Author of the Year! Unexpected but not quite out of the blue

Eldercide (2008)Tuesday night I got a totally unexpected phone call informing me I’ve been chosen by the Friends of the Albany Public Library to be honored for “Local Book and Author of the Year.” They want to showcase me and my mystery Eldercide at a luncheon on November 14th. What’s more, they love the title and don’t want me to change the name, at least not before the luncheon.

For most of this year, I’ve been planning to retitle the book Evening Falls Early and to tone down the cover illustration in hopes of attracting more readers. I’ve done quite a few panels and signings, primarily with the Mavens of Mayhem, our local chapter of Sisters in Crime, and I’ve found that while some folks love the title and subject, many more pass it by or react negatively. The blurb on the back begins as follows:

When quality of life declines with age and illness, who decides if you’re better off dead? Nursing supervisor Claire Lindstrom suspects a killer is making the final judgment call for the clients of Compassionate Care.

Some readers have told me the book’s theme hits too close to home because of their own experiences, while others – especially those over 60 – say they hate the word “elder.” One bookstore owner has refused to carry it because she finds it “ghastly,” but has said she’d carry it once I changed the title. I guess she’ll be out of luck, because I’m sticking with the original version after all. Committee chair Joe Krausman told me that one of the factors that gave me the winning votes was the book’s relevance to important social issues confronting the nation today, especially regarding health care reform and the treatment of the elderly.

The subtitle of my blog is “Mystery novels with a social conscience,” and that description is right on target. It’s a huge relief to give up the charade of masquerading as a writer of cozies. Besides, although I like the title Evening Falls Early, it sounds a bit too much like a vampire novel. As Rick Nelson sang, “You can’t please everybody, so you’ve got to please yourself.”

Although this honor took me completely by surprise, it didn’t come totally out of the blue. I’ve been laying the groundwork for several years, and I’d like to share a bit of the process in hopes it may prove useful to other aspiring writers.

I’ve been writing poetry since 2002. The initial impetus came from the chance to publish in my Unitarian Universalist congregation’s literary magazine, Oriel. Poet Therese Broderick was editor at the time, and I loved seeing my work in print. Before long I was reading my work at open mics throughout the Capital District, and especially in Albany.

Gradually I became a recognized figure on the local scene, and once I’d self-published my novels, I began bringing them to all my poetry readings. I didn’t sell many – people don’t tend to spend much at open mics – but some of the right people bought them. Four of those poets just happened to be on the Friends of the Albany Public Library committee, a group of a dozen or so people who chose from among ten or more possible contenders. Maybe  not so coincidentally, the same four – Dan Wilcox, Gene Damm, Joe Krausman and Sylvia Barnard – are friends of mine on Facebook, where I post frequent links to my blogs, so perhaps that’s helped keep me at the forefront of their minds.

Last year Gene became president of the library group, which has a weekly book discussion. Dan has an annual New Year’s Day open house, and at this year’s party I lent Gene copies of both my books, asking if they’d consider me for one of their weekly sessions. Months went by, and I heard nothing. With my usual lackadaisical approach to marketing, I didn’t follow up, although I did consider asking for the books back. Then came last night’s phone call from Joe.

The moral of the story? Persistent networking can pay off – especially if you’re enjoying the process of becoming part of an artistic community and not looking for immediate payback. I’m hoping the same will prove true in the online writing community. Meanwhile, “the future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades.”*

*Congratulations to Jane Kennedy Sutton, author of The Ride, for identifying the group that sang this as Timbuk 3. That’s such an obscure answer, it’s gotta be right, so I’m not even bothering to Google it.

8 thoughts on “Author of the Year! Unexpected but not quite out of the blue

    • Thanks, Karen! Yes, I too love reading about others’ success stories – especially if they’ve paid their dues and it hasn’t come instantly.

  1. Congratulations, Julie – what a big honor! Thanks for sharing how you got there. It’s interesting how paths can lead to the totally unexpected.

    Living in Florida, I find myself using the line, “the future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades,” often – but I admit I did have to look up how to spell their name.

    • Thanks, Jane, and congratulations for coming up with the Timbuk 3 name. I guess they’re one of those one-hit wonder groups? Cara Lopez Lee also came up with the right answer and said the record was from 1986. My expertise in rock trivia began fading in the 70’s – approximately coinciding with the end of David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust period and the birth of my daughter. (My granddaughters love David Bowie, though!)

      For those readers wondering how Jane got the inside track, it’s because I posed the question on my BBT Cafe group on Yahoo. Check out the link to Jane’s excellent blog!

  2. A fabulous honor, of course – but as your blog points out, a ringing endorsement for the power of networking. It’s no good having quality work if you don’t also let people know and find the people whose work you appreciate and who return the favour. Excellent!

    • Thanks, Kate! Anne White, one of my mystery writer friends, congratulated me by e-mail and said “This must inspire you to sit down and turn out another book.” I responded that actually it inspires me to focus on getting a dynamite agent – after I’ve piled up a few more honors and sales. I’d like people to read the books I’ve already written!

      Of course I do have the beginnings of another novel churning around in my head, and I plan to buckle down and get really into it this winter – after my blog book tour and all that other good online stuff, like the Poisoned Pen Webcon. They’ve asked me to moderate two panels, and I don’t know what the %^&*# I’m doing! (Just kidding, PPP folks, if you’re reading this – I’ll be a techno whiz by October 24th, or else!)

  3. What could be more scary than a killer who thinks they have the authority to decide who lives and who decides, expecially when the victims are so helpless and cannot fight back.

    Stephen Tremp

  4. Congratulations, Julie! What a great honor for you — one you deserve because of your persistance. I have a prior, serious commitment on Nov. 14, so I won’t be able to attend the APL event. Enjoy the limelight!

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