Wednesday, April 23, 2014


Validation has been on my mind a lot lately, as I rush to finish some projects in order to pitch them to agents, editors, and writers I dream about working with.

It all started with some observations made by various writer friends over the years. Every now and then, usually when the liquor was mostly drunk and the evening reached with ragged sleeves toward dawn, someone complained about how darn much self-esteem writer X had. How did X have bullet-proof confidence in all defiance of every objective measure of his talent?

Those pre-dawn venting sessions stuck with me. It’s always frustrating to us humble folk, who dash from gatekeeper to gatekeeper, hoarding the smallest compliment in our camel’s hump of self-esteem, to run into a lucky bum with a lousy book. How dare he be so proud of a limited vocabulary, of familiar tropes, of stereotypical characters? How dare he?

Well, actually, it was usually doing him a lot of good. When was the last time you bought something from a diffident salesperson?

Then one day I met a motivational speaker, who said she’d noticed that in her seminars, men most often looked to themselves for validation, and women looked most often to external sources for validation.  She went on to say that there’s two components to any skill: competence and confidence. Far too often, she said, women throw all their energy into acquiring competence and yet still feel that unless someone else says so, their competence isn’t valid—regardless of how skilled they might actually be. “Imposter syndrome” is another term for it.

I thought of those loud and preening gents who sold their first novel well before I did, who got contracts for books with plots as thin as onion skin.  Is there any way to be more like those fellows and less like me in the confidence department? Can I simply decide to look to myself for validation?

Photo of Helen Mirren
How can I harness my inner Helen Mirren?

Here’s a few things I’m trying:

  • ·      Every time I notice myself thinking “they won’t want to talk to me,” I imagine the roles are opposite. I almost always want to listen to someone pitch me an interesting idea or tell me about an interesting book.
  • ·      Every time I feel that desperate scream for validation escaping, I think about a time my words moved someone. The screenplay scene that gave a classmate nightmares, or the lovely passage a published writer called out when reading my work, or that one day when I found a paragraph so perfect that I thought someone else must surely have written it. This is real, I tell myself. That feeling that someone else must say I’m good is not real.
  • ·      I think about my women friends, incredibly talented, doubting themselves. Letting someone else tell them what to write, or how to write. Believing all the negative comments and none of the good ones. Of course they are mistaken—so likely so am I.
It’s okay to be wrong—I don’t have to be the first person to know I’ve made a mistake. It won’t kill me to fail in public. Not experimenting enough to fail and learn, now, that will cut me off from my creativity and leave me cowering in the corner, afraid to write the wrong word.

Let our confidence be reborn and become the strong twin to our competence. 

Please comment and tell me how you've learned to look to yourself for validation!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Malice Domestic

Juliet Blackwell and Gigi Pandian at a 2011
Sisters in Crime reading: Juliet reading from her
witchcraft mystery series, Gigi reading from
her first locked-room mystery short story.
Next week, Gigi and Juliet will be at Malice Domestic, the book-lovers convention that celebrates the traditional mystery. If you'll be there, be sure to say hello! Details about their panels are below. 

But first, a fun little story: In 2007, both Gigi and Juliet were new to the mystery world and didn't know a soul. The 2007 Malice Domestic convention was the first either had attended. Juliet was up for an Agatha Award (for Feint of Art, writing with her sister as Hailey Lind), and Gigi was being awarded the William F. Deeck-Malice Domestic Grant (for Artifact, when it was an unpublished work-in-progress). Though the two would come to learn they lived only a few miles from each other in California, they first met at the opening ceremonies on the other side of the country -- when Gigi told Juliet how much she loved Feint of Art! -- and immediately became friends. 

Since then, Juliet has had more than ten books published, and this year Gigi is up for an Agatha Award for her locked-room mystery short story "The Hindi Houdini." What a fun ride it's been! 

MALICE DOMESTIC 26: May 2-4, 2014
Hyatt Regency Hotel, Bethesda, MD

Gigi's panel is Saturday at 9 a.m.
Make It Snappy: Our Agatha Best Short Story Nominees
B.K. Stevens (Moderator), Barb Goffman, Gigi Pandian, Barbara Ross, Art Taylor

Juliet's panel is Saturday at 2 p.m.
Witches and Werewolves and Ghosts, Oh My!: Woo-Woo Authors Appear in Character
Dina Willner (Moderator), Juliet Blackwell, Dana Cameron, Jim Lavene, Leigh Perry/Toni Kelner