Don't worry, the death panels are over. You and your loved ones are safe now.
Actually, you always were because the death panels I'm referring to only kill pretend people, in books. Here's a picture of one, snapped this past weekend at the huge mystery conference called Bouchercon, in Long Beach. Look how harmless they are (I'll identify them in a moment):
But it's also a shame. Writers are some of the nicest, friendliest, and most humble people I know. (Granted, I hang out with lawyers a lot so maybe that lowers the bar a little...) but the people in the photo above are NY Times bestsellers and multiple award winners, and also sweeter than pecan pie. There's no "I'm more famous than you," at these get-togethers, and even though I felt a little pressure at appearing amongst these guys, it was nothing but fun.
Ah yes, who they are -- from left to right: John Connolly, Tammy Kaehler, William Kent Krueger, and me. Taking the photo was Julia Spencer-Fleming.
The bar is a frequent hang-out spot at these conferences, which is a little bizarre. Not because writers don't drink, hell yes we do, but because hotel bars charge $16 for a scotch. Now there's a crime for you. Fortunately, I'm at the point where I know enough people that I can often find someone mid-order and force them, out of politeness, to ask what I'm having. I suckered James Ziskin a couple of times over the weekend, although I did buy him a small coffee on Sunday morning to make up for it. He seemed grateful.
Another plus: these aren't sexist conferences, like some. I was able to mooch a martini from Jamie Mason, too. Here's proof:
See how she's holding onto her drink with both hands in a bar full of writers?? Smart woman.
Where was I? Ah yes, nice authors. So there I am, mixing and mingling, and the super-star Cara Black comes up to me and tells me how she saw my books for sale at a store in Paris (France, not Texas). She apologized that her phone battery was dead and so she couldn't take a pic, but she wanted me to know, because she knew I'd be excited. Heck yes, my books being sold in Paris? Love that. And there she is, a woman who's sold more books than Shakespeare getting excited with me, taking the time to share that. Heck, even noticing my book there in the first place.
Right after talking with Cara, I spent more time with the man of the hour, Kent Krueger. I told him what I told several people that weekend - I read one of his books because it was getting good reviews and I was going to be on a panel with him. Now I recommend it to everyone I can because it's brilliant (and is picking up awards like an 18th century sailor picks up communicable diseases). Lucky for him he didn't try the bunny ears on me, I guess he knows I'm much too serious of a person for that nonsense...
Check it out.
One other person who's a must-see at these deals is Terry Shames. She's with my publisher, Seventh Street Books, and I love her mystery series, set here in Texas. Turns out, by the way, I'm not the only one who loves it because she won the Macavity Award for best first novel this year! Here's a pic of Terry and me at the pub the night she won.
Obviously, photo bombing with a thumbs-up is way more mature than bunny ears.
One more picture I want to share. And this exemplifies what's best about writing conferences because here you have (from left to right) aspiring author Jonas Paterno, B&N mystery guru Jules Herbert, and authors James Ziskin & me. Tall, handsome men. What else could a conference need?
I suppose conferences are self-selecting by nature, the rude and boorish (or boring) probably don't go. But when I stand at the bar and see Michael Connelly chatting with his agent, or Lee Child laughing with a bunch of people I don't recognize, it warms the cockles of my heart. I have seen first hand how welcoming established authors are to the new guys, and now that I'm not such a new guy any more, I look forward to mooching drinks off the latest batch of mystery writers. The least I can do, right?
But here's a challenge. Think of the last couple of books that you read and try to picture the author in your mind (if it's me, Krueger, Black, or Mason, stop cheating!). I wonder if you can.
But rest assured, he or she is probably extremely nice and feels very lucky, just like I do, to be published and to have the chance to hang out with other writers and hordes of readers at book conferences. I may be tired this week, but I'm already looking forward to the next Bouchercon, in Raleigh, North Carolina. If you have a free weekend and like mysteries, come along. You can meet and chat with your favorite authors, hear their words of wisdom, and maybe even buy them a drink. Although at $16 a pop, you might want to bring a hip flask and a couple of plastic beakers...