At the time cell phones were rather new. Reception was spotty. The agent called to say she had wonderful news, but Bob couldn’t hear her. So he stepped outside. And then he stepped further outside. Then two things happened all at once; the sky started to spit rain, and the door shut behind him.
Bob was locked out in the rain in a robe. Perhaps the makers of Birdman were in that same audience.
Naturally, all the writers in the room roared with laughter. To finally win a great award but yet get locked out of your own apartment! In the rain! It was the normal kind of sacrifice that came with writing. We should expect such things to happen. We should expect to suffer.
I left the room sure that I would continue to read all of Bob’s books just as I was sure I would continue to write the elusive award-winning crime novel. Since I live in Arizona, I wasn’t in as much danger of getting locked out in the rain.
Instead he read emails from readers.
While he assured us that he occasionally had positive emails, he also had plenty that were not so sweet. One man complained that Bob used too many names that started with J. How was a poor reader supposed to keep things straight? One reader complained vehemently that Bob did not know the difference between “bring” and “carry” and that he might want to finally learn that for the next book. Others assured him that he should be ashamed of himself and signed their names with illustrious titles such as “No Longer Willing to Read Your Work.”
I thought about how hard it is to write a book, how much trouble it is to go through the seven or eight versions it takes (me) to get things right, the trouble of finding a publisher and doing the final copy and giving suggestions for the cover art and then begging for reviews and and and and! All this for a reader to quibble with bring/carry.
I’m an English writing instructor. I’ve read 8 of Bob’s books. Guess what? I haven’t noticed the “problem.” Perhaps I’ve been focused on other aspects of his writing?
Luckily, Bob didn’t stop there. He read a couple of tender emails from readers who had been touched and helped by his books. His recent title Suspect, which includes a German shepherd named Maggie, has won many hearts and kind thoughts from readers. Bob assured us that no matter what terrible things disgruntled readers might write, emails from people who had been somehow moved by his work made everything worthwhile.
I’m already looking forward to hearing Bob again soon. But between his talk and the talk by Barry Eisler that I heard at Bouchercon in November, it’s no coincidence that I spent last night at a friend’s house trying to learn the difference between a pistol and a revolver. When it’s time for my character Andy Veracruz to shoot, I don’t want any mistakes. I don’t want him to forget to load the chamber or remove the safety. When our hordes of fans write us, I want them to be able to say something good.