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.