From the moment I stepped into the hospitality suite, after checking in but before storing my luggage, a gaggle of writers and fans embraced me. I was finally putting faces and voices to so many names I admired. A bit overwhelming, yes, but every knowing glance, every conversation, every laugh over the four days remains clear to me. At the same time, my internal editor has deleted any attempts to list everyone I met. No one likes a name-drop after all, but I'll mention a few of the longer conversations and repeat appearances, if only to prove I actually attended.
One of the first to welcome me was perhaps the warmest voice in cyberspace, fellow contributor to Nasty. Brutish. Short., Bill Crider.
Before even storing my luggage, I fell into conversation with Crime Scene Scotland's Russel McLean. I gladly crossed paths with Russel every day of the con, and he was one of the last people I spoke to before leaving, so the weekend seems punctuated by his enthusiastic "Mmm-hmm, yeah."
Russel introduced me to Spinetingler's Sandra Ruttan and the queen of crime podcasts, In For Questioning's Angie Johnson-Schmit. I then touched base with Dave White, who on Satuday morning's P.I. panel was officially called by the venerable John Lutz, "Awesome Dave."
The first panel I attended was Janie's Got a Gun, Thursday 4:30-5:30. (Outside the panel room, I met Bill Cameron and Brett Battles.) JT Ellison, Cornelia Read, and Greg Rucka were all unable to attend, but Alison Janssen filled in ably as moderator and Tom Cain as panelist, along with Tasha Alexander, Robert Fate, and Zoë Sharp. Great to hear each of their characters' attitudes toward violence, and how vulnerable the knees are in a pinch.
The 7:00 P.M. Opening Ceremonies were standing room only, but I managed to swim through and get a decent view of the proceedings. I said hello to Jason Pinter and finally met Sean Chercover in person. Sean would later win the PWA's Shamus for Best First Novel Big City, Bad Blood, and as a group of us walked back to the Sheraton, I got to ask how he felt within minutes of winning.
Friday morning, Jack Bludis and I had the breakfast buffet at the Radisson Lord Baltimore. This was supposed to be a meet-and-greet for members of my various e-Groups, but I didn't mind the chance to chat with Jack, who said he wasn't that into poetry and probably wouldn't attend the Poetry In Motion panel at ten, but showed up anyway and afterward told me he'd changed his mind and would take a copy of The Lineup. How about that?
The panel went well. I don't know that we sold the concept of crime poetry, but I hope we made a few people curious. In addition to answering the audience's basic questions about poetry, we each read some of our work. I read "A Single Bound" and "Witness Protection". These were the shortest by far, and I took some good natured ribbing, but all I had to say was, "Potency."
After the panel I went to the signing room and signed a few copies for people at no charge. Though crime has always been as much a part of poetry as it has fiction, the reading of crime in poetry may be well behind fiction. The Lineup is currently the only crime poetry collection at the Library of Congress. The major task right now is to get people to read and appreciate hardboiled and noir attitude in poetry. (One such reader was author Charles Benoit, who caught up with me later and said he read the book cover-to-cover aloud twice, probably infuriating his neighbors, but it had to be done.)
The next Friday panel I attended was about first novels with Craig McDonald, Marcus Sakey, and Sean Chercover. I asked them if their second novels were easier, more difficult, or as difficult as their first. Committed writers that they are, they all said more difficult, valuing the challenge to continue to push themselves.
Then I was off to the forgotten books panel moderated by Dana Kaye, with Bill Crider, Patti Abbott, Lee Child, Ali Karim, and Rae Helmsworth. The panel was great, but just as great for me was getting into a conversation before the panel with James R. Benn, writer of the Billy Boyle series.
Next was Jen Jordan's panel with Christa Faust, Martyn Waites, Nathan Singer, and Russel McLean. Ostensibly it was about books that leave a lasting impact, but the panelists got to talking about how imagining character complexity is a large part of that impact.
Friday night was the Shamus Awards banquet. I was dressed in the same suit as in my profile photo, different shirt and tie, and for a while I felt overdressed as no one sat with me. Eventually I was joined by Gary Phillips, Libby Fischer Hellman, and several contributors to Chicago Blues. I picked the table closest to the buffet for easy access, but each table was called individually, with the closest last. Oh, well. My tablemates and I got to know each other better than anyone in the room.
I was particularly pleased Cornelia Read won the Best Short Story Shamus for "Hungry Enough", a terrific story. Get well soon, Cornelia.
After dinner, I skipped a tour of Poe's burial site, but on my way back to the hotel, John Harvey and I struck up a conversation, and though he hasn't written a poem in years, he said he'd try for The Lineup's December 15 invited submission deadline.
Saturday morning I attended the 8:30 publishing panel moderated by Madeira James with agents David Hale Smith and Scott Miller, publicist Maggie Griffin, editor Ben LeRoy, and reviewer Sarah Weinman. As an editor, I was gratified to here from others to whom the common sense details were important. Follow the submission guidelines, people.
Feeling malnourished at this point, I stopped for a drink at the hospitality suite and chatted with Jim Born about the status of Naked Authors.com and his hilarious fun with firearms YouTube videos. I also gladly praised Jim's books to Doris Ann Norris.
At 11:30 was the panel on the P.I. novel moderated by Harry Hunsicker, with Declan Hughes, Linwood Barclay, John Lutz, Michael Wiley, and Dave White. Each author showed deep appreciation for the P.I. novel, none moreso than Hughes, whose visible and vocal anger at those who declare the P.I. novel dead is sure to encourage a generation.
At 1:30, I caught a panel about conflicted protagonists for the chance to meet Sean Doolittle and J.D. Rhoades and was also impressed with R.J. Ellory's remarks on fiction theory.
At 3:00 I attended a panel exploring Batman's place, if any, among crime fiction's greatest detectives. A couple of the original, more authoritative panelists had pulled out of the con, but it was still interesting to try and reconcile the different eras of Batman with why the character has remained so popular. I was glad to meet Murder By the Book's McKenna Jordan and learn of Victor Gishler's love for Frank Miller's Daredevil run.
At 4:30 I thought I'd get an early start toward St. Alphonsus for 5:30 Mass. When I got there, the doors were locked and there was no listing of a 5:30 Mass. I could have headed back to the hotel and gone to Mass at 8:30 the next morning, but that would make things tight on the last day of the con. While I was thinking what to do, two doctors who were part of the Catholic Medical Association convention at the Hyatt came by. They were likewise stymied by the locked doors but told me of a 5:30 Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. As we walked there, I told them my father had been a pediatric surgeon and talked a bit about B'con and crime poetry. The basilica and the Mass were two of the most amazing experiences I've ever had. Part of the homily focused on the role and commitment of Catholic doctors. I thought of my dad and also my mom, who gave up practicing surgery to raise my brother and me.
After Mass, the shortcut the doctors and I had taken was closed off so I wandered a few blocks looking for the way back to the hotel. An hour and a half later, Charles Benoit caught sight of me and I joined up with his friends back to the hotel.
Just before 9:00 I was in the lobby debating taking part in Thalia Proctor's Pub Quiz when Scott Phillips walked by and asked if I wanted to join him, Declan Burke, Stacia Decker, John McFetridge, and friends. I said, "Sure."
I thought they were going to the lounge for the quiz, but before I knew it I was back outside and decided to go with them to dinner at The Yacht Club. It sounded fancy, and by this time I had on my Smallville gym shirt, but the place turned out to be a bar.
After dinner, Dana King and I followed John into the hotel restaurant to meet with Peter Rozovsky and Angie Johnson-Schmit. Peter and Angie had participated in the quiz and seemed less than thrilled with the results. The hours of conversation and laughs that ensued among the five of us made a great final night for me.
Despite getting to bed at 1:30 A.M., I woke up 5:30, showered, packed, and checked out. At 8:30, I was about to go into the Sunday hangover panel when a fire alarm went off. I don't know what I would have done had I been in my room, but as it was all I had to do was walk to the end of the hall, up some stairs, and out the door. Two fire engines responded to what turned out to be a false alarm. I went back into the panel and got to witness the coiled fury that is Stuart MacBride.
I had just enough time for one more panel: A Town Called Malice, after which I met with poetry fan Pari Noskin Taichert and fellow blogger, Martin Edwards.
Bonuses for me were a quick chat with Jeremiah Healy and talking basketball and architecture with S.J. Rozan.
The trip as a whole reminded me, despite efforts to plan, how easily I can reduced to stumbling along with no plan. I've had to put my faith in something beyond myself all my life, and the big things have all worked out for the good. I didn't need any of it to happen to sustain my faith, but as I said to Jon Jordan when he offered me a second B'con book bag, "I'll take it."