Monday, February 19, 2007

Sweet home Alabama

Patty here...

I’ve been a volunteer for the Los Angeles Police Department for eleven-plus years. My official title is Specialist Reserve Officer. I’m currently assigned to the detective unit at the Los Angeles International Airport. I know things. That’s why I’m not excited about flying, especially when it means I have to check my luggage.

But a writer’s got to do what a writer’s got to do. So last weekend I traveled to Alabama for "Murder in the Magic City" in Birmingham and "Murder on the Menu" in Wetumpka.

My outbound flight was late arriving at LAX. Seems they had to de-ice the wings before they could leave Denver. They finally packed us all in and flew us to Dallas, where I was due to connect to my Birmingham flight. For those of you who know the Dallas airport, it’s spread out. You have to take a train across a freeway to get from one terminal to another. I hotfooted it to the gate, arriving at 2:25, five minutes to spare. But the plane had already left. I later learned that my friend Denise Hamilton (who can always find the best barbecue restaurant in town) tried to persuade the flight crew to wait for me but—alas—to no avail. Thanks, Denise. I owe you one.

So there I was, stuck in the Dallas airport for three hours, taking notes on the proper drape of blue jeans over cowboy boots. On the plus side, I think I finally figured it out. You get ‘em long so they fold in soft pleats down your legs like wattle on a turkey's neck.

I eventually got to Birmingham, but my luggage didn’t come with me. I missed my ride to the hotel and I missed the Friday night author dinner. I eventually found my suitcase and by some stroke of luck, I also found Denise Swanson, heading toward the car rental desk.

I shouted over the baggage carousel—"Hey, Denise, remember me? We met a year ago at Mayhem in the Midlands,"—hoping she wouldn't mistake me for a stalker.

Luckily, the gracious and funny school psychologist turned mystery writer decided that, stalker or not, she'd give me a ride to the hotel if I agreed to read the map.

Saturday I was on a panel called “California Dreamin’—of Murder” with NorCal writer Tim Maleeny and fellow Angelenos Denise Hamilton and Sue Ann Jaffarian.

Here's a shot taken of the panel by Carol Stober.

I already knew Denise and Sue Ann, but it was fun getting to know Tim, whose first book Stealing the Dragon was just released this month. Here we are again. That’s Carol in the middle.

The featured guests on Saturday were Laura Lippman (Did you know she was born in Atlanta and has two Uncle Bubbas?) and Edgar winner (The Chatham School Affair) Thomas H. Cook whose gentle Southern drawl and wry wit make him a candidate to narrate the next Ken Burns documentary on the South.

Margaret Fenton of the Southern Sisters in Crime did a superb job of organizing "Murder in the Magic City" on Saturday and making everybody feel welcome. She also made sure we all got to Wetumpka for "Murder on the Menu" on Sunday where Tammy Lynn of The Book Basket arranged a dazzling author’s feast attended by approximately 150 fans.

It was a superb weekend. I got back safe and sound and my luggage arrived with me. Best of all, I discovered that we NakedAuthors have fans in Alabama!!!

The big mystery conventions have a certain allure, but I'm growing to love these smaller conferences where you have a chance to really connect with people. For those of you who attend these events, if you had to compare the pros and cons of each, which type would come out on top? Are there any other small conferences that you've loved?

Happy Monday. Happy President's Day.


  1. Patty,
    I attended last year's events in Alabama and found them among the most enjoyable of the year. Tammy Lynn is the greatest. She often tells me what to read while at the Soutnern Independent Booksellers (SIBA) show. I just yes ma'am and pick up the books.

    Margeret Fenton is just great. She organizes that event and makes everyone feel at home.


  2. Both of those women are just super and the fans are tip tip. They laughed at all of my corny jokes. What more could you ask for?

    And Jim, they're still talking about you in Alabama. Anything you want to confess?

  3. Argh!!!! That should be tip top. It's early here in LA.

  4. Hi Patty,

    I'm so glad you got to spend some time with Tim Maleeny. Not only is he a great writer, but he comes out of the world of Northern California advertising, as do I. We tell war stories to each other.

    And while it probably counts more as a "writers' workshop" than a conference, I adore the Book Passage Mystery Conference in Corte Madera. Lots of good panels and great conversation with people who love crime fiction.

  5. I love Book Passage but have never attended the mystery conference because it's always in July and there's sailing...

    I attended another one of their workshops in 1998 and while there I forged some life-long friendships.

    I agree, Tim is groovy-mundo.

  6. Patty, I'm commenting!! We enjoyed you so much at Murder in the Magic City, but I'm SO sorry you had all that trouble getting here.

    I have only been to Murder in the Magic City (3 of the 5 years of its existence - one of which was when Jim Born was there)and I like having an informal atmosphere and an easy opportunity to talk with the authors if I get up the nerve. There's no having to choose which panel to attend - you get them all, plus lunch, plus plenty of opportunities to buy books, have them signed and chat. The large cons sound fun, but I think the smaller ones suit me best.

    Come back in the spring (which sometime starts in February) and see our beautiful city abloom.

  7. Deborah!!!!!!! Yeah for you. It was so wonderful to meet you. I'd love to come back to Alabama and take a tour. I did make it as far as the Dreamland restaurant for a pulled pork sandwich. But what made the trip so truly memorable was meeting people like you. Thanks for everything, especially commenting. See you did have something to say.

  8. Patty,
    Your travel story reminded me of why I don't like to go farther than the distance between Coldwater Canyon to Laurel Canyon, something I can walk.

    I know it's possible to fly in one hour from LAX to San Francisco (or Burbank to Oakland) but I recently investigated taking the train. Thought the scenic route up the coast might be fun. (You can drive there faster).

    I'm glad you knocked them dead in Alabama. I agree with Jim Born (for once) that SIBA is a terrific event. At my first one, I met a modest young writer whose Southern -based novel was just about to come out. I'd read it in galleys and opined to him that it was a page-turner, but I wasn't sure that non-lawyer readers would care about the inner workings of a law firm. The writer, of course, was John Grisham, and the book was "The Firm."

    Marketing Consultant

  9. Paul, I once stood in line for the restroom behind Mary Tyler Moore, but your John Grisham story is waaaaay better. Can I go to the SIBA show, too?

  10. My only celbrity story is that I was in Delray Beach once and met the youthful author of a book I had just read.

    And now, the rest of the story.

    That young author was, you guessed it, Paul Levine.

    I know, it's wild.

  11. Hi there,

    I've heard great things about "Murder in the Magic City", glad you had fun, and that you and your luggage eventually were in the same place at the same time....

    Regarding conferences, I've attended 3 Bouchercons and 3 smaller conferences (2 LCCs and the first Thrillerfest) and both types have positive and negative aspects from my perspective.

    In general, though I think they're more alike than they are different. To me, it's all about the attitude you bring, and how willing you are to take a few steps outside your comfort zone and try a bit of mixing and mingling with people you may not know so well. It doesn't always work. (Yeah, there are a few jerks at these things. You just chalk it up to experience and move on.) But 9 times out of 10, people are delighted to chat and hang out and have fun, and that's what makes them such a darned good time.

  12. Ah, Jim, that Polly story was so sweet. You made it up. Right?

    Rae, I agree that attitude is everything and we should all pick a good one, but sometimes those big cons are so overwhelming. I used to go as a fan, but always with a friend. The first time I went alone was in Toronto in 2004. I was completely lost.

  13. Patty,
    You are the embodiment of grace under pressure...if I'd been waylaid by the airlines like that, I think I would have been homicidal the entire weekend...or grouchy, at the very least. It was great fun being on a panel with you...I hope we both return to Alabama next year, along with your luggage.
    And as for Louise, I'll just have to return the compliment...she's an awesome writer, and anyone who can survive the sordid world of advertising and not lose their sense of humor has a place in my heart.

  14. I had a great time seeing Tim doing an interview with Keith Raffel and Peter Spiegelman yesterday at M is for Mystery in San Mateo. Tim said what a nice time he'd had with you, Patty, and the afternoon was sort of like a micro-con, so that was great.

    Birmingham sounds wonderful. I'm so glad you got home in one piece, and I hope your luggage showed up the same time you did on the return leg!

    Can we entice you to come to Book Passage some time if we can find you some sailing?

  15. Tim, sorry I missed your M event. Sounds like a winner.

    And Cornelia, I'd cancel sailing any day to spend time talking books with you.

  16. Patty, my first con was Toronto 2004, and like you, I was completely overwhelmed and unnerved. I had the good fortune to attend with a pack of friends, so I just spent the weekend trailing around after them like a baby duck after its mama.

    The other thing that happens to me at cons, large or small, is that at a point I hit 'overload'. I simply cannot have one more conversation or attend one more panel. It's usually Saturday afternoon, and I usually slink into the bar and hide in a dark corner for awhile ;-)

  17. "...I usually slink into the bar and hide in a dark corner for awhile ;-)"

    How comforting. Now I'll always know where to find you :o)

  18. chalk me up as a fan too!

  19. Wahoo Ryan!!!! So glad you're joining us. You're part of the family now and you know, my birthday's coming up...