Turning 40 and Missing Bouchercon

by Alafair Burke

This Friday is October 16, significant to many people, I’m sure, for a variety of reasons.  Odds being what they are, someone reading this is probably having an anniversary.  Or a birthday.  Or a new book published.

According to the handy dandy Interwebs, this Friday will mark a number of important historical events: the guillotining of Marie Antoinette in 1793, the births of Oscar Wilde and Eugene O’Neill, n 1854 and 1888, respectively, the beginning of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, and the launch of Ross Perot’s infomercial in 1992.

But I have my eye on this Friday for two reasons.  First, it’s the Friday of Bouchercon weekend.   There’s no shortage of terrific programming for the weekend, and Friday is chock full of good stuff:   2009 Anthony nominees for short story, like Sean Chercover and Jane Cleland, discuss their work; panels on setting, plotting, and noir (oh my!); talk of police procedurals, PI novels, series characters, and women in the genre; and, of course, Michael Koryta’s interview of guest of honor (and god of writing) Michael Connelly.

 So much for a photo with both Michaels at the same time



I think I just felt a tear roll down my right cheek.  Why?  Because I won’t be in Indianapolis.  Nope, no Bouchercon for me this year.  Why not?  Because the second reason I’ve been eyeballing the approach of October 16, 2009, is that it marks the fortieth anniversary of my birth.  I believe that makes it my fortieth birthday.

When I first realized last winter that Bouchercon fell on my birthday, I assumed I’d go.  Given the timing of the annual conference, I’ve had Bouchercon birthdays before.  I spent my 33rd at that memorable hotel in Las Vegas.  My editor took me off-site to see Tom Jones where I was not the only birthday girl, but was apparently the only one who held on to her lingerie.

But as early 2009 whizzed by and my travel plans went left unmade, I realized I was procrastinating for a reason.  I was trying to guess how I’d feel on the big day.  I was imagining my own future state of mind.  Stupid idea.  Speculating about the future is risky.  Understanding one’s current mood and its relationship to external factors is also imprecise.  Throwing the two together was…well, stupid.

Several months ago, past-me imagined future-me on October 16, 2009, and did not like what she saw:  Me wandering around alone at Bouchercon; sitting at my signing table, saying goodbye to the last person in my modest line as the crowd waiting to see the author next to me tried to mask its pity; sobbing into my martini at the bar as I realized I was officially half way to eighty, well over a third of the way to dead.

Bummer, huh?

Turns out past-me sucks at both remembering the past and predicting the future. 

As Bouchercon approaches, I find myself recalling not those past moments of humble pie (almost) every rookie writer experiences at Bouchercon — meandering around with a hotel map and a conference brochure as the seasoned vets exchange enthusiastic and kissy welcomes and hold court at the bar.  Instead, my mind is flooded with good memories of friendships formed and a love of writing shared: the Reacher Creature parties; that amazing panel in 2006 with Ken Bruen, Laura Lippman, and fellow Ratis, Cornelia Read and Zoe Sharp; the night these guys became my pals and we smiled like people in a toothpaste ad:

Bouchercon Chicago with Ben Rehder, James Born, and Barry Eisler And, although October 16 is still a few days off, it looks like past-me also got the future wrong. I don’t feel like crap about 40 after all.  I have an amazing husband and two kickass jobs.  I get love from good friends and my awesome dog.  I ran twenty-five miles last week, which I couldn’t do when I was 30.  Or 20.  And I live (and get to write about) the coolest city in the world.

If I cried at the Bouchercon bar about entering a fifth decade of this life I’ve got, I’d deserve to get my butt kicked.

Yet for reasons I had months ago, I won’t be in Indianapolis.  I’ll be having a different kind of fun: that husband and a few of the good friends I mentioned will be hanging out at a beach house, frying a turkey.  Today’s me predicts Friday-me will have a fabulous time.

But I’ll miss you folks who are going to Bouchercon.  I hope you’ll use the comments to remember the past or predict the future.  What are some of your favorite Bouchercon memories or most anticipated Bouchercon events?  Feel free to throw in some birthday chat as well.  You never know…Friday-me might need the encouragement after all. 

37 thoughts on “Turning 40 and Missing Bouchercon

  1. JD Rhoades

    Happy Birthday (a little early) Alafair! Sorry, but a 47 year old can spare no tears for you at turning 40. 🙂 I won’t be at Bouchercon, either, and I’m already pining for it.

  2. Zoë Sharp

    Another early Happy Birthday wish, Alafair. I can also vouch that turning 40 makes not a blind bit of difference, apart from the fact I don’t seem to bounce like I used to … ;-]

    Have a great time from another B’con non-attendee!

  3. toni mcgee causey

    What Zoe said. Especially the bouncing part.

    I adore birthdays. Beats the hell out of the alternative. Hope yours is not only wonderful, but just the beginning of many more wonderful days to come.

  4. Jen Forbus

    O.k., I’ll be the first to say I will be at Bouchercon this year and it’s because of you! Many thanks! I’m going to make sure people remember your birthday Friday evening! I may even record it for posterity! I wish you were going to be there, but where ever you are, I wish you a wonderful, happy, healthy, fun birthday. And I look forward to the next time we can meet up and hang out! Love ya, A!

  5. Karen Olson

    Will miss you at Bcon, but can totally relate to your reasons to stay home.

    I’ll share with you what one of my best friends said right before I turned 40: It’s just like 39, but without the waiting. And now that I’m way past 40 and looking at that next -0, it’s really all just a number and more about how you feel.

    Have a wonderful birthday and we’ll raise a glass to you Friday!

  6. Sean Chercover

    Sorry I won’t see you there, Alafair, but I suspect the Friday-you will be having a ball.

    Happy Birthday! I’m with Zoe and Toni – turning 40 didn’t make a smidgen of difference (except, well, the bouncing part). You’re moving into your best decade yet. Enjoy!

  7. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Oh, no, was looking forward to meeting you in person, Alafair! Happy Birthday and hope to see you in your fabulous flesh soon.

    I know how it is to contemplate going to a conference (especially one as big as BCon) in an emotionally vulnerable state. But I’ve now been to enough that I know that no matter how I feel or how wobbly I might be, I have the best friends in the world to get me through it, just like I’d do for them. It’s an amazing community we have.

  8. Cornelia Read

    I hope you have the best birthday EVER, and have to say that one of my favorite Bcon memories was that panel with you. Actually, that’s the best memory. I don’t think I’ve every had so much fun early on a Sunday morning.

    You will be missed in Indy!!

  9. Rae

    Happy Birthday, Alafair! Birthdays that end in zero can be daunting. I usually wear a tiara all day when I have to get through one – it seems to help.

    JT, don’t worry, you’ll get through just fine, Bcon is oodles o’ fun.

    As far as memories and anticipation, my first Bouchercon in Toronto stands out. Fellow Reacher Creatures made me very welcome, and I had a blast meeting and beginning to get to know people who have become really good friends over the years.

    And, as much as I’m looking forward to Indy, I’m also excited to see everyone in San Francisco next year.

  10. Fran

    Let me join the rest in wishing you an early Happy Birthday! And I discovered that my 40’s were totally fabulous, loved them like mad! I hope you do too.

  11. Ken Bruen

    My Dear Alafair

    You are, as you’ve always been one of me fav people and fav writers
    You still look 25 and that’s not Oirish blarney
    I won’t be at Indy either but I will certainly raise a Jay to your Birthday
    Our panel was just bliss for me, one Mick and the brightest ladies in Mystery on the panel
    Heaven indeed
    Love to Sean
    and Mega hugs to you
    Ken Bruen

  12. Jon Jordan

    My sister Jennifer also has a October 16 birthday and like you she will be home this year.

    40 ain’t no thing girl! It’s all in how old you feel.
    My body feels sixty, but I behave like I’m twelve, so I’m actually about my own age

  13. Beth Tindall

    One of my favorite Bouchercon memories is a raucus bowling party in Chicago, wherein Mark Billingham and John Connolly became two of the most competitive, yet totally not-serious competitors I’ve ever seen. And we were ordering appetizers to go with the bowling and everyone turned their noses up at deep-fried-macaroni-and-cheese and you said "yum, let’s try it!" I think we were the only two who tasted it but I appreciated that "sure, why not?" attitude you brought that day.

  14. Alafair

    Thanks for all the well wishes and the shared Bouchercon memories. Ken, Zoe, and Cornelia, that panel might have been the best Bouchercon panel in history, at least for me. And, Beth, given that I can’t bowl for crap, I had to be good at something that day, and trying fried mac and cheese seemed like a skill I could muster.

  15. BCB

    The only birthday that was significant to me was the 18th. Back then, turning 18 meant everything. The rest really haven’t mattered at all. Most of the time I have no idea how old I am. The entire year I was 39, I honestly thought I was 40. That’s what I told anyone who asked. And then I turned 40 and thought about it and realized my mistake. So I figured that year I could be 39 to make up for it. And every time someone asked me how old I was, I hesitated, and then said, um, 39. No one believed me.

    Birthdays have the significance you give them. Your choice. As for 40, I suggest you stare it down, show it the door and get on with the party.

    A year ago, I’d never heard of Bcon. Now I’m envious of all who are going. Who knows what a year from now will bring? Whatever it may be, in my mind, there won’t be a number attached.

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