Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Hitting the road

Give us some of your funniest and most memorable stories from traveling to book festivals.

by Dietrich

I walked into a bank yesterday, wearing a hat, dark glasses and a mask, with a withdrawal slip in my hand. It felt like I was in a scene from one of my own stories. A year ago walking in like that might have had a different outcome.

After months of masks, lockdowns, and elbow bumps, I think even a bad trip would be a good one. Next time I get a chance to travel, the getting there will likely feel as good as the being there.

Traveling to book festivals — it’s where I met most of the criminal minds here, all but Abir. And with a little luck, we’ll run into each other at a festival down the road. I first met Cathy, along with alumnus Robin Spano at the first Bouchercon I attended. And I met Paul, Catriona and former mind Danny Gardner at the next couple of Bouchercons. I first met Brenda at Ottawa’s Prose in the Park, Susan and Terry at a reading event at Copperfield’s in Santa Rosa, then again at Left Coast Crime here in Vancouver, where I also met Frank and Jim.

After I signed my first novel, my publisher, Jack David, arranged a road trip from Toronto down to that Bouchercon in Albany. I mentioned to him that John McFetridge was one of my favorite Canadian authors, also signed to ECW. So, Jack arranged for the two of us to take a road trip from Toronto through New York state. The day before John and I left I came down with a nasty case of food poisoning, something to do with expired anchovies on a pizza. I almost tapped out, but I was determined to go, and I’m sure glad I did.

ECW crowd at Bouchercon, Raleigh, NC — L to R: John Jantunen, me,
John McFetridge, Jack David, David Whellams, Anne Emery, and Bob Kroll
I ended up on another road trip with John — to another Bouchercon — this time heading to Raleigh, North Carolina. Behind the wheel of the extended van was our fearless leader, publisher Jack, whose only fear was all we would talk about on the twelve-hour drive was how to increase book sales. Also on the trip were John Jantunen and Sam Wiebe. We started out early one morning and arrived in the wee hours of the following one, a lot more than the estimated twelve hours. But, once we got there, a good time was had by all.

There have been many memorable festivals and they’ve all been great fun, and I’ve met many interesting writers as well as many avid readers.

My first reading event was at a pub in Toronto, and I practiced a chapter on the long flight, until I could read it smoothly. It was a violent scene with a lot of foul-mouthed dialogue, and just as I got on the small stage, I noticed a woman with a couple of very young children in the front row. After wondering who brings little kids to a crime-fiction event, I read the scene, taking out all the f-words and downplaying the violence, and my scene sounded flat and lifeless.  

Another time, I was invited to read at a festival back east, and I chose a funny, but steamy scene from a novel I had just finished. As I stepped to the mic, I realized there were a lot of people my grandmother’s age in the crowd, and a steamy scene might not be the best choice. But, this time, I was committed and I read it word for word — and it turned out they loved it, and I ended up signing a lot of copies. 

Over the past few years, I’ve traveled to various events in California, often by rail. And I’ve picked up some interesting bits that I’ve used in my stories, like the time the train stopped for a smoke break, and I watched out the window as two guys stepped away from the other smokers, one guy pulling out a small pipe, the other getting the rock ready, The one with the pipe thought it was a good idea to slip a nylon jacket over both their heads while the second guy flicked his lighter — what could possibly go wrong. And there was the time a big drunk fellow got on the train during a late night stop. He got in the wrong seat, and despite the coaxing of the offended passengers and the conductors, he refused to take his assigned seat, saying there was no force on Earth that could make him do it. As we pulled into the next stop, two members of the local police force got on the train, I got out my notepad and started writing the scene.  

Writing conferences and festivals are the social highlight for most writers, and it’s great getting together, seeing some old friends and making some new ones, along with the many readers who attend. And I’m sure looking forward to that happening again — and doing it without keeping a safe distance, the masks and elbow bumps.    


Brenda Chapman said...

You have some great travel stories, Dietrich! I hope to meet up with you on the road one of these days when we're able to go back to those book conferences.

Dietrich Kalteis said...

Thanks, Brenda. I'm looking forward to it.

Susan C Shea said...

Wonderful road warrior stories!

Dietrich Kalteis said...

Thanks, Susan.

John Jantunen said...

That Raleigh trip was a helluva time for sure. Thanks for an excuse to revisit.

Dietrich Kalteis said...

Thanks, John.