some great ideas for a thriller, however, so that’s another plus.
There are tradeoffs for those designer jeans. You’ll have to get up at four a.m. or stay up until four a.m. to find the time to write your three-hundred page book. Alternatively, you’ll have to do what a fine, published writer said she managed for years: Go out to her car for thirty minutes at lunchtime and write. Every day, rain, sleet, or hot sun, sitting cramped in the car. Not so much fun.
If you have a job, as I did, that includes schmoozing at odd hours and the need to write persuasive, even manipulative, memos and reports, the time suck is enormous and – worse – you have to shrug off the style of writing so familiar in business when you turn to your manuscript. Your protagonist can’t leap into a room, gun held smartly in front of her at shoulder height like a cop in “The Wire,” and shout, “There is a plethora of good reasons why you should consider complying with my proposal to relinquish this course of action.”
I can’t complain about having had to work for many years. It gave me a chance to save my pennies, and to practice the fine art of getting the first chapter right. It overloaded me with ideas for characters, settings, story lines, and potential victims. (I’m still searching for just the right way to kill an I.T. guy I knew…) There were those conferences, where I met other struggling first-time writers, listened to great authors tell us they had started right where we had, and worked up my courage for the ultimate step off the cliff.
Some superb writers never do quit their day jobs. They have managed to avoid the worst of the drawbacks or to barrel right past them with their talent and drive. They publish lots of books, win awards, and dazzle readers. I’m afraid I’d still be stumping through the revisions of the first book instead of celebrating the publication of the second and tearing my hair over the revisions for the third.
Speaking of that second book, The King’s Jar, which was published May 1, I’m offering a signed copy here to a commenter chosen randomly from those posted before midnight June 9th. Good luck.