Just returned from crazy breakneck weekend – Thrillerfest in NY, and ALA in Chicago. Because I’m a Pisces I have this idea that I can be two places simultaneously. It doesn’t quite work that way. Or anyway, there’s always a price.
At TFest, as some of you know, my story “The Edge of Seventeen” from THE DARKER MASK anthology won the Thriller award for Best Short Fiction!
Here’s the complete list of winners:
ThrillerMaster Award: David Morrell
In recognition of his vast body of work and influence in the field of literature
Silver Bullet Award: Brad Meltzer
For contributions to the advancement of literacy
Silver Bullet Corporate Award: Dollar General Literacy Foundation
For longstanding support of literacy and education
Best Thriller of the Year:
THE BODIES LEFT BEHIND by Jeffery Deaver (Simon & Schuster)
Best First Novel:
CHILD 44 by Tom Rob Smith (Grand Central Publishing)
Best Short Story:
THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN by Alexandra Sokoloff (in Darker Mask)
And yes, I was very happy to be the estrogen in the lineup. Actually I tend to do my best in situations of complete gender imbalance.
Then I went straight on (well, one missed flight later) to do signings at ALA, the American Library Association conference in Chicago, which apparently had an attendance of 27,000 people. Which was far more than anyone had anticipated and is great news for all of us bookish types.
And I have to say Chicago was as beautiful as I’ve ever seen it, ever – absolutely stunning weather, which I don’t think I’ve ever been able to say about Chicago before. I could almost have been lulled into living there if I didn’t know what happens around November. Or in July, for that matter.
I took that riverboat architecture tour with my friends and Sisters in Crime sisters Doris Ann Norris and Mary Boone, and it really is the best thing about these conferences – being able to get these fast but incredibly layered snapshots of different cities. I love it.
Now I’m headed into a couple of weeks of signings and interviews (including North Carolina Bookwatch, a really big deal in that state) while doing revisions on BOOK OF SHADOWS, and at the same time I have to sort out everything that happened and didn’t happen during my move, which is another story entirely, and, oh yeah, get back to blogging.
Not much that looks like vacation there, right? But instead of feeling exhausted, I feel rejuvenated, and realigned. Conferences are really good for the Big Picture. Going to the same conference for several years in a row is especially great because you can see your career on a continuum. I wasn’t even published when I went to my first Thrillerfest. Now, my fourth year there, I know what to do with the people I meet and the opportunities that come up. I’m much more aware of what a conversation can lead to and how to take advantage of that (I know, it sounds like I’m talking about something else. Of course that potential is always there, too.).
Opportunities abound at conferences – I really do feel that everyone you could possibly need to talk to at a particular moment in time is at whatever conference you are at. That’s always been true for me, even when I had no idea what I was doing. Now that I have a bit of an idea what I’m doing it’s even more true. Example: I have been needing to ask a lot of precise, technical questions about the whole Amazon/Kindle publishing thing. So I’m standing around in the Hyatt lobby catching up with friends and Daniel Slater, the very guy in charge of all that, walks right up to us and introduces himself.
That’s not an anomaly, it’s what happens dozens or hundreds of times over a few days at a con. It’s like magic, I swear.
Also these days I actually remember who everyone is. Definitely a plus.
Seeing the same group of authors regularly (at a particular conference) gives you a good idea of what people are doing that works, and what is not working so well. There’s always a lot going on that you can’t see, but you do get ideas.
And then there are those moments of sheer inspiration and purpose – like this year’s Thrillermaster David Morrell’s speech at the banquet. He was talking about how we all have a responsibility to bring something new to the genre, to advance the genre, and explained exactly how he had been attempting to do that in several of his books. He also said that every time he sits down with a new project he writes a letter to himself talking about why he wants to spend a year of his life on this particular book. Whoa! Talk about getting in alignment. That is absolutely what they call in yoga “attention and intention”. There is no way not to write a better book if you have done that.
I’m telling you, a graduate course in writing in 15 minutes.
ALA, now, is scary for the sheer numbers of books. The “Why didn’t I write that?” quotient is high. Also the sheer number of books by some individual authors is beyond scary. The “Why didn’t I start sooner?” question can tear you apart.
The fact is, I’ve just finished revisions on my fourth book. I’m a complete novice comparatively. And I understand better than ever why a lot of readers hold authors in awe (I just finished Michael Connelly’s SCARECROW and I swear I was holding my breath through whole parts of it. How the HELL does he DO that?). But also, all of those books come out of those people, people we know. People we are. The more books out of an author the more you have to marvel that one little 120 or 220 pound person can make all that happen, all those characters and worlds. The power of that! It’s mind-bending.
But here I was, this weekend, surrounded by authors – who have dozens, if not hundreds of books to their name, and I was wondering how many books I’m going to have to have out before I feel any kind of comfort level. In fact, I wonder if there ever IS a comfort level – if Tess and Allison experienced a moment (a certain number of books, the first or second time on the NYT list) that they said: “Ah, yes. I’m here.” (I mean, even temporarily!)
At the moment, for me four still feels really scant, which is maybe ridiculous, since every completed book is a bloody miracle. But I think that that impatience and dissatisfaction, of “not enoughness”, is typical of not just authors, but artists in general. It’s what drives us to produce more. I love that Aristotle called artists “productive philosophers”. That’s what we do – we produce. Art is philosophy, I believe that, but it is also so concrete. We need to see, touch, feel what we do. We need to have other people be able to see, touch, feel it.
Which is good to remember because now, despite a pretty full promotional schedule, I’m going to be doing a huge amount of writing. One project, the Screenwriting Tricks for Authors book, is very near finished. I have two more that I need to put in proposal form, and a third I should be thinking about. At the beginning of an idea, all that chaotic newness and possibility, it’s good to remember that it will be a concrete product at the end: a book.
And I just put one away, for the time being. Maybe for a month, maybe for longer. I haven’t done that with a project in a while, but I think it’s the right thing to do, for reasons I can’t even articulate at the moment, but I think I’m doing the right thing. One thing about having a small number of books out is that you want to maintain a certain focus. Especially when you’re writing standalones.
There’s nothing like a conference for putting your priorities in order. Out of all that chaos, you come away with clarity.
So I’d love to get other reports. Those of you who were at Thrillerfest or ALA, or RWA (going on right now!), what did you come away with that you can share with us?
And everyone else – will you tell us some great thing you learned or experienced at a conference?
And has anyone here EVER experienced that “Ah, yes. I’m here.” moment?