I’ve been back from ThrillerFest in New York City for a week now.Almost recovered.Years ago when I used to go to Saratoga Springs for the horseracing every August, my friend and columnist Marc Siegelaub would call it summer camp for adults.And that’s what ThrillerFest is, too.Summer camp for adults (who write, want to write, or read thrillers).
Joe Moore, the co-author of four terrific thrillers, volunteered me to sell ads for the conference program and banquet.Because of that, when I arrived in NY, it was as though I already knew the powers that be.It’s not often you’re greeted by a hug from people you’d never met face-to-face as I was by the conference queen Liz Berry and Int’l Thriller Writers VP Kathy Antrim.(Even with the hugs, I am still planning something diabolical to get even with Joe.)What wonderful people and what a great job they did in overcoming the inherent entropy of a congregation of writers.
I could go on, but there have been plenty of postings about ThrillerFest already.I’m a day late and a dollar short.So just a few highlights from my ThrillerFest:
* Hanging out at restaurants and bars with my fellow writers including Rebecca Cantrell (whose winning Hawaiian exterior hides a serious soul), Marcus Sakey (and his charming wife gigi), J.T. Ellison (and her charming husband Randy), Michelle Gagnon (who was as irrepressible as ever), Mark Combes (who was as soft-spoken and insightful as ever), Melissa Wren Williams (who just missed meeting Jim Patterson), David Hewson (whom I recently interviewed),Laura Benedict (who blushed at a compliment from Lee Child), Harlan Coben (whose Tell No One has been made into a French movie that’s playing locally), Sean Gericke (who has definite organizational talent in addition to his flair for writing), Tim Maleeny (whom I just had dinner with in San Mateo the week before), Margery Flax of MWA (whom it's always a joy to see), and Alex Sokoloff (who knew she could sing, too?),
* Getting on the subway to and from the conference hotel and finding myself stalked by the aforementioned Mr. Moore.
* Meeting Gregg Hurwitz whose The Crime Writer was one of the best pieces of fiction I’d read in the last year.It turns out we both grew up on the San Francisco Peninsula, went to the same college, and the same grad school.Then he turned bad and headed down to L.A. and a life of crime.
* Marveling at 45 literary agents and triple that number of writers doing their speed-dating thing.
* Catching up with Stephanie Klose and Liz French of Romantic Times whom I’d met at a party at Brian Wiprud’s last year. Where was Brian by the way?
* Participating in a panel on Saturday morning called “Pathology on the Page: The Mind of the Character.”Umpteen time bestselling author Andy Gross did a masterly job in guiding us, Matt Richtel in making us laugh, Steve Forman in providing class, Mitchell Graham in providing perspective, and Katherine Ramsland in diagnosing us.I do need help, it turns out.Paraphrasing E.L. Doctorow, “Writing fiction is just a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.”
* My flight back home to S.F. left at 7.40AM Sunday morning.Around 1AM I figured it was time for bed.Somehow though, bad boy Dusty Rhoades convinced me to join him and others at a local Irish bar.One of my longtime favorite songs is “One for My Baby” made famous by Frank Sinatra among others.It starts out:
It’s quarter to three, There’s no one in the place ‘cept you and me. So set em up, Joe, I got a little story I think you oughtta know.
I’m not sure I’d ever been in a bar at quarter to three, but there I was having a ball with the aforementioned Mr. Rhoades, Karen Abbott, Tasha Alexander, Tom O’Callaghan, Kim Mazar-Stem, Chris Everheart, Renee Rosen, Sean Chercover, and Con Lehane.(See photo below.)I managed an hour of sleep before heading out to the airport.I’m too old for this kind of behavior and I promise not to do it again (except maybe next year at ThrillerFest).
From left at a quarter to three: Renee Rosen, Tasha Alexander, Karen Abbott, Me, Chris Everheart, Sean Chercover, J.D. ("Dusty") Rhoades, Kim Mazar-Stem, Thomas O'Callaghan, Con Lehane
Tomorrow morning I'm hopping on JetBlue to go to NYC for ThrillerFest. I know that I'll be buying heaps of friends' books and books they recommend and books from impressive panelists and books that look good on the table. Help!
BTW, I'll be on a panel called "Pathology on the Page: The Mind of The Character" at ThrillerFest Saturday morning. The moderater is Andrew Gross and other panelists are fellow Northern Californian Matt Richtel, debut author Steve Forman, and fantasy/mystery writer Mitchell Graham. Katherine Ramsland is going to be there to psychoanalyze unbalanced us and our even more pathological characters. Should be a kick.
#4 and I went to see "Singin' in the Rain" this evening at the Stanford Theatre in downtown Palo Alto. He'd never seen it. He loved it save for the part glommed in there where Gene Kelly describes his vision for a scene in an upcoming movie. The screen dissolves into the "Gotta Dance" segment. I agree with my son that that long scene is just pasted in and moves the story forward not one step. But here's why I would never cut it -- it contains the sexiest dance scene ever. You know, where Cyd Charisse plays the moll who curls around lucky Gene like a sinuous snake. Ms. Charisse died last month. Here's what Tony Parsons wrote about that scene in an appreciation that ran in the (London) Mirror:
Without saying a word, Cyd Charisse dances for the sexiest 15 minutes Hollywood ever produced. She is seduction made flesh, blood and silk stockings. It is shocking to read that she was only 5ft 6ins tall, because most of that must have been leg.
It only took #4, my 9-year old boy, and I 28 hours to make it home from Israel. Thanks to the 10 hour time difference all our traveling was on Monday.
Never been to Israel before. So much to draw from in my next book. We were on the frontlines at the Lebanese border where a Hezbollah observation site squatted a few hundred yards away. We floated in the Dead Sea, danced in the mystical city of Safed, rafted down the "mighty" Jordan River (little more than a dribble of a stream), dug up 2000-year old pottery, teared up at the gallows where the British hung Jews who fought for independence, and prayed at the Western Wall.
In an uncharacteristic burst of optimism, I brought nine books with me. I did manage to read five-and-a-half of them. Before leaving, I'd found the tattered copy of Leon Uris's novel on Israel's fight for independence, Exodus, that I read when I was 11. It held up better than expected. Of course, reading about the break from the Acre jail after having just visited it made the book that much more compelling. Also, Steve Berry's charming wife Liz convinced me that The Alexandria Link was perfect reading for a Holy Land trip. She was right, but having checked out the Israel Museum and its Dead Sea Scrolls, count me skeptical about its premise that the First Temple was located on the Arabian Coast. But a terrific story nonetheless.
One thing the visit brought home to me was the terrible job Israel does on PR. I toured the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem where the Israeli Government allows Muslim authorities to protect the Dome of the Rock and the Mosque of Omar. The ruins of the Jewish first and second temples are below the Moslem sites and Israel does no excavation there lest these Muslim holy sites be disturbed. By way of contrast, when Jordan controlled the Old City, all synagogues in the Jewish Quarter were destroyed, Jewish cemeteries were desecrated, all Jews were expelled, and Jews were not allowed to visit its holy sites even though Jordan had agreed in the 1949 armistice agreement to allow them to do so. And what credit does Israel for its policy of accommodation to other religions? Zero. Of course, Israel's treatment of West Bank Arabs is far from perfect, but there are advocacy groups and aggressive media coverage that hold the government accountable. (Can you think of an equivalent in neighboring countries to Israel's Rabbis for Human Rights, a modern analogue to the prophets of the Bible?) Two days after we left Jerusalem, right where we'd been, an Arab terrorist rammed a piece of equipment into a bus, killed three people, hurt 40 more, and was shot dead. The BBC headline? Nothing about the attack. Instead: "Israel Bulldozer Driver Shot Dead." Yes, Israel has a PR problem.
Enough ranting. On the airplane Jim Rollins' Sandstorm helped while away the hours. Then yesterday afternoon the talented, fun-loving, and caprine obsessive Michelle Gagnon emailed me that Jim would be at M is for Mystery along with Denise Hamilton in just a few hours. Jim discussed his latest Sigma Force thriller, The Last Oracle, and his novelization of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Denise's latest is a standalone set in Chandleresque post-war LA. Inspiration for her book was the disappearance of starlet Jean Spangler, a case that also provided inspiration for Megan Abbott's terrific The Song Is You. Can't wait to read Denise's take. After the talking and signing were done, I repaired to an Indian restaurant with Jim, Denise, Michelle (who signed two copies of her just-out Boneyard for me), old friend and Macavity nominee Tim Maleeny, the wonderful and charming Cara Black, and more. All of us save Cara will be at ThrillerFest in NYC next week.
One more thing: I had a great time interviewing the insightful David Hewson about The Garden of Evil, the "best yet" in his critically acclaimed Nic Costa series. You can read the interview here.
Tomorrow is the birthday of our country, which is turning 232, and of my #2, who is turning 16. Much celebrating to do, much to be thankful for! Enjoy the weekend.