When you graduate with a degree in writing, you think you’d know a little bit about the business side of things, but unfortunately, more often than not, this important facet of becoming a professional author is lacking from degree programs. I’ve learned a lot about the business of writing for publication through trial and error. The rest I learned through the advice and guidance provided by already established professionals. In my early years post-graduation, there were many people who calmly abided my newbie questions. Sometimes I look back and think I must have been such a pest! Even so a handful of the people I asked for advice stood out as exemplars of professionalism and class: Rick Hautala, Tom Piccirilli, Brian Keene, and Kealan Patrick Burke.
But for one brief anxiety-laden encounter at a signing in Joliet a LONG time ago (which I’m sure Brian has certainly forgotten about), I’ve never met any of these fine authors in person. And even though I am literally a stranger to them all in a flesh and blood sense, they all listened willingly and gave of themselves graciously whenever I reached out to them. They helped me avoid pitfalls they had to learn about firsthand. They helped me remain positive when I had trouble seeing the light. Most importantly, these authors taught me not only how to act professionally, but also how to treat other people trying to make it in this sometimes rough business of ours.
I still think back with regret that I never took Rick’s suggestion to pick up the phone and call him whenever I felt the need. At the time I thought, “Who has time for phone calls anymore?” What a damn fool I was for missing out on connecting with him on a deeper level than through email. Rick was taken from us too early a couple of short years ago.
The literary world lost another shining light with Tom Piccirilli’s recent passing. These last couple of days I’ve looked back at our correspondence with sadness, but also indelible fondness. These aren’t just brief letters of encouragement or guidance, but clear examples for how to treat other people. I have no doubt that Tom’s work will endure. He was a master of the dark, the macabre, the surreal. But I also believe that his example will endure just as long through those authors he helped guide through their early days.