More Talk, Less Hock: The Bryon Quertermous Q&A
It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World

Fail Safe

There are certain moments a writer dreads. Reading an email that begins "Thank you for your submission, but...." Seeing a one-star review pop up on Amazon. Finding one of your own books in the remainder bin — or, even worse, realizing you're not in the damn Barnes & Noble in any way whatsoever.

I've been through them all. More than once. More than twice. More than...well, lots. And for a long, long time, I let each experience mark me. I'd see the rejection, the bad review, the nothing where my books ought to be, and I'd feel the rubber stamp smacking into my forehead.

Fail 300

Back when I used to go to mystery conventions like Bouchercon and Left Coast Crime, it would happen, too. I'd muff some conversation, screw up an inscription, notice that Writer X was signing waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay more books than me, and I'd feel it.

Fail 300

It got really bad a while back when I found myself, for the first time in years, without a book contract. Money got tight. Mickey Rourke's cheeks after his fourth facelift tight. So tight my wife started to give me a running countdown to doom. 

Her: "We have six months before we run out of money."

Her: "We have five months before we run out of money."

Her: "We have four months before we run out of money."

Her: "You got a royalty check today."

Me: "Huzzah!"

Her: "Yeah. Yippee. We have five months before we run out of money."

Fail 300

It got so that every bag of groceries I bought, every round of drinks I picked up, every book or movie I treated myself to — each one was simply another step closer to an empty bank account, foreclosure, disaster. 

Fail 300

Fail 300

Fail 300

Eventually, I reached the moment every professional writer really dreads. The moment you realize you can't be a professional writer anymore. Not of the "make up fun crap in your pajamas all day" variety, anyway. It was time to go back to a day job.

Fail 300

Of course, Fate being the perverted biyatch she is, the second I landed a 9-to-5 gig, contracts started flying at me. Suddenly I had three series to write...and no time to write them. So a "Tarot Mystery" was a little late. Then a "Nick and Tesla" book was really late. Then another "Tarot Mystery" was reeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaalllllllllllly late. I was a pro again, as I'd defined it, but I was stressed out and burned out and disappointed in myself for letting my editors down. And you know what?

Fail 300

I'd reached the ultimate FAIL, in fact: Writing was making me unhappy. It had been for a long time, I realized. Because how can you be happy with that FAIL FAIL FAIL constantly whacking you in the face? 

And who was doing the whacking? Not editors, not agents, not snarky reviewers, not even Fate. 

It was me. 

I'd sold X books and X + Y stories and I'd been a finalist for X - Z awards and I had X x X readers who like my stuff. And, yeah, O.K., I had to have a day job. But it was a stable one I actually liked. Which meant I didn't need book contracts to feed my family anymore. Yet somehow I was still a failure? 

Nope. That kind of thinking was a FAIL right there. It was time to knock it off.

The countdown to financial doom has been aborted. I have the freedom to write whatever I want. There are people out there who've been patiently waiting for me to do something with that freedom. And I'm done judging myself. 

My new slogan: MAKE WRITING FUN AGAIN. Which makes me happy. 


Success 399


Lee Ann Nelson

We all own "FAIL" stamps and we all take them out...usually when we need ourselves the most. I'm so sorry you feel this way - as a reading fan, I always feel like a "FAIL" if I don't review every book I read or I don't buy every book my favorite writer puts out or I don't make my book club read their books...

I'm glad to know that you found your "SUCCESS" stamp...excuse me, I need to go find mine.

Steve Hockensmith

I know exactly where your "SUCCESS" stamp is: inside yourself.

EXCITING ANNOUNCEMENT: The preceding sentence has been awarded The 2016 Dr. Phil C.R.A.P. (Cliches Really Are Powerful) Prize for stating the obvious in an attempt to be empowering. Congrats, me!

But truly -- the "FAIL" stamp is something we smack ourselves with (although sometimes life puts the stamp in our hands and says, "Have at it!"). So we can use the "SUCCESS" stamp on ourselves, too.

Steve Hockensmith

Or in other words....

Jonathan Turner

It's always tempting to give in to what I might call credentialitis. That's where you look to some kind of easily-visible credentials--the right school, the right job, the right friends, the right salary, the right lifestyle--as a way to frame success and failure. Don't give in! Success isn't credentials; success is being able to do a thing that want to do, because you want to do it.

Not that the external marks of success aren't nice, but I'm pretty sure that for most people they're never enough. Think you're a success because you got that promotion? In two weeks you'll start noticing all the people who are younger than you who've already gotten the *next* promotion. Big contract? Yeah, but that other guy got a movie deal ...

Mind you, I'd love to try out this theory by getting all the external markers I can handle. I bet Bill Gates doesn't feel this way, for example. (He's got staff for that.)

Steve Hockensmith

I've definitely suffered from a case of credentialitis in the past. In fact, I'm still working to get over it. I think I'm just about there: I'm about to make a big leap that leaves my old cred (as I saw it) behind. We'll see if I'm completely cured....

Bryan Steelman

So, did you quit the 9-to-5 job?

Steve Hockensmith

No way! The 9-to-5 job has made it possible for me to quit the writing projects I didn't want to do anymore. Which means I can now focus on the stuff I've been wanting to get to for years. For instance, I've finally started gearing up to write --



Bryan Steelman

Let's hear it for the multitaskers, and I'm glad you've recaptured your desire to write. You are a credit to your genre, and if you keep listening to big band/swing music, you might be inspired to explore the noir regions of mystery.

Good for you! We spend way too much time working to spend it on a job we can't enjoy. And darn it, Steve- you write *good* books. I've got plenty of ideas for alternative writers to nominate for that 'fail' stamp, based on their work!

(JT and I got the Nick and Tesla series for our nephews last Christmas, BTW - and we'll intro them to your others when they're a bit older).

Happy birthday!

~Robin Holly


Thanks for your honesty.

How wonderful to like your day-job. What a + to have the pressure off of paying the bills now to do writing projects you want to do. Life is far too short to hate ourselves for not fitting into mental constructs of success or freedom.

I've been reading people's T-shirts. Your post reminds me of a favorite T-shirt on a young boy about 11 years old which read, "To be continued." Looking forward to what you're going to write next!

Steve Hockensmith

"Life is far too short to hate ourselves for not fitting into mental constructs of success or freedom."

So true! Happy? Success! Doing what you want to do? Freedom!

I feel like I need that "To Be Continued" shirt. Think it comes in a large?

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