This past Thursday through Sunday morning, I was in NYC for the Backspace Conference. And holy crap, was it AMAZING.
First, the arrival. The Algonquin Hotel is simply magnificent. No, it's not as posh as a five-star Hilton. But it nearly hums with character. You have to wait forever for the elevators, which is probably why the wallpaper in the lobby has thousands of literary cartoons on it. And any hotel that has Matilda II the cat greeting you by the door, well, how could that be anything but cool? There's a literary history to the Algonquin (which I don't know/remember -- I read about it on one of their complimentary bottles of water), so it's the perfect hotel for this conference.
On Thursday night, a number of attendees hung out in the hotel lobby, just schmoozing, breaking the ice (but not the wine glasses), experiencing the "Holy cow, you're a real person!" thing. It was a lovely unofficial beginning to the conference. (Smooches to Heather, Brian, Keith, Lori, Deborah, Harry (heh, and Blondie, while I'm at it), Karen, Lynn, Deanna...whew, and everyone I'm missing!
Friday, Day One. Two panels at the same time, what to do? Heh. Actually, I really liked that there were two tracks -- and I think there was only one time that I really had to flip a coin to see which one to go to, because I couldn't clone myself (I left the machine back home; it didn't fit in my carry-on). The Agents Panel included Jeff Kleinman, Kristin Nelson, Laura Mennert and Randi Murray, and it was fabulous. Karen's a hell of a moderator, and the panelists were terrific.
Next for me was the Children's & Young Adult authors panel, with authors Scott Westerfeld and Justine Larbalestier, agent Laura Rennert, and Toran Isom, whom I want to say is a staunch supporter of YA and literacy, and I think she's a reviewer, but I'm blanking on the affiliation. She has a lovely Southern US accent and swigs cold medicine straight from the bottle. Another terrific panel, moderated by the lovely Lynn Sinclair, whose book RETURN TO ATEN is sitting on my desk, waiting to be read.
Next: Understanding the Editorial Mind, with Jerry Gross. The man is inspirational, passionate, and dedicated. It's so refreshing to hear about editors who, you know, edit. :-)
Then I had to eat, so I missed both the author spotlight with Caprice Crane and Jenny Bent, as well as Deborah Serra's screenwriting workshop. Ugh! I should have ordered a pizza and had it delivered. Next time... I met Deborah the night before, and she's FABULOUS.
Next, the "Buy this Book!" workshop, with Jeff K. moderating and Kristin as the publisher. Holy cow, people, even if you're already published, you really should experience this. It was fun, educational, a bit intense, and ended too soon (and that's with it going for two hours). Do this workshop. Really, really. (Unfortunately, I missed the thriller author's panel and Richard Curtis's keynote address. UGH. Next time, I will bring the cloning machine.) ((And no, Jeff, I am NOT being a kissass--I really dug the workshop!))
The mixer was wonderful. Who knew writers could talk so much? There was a table outside one of the two conference rooms that was used for promotional items. I realized, duh, put your book covers here! So I did.
Is next: Editor's panel, which had four editors talk about life on that side of the fence. Very cool, very interesting...but WAH, I missed Cornelia Read's author spotlight. (But hey, I DID get her to sign my copy of A FIELD OF DARKNESS.)
Then there was a cocktail hour. Authors + booze = The Stuff of Blackmail.
That night, there was an awards ceremony and banquet. Food was meh, but the people were terrific. Backspace Member of the Year was awarded to the sexy Comma Boy, and the Bob Kellogg Award went to Joe Konrath. Amazing writers, both of them -- and amazing people. Huge hugs to both of you.
Day Two. (Yes, there was some sleep beforehand.)
For me, the day opened with the amazing marketing panel, with MJ Rose and Susan Schwartzman. Oh. My. Goodness, this was AMAZING. I took four pages of notes. Terrific panel; I learned a lot. I've been on the fence about whether or not I should get an independent publicist, and this panel helped me quite a bit. I came up with a marketing strategy (a huge thanks to Renee Rosen for her input!), and I'm eager to hop on the promoting bandwagon!
After spending the next half hour talking to Susan, Heather, Lynn, Kim Reid and I skipped out for breakfast, and then Heather and I did some NYC shopping...including a marvelous trip to the NYC public library on Fifth Ave and 42nd. Alas, I missed a few panels -- and I heard they were terrific (literary fiction panel, literary fiction editors panel, Randi Murray's workshop, Hallie Ephron's workshop, Kristin's how-to-get-out-of-the-slush-pile workshop).
But then came Douglas Wright's keynote address. Folks, this alone was worth the trip. Utterly amazing.
Next for me: the women's fiction panel, moderated by the lovely Lauren Baratz-Logsted. Chick lit's not dead, it's just sleeping! (Kidding.)
During the afternoon mixer, I schmoozed with roughly a million people, including the marvelous Jeff Cohen, author of the Aaron Tucker Mystery series and Berkley's upcoming Comedy Tonight series, with his lead SOME LIKE IT HOT-BUTTERED. He's a fabulous guy -- smart, witty, damn funny, and so very generous with his time. I even had a few minutes with Joe Konrath, and had the chance to ask him some burning questions, like "500 bookstores in two minutes? How?" (Answer: That damn clone machine that I left home.)
The final panel for the conference was the Humor in Mystery panel, moderated by yours truly. The panelists -- Cornelia Read, Joe Konrath, Jeff Cohen, and Hallie Ephron -- were fabulous. (I was worried that I was going to vomit on my shoes. Which would have been particularly bad, as I was wearing open-toe sandals. Ick.) Me, I'm thankful that there was a stool behind the podium -- sitting on it, I was taller than if I would have been standing! Woot! I think the panel went well, but I'm rather biased. At the end, bestselling author Barry Eisler came up to shake my hand and thank me for calling on him to ask a question to the panel. (Oh man, did I blush like crazy!)
And...then it was over. About 15 of us went out for dinner that night...Heather, Rebecca, Numa, Brian, Lynn, Deanna, Karen, Marlys and her husband and son, Renee, Karen C., Rich...oh, gosh, many more, and I'm blanking on them! Wah! Short-term memory loss!
I had the pleasure to meet so many Backspace people, and they really were the ones who made the entire event as special as it was. I find the community to be very, very supportive and helpful, and I can't recommend it enough.