Only another writer would understand

On Sunday, my husband and I had one of those little tiffs that remind me just how difficult it sometimes is to be married to a writer.  I’d gotten up early that day, raring to get to work on an article I’d promised to a magazine, and I sat right down at my computer.  About an hour later, hubby yells up the stairs: “Are you coming down to breakfast, or should I just eat BY MYSELF?!!”

He’s grumpy that I’m working before breakfast.  I’m grumpy because he’s interrupted my train of thought.  Words are spoken.  A Sunday is ruined.

It’s just like the good old days.

Early in our marriage, while I was still working as a doctor, hubby  thought my writing was just a nice little hobby.  Sort of like, oh, stamp collecting.  He used to resent the hours I spent late at night, scribbling away.  He resented the times I’d get that faraway look in my eye, because he knew I wasn’t really in the room with him; I was somewhere else, with other people.  Who didn’t exist.  He also resented the fact that I wasn’t pulling my weight in the income department.  He’d married a doctor!  He thought his wife would be earning big bucks!  Sure, he’d agreed that I should cut back on my practice hours when our kids were small.  Once the kids started pre-school, though, surely I was going to be a fulltime doctor again…

But by then, I’d sold a few books to Harlequin Intrigue.  While my writing income wasn’t anything to crow about, I was determined to stick with the new career.  A career that my husband still considered my “little hobby”.  The more focused I got, the hotter he steamed.  Did I really think my writing would amount to anything?  I was delusional!  And I was self-indulgent.  Worst of all, I wasn’t paying attention to him.  

Then, in an instant, everything changed.  I got the earth-shattering phone call from my literary agent telling me I’d just been offered a million-dollar deal for HARVEST.

My husband and I can laugh about it, now.  He’ll be the first to admit that he didn’t have enough faith in me, and that he was wrong.  He’s turned into my strongest supporter, my first reader, and my chief cook and bottle-washer. 

But there were times, early in my writing career, when the marriage was rough going.  

I hear this from other writers who are having trouble in their marriages.  Non-writing spouses don’t understand how much mental energy we writers have to devote to our work.  We’re never off the job.  We’re never really on vacation.  If we’re not thinking about a current plot problem, then we’re thinking about the next book we’re going to write.  Or we’re worried about our sales, or we’re pissed off about a bad review.  When you catch us lying on the couch and staring into space, we’re not goofing off.  We’re working.

Honest.

Stephen King was once asked, “What’s the secret to a successful writing career?”  He answered: “Stay married.”  And I think he’s mostly right.  Writers need stability.  We can’t afford to waste mental energy on a turbulent divorce or in chasing new lovers.

Sometimes, though, a writer’s marriage simply isn’t salvageable.  Sometimes the non-writing spouse simply refuses to accept that his or her spouse was born to create.  I’ve heard horror stories.  One husband was so resentful of his wife’s writing that he “cleaned up” their house while she was away, and “accidentally” threw out the manuscript she’d labored over for a year.  Another husband (of a multi-million-dollar author) never read any of his wife’s books because he thought they’d probably be crap.  Spouses can sabotage us in so many ways, with put-downs, ridicule, or repeated interruptions.  

Sometimes, the only solution really is divorce.

But spouses who care enough about each other learn to adapt and accept.  

I’ve learned to keep my writing (for the most part) to five days a week.  I’ve also learned to stop when the dinner hour comes around.  I’m not able to switch off the mental process, though; that continues 24 hours a day, even into my dreams.  

Some things, I’m afraid, are non-negotiable.

 

Are you a bookseller?

I wish I could visit every single bookstore in the country, just to thank, personally, every bookseller who has ever hand-sold a copy of one of my books.  Alas, it isn’t possible.  But if you email me your address, I’ll send you autographed bookmarks and a Reader’s Guide to my upcoming release, THE MEPHISTO CLUB! (while supplies last.)

 

Whatever happened to … ?

I’ve been hearing from a number of writers who were left depressed by my recent post about publishers’ major marketing campaigns.  They’re anxious because they doubt their debut books will receive that kind of exalted treatment, and what chance does their book have against a title that has $250,000 in advertising behind it?

So this blog entry is for all those anxious writers.  It’s about how a slow build may actually be better for your overall success.  It’s about the downside of having a publisher hype your debut novel — and how it can destroy your career.

What?  How could having a publisher throw money behind your book possibly be a BAD thing? 

Most of the time, of course, it isn’t a bad thing.  It’s a great thing to have splashy ads and a big tour and to see your book plastered over front display tables from sea to shining sea.  But one of the advantages to having been in this business for 20 years, as I have, is that you gain some perspective.  You see the natural cycle of things.  You watch the successes and disasters of other authors and you learn to take every ounce of hype with a huge grain of salt.

Now, to avoid embarrasing anyone, I’m not going to name names.  But again and again, I’ve seen publishers throw tons of money behind debut authors, introducing them as “the female Stephen King!” or “the next LaVyrle Spencer!”  or “the next Nicholas Sparks!”  (These are examples of actual hype used for three actual authors.)  Press releases touted million-dollar deals, editors gushed that everyone in the publishing house “adored” these books, and booksellers ordered stacks and stacks of copies.  The books come out to great fanfare… and then sank without a trace. 

And those authors were never heard from again.  Oh, maybe they managed to write second books, and maybe they were decent books.  But once a publishing house gets badly burned, it’s going to shy away from ever throwing money behind that author again.  That author is in a far worse position than the un-hyped author whose first book sells similar numbers, but has a terrific sell-through.  Because the author with the great sell-through is declared a “success story”, someone who can be built to the next level. 

Once, over breakfast, an editor told me how delighted she was with the success of one of her titles.  It started off with a modest print-run, but then it went back to print four times.  It ended up selling about 20,000 copies overall, and everyone at the publishing house was ecstatic about this author’s fabulous success.  Meanwhile, another author’s title, which similarly sold 20,000 copies, was considered an embarrassing failure because the print run was over 100,000.

Guess which author got a second contract from the editor?  Guess which author was never heard from again?  Yet both had sold the same number of copies.

I mentioned earlier that I wasn’t going to name names because I didn’t want to embarrass anyone.  So I’ll just embarrass myself by using my own experience in the UK as an example.  

Back in 1996, my first thriller HARVEST was published.  In the U.S. it did splendidly and hit the list.  In the UK, though, it simply didn’t sell.  This was after the UK paid a lot of money for it and gave it a great big push.  Maybe medical thrillers just don’t do well there; maybe the public didn’t like the premise or the cover.  Whatever the reason, HARVEST was a complete failure in the UK.  My UK publisher held the rights to the next book, but by the time LIFE SUPPORT came out, the publisher was so disenchanted with me they gave it no push at all.  Of course it died in England.  You couldn’t GIVE that book away. 

The publisher declined to sign me to another contract.

My next two books, BLOODSTREAM and GRAVITY, released by a different publisher, scarcely got any support and they too sank in the UK.

By that point, I’m pretty much dead meat in England.  No publisher wants a proven failed author — even if that author is successful in the U.S.  There were doubts that any house in the UK would even take my next book, THE SURGEON. 

Then a certain editor named Selina Walker at Transworld read the manuscript and became its champion.  Those of you familiar with the UK book biz know that Selina Walker is legendary in the world of crime fiction.  If she likes a book, she gets behind it with the ferocity of a mother lioness.  She took a chance on this failed author, acquired THE SURGEON, and got to work rebuilding my name in England.

Three books later, with THE SINNER, I was a London Times bestseller.  My most recent release there, VANISH, hit #2 on their hardcover bestseller list.  Ironically enough, LIFE SUPPORT was recently re-released in the UK, and this time it’s actually hitting bestseller lists — nine years after it was considered a miserable failure.

I consider myself incredibly lucky to have come back from the dead in the UK — but it’s all due to one determined editor who took a chance on me.  Not everyone has the benefit of a fairy godmother like Selina Walker.  The chances are, if she hadn’t liked THE SURGEON, I’d now be unpublished in the UK.  I’d be another one of those “Whatever happened to …?” authors who got an initial big push, only to sell disappointing numbers.

So yes, there is a downside to being over-hyped.  I believe that the most enduring careers are built gradually but steadily.  You don’t want to take off like a rocket only to crash and burn.  You want to see your numbers grow, so that by the time you’re on your fifth or sixth book, you’ve got a devoted readership behind you who will talk up your backlist to their friends.  A loyal reader is far better than the casual reader who just picks up your book because of media hype.  The loyal reader will forgive you the occasional dud, because she knows you’ve done better.  The casual reader will read that dud and never pick up another one of your books.

In the end, hype is just hype.  But it doesn’t make a career.

 

   

“Major Marketing Campaign”: where does the money go?

I’m probably going to hear from someone wiser than I am that I shouldn’t be talking about this, but I can’t help myself.  I’m fascinated by the dollars-and-cents side of publishing.  So let’s talk about the price of promotion.  Specifically, how much it costs to promote a blockbuster book.

Most of you writers know what the usual self-promotion strategies will cost when you shell out for everything yourself.  You know what it’ll cost you for printed bookmarks and the author website and maybe, if you’ve got the energy, the drive-yourself-and-eat-at-McDonald’s book tour.  But do you ever wonder what it costs a publisher to promote the really big books?  Do you ever wonder what a publisher’s announced “$250,000 marketing budget!” actually does for a book’s sales?

First, let’s talk about what you might spend that much money on.  Let’s start with ads. 

A full-page, color ad in the NYT Book Review will run you around $30,000.  Since the Book Review comes out only once a week, this ad will, theoretically, get you some prolonged exposure.  But not everyone reads the NYTBR; they just focus on the rest of the Sunday paper.  And there are some areas of the country where people don’t read the New York Times at all.

A full-page, color ad in the NYT daily newspaper will cost you even more — $50,000 or so.  But it has a huge visual impact if it’s on the back page of, say, the arts section.  While you sit on the train reading your newspaper, the passenger across from you is going to be staring at the ad on the back of that page. 

Then there’s a whole host of other publications you can choose to advertise in.  USA Today features book reviews in its Thursday edition, and it’s a popular place to advertise because it has nation-wide circulation and the newspaper is read by just about every traveling businessman who happens to be on the road that day.  The other national newspaper that seems like a good place to advertise is the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal.  It has a huge circulation.  It goes to high-income households, right?  It’s a way to catch the attention of those elusive male readers, right?  So why does the WSJ carry so few book ads?

Because the price of their ad space will take your breath away.  Last year I called to find out what a modest little ad in the WSJ would cost.  I can’t tell you the exact amount, because I was so stunned I must have blocked it from my memory.  All I can tell you is that it makes a NYT ad sound like a bargain basement deal.  

So you can see how you can easily blow a hundred grand or more, just paying for ads in major newspapers.  But do they actually sell books?

Most publishers will say that the cost of the ad isn’t justified by the number of sales the ad generates.  I believe them.  Still it’s true that an ad DOES cause a bump in sales.  I watch my Amazon numbers whenever an ad runs, and I can see the effect on my sales ranking.  But the effect is very short-lived — only a day or two.  So no, I don’t think paying fifty thousand for an ad results in fifty thousand dollars’ worth of book sales.

What a big ad does do, however, is give a signal to booksellers that this is a major book.  It tells them that if they didn’t bring in many copies, they’d better get on the phone and order some more.  It tells those in the publishing and reviewing industry that this is a book they should pay attention to.

And it makes the author and agent very happy.  I mean, let’s admit it– one’s vanity MUST be stroked.

If you want to blow a lot of money fast, try TV advertising.  You’ll get lots of splash, will catch the attention of lots of eyes on the ad, but it’s also very ephemeral.  Thirty seconds and poof — it’s gone.  And because of the price of TV, chances are, you’ll only buy into limited markets.  Channels that cater to women viewers for instance, like Oxygen and Lifetime.  Or in certain regions of the country. 

Again, the question must be asked: does it sell books?  I don’t know the answer to this one.  But there’s no mistaking the impact it makes on booksellers and others within the industry, as far as getting attention for your book.

I’m leaving out all the other fun and different ways to advertise, such as magazines, transit ads, radio spots, airplane tow-ropes, etc.  Because no one really knows how well any single one of them works to sell a particular book.

But they’re all valuable in one regard: they get your name out there.  Even if consumers aren’t actively paying attention, your name will become embedded in their subconscious.

I was once in a bookstore where I saw a woman eyeing the paperback rack.  My book, BODY DOUBLE, was there.  When she picked it up and looked it over, I couldn’t help asking her, “have you heard of that author?”

“I’ve never read anything by her,” she said.  “But you know, I’ve heard her name about three times in the past month.  So I guess I should buy this.”

Then she told me that “three times” is her rule of thumb. That’s how many times she needs to hear about a product before she’ll try it out.  

So it may be that ads are effective in ways that aren’t immediately measurable. 

Free publicity is what DOES work.  Feature news articles, for example.  Interviews on TV and the radio.  Stories ABOUT your story. 

And that’s where publicists and book tours come in.  Publishers don’t send an author on the road so that she can sit forlornly in some half-empty bookstore and sell two copies of her book.  She’s on the road so that the local newspaper will run a feature, and the local radio station will invite her to talk up her book.  She’s there to get FREE PUBLICITY.  And if her subject matter is unique and interesting (not just another ho-hum serial killer story) she’ll get the media’s attention.  Since VANISH is about a corpse who wakes up in the morgue, when I went on tour, I brought along a whole file of real-life examples of awakening corpses, which I’d gathered from national news sources.  (One of the reasons I subscribe to Lexis-Nexis is that it makes newswire searches so easy.)  This fall, when I go on tour for MEPHISTO CLUB, I’ll be ready to talk about the Nephilim, an evil bloodline mentioned in ancient and Biblical texts.  (see the historical background for MEPHISTO CLUB.)  The fact I’ve written a crime thriller won’t interest the media.  What will interest them, however, is the fact there’s a whole community of conspiracy theorists out there who believe that Nephilim have hijacked the leadership of the world in order to foment wars and bring on Armageddon.

In order to snag the media’s attention, though, reporters have to know about your book.  So some of those marketing dollars go toward printing up galleys, assembling press kits, and mailing them to reporters.  Most of the time, these efforts are done in-house by the publisher.  But occasionally, with a special book, the publisher (or the author herself) will bring in an outside publicist to help with the effort.

How much does a private publicist cost?  There’s a huge range of prices here.  I’ve heard of publicists who charge only a few thousand dollars.  The big names, however, will charge upwards of $20,000 for a national effort.  Then there are others who will charge you by the region — $2,000 to publicize you in the San Diego market, for instance, or $3,000 for the Los Angeles market. 

Along with the cost of a publicist is the cost of the book tour.  Which means hotels (usually very nice ones!) and media escorts and airfare.  Most authors fly coach, but because travel itineraries can change on a dime, the airline tickets must be flexible (meaning expensive.)

Finally, there’s the price of co-op.  This is the money publishers pay to major booksellers for front-of-store display and in-store promotions.  I haven’t been able to find out what it costs, but I’ve been assured that it’s “very expensive.”  (And I wish someone who knows will email me with the numbers.  I promise to keep it secret!)  Co-op is the one thing that WILL increase sales of a book.  A book on the front table in Barnes and Noble will immediately catch the eye of the consumer.  Once the book is moved to the back of the store, its sales drop drastically.

I know.  I’ve compared the sales figures on my own books, both on and off co-op.

The real problem is that you can’t just throw money at the chains and expect to get that front table; Barnes and Noble has to AGREE that your book should be on co-op.  The space on that front table is limited, and only a select few titles are deemed worthy of it. 

And only the rare title gets to purchase the best space of all: the Barnes and Noble stepladder.

For years, my books have hit bestseller lists, but I can’t get more than two weeks on the front table, even though my publisher is willing to pay for it.  And the stepladder remains an impossible dream for me. 

So, what’s the best spending strategy for a marketing campaign?

If I were a publisher, here’s where I’d put my money, in order of priority:

First: galleys, press kits, and mailings to the media.  This can be done most cheaply in-house.   (Ths is one of the things an author can do herself if she finds herself without publisher back-up.)

Second: bookstore co-op.  If the book’s not at the front of the store and easily spotted, it’s not going to sell.  The publisher should try to get as many weeks as possible on that front table.

Third: Book tour.  You’ve got the author working for free as a traveling salesperson.  If she’s media-genic and has a good story to tell, the publicity will come.

Fourth: hire an outside publicist.  Yes, there are some things a well-regarded private publicist can do that an in-house publicist can’t.  The private PR person often has special contacts within the media.  Also, when a journalist gets a press kit from a nationally known publicity firm, he knows that this must be an important book, and will take a closer look at it.

Fifth: Newspaper ads.  I’d start with USA Today.  If the budget can absorb it, then also ads in the NYT Book Review or the NYT daily.  You can back this up with additional ads in magazines such as People or Entertainment Weekly.  Or in a fanzine like Romantic Times, which offers quite reasonable ad prices.

Sixth: If you’re really serious about promoting this book, there’s always TV. 

(I haven’t mentioned online promotions here, because I’m not certain about their effectiveness.  Also notice that I didn’t mention an author website; I just ASSUME that an author will take care of that absolutely essential promotional tool herself!)

Unfortunately, even a million-dollar promotional budget won’t ensure that a book will hit bestseller lists.  Sometimes, the book’s just a dog.  There are plenty of examples of publishers who’ve thrown fortunes behind a new author, only to get back 80% returns.  But that’s the business.  There are no guarantees.

 

At last I have a diagnosis

Prosopagnosia.

Nope, I’d never heard of it either, until I read this week’s Time Magazine and came across an article that made me sit up in startled self-recognition.  All my life, I’ve suffered from an inability to remember — or recognize — faces of people whom I should recognize.  It’s such a problem for me that it’s turned into a family joke.  My husband thinks it’s hilarious.  “You’re so good at everything else.  Thank god you have at least this glaring flaw,” he says.  Again and again I’ll meet people in our small town who greet me with a cheery and familiar “Hi!”.  I’ll answer with an equally cheery hello, then turn to my husband and ask: “Who the heck was that?” 

Or imagine this writer’s worst nightmare.  You’re doing a signing in your local bookstore, and a woman comes up to your table to get her book autographed.  She starts chatting as if she knows you.  Okay, her face looks vaguely familiar, but you can’t remember when you might have met her.  Then she starts talking about your kid, and is he still playing the fiddle, and how are the roses in your garden, and pretty soon you realize you’re supposed to know this woman VERY well.

But you still have no idea who she is.

So then she slides her book in front of you and asks you to personalize it.  And you ask, your hands now sweating in panic, “To whom shall I make it out to?”

“To me,” she says.

At this point you, as a writer, have two options.  You can either confess that you have no idea who she is.  In which case she’ll think that you are  a complete idiot (bad).  Or that you’re so damned stuck-up that you can’t bother to remember the names of ordinary people (even worse). 

Or you can throw a writer’s Hail Mary and ask, “How do you spell your name again?”

And just pray she doesn’t answer: “P-A-T.” 

Believe me, this has happened to me so many times that I now beg my husband to stand beside me during local booksignings, so he can toss out helpful clues such as: “Well hello, Pat!  It’s great to see you!” 

According to Time, this is a far more common problem than has been previously recognized, and it’s genetic — probably caused by a defect in a single dominant gene.  One out of fifty people has some form of it.  For some people, it’s so severe that they can’t identify their own children’s faces.  Thank god I’m not that bad.  But I suffer from a disabling enough case of it that I find myself avoiding many social situations.  Writers’ conferences scare me – which is why you don’t see me at too many of them.  I’m always terrified that I’ll inadvertently insult someone by not recognizing them.

That’s why I love nametags.  I wish everyone went through life wearing nametags.  And I love conference brochures that show attendee photos, like the one we had at Thrillerfest.  (Betcha didn’t realize that ol’ Tess spent her first night in Phoenix holed up in her hotel room, frantically studying those photos.) 

In two months, I’ll be starting my book tour for MEPHISTO CLUB.  Already, I’m starting to get anxious about all the fans and booksellers whom I’ve met before …. and won’t recognize.  It’s enough to make a writer want to hide away in her office forever.  I just hope that people won’t be offended or insulted when I don’t remember their names.  It has nothing to do with them, and everything to do with me.

But at least now my affliction has a name.

 

 

Second-book syndrome

While I was at Thrillerfest, two different authors approached me with similar tales of woe.  Both of them had sold their first books, which had been published to great praise.  One of the books was nominated for a major award.  Yet both authors were having a tough time writing their second books.   “What’s wrong with me?” they both asked.  “What should I do?”

They’re both suffering from “second-book syndrome.”  And I know it well, because I went through it myself. 

In 1987, my first romance novel, CALL AFTER MIDNIGHT, was published to great reviews.  It was nominated for a Romance Writers of America award (called the Golden Medallion back then.)  I got tons of fan mail, and lavish praise from my editor at Harlequin.  She was excited about seeing my next book. 

The problem was, I couldn’t seem to write that second book. 

Everything I wrote sucked.  I had about three chapters, but couldn’t get past that point, because the plot wasn’t coming together for me.  I didn’t know the characters.  I didn’t know the solution to the mystery.  I kept revising and revising the first 50 pages until there was no life left in them.

Two years went by. 

Looking back at it now, I remember the anguish.  I thought I was finished as a writer.  I’d had the leisure of writing my first book under no deadlines or pressure, so CALL AFTER MIDNIGHT was a work of sheer love.  For years, I’d been saving up all those emotions, and I’d thrown them all into that first book.  Was there anything left inside me for a second?  Ironically enough, garnering high praise for a first book made it all worse, because so much more was expected of me.  If I’d received rotten reviews, the second book would have been easier, because then I’d be angry.  I’d want to prove to them that yes, I could write, and the words might have flowed more easily.  But being told you’re a genius, and that your readers can’t wait for book number two, can terrify a writer.

I did manage to get that second book written, and in the process, I learned a few things.  I learned the importance of writing all the way to the end, without stopping to revise or torment myself that it’s not “good enough.”  Of course it’s not good enough.  It’s a first draft.  I learned that characters will only come alive after I’ve spent months with them — so I just have to keep writing and see what they say and do.  By “The End,” I’ll know them.  I learned that the only way to get past second-book syndrome is to WRITE.  Good stuff or bad stuff, you just need to get it down on the page.  No one has to see it but you, and you can burn the whole thing at the end.

I learned that fear of imperfection can paralyze you.

UNDER THE KNIFE was published in 1990 — three years after CALL AFTER MIDNIGHT. 

Even though I’m now working on book #20, I’m still gripped by the same self-doubts I felt at the beginning of my career, the same fears that I won’t be able to pull this one off.  The only difference is that I now understand that these terrors are perfectly normal for me.  I’ve become comfortable with my chaotic method of plotting.  I’ve gained confidence that I’ll be able to pull the expected mess of a first draft out of the fire.

If you’re struggling with your second book, take heart.  Almost all of us have gone through it.  Just write through it, even if everything you produce seems like junk.  Trust me, there’s good stuff there.  Maybe you’ll have to throw out 3/4 of it, but at least you’ll be WRITING. 

You did it once.  You can do it again.

 

Yes, it was thrilling

Never mind the 105 degree heat outside. Or the fact that the hotel’s cocktail lounge was under renovation (bad, bad timing when you’ve got thirsty writers as guests.)  Thrillerfest was the best conference I’ve ever been to, and all congratulations goes to ITW and the amazing David Morrell, Gayle Lynds, MJ Rose, CJ Lyons, and Diane Vogt.  With around 400 attendees, the conference was intimate enough for everyone to mingle and actually have meaningful conversations.  I got home to Maine late last night (well, 2:00 AM to be exact) and I’m still high from the amazing after-buzz.

The best part was reconnecting with old friends, including the net’s best writer-blogger, J.A. Konrath. 

    Joe and Tess

 

Joe managed to get me tipsy by sending me a never-ending supply of gin-and-tonics.  Thanks a lot, Joe.  I think.

 I also met, for the first time, Robert Gregory Browne —

 robert gregory browne

 

 

 

 who did an amazing job producing the crime-scene video for our autopsy workshop.  One of the stars of that workshop was D.P. Lyle, a real-life physician who showed up in his fashionable black scrubsuit to narrate a rather gruesome Power Point slide show.  And he managed to make us laugh!

doug lyle

 

I loved meeting up with other new (and old) friends, including Michael Palmer, Christopher Mooney, David Montgomery, and Gregg Hurwitz —

 

 palmer, mooney, etc.

 

as well as Katherine Ramsland

 katherine ramsland

and author F. Paul Wilson and reviewer Ali Karim, who made the

 

journey all the way to Phoenix from the U.K: 

DSCF1892.jpg

 

 

Speaking of reviewers, this was a chance to meet the very people who, I must admit, sometimes terrify me.  So it was nice to shake hands with Larry Gandle, George Easter, and Joe Hartlaub, who are all perfectly lovely men.  I loved seeing old friends Gary Braver and Joe Finder, and I finally got to meet Lee Goldberg, whose blog has been a must-stop site for me every morning.  (You must check out Lee’s blog about the naked bookseller who greets his customers wearing not a single stitch of clothing.  I didn’t believe Lee’s story about the guy until he posted the photo of that bookseller wearing … well, what looks like a hastily applied fig leaf.  I can’t wait to visit the store myself.)

Now that I’m trying to recount everyone I met, I suddenly realize how many, many writers I actually know.  It just goes to show how long I’ve been in this business.  This is an industry of warm and wonderful people, and Thrillerfest was our chance to have a great time together.  I saw John Gilstrap and John Ramsey Miller, both of whom I’ve been corresponding with for years.  I finally met Natalie Collins and Allison Brennan, two lovely ladies, and reconnected with Twist Phelan and Raelynn Hillhouse.  And then there’s Jim Born who is rumored to have a sadistic streak after he led some fellow writers on a death march up a mountain in  the 100 degree heat.  (Or maybe he was just trying to kill off the competition.)

Some surprises:  John Lescroart on the guitar, smoothly channeling Jimmy Buffet  at the banquet, accompanied by “Thrillerettes” Heather Graham, Harley Jane Kozak, and Alexandra Sokoloff:

lescroart and the thrillerettes

 

And Michael Palmer as rock star!  (You should have heard his son Daniel on electric harmonica.  Hey Stephen King, you gotta book this guy for the Rock Bottom Remainders!)

 michael palmer

 

The real surprise of the banquet evening was Thriller Awards chairman Jim Rollins, who happens to be a real-life veterinarian.   Addressing an audience of dangerous folks who know how to break necks, throw knives, and shoot AK-47’s, Jim just shrugged.  “Yeah, yeah, big deal.   I can neuter a cat in five minutes.”  Who knew Jim was so damn funny? 

I got the chance to rub shoulders with the industry greats, including Clive Cussler and Sandra Brown.  Doug Preston told us the harrowing tale of his brush with the law in Italy.  (I recommend you all buy the current issue of Atlantic Monthly for the details.  It’s scary as hell.)  To top off the evening, the charming R.L. Stine came up to shake my hand. 

Maybe NOW my sons will think their Mom is cool.