In October of 2007, I entered a contest on gather.com — the 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 was 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.
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, 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 writing career.
I became friends with many of the contestants, and casual acquaintances with others. I met other writers that I am still connected with today. Because of the contest, I eventually found a publisher. The link to the publisher’s website was posted as a comment on one of the writer’s articles, and since I was in querying mode, I immediately shot off a query letter. The publisher 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, 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 used to 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.
Now, Gather is in its death throes. Because of the spam that clogged the site, Google stopped referencing its content in searches. The site has been sold a couple of times, and neither of the new owners seemed to have any interest in revitalizing this once active online writers community.
Most of my Gather posts have been posted elsewhere, usually here on this blog, but a lot of the discussion topics were too brief for a blog post, so I’ve been mining the site so my content doesn’t get lost. Considering that there were almost two hundred live chats alone in my discussion group, that’s a lot of content! I hope I get time to go through the discussions and look for pithy comments I might have made, but if I don’t, well, no problem. Maybe my comments should pass into oblivion along with the site. And who knows, maybe someday the site will be resuscitated.
Until then, rest in peace, Gather.
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.