Without having changed the headline, because it's way too apropos: Congratulations to the classiest guy in any sport, for setting the record that everybody has known he would set, and doing it in classic fashion. There isn't anybody as good, there never has been, and it's not likely there will be for a very, very long time.
No, I wasn't at Bouchercon this weekend (and thanks for reminding me! Geez!), so we'll have to wait for Josh's report (and perhaps those from other DEAD GUYs) later this week. Next year in Cleveland, for sure. Now, then (which is a contradictory phrase)...
This is a parable: When my daughter was only five or six, I was reading one of her current favorite bedtime books, The Salamander Room, to her. We'd read a number of books a night, which sounds impressive until you realize that books for six-year-olds don't have so many words as pictures. The plots were, let's say, uncomplicated.
This one was about a kid who found a salamander and brought it home. The book consists of a dialogue between the kid and his mother about how to best treat the salamander. Mom, oddly, argues against keeping the salamander in the house, saying it's cruel to the animal, which would need the environment of the forest where it grew to survive.
The child keeps suggesting that, instead, changes should be made to the house in which they live to accommodate the salamander. This includes such minor touches as removing the roof so the rain and sunshine can get in.
As I recall, Mom prevails. It's been at least 12 years, so I might be wrong. But since adults write most children's books, it's a decent bet Mom won out.
When we had finished reading, Eve and I discussed the book, and I said I thought it was silly for the kid to want to make such huge changes to the family's home when he could have brought the salamander back to the forest and visited him/her/it whenever the urge arose.
Eve, her mischievous eye gleam glowing, said she thought it would have been a better idea to simply move the family's house to the forest to make a homey environment for their new pet.
I balked. "Do you realize how hard it would be to move a whole house?" I asked my six-year-old.
Without so much as a giveaway grin, she replied, "Daddy. You call a professional."
I'm a professional writer. I get paid. Almost all the time. And if you think that doesn't matter, you're wrong. It pays tuition and it pays utilities and occasionally it even pays the mortgage (that only happens about once a year--the rest of the time my wife and her thankfully steady paycheck do the honors). I take pride in what I do, and I do it as well as I know how.
So when someone says they're a writer because they once had an op ed piece printed in the local newspaper or they won a poetry contest in the seventh grade or they write a killer memo for the sales VP in their company, I have to bite my tongue just a little bit.
Writing is a passion and a calling. It is a craft and an art. It is a trust between writer and reader. It is a strange way to spend one's spare time. It can be torture or ecstasy.
But make no mistake--it's also a job. If you're looking for something to read and you can only spend a limited amount of money on such entertainment, take my daughter's sage advice.
You call a professional.
And by that, I'm not simply saying, "Buy my book." I'm saying if you've never heard of an author before, pay attention. Of course you should give new writers a chance, but not blindly. See if the story sounds interesting, if the first couple of pages indicate a writing style you'll find enjoyable. I don't place a lot of weight on blurbs (although I love getting them for my books; I won't lie), but take a look at them. Not so much for who's doing the blurbing, but what information you can get from them.
If the book (particularly, these days, an e-book) seems badly edited or unedited, if there are tons of typos, if the writing seems especially crude (as in unpolished), you're not in the hands of a professional. I won't get into the argument about whether a publisher's imprint on the book indicates quality. But I can tell you that it definitely indicates at least two editors and a copy editor have looked it over very carefully. Plot holes have been questioned, if not filled. Inconsistencies have been smoothed.
And typos have been, with rare exceptions, eliminated. (Nobody's perfect.)
In these days when literally anyone can publish a book, we are confronted with countless reading choices. Some of them are marvelous. Some of them, let's face it, aren't. And the word "professional" has taken on a somewhat negative quality, as if the experience one might encounter reading the work of a pro would be somehow less creative and more soulless than that of a driven, striving amateur.
All I'm saying is: If your pipes are broken, do you call a plumber, or a guy you know who owns a wrench?
My money would be on the professional. Because he'd probably talk you out of moving that house into the forest just to accommodate a salamander. He'd know better.
Daddy. You call a professional.