If you spend enough time reading online listservs about mystery books (yes, DorothyL, but others, as well), you can get the impression that authors spend most of their time attending mystery conventions. Conversation generally begins with “how will we know each other at B’Con (Bouchercon, to the uninformed)?” and moves on to “did you go to Mayhem in the Midlands?” with such stops along the way as “just got back from Left Coast Crime (LCC to the really hip) or “was that Lee Child I spotted at Deadly Ink?” (Can you tell I just learned how to link?)
That’s the tiniest tip of the iceberg. There are mystery conventions, it would seem, every 20 minutes, in every corner of the globe. Yesterday, I attended the Backspace Conference in New York City (not limited to mystery, but about writing generally), and it was lovely–not to mention less than an hour from my house. Each and every one of these conferences seems to attract some of the most respected and famous names in the mystery biz (the aforementioned Mr. Child was in attendance, for example). As a fledgling mid-list author, I have some questions:
1. Where do these people get the money to travel all over the place so frequently?
I have been a mystery author (of sorts) for about six years, and my first book was published just a hair short of four years ago. In that time, I have traveled to exactly one mystery convention by air: Bouchercon 2004, in Toronto, CA. Other than that, I’ve attended three Malice Domestic conferences (“Malices” to the in crowd) in Arlington, VA, because I can drive there in about four hours, two Deadly Inks in Parsippany, NJ, my home state (sorry I couldn’t make it this year–ironically, because I was flying into Newark Airport that day–but I promise I’ll be back in 2007) and have considered, and abandoned, plans to go to Left Coast Crime twice, through no fault of the convention organizers.
According to a quick search on Expedia, a flight from Newark, NJ (near where I live) to Madison, WI (home of this year’s Bouchercon) on the dates necessary (a day before the convention begins, returning on the day the convention ends) would cost at least $276. Now, that doesn’t sound too bad. Then, add the hotel–and while it’s an extravagance, I always (always! Four times so far in my life!) try to stay at the convention hotel, just to give me a place to recharge my batteries during the day–which in this case would be about $115 per night for three nights, or $345. Again, not enough to break the bank.
Convention registration for this year’s Bouchercon is $185. So add the expenses together, and the bill is $806. Okay, it’s a bit of a bite, but not outrageous. Except I haven’t eaten yet. Nor paid for parking at the airport. Nor gotten myself from the Madison airport to the hotel (rent-a-car? airport shuttle?). Nor bought drinks for friends at the bar, which is where one must see and be seen at such events. So, let’s say $1200, going on the cheap all the way around, for a convention that’s not terribly far from my home.
Now, multiply that by, again conservatively (a word which doesn’t flow freely from my keypad), six times a year. That’s $7,200. And they’re not all going to be close to home. In 2006, Left Coast Crime was held in Bristol, England. In 2007, Bouchercon will take place in Anchorage, Alaska. Those airfares are considerably higher.
Where are these authors getting this money? Sure, the bestselling authors can afford it, and good for them, but the rest of us aren’t exactly putting extra wings on our homes with book advances. How can someone afford to be an author these days?
2. Where do they find the time to write?
Seems like a lot of authors are at every single mystery convention. I realize this is physically impossible, but every time you look up, they’re there. Since this is a time-consuming process, I can’t figure out when they have the time to write books.
Here’s my theory: Lee Child is actually a fat, short, slavish man who sits in a cramped garret in a less-than-fashionable area of Manhattan and crafts his novels 365 days a year. He rarely leaves the house, has food sent in and has no friends. But he writes really well, and takes time out to watch the occasional Yankees game, his only source of joy (until this week, but that’s another whole blog).
In order to keep the myth alive, he has hired a tall, handsome Englishman to wear nice suits, drive a flashy car and attend mystery conventions, film premieres and perhaps awards ceremonies. This guy probably can’t write a word (other than to autograph books with Child’s name), and for all I know can’t read, but he’s personable as all get-out and can speak very eloquently on writing and Lee Child’s books.
Other authors are probably into this impersonation gambit, as well. Robert B. Parker has three (!) series going at once, and writes the occasional standalone while waiting on line at the movies. He doesn’t have time to, you know, live. You know that guy who shows up at Kate’s in Cambridge MA every once in a while is an impersonator. Parker’s at home trying to figure out how Spenser and Hawk can still beat everyone up despite being over 70.
3. How do they know which convention they’re at?
Now, I’m not saying all mystery conventions are the same. First, as I’ve noted, I haven’t been to enough to say so intelligently. Also, each one definitely has its own personality. But if you go to enough of any type of event in a short period of time, you start to lose perspective. Hotels tend to look alike, hotel bars definitely look alike, and if you keep running into the same authors (and sometimes the same fans) in hotels and hotel bars, I don’t care how well-run the convention is, you’re going to forget where you are.
Bestselling authors have assistants (or escorts) who guide them on book tours and, assumedly, to conventions. The rest of us have the airport shuttle, and that’s not a big help. So, how do authors know where they are?
My guess: they have crib sheets written on their cuffs, like in school. Or on their arms. Or, for all I know, on the insides of their eyelids, which they see by closing their eyes are tilting their heads toward bright lights. But there’s some trick to it, for sure.
Next year, when my first book from a large publisher is released, I’m going to make an effort to attend a few more conventions. I’m starting to save up now. But if you see me at one, and I seem disoriented, like I don’t recognize you or can’t remember your name, please don’t take it personally.
I’m like that at home, too.