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May 5, 2006

Los Angeles Times Festival of Books - Part 3 - Sundays Panels and The Redeye

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Sunday I decided to hit the pool for a bit and do water aerobics since there was no way to do laps in the W pool. I carried my water buoys and my waterproof MP3 player with me from home, so I was all set. It was lovely to be outside and for the moment, not racing from event to event.

Then it was back to the Festival. I decided to spend some time at the actual fair where I caught up with Gayle Lynds at the Mystery Bookstore booth where I also met Stuart Woods. It's always nice to see a familiar face when traveling like this. Clair Lamb, who writes the Mystery Bookstore newsletter was there as well and we had a nice chat. Then it was off to meet one of our readers, Jean Utley, who manages two book clubs for the Book'em Mysteries bookstore. She then introduced me to Sally from

At every booth there were signings and buyers. The traffic on Sunday had more kids and the Target stage was one happening place.

Every panel I had attended on Saturday had had few empty chairs. Thus I wanted to see what attendance would be like at the Sunday event where the lineup was two debut authors, who were war veterans writing about Iraq in a panel entitled In War Time: Personal Stories From Iraq. Again, another crowded room!

There I was pleased to meet Paul Rieckhoff, the author of Chasing Ghosts, as we had just finished building his website. After months of email and little conversation, it's nice to have the handshake that usually starts most other business relationships. John Crawford joined Paul on the panel, which was moderated by Doug Smith.

No matter how one feels about the war in Iraq there are soldiers who cannot be ignored. Paul talked of the "fog of war" where one could not tell friend from foe. He spoke of soldiers returning home, one-third of whom are suffering from stress disorders. John told stories of how the war is different for soldiers this time since technology allows them to be so much more connected to home. They race back from the battlefields to sign up for Internet time and to make cell calls back home. On one call his wife complained of traffic on the I-10 while he would be preoccupied with the brains from a fellow soldier that now were embedded in his shoe after a battle. It was a very "in your face" story that told the story of war.

Both Paul and John still looked like they were in another place when I looked in their eyes. They had seen things that we had not. They talked of death and what really happens in war. Paul is looking for a greater breadth of coverage from the media on the war. He wants credible coverage that honors the military obligation that people are making and honors the fallen. Their commentary was met with wild applause, which was nice to see.

They also spoke about the cost of liberty being eternal vigilance. The difference between Vietnam and Iraq is that this war can follow us to these shores. The wrap up line before I had to leave was something like --- Congress enacts foreign policy while soldiers execute foreign policy. Paul wants to see us separate the war from the warriors, which I applauded and so did the rest of the room.

No panel moved me that much all weekend. I walked out and called a friend to share it with him and realized I talked five minutes straight without giving him a moment to respond. He said, "You were in your New York mode after that panel." I wonder if others felt the same way.

For the last panel of the day it was Mystery: Page Turners with Harlan Coben, Lisa Scottoline and Stuart Woods, moderated by Miles Corwin. If the panel before was serious, this one was light and full of banter. Scottoline writes books about people who get in trouble and need to get out of it. Coben writes about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.

Woods had some good introspection on writing. He said that he has learned that he can write as well fast as he can slow. Coben said that some days he writes and it feels good. On others it will not feel as good and he will write through it. The interesting thing is that in the end he cannot tell what he wrote on the good days and what he wrote on the bad days. Scottoline said that she has a theory on writing. Apply butt to chair. When you think it's not coming, just don't get up. Also, allow yourself permission to write a crappy first draft and then fix it.

Coben feels we are in the golden age of crime fiction writing. He reads almost exclusively fiction. Woods does not read in the genre as he is afraid of plagiarizing. He does read a lot of history and biography. Scottoline gave a great idea on getting started writing. When she writes with kids she asks, "What super power would you like to have and what would you do with it?" They can start pretty quickly with a line like that!

To create page turners both Scottoline and Coben pay attention to prose asking, "why is this line here?" all day long. Lisa asks if each line drives plot or helps the story. Coben actually keeps a file he calls spare and tugs every unneeded line and puts it there. For a 400 page book this section can be 100-150 pages long. As Elmore Leonard says, "I try to cut out all the parts your normally would skip."

After this panel wrapped, I joined my friends Skye and Todd from for a late lunch and drinks and then went onto dinner with my friend, Mindy Schneider, who just finished writing a book that is in the process of being sold.

From there I headed for the airport and the redeye back to New Jersey. I wished I had my Light Wedge with me since I was wide awake most of the flight and would have loved to read!

Great trip and I WILL do it again. I have not stopped to count the number of authors I heard, or the number of panels that I attended, but I will say it was a deeply satisfying weekend. I take off my hat to the organizers, as well as the authors.