n 1999 a girlfriend I'd known since junior high sat me down in a Belfast bar and said, "You're an asshole. Life's not an audition; win the rat race and you're still a rat." Shocked at her language but, being a bit impulsive, I drank the ninth Guinness, staggered off the grid, and began writing full time.
Hubris? Sure. But hopes and dreams often require that and really good blinders. And permission. Permission that only you can give—and only you can fade when it gets ugly. Piece of cake: Just live on rejection, credit-card debt, and self-doubt; get a divorce, and go back to Afrika. The Mamas and Papas built a flower-power life on one American Express card, why can't I?
Eight years and eight novels later, the sun comes up over Table Mountain—super-agent Simon Lipskar says he loves CALUMET CITY
and so does Touchstone, publishers in five languages agree, really talented women in NYC skyscrapers have you over for sales/marketing conferences. Long lunches with the
Publisher ensue. People with jobs return your emails. Award nominations flow. It's 2008. You're made. Sorta.
Flash forward, it's almost 2012, and my second novel's about to publish.
Huh? Four years later?
As it happens my karma's a bit spotty. Touchstone decided I didn't fit their plans, as did Transworld in the UK. Pretty much the party was over, but I was too dumb to quit and Simon Lipskar has personal issues with losing. It was January of 2010—eleven years, twenty-two thousand hours of typing—ten gut-bucket crime novels about people I cared about and things I cared about, all interconnected in milieu, and... Don't call us, we'll call you.
This is where is gets strange. That same week Doubleday and editor Jason Kaufman (THE DA VINCI CODE) decide I—me
—fit in their cathedral. Sure, you bet.
No kidding, Charlie, we love START SHOOTING
, want to publish it hardcover, make you part of our brand, send you on tour. I made him give me the switchboard number at Random House. Holy shit, it was
That love affair lasted until I pissed off the marketing/sales VPs for being a smidge direct with my assessments and observations. Three years later I now belong to Thomas and Mercer, who, in their hallowed halls, demonstrated some courage publishing TRAITOR'S GATE
. My new publisher asked for none of the changes that others "suggested," and for that I am sincerely grateful.
Do I recommend this life? The Peter Pan Scholarship? Absolutely, if you're voyeur-curious. You can be a dentist for a day but don't have to spend six years in school; same for cops or robbers—generally you won't die or go to prison when the story's over. Living small has to be okay, and I do, of late in Afrika, Jamaica, Cuba, East Berlin, and Scotland, writing the next novel from the country where the characters or story spills out of Chicago. Patti Black says I'm homeless. I prefer "en route." Stay anywhere long enough and it's home, or as close as people like me get.
Big, huge, enormous thanks to every one of you—reader/character/bookseller/ publishing person—for making this possible. If we meet on the road I'll buy the first Guinness.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Author photo credit: Lisa Law