When my publisher suggested I go to Bouchercon in 2010, a crime writing conference with just shy of 2000 people — all strangers — I was petrified. I knew I had to go — no point jumping into a career half-heartedly — but it sounded about as much fun as starting a new school where everyone else had known each other since birth.
Seeing my terror, my husband came with me. He organized an amazing road trip down the coast from Vancouver to San Francisco, with luxurious B&B stops including gourmet meals and kayaking in an Oregon river, so I’d be as relaxed as possible when I got there.
The road trip was great, but it was Bouchercon itself that relaxed me. Here’s why:
1. The warmth. All I really had to do was smile and make eye contact, and the other people there would spark up conversations, ask to exchange business cards, invite me to join them for lunch or a drink or a secret private party somewhere. Conversations were easy — we all have crime fiction in common. So instead of feeling like a massive crowd of strangers, Bouchercon felt like a collection of interesting friends I have yet to meet. It reminded me of a rave, a scene I used to frequent long ago . . .
2. The fans. How amazing is it, when you’re writing all year in your enclosed little office, to have a reader approach you (sometimes nervously!) and tell you they love your stuff? My favorite fan moment happened this year in Cleveland, when a librarian from Michigan, Kathy Fannon, said she had looked for me at a Vancouver event a year earlier (I was there, but we missed each other) and was so glad to finally meet me. “I went all that way,” she said, “and here you are, so close to my home.”
There are also fan moments for me. This year I got to meet Elizabeth George, whose novel Playing For the Ashes is what started me writing mysteries. I have no idea what I said, just that she was lovely as she signed my book and recommended a literary retreat in her area. I have no doubt that if I run into Jonathan Kellerman — the other writer who inspired me to write mysteries — I will be the same gaping fan again. And I look forward to it.
3. The public speaking. I never would have believed this three years ago, but I love being on stage talking about writing with other writers. I get nervous as hell before each event, but once they start, I feel strong and in my element. Bring on the crime talk.
4. The friendships. Writers grow up feeling like the weird one in the group; the one who makes strange, maybe too intense, observations about people and things. Meeting other writers, it’s like I’ve found my home. In a group of “weird ones,” I actually feel damn normal. Several cocktail conversations begun at Bouchercon have continued on Twitter and turned into real friendships for me.
5. The poker. Every year there is a backroom poker game with a lineup of characters that keeps me in hysterics all night. Of course there’s no gambling for real money. Crime writers don’t break the law.
Keith still comes to conferences with me, even now that I ‘d be comfortable on my own. He’s read two books in the past three decades, but he loves hanging out with writers. He thinks we’re weird in the most wonderful possible way.