Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Bouchercon 2014: There Are Faces I'll Remember

Top row: Mike, Ali. Second Row: Rob, me, Jeff, Jodi, Scott, Roger, Tanis. Third Row: Diane, Jodi, Linda, Heather, Connie

... and there were no survivors.

Or at least that's how it feels from this desk. There are so many faces and names, so many memories, thoughts, events both large and small still being sorted and sifted that it feels like Diane and I were away for months, not a few days.

It was a big deal for us. We hadn't been to a Bouchercon together since Wisconsin (I'd done a few quickie hit and runs to Bouchercon in San Francisco and Left Coast Crime in LA; she'd been to a few Malice Domestics), and we both felt it was high time to reconnect with the mystery community; to sniff the air and test the waters. Mr. and Mrs. Detective stepping back into the ring.

Yes, we also had ulterior motives.  I was anxious to see if Thrilling Detective still mattered to anyone but me; Diane wanted to relight the pilot light under her pen name of Diana Killian (aka "The Girl Detective;" aka "D.L. Browne") with which she'd written eight or so mysteries. We've been awful busy over the last few years on life and other projects (some classified; some about to be announced) but we wanted to get back to where we once belonged.

But mostly we wanted some time together that involved more than the two of us passing by the coffee machine, sleep drunk, on the way to our computers. To reconnect with old friends and to make new ones. And each other.

We succeeded.

Bouchercon 2014 was a riot. A head-spinning kaleidoscope of fictional murder and mayhem; of quick chats and long discussions, warm hugs and cold beverages; an orgy of books and words and the rush of knowing, for a few days anyway, that we were surrounded by people who were as passionate and obsessive (or flat out mentally unstable) about crime fiction as we are. As Ali Karim put it, after a particularly passionate discourse on the bleak, nihilistic philosophical underpinnings of HBO's True Detective, "If you talked about all this fuckin' biff anywhere else, we'd all be arrested."

Like I said, it's all still being processed, but here are a few thoughts and memories. Scrambled, with a dash of pepper.

The panels and official whoop-ti-doos were fine, but by far the best time was the time spent in conversations, over drinks, at meals or just standing in the hall ways getting in the way of everyone else. Let's face it -- that's really what Bouchercon does best. And why it's so important to have a decent bar open from about midday and easily accessible to all attendees. One that offers not just booze but good coffee and other non-alcoholic beverages for the four attendees who don't drink, light meals and snacks, and plenty of seating. Woe to any Bouchercon organizing committee who thinks they can skip this step. Remember the notorious shoe store-turned- bar in Vegas, which, when it was open (which, rumour has it, it was occasionally), had all the charm and conviviality of, well, a shoe store?

But man, reconnecting with friends, getting -- in some cases -- the first chance to really talk with people I've "known" on the internet for years? That was the main deal, right there.

There are tons of folks it was a delight to hook up with -- once again or for the first time. I know I'm gonna screw this up and leave out someone really important to me, but man, what a show. What great people!

But then, like almost everything that matters, it's always, when you get right down to it, about people. 

That crazy Canadian Content Wednesday night with Jacques Filippi (Cowansville!) and John McFetridge (my eternal homie, connecting at not just the Canadian and Montreal level, but right down to the sub-nuclear, Greenfield Park level), meeting Peter Rozovsky (Montreal!) of Detectives Beyond Borders, Thrilling Detective contributor Scott Adlerberg, Tanis Mallow (Ontario!) and Cara Brookins (winner of The Best-Dressed Grease Monkey Award five years in a row). Even Sara Henry (honourary Canadian outta Vermont) dropped by. And wouldn't you know it? We all ended up talking at one point about hockey.

Americans worried about some covert Canuck takeover need not worry, though... President Weinman will explain it all.

Or how about Thursday night, meeting my panelists Rex Burns, Thomas Sawyer and Cathi Stoler (who, it turns out, is the right Cathi) to prep for our early the next morning panel, as well as Kathy Bennett, the temporarily wrong Kathy, former LAPD cop turned writer, who turned out to be just right (Honest, Kathy, I was on my way back!). And then being bumped at the bar by my old pal Terrill Lee Lankford, asking me to scoot down a little so some guy called Michael Connelly could sign some books. Meeting the Legendary Lisa, the events manager from the Barnes and Noble at The Grove. In Palmdale we consider ourselves lucky to get self-published local wingnut slogging poetry or a self-help manual; Lisa had not only had Connelly sign so often there they were friends, but she had Jimmy Page there signing HIS book the other night. THE Jimmy Page!

In Palmdale, we're apt to land the replacement drummer for a Motley Crue cover band selling a cookbook for sushi.

Friday night was the Shamus Awards Dinner put on by the Private Eye Writers of America, where Diane and I ended up at what they should have called the press table. Sitting with Jeff Pierce of January Magazine and The Rap Sheet, Ali Karin and Mike Stotter of Shots, and Peter Kozovsky of Detectives Beyond Borders. Just an awesome night. Back at the bar, Diane and I met old Wicked Company buddies Rick (and Elaine) Helms and Jack Bludis, and then later, a rematch with Ali, Mike and Jeff, where we were joined by January Mag founder (and freshly-minted poker hustler) Linda Richards.

And oh the hit-and-runs! Knowing nods and bursts of chatter. Jan Long (aka "Steve Hamilton"); running into (and then losing again) Em Bronstein; comparing hair styling tips with Reed Farrell Coleman; and questioning the peculiar American dislike for rodent-mentioning titles with Ian Hamilton. Chatting about the Great Lost White Whales of crime fic with Jim Huang and Austin Lugar. Hooking up and talking software (I kid you not) with crime author Rob Brunet (Toronto via Ottawa and Montreal). Maggie Griffin, publicist to the stars, and some guy she was with called Child. Gary Phillips, whose voice can still manage to shake a building shake like it's 1977 and it's half an hour to closing at the disco... and somebody just turned the bass way way up. Max Allan Collins, writer, director, musician, collector, fountain of knowledge, uber-fan and my crime convention go-to since 1992, when I first embarrassed myself in front of an author, gushing about how much I loved their stuff. And speaking of stuff, then there were the Mysterious Boys, Richard Brewer and Bobby McCue.

Not that I've become cool and jaded, mind you. There were still plenty of other times I know I embarrassed myself this time out, gushing  without even actually explaining what I the hell was talking about. David Morrell and Jason Pinter are probably still scratching their heads. And possibly considering hiring some personal security for their next convention.

I also got to see some of my old DAPA-Em buddies! Art Scott, whom I spotted before we'd even checked in, and has an awesome new book on cover artist Robert McGinnis. The two Teds, Ted Fitzgerald and Ted Hertel. Steve Steinbock. Also spotted Marvelous Marv Lachman, but couldn't nail him.

And then there were the panels. The most rollicking one by far was the LA Noir at the Bar group reading, a high-energy tag team of mostly great writing; marred only by a few too many juvenile -- but well-written -- attempts at shock-and-awe. Granted, with only 60 seconds to read, context was mostly tossed aside, but is the overuse of the word "Fuck" and the lovingly detailed descriptions of dripping viscera really the essence of noir? As the Divine Ms. Christa Faust put it as she wrapped up her own excellent (and far from genteel) little snippet, "Is that the best you can do?"

The difference, gentlemen, is writing.

The Forgotten Pulp Writers of the Pulp & Paperback Era was another great panel, moderated by Peter, featuring Gary, MaxCharles Kelly, Sarah "I do all my own stunts") Weinman and Sara Henry, scratching just the surface of overlooked, obscure or forgotten writers. Anyone in the audience whose want list didn't grow by a few sizes after that one shouldn't have been there at all.

But by far the greatest, most amazing time happened after the conference was over. Diane and I stuck around, used the hotel pool, had a nice quiet lunch, figured we'd drive home Monday. Ran into Ali that afternoon sneaking out for a smoke. He invited us to dinner with "four or five" other people. At Gladstome's, the scene of the crime for the Shamus Awards a few nights earlier. But by the time we got there, the four of five had grown a little. We ended up back in the private room where the Shamuses themselves had taken place -- there was no room for us anywhere else.

It was a wonderful evening, a fantastic meal, a booze-prompted (but not booze-fueled) panel round table about books, literacy, rock'n'roll, technology, writing, Robert Parker, publishing and passions, moderated by an equally booze-prompted Ali. Perhaps all Bouchercon panels should be held in bars. 

It truly was a magical evening, starring Ali (aka "The Hardest Working Man in the Crime Biz") and co-starring Diana Killian, Heather Graham, Linda S. Richards, Jeff and Jodi Pierce, Mike Stotter, R.J. Ellory, Tanis Mallow, Peter Rozovsky, Rob Brunet, Connie and fellow bookseller Scott Montgomery. Look at the grins plastered across those mugs at that picture up there.

Man, those people.

In my life, I'll love them all.

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Blogger Rick Robinson said...

I counted three - or was it four? - Beatles references there. You're on your mettle. I know the paragraph about who you missed, who you WISHED had been there got dropped by your editor, but I'm sure I was in it. I really wished I could be there, but since we were in Monterey in Spring, we couldn't do two cons this year. Wish I'd seen you there, but Long Beach makes more sense for ya. Shocked to read that Maggie Griffin was [great] with Child.

Loved the report, you old name dropper you. Glad you had such a good time. LCC is going to be in Portland come Spring, maybe you'll come up this way?

- Rick Robinson

4:20 PM, November 18, 2014  
Blogger Kevin Burton Smith said...

Portland? One never knows.

And I'm surprised myself at the number of Beatles quips. I'm generally more of a Dylan/Stones/Who/Clash/Springsteen kinda guy.

Must be the Springsteen video I just saw. McCartney helped him close the show.

4:44 PM, November 18, 2014  
Anonymous John Shepphird said...

Kevin --

Only just reading this now -- an awesome account of a jam-packed Bouchercon Long Beach. I was there, sat in on one of your panels, was honored to present the short story Shamus award to Max Collins at that star-studded banquet. And one can never spend enough time hanging out with the great Ali Karim!

John Shepphird

4:53 PM, December 14, 2014  

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