Friday, April 24, 2015

The Egg and I

What are your favorite writing conferences/conventions to attend?

by Paul D. Marks

Once upon a time, I went to some seminars or conferences in the LA area, mostly on screenwriting, and once to the ABA when it was here. But I wasn’t going to fiction or, more specifically, mystery conventions or conferences. Didn’t really start going to those until a couple of years ago. But I really enjoy them and didn’t realize what I was missing. But lately, I’ve been to a couple Bouchercons and Left Coast Crime, and I like them both.

And I did go to the first California Crime Writers Conference/Convention (though the name might have been different then) put on at that time by Sisters in Crime, as I was on the board at the time. That convention continues to this day and is coming up in June. I think there’s still a few openings left. Come on down. I’ll be on the Thrills and Chills (Crafting the Thriller and Suspense Novel) panel Saturday, June 6th at 10:30am. And if I (who sleeps during the day and is up all night) can get to it, so can you ;) – See end of this post for more details.

Bouchercon is, of course, the big kid on the block. And I’ve really enjoyed the B’cons that I’ve attended which, admittedly, is only two. The one in Albany in 2013 and the one in Long Beach in 2014.

The Albany convention was my first Bouchercon and my wife and I flew out there a few days early. We flew into Connecticut since there were no direct flights to Albany and drove through four states to get there. The weather was nice and it was fun driving through all those states, even though some were short jaunts. There is a whole different vibe to New England than to CA, especially southern CA, but that’s probably for another blog altogether.

The Egg CollageWe got to our hotel and had no idea what to do. Normally the convention is at a hotel and there’s a block of rooms reserved in that hotel for attendees. But that year the convention was at The Egg in Albany, a convention center not tied to any hotel. So, there were three hotels connected to that Bouchercon, but no real central hotel or watering hole. If one had to pick it would have been the Hilton, but we were too late to book a room there.

So getting to Albany a day or two early, we did some exploring of the city. And I really liked it a lot. I didn’t think I would, so I was pleasantly surprised. It’s very different than NYC. More of a “quaint,” at least in some ways, New England town, even though it’s the state capitol. And we enjoyed trying different restaurants, especially Jack’s Oyster House, where the likes of both presidents Roosevelt ate, along with Hillary Clinton, JFK, Jr. many governors of NY and gangster, Legs Diamond, though not all at the same time, of course.  Also William Kennedy, the renowned novelist from Albany.

The convention came and I did my noir panel with Eric Beetner (M), Scott Adlerberg, John Billheimer, David Rich and Wallace Stroby. And that was enjoyable. I was honored to be chosen for a panel at my first Bouchercon. And it’s also great to meet other writers. I got copies of at least one of each of their books and read them on the plane to Albany and in the hotel once we got there. Aside from the panel I was on, we went to the various other panels and events. We didn’t know a lot of people when we got there, but we did know a few and we met some new friends that I’m still in touch with today.

We had an extra day at the end of the trip too, and did a little more exploring.

The only negative on the trip were the cramped plane seats. But other than that everything was great.
The next convention we went to was Left Coast Crime in Monterey, CA. For that, we drove up to Monterey. On the way up there, we took the “fast” route, going up the 5 Freeway. I took my very first selfie on the drive up there. It remains to be seen if I’ll post it here when the time comes. I don’t think I will...
That was my first Left Coast Crime and it, too, was a hell of a good experience. The convention was great. My panel was a lot of fun. Did a panel called Tough on Crime, with Robert Downs (M), Philip Donlay, Doc Macomber and David Putnam.  The hotel was nice and a short walk from Fisherman’s Wharf. And though we’d both been to Monterey several times, as we love it there, we got to do some exploring, try some interesting restaurants and had a great time.

And now, being convention veterans, we knew more how to go about it. We also knew more people there as a lot of LA people went. And we hung out in the bar and listened to people read from their books in a clandestine Noir at the Bar and had a great time. And how can you not have a great time in Monterey anyway?

Drove home the scenic route down Pacific Coast Highway, which is stunning beyond words. We nearly ran out of gas, running on fumes trying to get to the “next” gas station, but we figured if we ran out of gas at least the view of the ocean and rocks was gorgeous and it wouldn’t be pure hell hanging out there for a while. We stopped for lunch at Nepenthe in Big Sur. Good food and great views!

I’ve always wanted to live on the central or northern California coast and that trip only rekindled that desire.

Next convention was Bouchercon in Long Beach, which was a relatively short drive from home. Did a panel on Short But Mighty (short stories) with Travis Richardson (M), Craig Faustus Buck, Barb Goffman, Robert Lopresti, and our own Art Taylor. And it was nice to meet another Criminal Mind in the flesh.

Nice hotel. Didn’t do much exploring of Long Beach, which I would have enjoyed ‘cause it’s changed so much since I’d spent any time there years ago.Bouchercon 2014 Pike collage

The hotel and that whole area have been redeveloped. Back in the day it was the Pike and later Nu Pike, a seaside amusement area with midway and rides and lots of sailors. The perfect seedy seaside amusement zone. You can see it in several movies and TV shows, including the minor noir classic The Sniper, TV’s Emergency and many more. And it makes an appearance in my World War II homefront mystery, which hopefully will be out in the next year or so.

Then I was supposed to go to LCC in Portland recently, but had to cancel out due to personal reasons. I’m still bummed about that.

And I’m grateful to the folks at both Bouchercon and Left Coast for including me on panels. They’ve been a lot of fun and great learning experiences. It’s a great opportunity to visit a new city you’ve never been to or re-visit a city you already know well. And while the panels are great, it’s also great to get together in the bar afterward and schmooze and commiserate with like-minded authors. And that’s the best, or one of the best, parts of all these conventions, meeting your fellow authors, getting to know them, making new friends. And I did that at all of these conventions. And that alone is worth the trip.

I might have been a little reluctant to go to conventions in the past, skeptical that maybe I’d heard it all before. But I now realize the true value of these conferences is connecting with other writers. It’s not about selling tons of books, finding an agent or being “discovered,” but about connecting with other writers and fans of the mystery genre. And if you do find an agent or sell some books, so much the better. And I’ve found the panels to be both fun and informative, whether as a participant or audience member. And besides, where else can you discuss different methods of poisoning someone without being arrested?

You can bet I’ll be going to many more conventions in the future.

***CCWC snip - better
Speaking of conferences: Hope to you see at the California Crime Writers Conference
( ). June 6th and 7th. I’ll be on the Thrills and Chills (Crafting the Thriller and Suspense Novel) panel, Saturday at 10:30am, along with Laurie Stevens (M), Doug Lyle, Diana Gould and Craig Buck.

And please join me on Facebook: and check out my soon-to-be-updated website 
Subscribe to my Newsletter:

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Bloody Brilliant!

I can't pick a favourite convention. The best one is the one I'm at or packing for or still recovering from.

So I thought I'd put on my Scottish Tourist Board sash and tell you about Bloody Scotland. It's held in Stirling and if you like a bit of history with your crime cons Stirling's not too shabby. It's been there since the 12th century, Mary Queen of Scots lived there, her baby was crowned James VI there, and Robert the Bruce and Mel Gibs- I mean William Wallace both fought battles there.

There's a serious castle, by anyone's reckoning. And then in 2012, Stirling's bloody history got a fresh chapter with the first annual celebration of Scottish crimewriting. I missed it. It was as though they waited until I left and then had a party. But I was there the next year and the third year and it's shot straight to the top of my list of cons.

Everyone from Ian Rankin to MC Beaton is to be found there. Some southerners cross the border, enough to have a Scotland v England football match, billed as a "friendly", perhaps on the theory that if you say it often enough it becomes true.

There are always a few Icelanders and other Nordics there, since it's more or less local for them. I like hanging out with Yrsa Sigurdardottir, because she makes me feel like I've got an easy to pronounce name.

And it's just a very warm, friendly, not completely sober get-together where even if things go wrong they turn out great. An example of this was the cooking/tasting demonstration tied in to the Killer Cookbook, Caro Ramsay's contribution to the Million for a Morgue appeal.

(Which is another story: did you know that, following a huge fund-raising effort, there's now a Val McDermid Mortuary in Scotland, with a Stuart MacBride dissecting room and a Jeffrey Deaver submersion tank?)

Anyway, back to the cookbook. Caro and Craig Robertson had been practicing their recipes for weeks, the event was a sell-out, and then the night before . .  it was revealed that the venue insurance wouldn't allow the use of heat.

Caro, not a quitter, drove to a late-night supermarket and bought the ingredients for all the no-cook recipes in the Killer Cookbook. These were martinis mostly. And also cranachan, which is a dessert made with a little oatmeal, a little cream, a little honey and a lo-hot of whisky. There were no complaints.

Not completely sober, as I say. But worth a visit for any crime fan.

Monday, April 20, 2015

A Toast to Cons

What are your favorite writing conferences/conventions to attend?

The first thing to note in answering this highly personal question is the distinction between conferences and conventions. When I was new to the game, I didn’t realize the national/international Bouchercon was a convention and I was bemused by the flock of women who followed closely behind Laurie King wherever she went, chattering among themselves but seemingly attached to her by an invisible cord.

When another friend and I met Deborah Crombie at that Bouchercon (can’t recall the year, but it was in Baltimore), she was charming but seemed especially delighted that we were writers. It took me a bit to realize that she had been bombarded by eager fans for the half hour before that in the bar. (Her assumption was that I was a writer, not a fan, but that wasn’t really the case – I’m a big fan of the long-running Gemma/Duncan series, set in London.) A convention plays to the fans but fortifications are sometimes advised, and this martini glass is raised to Deb, who always chooses fancy drinks!.

I love the Left Coast Crime convention, partly because I seem to know everyone, or at least every author, there, and because the planners are a heroic band of crime fiction lovers who have created an ongoing festival that rotates from western city to western city but with the same band of cheerful attendees, including lots of enthusiastic fans. Blogger and salon hostess Janet Rudolph not only gets deeply involved most years, but also manages the fan-voted awards, a celebratory event that everyone looks forward to. (Yes, some year, I’d like to be a finalist!)

My first exposure to conferences, and the pivotal one for me, was the Book Passage Mystery Writers Conference, held annually in Marin County California at an influential bookstore. The first time I went, when I was tentative and apologetic at my own temerity in thinking I might write crime fiction, featured Sue Grafton, who was – and still is – so down to earth, approachable, and direct that I could stop pinching myself when I sat next to her at lunch and actually soak up a little advice and courage. I’ve been back twice since then and, in 2008, found my agent, Kimberley Cameron, there. I also met and had small classes with such accessible luminaries as Elizabeth George, Cara Black, and Jackie Winspear. Conferences are for writers because honesty, openness, and the ability to ask questions that may expose one’s weaknesses is crucial.

A new-ish conference and one I really enjoy is the California Crime Writers event (June 6-7 this year) in L.A. Sponsored and totally put together by Sisters in Crime’s and Mystery Writers of America’s southern California chapters, it’s quickly become a significant place for writers to gather, network, listen to each other, drink together, the latter being as important a part of conferences as any other aspect.

There are others, and my fellow Minds will have their own favorites. I’ll be reading theirs this week to see what further adventures I should consider. I’m guessing they’ll all have one thing in common: the party’s always at the bar! See you at CCW.

Friday, April 10, 2015

An Eye for an Eye, A Quote for a Quote

What's the best quote you've heard about writing and why do you like it?

by Paul D. Marks

Well, bringing up the rear here on a Friday, let’s see what I can come up with:
I think I’d have to say I have two favorite quotes about writing.

220px-AdventuresInTheScreenTradeThe first is by William Goldman, screenwriter extraordinaire, and is about screenwriting, but I think it can apply to novel and short story writing as well:

NOBODY KNOWS ANYTHING. Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what's going to work. Every time out it's a guess—and, if you're lucky, an educated one.
―William Goldman, Adventures in the Screen Trade

Many people have heard this quote, but of course they forget everything he said except for the first three words. They’ve been interpreted different ways, so I’ll put my own spin on them. And that is that everybody has a different idea about what works and what doesn’t. One hears often that agents or editors will say don’t have a prologue. Then you see books with prologues. Don’t use flashbacks. There was a producer who was famous for saying that if he saw ellipses in scripts he’d close it immediately. So F all of them. And do what works for your story. A prologue might turn some people off, but it might work for others. The other thing is, you send out a story/novel and are “lucky” enough to get notes back with your rejection, so you change the story to fit those notes. You send it out to someone else and they have notes that counteract the first person’s notes. So write it your way. You can’t please everybody and sometimes it seems you can’t please anybody.

My other favorite writing quote would be this from Jules Renard: “Literature is an occupation in which you have to keep proving your talent to people who have none.”

I mean be honest, haven’t you felt this many times? We are the artist, we have the artist’s vision and true, sometimes it’s messy, but sometimes it’s also more real, more authentic (to use a hackneyed phrase). A lot of times editors will want to clean up your manuscript to the point of taking your voice out of it. Maybe they’re right, maybe they’re not. But unless they’re paying you don’t pay attention because the next person might not like their suggestions. When I was doing script doctoring I’d often get a writer’s draft of a script. Then besides tightening, which is always a good thing, there would be notes or conversations with directors, producers, etc., about how they wanted to change it. And often, they would, of course, want more sex and violence, yes it’s a cliché but it’s true. But also often they would tear the heart out of it. Whatever good things were in the writer’s draft they’d want to trash. And often the writer’s draft, while needing some work was better than the final draft, whether it was my draft or another person who came on to rewrite after me. I was friends with a fairly well known writer-director. And I remember reading the first draft of one of his early scripts. And it was pretty good. And then the studio and a big name producer got involved and they made changes to his script and diluted it to the point where it was mediocre at best. Maybe it was more commercial, and it did get made. But I don’t think it was a better script. And I don’t think it did particularly well at the box office.

Some other quotes I like:

The next two are on the same page, so to speak:

“Writing is easy; all you do is sit staring at the blank sheet of paper until the drops of blood form on your forehead.”―Gene Fowler


“There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.”―Red Smith

Having been around the block a time or two, as a writer and a lecturer on writing, I constantly come across people who want to write, who have an idea and want someone to help finish it, gratis, of course, because “it will be the biggest money maker in the history of all time.” Lucas and Spielberg and Grisham and J.K. Rowling will be jealous. But more often than not they don’t put in the time and effort, blood, sweat and tears required because tSteinbeck Charley 2o do that is to do metaphorically what these two quotes suggest: stare at a blank piece of paper (computer screen) and open up a vein until the blood starts dripping off your forehead. People think it’s easy to write. Because they don’t know how hard it is and they don’t really want to know.

And lastly:

“The profession of book writing makes horse racing seem like a solid, stable business.”―John Steinbeck

I think this one speaks for itself. And with the book and publishing worlds in the turmoil they’re in today, this quote is more prescient than ever. So, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to the track to try to earn a steady living.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Through a haze of vicodin . . .

"It's no mystery why people beat elephants to the top spot."

That's one writing quote that means a lot to me today. It was was said by . . . me, actually, this morning, as I started the third day of writing with one (broken) arm splinted and attached to the opposite shoulder with a tight sling. Elephants' trunks might be pretty handy but elephants' typing is the pits.

Seriously though, I've always liked "a writer writes", as spoken by the Billy Crystal character in Throw Momma From The Train, a fabulous film about writing.

And it's a good message - especially now when a writer can blog, tweet, post, pin, and generally spend ten hours a day at a keyboard doing all sorts of lovely writery things without producing a single word of story.

Sticking with films about writing, another favourite quote of mine is the two parter:

"It's a metaphor"
"For what?!"

spoken by both Nicholas Cage characters in the divine Charlie Kauffman's Adaptation.

It helps me remember both a. that clever writing is stupid if it doesn't mean anything and also b. never defend your writing when someone gives you an edit.

The rule of three demands that to finish this blogpost I either think of a great quote from another film about writing or quickly make a film about the rise of two-trunked elephants.

Easy. Slightly tougher is the choice between Misery and The Shining. But for a great quote alone, Misery wins.

The thought of Annie Wilkes saying "I'm your number one fan" can always remind writers who're less famous and bestselling than Stephen/Paul King/Sheldon to be careful what we wish for.