by Toni L.P. Kelner
Like Femme Mary, I've recently done some traveling. Not only did I join her during the trip to Clarksdale, MS for the debut of Delta Blues, but earlier in March, I attended Left Coast Crime in Los Angeles. I don't think it's possible to find two locations less alike than Clarksdale and Los Angeles, but they had two things in common.
One, Morgan Freeman goes to both. I saw his footprints in front of Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles, and the man himself in Clarksdale.
Two, I was tremendously impressed by the writers I ran into in both places.
My first day in Los Angeles was spent on drive-by signings with media escort Diana Faust, hoping to improve my visibility in that part of the country. Twice we ran into writers Erica Spindler and J.T. Ellison doing the same thing with another media escort. Visiting with J.T. is always a pleasure, but I was happy to meet Erica, too. Now both authors are best sellers author, and yet still spent the time to drive by bookstores to meet the booksellers and sign a few books. Even the big names realize the importance of self-promotion in this business.
When Left Coast got started, and I had a chance to visit with both Kat Richardson and Kelli Stanley. Kat is interested in an anthology project, and since I've co-edited some with Femme Charlaine, asked me some questions about how it all worked. This reminded me that smart writers aren't afraid to ask about other aspects of the business. And since the writing business is constantly changing and has many corners, there's always going to be a something new for me to learn.
As for Kelli, she is amazingly friendly and seemed to know everybody. And not just a "Hey, how are you?" kind of thing. She remembers names, and is genuinely welcoming and interested, and just a social butterfly. I doubt I'll ever be as good at social interaction as Kelli is, but it's great to have her as a model.
One of the events at Left Coast was a wine and cheese social at nearby Metropolis Books, and the lovely people in the LA chapter of Sisters in Crime asked me, Parnell Hall, Don Bruns, and Jacqueline Winspear to be their guests there. Lee Child, one of the two Left Coast guest of honor, was on hand to introduce us. Now I'd provided a brief bio, as requested, and expected Lee to pull out a note or two to refer to and then pretty reel it off as given. But Lee is far too classy for that. He used the information I'd provided, but enhanced it and made it very personal and welcoming. He was just as gracious in introducing the other writers. (And of course, anything sounds better with that accent of his.)
Lee and Michael Connolly were both amazing generous at Left Coast. First Michael and his publisher Hachette sponsored a lunch for the entire conference. And what a lunch! There was a jazz trio and Michael wrangled it so that the Angels Flight funicular, due to open the next week, was opened just for us to have a ride.
Then, at the convention's awards banquet and charity auction, Lee paid hefty prices for books just for the money to go to the Library Foundation of Lost Angeles. It was also announced that he'd refused to take travel expenses from the convention, saying he'd rather the money went to charity. So two prime examples of how generous writers can be financially.
Of course, there are other kinds of generosity. Denise Dietz was nominated for a Lefty Award, but didn't win. Later on, LInda Richards won the Panik award for Death Was In the Picture, but unfortunately Linda wasn't at Left Coast. Denise cheerfully volunteered to accept and deliver it, just as happy as if she'd won herself.
A few weeks later after Left Coast, I packed up my suitcase again to go to Clarksdale. It was such an amazing weekend that it's hard to imagine that it all came about because of Carolyn Haines' idea to put together a blues band to introduce Delta Blues, an anthology she edited. Carolyn's enthusiasm got Ben LeRoy of Tyrus Books excited, and they pulled in the Rock River Foundation and the Delta Writers Association and I don't know who all. Before it was all said and done, there was a reception at the Cutrer Mansion--complete with ghost tour; a writing contest for high school students in Mississippi; and the grand finale, a performance of Blue Muse and the Boomettes at Ground Zero Blues Club. (I'm a Boomette.)
One of the other Boomettes was Femme Charlaine, who is impressive in many ways, but I was gobsmacked by how gracious she was to the fans who came to the Clarksdale events. The incident that stands out most in my mind was during our Blue Muse set. For most of the songs, the whole band was on stage, but for the next to the last piece, most of us left the stage for an acoustic number. So we were standing next to the stage, hot and tired and knowing we'd have to get our mojo moving for the last number. And a woman picked that moment to ask Charlaine for an autograph. Did Charlaine ask her to wait, or blow her off? Nope. She smiled as if she'd been waiting all day for that woman to show up, and signed the book and chatted with her, timing it perfectly so she could go back on stage for our last number.
Writers can be a pretty darned impressive group, and I don't think I'll ever cease to be amazed by their persistence, intelligence, charm, generosity, enthusiasm, and class.