Through a Petrie Dish, Darkly

by Pari


Last week’s Left Coast Crime was ab-fab, save for the fact that I generated enough contagions to personally infect most of the Mile High City myself.

Achoo! Cough, hack.

My tale of woe began in glorious San Francisco at the end of February. There, my chest and throat tightened with an enthusiasm only known to teenyboppers at their first boy-toy concert. Things got worse each day, but I refused to consider the fact that the discomfort could be because of sickness. No. It was cigarette smoke, humidity, the moon in Cancer . . .

I don’t remember the plane ride home. That was on a Monday. Two nights later, hours before hopping on the plane to go to Denver, I had the shivers. At the same time, my face felt so hot and swollen I thought it might crack and bleed in a dozen different places.  But, in the wee hours, the fever broke ( I thought) and I felt substantially better. So, on the plane I went.

In the airport in Denver, waiting for the shuttle, I realized I’d been overly optimistic. Whatever crud had invaded my chest had set up permanent residence. The shivers started again, the hots, the queasy feeling in my tum.

Believe me, I fought. I took Airborne, swabbed Zicam, sucked on Cold-Eeze lozenges and felt like a walking pharmaceutical catalog. I drank only small amounts of scotch medicinally (damnit) to murder the germs holding their own convention in my throat. Bed rest. Bed rest. No fun.

With a deft hand at makeup and sheer determination, I functioned — almost coherently — for most of the con. It was great to spend time visiting bookstores with Alex — and infecting booksellers. I loved seeing friends and making new ones — and infecting them all.

But I missed far more people than I would have liked. Rob, did you really attend? Toni, were you there?

Cough . . . Where’s that tissue?

Was it worth it? Was it wise to push so hard, to force an unwilling body and muddy mind in the name of marketing?

Bottom line: I don’t recommend it.

Which brings me to today’s questions:
What would make you cancel an appearance?
When would you know that it was better to stay home than go?

Gack . . . hack.

Here are just a few of the people I coughed on . . .

(l to r) Tim Maleeny, Steven Torres, Steve Hockensmith and Steve Brewer

(l to r)  Donna Andrews, Bill Fitzhugh, Christine Goff

Our own Simon Wood (sorry ’bout that, Simon)

(l to r)  John Billheimer, Sam Reaves, Kate Derie, Michael Allen Dymmoch

29 thoughts on “Through a Petrie Dish, Darkly

  1. billie

    Bless you, Pari, I can’t imagine traveling while sick, especially with a fever!

    There have been some nasty bugs around this year. I’m still getting over one of them.

    My criteria for canceling (not book appearances, but in general): when I know I won’t be able to fully “be there” in mind and spirit, or if I’m going to be with the very young and/or the very old, I figure I shouldn’t share my germs.

    I also have a very personal criteria that when I get that sick it’s a sign I need to retreat from the world and REST. I have no idea what I would make of such a philosophy if it occurred in the middle of a new book out and book tours, conferences, etc.!

    I hope you’re back to full speed very soon.

  2. Will Bereswill

    Since I travel A LOT for my day job, I know exactly how you felt, Pari. I once flew from Beijing to Chicago with an upper respiratory infection. Flying to 38,000 feet, I thought my head would explode. Twelve hours later, the decent almost killed me. I wound up with ear infections and a host of nasty things.

    It would take a lot to get me to cancel an event.

  3. Karen Olson

    So, Pari, I can blame you for this creeping crud that developed the day after I got home from Denver and will not go away??

    Granted, we never met…but I did hang with some of those people in the pictures. Six degrees and all that 🙂

  4. Alexandra Sokoloff

    I still feel terrible about having to cancel a trip to Florida and a signing at Murder On The Beach last year – my downstairs plumbing exploded and I had to deal with the water right away or it would have been thousands of dollars worth of damage.

    (Forgive me, Joanne!!!!)

    I tend to foolishly push through all kinds of things when I’m sick but I would always cancel if I were contagious OR if it was a family member who was sick and needed me.

    Luckily sick doesn’t happen for me very often. Hopefully plumbing won’t, either.

  5. pari noskin taichert

    Billie,What you say makes such sense. I wouldn’t have let my children go to Denver after a night like I had . . . for their protection and others. But, there I was, doing what I so often condemn in other people because I really thought I was on the mend.

    As to the body telling us it’s time to slow down — YES! But sometimes it takes a bludgeon to get our attention.

  6. pari noskin taichert

    Karen,I sure hope you don’t have what I appear to have. It’s getting better now, but it’s been nearly three weeks of this junk.

    Alex,If I’d thought I was really contagious — and that it wasn’t just a bad cold — I would’ve stayed home. It was only after I got to Denver that I realized I’d made a mistake. Same for the car ride with you; I thought I was all better. But the lousy thing about this crud is that I kept having relapses.

    The only time I’ve actually cancelled an appearance was at M is for Mystery; my youngest daughter was just too upset with all of my traveling and I had to stop for awhile. My children’s mental/emotional health trumps absolutely everything else.

  7. Louise Ure

    So sorry you seemed to pick up a San Francisco bug! It must have been only dangerous to out-of-towners. The rest of us here are still fine.

    I haven’t canceled a public event yet, no matter how crummy I felt. But I have no such compunctions in my personal life.

  8. Naomi

    Yikes! Sounds pretty deadly, Pari. I’ve canceled one engagement in the past when my father-in-law was very ill. The organizers were all so gracious and rescheduled me later. A radio station on the East Coast wanted to book me during a weekend that was especially chaotic, and my publicist said, “You know, you don’t have to do it.” Somehow that gave me permission not to overcommit, that the sky wasn’t going to fall down on me, etc., if I didn’t do a promotional media event. We can do only as much as we can do.

  9. pari noskin taichert

    Louise,I’m so glad to hear that you and yours haven’t gotten sick! That was secret fear of mine.

    Naomi,I know what you mean about permission. That’s the thing I think I’m learning this year. That you don’t HAVE to do it all . . .

  10. billie

    This whole being contagious thing is a mystery to me, still. When exactly ARE we and AREN’T we?

    It figures in more for me with family events than anything else. I hate the thought of giving my elderly father something that will make him weaker, even for a brief time. And likewise know that for my brother and his wife, if their young son gets something, it means one of them has to take time from work to care for him at home. So I tend to assume contagion and beg off visits/events.

    Within the regular world of “adults” I tend to assume if I’m physically capable of being out and about, they’re safe, or at least getting exposed in all kinds of ways, in addition to being exposed to ME.

    Wouldn’t it be great if there were a strip you could touch to your tongue and it would tell you? Contagious, stay home. In danger of getting worse, stay home. On the mend, okay to go. Etc.

  11. J.D. Rhoades

    🙂 Seriously, Pari, I hope this passes quickly.

    About the only things that would make me cancel would be (1) a family emergency or (2) a more than 50% possibility that I might actually hurl on stage.

  12. Will Bereswill


    That China trip was one of my not-so-fond memories. It started in the south of China and with my meager Chinese language skills, I spent some cash on herbal remedies, most I never tried. Finally, I got someone to translate well enough to get me some Amoxicillin (no need for perscriptions in China). However that held me over just long enough to get REALLY sick days before my return flight.

    No such thing as a Z-Pack in China.

  13. pari noskin taichert

    Thanks, J.D.Yeah, I think your criterion is a good one. Remember being in elementary school and doing that in front of the whole class? Yuck.

    Billie,I think you’re on to something with that home-test strip. Any scientists/inventors reading Murderati today?

    As to self-quarantine . . . we do it all the time with my hubby’s parents — for the reasons you describe. I also won’t go around babies if I’m sick.

    Will,To be truly sick in a foreign country is hell. I got terribly ill during a school vacation while I lived in Hong Kong. I was in my room for two days before one of my friends came to find me. I really thought I was going to die — and my Cantonese wasn’t good enough to explain what was going on to the old Chinese Amah who came to help.

    Never again . . .

  14. toni

    Aw, Pari, I hope you’re feeling much better, sooner. Like a few other people, I caught something at LCC and have spent the week with on again, off again fever, but so far (knock wood) I haven’t had the heavy congestion you’ve described. (I have had serous eye irritation, which makes reading the screen a pain.)

    I think the thing that would make me cancel an appearance is a family emergency, and an illness that was contagious. That latter is hard to know for sure if the fever breaks and we start to feel better. There’s probably some sort of 48 hour rule of having to be fever free to know for sure, but I don’t know the rule.

  15. pari noskin taichert

    Oh, no, not you, too, Toni!

    Fourty-eight hours? I’ve never heard that one before.

    Usually, for me at least, once a fever is gone, it’s gone. That’s one reason this latest crappola caught me so off guard.

    The good news is that I’m fairly sure I’m finally coming out of it today.

    I hope yours lasts only 1/8th the time.

  16. j.t. ellison

    I’m now a big proponent of staying home if you’ve got an illness that is readily detected by readers. Colds, coughs, the flu, kidney stones — all serve to make you look icky, sound icky, and limit your ability to truly connect, to be on. I shouldn’t have gone to LCC. I had to cancel South Carolina, which was devastating to me, because I’d been looking forward to it for months. (Rather, hubby canceled, I was lying in a hospital bed doped up on Dilauded, screaming every fourth breath.) So I think it’s all in the situation.

    Pari, and everyone else who’s sick… FEEL BETTER!!!!!

  17. pari noskin taichert

    J.T.,I couldn’t believe you were at LCC. You looked good — but the wonders of makeup can fool most of us most of the time.

    This last week, when I got back, I had three events in five days. I went to all of them and did fine . . . but I’m sure glad to be off for a week now.

  18. Steve Brewer

    Poor Pari…

    I, for one, did not catch your germ. I breathe air that’s way up here, and you are way down there, so the germs couldn’t get up to my nasal area.

  19. Fran

    JT, you looked fabulous, and I had no idea you were feeling awful!

    Pari, I knew you were feeling punky but I had no idea how bad it was.

    You’re both troupers, both of you, and all of you who perservere. Kudos all ’round. And Pari, I didn’t get whatever you had, so you probably weren’t contagious.

    On the small upside, I had a hugely swollen jaw where I’ve got a root canal upcoming, and I almost cancelled my trip to LCC, but I just couldn’t make myself miss. I was terrified my jaw would explode on the plane.

    Maybe it was the elevation, maybe it was the oh-so-thin air, maybe it was the company, but the swelling went down and hasn’t been back.

    We’ve had a few authors cancel, had one or two completely forget they were scheduled to sign, and one of the things I’ve discovered is that fans will forgive a really good excuse, and while they may gently tease you about skipping, they won’t let you down.

  20. pari noskin taichert

    Fran,I can’t believe you came to LCC with an infected tooth. That pain is the worst because you just can’t ignore it. I’m glad it’s gone away.

    As to authors cancelling or forgetting . . .I think you’re right that people will forgive just about anything if the excuse is fitting. Skipping a signing though, well, I know an author who made a habit of doing that kind of thing and she’s big enough that booksellers put up with it. But I don’t think she’s winning more fans with that behavior.

    Of course NO ONE in the mystery world would ever do that.

  21. Fran

    Tooth pain stinks, it’s true, but so far so good, and after the 28th, it’ll be fine. I hope.

    Regarding authors skipping signings, the one I’m thinking of was suffering from horrific jet lag and slept through her signing with us. She was all over herself apologetic, and her fans, while disappointed at the time, certainly understood and forgave her, and she made a point of being at the shop for the next book early to give herself plenty of time to visit with her fans, who were touched and pleased.

    Mystery authors are (for the most part) incredibly generous and wonderful, which is one of the reasons I love my job so very much!

  22. pari noskin taichert

    And the author I’m thinking of who wasn’t good about it, WASN’T a mystery author.

    Without going overboard to be self-congratulatory, I am convinced our community is really something quite special, wonderful.

  23. Zoe Sharp

    Wow, best wishes to everyone who went down with one form of dreaded lurgy or another at LCC. Am I glad I’m on the opposite side of the Atlantic from most of you or what? 😉

    Dusty – I dread being your co-signee at an event where there’s still a 49 percent chance that you’re going to hurl …

    I have to admit that we did have to cancel one stop on the tour last year, because a certain car rental company – no names, but apparently they Try Harder – kept us hanging around in Newark for TWO HOURS failing to sort out the paperwork. Since then they have apologised profusely and done their best to make amends, but I still felt like a real jerk for having to pull out at the last minute.

    As for illness, I was out doing photoshoots all day yesterday with the cracked rib I managed to acquire on a shoot last week, and I have resorted to my own DIY dentistry with a Swiss Army Knife before now when things have been really bad …

    And my appendix went bang in a big way while we were working in Northern Ireland a few years ago. But I did manage to finish the job and get back on the ferry home again before going to hospital. The real down side was they wouldn’t sign me fit to fly transaltantic ten days later, so I missed what should have been my first B’con in Vegas. (I’m a jinx, aren’t I?)

    Nobody’s at their best with a streaming cold and I would have thought that very few readers really want a book signing by the hand that, only moments earlier, was clutching a soggy hankie. But, on the other hand, if some coughs and colds leave you a Dusty-type deep husky voice, maybe that wouldn’t be so bad!


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