Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The romance of San Francisco

Okay, you KNOW I'm sick of traveling when I'm not dancing around the house because I'm headed to San Francisco tomorrow, for the Romance Writers of America National Conference, and of course to see my errant brother.

Oh, I'll GET excited, probably the second I get on the plane (too early) tomorrow morning. As far as I'm concerned, San Francisco is Oz and Wonderland and Shangri-La all wrapped up into one, always has been, always will be.

I just, you know, have so many books to write, right now.

It's interesting, packing. Mark Twain wasn't kidding when he said, "The coldest winter I ever spent was one summer in San Francisco." At least I know I can raid Michael's closet for that Bay Area staple - the long black cashmere coat. We all lived in those things when I was at Berkeley - it was cape, sleeping bag, body armor, ground cover, backpack, filing cabinet, bathroom cabinet, pajamas, bathrobe, evening attire, bohemian uniform and library all rolled into one indispensible garment.

I just had a moment of amusement at the idea of walking into the RWA conference in one of those coats. Romance writers are generally not the multi-purpose black cashmere coat type. In fact I am for once a little worried about the whole conference outfit thing, as I instantly revent to my roots when in SF and will undoubtedly be looking like I just crawled in off the Haight (because, well, I will have just crawled in off the Haight) only to be surrounded by a kind of grooming that my hair virtually ensures I will never achieve in this lifetime.

But at least I can feel at home just by stepping out of the hotel. And SF MOMA is right across the street.

Will report back next week!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Thrillerfest wrap-up

Okay, I’m one of the ones who grumbled about TF being in NYC again this year – not that I don’t love New York, I mean, please! - but I felt last year’s con was very – UNintimate compared to that magical first one in Phoenix. To be fair, last year I was having a rough time personally – a longtime friend of mine had died that week and I felt like an open wound.

This year, though, every single thing that went wrong about last year went beautifully right. Con organizers bent over backward to make sure that this Thrillerfest was awesome in every way. I can personally attest to the remarkable efforts of Steve Berry, the truly amazing Liz Berry and Kathleen Antrim - can we just bottle them? - Jim Rollins, Jon Land, Laura Benedict, Michelle Gagnon, and I know there are many more that I should be thanking. The panels were imaginative, lively, and well-attended, the mixers seemed to be as well (I was mostly running around too much to attend), everyone’s energy was WAY up, and the banquet and awards show (which I personally was sweating bullets about after last year’s 17-hour debacle) came in at under three hours and played like a variety show with debonair sweetheart Jim Rollins emceeing. There was much laughter (including everything Jim said and a Dating Game style introduction to the board members and a hilarious send up to the NY Times Bestseller list by those gorgeous and multitalented Palmers, Michael and Daniel…) and some incredibly moving moments (Tor editor Eric Rabb’s heartbreaking tribute to NYPD Auxiliary Officer Nicholas Pekearo, slain in the line of duty, whose first novel The Wolfman was bought four days before his death)

I was so thrilled to see Doug Clegg post this on another message board:

“It is the single best, most professional writers' conference I have ever attended in 20 years in this business. It reminded me of the way Hollywood might portray a writers' awards and events weekend.”

That is I think exactly what ITW is going for, and it’s working like a charm.

As usual I was doing way too much at this con this year:

- Singing for the banquet with some of the Killer Thriller Band again, down and dirty garage style this time… with Heather Graham, F. Paul Wilson, Dave Simms and Jeff Buick (although singing without Harley Jane Kozak was like trying to perform with a limb missing...)

- Meeting with my fantastic editor, Marc Resnick, and the St. Martin’s crew. As JT said yesterday, it’s gold to have that face time with your publishers – the planning you can do for the year is exponential, and I’ve got to admit that having TF in NY makes that all easily possible. St. Martin’s also hosted their usual packed-to-the-ceiling cocktail party, this time without any alcohol whatsoever. (Yeah, right…)

- Meeting with Eric Raab, my Tor editor on the almost-out THE DARKER MASK anthology and getting the first copies of the book.

- A fantastically successful book reading/signing at Borders on Thursday at 7 pm called “Quick Thrills from Out-of-Towners, with Michelle Gagnon, Laura Benedict, JT Ellison, Mario Acevedo, Shane Gericke and Tim Maleeny, emceed by James Bond… I mean Lee Child. We were standing room only and it really showed that putting some group effort into an event can pay off in spades.

- A Screen/vs. Page panel on Hollywood and publishing with Paul Levine, Thomas Sawyer, John Gilstrap and Lorenzo Carcaterra, emceed to the hilt by the irrepressible Jon Land. Those guys put together are their own film school and so funny – we could have gone on for hours.

- A spiritualism/parapsychology panel with Heather Graham and Wendy Corsi Staub, Friday night. It was billed as “a séance” which the three of us quickly nixed (we’ve all participated in them but for numerous reasons didn’t want to do that for entertainment). All three of us write on topics of parapsychology and the paranormal from a very realistic standpoint, and we were privileged to have Dr. Lauren Thibodeaux, a professional psychic – and psychologist – from the Lily Dale spiritualist community with us to discuss the real-life explanations of psychic events. People from the audience shared some amazing stories. We’d dimmed the lights for atmosphere and halfway through the program the recessed spotlight above Lauren started flickering on and off. None of the rest of the lights –just her light. And the second the panel concluded, the light came on full strength, completely normal. Our audience ate it up.

- Lunch with my uber-fabulous agent Scott Miller… perfect combination of work and play. Unfortunately I had to miss the debauched 3-hour dinner with the Scott Miller posse (we do have the coolest agent on the planet…)

- An interview with NPR.

Plus all the usual conference magic and madness… an outside highlight of the trip this year was going to the drag restaurant (yes, that’s what I said) Lips, where seven foot (in platforms and screaming pink wig) All-Beef Patty served us frozen Cosmos and dinner in between hilarious Karaoke and comedy acts and “Bitchy Bitchy Bingo”.

I thought the debut authors’ breakfast (which I managed to wake up for) was a great success – it’s not unique to Thrillerfest but a really important feature. I was happy to meet Jordan Dane – what a lovely person, I just adored her instantly - and get a few moments with Kelli Stanley – a study in noir all on her own.

I heard mixed reviews about Agentfest – the speed-dating session with 140 writers and 40 agents (a few editors), but it’s a great concept and the lineup of agents was just stunning. I think they just need to work out some logistical kinks, and I have no doubt that will happen.

On the slightly darker side, maybe because I’m so comfortable with this group and the whole drill myself, this year I was more aware of some underlying pain and trauma at the con. Hopes are so high, and I know some people who attend looking for an agent or a deal feel like they’re putting all their eggs in this one basket, or all their chips on one number – whatever metaphor you want to use - they think they’re taking their one shot. That really isn’t true at all – for example, I see Agentfest as a chance for an aspiring author to get a good look at and vibe from 40 great agents – and THEN do the querying and follow-up with the agents they feel a click with. But there was a bit of an undercurrent of all-or-nothing desperation, and I’d really like to see ITW do more of a prep session for aspiring authors – on conference etiquette, on how to pitch, on how to make the most of this divine madness. A kind of mini-mentoring program for aspiring authors, just as there’s a mentoring program for debut authors.

Finally, I had to mention what I think is a canny move by ITW: they’ve abolished dues for active members. It’s really not about the money – what it means is that every traditionally published thriller author is automatically a member of ITW, dues free. Of course, you the writer have to reach out to ITW to get the benefits of the organization, but this policy instantly swells the ranks of ITW in a way that can be profound.

So okay, call me converted to Thrillerfest in New York. What ITW does pretty brilliantly is star power – and the agents and editors and publishers and reviewers and journalists flock to that light. Having the con in NY makes it easy for all those people to attend. And as for the cost? Well, what I say is - slumber party!!!

FYI, I’ll be a guest in the Writers’ Chatroom tonight - Sunday, so please pop in if you’ve always wanted to know what I most like in…

Well, okay, maybe never mind that.

Sunday, July 20, 2008
7-9 PM EST.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Thrillerfest bound

I can’t believe it’s time for Thrillerfest again – how did that happen?

I’m one of the ones who grumbled about it being in NYC again this year – not that I don’t love New York, I mean, please! - but last year’s con was very – UN-intimate compared to that magical first one in Phoenix. (To be fair, last year I was having a rough time personally – a longtime friend of mine had died that week and I felt like an open wound.)

Even though I’m just past ALA and not inclined to do much of anything at all, really, I know I will snap into party mode as soon as I get off that plane, and it’s always a great thing to get face time (and bar time!) with my uber-fabulous editor and agent.

I’m as usual doing way too much at this con this year:

- Singing for the banquet with the Killer Thriller Band again, always more fun than is legal – down and dirty garage style this time…

- Meeting with the St. Martin’s crew.

- Meeting wit Eric Raab, my editor on the almost-out THE DARKER MASK anthology

- A book reading/signing at Borders on Thursday at 7 pm (461 Park Ave – at 57th) called “Quick Thrills from Out-of-Towners, with Michelle Gagnon, Laura Benedict, JT Ellison, Mario Acevedo, Shane Gericke and Tim Maleeny, emceed by James Bond… I mean Lee Child…

- A spiritualism/parapsychology panel with Heather Graham and Wendy Corsi Staub, Friday night at 7 pm. (REALLY looking forward to that one…)

- Dinner with Scott Miller and the Scott Miller posse (we do have the coolest agent on the planet…)

- A screenwriting panel – “Screen vs. Page: What Can Each Learn From The Other?” with Lorenzo Carcaterra, Paul Levine, Thomas Sawyer, Jon Land, and John Gilstrap, Friday at 3 pm.

- An interview with NPR.

- Plus all the usual conference magic and madness…

Well, now, looking at all that I guess I’m not so surprised that I’m feeling some slight resistance about going to New York tomorrow. It’s not that I’m being lazy, it’s simply that some rational part of my brain is screaming at me – “Are you crazy? You’re one person. What are you THINKING?”

It’s a good thing New York has its own natural high. I know I can count on that buzz to fly me through.

Looking forward to seeing everyone!

Thursday, July 03, 2008

It's a miracle

Yes, I turned in my third book, THE POLTERGEIST EFFECT, this week, and am experiencing that ecstatic rush of endorphins I hear women feel after going through the bone-crushing pain of delivery and finally giving birth – you know, that nasty seductive chemical trick that nature plays that makes women think they would ever want to get pregnant again…

Finishing is a relative term, of course – the revisions on this one are going to be pretty brutal. But even this stage of finished is such nirvana compared to a month ago when I was seriously telling my bf I just wasn’t going to pull it off, this time – this book was just not going to come together in whatever lifetime I had left.

And I meant it.

I’ve been told that I’ve said this before. I don’t think it was ever as true as this time, but maybe… in which case I really must get tattooed someplace on my body where I will always be able to see it: “You always feel this way at this stage, just shut up and keep writing.”

Actually, that’s a tattoo that would really hurt. Maybe just “Keep writing” for short.

Now, I was familiar with this stage in screenwriting. This would be the time about two weeks before deadline when my writing partner would pitch a fit, screaming that it would never come together, then storm off and disappear for two or three days, in which I just kept going, stitching things together, basically faking it, and by the time he calmed down and came back, both of us could see a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, and after the light at the end of the tunnel comes that blissfully anticipated stage – critical mass – and once you have critical mass, you know you’re going to have a script. He needed to step back, I needed to push through. It wasn’t exactly a fun thing, but it always worked.

The thing is, I always had faith that I’d be able to pull a screenplay together at the end. With a book, you’re talking about a much more massive thing that you have to pull together, four times as long as a screenplay, and it’s not just the story that has to work, but the prose and the emotion and the suspense and every single little other thing.

I knew I could finish this book eventually, but I thought it might take years, like, you know, Stephen King takes to write his books. (And I have this train of thought in the back of my mind, now… how can I work myself into a position that I CAN take two years to write a book if I need to…?).

So maybe I just have to get used to the much newer feeling of thinking a book is never going to come together and do whatever it is I did to push through this time. The trouble is, much like a woman in labor, I already don’t really remember what I did to push through. There was depression, there was writing in bed to trick myself into writing at all, there were thoughts that my career was over, of having to find something else to do for a living… I think possibly there was a deal with the devil… but it’s all kind of a blur.

On a practical level I threw out chapter after chapter, especially in the first hundred pages. Oh, right, I threw out the entire end, too. I restructured. I changed the villain. Did I mention that because of a sort of impossible deadline I was trying to “pants” this one? Never, ever, ever again. Ever. Allison Brennan must be some kind of witch to write that way, because no normal human being could pull it off. I’m going back to an 80 page outline for the next one, thank you very much (and my next one is a short story, btw).

But I hope that three’s the charm and that it is now a little more ingrained in my deep subconscious that I CAN pull it off, even when it feels like a book will never come together. The tattoo might help.

Because even after all that trauma and self-doubt and loneliness and despair, I am thrilled that this book, this world, these characters, this mystery, now EXIST (and are getting rave reviews from my Beta readers, hallelujah!.

That’s the thing that keeps me writing, even as battered as I feel sometimes. It’s so awesomely concrete. A book exists that did not exist before. No one else could have written it. It came out of nothing, and now it’s an entire, living, breathing world.

THAT is a miracle, and I am so very grateful.