My first Bouchercon was 2008 in Baltimore. I’d heard of it—no avoiding it if one follows crime fiction at all—but I’m a solitary sort who doesn’t care for crowds (read: anti-social), so I never took much interest. Living halfway between DC and Baltimore, it seemed tis would be the one to try, if I were ever going to. Now I love conferences, and would go to half a dozen a year if I didn’t have that damn “real job” that pays the mortgage, electricity, gas, car, food, clothing; you know how that goes. My affection for conferences in general stems from that first year at Bouchercon, which is the gold standard for its ability to bring together a critical mass of readers and authors.
My favorite Bouchercon stories still belong to Baltimore. As noted above, I’m a bit
awkward meeting new people, don’t care much for crowds, and found myself that
first morning overwhelmed by hundreds of people, only one of whom I’d ever met
in the flesh. (Austin Camacho, who was a great comfort that first day, taking
the time to chat with me while I was still making up my mind whether to stick
around.) I was supposed to get together with some people I’d met online, but
that was only half a step removed. In my mind, they were writers and I was (at
that time) but a reader (in my mind), and felt an implied chasm between us.
Among those was Irish author Declan Hughes, creator of the outstanding Ed Loy series. I’d interviewed him for New Mystery Reader several months earlier, and he’d invited me to say hello. So there I was in the men’s room, standing at a urinal, still undecided about how long before I’d go home, and I look to my left and see a familiar face three stalls over. The conversation went like this:
Me: You’re Declan Hughes, aren’t you?
Me: I’m Dana King.
Him: Dana! Great to see you.
Me: Finish up. We’ll shake later.
We then made of great show of washing our hands before shaking. On the way out we had to pass through the line for the ladies’ room. One woman recognized Declan and said, “I never meet anyone like that in the rest room.” To which I replied, “You’re not hanging out in the right places.”
That was great fun, but even someone of my limited social skills knew not to attach myself like a barnacle to Declan for the rest of the day. By mid-afternoon my enthusiasm was waning again, until I happened onto Peter Rozovsky on the skyway between hotels. Peter and I became acquainted through his outstanding blog Detectives Beyond Borders, and had met in person earlier that day. (Peter’s fame is now beyond borders itself, thanks to his coming up with the idea for Noir at the Bar.) (Note to those in the DC region: E.A. Aymar is hosting a N@B event at the Wonderland Ballroom, Saturday, October 3 at 7:00. The stalwart lineup includes Austin Camacho, Jen Conley, Nik Korpon, Peter Rozovsky (the Godfather himself), David Swinson, Art Taylor, and Sarah Weinman. And me, but don;t let that stop you. You can always go to the bathroom when it's my turn.) Our chat went like this:
Peter: How are you enjoying yourself?
Me: It’s okay, but I don’t really know but a handful of people.
Peter: Well, just introduce yourself. (Looks around.) Do you know Scott Phillips?
Peter: Scott! Come here, I have someone for you to meet. (Scott Phillips comes over.) Scott, this is Dana King, Dana, Scott wrote The Ice Harvest.
Me (in fan boy mode, having seen the movie and read the book): I know.
We shook hands and chatted for five minutes before Scott had to leave for a panel. My comfort level increased exponentially and I was hooked on the conference experience.
(Epilog to that story: The next year, in Indianapolis, I was hanging on the periphery of the bar, having lost some of my hard-won confidence over the past twelvemonth. I saw Scott with some people and was deciding whether to re-introduce myself when he spotted me. “Hey, Dana. We’re about to go to get something to eat. Do you want to come?” Bouchercon doubts cured forever. Scott Phillips is a true humanitarian.)
I had to miss San Francisco and St. Louis for reasons beyond my control. (Still bummed about St. Louis, which is one of my favorite towns.) Sat on my first panel in Cleveland, my second in Albany (moderated by Peter Rozovsky, thus completing that whole Bouchercon Circle of Life™ thing), went to the Shamus banquet as a nominee in Long Beach, and have a panel next month in Raleigh. (As well as Author Speed Dating, which shows how much I’ve come around on that whole talking to strangers thing.) Lord willing and the creeks don’t rise, I’ll be in New Orleans, Toronto, and St. Petersburg. Bouchercon is my primary social/creative event of the year, and I work budgets and vacations around it.
I still remember Baltimore vividly. So, if anyone who reads this is going to their first—or second, or third, or…--Bouchercon and feels at all uncomfortable abut speaking to an author (or at least someone who thinks of himself as one), please say hello if you see me. I’ll be happy to talk, and will have a few books on hand to dispense free gratis (as Al Swearengen would say) if you mention this blog post. If you don’t see me, or I’m otherwise occupied, say hello to The Beloved Spouse, who will talk to anybody. She has no standards at all. She married me, didn’t she?