Left Coast Crime 3

The Left Coast Crime convention wrapped up today and it was one of the best I’ve ever attended… despite how unappealing the host city was (how can anyone live in El Paso? They must spend all their waking hours imagining the day they can leave).

For me, the highlight of the convention was all the authors I met for the first time (or those I only knew slightly before)  and had the opportunity to get to know over drinks in the bar, long dinners, or across a poker table… like Reed Coleman, David Morrell, Barry Eisler, Carl Brookins, Jim Born, David Ellis, Suzanne Frankel, Charlaine Harris, Joan Hess, Kirk Russell, John Billheimer, Jim Fusilli, Harry Hunsicker  and J.A. Konrath (who moderated perhaps the most unusual, and entertaining, panel I’ve ever been on. You’ll just have to buy the tape to find out for yourself). In fact, I met so many people, and had such a wonderful time talking to them, it’s hard to keep track of them all.

Every night I had dinner with a different group of authors (usually at the pricey, but delicious, Cafe Central across the street from the hotel) and learned so much about the craft of writing, the state of the publishing industry, and the intricacies of promotion…we talked about other things, of course, but those conversations about what we do were invaluable to me.

I also got lured into the nightly poker game with Parnell Hall, Bill Fitzhugh, SJ Rozan, Gary Phillips and others… and although I’m certain I embarrassed myself with my inexperience (I haven’t played in 20 years), I had great fun and appreciated their patience with me. I can’t remember the last time I stayed up until 2:30 in the morning doing anything besides writing…

And I don’t think I will ever forget watching Victor Gischler’s smooth moves on the disco floor, where he taught El Pasoans the true meaning of boogie with Gary Phillips, Reed Coleman, Suzanne Frankel and Meg Chittenden, among others…

Perhaps when I’ve had some time to reflect on the weekend I’ll have something more to say than all this name-dropping and gushing…

Left Coast Crime 2

It’s mid-day Friday at Left Coast Crime… and it’s shaping up to be another lively day at the conference. There was a interesting, and very funny, panel on mystery reviewing moderated by Steve Brewer and featuring David Montgomery and Carl Brookins. I had to leave mid-way through to do a panel of my own — Why Would Anyone Want to Read a TV Show? — and had a lot of fun telling stories about TV. I sat in on Lewis Perdue’s talk about what happens when events in your novels come true… and caught up again with David Montgomery and Nathan Walpow to talk about the reviewing biz and small press publishing. Then it was off to the book room, where I tried to avoid buying by chatting with Victor Gishler and Denise Hamilton about balancing family and writing committments. I just finished a nice, long lunch with Bill Crider, Charlaine Harris,  Bob Levinson and Walter Satterthwait, talking about ghost writing, panels we’ll never forget, and other stories from the writing life.

It’s already been a pretty full day… and it’s only 1:15. I’m on a panel coming up on funny things that have happened at book signings… sadly, I have LOTS of stories I can tell…

Left Coast Crime

Howdy from El Paso, the ugliest city I have ever been too…which is all the more reason to stay in the Camino Real hotel and hang out with all the authors who are here (who seem to outnumber the fans). Not much to report… I haven’t been to a single panel yet, but I’ve spent a lot of time catching up and talking shop with my friends.

I had a terrific dinner at Cafe Central on Wednesday night with authors Joel Goldman, Twist Phelan, Harley Jane Kozak, Doug Lyle, Bob Levinson, Reed Coleman, Dan Hale, Kirk Russell and a number of others… sharing funny anecotes and horror stories.

I started my day Thursday tooling around El Paso with Joel… and discovering there wasn’t much to see. We were back at the hotel by noon, just in time for the opening of the book room, where I spent too much money buying vintage paperbacks by Vin Packer, Dan J. Marlowe, and Bart Spicer. I caught up with my friends (Bill Crider, Victor Gishler, Barry Eisler, Zoe Sharp, Meg Chittenden, and David Montgomery) and made some new ones, like Walter Satterthwait and Carl Brookins. 

Walter and I had a thoroughly enjoyable lunch under the Tiffany glass dome in the Camino Royale bar, discussing writing, our experiences at St. Martins,  and some forgotten authors from the 50s and 60s.  Later, Carl and I sat for quite a while in the bar, talking about publishing, the TV business, and the late, great Harry Whittington.

After the early evening reception at the El Paso Museum of Art, it was off to a BBQ joint in New Mexico (about 11 miles away) with SJ Rozan, Denise Hamilton, Jim Born, Doug, Joel, Kirk, and Reed where the lively discussion included the pluses-and-minuses of outlining, the insecurities we share about writing, and the best way to integrate "clues" into our narrative. 

I always leave these dinners so energized… the sense of community among mystery writers is really unique and truly helpful. It’s such a relief to know that all the obstacles and set-backs I experience are shared by other writers, too!

Tomorrow morning I have two panels…one on writing tie-ins, another on funny experiences at book-signings. It should be fun.

Big Deals For TV Scribes

Lots of good news for TV writer/producers today…

Former LAW & ORDER producer Barry Schindel has signed a multi-year pact with Paramount that includes taking over as the showrunner on NUMBERS.

THE SHIELD creator/producer Shawn Ryan has signed a three-year deal with Fox that will net him "the high seven figures."

Production is about to begin on "Locked and Loaded," the feature starring 50 Cent that was written by my buddy Terence Winter and directed by Jim Sheridan.  Terry wrote some of the best-loved, and most honored, episodes of THE SOPRANOS…proving that having THE NEW ADVENTURES OF FLIPPER on your resume isn’t necessarily a career-killer… which is a big relief for yours-truly.

And Ben Affleck is in talks to play actor George Reeves in "Truth Justice and the American Way," a movie written as a spec by my buddy Paul Bernbaum (who once owned the original Superman suit and displayed it in a glass case in his living room).  Adrien Brody and Diane Lane also star. Paul and I worked together on LIKELY SUSPECTS and MARTIAL LAW… proving that having those two shows in your past won’t stop you from enjoying success in feature films… which is also a big relief to yours truly.

The Artful Writer

Thanks to John August, I discovered Craig Mazin’s The Artful Writer, one of the most interesting and fearless blogs around about the business of screenwriting…or, more accurately, the issues being discussed among the various factions of the Writers Guild of America. While I don’t always agree with the views expressed on the site, I am enjoying the lively debates… and learning some things along the way.

In recent days, they’ve tackled the influence of rarely-employed members on Guild policy,  the pros and cons of listing all contributing writers in movie credits, and the conflict between WGAw and WGAe.

If you’re a member of the WGA, or curious about the issues facing professional screenwriters, I urge you to check out the site.

Keep Your Spock Ears At Home

The instant UPN cancelled the low-rated STAR TREK: ENTERPRISE, the fans immediately began mounting the inevitable campaign to save the show. They’ve raised $35,000 so far and took out a full-page ad in the Los Angeles Times. Their goal is to either get the series renewed… or raise the $35 million it will cost to make this dream come true

I want you to sit down in front of your TV this October. To hear the
rising sounds of instruments beginning to play in harmony. To see the
vibrant colours of scenery fade into life. I want you all to see Enterprise‘s fifth season explode on to your TV screens in a magnificent blaze of sound and passion signifying everything.

Everything?  They must have asked the folks at the Colonial Fan Force for help writing up  their  call-to-arms.

However,  there are at least a couple people associated with the campaign who have dipped their toes in the real world:  as part of their plans for a Feb. 25th rally outside the Paramount gates,  the folks at  SaveEnterprise.com  are asking Trekkers to leave their Spock ears at home.

Although we think that coming in dress would be great, We also
think this would stereotype us all as "Hardcore" Trekkers and
would hurt more than help. Please wear your daily wear.

The frightening thing is, for some people the Star Trek uniform is  their daily wear, like that nutcake who wore her Federation garb, complete with phaser and tricorder, to jury duty (and who still wears her halloween get-up in her day job at — where else?– Kinkos). The folks at Zap2it have another take on it:

People willing to donate $10,000 of their hard-earned money (mostly refundable
if they don’t reach their goals or Paramount shuns their overtures) for a
low-rated series don’t look desperate but, apparently, those same people in
costumes do.

They want to raise $35 million for a fifth season of a crappy TV show… and Trekkers wonder why people ridicule them. 

Okay, I’ll tell them.

It was one thing when they were fighting to renew, and then resurrect, the original STAR TREK back in the 60s.  It was a campaign that made sense, that people could get behind. 

Wake up, Trekkers. It’s not 1969 anymore. You won that battle.  STAR TREK isn’t the under-appreciated TV series that was treated so unfairly… it’s a multi-billion dollar industry.

It’s hard to work up any sympathy for your cause, or share your righteous
fury,  when there’s  so much STAR TREK out there. There have been five STAR TREK TV series, hundreds of novels,  a dozen
movies… enough already. There have been 500 episodes of the show.  There’s plenty of Star Trek out there. Too much, in fact. And now you want people to get all worked up over the fact that the fifth series is being canceled after their fourth season?

What the hell is the matter with you people?

It’s more obvious now, than ever, that Trekkers have absolutely no perspective.  With so many worthy causes out there needing our time, money and attention, seeing people going to all this effort for a fifth season of a TV show in franchise that has already been milked to death for billions of consumer dollars is beyond pathetic, embarassing, and moronic…

It’s wrong.

Battlestar Galactica

I thought Friday night’s episode of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA was great fun…the best yet. The show gets better every week and is evolving, after a rocky start, into an entertaining cross between LOST IN SPACE and the original STAR TREK.

Like LOST IN SPACE, the heroes are wandering through the cosmos without a home and no idea where they’re going. Dr. Baltar has become an  insane, less-cartoony, version of Dr. Zachary Smith…injecting some much needed humor (and, in a strange way, humanity) into the show.  The robot from the Jupitor II has been updated into the sexy, imaginary Cylon woman who exists only in Dr. Balter’s head…or is she more than that?

Like the original  STAR TREK,  there’s no preaching, no grand space opera, just action, adventure, fun
and sex. That’s right, sex. This week, we actually saw two characters writhing
around and, get this,  having orgasms (though one of the characters
is a Cylon who’s spine glows when she’s climaxing, but let’s not get into that).  Capt Kirk used to get laid every episode…but in the
recent incarnations
of STAR TREK, the pompous, aren’t-we-so-noble-you-could-vomit crewmembers have either been celibate… or
dealt with sex like uptight teenagers (when the producers weren’t engaged in cringe-worthy leering… like  those  ridiculous spongebath scenes in early seasons of ENTERPRISE..or the skin-tight uniform that hugged Seven of Nine’s enormous Borg Breasts on VOYAGER). After watching STAR TREK for
the last 15 years, I was beginning to think "Abstinance" was the new Prime Directive.

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA   is  such a refreshing change from the stilted, self-important, sanitized scifi we’ve been getting over the last few years. Each episode reinforces just how calcified the STAR TREK franchise has become. It’s no coincidence UPN finally mercy-killed ENTERPRISE the same season that BATTLESTAR GALACTICA is injecting new life into the genre. It’s as if showrunner Ron Moore, an ST:NG vet, is intentionally rebelling against all the sanitizing, drama-smothering restrictions and formulas he had to endure while writing for TREK. How anybody could endure ENTERPRISE after watching BATTLESTAR GALACTICA is beyond me.

To be far, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA isn’t the first post-STAR TREK show to re-energize the genre.  FARSCAPE managed to muddy space up a bit it’s first season…but then wallowed in melodrama and overly complicated serial storylines, taking all the fun (and almost all of the humor) out of the show, alienating new viewers and some of the old ones, too.

If the writers of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA continue having this much fun with the stories and the characters, the series has the potential to be the next great scifi franchise… and attract more and more new viewers every week.

(This is one time where the revival is infinitely better than the original series that inspired it)

A Writer’s Life

This weekend was a good example of what life is like for a professional writer:

  • I wrote an article about writing DIAGNOSIS MURDER: THE WAKING NIGHTMARE for MJ Rose’s excellent Backstory blog.
  • I traveled to San Francisco to speak at a writers conference.
  • I  proofed the copyedited manuscript for my fifth DIAGNOSIS MURDER novel, which has to arrive in NY no later than Feb. 23.
  • I proofed the galleys for my novel THE MAN WITH THE IRON-ON BADGE, which have to arrive on my editor’s desk no later than Feb. 23.
  • I revised the manuscript for my sixth DIAGNOSIS MURDER novel, which is due March 1, but that I need to finish by Feb 22, so I can stick it in the FedEx packet with the copyedited manuscript for DM #5… because I am leaving on Wednesday to attend & speak at Left Coast Crime in El Paso.
  • I drove back to L.A. from S.F…and thought about the plot for my seventh DIAGNOSIS MURDER novel.  I made  some notes when I stopped for lunch.
  • I posted some articles on my blog.
  • I wrote some notes for a network pitch meeting that’s set for Tuesday.

And this was a light weekend… I didn’t have to write a script or write a chapter in a book.