Thursday, February 4, 2021

We’ll Meet Again... from James W. Ziskin

It’s your first writer’s conference after the Covid-19 crisis has been contained – what are the first three things you do after checking in to the hotel?

1. Go to my room.

2. Unpack.

3. Change clothes.

Now that the fascinating stuff is out of the way... 

If it’s not too late, I’ll go downstairs to to pick up my badge. Then I’ll stop by the bar. Just for a while. No more than several hours, really. Five or six. Maybe seven. Certainly not past closing time. Come on, I’m not desperate. Plus I always have my king-size flask with me.

Don’t get me wrong. The hotel bar is more than a watering hole. It’s the best place to meet and greet at a writers conference. I find it’s infinitely preferable to cornering fellow scribblers for a chat in the men’s room. And there are no drink minimums in the bar. That means teetotalers are as welcome as the revelers with lampshades on their heads.


Since there are always so many dear friends in the bar—readers and writers alike—I like to mingle. Make the rounds and chat with as many people as I can. At the last conference I attended, however, I ended up parking myself at a table with the lovely Ann Mason. I do not exaggerate when I say that a seat at our table became the hottest ticket in the place that night. Thanks to Ann, not me. Writer after writer passed by, stopped to introduce themselves or catch up, then pulled up a chair and ended up staying. It was a great time.

I’ll probably stay up a later than I should, but I have one hard-and-fast rule: always answer the bell in the morning. I go to these conferences to listen and learn, so I’m not going to sleep in. The socializing is great, but it’s gravy, not the main course. I love attending the panels, and often have to make difficult choices. You can’t be in two places at once, after all. That’s why I plan ahead, circling the panels in the program that look especially interesting to me so I won’t miss them. Sometimes I have to duck out of one session to catch part of another. Whenever possible, I sit near the front of the room to see better. Often I like to ask a question of the panel. A real question, not a long-winded pontification or a plug for my own writing.

I’m not big on eating at conferences, at least not during the day. I often skip lunch. Coffee, sure, but little else. Until the sun goes down, or the last panel ends. Then I’m back in my office (the bar) until—if I’m lucky—someone takes pity on me and suggests dinner.

The book room is one of my usual haunts. I usually buy books at conferences and get them signed by the authors.

Not all conferences host a banquet, but if there is one, I like to go. A last chance to meet good friends. 

Sunday morning is the saddest day at a conference. So many people leave early. But even if you stay till the bitter end, you still have to pack and get out of the hotel. Until next time.

I love writers conferences. Bouchercon, Left Coast, Malice, California Crime Writers, Thrillerfest, et al. I hope to test the waters at others, too, in the future. When things get back to normal. And then maybe we’ll raise a glass and sing, “We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when...”


Edith Maxwell said...

You're killing me, Jim! I miss all that so much. But we WILL get back there.

I could add hugs, lots of hugs, in the lobby on my way up to my room. The minute I see anyone. Pretty much at the drop of a hat. I have missed hugs more than almost anything during this last year.

Ann said...

Jim, I've missed seeing all my friends this year, especially you, but that evening at the Kool Kids table is a memory that keep me hopeful. Of course we'll meet again. For now, I'll keep attending all the virtual events that take place before my bedtime. xo

Brenda Chapman said...

Good post, Jim - you've captured all that's good about these conferences. Let's hope we can soon attend in person1

Lori Rader-Day said...

That's my birthday dinner at Left Coast Reno!! I have had so much saki and laughter...I can tell by how red my face is in the picture. Love and miss you, Jimmy Z.

Leslie Karst said...

The first thing I'm going to do is give a long, tight hug to everybody I know--and perhaps to some that I don't! I so miss hugs.

And then I'll head over to the bar to see you, Jim. And give you a long, tight hug.

Frank Zafiro said...

Great to get a behind the scenes view from the mayor himself!

Looking forward to raising a glass with you again.

Terry said...

It's going to happen this year in New Orleans!

Susan C Shea said...

Jim OWNS the bar!

James D.F. Hannah said...

My first Bouchercon—Dallas 2019—was a school in how amazing the crime fiction community truly is. I can't wait to see people again in New Orleans.