Just got back from my first ever trip to Bouchercon, the Mystery Writers of America’s annual convention. It’s THE big gathering of writers, editors, fans and others associated with the mystery/crime genre, held this year October 4th through the 7th in Cleveland, Ohio. I’ve wanted to go for several years and after a couple of years of my plans getting waylaid we managed to get convention, hotel and plane reservations for the weekend. The plane part was the one catch, as I am a notorious non-flier. Nonetheless we got on an early-morning flight out of Wichita to Cleveland with a connection to Huston. I’ve been in towns that were smaller than the Huston Airport, and which didn’t have train service anymore (the airport does!) We made it to Cleveland by early afternoon thursday and spent that afternoon and evening crashing in the hotel. My first time in Cleveland and the city made a seriously good impression. Our hotel was the Hampton Inn Cleveland Downtown on 9th street, just across from an old stone cathedral. All in all a wonderful city full of hospitality. We told our cab driver what a beautiful city it was and he said “You picked a good day to come here. No snow.”
Friday morning, having slept in, I made it to the hotel the convention was at (Cleveland Marriott Renaissance) around noon, got my nametag and program and a well-stuffed goodie bag and started nosing around the convention, like a lot of people walking around staring at people’s nametags looking for somebody I knew. A few minutes later, I found one: James Lincoln Warren, onetime blogger at the late, lamented Criminal Brief site and a fine author. We chatted for a few minutes and I promised I’d be at his panel discussion about Rex Stout and the influence of the Nero Wolfe mysteries. The bulk of the official activity at Bouchercon is the panel discussions, about 70 this time, on subjects ranging from the popularity of young adult mysteries to such concerns as setting, dialog and creating believable protagonists. Titles for the panels included “Nuggets of Mystery” (Short-stories) and “What a Friend We Have In Rockford” (Private Eyes.) I made my way upstairs to the Bookroom where several dealers had set up tables full of books and related items for sale and got my second nice surprise when I ran into John M. Floyd, another author I’d been communicating with online for years and we fell into chatting like old friends. He’d just gotten in town, and was looking for the room his panel was going to be in. We talked about stories/hotels/life experience used in writing, ect. John said Woman’s World (where he’s had many stories published) has been “very good to me.” We laughed (not for the first time) when I told him that when I bought Woman’s World at the grocery store I would point to his story and tell the cashier “I know this guy!” All in all a wonderful few minutes that made the whole thing worth it. I attended that panel on Rex Stout and was able to tell Linda Landrigan, the Editor of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine that writing my entry for the Wolfe Pack’s Novella Contest a few years ago had helped me get through a really rotten year back in ’07.
I attended the panel John Floyd was on; ”Nuggets of Mystery” about the short mystery story. John joked with me beforehand that the panelists really hadn’t gotten together beforehand and he really wasn’t sure how they were going to discuss the subject but it all came off perfectly. John, Barb Goffman, Shelley Costa, Terrie Farley Moran, Ellery Queen Editor Janet Hutchings and panel moderator Laura Curtis interacted with the audience and each other discussing the subject with passion and in-depth knowledge. Afterwards I spoke to John again and met Terrie (who I’ve spoken with on Facebook) and we all fell in like old friends, a phenomenon I’ve heard of happening at conventions among people who don’t actually see each other except once a year or so but keep in touch long-distance the rest of the time. Add to that my meeting one of the folks from Criminal Element and discussing their upcoming anthology (which I plan to submit to!) made it a perfect afternoon. The whole thing wiped out all the delayed “Midlife Crisis” I was going through about balancing my full-time day job with my chosen writing career.
Saturday I ambled down the street to the convention and just bummed around the halls listening to snatches of conversations about books in progress or short stories sold. Got around to attending a few panels and met a few more people whose names I’d known for years like the witty Otto Penzler, anthologist of Mysterious Press and owner of New York’s Mysterious Bookshop. In the Bookroom I found myself looking for a line for a signing and found myself near the front of the line for the signing for Convention Guest of Honor Mary Higgins Clark. The lady in line in front of me had several issues of the 1990′s Mary Higgins Clark Mystery Magazine for her to sign. She laughed and said “we had such fun doing this!” Meeting her and having her sign the book I had was a wonderful experience, she couldn’t have been nicer or more gracious. And it was great to hear her talk about her magazine which was one of the things that got me started writing mystery stories in the first place. After that I wandered out of the hotel and walked down the street a block to gawk at Lake Erie and feel the wind coming in from what is really an inland sea, and I got to see Progressive Field (the baseball stadium) as well. Returning to the convention I saw the Guest of Honor interview for Elizabeth George and then the one for Mary Higgins Clark conducted by her daughter Carol Higgins Clark. Mary was charming and very sweet and funny. Her gift for storytelling isn’t limited to the printed page. She reminiced about being an early member of MWA and how in those years you could fit everybody at just two tables, and now they had 1500 people there. That was a nice way to end this so I wandered out of the hotel and went back down the street to our room at the Hampton Inn. I stopped to take a few pictures of the cathedral across the street which dated back to the 1840′s and I wondered about what this street was like when it was new. Spent that night dozing and watching t.v. in our 2nd story room, and looking out the window at the hotel entrance beneath us, watching the three or four 20-something guys working as valets, watching them park customers cars and shoot the breeze among themselves, me wondering what their lives were like.
As they say, there’s a story in there.