You know what’s wrong with Bouchercon?

by Alexandra Sokoloff

Look, I did my raves already, here.   And I’ll fight anyone to the death who even dares to hint that Ruth and Jon and Judy didn’t just put on the greatest show on earth.   But let’s get honest, now.   There’s something missing, endemically, intrinsically, about the whole Bouchercon experience.

There’s no dancing.

Yeah, yeah, I can feel the skeptics of you out there going skeptical on me already, but trust me, this is leading somewhere you might just want to go.

Because of my confused genre identity, and because romance readers love them some ghost stories, I end up at a lot of romance conferences.   And there is dancing there, oh, is there.   No hangovers ever at an Romantic Times or RWA conference, because you just dance it right out.   Great exercise, too – no one needs to bother with the gym at these things.   And it’s great bonding. But there’s a major problem there, too.

No men.

Oh, well, there are the requisite half-naked beefcake cover models.  And Barry Eisler.  Unfortunately not half-naked, but simply working it.

But besides that – pretty testosterone-deprived.

It’s not that I don’t love dancing with three hundred women at a time.  I do.  It’s just that it’s not exactly… the same.   I love women.   I love men.   But what I love most of all is women and men together, all variations, doing whatever they do, in all possible permutations.

My favorite advice columnist, Miss Manners, said that “Flirting is what adults do because they know it’s not practical or even desirable to have sex with everyone you’re attracted to.”

Well, that’s precisely the point with dancing, but with more full body contact.   That’s what social dancing was invented for – the preservation of monogamy while maintaining healthy levels of fantasy promiscuity.

Social dancing is maybe the one thing that the sixties really screwed up, and I’m from Berkeley, where the sixties never died, so you know I wouldn’t say anything like that unless I really meant it.  When people started to dance free-form, non-contact, by themselves (which is what tends to happen when you’re tripping) a whole way of life started to crumble.   The sexual revolution had a lot to do with it.  Men realized they were going to get sex anyway, so they didn’t have to go to the trouble of learning how to dance in order to get laid.  And somehow women let them get away with it.   But oh, the loss.

I’m sure it was fine in the seventies, when people were still sleeping with each other left and right.   And in the eighties, before the dark age of AIDS and during the age of, well, cocaine.   

But then suddenly rampant random sex was not happening any more. But when we lost the random rampant sex, we somehow didn’t go back to the socially sanctioned safe-sex substitute of dance.   

Which leaves us – not screwed, but pathetically UNscrewed, I think is what I mean to say.

I haven’t been at this author thing that long, but my observation is that as a group, authors are overwhelmingly…

Married.   And faithful.   


And it’s a lovely thing – commitment, fidelity – I’m all for it.   Cheating is bullshit.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t want a cheap feel from a friend – or an attractive stranger – once in a while.   And social dancing used to make that not only possible, but pretty much mandatory.   

Whoever invented compulsory social dancing really, really, REALLY knew what they were doing.   Because within that context, you’re allowed to try out dozens, no, hundreds, even thousands, of different partners.   Feel how they move, see if they have a sense of humor and sense of adventure, get a good taste of their passion or lack of, see if they’re generous or selfish, see if you FIT with them.   All without saying a word.

And then even once you have your perfect partner (who may not be a great dancer at all, btw – that’s really not the point – you could laugh all the way through the dance of the four left feet and know at the end of it that you’ve found the love of your life) – you don’t have to give up all those other partners.   You get them every weekend, all those hundreds and thousands of three-or-five-or-seven minute living fantasies, as long as you’re still able to stand.

What a perfect system!

Let’s apply this to our own situation for a moment.

Some of my favorite times at B’Con this year were with girlfriends, dishing about the guys.  And the maybe couples – are they or aren’t they?

Yes, I know we were all there working it.  But in the meantime, weren’t you, you know, looking?   And thinking?   

Is Marcus Sakey too young, or would you make an exception for his old soul?   Why do so many women name Dr. Lyle as one of the sexiest men in the mystery community?   Did anyone, ever, have a professor like Derek Nikitas in college, and if you did – well, did you?   Can anyone’s voice shake you to the – uh – core – like Gary Phillips’?   Wouldn’t you love to feel Ken Bruen’s soul in a dance the way you can reading him on the page?   How many of the rest of you have secretly wished that Jim Born would just take out the damn handcuffs? This year especially, didn’t you just want to just line up the Brits?   Or at least have them talk at you until you passed out?  And how about those Teds, as we say in So Cal – the big, comfortable, easy guys you just want to curl up on… er, with…   Brett, Rob, Dusty, Bill Cameron, Jason Pinter, Ali Karim?   

JA Konrath, angel or demon?

And let’s not forget the agents and editors.  I’d put Scott Miller up for a Men of Mystery calendar any day.  Joe Veltre was looking mighty fine, and Lukas Ortiz is not only a hottie, but after a five-hour bike ride with him last year in Anchorage I can testify to his endurance. Marc Resnick is so sly and smart – and Eric Raab has that rock star soulfulness – could be Adam Duritz’s brother.

And speaking of brothers and rock stars – when we have two tall elegant brilliant Englishmen like Lee Child and Andrew Grant skulking about the proceedings – and they’re brothers?    Or Michael Palmer, pere, and Daniel Palmer, fils, doing the rock star thing at ThrillerFest?   I mean, this is better than twins, people.   Doesn’t the mind run wild?

Talking about it is fun (Louise Ure and Lori Armstrong and Tasha Alexander and Christa Faust, I’ll dish with you any hour of any day).   Talking to people is fun.   But after 14 hours or so of it I’m talked out.   When the lights get lower and the cocktails are flowing, I want more.

How breathtaking to have a socially sanctioned excuse to leave all that talking behind and simply step into someone’s arms.   Repeatedly.

And I’m not talking about drunken groping.  I’m talking about people being skilled enough at the LANGUAGE of dance to get out on the floor for three or four minutes and have a whole thrilling, surprising, funny, sexy, touching, mindblowing conversation – every bit as complicated as writing  – through rhythm, through touch, through teasing, through holding back and then pushing through, anticipating and riffing on each other’s moves – all without a word.   (Is this reminding you of anything?   It should be.)

There’s that disconcerting feeling you get as a powerful, independent woman – to have to surrender to his hold.  And how thrilling to find that he knows exactly what he’s doing.   Yeah, it’s a little flustering that he as the lead is in ultimate control (I tell my male friends that men don’t really dance, they STEER) – but as the woman, or follow, you have any number of opportunities to change the game on him – to halt the step, to change the pattern and make him adjust to you, or just make him watch and know that everyone else in the room is watching while you seduce them along with him.

Dance is conversation to music, too.   The music is really another partner, a whole dimension, as much a part of the experience as the person you’re with.   If you listen to the great swing tunes, you’ll see that the music changes constantly within the song, from swing to rumba to mambo to, hell, a tap break.   If you and your partner are on the ball, you can follow  not just each other, but the different dances within a single song.   And when you dance a lot, there are certain songs that you just crave to dance with a certain man, to see if he’s up to it.   And if he isn’t, you could always dance it with someone else.  Dancing doesn’t have to be just one-on-one.  You can be dancing WITH someone – but dancing FOR someone else entirely, if you see what I mean. 

Think about this for a moment. Let’s just imagine that you CAN dance, just like you can talk, because you’ve been in classes and at cotillion and social dances from the time you were eight, then on to the jazz clubs and Latin clubs, or shag or tango competitions – depending on where you’re from.  You can speak dance as well as you speak – if not quite English, then French or Spanish or whatever you speak as a second language.  Because that’s the way it used to be.  Salsa, Rumba, Swing, Foxtrot, Samba, Lindy Hop, Waltz, Tango, Shag in the South… everyone spoke those languages.

(And let me tell you another thing – age means nothing in dance – it’s all about the conversation.   I’ve been tossed in the air by high school kids and danced down a ballroom staircase with the then-85-year-old maestro Frankie Manning (pioneer of the Lindy Hop) and every experience is uniquely wonderful.)   

Now, what if that was simply the thing that we all did – from nine or ten pm on?

That’s the way it used to be.   

Do you get just a glimpse of what I’m talking about?   Can you blame me for being a little nostalgic for that time of night when the talking was done, and a whole other level of communication opened up? 

Oh, and the best thing?   It’s understood: What happens on the dance floor – stays on the dance floor.

So, if you could…

Who would you want to dance with?   At B’Con or Thrillerfest or LCC or wherever.   And don’t even pretend you don’t know.   Most of you probably have a whole list.  Writers are the sexiest people around, and that’s just the truth.

So that’s the question for today.  Who would you dance with?   Truth or dare.

And if you don’t quite dare, is there something besides writing or reading that does you the way dance does me?

60 thoughts on “You know what’s wrong with Bouchercon?

  1. Sandra Ruttan

    “JA Konrath, angel or demon?”

    The hair makes him look like Jesus, so there’s an argument for anti-Christ…

    I didn’t notice the lack of dancing, but then, I got to flirt. 🙂

  2. Annette Dashofy

    I, too, lamented the lack of dance at B-con. Sports bars just don’t do it for me. I’d rather hang out in a dance club any day. As for whom I’d want to dance with…the list is endless. I’m happily married, but I will dance with ANYONE.

  3. Sandra Ruttan

    Great to see you too, Alex.

    Okay, maybe instead of a quiz night it should be Dancing With The Authors?

    I’m having an interesting mental imagine of Dusty and Joe in white doing Staying Alive.

  4. Ali

    Alex you post made me roll over laughing, but saying that most parties do have a band or a dancefloor and DJ and all that so perhaps your idea isn’t so weird.

    I must admit at the first Thrillerfest in Pheonix I was completely taken aback when the ITW band came on the stage, with you, Heather Graham and Harley Jane Kozack started dancing and strutting your stuff.

    Hmmm a late night disco could be kindda fun –

    Great post


  5. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Ali, you’re always great fun and a great sport, and that’s exactly how we need to think of it – a late night disco. It’s just about getting it going, right? I will MAKE you dance next time.

    In fact, Heather and Harley and I will team tag you to make sure you’re on the floor.

  6. Kaye Barley

    Alex – I love love love this!Commitment and fidelity – yes – but do toss in that cheap feel.You do manage to get to the meat of things, girl, and I had to laugh out loud at that.O.K. We’re all being very careful here, but I’m gonna toss down the gauntlet and tell you who I really want to dance with.Alex is right.Writers are sexy. Words are powerful. And sexy.And of all the Writer Guys whose names I have on my list of who I’d love to dance with, rather than allowing myself to look like a floozy here I’ve chosen one name.Doesn’t mean I can’t be fickle and change it later, but . . .

    James Lee Burke.

  7. R.J. Mangahas

    Love this post Alex.

    I’ve also seen it from a DJ’s perspective. That in itself is cool because you can really set the level of energy with the music that you play. It’s almost like a fine art. You play the right music and people really get going. Play the wrong kind…well, lets just say it can be ugly.

    My list of dance partners? Well, I’ll go down my partial list. Hey, I may be attached but you know what they say: “What happens at Bouchercon etc. etc. etc.”

    — You or Heather Graham (or both) I felt this kind of–enegy? aura? presence?–when I talked to either one of you, and I think it would translate interestingly on the dance floor.

    — Zoe (It’s the Brit thing)

    — Kelli Stanley. She’s just an overall really nice person.

    — Some red haired woman, whose name I wish I could remember right now, whom I had a nice long conversation with. (Wow, is that a Charlie Brown moment or what?)

    — Meg Chittenden (because she kicked Zoe’s ass 😉 )

    — Twist Phelan (I think her name is just cool)

    “JA Konrath, angel or demon?”

    I KNEW one of you had to work this into a post some how.

  8. PK the Bookeemonster

    I loved reading your post and unfortunately I don’t dance unless I’ve imbibed quite a lot but your description of dance is the next best thing… did it suddenly get hot in here? (fanning)

  9. Tammy Cravit

    Put me in a situation where I have to dance, sing, or otherwise actually have a sense of rhythm, and the results are not pretty…and I’d hate to be responsible for anyone’s therapy bills. But the spectator role? Sitting at a table sipping a Midori sour and watching those who *can* flow about the dance floor? Yes, please.

    I don’t know who *I’d* dance with, Alex, but I’d give up quite a bit to watch you do it.

  10. Marianne

    Gee guys, I think I’ve finally found ‘Home’. 😀

    God, I miss dancing. I good disco workout is great, but the Viennese Waltz is like flying when you’re with a good partner. Cha Cha and Rumba are downright sexy, and Jive (ok, Swing to you yanks)is a bloody lot of fun. I’ve danced Salsa at a Latin club in Sydney one time – whoo, I think it just got hot in here. Also, I’m a bit of a flirt, but have toned it down in recent years – some women just don’t get it and think you’re trashy for trying it on. You ladies seem to. 😀 Great stuff.

    Didn’t get to meet too many of the gentlemen writers personally, but:

    Jim Born: it’s those huge blue eyes and those cheeks – yes, I am still talking about his face. 🙂

    Over heard whilst walking out of the bar with my Hubby: a man passed us with a couple of friends. He was really tall, broad shouldered, muscled beneath a white open necked shirt, pantherlike walk, shaved head (I think), with a dusky touch to his skin which might have been a tan. A woman declared in his wake – “Don’t leave me alone with him, I might sleep with him.” We were a bit bemused.

    Great Blog!!Cheers,Marianne

  11. Rae

    Great post, Alex.

    My favorite times dancing have been with giant groups of people, all sort of just doing their thing in a big circle on the dance floor. Best music to dance to, imo, is the great old stuff from the 60s to the 80s. So, I’d love to see a fun disco party – with a mirror ball and the whole works.

    And, since I’m in a position to do something about it, we’ll have to see what we can come up with for Bcon 2010 😉

  12. Naomi

    You are too funny, Alex!

    I get what you’re saying because I also believe that cerebral stuff is well and good, but I love to get lost in physicality.

    For me, it’s on the basketball court.

    I know that you are no fan of competitive sports, Alex, but the annual Bouchercon basketball game is where you get to experience this:

    The perfect swish of William Kent Krueger at the three-point line.

    The backdoor moves of Bill Fitzhugh.

    Sam Reaves’s sticking to his man like peanut butter to jelly.

    Lono Waiwaiole’s aggressive inside game.

    Jason Starr’s crossover layup.

    Andy Straka’s true killer instinct.

    Reed Farrell Coleman’s menacing post play.

    Jim Fusilli’s defense.

    S.J. Rozan’s doggedness.

    And, if you’re lucky, you’ll might be able to take a tumble with Gary Phillips.

    I’ve missed the past four Bouchercons, but I’ll be there in Indy on the b-ball court so all of yous can beat my butt then for this!

  13. billie

    Funny – I’m in the midst of one of those midlife crisis weeks, and this whole dance thing seems like the remedy.

    I used to go out dancing at least three nights a week from age 16-26 or so. There was definitely something cathartic about it.

    There were only a few guys I wanted to dance with and one of them was so amazing he appeared many years later in my first book. And turns out he is a novelist too! He’s who I would like to dance with, again.

  14. Jeanne Ketterer

    It is pure heaven — gliding on air — when you’re partnered with a good dancer. It’s magic, an unspoken connection. When you’re in synch … what Alex said.

    I think too many men (and women) become absolutely terrified because they think there’s this secret they haven’t learned and bec they haven’t, they’ll look foolish.

    Relax! It’s not a competition! Stop worrying!

    You’ll be loved even more because you stepped fearlessly out onto the floor (or in the hallway, in the aisle). It doesn’t matter your expertise, size, shape or age. Just let the beat carry you. It’s contagious! When I first began, I was totally pathetic — beat? what’s a beat? and thank God all of my partners were great dancers and at first they’d gently say, okay, now, Jeanne, it’s 1,2,3, and a 4, etc. (We’ll let Alex give a short lesson.)

    As much as I love sitting in a bar/pub and having a few and laughing, Alex’s idea is a neat alternative. Which I guess puts her in charge of organizing for the next B’con.

  15. j.t. ellison

    I’m with Allison, I feel like I’m a terrible dancer. I have to be rather intoxicated to pull it off, and I still look like something from Fantasia.

    I attribute it to a concussion in tap when I was 5.

    As far as a Men of Mystery Calendar, I say yes to that. We have the greatest men on the planet captive in a hotel with alcohol flowing at every conference. What’s not to love? And if Born ever did bring those handcuffs… I’m sure there’d be a line of women begging to be arrested ; )

  16. toni mcgee causey

    I absolutely adore dancing–stellar post, Alex. I grew up dancing, and flirting, and there are so many drop dead sexy guys at the festivals, it’d be like heaven. (Can you just imagine if B-Con and RWA joined forces for one night?)

    Having danced with you, I know every guy here would say the same–you’re a blast on that dance floor. Hope you’ve started a trend.

  17. Dana King

    It’s only logical romance writers would go dancing; it’s an integral part of romance. Expanding the activities in a manner appropriate for crime fiction writers could lead to roving bands of writers going through the unsuspecting host city robbing and killing people.

    Okay, so maybe that’s not so different from how the group I was part of spend last Saturday night. Seems like we’re starting down a slippery slope to me.

  18. shy girl

    There are so many writers I’d love to dance with but for proper boot-knocking, it would have to be a cool tall Brit. Does anybody know if Kevin Wignall is single these days? 😉

  19. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Sorry I bailed on my own post – was driving back from a signing! You all have been busy since this morning – I’m just catching up.

    So now we’re getting to the bottom of things. There used to be dancing but there’s not? What happened?

  20. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Marianne – it’s you and me on the dance floor next time. Great to have you here.

    But this: ” a man passed us with a couple of friends. He was really tall, broad shouldered, muscled beneath a white open necked shirt, pantherlike walk, shaved head (I think), with a dusky touch to his skin which might have been a tan.”

    Who IS that? Racking my brain…

  21. Becky Hutchison

    Definitely the British guys! Although a few of them had a wee bit too much to drink (like I would if I were dancing), the accent still had me swooning!

  22. Becky Hutchison

    And what I wouldn’t pay to see Dusty dancing to “staying Alive” in his powder blue leisure suit! Anybody want to start a collection to buy him a new one that fits?

  23. Jon Jordan

    I was dancing in the elevators all weekend.

    Lucky me I have the theme song from NCIS always playing in my head. It helps drown out the voices.

    Maybe we can get Bob Crais to dance in St. Louis.

  24. Lee Lofland

    Muscled and panther-like walk. Hmmm…I thought she was talking about me at first, but then I remembered I was wearing plaid shorts, a Budweiser T shirt, sandals, and black knee socks with garters. Easy mistake.

  25. Jeanne Ketterer

    The guys worried dancing’s not cool, huh?

    How about Savion Glover? This guy is beyond cool. (And I bet he’d do a great guest column here on the ‘Rati.) He’s a tap dancer — unbelievable. Spend some time with him and I guarantee he’ll inspire you … maybe not tap, but you’ll feel it and want to get out there. (Go ahead, Google him or find him on YouTube.)

    Alex or Billie, I’m getting two tickets to see him at Duke for next Sunday, Oct. 26, if either would like to join me.

    [Preference for dance partners? Not really … well, okay tall guys, but Lee and I’m sure his brother’s taken by everyone here. If Bourdain was still around, a definite.]

    Jeanne(Alex not organizing a B’Con, just the dance part, I meant.)

  26. Alexandra Sokoloff

    BG, having spent time in the workout room at these things, I can tell you Kent Krueger is in fabulous shape. Good choice!

    Shy girl, with dancing it doesn’t matter if they’re married or single – you can have them all.

  27. pari


    I wanted to go dancing so badly I could taste it but I guess I give off that “Done” vibe too much.


    When I was at Mayhem, I went dancing with Sandra Balzo and Jeremiah Healy at a blues club and it was so much fun. I wish every con — or at least the ones I attend — would build dancing in.

    Those late-night, wordless conversations can be the best.

  28. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Pari, what you give off is a dancer vibe. I know you’ll be one of the first ones on the floor when Rae throws that disco party in SF.

    Joe – finest kind.

    Lori – yes, Orlando! But I like this idea of crossing RT and B’Con… the world would never be the same….

  29. Mollie Cox Bryan

    This will be my first Bouchercon and I'm so disappointed to learn there's no dancing. I was planning to grab John Connolly for at least one dance!
    Oh but let's do a "Men of Mystery" calendar. What fun that would be. Cheers!


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