I’ve always enjoyed books with writers as the main character.
Well, maybe not every book; many times I find myself wanting to reach into the book and slap the snot out of some of them. Stephen King is one of my favorites when it comes to this; he frequently is criticized for always writing about writers. But no one understands the creative life, and the pressures, of being a writer more than Stephen King.
But two of my favorite books about writers aren’t just about writers, but are about gatherings of writers: the writer’s conference. I personally only know of three such books; as I have not read everything it’s entirely possible that there are more. I’ve only read two of them myself; one has been out of print for quite some time. As an aspiring writer I began going to writer’s conferences, both mainstream and queer, and the germ of Slash and Burn began to formulate in my fevered brain.
I was a teenager when I read Isaac Asimov’s Murder at the ABA. Asimov is primarily known, and remembered for, his enormous contributions to science fiction. He wrote a ridiculous amount of books in his lifetime, and all on typewriters. But Asimov was also a huge fan of mystery fiction; several of his science fiction novels also doubled as mysteries (The Robots of Dawn, The Caves of Steel, The Naked Sun). Murder at the ABA was his first mystery set in modern times, and it is one of the funniest things I’ve ever read. Set at the American Booksellers Association convention in New York (which is now called Book Expo America—BEA), it is an insider’s look at the glamorous world of publishing and promoting one’s self. The main character, a literary writer and writing teacher named Darius Just, is between contracts and has never been a very big seller: lots of critical acclaim, no sales. One of his former students has become one of the top selling writers in the world, in no small part because of Darius’ mentoring. The student has a second book being released, and being heavily promoted, at ABA—only he is found murdered in his hotel room. Part of the fun is Darius’ snarkiness about publishing, but also in the contentious relationship (equal parts jealousy, annoyance, and resentment) with his former pupil, but also with agents, publicists, editors, and the while circus atmosphere of BEA. Making the book even funnier is that Darius is reluctantly assisted in his amateur sleuthing by another author he truly despises: Asimov himself. The entire book is littered with insults for Asimov, not only as a writer, but as a person—with footnotes from both Darius and Asimov further ‘explaining’ the interactions between them. The book is absolute genius. I reread it a few years ago and it still holds up.
Another brilliantly hilarious book about writers is Elizabeth Peter’s Die for Love. Peters was an exceptionally brilliant and successful writer; she routinely made bestseller lists throughout her forty year writing career and was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America for her contributions to the field. Die for Love is a part of her Jacqueline Kirby series; Jacqueline is a beautiful (and snarky) college librarian at an unnamed Midwestern university, and one of the perks that makes her job bearable is finding conferences for the university to send her to, all expenses paid. In Die for Love, Jacqueline comes to a romance writers’ conference in New York—and soon enough, one of the writers is murdered and Jacqueline is on the case. The book is hilarious; I’ve never been to a major international conference for romance writers, and this book was written in the 1970’s, so it’s entirely possible that this hilarious send-up is a product of Peters’ vivid imagination—but one cannot help but wonder, while reading, if the horribly behaved writers in the book are based on real people. (The book is also a transitional one; in the next book in the series Jacqueline has become a world famous best selling romance writer. Naked Once More is equally hilarious.)
Having been to any number of writers’ conferences, I thought writing a book set at a queer one would be fun, and it was certainly a lot of fun to write about the life of a writer; the deadline thing, the blank page with a cursor blinking on it, and so forth. It was certainly fun creating a writer who straddles both the worlds of lesbian romance and mainstream mystery.