Saturday, October 17, 2009

On the road again: Bouchercon, Indianapolis, day 4

One of the mysteries of mystery conventions is why they schedule the way they do. At every Bouchercon I've attended, the hotel bar roars with activity until the hotel forces out the last writers and fans and locks the doors. Also at every one of these events, the panels kick off at 9:00 a.m.--and usually with the very best presentations of the day. Perhaps the fans doing the scheduling don't care about the writers, or maybe it's all a diabolical plot to get a famous author to break in the face of sleep deprivation and reveal some major secret; I can only speculate. In any case, one of today's best panels began at the ungodly hour of 9:00 a.m., so I got up early enough to shower and be in my chair just as the moderator grabbed the microphone.

The stated topic was must-read thrillers, but the real discussion point was the book of essays about one hundred must-read thrillers that the International Thriller Writers association will be putting out next summer. David Morrell acted as moderator, with ITW co-founder Gayle Lynds and Lee Child the other people I'd come to hear. As it turns out, Child's essay on Theseus and the Minotaur will kick off the book. At about age eleven, Child was reading the story of Theseus in Latin for school, then on his own time was reading Fleming's Doctor No. Child said he was struck that the plots were essentially the same and that later he came to see Theseus and the Minotaur as the first thriller story. The other panelists were fine, but this tidbit alone made the early awakening worthwhile.

We ate lunch with Karen, who picked us up at the hotel and took us to the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, which is, oddly enough, here in Indianapolis. We had time only to eat in the cafe there and tour the lovely grounds a bit, but it was a nice time and good to catch up with Karen. I had no clue that Indianapolis had canals, much less a canal walk.

The highlight of the afternoon was a panel on the rules of paranormal mysteries, which proved to be quite funny. As is usually the case, Charlaine Harris stole the show.

I'm happy to report that the three signed, first-edition hardcovers I donated to the charity auction prompted some bidding. When last I looked, five different folks had bid on them, which, given their SF covers, bordered on miraculous. I didn't get to see the winning bid, because when I wandered by the dealers' room in the late afternoon, the books were already gone, but I did see one bid of $60, so at least they went for more than the sum of their Amazon list prices.

Dinner was back at 14 West, both because we knew it would be reliably good (t was) and because it was across the street from the movie theater near the hotel. At said theater we watched Law Abiding Citizen, which I liked more than the vast majority of critics. Other than failing hard with the mechanism by which the cops learned about the protagonist's operational secrets, a narrative gadet that was as close to a true deus ex machina as I've seen in a while, the film ran its course as one might expect from the premise.

Ah, well, enough blather. A book beckons me, and write it, I must.

Friday, October 16, 2009

On the road again: Bouchercon, Indianapolis, day 3

Last night, my sleep was almost back to the amount that leaves me feeling awful every morning, so by comparison with the past couple of days it was positively wonderful. After a round of work, I headed out for a quick lunch at the P.F. Chang's across the street (always eat at the bar in that restaurant if you can and you're in a hurry). The reason I was rushing was that the con was hosting a big event in the convention center down the street: an interview with the Guest of Honor, author Michael Connelly.

I've been a Connelly fan for a very long time, so I enjoyed listening to him answer what admittedly were largely routine questions. What particularly struck me, though, were how so many of his comments echoed the feelings of many other successful writers (and my own). For example, he said,

* your only loyalty is to the work

* write for an audience of one, yourself

* write regularly; it's your job

* "keep your head down when you write" -- which means, he explained, that all things other than the writing--the cons, the fans, the reviews, the money, everything--are just distractions that you must ignore. Focus on the work. The work is everything.

* play for the long term. He's never tried to maximize his profit in the short term and instead has always opted to build long-term relationships with long-term value.

As I said, feelings I share.

Dinner this evening was again food at the bar, this time of the Weber Grill. I've known of Weber for years, of course, as a manufacturer of grills, but it was only upon my arrival here that I learned the company also runs restaurants. We headed there because my friend, Karen, who lives here, had sent me a recent article that named the place's burgers among the top 25 in Indianapolis. The burger was indeed pretty good, though not great. The bartender was a friendly and prompt server.

The entertainment for the night came via the older foursome to my right, one of whose members regaled his friends and everyone within a few yards of him with tales of his skin scrapings, surgeries, and other medical treatments. There's nothing quite like hearing about diseased skin and clogged arteries, to get you to leave those last few fries.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

On the road again: Bouchercon, Indianapolis, day 2

I've never been to this city before. I doubt I would have come had Bouchercon not been here. As always seems to be the case, however, with places that are new to me, I find it more interesting than I would have suspected.

For one thing, the service people I've encountered here have all been amazingly friendly and perky. Stepford Wives perky. Scary perky. I don't think I've smiled as much in any decade of my life as the hotel check-in clerk smiled during the times I saw him yesterday.

It's also clearly a real city, which the statistics would tell you, but what they don't communicate is that it's got a city vibe, at least here downtown.

The foodie Web sites generally agree that you can find good meals here, but that there are no great meals to be had. I've now had lunch at one well-rated place and dinner at two of them, and so far my experience supports this assertion. Of course, three experiences is not enough to use to judge a city.

For lunch yesterday, we walked to 14 West, one of the places we'd seen receive good ratings. Standing in front of the restaurant was this sign, which I have to say was not particularly encouraging. (My brief visits to Lexington, KY, which is horse country, left me with a decidedly different expectation for a "hot brown.") The waiter put us at ease by explaining that it was an open-faced sandwich of sourdough bread, turkey, bacon, and a sauce, served with asparagus. We had to try it, and it was okay, tasty enough but not great. The sourdough led to comical cutting affairs with the steak knives they gave us, which simply were not as tough as the bread. We prevailed, of course, but it was nip and tuck for a while there.

Dinner that evening was at Scholars Inn, about which we'd read a few good comments. The decor was decidedly big-city and the menu appeared decent, maybe even better than that. The meal itself, though, was only okay. I won the dinner derby by erring on the side of caution and going with something the Midwest can handle--a steak, which the kitchen did in fact prepare perfectly. (The sauce with it was far less successful.)

Being in Indiana and seeing a red velvet cake on the menu meant we really had no choice but to order it. Our server, who was scarily perky, encouraged us to try it. We did. The photograph above gives you just a hint of how day-glow red that sucker was; I wish my iPhone camera had better resolution and light sensitivity. We were convinced the cake was laced with some glowing substance, and this photo of my face--shot right after I ate my half of the slice--proves we were right.

On our way out, we noted these odd creatures, which upon closer inspection we determined to be made of old tires distressed and painted. Interesting, though nothing I'd want in my house (or restaurant). Staring at them while waiting for a cab, I was seized by an almost irresistible urge to ride one of these strange rubber animals into the street while screaming loudly to passersby that they should help me catch the thieves and not let them get away.

But, that's my brain for you.

Tonight's lunch was at a local Noodles and Company, which like so many chains delivers dishes that taste the same no matter where you are when you eat them. When you have less than half an hour for lunch on a cold, damp day and have slept almost not at all, that approach is just dandy.

Tonight's dinner was the best meal yet here, a very pleasant dinner at R Bistro. Nothing was particularly complex, but everything was executed well and very tasty.

I've been rather snarky so far about the meals, and that's not fair. The prices of the dinners in these two restaurants have generally been in line with the value they delivered, with R Bistro actually representing a bit of a bargain. Both were better than anything you could have gotten in Raleigh a decade ago. Both restaurants focused on local-sourcing as much of their meals as possible. These folks care about their food and are working at their craft, and for that I commend them.

If it sounds like I don't have much to report about the con, that's because I've done very little con stuff. Aside from breaks for meals, I've mostly been stuck in my room working. I did my 45 minutes on the continuous conversation program item today, and 15 minutes were very good, 15 were okay, and 15 left me wondering if falling off the platform might give me an acceptable excuse for leaving.

I got to see one panel, on which Lee Child was speaking, and I enjoyed it, though the room was warm enough to put a lot of the attendees to sleep and to make me decidedly drowsy at times.

I also spent 15 minutes in the dealers' room and from that time and conversations I've overheard, I've been reminded of the thing I love most about Bouchercon: the attendees all read and love books. You can go to SF cons and talk to people who are media fans or anime fans or fandom fans, and many of them can't recall the last book they read. As a writer and a lifelong reading addict, I find that sad. It's great to be among avid readers.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

On the road again: Bouchercon, Indianapolis, day 1

A long time ago, I learned that sometimes the right thing to do is to write what you feel, what you really feel, in the coarsest, most direct language, and then save the draft but not yet show it to anyone. Instead, put aside the draft and wait a day. Open it then, and if you still want to show the text to the target audience, go for it.

The point is not to let a bad mood or a flush of anger or whatever emotional spike you're experiencing cause you to do something stupid or, if not stupid, that you might regret later.

I slept 2.5 hours last night, worked an insane amount today, had almost no con experience, and will sleep little tonight (it's 4:45 a.m. as I write this), so this is one of those moments when I'm going to take my own advice, share that advice with you (as I just did), and sign off.

More tomorrow, and more interesting.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Vial Wars continue

As long-time readers know, I've been at war for some time now with my allergy serum provider. It's a quiet war, no shots fired (yet), but the sides are clear and the conflict is ongoing.

Each of our goals is simple. I want to continue to pick up my serum at their office seven minutes from my house. They want me to abandon this desire and agree to drive to their location a solid half hour away.

What I really want is for them to go back to what they used to do and simply mail my serum to me. They will not do that, however, for my own protection. After all, as the receptionist at the local office once explained to me, her face set in an earnest and sincere expression, terrorists might intercept my serum.

I wonder what the Homeland Security budget is for screening allergy serum mailings. I sure hope it's adequate.

The allergy clinic obviously holds all the real power. They could simply close the local office, or admit publicly that they do not provide allergy serum vial tests at that location. They're the only local firm that will let me give myself the shots, so they know they have me over a barrel.

They will not, however, abaondon that pretense. As best I can tell, the ability to claim to provide the serum from multiple locations is sufficiently valuable that they're willing to go to great lengths to maintain the facade.

They had already reduced the times when I could go to the local office to a single hour a week, and they'd told me that hour would move around. Fine, said I; I will come when I must.

Last week, they unveiled the latest wrinkle in the plan: As the young woman who left me voicemail explained, the only hour available this week would be Tuesday (today) morning from 8:30 to 9:30. The technician, however, needed the first 15 minutes for setup, and to accommodate paperwork and check-out requirements, he would give the last vial test 20 minutes before he had to go.

So, my window was from 8:45 to 9:10. They'd reduced the hour to 25 minutes.

The message concluded by cheerily telling me that having informed me, they would not call again. I was, though, free to go at any normal business hour to the other location. I had one day to inform them of my intent.

Screw that. I will not surrender. I called back that same day and cheerily announced that I would be at the local location within the 25-minute window. The woman who answered the phone only grunted in response.

And so it was that this morning my alarm rang less than three hours after I crawled into bed. I rolled out and began my countermeasures. I didn't brush my hair. I didn't brush my teeth. I pawed through the dirty clothes, sniffed the gym short options, and chose the smelliest candidate, a fine old pair whose liner was completely rotted in the crotch. I stuffed the dirtiest handkerchief in my pocket. I selected the ripest of the shirts in the basket, added my walking socks and shoes, and drove off.

I arrived at 8:55 sharp.

When I walked through the door, the receptionist's face fell, as if she were a bartender seeing the gunslinger enter her dusty establishment in a Sergio Leone movie.

"Mr. Van Name," she said.

I walked to her window and leaned in, so we could both appreciate my manly stench. "Yes," I said. "I'm ready."

"So is he," she said. "Go on back."

Through that window I could see the technician, a small Asian man, pacing back and forth, his expression grim. He nodded once in my direction and vanished.

I walked to his room, sat in the one chair, rolled up my left sleeve, and with my right hand pointed to the exposed skin.

He showed me the two vials, the printing facing away from me. "You?"

I turned them so I could read them. They were mine; he was an honorable adversary. "Yes."

We spoke no more. We both knew how it worked. He stuck me twice, set the timer, and left. So did I.

In the waiting room, I learned that the Queen Mother's love affairs were available for my reading pleasure. I declined to investigate them. Some things are not for waiting rooms.

At precisely ten minutes, the technician emerged. He glanced at my arm, barely caring what the serum had done to me, and said, "Pass."

As I checked out, the receptionist said, "I suppose we'll see you again."

I only nodded.

Hell, yeah, they will.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Two cool zombie links

I'm keeping it short today, because I didn't sleep much last night and will sleep even less tonight. So, while I work, enjoy these two goodies, both of which came to me from the kindness of others.

First, Elizabeth turned me on to the original series, Woke Up Dead, over at Crackle. I have to confess that due to an insane workload I've watched only the trailer, but it and the fact that Jon Heder (of Napoleon Dynamite fame) is the star are enough to make me give it a go.

Next, Lynn showed me this article, which explains why Zombieland beats Titanic. This guy's analysis is spot on. Check it out.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

You have to see this

Check out this story about the halo over Moscow, to which Ticia alerted me. How cool is that?

Here's some video of it. Enjoy.

We're all mad

"But I don't want to go among mad people," Alice remarked.

"Oh, you can't help that," said the Cat: "we're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad."

"How do you know I'm mad?" said Alice.

"You must be," said the Cat, "or you wouldn't have come here."
Lewis Carroll wasn't directly talking about a gathering of artists when he wrote the above, but he might as well have been. Assemble a group of creative people, get them all talking, and in a short time a pleasant sort of madness is likely to abound.

E-pal (as in: we've never met in person but are pals), fellow writer, and scientist John Lambshead posted an interesting essay on this topic over in his blog. John tackles the topic primarily scientifically, making a good case that it's useful to the human species for a certain percentage of us to be highly creative, though that creativity appears often to come at a cost.

My own take on the subject is decidedly complex and likely to lead to multiple future blog entries on the topic. That many creative people suffer some sort of mental illness seems indisputable; I don't know, though, whether there are any causal links between the two. Nor do I understand the boundaries, where being too mad will stop you from being usably creative or being too creative will make you appear mad to at least a significant number of people.

I also believe that most people are, or at least were, far more creative than they believe or typically have the opportunity to demonstrate. To see this, you have only to watch a group of very young kids at play. The creativity level is amazing. Watch the same kids a decade later, and much of that creative energy has gone, vanished in the maturation process of our culture.

I'm further confused by how to define madness. When, for example, does anger at bad things cross that line? To paraphrase Henry Rollins, if you're not angry, you're not looking. On the other side of things, when does the willingess to see the world's magic turn mad? As I've constantly quoted Bill Watterson, there's magic everywhere--but most of us don't pause to see it.

Of only this am I certain: When I'm sitting alone, writing, and it's coming well, the words flowing and the world of the novel clear and vivid and filling my head, even if later the words prove, as they always do, to be less than the vision, in that moment I may well be mad, but I am happy.


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