Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Coast, Conference, and Cuisine-- Bouchercon Part 2: Conference

Bouchercon 2010 in San Francisco was already two weeks ago?  Got to get this post up.  This is the "conference" part of my three-part Bcon experience. Part 1 is: The Coast--Big Sur. The third and final part (coming soon) is Cuisine. You can't go to the Bay Area and not give props to the food. 

So here are my conference observations, in no particular order:

  • Bcon is like a giant cocktail party. Make like a hummingbird--dive in, suck the nectar, move on.
  • It was terrific. Well-organized, great panels and fun events.
  • The best part was seeing friends, of course.  Too many to mention! 
  • I saw a lot people I know only enough to say hi to, but I'd really like to sit down and have a conversation with these folks some day.
  • Priceless as Daniel Woodrell drolly explained in his slow drawl that there are some places in the U.S. where you can still buy a house for fifteen thousand (speaking of his Missouri Ozarks).  "The foundation's maybe slipped or the roof might slope a little. Most of the meth labs have moved out of my neighborhood, except for the house next door."
  • My panel rocked! It was "Crossfire: Putting Your Protagonist in Jeopardy" with me, Lori Armstong, Karen Olson, James Rollins, James Thane, and moderated by Randal Brandt. SRO and we had a lot of laughs.
  • I can't wear high heels as long as I used to at cocktail parties.
  • I love wearing high heels.
  • Lee Child's remarks about researching places for his books were funny and revelatory. He set a book in Georgia. Instead of traveling there, he rented "My Cousin Vinny" to get an idea about Georgia, even though the movie was set in Alabama.  "Close enough."
  • I need some of Lee Child's guts.
  • Loved seeing writers I know from crime writers' organizations and other conferences who were then unpublished and are now sitting at the signing table with me. Yay! 
  • Lots of cat talk in author bios. Made me think, "Whoa, those cat people are crazy into their cats." Then, "Yikes, that's me!"
  • If someone points a camera at you, especially if you're sitting behind a table, straighten up.
  • Smile!
  • Before we left, driving from SoCal, I grabbed my husband's vintage red and navy Madras plaid jacket from the closet. Wore it Saturday, sleeves rolled up over skinny jeans with a Kangol felt hat, navy blue with rolled brim. Retro fun. Hey, it's Frisco.
  • Loved the "Me too!" moments with other authors that make me feel that I'm not alone out there.  An author told me he likes media escorts and staying with family when on tour except for the endless talking.  "I just get tired of talking." Me too! Or the author who revealed he always wanted to be included with the group, chosen for the team, one of the popular kids. Hey!  Me too!
  • Missed several panels because of stopping to chat with friends in the hallways and the bar.
  • LOL hearing the banter between Val McDermid and Paul Levine talking about writing a sequel to Treasure Island. "John Paul Silver--The Return."
  • The badges listed name and state. No city. Just state. There were many Californians.  I thought it was humorous to ignore California's geographic chauvinism and throw us into one pot. Some Californians couldn't bear it and hand wrote their city.
  • There's always talk of splitting up California. Some years ago, the L.A. Times asked for suggested names for the new states. Someone suggested these names for the three states of Northern, Central, and Southern California: Super Ego, Ego, and Id.  This has nothing to do with Bouchercon. I just think it's funny.
  • My first Bouchercon was in 1991 in Pasadena,CA. I'd just sold my first books to Simon and Schuster. I met my editor, Dana Isaacson there. Dana and I had a lot of fun then and we're still having fun. If this was your first Bouchercon, hope you took away something magical.
Soundtrack on the drive into San Francisco: Genius Loves Company.

Food is always at the top of my agenda any time I travel to the Bay Area. Next, I blog about the third part of the journey: Cuisine.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Coast, Conference, and Cuisine-- Bouchercon Part 1: The Coast and Big Sur

We drove from SoCal to Bouchercon 2010 in San Fransciso, which means that we seriously overpacked. Okay, I seriously overpacked.

Fog hiding the ocean. Looking south from the deck of the Nepenthe.
Husband Charlie and I decided we'd break up the drive and spend a night in Big Sur. It had been a couple of years since we'd cruised Highway One.  When the weather is fine, driving that stretch of coast from Morro Bay to Carmel is transformative. It makes me want to write a love song to California. I hummed some instead. Yeah Cali, you're broke, you've got a lot of problems, but this native daughter loves U and your golden self.

We almost had the road to ourselves.  A light shifting fog moved through the air, making mirages of ocean and foothills that would suddenly appear out of the mist only to be just as quickly erased. White fog ran down canyons like streams from Heaven. Quicksilver ocean melted into dove-feathered fog. It was mystical.

Soundtrack into Big Sur: Jazz Round Midnight: Chanteuses and selections from Beethoven.

Big Sur is like a hippie Fantasy Island--a different place and era cut off from the rest of the world. It's not easy to get to. There's sporadic cell phone service. The physical beauty is imposing and makes everything else seem trivial. The French, German, Italian, and British visitors outnumbered the Yanks, adding to my feeling of being in a strange land.  My cell phone displayed a scary red emblem instead of the signal strength bars. Took me a little time to ignore that silent scream. Freedom from the CrackBerry.

I'm a sucker for a pretty photo of a sunset.  From the Nepenthe. 
We reached the Nepenthe in time for the sunset. Charlie trained another bartender how to make a Vesper martini.  We split a Calistoga artichoke appetizer, a Nepenthe's Ambrosia Burger, and a giant basket of fries. Behind us, a group of folks was discussing the "Julie and Julia" movie. A man at the table didn't know who Julia Child was. Others there filled him in, but agreed that she was still alive yet "elderly." Decisions... Reveal myself as an eavesdropper and inject myself into their conversation to set them straight or forever hold my peace?  I practiced silence and turned my attention to the sun setting behind twin fog banks which garnered a crowd with cameras.

When the sun made its final dip into the ocean, there was discussion of seeing the green flash. Very cool, waiting for that fleeting event.

We stayed in a simple motel along the Big Sur River. There were Adirondack chairs in the river, perfect for sitting on a hot day.  Even though the river was more like a creek after our dry year, I realized how rarely I experience a river. The cement-shrouded L.A. River doesn't count. I let the cool water run over my hands and touched the smooth pebbles on the bottom.

I awakened at some point during the night. It was strangely dark. Black dark. No display on the nightstand digital clock. No lights from outside. The power was off. I wondered if the rest of the world had disappeared like in one of those early 1960s horror movies inspired by A-Bomb paranoia in which the people seem to have evaporated, leaving their cars with full tanks of gas and the keys in the ignition. What if the world outside Big Sur was gone?  Deciding there was nothing I could do about it, I rolled over and went back to sleep. In the morning, the digital clock was flashing the wrong time. The world had not disappeared.
I had plenty of company snapping this beauty.

Every time I visit Big Sur, I hear its siren call, as have many others, including Henry Miller, who rolled in and didn't leave--for a while at least. Big Sur whispers to me, "What are you doing with all this stuff?" I think, you're right. I'm gonna shed my baggage, the Samsonite in my hands and the crap in my head, and stay. Stay and make necklaces out of stones and bones and write crazy prose and not care if anyone reads it and live out the rest of my days. The next morning, just like the power outage, the moment passed.  After a lovely breakfast on a deck above the river, we pushed on to San Francisco and Bouchercon. 

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Writin' is Fightin'

If you're holding down a job, caring for family, keeping a home, you're already under a lot of pressure and your attention is pulled in a zillion directions. How are you going to fulfill your dream of writing that novel?

From the outside, writing a novel seems magical and mysterious. From the inside, it is often magical and mysterious. When the eagle soars and the words flow, it's a beautiful thing.

Then there are those other times...

I've heard Michael Connelly say that writin' is fightin'.  It is a fight--to find time to write, to focus, to turn out great work, to shut down the self doubts. I've heard hugely successful novelists talk about having the same concerns. It's comforting in a way to know that they also struggle. I do have a couple of novelist friends who have said certain of their books have "written themselves." Hmm... Not me. By the time I've put a book to bed, I feel as if I've survived the Bataan Death March.

Take heart. Writing a novel is not easy for most of us.

If you want to write that book, you must treat it like a job. No time to wait for the muse. Set aside a fixed time five days a week and write. Even if it's just an hour.  Even if you don't feel like it. Even if, even if... Just do it.

Just like any job, sometimes I have terrific days and other times, not so much. On those tough days, sometimes once I sit down and get started, the ideas and words come. Other days, the work just goes nowhere.

That's when I make a bargain with the muse.  I'll tell myself to work for two hours, then I can go do something else. Or maybe just one hour...  Walking away and doing something not related to writing, like going to the gym, digging in the yard, or cooking, often will pry loose ideas.

Then come back to the computer later that day or the next day ready for a new fight.