My Legs are Missing!

Killer Nashville 2013 scored again, staking its claim as one of THE writing conferences in the nation for Mystery-Thriller gluttons. This was my second KN, and for an incurable lifelong introvert, not quite as intimidating as last year when I meekly inched through the Hutton’s front lobby knowing exactly nobody.

I tried harder this year to escape my comfort zone and mingle (without alcohol). Writing may be a challenge, but for me networking is tougher – only a little less painful than waterboarding and watching reruns of Petticoat Junction. To my surprise I made several new friends and acquaintances: fellow authors, KN staff, one panhandler on 19th Avenue named Scratch.

This year, though, I showed up a tad puffed up. Somehow I had backed into the top ten in the Claymore competition. Heady stuff. (A blind pig can find an acorn in the forest.) But it didn’t take long for the proven experience of agents and publishers during roundtables and critiques to surface and let me know I had work to do.

Like a flasher with modest junk, I had openly displayed many of the usual suspects.

*  I poured out gallons of undeniably artistic and creative words, phrases, and sentences that I was so proud of (like this one), breathtaking prose that practically insisted the reader halt his journey into the story and marvel. I could almost hear Elmore Leonard’s ghost puking in disgust.

*  I buried my best chapters behind pages of backstory, every one loaded with overbearing description. My writing sounded exactly like writing.

*  Those predictable issues with the all-important story Structure, the tension and suspense all hiding safely in Chapter 12. All this despite my PE license as a structural engineer in a former life. (At least I had irony.)

*  Mostly I forgot that ‘story’ is infinitely more important than the gaudy ramblings of a self-appointed wordsmith.

So I learned stuff. Including how not to use “valuable insights” when “stuff” works better.

Back home, once I hauled up the anchors of disappointment that reminded me I had not yet arrived, and reached out to valued new Facebook contacts, I dived into several books I purchased at KN by successful writers, notably the first several chapters of each.

And before long it came to me like a forgotten anniversary. Despite my envy of those published authors, everything I was reading was somebody else. Their voice, their style.

Unless I’m really stupid I’ll learn from them all. But I’ll never be a Hemmingway or Faulkner. Nor a King, Child, or Patterson. Nor anybody else I met at KN. But if I pay attention and believe, I will soon be a very good Peden.

Like a sea cucumber or a lizard with his tail chewed off, I’ve already started re-generating  the literary legs that got chopped off at KN. I’ll come back next year, drop my next manuscript on the table – bam! – and dare somebody to try it again. I push on, full of new tools and promise, looking forward to the semi-holy grail of all writers, not just that of published author, but of author with a long trail of readers, brows furrowed, anxiously turning the pages.

Like my buddy J.R.R. Tolkien said, “Not all those who wander are lost.”