I’ve been getting a lot questions about Magna Cum Murder, the wonderful mystery conference in Indianapolis next fall at which I’ll be a guest of honor. Because it’s both intimate and vibrant, this conference is a perennial and special favorite of mine. Kathryn Kennison, the lovely moving force behind everything, has been staging this gathering for twenty years, attracting top authors from around the world. I’ve been on panels with Michael Connelly, Charlaine Harris, Anne Perry, Val McDermid, and Tess Gerritsen, to name just a few. And Indianapolis is a lovely city, with a lot to offer new visitors. I guess what I’m saying is that if you’ve never been to Magna Cum Murder, I really think this is the year you ought to give it a try. I’d recommend registering soon, because the conference hotel, which is the Columbia Club, always fills quickly. It would be great to see you there this October!
Archive for the ‘Book tours’ Category
As another year is about to sink completely into the realm of memory, I can’t help but look back and marvel. I couldn’t have asked for, hoped for, or even, if I’d been able, crafted for myself a better twelve months. It’s been filled with the fruit of many labors. An old book greatly honored, a new book warmly received, and the contours of a future book roughly completed. Specifically, Ordinary Grace received an incredible number of accolades: the Edgar, the Anthony, the Barry, the Macavity, the Dilys, the Squid, the Silver Falchion. Windigo Island, the fourteenth entry in my Cork O’Connor series, appeared on a number of best books of the year lists. And the first draft of This Tender Land, the companion novel to Ordinary Grace, was finished. If one of the things that keeps us vital is steeping ourselves in the work we love, then it has been a year of great vitality and great passion.
As I look ahead now, what do I see? 2015 will be a quiet year in many respects. I will have no novel published in the upcoming year, so no long book tours, no long periods that will take me away from home and family. I’m looking forward to months and months of peace, of uninterrupted writing, of simply catching my breath. In each of the last three years, I’ve scheduled more than a hundred events—signings, author talks, workshops, conferences. This year will be different, blessedly calm, filled with quiet, I hope, the kind of quiet that allows deep contemplation to become possible, the kind of quiet that feeds our souls.
In terms of the writing itself, for those of you who are interested, this is what I’ll be working on. I will polish This Tender Land and prepare it for publication in the spring of 2016. I will complete the next in the Cork O’Connor series, a novel I’ve just begun to outline, and that will probably also appear in 2016. And I will begin work on a short novel, an idea that has been knocking around in my brain for more than a decade. So, clearly, I won’t be idle.
Every year is different from those that have come before. Although I have plans, I don’t really know what to expect. Life has a way of surprising us, doesn’t it?
And so, I wish every one of you the best on your own journey in the year ahead. May your days be filled with vitality, with passion, with love. And also with that blessed quiet that will feed your soul.
January: What exciting news! Ordinary Grace has received a nomination for the Edgar Award for Best Novel! I couldn’t be happier for this book, which is so different from those in my Cork O’Connor series that I was afraid no one would be interested in publishing or reading it. I’m tremendously grateful to Atria Books for having supported Ordinary Grace from the outset. So very grateful to the independent booksellers who made sure that the novel got into the hands of readers. And especially grateful to all of those out there who read the story and embraced it. Now, to pop the cork on a bottle of champagne!
February: In my books, I write a lot about cold weather. I’m often asked if I believe you should write what you know. Definitely. Here I am with my wife, Diane, in our backyard. Yeah, like every Minnesotan, I understand winter pretty well. And understand, too, why the ancients used to have all kinds of orgiastic celebrations when spring finally came.
March: Driving cross-country from the Tucson Festival of the Book to Left Coast Crime in Monterey. Had to hit the National Parks along the way. What treasures! Here I am in Sequoia National Park, just a few minutes from viewing the famous trees.
April: I’m in Grand Rapids for the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College. I’m here with two thousand other attendees from all over this continent. This is one of the most amazing conferences at which I’ve been asked to present. The list of stellar authors across a broad range of disciplines is incredible. The focus, of course, is how faith informs our writing, but it touches on so many significant aspects of our lives. It is, quite frankly, knocking my socks off. (Photo taken at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum)
May: I couldn’t be happier having won the Edgar Award for my novel Ordinary Grace. In so many ways, it feels like the culmination of a lot of years of hard work. Not just the writing of a dozen plus novels, but all the ceaseless labor to get those books into readers’ hands. When I was given the award at the ceremony in New York City, the meat of my acceptance was simply this: “To write, to be published, to be read, to be appreciated. What more could any storyteller ask for?”
August: I’m at Killer Nashville, which has just become my new favorite mystery conference! As a guest of honor, I received a stunning black Fender guitar. Here I am with Clay Stafford, founder of Killer Nashville and all-around great guy, living it up with my new Fender.
August: When you do a signing in northern Minnesota, you never know who might be looking over your shoulder. One of Bullwinkle’s relatives dropped in on my signing at Piragis Northwoods Company in Ely and just had to stick his big nose between me and store manager Jordyn Nyquist.
September: I’ve taken a couple of days off from the book tour to volunteer at our church dining hall at the fabulous Minnesota State Fair. Here I am working the food line—hot steam table on a hot day!—with my lovely wife. One of the things I appreciate about the dining hall is that for every meal someone buys there, our church donates a meal to Save My Starving Children, a great non-profit organization that helps feed hungry children around the globe. Food, fun, fellowship, and a worthy cause—what could be better!
September: So, here I am among the brewing vats at the Excelsior Brewing Company for what was one of the most unique signing venues I’ve ever experienced. I talked to a very large audience, all of us pressed between these stainless steel behemoths and the serving counter. We drank really good beer, I talked really loud, and honest to God, we had a great time of it. Beer and books, a combination ordained in heaven.
December: I finished the first draft of the companion novel to Ordinary Grace. When published, it will be titled This Tender Land. Oh God, I think it’s good. A lot of revision still to be done, but I believe I’ll pop the cork on a bottle of champagne and allow myself a little celebration of this milepost. Cheers!
One of my favorite lines of poetry comes from Charles Bukowski, the great California poet, novelist, and postal worker: “And the days run away like wild horses over the hills…” I watch them go now, the days, in exactly the way Bukowski said, and every year they seem to vanish faster than before. What they leave behind is a cloud of dust and memory.
As the dust settles this year, and I consider the memories, I’m a little overwhelmed. It’s been a momentous twelve months. Between early March and late August, I published two books, something I’ve never done before. I toured for both these novels, visiting old friends in bookstores across the country, and making lots of new ones. In fact, I signed at eighty stores, mostly independents. I love these booksellers who, in this market so dominated by the online giant Amazon and by big chains, are like scrappy kids battling bullies in the schoolyard. In truth, I owe independents a great debt. During the kerfuffle that went on between my own publisher, Simon and Schuster, and Barnes and Noble, when my books—and those of so many S&S authors—were ignored by the big chain, it was the independent booksellers whose dedicated hand-selling helped both Ordinary Grace and Tamarack County hit the New York Times bestseller list. To all of you who own the small brick and mortar stores out there, God bless you!
I also visited more libraries than ever before, thirty-five altogether, all across the Midwest and the Rockies. Oh, do I love library events! Those in small towns are especially memorable, because often they’re accompanied by a potluck dinner. There’s nothing that makes a Minnesota author feel more welcome than a potluck meal.
I attended several mystery conferences and book festivals, traveled a spider web of gorgeous back roads, battled through blizzards and driving rain, rose again and again in the bleak predawn hours to catch early flights, and although all this travel was exhausting, I have to say I pretty much loved every minute of it. I adore book events, the opportunity to talk to readers and answer their questions and hear their own stories. So many of these stories are better than any I could ever imagine on my own.
So, when I look back, I see a year that seems to have fled quickly over the hill but has left me with a profound sense of fulfillment and gratitude. It’s also filled me with that fire I so need, which is an anticipation of things yet to come. There’s much to do 2014. I’ll complete the manuscript for the next Cork O’Connor novel, titled Windigo Island, which is scheduled for release in August. I’ll also plunge back into the writing of a companion novel to Ordinary Grace, a book I’m calling This Tender Land.
I will, of course, continue to travel. If you and I haven’t met yet, maybe 2014 is the year our paths will cross. I’d like that.
A few 2013 highlights:
I had a ball at Chicago’s annual Love Is Murder conference. A stellar lineup of fellow genre authors (including Lee Goldberg and Libby Fischer Hellmann, pictured above) and a host of welcoming fans, always a hallmark of this lovely, intimate Con.
April: Me, in the Big Easy with a few jazz greats. I play the harmonica–badly. We–my lovely wife Diane and I–had a great time in Nawlins and a terrific welcome from the folks at Garden District Books.
Just a couple of days after driving through snowflakes, the temperature hit ninety. Here I am with two of the loveliest things on earth: My wife Diane, and, in the background, the maze of islands on the Mississippi River near Winona, Minnesota.
August: My wife and I spent a night in the famously haunted Palmer House Hotel in Sauk Centre, Minnesota. We had a marvelously spooky stay. The creepy goings-on were capped when a water glass that had been left on the abandoned dinner table next to ours flew off the table and slammed to the floor with a force as if someone had angrily throw it there. It shattered into a hundred pieces. No human being was within ten feet of that glass. We looked with astonishment to the bartender, who simply shrugged and said, “Happens all the time.”
November: I spoke at the centennial celebration of the opening of the first library in Detroit Lakes, MN: a Carnegie, now a National Historic Landmark building. For the celebration, they commissioned a cake constructed as a perfect replica of that original library. The most awesome baked good I have ever laid eyes on!
It’s 12:20 AM Friday morning. I’ve just said goodbye to my bus mates—no, to my friends. It’s a sad occasion. Not like death or even like seeing a child off to college, but there is a weight on me, nonetheless, a stone of sadness. I find it odd that in so short a time, only eight days, I’ve come to enjoy, to care about, and, okay, even to love these people.
Time is a strange commodity. In the middle of an experience, the minutes can stretch out in long, silly putty increments. The ride between Albany and Buffalo, for example, when we were all exhausted and the bus rolled on and on as if we were part of a Twilight Zone episode in which, in the end, we discover that we’re really in hell and doomed to ride the damned bus forever. But sitting here at the desk in my hotel room, with the talk and the laughter and the intimate connection between us so apparent in our last meal together, the eight days seem to have sped by, a breath or two and done.
I don’t know how Atria Books will judge the success of the Great Mystery Bus Tour. I hope that whatever gauge they use, the enterprise rises to the hoped-for mark. In terms of those of us in the trenches—the authors, our “handlers” (the great folks from Atria publicity who facilitated everything), and our phenomenal bus guys—the week was nothing short of stellar. We loved the whole idea, we enjoyed the events immensely, and we were given the gift of each other.
Today, we go our separate ways. That’s life. And I remember the advice my wife often offers me: “Don’t cry because it’s over. Be happy that it ever was.”
From the road, this is my final dispatch.
Here’s a photo of me with my busmates, taken at Once Upon A Crime, the fine mystery bookstore in Minneapolis. I haven’t blogged about them yet, which is a terrible oversight, because they’re a grand group.
I’ll start with Liza Marklund. Before we launched, Liza (it’s pronounced Leesa) was the author I was most uncertain about. Statuesque, lovely, colossally successful in Sweden and Europe, several of her books already in film, she seemed to me the author most likely to be a prima donna. Thank God nothing could be farther from the truth. What a great and gracious woman. Not only is she a talented writer, she’s down to earth and very funny. She’s not well known in this country yet (but that will change) and so at our events, she doesn’t have the hundreds of adoring readers crowding into the bookstore that she would draw were our signings in Europe. I asked her how she felt about that, and her reply was that it troubled her not at all, that she’s building a following here, and that all good things take time. Lovely and wise, what a killer combination.
I expected to be intimidated by M.J. Rose. For those of you not in the book business, the skinny on M.J. is that she’s a whiz at marketing books. She owns her own company, AuthorBuzz, which does just that. Before embarking on the tour, I read her most recent novel, The Book of Lost Fragrances, and loved it. The research is awesome. The storyline is compelling. The writing is silk smooth. I thought to myself, Here’s one very smart woman who’s going to make me feel like a dumb donkey. M.J. is smart. M.J. is savvy. And M.J. is delightful. She has a marvelous sense of humor, and if you’re not following her blog or her tweets, you’re missing out on some fall-on-the-floor-laughing commentary.
Okay, John Connolly. John’s the only one of the authors I knew in advance, but I didn’t know him well. I know him better now, and fully fleshed out, this guy is the kind of author we all aspire to be. Please don’t tell him I said that! In my estimation, he stands beside James Lee Burke as one of the finest prose writers in our genre. He also a keen sense of both the art and the business of books, and when he defends the brick and mortar bookstore, he’s articulate and even a little scary in his passion. (The other night while he was ranting eloquently, I saw a blood vessel throbbing in his temple like one of those creatures from Aliens ready to burst through his skin!) And did I say funny? The man’s a walking comedy club.
So, humor is clearly a big part of what makes this tour so delightful. We don’t any of us take ourselves too seriously, and all of us are more than willing to be nakedly human. Okay, maybe “nakedly” was the wrong word. I really don’t want you—or my wife—to get the wrong idea about what happens on the Mystery Bus.
That’s all for now. More down the road.