18 years ago Thriller Guy and a few other writers who live in and around Washington, DC, started a writer's group. We put an ad in Writer's Digest asking for published mystery authors who wanted to get together once a month for Chinese food and to talk about the state of the industry and our own situations. We had to insist on the “published” requirement because we found there were too many folks who fit into the wannabe criteria. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but trying to get published and already having been published but needing to keep getting published are really two different sets of problems. Our group, which has always averaged around six or seven members, became known as “Squatting Toad,” for reasons I may go into if anyone is interested. We are now all male, though there have been women who have put up with us for varying periods of time. One of our members, who is a Nancy Drew, married another of us, though she no longer attends the meetings. Probably a wise idea. We have been eating dinner together once a month since the group's inception
There have been five members that have remained at the core of the group. Some of us published mysteries years ago and have gone on to “real” jobs (not TG) while writing only sporadically. Others have stayed in the business as working writers, turning out novels and non-fiction books, articles and anything else that would earn a scribbler a few bucks. We have two Edgars in the group and plenty of other awards. We've had good years, even great years, and seen years like these that are now upon us, bad years where advances have been slashed and publishers seem too frightened to buy much of anything.
About ten years ago we decided to rent a house together at Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, in the fall. So every year now we pack up our laptops, research materials, fatty snax, alcohol in its many varieties, and abandon our wives and children for a week of solid writing, laughing, arguing and eating imprudently. We get more done in this one week than we do in any regular month, or even months. Everyone has a project: proposals, outlining novels, writing novels, editing novels, editing one of the other guy's novels. We sit around a large table and work all day long. Questions and talking is acceptable. We have found that real writers don't need the hothouse climate of silence and solitude that our more effete brethren espouse. So if you want to argue over the merits of the serial comma, go ahead and toss it out, everyone is going to have an opinion.
Some years, some of us have found ourselves with nothing new or interesting to work on. This can be unsettling. For a writer, if there's no project, there's no hope. No future. The spark that lights the fire of a novel or new non-fiction project has not struck, that moment of illumination writers know so well, that blinding second upon waking from a dream when you sit up in bed and think, yes, yes, that might work. Or maybe it's just a vague possibility nourished into fruition by a glass of fine scotch, a good cigar. If it hasn't happened, if this is one of those dry years where you're afraid you'll never have a decent idea ever agin, there's only one thing to do. You go down to the beach, alone or with one of the other guys, set up your folding chair and plant yourself. You sit quietly. You listen to the waves, look up at the stars, unhinge your mind, let yourself float, go away to some other place, and maybe it will appear if you're very lucky, maybe it will hover in around the edges of your mind until you can just make it out. A Big Idea. If it does, you tease it around for awhile until you turn it into a concept, one that you can articulate in a sentence or two, then you go back to the house. From the street, the house will be bright with light, with your friends inside drinking, playing games, watching movies, reading or even still writing. You go in the house, tell everyone to shut up and throw out your idea. Usually you're told that it sucks, has been done before or it will never sell and why. But sometimes...
Sometimes they all nod, agree and say it sounds good. Workable. Suggestions are tossed out. You take it in, the pieces falling into place. The next day you start on an outline, or maybe a first page. And if you're lucky, if you work hard, next year at the beach you are passing around a finished draft and asking for edits and ideas. Sometimes.
So that's where TG has been: at the beach. Working. Thinking. Dreaming.