It Takes A Village

Bruce Robert Coffin here with my monthly Maine Crime Writer’s blog. In November a number of things happened that propelled my career as a novelist into high gear. A perfect storm of publication, if you will. I attended the New England Crime Bake, an annual three day crime writer conference where writers, editors, publishers, and experts converge to discuss, teach, and inspire all things writing. This was only my second time at this conference. My goal this year was to try and land a literary agent. Someone who would take the manuscript of my first novel and assist me in achieving the next of my writing goals, becoming a real live published novelist.

I made the two and a half hour drive down to Dedham, Massachusetts with fellow crime writer and friend Brenda Buchanan. If you haven’t read Brenda’s Joe Gale mystery series, you should. Start with the debut, Quick Pivot. It’s excellent! Anyway, it was a great way to pass the time and get to know each other better. Brenda and I discussed life, loves, and writing. We may have even inadvertently solved many of the world’s problems, but made a promise not to share our solutions. Not yet. Better to hold something back for future blogs. Want to know what we came up with? Well, you’ll just have to check back in at Maine Crime Writers. Often. We also discussed, The Reaping, the manuscript for my first novel (which most likely will see a different moniker before publication). Brenda was kind enough to read it and offer advice on ways to make it better.

As we checked into the hotel, folks I’d met at last year’s conference immediately welcomed us, anxious to swap stories about what we had all been up to. My head was spinning, some of this may have been due to Brenda and I solving the world’s problems. We picked up our packets and informational material, dropped belongings into our rooms, and quickly found the bar, our watering hole and unofficial writer’s base of operation. In short order we found ourselves surrounded by fellow Maine writer’s Dick Cass, Kate Flora, Chris Holm, Paul Dorion and others. These folks comprise just a small part of the community to which I now belong. Some of the most selfless, caring, and driven people I have ever known. They have become my surrogate family of sorts.

Following my recent leap from law enforcement, after nearly three decades, I found myself without that connection. Missing that daily interaction with like-minded folks which make life so special. Admittedly, there were days when I wondered what the hell I was thinking retiring from the safe and familiar confines of my law enforcement surroundings. Don’t get me wrong, I’m always welcome to stop by and catch up. And they still occasionally remember to invite the “retired detective sergeant” to functions and get-togethers, but it’s not the same. There’s no way it could be. I’m now on the outside looking in. They’ve moved on. Having new adventures, creating new stories, while I’m left with the same old tired “war stories.”

My new family, the crime writers, live and breathe writing, the craft, the nuances, the business. In many ways this new family is like my old, they come from all walks of life, as varied in age and beliefs as they are in styles and goals. And they work. All the time. While the members of my old family were on call 24/7, the new ones never sleep. The creative mind doesn’t allow a good night’s sleep. The muse whispers at the strangest and most inconvenient of times. Trust me, I know. There’s always a story or an idea that needs to be told and written down, before it evaporates into the mist from whence it came (Okay, you got me. I was dying to use that word.). But perhaps the best part is that we each long for the others to succeed. As if the collective good benefitted from our individual successes. And maybe it does. Whenever something great happens to one, it does happen to all. I’ve seen no jealousy, no pettiness, no backstabbing, just legitimate joy when things go well. We go to hear each other speak, read each others blogs and manuscripts, provide feedback, and generally act as each other’s glee club. And it’s not because we’re obliged to but because we want to. Occasionally, we will even be there to talk each other off the proverbial ledge. And beleven me, it’s one steep precipice.

Perhaps the biggest difference between my old family and my new is that we don’t see each other everyday. Writing is a solitary business. Producing the amount of work necessary to keep up with the demand often requires a level of hermit-like behavior. We stay in touch by phone or e-mail or by private messaging. But when we do get together it’s like zero time has passed. Like we’d seen each other only yesterday. It’s a pretty cool feeling to be part of something so special. And in my case I’ve been fortunate enough to have been part of two such families. Actually, make that three. I nearly forgot to count my biological one. Whew. Sorry guys!

And once again I’ve managed to stray from the topic at hand. Remember I was hoping to land an agent?

On Saturday afternoon at the Crime Bake, I participated in an agent “pitch session.” Literary speed-dating if you will. Each of us in the hunt were given three minutes to make a lasting, and hopefully positive, impression. One by one I whipped through the agents like beer samples at a brewer’s fest. I wowed them with my novel. Knocked their socks off with my law enforcement history. Entertained them with my witty prose. Or had I? As nervous as I was, I really have no idea what I actually said. Likewise, I barely remember what any of them said to me. What I do remember is that I must have done something right, because three different agents asked me to send a copy of my manuscript for their review. Three! I’d have been happy just to have been a runner up speed-dater. Maybe a nice honorable mention. If the writer they’d really wanted stood them up, I’d be waiting in the wings. Willing to pay for the gas if only they’d take my manuscript home.

Suddenly, I found myself in the strange and exciting position of having more interest in my novel than I could have ever imagined. My brain was racing. Would any of them like it once they started reading? Was it really good enough? Would they laugh at the ex-cop? Did you honestly think you were a novelist? Ha! What had I done? What was I thinking?

As you may have guessed, sleep did not come. Most of Saturday night was spent in a strange hotel room tossing and turning on a strange bed. At two o’clock I contemplated getting out of bed and going to the lobby to get some writing done, followed by further contemplation at three, and again at four. Finally, exhausted, I must have fallen asleep because my back-up alarm woke me. Slept right through the first. I had to get my head on straight. I had 90 minutes before I was expected to get up on stage in front of 250 writers to teach a “getting it right” session about police tactics along with fellow novelist and ex-cop Brian Thiem. I was a wreck. Quickly, I brewed myself a cup of java then jumped in the shower. No sooner had I done so when I began hearing text chimes, and e-mail alerts, and my cell phone ringing. More message chimes. WTH? Had there been an accident? Had someone died? I hurried from the shower to check the phone. All of these attempts to reach me had been at the behest of one of the agents I’d spoken with the previous afternoon. The agent wanted to discuss representation!

Literally, a million different emotions swept over me, excitement, fear, apprehension, etc. What should I say? What should I do? Long story short, I met the agent over coffee. We had a great conversation, she offered to represent me, and I asked for time to think about it. What? Think about it? Told you I was exhausted.

The 2015 New England Crime Bake has ended. And it was a memorable one. I am thrilled to tell you that I am now represented by Paula Munier of the Talcott Notch Literary Agency. I think it’s a good fit for both of us and, if possible, she seems more excited about this partnership than I do! FYI, it’s not possible.

At this point you may be wondering what the hell does any of this has to do with the title of this blog. Well, I’ll tell you. My point is, it does indeed take a village. As good a writer as I hope I am, I would never have reached this point were it not for the support of my many friends and family. More specifically, my new found family of crime writers. Endless coffees, and phone calls, and emails pushing me forward toward that elusive goal of a published novel. From the ruthless editorial comments and revision suggestions of Doctor Kate Flora (all of which were spot on, I might add), to the kind words and prodding of Brenda Buchanan and Dick Cass, to the sage advice of Barbara Ross and Al Lamanda on queries and agents, each of them a necessary and valuable part of reaching my goal.

It truly does take a village and I am very lucky to have settled in this one!

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18 Responses to It Takes A Village

  1. Totally agree Bruce! My first Crime Bake in 2007 opened up a whole new world to me and helped me finally get my book done. Knowing we’re all out there for each other makes all the difference. And congratulations!

  2. Bruce, so many cool things are happening in your life right now I don’t know how you manage to sleep at night. It was a blast to travel to and especially from Crime Bake with you last November. It was wonderful to witness your excitement on Sunday when it was sinking in that your hard work had paid off, and very good things were really starting to happen.

    I could not be happier for you, my friend!

  3. L.C. Rooney says:

    Is it terribly wrong to admit I found myself smiling through the parts describing your butterflies and insecurities? And, boy, does that sleepless night ending with a “back-up alarm” story have a familiar ring to it! (If it makes you feel any better, I had no idea what kind of shape you were in as we sat side by side on Sunday morning at breakfast!) I am constantly surprised by the similarity of our experiences in this crazy sorority/fraternity we belong to, but I’m glad to have friends like you to brainstorm/commiserate/celebrate with. Congratulations to you — you’re on your way!

  4. Lea Wait says:

    Wonderful post, Bruce! And congratulations on all the wonderful things happening in your life! (Also — thank you for almost immediately answering private FB message I sent you about details of a Maine law enforcement situation. Great help!) Onward — write on!

  5. Barb Ross says:

    Congratulations, Bruce! As my friend Julie Hennrikus always says, writing is solitary, but getting published and sustaining a life in the writing business takes community.

    Happy to have played a teeny, tiny part.

  6. You said it, Bruce: ” But perhaps the best part is that we each long for the others to succeed. As if the collective good benefitted from our individual successes. And maybe it does. Whenever something great happens to one, it does happen to all.”

    I’m really happy for you. Onward and upward, my friend!

  7. The very best of luck on your journey.

  8. Rebecca Kendall says:

    Bruce – thank you for sharing your experience with us! What an inspiring story and I couldn’t be happier for you. I’m also very excited to read what you’ve done so far. You are so right that success for one benefits the whole, I have always believed that the Universe is abundant and there will be “enough” for everyone although sometimes it’s hard to remember. The only part that rang false to me is that you spent nearly three decades in law enforcement. How is that mathematically possible when you’re only, what? 27…28…tops.

  9. Georgia Walker says:

    Bruce – I am not a professional literary critic but I know what I like. If the prose in this blog is the example of your writing, I can’t wait to read your work. I particularly appreciated your honesty and willingness to put yourself “out there”. Best of luck!

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