Rule One

I had reached the point where, as my friend at the time said, “We need to get you some publishing credits.” I had been writing for years and following the rules of Good Writing. These rules were not actually written down anywhere, but I was certain they existed, and I was going to follow them, and when I followed them strictly enough all this writing I was doing would get published. But in the meantime, as my friend said, perhaps it would be a good idea to get any kind of publishing credit. We both needed the work, and work looked like it might be coming our way. A game company with which I was working wanted to publish novels based on their games. These would be mystery-type novels written for women. I never read mysteries, and I didn’t write for women—I just wrote (following the rules, of course), for women, men, boys, girls, cats, I didn’t care, I just wrote. The plan was that my friend and I would try to write one of these novels together.

My friend, who was more experienced than I but who had also never written mysteries or for women, suggested we start with a little research. We should read the types of books we were about to write. He gave me a list of writers I had never heard of. “These ladies are pros,” he told me. “Let’s see how they do it.”

The pro I would read first had written numerous #1 New York Times Bestsellers. She had written them under different names, and at the pace of about two books a year. This book, a romantic suspense, was different than the sorts of novels I normally read. I opened to the first page reminding myself to put aside my normal biases, to enjoy the fast-paced suspenseful romance and learn how to write these different sorts of stories.

I was surprised by what I read. This book broke all the rules I had been diligently following. It broke them page after page after page. I knew it wouldn’t be the sort of book I normally read, but I didn’t think it would be this different. How could it be? I wondered. How can you write like this and get published. Are there no standards at all?

If I had been much younger I might have chalked the answer up to the stupidity of the reading public, or the death of literature or whatever, but I didn’t. What I did was close the book and turn it over. On the back I found the full cover photo of the author, dressed in her power blouse, standing powerfully before her library, staring back into the camera with a look that said, “I make the rules in this house!”

I looked at the picture, turned the book over and looked at the cover, read the first page again, looked at her picture again, and thought, “Oh, I get it. This book sounds like her.”

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