Thursday, March 18, 2010

Sunday Morning at Tucson Festival of Books

Sunday morning did not start out on an auspicious note for me. Before I even arrived at the first program, Craig Johnson's Another Man's Moccasins, I discovered I lost the notebook I'd where I'd been keeping my schedule and all of my notes. So, I had to sneak out early, and backtrack to my starting point in order to find it. Unfortunately, that means there is no picture of author Craig Johnson. It's a shame. I know he's a favorite of my friend, Jen Forbus, and I had hoped to say hi.

Johnson started out by saying he loves reading festivals. When he was first invited to the LATimes Book Festival, he was courted by a woman who told him they attract a quarter of a million people. When, he didn't say anything, she said, that's a lot of people. He said, yes, that's half the people that live in my state.

Another Man's Moccasins is the fourth book in Johnson's Sheriff Walt Longmire series. It was the winner of the 2009 Spur Award for Best Western Short Novel, given by the Western Writers of America. It not only is about a present-day case in Wyoming, it also takes readers back to Walt's past in Vietnam in 1967.

Johnson said the second novel is always the most difficult to write. It may take seventeen years to write the first book, but once you're under contract, the publisher wants the second book. And, that's tough. But, he looks at that first book for exploration. It's like an archaeological dig. Go back to the first book, and dig through it for stories for future books.

Sheriff Walt Longmire is an inactive Marine. By the time of Another Man's Moccasins, he has been sheriff for twenty-four or twenty-five years. But, in the first book, The Cold Dish, he tells a date about being drafted into the Marine Corps, and joining the military police. Then he tells the story of his first homicide case, when he took on the investigation in the murder of someone no one else cared about. Johnson considers Longmire the detective for the disenfranchised. Anyways, Johnson thought he wanted to hear the rest of that story, so he went back to write it as part of Another Man's Moccasins.

He said a man came up to him, with long hair and a beard, and just stood there, finally saying, "This book. This book. You were there there." Then, he looked at Craig Johnson, and said, "How old are you?" Johnson said he wasn't there; he was eight. But, his brother was there, and he talked to others, including a deputy sheriff from a county over. He was lucky enough to receive email from him asking if he could get together with him. And, when he met the deputy for breakfast, he saw the tee shirt, and knew he was a Marine. It turned out he was in Vietnam for his first term of duty from 1967-68, in the military police, and even served in the town where Johnson had placed Walt. So, he read the manuscript, and put notes in the margins, giving him more details.

Johnson had asked a number of sheriffs what their worst case scenario was, and, to a man, they all said a body dump on the interstate. A car pulls up, someone dumps a body and drives away. There's no idea who the body is; there's no crime scene. So, Johnson dumped every lawman's worst nightmare into Walt's lap. He gave him a dumped body, that turned out to be a Vietnamese girl, so Walt deals with the progression of both investigations in the course of this book.

Craig Johnson's program, including stories of sheriffs and getting published, was fascinating. Since I can't reproduce the entire program here, I hope you'll get the opportunity to hear him at your local bookstore. I'm planning to see him at the Poisoned Pen in June when his new book, Junkyard Dogs, is out.

After finding my notebook where I left it on a chair at a booth, I headed off to a panel, The Softer Side of Murder. The four mystery writers were Kate Mathis, Juliet Blackwell, C.C. Harrison, and Sophie Littlefield. The moderator began by asking them if their books actually embodied the "softer side of murder."

Kate Mathis is from Tucson, and her debut mystery is Living Lies. She said she thought if fit the theme, since there was no gruesome murder in the book. But, it's more a "mysterious stranger" book. She said she wrote what she wants to read. She made her character courageous, but Living Lies does tend to attract female readers. It has a bright pink cover, and very few men would want to carry it around. She said next time she'd like a flip down cover so men could have a cover that would appeal to them.

Julie Goodson-Lawes writes under the names of Juliet Blackwell and Hailey Lind. Julie said her books fit the category, The Soft Side of Murder. Her latest book, Secondhand Spirits, is about a witch who owns a vintage clothing shop in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. There is no explicit sex, and no gruesome details, but they are adult books. Julie said that's what is great about the mystery genre. It covers everything from blood and gore to cozies. She said cozies may feature subjects as diverse as cats or knitting. Julie commented that frankly, she finds it a little more twisted to have someone killed with a knitting needle than a gun.

C.C. Harrison just responded bluntly that she doesn't write books on the softer side. Her main characters are women who can take care of themselves. They are curious and courageous. Harrison always admired Scarlett O'Hara because she picked herself up, and rebuilt her life. So, that's the kind of character she creates.

Sophie Littlefield responded that it was an interesting question. Her book, A Bad Day for Sorry, shows a woman's legs, and the woman is holding a gun. Market research in publishing says women don't buy books with guns or helicopters on the front. And, since men don't frequently buy books by women, Sophie said she thought she wouldn't have readers. But, she's received email from women saying, like Stella, her character, they're older, and have a gun. So, to applause, Sophie said her readership is pissed off middle-aged women with gun collections.

Sophie said her favorite quote was from someone at Tucson's Clues Unlimited bookstore, who said she wrote a "bondage cozy." She herself quilted and sewed, so the victim in her book is killed with a rotary cutter. There's a fair amount of violence. She thought she'd insulted everyone with her book, and that cozy fans would be horrified. But, she said most avid readers are open to a breadth of material.

Julie said to some, cozy has become a derogatory term. Instead the preferred term is traditional mystery, in the style of Agatha Christie. The murders and sex are off scene. She mentioned the Agatha Award is presented to more traditional mysteries, and the award is a teapot with a cozy on it, probably why such mysteries have been called cozies.

The women were all asked by a man in the audience to discuss their men characters. Since the man who asked was balding, Sophie immediately responded that Goat Jones, the sheriff in her books, didn't have a lot of hair, but was all the sexier for it.

C.C. Harrison drew laughter when she said she doesn't struggle to create her male characters. She just makes them men she wasn't married to, and they turn out fabulous.

Kate Mathis said she grew up with three older brothers, and gets her male prototypes from them. And, Juliet said she even has a myth-buster in her book because she has a male witch. She went on to say she has a haunted home reconstruction business series starting in December. Her character runs her father's construction company. That's a world peopled with men.

There were numerous questions about writing, and publicising your own books, so the final agreement was that it's smart to major in marketing if you want to be an author.


Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Oh, I hate losing things! Sorry you had to endure the frustration and couldn't take your picture. I hadn't thought about the second book being the hardest to write, but I think it's true!

And I agree with Julie that many authors are using "traditional" instead of "cozy." Either works for me, but I'm proud of my cozies. :)

Mystery Writing is Murder

Lesa said...

It's interesting, Elizabeth. That comment about second books came up again last night when I was at the Poisoned Pen.

You should be proud of your cozies, Elizabeth. Either term works for me as well.

Anonymous said...

I'm loving these posts describing your experience at the festival, Lesa. Could I just send you around the country attending those and giving interesting feedback?? :-)

I would have loved to have heard Craig Johnson. I love his books.

I haven't read any of the lady authors that you mentioned, but I'm glad to hear their thoughts and I knew about some of the books already. Such a fun time for you!

Lesa said...

Yes! I'll take you up on that, Kay. You just send me around the country, and I'll be glad to cover events. Sounds like fun.

And, I attended two this week at the Poisoned Pen that I'm going to have to recap. I'm waiting on one because Poisoned Pen would like me to link to their video of it, which is great. The other will probably be up on Sunday - a recap of three male writers, two of whom have debut novels. It was a fun evening. And, the other one is Linda Fairstein. Great, as always, but I'll wait for PP on that.

Beth Groundwater said...

I recently read Craig's Another Man's Moccasins and absolutely loved it. Now that I'm hooked on Sheriff Walt Longmire, I'm going to have to go back and read the first three books in the series. I highly recommend the book!

Lesa said...

I have a hold on the first one in the series, Beth. I'm starting from the beginning. Thanks!

cindy.maher said...

Lesa, I've only read Craig Johnson's first book and I have no idea why I haven't kept up with the series, but he's still on my list of authors I want to continue reading. LOL, you tell Sophie Littlefield I loved her book despite the fact I don't own a gun! To me, the cover is WHY I bought the book, I was intrigued.

Lesa said...

Very good, Cindy! I'm sure Sophie will appreciate that feedback. Like you, I enjoyed it, despite the gun. There's a baseball bat on the cover of the next one.

Bev said...

Lesa, I love your recaps on the book festival. I'm hoping that next year, I can go to it. Yup, you can never have enough books.

Lesa said...

Definitely never have enough books, Bev! I hope it works out that I can go back. Right now, it looks like it will be the week before LCC, so I could make both.

Sophie Littlefield said...

hey cindy, thanks so much :) I'm not a gun owner either, in fact I never even considered it! The closest thing I have to a weapon around here is a pizza cutter - even my sewing tools are packed up at the moment.

Thank you so much, Lesa, for coming to see us and for posting the summary. It was so nice to look out into the audience and see your smiling face.
- sophie

Lesa said...


I really enjoyed seeing you and Julie again, and it was a pleasant surprise to see Tim. I enjoyed it!