I don’t recall the year, but I do recall that I was late for lunch. Now I’m never late for anything. It goes against my grain. I’m the early bird, the creature of habit. But I was late and forced to go with the flow.
At the encouragement of some friends, I was attending my first writer’s conference. Of all places, it was in Beaumont, Texas. Not to slight Beaumont. I like the town. It has history. Think Spindletop. But I’d always figure when I went to a writer’s conference it’d be in New York, San Francisco, or maybe even Paris. After all, I was the product of a respected university writer’s program. Beaumont? Again, go with the flow.
I wandered into the banquet room that the Holiday Inn was using as a chow hall and found all the seats were taken and the staff was quickly setting up another table. Since I still worked for a high end caterer back then, I almost jumped in and helped them pop the legs of that folding round table into place, cover it with a white linen cloth, and slap down the appropriate flatware, plates, and glasses.
When I took my seat I found myself next to a dapper man, and we engaged in a delightful conversation. The details now escape me, but at one point he asked if I was a writer. I described a truly dreadful literary novel I was working on, though of course I didn’t believe it to be dreadful in my young innocence. I must have sold it well because he told me he was an editor at Ballantine and he would love to give it a read. His name was Joe Blades, and I would soon learn that he had a slew of writers at that division of Random House. Needless to say, I sent the manuscript and, bless his heart, he let me down gently in his rejection of it. However, he also told me to keep him in mind in the future.
Fast-forward a few years and my first Neil Marshall mystery fell into place. I took Joe at his word and sent him the manuscript. Then one Saturday morning while I was fixing a leaky faucet in the kitchen sink, the phone rang. It was Joe wondering if I would consider writing a prequel to the book I’d sent him and he’d make it a two-book deal.
I ended up publishing five mysteries in that series with Ballantine. Joe Blades and I worked closely together on each one of them. In Beaumont, Texas that sunny fall day it really was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Wish it had lasted longer, but that’s another story. As I prepare the Neil Marshall mysteries for republication, I’ve been thinking a lot about Joe. Those books changed my life, and for that I’ll be forever grateful. Funny how things can happen when you least expect it, and in unlikely places.
Sadly, the Beaumont writer’s conference is gone. But there are still buckets full of them out there, and I’m not talking virtual ones on social media.
And you never know. You might just find a New York editor at one. My advice? Be late for lunch.