Cabbages and Kings

A diary by the authors of the Louis Kincaid series

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Location: Fort Lauderdale/Elk Rapids, Florida and Michigan, United States

We are the New York Times bestselling authors of the Louis Kincaid series and other stand alone thrillers. We have taught writing at major conferences for ten years.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Deadly sins...and virtues (for Bcon goers)

Well, it's off to the annual writers' group grope Bouchercon tomorrow. And that got me to thinking --naturally -- about Dante's Inferno. (What? You don't pull your classics off the shelf just before you head off to a writers convention where you know that ego, lust, envy will be on full display and unnatural amounts of alcohol will be consumed?)

I had to read The Inferno in college and the only thing I recall about it was all the various tortures the evil-doers were condemned to perform for their sins. And the more I thought about the sins, the more I realized we writers who go to Bouchercon every year are oh-so vulnerable to our own sins, and that it might be instructive to exam them with some classical detachment.

So here we go. The Seven Deadly Sins (and Virtues) for Writers Going to Bouchercon. Lemme 'splain it to youse:

Lust (Latin: luxuria.)
(Classically described as depraved thought, desire for excitement, or need to be accepted or recognized by others.)

Huh. None of us can relate to this, right? No matter where you are on the food chain, when you go to Bouchercon, you hope and pray you get a panel. Then you hope and pray it is a good panel. Preferably not on Sunday morning when everyone is too hung over to get up and listen to you. And preferably with at least one big name author on it so you aren't stuck listening through the thin walls to the audience next door roaring in laughter at Barry Eisler's bon mots. Oh please. Don't tell me you haven't lusted after another author's panel assignment!

The punishment: In Purgatory, the penitant walks in fire. At Bcon, you sit alone at the bar watching the women elbow for the chair next to Lee Child.

Gluttony (Latin: gula)
(Classically described as an overindulgence of food and drink.)

If we have to paint this picture for you, then you haven't been to a writers' conference. Suffice it to say, the DorothyL posting board this past week was filled with Tips on Surviving Bouchercon. Most the advice involved consuming gallons of bottled water and snarfing power bars. You'd think this was the New York Marathon.

The punishment: In Purgatory, the penitant were forced to eat rats and toads. At Bouchercon, you sleep through your wakeup call, you miss lunch and are reduced to eating vending machine Doritos and licking the peanuts off the carpet in the bar.

Greed (Latin: avaritia)
Another sin of excess. It particularly applies to the acquisition of wealth ("What? That HACK got six figures?") but it's a blanket term that also covers deliberate betrayal, trickery, or manipulation. (I think this is the one James Frey got tripped up on).

Punishment: in Purgatory, the greedy were forced to kneel on hard stone. At Bouchercon, the greedy are condemned to sit between Laura Lippman and Ken Bruen at the signing table and learn a little humility.

Sloth (Latin, acedia)
Used to mean spiritual apathy but now is plain old laziness. This is my personal bete noir. No writer can relate to this one, right?

Punishment in Purgatory: thrown in a snake pit. At Bouchercon, you are doomed to listen to Joe Konrath tell you how during the last two weeks, while you were dogging it, he visited 10,000 bookstores, gave out 15,000 gallons of free martinis, placed twelve short stories with EQ, did five Podcasts, knitted two sweaters and helped deliver a baby while stuck at the Forest Park CTA station.

Wrath/Anger (Latin, ira)
Wishing to do evil or harm to others, or what Dante described as "love of justice perverted to revenge and spite". For writers, wrath manifests itself in posting anonymous reviews on Amazon, flaming an author you envy.

Punishment in Purgatory: Dismembered alive. Punishement at Bouchercon: Someone posts your scathing Kirkus review on the bulletin board next to the notice for SJ Rozan's basketball game.

Envy (Latin, invidia)
A little like greed, but usually involving the desire for something at the expense of someone else. Envy can inspire feelings of 'schadenfreude', where you delight in the misfortune of others. (AKA: The grass is always greener).

Punishment: In Purgatory the sinners walk around with their eyes sewn shut. At Bouchercon, you go to the bookseller's room and find out there is not a single copy of your books available. Worse, Helen from Big Sleep Books tells you Harlan Coben's next book has the same title as yours, same color cover, and is coming out in the same month.

Pride (Latin, superbia)
This is the one that got Lucifer kicked out of Heaven and turned him into the Satan. It implies narcissism. You see this behavior from authors who hog the spotlight on panels.

Punishment: In Purgatory, the pentinent were broken on the wheel. At Bouchercon, you get into a Friday night shooters contest with David Morrell and Reed Farrel Coleman and your sleep through your Saturday panel -- and you are the moderator.

But enough with the negative! Let's look at the examples of virtues and see how you can put them to good use at the conference:

Chastity (Latin, virtus)
Classically speaking, this means embracing moral wholesomeness and achieving purity of thought through education and betterment. Or practicing sexual abstinence. At Bouchercon, we strongly encourage you to go to other panels (you might learn something). And the sex thing? Not a good idea. This is a small community.

Abstinence (Latin, frenum)
Practicing self-control, abstention, and moderation. Careers can be made or broken over that third Jack Daniels. Be careful about your consumption of alcohol. Plato may have said, "in wine is truth," but too much truth at Bcon can bite you in the butt.

So you see a lonely soul sitting alone in the corner of the bar. He or she might be a newbie author or an awed fan. In your insecure little heart, you don't think you are important, but they might. Go introduce yourself. Welcome them into your circle. Be kind with your advice. You were there once too.

Diligence (Latin, industria)
Decisive work ethic and a guarding against laziness. If you are lucky enough to get a panel, give it your all. If you have a small audience, give it even more.

Patience (Latin, patientia)
The ability to forgive; to show mercy. If things go wrong -- and at a conference as big and complex as Bouchercon, something will -- don't get your panties in a wad. Remember that the folks who put this thing together donated their time and energies so you could have a good time.

Humility (Latin, humilitas)
Modest behavior, not unfairly glorifying one's own self. Basically, don't take yourself too seriously. And fer god's sake, don't get all puffed up if someone says your stuff transcends the genre. It's not a compliment, bunky.

And lastly,

Kindness (Latin, humanitas)
Friendship and sympathy for its own sake. For all its problems, warts and little dramas, Bouchercon is the one place where writers, booksellers and fans come together in a magnificent celebration of our genre. Hardboiled or cozy, PI or procedural, cat mystery or thriller. It's one big, sloppy revival meeting and there's room for everyone under the tent. Even the sinners.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Like a virgin...a short virgin

So I arrive home from my Vancouver vacation today to find two packages waiting for me. Not just any packages. Small cardboard boxes, and I know from their shape and size that they are from publishers. Books. My books.

I grab the knife and slit open the tape. My heart quickens as I pull back the cardboard flaps and peer inside. Is there anything sweeter than seeing your book for the first time? It's better than Christmas, man.

You published authors out there know this feeling. You who will be published someday have it to look forward to. And for me? After eleven books now, these books are even more special. I feel like a virgin, all shiny and new.

The books I got today are short story anthologies. And they contain the first short stories I have ever had published. The first short stories I have even written since the eighth grade.

The first anthology is already on the shelves: "Death Do Us Part," edited by Harlan Coben and presented by Mystery Writers of America. My story is called "One Shot," and in it, a middle-aged man returns to his old home in Detroit to try to find the key to unlock the truth about a childhood tragedy. It's written in the dark style of our Louis Kincaid series.

My fellow contributors include Coben, Lee Child, Laura Lippman, Ridley Pearson, R.L. Stine, Jeff Abbott and other terrific writers. I've already read most the stories and they are stellar -- as haunting and unpredictable as you're likely to find anywhere. I'm proud to be included because I wasn't an invitee; I had to crash this party. See, when MWA announces its anthology every year, it opens 5-10 slots to its membership at large (you don't have to be previously published at all to enter and a few of this year's writers are first-timers). You have to submit your story to a committee, which that narrows it down and sends the finals onto the editor for his or her choosing. I sweated mightily over this story, because no matter how experienced you are as a novelist, writing a short stories is like starting over. There are different rules and challenges. For my money, writing a good short story is a million times harder than turning out a full novel. There is no room for error; nothing is wasted. If one word is wrong, the thing falls apart.

The MWA experience gave me the courage to try again. But this time, I was invited, and I was so damn thrilled I almost peed my pants. When Joe Konrath decided to edit a collection devoted to hitmen called "These Guns for Hire, he corralled a wacked-out band of wombats and renegades. Listen to this line up: Ken Bruen, David Morrell, William Kent Kreuger, Lawrence Block, MJ Rose, Reed Farrel Coleman and many others. "Guns" hits the stores in October.

Kelly and I teamed up to write this story and it's a bit of a departure from our usual style. Dare I say, maybe even darkly humorous? It's about two almost loveable Memphis losers who team up to do in their nemesis on the eve of their bowling league playoffs. Kelly is a longtime league bowler with a lethal average so she knows her way around the back alleys. Me, I just tried to keep up. The title? Gutter Snipes. You can read the first page of our stories and the others at the the nifty Hitmen website by clicking here.

And if you're going to Bouchercon in Madison at the end of the month, I want to invite you to a couple of parties in celebration of these short stories and their authors.

"These Guns for Hire" authors will be gathering and signing Thursday Sept. 28 at Cafe Montmartre, 127 E. Mifflin Street, just a block from the conference hotel. We'll be there til the bar kicks us out.

And the MWA folks will be signing their "Death Do Us Part" anthologies at Boucheron as well. Day and Time to come. You'll get a free copy in your Boucheron goodie bag.

So, if you're in Madison, drop by and help us celebrate. You'll know me. I'm the blushing virign...the short one.