This year has been, for me, one of both discovery and discoverability. Columbus had his 1492. I had 2016, and the year isn’t even over yet!
Interesting that I should write this the morning after returning from Columbus, Ohio, where I read, autographed and participated in an R. A. Lafferty panel at World Fantasy Convention 2016. The trip odometer on my ten-year-old Toyota turned over another thousand miles as I arrived back home in Rockford, Illinois. During the past five years since Gretta’s tragic untimely death, I have traveled more than a hundred thousand miles promoting myself, my new writing, meeting new people, and renewing old friendships. Is it any wonder I feel a little like Brian Keene on his current farewell tour or Richard Collier in Richard Matheson’s Bid Time Return?
Life has often been likened to a journey, and I suppose there is a passing resemblance. We, in the fiction business, send our heroes on impossible quests that involve actual or metaphorical journeys of discovery. Writers, like readers and protagonists, must journey from here to there in order to discover who and what they really are.
Here are some the important things I discovered about myself this year: I kill people for a living, I can never remember a pitch or an elevator speech when an agent or editor asks me what I’m excited about now, and I have lots of wonderful friends and acquaintances who actually do remember me despite all of my faults and foibles (or perhaps because of them).
Every writer needs a label (as, according to publishers and librarians, does every published book), and mine is “I kill people for a living.” I forgot to mention that I kill people for a living when Darrell Schweitzer asked me to introduce myself to the large audience at the Ray Lafferty panel during WFC. I mumbled something about being first and foremost a reader (as was Lafferty), a shy guy who doesn’t know how to promote himself at an SFF convention. I should have, instead, captured the audience’s attention by mentioning that I kill people for a living. I didn’t, and I regret it.
We live and learn. Don’t we?
Likewise, when an editor asked me in an elevator what I was working on now, I should not have mumbled “I never talk about works in progress because talking depletes the energy I reserve for my writing.” What a missed opportunity! I should have had a pitch prepared so the editor, before leaving the elevator, would have asked to see the completed manuscript. Does it do any good to kick myself after the fact?
But I was heartened by good friends who remembered my name and my characters from my stories which were published alongside theirs in anthologies or magazines or from panels we had been on together at Worldcons or Windycons or previous World Fantasy Cons. I got to spend some quality time discussing the business of writing with well-known authors I respect. What more can one ask for?
And a few friends even showed up to hear me read from Winds and Light, two of my supernatural fantasies in the Winds-Cycle.
Just as valuable an experience, however, was the road from here to there and back again. I wrote in my mind an entire short story due next January for an anthology, worked out the next two chapters in my current WIP, and saw locations and scenery I want to describe in future novels. I drove the same I-70 Jack Maguire and Amanda Miller drove in my novel Executive Function to get from St. Louis to Washington, DC.
Now I am back at my keyboard and putting those experiences into words.
During the past five years since Gretta died, I have seen much of the country I never had the chance to see before. Oh, sure, I traveled a lot when I was a soldier. Even then I was a writer at heart and noted people and places for future fictionalizing. But looking at everything through the eyes of a working writer is different. You are on the hero’s journey of discovery.
Noting how tired and exhausted—yet exhilarated—I looked and we both felt, Stephen Vessels asked me in the smoking room at WFC as I prepared to depart for home: “So, was it worth it?” Stephen and I attended Thrillerfest in NYC, MidAmericon2 in Kansas City, and World Fantasy Convention in Columbus this year on book promotion tours and kept bumping into each other. We took time out of our busy writing schedules to promote ourselves and our books, spent our own hard-earned money, and traveled thousands of miles. Was it worth it? Was it necessary? Did it sell books?
The answer, of course, is still blowing in the wind. Was it worth it to meet fellow authors and readers in person? Yes. With so many titles being published these days, promotion is essential to discoverability. The more people who know your name and can place a face with the name, the more books you are likely to sell. That’s the theory anyway. But the reality is that the more books you write, the better you write, and the more people will want to read what you write. There is a direct relationship between quantity and quality, although it’s almost as easy to write lots of bad books as it is to write just one. What matters most, though, is what you’ve learned about the human condition that readers recognize as true in their own lives. If you are able to share your discoveries with others in a way that resonates with them, they will want to read more of what you write. It is really as simple as that. In the final analysis, it’s the writing that matters.
So next year I will stay home and write more. I was gratified when a Nebula and Hugo nominated writer I admire told people at his reading at Worldcon that Paul Dale Anderson is a fantastic writer and everyone should read my books. I was thrilled when so many people showed up at my own readings at Stokercon and WFC. I was honored when readers asked me to sign copies of my novels for them.
But now it’s time to write. I have deadlines looming. I am happy to be home with my cats and my books and my computers where new works beg to be written.
I discovered a lot during my many travels and in my life’s journey from here to there and back again.
I invite you to discover me through my writings.