On the road

by Alex

One thing I particularly love about this new author’s life (there isn’t really much that I don’t love, except the stress…) is the traveling. That’s something I never expected. I’ve always traveled a lot for research (have to, since I can’t seem to set anything anywhere that I actually LIVE). But the business traveling you end up doing as an author is a whole other dimension.

I don’t know how the convention system evolved… that would be interesting to research for another post, actually… but I have to say it’s pure genius on someone’s part. Every quarter, or two months, or if you’re really insane, and some of us are – every month) – you go to some interesting city in some different state to meet up with other authors and readers and publishing people and crime experts, for education, promotion, business, networking and partying.

There are so many great and life-saving things about this system I don’t even know how to start. For one thing, It’s a perfect balance to the rest of the author’s life, which consists pretty much exclusively of sitting in a chair and moving your fingers and stretching once in a while and letting strange things happen in your head. After two or three straight months of that, you need the sensory, visual, emotional, social stimulation of a con. I mean, think of what we would be like if we DIDN’T have that kind of balance? Oversized fungi, that’s what I think.

The promise of conventions is the carrot that keeps me in that chair, writing. But a con is not just a physical and social blowout (although it certainly is that!). It’s also pure business, in the most pleasurable way it can be done. We meet hundreds of people who are there for the precise purpose of meeting new authors and finding new books to read – in the genre that we write in. We go to different regions of the country (and different countries), so we’re expanding our readership and recognition in different areas. Our editors and agents and other members of our publishing teams; and bookstore owners and reviewers are all there, too –everyone we need to check in with on a regular basis is right there – in the seat next to you, in the elevator, across the table, in the bar.

It’s of course a mega-relief to be around other authors, who think nothing of your strange behavior because they’ve got all the same quirks of their own, and who can solve your story and business problems almost by osmosis – just about anyone you meet at one of these things has been through the precise struggle you may be going through at the time and is happy to share wisdom. They’re equally willing to stay out with you all night and perform criminal acts of Karaoke, if that’s your particular pleasure.

And more and more I’m starting to appreciate the educational aspect of these cons. This first year I was so busy meeting people that I rarely made it to any workshops and panels. But in Anchorage, this Bouchercon, there was such a great lineup of forensics experts in the “CSI Alaska” track (and I’m writing a police procedural, now) that I just had to take advantage. And yes, true to convention magic, I got every single bit of the information I needed for my next chapters just by randomly going to these workshops…

But the other side of conventions that is truly genius is that we end up going to so many different places, all over the country. I was going to write about Alaska, today, but I’ve got such a bad head cold I was resisting it. Then when I sat down to write I realized the problem wasn’t my fever, but that I’m not ready to write about Alaska yet. It made such a huge impression on me I’m still processing, and will be for months. It is so different from anywhere I’ve ever been before – a bizarre and astoundingly beautiful mix of Gold Rush, frontier anarchy and shamanic spirituality and criminals and seekers – in this breathtaking world of ice and Alp-like peaks and endless expanses of water and very, very large creatures. There’s no place like it anywhere, and what an amazing setting for a book.

We only get a taste of these places at conventions, but I think we get enough of a taste for an idea to take root, and possibly grow into a future story.

So all hail to whoever dreamed up this convention circuit, and to everyone who’s built it into the support system and inspirational/educational experience that it is. If it did not exist, it would be necessary to invent it.

Now, I’ve covered a lot of ground this year, and have the Frequent Flyer miles to prove it, but I’m still so new to this that I thought I’d ask everyone – what have been some of your favorite cons and workshops, for the overall experience or for the setting or the quirkiness or for whatever?

That’ll give me something fun to read while I’m languishing in bed, today, thanks!

11 thoughts on “On the road

  1. B.G. Ritts

    “…criminal acts of Karaoke…”

    Thanks, Alex, for giving me the perfect phrase to describe my singing!

    I’ve just been to two cons (Vegas and Madison B’cons), but the wide range of panel topics and serendipitous meeting of authors and other fans is wonderful. It was humorous to me that my friends couldn’t quite comprehend my going to Las Vegas for a book convention, but no one gave a second thought about my going to Madison for the same thing.

  2. Alexandra Sokoloff

    B.G., it’s true there’s something a little humorous about going to Vegas for a book convention. But as a research spot for crime fiction – it’s a goldmine. That’s what I’ve started to realize – that the intense immersion in these different cities, and the research potential in that, is as much a part of the con experience as everything else.

  3. Louise Ure

    I think my favorite gathering is the one closest to home: The Book Passage Mystery Conference in Corte Madera, California. A wonderfully collegial three day affair with stellar writers, panels and programs.

    I’m so glad you had a good time in Anchorage, Alex. I used to do the advertising for the Alaska Division of Tourism and have wonderful memories of all the time spent there. It is a truly magical place.

  4. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Louise, can I have your life, next life? You really have done it all, and then some.

    I really need to get to Book Passage. Any excuse for the Bay Area! But so far the timing’s been off.

  5. pari

    Sorry about the head cold, Alex. What a drag.

    I’ve really enjoyed most of the cons I’ve gone to. My favorite remains Left Coast Crime because of its size and emphasis on humor; I just really appreciate that.

    Malice Domestic is a must for me. I enjoy the comaraderie, hanging out with so many friends. And being in the DC area is a delight.

    Another con that I’ve only attended once but found absolutely fascinating was Magna Cum Murder. This con is in Muncie — of all places — and just was so fascinating. The panels and discussions really stimulated thought and interesting tangents.

    Next year, I’m already signed up for Murder in the Magic City (another great small con in Birmingham, AL), LCC in Denver and Malice. I suspect I’ll be attending even more than that . . .

    Like you, I love cons and wish I could go to every single one.

    Get better soon.

  6. JT Ellison

    Alex, feel better soon, girl!

    There are so many great conferences, my rule is I plan to attend the biggies (Thrillerfest and Bouchercon) and rotate in one more each year. This year I’m doing LCC in Denver, and since Murder in the Magic City is in my backyard, I’m thrilled to do that one as well (Pari, you are going to be sooo sick of me ; )

    Four cons is more than enough for me, I think. I hope to rotate through all of the fun mid-sized cons over the upcoming years. Now the book festivals are a whole different story…

  7. Alexandra Sokoloff

    JT, I’m assuming you have BEA permanently on your list, too – and I strongly advise ALA. as well. Those two I think are truly unmissable.

    I know I’m doing too many, myself – but I have this little problem of being so cross-genre – it’s maddening.

  8. Rae

    The conferences I’ve enjoyed the most have been the ones that have had, for lack of a better description, a mellow vibe. I’m not sure whether it’s had to do with number of attendees or location or organizers. But whatever the root cause, I love the feeling that I have all the time in the world to finish a conversation or have a drink or check out a panel, without worrying that I’m missing something.

    (And btw, Alex, it was fun seeing you in Anchorage 😉

  9. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Hah, Simon, if that was dignity I shudder to think what your definition of “undignified” would be…

    Rae, back atcha, and I thought that Anchorage had EXACTLY that mellow vibe you’re talking about, You are so totally right about this:

    “I love the feeling that I have all the time in the world to finish a conversation or have a drink or check out a panel, without worrying that I’m missing something.”

    OH, am I coming to value that! In Alaska actually felt okay to get some writing done – and to go on a long bike ride (well, TOO long as it turned out, but still unmissable). That was all gold.

    And I credit the spectacular organization and hosting expertise of the Alaksa chapter of Sisters in Crime. A collective class act, there.


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