Sunday, January 11, 2009

Meeting Michael Connelly (or How Killer Nashville Jumpstarted My Writing Efforts)

Today's article comes courtesy of guest blogger Pamela Schmalz. Pamela is an engineer turned lawyer. She uses her technical background in the practice of Environmental Law. She is at work on a legal thriller and plans to attend Killer Nashville 2009.

I had been nurturing the dream of being a novelist for over ten years, and for the past two years I had been working toward that dream: writing and meeting with a small critique group every three weeks or so. But juggling my day job, and the demands of a toddler, resulted in a less-than-satisfactory output of written words at my computer.

At the urging of my writing group, I kept up my efforts--whenever I believed that time allowed. And one day, a friend forwarded me an email about Killer Nashville.

I had seen other notices for writing conferences, and in fact secretly dreamed of attending the Edgar Awards in New York City--as a nominee in the Best First Novel by an American Author category. When I linked to the conference website, I learned that the Guest of Honor for Killer Nashville 2007 was none other than MICHAEL CONNELLY.

I emailed back to my friend, "Oh my gosh, Michael Connelly is my favorite author of all time."

"Sign up for the conference," she told me. "It just may be the impetus you need in your writing career."

First, I checked with my family, and then I went online and signed up before I could lose my nerve. In the back of my mind, I knew that if I quit my day job to write full time, attendance at such a conference might not fall within our budget again--at least, not until I became a successful author.

As the days passed, I wondered how many of my Michael Connelly books I could carry to the conference with me for signing. I decided that carrying more than a dozen books would paint me as a pathetic writing groupie, so I brought with me only his two latest, Echo Park and The Overlook.

When I awoke Saturday morning, I still couldn't believe that I would be meeting MICHAEL CONNELLY. What would he be like, I wondered. Would he look like a mere mortal, or would there be an otherworldly aura around him?

After lunch, I rushed to the room where Michael Connelly would be interviewed. I got a seat near the center of the room, four rows back, where I could watch him straight on. As the minutes ticked on, I eyed a seat in the very first row. Should I move to that seat? Might near proximity to my hero imbue me with writing talent? Might I be anointed with a droplet of his sweat? If, as Thomas Edison tells us, genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration, could such a droplet help me and my writing?

I decided that such thoughts steered me away from the author-in-my-own-right category, and into the writer groupie category.

And then I saw him. He looked much like the photographs on the back of his novels. His hair was a little shorter, his face not as stern. Amazingly, surprisingly, he stood alone in the room while cameras and microphones were being set up. Occasionally, someone would approach him to converse quietly. Where was the mob? Where were the adoring fans?

This is it. Go talk to him, I told myself. Tell him what an inspiration he has been to you.

But I was paralyzed by awe, still eyeing the seat in the front row, occasionally darting my glance toward MICHAEL CONNELLY.

Get up and talk to him, my brain screamed. But an inner voice told me that I was not worthy, and the moment passed. The front-row seat was taken by a less timid soul, and Michael Connelly got up on stage, behind a table.

Damn, damn, damn. I missed my moment. But the interview was about to begin.

Connelly spoke with quiet confidence. He seemed...could it be?...somewhat nervous to be in front of us speaking about his books and about the craft of writing. He was, as the moderator had told us, a really nice guy.

After the interview, Connelly was signing books, and I quickly got in line. A woman in front of me had a disposable camera, and asked me to take her picture with him as her book was signed.

Damn, damn, damn. Why hadn't I thought of that? Another missed moment.

When I got to the front of the line, I got my two books signed, and managed to stammer out some words about how Connelly's writing had inspired me. I clutched my precious books to me as I walked away, already thinking of the more eloquent things I could have said.

But all was not lost. I had also signed up for dinner with Michael Connelly. Maybe I would have another chance to talk to him at dinner. Alas, Connelly's reserve and my shyness prevented any interchange beween us. Dinner came to an end, and I was getting ready to leave, when I remembered that I had opened a tab so that I could have a glass of wine with dinner. I darted back into the room where we had dined, and asked for my bill. As I was handed my credit card receipt, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed someone else settling his tab.

It was MICHAEL CONNELLY. Again, my brain screamed, talk to him. But the words would not come. I turned to my receipt, only to find that my pen would not work. And as Connelly handed his receipt to the waitress, I blurted, "Could I please use that pen?"

He handed the receipt to the waitress and the pen to me and moved away. I was frozen. There he goes, I thought. I signed my receipt and prepared to give it, and the pen, in their faux leather folio, back to the waitress.

When suddenly, desperately, I asked the waitress, "Can I keep this pen?"

I know this relegates me to the hopelessly desperate writer groupie category, but I don't care. I've got a pen used by Michael Connelly.

Pamela Schmalz


  1. Pamela, I had a similar experience when I heard that Dennis Lehane was the guest of honor at Bouchercon a few years ago. I never even got a chance to speak to him, let alone to wrangle a pen, but I did get to meet another hero of mine, John Connolly. (I hadn't even known he would be there, but it was the high point of my week!)

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