29 June 2006

Thrills at Thrillerfest

I'm in Phoenix, Arizona for Thrillerfest, the annual jamboree of the International Thriller Writers, of which I'm a member.

What is a "thriller" anyhow? Let's start there. I'm told that I write them, as opposed to "mysteries." That seems reasonable to me, there isn't much real mystery in my books. They are more "don't do its" than there are "who done its." I guess that's as close as I can get to describing a thriller. In a mystery something happens early in the book and the rest of the book is spent trying to get to the bottom of it. In a thriller, something is going to happen and the book is spent trying to prevent it, or alter it or fix it. It's the difference between a bomb going off in the first chapter and then the detective trying to find and bring down the culprit. And someone finding out that a bomb is going to go off and spending the book trying to find the bomb and stop it before it explodes.

So, that's why I drove from L.A. to Phoenix yesterday. It takes about 5-1/2 hours, or would if it wasn't for the bottleneck that is built into Highway 10 just as you start entering Phoenix. On the way I passed the truckstop restaurant near Palm Springs that for years has featured lifesize statues of dinosaurs. Now it features statues of humans running around with those dinosaurs. That might seem entertainingly silly until you find out it's because the truckstop has been bought by Christians. The sort of Christians who believe that the world is no more than 6,000 years old and that dinosaurs and people used to wander around together. It is now a truckstop with a mission; an idiotic, science-denying mission. I couldn't bring myself to stop there and give them my business.

So I got to Phoenix where it was 109 degrees and threatening thundershowers. I checked into the Arizona Biltmore - an architectural masterpiece by Frank Lloyd Wright. It is great to look at, but it demonstrates a lot of the all too typical arrogance of big architects. Here, in the middle of the desert, it is an oasis of manicured lawns, non-native trees and bushes and low-lying, low-ceilinged buildings that don't take much advantage of the views, the desert light or the occasional evening breeze. My room would be fine if it were in a Motel 6 where I was paying $49.95 per night. As is I'm paying $130 per night, or something like that, because it's off-season and I'm part of the conference. Usually it's somewhere in the $400 per night range - which would be an utter outrage.

It is certainly a popular conference locale. There is a gigantic group of women here who belong to some national sorority. They are all carrying pink carnations and wearing a lot of makeup. There are Avon ladies. There are us thriller writers and readers.

And best of all there are the Christian fundamentalists who have taken over the ballroom next to the lobby. They are yelling and screaming and flailing and falling on the floor and talking in tongues. The background noise in the lobby is: "Praise Jesus, praise him, hallelujah, praise God, praise Jesus, oh lord..." It does seem something of a mistake on the part of the hotel to have put the bible thumpers right next to the lobby. Maybe they'll take a field trip to the dinosaur truckstop. They haven't brought out any snakes to handle yet, but I'm hoping they will.

It's likely to be 109 or so again today and unfortunately there is no air-conditioned path from the lobby to the conference center.

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