Richard’s Almanac: Writers on writing, past and present

JO ANN KIRKLAND PHOTO Reed Farrel Coleman signed a copy of his book for book lovers at the Mystery Authors Panel on July 6 under the tent at the Shelter Island Library.

Reed Farrel Coleman signed a copy of his book for book lovers at the Mystery Authors Panel on July 6 under the tent at the Shelter Island Library.

On July 6, I attended the Mystery Authors Panel under the tent at the Shelter Island Library. I was reminded of the writers conference I attended at Southampton College in the summer of 1978. Two weeks of authors speaking about their craft.

I remember Budd Schulberg telling us that if there is a novel inside you, you’ll be forced to write it.

James Baldwin talked about how strenuous it was to put together a novel. And how draining and heartwrenching it can be.

Kurt Vonnegut, in his laid-back Hoosier manner, spoke about how personal experiences lead to the creation of a work of art.

Five mystery writers brought much of the same advice to the panel discussion at our library. Though the event was more compressed — two hours instead of two weeks — the messages were essentially the same: Writing takes time, hard work, a thick skin and dedication to reach the ultimate goal of publication.

The emcee for the panel was Jason Starr, author of nine international bestselling crime novels. He also writes graphic novels. “We all approach mystery from different angles,” he said.

Islander Matthew Quinn Martin, a prolific e-book author, offered that “mystery is what the reader does not know and it takes the author’s own experience to make his characters alive.”

John Roche, who comes from a career in journalism and now teaches at Marist College, noted that “you may have a character who is a reporter or an amateur PI but the reader does not really care about procedure. It’s like real life. You do everything in balance.” Mr. Roche’s “Bronx Bound” is his debut novel.

Christopher Bollen, an editor-at-large for Interview magazine, has just published his second novel, “Orient.” He said, “Mystery is a great way to tell a story but it is hard to balance the art of the plot.”

They all agreed that getting published is never easy. Sometimes it takes longer to get a work published than to write it.

“Self publishing used to be the kiss of death for an author but now self-published books sell,” Mr. Roche said, adding that “when there are empty shelves at Barnes and Noble, if self-published books are on them, they get noticed.”

When asked about turning novels into movies, Jason Starr said, “There’s no substitute for a novel; nothing like a story that you can melt into.”

Christopher Bollen strongly urged getting an agent as part of the publishing process.

When discussion centered on the fact that some people do not like the classification “mystery,” Mr. Bollen  said that “just because  a work is heavy on plot, does not mean that it cannot be a work of art.”

New York Times bestselling author Reed Farrel Coleman picked up on this as he began his talk describing taking over Robert B. Parker’s Jesse Stone “franchise” as he called it. He listed major works of the literary canon like “Hamlet,” “Moby Dick,” “The Great Gatsby,” “1984” and “Heart of Darkness.”

“Fiction always asks, “Who am I, where do I come from and where am I going?” Mr. Coleman said, adding that he makes the Parker series his own by employing Parker’s camera but using his own tighter lens.“I make Paradise [the town where the series takes place] more alive.”

Thanks to Library Director Terry Lucas for telling me about the Mystery Monday panel of authors when I was at the library that morning. It was a great event.