This morning I'm driving to west Texas, to a book festival in Odessa called Books in the Basin. It's a long journey of more than 300 miles, so that's about five or six hours in the car by myself. I don't get all that much time alone so I'm looking forward to that part. But the trip will also be a celebration for me, because it will be two years to the day since the launch of my first novel, The Bookseller. (For a blast from the past, here is my blog entry for that day.)
This means that Hugo Marston, a former FBI profiler and head of security at the US Embassy in Paris, a gun-toting, hat-wearing, French-speaking Texan, is precisely two years old. Oh, sure, I first wrote him on the page several years before that but we don't count birthdays that way, do we? It's not conception, it's their appearance in the world, and his was on October 9, 2012.
Huh, never thought I'd trust a two-year-old with a gun.
Anyway, as you read this and as I motor westward, I'll be wishing Hugo a happy birthday and no doubt wondering about the luck I've had. OPRAH.com called The Bookseller "unputtdownable." Stroke of luck right there. Before that, even: finding the brilliant agent Ann Collette who hooked me up with a new crime fiction imprint, Seventh Street Books. A new publisher whose books are now (lucky me)
distributed by Penguin Random House.
Since then, I've discovered some things about the book world. First, it moves very slowly. Second, foreign sales are unutterably cool (so far, seven countries, six languages). One of those is Japanese:
Pretty nifty, eh?
Third, and the most pleasing: authors are nice. So many big names have given me their time over the past two years, people like... you know, I started naming them and then realized there were too many. Here's a symbolic picture of me shooting guns with one of them, the bestselling author Philip Kerr.
Nice chap. Talking to people like Philip, you realize that even though he sells one or two more books than I do, we all share a similar insecurity: our most recent work isn't good enough.
That fear is so much worse the first time, when the hobby you've been working on is now up for scrutiny by people whose job is to evaluate novels. And not evaluate on the basis of, "Mark's a nice guy, this is his first, let's see how he did." No, a crime writer's books are judged according to how they stack up in the genre. The big wide world is combing through your work and that realization isn't very comforting. So it won't surprise you to learn that when The Bookseller was released there was a terror living inside me, a horror that the book would hit the shelves and slide immediately into the vast wasteland that consumes so many novels.
I don't know why, but that didn't happen. The book gained some traction (in fact, it was the #1 Barnes & Noble Nook Book recently) and not too long after Hugo reappeared in The Crypt Thief. Then came the third in the series, The Blood Promise. Each one I handed to my editor with a sense of dread that I'd failed, but each time I was wrong about that.
And then came The Button Man.
Quick story about the title: I was in NYC at a book fair and an older gentleman came up to me and told me he'd once known a button man. Now, a majority of people I met didn't know what a button man was, so I thought perhaps he was confused. I thought that because he seemed like a sweet old fella, and a button man is essentially a hit man. Yeah, you see? Anyway, he went on to say that he'd been a doctor and this Italian guy from Brooklyn would show up and pay in cash, and be very vague about why he was hurt and what he did for a living. Then the guy stopped showing up, and the doctor thought he knew why: button man. (This isn't the chap, but it's me meeting readers and booksellers at the book fair):
The Button Man has been out a month and is doing great, making me very happy not only as another Hugo story but because it's a prequel and so a wonderful entry point into the series. It's a journey back to England, where it's set, but it's also the book propelling me forward (or westward) because it's taking me to Odessa, it's the book I'll be showcasing there.
It's a long drive for sure, but it's a drive I'm happy to take. I'm lucky to take. The weekend after this one I'm flying to North Carolina for a signing, then I'll be at the Texas Book Festival, and then in November to the biggest crime-fiction get-together of the year in Long Beach.
I'm willing to concede it's not all luck, to acknowledge to myself that I've worked hard. But a lot of people work hard and don't succeed, so I'm also willing to accept that I'm fortunate. I'm also willing to not think about it too much, to just enjoy the anniversary of The Bookseller, to sing Happy Birthday to Hugo as I putter into the wilds of west Texas.
Four novels in two years and two more on the way. He's been a busy lad, our Hugo, especially considering he's just twenty-four-months old.
Happy Birthday, Hugo, and keep 'em coming.