Friday, October 27, 2017

Danny Plissken, or My MWA Pin Escaped From New York

Many of us who blog here belong to writerly organizations (like Crime Writers of Canada, Mystery Writers of America, Crime Writers Association (UK), Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers etc.) and some don’t. What benefits do those who belong to such groups feel they derive from their membership, and – for those who don’t belong to any – why have you chosen that route?

Although I've enjoyed career activities in three different fields, the idea that I was an active professional in them was a thought that just never quite took, until now. I once chocked it up to the idea—or the excuse—that I'm not a joiner. I always saw myself as a rogue of sorts, someone who was good as a mercenary but never for the long term, and certainly not as a card-carrying member of a professional association. I had such clever ways of thinking of myself as fantastic abstractions to justify being a schlepper to make the rent. I generally reserved the smallest ratio of my capacity for my work.

"This shit doesn't need my whole mind. Let me have Final Draft in another window between tech support calls. All I'm doing is resetting passwords and teaching idiots how to check cable connections."

I also wasn't the sort to check in before deadlines.

"You want to know how my deliverables are coming along? You see that big ass Gantt chart on the wall over there? Is it milestone reporting day? Do I owe you a deliverable right now? No? Then why are you frickin' bugging me with your fears while I'm working? I'm a trusted professional, aren't I? Then perhaps you should trust me until the next meeting where we meet to decide when to meet and what the agenda will be. Oh, the Product Managers are plotting a mutiny? Ok, well I'll just have my team take a three-hour lunch for some other hireling's birthday. We'll see how that mutiny goes. We'll see how Product Managers manage without a product. Great. Thanks for stopping by. See you at the project management meeting. Scoot along."

As much as I find anti-heroes to be a tired trope in crime fiction, that's exactly what I was when working in highly specialized fields, such as programming, or systems integration. I needed better parenting. No way I should've developed these notions about myself from the adult novels, movies, comic books and role-playing games I enjoyed.

Sure, I'd show up to the interview looking like this:

Disclaimer: Not a relative.

And after my three-month eval and my benefits kick in, I'm coming back from the weekend like this:

"That goes double for your SixSigma 3-6-12-24 plan."

Something I took from those years is the confirmation you get what you expect, and since I expected disloyalty, dissatisfaction, and disappointment from my employers—my only professional associations at the time, which was sad—that's exactly what I received. In everything from my tone to my daily mood to the look in my eye, that's what I engendered, because I couldn't face my own lack of commitment to myself. Money never motivated me. My idea of myself always did, but because I was bogged down with responsibility, I had my excuse to chase good paying and stable employment at the expense of my creative fulfillment. Bills to pay. Mouths to feed. That old whine. I always had one foot out the door. Why would anyone commit to me? Hell, I wouldn't have invited me to the office Christmas party. I certainly wouldn't have invested in me. Why should anyone, when I didn't invest in myself?

So how was I able to go from that guy to the one who blogs here? The one always at conferences?  The member of three—count 'em!—for professional associations, where every chapter is my chapter? Who never met a charity anthology he didn't like?

Love, I guess. No. I don't guess. Love.

Mystery/crime writing is as much about the writers as what we write. It's clear it comes from tradition, and while I don't fully understand why the social factor among us is so powerful, I'm not living my life in fear of failure anymore so I don't have to try to see around every corner to figure it all out before I proceed. I leap and then look in Mystery/Crime in ways I have never done in my life, much less career. Tradition matters to me as much as innovation. Allowing for the new is balanced with respecting that which is long-standing and honored. I received so much love, camaraderie and respect for my work and my commitment to it, I joined all these organizations partly to get the benefits and be in the know for my career, but mainly for one simple reason. I love what I do. I want to keep on doing it, and for that to happen, I have to make certain that I stand in good stead. 

Perhaps you'll find it interesting that I learned about that in therapy, of all classrooms. It's also the place I stumbled upon the truth that I wasn't achieving the stability of life I always desired because I didn't commit to myself and, therefore, any commitment I made to anything else, no matter how earnest, wasn't ever going to cut it. I'd like to say I got there because I grew up, but that would be bullshit. I finally healed from the deep hurts from my childhood and moved on from them. With that came the realization I held back my entire life out of fear of being hurt. I had good reason when I was a wee lad. Eventually, I made it to an age and a level of sovereignty over my own life where the only one who could hurt me was me. So I stopped hurting me.

And then I wrote a book. And now we're all friends.

Looking back with honest eyes on my early days as a half-hearted professional, I learned that anything worth doing as a professional is best done alongside other professionals with a clear purpose of being accountable to those professionals. The best professionals in anything are committed to upholding a standard of quality in their work and professional conduct. That standard comes from those who took the risk of going where no one has gone before and offering that which comes from their own toil and saying, "Hey, when you're done reading those classics, try this new author named Poe/Christie/Chandler/Thompson/Westlake."

Standing in good stead means not only attaining the approval of our fellow professionals, which if you're truly committed and enjoying the confidence that comes with commitment, you want that. It means having a seat at the table when one's influence can be of benefit to the body of membership. For example, I hope one day soon folks will be more willing to discuss my ideas about diversity in Mystery/Crime because I have a track record of being present and accounted for. Folks tell me all the time, "Danny, you have such a powerful voice. You should start speaking up/out." And sure, I will…just as soon as I have enough skin in the game so folks know my intent isn't to disrupt but uplift. To do that, I have to write great stuff, do what I can to help it find its way to publication, and then honor my fellow professionals with classy and dignified professional behavior. That has to come first. It starts by honoring those professionals who came before me.

So that's how my inner Snake Plissken was transformed into a guy who devoted a day on Facebook to this:

I don't even have photos of my kids on my profile, y'all. Me and Edgar got a thang goin' on.

I'll conclude with a little story: As much as I love this pin, walking through Manhattan during Book Expo of America, my messenger bag strap wore at me long enough where it popped off my lapel and wound up with the rats, who I doubt pay dues. I was on my way to the Ingram cocktail mixer (don't ask, cuz I won't tell.) I was crushed. I literally needed a few moments to just shake it off. I wore it on my lapel in Washington DC over the spring and, y’all, I’m tellin’ you, folks took me as a congressional aide or something. I wasn’t faking the funk. It was my bearing that produced the effect. You'd have thought Dashiell Hammett forged it and gave it to me himself. I now know I can get another one. I'm going to ask for ten. I'm then gonna find a jeweler and get me a custom one. Hahahaaaaa!

I’d heard it so often growing up, and I took it as so many pithy maxims and hollow platitudes: Act as if. Behave saved, so that you may be saved. Fake it until you make it. Attitude counts for more than aptitude. It took until ages past my formative years for me to see it in deed. I had a fast-approaching publication date, a couple of good reviews in the trades, and I had that lapel pin, which wasn't so much a symbol of my status. In fact, I wore it so people would know what I love to do, and what I love myself doing. My bio says "He is a proud member of [insert associations.]" It ain't for rhetorical flourish. I'm willing to pass muster. I'm willing to do what I have to do to stand in good stead. My love for the art and craft of Mystery and Crime demands that of me, and I'm happy to accede.

So I finally have to stop making the claim I’m not a joiner. I'm a lover. My professional associations are one of the ways I love actively. Joining feels quite alright.

- dg


For those interested in the works to which I frequently refer, check out these titles at your local bookseller, your local library, or online where you enjoy purchasing your print and e-books. As always, thanks for your support and encouragement.

Works By Danny Gardner


1 comment:

Susan C Shea said...

Oh, Danny, you've done it again. This is a talk you could give in a score of settings, full of truth and insight, and - yes - love. J'adore, my friend!