Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Things what I have learned at BCon pt3

Mes Amis



Six in the fucking morning.

I never see six in the morning. Its not natural. Its not right.

Who cares? This is Chicago! I get up feeling real good. At some point the night before the last of the mushrooms left my system and I think maybe I was less drunk than jetlagged. I exercise (no really) and shower and head outside. I walk the streets, looking in awe at the buildings. Everything here is on such a huge scale it makes me feel a little odd. But there's a buzz even at this time of the morning. I pop in some wee place and grab a breakfast burrito. Polishing it off, I head back to the hotel. After all, I still have to register and figure I'd better do so before my panel that afternoon. Yeah, I gots to do a panel, still. Every time I think about this my stomach does little flippy things and I wonder what I'm doing here. I'm not exactly a public speaker. And anyway, as to the hows and wherefores of writing, I kinda work from the gut (which is probably good; I've got a pretty big gut so lots of it to work from).

I do panels that morning, flitting in and out like a wee butterfly. Or maybe a badger with wings. Some good stuff, anyway, which I'll discuss better on the official CSS writeup which will be less filled with all this shite about what I did between panels. Lots of discussion of hardboiled and noir and Ken Bruen gets a standing ovation for turning up late on the second panel I attend. I almost expect people to start sacrificing goats in his honour, but then he's such a great writer I get it, and he comes across in a very personable fashion as well when he's finally on the end of the panel. You can't blame him for being late. He's a stand in for Victor Gischler who, depending on who you listen to, is either skiving or at death's door or just filled with the snuffles. The most prevalent one is that he's filled with very violent snuffles, possibly something even worse than that which Rickards is trying to spread throughout the convention. Simon Kernick is on the panel, too, rumbling away a little like Barry White if Barry White came from the East End. He blames it on the drink.

So anyway its all great fun and there's some jokes and maybe, sure, no one is any the wiser about what noir is than when we began, but its all interesting stuff. And I think part of the fun of many of these panels is not so much the content as in seeing the interaction of such different personalities.

I think to myself that I know no one on my panel.


Lunch passes quickly. But maybe that's nerves. Either way I pity the room attendant who's cleaning that one up! Seriously, though, I grab a quick lunch with some people but find myself having to run away. I have to find the green room so I can meet the rest of my panel. Except I can't find the green room. While the rest of the hotel follows a logical layout (more or less) the room where I have to meet everyone else is kind of tucked away out of sight and out of the way of those numbers that should be before and after it. I can't figure this out. And when I do find it, no one is there. But that's because my watch is set up wrong and I'm ten minutes earlier than planned. I wander about a bit and finally return to meet the lovely G Miki Hayden. A wonderful woman with a very sharp mind and a great enthusiasm for what she does, she is the moderator for our panel and, like me, she's wondering where everyone is. There's been a mix up with one panel member's email and we're not even sure if he knows where to turn up! But he does and now that John Dobbyn and Steve Hockensmith have joined us, we're still one member down. Four of us in the green room and the fifth is missing. And also, we're late! We run to the room and find that the fifth member of the panel is sitting on her own looking worried. Rebbeca Swets is visibly relieved to find us walking into the room. I think she'd been about to start singing Dancing Queen just to keep the howling crowds at bay.

Actually, while the crowds are not howling they're not as small as I thought. There's a fair few people in the room and now, I'm thinking to myself I'm going to evacuate lunch. Really, I don't know what I'm going to say.

But things go smoothly. Miki asks us to introduce ourselves and everyone else does well while I stumble through some poor jokes about needing subtitles. But a few people laugh and suddenly the panel gets moving. We cover a lot of ground although we get sidetracked by the crime/mystery distinction which is an interesting topic but always slides over the same dull terrain. There is no real answer to it, not while those who believe the genre should be called mystery start from the, in my opinion, daft assumption that if it was good enough for Poe it was good enough for us. In the end the distinction isn't important as long as we understand that mystery doesn't neccasarily involve puzzle solving.

At one point Steve Hockensmith turns to me. My hands are under the table (I've realised I keep fiddling with a pen and am trying to hide this nervous habit) and he suddenly asks if I've been pleasuring myself. Of course, he means do I write to pleasure myself. Um, do I write for my own amusement is what he means. It gets a good laugh and I have my hands in the air for much of the rest of the panel.

The panel goes well and we run over. In fact Miki rushes us off to the signing room. I get waylaid by some folks who want to ask me questions. This is a little overwhelming. After all, who am I to know things? But it feels good. Many of them want to know where to find my stories. This really makes me feel good, especially as we were talking about cencorship in the big mags thanks to a question asked by Todd, a tough looking guy from NYC who runs the excellent Thuglit. He's a funny guy and runs an excellent line in cool Thuglit T-Shirts. I'm still glad I met him in the sunny daylight, though!

Anyway, on the way to the signing room I meet the Banks and the lovely Mrs Banks. But I only say hello when Amazing Jane The Agent arrives and I turn my back for a moment to say hello. The Banks's are sudenly gone, whisked away no doubt by Ray's admiring fans or perhaps they spotted the Rendell coming, making a special visit to Chicago so she could eat Ray head first and feed the rest of him to Minnette Walters.

Finally in the signing room I am given a table. I protest that I do not know what anyone will have for me to sign and the portent is about to become fact. Never mind. I meet Duane here, and a few of the other guys and they talk to me. But none of them ask to sign anything. Although Guthrie would have probably asked me to sign a cheque if he thought he could get away with it.

I sneak out of the signing room when it is clear no one is coming near my little corner of the room. I go to the bar, but am waylaid by people who have enjoyed the panel and even some who have read the stories. This pleases me a lot and these people are all absolutely delightful; I am extremely pleased they read and even had opinons on my work.

I meet the Rickards again and wind up in the bar with photographer extraordinaire, Mary Reagan, the crime spree boys and girls, the always-smiling CJ Carpenter and the extraordinarily large Otis Twelve, a mountain of a man with a dry sense of humour who could break you in two if he isn't careful. This is the point where I realise, for a crime writer, I'm rather short. But its okay, we've got an agent with us at the table who is as short as I. Mind you, he is from Edinburgh. Are we Scots just tiny, tiny people?


That evening, I wind up - where else? - in the bar where I meet Pat Lambe (He's really tall), Dave White (He's really tall), Bryon Quertermous and a whole bundle of others. Bryon and I discuss stripping grannies for a while. It was better than reading the first chapter of Lunchbox Hero... But our discussion was all in the name of cultural exchange. John Schramm is there as well and everyone's planning to get to the Reacher party. I eventually make it to the front of Lizzie McGuire's but get held up by people I know and never make it inside. Again, back to the hotel bar and there's yet more drinking. I get introduced to more people including John Connolly (a man whose books I only just discovered - but, oh boy, what books they are!). He takes kindly to my gushing over Bad Men, probably wondering when I escaped from the asylum.

Pat Lambe makes sure I meet Ken Bruen. Again I go all starstruck, but Ken's a real nice guy and smiles enough that he almost convinces me he's not worried by the gibbering Scot in front of him.

And so the evening goes on. Drink, more drink and more people. There's a pattern to B'Con but its a good pattern. Its about writers and readers getting together. It seems, by now, to be about community. I'm getting why people come back and I'm getting why crime writers and readers tend to have such good relationships. Some of it is to do with beer, but mostly its because everyone's so damn friendly.

When I eventually stumble up the stairs - at closing time, of course - I'm feeling good. So good in fact that I don't realise deadly microbes in the air have started making a beeline for my immune system. The Rickards has been coughing and spluttering all day; a deadly virus bomb just waiting to expode, cry havoc and let loose the dogs of war.

But I won't realise that till the next day, mes amis.

Au Revoir



Stuart MacBride said...

Damn - sounds like it was fun... This means I'm going to have to go next year. Damn you Badgerman!

Russel said...

By day he is a mild-mannered, beardy Scottish crime writer... but when danger threatens, Russel D McLean uses his special burrowing forearms to become... BADGERMAN!

But, yes, it was great fun. Come, Stuart, come to Bouchercon... just bring a bio-hazard unit in case we have another Rickards outbreak. Or in case Bryon starts thinking about those Dundonian stripper grannies again...

Aldo said...

Stuart, the both of us will have to get our act together and make it to one of these things. I know maybe we can host a party for first time B-coners?

Sarah said...

You know, it just occurred to me -- had I been there, Rickards would not have had a cold.

OK, maybe the two things aren't really related, but I can pretend they are...

Otis said...

Actually, Russel, I could break you in three.

Russel said...


You could...But you wouldn't... would you?