Thursday, July 23, 2020

Imagine Your Parents and Children Are Watching Everything You Do by James W. Ziskin

Writing is a lonely pursuit but the community is strong and supportive. There are many unsung acts of kindness and generosity going on behind the scenes. Tell us who has mentored you in your writing career or gone above and beyond to help you get a leg up in the business.

From Jim

With apologies to Melville: “Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul,” I take a look at some of the nice things people I like and respect have said about my books. The exercise restores me. It gives me a boost to get back to writing. It puts into perspective the frustrations we all experience in this business. I will be forever grateful to those members of our writing community who have taken the time and made the effort to write something meaningful about my books, leave a review or a rating on Goodreads or Amazon, or simply sit and chat with me about writing.

There are lots wonderful people in this industry—writers, readers, bloggers, reviewers, fans—Whom I could thank. People like Terry Shames, who has welcomed me into her home, toured and signed with me on a coupled of occasions, and even did all the driving. People like the entire 7 Criminal Minds crew. Brenda, Susan, Cathy, Frank, Dietrich, Catriona, Abir, and Paul. They’ve all been supportive, great colleagues, and friends. But today I’m going to limit this thanksathon to those kind souls who read my books and provided me with blurbs.

Writing a blurb isn’t easy. I’d say it’s the third hardest writing task on my list of difficult writing tasks. First, as any writer will tell you, synopses are the hardest thing you’ll ever have to do on a keyboard. And that includes playing Ravel’s piano concerto for the left hand. The second hardest thing is writing your novel. And the third is writing a blurb. That is if you make the effort to do it properly. You’ve got to read the book—the whole book—think about its themes, characters, and the writing; then describe in a thoughtful and meaningful way what makes it good or how it will appeal to readers.

That’s why I’m so grateful to the writers who have done that for me.

Thank you

It wasn’t until my third book, STONE COLD DEAD, that I finally had the guts to ask anyone to give me a blurb. In alphabetical order, those generous souls were Cathy Ace, Matt Coyle, Barry Lancet, Catriona McPherson, Lynne Raimondo, and Jeff Siger, great writers all. And, do you know what? They’re also great friends.

My next book, HEART OF STONE, was blurbed by fellow Seventh Street Books authors Allen Eskens, Jennifer Kincheloe, Mark Pryor, Lori Rader-Day, and Larry D. Sweazy. Re-reading their kind words truly gives me reason to be proud.

Pay it forward

During this same time and since, I’ve been asked many times to blurb books by other authors. I do it gladly, even when time is short, because I am part of this community and I want to do what I can to help my fellow scribblers. I don’t know exactly how many blurbs I’ve written for other writers, but it’s a lot more than I’ve solicited for my own books. 

Thank you again

Feeling I had inconvenienced enough writer friends, I didn’t solicit blurbs for CAST THE FIRST STONE or A STONE’S THROW. But for my latest book, TURN TO STONE, I did. So many busy, talented authors took the time to help me out. James R. Benn, Lou Berney, L. A. Chandlar, Deborah Crombie, Hallie Ephron, Tim Hallinan, William Kent Krueger, Cynthia Kuhn, Susan Elia MacNeal, Edith Maxwell, Catriona McPherson, Hank Phillippi Ryan, and Lori Rader-Day.

Here’s a link to read their thoughtful comments.

And now this...

I’m veering off topic here. Bear with me.

As evidenced above, our crime writing community is filled with lots of great people. But there are also some okay people. And some not-so-okay people. And some real jerks. That’s the case in the world at large. Why wouldn’t it be for us? As a community, we’re currently struggling with serious issues ranging from sexism to harassment to racism (benign, not-so-benign, and not-at-all-benign). Difficult discussions are taking place right now in the major organizations of our industry about how to create safe, welcoming, and beneficial environments for all members, particularly at the annual conferences sponsored by these organizations.

In the course of these discussions, some folks try to listen and learn—even debate—while others take offense when their insensitive words or attitudes are pointed out to them. How many times have we heard people dismiss and explain away an offensive comment as a joke? Or claim that the offended party—typically marginalized groups (people of color, LGBTQ+, women, et al.)—has no reason to be offended? Here’s a tip: if you’re not a member of one those marginalized groups, then what offends them really isn’t your area of expertise. It’s kind of like telling a person suffering from clinical depression not to be sad. Doesn’t help at all. Probably makes things worse. Just listen a bit. Put yourself in their shoes. You’re not perfect, I’m not perfect. Nobody is. We all make mistakes. The important thing is what you do once your mistake is pointed out to you. Double down and make it worse? Or admit that maybe you hadn’t considered all the angles and learn something? About yourself and others.

In closing, I’d like to propose the following ten rules of conduct for our community. These should be observed in virtual and real-life situations. I invite readers to add to the list.

1. Don’t be a jerk.
2. Don’t go to writers conferences looking for sex partners.
3. Don’t touch.
4. Don’t say “All lives matter” when someone says “Black lives matter.” Please. Just don’t.
5. Do listen to women when they say they’ve been harassed/assaulted/groped/made to feel threatened or uncomfortable. While you’re at it, listen to them in normal conversations, too. And resist the urge to interrupt.
6. Do read something that falls outside your ethnic/gender/sexuality/tax bracket comfort zone. You might like it.
7. Do be nice to people.
8. Do be generous with your time and expertise.
9. Do call out bad behavior, sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, harassment, and aggression.
10. Do imagine your parents or children (or spouse) are watching everything you do.

Thank you to all the people of good will in our writing community. I hope to see you all again soon. Behave!


Brenda Chapman said...

Having another author read your manuscript with a view to blurbing is one immeasurable kindness that is worth celebrating. Not being a jerk is something we all should aspire to, whether in the writing business or not. Thanks for the thoughtful post, Jim.

Terry said...

Great post! Don't be a jerk pretty much covers most things. And thanks for the shout-out about book tours and driving. I can assure you it was a gift to me as well.

Catriona McPherson said...

Well said, Jim. Typical of you that you think letting me and others have an advance peek at Ellie's latest doings is a favour sought rather than a favour bestowed!

Cynthia Kuhn said...

Wonderful post, Jim! And it was an honor to blurb your terrific book, so thank *you.*

Susan C Shea said...

At its best, our crime writing community is incredibly mutually supportive. Good post!

Jennifer Kincheloe said...

I loved this, Jim. You are right on target.