Friday, October 29, 2010

Post on Bouchercon

I'm stuck at home with a horrible cold, so what better time to post about Bouchercon. These are my personal impressions.

The Positive:

This was a very well run con, with only a few glitches. The absence of a map was quickly remedied, and elevating the Hospitality Suite from some place merely to rest your weary dogs into a vibrant meeting place to network was a stroke of genius. There should be a place other than the bar to congregate, and the Hospitality Suite this go around was fab.

The best panel for my money was the survey commissioned by Sisters in Crime regarding reading and buying habits of mystery readers. There weren't any surprises as far as I was concerned, but it confirmed my own sense of the market. There is a pretty strong divide between the 50+ readers and the 40- readers. Those between 40-50 straddle the market. If you're 50 and older you tend not to buy too much online, you like your whodunit, and you are very loyal to your authors. If you're 40 and under, you like dark, you like suspense, and you're not particularly brand loyal. You are buying more and more off the Internet and you're buying e-books, and you want them cheap.

Location? Well, you can't beat the S.F. Bay Area. It was nice having it at the Hyatt Regency because we could mosey on over to the Ferry Building for snacks or just some fresh air. The hotel rooms were pricey, but that wasn't a problem for me as I BARTed in.

The interviews with the stars of this con--Laurie King and Lee Child--were interesting, but I've seen them interviewed several times before (at previous B'cons, organizers take note that you need some new blood here). These interviews were not so much of a wow as that pleasure you get in listening to intelligent people talk. I'd never seen David Balducci interviewed and, man, is this guy worth listening to. What an excellent interviewee: funny, insightful, and a little brash, I could have listened to him for another hour. He writes CIA thriller stuff, which is not my cup of tea, but after hearing him I'm toying with the idea of reading one of his books. That's what these cons are suppose to do. Expose you to authors you've never read and put a bug in your ear.

The Negative

First and foremost, people need to understand that these conventions are largely fan-based. Which is both a godsend and a problem. Because you need the fans (and people arrive with suitcases of books to be signed by their favorite authors) to generate a majority of the con population. So, in keeping with this dynamic, the panels tend to be geared toward the fans. Which I understand, however, this tends to make the programming for these cons happyhappy, which is a little disconcerting, because publishing is currently undergoing some massive changes that should be addressed and weren't. Bouchercon is THE biggest of the mystery conventions and if we don't talk about these issues here, as the writing community, where are we going to talk about them? So this was irritating to me.

I've been to something like six of these cons and this was my last. Because they don't make financial sense to the small to mid-list author. Although e-books and e-readers have dominated the news for the last year (the smack down between amazon and Macmillan was fascinating), there were no panels devoted to that segment of the market. Because, well, people come to these things to sign books, and I imagine that the booksellers would be fairly peeved had there been a track on e-publishing.

Sadly that IS the big news in the market these days with e-books sales outselling hardcovers and paperbacks combined (per the latest numbers from amazon). Frankly, with authors getting dropped by their publishers (I spoke to two people whose series had been dropped), the e-book is going to be the only thing that keeps them published and available. As more and more authors are getting dropped, more and more authors are now resorting to putting their books up on Kindle or Smashwords. These authors have readers, they just don't have readers in the tens of thousands. And the current publishing model is to throw all your eggs into a few baskets and let the other authors sink or swim. Most of us end up sinking because mid-list is virtually a death sentence. Currently if you can't somehow elevate yourself to being beyond a mid-list author, you are toast.

As if to hammer home this problem, several of us from my publisher (Poisoned Pen Press) had no books to sign. And, yeah, I get that the booksellers don't want to buy books that they can't sell, but this becomes a cycle of disappointment for everyone. As an author I'm encouraged to attend so that I can generate some interest in my series, and yet there are no books for me to sell should I get people interested in my series. And, sure, they can order off of amazon, but isn't that diametrically opposed to what these cons are trying to do. Keep the independents alive?

For someone like me, being small to mid-list it doesn't make sense to attend. Yeah, it was nice to see people I haven't seen in a while, but unless the programming adds a track that informs me about market trends, and unless the book dealers start stocking my books, there's no point in me attending. I can't possibly justify the cost of registration if I don't even sell one book. Several people I talked to felt the same way.

Basically, I had fun, but at this point in my writing career it isn't about having fun. I wish it were.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Computer Woes and Why Apple Is Taking Over the World

For the last three weeks I have been working off my crappy laptop as the graphics problems on new and shiny laptop still persisted despite replacing both the motherboard and the LCD. I could have taken yet another day off from work to have a tech come to my house, and strangely that didn't appeal! Dell has informed me through a telephone bot that my laptop has been fixed and shipped.

This is the last Dell I will own. I know that Dell was proudly patting themselves on the back when they decided on this business model where they conduct all their business via telephone, email, and/or mail, however, now you have apple and their stores RAKING it in with their various products, and who is laughing now? Stores are designed to seduce people into buying products. Get it? No amount of pretty graphics are going to get me to buy a product. However, I walk into a store and I see it and it's pretty and it works and there is somewhere I can bring it when it doesn't work...

I know there is a group of people who despise Jobs and his arrogance and the whole Mac aura (I'm married to one), however, what is indisputable is that they know how to run a business and they have a product that works. I like my overlords to be competent. It's *incompetent* megalomaniacs that drive me crazy. Oh, FB, that means you. Latest privacy fail? Who is surprised?

To whit, the telephone bot read off my tracking number for FedEx and my fix-it ticket number so quickly that I had to listen to that phone message five times to get all the numbers down correctly. Dell, you've lost me as a future customer. Every single exchange in this process has been cumbersome and irritating and no amount of polite emails from your no doubt beleaguered staff will make a difference.

Still No Bouchercon Post!

As mentioned earlier, we have a new dog. The previous dog was something of a trial, even before her multiple (and hellishly expensive) illnesses, but she was beloved. Even though my childhood was most peripatetic, we always had dogs. My father even gave me a dog (an act that served to mitigate a host of his sins over the years), but Winnie was and will be, I know, the dog that I will remember best. I wonder if it has less to do with the animal and more to do with the period of your life with that animal. Winnie grew up with my kids, and when I think of her I think of my daughter at eight, an impossibly articulate and sweet child, and my son at four, an impossibly impish and sweet child.

Bear's putting up a good fight though. He's much easier to train, he's smarter, he's more destructive in some ways--incalculable hours and money spent in the garden + 1 puppy = major fail--but he's not Winnie. He tries, but, no it's not the same. But it's good enough.

One aspect of owning a new pup is that "I've been in a crate all night I want out factor." It's a little like baking again, being up way before the sun, but we've compromised at 6:30 am and he's pretty good about that. Those mommy genes, oh how I hate thee. He starts banging at the metal gate to his crate and I can't help but get up. My husband never hears him. I'm not complaining (too much).

This morning I'm up at 6:30 per the usual. The house is quiet except for the snores of my son. The first real rain is soaking the garden. I stare sadly at the flower beds that have been Bearorized and that I haven't had time to clean up. I see myself out there later today trying to create order out of the mud. The bonus of losing that maple last year is now evident, as the ash is beginning to shed its leaves. The maple was a goddamn leaf producing machine that entailed devoting hours and hours to raking, yet I still mourn that tree. What a beautiful tree.

The dining room is cluttered with material from Bouchercon so in addition to the garden I need to recycle what's not important and file what is. I bought four books by an author that had been recommended to me and now I discover I don't like her style. I'm not happy.

I've finished the last of the edits on new book. Although ridiculously pleased with it, I know that marketing it will be a total bitch and that I might end up putting it up on my blog just for the hell of it. I'm stymied what to do next. Young adult are the only thing selling these days, and I have an idea for that... Bouchercon usually hypes me up, but this con was so depressing in so many ways that I'm left a little battered and wondering about my future as an author.

Oh, the rain has stopped. Bear has dragged in a bunch of pine cones. And a gigantic root that used to have flowers attached to it. Sigh.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Get Your Purple On

I need to write a Bouchercon wrap-up post, but this is more important. I mean this literally. Go into your closet and put on something purple. I could get all meta-ish here about blogging and Internet privacy, but I'm not because the message today should be simple and not cluttered with meta.

GLAAD has designated today as Spirit Day, which was created to honor LGBT youth who feel that life is not worth living due to the hate, bullying, and cruelty they face daily. Your son, your daughter, your niece, your nephew, your next door neighbor's kid, anyone of them could be gay. Or bisexual. Or transsexual.

I got my purple on because I can no longer be silent about this hate mongering, this equating homosexuality with alcoholism, or depravity, or sin, or whatever bizarre and vicious words ignorant people use to defame our LGBT community.

Go to your closet. Now. Deck your ass out in purple for the Tyler Clementis and Matthew Shepards of this world. I think the hate mongers have had more than their fair say. Now it's our turn.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Cranky Pants Away

So we've been ridiculously cranky here in blogland. Let's talk about the pluses. I'm attending Bouchercon next week, which if you don't know is THE mystery convention of the year. It's in San Francisco this year. I'll be on a panel with fellow Poisoned Pen authors and our wonderful editor, Barbara Peters. If you can't make the 8:30 am panel (no, that's not a typo), then try to catch me in the hallways if you're going. Shout-out to Jeri, yes, lunch on Friday works for me. I usually wear a kimono (a garment meant to hide a multiple of sins).

Also, I haven't talked much about the puppy lately. He's growing. He's chewing. He's basically winning the on-going war against the sprinklers. He now looks like a dog, however, he still acts like a puppy.


Pretty damn cute, eh?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Politics: the Dirtiest Game in Town

I've been battered by Meg Whitman's negative political ads for the last year, and all I can say is November can't come soon enough. I'm a committed Democrat, so the chances that I would vote for Ms. Whitman are highly unlikely, but I do have some questions that I'd like answered (and these apply to other Republicans who are running in national elections and who also seem to sneer at a system that they are dying to be an integral part of). An actual response as opposed to the canned sound bites would be appreciated. Because I should tell you that the sound bites are no longer working. You're starting to sound like a robot. FYI, you should be very worried. The newspapers of my youth (which never met a Republican they didn't love) endorsed Jerry Brown. The L.A. Times(!) endorsed Jerry Brown.

So first off, I can't help but see spending $120 million of one's own money as nothing more than a power grab. Because you didn't believe in the process of government to ever cast a vote, and yet now you're asking for my vote. I see a profound disconnect there. We should we endorse you to run a system that you've never endorsed? Your apology during the first debate was pretty damn sad. I can see missing one election. Maybe two. But your voting record is abysmal. There's no other word for it. It says that you really didn't care about the system because, hey, you were busy making money. And I will point out that this system that you say is so broken allowed you to amass enough money to comfortably spend $120 million on a political campaign. So what is it? Is the system that you have chosen to sneer at broken or it is working? Your bank account would seem to bear testimony that it's working REALLY well. Let's put it this way. My bank account wouldn't let me wage a political campaign to the tune of millions of dollars.

Second, I really don't get where you talk about your Silicon Valley experience as some sort of general blueprint for success. You keep trotting out the word "manufacturing." I will point out the eBay manufactures nothing. You don't even manufacture the content! You merely provide people with servers and search engines so that they can sell stuff. That's NOT manufacturing. That's, well, selling stuff. Even more ridiculous, you're not even selling your own stuff; you sell other people's stuff. So how can you even begin to talk about manufacturing like you're some expert where the closest you've ever been to manufacturing is, well, hell. You've never been close to manufacturing anything other than your own image.

I didn't want to get into the nanny thing, but needs must. I'm somewhat sympathetic to you up to a point. I actually take as a given that you didn't know. Although we differ dramatically on the issue of immigration, I do believe you that you didn't know. That's where my sympathy ends.

First of all, if you were so desperate to court the Latino vote, then you made a fatal mistake in hiring Pete Wilson as your campaign manager (Mr. Prop 197). To have that man as your chief strategist says all we need to know about you really feel about the immigration issue. If it wasn't all sound bites, then you wouldn't have had him as your second in command. So, yeah, major fail there. Second major fail? You should have used this situation with your nanny to cement yourself as a tough but compassionate person who understands that this is a complex issue. Your strident sound bites on immigration came to bite you in the ass. You know first hand how complex this issue is; you LIVED it. So you tell this woman that you cannot have her employed in your family because you are breaking the law. Then you give her a significant severance package and you hire her a lawyer. Because as you say, she's family. You use this in your campaign as an example of how you understand the issues and how this touches all our lives. Even yours.

This would have been a tremendous bonus to your campaign because there is nothing about your life that is remotely like mine with the exception that we both have two children. THAT'S IT. Your extreme wealth, politics, and values make us polar opposites. That's the burden that enormously wealthy politicians have to carry: that intrinsic lack of empathy for those in need.  I knew the minute that George Bush, Sr. didn't know how a supermarket scanner worked that he was toast against Bill Clinton (whatever his faults, he understands what it's like for someone working 9-5). On possibly the one issue that I might have been actually sympathetic to you, you fired this woman so that she wouldn't be burden to you going into a campaign. What naive planet are you on that you didn't think this wouldn't haunt you? Is it because she was so insignificant that you never thought she'd have the wherewithal to challenge your version of events, which, yeah, was nicely played out when you accused her of stealing your mail. In case you didn't know, that's entitlement with a capital "E."

Also, if you don't have any proof that the Brown campaign orchestrated this smear stop saying it. Because if there isn't any proof, you are only digging yourself in deeper and deeper as someone who has a massive sense of entitlement (there's that word again!), who is not beholden to the laws everyone else is, and when you get caught, then you whip out your entitlement to blame someone else. You are not the first high-profile person to be caught with your pants down regarding undocumented workers in a household. Own up to your mistakes, and then people might lighten up or give you a pass on your nonchalance regarding her eligibility documents.

Another bit of unsolicited advice: Pull that ad that says, "I spent one day at the border and the border patrol don't have nearly the resources they need." One day. Wow. One FULL day. Amazing. Now you are an expert. I imagine Jerry Brown in his stint as Attorney General and Governor could dreg up more than just eight hours to study this issue.

Now we come to the real problem, Meg. The very fact that you have spent that much money on a campaign says that you are used to buying your way into situations. It's like someone put the governorship of California up on eBay and you keep upping the bid, determined to win. You have been so immersed in a system where anything can be bought if you keep bidding, that you don't understand that some things cannot or should not be bought. Certainly not by someone who couldn't even get her ass into a voting booth once a year.

So I'm curious. How are you going to get things done in Sacramento should you get there? Buy legislators? Because, FYI, they don't have the war chests you do, and they are VOTED in (by people who vote). This is a concept I know you have trouble with because you keep saying that you're not beholden to anyone. I think everything you have done in this campaign has shown this to be a bald-faced lie.

You are beholden to money and power.

You are the poster child for why we need campaign finance reform. I hope you go down in flames.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Book Review: The Adderall Diaries by Stephen Elliott

This is one of those books that you either love or are irritated by. Its disjointed structure is both its strength and weakness. I loved it, but then I'm partial to memoirs and this story occurs largely in the Bay Area, so there is that connection for me as well. Plus, this author talks about writing on a meta level that few authors ever get into. Plus I had my own crushing experience with writer's block. Plus, hello, I'm a crime fiction author and have a prurient interest in murder, and the Hans Reiser case was front and center news for months. Plus, I'm friends with a couple of Alameda County District Attorneys. I, too, shop at Berkeley Bowl, like Nina Reiser did. So there are a lot of connections here that probably would make me predisposed to like this book, even if it were a mediocre read.

On the surface, this book is about Elliott's crippling writer's block and how a fascination with the murder of Nina Reiser and the people who surrounded her broke that block. The Bay Area is a big place, but it's actually got a small town dynamic to it, and it turns out that at least one key person who the police looked at as a possible suspect (Nina Reiser's ex-boyfriend) was known to Elliott through their mutual participation in the local S&M scene.  That's just one of the coincidences that floats in and out of this narrative.

What this book is really about is Elliott coming to terms with his relationship with his father. Elliott's fascination with Hans Reiser and the other people in the ugly interaction between Hans Reiser and his wife is like a knife to old wounds (which if you read the book you will appreciate the choice of words). This is one of those books where you need to go with the flow. The narrative isn't linear, it takes some mental energy to cobble together a coherent sense of his story, but the writing is so spare, honest, and bright that I didn't mind. Some people will mind. There's a fair number of words devoted to his S&M practices, but it's not gratuitous because it's integral to why he deliberately sabotages relationships that are important to him (surely a form of masochism) or cannot seem to accept love unless he has to pay a physical price. Which, yeah, seems pretty much a blueprint for his entire childhood.

One thing that did strike me about this book was that he ended it with an attempt to reconcile with his father (who trashes his son's books on his amazon page). He says at one point, "...I realize that I love him and my relationship with him is the most important relationship in my life." Sadly, I think that's true. It's also the least important relationship in his life.

I liked this book very much.