Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Daniel Judson - Confidence Man

ROSEMARY HARRIS: We all suffer from it occasionally. That niggling feeling. A loss of confidence. After all the hard work...can we really do this thing? Can we finish that book? Or write another? Here's JR pal Dan Judson's take on confidence, a little perspective and coming full circle. And just to prove that Dan did survive his crisis of conscience and CAN keep writing great books, he's offering a free download of one of his best books.

DJ: I started my first book on May 11, 1982.  I was all of nineteen and ending my sophomore year of college.  My summer job as a cemetery worker was waiting for me back home in Connecticut--mowing the grass, trimming hedges, and yes, digging graves.  When school ended, I headed back home determined to actually finish the book I had started.  (I’d started several books before that, the first when I was fifteen, but could never get any of them past 100 pages.) 

Upon my return home I quickly established a routine:  I would work from eight to five, eat a steak and baked potato for dinner as I watched two reruns of M*A*S*H, then write until ten or so.  Whenever it rained (and it rained a lot during the summer of ’82), I didn’t have to work, so I was free to spend all day on my book, which probably explains why, even now, thirty years later, rain often plays a part in so many of my stories.
I had a draft finished by the end of that summer, so I brought it back to school with me.  But instead of going to classes, as I should have been, I found myself staying in my dorm room and obsessively rewriting.  By the time November came around, the book was done—a whopping 180 pages, but that was the same length as The Great Gatsby, so I thought I was in good company. 
Shortly after my twentieth birthday I submitted my less-than-epic manuscript to several editors at New York publishers, having gotten their names and addresses from a library copy of The Literary Marketplace.  Then I sat back and waited for the inevitable acceptance letter, and subsequent riches.   That book never sold, of course.  But I had found what I wanted to do.  I wanted to be a novelist.  And I knew what I would have to do to make that happen.
I would have to write and rewrite obsessively. But more importantly, I would need a confidence that bordered on delusion.  I mean, I was twenty and sending my manuscript to Knopf.  Without an agent.  What the frick?
The thing about confidence, I’ve learned over the years, is that it comes and goes so easily.  Too easily.   Over the next eighteen years, I wrote nine novels, and not one of them sold.  My tenth book, though, that one felt…different.  Things were coming together in ways they hadn’t before.  I knew this was the one.

It took me over a year to complete that book, entitled The Bone Orchard.  And within a matter of weeks of my finishing it, it sold to Bantam.  (ROSEMARY: Here's a snippet of one of TBO's great reviews " THE BONE ORCHARD is an exciting private detective mystery that belies the fact that this book is D. Daniel Judson's first novel. The story line is loaded with action as readers take a tour of the underbelly of the Hamptons.")   And that, strangely enough, was when my battle with confidence really began.  I’ll spare you all the ups and downs of my career (there’s a longer version of this essay on my website,  should anyone want the gory details), but after ten years and eight novels, I found myself, along with a disturbing number of my fellow midlist authors, suddenly unable to find a publisher. Just like I had been for eighteen years.
Frustrated, I decided to take a break from writing.  I began reading every memoir written by a WWII paratrooper that I could find.  I don’t know why I was drawn to paratroopers in particular, but I was, and I trusted that, and with each memoir I read I began to see something. Every single man had who jumped out of an airplane in the middle of the night over Nazi-Occupied France had carried with him one thing.  Confidence.
M1 rifles, trench knives, hand grenades--these were important, but what was crucial—what would ultimately make the difference—was confidence.  In fact, the courses paratroopers ran during their training weren’t called “obstacle courses”, they were called “confidence courses”. 
Now, I hadn’t given up on writing, but I had stopped.  My confidence was shot.  Publishing was in chaos.  Things were, and still are for many of us, bleak.  I had been unable to find a publisher for my last book. Did I really want to write another one? Did I even have what it took to write another?  Send it out?  Wait?  Been there, done that.
And then one morning it just dawned on me:  if some kid could jump into France to fight Nazis, then maybe, you know, I could write another book.  I mean, compared to what those who served in WWII risked—not to mention what was at stake if they failed—what, really, was I risking?
I’m not a kid anymore, but somehow that reckless confidence that had set me on my way—and that had carried me through eighteen years of rejection—returned.  Or at least enough of it did.  I’ve been working on a new project for almost a year now.  Will it sell?  I don’t know.  But I like this one.  It’s…different.  And things seem to be coming together in ways they haven’t before…

Also, it seems that traditional publishing isn’t the only game in town these days.  However you may feel about, it is, right now, offering “out of work” authors like me a chance to reach readers.  A lot of readers.  And new readers, too. 
I hesitated at jumping into that, though.  Maybe it was a confidence thing—my books have always benefited from the editorial process, and putting your stuff out there without that seemed…daunting.  I could of course hire a freelance editor, but there is a difference between an editor you pay and an editor who pays you.  At least in my mind there is.

But I had two early books of mine—The Poisoned Rose and The Bone Orchard, both published in 2002.  A Shamus Award-winner and a Shamus- and Barry- nominee.  I should feel confident about those, right?  And I had a third book, The Gin Palace—the final book in a trilogy, actually, that had started with Rose, and that ten years ago Bantam didn’t want, then wanted, then didn’t want again (long story).
They’d all been edited—and the first two had already been read and enjoyed (for the most part) by tens of thousands of readers.  (Heck, Bruce Willis had wanted to buy the film rights to The Bone Orchard—yet another long story.)  Why not put those up on Amazon as e-books and see what happened?

So that’s what I’m doing.  I don’t claim to be a trailblazer here—many others have made this jump before me.  (In paratrooper terms, those brave souls jumped into Normandy on D-Day, and I’m coming in around, say, Operation Market Garden.)  And while those authors did it all on their own, I’m taking advantage of a new division that sprang up at my agent’s agency—Trident E-books Operations.  The theory is, TEO will do a lot of the “leg work”—get the books up on Amazon, assist with marketing, and actively pursue all sub rights—which will/should free me up to actually write. 
Maybe that book I wrote last year and couldn’t get published will go up on Amazon soon.  Not sure whether I’ll do it through TEO or on my own—the jury is still out on that.  And maybe the book I’m working on now will go up on Amazon as well.  We’ll see.
One way or another, I’m determined to get my stuff read by readers.
Just like I was when I was nineteen.   I tend bar these days—at the same hotel, in fact, where I was working when The Bone Orchard sold.  I guess that brings me full circle.  I no longer eat steak, and my work routine has flipped; I write in the mornings instead of at night.
It’s May 2nd, 2012, which means nine days from now will be the thirty year anniversary of the day I started my first book.
And today it looks like it just might rain…    

ROSEMARY: That's a pretty inspirational story! Let's get Dan off to a good start with his Amazon promotion. (I'll be publishing with Amazon in a few weeks too!)
Read more about Dan at


  1. Dan, that's a wonderful essay--thanks for sharing it here! At least you're not still digging graves--though that could make for a terrific character...the things he would see and hear...

    It's a crazy business and crazier than usual right now. You are totally right about how you have to develop confidence to be able to keep on going--because we really don't know what's around the corner.

  2. I am looking for these interesting books at the library as they are only free to prime members on Amazon.
    I found the Bone Orchard and will start with that.
    Thanks JR for introducing me to a new author. Dee

  3. Fascinating. Thanks so much for such a candid take on this interesting time we're going through in publishing. We're all waiting to see how things shake out, or if they just keep on twitching. Congratulations on the new book, Dan.

  4. I'm with Gram: a large part of the reading public cannot take advantage of this free offer, so I, too, am looking in the library for these books. Amazon books, of course, do not read on my Nook . . . .

  5. Dan -
    What a great post. When I first started my first novel, twenty-two years ago, I worried that I wasn't a "tortured artist," that I was too well-balanced to be a writer.

    Little did I know that the actual process of publishing is what created the "tortured artist."

    This is an inspiration. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Good luck, Dan. I hope you'll be back in a few months. I'd like to hear how this all goes for you.

  7. Gram and Joan, look at the middle book when you click on the link--the Poisoned Rose. It's free to anyone.

    Dan, this is a great post. Publishing is in upheaval right now, as we all know. You are one of the people who should be able to take advantage of self-publishing since you've got previously edited and published books to put up there.

    Wishing you excellent luck in this new endeavor!

  8. Oh, this is wonderful. Wonderful. I'm thinking about putting a photo of a paratrooper on my wall. (Right now there's a woman with two dobermans.)

    Can't wait to hear what are such an inspiration! And it's so--sorry to say--reassuring that everyone else isn't completely certain of the path.

  9. Thanks, Linda . . . the problem for me is not the cost [although free is certainly nice!] as much as it is that Amazon [read: Kindle] books cannot be read on my Nook . . . "The Poisoned Rose" is not even available for purchase from Barnes and Noble for my Nook.

  10. Joan, I'm sorry. I didn't notice that Nook vs. Kindle was the problem.

    I'm with Hank on the paratrooper photo above the desk. For the days when confidence forgets to show up.

  11. Thanks, Dan! A wonderful, very inspirational history - at a time when I really need it. I've already passed some of it along to one of my kids who needs a confidence kick!

    Thank you for sharing!

  12. what an inspiring story. I'm glad you are writing, and I'm off to download right now.

  13. Thanks for the nice comments. It means a lot to me that you all enjoyed it so much. And thanks to Rosemary for the chance to share my thoughts with a group of like-minded souls. For those who are interested, I will be posting updates on my website and Facebook page now and then.

    Good luck,

  14. Oh, and for those with Nooks, I truly do hate that you're being left out of the freebie offer, but you could always download Kindle for PC (or Mac) from Amazon (it's free) and read on your computer. There are also free Kindle apps available for most smartphones. I think the day will come when every ebook, no matter from where it was purchased, will be readable on all platforms, but we're just not there yet, sadly. Hope this helps.