Linda L. Richards and J. Kingston Pierce take a break from Bouchercon to visit Edgar Allan Poe’s grave in Baltimore. (Photo by author Patricia Smiley.)
Flying back on the plane last night, after leaving Baltimore and then spending most of Monday touring about Washington, D.C., I wasn’t sure how much more I could say about the 2008 Bouchercon, “Charmed to Death.” What a wonderful experience. Organizers Ruth Jordan and Judy Bobalik set a new high standard for these conventions. I come away from my time spent in Charm City with many fond recollections, as well as a renewed determination to someday enter the ranks of published crime novelists.
Meanwhile, after consulting my notes (scribbled on the backs of convention programs and assorted handouts), I’ve compiled some random thoughts about what happened--and didn’t happen--during Bouchercon. Readers are welcome to contribute their own recollections in the Comments section at the bottom of this post.
Best Memories: Meeting Laura Lippman, who actually knew who I was. ... Meeting John Lutz, who didn’t, but who still appreciated my complimenting his long-overlooked private eye Fred Carver series. (Bad news for Carver fans: Lutz says he’s currently satisfied writing serial-killer books, and has no plans to revive either Carver or his St. Louis P.I., Alo Nudger.) ... Being introduced to Dennis Lehane, who showed up, unannounced, to watch novelist Michael Koryta interview Lippman. It was really surprising to see how many people didn’t recognize Lehane, as he leaned against a wall at the back of the meeting room. ... Finally meeting Max Allan Collins, who I interviewed years ago for January Magazine and with whom I’ve since carried on an e-mail correspondence. He invited me to a Saturday-night showing of the film Last Lullaby, which was based on his 2006 Hard Case Crime novel, The Last Quarry. Featuring Tom Sizemore and Sasha Alexander (from NCIS), The Last Lullaby is a violent, cynical little gem of a film that seems intended for the art-house circuit, but will certainly be of interest to fans of hard-boiled crime fiction. ... Visiting Edgar Allan Poe’s grave at Westminster Hall and Burying Ground in downtown Baltimore. As is traditional, I left a coin on the headstone. ... Meeting novelist Roger Jon “R.J.” Ellory, who’d ventured across the Atlantic in company with Rap Sheet contributor Ali Karim. Prior to Bouchercon, I’d never had the good fortune to read Ellory’s books (he has no American publisher); but now, thanks to his generosity, I have a pair of his novels in hand: A Quiet Vendetta (2005) and City of Lies (2006). ... Closing down the bar at the convention hotel one night with crime-fiction critic and author Eddie Muller, who told his small audience about meeting the storied actress Lauren Bacall. Muller explained that the former Mrs. Humphrey Bogart doesn’t suffer fools gladly--which was particularly bad news for one young interviewer, who had to inquire of her fellow journalists, “Wasn’t Bacall once married to somebody famous?” ... Hanging out at Lee Child’s post-Shamus Awards fête with Gary Phillips, his voice loud and deep enough to be heard above the din. ... Swapping kudos with Irish blogger and Rap Sheet contributor Declan Burke, author of The Big O and an altogether gracious guy. ... Meeting, if only ever so briefly, Hard Case Crime publisher and author Charles Ardai. ... Making lunch of crab cakes and hush puppies at Lexington Market. ... Bumping into blogger Patti Abbott (mother of the delightful Megan Abbott, another Rap Sheet correspondent) on the bridge connecting the convention hotel with the historic inn next door, where I was staying. Patti threw her arms around me, as if we’d known each other for years. Unfortunately, that was the only moment we had to talk. Next time, we must find more opportunities. ... And going out to dinner on the convention’s last night, Sunday, with a mixed bag of my fellow Web mavens--Peter Rozovsky of Detectives Beyond Borders, Sandra Ruttan from On Life & Other Inconveniences, and Linda L. Richards, my editor from January Magazine--plus Ali Karim, Roger Ellory, Sandra’s boyfriend, Brian Lindenmuth, and my own wife, Jodi. Talk about immediate camaraderie! Even I, a confirmed introvert, couldn’t help chattering away about the strengths and weaknesses of modern crime fiction and this convention’s social dynamics.
And a Few Disappointments: Forgetting my digital camera at home (thankfully, there were plenty of shutterbugs in attendance). ... Missing out on chances to meet Louis Bayard, Rennie Airth, Ann Cleeves, Thomas H. Cook, George Pelecanos, the mother and son who write under the pseudonym “Charles Todd,” and Daniel Stashower. ... And of course, failing to walk away with the most-coveted Anthony Award for Best Web Site. I know I downplayed my wish to win it in the first place, but I’m just modest that way.
Things I Learned at Bouchercon: John Harvey’s next novel is titled Far Cry, and will feature the two cops, Detective Inspector Will Graham and Detective Sergeant Helen Walker, he created for Gone to Ground (2007). Harvey explained that Far Cry will be his 100th novel. “My publisher doesn’t necessarily want that known, though,” the author quipped. “I mean, who wants to buy the 100th book from some old guy?” (Harvey will celebrate his 70th birthday on December 21 of this year.) ... In the introduction to advance reading copies of Moriarty, Brit John Gardner’s most recent novel to feature Sherlock Holmes’ legendary nemesis, the late author calls it “the third book in a planned quartet.” However, Gardner’s editor, Otto Penzler, told me that there won’t in fact be a fourth entry in that series, which has already brought us The Return of Moriarty (1974) and The Revenge of Moriarty (1975). Apparently, Gardner didn’t even have time to start writing the fourth book; he died about a week after finishing his final edits on Moriarty (which is due out on both sides of the Atlantic in November). “And he was so proud of this one,” Penzler said sadly. “Did you like it?” I confessed that I did, indeed. ... Although author S.J. Rozan’s quite wonderful Six Word Stories site has been inactive since May, she says she has plenty of submissions in the can, and will start posting there again soon. ... Bury Me Deep is the title of Megan Abbott’s next novel. She describes it on her Web site as “a story of tabloid desire and the darkest of crimes.” ... Stuart MacBride has turned out some grim-textured yarns (such as this year’s Flesh House) about Detective Sergeant Logan McRae of the Aberdeen, Scotland, police, but he’s frickin’ hilarious in person. ... Stephen Booth’s next Detective Constable Ben Cooper and Detective Sergeant Diane Fry novel will be The Kill Call, which has to do with illegal fox hunting in England’s Peak District. By the way, Booth provided me with one of my best memories from Bouchercon. He told me that The Rap Sheet is the only blog he reads on a regular basis. I think I may have that endorsement bronzed and posted prominently above my computer.
Things I Heard at Bouchercon: Remarking on the antipathy some “literary” writers have for crime fictionists, toastmaster and author Mark Billingham (In the Dark) said that he’d recently heard somebody describe crime writers as “the smokers of the literary world. ... [Other writers] look at you and say, ‘Oh, isn’t it a horrible thing--but it looks like so much fun.’” ... Penzler, no stranger to private-eye fiction (he was an ardent supporter of Ross Macdonald, for instance), called the late James Crumley’s 1978 novel, The Last Good Kiss, “the best P.I. novel ever.” ... During a panel discussion on drinking and detectives, Ken Bruen said that he had once been confronted by a reader who, displeased with the persistent drunkenness of Bruen’s fictional P.I., Jack Taylor, informed him that Taylor had “ruined drinking for him.” Bruen said that ever since, he’s worried that someone will write on his tombstone, He ruined drinking. “And that’s about the worst thing an Irishman could see on his tombstone.” ... One more Billingham quote: “I can’t guarantee that my latest book is going to be better than sex, but it will last a damn sight longer.”
What I Look Forward to: “Bouchercon by the Bay,” the 2010 convention in San Francisco. I haven’t any particular desire to attend next year’s event in Indianapolis, but I’m already planning for San Francisco in a couple of years. Any excuse to get me to that fair city is a good one. I just hope that most of the people I met at Bouchercon this time around show up there, too. The first round of Irish coffees at the Buena Vista bar is on me.
READ MORE: A Bouchercon Wrap-up, by Ruth Jordan; “Bouchercon--the Panels,” by Martin Edwards (‘Do You Write Under Your Own Name?’).