I managed one set at the House of Blues last night before my brain called it quits and I shared a taxi home in the rain with lovely people whose names I don’t remember, but I loved the lady’s purple shoes and her partner’s matching fedora.
I took it easy today—only three panels, but I did have a nice breakfast with Zoë Sharp, a great discussion and exchange of numbers with Jaden Terrell after the second panel, and lunch.
Then I hung out in the Hospitality Room and typed and chatted with writers—one of whom wrote Dad’s future Christmas present, score!—librarians, readers, and someone who knows a lot about jazz.
I also took some great photos of the hotel, and this one in the park near the conference hotel:
I tried not to see this as an omen.
Give me a Thrill
Yesterday, I heard a man talking about his book to someone else and I thought it sounded interesting. I caught sight of his name badge for a second—Mike Cooper. I then found out that his books were completely sold out—I took that as a good sign, and when I discovered that he was on this panel, I went.
I’m really glad I did, because these guys were terrific.
The line-up was Linwood Barclay, Mike Cooper, Owen Laukkanen, Boyd Morrison, and James M. Tabor. Karen Dionne was the moderator.
Mr. Barclay: “Characters need to be grounded in reality. Readers have to go, ‘Yeah, I know that person.’”
Mr. Morrison: “I try to make my villain so formidable that even my super-competent hero is going to have problems.”
Mr. Cooper: “Villians, to be a credible threat, have to have incredible powers, which is why I picked investment bankers.”
Mr. Tabor: “I see things that are interesting to me and I want to explore them, so I create a character.”
Mr. Barclay: “I find that even if people are good, there’s a terrible darkness in them.”
Mr. Morrison: “The villain is the hero of their own novel.”
Mr. Cooper stated that the best example of a great hook can be found in the Captain Underpants series. The kids are there in school, doing what they do . . . And suddenly giant robots attack!! “Starting off with a bang in ordinary circumstances is good.”
Mr. Laukkanen: “I want my first chapter to be bang, bang, bang, giant robots!”
Mr. Morrison: “The movie Die Hard takes twenty minutes to set everything up. You couldn’t do that in a novel.”
Mr. Barclay: “I don’t really follow the Captain Underpants model . . . Once you set the hook, you can back up a bit.”
Mr. Barclay: “The most important word in thrillers is momentum.”
Mr. Cooper: “There’s a ‘revelation chain’ . . . Discoveries that keep revealing what’s going on.”
Mr. Morrison: “There needs to be a sense of driving the plot forward. You can’t just have action after action because I think people get tired of that.”
Mr. Barclay’s agent called him up once and said he loved the new book, but the first killing was on page 150. “I want someone dead by page three.”
On how one creates all these action scenes:
Mr. Barclay: “I make them up.”
Mr. L: “I go into places like banks and think about things I probably wouldn’t do, but think about how I would react [if I did].
Mr. Morrison: “You ever think that we would all be in jail if we weren’t writing?”
Mr. Cooper: “Action scenes are enhanced by things going wrong . . . Everyone forgets how much action hurts.”
On keeping readers reading without bombs going off:
Mr. Barclay: “[Create enough tension so the reader] knows at some point all hell is going to break loose.”
Mr. Morrison: “Show the reader something the protagonist doesn’t know is coming.”
Mr. L: “Inserting some kind of imminent threat, some sense of time or deadline . . . the tension will be fine.”
Mr. Cooper, who is writing a first person thriller: “It’s really hard. If I were starting over, I would totally do third omniscient.”
Mr. Barclay: “You never know what the bad guy is doing . . . so you have to bring the reader into the anxiety that the character feels.”
On conflict and tension:
Mr. Barclay: “You can achieve so much without an excess of violence.”
Mr. L: “It’s almost cathartic to deal with conflict. I can deal with in the way I want to.”
Mr. Barclay: “Conflict is the kindling.”
Random Quote from Hitchcock: “The length of a movie should be the size of a human bladder.”
Mr. Barclay: “It was amazing the tension Hitchcock could achieve with just stairs and a door. Ascending the stairs. . . .Descending the stairs . . .a closed door—don’t open it, don’t open it, don’t open it!”
Mr. Barclay: “End with emotional resonance.”
Mr. L: “I like having my character have emotional resolution . . . or a question that propels the reader to the next book.”
Ms. Dionne: “We expect things to be neater in books than in real life.”
Elementary, my dear Cleveland
The panel included Laurie R. King, writer of the Mary Russell Holmes series of which I am a rabid fan; Daniel Stashower, who has won Edgar Awards for his fiction and nonfiction; Michael Robertson, who writes about a modern-day lawyer who is forced to deal with the mail people send to Sherlock Holmes; Dan Andriacco, who wrote a collection of Holmes stories and; Sara Paretsky, Queen of the PI novelists. The moderator was Leslie S. Klinger who wrote a Sherlock Holmes encyclopedia and also was a consultant for the Robert Downey movies (“I got to write Sherlock Holmes epitaph—how cool is that?”).
Frankly, I was too busy laughing and cheering with the rest of the Holmsians to write much down, but this is what was in my notebook when I sat down to type it up.
Why does anyone care about Sherlock Holmes?
Ms. King: “After all these years, Sherlock Holmes is just hot.”
Mr. Stashower: “I hesitate to follow that . . . but each generation looks into those steely eyes and find something new . . .he stands up to reinterpretation.”
Mr. Robertson: “It seems that we live in chaotic times and we need someone dedicated to order . . .My other theory is that Sherlock Holmes is the ultimate geek.”
Mr. Andriacco: “Sherlock Holmes has an uprise in popularity [since his advent] when we need him . . . to bring order out of chaos. What’s interesting is that he didn’t always do that.”
Ms. King: “When I took a look at the kinds of heroes and heroism that reverberates with us . . . Sherlock Holmes is a wounded healer. He throws himself down in the cause of justice. And he’s also hot.”
Mr. Klinger: “What we draw [from him] today is much different than in the Rathbone days . . .he’s a successful loaner.”
Why write Holmes?
Ms. Paretsky was asked to write a short story for a Holmes anthology. She thought that Conan Doyle’s stories weren’t very good, really, but that there was something about the character that strikes a chord with us . . . if it weren’t for Holmes, we might not read them. She preferred the Amelia Peabody mystery stories that were written at the same time. So in her story, Amelia Peabody shows up Sherlock Holmes. The story is titled, “Take that, Holmes!”
Mr. Stashower: “I was twelve years old and wrote a story called “Sherlock Holmes versus the Lizard People.” The only line I remember from it is, Look out Holmes, that lizard has a grenade! It was just a short step from that . . . and the lizard king was hot.”
(Note: Watch for the tee-shirt, because I heard several people planning one)
On the derivative nature of Holmsian fiction:
Ms. Paretsky: Holmes has become so iconic that you can bring out of him all kinds of things.”
Why aren’t you writing short stories like Conan Doyle?
Ms. King: “There’s no money in short stories.”
Ms. Paretsky: “Short stories are harder than novels . . . Short stories are like writing a poem. Every word has to count.”
Across the Pond
Stuart Neville, Peter James, and Val McDermid are, in order, Irish, British, and Scots thriller writers. I’ve read at least one novel from each of these writers, but I’m enough of an Anglophile to have wanted to go anyway.
Ms. Bowen, the moderator, wanted to know why all English bookshops were full of thrillers and gritty mysteries and all American shops were full of cats and quilts and tea things, as this seems contrary to the origins of crime fiction on either side—the UK had Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie and the US had Raymond Chandler and Mickey Spillane.
It was a terrific discussion in, if I may be shallow again, lovely accents. Ms. McDermid said that except for audiences like the one at Bouchercon, she and other UK thriller authors didn’t sell very well at all. The only one who sells well is Lee Child, because most Americans think he’s American.
On violence in thrillers:
Mr. Neville: “[I write] whatever serves the story. If I do use violence, it’s going to be fast and hard and brutal, the way it is in real life.”
Mr. James: “I don’t want them to turn the page and throw up.”
Mr. Neville: “The one thing I can’t write is violence against women. It isn’t in me to do it.”
Ms. McDermid: “You can’t sit down with a violence meter . . . It comes down to an individual writers individual decisions.”
Mr. James: “Never harm an animal.”
And now, I’m waiting to get into the silent auction to see if I’m coming home with even more stuff. . . .
Tomorrow, I’m heading for Toledo, where I hope to have lunch with Sherry Stanfa-Stanley, and then home!
Psst: Don’t forget to leave a poem on Wednesday’s post for a chance at something from my swag bag!