Oh, God. Where do you even start?
Well, okay, look. It should come as no great shock that I had a phenomenal time at this conference – I love this life. And I know what everyone really wants is the dirt, of which there is - prairiesful. (I know, I know, what happens at Bouchercon stays at Bouchercon - you really think I'm going to TALK about any of all that?) But because I am at the moment just too tired to get into the whole extravagant circus of it, I'm going to start with Madison.
What a surprise this town was. It’s gorgeous, and funky, and cool. I mean, even just the descent on the plane – I just couldn’t believe how beautiful it all was – green farmland bordered by trees just starting to change, two enormous turbulent lakes, a really pleasing town layout – and the sky was so dramatic – monolithic banks of clouds and swirling wind.
I flew in on Wednesday, midmorning, and it was a little surreal how empty the airport was – WAY smaller than anything I’m used to. I was completely alone walking out to the taxi stand. We rode through town on a very quaint, very college street – two-story Victorians and bungalows with big porches and beveled glass – it just got more and more charming. My friend Jess who toured for years with the Reduced Shakespeare Co. and has been in every city on this planet told me before I left – “You’ll love it. It’s just like Berkeley.” And he’s right… only it was far less… well, psychotic, I think I mean.
I was delighted to find that the convention hotel, the Madison Concourse, is right in the heart of downtown, just a block away from the Capitol building – a massive domed wedding cake of a building at the absolute center of downtown, with four main streets converging on the Capitol square – green velvet lawns and riots of flowers.
My room wasn’t ready and no one was even around yet and it looked like it was about to pour outside, I mean POUR, and of course I had not brought an umbrella. So I went up to the weight room for a quick workout – this tour thing is turning me into sludge. The pool room was deserted and peaceful, huge windows overlooking the street and skylights. After a nice needed sweat I got into my room with the help of ridiculously cute bellhops (where do they FIND these guys?). Room small but again, nice view. I showered and headed down to the lobby and stepped out of the elevator to run into Dana Cameron and Donna Andrews. No sooner had I hugged them than Reed Farrel Coleman waltzed around the corner (actually Reed doesn’t waltz, he sort of processes like royalty, but you know).
It is a rule of all conventions that the first two people I will meet will be Donna and Dana. There is a corollary rule tha at any convention at which Dana and Donna are NOT in attendance, the first person I will meet will be Reed. Conventions are strange, that way – there seems to be an inexplicable but quite precise cosmic master plan.
To meet the three of them together like that was some kind of portent of excess, conventions converging. That turned out to be accurate, but I'll get to that later. We got the registration thing out of the way, got handed bags full of three hundred pounds of books, and then headed for the bar, cleverly titled The Bar, for a quick drink, because, you know, we’re writers and that’s what we do.
Now, things have gotten pretty crazy, organizationally speaking, since I’ve been on tour, but I did manage to scribble a BOUCHERCON MUST DO list during some plane flight or other, and the first item on the list for Wednesday evening was “Find Lita Weissman”. I’d just met Lita – Westwood Borders Special Events Goddess and force of nature - last week during my LA bookstore blitz, and instantly adored her – we’d promised to find each other at B’Con. But the thing about conventions is that you don’t need to FIND anyone. You merely remain comfortably wherever you are with a vague intention and that person will come to you. And so it was. Lita and I made plans to meet for the next night’s parties, then she went up for a nap and since The Bar was as empty as it would be for the rest of the weekend, and the heavens had not after all opened to a deluge, I decided to take a quick jaunt around downtown Madison, because I had a feeling there was all sorts of material just waiting for me out there and it might be my only chance to scope it out.
I left the hotel without a map, figuring it would be just about impossible to get lost with that Capitol building looming up as a gigantic compass, and when I saw a life-sized mosaic cow statue at the end of the block I knew I’d be able to find the hotel again by looking for the art cow. Anyone who’s actually been to Madison will recognize how amusing this is. Downtown Madison is lousy with life-sized art cows. There are herds of them. I was just laughing out loud about it, which effectively kept the stray homeless men away from me, at least for the moment. It really is a beautiful town – turn of the century brick banks and angular modern glass edifices, funky little boutiques and hip restaurants and, oh yes, all those college boys. I can’t get away from this – apparently TRAVELLER’S TALE is just going to manifest itself around me. Well, and why fight it? I walked all the way down to one of those M lakes and just stared at the water for a while – amazingly choppy, for a lake, you could practically surf on it – and made some notes. I could definitely set at least one of the chapters of Traveller in Madison.