Sunday, August 10, 2008

Duane Swierczynski and Inspiration

I went to see Duane Swierczynski Saturday at Murder by the Book. I got to talk with him a little before his 4:30pm talk. Fan Boy Moment: when I introduced myself to him, he remembered me from my comment on his blog. Moreover, he thanked me for the review of his book, Severance Package, I posted on my regular Tuesday book review feature. That was, to say the least, quite cool.

Then, David Thompson of MBTB, came over and the three of us chatted for a few minutes. Since I was wearing my Chicago tee shirt, David mentioned that he’d read the first page of the short story I write back in 1998 about incorporating Chicago songs into a story. All in all, a good experience.

Swierczynski’s talk was good. He riffed on the differences between mystery readers and comic book readers (mystery readers are much nicer), what it’s like to write novels with your own characters and write comics with established characters, and the other exciting opportunities he’s had with his writing. I don't know his entire bio but it seems like he's now able to write his own material full-time since he mentioned quitting his day job at a Philadelphia magazine.

I've met a few writers at MBTB and there's something about meeting writers during book signings that is simply neat. It's visible proof that they are regular people, just like you and me. Sure, big-time movie stars are people, too, but writers don't usually have entourages. Writers are just folks, happy that you turned out to meet them and hear them talk, gracious that you're holding one of their books. Swierczynski is just like that: nice, kind, gracious.

When I mentioned that I was working on my second novel and that my first book, although agented, has yet to find a publisher, Swierczynski commiserated. His first novel, Secret Dead Men, gestated a long time before it was published. Eight years I think he said. But here's what really struck home and is the reason I'm sitting at my computer on a Saturday night writing instead of watching the Olympics: Love What You Write. After he wrote that first book and it didn't sell, he wrote more books, books about what got him jazzed up: a mute getaway driver, a businessman whose drink has been poisoned, or a public relations guy who discovers his boss wants to kill him. Swierczynski enjoyed the stories, wrote the books, and, guess what? They got published. He didn't care about what might sell. He wrote for the first reader: himself.

Which brings me to my writing career, to date. I wrote Treason at Hanford, my Harry Truman story, and I loved it. Each night, when I sat down to write, I was excited about it and I wanted to know what happened next...and I *knew* what happened next. I fell in love with my book. And the folks who have read it (not all family or close friends, mind you) have commented on the passion of the story. There's a part of the book, 3/4 of the way in, when all different groups of characters are starting to put two-and-two together. I got butterflies in my stomach *writing* it and I still get them every time I read those chapters. They may not be great, but they darn sure satisfied me.

What am I trying to say, to myself or any wannabe writers out there? Don't over think the story. That's been my problem with book #2, my own sophomore slump. Just friggin' write the thing. Write it because you love it. If I don't love it, it'll show in the prose and no one else will care about it.

Thanks to David and McKenna and the good folks at Murder by the Book for making their wonderful store the place where writers and reader can meet. Thanks to Mr. Swierczynski for coming down to Houston and giving some Texans a chance to meet you. And thanks for helping me off the mat. You probably didn't even know it but you gave me the kick in the ass I needed to fine-tune the focus on my second book and finish it.

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