Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Bar at Bouchercon

Elizabeth Zelvin

Many of my mystery-loving friends are spending the weekend at Bouchercon, mystery’s biggest annual convention, which draws hundreds of writers and even more hundreds of fans. This year it’s in Albany, only three hours’ drive up the New York State Thruway from New York City, where I live. Though I’ve chosen not to attend, I know everyone who does is already having a wonderful time.

Before my first Bouchercon, I’d heard over and over that the best place to network there is the bar. This presented me with a dilemma, since I’m an alcoholism treatment professional whose mystery series, starting with 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-five 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 convention hotel (in Baltimore that year), 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, a fan at her first Bouchercon who has since gone on to write a novel of her own, reported afterward on Dorothy L: “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.” I was one of that group, which 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 (how dated that sounds, and it was only five years ago!), 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.

I ate crab soup and exchanged life stories with my roommate, author Kate Gallison. We were strangers—didn’t even know each other online—when we agreed to room together, but it was a match made in heaven. We talked nonstop and roomed together again at subsequent cons. I met Joe Konrath, whom I got to thank for one of the 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 know it wasn’t just that year, that city, and that bar, because I had an equally good time the following year in the bar at Bouchercon in Indianapolis. It’s where I first met Steve Steinbock, then writing for The Strand but who has since become the reviewer for Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and a friend (I gave him a ride from the Edgars down to Malice this spring). It’s where I first confided to a fellow author that my publisher had dumped me. I won’t name her, but it had happened to her too, and she was immensely supportive and encouraging. By the following year, half the authors in the bar had lost their publishers—okay, not half, but it was a great place to commiserate and strategize a comeback. Among my bar memories is stretching way, way up on tiptoes to kiss Lee Child on the cheek. In short (no pun intended), people are really, really friendly in the bar at Bouchercon.

A version of this post appeared on Poe’s Deadly Daughters in 2008.


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this blog! You will enjoy my take on Bouchercons Sept. 22 at our esteemed group - Crime Writer's Chronicle - -My last trip to the Big B was Toronto - marvelous experience!!!!!Thelma Straw in Manhattan

Sandra Parshall said...

Forget the bar at Bouchercon this year. There isn't one. The convention center doesn't have a bar, and everybody is scattered around at a lot of little hotels, so it's been hard for people to have spontaneous get-togethers. So glad Julie and Carole arranged the DL dinner.

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

No bar??? I'm astounded. Did they have the traditional Booze Panel this year? I was put on it one year and once was enough--I begged off when they tried to do it again.

Sandra Parshall said...

Nothing about this Bcon is normal. Some people went to the planning committee meeting for the specific purpose of complaining. Albany apparently does not have any large hotels. The conference is being held in a convention center with 6 meeting rooms. It's on top of a very, very steep hill, and "within walking distance" means "if you're an experienced mountain climber." Organizers may not have noticed a huge percentage of attendees are older people. Bouchercon people are scattered all over, and the shuttle service the two days I was there was abysmal. You never knew when it would show up. You just has to stand outside and wait -- or get a cab, which many people did after their first shuttle experience. A cab to/from my hotel (one of the closest) was $6 each way. And being kidnapped by a crazy cab driver and his girlfriend Thursday night (I think they were both high on something) made me afraid to ride alone in a cab, so I always had to find somebody to ride with me.