By Mark Alpert I’m on vacation in northern Michigan and using my father-in-law’s computer to write this post (so please excuse any weird formatting problems). Needless to say, it’s great up here. So great that I haven’t thought about writing for two weeks. I did a couple of book signings for my latest novel, Extinction, at my two favorite bookstores in the area, McLean & Eakin in Petoskey and Between the Covers in Harbor Springs. But I haven’t written a word. I’ve been very bad. But I’ve been reading a great new science-fiction book, Wool, by Hugh Howey. My son recommended it to me. It’s fantastic. And I did something heroic: I saved the life of an American icon. I was with my wife and kids at the trout pond at the Oden fish hatchery when I heard a loud thrashing in the trees nearby. Much too loud to be a squirrel. I walked closer and saw huge brown wings flapping ineffectually among the branches. Then the large bird fell to the ground and I saw it was a bald eagle in distress. Maybe it had broken a wing, I couldn’t tell. Anyway, my wife called the rangers at the fish hatchery’s visitor center and within a few minutes they drove up with a couple of nets. By this point the eagle had tumbled into the pond and I was worried it would drown. But the bird had amazing stamina and it managed to keep its head above the water until the rangers fished it out with a net. We checked on the eagle’s status the next day: it was doing well at a local bird sanctuary. So now I’m expecting a congratulatory call from the White House. Mr. Alpert, the President is on the line. Unfortunately, we head back to New York City tomorrow. Dirty, crowded New York City, which always seems twice as unlivable in the days after we return from Michigan. On the plus side, though, I’ll probably get more writing done there.


15 thoughts on “Vacation!

  1. Good on you, Sir. The world needs more compassion.

    I’m always pleased when I read the mention of Michigan in posts. I live a bridge-length away from Michigan and visit Petosky, Traverse City, and Harbor Springs quite often. Especially on the bike (are you familiar with the Tunnel of Trees?). So, I have a question for you…

    When you were a fledgling writer, did you attend conferences? I’m assuming you lived in Michigan at the time, but what I’m trying to get at is there seems to be few writers (at least in the mystery genre) up here in the North so I always have to travel great distances to conferences, and usually alone.

    Did you find conferences integral in becoming a writer?

    • Mark may be too busy enjoying the finale of his vacation to reply, but I invite other TKZ’ers to chime in on the conference question. I think they are extremely helpful for writers at any stage. What’s most useful is that you see writers at every point along a continuum, from unpublished newbie to mega-NYT bestseller. They help us realize that we are all on a journey–there’s always someone ‘greener’ than we are, and there’s always someone more advanced than us on the career curve. Plus the talks, seminars, and access to agents and editors can be extremely helpful. Not to mention the after-hours bar scene! That alone makes them worth going to. 🙂

    • I would say yes, in moderation. One or two a year is plenty. They tend to be so much fun that it’s hard to say no to the next one and before you know it all you are doing is going to conferences, making friends with a bunch of wonderful and talented people, and not getting any writing done. Kind of like eating potato chips or drinking Long Island Ice Teas. It’s hard to pass up one more.

    • Yes, Kathryn, those after-hours bar scenes were the best, and a great way to meet people. The seminars were motivating and since I was alone, I got a lot done in the solitude of my room, which surprised me. I didn’t expect to get any writing done but I did. A great deal, in fact.

      But, Joe, I am worried about getting addicted to conferences. The energy and the rare opportunity to chat with like-minded writers. Just don’t get enough of that where I live. Are they a waste of money? No. As long as you make the most of them.

  2. Love that you looked after that eagle, Mark! We can’t afford to lose a single one of them. I read that New York is seeing a new population of hawks (I guess they enjoy diving from skyscrapers after pigeons and rats). So maybe ypu’ll get your raptor fix with an urban hawk!

  3. There is an explosion of hawks here in central Ohio due to the overpopulation of Canadian geese. Hawks love goose eggs. Yum yum. It’s a target rich environment. Anyway, good job Mark.

  4. I will make a point of going to one a year. The expense of air flight, hotel rooms, and the conferences can be quite high. So far, I’ve gone to Scene of the Crime at Wolfe Island (near Kingston, Ontario) and Bloody Words in Toronto, and enjoyed both to the point where I want to go to them all. Especially the ones anywhere near oceans.

    Where will I go next year? California?

  5. California next year! Absolutely! Maybe Joe will come and bring along a supply of those cool hats for all of us.

    As a college kid, I worked as a bus boy one summer at the Harbor Point Club in Harbor Springs. I nearly cut off my little finger when I dropped a load in the dining room. They fired me–the dogs.

    • Jim, I’m not going to be in attendance next year but in Long Beach visit either Sidewalk Fashions Hats or the Village Hat Shop and they’ll fix you right up!

    • I’ve gotta get the dates straight in my head. I have relatives in Ocean Park where I can stay for free! I’m going. Just imagine all the great Mexican food. The websites for those two hat shops are pretty cool. Thanks.

  6. I live in a suburb of Seattle. We have a long-established bald eagle nest within sight of my back door. Twenty years to my knowledge. I have the pleasure each year of watching two or three fledglings grow up and fly away. It never gets old.

  7. Conferences are invaluable to me. I live in an excruciatingly small town and while 90% of the time I love it (traffic is two cars at the stoplight), there is little creative stimulation.

    I owe my current fledgling success to three conferences: Midwest Writer’s Con, Killer Nashville, and Houston Writer’s Con.

    And without the after-hours bar scene I wouldn’t have been able to chat with Jeffery Deaver about John Gilstrap and close down the bar and chat about Stephen King with Peter Straub (and my friend ended up with a Peter Straub blurb for her book). My current WIP is the result of a bar chat in Houston with uber-agent Janet Reid. I wouldn’t be hanging around TKZ without Midwest Writers. They are a place to meet the like-minded and stake your claim as a writer (and be taken seriously about it.)

    My goal is to go to 2-3 a year. They are my vacations.

    And that is so damn awesome about the eagle. I live in an area that is a migration zone, so I see quite a few, especially young ones. They always give me a huge happy. Ya know, you can actually live in the Midwest . . .


  8. Congratulations on saving the eagle, Captain (Mark) America.
    About those conferences. I started going when my first book was published in 1997. Now I wish I’d gone a year or two before I was published. I really learned a lot.
    After-hours in the bar are equally important — that’s where I got my Dead-End Job contract and a couple of short stories. For the book contract, I bribed the bartender to fix me a club soda that looked really fierce while I talked to the editor for more than an hour.
    I go to conferences that suit my genre — Malice Domestic, Sleuthfest (MWA Florida), as well as small Florida conferences. I’d like to go to more, but they’re a minimum of $2000 with hotel and airfare and eat a big chunk of time. My agent said, “You can write or you can be a conference queen.”

  9. In some places here in Alaska eagles can be more of a nuisance than anything else, but they are still pretty majestic creatures. Very cool to see them up close.

    As for conferences the only one I attend regularly, is the one we have here in Anchorage, The Alaska Writer’s Guild Conference. If any of you happen to come up here for a trip September I highly recommend it. If you attend and let me know that you are a friend from TKZ I will dance with joy the dance of my fathers and sing the song of my people loud and with not-squeaky voice and mostly in tune just for you.

    One of these days my hope is to make it to Thrillerfest, and maybe another Bouchercon or two(I went to Bouchercon once when it came to Anchorage in ’07 and absolutely loved it).

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