Have you ever noticed that we writers are a little strange? Here’s a great example for you…
I’m sitting in the airport at the moment, one of my favorite places in the whole world. There are so many PEOPLE around, so many strangers, big and thing, short and tall, black and white and hispanic and asian (and I swear to God, an albino) blonde and brunette, male and female and kids, and babies, lots of babies. I know it’s rude to stare, but how can you not, when there are all of these different people around — all shapes and sizes and colors and smells and length of facial hair?
There’s the granola couple with the waist long dreadlocks and their newborn, the cheerleaders with their sweatpants rolled just over, just barely covering their butts, the Amazon woman — she has to be 6’6" is she’s an inch, and thin as a reed. Everyone wears different clothes and shoes and carries multiple bags and briefcases bags and look happy or sad or tired or annoyed . . . Oh, my, she really needs to put a sweater on. Ouch, that eyebrow piercing must have hurt like hell, why would you do that — really, eyebrows are so sensitive, just try getting them waxed.
It’s so strange because I’m in a city that I haven’t visited in at least ten years yet I keep imagining I recognize people walking by, because if you stop and think about it, as diverse and unique as people are, everyone still looks just like the people you know back home, I bet there’s some studies on why we ascribe certain facial affects and features onto strangers to make them feel like home.
That redhead really needs some aspirin, she’s been holding her head for five minutes now. Can you tell me why, exactly, women wear four inch heels and run late to their flights? The sweet-faced Finnish blonde is chatting with the heavyset older woman and you can see that she’s thinking about her mother as they chat. I wonder if she’s still alive?
Everyone is so busy, busy, busy, working on their computers or phones or blackberry or iPods — there really is nothing better than an elderly hippie with an iPod. Do you think they’re listening to ABBA or maybe some Stevie Nicks? That’s what it sounds like to me.
Oh, I like those sneakers, I wonder where I can find them? Can you tell me why there are wheels on a bag that’s only a foot square, because really, how heavy can you make a bag that could only carry a brick, tops?
Why aren’t more people reading? There’s a woman with a Dan Brown and a guy across from her reading something with a swastika on the front cover, and I’ve got Michael Chabon’s THE YIDDISH POLICEMAN’S UNION in my bag and I’m hoping I run out of battery soon so I have an excuse to turn this off and quit working and get back to the book, because it’s really quite good.
Do you ever notice how people don’t touch anymore — outside of the chicks who wear the four inch heels and rush to meet their planes, because they have no choice but to cling like a burr to the man (invariably bleached blonde tips on his spiky gel laced hair) walking next to her as they miss their gate and have to run the other direction. I shouldn’t get so amused at other people’s expense, karma’s going to bite me on the butt and sit me next to a crying baby for being so damn uncharitable to that poor girl but come on, honey, if you need to run take off the stupid shoes already.
Law and Order is playing on the television instead of twenty-four hour news stations, and everyone who isn’t reading (and that would be more than 3/4) are watching it blankly. I wonder how many times we’ve all seen this particular episode?
Mmmm, I smell fried chicken, real down-home fried chicken that smells so incredibly good, and there, they called my flight, I better go.
Faithfully transcribed from Midway, Chicago. Punctuation layered in later.
And so it goes. I love airports, and I love traveling, because somewhere in this little exposition there’s a gem waiting to be seized upon. After rereading it, I know what it is, and I’ll use it in my new book.
I’ve had to travel more and more in support of my books — to conferences and to signings all over the country. A simple four day conference is enough to exhaust me for a week anymore, which is pretty damn sad. Happily, I’ve wrapped up the last tour stop for my debut, and now get to focus on the next book. I’m curtailing my travel for this one, picking my dates very carefully. I’ll do some travel, but nothing as extensive as my 12 states from November to May. It’s just too much.
Now, enough of my babble, let’s talk about Mayhem in the Midlands. This is an exceptional conference, filled to the gills with READERS! The Omaha Public Library puts this one on, and from the minute I checked in I had a good feeling (maybe it was the book bag with an Agatha Christie novel in it?) One thing I’ve learned in the past six months, I prefer the reader conferences to the writer’s conventions. Not that I don’t love hanging with my friends, but that doesn’t get me in front of readers, which is where my bread and butter is. Mayhem did an amazing job this year: the guest of honor, Alex Kava, worked with the conference organizers to develop a full-day forensics track with experts from the Douglas County crime lab, C.L. Retelsdorf and David Kofoed, the ADA from Douglas County, Leigh Ann Retelsdorf (siblings, not spouses…), and Dr. Melissa Connor, an incredible woman who handles excavation of mass graves, and in her spare time runs the Forensic Program at Nebraska Wesleyan. An embarrassment of riches, no doubt.
I was lucky enough to participate in two panels on Forensic Friday, both discussing forensics in our books and the realities of researching crime scene minutiae. It was enlightening, and a lot of fun. There was a presentation over lunch that covered a case handled by the Douglas County Crime Lab and prosecuted by Leigh Ann Retelsdorf — Jessica O’Grady — whose body was never found, but her killer is in prison for life. It was an incredible and intimate view of a forensics-laden case, replete with blood spatter analysis, detailed drawings, photographs and diagrams, including a 3-D video reenactment of the crime scene. Suffice it to say I left lunch with a book already underway.
I think what I liked so much about this weekend was the vibe. The authors attended the panels with the readers, everyone participated, there was no posturing or pitching or ass-kissing, just genuine interest in each other. The line-up was stellar, and I was honored to be able to do a day of drive-by signings with my dear friends Shane Gericke, Rick Mofina, J.A. Konrath (aka James Patterson), Alex Kava and Erica Spindler (yes, it was an INCREDIBLE day!) then walked into the hotel and met toastmaster Jeff Abbott, who is as cool as his books, and makes a pretty good toast. I finally met Barbara Fister and Doris Ann Norris, and Carl Brookings, and Charlaine Harris!!! Jan Burke was there, her always gracious self, toting her incredible, vast knowledge of all things forensic. I got to hang with Libby Fischer Hellman and Marilyn Meredith, Sean Doolittle and the irrepressible Trey Barker, waved at least five times to Toni Kelner, ate with the adorable Chris Everhart and his writing partner, Gary Bush, and the elegant David Walker, got to spend some actual quality time with the always gorgeous and surprising Twist Phelan. I missigned Anthony Neil Smith’s copy of my book (duh, it’s NEIL), traded quips with my bud Chris Grabenstein, watched Donna Andrews work the room like the pro she is, put a face to the great name Honora Finkelstein and met her writing partner Sue Smiley.
Deb Carlin, Alex Kava’s business manager, had the four days scheduled like a well-oiled machine, and it was such a pleasure to be directed by her! There were four different booksellers in the bookroom, all of whom were adorable and kind, especially Becci West from I Love A Mystery in Mission, Kansas — the skull with the sunglasses was too much!
There was more: more people I met for the first time, more hands shaken, contacts made, laughter joined, but you get the picture. All in all, this was a great con, one that I’d be honored to attend again.
The best part though? I came home with a plethora of new ideas. Stuff to work into my current WIP, an entire book I want to do… and a true sense that I’m finding my place in all this. It’s scary to fly across the country to meet 200 people you don’t know, to have three panels to present, to be on for four days straight. But I’d go back tomorrow, it was just that good. Pictures here!
So what makes a good conference for you? And if you answer in stream of consciousness, I’ll give extra points — actually, anyone who comments today will be entered in the drawing for an ARC of my newest novel, 14.
Wine of the Week: I was introduced to this one by the lovely and talented Erica Spindler (another amazingly cool author you must read) Seghesio Old Vine Zinfandel — rich, big and spicy, a fantastic partner with the soft-as-butter fillet I had Saturday night. (and yes, I’m on a zin kick!)