I leave the post-Preston party, where Thrillerites are proceeding to get happily inebriated, and rush through the hotel looking for the Aztec room, weaving through Gamma Phi Betas and Fellows on my way (We're sharing the hotel with two other large conventions: The Fellowship - which sounds more ominous than the gospel-singing congregation it is - and 700 sorority girls and matrons, which is every bit as ominous as it sounds, but makes for some interesting viewing. And eavesdropping. And costuming, especially around the (eight!!!) swimming pools. I'm truly surprised any of the straight TF men can concentrate on anything else at all. If I hadn't already slept with just enough women to know I'm hopelessly heterosexual, I might be tempted myself. As it is I have some amusing and elaborate fantasies, because, you know, that's my job.).
I find the Aztec room which is, indeed, a pyramid. Or rather, it's an octagon with a pyramidal ceiling. Very odd. And hot. It calls out for, well, peyote. Instead, as a close second, we have the first rehearsal of the Killer Thriller Band.
First, the man behind it all. Bob Levinson is a showman. I am too new to the whole author thing to have seen his previous legendary productions for various Edgars and Bouchercons (or his TV specials) but his love of the old razzle-dazzle is apparent from the moment you meet him. We'd known each other online from WriterAction, the website I started for screenwriters to unite to throw off the chains of corporate Hollywood (but that's a secret, so don't tell anyone). Also we've both done time on the WGAw Board of Directors, which makes us fellow war survivors. But the day I met Bob f2f, at the LA Times Festival of the Book, we spent an hour dissecting WEST SIDE STORY. Nothing bonds you faster than an impromtu duet of "When you're a Jet, you're a Jet all the way..."
That's when he told me that he was producing the ThrillerFest Awards Show, and explained about the "Killer Thriller Band" he was putting together - a group of writers who are also real musicians, in the vein of the "Rock Bottom Remainders". He asked me if I was interested in being the third Killerette.
Well, I know that drill - short skirt, high heels, a little harmony, a lot of dancing... I've put in my time with enough girl groups called, variously, The Magnettes, deciBelles, Lip Service, the Perfect Fifth (you get the idea). I happen to love back up singing. Also back up dancing, if it can be called that. My greatest thrill in theater (besides, um, Shakespeare....) is the featured dancer role - playing one of the six or seven character dancers in the big sexy show stopper like Big Spender, Jailhouse Tango, Mein Herr, Steam Heat... usually involving a corset, fishnets and kinky boots. Pretty Shakespearean, when you think about it.
So what could I say to Bob but - Hell Yes.
If I'd known the rest of the lineup I would probably have been too intimidated to agree. Because just look at this lineup:
Heather Graham and Harley Jane Kozak on vocals; Michael Palmer on vocals, congas, and harmonica; Daniel Palmer on vocals and harmonica; John Lescroart on acoustic guitar and vocals; David Morrell on keyboards; F. Paul Wilson and Blake Crouch on drums; David Simms and Nathan Walpow on guitar, and Scott Nicholson on bass.
Some of these people I've been reading for YEARS. And now I meet them in the flesh.
Heather and Harley and Gayle and I have been exchanging a good dozen increasingly bawdy e mails a day for weeks now, about costuming, choreography and, well, obviously, sex - so this is like being reuinted with long-lost sisters. We have a group hug and gush over each other. Heather is an earthy, sexy powerhouse (150 books and five children? The woman is a FORCE), and Harley is an irresistable mix of old Hollywood glamor and author workhorse practicality. Goddesses, I tell you. We know we have extremely limited time to pull off our part of the show and are determined to make it work, but are surprised at how quickly we fall into pretty decent harmonies, with no squabbling over who has what part: Harley with a smoky alto, Heather a sweet, clear soprano and me taking the 1st alto/second soprano I grew up on.
I have instant crushes on every one of the men.
John Lescroat. If this man isn't Irish he should be. Ruddy, raucous, bawdy - and the soul of a poet. I adore him on the spot. Good thing I don't actually catch his full name until after we've added and rehearsed a new number with him - an acoustic version of "Bye Bye Love" - or I wouldn't have been able to squawk out a note. Of course I've read and loved his Dismus Hardy series. This must be a dream because it's too wild to be reality.
F. Paul Wilson glows. There's no other word for it - that combination of dreaminess and radiant intelligence. Kind, sad blue eyes. I have been a fan since I was a teenager and am shy and starstruck, even though he's already generously read and blurbed my book. At the same time I feel an odd protectiveness toward him - maybe just knowing the amazing and complicated things in this man's head.
Nathan Walpow is sweet and unflappable. He cracks me up with his wry observations.
Scott Nicholson I've e mailed and talked to through Horror Writers Association. I recognize him instantly. He's a bear - not because he's big, but that mountain, woodsman feel. Back country drawl and a journalist's savvy. Sweet, smart, SMART. Bass is the perfect instrument for him. His girlfriend Liz I also love instantly, not just because she jumps up and dances with me the second I shimmy over to her.
Dave Simms and I have already bonded at World Horror Con over our mutual experience working with disturbed teenagers (not our own). He is the man behind the curtain - all the music and arrangements and instruments that have magically appeared are thanks to him. So many horror writers in this band, come to think of it - what's that about? Dave, Scott, Paul, Blake, Heather and I all have that dark, supernatural bent.
I've already met and raved about Michael Palmer, but here's a surprise - his son, Daniel Palmer - phenomenal harp player. Killer voice and his father's profile and amazing eyes. They do things simultaneously sometimes, creating a vortex of charisma. The two of them together evoke twisted fantasies even I have never entertained before. Disturbing. It would make a good book, though... NO. Must steer away...
Gayle Lynds and David Morrell run in and out - obviously running the whole BIG show. David is cheerful and charming, just a prince - I will never fathom how Rambo came out of this man's brain. Also a hell of a keyboard player.
Gayle is so elegant and regal you'd swear she's wearing ermine. Equestrienne, powerful, lovely in every way. She is knocking herself out to make this party unforgettable, without ever showing the effort. I want to give her deep tissue massage and bring her silly trinkets that will make her smile. Both are doing an excellent job of being 72 places at once and giving every single one their undivided attention.
The professional level of musicianship among the guys is clear from the first few chords, but the enormity of pulling together anything resembling a reasonable show in under 48 hours is a little daunting. Our first attempts are rather like the disastrous rehearsal montage in THE COMMITMENTS - but everyone is so fun and good-natured it takes the edge off that "WTF have we gotten ourselves into?" panic. John wisely keeps us well-lubricated with a vast quantity of beer, which helps.
Still, there are fifteen minutes of sheer terror when the Killerettes realize the guys expect us to sing lead vocals on Bad Moon Rising. Bad Moon Rising is, I'm sorry, not a chick song. Many helpful but increasingly distressed suggestions as we stumble through it. What is missing, of course, is testosterone. I finally put on my most charming voice to suggest that Bad Moon is such a man's song that perhaps a man should be singing it. The twelve of us are I think equally and vastly relieved when Michael plays proud father and pushes Daniel forward and Daniel belts the sucker out in classic rock star style. Done and done.
Things get better from there, as we rehearse "Margaritaville" and "Twist and Shout" (some great dancing, there...) Daniel has tactful musical suggestions (this is a writer's son - he prefaces everything with "Just one man's opinion..."). Paul Wilson is the real barometer of our progress. He winces with his whole body when something goes off. Sometimes he visibly shudders. The Killerettes start watching him to gauge how we REALLY sound. Still, we have some great moments and are all already completely in love with each other, and I keep remembering that when the alarm went off before our flight this morning (at five fucking AM) the song on the clock radio was "Margaritaville". I kid you not.
If that's not a sign, I don't know what is.
We rehearse until one in the morning. I hit the bar for a moment afterward with Harley, and find JA Konrath propping up a pillar (a dirty job, but someone's gotta do it). James Born and I get a running commentary going on the parade of Gamma Phis (now, this could turn into a FANTASY...). Marcus Sakey breezes by, Mr. Suave y Rico, and takes the opportunity to steal my personal belongings.
I get a brief, shining moment with Allison Brennan as we leave the bar at the same time and navigate the long lawn back to our rooms, which are not, after all, so terribly far. At least not at night, in the moonlight, barefoot, with the mist from the fountain over the lawn. The desert air is heaven - I do love dry heat.
I stumble into our room - which I'm seeing for the first time at this moment. LUXE. I've stayed in some pretty fabulous places but this is just wonderful in every detail. Gold and brown and olive green. Marble and mirrors everywhere. Original ranch art (or at least, lithos). Deco design and sheets like whipped cream. It is a miracle for which I will be forever grateful that our intrepid ITW founders have gotten us this palace for less than $100 a night. Truly, a gift.
Michael is zonked out in bed and I am too tired to wake him up for... anything. I collapse into a coma myself, BAD MOON RISING running through my head in an endless loop. I'd forgotten how exhausting singing can be, but it's not so late that I can't get some good sleep before my ten AM panel and long day tomorrow, I think.
But oh, how laughably wrong....