My Word: You Still At It?

So there I am, ready to launch my tenth novel in the last fifteen years, and bragging to Carl, this friend I run into every few years. "It's called Too Many Clients," I say, "the latest in my Wild Onion, Ltd. series." He stares at me over a forkful of pasta. "You remember," I say, "the series with Kirsten, a Chicago private eye, and her lawyer husband."  He washes the pasta down with a gulp of Chianti and grins. "Jeez," he says, "you still at it? That's great. I think I got both your other books."

Some things don't change.

And some do. In fifteen years the publishing world, the crime fiction scene, even sweet home Chicago... they've all changed dramatically. But on a personal level...

In 1994, as a kid, literarily speaking, I'd attend MWA meetings at Binyon's in the Loop with forty or so other crime writers, post- and pre-published, and hear Hugh Holton (cop, author, everyone's hero; gone too soon) announce the "news"—who got an agent, who got a contract, who's doing signings, who won an award. These days our news flashes to a hundred times the people... without the drinks, the turtle soup, and the handshakes.

Back then I knew "hardware" from "software," but wasn't personally acquainted with either. Still, I managed to finish a manuscript. I queried thirty (yes! I went back and counted) publishing houses, and twenty-two agents. Remember driving to the post office? Waiting for mail delivery? Of your SASE?

I made the Holton news with a contract, and in 1995 with a real book. I had a great launch party, then spent the year speaking and signing in every venue—bookstore, library, barroom, church hall—that would have me, hoping to fill at least one row of  those chairs... usually the back row. In 1996, while drying the dishes, I got word of my Edgar nomination. Remember that phone thing, hanging on the kitchen wall?

Off to New York, sans tux; home again, sans Edgar. But with book number two on its way. In fact, six books in six years, then four in the next nine. That's me, leaving the day job and taking twice as long to get a book out. Did I mention a tough market, with... what?... five major publishers?

But yeah, I'm still at it. And the mantra I'm chanting? Not better, not worse; different.

Oh, and those two books Carl mentioned? Ten years ago I found one I'd inscribed to him, and bought it back... at the church rummage sale.

What about you? Seen any changes? Got any mantras to recommend?