One of the first authors I saw last weekend while in Manhattan for Thrillerfest X was Clive Cussler. He looked older and frailer than I had imagined, but his spirit and wit was that of 30-year-old. He regaled the audience with his many stories and had me laughing until I cried. It was awesome. But one thing I noticed right away was the fire in his eyes, the look of a man who thoroughly enjoys his work.
Although I was only at the festival for one day, it was an experience of a lifetime. To be in the same building (the Grand Hyatt on 42nd) let alone the same room with authors of Mr. Cussler’s caliber was beyond amazing. I listened with rapt attention as he told of book signings gone wrong, writing and selling his very first novel, and working as a marine archeologist. It was a serious fanboy moment.
Nelson DeMille’s interview in the ballroom, which could easily seat three hundred people, was standing-room only. Listening to his stories about serving in Viet Nam and later becoming a novelist and creating the cynical hero John Corey, was a blast. I have read every John Corey book and thoroughly enjoy every word.
Lee Child, creator of the Jack Reacher series, was quite the suave and well-spoken Brit, yet very down to earth and personable. I always laugh when I think of books like THE KILLING FLOOR or ONE SHOT and consider the differences between Mr. Child’s personality and Jack Reacher’s. It’s like James Bond vs. Rambo.
But that’s the thing—authors don’t always put themselves in their books. We’re like actors. We write about characters we would like to be, or aspects of our personality that would never see daylight except in the world of fiction. We breath life into the characters and send them out into the world, entities unto themselves. Or so we hope.
There were many other authors—Jeffrey Deaver, Sandra Brown, Catherine Coulter, Scott Turow, R.L. Stine, David Morrell, Patrick Lee—just to name a few, all in one building. Unbelievable. There were several workshops, after parties and things I was unable to attend, but in the short time I was there, I learned so much. But something I noticed was this: With every author that spoke, there was one recurring theme—a love for storytelling.
I think that was the main thing I took away from the conference—true writers always have a love for the craft. Marketing, networking, understanding the business, all of that is important. But having a love for what you do translates to the writing itself and gives life to our stories and our characters. Without that, we're just wannabes and hacks.
Part of what drives that love is curiosity—curiosity about the world and about what goes on around us. About what makes people tick, why we do the things we do. Curiosity is part of what keeps us young and keeps things interesting. It may kill cats, but for a writer it means life.
I believe that for those at the top or those who would like to be there, that is the key to success—truly loving what you do, stirring the pot, maintaining that curiosity, and keeping that love alive. If you can manage that first, then everything else will follow.