Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Bouchercon Postmortem I: Of Breakfasts,
Book Finds, and First Encounters

R.J. “Roger” Ellory, J. Kingston Pierce, Peter Rozovsky, and Ali Karim demonstrate a group hug after the Anthony Awards brunch.

I’ve now attended three Bouchercons: Seattle in 1994, Baltimore in 2008, and San Francisco last week. Each has been memorable in its own way. Baltimore was the first time I went as a full-paying participant, rather than a visiting reporter, so it was something of a revelation. The Charm City event was also where I first met authors Max Allan Collins, Laura Lippman, John Lutz, and Dennis Lehane, as well as fellow bloggers Patti Abbott, Declan Burke, and Peter Rozovsky. Brief as those encounters were, they left me with strong feelings that I belonged among the crime-fiction community, that I was recognized as a valuable, if minor contributor to the genre’s popularity.

San Francisco was another special case. I’ve visited that beautiful, historic, and eccentric city dozens of times and even written two books about the place (San Francisco: Yesterday and Today and San Francisco, You’re History!). It feels very much like a second home to me, always welcoming and full of surprises. I used to contribute regularly to one of its local magazines (San Francisco Focus). I’ve penned essays for anthologies about San Francisco’s attractions. I wrote about one of its favorite literary sons, Dashiell Hammett, for the recently published non-fiction book Following the Detectives: Real Locations in Crime Fiction. And at 5:12 a.m., on April 18, 2006, I was among the thousands of people who gathered at the intersection of Market and Geary streets downtown to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the devastating 1906 earthquake and fire. There’s no question that “The City,” as natives proudly call San Francisco, is my kind of place, even more so than my present hometown of Seattle.

So it was a thrill to be in San Francisco last week among myriad friends and acquaintances. Most of my life at the moment seems to be spent in relative isolation, as I’m parked behind a computer, batting out magazine articles, books, and blog posts. But for the four days of Bouchercon 2010, I didn’t write a single damn word. Instead, I basked in the company of other obsessive readers, pleasant folk such as Janet Rudolph (the editor of Mystery Readers Journal), George Easter (of Deadly Pleasures renown), Rap Sheet contributor Kevin Burton Smith (who’s also the editor of The Thrilling Detective Web Site), “cultural anthropologist” and noir film guru Eddie Muller (whose excellent essay about San Francisco’s contributions to crime fiction appeared in the Bouchercon program), and authors Kelli Stanley (City of Dragons), Gary Phillips (Freedom’s Fight, The Underbelly), and Mark Coggins (The Big Wake-Up).

It’s true that I didn’t see everyone I had wanted to see, and wasn’t able to do everything I’d hoped to do while in the Bay Area. Looking back through my chicken-scratch notes, though, I am astounded by how much I was able to do, and how many joyous and edifying experiences I had. Some of my strongest memories I’m committing to print below. You are welcome--nay, encouraged--to add your own favorite recollections from Bouchercon 2010 in the Comments section at the bottom of this post.


Chatting with legendary screenwriter and producer William Link, the co-creator (with his late partner, Richard Levinson) of such small-screen classics as Columbo and Mannix, and the author of a new work of short stories, The Columbo Collection. Not long ago, I availed myself of the opportunity to interview Link by phone for The Rap Sheet, but this was the first time I’d been able to shake his hand. He was spotlighted during the convention in a one-on-one conversation with author and fellow screenwriter Lee Goldberg. Link proved to be gracious, generous with his time, and very funny when it came to remembering some of his experiences with Hollywood stars. (He was particularly perplexed by the fact that actress Jean Stapleton, who had been considered to play Jessica Fletcher in Murder, She Wrote before Angela Lansbury took the role, couldn’t seem to understand what the series’ premise was all about. “It wasn’t exactly rocket science,” quipped Link.)

(Left) Lee Goldberg and William Link before their interview.

Meeting the sparkling Alafair Burke (212) at a Starbucks right across the street from the convention hotel, the giant Hyatt Regency. She was waiting impatiently for a chilled coffee drink, which she refused to leave without, even though its delayed delivery was making her very late for a panel discussion.

Being introduced by Dennis Lehane’s agent, Ann Rittenberg, to Daniel Woodrell--the most humble author ever--in the Hyatt bar.

Talking with novelist and Wall Street Journal music critic Jim Fusilli about his forthcoming audiobook.

Introducing myself to Wallace Stroby, who told me that his next book, Cold Shot to the Heart (due out from Minotaur in January 2011) will introduce new characters, rather than being a sequel to this year’s terrific Gone ’til Tomorrow.

Taking my British friends Ali Karim (a persistent Rap Sheet contributor) and R.J. “Roger” Ellory (author of The Anniversary Man and The Saints of New York)--neither of whom had ever visited the Bay Area--to one of my favorite breakfast stops in San Francisco, Dottie’s True Blue Café on Jones Street in the old Tenderloin District. Yeah, Dottie’s is a small joint, and we had to stand in line for about half an hour just to get in, but the wait was definitely worth it. I had the open-faced Southwestern Omelette with andouille sausage and peppers, and an order of the Grilled Chilli Cornbread (with jalapeño jelly) on the side. Roger enjoyed the pulled pork omelette, while Ali demonstrated great gusto in his knife-and-fork attack on a special-order omelette. In the end, Ali was the only one of us who could finish his meal. However, we all went away satisfied.

(Right) Roger Ellory and Ali Karim dine at Dottie’s.

Joining a two-hour version of writer-raconteur Don Herron’s famous Dashiell Hammett tour of downtown San Francisco. Although Herron’s tour for Bouchercon participants was more abbreviated than usual (the standard excursion runs four hours in length), he packed a lot of material and insights into that walkaround. I was particularly happy to stop for a while in front of Hammett’s old apartment at 891 Post Street, where he wrote his first three novels, including The Maltese Falcon. Despite my many visits to San Francisco over the last three decades, I had never taken Herron’s tour. But I can now recommend it highly. If you aren’t planning to visit the Bay Area anytime soon, but would like a hearty helping of what Herron knows about the father of Sam Spade, order a copy of his book-length tour guide to Hammett highlights.

Encountering blogger Jen Forbus at Friday evening’s Mulholland Books reception. Unfortunately, my schedule was so jam-packed, there wasn’t time for me to actually have a conversation with her.

Being introduced to Swedish novelists Anders Roslund and Börge Hellström (Box 21), whose work some people predict will capture Stieg Larsson’s many fans.

Visiting the book sales room in the Hyatt basement, where I pawed through pretty much every vintage paperback on offer. I ultimately walked out with a quartet of prizes: Shaft’s Big Score, by Ernest Tidyman (I recently read the original Shaft, and found it so superior to my expectations, that I had to try another one in the series); I Like It Cool, by Michael Lawrence (one of only two novels featuring “[private] eye with a beard” Johnny Amsterdam; The Widow and the Web, by Robert Martin (the first book I’ve ever purchased from his Jim Bennett P.I. series); and The Outsider, by Lou Cameron (based on the 1967 pilot film for The Outsider, a short-lived Darren McGavin TV series created by Roy Huggins).

Finally meeting both Rap Sheet contributor Cameron Hughes and novelist Christopher G. Moore, who together developed this blog’s first video interview more than a year ago.

Sitting through a particularly entertaining panel discussion about the late Robert B. Parker’s contributions to detective fiction. It started with Joseph Finder reading a letter from Parker’s widow, Joan, that refuted suppositions about her having been the model for Boston P.I. Spenser’s controversial--some would say “much despised”--girlfriend, psychologist Susan Silverman (“I’m not so vain as that,” Mrs. Parker insisted). From there it turned into a rather heated discussion, mostly between Finder and Lee Goldberg, about whether Parker’s storytelling had declined seriously or only moderately as the Spenser series grew. The most interesting news came from Finder, who revealed that Parker left behind a couple of unfinished manuscripts when he died this last January. He added that those books are likely to be competed sometime in the near future, though not by Joan Parker.

(Right) Robert J. Randisi and Rap Sheet editor Pierce haunt the convention’s book room.

And attending my first Shamus Awards dinner, during which I met the prolific author and editor Robert J. Randisi (who also founded the Private Eye Writers of America organization). The festivities were held at the Empress of China restaurant in Chinatown, in a fourth-floor dining room that seemed much too small for the numerous authors and critics in attendance. I had planned to sit next to somebody I knew, but by the time Ali, Roger, and I arrived, there were only individual seats available next to complete strangers. I wound up to one side of Jerry Kennealy, a San Francisco-born ex-cop, former private eye, and author of the Nick Polo series. During most of the meal, I peppered him with questions about the changes he’d seen in San Francisco during his lifetime. Somehow, he managed to finish his dinner despite my grilling.


Never once spotting or having the chance to talk with author and Rap Sheet contributor Megan Abbott, even though I was assured she was somewhere on the Hyatt Regency premises. I was also sorry that Megan’s latest novel, the stunning Bury Me Deep, failed to capture any of the four awards for which it was nominated during Bouchercon.

Missing Jacqueline Winspear’s Thursday interview with witty Bouchercon toastmaster Eddie Muller.

Failing to find a seat at any panel discussions that included Robert Ward, Steve Hockensmith, Jassy Mackenzie, Libby Fischer Hellman, Steve Hamilton, and Walter Mosley.

Never scheduling a trip (probably by cable car across Nob Hill) out to the Buena Vista Café at Fisherman’s Wharf for a couple of Irish coffees.

Bumping into critic and Mystery Scene blogger Oline Cogdill just moments after arriving at Bouchercon--but then never seeing her again.

And having to leave San Francisco too early on Sunday to travel with Ali and Roger across the bay to the infamous prison on Alcatraz Island. Some people have all the fun.

It’s now been three days since I returned home to Seattle, and I very much miss the camaraderie of Bouchercon. Whether I shall be able make it to the 2011 gathering, in St. Louis, is still very much in the air. And after that, Bouchercon moves to Cleveland, Ohio (2012), Albany, New York (2013), and Long Beach, California (2014). But you can wager that one year soon you will see me wading up to the front of the line at a Bouchercon hotel bar, or standing patiently in line to have some famous author sign the book I just bought for that occasion. After enjoying three of these conventions, I consider attending them every so often a tradition that’s well worth maintaining.

READ MORE:BoucherCOOOOOOOOONNNNNNN!!!” by Steve Hockensmith; “Top 10 Things I Learned at Bouchercon 2010,” by Jen Forbus (Jen’s Book Thoughts); “In the Wake of Bouchercon,” by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir (Murder Is Everywhere); “Bouchercon 2010” (Femmes Fatales); “Murder for Fun and Profit at Bouchercon 41,” by Bob Patterson (The Smirking Chimp); “Bouchercon Day 1,” by Jen Forbus (Jen’s Book Thoughts); “Miscellaneous: Bouchercon, Recapped,” by Vince Keenan; “All Things Bouchercon 2010,” by Jeri Westerson (Getting Medieval); “The Day After,” by Eric Beetner; “B’con Follies, Part I,” by Christa Faust (Deadlier Than the Male); and check out Peter Rozovsky’s series of posts about this year’s convention; “Bouchercon, After the Fact,” by Richard Robinson (The Broken Bullhorn).


pattinase (abbott) said...

Thanks for your memories. I wish they were mine. I've missed Megan at a few of these things too.
Maybe we will meet again in St. Louis.

Randal Brandt said...

I did catch up with Megan, but it wasn't easy. Practically had to stalk her. She's small, she's quick. And extremely gracious.

San Francisco did not disappoint. Just too many great things to do and people to meet.

Anonymous said...

Sorry I missed you at Bouchercon, but, like you, I was trying to clone myself for the many occasions where I needed to be at more than one event at a time. My favorites were two events that weren't part of the official schedule: Friday night's banquet, at the Payne Mansion, for the Wolfe Pack - a six-course, five-wines recreation of one of the banquets described in Stout's "Too Many Cooks;" and a reception Saturday evening by the local Sherlock Holmes society, the Scowrers and Molly Maguires. Enormous fun. And I DO plan to be back for 2011 in St. Louis. Hope you can be there.

Jen Forbus said...

There's never enough time to do everything or spend time with everyone we want to. I was excited to meet you in person, though, Jeff! Here's to next time - cheers!

Pauline Rowson said...

Wish I'd been there, it sounds memorable. Hope to be able to make it next year or the year after, meanwhile I'll be at Crimefest in Bristol UK.

When will it return to New England? I've been invited to Portsmouth New Hampshire,as my police procedural novels are set in Portsmouth, Hampshire, UK and the two cities are hoping to twin. It would be great to combine the visits.

Kevin Burton Smith said...

You think you have disappointments?

I did a drive-by Bouchercon, staying in San Francisco for less than 24 hours, and while I thoroughly enjoyed every moment, the list of people I missed -- or didn't even know were there -- was staggering. Still, I did manage face time with Mark Coggins, Ali, Chris Moore out of Bangkok, uber-publicist and sweetie Maggie Griffin, Kelli Stanley, Jim Doherty, Duane Dontmakemespellouthislastnameski, and brief chat-and-runs with Christa Faust (whose tattoo, it seems, is not in vain after all) and fellow Suicide Club mates John Shannon, Gary Phillips and PWA Prez Dick Lochte. Oh, and a great, far-ranging chat with that Jeff guy from Seattle.

I even had time to nab some cool Xmas gifts for Mrs. Detective from the dealer's room.

Peter Rozovsky said...

Patti. wasn't there an old song called "Meet Me in St. Louis"?

Jeff, a lot of people seemed to have missed a lot of other people. I was sorry to learn that I had missed my fellow Montrealer, Kevin Burton Smith.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

Jack Getze said...

Are you wearing a man purse?

J. Kingston Pierce said...

Sorry to disappoint, "Austin," but I assume you're either referring to the name badge around my neck, or the camera strap over my shoulder.