Thursday, August 06, 2009

Celebrating Small Milestones

Please welcome guest blogger Neil Plakcy, an award-winning author, vice president of the Florida chapter of the MWA and all around good guy. He is the author of Author of Mahu, Mahu Surfer, Mahu Fire, and Mahu Vice (August, 2009), mystery novels set in Hawaii.

By Neil Plakcy

I still remember the first time I used the phrase “my editor.” I was twenty-two, a recent college graduate with publishing aspirations, and that phrase thrilled me in a way that still gives me pleasure decades later.Back when I lived in Philadelphia, I was an avid reader of the Inquirer and its book coverage. The paper ran “Book and Author Luncheons” a couple of times a year, and I started attending them in my junior year in college. They were presided over by the paper’s book editor, and I felt like a real grown-up sitting at big round tables eating hotel food and chatting nervously with the mostly older women at my table.

I knew I wanted to write, but knew I didn’t have much to write about yet. The one thing I could do, as an English major, was read books, think about them, and then write up my opinions. I’d written a couple of book reviews for free, for hometown papers, and I saw my chance to break in to the big time when the Inquirer’s book editor left in a scandal involving the sale of advanced readers’ copies to used bookstores.

His replacement was a lovely woman named Rebecca Pepper Sinkler, a Penn graduate like me. A friend working as an editorial assistant at a New York publisher sent me an advance copy of a first novel by Brett Singer called The Petting Zoo, because she thought I’d like this story of young love. Brashly, I wrote a capsule review (the Inquirer ran a series of 75-words reviews back then) and sent it off, with a note introducing myself.

Amazingly, she accepted it, and paid me the grand sum of $25. She invited me to come down to her office and look through the review copies she had, to see if there was something else that interested me. Walking away from her office that afternoon, carrying a couple of (free!) books, I first realized I could now call her “my editor.” And what a wonderful feeling that was. I’ve had lots of editors since then, even been an editor myself, but at that moment I felt like I had entered, for the first time, the world of publishing, a place I knew I wanted to belong.

If you savor those small moments, you’ll find writing is a career full of milestones to celebrate. My first published work of fiction? A contest-winning story called “My Cousin’s Keeper.” The first story I made money from? A piece of gay erotica called “The Cop Who Caught Me” in Honcho magazine. My first agent, my first book contract, seeing the cover of my first book—all those are terrific moments.

What are some of your favorite writing moments?


  1. Welcome, Neil. Enjoyed it.

    Delayed gratification. I think nothing hit me like the moment I tore open the Fed Ex package with the Advance Reading Copy of "To Speak for the Dead," my first novel.

    "Good Lord," I thought. "I'm a writer."

  2. Indeed, welcome, Neil. For me, it was receiving the call from my agent, telling me that Mysterious Press had bought my book. It was one of those out of body experiences you might associate with winning the lottery.

  3. My start in mysteries was when my first short story, A TALE OF TWO SITTINGS, won two trophies and publication and $100 in Murderous Intent Magazine. From that point on I was a mystery writer and no other genre!

  4. Oh, YES! Neil. Of course, since I didn't get into writing until late(r) in life, being able to say, 'my editor' and after that 'my agent', were great. So was coming home from a trip to a phone message saying a magazine wanted to buy my very first short story submission.

    Alas, now I no longer have an agent, and the magazine folded before it ever published my story.

    I saw my books in print for the first time at a signing at a conference -- I hadn't even received my author copies at home yet.

  5. My milestone actually seemed pretty big to me- receiving my first copy of my first novel, Gumbo Justice, from my publisher at the first writer's conference I ever attended. It was also the first time I traveled with a cane and without my wheelchair since my car accident a year earlier. It was also the first time I saw my publisher face to face, and the first time I met Sunny Frazier. So it was a roller coaster of small milestones!

  6. Thanks for sharing your small milestones-- it's always wonderful to hear about success.

  7. My first milestone was when I received the email that I had taken first place in the Dark Oak Mystery Contest and won the publishing contract from Oak Tree Press. The euphoria was incredible. You stare not believing at first and as it sinks in the emotions ride over you and in my case they spilled over and I couldn't wait to get out of where I was. I wanted to scream and wasn't in a place where I could.
    W.S. Gager
    A Case of Infatuation - now available