Monday, October 13, 2008

Once Upon a Bouchercon

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 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."


Bill Cameron said...

Gerald, it was so good to meet you in person at last!

pattinase (abbott) said...

Nice to meet you, Gerald and my husband was so pleased to have one person acknowledge him. Nice of you to remember.

angie said...

It was great to meetcha in person, Gerald. (Though I still say you need to hang out with a better class of peeps if you wanna make time with the ladies!)

Glad to hear you made it back home in one piece. Frankly, I was having so much fun that I, ah, lost track of how much wine I was consuming. For the record, I got a grand total of 35 minutes of sleep before I met up with Donna to head for the airport. Let's just say the travel day was...interesting.


Martin Edwards said...

Good to meet you, Gerald. I've just got back to the UK and I'm waiting for the jetlag to kick in!

Peter Rozovsky said...

I hope everyone reads your account about John Harvey's agreeing to try to submit a poem. That sort of interaction and reaction was what this convention was all about. It wasn't all hugs and booze, y'know.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

Unknown said...

We just got back, so it's recovery time. Great to meet you in person, and maybe we'll see you next year in Indianapolis.

Jack Getze said...

Count me among those who enjoyed meeting you, Gerald, although TFA wouldn't let me out of the computer case to shake your hand. A fellow Crimespacer!

pattinase (abbott) said...

And thanks again for the poetry. I will treasure it.

Anonymous said...

G: Good to finally meet you. My head is still spinning from that event. Crazy funny people at B'con. Crazy.

Gerald So said...

Likewise, Kieran and everyone. Good times, good times.

Anonymous said...

hey Gerald....nice to see you in B'more. A good feeling, seeing in person all these people one normally only sees electronically...

Scott Phillips

Gerald So said...

I agree, Scott. Dinner at The Yacht Club was swell. Too bad they'd run out of tuna steak.

John McFetridge said...

It was great to meet you, Gerald.

Let's tell Kevin Burton Smith we talked about him all night... and then refuse to tell him what we said.

Jen Jordan said...

So completely fantastic to finally meet you! Amazing how much can happen in so little time....

Gerald So said...

It's a deal, John.

Right back at you, Jen.

Ayo Onatade said...

It's a shame that Peter Rozovsky and Angie found the pub quiz boring and demeaning. I am not sure that we were both at the same place. The pub quiz was lively funny and not to be taken seriously. Thalia Proctor (who was the fan guest of honor) is also my friend and she put a lot of time and effort into trying to ensure that fun was had by all. What did they find boring and demeaning about it?

Peter Rozovsky said...

Ayo, Gerald overstated my complaint. I didn't find the quiz boring, for instance. I had a high time for most of it, and I probably did my share of hooting.

But I could have done without the leering questions about "What is Laura Lippman's best feature?" and such. Someone told me later that this was an in-joke about her arms, which meant that if the question was not, in fact, demeaning, it was pitched at insiders. That was very much an exception to the embracing spirit of the convention.

Above all, I pray that this does not turn into some kind of controversy or flame way. All it means is that if I rated the convention as a whole 10/10, I'd give the quiz a 7.

Gerald So said...

I didn't press for details at the time, Ayo. My post makes no mention of "boring." It says Peter and Angie found the quiz "just not funny."

However, not wanting to put words in their mouths, I've changed the post to read, "Peter and Angie had participated...and seemed less than thrilled with the results."

Ayo Onatade said...

I do appreciate your comments and like what Peter said I agree that it should not be turned it some sort of flame war. I accept that not everyone likes a pub quiz. Thanks very much for changing the comment Gerald. I think that I am being a tad sensitive on Thal's behalf knowing how much effort she put into the quiz.

Peter Rozovsky said...

Good God, I love pub quizzes. I have even written haiku in a spontaneous post-pub-quiz poetry session. I hope nothing I or anyone else says will imperil my participation in the next one. My only other gripe is that Christa Faust's tattoo design should have won for our team.

In fact, to show my affection for pub quizzes, I promise to buy you a pub-quiz drink at the next Buochercon or maybe even at Harrogate.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

Ayo Onatade said...

I shall take you up on that offer but it might be sometime. My next anticipated B'Con will certainly be St Louis or San Fransisco if I can make it or otherwise Harrogate if my delightful day job does not hinder me like it appears it might be doing next year!

Peter Rozovsky said...

You can even be on my pub-quiz team, and I promise to behave. Eddie Muller was holding forth on all things noir at a stimulating after-closing bar chat in Baltimore. He took time to plug San Francisco, where he'll be toastmaster.

I met him briefly at Philadelphia's Noircon this year, then chatted with him at greater length at Bouchercon. This is how communities are built, I'd say.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

Charles Benoit said...

I arrived home with too many books that I picked up at Bouchercon, but the first I unpacked and shared with my wife, Rose (a high school English teacher) was that book of crime poetry. She was as impressed as I was and will be using some of the poems in her class, starting with your own "Four Minutes"

Gerald So said...

Great to hear that, Charles. Let me know what her class thinks of it.

Stacey Cochran said...

It was nice meeting you, and thanks so much for the conversation.

Gerald So said...

The pleasure was mine, Stacey,