Yes, I did manage to get up for that 9 a.m. Friday morning panel. Of course, the fact that William Kent Krueger was moderating "Heroes with Fangs: Making Other World Characters Believable," which included Maria Lima and Lee Killough as panelists, could have had something to do with it. Worth it just to see Kent's gradual transformation into a werewolf during the course of the panel.
Immediately after that, Susan McBride interviewed me--and did a fabulous job; our friend Dina Willner said that ninety percent of what I said was new to her, and she's probably heard me talk more than most people who go to conventions. (Shall I tell her I made up half of it on the spot? No, she'd only ask which half.)
Dina also did a great job of moderating the "Structure/Endings/Chapters" panel in the afternoon. Apparently Peter Robinson, Sean Doolittle, and Alex Kava all fall on the seat-of-the-pants of the great divide on outlining, and it was left to Kent Krueger to hold up the standard of the outliners. Though I'm starting to think that outlining isn't the best word for what we do; at least for what I do. Maybe advance planning is more the ticket. And Kent brought up something that had never occurred to me in answer to the usual question of how you can stay interested in the book if you already know what happens before you begin writing. Even if you've planned/outlined down to the most minute detail, you still have to turn it into reality--quite a lot of suspense involved in copying with the challenge of realizing in words what your mind has envisioned. You may not be discovering your characters' actions as you go along, but you must still discover the precise words and images to make your story come alive.
My theory is that we all, whether outliners or improvisers, do the same work. Outliners tend to do things in discrete steps while the improvisers do the same things in a more recursive fashion. And I have, myself, written books or parts of books without the kind of full-bore planning I usually do. I don't insist that my method is the right one; only that it's a valid method, practiced by many fine writers, and worthy of respect. About the only thing I disliked about an otherwise wonderful keynote speaker appearance by Tom Robbins at the James River Writers Festival is that he and David Robbins, who interviewed him, spent considerable time dissing outliners. Yo! Guys! Just because you don't do it doesn't make it wrong!
Of course, one telling difference...often, a non-outliner will ask if you do an outline before you begin writing. The outline is how I begin writing.
Back to the convention...I finished up the formal part of the program by attending the "Books You Can't Put Down" panel, in which Sally Fellows, Carl Brookins, Maria Lima, Doris Ann Norris, and Nancy Wikarski all listed their favorite modern and classic books. Maria and I were amazed to hear Carl mention Emma Bull's The War for the Oaks, which I'd been saying, a little earlier in the bar, would make it on my top list if I didn't have to stick to mysteries. Of course, my list is less best books than the more idiosyncratic "Books I Wish I'd Written." It would also include Alan Gordon's Thirteenth Night--when I heard the premise--a mystery taking the characters of my favorite Shakespeare play, Twelfth Night, fifteen years down the road, I exclaimed "Why didn't I think of that!" and was prepared to hate Alan if he didn't do it justice--which he did, brilliantly.
But getting back to Mayhem...
Next, the auction. With Susan's able Vanna-ing and Beth Howard's organization, the auction went well. Peter Robinson's character donation was the top selling item, followed by Kent Krueger's donation of a dog name--and Sally Fellows was thrilled to learn that her dog Trixie will be immortalized as Cork O'Connor's dog in the upcoming Thunder Bay.
Saturday morning. No, I didn't make a 9 a.m. panel on Saturday, but I did achieve coherence by 10:30 for the "Saturday Morning Semi-Live." Letha Albright, Dana Cameron, Dan Hale and I, moderated by Dina Willner, plotted a mystery novel live, without a net, for the benefit of a savage editor played by Susan McBride. Dina's ability to keep track of the increasingly bizarre and convoluted plot was nothing short of amazing, and I think the audience had a lot of fun while learning a little bit about how writers brainstorm. Though I, for one, will never again be able to go to a carnival without thinking of the dramatic denouement of our mercifully unpublished (also unwritten and untitled) masterpiece, which took place in the Tunnel of Love (aka the Tunnel of Love, Like, Lust, and Penguins.)
In the afternoon, Patricia Sprinkle, Libby Fischer Hellman, Doris Ann Norris, and I participated in "A Murderous Sisterhood: Sisters in Crime," and then I dashed off to catch Nancy Pickard's presentation on "The Writer's Path," based on the book Seven Steps on the Writer's Path that she cowrote with Lynn Lott. (Photo: Nancy Pickard with moderator Maria Lima.)
Saturday evening I went out to dinner with some friends, and then passed up the chance for another margarita or two in the bar to prep for my interview with guest of honor Peter Robinson at the Sunday morning brunch.
I had a plan for the interview. I knew that it would take a lot to top the 2003 brunch, at which Jan Burke and her husband Tim performed "Makin' Mayhem" (to the tune of "Makin' Whoopee") . Or the multimedia show Susan McBride prepared for 2004 guest of honor Kent Krueger. But I had one small bit of inside knowledge: the fact that before turning to crime (fiction), Peter had published two books of poetry. Not exactly a deep dark secret--he lists them on the bibliography page of his website. But apparently very few people had noticed this. So I decided to see if I could get a copy of one or both of them. So for Nosferato (1982, Gabbro Press) has eluded my grasp, but shortly after receiving my toastmaster assignment, I managed, through Abebooks, to get a copy of With Equal Eye (1979, Gabbro Press). Expensive little chapbook, since only 500 or 200 copies were printed (the number varies from source to source).
My theory was that an issue or theme important enough to the poet in his twenties might be something that would resonate in his later fiction. I hoped so, since I was building my interview around it. And to my delight, when I opened the book, the first poem was "An Elegy to Mingus." Given the importance of music to Banks...bingo!
Of course it wasn't that easy. Mainly because a lot of time intervened between the arrival of the book and my final interview planning. A lot of time and a lot of events, but I wasn't worried, because I had the book put away in a safe place, and I had my plan.
It wasn't till I began packing for a two-week trip ending with Mayhem that I realized I had no idea where "a safe place" was. I couldn't find the bleeping book. After a week of increasingly frantic searches, I was in a state of total panic when Dana Cameron IM'd me and gallantly let me vent about my stupidity in losing the book. While venting, I suddenly realized that there was a possible solution: buy another. If there was another to be found.
There was. There were, in fact, two listed on Abebooks: one in Toronto and the other in San Diego. I called Parmer Books in San Diego and they graciously agreed to overnight the book to me, thus rescuing the interview and my sanity.
Of course, I may never know whether Peter loved or hated the idea of using the poetry as an organizing theme, but the look of surprise on his face when I began reading was worth it, and at least a few people told me they enjoyed the interview.
After the brunch, many of the authors went over to Kate Birkel's Mystery Bookstore, where we talked to each other, signed books for any customers brave enough to enter the crowded den of writers, and played with the bookstore cats. Most of us also committed retail; when the package from Kate's arrives, I'll figure out what I bought. I know I got Letha's latest, and Dana's and Sean Dootlittle's....it was a big fat package.
Quiet dinner back in the hotel with Maria Lima, who was fighting a cold, and then both of us toddled off to our rooms with plans to meet for a late breakfast before catching a shuttle to the airport for our mid-afternoon flights.
A few minutes after I reached my room, Maria called to say that she'd changed her flight to the 6 a.m. one. I tried not to think how early she'd have to get up to make that. But the idea of getting home earlier called to me, so I called up and moved my flight from 2:30 to 10:30. Getting home in daylight sounded appealing. I packed up everything that wouldn't fit in my suitcase in the box in which my toastmaster's present came--a box of Nebraska treats, including pig seeds--and entrusted it to the hotel for shipment home.
Monday morning. Homeward bound. I had perfect travel karma. No flight delays, no horrible middle seats. I finished reading a friend's manuscript in the airport, and once I got on my flight, I had another friend's book to entertain me--but I whiled away the time from Omaha to Chicago thinking about my two weeks on the road, and the time from Chicago to Dulles thinking about home. I think the trip must have been just the right length--wouldn't have wanted to miss a day of it, but now I'm thrilled to be home again. Mundane things like unpacking and doing laundry and sorting through the two weeks' worth of snail mail the Post Office delivered today (a whole bin full) seemed quite enjoyable. Today was decompression day. Tomorrow, it's back into the groove with the draft.
More photos later, when I have a chance to sort through them. But for now...