By Deborah Sharp
Do you remember pacing the hallway in school, waiting for that posted notice telling you whether you'd passed the test, been picked for the play, or made the cut for whatever group you wanted to join?
I always get that same bout of nerves right before writers' conferences hand out their panel assignments. Will I get to hang in the high school lunchroom with the cool kids? Or will I be an outcast at that last table in the back, in smelling range of the garbage cans? I've been seated with both. It's come as a surprise to discover a few of the mystery world's cool kids can be long-winded, self-promoting, time-suckers on a panel. Conversely, the unknowns can turn out to be a lot of fun.
I'm happy to report none of my panel mates for this year's SleuthFest (Feb. 27-March 2, in Orlando, Fla.) conference come from the pain-in-the-butt category. I lucked out with two good panels, made up of fabulous authors. I'm looking forward to the first one: Laugh if You Must: Dying is Easy. Comedy is Hard. Our moderator will be the hilarious Chris Grabenstein -- who was once in an improvisational comedy troupe with Bruce Willis, which I guess would make anyone seem funny. Other panelists are Miriam Auerbach, Phyllis Smallman, and my friend and funny mystery goddess, Elaine Viets.
I plan to talk about how even though my books are funny, I'm really just a sad clown, crying on the inside. Or, I may tell the story about how I once tackled noted literary genius Salman Rushdie for the last lemon poppy-seed muffin on the breakfast buffet at the Miami Book Fair. For a guy who survived the death threats of a fatwa, he's surprisingly slow.
I'm moderating a second panel. Despite the fact moderating is a lot more work, and I am a lazy slacker, I'm looking forward to it. Panelists are Heather Graham, Don Bruns and Jeremiah Healy. Our title: Regrets? I've Had a Few. There is nothing I like more than looking back at my career fails and getting into some serious self-flagellation over how I could have done things differently. Luckily, my regrets aren't the focus here. It's my job as the moderator to ask the panel members how they screwed up.
Now, that sounds like fun!
If things lag, I'll lead the room in a sing-along to Frank Sinatra: ''Regrets, I've had a few. But then again, too few to mention . . . The record shows, I took the blows and did it my way.''
Either that, or I'll tell how I regret being assigned once to a panel with a a big-name author, definitely one of the mystery world's cool kids. Beforehand, stars in my eyes, I introduced myself:
Me: Hi, I'm Deborah Sharp. I write the Mace Bauer Mysteries.
Big-name Author: Oh, those are the funny mysteries.
Long pause, as I nodded, flattered.
Big-name Author: I hate funny.