By Tracy Clark
It’s conference season, that busy time of year for writers when they come together with readers and their writing community and celebrate books and writing. It’s like Oscar season, only without Wolfgang Puck’s mini-sliders and that pre-ceremony full-body shellacking Hollywood celebrities go in for.
For writers, conference season is when we pack our little bags, toss in our swag, and hit the road to meet our readers face to face and catch up with our fellow writer pals in different cities for three or four days in a hotel, at a bar, at the breakfast buffet … in a tent, in a conference room, possibly at poolside. Out in the wild. We show up to talk about our work and try to sound erudite on panels. We thank our readers for taking the time to read our books when there are so many books they could read instead. It’s fun time.
This month, I traveled twice to Tucson, Arizona, once for the Tucson Festival of Books, and just this past weekend for Left Coast Crime. I hit the airport for the festival one week, went home, unpacked my kit, and then shoved everything back into the carry-on a week later. Tucson here I come … again!
I was honored to be invited to the book festival. It’s big. Busy. Exhilarating. It was my first time there, and I met some of my writing idols in the hospitality room. I even moderated a panel with some big-name authors on it. Not to brag, I did okay. In the big ballroom at dinner, I hosted an authors’ table. Me. The wallflower. The writer in the corner. The observer. I breathed the same air as Linda Ronstadt! She was in the room, though I never saw her (not for lack of trying). I met cool people. I sold some books. Business. I saw a very giant cactus that looked like it could literally stalk a person and spike their eyes out at midnight. Arizona feels a lot different than my big-city neighborhood.
Next up was Left Coast Crime, one of my favorite events. It’s smaller, more intimate than a lot of the conferences. It’s always energizing, always draining, always fun. I come away each year feeling pretty okay about being a writer. It sends me off ready to write again, secure in the knowledge that I’m probably doing it right, and that the work is worth the effort. Readers are there. They’ve been nothing but kind and supportive. Talking to them one-on-one is a joy, a real pleasure. Left Coast is a book hug money cannot buy. More business, of course. Panels, signings, mingling, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with sitting with book lovers talking books or huddling around a fire pit with your fellow writers talking about murder methods.
It’s the writer’s life. The writing is only half of what we do. It’s a big part of who we are, but it’s only part of the job we’re lucky enough to have. Your book in the book room, your readers wanting to talk to you, touching base with your writer friends, that’s what it’s all about. Community.
I’m not done. I’ve hit Tucson twice this month, but I’ll be leaving on a jet plane (hat tip to Peter, Paul and Mary) to other places soon. I’m a working writer. This is a good problem to have. Writing books that people will eventually read is a privilege, a gift, a lucky strike. So, I keep my carry-on close and stock up on stuff in three-ounce bottles. I invest in comfortable shoes and book swag. I bank frequent flyer miles. And I arrive happy and eager to engage, to meet the wonderful people who love all the books I love. Who needs Wolfgang Puck?
One word about the cacti and the looming mountains of Arizona. Nice, but a little disconcerting to a city girl. What gives with the Saguaro? How tall do they get? And the mountains. Why do I get the feeling they’re watching me?
Until next time, Tucson!
What are your feelings on the writer’s life, big cacti, or watchful mountains?
Tracy Clark, a native Chicagoan, is the author of the Cass Raines Chicago Mystery series, featuring ex-cop turned PI Cassandra Raines. A multi-nominated Anthony, Lefty and Shamus Award finalist, she is also the 2020 and 2022 winner of the G.P. Putnam’s Sons Sue Grafton Memorial Award. Tracy is a member of Crime Writers of Color, Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime and sits on the boards of Bouchercon National and the Midwest Mystery Conference. Her latest book, Runner, released in June 2021.
When not writing, she’s watching old black-and-white movies, reading, or just puttering around. She roots for the Cubs, the Sox, the Bears, the Blackhawks, the Chicago Sky and the Chicago Fire equally. And she will toss a (fictional) dead body anywhere.