Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Bar at Bouchercon

Elizabeth Zelvin

I’ve just returned from my first time at Bouchercon, mystery’s biggest annual convention, which draws hundreds of writers and even more hundreds of fans. I’ve heard over and over that the best place to network at Bouchercon is the bar. This has presented me with a dilemma, since I’m an alcoholism treatment professional whose debut mystery, Death Will Get You Sober, is about recovery. Who would I meet at the bar but people who drink too much? It was an educated guess, since in more than twenty years as a therapist and program director I’ve been exposed to the pain and tragedy of hundreds, even thousands of men and women who met their alcoholic loved ones—or a series of disastrous loves—in just that way.

But I was wrong. As I realized within half an hour of sailing through the lobby of the Sheraton Baltimore City Center into Shula 2, a subdued but not dim or smoky space so packed with mystery lovers it resembled, as we say in New York, the IRT at rush hour, I realized that at Bouchercon, the bar is not where people go to drink. It’s where they go to schmooze. And hey, I was born to schmooze, so I fit right in.

As early as the Wednesday night before the convention’s opening day, the bar was packed three deep and every table filled. Some folks were drinking beer. Others were eating dinner. And the rest, like me, were talking a mile a minute about crime fiction and writing and everything under the sun.

Kaye Barley from Boone, NC, a reader well known on the e-list DorothyL, reported afterward to the list: “There was a group of us sitting around a table just talking and feeling so totally comfortable with one another that we decided to pass on going to the Lee Child Reacher Creature party to just continue sitting around getting to know one another and enjoying one another’s company. It was lovely.” It was indeed. It was Kaye’s first Bouchercon too, and, like me, she’s already signed up for Indianapolis in 2009. That group, by the way, included authors Shane Gericke, Robert Fate, and Gwen Freeman.

What else happened in the bar? British author Stephen Booth recognized me as one of his MySpace friends, and we had a long conversation about cabbages and kings. Reed Farrel Coleman and I bonded on the topic of blowing off a major Jewish holiday because we didn’t want to miss a thing at Bouchercon. And I know he went home happy, because he won the Shamus award for Best PI Novel.

I ate delicious crab soup and seared tuna and exchanged life stories with my roommate, Kate Gallison. (Kate’s new series set in the age of silent film, written under the name of Irene Fleming, is coming from St. Martin’s in 2010.) We were strangers when we agreed to room together. “Never met” is the wrong phrase in this age of online relationships. We didn’t have one of those beforehand either, but it was a match made in heaven. We talked nonstop and will surely room together at future cons. I met Joe Konrath, whom I got to thank for one of the three best tips ever for authors going on book tours: Get a GPS. When I told him about how Sadie got me to my destination all over the country, was never wrong, and never lost her temper, he confided that his is named Sheila and that they, like Sadie and me, have lengthy conversations on the road.

I had wonderful conversations in the course of the event in numerous rooms and corridors and restaurants. I hugged Ken Bruen in the lobby and had a long talk with Donna Andrews about cultural competence in social work (really) at the St. Martin’s Minotaur party. And I had a peak experience in the Ladies signing a copy of my book for Poe’s Deadly Daughters regular Caryn St. Clair. For the record, it wasn’t her fault. On the contrary. She told me she’d won the PDD basket at the silent auction and asked if she could wait outside. I’m the one who said, “Are you kidding???” and whipped out not only my signing pen but my camera as well. So thanks, Caryn, for making the day of this first-time author.

But if you come to Bouchercon Indianapolis, especially if it’s your first time and you’re feeling shy and friendless—you’ll find me in the bar.

10 comments:

Joyce said...

I saw you flitting around, Liz, but never got a chance to talk to you! It was my first Bouchercon, too, and I had a blast.

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Sorry we missed each other, Joyce. Consider how many people I DID talk to, it's amazing how many I DIDN'T talk to.Next time!

Lee Lofland said...

I'm glad we finally had a chance to meet. I knew you were having a good time because you had a smile on your face throughout the entire convention.

caryn said...

It was a good convention wasn't it? I'm not signed up for Indy yet, but I plan to do that shortly-after my checkbook has recovered from the splurging at this con's book room.

JD Rhoades said...

it's amazing how many I DIDN'T talk to.

I've compared Bouchercon to trying to get a drink from a firehose. It's a little overwhelming. You just have to accept the fact that you're not going to get to spend a lot of time with everyone you'd like, so the only way to do it is just relax, let it happen, and remember Kurt Vonnegut's dictum: "unusual travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God."

Kaye Barley said...

Love your column today, Liz, but mostly I loved getting to know you at the convention. Here's a hug and I'll see you in Indy!!!

Robert Fate said...

Liz - I'm getting to know all of Poe's Deadly Daughters and I must say it's a delightful journey. We had fun, didn't we? Look forward to next time. Best, Bob Fate

Deb Baker said...

I couldn't attend this year. Thanks for the glimpse in. See you in Indie next year.

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Yet another benefit of Bouchercon: all the great people you met come and visit your blog afterward. It was a delight to meet you f2f,Lee, Caryn, Dusty, Kaye, and Bob. :) And see you in Indy, Deb!

Janet Rudolph said...

Great seeing you at Bcon. Sorry you won't be joining us at Left Coast Crime 2009, the unconventional convention. Our bars will be in the pool, near the pool, and on the beach, as well as in the hotel.The Bar at conventions is the place to be.