Thursday, March 06, 2008

No need to come to attention

James O. Born

Senior Man on Deck.

This is a phrase that police agencies adopted from the military and one that I’ve heard my entire career. It is simply a show of respect for a leader, either male or female, not officially sanctioned as a supervisor. At the DEA it was the agent who not only had a number of years under his or her belt but who had attained a certain measure of respect based on their work ethic, accomplishments and, most importantly, an ability to help younger agents on their way up.

It seems like that should be the job of a supervisor or someone of higher rank but that role has a certain formality and expectation that isn’t helpful in every situation. Everyone, cop or civilian, needs someone they can ask unofficially what to do after they screw up. The senior person on deck is never voted on, never shoved in front of a boss as an example of leadership. They just are there. They emerge. It’s a personality trait which they probably have no control over. In fact, if someone tries too hard to be a leader they probably aren’t the natural leader a group needs to excel.

In writing, especially writing in a particular genre, the natural instinct is to look to the bestsellers as the leaders but that’s not always the case. Many authors get bogged down in the business they have created and don’t have the time to really be out there to mentor, advise, support and be available for the generation behind them. This is not a criticism, it is a fact which cannot be avoided.

I’ve written before about the generosity of crime writers. How they will do everything from spread the word about your book to back you up in a fight if needed (especially if they’re from North Carolina). I’ve been fortunate to meet popular authors who have helped me in a big way and encouraged me more than I can ever repay. But one crime author has become the senior man on deck to many of us just starting out. Not only in his generosity but in a simple willingness to attend events and be available.

I consider Lee Child one of crime fiction’s senior authors on deck. I have to avoid snapping to attention when he walks in a room yet he puts everyone at ease. He has a common sense approach to publishing and writing which he doesn’t hold secret. He reads other people’s works, edits new writer’s anthologies and provides comments on writing that you just have to steal because they express what so many of us feel so well.

He'll even take a phot with Jason Starr. Now that takes class.

This past weekend at Sleuthfest he gave a lunch-time talk that recounted the history of human origin, the beginning of arts, the reason for fiction and how to be a concise storyteller all in about twenty minutes. I don’t mean to be mushy but the guy inspires people. He inspires me.

There are others who are (SAD) Senior Authors on Deck. Tess Gerritsen and Michael Connelly spring to mind immediately. All three of these bestsellers attend events, mix with everyone and generally support those following in their footsteps. I just thought I’d focus a little this morning since Lee’s talk was still on my mind.

We all have our own idea of the senior person in the room.

Now’s your chance. Who do you think has filled that position for you as a writer? Or you in any profession under the sun. There should always be someone around to look to for an example. Let’s hear who that is.


  1. For me, it's Jeremiah Healy, author of the John Francis Cuddy P.I. series. The Cuddy books were well researched, topical, realistic, and readable; and, as a correspondent Jerry is approachable. The first time I e-mailed him, I told him I wanted to write mysteries, and he encouraged me and sent me the packet he usually handed out at conferences. A great example to follow.

  2. That Child guy owes me money.

  3. I would like to personally thank my wood shop teacher, Mr. Blazosky at Hughesville High School who told me, "I sure hope you don't have to work with your hands because you can't operate a lathe for shit."

    (Lee Child is, cliche be damned, a gentleman and a scholar, Why he would hang out with Jim Born defies even the greatest imagination).

  4. Paul,
    Let's be clear. He wouldn't hang out with me. But he was generous with others.


  5. Lee Child wasn't hanging out with Born.

    The way the restraining order reads is: "Born was uncomfortably close to Mr. Child on way too many occasions."

  6. Child and Healy are impressive but the "senior (wo)man on deck" for me is Elizabeth George. I was in a writing group she led for nine years. She is incredibly generous and giving to new writers through her teaching and mentoring. She also awards scholarships and grants to many unpublished writers through her foundation. In my Monday post I mentioned a wise writer who told me "Do only that which brings you joy." She was the person I was referring to.

  7. I think it's also worth noting that Lee and other SADs go out of their way to include readers in the conversation. Lee, Michael Connelly, and Robert Crais for example, make no distinction among readers, writers, agents et. al - they treat everyone equally. Which, unfortunately, is not always the case.

  8. Amen, Brother Jim. Testify.

    For personal reasons, as well as professional, Lee Child could show up on my doorstep at 3 a.m. needing a thousand dollars and a ride to Nogales, and I wouldn't ask why.

    I'd just load him in the Mazda and head for the nearest ATM.

    I would do the same, for many of the same reasons, for Laura Lippman, although I see her more as needing a ride to Canada instead of Mexico. I don't know why.

    I have enormous affection for so many people in this community, but they are the senior leaders I salute without question.

  9. Ditto what Jim says about Lee. At SleuthFest, he was accessible and charming to everyone, from the most awestruck unpublished attendee to...the rest of us awestruck fools.

    Jerry Healy has been like a brother to us since our first book; Elaine Viets was my first mentor in how to navigate the shoals. Jim Hall scared the hell of of me but gave us a blurb for our first book. Mike Connelly always has time for others no matter where they are on the food chain; if I didn't know otherwise, I'd swear the man has no homelife. Other class acts: Linda Fairstein, Laura Lippman, Tess.

    On the other end of the spectrum, there are a lot of a-holes in our biz. But word gets out about who doesn't play well with others.

    Karma, baby.

  10. I'll second the kudos for Lee Child and Jerry Healy, although Jerry still has that Law Professor voice that freezes my blood. He can't help it.

    I fall worshipfully at Laura Lippman's feet whenever I see her in public. Oh, she keeps saying things like "Cut that out," or "I'm calling my lawyer," but I think she kinda digs it.

    Tess Gerritsen is incredibly generous and classy. I will most likely fall at her feet next time I see her as well.

    And we've got to mention Ken Bruen..Ken is da man.

    I'd go any of them's bail, no questions asked.

  11. I came to this site to check out Cornelia (oo-er, sounds a bit saucy), after matching wits with her over the years on Lee Child's forum, where I've been since it started 35 years ago. That should give you an idea of how much I like the guy. As an example of how persoanl Lee gets with his readers (again, sounds a bit saucy), waaay back when he was classed as having potential, he personally sent me an email thanking me for a review of Killing Floor I posted on Amazon, and insisted on taking my wife and I out for dinner when he came to New Zealand. Roanne was pregnant at the time, so he put the initials of the kid into Without Fail, which he was writing at the time. A classy guy.

  12. Although I've been fortunate enough to have some success of my own, the person who will always be Senior Author for me is Jim Winter. Granted, the advice he gives is usually wrong -- but he always is willing to give it anyway. That's what really counts.

  13. I'm glad we have so many thankful writers and readers.

  14. As a reader, not a writer, I can only go by what I have briefly observed, and Lee Child is all Jim says, and probably more; and, I suspect that you, Jim, are a SMOD yourself.

    The gentleman I have most noticed at various events and been most impressed with, is David Morrell, one of the most gracious and unassuming people I've ever met. He once took me arounfd to several authors and told them to take a few minutes to sign the books I wanted to have signed; he gifted me with one of his own copies of a book I had mentioned I was trying to get hold of but was having trouble. I watched him at a workshop as he took an aspiring writer in tow to talk to him between sessions, to show him the inside workings of things, and sundry other details; he called a young writer out of the blue and asked if he'd like him to write an intro to his short story. I've heard many similar stories from other people about Mr. Morrell.

    Bob Levinson is in there, too, and Lisa Scottoline. Your whole darn writing community with very few exceptions is a wonderful group of human beings.

    How about a jigsaw, Paul?

    Tom, T.O.

  15. I'll second T.O.'s comment, though it makes me ill to do so.

    I first met Jim Born in a men's restroom... which, apparently, is where a lot of his "meetings" take place. It was at Edgar Week one year, and his first book had not been released yet. But there, in that oh-so-romantic setting, Born was the exact same guy he is today, after all the published books and celebrity; humble, funny, smart, and willing to do anything for anyone.

    Just ask the guy in stall #3.

    Anyway, yes, Born is a SMOD. I like that. "Born's a Smod." That sounds better than having to say what a good man he is.

  16. Since there's all this love flowing in the room, I wanted to go on record as well...

    Jim Born never did a damn thing for me.