Solitary scribblers? Not so much
Mystery writers Elizabeth Zelvin, Krista Davis, and Avery Aames met online ten years ago in the Guppies chapter (at the time, a haven for the Great UnPublished) of Sisters in Crime and have been friends ever since. Liz’s first published work, “Death Will Clean Your Closet” (2007), and two subsequent stories were Agatha Award nominees for Best Short Story. Krista’s first novel, The Diva Runs Out of Thyme (2008), was nominated for the Agatha for Best First Novel. Avery’s first novel, The Long Quiche Goodbye (2009), won the Agatha in the same category. This year, Krista had two Agatha nominations, for Best Novel and Best Short Story, while Avery was nominated for Best Short Story under her real name, Daryl Wood Gerber. Liz, Krista, and Avery all have new books in 2012.
How important is contact with other writers to your craft and your success as published writers?
Liz: Essential! I’ve been writing my whole life, and in retrospect, I can see that the reason it took me so long to get my first novel published is that for almost fifty years I tried to do it alone. I learned almost everything I know about both the craft and the business of mystery writing in Guppies, and the rest in Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America. I would have given up many times—“quit five minutes before the miracle”—if not for the support of fellow writers like Krista and Avery.
Krista: Publishing is a field unlike any other. Joining the Guppies was a turning point for me because I finally found instant answers to simple questions. You wouldn’t think something like the correct font would be important, but it is. Before the Guppies were online, I recall browsing in a Borders in search of a book about the proper format for a manuscript.
We’ve come a long way since those days, but contact with other writers is still vital to me. Writing is very solitary, but email has changed that. In an instant, I’m at the cyber water cooler, catching up on news or discussing an issue. Since mystery writers often have somewhat bizarre conversations like – so how fast does foxglove kill someone? – it’s doubly important to be able to connect with people who think that’s, well, normal!
There are also frustrations that only other writers understand. Rejections come with the territory. In the beginning, most writers toil away receiving rejection after rejection but not much in the way of positive reinforcement. Not only is it reassuring to know that you’re not the only one, but family and friends outside of the business start to doubt your abilities, while writing friends know that it’s perfectly normal.
Avery: I need to chat a couple of times a week with my Internet buddies who are writers. They understand the business. They understand the angst that writers go through when writing chapters, creating characters, running into roadblocks, and the snags and woes of publishing. My published authors buddies also understand the PR requirements that sneak in and attack our ability to focus on the writing.
Krista: I have learned so much from other writers. Avery and I have been in a critique group with Janet Bolin for ten years. We do less critiquing these days, but I still appreciate their input and opinions. I know that Liz and Avery are just an email away if I need some advice, or even if I just need to whine a little bit!
What’s the difference between networking and friendship? Which matters more?
Avery: Networking is when you converse with authors that have information about the business. They can put you in contact with agents, publishers, tell you about conferences, give you heads up about PR people, scams, and good and bad websites. Friends are the authors who truly understand the angst that writers go through and will listen (via the Internet or in person) and give advice as to how to cope with these issues. They might offer suggestions or solutions. They might brainstorm. But most importantly they care. Truly care.
Krista: Both have their place. It’s wonderful to have friends, but like any other business, networking opens doors. I get a lot of information about the publishing business through networking contacts and some of those contacts lead to new friendships!
The days of the lonely writer are long gone, especially since social media has become such a major part of our lives. In addition to talking about writing, we’re exchanging a lot of information about marketing. Facebook, Twitter, blogging – what will be next? It’s hard to keep up with everything.
The publishing business has gone through some whopping changes and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Networking is more important than ever, just to keep up with the business.
Liz: I believe the most effective way to network is to act as if each contact is a potential friend. That means I do everything I can to make every relationship a two-way street. My first question to myself all along is “What can I give?” rather than “What can I get?” Networking is an extended and cumulative process. With a potential reader whom I meet online, say, on DorothyL, I might have an extended email discussion about a book we both love. I might encourage an aspiring writer to join Sisters in Crime and MWA and offer to answer any questions they have about how to get the most out of membership in these organizations. I’ve met some of the successful authors I admire most by asking if I could interview them for Poe’s Deadly Daughters (a certain amount of work for me and a promo opp for them). A year or two down the line, the pre-existing relationship might give me the courage to ask such an author for a blurb for my book. But that kind of reward is a bonus, not an agenda. It all adds up, and in the meantime, I’ve made a lot of delightful friends who love mysteries as much as I do. And when I attend conferences and conventions, instead of feeling shy and lonely, I give and get a lot of hugs.
What impact has your friendship with each other had?
Avery: I have known Krista and Liz for many years because of the Guppies. I think that without them (and numerous others) and their encouragement to keep at it (when all aspects of the business were screaming at me to quit) I would not have continued to persevere. I hope that I have been just as good a cheerleader for them. I try to remain positive in all situations. I try to remain calm. I’m better at remaining calm to meet my friends' challenges than to meet my own. LOL
Liz: Avery, you’ve been a great cheerleader. Both of you, Avery and Krista, are outstanding exemplars of positive attitude.
I met both Krista and Avery in my early days in Guppies, and we all had our first novels published within a year or two or each other, so we’re all in the same cohort of writing peers. That makes these relationships very special. If you read between the lines of the Acknowledgments pages of various authors’ books, you’ll find these cohorts for different generations of writers. Krista and Avery are to me as Nancy Pickard is to Carolyn Hart and Sara Paretsky to Sue Grafton and Marcia Muller. They’ve also become trusted friends. I first met Krista in an otherwise disastrous (for me) critique group and Avery in a little support group we called Agent Hunt. We’ve shared a lot of triumphs and disappointments. They’re both on my short list of fellow writers I can always be completely candid with, and that’s very precious to me. I hope our friendship will continue regardless of what happens in our mystery writing careers.
Krista: It has definitely saved me from pulling out my own hair. Thank goodness they’re around (in a cyber kind of way) when things go wrong. They have both acted as my confidantes, which every writer needs! I can honestly say that if Liz hadn’t invited me along one day, I never would have been privy to one of the most brutally honest and enlightening conversations between writers that I have ever heard.
Liz: I remember that conversation, but I’m not telling. I can’t stress enough that both established and aspiring authors need to have peers they can be candid with. I tried to do it alone for half a century, and it didn’t work.
What does each of you admire most about the other two, as writers and as people?
Krista: I have to say that Avery and Liz are women with whom I would have been friends no matter how we met. The fact that we’re in the same business is just a nice bonus. They’re both wonderful, warm women and terrific writers, too. I can trust them to be honest. If something stinks, they’ll say so, but in a very nice way. They’re both goal-oriented and had to persevere to get where they are. I think you’ll find that trait in a lot of authors. Sometimes it’s hard not to give up.
Liz: Krista is very calm and unflappable when there’s some kind of hoopla going on in the mystery world or one of the groups we’re all in. She’s great at acquiring information about publishing, which is always in a state of flux these days. Avery is always bubbling with enthusiasm, and she’s demonstrated an inspiring amount of persistence and adaptability in the quest for publication.
Krista: I only wish I had Avery’s self-discipline and energy. Seriously, she accomplishes more on one day than I manage in a week.
Liz: Both Krista and Avery are marvelous critique partners who have helped me turn a first draft into a publishable work. In fact, both of them are models of perseverance and also incredibly generous to fellow writers, including the not yet published, and to their readers.
Avery: I love Liz’s passion for dark material. She digs in deeply to issues and doesn’t shy away from them. I love her ability to write wonderful prose and beautiful short stories, too. She was the first I knew of to make a trailer for her book. Cleverly she used her husband to play the part of the dead body.
Liz: That’s funny, because I think my work is hilarious. I don’t think the novels and stories about recovering alcoholics are dark at all, because I see recovery as a passage from hell into the light, like Dante’s Inferno and Paradiso.
Krista: Liz has amazing insights into human nature. We were walking along the street one day and she said something so profound that it stopped me in my tracks!
Liz: It had to do with how you can’t get other people to change, which is a commonplace of my life as a therapist. Even as a shrink, all I can do is try to help my clients identify parts of themselves that trouble them or aren’t working for them and empower them to change from within.
How would you rate online relationships with other writers vs face to face contact? Or is it apples and oranges?
Avery: It is definitely apples and oranges. I can keep in contact with my online writer friends daily, in a short sentence or two in an email. We can stay in touch, answer a question, send out a tweet of support. The face to face meetings can last longer and be much more fruitful for brainstorming and talking about deeper publishing issues. Both are so worthwhile. I think that’s why conferences work. Often we meet our online buddies in person and the friendships deepen at those times.
Liz: I think they’re equally important, because each way of connecting has its strengths. I live in
. Krista lives in Western Virginia, while Avery has moved twice since we met and currently lives in New York City Southern California.
Krista: It’s probably easier for writers in
or LA to find other people who write in the same genre. That’s really not an option for me. If I lived in a place where Sisters In Crime or Mystery Writers of America had regular meetings, I would love to participate. I always look forward to catching up with Liz and Avery at writing conventions. Even though we’re in touch online, it’s nice to sit back with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine and talk. New York
Liz: It’s funny, but I was going to say just the opposite. We became close friends more quickly than, say, friends I see monthly at meetings of the
chapters of MWA and Sisters in Crime, because on the Guppies e-list, we could communicate daily. One to one, the Internet lends itself to the exchange of manuscript critiques or publishing tips. Since we all express ourselves well in written words, we can even lend each other a virtual shoulder to cry on when we hit a creative or professional obstacle. On the other hand, when we see each other f2f at Malice or Bouchercon, a certain amount of squealing and hugging goes on, and I treasure that. New York
Tell us about your latest work and upcoming projects.
Liz: Death Will Extend Your Vacation is just out. It’s the third novel in my series about recovering alcoholic Bruce Kohler and his friends, Barbara the world-class codependent and Jimmy the computer genius. In this one, they take shares in a lethal clean and sober group house in the
. I think it’s a lot of fun. I also have a novella-length paranormal whodunit, “Shifting Is for the Goyim,” up on Untreed Reads (available in all e-formats and with various e-booksellers) and a story about art theft at the Hamptons coming out soon in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. The other just-out project I’m immensely proud of is Outrageous Older Woman, my album of original songs (available as CD and mp3 download on cdbaby.com and my music site at lizzelvin.com). It’s a bargain at $10, and I hope all my reader and writer friends will take a chance on it. :) Metropolitan Museum
Avery: My latest book is Clobbered by Camembert, the third in A Cheese Shop Mystery series. It launched February 7, 2012 and has done very well. I have been contracted to write five in the series, so far, and all five have been turned in to the publisher. Currently, I am working on a new cozy mystery series, which will be published under my real name, Daryl Wood Gerber. It is also for
and will debut the summer of 2013. Berkley
Krista: The sixth book in the Domestic Diva Mystery series, The Diva Digs Up the Dirt, will be released on June 5th. My previous book, The Diva Haunts the House, crawled up to number twenty-seven on the New York Times bestseller list, surprising everyone – especially me!
|Avery, me, Liz and Krista at the Agatha Awards Banquet, Malice Domestic - May 2012|