by | Mar 22, 2023 | Tracy Clark, The Writer's Life | 7 comments

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.

Authors in Tucson

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.

Tucson Left Coat Crime

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.

Tucson Festival of Books

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

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.

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  1. Karna Small Bodman

    What a great round-up of writing conferences. It reminds me of the many conferences I too have attended (all expenses eligible as tax deductions for writers, by the way – yay!). I remember going to the very first International Thriller Writers get together where I got to know Lee Child. This was before he became a house-hold word and had his thrillers made into movies starring Tom Cruise. Lee has always been so gracious and supportive of other writers – reading their books and offering blurbs (he gave me two). I also had a great time at Bouchercon, the Mystery Writers of America (huge) conference, Sisters in Crime, plus others in Nashville and Florida. All in all – great places for writers (and aspiring types) to learn and network. thanks, Tracy, for a great post.

  2. Lisa Black

    Who knew Tucson was the place to be? Conferences are fabulous—I always say that writers spend so much time alone, that we get to a conference and try to cram a whole year of socializing into one weekend. It’s incredible…though usually by Saturday afternoon I run out of steam and need some alone time 😆

  3. Jenny Milchman

    Safe travels, Tracy! I think of cons like summer camp. In the best possible way.

  4. Karen M Odden

    Tracy, I am so sorry we missed saying hello, both times! We were both at the dinner at TFOB that Shannon organized — but at opposite ends of the table, unfortunately. But I’m so glad you’ve enjoyed your trips to Tucson! I grew up in Rochester, NY but moved to AZ 20 years ago — and for a long time the desert landscape felt very otherworldly to me. The sun, the plants, the rocks — all of it. I have three of those spiky saguaros in my front yard, with cactus wren hotels in all of them. I watch them from my office window. And I have fallen in love with the desert — which everyone thinks is brown but is lush with yellow and purple right now. 🙂 Maybe we can make arrangements to meet up for a coffee or drink at Bouchercon. I’d love that.

  5. Gayle Lynds

    I love the connection between the Oscars season and our writers’ convention season, Tracy So alike, and with all the marvelous writing stars and soon-to-be writing stars and the affirmation and fun and congeniality of our colleagues. You’re right — gotta watch out for those mountains! Thanks for a great blog!

  6. Maria

    A native of Chicagoland myself, my family moved to Tucson after I married a Sailor and made Southern California my home. I’ve enjoyed many family get togethers in Tucson over the years. The Tucson mountains are absolutely gorgeous! Beautiful to hike. As for the saguaro, they average around 50 feet tall. The tallest one measured rang in about 78-79 feet. You can only find these beauties in the Sonoran Desert.

  7. Chris Goff

    Going to conferences is one of my favorite things to do — both as a writer and a fan. I’ve attended nearly all the Left Coast Crime conferences, though I missed this year — and I’ve put on a couple of the ones held in Colorado. My favorite con of all times. But to be invited to Tucson. That’s when you know you’ve made it! Congrats on such a great conference season, and award season. You’re hitting it out of the ballpark, Tracy. Well done!