An Attitude of (Writerly) Gratitude

Giving thanks for book festivals

An Attitude of (Writerly) Gratitude

Lately, I’ve been burned out on book festivals and conferences. As a writer, I attend them for tips on craft and publishing. As a reader, I’m inordinately excited to meet my literary heroes. And while I’m not exactly an introvert, the “always being on” element of any event is exhausting, as is the gossip.

Well, I actually love gossip a great deal, but gossip is, at its heart, a negative activity. It slowly poisons you.

So, while there’s a lot to love about these types of events, I found myself growing numb to their charms and opportunities

And then, earlier this month, I went to Murder and Mayhem in Milwaukee.

MMM enjoys a terrific reputation in the crime-fiction community, and it’s easy to see why. Jon and Ruth Jordan, who run Crimespree Magazine as well as MMM, put on a wonderfully intimate event. The festival is held in a repurposed church, which lends a mischievous sense of grandeur to the proceedings — you don’t often have the opportunity to discuss the appropriate ways to dismember a body in the same place someone had their First Communion.

Not only that, but the conference is a few doors down from the Ambassador Hotel, where a number of attendees stayed, and which achieved a great deal of notoriety after Milwaukee serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer murdered and dismembered a corpse in one of its rooms (a fact curiously missing from the hotel’s brochure).

Actual murder and mayhem aside, Milwaukee is a lovely city, and the attending readers were enthusiastic, engaged, and often expressed their gratitude that we traveled to their city for the event. I was similarly excited to see special guest Lou Berney, and to spend time with a number of inspiring writers, from Jess Lourey to Owen Laukkanen to Joe Clifford to Jennifer Hillier to Chris Holm to, well, everybody on this list.

I left Milwaukee glowing, excited about writing and reading.

Here in the DC area, we’re lucky to have a number of outstanding festivals and conferences. Inspired by David Stewart’s recent column about local bookstores, I put together a list of some of my favorites, events that never fail to remind me why I love reading and writing.

This is, by no means, a comprehensive list. Rather, it’s a subjective one based entirely on personal experience, and I apologize to any festivals and/or conferences I left out. Any omissions are unintentional.

Washington Writers Conference. This is one of the first conferences I ever attended, and it’s one of the most encouraging and interesting in the area. I left that first conference excited by what the Washington Independent Review of Books was doing, and determined to write for them. Make sure you register for next year’s event, which features another outstanding keynote speaker (in an impressive line of keynote speakers), Jeffery Deaver.

The Gaithersburg Book Festival. I just love this festival. It’s free and the location is beautiful, even if it’s hit by the occasional rainstorm. The city of Gaithersburg has done an astonishing job of creating one of the area’s best literary events, and it’s no exaggeration to claim it’s quickly become one of the best in the country. Rain doesn’t dampen the enthusiasm of thousands of book lovers, who fill tents to hear national and regional literary stars discuss their latest work. Special note: In 2019, the Gaithersburg Book Festival will be celebrating its 10th anniversary!

Malice Domestic. I’ve written about Malice Domestic in this space before, and how impressed I was by the conference. Dedicated to the stylings of Agatha Christie, it’s an absolute must-visit for fans of any form of crime fiction.

Creatures, Crimes and Creativity. Austin and Denise Camacho do a wonderful job with this non-genre-specific writing conference. The vibe is inclusive and intimate, and both readers and writers will receive revelatory insights into both career and craft.

Fall for the Book. Usually spread out over a week, FFTB brings in heavy hitters from around the world to discuss writing. And FFTB does a wonderful job of including a wide variety of genres, such as an annual panel sponsored by the Mystery Writers of America. This is also the only local writing festival (I believe) organized by a university, and the outstanding English department of George Mason University — one of the best in the nation — does fantastic work.

The National Book Festival. The obvious granddaddy of them all. The NBF is run by the Library of Congress and uses its vast resources to pull in national and international bestselling authors. The event is free to the public, but make sure you get there early. The Washington Convention Center, where the NBF is held, is huge, but the space still fills fast.

Here are some others I want to include, but my editor is going to murder me if I exceed the word count of this column much more than I already have:

Kensington Day of the Book Festival.
Baltimore Book Festival.
Virginia Festival of the Book (not exactly local, but it's great).

Any others I forgot to mention? List them in the comments.

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