Saturday, June 18, 2011

Drinking with Authors and Other Scraps

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) – A New York children's author who used a curse word in exasperation during a plane delay at a U.S. airport was ejected from the aircraft for disruptive behavior.
Robert Sayegh, 37, said Atlantic Southeast Airlines overreacted to his salty language when it summoned police aboard to escort him off the Sunday evening flight at Detroit Metro Airport.

I get it. Most of us get exasperated and drop the F bomb, but not on planes. Flying is hard enough without upsetting flight attendants. Times have changed. They don’t fly terrorists, obvious madmen, drunks, or dirty mouths. If old Bob there hadn’t been a kiddie-book author it would not have been news. Kids don’t read papers, so the publicity won’t help his sales. It got me thinking about the times my mouth has thrown me into a bear stew. Roald Dahl proved you don’t have to be an angel, or even a nice person, to write great and classic kids books. But I’m sure Robert is a great guy once you’ve had a drink with him. Maybe the author was late for a conference. I bet the bar at a kiddie authors conference is Lamp Shade City.

On occasion, my social filters fail. One example of hundreds: I was in a restaurant in New York a few years ago sitting with another author and our conversation rolled around to some example of violence and gore. Conversation was purely technical, as I recall––heads of shotgun suicides that looked like day lilies, or perhaps what high-velocity rounds do to a human body. I was blissfully unaware of my surroundings until a woman at an adjoining table interrupted us to say, “Could you please change your conversation, we’re trying to eat here.” I don’t get that. I’ve been at an autopsy where the ME and an assistant were talking about cooking various venison dishes while the ME was popping out a brain, and weighing it. You get inured to what exposure to such subjects do to other people when you are always thinking and writing about it.

Most authors are curious about a wide variety of things, and they will go to amazing lengths to learn something potentially useful. Instead of having knowledge in a concentrated area, their knowledge tends to be as wide-ranging as that of a Jeopardy Champion. I once sat through an hour-long story that had no punch line at all. It was riding in a ox-drawn cart five miles across a desert only to ride off a cliff. Conversations with most of the authors I’ve met (especially in a bar) are almost always interesting, entertaining, and enlightening. It’s no surprise that authors tend to find each other’s company pleasurable. You sit having drinks, listening to people who know how to tell a good story with maximum impact¬, and it is never boring.

I’ve never decided if conferences were profitable, but they are worth the investment simply for entertainment value and being in contact with peers. It can be expensive to attend Bouchercon, Thrillerfest, Magna Cum Murder, or any one of a hundred national, regional or local writers conferences. If you’ve never been or can’t afford $1500.00 on a weekend, what you should do, if you’ve never done one, is drive to the closest one and go to the closest bar to the conference rooms (Usually in the venue hotel), get a table, order a drink to nurse, and just sit there. When the authors start walking in and the place starts filling up, offer one a place at your table. Soon the table will be crowded with authors because they are social animals, especially after a drink or two. The later it gets the better the stories. Don’t be shy. Most authors are approachable. This will never fail, and you can decide if you want to sign up for the next one and spend the money. You don’t have to be a published author. You can be a fan of a conference’s genre, a librarian, or an accountant. It doesn’t matter at all. If you have questions, you’ll get real answers and unguarded ones at that. And you will laugh. That in itself is worth the effort and the expense.

I am a fan of interesting conversations over drinks in a quiet bar or on my deck. I am not very comfortable in crowds, but I’m okay in crowded bars filled with good people. You don’t have to be a drinker for this at a conference. A quarter of the authors in the room will be drinking soda with a bit of lime in the glass, which is, of course, a fictionalized drink.

John Ramsey Miller


  1. At conferences, it's all about the bar. So very true. Your post brought back many good memories, John.

    I once had a three hour IM chat on blood splatter. That was for research, but you're right about authors being fascinated over almost ANY topic. Anything can trigger a story idea. And discussing the macabre and gory is doubly fun. Sick. Since authors are storytellers by trade, we all have stories on almost any topic too. Apply alcohol liberally and you have an instant conference bar.

    Nice post.

  2. My first-ever conference was Sleuthfest in Miami, when I was "pre-published." I remember wandering timidly to the outdoor bar, and encountering a raucous group of authors who were singing and pounding on the bar. I got right into the spirit. And the spirits.

  3. Social filters, John? Are authors supposed to have them, too? Oh, man! That explains those raised eyebrows at a conference bars!

    As a born and bred New Yorker, I tend to be, um, gregarious, and love the energy one walks into in a conference bar crowded with authors and author enthusiasts. I love writer-talk, not so much gore, though, you sickies! And, darn it all, if I don't think I'm funny after that shot of tequila.

    So far, though, I've done okay at conference bars. I recently sold a book to Harlequin with a balloon hat on my head. I've found a fine group of singing buddies who sound extraordinarily well with Guinness. (To date, I think only one person isn't speaking to me. Not bad after 5 years of conference bars!) However, I can say with pride that I have never been thrown off a plane or out of any establishment. (I think!)

    So, John, if you're at Thrillerfest in a few weeks, you'll have to let me buy you a drink. I'm all for author conversation and an occasional round of song!

  4. I await the day when one of the conferences is in the same venue as a bourbon convention.

    If I'm at Thrillerfest this year I'll buy a round for the house... and after a few, I might just kiss Gilstrap on the pate.

  5. I agree with everything John says. On the other hand, airline employees really need to get over themselves. I've read too many stories lately where people are removed from flights or planes have actually been turned around to believe anyone thought there was a credible threat there. You're flight attendants and pilots, folks, not the Secret Service. (You could probably stand to get over themselves a little, as well.)

  6. The first thing I thought of when I read this is an actor friend of mine. He's in his 80s now, and he's always been very aware of how he portrays himself to the public. So he doesn't do too much profanity, and what he has used in public (newspapers and books) has been tame by today's standards.

    But a few years back, he had an interview with a magazine. Just a couple guys over drinks, and for whatever reason, he got a whole lot looser. He asked the writer to edit out the profanity, and the writer said, "Sure!" which was a lie. When we got the magazine with the interview, we read it and wondered if the writer had added the language because it was so unlike our friend. He was horrified! He had indeed let his guard down and it was in black and white for all to see!

    BTW, the writer paid a price for lying. The interview was also supposed to be in a book, and my friend pulled it because of the broken promise. The writer evidently thought it would sell better because of the profanity and ended up not being able to fully use it.

  7. Miller, my pate will be there with the rest of me. Have at it, my friend!

  8. Some of the best times of my life happened around drinks with friends. The best was in Phoenix when Ann HAwkins joined Gilstrap and I who were drinking Makers Mark on the rocks. I have never laughed so hard in my life. We had a corner to ourselves that night. I can't tell you how many fine establishments and homes I've only been invited to only once.

  9. Australian airports actually have signs in the check-in area warning you not to make jokes about various tricky topics!