People are always asking me where I’ve been lately. Am I still writing? Do I have a new book out? The answers to these questions are: Around, Yes, and Not yet, but I’m working on it. Allow me to explain. My friends know all this, but people who only know me peripherally are apparently curious.
I published my first novel, Precipice, in 1994, and over the next 5 years I published 5 more. Then I stopped. I didn’t stop writing, mind you, but I stopped publishing. My last book to hit the bookstores was Scavenger, in 2000, and in 2001 the lovely people at Warner Bros. made a movie of one of my books, Valentine. Then, nothing.
What happened? Well, several things. I don’t really like to talk about myself, but it’s time for me to get naked. That’s the point of having a website and a blog, isn’t it? Now that I’ve (finally) committed to doing these things, I might as well tell you.
First, the next book I wrote was a long one, taking nearly 2 years to complete, and it was a serial killer thriller in a setting that some people might call “difficult” (the then-new church scandal). At least, the publishing industry called it difficult–nobody would touch it with a 10-foot pole. So I tried again, but by the time I finished the next manuscript, my momentum was gone. All the editors I’d worked with had left the houses that had published me, and those houses were merging with or being devoured by various conglomerates, publishing “groups” and “subsidiaries” of international corporations that have nothing to do with publishing. My agent was busy with the clients who were actually handing him things he could sell, so we parted ways. And a new crop of editors had replaced the old: young, hip, Internet-friendly, Facebook/Twitter/Whatever rock stars who were looking for The Next Big Thing–by which they meant The Next Big Young Thing–to rake in millions and appease their corporate masters. Such is the reality of the business world, and writing, after all, is a business. Suddenly, there was no place for me–and a whole lot of my friends and colleagues–at the table.
During this time came September 11, 2001. I live in Greenwich Village, a few blocks north of Ground Zero. My personal anger and frustration went public. International. Global. For a while there, I didn’t just hate my life; I hated the world. I think a lot of us did.
Then I lost my day job. I worked at Murder Ink® from 1989 to 2006, when we were driven out of business by the one-two punch of chain superstores (B&N, etc.) and the advent of online booksellers (Amazon, etc.). In 1990, there were 1200+ independent bookstores here in NYC; now there are fewer than 300. So my regular employment vanished, and I–a bookseller, mystery writer, and former actor–was seriously lacking in what you’d call marketable skills.
And then there was my family. My 2 sisters and I lost our parents at an early age, and we were adopted by our maternal aunt, Lesley Savage, whom we called Mom. Mom passed away in 2003, and my sister, Suzy, lost her battle with cancer a year later. These 2 women were the guiding forces in my life. Their love of mysteries got me reading, and that led to writing. Everything I wrote, I wrote for them. My other sister, Marcia, lives far away with her family–we talk on the phone but rarely see each other. I was suddenly alone, and the combination of that and the loss of my job and my publishing career, added to the world headlines–not to mention entering my 50s–sent me into a depression. I sat around my apartment in a bathrobe, always writing but not doing much of anything else. I rarely drink anymore, I’ve never taken drugs, I’m through with romance, I’m not religious, and I didn’t need a psychiatrist to tell me what was wrong with me at $400 an hour and prescribe dangerous medications I wouldn’t use. So I just sat there. This went on for 3 years.
Fortunately, I have a few good friends. Your friends can’t get you published, but they can get you out of your house. That’s precisely what a writer friend did for me. She was in a writing group that met every 2 weeks to read/criticize/edit/support one another, and one day she dragged me there. I joined them, and I started writing in earnest again. That was 5 years ago, and 2 years ago, encouraged by the group, I went out and found a new agent. I bought a new iMac. I finished a new novel, and now I’m writing another one. To top it all off, my writer friends have convinced me to go online with a website. I’ve finally entered the 21st century.
My new literary agency has just started a program, getting their clients’ backlist titles back into print as ebooks, and I’ve given them 2 of my titles, Precipice and Valentine. They’ll be available from all the usual online places very soon. If all goes well with them, I’ll add my other 4 previously published titles to the list. My agent is shopping around my new titles. The publishing industry of today barely resembles the one I knew, but I’m now in a mindset to go out into it again. Maybe I’ll succeed, maybe I won’t, but it beats hell out of sitting around in a bathrobe.
So, that’s where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing. And here I am, naked.