Monday, July 20, 2009

Gate crashing a writers' conference

So, on Friday I spent the day with my buddy, Jimbo. (That's NYT best-selling author James Rollins to you.) I have a devil of a time luring Jimbo out to the Bay Area, and therefore always make an effort to spend time with him when he's around. On Friday, he was participating as faculty for the Book Passage Mystery Writers Conference.

Book Passage, as you surely know, is one of the most respected independent bookstores in the US. In addition to their excellent author events which go on just about every day of the year, they hold several major writing conferences for mystery writers, travel writers, etc. Not being a writer (as readers of this blog can plainly see), it would never occur to me to attend such an event, but I spend so darn much time with novelists, it's always good to learn more about what they're up to. Right?

Anyway, I schlepped over the Golden Gate Bridge to Marin County and hooked up with Jimbo around 10:30am. He was participating in a panel at 11:15am with several other authors, including but not limited to Tim Maleeny, Hallie Ephron, Tony Broadbent, and several others. They were discussing the writers that had been influential on them as readers and writers. Very interesting. (Jimbo talked about the Doc Savage novels, H.G. Wells, and Annie Proulx's The Shipping News.)

The panel ended around 12:30pm, and we ducked out of a lunch invitation, because we had to head down to San Mateo to sign stock at M is for Mystery. Back over the Golden Gate Bridge. Still foggy. We must have made it down there around 1:45pm, and signing the stock didn't take too long. My contribution here was just to wander randomly around the store looking at books. I'm good at that. Afterwards, there was time for "fro-yo." Yay!

The ride back to Marin took much longer. Damn bridge traffic over that damn, foggy bridge. Jimbo grumbled about how people could live in the city, but I explained that in the course of my urban life, I rarely have to travel over bridges and through tunnels. It's the suburbanites that cause the mess. Anyway, we made it over to the mall a couple of blocks from Book Passage sometime after 4:00pm. We grabbed what might have been a nice "lunch" at P.F. Changs, had there not been a screaming child over Jim's shoulder. Time to rush back to Book Passage for Jim's 6:00pm talk and signing.

Jimbo has been on tour promoting his latest novel, The Doomsday Key. He did a little of that, but tonight, mindful that his audience was largely made up of wanna-be novelists, he talked at length about his progress from unpublished to published author. Jimbo would repeatedly tell the audience some plausible-sounding story, stop, and say, "That was a lie." Seriously, you have to watch that guy every minute. It's gotten to the point that I don't believe anything he says! Truthfully, Jim always does a nice job at his speaking events. He's interesting, amusing, and entertaining. He was well received by the Book Passage crowd.

After he finished signing books, Jim (and I, by extension) were invited to a catered "faculty dinner" for all the professionals teaching at the conference, most of whom were involved over the course of several days. There were other local novelists I know there, like Tim Maleeny, Cara Black, and David Corbett, and also several of our ITW pals we'd just seen at Thrillerfest, such as Katherine Neville, D.P. Lyle, and David Hewson to name just a few. I was sitting in the center of a table that had author Sheldon Siegel, FBI agent George Fong, and legendary Book Passage proprietress Elaine Petrocelli at one end (What a thrill to finally meet her!), and Jimbo, Katherine Neville, and Katherine's husband Carl at the other. I swiveled back and forth with the conversations.

I've been running into Katherine and Carl so much lately, we've become defacto acquaintances--which is just very cool. That Katherine Neville is such a class act. God, she dresses beautifully. I comment on her clothes every time I see her. And she's just a really neat, impressive lady. We had discovered in NY that Katherine and Carl live in my hometown, Washington, DC. During dinner, Katherine asked for my card, explaining that they have occasional parties for the DC-area writers, and if I was ever in town... I had to explain, "I'm not a writer, I'm just a hanger-on," but Jimbo gallantly pointed out that I write book reviews, my blog, and edit novels. So, Katherine said they've had reviewers and editors as guests as well. Like I said, she is a gracious and charming lady.

I have to say that my day around the Mystery Writers Conference was just one more example of doors being opened to me because of my association with Jim that never would be normally. It's always so much fun seeing how the other half (that "half" being rich and famous writers) lives! Jimbo and I always have a good time together. And the conference itself was pretty impressive. They've got a talented and successful faculty, an interesting and full curriculum, everything is very professional and well organized, and they even feed the students. From what I could see, they had some happy clients. And the conference has a long history of alums becoming published authors, and sometimes even coming back to teach.

Finally, it was time to say goodbye to Jimbo and head back over the still foggy Golden Gate Bridge a last time. It was a good day.

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