By Stephen Jay Schwartz

What impressed me more than anything about Bouchercon was the warm reception I received from a community of authors who had no doggone reason to be so damn warm and accepting.  But there they were, the top mystery-thriller writers of our day, opening their arms to one and all.

I only knew a few of these folks when I arrived, but I left knowing most everyone.  Because that was their way. 

At Bouchercon you walk into the hotel lobby to find yourself swallowed into the bar scene where those you know introduce you to those you’ve only read or heard about.  I arrived nervous, wondering who I might know, wondering if I would be accepted into a group whose members had paid their dues and earned the right to be there.

I stepped into that bar to encounter Alex/Brett/Cornelia/JT/James Scott Bell/Alan Jacobson/F. Paul Wilson/Christa Faust/Marcus Sakey/Sean Chercover/Lee Child/Rebecca Cantrell/Bobby McCue/Rebecca Cantrell/John Gilstrap/Matt Hilton/Naomi Hirahara/Jason Pinter/Howard Shrier/Kelli Stanley…you get the picture.

And everyone, every single one of them sang the praises of every other one of them, shared the stories of their successes and failures, shared the little tidbits of advice that had been shared with them by others or had been learned through their own hard luck efforts.  And they listened to the stories of my successes and failures, nodding their heads, patting my shoulder occasionally, smiling or showing concern when appropriate. 

Someone always arrived to take my hand, to guide me to someone they wanted me to meet.  To someone influential, someone that might advance my career.  Not a single author hoarded this information.  They passed me eagerly, from hand to hand.  As they did with everyone.  I was not singled out.  I was not the exception. 

And the readers, and the fans, and the writers-yet-to-be-published were welcomed as well.  In the same fashion.  Everyone had access to everyone else, and everyone respected the boundaries of others.

A special treat for me was meeting some of the readers of our Murderati blog site.  The warmth I felt when people like Allison introduced herself, reminding me of some of the things we’ve shared in past blogs, allowing me to get a glimpse into her world as a writer and lawyer in San Francisco.  I can’t count how many times someone came up to me to say they read my posts on Murderati and that they had hoped to meet me at Bouchercon.  The thing I wrote most commonly when signing my book was, “Thanks for your enthusiasm and warm smile.”  Because everyone I met was enthusiastic, everyone had a warm smile. 

“You sound like you’re at camp,” my wife said as I rat-a-tat described the events of my days.

“Camp, yes…”  It was exactly like camp, without the tents and bugs and campfires and bad food.  The camaraderie was the same.  The silliness was there also, like the drunken 3:30 a.m. bar songs in the lobby of the Hyatt with shouts of “Shut the fuck up!” from a room somewhere around the tenth floor.  Or Alexandra Sokoloff, Joe Konrath and others waltzing through the lobby in their bathing suits on the way to the hot tub, carrying a tray filled with beer.  The security guys stopping by once in a while to tell them not to drown, saying that they didn’t mind at all so long as the bathers kept the riff-raff from other hotels from invading the pool (not knowing, of course, that none in Alex’s party had a room at the Hyatt).

Each day was more exciting than the last.  The things I loved the most:  Brett Battles receiving the Barry Award for Best Thriller of 2008; his inviting me to share the celebratory dinner with just him and his editor; the phone call I received from my publicist to tell me that, after only four weeks in release, I had landed on the L.A. Times Bestseller List; the wonderful review I received in the L.A. Times the next day; the crowd that attended my panel; watching my books disappear off the bookstore shelves; the friends I met for the first time; the hugs and handshakes at the end.

I realized how unlike Hollywood was the Bouchercon experience.  The world of Bouchercon = “Come on in, there’s always room for another author!”  The world of Hollywood = “Fuck you get out of my way who the hell let you in to begin with?”

Hollywood is a tough place to hang your hat.  Everything devolves into Social Darwinism where the strongest, fittest, most predatory players find great success.  There are always exceptions to the rule, of course, and I’ve met a few talented, successful screenwriters who are accepting of others.  But I haven’t met many happy screenwriters.  Film is a director’s medium, so what the screenwriter ends up doing is writing a blueprint for the director’s vision.  That’s great if the screenwriter is directing the film.  However, that’s not generally the case.

At Bouchercon I met a whole lot of happy authors.  Sure, not a lot of Ferrari owners in the crowd, but at least we authors get “final cut.”  Our vision stands on the page.  And, while we’re all generally a bundle of insecurities, at least our insecurities don’t manifest into arrogant behavior that isolates us from the one, true support group we can enjoy—our peers. 

The authors in our genre, the authors I met at Bouchercon, understand this.  We are a support group.  It’s hard enough just to get published.  We don’t need to compete with ourselves.

So, is it a wonder I fell into a minor depression the minute the conference closed?  How can anyone go back to his day job after that?  How can anyone face the daunting creditors?  Bouchercon gave me a glimpse of what life could be, if only I could live it 24/7. 

The depression coincided with another event—the passing of my grandmother, who was 103 years old.  She died ONE DAY before her 104th birthday.  I had visited her just last week, after four years away, when I traveled to Denver on my book tour.  She was fine and healthy and full of humor.  She had another twenty years in her for sure.  Then one little bladder infection and it was all over.  She died Saturday morning, as my mom was flying in for her birthday.  My mom waited until Sunday afternoon to tell me because she didn’t want to ruin my time at Bouchercon.

Life and death, ecstasy and grief.  I experienced it all over the course of one weekend.  Thankfully, I had a great support group to share it with.


21 thoughts on “SO NOT HOLLYWOOD

  1. Karen in Ohio

    Stephen, this is an eloquent tribute to Bouchercon, and exactly mirrored my feelings about the event, as well. I could only be there on Thursday, but was so impressed by how kind everyone was, including Alex, who was the very first person I spoke to when I walked in.

    I did see you walking around the bookroom, but was in the middle of a conversation and by the time we finished you had vanished. Another time!

    Good luck getting to 24/7.

  2. Brett Battles

    Couldn’t have said it better myself. Your experience mirrored mine, and I’m willing to bet, most other writers over the years as we joined the mystery thriller writing community. You definitely had a smile on your face everytime I saw you!

    So sorry to hear about your grandmother. I remember you talking about her over the weekend.

    And, finally, welcome to Not-Hollywood. I wish that all writers could experience what we have.

  3. Alli

    Stephen, I am sorry to hear about your grandma. But wow, 103 years old – what an amazing age and by the sounds of it, an amazing woman. I’m so glad you got to see her recently.

    Boucheron sounds fantastic. I haven’t had the chance to get there yet, but one year I will, for sure. I have been to other writer’s conferences and it’s always been the same – a group of supportive, friendly people who take the time to talk to everyone – published or not. This attitude is what keeps me going. As you said in your post, "We don’t need to compete with ourselves".

  4. Kaye Barley

    I’m so happy I got to meet you in Indianapolis, and very much enjoyed reading your tribute to B’Con. Pretty magical time, wasn’t it?
    I’m sorry to read about you losing your grandmother, Stephen – she sounds like a lady who also would have loved and appreciated Bouchercon and your new family.

  5. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Karen – hopefully we’ll spend some time together at Bouchercon next year!

    Brett – Thanks for being such a wonderful guide and for introducing me to everyone I absolutely had to meet. Like the guy who wanted to buy a dozen of my books because they were "first edition, first print run hardcover."

    Alli – you gotta get there next year. And you can’t beat San Francisco as a setting.

    Kaye – it was good to meet you, too. I’m very fortunate to have had the chance to see my grandma when I did – it was kismet. She wasn’t a big fan of my tattoo, however.

  6. Louise Ure

    Stephen, I’m so sorry to hear about losing your grandmother. I remember how glowingly you spoke about the upcoming Denver trip when we had lunch in SF.

    I tried to explain the mystery community’s camraderie to a business (Microsoft) friend last night. He didn’t understand. I think I’ll send him to your blog this morning.

  7. JT Ellison

    Oh, Stephen. Isn’t it amazing how life works? We’re given blessings and heartache, all at once. I’ve noticed a very strange phenomenon since I got into writing – every time something bad happens, something truly horrible, like losing a loved one, there is a small gift from the heavens to balance it out. I’m so, so sorry about your grandmother, and so happy you were able to see her so recently. And I’m so thrilled that you made the LA Times list – you deserve every good thing that’s going to come your way.

    Bouchercon epitomizes our community. Crime fiction, with all it’s subsets, is the most open, loving, giving place in the world. I’m always amazed at the happiness that permeates these conferences, especially when juxtaposed with the literary events I’ve attended, where the tension is thick enough to visibly see. So glad your first time was so special. (And no more steakhouses for dinner….; )

  8. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Michelle – thanks for the condolences, I appreciate it.

    Louise – God, I wish you’d been there. We woulda had so much fun.

    JT – So great to meet you and Randy at last! I DEFINITELY had fun with you two. And don’t knock the steakhouse – it was the best vegetarian meal I had at the conference!

  9. Jake Nantz

    I’m so sorry to hear about your grandmother, but thrilled you were able to expand your support group to include so many more warm hearts and strong shoulders to help carry your burden whenever you find it too difficult. And I’m thrilled to hear yet another tale of the experiences that await us all the first time we get to Bouchercon. I hope things brighten for you (way to go on the LA Times!!).

  10. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Thanks Jake & Pammy. Since she was ONE DAY short of 104, I will think of her as 104. I don’t want to deny her that goal.

  11. Liz Kreger

    Sounds like you had a terrific time at Bouchercon, Stephen. I love it when I find a conference that can give me everything I’d hoped to find. The company of other writers, the same interests. Priceless.

    Very sorry about your grandmother. 103 years old? There’s a woman who had a full, wonderful life. We should all be so lucky to make it that long.

  12. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Thanks for the thoughts, Liz. Are you going to be at next year’s B-con?

    Alex – you’re definitely the one to party with at the conferences. Don’t forget – Blues Night in Hermosa Beach. I’ll set it up.

  13. toni mcgee causey

    So wish I could have gone. What a wonderful, amazing group this community is. It is a shining example of what writing communities can be, and how we support one another.

    Very sorry for your loss, Stephen. My own grandmother passed away on July 4th this year (at 95). She was determined to outlive her oldest brother’s age (she beat him by a year). My grandfather had passed away many years ago on Veteran’s Day, and I think my grandmother would be kinda pleased that she "beat" him in a more prominent holiday. (She would laugh at that.) It’s nice that you carry her with you, though. May she live on in your heart and your children’s.

  14. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Thanks for the very sweet sentiments, Toni. I only wish my boys could have met her. I did manage to take some video footage of her with my iPhone, which I shared with them. I’m glad I managed to get that, at least, when I saw her last.

  15. Larry Gasper

    Stephen, it was great meeting you, Alex and Cornelia at B’con. You caught the experience I had there perfectly.

  16. Alafair

    Sorry to hear about your grandmother. One of mine passed away last year at the age of 101. It doesn’t matter how long you have them. You assume they’ll always be around.

    I’m glad you were able to enjoy the weekend before the bad news.

  17. Cornelia Read

    Stephen, it was such a pleasure to meet you and talk with you in Indy. And I think you’ve expressed the spirit of Bcon beautifully here. The general vibe of this group makes me never want to write anything else, because this so truly feels like my tribe.

    I am so sorry about the loss of your grandmother, she sounds like a wonderful woman. I know she’s got excellent grandkids, and you are a tribute to her.

  18. Rebecca Cantrell

    Sorry to hear about your grandmother, Stephen. But, wow, 104. And she got to see you on tour too. Nice.

    It WAS like camp, wasn’t it? But not with all the mosquitoes and cliques. It was like a Disney version of camp where everyone is friendly and helpful and gets along.

    Great meeting you Stephen! See you at the next one!


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