Gather ‘Round and You Shall Hear . . . The Story of My Online Life

In October 2007, I entered a contest on — Court TV Search for the Next Great Crime Writer contest. The winner of the contest would win a $5,000 advance and a publishing contract. My entry, More Deaths Than One, was not a detective story, and it certainly is not a cozy mystery, but it is the story of a crime: identity theft. This theft is an actual theft of a man’s identity, not a paper one. So it did fit with the contest, though from reading the first chapter (all that was posted online for the contest), many people assumed it was a supernatural tale — as the blurb says, When Bob Stark returns home after spending eighteen years in Southeast Asia, he discovers that his mother Lydia Loretta Stark is dead again. When he attends her second funeral, he sees his brother, his college girlfriend, and . . . himself.

I did very well in that contest, too. As of November 17, 2007, I was ranked number one, but I finished up about sixth or seventh. (I could tell you it was because my mother died and I had to go to California for her funeral and I broke my ankle while there and was off the internet for a week so I couldn’t solicit votes, but the truth is . . . come to think of it, I don’t know what the truth is.)

The contest started out being great fun but devolved into all sorts of infighting, faked votes, and terrible reviews that were posted for no other reason than meanness. Still, it turned out to be a pivotal point in my online life and my writing career.

I became friends with many of the contestants, and casual acquaintances with others. (As Jeffrey Siger, one of the contestants said, it’s “sort of like the camaraderie born of battle or surviving a natural disaster: never to be taken as an endorsement of the event that engendered such strong ties among the the participants.”)

I met the group The Writin’ Wombats on Gather because of the contest, and ended up hanging around with them for all these years. Because of the contest, I eventually found a publisher. The link to the publisher’s website was posted on a Wombat thread, and since I was in querying mode, I immediately shot off a query letter. He loved my book A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and sent me a contract. Turns out, I already knew him through the contest, and he asked if More Deaths Than One was still available. It was. Second Wind Publishing has now published five of my books — four novels and one non-fiction book, Grief: The Great Yearning.

Until the crime writer contest, my online presence had been confined to my blog (I’d only had a computer and the internet a few months) but after the contest I posted articles on Gather, and I also migrated to other sites, such as Facebook, Goodreads, and Twitter. I mostly hang around Facebook now because of my discussion groups there, but I always return to Gather, especially on Thursday evening when I do a live chat with my No Whine, Just Champagne discussion group. I started out knowing only a few people online, now I know hundreds.

And all because of a contest.

So, what was the pivotal point of your online life?

4 Responses to “Gather ‘Round and You Shall Hear . . . The Story of My Online Life”

  1. Casey B Says:

    Hi, Pat.

    I love this post. I think the pivotal moment in my online life happened six years ago, when I came to know a woman in Argentina through the official George Harrison forum. Chris and I communicated for a while through her forum thread, and it was through that I found out about her battle with cancer. We also emailed and chatted via instant message. Chris’ passing on Easter Sunday 2007 was the catalyst for me finding my place of purpose in the online world. Now I blog about my experience of grief after Chris’ death in the hope of providing support and community for others who have had similar experiences.

    Thanks for the impetus to tell this story.


    • Pat Bertram Says:

      So glad you stopped by to tell your story. It is important to spread the word that it is okay to grieve. So many people seem to think grief is a weakness.

  2. Kenna Specht Coltman Says:

    Hi Pat! It’s good to see that No Whine is still going strong. My own online life morphed after that Gather contest, but was primarily a result of earthshaking events in my personal life. Perhaps I have yet to reach my pivotal point.

    It is so nice to catching up with what you, Jeffrey and Laz are doing now that we’re connected on FB. Personally, FB is where I spend nearly all of my time online. It was a wonderful support mechanism for me over the last couple years, especially.

  3. Carol Says:

    Interesting question, Pat. I’ve never much thought about it but now that you’ve convinced me to, I suppose it was when I decided to create my blog. I had “lurked” at various author, agent and publishing websites, gleaning info on the industry, for years. I seldom commented but learned lots. Several agents mentioned the importance of writers developing an online presence before rather than after publication. One day I took the plunge to become visible in cyberspace and created Careann’s Musings . At the start I hid behind my pseudonym but eventually gained confidence and added my real name to the site. I’ve met so many wonderful and supportive people since then, including you. I don’t have a novel published yet, so I can’t say that it’s made a big difference to my hoped-for writing career, but the people I’ve interacted with have made a huge difference in how I view my writing. So yes, creating my blog was the pivotal point of my online life… at least, to this point. 😉

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