In two days I will be headed to St. Louis to attend the 2011 Bouchercon World Mystery Convention. This will be my third Bouchercon (following Indianapolis and San Francisco), but the first in which my name will be on the program. My first novel, The Poacher’s Son, is up for a few awards. And I will be participating in my first panel discussion: a conversation moderated by Ayo Onatade, and co-starring Megan Abbott, Thomas H. Cook, P.L. Gaus, and Daniel Woodrell. (It’s at 11:30 on Saturday morning in Majestic A,B,C, if you happen to be in St. Louis and want to spend your weekend in air-conditioned hotel comfort.)
What in the world is a mystery convention, you are probably asking yourself. It was the question that followed me to my first Bouchercon. I’d sold The Poacher’s Son to Minotaur some time earlier in a highly publicized deal, but it wouldn’t be out for another eight months. Nevertheless, my agent and publisher wanted me to introduce myself around the place, which isn’t easy to do when you are an unknown first novelist with no novel to show. I wandered from booth to booth in the book room and had an awkward but funny conversation with a woman at the Mystery Scene magazine booth whom I later learned was arguably the most influential reviewer in the genre. I must have made an impression. She needled me about our conversation at the Edgar Awards ceremony this spring.
I sat in on a few panels, watched some awards ceremonies, knowing no one.I must have looked lost because New York Times best-selling author Chelsea Cain offered to guide me to the Minotaur Books reception in a neighboring hotel, and my lostness must have been contagious because it took us forever to find the place.
Last year in San Francisco, I expected to feel like a bigger deal. I was a newly minted author with a well-reviewed book, but I discovered that few Left Coast attendees had read my Maine-set mystery. I signed exactly one autograph for a fan. It was a humbling experience until I realized that, if I were myself an autograph hound, I too would have been searching for bigger game. Because Bouchercon is the closest thing to a Who’s Who in the mystery world each year. Just check out the roster of this single panel discussion at this year’s event: Joseph Finder (moderator), Laurie R. King, Laura Lippman, Val McDermid, and S. J. Rozan. That’s like a pantheon of contemporary crime fiction!
I attended my first and second Bouchercon as a wannabee celebrity. As I prepare to attend my third conference, I realize that I am going as a fan who happens also to write books. Because that’s what a mystery convention is: an excuse for fans to unabashedly celebrate their fandom. Yes, I would like to win an award, and I hope a few people show up at my panel, but what I am really looking forward to is shaking Daniel Woodrell’s hand and telling him how much I love Winter’s Bone. I might even ask for his autograph.