Okay, truth in advertising. I didn’t actually shoot up Mayhem In The Midlands, but we did do some serious shooting.
At an indoor range, rather than the indoor writers’ convention…though there were at least three moments when, if I’d been strapped, I’d have shot the crap out of a particular writer…not three writers during three moments, but the same writer over and over and over again.
Mayhem is a delightful little convention in Omaha I’ve been attending the last few years. Sean Doolittle, one of the two or three most underrated writers in America today, lives there and I head over to hang with him for a few days.
Sean is, in fact, the shooting buddy. There are always some other people along, but it’s got a core of me and Sean, blasting away for an hour or so, burning through ammo and targets like we’re made of freakin’ money. And in and around the shooting sessions, we have conversations about things like point of view narrative and the big reveal versus the little reveal and realistic violence versus stylized violence. So yeah, we’re writer geeks, but we’re writer geeks with guns.
I usually participate in a couple of discussion panels and I did this year. Some are always good and some always blow industrial chunk, and mine this year were about evenly split between good and total bullshit. The crap panel was supposed to be – we were told – on short stories. Instead, the moderator decided it was better to offer the attendees ‘entertainment’ rather than answer their questions on the topic. Who gives a crap what my favorite short story of my own is? And I would bet most people couldn’t give two hoots what my favorite food is.
Honestly, I don’t go much for the panels. I’ve been going to conventions long enough that mostly I’ve seen all of them and all their recycled cousins too many times to count. So I go for the comeraderie (is that even spelled right? What’choo want, I’m’a writer…spelling is for the editors). What that actually means is drinking too much, eating too much, bitching too much, gossiping entirely too much, but doing it with other writers so it can be written off on my taxes.
And, in this moment of truth between just you and I, I can admit that I love being there for the trainwrecks. Hehehehe…that’s sometimes better than everything else. Though the trainwrecks were minor this year, they did include watching a writer introduce himself to a writer he’d never met before by throwing himself to the floor when invited to have a seat, then stroking his newly longish hair and saying, “I grew it out because I’m married and I’m successful, I don’t have to impress anyone anymore.”
Bite my ass, moron.
The other of note was watching a writer who claimed to have once been a hugely successful trial attorney go completely blank when another writer and I (him a former NYPD copper) talked about ‘making a case.’ The former attorney had no clue what that meant.
I met some interesting new people, including JT Ellison, author of “All The Pretty Girls,” and Twist Phelan. Saw some regular compatriots, too: Libby Fischer Hellmann and Sue (who in my memory never has a last name) and Lance Who Knows Lori (and who, again, never seems to have an actual last name).
But the over-arcing highlight was Craig Johnson. I’ve been a fan of his Walt Longmire series for a while (set in rural Wyoming with the county sheriff) and being able to spend some time with him and his wife was nothing short of a gas. Craig is, like me, a fan of writing (it sounds goofy, I know, but there are lots of writers who aren’t actually fans of good writing…they’re fans of good contracts and lots of press coverage, but not the actual writing), and to have a lunchtime conversation with him (also Sean, Anthony Neil Smith, Judy Johnson, and Twist Phelan) about good writing was possibly the most relaxing hour of the entire weekend.
For me, conventions are usually 50/50 – that is, 50% inspirational and 50% toxic. I love how talking to writers and reading pieces of current projects and buying newly published projects so completely inspires me to reach higher and harder on my own work, but they are also toxic in that I hate seeing how absolute fucking idiots who have no clue about good writing and who, in fact, couldn’t write their way out of a bad episode of ‘Blossom,’ or who have not a single human social skill end up with big, fat contracts which they then tell me all about while blowing stale beer breath in my face.
Those people are the ones, in fact, I usually shoot while at the range. I don’t see a silhouette, I see –
hehehehe, no names today.
So that was Mayhem for this year. And like either Ah-nold or Herpes, I’ll be back.
My favorite food, by the by, is hot links from Johnny’s Barbeque in Midland, Texas.