Tuesday, August 13, 2019

A Career-Changing Moment?


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HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  One of the most rom-com moments I’ve ever encountered in real life was last May at Malice Domestic, when wife and husband Tara Laskowski and Art Taylor were both nominated for best short story.

Now. I ask you, Reds and readers, is there anything cuter?


Tara won (she tied with FOTR Leslie Budewitz), as it turned out. It would have been fine anyway, since Art had already won about fifty million of them,  but the 2018 awards scales were further balanced in that he won the Edgar for the same story).

And they have the cutest son in the world—Dash. If you follow them on Facebook, and you should, truly, you will love him, too.

ANYWAY.

That might have been a career-changing moment—since Tara’s first novel ONE NIGHT GONE is about to come out—and you can pre order here—we’re probably about to find out. Or! Being here today might be one, too.  For you, too, Reds and readers.



Career-Changing “Aha” Moments
    by Tara Laskowski

A few years ago, I was discussing my then novel-in-progress with Christina Hogrebe, an agent at the Jane Rotrosen Agency. This was a book that I’d written and then rewritten and then rewritten again—a 500-plus page love story that spanned several decades and was set in my hometown in Pennsylvania.

Once I finished talking about that book and the other idea I had for a literary/women’s fiction novel, Christina paused for a moment. She then asked me the question that would completely alter my writing path forever:

“Do you read in that genre?”

I know people overuse the lightbulb-went-off cliché all the time, but I can tell you that if there was a lamp in my head, someone would’ve been in there yanking the cord with all their might. Because my answer to her question was “no, not really.”

Sure, I read widely. I like literary fiction. I like YA, fantasy and sci-fi. And I’ve certainly read and loved women’s fiction and romance. There were specific novels that had inspired my own manuscript. Crooked River Burning by Mark Winegardner was a big one (and you should really go buy that book immediately—it’s fantastic). Feast of Love by Charles Baxter. The Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank. Running in Heels by Anna Maxted.

But this is not the genre, generally, that fuels my fire.

I love murder. Mystery. Suspense. Creepiness. I want to devour the novels of Tana French, Megan Abbott, Laura Lippmann, Paul Tremblay. The books I gravitate to in the bookstore are the ones with the creepy covers and even creepier premises.

So why wasn’t I writing the kinds of books that I would want to read?

After that phone call with Christina, I made a move that was a little devastating and scary. I shelved the two novel manuscripts I’d spent more than eight years on. And I started something new. Something creepy. Something I thought I would get excited about if I saw it on the shelf in an independent bookstore.

That something ultimately become my debut novel, One Night Gone, which is being published this October 1.

Christina’s question was what I call a career-altering “aha” moment for me. It set me on a new, unknown path, but I believe it set me on the right one. And like all moments of change, it was scary at first. And daunting. But I’m so very grateful for it.

As writers, I’m sure we can all easily point to “aha” moments we had about our writing. Maybe it was a beta reader who led us to realize that one of our characters could just be deleted from the manuscript. Or a workshop critique that shed the light on the true ending and resolution of a short story. Those “aha” moments are wonderful, and they prove that surrounding yourself with a good community of writers and readers makes you a better writer.

But fewer and rarer are the career-changing “aha”s. Sometimes they come because of a failure—a lost job, an unsold manuscript, a bad review. Sometimes they come when you’ve wildly succeeded at something you thought you were just playing around with.

Others, like mine, have been smaller in scope. The moment in college when I realized I was an English major not because I wanted to go to law school like I’d thought, but because I wanted to be…an English major. The time I won a flash fiction fellowship and realized my true joy was in crafting very tiny moments and perfecting that art.

They could be small acts of generosity or kindness from someone, or a perfectly timed question or comment by a well-meaning, savvy person.

Whatever they are, whenever they come, they are worth sitting up and listening to.

Because, like everything, you can’t really succeed unless you take a risk.

Do you have a writing-related career “aha” moment?

HANK: Oh, definitely. When my first draft of my first novel turned out to be 723 pages long, and an up and coming agent-acquaintance read it. (Can you believe it? She’s now the powerhouse Elisabeth Weed.) She said: "Cut 400 pages. I showed you what to cut from the first 50. Do the rest just like that."   And that seemed to work—that turned into PRIME TIME!

How about you, Reds and readers? A career 'aha" moment? And it doesn’t have to be about books.

ONE NIGHT GONE
Part electric coming-of-age story and part breathtaking mystery, One Night Gone is an atmospheric novel about power, privilege, and sisterhood. One sultry summer, Maureen Haddaway arrives in the wealthy town of Opal Beach to start her life anew—to achieve her destiny. But Maureen’s new life just might be too good to be true, and before the summer is up, she vanishes. Decades later, when Allison Simpson is offered the opportunity to house-sit in Opal Beach during the off-season, it seems like the perfect chance to begin fresh after a messy divorce. But when she becomes drawn into the mysterious disappearance of a girl thirty years before, Allison realizes the gorgeous homes of Opal Beach hide dark secrets. And the truth of that long-ago summer is not even the most shocking part of all...

TARA LASKOWSKI is the award-winning author of two short story collections, Modern Manners for Your Inner Demons and Bystanders, which was named a Best Book of 2017 by The Guardian. Her debut novel One Night Gone will be published in October 2019 by Graydon House Books. She is the editor of the online flash fiction journal SmokeLong Quarterly, an Agatha Award winner, and a member of Sisters in Crime. A graduate of Susquehanna University and George Mason University, Tara grew up in Pennsylvania and lives in Virginia.

69 comments:

  1. Congratulations, Tara . . . I’m looking forward to reading “One Night Gone.”

    A career “aha” moment? Teaching is often filled with wonderful “aha” moments when it “clicks” for the students. I’ve been lucky enough to have a few of those moments over the years . . . .

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    1. Oh Joan I can imagine that’s the best possible fuel for a teacher ! How wonderful!

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    2. Thank you, Joan! And so lucky for your students!

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  2. Tara, I am really looking forward to your new book! You and Art and Dash are all so wildly creative, it's been so fun to follow you all on Facebook and Instagram. Especially the adventures of Carl!

    My own revelation came when I had been writing a professional newsletter for awhile, and decided to step down so someone else could take a crack at it. The organization asked if they could pay me to keep doing it. Later, they doubled that payment. Their validation made me realize my writing had actual worth beyond my own satisfaction, and was the start of a 20-year career in writing, teaching, and lecturing.

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    1. That is so great! It is difficult for us to see ourselves how others see us… And you certainly had that moment!

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    2. Thanks, Karen—you're so kind! And congrats on your own career-changing moment--such fun!

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    3. Karen! I'm so glad you are a Carl fan!!! Maybe I should bring him on my book tour.... ;-)

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  3. I can't think of a career aha moment for me. But congrats on your own. Your book certainly does sound creepy to me.

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  4. Hmm, no career aha moments are coming to me, although I'm sure I've had some. I love that both you and Art were nominated for the same award. And I especially love that you won! (Sorry, Art.) Please tell me you are still gloating over beating him.

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    1. Isn’t that the best story ever? And so incredibly unlikely— these are the things you can’t make up! It was such a joy to see them both at Malice.

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    2. Ha! No offense taken--I was thrilled when Tara won!

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    3. Sometimes he wakes up in the middle of the night and I'm just standing there holding my teapot, polishing it slowly..... but other than that, no. ;-)

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  5. Several ah ha moments for me, but then I've worked at dang near everything! The one that stands out was editing pleadings for a litigation case. I'd spent the better part of an hour on the matter making each statement stronger, cutting the deadwood and getting just the right spin when I realized it was the WRITING I loved. I'm still at the day job, but now I'm up at 3 AM for the writing. - Oh, we won the case.

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    1. Nothing like passion for keeping keeping us going, right?

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  6. Linda, such a great advance buzz on ONE NIGHT GONE. Congratulations! It's my kind of book.
    So many Aha! moments... realizing (for the first time) that taking something that happened in real life and sticking it in a novel didn't make it believable. You couldn't simply insert a footnote that said, "I know this sounds incredible, but it really did happen."

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    1. Oh so true! Kind of like a husband and wife being nominated for the same award the same year at Malice!

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    2. Hahahaha. That's a really good one, actually. You should write a whole post on that!!

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  7. Yay, Tara! I can't wait to read this book. I love that Christina said that to you. Aha moments for me (going backward in time) were getting laid off a job and resuming writing mystery novels. The first time a character fell off a chair and I had NO idea why and realized I had to keep writing to find out. When, 25 years ago, my now-ex husband said, "You like reading mysteries so much, why don't you write one?" And the first and best was when my mother said to eight year old me, "Edie, you're a good writer." I've hung onto that ever since.

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  8. Congratulations Tara. Your new book sounds like a page turner.

    I suppose everyone has an aha moment although I can't think of one personally. Maybe it's something I can look forward to?

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    1. Oh, that is a wonderful thought!

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    2. Thank you! And yes, watch out for them. They tend to creep up and surprise you.

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  9. Welcome to JRW! I'm dying to know if you think you'll ever go back to the books you set aside?

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    1. I have wondered that as well! One of them for sure holds a very special place in my heart. I still love the characters and the story. Maybe one day I will, and just insert a lot more dead bodies or ghosts into the mix or something. :-)

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  10. Congratulations, Tara! I can't wait for this book.

    I had the exact same "ah-ha" moment about being an English major (seriously, I was going to be a lawyer). And about writing. My first book was a myster, but a cozy. I struggled with it and one day looked at my bookshelves and realized I don't read a lot of cozy. The rest, as they say, is history.

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    1. No! The rest is police procedural, silly! xoxoxo

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    2. We should start a "we thought we were going to be lawyers but we just wanted to read books" club. I bet there would be a lot of awesome people in it.

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    3. I'm in. Absolutely. I always thought I would be a lawyer.

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    4. Hank, LOL. And yes, I know several people who would be enthusiastic members. :)

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    5. xxxoxo and hey, everyone --LIZ herself will be here Friday! With a hilarious not-to-be-missed top ten.

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  11. Great post by Tara—of course!—and thanks, Hank, for the surprise photo here and fun intro. :-)

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    1. I love that photo! And that was before you won. You only look slightly terrified.

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    2. Oh, that's before? That's even sweeter. xoxo

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  12. Tara, One Night Gone sounds fantastic! I'm looking forward to reading it.

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  13. Tara, congratulations!!! Your story is inspiring on so many levels and your debut novel sounds deliciously creepy! Also, congrats on the Agatha! Side note: Christina is my agent, too, and she’s brilliant! Her best advice to me, every time we talk, is “Work smarter not harder.” After five years together, I am finally heeding her advice and actively lightening my work load! I’m a little thick but I’m getting there.

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    1. Oh! How lovely! Christina is not my agent, though I'm lucky enough to call her a friend, but you are super lucky to have her. She's smart and savvy! And she's from my hometown, so you know, she's got to be great.

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  14. I'm giving you a standing ovation, Tara! You did the work and I just know the best is yet to come for you. Hugs to the cutest family in crime writing. x,Christina

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  15. Tara, congratulations on your debut novel! I can't wait to read it! Do you and Art brainstorm about your works in progress?

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    1. Thank you!! We usually do not brainstorm as much, but we are first-readers of each other's work once there's a draft. I'm still getting used to the idea of brainstorming plot points with other people--or honestly, even just with myself. In the past, writing shorter things, I've just kind of started something and seen where it goes. But it's getting harder and harder to do that now, so making myself think through plots and ideas is a VERY FRUSTRATING and uncomfortable place for me. Working on it!!

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  16. Hank, I'm still laughing at your 700+ first novel. We should print out our first books and use them as doorstops...or murder weapons.

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  17. May career-changing moment was at the very start. My daughter had started kindergarten and my son was in pre-school, so for the first time in five years, I didn't have a constant kid presence at home. I wasn't keen to take up a legal job again, but I wanted to do SOMETHING with my life beside laundry and trips to the petting zoo.

    So, taking a piece of advice from one of my priest's sermons, I asked four people who knew me well what career I ought to pursue. My mom, my sister, my best friend from high school and my college roommate.

    Every one of them said I should be a writer.

    So here I am!

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    1. Wow! That's a sign right there, for sure! So glad you found your true calling. XO

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    2. That's so lovely--they all knew something, that's for sure...

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    3. That was when I started writing fiction, too, Julia - when #2 son went off to kindergarten!

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  18. Tara, that is one spectacular cover for One Night Gone, and I predict it will draw lots of readers in. Of course, the story itself will seal the deal, as it's the sort of creepy disappearance story I love. Congratulations on this debut novel and on your Agatha. I'm thinking how lucky Dash is to have two such creative parents, and it goes without saying (but I'll say it anyway) that the luck extends to you and Art in having such an adorable child.

    And "aha" moment, but not exactly life changing, came for me when I was at college majoring in English and one of my professors, Dr. Cheesewright, wrote on one of my papers that I had certainly chosen the right major. It was a wonderful validation for me, as I was often uncertain of where I should be. I had at one point tried to change my major to elementary education, but thankfully the classes were full and I couldn't switch. I'm so glad I stayed with the English major.

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    1. Thank you, Kathy, for your kind words! I think you are right that sometimes even just a nod or a sign that you're on the right track can be enough to keep you on that track.

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    2. Thanks for the kind words, Kathy — and I feel grateful every day for having Dash in our lives. And Tara in mine too! :-)

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  19. I was fortunate to get an ARC of One Night Gone in my Malice gift bag, which means I got no sleep at Malice because I was up late every night reading One Night Gone. Well worth the sleep deprivation! Best of luck with the launch, Tara!

    My career a-ha moment went something like, "You're from south Louisiana, why are you writing stories set in Delaware?"

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    1. LOVE this! And thank you for your perfect comment on the Criminal Element blog!

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    2. Ramona! That's so sweet...thank you!! And I love your aha moment...too funny. :-)

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  20. I went to college to become a Spanish teacher but during student teaching I called off sick several times before I realized that I felt better when I didn't go to school. Teaching was literally making me sick. I also hate homework so clerical work was a better fit. I know a lot of people who didn't become or didn't stay teachers, same as lawyers. All respect to people who did or do teach, though.

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    1. Teaching is not for me, either. Good to know our strengths and weaknesses, right?

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  21. My aha moment was when I was in graduate school and working for a medical journal at the same time. Looking around, I saw that there were a whole lot of English phd's (and those in other majors as well) who were barely scraping by as adjunct professors. And, while I wasn't emotionally attached to the med journal (it was general pathology) I did like working in publishing. So, called it quits on the academic career dream and am now so, so happy working for an audiobook publisher. I've gone from proofer, to editor, to engineer and I just love it! Best of all, I can leave it all at the office at the end of the day and work on my own writing goals.
    And congratulations Tara on the soon release!
    -Melanie

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    1. What a fabulous story! So cool! Will you write a blog for us someday about being an audio engineer? Love to read that!

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    2. I would like to read that, too!

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  22. This is very late but I wanted to add something. I think I may have had two aha moments. 1: when my father told that my former elementary principal said I wouldn't go to college. Dad should be satisfied if I graduated from high school. I'd just get married and have babies. 2: when a couple instructors in college asked my to bring a small dictionary for written tests. My spelling problems was making it difficult to grade me accurately. Oh,yeah, and I haven't been married and I can't have babies.

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  23. Never too late, dear Deana! And those moments are SO interesting and memorable..

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