25 August 2020

The Next Best Thing to Being There

We’re all hunkered down these days under house arrest. Some people are binging on Netflix, others catching up on all the cute cat videos they’ve missed. Others still are too anxious to do much of anything productive. I’m lucky in that my life hasn’t changed all that much on a day to day basis since I’ve worked at home for ages. I still walk the dog/s. Do my writing. Listen to music. Watch the old black and white movies that I love. Read. The one big change is that my wife’s been working at home since March. Luckily we seem to get along. Blame that on her more than me 😉.

But, as writers there have been some changes, most notably that in-person events have been cancelled. Most of the conventions and conferences that we enjoy have been zapped, Bouchercon, West Coast Crime (right in the middle of the actual convention), and others. In-store book events and launches have largely disappeared for now. But we live in an age of new-fangled thingies, an amazing age, an age of the internet, Zoom, Skype and other modern marvels.

My virtual acceptance speech for Ellery Queen Readers Award

So, the other day, as I was doing a Zoom panel for a writer’s conference, it dawned on me how cool it is to be able to do this. Not all that long ago it couldn’t have happened because the technology wasn’t there. With something like the Covid pandemic the event would just have disappeared. But with Zoom, Skype and others they just sort of morph into something virtual.

Since the lockdown began I’ve done several Zoom events. I haven’t yet hosted one though I’m thinking about doing that for the Coast to Coast: Noir anthology that I co-edited that’s coming out in September. That will be a new learning curve. But before that I had to learn how to Zoom as a guest. It’s not hard – and it’s really cool and fun. I also did a short (non-Zoom) video for Ellery Queen on coming in second in their readers poll since they, too, cancelled their in-person event in NYC. And I’ve done several panels and interviews and even virtual doctor appointments. As I write this a bit ahead of its posting date just a few days ago I did a Skype interview for a radio station in England. Could we have done that even twenty years ago? Maybe by phone, but with much more difficulty and expense.

E-flyer from Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles first House Arrest virtual reading
Remember long distance phone calls (and long distance could virtually be just across the street in some cases). They were ridiculously expensive. You’d call the operator before your call and request “time and charges,” then when the call was over the operator would call you back and tell you how long the call lasted and how much it cost. And you’d get sticker shock.

The "good old days".
In the near last minute my wife suggested doing a virtual launch for The Blues Don’t Care in June since there were no in person events happening. So we had to scramble to figure out how to do that. We weren’t sure if we should try Zoom or another service or stick to the old standby (yeah ‘old’ standby) of Facebook, which is what we ended up doing. And it turned out better than I had expected. We had a big group of people and questions flying back and forth. Plus I’d toss out tidbits of info on various things related to events that took place in the novel, like the gambling ships that lay off the SoCal coast back in the day. It was fun, if a little hectic, and I think people enjoyed it.

So we make do as best we can. And we don’t have to shower or drive to get to our meetings 😉. It’s also kind of cool to just see someone when you’re talking one to one with Zoom or Skype or other services. My wife’s family reunion was cancelled this year because of Covid but her and some of her cousins get together semi-regularly with each other via Zoom. Like they used to say, it’s the next best thing to being there.

So what’s next? Virtual reality meetings? Holograms? Mind-melding? Beam me up Scotty! There seem to be no limits to technology, but there is still something to be said for meeting people face to face. Standing close enough to whisper something, closer than 6 feet apart. Laughing, talking, sharing good food (and drink!) and good stories. So until we can do those things again, at least we have the virtual world, which is the next best thing.


And now for the usual BSP:

I want to thank Living My Best Book Life for this great review of The Blues Don’t Care. Here’s an excerpt and a link to the full review:

"The Blues Don't Care by Paul D. Marks is a mysterious historical fiction set in the WWII time period. It tackles topics like corruption, racism, and many others that we are still facing today. I was taken aback by Paul D. Marks's talented writing style. This story is powerful and Paul did a wonderful job developing his main character, Bobby Saxon...

…I was captivated from the very start. This author tackled so many subjects that few care to bring up. The detail of the story gave me an insight on all the injustices in the 1940's. I appreciated the heart of the story; a person chasing their dream and never looking back. Bobby Saxon is a well-developed character that was able to learn, grow, and hone in on his craft. There is a main secret of Bobby's that I didn't see coming. This is such a fascinating historical fiction that I thoroughly enjoyed!”


Please join me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/paul.d.marks and check out my website  www.PaulDMarks.com


  1. Virual reality is filling the void, but we might lose the humanity if we never interact with people on a more tactile basis. Just think about a virtual dog walk. The next thing will be a virtual dog. Or how about a robot friend? I want to get back to looking real people in the eye to see the real human being there. I may not be touchy feely, but I want to know we aren't alone in this world.

  2. Zoom, huh? Tried it once. My cats interfered. It was fun.

  3. I'm not a zoom guy unless I'm flying. :) However, it's a great way for people to stay in touch when there's no other way.

  4. Zoom is better than nothing, and I'm grateful to connect that way for lots of things lately. But you can't beat sitting at the bar of a conference and striking up random conversations. I hope we DON'T do holograms. One good thing about Zoom is not having to be fully dressed, only the top half. I'm not sure I know how to be presentable any more.

  5. Zoom is working pretty well for a lot of things, and I'm very thankful for it. But yeah, I still miss sitting in a room with live people.

  6. Thanks for writing this. I did a zoom presentation for Malice in Memphis and will write a little about that next month. I belong to a songwriting group that has met monthly for 20 years and one of our founders now lives two time zones away. She is able to attend every meeting now!

  7. It’s definitely better than nothing. If we had to have a pandemic, I’m glad it happened at this point in time. My beef with ZOOM: it doesn’t show me to best effect. Lol.

  8. I agree, Gayle, we do lose something by not being in contact with people. But Zoom and the like are better than what we could have done even a few years ago. And now I think I’ll have a virtual ice cream cone.

  9. Cameo appearances by pets is part of the fun with Zoom, isn’t it, O’Neil?

  10. It’s kind of like The Jetsons, isn’t it, Mark? Better than just a phone call.

  11. I think a lot of us on Zoom are only fully dressed from the waist up, Kaye. Just remember not to stand up while on the call.

  12. I agree, Eve. And without Zoom and things like it we really would be isolated and wouldn’t we?

  13. That’s really cool about your long-distance songwriting friend, Rob. And doing the Malice presentation, too. There’s a lot of downside to technology, but there’s also a lot of upside.

  14. Maggie, it’s funny. Some people in Zoom meetings are well-lit and come across well. Others look like they’re in a cave. I think we all need some Hollywood pros to help with our Zoom looks ;-) .


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