Sweet Roam, Alabama


photo by Paula Benson

They had me at “rolling tailgate party.” There it was in plain print in the invite. Please join us down here in Alabama, the organizers said, and don’t worry about Friday night icebreakers because Margaret’s rolling tailgate party had things covered. Yes, I admit envisioning some mechanical lovechild of liquor cart meets Bama game, but that only added to the intrigue. Plus there would be talk of books. So it was with much excitement, and a taste for a gin and tonic, that last weekend I drove the three hours to Birmingham. No, there wasn’t a liquor cart with grill and sauce attachment.*

They did way better, Margaret and Tammy and all the volunteers who worked their tails off.

They put on a wonderful weekend.


It is a scientific fact that crime writers–the modern ones, anyway–are wonderful people. Wherever they gather in numbers will be a lively place, and so it was in Birmingham. I was welcomed straight out by big smiles and friendly points toward a normal stock of wine, booze and mixers. Among others, I had a chance to meet my panel chief Ron O’Gorman, Larissa Reinhart, and Sam Morton. This, on top of a Killer Nashville all-star panel reunion with Paula Benson, Warren Bull, and Debra Goldstein.

Saturday broke crystal blue, and so mild you expected Sinatra to stroll by crooning “It Might as Well Be Spring.” The panels did a great job walking a full house through craft stuff: voice, location, short vs. long forms, and the like. Michael Guillebeau was hilarious–no surprise, having gotten to know him–and Craig Johnson might consider a one-man-show career if the writing thing doesn’t work out for him.

Thank you, thank you, Margaret for having me.


Wetumpka loves its crater. And they should–the hundred million year-old impact literally shapes the town, from its horseshoe ridgeline to the scored and jagged rockscape to their communal link of past, present and future. The crater is there, and it is cool.

The weekend’s second leg was another beautiful day, another welcoming town, another great talk by Craig Johnson. My panel–led by straight-shot-of-awesome Terry Farley Moran and starring the brilliant Michael Kardos–was up first, and we had a weighty topic: the motive for murder. We talked through such dark matters and how to structure a novel (or story) to maintain the mystery. I speculated all various motives might eventually have a common root in the need for control. As for mystery, I suggested to dribble out the clues and make the protagonist earn each one the hard way, like trading safety for knowledge.

A big thanks to Mayor Willis, the Wetumpka Library and our coordinator/emcee Tammie Lynn. Y’all nailed the Southern hospitality, and I’m looking forward to another visit. And a tour of your crater.


* Honestly, no rolling bar and grill combo is for the best. It sounds kind of dangerous.


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