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.