Monday, October 13, 2008

Bouchercon Wrap-Up

Home now and fairly coherent after 12 hours of sleep last night. I don’t seem to be vibrating any more, anyway, which is probably a good sign.

I’ve never been to Baltimore and it’s a spectacular city – with a gorgeous port and an unexpectedly beautiful and funky downtown. It has that mix of resonant and bizarre centuries-old buildings and huge modern structures that I love so much about Boston, and is surprisingly hilly – not San Francisco, exactly, but a lot more elevation than I was expecting. Walking around you run across marble palaces, wedding cake marble bank buildings, wonderful Deco ornamentation, Gothic churches, and these wild cryptic Rosicrucian structures. There’s definitely a secret history going on that makes you rabid to find out more about the history. Of course I am forever a sucker for port towns.

It was a surprise to no one that the great and amazing Ruth and John Jordan and Judy Bobalik (all hail!) had found the perfect venue, but I just have to rave for a moment, because I don’t think I’ve ever had an easier time navigating a convention. The setup was a marvel of efficiency and logic – the entire convention corridor: panel rooms, book room, registration, green room, hospitality suite, signing room - was right off the hotel lobby, so you never had to leave the floor except to go down to the basement for the “Karaoke” events (which I never actually made it to.) The hospitality suite was a large and nicely dim bar right off from the lobby and the corridor (and stocked and staffed by Sisters in Crime (all hail!) which meant there was plenty of coffee, bottled water, fruit and yogurt as well as more sugary and salty snacks all day long). It was a refuge.

All the panel rooms were on the same floor. All of them. Can you even imagine the convenience? The overflow hotel (which is where I was) was a mere catwalk away from registration, and the deck between the hotels was a central congregating spot in the spectacularly sunny and breezy weather. And the hotel bar was just across from the library, large enough to accommodate the night crowd and no one really HAD to go off site, and there were actually enough waitstaff to go around.

I think the only complaint I heard was that the hotel was kept too warm. I wasn’t bothered by it but I run freezing and usually conventions are glacial on top of that. Outside was PERFECT weather, archetypally fall. My Virginia friends had totally lied to me when they told me it had turned cold, so I arrived with a suitcase full of coats and sweaters, but luckily also my Obama tank tops acquired on Melrose Ave. - sparkly enough to make it look like I made an effort while I was keeping cool, and they made me a lot of friends over the week.

(Can I just say that I love Baltimore men? Now I understand why THE WIRE had one of the sexiest, funniest, and just plain mouthwatering male casts I’ve seen on TV in ages: they were just casting for Baltimore type. If I were single… well, all right, let’s just not go there. Definitely a perk of the weekend, though.)

I was really grateful for the concentrated layout of the convention, because it was literally no effort to do anything, and since I was as we say in Berkeley “hormonally challenged” in a big way this week, and barely capable of remembering my own name, the ease was lifesaving.

By now I’ve got the convention thing down, which means I know you don’t really have to do anything at all, just drift randomly, or have a seat, and the world will roll in ecstasy at your feet, as Kafka would say. It is a bit overwhelming by now how many people I know and how much you can get done just by sitting still.

Thursday was a bit frenetic - not just because of the whole arrival deal, but also my first panel was early and I had an off-site signing that night, too. “Thank The Lord For the Nighttime” was a panel on using the supernatural in mystery fiction, and not only was it a pleasure to discuss my favorite topic with such great women (Cathy Pickens, Heather Graham, Wendy Roberts, Elena Santangelo) the audience was very engaged and engaging – there’s something about ghosts that brings out the best stories.

More drifting and rolling in ecstasy, this time also in the bar (lovely bartender that evening, I’ll take three of him) then I set off with Gary Phillips, Chris Chambers, Ken Wishnip, and Murderati regular RJ Mangahas for our DARKER MASK/POLITICS NOIR signing at Red Emma’s Bookstore Coffeehouse. I just have to make a note that “It’s a couple blocks, let’s just walk” is the second biggest lie in the male lexicon. Well, okay, maybe the third biggest. Twelve blocks through Baltimore humidity – but a dazzling sunset – later, we arrived at this great, eclectic little basement shop and care – to find there was no air conditioning. Thank God for the tank tops, is all I can say. Don’t leave home without them. Our DARKER MASK editor Eric Raab superheroically came to my rescue with a cab on the way back.

My entire college life was flashing before my eyes that evening, from the tofu sandwiches on the menu to the Anarchy posters on the walls, to the group that showed up to protest the treatment of employees at the Sheraton (a long story that I still haven’t sorted out to my satisfaction, but it was interesting to look back at my own activism at that age as compared to now. I had a wonderful, passionate time then. I like being older a whole lot better.).

I could be writing all week so I’ll just bullet point the highlights (that is, I would if I could ever figure out how to DO bullet points).

- Getting to rave to Jason Starr about how much I loved THE FOLLOWER, a thriller with such a uniquely chilling voice and frightening portrayal of the detached narcissim of its young characters. that I find myself thinking of it and still getting disturbed, months later. And having him start to rave back about THE PRICE, which he’d just read, and then being able to have a conversation about voice and POV that got me thinking in all kinds of new directions about the new book. It’s really amazing to have bonded with someone over unspeakable Karaoke and an epic bike ride through Anchorage and then have this whole new level open up.

- Getting to hang with Heather Graham and Dennis Pozzessore in yet another genre environment, and having one of the best meals I’ve had in a long time with them, F. Paul Wilson, Blake Crouch, Kathy Love and Erin McCarthy in Little Italy - eating ambrosial sea bass and laughing so hard we even broke up our hilariously unflappable waiter.

- Walking down to the harbor with Heather and experiencing that amazing Barnes & Noble, five stories of shipping warehouse with rooms cut into the enormous pipes.

- Visiting Poe’s grave and having a slightly supernatural experience that was a dead ringer for a scene I’d just written in the witch book. Chills!

- The St. Martin’s party at the staggeringly opulent Tremont Grand Historic Venue. Molly Weston (“Meritorious Mysteries”), librarian Karen Kiley and I broke away to sneak through the rest of the building and it was one theme room after another – the Mirror Room, the Tuscan Room, the Gothic Room - marble corridors and bathrooms and columns – truly, palatial. Kind of great to be able to do the business I needed to do in a few casual conversations with my editor and agent in a setting like that. Having the glow of three pieces of extremely good career news, even though I don’t want to talk about them yet (soon!).

- The Murderati get-together, where we were able to meet “Rati regulars RJ Mangahas, Will Bereswil, BG Ritts, and the incomparably lovely Kaye Barley. Near hysterical breakdown over the concept of doing a column consisting solely of the words: “Joe Konrath, Angel or Demon? Discuss.” And then leaving it to the commenters. (Cooler heads – meaning Pari – prevailed).

- In just my second year of being published, having the heady experience of an actual line in the signing room. It was very concrete evidence that my books really are out there and people really are reading them. Miraculous!

- The decidedly British slant of the conference – dozens of authors from across the pond, which meant I was constantly surrounded by that accent. Fabulous. If you ever want a laugh, get a panel of men from different parts of the UK to say “Monkey in the cupboard”. I swear.

- Being introduced to the great and criminally charming John Connolly by the bookseller he’d killed off in BLACK ANGEL.

- Getting to see Ken Bruen again, finally! - and seeing him so happy with his new girlfriend, Lisa, who is just a joy – they simply glow together.

- Meeting Mo Hayder, my new favorite author in the universe, at Lee Child’s pub party and being able to tell her – even slightly coherently – what an impact her books have had on me.

- Doing a talk at the Pratt Library with Heather and having the city’s resident Poe expert come down to answer our questions about Poe’s final days – then being trapped in a van in the middle of marathon traffic and being entertained by the colorfully and articulately apopleptic rants of our driver.

- The privilege of Murderati being nominated for an Anthony for Best Mystery Blog.

Of course those are only a fraction of the wonderful moments, because that’s what conventions are. There were some sadnesses, too: I particularly missed JT Ellison and Cornelia Read, who were benched for illnesses. I truly regret having to miss the crypt tour with Kelli Stanley and Tana and Heather (but very much looking forward to the psych ward at Alcatraz that Kelli promised us). I do think we missed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have the entire Bouchercon cast of thousands assemble in the street to sing a chorus of "Good Morning, Baltimore".

And you never get enough time with anyone, really – but the consolation is that we will do it again, several times a year, all the years of our lives.

I am so grateful for the privilege of my life and the work I do, which in circumstances like these, just never feels like work at all.


Karen Olson said...

It was great meeting you and I covet those Obama T shirts! I hope our paths will cross again!

Wilfred Bereswill said...

Alex, I was honored to not only meet you and the rest of the amazing authors, but to be mentioned in the same blog with those amazing names is equally an honor.

I was completely overwhelmed and honestly intimidated. Which doesn't happen to me very often. But the warm way in which you and all the other authors welcomed me really made it all worthwhile.

Sarah Pinborough said...

I am sooo going to have to get to that Con - It sounds great and I'm jealous of some of the Brits you met!!
Glad you had a good time, girl!

And I know what you mean about the men in The Wire - although the lovely Idris Elba is one of us limeys...;-)

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Karen, it was great to meet you, too! The guy at the store said you can order the Obama shirts at but I haven't checked it out.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Wilfred, you didn't seem intimidated at all! You and your wife are so nice - just glowing. It was great to meet you in person. Now, of course, you'll never escape the circle, heh heh.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Sarah, you would love this one, and you have no excuse for not coming next year.

I meant, of course, that THE WIRE cast men who could PORTRAY all that Baltimore hotness. Idris being British raises him to "smoking". Ditto Dominic West.

Dani said...

Thank you for sharing! Murderati didn't even Twitter about their news.;(

The bullet icon is at the top of your posting window. ;) Click it before shooting.

Will Indianapolis be worth the trip next year, you think?


Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

oh Alex, you made me get a little teary.

It was a perfect time and I loved every minute. And you just put the cherry on top. thank you, sweetie - you're the best.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Dani, Bouchercon is ALWAYS worth going to. I think it's one of the top five unmissables. Really. I can't wait for Indianapolis.

The bullet icon is at the top of my posting window? Not MY posting window!

Kaye: Just the facts, ma'am! You radiate even more light in person than your posts do.

JT Ellison said...

I am so sorry to have missed it. Thank you for giving an atmospheric round up, sweetie.

Michelle Gagnon said...

I ABSOLUTELY WANT to participate in the Konrath blog post. Pretty please?

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

JT, your absence was a black hole in the proceedings. I know you are doing this on purpose to force me to make a trip to Nashville,


We really should, shouldn't we?

Very sorry there was no karaoke to be had this year. It's like wanting to relive an earthquake or hurricane or something. And I am still dying to do "Good Morning, Baltimore".

Bobby Mangahas said...


it was really a great pleasure to meet you and the other 'Rati authors (as well as a host of others). And I would also like to thank you for mentioning me in your blog and inviting me along for the signing at Red Emma's. It was certainly an interesting evening.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

RJ, you are a gentleman and a scholar - but I knew that already. Hope the week was wildly productive for you and that you came away with your creativity jump-started.

Anonymous said...

It was so wonderful to see you, especially when I was healthy enough to enjoy it!

Should we form a three-week Writers for Obama group?????

JD Rhoades said...

Great seeing you, as always, love. And you rock the Obama shirt as no one else can.

Jen Jordan said...

Great to see you for the mere seconds that I did. And thank you for making Obama more of a shining possibility....

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Pari, I just need to get out to New Mexico, that's all!

I' m having the experience of actually being able to vote in a swing state for once, so I feel like all my volunteer time should be in getting out the vote there.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Jen, you give GREAT panel! From what I saw the moderator choices were excellent across the board, but the "monkey in the cupboard" panel was one for the ages.

And thanks, Dusty. I figured I had to represent for the people too shy to do it. Shy being... not in my vocabulary.

Anonymous said...

Alex, you describe the times you had beautifully. Feels almost as though I was there. And a very convincing ad for the next Bouchercon. Hmm...there might be a source of side income there for you, y'know....
Should it work out, btw, I'll just take a small finders/referral fee. Something minimal. Say 35% or so....

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Hmm, Jake... interesting offer. So if my take from B'Con promotion is negative, does that mean you have to pay me?

(Oh, probably not, but I never was much good at math.)

We missed you! You must make it a priority next year.

Kelli Stanley said...

Alex dearest, you are a supernatural experience ... in the angelic sense. :) I love getting to spend time with you, and only wish we'd had more time.

Thanks for summing up a glorious convention so wondrously well ... unfortunately, the crypt was closed on Sunday (they're only open Wed-Fri), but we went on a couple of atmospheric ships--the operating chamber on the U.S.S. Constellation was particularly spooky.

I am for sure contacting Alcatraz about the psych ward, though ... and in 2010 we can sing "San Francisco." Hope to see you soon, sweetie, and rock the vote for Obama! :)

Martyn Waites said...

Hi Alex,
I'm sorry I never got to talk to you at Bouchercon - even though I wanted to as you are my friend on Facebook after all - but I'm really pleased you enjoyed the panel Jen Jordan moderated - the monkey in the cupboard one.
If you wondering where that came from, Mark Billingham and fellow Brit (who unfortunately wasn't there) Laura Wilson always ask me to say that to them. Because I'm from the North East of England and we drop our vowels way down low, they think it's incredibly funny. So just as I was about to take my place, Mark asked me to say it. It would endear myself to the Americans, he said. And make him laugh, of course. And from there . . .
In fact one of my enduring memories will be trying to teach Christa that and many other incomprehensible phrases in the bar afterwards.
But next time, let's have a proper chat.
And I loved the t-shirts, by the way.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Martyn, as you've probably discerned, I'm entranced by Englishmen from all corners saying just about anything. "Monkey in the cupboard" was just so ambiguously nasty on top of all that... it was a riot.

I very much enjoyed what all of you had to say about writing, too. Your books sound completely dark and depraved and thus have shot to the top of my TBR pile.

And yes, we must have a proper chat, or an improper one, next time.

Martyn Waites said...

Thanks for the kind words, Alex. Ditto for your books.
And I'm looking forward to meeting up again - especially plenty of improper chat. There's plenty more stuff where 'monkey in the cupboard' came from . . .

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

You tease!