THE CONVERSATION

by Gar Anthony Haywood

As Stephen mentioned yesterday, those of us lucky enough to attend had a great time at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books this past weekend.  A two-day (or three-day, counting the Times’ Book Awards dinner Friday night) celebration of books and the people who write them — what’s not to love about that?

But this year, my appreciation of the Festival was even greater than it has been of late for one simple reason: I got a new coffee cup out of the deal.  Here it is:

See, unlike my experiences over the last several years, I attended LATFOB this year as an invited guest, and the cup was included in my swag bag.

Not only did I have a seat on the “California Noir” panel Sunday afternoon along with a great group of authors, Kelli Stanley among them, I also served as a presenter at the aforementioned Los Angeles Times Book Awards dinner two nights before. 

(Stephen King won the award in my category of Mystery/Thriller for his epic novel 11/22/63, but alas, he wasn’t there to accept it from me in person.)

This last was a great thrill, and quite an honor, and it afforded me the opportunity to meet some people — authors, editors, journalists — I might never have met otherwise.  But just being asked to sit on a panel during the Festival itself is a gift from the gods, and I got quite a kick out of it.

Because I know I might be right back on the outside looking in next year, and the view from those seats suck.

Groucho Marx once said, in so many words, “I wouldn’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member,” but I couldn’t disagree more with such a cynical statement.  When The Los Angeles Times chooses to ask you, Joe Author, to its party, that may not be a sign you’ve arrived, but it’s a sure-fire indication that you haven’t completely disappeared.  And disappearing — vanishing from the collective consciousness of readers and editors, agents and bloggers — is every writer’s greatest fear.

Long before you become rich and famous, before you can pay your damn rent as an author, you have to be a known quantity to potential readers, and that can only happen if you’re part of what I call “the Conversation.”

You don’t think my stuff is the product of genius?  No problem, as long as you know my name and my work, and find me deserving of a line or two in any discussion you have on the subject of crime fiction.  The Conversation is where the magic of word-of-mouth begins.  You have to be in the game to win it, and you can’t get in the game if nobody knows who the hell you are.

So visibility is an author’s best friend, and the higher your visibility, the better.

Being visible to those who attend the Festival isn’t the only benefit of being part of the LATFOB program, however.  There’s also the boost it gives to the ever fragile author’s ego.  Validation comes in many forms — I’ll blog on that subject at length at some future date — and having the Times acknowledge your significance on the literary scene by offering you a role to play at its book festival is one of the more gratifying ones.  It’s proof you haven’t been writing in a vacuum.  People really have been reading you and finding your work worthy of mention.  You may not be able to buy a cup of coffee with such validation, but it feels damn good, all the same.

And when the invite from the Times doesn’t come?  You feel like a loser.  Like that chubby kid who failed to get picked on a team down at the corner playground, even though he could knock the cover off the ball if given a chance.  Intellectually, you understand that no author can be asked to participate every year; there are just too few slots for too many worthy writers for someone to get one in perpetuity.  And yet you take the snub personally, as a sad commentary on how far you’ve come in your career and how far you have yet to go.

Silly.

Anyway, back to that new LATFOB coffee cup of mine.  It sure beats the hell out of my old one, which I received the last time I made the festival cut back in 2006:

And if you think that one looks bad, take a look at the one I got three years before that, when I was first invited to participate in all the LATFOB fun:

I know — the design’s hard to see.  These things fade over time.

Visibility’s a bitch to maintain, ain’t it?

9 thoughts on “THE CONVERSATION

  1. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Gar, it's like being a rock star for two days out of the year. I consider myself REAL lucky to have somehow finagled my way into the Festival panel scene. Being asked to be a presenter is an even bigger honor – you must have been doing cartwheels.
    I came "this close" to being the on-stage interviewer to a big rock star this year — it would've happened, except the guy ended up going on tour during the Festival dates. That would've been awesome.

  2. Allison Davis

    Ok, I want to put this on the calendar and come down for it and the weather's not bad either.

    It is a constant struggle to not only write every day and get the books done but also to stay present in the "conversation" and stay out there. You are doing it…congrats. Having the double booking this year is a good portend for the next.

  3. Eric Beetner

    Very well said in a topic I know well and struggle with too. I think you have little to fear, Gar. You are absolutely a part of the conversation. An invaluable part of the legacy of Los Angeles crime fiction, and the wider world of crime writing as well. I'm happy to know you and your work.

  4. Reine

    Truly wish I'd been able to go… hope you, and all the Rati, will come to the Tucson Festival of Books next year.

    Stephen King just missed out, I think.

  5. Reine

    That is to say… Stephen King missed out when he couldn't be there to accept his award from you!

  6. PD Martin

    Festivals are great, aren't they! And it's especially sentimental to be invited to your hometown one. I've only been invited to the Melbourne Writers Festival once πŸ™ Though often their crime people are the big overseas names.

    Gar (and Stephen) I'm sure both you guys were great and every three years is pretty good, Gar!

    Phillipa

  7. Naomi Hirahara

    I love the metaphor of the mugs! I've never been formally invited to the party, although one time I got one of those special badges (MWA was an official sponsor) that got me into the official green room. Oh, the hidden riches! I felt like Eddie Murphy in that SNL skit when he saw how the other folks lived (parties on buses, etc.). I've gotten used to it and actually, I've sold more books by staying close to the ground and talking to readers. But fingers crossed that I can get into that green room next year!

  8. Gar Haywood

    Naomi, I don't know how in the world you haven't been invited before now. You are SO Los Angeles. And so damn smart and funny. I'll put a good word in for you with the people who invited me (for whatever it's worth).

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