Monday, August 22, 2011

Hartless Murderers, Luck, and Persistence

So I have a couple of great writer's groups I belong to. One is an online group who sees each other once a year in person, but are there always to lend a helping hand, give advice, critique, and give a swift kick in the rump as needed.

My other group is local, in-person, and has been my rock since just after I started writing in 2004. We'd all taken a class at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis--an intro to writing mysteries taught by Ellen Hart. A couple of the best writers in the class got ahold of me and two others and asked us if we wanted to form a writing group after class was finished. Sounded good to me and to everyone else, so we planned, plotted, met, drew up "house rules," and generally established the group. We decided we needed a name, and after some vigorous debate, settled on The Hartless Murderers... with the "Hart" part in honor of our beloved teacher.

We'd decided almost from the start that once we were published (yup, we all believed it could happen, somehow!) we would tour together like the wildly successful and looney Minnesota Crime Wave, who travels to various events around the midwest and gives talks on their books and writing, and whatever else they feel like talking about.

So the years passed. A couple members took a break, and we brought an additional body aboard. A live one, that is! We all hit one or many breaking points along the line, and the others stepped up to the plate and cajoled, forced, threatened, and dragged the person who was in trouble through the wastelands of "I am NOT a writer! I suck!" to the other side.

Then one of us landed a book contract. Then another. Then I hit a three book deal. Then our matriarch (she'd KILL me if she read that), our eldest member, scored a contract last winter. Pretty soon, out of three of us, we'd sold seven books in six years. Our dreams were becoming reality.

Ther next step was to make the group gig thing happen. So our studious members put together a postcard and started contacting different venues for appearances. I made a tablecloth emblazoned with HARTLESS MURDERERS. And we gathered this past Thursday in, of all places, the public library in Luck, Wisconsin. Yup, you read that right. Luck. Our luck came together and we debuted our entertaining chops in Luck. It helped that the librarian was one of my best childhood friends, and I have a contingent of family and friends in that area that blessed us by showing up. And we went on to give a kick a** presentation. We made folks laugh, they asked great questions, and best of all, they bought books. So we are on our way. It's exciting and somewhat daunting to actually follow your dreams. But none of us gave up, even when we so badly wanted to. We persisted, and we are gonna continue having a great time as we follow this strange, luck and sweat-filled writing path.

So who or what has been your inspiration when the going gets tough? Do you have a writing group you look to for support and guidance? Do you do it all on your own? What role has luck played in your own publishing and writing adventures?


Robin Allen said...

Congrats on all the successes in your group! Having that support makes a difference. I've belonged to several writer's groups and am part of the Austin WriterGrrls, an online support group that shares our writing news on a list and meets for lunch twice a month. I started a montly brainstorming session a few months ago that is invaluable.

Right now, I have a writing accountability partner that makes sure I honor my commitment to write at least 2 hours/day 6 days/week. I also have a critique partner who helps to humanize my main character when I become too focused on the story.

Vicki Doudera said...

Great post, Jesse.

I am a lone wolf when it comes to my writing. No writers groups, no accountability partners, etc. I do however live in a small, tightly knit community, and I know alot of people. I can't step out of my door without someone asking me about my writing. That helps keep me on track.

So do contracts. Perhaps because I am married to an attorney, I take them super seriously and find there is nothing like a looming deadline to motivate me.

Speaking of that -- I am off to write!

Darrell James said...

Jessie- I started out with a writers group of eight writers, but, unfortunately, I am the only one who has broken into publication. I fly solo now.

Lois Winston said...

I had a critique partner for awhile, but that didn't work out. Then I joined a critique group which eventually dissolved, but one of the other writers and I stayed together as critique partners. It was a great match. We were exactly what the other needed. Unfortunately, she died a few years ago. So, like Vicki, I'm a lone wolf now, but I do have several author friends I can turn to when I need feedback on something. And they know they can count on me for the same.

Sebastian Stuart said...

hey, fun story. congrats. i was in a writing group for years, but it began to feel a little like wheel-spinning; also folks weren't quite sharp enough in their critiques.

How great that you all get along so well and have parlayed it into what I am sure is a very entertaining show.

Jennifer Harlow said...

It must be nice to have such supportive writer friends. I tried the small group thing but it wasn't for me. They all had literary books and I wanted to do genre, and haven't found one since. I usually give my books to two or three beta testers to point out the kinks at the end but the rest of the time I'm on my own. Congrats to you all.

Alan Orloff said...

That's a great story, and a testament to what a great critique group can accomplish. I've been fortunate to have really great critique groups and partners to work with. Luck sure does play a part along the publishing highway, but I've found the harder I work, the luckier I get.

Shannon said...

What a terrific story. I love writers! I've been with two critique groups for years. One of the most fun experiences I've ever had is when two of us published our first books at the same time. Our critique sisters threw us not one, but two champagne joint book launches.

Beth Groundwater said...

What a lovely story, Jesse, of friends helping each other achieve success. I have a similar story with my 6-person critique group that I've belonged to for 10 years now. We've had some turnover, and I'm the only original member left, but I know I wouldn't be published without them. Of the 5 original members, 3 have been published in book-length fiction, 3 in short stories, and all have won or placed in writing contests. We haven't done signings together--mostly because we write in different genres--but I count the members among my closest and dearest friends.

Jessie Chandler said...

Robin, congrats on having that online group as well as your whip-wielding accountability partner! It totally helps :-)

Vicki, indeed, living in a small town does have its advantages and disadvantages! Contracts totally help LOL

Darrell, congrats on staying with it even if the others didn't.

Lois, I'm sorry to hear about your partner in writing... that's rough stuff. I'm glad you found other authors to play with.

Seb, thanks! We have had some of the same issues with the feedback not being as helpful as it could be, but we are pretty good at asking for more if we need it. That can def get sticky.

Jennifer, we lucked out because we all came out of the mystery class and were interested in that. I'd croak if I had to read literary stuff. I guess I'm a genre snob LOL

Alan, you're right...the harder you work the luckier you become. I do believe that!

Shannon, wooo hooooo on the launch parties!!!!

Beth, your group has done amazing things too! I do believe long term groups are uncommon and uncommonly helpful, if everyone is working together. Do you guys have a name?