Saturday, September 4, 2010

Birds of a Feather Convention Together

When I started my first book POSED FOR MURDER, I had no idea that mystery conventions existed. I knew that Star Trek fans regularly got together and dressed up like aliens, but I didn’t know there was something like it for mystery fans (although without the costumes, for the most part).  I read mystery novels, but I had never met an actual mystery writer. I joined Sisters in Crime and began my education.

With C.S. Challinor and Jeff Cohen at Malice Domestic 2010
Now I regularly go to Malice Domestic in Crystal City (for cozy/traditional mystery writers and fans), and Bouchercon (a giant conference that moves around the country). I’ve been to some book festivals (Virginia, Southern, Decatur, and Gaithersburg), too, but they’re less intimate and less focused. There’s something about putting a large number of mystery writers in fans in a hotel for the weekend. Most don’t have cars, so we hang out together. A lot. And we usually share the hotel with some other group—a wedding, or a conference of insurance executives or pharmaceutical salesmen. When they find out we’re mystery writers, they often appear reluctant to get in the elevator with us. We seem, well, dangerous I guess. (insert evil laugh here) We discuss things like poison in bars, and then offer to buy someone a drink.

When my first book came out, I listened to other writers who told me which conventions I should attend. I scraped together the cash to attend Love is Murder in Chicago. A fellow Guppy (an online Sisters in Crime chapter for unpublished writers) offered to pick me up at the airport and drive me to the hotel. We had a lot of fun getting to know each other in person, and I got to relax and let someone else figure out where the hotel was. But when we finally arrived, I could tell something strange was going on. There were lots of people in costumes, and not a single one dressed as Sherlock Holmes or Miss Marple. The lobby was filled with WWI soldiers, Revolutionary War soldiers and camp followers, someone who looked like Henri the 8th, and a few people who looked like they had escaped from a Renaissance fair. It was like all the eras of history had collided together and had somehow manifested themselves in a suburban Chicago hotel. There was also a Canon not too far from the bar.

The great thing about being a writer is that somewhere along the way I lost all any sense of shame or embarrassment and learned to talk with just about anyone. Usually it’s because I want to see if they have a good story I can steal, or I’m trying to avoid working on a manuscript. But often it’s because I’m curious. I had seen Civil War reenactors (and I’m even related to a few, since a good portion of the War Between the States was fought on Virginia soil), but this group confused me. It turned out it was a reenactor convention and there were no rules about era. And I discovered that reenactors had more in common with mystery fans then I thought at first glance.

1) They are obsessive.
Just like mystery fans can discuss (or argue about) the order of a certain series, or who inspired some book, or will email a writer to correct them on the smallest detail in their book, reenactors are obsessed with getting the details right in their costumes.

2) They spend money on what most of America thinks of as strange.
One of the WWI soldiers told me how you could tell a real reenactor. They have way too many authentic historic costumes and drive a cheap, old car. Mystery fans usually pour all their money into their library (and shelves) and probably also drive old cars. Priorities, priorities.

3) They intimidate other conventions sharing their hotel.
For once, we weren’t the weird ones. I hesitated for a moment before getting in the elevator with a Roman Centurion holding a spear. But I needed to get to the lobby, so I rode down with him wondering if they wore underwear under their animal skins. But even I was too embarrassed to ask him directly. Besides, he was holding a really big spear.

Also, like mystery writers, the reenactors were incredibly friendly and had a great sense of humor. So when the Roman soldiers had a ceremony that involved lining up outside a conference room and blowing a giant horn, the mystery writers and fans just lined up and took pictures. We could wait get to the next event once they marched away. Dead bodies are usually patient, and we can't resist a good story.

9 comments:

Julie Hennrikus said...

I love this post, and the idea of you getting on the elevator with Roman centurion. Gotta say, hat day at Malice probably scares a few folk...

Meredith Cole said...

Yes, I imagine hat day could be quite scary to the uninitiated, Julie.

A friend of mine at Malice had someone approach in the bar and ask what the teapot on our badges stood for. She had theorized that we were a tea convention. I never heard whether she ran away in horror when she discovered we wrote murder mysteries...

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Wow, a reenactor conference! That must have been very cool. I would have been out peering down the barrel of the cannon and asking where to buy good shoes. At the Poisoned Pen Conference we shared the hotel with a sorority girl conference. I don't think any mingling of any kind took place.

Great reminder that there are lots of different "weird ones" out there. See you in San Francisco!

Gabi said...

I was in the same wing as the Republican National Convention's executive session at the last Malice Domestic. Give me a Roman Centurian any day. For that matter, just give me the spear.

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Now, Gabi, there is more to a Centurion than just a spear...

Gabi said...

Rebecca,

I have a sneaking suspicion you have a Centurion story you have not yet shared. Give. Details. Now.

Shane Gericke said...

If he wasn't wearing anything under those loinskins, perhaps that wasn't a spear he was holding ...

Rimshot!

I can't believe I missed you at LIM! I was there too. The re-enactment convention was a hoot. Fun people, if a bit nutty. And cannons and swords and such are much more fun toys to play with than books.

Shane Gericke said...

And, at that LIM, an organizer collapsed and was rushed to the hospital, AND an elevator got stuck with a woman inside who's frantic about small enclosed places, AND is was twenty below zero outside with high winds, so I had to trudge out at 3 a.m. and start my Honda cause otherwise it might not start in the morning. Fun!

But no drunken karaoke.

Kelli Stanley said...

Wow, what a cool conference, Michael! I love reenactors ... even had a few Romans at my launch party for Nox. ;)

And yes, Gabi, Becky's right--they're more than just a straight gladius. ;)

xoxo