CRRWA is thrilled to welcome our own Frankie Bailey to the blog! We’re so glad she could take a few minutes out of her busy schedule (check out her many accomplishments in her bio below and you’ll know what I mean by busy!) to stop by and chat about making the writing life work when you also have a “day job” that you love. Take it away, Frankie!
One of the facts of a writer’s life is that it takes time. It takes time to come up with an idea, time to do research, time to do the first draft and all of the revisions that follow. Time to design a marketing plan for each book and implement it with website building and updates, book launches and talks, Skype chats with book clubs and newsletters to readers. Time to become a better writer by reading books about writing, attending workshops, and joining a critique group. Time to network and build friendships with other writers. Time to blog and tweet and keep up with Facebook. Time to find and maintain a relationship with an agent and/or editor. Time to do all the other things that have to be done if books are to be written and sold and readers are to discover what you’ve written and come back for more. Time that you don’t have that much of if you have a life and people in it.
If you’re a writer who also has a “day job” – as most of us are – you get occasional panic attacks thinking about all of the things you need to get done. Especially if that day job is more than just a job, but also happens to be a career that you enjoy and are trying to build and maintain. One of my favorite fantasies is about having a housekeeper, a no-nonsense woman who would come in a couple of times a week and keep my domestic ship in order. She would cook my meals and pop them into the freezer to heat and eat. She would whisk away the dust and scrub the floors. She would make sure the pet cover on the armchair Harry, my Maine Coon/mix cat, likes to sleep on is laundered and that the fur he sheds doesn’t find its way into corners and under furniture. She might even play with Harry when I’m around and he wants to nap – all 16 or 17 pounds of him – on my lap while I’m at the computer.
Of course, I would also have a part-time personal assistant who would take my books back to the library before they’re overdue, buy the printer cartridge I’ve been trying to find the time to pick up, make sure I can find one ink pen in a house full of pens that seem never to be there when I need one. She would keep my calendar and prepare my schedule. She would send me an email at the beginning of each week reminding me what I need to get done at work and at home – the deadlines coming due, the commitments I’ve made. She would have me so organized that I would have nothing to do but get my work done. I would have time to relax and do things like read the Thursday and Sunday newspapers that I subscribe to and often end up scanning before tossing them into the recycling bin on garbage pick-up night.
If I had these two capable, efficient women in my life – being sexist here and specifying women because I occasionally tumble out of bed and stagger to the computer and end up writing much of the morning clad in my bathrobe – I would be much more productive. I suspect I would also be more successful because I would have time to write more blogs and develop more ideas and actually send out that newsletter I’ve been trying to get around to since last year. But the best part would be that I would be able to curl up on my sofa and read and think without feeling guilty about not doing the laundry.
Fortunately for my sanity, my two careers – academic and mystery writer – overlap. The first book I wrote after graduate school was a nonfiction book about mystery/detective fiction. That brought me back to my roots (a double major in Psychology and English at Virginia Tech). After writing that nonfiction book, I tried again to write a novel. But my earliest effort at writing fiction had been as a teenager. Like most writers, I grew up reading. One of the books I plucked from a library shelf was by a mystery writer named Richard Martin Stern. I was delighted to discover that he had a mystery series with a racially/ethnically diverse cast of characters in a terrific New Mexico setting. I wrote to say how much I loved his books. He wrote back to thank me for writing (I still have his letter), and that was probably when I began to think about being a writer. I sent in an application to the Famous Writers School (unknown to my parents, who actually allowed me to enroll in the correspondence course). And then I went off to college and after that three years as an Army food inspector. I was stationed in Seattle, and in the evenings, I would come home to my apartment, pop a frozen dinner into the oven, and sit down to write. I wrote two novels, both romance suspense. I finished both, did first revisions, and then I got out of the Army and came immediately to Albany to grad school. It wasn’t until years later, back in Albany as an assistant professor, that I turned again to writing fiction. When I was doing research for my nonfiction book about black characters in crime fiction, I joined Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime and began to meet other writers. I joined a local writing group. I began to think about what I would write if I tried my hand at a series. That was when I realized I had loads of material. I study crime. I wanted to write mysteries. My first book and the series that followed featured a crime historian, and the plots were often inspired by real-life crimes.
Since that first book came out fifteen years ago, I’ve written four more in that series and two short stories. I have two books featuring a female police detective. I’m working on an idea for another series and on a historical mystery/thriller. I’m also busy with academic research and writing.
And I keep hoping that one day soon I’ll be able to afford a housekeeper who will come in and cook and tidy, and a part-time assistant who will keep me organized.
But, on the other hand, I sometimes get my best ideas while washing dishes or wandering the aisles of the supermarket. I could get organized and use modern technology to keep up with what I need to get done.
If only I had the time to get organized . . . that’s a writer’s life. We all know it well.
Frankie Y. Bailey is a criminal justice professor at UAlbany (SUNY), as well as the author, co-author, or co-editor of a number of non-fiction books. She’s also the 2010 recipient of the George N. Dove Award for her research on mystery and crime fiction, and she’s been nominated for several other awards, including the Edgar, Agatha, and Anthony, and is the winner of a Macavity Award for African American Mystery Writers (2008).
Frankie has five books and two published short stories in a mystery series featuring crime historian Lizzie Stuart. One of the short stories (“In Her Fashion”) was published in the July 2014 issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. The Red Queen Dies (Minotaur Books, September 2013) was her first book featuring Detective Hannah McCabe in a near-future police procedural set in Albany, New York. A second McCabe book, What the Fly Saw, was published in March 2015. Frankie is a former Executive Vice President of Mystery Writers of America and a past national president of Sisters in Crime. She is currently at work on a nonfiction book about dress, appearance, and American criminal justice, as well as her next mystery novel.