There's a familiar Maine joke — hell, it's probably a joke everywhere — about a tourist coming upon an old timer in a backwoods cabin and asking him disdainfully, "Have you lived in this place your whole life?" And the old timer answers, "Not yet."
That's sort of how I feel about writing. The most common question I get asked at readings is, "How long did it take to write the book?" I've never understood why the matter is of such widespread interest. Maybe it's because writing a novel seems like such a colossal undertaking (which it can be).
In any case, the answer I always give for The Poacher's Son is "about five to six years." With Trespasser the answer is "about two and a half years." And for my next book it will be even less.
But the truth is, it's taken me a lifetime to write these novels. A lifetime of growing up, making mistakes, learning my craft. And like the old timer in the Maine joke, it's not like my journey is over yet thank you very much. My story continues.
I'm typing these words from a hotel room in New York City that's about the size (and temperature) of a beer cooler. I'm here because The Poacher's Son was nominated as "Best First Novel" for the prestigious Strand Critics Award, which is chosen every year by a panel of the nation's top mystery book reviewers. Two nights ago, I showed up for the awards ceremony, a nervous nominee at a posh executive club. The next thing I knew I was being introduced to bestselling author Laura Lippman and David Simon, who created The Wire and Treme. A little while later, I learned that I had won and was making a rambling speech at a podium with an odd-shaped trophy in hand. In a daze, I soon found myself standing next to Michael Connelly, who won for "Best Novel" for The Reversal, posing for a photograph.
Last night, I attended a party that my publisher, Minotaur, gives each year to kick off the annual ThrillerFest convention. I was talking to my publicist when John Lescroart — John Lescroart! — elbowed his way through the crowd to introduce himself to me as a fan of my books.
I'm not telling these stories to advertise myself (not entirely, at least): I am telling them because I, too, am in a state of disbelief about my good fortune. As I always remind audiences: until The Poacher's Son came out last year, I had spent most of my life as a failed author. Of course, I wasn't really a failure any more than winning prizes or hobnobbing with literary celebrities now makes me a success.
The true measure of success for a writer — the reason I have written all my life even when I seemed to have no reason to continue — comes from the reward of communicating heart-to-heart with readers. It's nice to have millions of readers with whom you create that sort of bond — but it's not necessary. A few are all it takes. Maybe even one is enough. Keep that in mind the next time you receive a rejection notice, and remember how long my "overnight success" took, as well.
I hope that over the past five days I've given you a sense of who I am as a writer and a person and that this online introduction will prompt you to pick up The Poacher's Son or Trespasser, and that something in those books will resonate with you. Thank you to the good people at Powell's for giving me this unique opportunity. May we meet again on our mutual journeys.