You should meet your heroes. And when they’re gone, they’ll keep inspiring you.
I first met Vince at Once Upon a Crime bookstore in Minneapolis in 2002. [He insisted on visiting the independent store second in every book tour to repay owners Pat Frovarp and Gary Shulze for their early support.] I had been writing for about three years and finally had a manuscript that was worth showing people outside my circle of family and friends.
I went to the bookstore that night specifically to meet Vince. I’d heard him in a local radio interview talking about writing and publishing. He was a very sharp guy who self-published his first book out of frustration with the publishing industry. After using his smarts and work ethic to sell thousands of copies out of the trunk of his car, he got an agent and went big and bold with some guerrilla marketing that got attention and a publishing deal.
Being a stubborn and independent-minded fifth child, I latched onto Vince’s spirit and determination. He gave me the idea that if I was good enough at “this writing thing” I could be successful and make a career of it.
I sat at the back of the crowd of readers crammed into the tiny mystery-themed bookstore and watched Vince work the room with sincerity, enthusiasm, and a bit of humor. Then I hung around afterward to help the store owners clean up and get a few minutes with Vince. Without knowing me this becoming-famous author welcomed me, took me seriously, and encouraged me to keep writing.
That night, he also generously offered to send my manuscript to his agent, which blew my mind! That never worked out, but that’s not the important part of the story. The important part is that he treated me like a colleague and gave me hope.
Why is that the important part? Because, yes, writing is enjoyable, escapist, and thrilling, a portal to a world the author can crawl into where every creation is their own and things can always be made to work out in the end. But … the process of getting good at it and of getting published is uncertain, confusing, frustrating, and often lonely.
Through his career story and his example, Vince was one of the inspirations for developing my simple mantra: “Quit all you want, but never give up.”
I have several books published now – but frankly it’s not enough. Full disclosure: I have allowed my inner critic to block me from doing some vital things that writers must to create a career by striving to touch more people with good stories – things I heard Vince talking about from the first time I met him.
I’ve quit a couple of times and recently even considered giving up altogether. But I can’t. I have stories to tell and I just know that there are lots of people out there who will want to read my work if I reach out to them. Vince did it and showed me that I can do it too.
One quick story about Vince and his sense of humor: I went to a book signing in St. Paul to catch up with him. A redheaded woman ahead of me in line was wrangling her three young red-haired kids. (I also have red hair.) I chatted politely with the woman who was there to buy a book and get it signed for her husband as a Father’s Day gift.
When it was her turn she stepped up to the table, leaving me in line. Vince looked past her and said, “Chris, is this your wife?”
“No,” I said, “I just met her.”
“Oh,” Vince said. “I saw you guys and the kids together and I thought, ‘Man, he’s really trying to keep the redhead thing going!'”
I wasn’t close enough to Vince to say we were friends, but I knew him well enough to say hello and catch up when our paths crossed. Vince was a real gentleman, always as generous as he could be within a best-selling author’s schedule, and constantly encouraged me as a fellow writer. He set high goals and high standards for himself and his career – and he did the work to make these things happen. Even if Vince had never “made it” he still would have been an inspiration to me, an example to get out there, do the work, and not give up.
With Vince’s fine example, his untimely passing has helped inspire a new mantra for me: MAKE IT COUNT!
I hope Vince’s family and close friends know that he was important to so many people – not just through his books, but through his kindness and generosity.
He made his writing, his career, and his contact with his fans and colleagues count. He was a hero to me and I will miss him.