The Fan Letter by Lee Child
They say the past is another country, and in my case it really was: provincial England at the end of the fifties and the start of the sixties, the last gasp of the post-war era, before it surrendered to the tectonic shift sparked by the Beatles. My family was neither rich nor poor, not that either condition had much meaning in a society with not much to buy and not much to lack. We accumulated toys at the rate of two a year: one on our birthdays, and one at Christmas. We had a big table radio (which we called "the wireless") in the dining room, and in the living room we had a black and white fishbowl television, full of glowing tubes, but there were only two channels, and they went off the air at ten in the evening, after playing the National Anthem, for which some families stood up, and sometimes we saw a double bill at the pictures on a Saturday morning, but apart from that we had no entertainment.
So we read books. As it happens I just saw some old research from that era which broke down reading habits by class (as so much was categorized in England at that time) and which showed that fully fifty percent of the middle class regarded reading as their main leisure activity. The figure for skilled workers was twenty-five percent, and even among laborers ten percent turned to books as a primary choice.
Not that we bought them. We used the library. Ours was housed in a leftover WW2 Nissen hut (the British version of a Quonset hut) which sat on a bombed-out lot behind a church. It had a low door and a unique warm, musty, dusty smell, which I think came partly from the worn floorboards and partly from the books themselves, of which there were not very many. I finished with the children's picture books by the time I was four, and had read all the chapter books by the time I was eight, and had read all the grown-up books by the time I was ten.
Not that I was unique - or even very bookish. I was one of the rough kids. We fought and stole and broke windows and walked miles to soccer games, where we fought some more. We were covered in scabs and scars. We had knives in our pockets - but we had books in our pockets too. Even the kids who couldn't read tried very hard to, because we all sensed there was more to life than the gray, pinched, post-war horizons seemed to offer. Traveling farther than we could walk in half a day was out of the question - but we could travel in our heads ... to Australia, Africa, America ... by sea, by air, on horseback, in helicopters, in submarines. Meeting people unlike ourselves was very rare ... but we could meet them on the page. For most of us, reading - and imagining, and dreaming - was as useful as breathing.
My parents were decent, dutiful people, and when my mother realized I had read everything the Nissen hut had to offer - most of it twice - she got me a library card for a bigger place the other side of the canal. I would head over there on a Friday afternoon after school and load up with the maximum allowed - six titles - which would make life bearable and get me through the week. Just. Which sounds ungrateful - my parents were doing their best, no question, but lively, energetic kids needed more than that time and place could offer. Once a year we went and spent a week in a trailer near the sea - no better or worse a vacation than anyone else got, for sure, but usually accompanied by lashing rain and biting cold and absolutely nothing to do.
The only thing that got me through one such week was Von Ryan's Express by David Westheimer. I loved that book. It was a WW2 prisoner-of-war story full of tension and suspense and twists and turns, but its biggest "reveal" was moral rather than physical - what at first looked like collaboration with the enemy turned out to be resistance and escape. I read it over and over that week and never forgot it.
Then almost forty years later, when my own writing career was picking up a head of steam, I got a fan letter signed by a David Westheimer. The handwriting was shaky, as if the guy was old. I wondered, could it be? I wrote back and asked, are you the David Westheimer? Turned out yes, it was. We started a correspondence that lasted until he died. I met him in person at a book signing I did in California, near his home, which gave me a chance to tell him how he had kept me sane in a rain-lashed trailer all those years ago. He said he had had the same kind of experience forty years before that. Now I look forward to writing a fan letter to a new author years from now ... and maybe hearing my books had once meant something special to him or her. Because that's what books do - they dig deeper, they mean more, they stick around forever.
From the Publisher
“Sixteen shades of noir, all interesting, some compelling.Three of Child’s contributorsKen Bruen, Allison Brennan and Duane Swierczynskiare seasoned pros, but the collection’s gems come from the 13 members of the younger set. Derek Nikitas’s “Runaway,” for instance, is a superbly ambiguous chiller about an adolescent girl who may or may not be a real runaway, or for that matter real. In Toni McGee Causey’s artfully composed “A Failure to Communicate” introduces the indomitable and irresistible Bobbie Faye Sumrall, a steel magnolia whose steel will cause three lowlifes to rue the day they took her hostage. “Perfect Gentleman” by Brett Battles and “Bottom Deal” by Robert Gregory Browne are both lean and taut, expertly crafted in the good old hard-boiled tradition. In Marc Lecard’s sly “Teardown,” a hapless loser arrives in the wrong place at what turns out to be exactly the right time. Gregg Olson’s autobiographical “Crime of My Life” features a surprise ending that actually surprises. The quality is less consistent among the other entries, but, remarkably for a collection this ample, there’s no sign of a clinker. An anthology so worthwhile that it comes within an eyelash of deserving the hyperbole Child (Bad Luck and Trouble, 2007, etc.) heaps on it in his introduction.” Kirkus Reviews
“Who doesn't like a good treasure hunt? Who doesn't like discovering new talent on the rise? Both will be found within the covers of KILLER YEAR, an anthology of spanking new talent doing what they do best: getting your blood pumping and holding you breathless on the razor's edge of suspense. Each story is a brilliant, perfectly cut gem--just be careful of those sharp edges. They cut deep to the bone.” James Rollins, New York Times bestselling author of MAP OF BONES and THE JUDAS STRAIN
“I'm for anything that increases writers' odds of enjoying long and successful careers. Let's hope KILLER YEAR does just that, for these writers and generations of writers to come.” Laura Lippman
“The disturbingly good new talent showcased in this volume bodes well for the future of the genre.” Publishers Weekly
“The mentors' introductions to these stories, plus brief biographies at the end, should entice readers to longer works by these promising new authors. Even amid a recent rash of anthologies in the genre, this one is well worth a look.” Library Journal
“Gems come from the 13 [Killer Year] members…. Remarkably for a collection this ample, there's no sign of a clinker.” Kirkus Reviews
New York Times bestselling author of MAP OF BONES James Rollins
Who doesn't like a good treasure hunt? Who doesn't like discovering new talent on the rise? Both will be found within the covers of KILLER YEAR, an anthology of spanking new talent doing what they do best: getting your blood pumping and holding you breathless on the razor's edge of suspense. Each story is a brilliant, perfectly cut gemjust be careful of those sharp edges. They cut deep to the bone.
Read an Excerpt
The Class of Co-opetition
by M. J. Rose
The point of this collection of stories is to thrill you, the reader. And no one expects you to care that the publishing biz is in dire straits. But to appreciate the spirit in which this collection of stories came together, it helps to understand something about the publishing industry at this point in time.
With margins low, distribution costs rocketing, limited or no marketing budgets for all but the top 15 percent of titles, and little major media interest in all but the biggest authors, book sales drop a little more every year and fewer and fewer authors can live off their fiction efforts.
Ours has become a risk-averse industry that more and more puts all its eggs in the same baskets year in, year out: a few brand-name authors, yet there are more than one thousand novels traditionally published every month.
These days even some of the biggest and the best authors will attest that their job is as much about selling as it is writing, because the support they get from their publishers is no longer enough to spread the word among booksellers, let alone readers. Authors hiring outside publicists and webmasters, buying additional advertising, subsidizing book tours, not just talking about marketing but doing something about it ... all these things are no longer the exception but the rule.
You might think, because of all this, that there's an every-man-for-himself attitude among writers, each one trying to outfox the other for limited ad dollars, blog reviews, special events or promotions. Yet one group of writers who routinely practice backstabbing, larceny, and murder is doing the opposite: working together to promote each other's books.
In the fall of 2004, International Thriller WritersITW for shortwas created at a mystery and suspense book conference called Bouchercon. Our goal was to celebrate the thriller, enhance the prestige and raise the profile of thrillers, create a community that together could do more, much more, than any one authoror even any one publishercould for the genre.
Now ITW, with more than five hundred members who have more than two billion books in print, is changing the rules for how books are sold and marketed, and how writers work together.
Superstars have rolled up their sleeves to work alongside mid-list and debut novelists to apply some fresh thinking to a stale industry.
And nowhere is that spirit of co-opetition more evident than in this book. The authors of this collection are in essence in competition with each other; if you look at the statistics, the average "avid" reader only buys 2.5 books a year.
And yet this smart, savvy group of debut authors came up with a plan to give fresh verve and energy to the clichéd phrase "strength in numbers." They've turned it into "creativity in numbers."
To support these debut authors, ITW offered to mentor the Class of '07 because we recognized our same spirit in them: a group of writers willing to band together and help each other rather than view each other as competition. To do something different. And to do it right.
We wanted to help, not just because we were so damned impressed with the creativity of the idea but because once upon a timebe it twenty-five years ago or last yeareach and every one of ITW's members was a debut novelist.
And most of us remember every single difficult step of that process. For some of us that means remembering the people who helped us. Or that there was no one to help us.
And how isolating that was.
Wouldn't it be great if ITW as an organization could help the debut authors who are going to be the future of our genre?
So over the summer of 2006, the full ITW board of directors approved the idea to adopt Killer Year 2007 and take some of the tough work out of being a debut novelist by helping each author through their baptism by fire into the publishing world.
Lee Child, Jeff Deaver, Tess Gerritsen, Gayle Lynds, David Morrell, Jim Rollins, Anne Frasier, Douglas Clegg, Duane Swierczynski, Cornelia Read, Harley Jane Kozak, Allison Brennan, Ken Bruen, and Joe R. Lansdale all signed on to be mentors.
This idea of cooperation among potential rivals is a variation on a theme we're beginning to see in other places on the Web, from group blogs to social networking sites like MySpace or cultural hotspots like YouTube.
For an industry losing readers to video games, movies, digital cable, blogs, and a creeping apathy about books, it seems a no-brainer.
But, as ITW member and author Tim Malceny said about the program, "It's no small irony that it took a bunch of writers who probe the darkest side of humanity to see the light."
KILLER YEAR. Copyright © 2008 by Lee Child. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.