Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Festival Kingpins

This year I was a bit remiss on my panel attendance. I got tickets to see three panels, but only ended up attending one. In my defense, I opted not to attend the other two so I could do some blog work. So, you'll all have the chance to benefit from that. The panel I did attend was titled "The Kingpins." This incredible panel consisted of T. Jefferson Parker, Michael Connelly and Robert Crais. Paula Woods moderated.

This Kingpins was entertaining and informative, but if I walked away with anything, it was the sense that all three of these men truly love writing and none of them takes that opportunity for granted. They are thankful for the chance to make their living writing and are appreciative of the people and circumstances that allow them to do what they love.

After Paula introduced each "Kingpin" and shared his impressive resume, she asked them what keeps the writing fresh when they're writing in a series.

Robert Crais led off with his response. He loves his characters and he loves spending time with them. They aren't always easy to be with, but that's exactly where he wants to be. He also said that he never has enough time to write all the stories he'd like to. When he mentioned that he'd like to revisit Max Holman, he was greeted with cheers. We'd all like to see Max return. For now, though, the next novel will be a Joe Pike novel followed by the next Elvis
Cole-centered novel.

Michael Connelly says the writing stays fresh for him because he simply treasures the opportunities. He finds it exhilarating to tap into a character that he wants to come back to time and again.

And Jeff Parker admits to feeling like a guest in his stories. He wants to find out what happens next and, like his readers, he's simply along for the ride.

Next Paula wanted to know how the writers felt their series protagonists had grown, changed, her words, "moved through the stations of manhood."

Michael Connelly explained that NINE DRAGONS was set into motion when LOST LIGHT  was written. Harry Bosch was always the man who couldn't be "gotten to." That was his "hero strength" so to speak. But with the discovery of his daughter, Bosch gained a weakness and he could be "gotten to." NINE DRAGONS is the point where they "get" Harry. But ultimately it's Michael's hope that Harry always continues to evolve.

When the question was turned over to RC, he informed everyone that he was still trying to figure out what "the stations of manhood" were. And while he was trying to figure things out he thought he'd mention that "doesn't the title of this panel, The Kingpins, sound pretentious?" He said he heard "Kingpins" and thought of a bowling alley; the pins were lined up at the front of the room. When the conversation turned to the balls, however, Michael Connelly interjected and informed Crais that he was "clearly, still in the first station of manhood."

When the class clown got back on track, he explained that he never wanted to have the "character check list." He approaches every character, no matter how small the role, as a character who could be the main protagonist in his/her own book. 

Jeff Parker feels that Charlie Hood is actually his first "series" character. He doesn't view Mercy Rayborn as a series character. She was intended to have an arc of three books and that's where she stopped. Charlie, however, has now been in four books and Jeff feels that he still has more to explore with Charlie. He also likes that Charlie is young and that gives Jeff time with Charlie as well.

Next Paula turned to the idea of values. She wanted to know if the authors felt that there were values that propelled their protagonists.

Jeff feels that values are what a hero is about. And he also feels that his hero, Charlie Hood, is not the most interesting character in his books because of those values.

Michael says that values are why they write a series. In some of the books, Bosch falls short of the ideals. But Harry has always been pushing the edges. As a young character he had a mission. And Bosch started out as a character who was influenced by Connelly's own experiences. But as he progressed through the years, he was more his own character and less a reflection of Connelly.

When Paula asked him if he plans ahead as he writes, Michael explained that he's not good at "strategery" (yes, MC was making up words during this panel). He will go back to previous books and see if there are ideas he can bring forward but he doesn't write with the idea that five books later the concept will re-emerge.

And RC said that in essence they are all writing "heroic fiction." He looked at his Joe Pike character. He explained that Joe doesn't give a second thought to "black-letter law." He simply knows what justice is. And while it many not be mainstream, it is a form of values.

That brought up for Jeff the idea of "what happens when the hero's best isn't good enough?" He said he'll be exploring that question with Charlie Hood in the next novel.

Then came the big question. "Have e-books changed reading and writing?"

Robert Crais was very adamant that a story is a story. The mode you use to get that story doesn't change what the story is.

But then the idea of the "extas" was thrown into the mix. The trailers and other informational videos that are being created for books.  And Jeff said that yes, those may change reading like the computer changed writing (over the typewriter). But still the story is the story.

Michael Connelly said the real question is how those "extras" will hurt the reading experience. When we read a traditional book we don't have pictures or sounds to help us see/hear what the writer is developing. We have to be active readers and involve ourselves in the reading process. We use our creative minds to see and hear things in our brains as we read. But as the demand for "content" in the electronic readers increases, will the reader be less interactive with the story because they are having to work less at understanding it?

This idea of content and movies and trailers led to some discussion on branding a series. And Michael said the only thing he can do is keep his head down and write the best he can write. This is a motto you'll often hear from him. He lives by this belief. The branding really falls on the shoulders of the others once the book is written. And I'll just interject a little of my own commentary here because I really respect this work ethic. As a reader, I can tell when things are forced into a book to "sell the book." Those are nine times out of ten the elements that end up dragging the book down.

So what's coming up for each of these authors? Michael Connelly has a Harry Bosch/Mickey Haller novel, THE REVERSAL due out later this year. Jeff Parker's next Charlie Hood novel is in the bag and that's BORDER LORDS. Robert Crais is still working on THE SENTRY which is due out in early 2011.

The floor was then turned over to the audience. And our very own Michael took the mike to ask a question on behalf on of Naomi Johnson. She wanted to know if when RC finally kills off Lucy, would he name the killer after her? To which RC replied, "because of Naomi, Lucy will be back in a big way after THE SENTRY." He wanted us to make sure we told Naomi that it was all her fault that Lucy would be back.

The authors were all asked about their writing process. RC is a major planner. He has note cards plastered all over his office outlining character development and plot development. MC, however, is re-writer. He doesn't do a lot of outlining or pre-planning. Instead he has to re-write as the story evolves. Jeff said he outlined extensively for SILENT JOE because it was required by his publisher, but he doesn't do much of that anymore. According to him it's because he doesn't have "the brain power."

A topic I love hearing about is audio books. I've heard both RC and MC talk about their audio books. Neither of them listen to their books on audio because they have pre-set ideas of what their characters sound like. It isn't what ends up being created on audio. What I did learn in this panel, though, was that all three authors are given say in who their readers are. All three leave the decisions up to their audio book publishers, however.

RC did mention that for the first time he narrated his own unabridged book with THE FIRST RULE. He said he listens to this book all the time! At first he wasn't sure how he felt about his own reading, but after about the 18th time listening to it, it's growing on him.

Everyone chuckled when Michael asked him why he chose to read his own book, but Michael was asking in all seriousness. And RC explained that his two favorite parts of book events are the Q&A session and when he reads from his books. So, when the opportunity presented itself for him to narrate, he chose to do so.

This panel was wonderful: entertaining, informative, fun. I hope that I've given you at least a fraction of that experience in this post. All three of these authors are tremendous and fascinating. If you have the chance to see any of them, snatch it up.

My only regret was that across the campus the thriller panel was going on at the same time. It was the only other panel I REALLY wanted to see; if only I'd had a clone. I wouldn't have traded seeing the Kingpins, but I sure would have liked to have been able to do both.

Tomorrow I'll wrap up my L.A. Times Festival of Books posts. I hope you'll stop back to join me. Happy Reading!

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Christine April 29, 2010 at 8:16 AM  

Great recap, Jen! I was so busy trying to get photos that I didn't write any notes! Big thanks for this!

bermudaonion April 29, 2010 at 8:21 AM  

This sounds like a fantastic panel! Sorry you had to miss the thriller panel.

Naomi Johnson April 29, 2010 at 9:40 AM  

You wrote a wonderful summary, Jen. Too much fun. Another panel like that and you would never have come home again, you'd just run away with the circus.

And I know RC doesn't mean what he says about bringing Lucy back big time. I'm pretty sure. Okay, a little sure. Got my fingers crossed.

le0pard13 April 29, 2010 at 12:02 PM  

A wonderful summary, Jen. Well done. It's hard to believe that was just five days ago. When's the next Festival of Books again? Thanks for this.

Jann April 29, 2010 at 2:53 PM  

Thanks Jen...for those of us who couldn't make it, you summed it up quite well.

Pop Culture Nerd April 29, 2010 at 8:15 PM  

Great recap & pictures, Jen, a wonderful way to share the fun with your readers. Don't know how you do it--travel, take photos & notes, upload pics to share with us, keep up with your blog posts--without being utterly sacked. I needed a day to recoup and I just drove from the Valley!

darbyscloset April 29, 2010 at 10:22 PM  

You just had to write about Michael didn't are such a tease!!!! Love the pic's of the "Kingpins" and especially of my #1 Kingpin!!!! Now tell had to of told MC that Harry won your detective contest (btw when are we going to get the results of the scavenger hunt?) and if in tomorrow's post you have your pic with MC, I am going to up and die!!!!!!!
Can nonblogers go to this? I may have to go next year!!!!
Darby have to admit that my poem was pretty good.....poetry month, mystery poetry, new author, my never ending tbr pile, and don't forget the rhyme! ;-*

kathy d. April 30, 2010 at 1:11 AM  

Yes, that's what I was wondering. Does Michael Connelly know that Harry won your contest for the best p.i.? And if so, did you and he discuss that?

Or did it come it in any way?

Don't think of it as leaving the festival though; there are so many awards' shows and conferences coming up, a veritable abundance of mystery programs.

Jen Forbus April 30, 2010 at 5:59 AM  

Thanks everyone! It was fun going through my notes and writing this post. Reliving the panel...laughing all over again. I'm especially happy you could enjoy it, too!

Darby and Kathy, I took a printed version of the bracket for Michael and presented it to him. You can see the pictures from that in the next post. HE KNEW ABOUT IT!! :) It was a bit, well, wonderful!

And the festival is open to anyone and everyone! Darby, you should definitely go!

Oh, and all winners from the theme week will be announced on Saturday!

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