I had a fantastic time last weekend at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, which is heaven for book lovers and especially crime fiction fans. There were tons of big-name crime writers (like Michael Connelly, James Patterson and Stuart Woods, among others) and literary novelists on hand (like T.C. Boyle, Joyce Carol Oates, etc) in scores of free panels and talks…along with media celebs like Marvel’s Stan Lee and HGTV’s The Property Brothers.
I was a panelist, with my friends T. Jefferson Parker and Marcia Clark, for a lively discussion about crime writing that made the news, mostly because I admitted that we were as interested as the audience about Marcia’s reaction to the just-broadcast OJ miniseries. The Washington Times also reported on the panel and our little exchange:
The Times inquired of Ms. Clark what she thought of the Simpson series and, in particular, Sarah Paulson’s onscreen depiction of her. The wily lawyer — who practices as a defense attorney for court-appointed cases at the appellate level — replied that she “didn’t want the panel to get hijacked” by O.J.-related questions, but the jocular Mr. Goldberg saved the day, insisting upon a response.
Ms. Clark then delivered her verdict, calling the miniseries “tremendous” and Miss Paulson a “genius” who “absolutely gives you the truth,” adding it’s difficult compress a more-than-yearlong legal process into a 10-part television program.
Later that same day, I moderated a panel on crime writing with my friends Barry Eisler, Gregg Hurwitz and James Rollins that was great fun. We talked a lot about how we create, research and write our thrillers..a discussion that ended up being unexpectedly, and frequently, humorous.
In between those panels, I ran into lots of old friends, and hosted signings for our Brash Books authors Michael Genelin and Phil Reed (as well as Phoef Sutton and Craig Faustus Buck) at the Mystery Ink booth.
If you’re in L.A. next April, you have to attend the Festival. I never leave without spending a few hundred dollars on some terrific books…and learning something useful about writing.
The success of a Bouchercon has less to do with the venue, and the organization of the conference, than with the collective vibe of the people who attend…which is a good thing, because this was the worst location, and the most poorly organized, Bouchercon I’ve ever been to. That said, the people were great and I had an absolutely terrific time.
So let’s start with the good part. I’m long past attending the Bouchercons for the panels or the special guests…I rarely go to any panels or interviews anymore. I go to Bouchercon to see old friends, to get introduced to new authors and new books, to meet with my editors and executives from the publishing companies that I work for, to buy books, to talk shop, and to pick up the latest news in my little corner of the industry. I spend almost all of my time in the book room, or in the corridors of the conference center, or going to parties, or hanging out for hours in the hotel bar, talking with editors, authors, readers and booksellers. I usually come away from the event re-energized, full of new ideas, and armed with a fresh understanding of the marketplace. All of that happened this time.
What I like best is when I bump into people I’ve long admired but have never met…like Dexter producer Clyde Phillips and Law & Order SVU writer Jonathan Greene… or have a chance encounter with authors I’ve never met before that leads to long and interesting conversations….and that happened with Chris Povone and Jamie Mason, among others…or get to meet enthusiastic readers of my books…and I met many of them. I was especially thrilled to hear how much they liked The Heist. What really surprised me was how many of those fans were men.
There’s no question that the explosion of self-publishing, the emergence of Amazon’s imprints (two of their Thomas & Mecer authors scored Anthonys for best novel and best short story), and the Kindle device have changed everything…and authors trying to figure out where they fit in, where the best opportunities are, where the pitfalls are, and how all of this changes their approach to both the business and craft of writing. The big takeaway is that this is an exciting time to be a novelist…perhaps the best ever. Authors have choices they never had before, especially those of us who have been at this a while. But what about new authors? What is the path to success in this rapidly changing landscape? Where do agents fit into it all now? All of that is far less clear…at least from the vantage point of the Albany convention center last weekend.
Which brings me to the venue, which had all the charm of a bus station men’s room, minus the urinals. The windowless pit was buried beneath the Empire State Plaza, which looked like a matte painting from a busted, 1970s Gene Roddenberry sf pilot. Finding your way into that bleak pit required a sherpa… or directions from one of the many crack addicts, toothless meth-heads, smelly panhandlers or opportunistic drug dealers on the streets surrounding the far-flung hotels where everybody had to stay (the convention center was virtually inaccessible for the handicapped). The conference rooms where the panels were held had terrible accoustics and the ambiance of police interrogation cells. The only author who probably felt at home in them was Marcia Clark.
Because bleak, destitute downtown Albany revolves around government workers, everything shuts down early in the afternoon and is closed up on weekends…those few places that already boarded up or out-of-business… meaning there was no place to eat on Saturday and Sunday….unless you wanted to wander into crack alley for a soggy burger or go back to the understaffed, woefully unprepared Hilton Albany, the nearest hotel…where even if you got served, it was a crapshoot whether inedible meal that was delivered was the one you actually ordered. The bar was even worse.
What were the Bouchercon organizers thinking when they picked this shithole? Who knows. But I can tell you this, Long Beach next year will be a big improvement…and I’ve already booked my tickets.