I recently returned from a week in New York, the first few days at the invitation of the Outdoor Writer’s Association, which held their 86th annual wingding at Lake Placid in the Adirondack Mountains, the last three in Albany at Bouchercon, the international convention of mystery readers and writers. An interesting contrast in purpose and humanity that ended with great news — The Gray Ghost Murders is officially an Oprah Book, having been chosen last week by the Oprah Winfrey Book Club as one of the “Five Most Suspenseful Books Out Now.” Pretty cool. In fact way cool, and I’ll never hear a bad word against this great woman for the rest of my life.
But back to New York. The OWAA people write for the greater good of our environment, carrying on the Theodore Roosevelt tradition of fish and wildlife conservation; I actually was eating lunch with Scott Hed, Director of the Sportsman’s Alliance For Alaska, when he announced that Anglo American had pulled its support for the Pebble Mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay, effectively ending the prospect that the controversial mine would be developed anytime soon. The mine could have spelled doom for the crown Jewel of Alaskan wilderness and the most productive salmon fishery on earth, and Scott had been the driving force, forming the coalition of commercial fishermen, Native Americans, and hunting and fishing groups that put the pressure on the mining companies. It was embarrassing for me to be considered one of this altruistic band of brothers and sisters, especially as I was the featured speaker the group had brought in and treated like royalty, being put up at the $500 a night Mirror Lake Inn, when even the OWAA director and program chair were sleeping a place so run down that the hotel offered to give them part of their money back. One woman had come all the way Iowa to hear me speak, saying that she knew if I read something she would cry. So it was a lot pressure to perform, as I committed to take part in a panel discussion about working with editors, as well as being the speaker for back to back sessions, the first hour on making the tradition from writing articles to novel, from “Fact To Fiction” as I called it, and then a two-hour session on “The Craft of the Narrative.” To prepare, I wrote down some introductory comments in an essay, which is posted on the website as “Why Narrative Writing Matters.”
All went well, and I segued from being a big fish in a good-sized lake to being a small fish in a big sea indeed at Bouchercon. Going in, I didn’t know that it was primarily a readers event, that for every writer there would be half a dozen women toting around bags of books to be signed by their favorite authors (and God bless them every one). I participated in a panel there, as well, my fellow panelists including New York Times best-selling authors and two writers who had movies in development. All were very well spoken and it was a little intimidating, but they were nice people and I held my own and got my share of smiles. Civilians at these writer events look at me as a bit of a Martian — the idea of a Field & Stream editor amuses them, and my story of hiking into the woods to survive for three nights with the clothes on my back and peeing on myself in the middle of the night because it’s too cold to crawl out of the debris hut is always good for a laugh.
Then afterward it was a kick to go to the Private Eye Writer’s Dinner, where guitarists serenaded us with the theme music from Peter Gunn and the Shamus Awards were presented, and the next night was fun, too, at my agent Dominick Abel’s annual Bouchercon dinner party. I got to rub shoulders and lift a few with fellow clients including Max Alan Collins, who wrote “Road to Perdition,” and Rod Philbrick, whose young adult novel “Freak The Mighty” has sold 3 million copies and was made into a movie starring Sharon Stone. Philbrick is a great guy and a fellow fishermen who spends half his time in the Keys. Hopefully, we’ll do some fishing together down the road. And there were other in Dominick’s stable, all very accomplished writers who make me realize I still have a long way to go, the blessing of the generous and beautiful Ms. Winfrey notwithstanding.
So it’s back to the page for me, fingers on the keyboard, cat on the lap, and counting down the days with the hope I can still get a little fishing in later this fall.