An Alligator Hide over a Baby-Soft Soul

I found this post when I was scrolling through my old files, looking for a story I thought I’d lost. Since it is never a bad idea to remind readers that the writer’s life can be a difficult journey, I thought I’d tweak it a bit and share it again.

Kate Flora: I’ve been sitting in the writer’s chair now for about thirty-six years now, ten of them spent in the grueling sadness of the unpublished writer’s corner. I’ve been up, as in, “Oh my gosh, my agent just got me a three-book hard/soft deal.” I’ve been down, way down, when my published notified me I’d been dropped by an e-mail (yes, seriously) six books into writing my Thea Kozak series, a series I loved. I’ve been way up when a book went to auction, got a six figure advance, and became a book club selection. (a domestic suspense, Steal Away, written as Katharine Clark). I’ve been down when the sales figures for an award-winning book didn’t earn out the tiny advance I was paid. There are some interesting lessons I’ve taken away from all of this.

First, and something I always share with my writing students, is that a writer has to believe in her own work and affirmatively own her right to call herself a writer. The world of publishing, and the task of getting published, can be brutal. Often, the message from the universe is that your work sucks and you suck and you should give up and go do something else. In order to get through the days, stay in the chair being the creative storyteller you are, and survive rejection, a writer has to believe that she’s entitled to write and have faith that the writing will improve. She has to love the process more than the notion of “being published.” And she has to work assiduously to become the best possible writer she can be so that it gets harder and harder to reject her.

This does not mean stubborn adherence to the idea that the work is always great. We all have a lot to learn from our beta readers and from our editors. A great editor (or a great editorial agent) can make a writer better and a story stronger. If readers aren’t getting your character or your story, it’s important to listen to that and to figure out why. I’ve often said that story goes in in the first two drafts and craft in the next three. Learning to embrace rewrite, especially for those of us who love the excitement of that first encounter with the story, is part of the job.

The beauty of this business is that the learning never ends. You learn your craft, write on, and learn it again at a different level.

Painful as it is, sometimes rejection may put you on a valuable path. I’ve learned that sometimes being dropped can be the best thing that can happen. If my Thea Kozak series hadn’t been dropped (it was subsequently picked up by another publisher) I wouldn’t have started taking chances. Those chances lead me to writing my Portland, Maine based Joe Burgess police procedural series. To joining Susan Oleksiw and Skye Alexander in forming Level Best Books, and the amazing satisfaction of publishing crime story collections (including two Edgar nominees) and putting many first-time authors in print. It was also deeply enlightening to move to the editorial side of the desk.

If I hadn’t decided not to let someone else decide whether I was a writer, I might have gone back to practicing law. Instead, I’ve collaborated on true crime and other nonfiction projects that let me use my legal training and my writing skills.

Along the way, I try to pay forward in appreciation of the generosity I was given by my Sisters in Crime and the many in public safety who educated me about their world for my nonfiction. When I knew nothing about promotion, my sisters were there, teaching me how to do an effective public presentation (inviting, whereas the law can be adversarial) and how to be a good citizen on a panel. I’ve mentored dozens of writers, tried to help them stay strong when the messages from the world were unkind, and celebrated when they sold books. Tomorrow, a writer I was a beta reader for introduces her debut book.

Facing rejection, or doing that umpteenth rewrite, or getting a nasty reader review on Amazon–all of that is very painful. Inside, most of us are tender, baby-soft souls. Solitary, curious observers who take what the world gives us and weave it into story. We wonder what makes the people around us who they are, what shapes them, and what makes them deviate from the social compact so that they allow themselves to commit crimes. To do that, and survive in the world of publishing outside ourselves, we often need to don our alligator-hide cloaks, and to be reminded, as Sisters in Crime tells us: You write alone but you’re not alone.

 

Kate Flora is the author of 23 mystery and true crime books. Death Dealer was an Agatha and Anthony finalist and won the Public Safety Writers’ Association Award for Best Non-fiction 2015. And Grant You Peace, her Joe Burgess police procedural, won the 2015 Maine Literary Award for Crime Fiction.  Her other titles include the Thea Kozak mysteries and the starred-review Joe Burgess police series. Last spring she published her one and only romantic suspense, Wedding Bell Ruse. Last fall, she published her tenth Thea Kozak mystery, Death Comes Knocking, and in April, her seventh Joe Burgess police procedural, A World of Deceit. Among her favorite collaborations is a serial novel about the killing of famous TV chefs, Beat, Slay, Love by the imaginary Thalia Filbert, a book she wrote with four other crime writers.

A former assistant attorney general for the State of Maine in the areas of child abuse and child support enforcement, Kate is a founding member of the New England Crime Bake and Maine Crime Wave conferences. She has served as editor and publisher of Level Best Books and as international president of Sisters in Crime.

 

 

 

 

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4 Responses to An Alligator Hide over a Baby-Soft Soul

  1. Good advice for any writer. Thanks for sharing, Kate.

  2. kaitcarson says:

    Wonderful, should be on every writer’s corkboard.

  3. maggierobinsonwriter says:

    Amen.

  4. L.C. Rooney says:

    So much wisdom, so much generosity. Thank you for all you do for the writing community, Kate. Every writer you have extended a hand feels the gratitude I do. Every success you enjoy is well-deserved. I look forward to the day (soon, I hope!) when we can all be together again at an in-person writers conference.

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