by Zoë Sharp
Next week it’s the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention in Baltimore, with the catchy title of Charmed To Death. Co-chaired by crime aficionado Judy Bobalik, and Jon and Ruth Jordan, the force behind Crimespree magazine, it looks like being one of the biggest and best yet.
It will certainly be one of the busiest. As I look at all the scrawled notes in my pocket diary – cell phone numbers of all the people I’ve promised to meet up with, appointments and get-togethers – I realise that there’s very little blank space left for actually going to panels. Even my own!
This year, I’m lucky enough to have been invited to participate in two-and-a-half. The first is 4:40pm on Thursday afternoon, entitled ‘Janie’s Got a Gun’ (Aerosmith) – do you need to kick ass to be kick ass? – with own JT Ellison in the moderating chair, plus Tasha Alexander, Robert Fate, Cornelia Read, and Greg Rucka. This should be a very interesting topic because of the amount of perception involved in whether people pick up a writer’s book or not. Does it help if the reader believes the author actually capable of the things they’ve written about? Does it matter?
The second is 8:30am Friday morning. This one’s called ‘Six Days on The Road’ (Dave Dudley) with me taking the hot seat this time, and Glynn Marsh Alam, Barry Eisler, NM Kelby, Jonathan Sandlofer, and Marcia Talley all bravely agreeing to rise at that hour of the morning. After some discussion we seem to have split this topic into two distinct subjects – using location in the writers’ work, and tales of touring. I’m sure everybody has horror stories of the Tour from Hell and I can’t wait to hear them.
I also asked all my panellists for a quirky fact about themselves just to add to the mix, and they’ve come up with some belters. I shall definitely be asking Jonathan about his experiences with egg yolks and gladioli in Spanish Harlem, and Barry about the book he owns on CONTINGENCY CANNIBALISM. So, if you want to know more, you’ll just have to be there …
But, moderating a panel at B’con is a big responsibility, and one I take seriously. I know people are happy just to wing it, but I know others are very uncomfortable to play it completely off the cuff, and I’ve tried to make sure I’ve done as much prep as I’m able to, reading as many of the panellists’ books as I can, and spending some time on their websites. What’s your preference? As either a panellist or audience member?
And last – but not least – we come to the half a panel I mentioned, which is one of the half-hour slots – at 10am on Saturday morning. This is where Meg Chittenden and I will be reviving our semi-lighthearted talk and demonstration on the gentle art of self-defence. We haven’t given this one for a few years, but the last time we did, we called it ‘You Can’t Run in High Heels’. In deference to Baltimore B’con’s song-title-themed panels, we’ve changed this slightly to ‘In These Shoes? I Doubt You’d Survive!’ (Kirsty MacColl).
As Meg lives in the Northwest rain forest, and I live in the UK, we can’t exactly get together to rehearse much for this. On previous occasions, we’ve found a quiet spot somewhere at the convention and gone through some of the moves we’ll be demonstrating then. And you know the weirdest thing? As any of you who know Meg will testify, a wicked wit and serious mystery-writing skills are hidden behind a butter-wouldn’t-melt white-haired exterior. So, there’s this genteel-looking lady, apparently being strangled by some English ruffian, and does anybody gallantly offer to come to her aid? Do they even ask what it is we’re doing, exactly? Er, no, they don’t.
And if that’s as good a reason as any for learning to take care of yourself, I don’t know what is …
As is always the case when we cross the pond, our first instinct is to try and find a gun range to brush up on our skills. In fact, at ThrillerFest in July 2006, my other half, Andy arranged a big outing to the Scottsdale Gun Club as part of a belated birthday present. After all, what else do you buy a girl except three belts of ammunition to put through a Squad Assault Weapon?
And, if we find a range nearby in Baltimore that’s amenable – like we did with the excellent Deerfield Archery and Pistol Center in Deerfield, WI when we were at B’con Madison in 2006, I’ll be delighted to put another ‘Have Breakfast and Go To The Gun Range’ lot into the charity auction. Last time, the winning bidder was Judy Watford, who was determined to take the opportunity to go shoot holes in a target, as she’d never been allowed to do so in her home state of Texas. Now, I’d always thought things like that were fairly compulsory in Texas, but Judy has been blind from birth and could not find a range who would allow her to have a go. The guys at DP&AC were far more laid-back about the whole thing and we had a great time.
But nevertheless, going to a convention is a big outlay in time as well as money. We’ll be away the best part of ten days, including calling in to NYC on the way back to do my one post-Bouchercon event – at Partners & Crime in Greenwich Village, 7pm on October 14th, with Sean Chercover, who’s launching the already acclaimed TRIGGER CITY on the same day my THIRD STRIKE comes out. It was great of Sean to invite me to join his party, as it were, and I’m thrilled and honoured to be able to do so.
So, my question is, why do you go? Is it to meet fellow authors, to get out of that secluded little world we tend to sit in and write? Is it to revitalise your enthusiasm for the craft? Is it to make contacts and meet new readers? Do you have that vital ‘elevator pitch’ prepared for your latest WIP?
What do you hope to get out of attending a convention – and do you succeed?
This week’s Phrase of the Week is knuckle under, which means to submit. It comes from the drinking taverns of 17th century London, where arguments raged. A person admitting defeat would knock on the underside of the table with his knuckle. There’s also some suggestion that it comes from bare-knuckle boxing, where the fighters would keep their fists up in front of them if they still wanted to fight, and down, with their knuckles behind their hands, if they’d had enough. Also corrupted into buckle under.
This should not be confused with knuckle down, which means to concentrate or apply yourself to a task, and comes from the game of marbles. The rules state that a player’s knuckle must be placed in the exact spot where the player’s previous marble came to rest. Those not paying attention, and allowing their hand to come off the ground are told to put their ‘knuckle down’.