Deborah Crombie on Bouchercon
I just had to check online to be sure that I was right --that I have missed four Bouchercons in a row. Four. And this is coming from the writer who until then had not missed a Bouchercon since my first, in Pasadena, in 1991.
How could four years pass just like that? I know, I know. Pressure of work, of life, of book tours and research trips and family commitments, but Bouchercon was part of the annual autumn ritual, along with falling leaves and the smell of wood smoke. Suffice to say that last spring I decided enough was enough--I was not missing B'con, and particularly not in Baltimore.
And now that I'm here, it feels like I had never been away. Old friends, new friends, fans, panels, all the whirl of activity that makes Bouchercon so exhilarating and exhausting. It's a challenging agenda for those who don't multi-task well, or have nervous breakdowns in cafeteria lines. How do you choose between a half-dozen tracks of paneling? Which authors do you want to hear and see most? At my very first Bouchercon, in Pasadena in 1991, I used a yellow highlighter to block out one program every hour for three days, then rushed madly from program to signing to program. Halfway through the second day, I collapsed, curling up in a fetal ball in my hotel room for the rest of afternoon, a victim of overload. Since then I've learned to pace myself a bit.
And for authors, there's a certain nervous anticipation when the panel assignments come. Will you get a topic that's been done a hundred times before? Will it be a good time slot? (Preferably not first thing in the morning when fans might be sleeping in after too much meet-and-greet in the bar the night before; preferably not the last of the afternoon when everyone is paneled-out and just wants to chill a bit before the evening activities kick in.)
Goddesses? Now there's a concept we were collectively not sure we felt comfortable with, but then Louise suggested we should just wear sheets and send the audience screaming for the door. Well, maybe we won't go that far--we might get in trouble with the fire marshal--but in the spirit of fun we will be goddesses for an hour.
Rhys and Louise, both much more organized than I, had us each draw up a list of topics we might cover, ranging from the serious to the ridiculous -- from how our childhoods affected our interior life, to whether it is humanly possible to write without caffeine.
The childhood question I find particularly intriguing. I have an unproven theory that most writers were in some way physically or emotionally isolated as children. I find it hard to imagine that today's proscribed non-stop rounds of soccer, dance, softball, and playdates leave much time for reading or daydreaming.
For me those are the essentials, the kickstarters of the imagination, and I was the classic isolated child. Before I started school, we lived in what was then country, so that the only times I saw other children were the much-anticipated visits of my cousins. My only brother is 10 years older, so that I grew up more-or-less as an only child. Both my parents worked, and my grandmother, a former schoolteacher, lived with us, and taught me to read before I was four.
I spent long days reading, playing outside, and making things up.
(There were a family of bald trolls that lived under the creek bank near our house and would ask me in for tea. Yeah, I was a seriously weird kid.)
When I was five, my parents sent me to kindergarten, where we made tissue paper flowers and took naps on mats. I cried for two weeks until my parents let me come home again, back to my books and my gran and my stories, and so I officially started my career as a drop out (high school would come later).
The next year, of course, my charmed life ended with the start of first grade, but by that time I was thoroughly addicted to the rather odd phenomenon of other people talking in my head. This did not auger well for my academic future.
The isolation was not merely physical, however--I always had a sense of not quite belonging, a predisposition to observe, and that, I suspect, is also common to writers. Maybe that has something to do with why we create imaginary friends and worlds in which we feel we do belong. Or maybe by some genetic quirk, we are just born geeks, and environment has nothing to do with it.
And as for caffeine -- I am absolutely certain it is not possible to write a book without consuming copious amounts of tea -- hot, of course.