Plan B

By Debbie Burke


In Montana, Labor Day weekend is summer’s last hurrah for camping, hiking, and outdoor recreation.

It’s also the date for “Rumble by the Bay,” a classic car and truck show where the streets of Bigfork are closed to display more than a hundred vintage vehicles with glossy enamel paint, fender skirts, and wide whitewalls.

At the same time in Bigfork, local authors Leslie Budewitz, Mark Leichliter, and I were preparing for our panel discussion about crime fiction entitled “Mystery and Murder Under the Big Sky.”

This was our fourth year doing the popular panel. In the past, we followed Plan A: we spoke from a covered pavilion stage while the audience sat in Adirondack chairs on a large lawn adjacent to the bakery/bar that hosts us. While the lovely Swan River flowed past, they enjoyed pastries and beverages and we revealed how we kill people on the page.

Photo credit: Kay Bjork

Here’s a photo of a previous year.

I also wrote about the gathering in this post.

For three years, Plan A was successful.

However, weather doesn’t pay attention to human plans.

And this year, it rained.

While gearheads across the street rushed to put up convertible tops, we writers moved to Plan B.

We and our audience got cozy under the awning in the bar’s patio. 

A lady I didn’t know approached holding my book Deep Fake Double Down and asked me to sign it. Her name was Susan but that’s all I knew about her. Then she settled in with the rest of the audience.

In the past, we had talked from the stage and needed sound equipment. Now we sat at chairs and tables in an area small enough that people could hear us without mics.

Plan B worked great. The atmosphere was intimate, like a gathering of friends chatting about reading and books. The questions were intelligent and thought-provoking. People felt free to comment and expand the discussion.

Susan mentioned I was scheduled to appear at her book club that’s led by one of my Zumba teachers. I said, “Oh, cool. I’m looking forward to the Zumba Book Club.” The audience laughed because apparently no one had heard of a Zumba book club. That also led to a discussion about how authors often find readers in unexpected places.

Leslie, Mark, and I were thrilled to enjoy spirited interaction with avid readers who share the interests and concerns that our books address.

Mark Leichliter, Debbie Burke, Leslie Budewitz.
Behind us, the Swan River is flowing by.

We weren’t performers elevated on a stage but guests at a book club in the home of a gracious host.

In prior years, car show folks had drifted through on their way to the bar, causing a bit of distraction. Of course, we want the venue to make money, but that lent a different tone to our presentation.

This year, Leslie made the observation: “…a good percentage of the audience had come to hear us. They didn’t just happen on us and that increased their engagement. The rain may have washed away the other folks and left us with that core audience.”

I can’t speak for the others, but my book sales were better than in past years!

One attendee commented to Mark, “It was like the three of you were in my living room.”

Sometimes Plan B turns out better than Plan A.

Post script: After our presentation and book signing, the sun came out and we enjoyed a stroll through real steel classics and shiny chrome. Here’s what I have my eye on as soon as my books sell a million copies.









Post-post script: Yesterday I met with the Zumba Book Club and Susan was there. I offered a Steve Hooley Deep Fake Sapphire pen as the prize for people who signed up for my newsletter (thanks again, Steve!). As I scanned the entry slips, I recognized Susan’s last name and asked her, “Are you related to Dr. Fxxxxx?” 

“That was my husband.” 

Dr. Fxxxxxx had been our wonderful dentist for many years until he passed away. He was so gentle that my father-in-law would fly all the way from San Diego to Montana for Dr. Fxxxxx to do his dental work. I was happy to share that story with Susan and it obviously pleased her to hear that patients still remembered her husband’s kindness. 

Time for the pen drawing. The winner was (drumroll) Susan Fxxxxx. 

You can’t always plan a happy outcome. Sometimes it just happens. 


TKZers: Did you ever need to change plans at the last minute for an event, either as a presenter or as an attendee?

Did the change cause things to go awry?

Or did a rain cloud show a silver lining?



“This is a truly unique mystery with a distinctive, all-too-plausible premise and memorable characters.” – BookLife Prize

Available at major booksellers at this link.

27 thoughts on “Plan B

  1. Plan B sounds like a winner! Will you keep the intimate setting next year, rain or shine? Personally, I dislike the stage setting. It’s too inhospitable and can be intimated for some readers. We need to do what the venue wants, of course, but I try to avoid it if possible.

    • Good question, Sue. Leslie, Mark, and I are already talking about next year. The patio can’t accommodate as many people as the lawn area. Plus we don’t want to block access to the bar if there’s a large crowd.

      We’ll figure it out and I’ll report back next summer.

    • I agree with you about stages in most venues, but one with an open lawn, Adirondack chairs, rocks and plants and a river rushing by, the occasional osprey flying overhead? Oh, and coffee or mimosas? Setting as character, indeed! We just had to be careful on the hour, when the classic car owners fire up their engines and “rumble”!

  2. Thanks, Debbie. I’m glad Plan B worked out so well.

    The only event I can remember where things did not go as planned was a woodturning demo when the demonstrator glued herself (super glue) to the turning she was working on. She had no debonder with her, so was “stuck” to her lathe for about 15 minutes until someone came running with the debonder.

    During those 15 minutes the audience got to ask any and all questions. That episode became famous, and the poor demonstrator’s picture showed up in a top woodturning journal (stuck to her lathe). She took it in stride and gave a lot of turners a big smile.

    I look forward to the day when you buy that little blue coupe, Debbie.

    Have a great week!

  3. Wonderful to hear how the lemon the rain brought you and your fellow panelists turned into lemonade under a bar’s patio awning. I think a lot of readers would appreciate a more cozy venue over a raised platform. What a great opportunity to mingle with your readers.

    I do have a vague memory of a science fiction convention from years ago, where, things were changed up and the author guest and the rest of us had to move to less formal setting, for a similar, enjoyable and more laid back experience, but unfortunately, I can’t recall the details, but the impression lasted 🙂

    • “I can’t recall the details, but the impression lasted.”

      Dale, that’s exactly the positive impression we writers strive to make on readers.

      Maya Angelou said: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

  4. Congratulations, Debbie, on a successful book panel discussion! Inside or outside, what a beautiful venue to hold it in! “While the lovely Swan River flowed past …” Sigh.

    Having a Plan B is always a good idea (“The best-laid plans …”), and sometimes it works out better in the long run. Sounds like your change in plans was all good. I can understand why the audience members were more comfortable and engaged.

    That baby blue Porsche is gorgeous. If you come to Memphis, we’ll plan a book event down by the Mississippi River to help you make progress toward your automotive dreams.

  5. Debbie, what a wonderful story! Thanks for sharing it.

    I spoke at a writers group in August this year, in a small town about 80 miles away from where I live. I didn’t know what the setting would be before I arrived.

    I visualized being in a room (it was in a meeting room at the local library in the town), standing in front of a group with a lectern in front of me for my notes.

    Boy, was I wrong!

    The room was about the size of my living room, and the audience (about 20 unpublished writers who want to be published) was arranged at small tables set up in a circle. They placed me at a table in the circle. What to do, what to do…

    I moved my table, bounced into the center of the circle, and that’s where I stayed while I spoke. Left my notes behind and spoke from my heart on the importance of Writing Scared. (Steve, one of those writers won your Baseball Ash pen by guessing my age. Ha!)

    The leaders of the group, who are published and mentoring these writers, told me it was one of the best presentations they’d heard and thanked me for encouraging their members.

    It was truly a great experience for me. I was on a “high” all the way home.

  6. Wish I could have been there, Debbie. You only need to sell 1,000,000 -1 more copies of Deep Fake Double Down, because I’m picking up my copy today! Come on, everyone. Let’s help Debbie get her dream car,

  7. Thanks for telling the story, Debbie, and for being so flexible. All that Zumba, I’m guessing!
    We did set our book tables up on the covered stage, rather than on the lawn as usual, in case the rain returned, and that gave us plenty of space to chat with readers and sell books after “bakery and bar book club.” That feeling of intimacy carried over and I too sold more books than at past events.
    Good to hear other examples of flexibility — a job requirement for authors everywhere!

  8. I’m so glad Plan B worked out so well! I love intimate setting and when I speak to a group, if I can move around them, it’s so much better. I’m doing a brunch at a local library Saturday and look forward to talking to the attendees.

  9. Always have a Plan B, Debbie, but one time I didn’t follow that advice. I had scheduled a self-publishing seminar at our main library downtown and had a special guest (who I won’t name drop but is a pretty big fish) lined up to co-present to a audience of about 40. When we got to the venue, the library staff told us the room set aside was no longer available. What to do? One of the audience members owned a second-hand bookstore a block away. Our group marched down the street and “held court” in her store’s basement. It was the coziest place, and we went into an hour overtime because of the atmosphere – plus who the guest was 🙂

    • What a great solution, Garry! IMO, a bookstore is a better venue than a library b/c people can buy, not borrow, books. An hour overtime proves the success of your Plan B.

  10. It was such fun to connect with you again, and to know Bob had been your dentist. I was also thrilled to win the gorgeous sapphire pen. What a treasure. Now this is spooky, the first Golden Retriever we had when our kids were little was named Muggins !!!! It was after a ranch hand my mother told me about when she was growing up in Bigfork on the farm.

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