August 15, 2011

Made It Moment: Neil Plakcy

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 1:54 am


After years of reading and enjoying Neil Plakcy’s posts on a listserv we’re both part of, I finally get to welcome him to the blog. From reading Neil’s posts, I thought I had a handle on what his Moment was likely to be. But what he said surprised me–and I bet it will you, too.

Or maybe it won’t. Some of you will immediately understand. And isn’t that what Made It Moments are really all about?

Neil Plakcy

I vividly recall the day in April 1979 when I discovered that my senior honors thesis, a very youthful novel that will forever remain unpublished, had been accepted for graduation. As I left Bennett Hall, the Gothic pile that housed the English department at the University of Pennsylvania, my feet barely touched the ground. I was sure I had received the key to my literary career.

Fast forward another twenty-four years, to Friday September 5, 2003. I came home from work and found an email from Greg Herren, a noted mystery author working as an editor for Haworth Press, a small academic publisher, which also published GLBT fiction.

He wrote, “I have finished reading Mahu and really enjoyed it. I am recommending it to Haworth for a contract.”

After years of writing short stories and failed novels, after slogging through an MFA degree in creative writing, I was going to be a published novelist. The book I’d written about Honolulu homicide detective Kimo Kanapa’aka, in which he gets dragged out of the closet while solving a difficult case, was going to see print. It was a heady feeling.

That first mystery novel was small stone thrown into the big literary pond, which fortunately is still creating ripples eight years later, into its third edition with its third publisher. Four more novels and a collection of related short stories about Kimo have followed, along with many other books.

Since then, I’ve been a finalist three times for the Lambda Literary Award, and won the Hawaii Five-O award for best police procedural at Left Coast Crime. I’ve gotten good and not-so-good reviews, spoken at conferences, and had people tell me how much they’ve enjoyed my books.

But I keep coming back to that spring day and the news that my thesis committee had thought More Than Food worthy of an honors degree. That was the first time someone believed in my work, and even though there were long years of struggle to follow, that’s the time I knew I’d made it as a writer.

Neil Plakcy is the author of the Mahu mystery series. He also writes the Have Body, Will Guard adventure romance series, Three Wrong Turns in the Desert, Dancing with the Tide and Teach Me Tonight (2011). His other books are the Golden Retriever Mysteries.

Plakcy is a journalist and book reviewer as well as an assistant professor of English at Broward College’s south campus in Pembroke Pines. He is president of the Florida chapter of Mystery Writers of America and a member of Sisters in Crime.


  1. Congratulations and continued success!

    Comment by Judy — August 15, 2011 @ 8:01 am

  2. It is amazing what a difference it makes to have someone believe in your work. Do you incorporate that in your teaching?

    Comment by Sara — August 15, 2011 @ 9:21 am

  3. Hello Neil, congratulations to you on your success as a writer and a teacher. I met Neil at Sleuthfest, and sat in on some of his panel sessions. His students have a very capable teacher.

    Comment by G Thomas Gill — August 15, 2011 @ 9:44 am

  4. Fabulous! Congratulations.

    Comment by Savvy — August 15, 2011 @ 9:57 am

  5. I don’t like to teach creative writing at the college level– I find that I care too much, and the students, many of whom just need a writing credit, don’t– but I love teaching at writers’ workshops and conferences.

    Thanks for hosting me, Jenny– it was fun to reach back to those years and consider how much I have learned since then!

    Comment by Neil Plakcy — August 15, 2011 @ 10:02 am

  6. Congratulations on your successes, Neil! It sounds like your perseverance and willingness to constantly work on your craft are what got you there, and those are definitely traits the rest of us should aspire towards. Best of luck with your current and future endeavors!

    Comment by Becca — August 15, 2011 @ 11:54 am

  7. Hi Neil (and Jenny),

    Great story!


    Comment by Theresa de Valence — August 15, 2011 @ 12:23 pm

  8. Very impressive career and a 24 years of Odyssey.

    Comment by Lisa Zhang Wharton — August 15, 2011 @ 1:59 pm

  9. I like that Neil remembers a triumph in his university years as a watershed moment in his career.

    Comment by Connie J Jasperson — August 15, 2011 @ 2:03 pm

  10. Saying hello and wishing Neil ever so much more success. I’ve known Neil since my first Sleuthfest when I volunteered to help with agent-editor panels. He’s always had a smile for me (and everyone else) and deserves every bit of recognition he gets.

    Terry’s Place
    Romance with a Twist–of Mystery

    Comment by Terry Odell — August 15, 2011 @ 3:43 pm

  11. Funny how those moments stay with us. You’ve traced an interesting arc from that early experience to the next several decades of your career. Thanks for sharing, Neil.

    Comment by Lesley Diehl — August 16, 2011 @ 9:31 am

  12. It’s good to know the story behind the story, the one of struggle! I see you merely as a successful writer. I didn’t know at the time it was you I shared the ride with at LCC in Santa Fe, but it was an honor to meet you and chat.

    Comment by Kaye George — August 16, 2011 @ 10:34 am

  13. Great post, Neil … Amazing all the years of work it takes to say ”I’ve Made It!” (or, is the message that it never feels better than that very first Made It moment? )

    Comment by Deborah Sharp — August 16, 2011 @ 2:00 pm

  14. Neil,
    You are truly a wonderful writer, a gracious man and all around lovely person. Its so nice to hear about the success you’ve had and heres to all the more coming your way!

    ps. Thanks for being on my blog!

    Comment by Karyne — August 16, 2011 @ 10:20 pm

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