Sunday, November 8, 2020

The Bouchercon Initiation

On the Road Again – Give us some of your funniest and most memorable stories from travelling to book festivals. 

Hi everyone. It's Brenda Chapman starting off the week.

I've had some great times over the years at book conferences in different cities in Canada and the U.S. but one that stands out was my first Bouchercon in Baltimore, October 2008. At the time, I had a series of four middle grade mysteries published and managed to secure a spot on a panel. I was fortunate to have my good friend Katherine Hobbs agree to come along to keep me company. We signed up before I realized exactly what weekend I'd be away from home (more about this later).

As anyone who goes to these book conferences knows, Bouchercon is one of the biggest book events going, drawing over a thousand readers and authors from around the world. Everyone converges for four days of panels, interviews and schmoozing in the chosen host city. I was new to the entire book business and nervous about the self-promotion so having Katherine along was huge moral support. It's easy enough to get overwhelmed.

Anyhow, Katherine and I landed in Baltimore and arrived at the conference hotel early afternoon. We decided to go exploring. We wandered onto a street with some dubious looking bars that we'd just walked past when a brawl started in the middle of the street behind us. Lots of yelling and fists a-flying. While Katherine thought it would be interesting to stay and watch, I convinced her it might be prudent to get the hell out of there since American gun laws are quite different than in Canada. Laura Lippman, a Baltimore native, later told the audience when she was on a panel to be very careful where we walked because some of the neighbourhoods weren't safe. In case we weren't already convinced, the police and ambulance sirens that raced by all night every night, lent support to her warning.

This was also the period leading up to the November election and we were stopped on the street when someone mistook Katherine for Sarah Palin. (Well you can see Canada from Alaska on a good day.)

Katherine waiting for a panel to start

This particular Bouchercon had attracted some mighty big names in the crime-writing business, including many from Great Britain, the U.S. and Canada. I've since read many of these authors' books, but at the time, I wasn't familiar with many of them. Think Harlan Coben, John Connolly, Mark Billingham, Lee Child, Karin Slaughter, Lawrence Block, Laura Lippman ... I credit Bouchercon for many happy hours later spent reading their books. Anyhow, we realized early on that these A-team authors were terrific on panels and started organizing our schedules to be in the audience for as many as we could take in. Katherine also thought it would be great to have our photos taken with as many of them as possible and seeking them out became something of a game.

Harlan Coben won't be recruiting me for his basketball team anytime soon.

Katherine had me back up to pretend to be part of the conversation - with John Harvey and Rick Mofina.

Posing with J.A. Konrath

One funny panel story - Mo Hader recounted how she became interested in crime. When she was a kid she looked out the upstairs window and saw a tent that her neighbour put up in his backyard. She and her brother thought it would be great to have a tent in their backyard too so that they could camp out. They learned later that her neighbour had killed his wife, buried her  in the yard, and erected a tent so no one would notice the grave. Definitely one of life's defining moments for anybody.

On the last day of the conference, Katherine had some exciting news. "The authors are hanging out in the smoking area outside!" she said as if she'd stumbled upon the promised land. Neither of us smoked but we made our way to the smoking area and happened upon Lee Child standing all by himself. He was very friendly and approachable and we had a nice chat, even though I had no idea who Jack Reacher was. I recall watching John Connolly surrounded by female fans and walking past Val McDermid (I knew who she was!) on her way inside.

Mark Billingham and John Connelly waiting for their interview.

Anyhow, this is the conference that I remember with the most delight. While I've painted Baltimore in something of a bad light, I also remember having a couple of wonderful meals at the downtown restaurants and loving the waterfront and the local people we met. There was also a contingent of Ottawa authors with whom to hang around.

Back to my opening comment about the timing of the conference, my husband likes to tell people that I spent our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary in a Baltimore hotel with another woman. This always earns him a big laugh. As a result, I learned to check the calendar before booking future conferences :-)

One other not quite so funny bit about this conference was that I was fighting off a cold the entire time and managed to stave it off until the taxi ride back to the plane. I spent the entire next week sick in bed but with some happy memories of a really great time.

Made new friends in the airport on the way home. Ted still wears the Obama t-shirt I bought him as a belated anniversary present :-) 


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Dietrich Kalteis said...

Good times, Brenda. I like the way you back into photos. And I'm glad you got Ted the Obama t-shirt — nice touch.

Brenda Chapman said...

Thanks Dietrich - Taking those photos was hilarious. When Katherine and I switched places, after much chatter and posing to make it look as if I was actually part of their group, John Harvey, who up until then hadn't acted as if he noticed us, said to her, "Oh for God's sake, come over here." and they stopped talking and posed with her. It was too funny.

Susan C Shea said...

I think Baltimore was my first BCon. And I remember loving every minute, feeling quite shy as Terry Shames and I ventured into the bar, only to be warmly drawn into conversation at a table with Rhys Bowen, Deb Crombie, Laurie King and a rotating cast of other stars. A heady, almost disorienting experience!

Brenda Chapman said...

I felt the same shyness, Susan. Too bad we didn't meet in Baltimore :-)