me in the piazza

I'm a writer, publishing both as SJ Rozan and, with Carlos Dews, as Sam Cabot. (I'm Sam, he's Cabot.) This blog is a record of random and less-random thoughts, including the Saturday haiku, which I've been doing for many years now. I'll be teaching a writing workshop in Italy this summer -- come join us! If you want to know more about me, check my website.
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Bob Mackowiak!

Okay, I know that name means nothing to most of you (except Rob Lopresti -- you there, Rob?). But Bob Mackowiak means a great deal to me.

In 1989 I started work on my first novel. After about 20,000 words, I realized I had no idea if this thing was ever going to end. I don't outline and never did. Now I've come to completely trust my process, but back then, though I knew I couldn't outline without making my characters entirely one-dimensional cardboard figures (note: this is MY process -- many people CAN outline and create fully-fleshed-out people), I didn't know if the feel-my-way process I was using would actually end me up with a book.

So I stopped and wrote a short story. A writer friend, looking through Writer's Market for somewhere to place her own stories, had found something called "PI Magazine" which announced it published "fact and fiction about the world of the private investigator."

"That's what you do, isn't it?" she asked. Since I'd only just taken my first writer baby steps, the idea that I "did" anything was immensely flattering. "Don't you have anything to send them?"

Well, I didn't, but within a few weeks, I did. It seemed like a great idea: write something I could grasp the whole of at once, something with a beginning, middle and end, just to see if I could. The magazine was in Toledo, Ohio, and I sent them the story. I waited and waited, and meanwhile worked on the novel, but in the back of my mind, the longer the wait got, the more I was sure the story would be rejected. And the more I was sure it deserved to be. It was probably lousy, not as rotten as my book only because it was shorter, not worth a professional's time to read and what was I thinking? When the letter from PI finally came I brought it in from the mailbox, put it on the counter; then I took off my shoes, fed the cat, sorted and opened the rest of the mail... anything I could do to avoid opening a letter that I was sure said not only "We don't want your story" but "It was so terrible that we have to ask you never to send us anything ever again." Finally I opened it, and -- a check fell out! They'd bought the thing!

And honestly, I've always thought that if they hadn't I'd have given up the whole business right then. I'd have figured, right, I guess I was temporarily insane, I'm not a writer, I'm an architect...

But they bought it, and it came out in the Feb. 1990 issue -- my birthday month -- and over the next two years I sold them two more. Then they stopped doing fiction, and I started publishing in anthologies and other magazines. Then I sold my book, and suddenly, I was not an architect who wrote at night, I was a writer with a day job.

The publisher of PI Magazine was a guy named Bob Mackowiak. In the intervening years, he sold the magazine and now runs a PR firm. We've emailed a little from time to time, but not for years. And we'd never met.

So get to the point, you say? Well, at the end of last week I was in Bowling Green, Ohio, doing a gig. It was going really well anyway -- these Bowling Green library folks are very well organized and a lot of fun. So Thursday night, I read and spoke at the Wood County Library in Bowling Green. Nice big audience, lots of good questions. Afterwards, I'm signing books, and a guy comes up with IN THIS RAIN, which he'd just bought, and the three issues of PI with my stories in them. And it's Bob Mackowiak!!!! Toldeo's not that far from Bowling Green, and he'd seen in the paper that I was going to be there, and he'd come on over. I was so excited. Really, I felt like I was meeting my guardian angel or something. I know he never had any idea how close I'd come to quitting and how much of a role that first acceptance played in my going on. But I felt good because I'd just told that story to the crowd, not knowing he was there.

So now I'll always have an even softer spot in my heart for Bowling Green than I was developing anyway. And for Bob Mackowiak, that spot's been there for years.

Thanks, Bob!




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