Sandi and I have just returned from an extended visit to the USA that was full of interest and incident, and that confirmed just how small the world is now.
The main purpose target was ThrillerfestXI, the annual convention of the International Thriller Writers. http://thrillerfest.com/
What a gathering. Along the way I met the legendary Walter Mosley, a standout speaker in a star host. I spent time with Peter James, one of the UK’s best and most successful writers and the international coordinator for ITW. And not to forget meeting that other legend, Lawrence Block who has been writing forever. Among those heard during the 8 am to 8 pm days: Steve Berry, Gillian Flynn, Karin Slaughter, Lee Child (also got to meet him), Linwood Barclay, David Morrell (another former academic), the amazing R.L. (Bob) Stine, Heather Graham, Tess Gerritsen, Jeff Deaver, Meg Gardiner and many more.
There was the fun of being on a panel chaired by Simon Toyne and sitting alongside Valentina Giambanco whose first book I had read and admired. The others included Douglas Stewart, an English lawyer who has worked in Vegas; Ward Larsen, a commercial airline pilot; Bill Shweigart, formerly in the US Coast Guard; and Leonardo Wild, based in Ecuador and script writer as well as thriller merchant.
The first two days were for Craftfest, a series of panels and workshops on the writing life, techniques, strategies, skills and ideas. People like Steve Berry turn out to be skilled teachers, and Walter Mosley to be a really seriously good thinker.
As always, the benefits were in just being around people with ideas and who are so encouraging. Stars like Child, James and Mosley et. al. see themselves as writers like everyone else, and act accordingly. It was a terrific opportunity to get added energy for and commitment to writing.
And then there was New York in the spare time: fireworks on 4 July; a great night at Birdland with Sandi and Kirsten listening to Stacey Kent; “Oslo”, a wonderful play at the Kennedy Centre about the 1993 peace accords; an excellent Italian meal at Sam’s Place in midtown; bookshops; diners; the B&H camera shop; and all the rest.
Around that New York gig we built visits to friends. First stop was in Phoenix with great and generous pals Lyn and Chris Griffiths who arranged for me to talk about Le Fanu and Madras to their local community. That was a great night. We also went out to Chase Field to cheer on the Diamondbacks against the San Francisco Giants (because for me the Giants are ahead of the Dodgers in the National League West), but to no avail. http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/standings/
After the ITW dinner at the end of Thrillerfest , Michigan we got up at 3 am to catch a flight out to Traverse City to meet up with Marily and Clint Sampson and to stay at their place overlooking Cathead Bay on Lake Michigan, up from TC. It is a fabulous place and we had a fabulous few days travelling Leelanau County.
The bizarre moment while there was catching up opportunistically with Mike Sinclair, another Kiwi and a friend of my pal Alan Cumming, and who lives these days in Northport near Cathead Bay. The world is weird.
Sandi and I then drove from Traverse City, Michigan to Frankenmuth, a German-settled town, to meet Christine and Richard Stark, another couple of friends met on the Holland America Line ships where I do lectures. That was terrific and they gave me a book by a writer who I now really like, Tony Hillerman. https://www.harpercollins.com/cr-100467/tony-hillerman
As I keep saying, I am a “crime and place” person for whom the setting is as important as the stories and the characters. Hillerman writes about the American west, a really atmospheric setting now captured in the Longmire television series starring yet another Australian, Robert Taylor. Another writer in that vein, C.J. “Chuck” Box, was a Thrillerfest featured writer.
Coincidentally, near Frankenmuth is the excellent Birch Run “outlet centre” so we spent several acquisitive hours there before heading off towards Kingston in Ontario, a marvellous town. http://www.premiumoutlets.com/outlet/birch-run
Then it was back into America towards Stowe, Vermont and the Trapp Family Lodge where we spent a week to celebrate 35 years of marriage. (Where the hell did that time go?). The Trapps lobbed up in Stowe after they walked out of Austria in that film, you remember? By chance, though, there was another connection for me in the town. Joe Kirkwood was one of the first Australian golfers to go to America. A “choker” who never won a major, he was still a huge star travelling the world with Walter Hagen and playing trick shots. One of his twin sons became a Hollywood actor in the Joe Palooka series, and Joe himself ended up as the first professional at the Stowe Country Club. http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/kirkwood-joseph-henry-10753
Having a beer in the Kirkwood Bar and visiting his grave was moving. Like us, he was a long way from home.
It was a week of bike riding (wondering when the bears would emerge from the woods), eating at great restaurants (try Harrisons and The Bistro at Ten Acres), finding lovely spots and shops. http://www.gostowe.com/
One of those shops was Ebenezer, a marvellous independent bookshop in the nearby small town of Johnson. A terrific find – we bought a few books! https://deegarretson.wordpress.com/2011/04/04/bookstore-love-%E2%80%93-ebenezer-books-johnson-vermont/
After Stowe we headed for Bristol, Connecticut (home of ESPN) to catch up with Bob and Sandra Utterback.
On the way there we made one of those great stops, off the freeway between Hartland and Windsor, Vermont. We needed petrol so stopped at a station where the guy came out to fill up the car for us, a rare experience these days. We needed breakfast so he suggested Frazer’s Place, just along the road. The classic diner in what had started life as a mobile home. Sit at the counter. A huge plate of eggs, sausage, toast. Endless coffee. Lots of chat with the locals. The local cop and a detective come in for breakfast. The real America.
Bob Utterback was my great golfing pal when we all lived in Penang, Malaysia during the 1990s, and he makes the world’s best margarita. These days, he and Sandra spend the summers at an amazing campground complex where the houses all started out as summer camps for religious organisations. Now the houses have all been refurbished and the community is an engaged and fun one drawing people from all over the States and Canada.
Without discussion, Bob got us to two massive antique centres, and I managed to find a piece of the Straits Chinese porcelain that I began collecting while in Penang. (There was more waiting when we got home to Queenstown).
Amidst all this we watched all of the Democratic and Republican conventions on television, and discussed it with our friends and their friends who are all keen to talk, mostly in frustration. Their dilemma is this: how does a country like America end up with a choice between the two most detested Presidential candidates in a very long time, perhaps ever? A decision not to vote is effectively a vote for one or other of them, while a determination to vote is driven by the thought about which of them is the least worst. For perhaps millions of voters, it is a terrible choice.
The USA is not alone in this pain, of course. http://www.globalpolicyjournal.com/blog/14/07/2016/ennui-politics-discontent The UK voted to leave the European Union just as we were about to leave for the States, then we voted in the mad Australian election called by Malcolm Turnbull and that just about threw him out. Politically, the world is now a strange place, and much of the anger is driven by an alienation from the professional politicians who seem more focused on themselves than on either their constituents or their countries. That is certainly the case in America where, as I write, Trump seems to be alienating everyone, but he has tapped a deep despair with the “establishment” and, whether he wins or loses, has shaken up American politics for ever.
Then it was on to NYC and JFK to round out 2,000 miles of driving and a great experience.
And then we fly back into Queenstown.
Life is OK.