Monday, July 31, 2006

The book of my dreams...

I got to the end of my writing day on Saturday and couldn't go anywhere because I've sprained my wrist and that means no dancing, no driving - and I thought, well, I'll read! Yay!! But nothing appealed. Nothing. I must have picked up 20 books in a row that I got from Thrillerfest that I've been dying to read and I couldn't get more than a few pages into any of them.

Here's the problem. I know EXACTLY what I want to read. The trouble is, it doesn't exist yet. I have to write it, first.

I swear that's the only reason I'm a writer. Oh, I suppose I like writing fine, in a masochistic kind of way. But I really only do it because no one else has written the exact story and characters I happen to be looking for, so I have to do it myself.

And, oh, help. The book that I want to read that doesn't exist yet is REALLY HARD. It's multiple points of view and stories within stories... to be perfectly honest I'm not sure I'm ready to write it. It will only be my third book and bluntly, I don't know if I have the chops, yet.

But that's the book I want - the one that I kept tossing all those other books aside for because they aren't IT.

So what am I really going to do - stall for another year and write something else instead? How much sense would that make?

I have about a month to decide, while I finish The Price (which, by the way, was the book I was looking for about a year ago, that hadn't been written yet so I had to do it myself...).

But then, well, I'm afraid I know what's coming.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Radio interview tomorrow - that's Tuesday morning, 8/1/06

If you're on the West Coast, or Australia!, I will be talking about The Harrowing tomorrow morning at 8:45 AM, Pacific Time with Baron Ron Herron on AM radio 1290 KZSB

Saturday, July 29, 2006

For a good time...

-- If you're in LA this weekend, check out my friend and Zen Master Bernard Yin, surf guitarist of the gods, with Astra Heights at Fais Do Do.

The "IPO" (International Pop Overthrow) has begun and Astra Heights has been invited back. It all happens Saturday at LA's most underrated club: Fais Do Do. The IPO gigs are extra fun because one has a chance to see numerous bands that come from all over to rock. The band plays a late set so go ahead with whatever plans you might already have and then consider capping it off with us.

Bernard


- And if you're in Raleigh this weekend, there's the long-awaited opening of the Fayetteville Street Mall, Saturday night - 6 p.m - ??? But if you're in Raleigh, you KNEW that! Rumor has it that Royal Crown Revue is set to play this party. Now THAT'S going to be some dancing!!

- And in a theater near you: Big congratulations to funnyman Jeff Lowell on the opening of his movie: JOHN TUCKER MUST DIE this weekend. Go forth and swell his - um - box office!

Friday, July 28, 2006

Let them do the work

My new cyber-friend Heather Brewer has blogged greatly today on the art of acquiring blurbs - and therefore I don't have to - as her method is exactly my own, except I sent letters rather than e mail. I just love the FEEL of a letter, you know? You can't hold an e mail. Well, not the same way.

Also, my Hollywood friend (yes, there IS such a thing, sheesh...) Paul Guyot has blogged greatly on Murderati today about writing and not-writing and the antidote to the latter.

I am so inspired I am taking his advice and WRITING, starting right this minute, rather than all the rest of this not-writing thing that is just so damn easy to do.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Trans-gender trend?

Speaking of sexuality...

Well, we weren't exactly speaking of it, like just this second speaking of it, but it's always on my mind.

I went to a couple of panels at TriNoc this weekend and I counted three trans-gender people there within the three hours I was there. On the panels, I mean - I wasn't counting in the audience.

Now, I'm from Berkeley, where even when you sign up for volunteer work you have to volunteer more specifics about your particular sexuality than most people even know about themselves over the course of a lifetime. In Berkeley meeting three persons of transgender in the same day would barely merit one raised eyebrow hair, but - in Raleigh? North Carolina? Three? In the same room? You could have knocked me over with a feather. (Part of that was the usual Con hotel-captivity-weak-with-hunger vortex, but still).

Is there something going on that I don't know about?

Or is it just the underground comic world?

Or is Raleigh a whole lot more progressive than I had any clue about?

Enquiring minds want to know.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

My Friends Are Stunt Dressers

I couldn't be at Comic Con this year (next year makes more sense anyway because my book will actually be out). But I just found this article in my inbox:

A Los Angeles-area sextet danced away with the Best in Show award for its skit, "Dancing with the Celebrities from the Stars," at Comic-Con's campiest, vampiest event, the annual masquerade contest.

I know those people. I know them well. You see, my friends are stunt dressers.

Now, those of you who don't live in LA have probably never heard this term. Actually, those of you who do live in LA probably haven't heard the term, either, because I'm fairly certain I made it up. But stunt dressing is the only way I can properly describe the phenomenon I'm talking about. And those of you in the SCA, World Con, World Fantasy Con, Comic-Con, StellarCon, AnyCon crowd (you know who you are) know exactly what I mean.

Los Angeles is, after all, home to thousands of professional special effects wizards, costumers, the Renaissance Pleasure Faire, narcissistic histrionics, and actors (oh, wait, that last is redundant. KIDDING. Some of my best friends are actors.).

And in LA, event partying is a competitive sport - literally. Costume contests abound, and some people I know make a very nice auxiliary income from them, around October, especially.

Arguably some even more outrageous stunt dressing goes on in San Francisco, where most of my friends have also spent at least half their lives. Try the Castro on any given Halloween (I'll never forget the life-sized walking convertible with JFK and Jackie... well, all right, never mind that.).

Put all that together and you have what I call stunt dressing. Parties where costumes are NOT optional - not if you don't want to stick out like a wallflower with a sore thumb.

Theme parties used to scare the s - stuffing out of me because I don't think of myself as an crafty person. (You know, craft as in sewing, not all that OTHER stuff, which is another post entirely, but inevitable.) But I do love excess, and after attending a few parties like oh, A Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Voodoo Magic, Survivor (yes, that Survivor), Gilligan's Island, Under the Sea, any number of the requisite Moulin Rouge and Pirates of the Caribbean and Lord of the Rings and Mardi Gras and Tiki parties... well, I started to think about it. I started thinking about what to actually wear to some of these things. I started to think - isn't costuming just as much an artistic expression as words?

And that's how I released my inner Stunt Dresser. I love dressing up as an Elton John song and having people guess which song I am, preferably with touchable clues. I love sequins and feathers and masks. I love a RED party where everyone and everything is - you guessed it. Have one some time and see what it does to the libido - yours and everyone else's, in every possible combination.

Every thrift store is now an opportunity to collect cheap frothy things that will one day make the perfect drop-dead costume. I have hats. I have Victorian opera coats. I have a menagerie of corsets and boas and headgear. I have chain mail I have every possible net garment you can think of. I have more sequined gorgeous confections than you can shake a stick at. I've also recently started on props.

The thing about stunt dressing is that it gives OTHER people so much pleasure. You don't have to make much of an effort to make so many people truly happy that you're wearing part of the party. That's what's so great about it - and if you're shy, I suggest you think about it that way - in terms of how much others will enjoy that you've done it.

My stunt dressing inspiration - I might as well say mistress - is Sa Winfield - costume designer, belly dancer, choreographer, ceramicist, best hostess on the planet, artist of living, mermaid, and stunt dressing diva, just to name a few of her charms.

Those are her thighs in the winning photo, third from the left.

Congratulations on the well-deserved award - and thanks, Sa, for opening up a brave new world. You'll always be Best in Show to me.

And the rest of you? Go ahead. Unleash your inner stunt dresser. There might just be an Elton John song in you that's dying to get out.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Sometimes You Just Need to Clean

I should have been writing yesterday. I know it. I am way too close to a deadline on THE PRICE. I don't know the exact day because I'm too freaked out about it to even look it up on the contract, I just know it's September so I'm just assuming Sept. 1 because after Sept. 1 I'm going to be way too involved with touring for THE HARROWING to get any decent writing done for the rest of that month anyway.

But instead of writing yesterday I took the whole day off to do something just for me.

I cleaned.

Seriously. I cleaned my house.

I like cleaning. I would rather be boiled in oil than have anything to do with cooking (wait... that came out wrong, somehow...). But cleaning is just somehow relaxing to me. I start in a haphazard and often violent frenzy but at some point I slow down and it all becomes meditative.

It's not always cleaning. Sometimes I have an attack of gardening.

I think it has something to do with the fact that I'm in this grotesquely sedentary profession. And I am not a good sitter. Being still is very, very challenging for me - even sitting through a normal-length meal. So with all this writing, the definition of which is "Ass in chair", I need to compensate by moving that same ass. If I don't dance regularly (and I mean, move till you drop, sweat till you bleed dancing, five times a week, minimum) I get agitated, move on to insufferable, and quickly start closing in on homicidal.

But my cleaning urge is more than just needing to move. It's about externalizing. It's a way of physicalizing my thought processes. It's about the metaphor: cleaning, polishing, straightening, sorting, rearranging, throwing things out - you see, I'm rewriting now and that's all what I need to be doing with my book, and it's just so much easier to wrestle with those issues physically. And somehow doing it physically helps me sort it out mentally. Really - it never fails.

So now my house is clean (er). My mail is sorted. My windows are clear. The closets are purged. The dust bunnies are gone. I feel good. The house feels good.

Now I can write again.

Friday, July 21, 2006

About that screenplay of yours...

This might actually sort of count as insider information. If you've been thinking about writing a screenplay... or if you have a screenplay in a drawer somewhere that you've always thought might amount to something if you just put a month or two of polishing into it... well, this really could be the time to pull that baby out and whip it into shape.

It's the end of July. The feature film business is unofficially on hiatus until mid-September. Oh, no one will ever actually admit that to you, but that's the rhythm of the town. (And yeah, it'll grind to a halt again just before Thanksgiving, at least as far as script sales are concerned, and resume again about a week after the Sundance Film Festival in late January.)

So you've got a couple of months to work on that script. And this fall may just be one of the better times you'll ever see to sell or set up a feature script.

That's because the WGA (that's the screenwriters' union, yes, it's an actual Federal labor union) contract with the studios is up in 2007. Traditionally and increasingly, as a contract negotiation approaches, the studios assume at least a de facto writers' strike. They're already assuming it this year because we've got a radical (the word in Hollywood is "militant") new Board of Directors who are much more willing than many, many recent Boards to go to the mattresses. They will be even more likely to assume it after the actions going on this week (which I will post about this weekend).

One of the studios' main hedges against a writers' strike is to stockpile scripts - they will buy many more feature screenplays than their usual quota to make sure that they have enough product to keep cranking movies out even if there's a work stoppage (another hedge is Reality TV, which the studios have kept non-unionized, which is also a strike issue, but that's another post!) That stockpiling frenzy will theoretically make it much easier to sell a script this fall than in ordinary circumstances. I'm speaking from personal experience, and also from wide anecdotal evidence.

By the same token, by about April 2007, when we'll actually see whether or not there will have to be a strike, the studios will have bought up way too many scripts and exhausted their 2007 budgets and will not be buying for the rest of the year.

So this fall is the magic window.

Now, please also always remember the one true thing about Hollywood:

NOBODY KNOWS ANYTHING. - William Goldman

But if there's anyone out there who has been waiting for a sign that you should just GO for it - well, maybe this is your sign.

Good luck with it!

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Do You Have a Problem?

Is your life unmanageable?

Yeah, I'm talking about that little blog addiction. You know the one.

I don't have any comprehensive answers, because, well, I'm desperately trying to manage my own. But here's at least one thing that can help: Crimespot.

Crimespot is a single webpage that posts links to all the recent updates of probably all your favorite blogs (I mean, at least vaguely mystery writing-related, since you're reading this one to begin with.). One-stop blog shopping. It won't manage the time you spend on the blogs, but at least you won't be obsessively checking every hour to see if anything new has been posted on three dozen different blogs. Not that anyone here does that, of course.

It's not an answer, but it's a start.

Thanks and kudos to Graham for this excellent resource!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Publishing Industry Stats

Oh, now, this is great stuff! All kinds of stats on the publishing industry from Dan Poynter's Parapublishing.com

(I subscribe to Poynter's, but got the link from Backspace, to continue my plug...)

Required reading, for authors for sure: http://parapublishing.com/sites/para/resources/statistics.cfm

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Backspace - The Writer's Place

As threatened yesterday, today I'm going to rave about Backspace, an online forum and resource center for authors, serious aspiring authors, agents, editors and others in the publishing industry to dialogue about the art and business of books and publishing.

There are dozens of articles there on the business, discussions with guest speakers, and links I haven't even explored yet, though I'm very impressed with some of the names I've gotten a glimpse of. I was just so thrilled to find the forums that I immediately got lost there. The forums are in message board format - my favorite, as opposed to, well, blogs! - because ANYONE can start a topic or a cry for help, and the topics can be catalogued by subject for easy reference for those coming along later.

On Backspace you can get instant advice from authors, agents, and editors; mentoring from more experienced authors; access to quality agents and editors who are members; and a large ongoing support group of sympathetic peers. In two days I learned a dozen things about the publishing process I had never heard before - and it's not like I haven't been working on it - THE HARROWING is out in September!. Now, I've had wonderful advice and help from a multitude of sources all along the way, but there's no question in my mind that I would have been so much farther ahead of the game (and a little less psychotic about it) if I'd known about Backspace when I first started this whole crazy process.

And that's not even all. Backspace is also having a live conference, THIS WEEKEND in New York, and the list of speakers and panelists is just awesome - check it out on the main page. Apparently there's still space, and - especially if you're looking for an agent - this looks like the one place to be this year to get that done.

There's a minimal fee to join the forums - $30 - to keep out the non-serious. It's worth a hundred times that.

Eternal gratitude and kudos to founders Karen Dionne and Christopher Graham for providing us all with this invaluable resource.

Check out the main pages and you'll see.

Hope to see you there!

Alex

Monday, July 17, 2006

Thrillerfest, Day 4 (Last Call...)

I don't get much sleep after the party, but am still on a performance high so I fly through the all-too-short last morning on a cloud.

I get to talk to everyone, now - it is just thrilling how much people enjoyed the show and how much fun they had. I am asked to sign T-shirts and programs and even THRILLER, which makes me feel a little odd, as I did nothing to contribute to the book. ("Oh, you'll be in it next year", people assure me. These people clearly have no idea that I've never written a short story in my life. The concept of "short" has always escaped me.). One lovely man with a wheeled cart full of books even thrusts a bottle of wine at me -"For your performance!" he beams. I like this concept. No applause, please, just throw alcohol.

I barely make it to the panel I want to see, "Walking on the Dark Side", with J.D Rhoades, Blake Crouch, Bette Golden Lamb, J.J. Lamb, David Terrenoire, Louise Ure. Reverend Rhoades runs the show as a revival meeting, which is funny, sinister, and weirdly befitting of the topic. Undoubtedly I have gone both farther and not as far in my own exploration of the dark as these panelists. It's interesting to me what I find myself flinching away from in the discussion. We all have our lines. Generally, though, I am so much at home it's, well, scary. And - I find out Rhoades and Terrenoire are practically my neighbors, now. Even scarier.

I dart into the dealers room to load up on books from our lovely conference booksellers, Maryelizabeth Hart of Mysterious Galaxy, John Neri of The Well Red Coyote, and Mike of Legends Fine and Rare Books, all lovely people and passionately supportive of authors. I then run around frantically looking for band members to sign the books. In the process am reminded of what giants I've just been playing with.

The John Lescroart brunch is the perfect close to a perfect convention. I am now so used to thinking of John as a rock god that it takes a moment for it to sink in who he ALSO really is. Interviewed by the great (and sleepy!) Gayle Lynds, John gives some writing advice I will pass on as close to verbatim to everyone who asks me from now on:

1. Write one page a day and at the end of the year you will have a novel. It doesn't have to be a good page, it just has to be a full page. If you can't write a page a day, then do something else and be happy, because there are plenty of other people who can write a page a day and will.

2. Finish. Just FINISH. Get to the end. Everything from there is gravy.

At brunch I felicitously sit next to Karen Dionne, founder of Backspace, a private message board for authors and aspiring authors, the literary equivalent of our WriterAction.com for pro screenwriters. (Backspace is a phenomenal resource I never knew about until I met Karen here and I'll post about it in depth tomorrow.)

And now our time really is running out. I would be heartbroken to leave everyone - I am not good at goodbyes - if I had not already realized one truly tremendous thing. You don't have to say goodbye. You get to take everyone home with you - you have their books. Even as I write this, I have all my new friends lined up on my shelf, and I'm so looking forward to getting to know them better.

As I am saying my final goodbyes I notice a tall, now familiar figure in my peripheral vision. Wait - could it be... yes!!!! It's Lee Child waiting to talk to me.

I'm here to tell you - go ahead and dream. Dream big. Because at Thrillerfest, ANYTHING is possible.

For more information on the Interational Thriller Writers, click here: ITW.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Thrillerfest, Day 3

Hah! Feel great this morning! Bring it on!

I head for MacArthur for the panels, really irritatingly cheerful I'm sure to the people who did not get as much sleep as I did, of whom there are many.

First, the Sandra Brown spotlight. Michael Palmer's "Thriller Blues" verse about Ms. Brown keeps running through my head, here: "And with a cheerleader's smile, she blows them all away." Amen to that.

It is a vast and liberating relief to hear this force of nature and the literary world admit: "Every morning I face this wall of fear that every bit of talent I had has disappeared overnight." This is a recurring theme through the conference, actually - bestsellers who face the same fear every morning, who admit to being two months away from a book deadline and not having written one useable page. It is worth every penny I've spent on this conference just to know that I'm not alone.

After Sandra, Allison Brennan hijacks me and drags me along with her and JT Ellison to a Special Ops session I really wasn't planning to attend by promising hot guys. Cop-turned-novelist James Born IS mightily hot and a total riot as well - he has the audience in stitches, and at the same time periodically scares the crap out of everyone with that very experienced way he has of shouting things like "Police, don't move!" I begin to understand the concept of cop groupies.

By now it's impossible to get to panels in time, or at all, even though they're all within 20 yards of each other, because I just keep running into the greatest people and having the most fascinating random conversations.

One more rehearsal, now, this time in the actual Gold Ballroom. Continuing the desert theme of the Biltmore (I guess), it looks like the inside of a UFO. We have very little time, now, but we sound a lot better. A LOT. Even Blake and Paul seem pleased. I am entranced by Michael's addictive "Thriller Blues", which he and Heather sing. The chorus is irresistable: "Cause we write thrillers, thrillers... we're so damn scary, sometimes we even scare ourselves."

Bob has added a bit for me in the show - he wants me to read a proclamation from the Mayor of Phoenix about ThrillerFest. It is a dry and daunting document, too long and in very small type, but I understand the principle. It IS pretty cool to have the mission of ThrillerFest and the ITW spelled out like that, and sealed by the Mayor (a little Wizard of Oz-y, even!) and God knows Gayle, David, Diane and CJ deserve every bit of the official hoopla, so I figure I'll give it my best shot. Ultimately I am much more nervous about doing that reading that I am about any of the singing.

I go up to Harley's room to dress and meet her adorable husband. I then have the treat of watching, spellbound, as Harley puts on makeup and transforms into a movie star before my eyes. (How do they DO that?)

Scott Nicholson shows us the route backstage - through the kitchen. It is exactly the scene from THIS IS SPINAL TAP.

When I hit the bathroom, several very sweet members of The Fellowship try to convert me. They have mistaken my opening night jitters for a spiritual crisis. Or I have mistaken my spiritual crisis for opening night jitters. I can barely sit still for the banquet part of the banquet. Michael eats both our dinners while I have a lovely talk about horror with the wonderful Hank Wagner. This calms me down (talking about horror always does) and suddenly it's showtime.

Bob Levinson's opening monologue is hysterical - classic Borscht Belt comedy. It's a great audience - I even get some laughs during my reading of the mayoral proclamation. And then that's over and the party starts. The band is perfect. It goes so well I hear people singing along out in the audience. Daniel's harp solo is so hot my hair is singed. For the first time, we can do no wrong.

Since we are backstage for the entire awards presentation, we miss who wins!, but here's the official list.

I just want to dance all night, but by the time I've gathered up my stuff back stage people are crowding the bar talking and drinking again (I am quickly learning that for actual dancing, you have to go to the library conferences. The librarians are putting the authors to shame on the dance floor. I vow to do something about that next ThrillerFest.).

All of us in the band have had so little time to actually talk to each other that Paul herds us all over to Heather's cottage so we can drink and decompress. It is lovely to just sprawl on the floor and chat. We talk about our books and our lives. We are not ready for this to be over, and suggestions start flying about our next gig.

Looks like we've got ourselves a band.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Free Books at Reviewing the Evidence

There will be a new draw for free books each week (contest starting on Wednesdays) at Reviewing the Evidence. This week, win either THE DEAD HOUR by Denise Mina or THE DROWNING MAN by Michael Robotham.

And of course, check out their crime fiction reviews

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

ThrillerFest Day Two (Continued...)

ThrillerFest Day Two (Continued...)

I head for the Grill for lunch with Allison Brennan, Rob Gregory Browne, and Toni McGee Causey. Toni is lovely, Cajun, creamy skin and huge luminous eyes. I want to tell her about what I have seen and felt in New Orleans (was that only two days ago?) and ask her how she's handling it all but am afraid I will start to cry and not be able to stop. I haven't been able to process it myself, yet.

Toni and I commiserate about Hollywood. Rob and I commiserate about publicity. Allison and I fight over the Kalamata tapenade. All too soon I must run off again, this time to meet Heather and Harley for a Killerette rehearsal.

Heather's cottage really is in Utah, but air-conditioned to below freezing, which keeps us lively. We work on our dance moves and try on the sequined hats I scored in New Orleans. We repair to the patio to bond some more. It is so hot I can feel brain cells melting. We summon a golf cart and are driven to the next rehearsal.

I am sad to be missing all the panels and random chat and especially the trial of Jack Reacher and my chance to stalk Lee Child. Luckily so many people are blogging about it in such detail that I will have a chance to experience everything I missed -with pictures!

Bookbitch
Bookbitch photos
Scott Nicholson
Natalie Collins
JT Ellison
Tess Gerritsen
Jason Pinter
David Terrenoire
JD Rhoades
Mary Reagan's great photos


At this next (just our second!) rehearsal we meet Blake Crouch, our other extremely talented drummer, author of very dark suspense. Blake is indeed a "twisted little goober". He is also a walking archetype for me. A recurring character in my dreams is a red-haired young man who is half-angel, half-demon. Two of my best friends in life have been physical manifestations of this dream figure. His appearance in real life is always a sign of a massive creative breakthrough. It is even weirder to meet Blake's identically red-haired and angelic wife, and red-haired and mega-angelic new baby boy. If one is a creative breakthrough, what is three at once? Scary.

It is better, today. Blake looks as worried as we were yesterday, but the rest of us realize that overnight the improvement is so exponential that we might be able to pull this thing off. John Lescroart is massive fun to sing with. He doesn't hold back a thing, he's completely communicative and wickedly playful.

We are all having the best time. How to explain it? We're all writers, we love writing, we love talking about writing, we love writing about writing, we love WRITERS - but it is just so great to get with a group of people who understand all about you on that level and ALSO express all that same creativity physically - through our bodies and voices and instruments and rhythm. Music is a language, just as potent and intoxicating as words. It is so fucking great to get out of my head and just BE.

After this rehearsal there is nothing I want to do but sleep. Lee Child could be doing a striptease in the bar and still all I would want to do is -- (okay, even I'm not buying that one). But when I go by the bar, Lee Child is not doing a striptease, nor is anyone else, yet, so I'm off to bed - exhausted, but happy.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

How 'bout them Pirates?

I'd like to interrupt this recap of Thrillerfest to congratulate Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio on their record-breaking opening ($132 million!!!) of PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN, 2 (Dead Man's Chest).

Anyone even remotely interested in the craft and business of screenwriting needs to know about Ted and Terry's WORDPLAY site - a fantastic collection of articles and columns by two of the best in the business and guests from all areas of film production and marketing, plus a lively community of aspiring screenwriters, pros and fans dialoguing on two message boards.

Monday, July 10, 2006

ThrillerFest, Day 2 (Morning)

Michael's phone goes off at 4:45 am. His ring tones are like a samba on crack. Amusing - during the day. He locates and punches off the phone after probably 16 bars, at which point I know I will never get back to sleep.

I take a Melatonin anyway.

Mistake.

Now I am both wide awake and comatose.

I sleepwalk out to the jacuzzi, hoping it will make me feel better in some way. The desert air in the deco courtyard is peaceful and lulling. I am nodding off in the jacuzzi when suddenly 20 doors open simultaneously on three different balconies and two dozen sorority girls in full sorority dress and hair to match step out in perfect sync. A good half of them then flip open cell phones. I feel I have awakened in the Planet Camazotz scene of A WRINKLE IN TIME.

I sleepwalk, dripping, back to the room to shower. Michael is a perfect angel - vast quantities of ice and Diet Coke have materialized in the room. I stick my head in the ice bucket. It helps a bit.

Our New Authors Tell All panel is at 10 am. I have no real nervousness about it - panels I can do in my sleep (and clearly would be this morning). It's the rehearsals starting at one that have me worried - as I am useless from 3 pm to 6 even on a good day.

The panel is lively, well-attended, and I hope informative, thanks to the expert moderation of the lovely Christine Goff and the charisma of my fellow panelists, Rob Gregory Browne, Brett Battles, Phil Hawley, and Marcus Sakey (about whom I have already raved two posts below...) There's something very familial about being at the exact launching point in our careers and I feel I am around a dinner table with a set of (very attractive) brothers. I do feel a certain weird helpless uselessness, because although I'm sure we all have splendid careers ahead of is, the fact is none of us really KNOW how it's going to go for us and our books. Rob and I for sure know the vagaries of a writing career already.

Also, it's odd to be doing a panel that's all about the money when the real miracle of book authorship is just that - AUTHORSHIP. Copyright. No rewriters, no credit wars. The book is all you, and all yours. But that, as they say, is a whole nother story.

Can I just say it is totally insane to me that writing a book is so much harder than writing a screenplay and you are paid so much less? If I were not so sleepy I might have gotten really annoyingly revolutionary about it all. I don't know how anyone can make a living as a novelist, at least at first. You need a well-paid partner, a trust fund, or a miracle. Breaking into screenwriting was so much more sane. But then again when I broke in there I was insane already, so what am I really talking about? I was too young to know the odds - I simply didn't think that way, and could cheerfully live on oatmeal and Top Ramen for months at a time.

But you know what it is? If you're a writer, you're just going to do it - whether it's good for you or your loved ones or your health or your eternal soul. I am quite aware that at this point I should give up writing altogether (the epitome of desire and attachment) and start focusing on eternity, but there is not a chance in hell of that happening. I am doomed to several more turns on this Wheel of Karma because I just can't stop myself.

I see it. I know it. And I go right on. Doomed.

Sigh.

The most illuminating moment of the panel for me personally is when an audience member, savvy up-and-coming writer Boyd Morrison, asks us how it felt the moment we found out we sold (that is, LICENSED!) our books, and I realize for myself how very undramatic, or unecstatic, that moment was - although I did become weightless for several weeks, funny about that! It was more a profound and deeply quiet relief that I hadn't been WRONG about taking this huge risk in changing horses midstream.

I guess it was sort of the same for me when I sold my first screenplay - I literally cried through the entirety of a week-long bidding war and when it was done I was just quietly disbelieving - and weightless.

That's what the next step toward heaven is for me, I think. Weightlessness.

Can you write without attachment and desire and obsession? I wonder.

Contemplative moment only lasts a moment as there is attachment, desire and obsession going on all around me and I don't want to miss any of it.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Killer Thriller Band...

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....

Thursday, July 06, 2006

ThrillerFest 1 (Confessions of a Killerette)

(In which I add my voice to the furious blogging about this incredible event. I will try to figure out how to link to other articles and photos. I will have to do this in manageable chunks, since I'm still trying to sort out all the wonderfulness and also have about eight hundred and seventy-two e mails to catch up on. Seriously thinking of changing my name and disappearing.)


DAY ONE:


Arrive at Arizona Biltmore, a Frank Lloyd Wright palace of a hotel on a golf course in the middle of a desert. Jaw drops in awe at first sight. I've toured many a Wright building, house, church - but this one hits me like a sledgehammer. The concrete deco detailing alone - beautiful and haunting. Fevered, is what I keep thinking. It's a little terrifying to walk into a manifestation of this man's mind.

Lobby: quadruple-planed fountain. Native American mosaic in stained glass. A deco grandfather clock that is going home with me somehow. COPPER ceiling glowing two and a half stories above. Unbelievable. And very aesthetic bellhops to match. (Yes, as a matter of fact you can help me with just about anything you can dream up, thanks...)

Room is not ready (and is rumored to be in Utah) so on to MacArthur ballroom for registration. Landscaping is as staggering as the architecture - desert deco. I'm never going home.
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MacArthur lobby: glacial AC, thank God - after a five-minute walk in 110 degree heat I am on the verge of passing out. There is iced tea in huge silver urns. I almost knock over Erica Spindler, whose creepy BONE COLD I just finished a week and a half ago. I start to fawn. A bear of a man comes up and gives me a big hug. Towering, sexy, vital, killer eyes. I don't know him from Adam, but who the hell cares? He starts talking about rehearsal (that would be band rehearsal, about which much more in a minute) and I realize this is Michael Palmer. MICHAEL PALMER. I have at least seven of his medical thrillers lined up on the top shelf of the right-hand bookshelf beside my desk for easy access. How in the world does he know me?

I register and drift in the lobby in a daze. Tall, lean, devastating Englishman over there MUST be Lee Child. I have not started drinking yet and resolve I WILL NOT gush like a tedious fan girl. I will play it cool - let him come to me (I can dream, can't I?).

It is beginning to dawn on me that I have crash landed in the Valley of the Giants. Must get hold of self - the party's just starting.

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I find my first panel of the day - one of the few I will be able to attend because so much of the conference will be spent rehearsing (I'm getting to it, I'm getting to it...). I am really looking forward to this one: BUZZ YOUR THRILLER, with MJ Rose, David Montgomery and Sarie Morrell.

MJ is a knockout - funny, sexy, savvy, stylish - clearly has left hundreds of dazed and delighted conquests in her wake. Just for one day I would love to be inside her head (and body). David is a class act, who I understand is responsible for much of the TF programming - stupendous job, there. And even after that staggering amount of work, he stepped up and helped the band schlep equipment when we were desperate for help. I love this man. Sarie Morrell is a beauty, and everything you would want in a publicist.

I am taking notes wildly all through this one. MJ says bluntly what I'd been suspecting - that a new author should take their advance and spend it ALL on promoting that first book. Sobering. And so we make a living exactly how? Food for thought for our own panel tomorrow. She also says that you have to realize that you're not going to be able to do everything (in fact she says quite clearly that it would be impossible to do everything that JA Konrath advises. Quite a relief, there.).

After the panel I meet my fellow New Author panelists Robert Gregory Browne, Phil Hawley, Brett Battles, and Marcus Sakey. Actually we have all bonded by e mail going on months before and they simply feel like family already.

Phil Hawley radiates doctorness. Great hands. I mean, bedside manner. I mean - right. Better quit while I'm ahead. Umm - did I mention he's a snappy dresser? Brett Battles has that far-off look of international espionage - distant, brooding... and then he suddenly breaks into a smile and it's like the sun. Rob Gregory Browne is the man behind the camera for the weekend, documenting TF on film - truly a labor of love and good karma. An elegant watcher. Also could be a spy, or a martial artist, or a hired killer. Very masculine energy.

All total sweethearts. Oh, and talk about sweet - Jason Pinter, who I meet here for the first time. Huggable! I am also thrilled that Paul Guyot is here - a great writer I know from the WGA trenches, and a friend of Dr. Hawley's. Worlds are starting to collide...

Now, much has already been made in the TF post-mortems about Marcus Sakey's attractiveness. It's true. A very young Paul Michael Glaser, the same self-effacing hotness. Women will be throwing underwear and hotel keys at his readings. But I'm here to tell you that he's more than just a pretty face. The man is a dyed-in-the-wool deviant. The very first night he will buy me a drink then steal my TF badge and my mesh shawl and pretend to chivalrously return them to me the next morning and cheerfully confess to going through the pockets of the badge pouch looking for incriminating personal details about me. Also, my lipstick is still missing. I feel instantly at home in the company of such authorly amorality (it's not just me, then...)

Also at this panel I meet two women I've admired from their blogs and instantly adore in person: JT Ellison, Killer Year founder and Murderata (singular feminine of Murderati, right?) and Allison Brennan, brand new author with three thrillers out within three months of each other - could you kill her? These are goddesses for sure - earthy, funny, crackling with life. Feel like I've known them before.

I start thinking - and will continue thinking all conference long - about the difference between screenwriters and authors. Now, I love me my screenwriters. I always get the sense being in a room full of them that I'm surrounded by thoroughbred horses. They're edgy, antsy, explosive.

As a species, authors are so much more sweet, somehow. I don't know how else to describe it. Not so much to prove, because it's all there on the page. Not so much need for the edge. I'll think about it and try to be more clear.

Wish I'd had so much more time with ALL of them - but band rehearsals were about to start...