Bouchercon Debrief

At this moment, I sit at a bar in JFK awaiting my connecting flight back to Boston after 4 days at Bouchercon 2012 in Cleveland. I am physically and emotionally exhausted. It’s a great feeling. I submit my report:

Day One –

My late afternoon arrival allowed me just enough time to check into The Ritz (yes), clean up, register at the conference hotel (The aptly named “Renaissance”) and hit the hotel bar to scope out the scene. [NOTE: no matter what book conference you choose to attend, if you want to meet the denizens in their milieu, find the lobby bar, take a corner stool, and don’t relinquish it.]

Within minutes, I am engaged in a conversation with the only two people in the hotel who are not there for the conference. Then I tell them that Lee Child is present, and they get all giddy like fangirls and run off to find him.

Just as they leave, I am joined by Valerie Douglas, the host and founder of the Indie Author Group, a versatile, multi-published author in several genres, and just an all-around classy, down-to-earth Midwestern lady with a persistent smile.

I’m telling Valerie of my earlier twitter contacts with Jason Ashlock about his new noir mystery label, The Rogue Reader, and the launch party they had planned for Friday night. The Rogue Reader is the baby of Jason and Moveable Type partner Adam Chromy. So, as I am saying the words “Rogue Reader,” two guys walk into the bar and sit next to me – Adam Chromy and Ro Cuzon, author of Under the Dixie Moon, Rogue Reader’s debut release.

Are you sensing a little bit of synchronicity here?

Both of them recognize me – simply from the two or three tweets I’d exchanged with Jason about Rogue Reader. Adam’s first response: “I just followed you on Twitter!”

It’s a new day, my friends.

Shortly, Jason joins Adam and Ro. I had chatted briefly with Jason six months ago – the sort of “polite exchange” an aspiring writer like me could only hope to have with the president of a major New York literary agency. I chose to mention to him then that my daughter, Kate, was the managing editor of a lifestyle website in New York. (Aren’t I a good daddy?)

Jason’s first words to me (after hellos) are these:

“Tell me more about what your daughter is doing at The Greatist. I looked at the website, and it looks like they’re doing very well.”

I do not fool. He really did.

Adam Chromy and Jason Ashlock are pretty damn big deal agents, but they sure don’t “act” like it. They are curious, inquisitive, and just downright genuine folks.

At this point, I have goosebumps.

Ro Cuzon is a French citizen, born and raised in Brittany, transplanted to New Orleans after stints in San Francisco, St. Barts and elsewhere. He has (if I recall) 8 novels in his desk, the first six in French. He is self-taught, amazingly perceptive, humble, and very proud of his status as a stay-at-home dad for his daughter.

After this weekend, Ro’s debut ebook, Under the Dixie Moon, was ranked # 34 on Barnes & Noble, thanks to a B&N email to all customers of Laura Lippman and George Pelecanos (both New Orleans friends of Ro), and surely some savvy social media flogging by Adam and Jason.

Okay, so this is my intro to Bouchercon.

Off to the Grand Opening of the conference, aptly venued at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. At least a thousand people, rabbling in the huge open space of the main hall. I move around, meet my panel’s moderator, Lisa Brackmann, have an excellent chat with her, introduce her to Valerie (who happens by). Then, I am overcome with the sudden realization that I AM IN THE FREAKIN’ ROCK & ROLL HALL OF FAME! So I slip off on my own to experience 40 years of nostalgia.

I am wandering through the exhibits, getting chills as I see all kinds of retro stuff (how about Jimi Hendrix’s lime green suede boots, with skuff marks?), and then I realize something. Everyone else is by themselves, too. It’s as though a silent siren song lured dozens away from the throng of revelers. I came to discover the next day, asking around, that this was a common occurrence.

Back at the hotel bar after R&RHOF, there are dozens and dozens of authors, in various states of lubrication. Shamus Award winner Reed Farrell Coleman (who appears to be a gin man) is regaling us with hilarious arguments he’s had with his characters. Edgar Award winner Bruce DeSilva is telling me about his friendship with former Providence Mayor and felon, Buddy Cianci. Mike Cooper gives me blanket authentication of my Boston accent. Cara Brookins – the only person within two blocks who is completely sober – tells me her life story, which leaves me feeling insignificant, unaccomplished and weak. That’s about as much as I can remember, and I hit the hay at about 2:00 am.

Day Two

I come to realize that for some Bouchercon attendees, the morning panel discussions are just a way to pass time until the bar opens. I wander in and out, recognizing some of the panelists from the night before, impressed at their resilience. When lunchtime arrives, a grave tragedy is discovered. The bar has been staffed by one person, and she’s unfamiliar with the cash register. Service moves like cold molasses. But no one panics, and when the afternoon crew comes on, the oil starts flowing. I join Jason and Adam while they feverishly twitter away while eating health food. Afternoon panels are palpably more lively, their participants more exuberant.

At cocktail hour, a bash is held at the House of Blues, at which Dan Palmer shows off his chops on guitar and harp and Heather Graham performs with her own band, aptly called “The Slushpile.” I wasn’t invited. Sniff.

Friday night is The Rogue Reader bash, held offsite in an appropriately seedy basement bar called The Map Room. The party is celebrating their release of Cuzon’s debut novel, Under the Dixie Moon, and the November release of Mike Hogan’s newest novels, Dog Hills and Sistine. There are vats of special concoctions named after Cuzon’s books (the “Dixie Moon” and the “Carib Sun”). They taste fine and the vats are quickly drained. At this venue, I have amusing conversations with Mike Hogan, Andre Frieden, Cara Brookins, all authors who’ve published more work than I’ve got a right to expect I can ever match, and fellow newcomers Stuart Smith and Stephen Zippilli. But they’re all great, great people with fascinating life stories, and I am giddy to be with them. Another white flag is waved at 2:00 am.

Day Three

Unlike Friday, I had no trouble going back to sleep when my eyes snapped open at 7:00 am. Much more civilized at 10:00. I turn on my computer to check mail. Oh, look, Mike Hogan has sent me an email! He’s bought my book and wants to stay in touch. Wow, I seriously like this guy and attempt to buy his first two novels, but they are out of print (Random House, ahem) and there are no ebook versions. Note to self: WTF?

I check out a few of the panels. Lunch with the fabulous Rochelle Staab, writer of clever cozies and chief crit reader for moi (she is a lovely person, and a brutal reader). She scoffs when I tell her I don’t know if I can write more than three novels. “Get in line,” she says.

Mid-afternoon, and the bar is filling up earlier than yesterday. The problem lady has been relieved of her duties. The crowd is appreciative. Eric Christopherson (an old Authonomy pal and author of the seriously good novel, Crack-Up) shows up, I introduce him to Valerie Douglas and her husband, David. Pretty soon, through the permutations of bar osmosis, a critical mass is reached on a plan of attack for dinner, and off we go to Morton’s – me, Eric, Valerie, David, Cara, Andre, and our latest victim, Brad Parks, the Shamus Award and Nero Award winning author of the Carter Ross mystery series. At some point during the dinner, I realize that he’s a big deal, and he’s sitting with us. He realizes it too, because he starts to get antsy as the dinner plates are cleared.

Back to Mission Control for more loudmouth soup. Stories are told. Peals of laughter are heard. Tip jars overflow. Complete strangers are bosom buddies. Reed Coleman calls me “Pete” without looking down at my nametag. Bruce DeSilva tells more stories about Buddy Cianci. Ro and his buddy, Mario, are cracking the place up. I hit the wall. It must be 2:00 am again.

Day four

I have requested a wake-up call at 8:30, because, of course, I am a panelist on “The Politics of Murder,” which begins in the Grand Ballroom at the ridiculous hour of 10:30. I shower, throw everything into my bags so I can scram to the airport when I’m done. I am bleary-eyed, hoarse and by now, seriously doubtful about the legitimacy of me sitting on a panel with all of these amazingly talented and successful authors. How the hell did I get onto this panel? I better deliver to this huge crowd of…

… about two dozen, three of whom are barmates from the night before who’ve made book on whether I remain upright.

Good thing Moderator Lisa Brackmann knows (first hand) of my condition.

My fellow panelists are Allison Leotta (how do you get Lisa Scottoline, David Baldacci and George Pelecanos to write blurbs?), Mike Lawson (six award winning novels, including one named a top thriller by three publications in 2009) and Stuart Neville (a Northern Irish author of immense talent whose novel, The Twelve, was in the Best of 2009 lists of NY Times and LA Times and reviewed everywhere). If they suspect I am a poseur, they’re not showing it. I manage not to lose my train of thought or insult anyone. The small crowd seems to enjoy it, and it’s over before I know it.

Bouchercon is known as a “readers” event. While there are over three hundred authors participating, there are many more fans, and although they’re looking for the big names (Lee Child, Michael Connelly, Mary Higgins Clark, Charlaine Harris, Sara Paretsky), they love crime fiction and they love meeting new authors.

Here’s what impresses me more, though. There are an incredible number of published crime authors out there whose names are not shown front cover-out at B&N. They write dozens of novels because they love what they do. They come to Bouchercon because they enjoy being with other writers and their fans.

And they are, by and large, a special bunch of people.

Bouchercon 2012, down. Bouchercon 2013, Albany New York.

See you there.


  1. GREAT recap. Heck, I felt like I was there after reading your post. There is nothing like a rockin conference to put fire under your behind, huh? Holding court in the bar area is a must and it sounds like you mastered the task easily 🙂 I would have loved to heard you on a panel. Maybe next year?

  2. Infectious enthusiasm, Pete. Great stuff.

    Shame about missing the Heather Graham gig. But then her latest novel is called The Uninvited, so at least she was thinking of you.

    ‘Get roaring drunk in Pete’s company one fine evening’ — there, noted as a bucket mid-list hankering. And Albany now sounds like Avalon.

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