Friday, May 31, 2013

Living the Dream

I suspect most aspiring novelists have an idealized impression of what success as an author is like. I think I'm to the point now where I feel I can consider myself moderately successful, and I can tell you it's not all cocktail parties and coffee shops. On the other hand, there are a lot of authors who'd have you  believe that the modern life of a novelist is hardly discernible from a  destitute coal miner in the Twenties.

The general consensus is that trying to be an author is one of the dumbest things a person can do. The odds of success are a hair away from impossible, and success only means an isolated life of drudgery working two jobs or chained to a keyboard day and night just to keep the heat on. In a recent speech at the Digital Minds Conference even Neil Gaiman questioned if the day of the gainfully employed novelist has already passed.

Given all this, I suppose I'm an outlier. Not because I managed to make a living writing novels, but because I see it as just about the best job anyone like me could have.

I recently spoke to a fellow writer who mentioned how hard writing is—that having written is great, but that the actual writing was a pain. All they could think of was how they looked forward to being done so they could go out and do fun things. I found this strange as I always thought writing was the fun part. But before you jump to the conclusion that the only pleasure that can be obtained by being an author is the joy of writing itself, I think I will tell you how I spent yesterday.

Carrying a mildly battered leather courier bag filled with a notebook and pens (always more then one), my cap, an umbrella, and a garment bag, my wife and I hopped the train to New York. We arrived at Union Station around ten in the morning and dropped off our bags at the swank hotel Belvedere. Then walked the few blocks to meet my Orbit editor and marketing director who treated me to a long lunch at a classy wine and dine restaurant. Wine and Dine are actually part of its name.

Entrance to Recorded Books
We chatted about business, other authors, and how well my books were selling. I was pleased to learn Riyria is doing nicely even a year and a half past publication. We concluded lunch with a chocolate molten cake, and fond farewells. By then it was two in the afternoon. I had received an email from Claudia at Recorded Books asking if I'd be willing to come down after my lunch to record the Author's Note for my upcoming novel, The Crown Tower

We had a few hours, so of course I said yes. Robin and I navigated the New York Subway system and traveled downtown to the famous Strands Bookstore, above which Recorded books has its studios. Up we went and received the grand tour. I was introduced to the gang who were delighted to meet me as if I was somebody important. They even took pictures.

Recording Author's Note inside Studio no. 4

I sat in booth 4 with Claudia as my engineer, who patiently walked me through the process of professional reading. Let's just say I won't be giving up my writing in favor of a career in dramatic voice acting. To be honestI'm awful. Still, Claudia smiled brightly offering encouragement and somehow I trudged through. 

Those four pages taught me just how talented and skilled voice actors are. Nevertheless, it was a wonderful experience, and one more cross-out on my life-list. After that we had to say our quick farewells because we needed to get to our hotel and prepare for the night's festivities.

The room at the hotel was large by New York standards and on a quiet side street. The place also had a bathroom you could land a zeppelin in, with a walk-in shower that could easily accommodated a small musical quartet.

After a quick shower, I unzipped the garment bag and took out my tuxedo. I splurged choosing to purchase one rather than rent, as math insisted that if I wear it three times the tuxedo will pay for itself. So buying it was an act of faith, a hope that believing in something will help make it happen. That sort of thing has been working pretty well so far.  

Outside the Audie Award Gala at the Historical Society Museum & Libriary

After struggling with the real bow tie, I managed to knot it properly, and with my wife, Robin, in a gorgeous black evening gown, we hailed a cab. A few minutes later we were on Central Park West in front of the Historical Society Museum & Library where the Audie Awards Gala was being held. 

The evening began with white wine, incredible hors d'oeuvres, and all manner of finely dressed folk milling about the priceless art work. I met Tim Gerard Reynolds as he was attempting to fill a small plate with meatballs. This was the first time I had met the man who so successfully breathed life into my words that he was nominated for Best In Fantasy for 2013. 

Tim Gerard Reynolds (narrator of the Riyria Revelations) and myself

Tim is a marvel. A wonderful man who is far too humble for his immense talent, a talent I was all the more impressed with after literally sitting in his seat in the Recorded Books studio. For the next hour we talked while both of our plates of food remained untouched and forgotten. We spoke of Myron, and Archibald as if they were real people; of the new book, The Crown Tower, due out August 6th, that he just finished the day before; and the next one that he has yet to start. All too soon we were called away to the award assembly.

We sat in the multilevel auditorium as Daniel Handler, the author of the Lemony Snicket books, emceed the evening with the sort of snarky wit you would expect from the inventor of Count Olaf. Neither Tim nor I were at all nervous until our category came up. A huge slide appeared and there they were: the best in fantasy nominees. My little book tucked down in the right corner next to a picture of Tim. 

Then they said it.

Not the name of the winner. That was still twenty seconds away. 

They were still listing the nominees. In the auditorium with us were actress Anne Hathaway, nominated for narrating The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and Ellen Kushner, author of Swordspoint. Other nominees that evening were the likes of Michelle Obama, Dustin Hoffman, Samuel L. Jackson, Margaret Atwood, and even Bram Stoker. And in that multitude of amazing talent and skill,  I heard the words: “ ...and Theft of Swords, by Michael J Sullivan.”

After years of watching the Academy Awards I couldn't help thinking, so that's what that feels like. I was also disappointed that they didn't say Tim's name. Maybe they didn't have the time to add, "Narrated by Tim Gerard Reynolds," but I wished they had. The award really was for him. I just wrote the book, he's the one who brought the story to life. He was the reason I was at the gala at all. At least they had his picture and name on the big screen.

We didn't win.  

I was disappointed but not because we lost, but because Tim never got to hear his name being read after the opening of the envelop (and yes they actually did open envelopes.)

You see the thing is, I get fan mail, these days quite a bit. Tim doesn't. He doesn't, but he should.

I've recently listened to his performance of Heir of Novron, and boy does he make my words sound good. I find myself thinking Wow! This is great. There's no way I could have written that. It's all because of Tim. But since it's my name on the book, I get the credit, and poor Tim, who made Modina sound so cute, and Myron so wise, is ignored. He appeared dumbfounded to hear that much of “my” fan mail mentions that the reader loved “listening” to my books. Right now Tim's audio version are the most popular forms of my books selling on Amazon. So not only did I  want him to win; he deserved least he deserved something.

When the ceremony concluded, I leaned over and whispered. “I'll just have to write you a better book next time.”

Truffles, chocolate dipped strawberries and champagne followed, and a whole host of strangers spoke to me as if I was a celebrity. I met a writer from the Daily Show and author Kevin Bleyer, and singer song writer and author Janis Ian.

Tim left early as he had a recording to do in the morning. My wife and I lingered until near midnight then we took another cab back to the hotel where fans were already tweeting me condolences. I'm not sure why. The award was superfluous to the success of that day. After all I got to take a train to New York, be treated to dinner by my publisher, record part of my own audio book, and pretend to be James Bond as I attended a Central Park West awards gala where my name was read as a finalist!

All I can say is, as an author, writing is the fun part of my day, but occasionally there are also days like yesterday.


  1. I'd settle for wine and dine with my editor at Orbit, especially about how well my book is still selling. I'm very happy for you and your success and that you were treated to a day like this. Tim definitely deserved to have his name called. Maybe next time.

  2. I've just requested the audio from my local library. It's about time I listened to it - considering how many brilliant things I've heard about it!
    I'll use any excuse to enter the world of Riyria again! =D

  3. I love your books so much that I miss them. I'm planing to listen to the audiobooks soon.
    Congratulations on the nomination to you and to Tim. :)

  4. If you do get the chance to listen to Tim read the books, you might consider leaving a pleasant note on Tim's Facebook page. The poor guy spends his life in a tiny room speaking to a fabric shrouded microphone, it would be nice for him to know his work is appreciated by readers. Okay, so maybe he doesn't spend his whole life in that room, but...well you get the idea.

  5. you and Robin so deserved all of this; be well, Signe

  6. I am a fan of your written words due to listening to Tim's rendition of Theft of well did he bring dimension to the characters that when reading Rise of Empire and Heir of Novron I continued to hear Tim's voice.

  7. I've never listened to audiobooks, but I may well have to start. <3