There’s been a new development in my career. Long time readers of this blog, or those who have slogged through the back posts, will know that I see my progress as a writer to be a bit like driving on a lonely highway through Ontario or maybe the Mojave Desert. The landscape remains an unchanging featureless plain that is so expansive it's often difficult to tell if I’m even moving. I can look at the Amazon ranks and the BookScan numbers, but that’s like looking at the ground next to the car. You can see it moving, but there’s no context. The blur of gravel and grass is memorizing, to the point it’s hard to tell if you’re going forward or back.
Beyond this you have questions that can’t be answered. Are you making good time? How far to the next landmark? And what is the next landmark?
Careers rarely come with maps, and if they do, they’re always out of date. The roadside diners your heroes raved about were torn down years ago leaving you seeking your own version of that dreamscape. New towns spring up, others sprawl and a few fade away. Still, there are signs and it is always exciting to see one.
For a couple years I’ve received a trickle of fan mail. The first few I read over and over with a big grin. People liked my books so much that they took the trouble to write me! The trickle turned into a fairly steady stream that demanded I spend time each day answering them. Funny how people are always shocked that an author will reply, as if we don’t have time for our readers.
Recently there have been a couple of changes. I still get the wonderful fan messages from people who just want to let me know how much they appreciate what I wrote, but now I’ve noticed a couple of new types of emails.
The first is from people asking me to come to their organization to speak. This kind of thing never happened before. Robin had to push to get me a gig on a convention panel of twelve other unknown writers discussing what comes first, the character or the setting—clearly a burning question plaguing the literary community just as much as the chicken and egg dilemma is frustrating leading biologists. All of us were jammed into a hotel room behind a folding table where we had played an unintentional game of musical chairs as there were not enough seats. After a few of these I asked Robin not to bother.
Now without trying I’m receiving invitations. Librarians, book clubs, conventions, podcasts, they don’t care what I talk about; they just want me to come speak for an hour. I’m an author not a politician or professor, so why they think I’m any good at speaking is a mystery. I have a whole bunch of appearances coming up in March and as you can see from the previous post, I just appeared at the Library of Congress where I delivered my presentation on the stage of the Pickford Theater, which is the kind of place you’d expect to see a Ted talk. I had a podium with an official seal and a working microphone. They also have a huge screen that I could have used to project images from this lovely computer system if I knew what I was doing. It was three-quarters of a world away from the folding table and jammed hotel room where honestly no one cared if I showed up or not.
The other new correspondence I’ve begun receiving are reading requests. Some are from aspiring writers asking for advice, but others are from publishers looking for me to provide endorsements to be printed on the covers of new books. I hate to turn anyone down, but multiple requests for me to read novels are too much considering how slow I read.
These requests for my time are road signs I never expected to see along the highway. I suppose I just assumed that authors just wrote each day, sent off their manuscripts, and received checks in the mail. Sure some celebrity names like King and Patterson might be asked to speak at some college commencement, or asked to read new releases for their endorsement, or newbie writers might approach them for advice—but me?
I saw these road signs fly by and realized I had crossed some line. Without a map I’m not sure exactly what it means: county line, state, whole new country? Who knows. Sometimes in this vast open landscape it’s just nice to see something go by and know you’re still moving forward.