"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Monday, April 20, 2015

A stranger in a not-so-strange land.

I went to the L.A. Times Festival of Books yesterday. In years past, I schlepped books down there and shared a booth with my buddies under the moniker "Murder, We Wrote." This year, I hadn't planned to go at all. I don't have a new book out, and I had noted on my calendar that the Del Mar Nationals was that weekend, which made it look like I was busy.

I wasn't.

My friend Terry is sight-impaired and needed a ride to the festival on Sunday. No one else could oblige, so I stepped up and decided to do it. I figured it was a great opportunity to wander about the festival and look at what people want, what attracts their interest, etc.

It was an eye-opening, thought-provoking experience.

First, what attracts people? The longest lines and biggest crowds (if you don't count the lines to have famous authors sign their books) were for either free stuff or book sellers. McDonald's was there, giving out free McCafe samples. Some fruity drink company was also giving samples. There were some companies with a wheel-of-fortune that you'd spin and collect your prize. Free was crazy-popular.

The booksellers that attracted were the large ones that were offering deep discounts. I can't imagine what kind of money they were making, as it looked like they had slashed everything to the bone. Perhaps they were trying to get rid of some bloated inventory. Didn't matter - everyone was flocking to their rows and rows of hardcovers, paperbacks, plus all the little doodads like book lights and pens shaped like penguins, etc.

Second, what looked like it worked the least? Single authors in bad locations. The festival had a row called "Self Published Authors." It was as pitiful as it sounds. Even the authors there looked pitiful. They were all alone in a kind of back-street on the way to and from the food trucks. Of the lot of them, only one author was out in front, greeting people, trying to engage them and possibly buy his books. But the displays were all colorless, lifeless, hand-written-on-cardboard at times. It reflected the attitude I'm sure the LA Times has toward self-published authors.

Single authors with one book did not tend to engage my interest. By the way, these booths are crazy expensive, so paying for an entire booth to sell one book seems insane to me. Even when they were decorated and eye-catching, the author (I'm assuming that was who was in the booth), was deep within its walls, sitting around.

No, no, no, folks! You stand outside, yes even in the blazing sun, and greet people! Hand out bookmarks! Or swag of some kind!

The only one I saw who was rocking it was Stacey Evans Morgan, who has a children's book called COCOA PRINCESS and had her booth totally decked out in tiaras and butterflies and shiny-glittery-happiness. Her table extended out of the booth so she could sit and be seen signing books, giving out butterfly stickers, and basically enticing more people to come and buy her books. Color her awesome.

It did give me some ideas for being at this kind of event. One idea is something I should have known. It's about enticing a reader. I'm always prattling on about how everything about your book has to draw the reader into it, from the cover art to the jacket copy to the first page, sucking them through to THE END. The same should be true of the booth. It should entice the reader to come and look at your display, look at what you've got, even maybe talk to you.

The Romance Writers of America did an interesting thing with their booth. They set it up so the table was sideways and you went inside to check out books and things. Free stuff on one table, author signings on the other. They said that it was a fact in retail, that men in particular don't want to get "stuck" in an enclosed space. By making their booth a pass-through, I believe they got a lot more traffic, because they took advantage of both sides of the road.

Lastly, free stuff. I know, who wants to give stuff away? Yes, but if it's clever, useful stuff with my name on it, every time the person uses it, they see my name. Maybe someday they buy one of my books. Maybe someday someone is talking about getting some author to speak somewhere and they say, "Hey, how about Gayle?" because WHY????

Because they know my name. 

For not selling any books, it was a very productive day for me. And Terry was able to have a good time. Win-win, just the way I like it!

Friday, April 10, 2015

Next up: gracious hosts, grateful company.

Did I tell you with the last post that Dale and I drove to Portland? 

I know what some of you are saying. Drive from Orange County to northern Oregon? Were you insane at the time? Who does that?

Well, we do that. First, we took two days to get there, stopping overnight in Santa Nella. Second, having the car meant that while I was doing my thing at Left Coast Crime, Dale could wander off and do stuff because he had wheels. Stuff like visit with his brother, go to the driving range and hit some balls, watch his nephew compete at a track meet.

Third, after LCC was done and over, we could drive south a couple of hours and visit with our friends, Michael Steven Gregory and Chrissie Barnett. I've known this couple for a number of years. Michael (aka MSG) is the director of the Southern California Writers Conference, which I have attended since 2007 or so, and encourage everyone who wants to be a writer to attend. His wife, Chrissie works the behind-the-scenes administrative/technical conference stuff, so she never attends.

So while I've spent many a conference evening at the bar, discussing the art of storytelling with Michael, I don't get a lot of time to talk with him due to the nature of the where we are and what's going on. And although I've communicated with Chrissie via email, Facebook, and phone, I'd never actually met her in person. Until now. 

They live in a resort near Bend, called Sunriver. Beautiful scenery. Quiet beyond measure. Nice homes, most unoccupied due to the season. The houses are either owned by private owners (some of whom live there year-round, some of whom rent them out, and some of whom use them part of the year), or by the resort company. 

It's kind of a perfect place to run away and sequester yourself, retreat and work on that project, the one that keeps getting interrupted by life.

Dale and I had a great time visiting with Michael and Chrissie. They are endlessly fun. Chrissie and I had a lot in common, which is weird when you consider we grew up in different countries. I could tell you all kinds of tales about wonderful food and conversations, of the nearly-enchanted nature of their home, of wandering outside in the cold to look up at the billions of stars and trying to identify them. 

But I'm not going to. For some reason, I feel protective of our visit. It's not that we discussed private matters, or that anything needs to be hidden. I guess it's just that at the conferences, I watch Michael being a very public figure. He spends his time solving problems, trying to stay ahead of any storm that might brew, and making certain that every attendee gets what they paid for. Although Chrissie is not physically at the conferences, I know how hard she is working behind the scenes. They stress over every part of the weekend.

It makes me want to treat their home as a sanctuary. Everyone needs a place where they can relax and not worry about the outside world looking in. I'm no paparazzi. What happens in Sunriver, stays in Sunriver.

One photo, to prove we were there.

We tried to be easy houseguests. To me, that means being as self-sufficient as possible, accepting what's offered graciously, and remembering always that the most important thing is the time spent with my hosts. Oh, and being conscious of Ben Franklin's words: "Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days."

Three days later, it felt like we had to physically tear ourselves from our friends and hit the road for home. We had wanted to be on our way by 9. We pulled out of the drive around noon. 

I was so happy to have that time with Chrissie and Michael. My heart was full - from laughs, insights, connection. It's a memory I can take out and look at with joy whenever I'm feeling a little low. 

Thank you, friends.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Catching up. First stop, Left Coast Crime

I did a lot of stuff in March, not the least of which was attend Left Coast Crime in Portland, Oregon. To be honest, I'm not a big fan of conventions. LCC is for mystery lovers, both writers and readers. There's never enough writerly kinds of information for me at a convention, and there are a number of potential readers milling about that I don't really know how to meet without sounding like I'm some ego-driven madwoman, so the whole experience leaves me anxious.

The only reason I attended this LCC is because my buddy, LJ Sellers, was in charge of it, and since it was in Portland, it was a chance to visit with my hubby's brother and family. This made the trip worth it:

Rain. Beautiful, glorious rain. This southern California gal can't get enough of it.

LJ did a bang-up job with the event. Lots of panels, lots of people to meet, and great hotel accommodations. Only $129 a night, plus complimentary parking and Wi-Fi. No one's ever gotten us free parking before! Although this diagram of where to go in case of emergency worried me. 

Stairs are on the key, but they're nowhere on the diagram!

Other highlights? The Sisters in Crime breakfast. Even though it started at 7:00 a.m. (that's when I'd like to be getting UP, thanks), I got to hear the lovely Catriona McPherson talk about all the fun things SinC National is doing. She even plugged our chapter's fall event, Ladies of Intrigue, where she will be one of our main speakers.

I also got to spend a lot of time with my buddies. Lunches, dinners, and drinks were all spent with author-friends. It seemed like every time I stepped into the hallway to decide on which panel to attend, Lisa Brackmann was there with an invitation.

"Hey, Gayle, want to go wine tasting?"

(Hint: you don't have to ask me twice.)

Lisa's on the right.

"Hey, Gayle, want to walk down to the pub for a beer?"

Sure. Even if it's raining and I left my coat in my room and the pub is a mile and a half away. I'm game.

I did miss my tiara when I saw Tim Hallinan in his.

I was on one panel, Sunday morning. Sunday is usually the day everyone is trying to leave, so I wasn't certain if we'd have an audience, but we did. Our topic was "California Dreaming." Four of us took the stage to talk about setting our stories in California. The easy answer why is that we live there, but the better answers are contained in why we live there. The shiny, hopeful, I'm-gonna-be-a-STAR quality of the state beckons to so many. 

We're a little fuzzy and askew - appropriate for a Sunday morning.

Even though I'm not enamored of conventions, I had a great time at this one. And since we had driven to Portland to attend, we got to stop on our way home to visit some friends in the south part of the state. 

Next stop: Michael and Chrissie's place.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

I owe you so much more

I've been so busy lately, doing so much, and I should be sharing it with you. Why aren't I? Mostly because in between bouts of frenzied activity, I have been too exhausted to do anything else.

Mea culpa.

Today I'm blogging at my usual first-Saturday place, on Equestrian Ink. You can visit me there. (http://equestrianink.blogspot.com/2015/04/happy-april.html)

I promise to fill you in on my comings and goings soon. Either tomorrow or Monday, cross my heart.

Proud Member of ALA!

I support fair and equitable library access to ebooks and so should you.