Yesterday morning when the hotel alarm clock screamed at 5 am, I felt hostile. I’d only gone to bed a few hours before, and had had a few more scotches than advisable, and, um, well . . . had read before I went to sleep. Had the trip to Mayhem in the Midlands (which, btw, is a great con) been worth it?
By the time I got to the airport, I knew the answer was "yes."
During the convoluted airplane journey home from Omaha via Phoenix to Albuquerque (get out your maps, this makes no sense whatsoever), in the middle of a particularly unsettling batch of turbulence, I began to think about why I go to mystery conventions . . . and why I like them so much.
Sure, I could write another article similar to the one about book signings — but most of my reasons would simply echo that earlier piece ("Il Faut Cultiver Votre Jardin"–Murderati, May 22). That’d be a cop out.
Instead, I want to share some of the things I do to make my convention experiences so consistently enjoyable — and worthwhile. I’m framing these ideas into suggestions — tips, if you will — that I hope will enhance your experience, too.
1. Get out of the host hotel. Give yourself the pleasure of breathing nonrecycled air; you’ll feel healthier for it. Plus you might get to go dancing at a blues club — like I did in Omaha.
2. Find the gym. If you know where it is, you might even decide to use it. Hey, I did . . . once.
3. Get some sleep/take naps. Darn! I knew there was something I forgot to do at Mayhem this weekend.
4. Drink enough water. I’m talking about the stuff with no color or flavoring. Coffee doesn’t count. Neither does scotch — or wine. What was I saying? Oh, yeah, "drink water." You’ll feel better if you do.
5. Travel with food. Oh, I know this sounds as obvious as the water one but, believe me, traveling with a little decent food — and this doesn’t mean chocolate and Smarties (I use a good trail mix and turkey jerky [for protein]) — can keep you from being exhausted before you even arrive at the event.
1. Find the bar. I’m not saying you have to drink alcohol here — (remember the water? Well, you can get in a couple of gallons while hanging out). Many of my best exeperiences at conventions have happened in the bar when a group of people gather and I get to meet, and get to know, folks that I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to speak with in another context.
Etiquette point: schmoozing — while in the audience — during panels and presentations is gauche.
2. Prepare for panels. If you’re an author, think about the subject before you walk into the room, puh leeze. If you’re a reader, have a couple of questions in mind. Everyone will benefit.
3. Curb your desperation. Okay, authors, if you want people to read your books, don’t badger them (either on a panel by only talking about your work or in the bar when it’s socializing time).
Readers? You’ll get to meet the writers you want to meet — and spend pleasant time with them — if you remember they’re just people, too.
(Reality check: I’ve never actually had anyone fawn over me, so I don’t know if this is unpleasant or not . . . um, maybe one of you out there could give me a sort of test fawning experience and I could tell you, really, if it bothered me. I’ll be at Murder in the Grove in . . . oh, waitaminute, I think I’m missing my own warning at the beginning of this section. Sorry.)
4. Don’t worry about attending all the panels. Authors, you can’t (unless you plan to ditch your own panel — and that’s usually ill-advised).
Readers, you’ll be miserable if you obsess too much about getting to all the panels. Some of the best experiences at conventions happen spontaneously and it’d be a shame to feel compelled to stick to the program simply because you think you have to.
5. Be thankful. Yeah, I know it sounds groovy, but it makes so much sense.
Be thankful for the volunteers who put on the convention — people like Sally Fellows, Evelyn Whitehill, Doris Ann Norris (all pictured below), Lori and Tim Hayes and many others who give their time so freely so that we can all enjoy ourselves.
Be thankful for booksellers for carrying your books — and for carrying books you like.
Be thankful for readers (we’d all better be readers) for sharing their enthusiasm, buying books, talking about books . . .
Be thankful for authors for attending conventions, sitting on panels, and NOT hiding in their rooms (or being mean or snobby or whatever . . .) and for offering their perspectives.
Related to this is: Be nice (to hotel staff and others. It’ll just make you feel so good.)
6. Take the time to listen. This relates to the desperation warning in #3 of this section. No one has to be "on" all the time. Plus, you might learn something important.
6A. Remember that other people are listening to you. Gossip can be so damn fun, so, go ahead and do a little of it. Don’t get too carried away with spreading nasties about other people though. If you do, you’ll become known for being mighty nasty yourself (okay, "nasty" can be cool in some contexts — just not this one).
7. Take time to debrief after the convention. I think it helps to tell someone about the time spent at a particular convention soon after the fact. It gives the adventure substance and brings order to the chaos of this overwhelming experience. That, in turn, allows our brains to synthesize and own the moments we cherished and want to remember.
Conversely, if we did something stupid — like gossiping too much, for example — this might be the perfect moment to see if we can repair some of the damage.
La Politesse (Politeness)
1. Talk with people you don’t know. Hey, we’ve all been there — strangers in a strange land. It feels horrid. Once you’ve got a group of friends, why not expand it by one or two?
2. Be inclusive. See #1 in this section. When a group gets too clique-y, it has the effect of hurting others, of making them feel less important. Do we really want to do that to each other (authors? readers?)?
Of course, several of the previously-mentioned points could go in this section as well — it’s always wise to be thankful, to listen rather than badger, to give other people a chance to speak — but I’ll assume that being polite comes naturally to most of you.
That’s it for the tips.
Below are a few photos taken at Mayhem. Pardon the quality — I’m just learning how to use the digital camera . . . and am even more challenged when it comes to inserting pix in this blog. But, someday, I’ll be as competent as Ms. Hirahara and Mr. Wood. I promise.
At Mayhem, I had two panels. The first one — Hooks & Gimmicks was sparsely attended in the beginning, but that didn’t stop us from having fun — or me from demonstrating one of Sasha’s odd flaws.
Yeah, I know it’s dark, but you can see from l. to r. — Doris Ann Norris (moderator and librarian extradordinaire), Lee Killough, me with whipped cream, and Maureen Robb. Not in this picture is the wonderful Radine Trees Nehring. (I think her hubby, John, took this picture. Thanks, John.)
L. to r. Maria Y. Lima and Evelyn Whitehill (Evelyn is an active volunteer at Mayhem and one great lady).
I was terrified of blowing the interview with Toastmaster Denise Hamilton. My worries faded the minute she opened her mouth and started telling all of her fascinating stories.