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October 6, 2006

Bouchercon 2006 --- A Prairie Escapade

Posted by admin

I headed for Madison, Wisconsin for Bouchercon on Friday of last week with two hours of sleep behind me. I was up late packing, and then I had to be up at 4:30 to go to the airport. The hours in between I more napped than slept, thus I crashed most of the flight to Cleveland where I was changing planes. I have never been to Cleveland so here is my report from the airport. There is a Starbucks. There is a bagel place that does not have great bagels.

I was sitting in an area where they were loading the smaller flights. At one point they said...through this door we are loading flights to Atlanta, Nashville and Boston. Atlanta go left, Nashville go right and Boston go to the middle. I spent the next 15 minutes picturing the opener of a novel where people end up in the wrong place. Okay, at least I was getting into the mood of the weekend.

I jumped on the flight to Madison and as I got seated I saw Chris Mooney coming down the aisle. Always fun to see a familiar face like that. I also then was assured that I was on the right plane! As I had a rental car I told Chris I would drive him downtown. I like renting cars. It's always an adventure. I rent SUVs since it's what I drive at home and I like to feel safe when I drive. Also, I manage to get off road without trying a lot! Hertz was offering their version of GPS. I think it's called Neverlost. Since I am Always Lost, I thought this was a good idea. Also, the people at the counter are like used car salesmen. I also bought a tank of gas for $2.09 a gallon, which sounded great. (The rest of the weekend I never saw gas for less than $2.29 so I guess this WAS a good idea.) In NJ we are not allowed to pump our own gas --- it's actually against the law and I always loathe doing this when I travel. One more secret about rental cars: I get a kick out of seeing what color the car is. Stop laughing. I do. I have been known to reject the car if I loathe the color. This one was gold, but it was tolerable.

One more aside about rental cars. When we were in Atlanta I made the mistake of renting from Payless, also known as Bait and Switch. I wanted an SUV. They said they did not have one. Instead they had a lovely minivan for me. My younger son handled this one as he walked to the counter, plunked down his hands and said, "MY mother does not do minivans." I was laughing as he was right! We ended up with a Dodge Stratus that had no power and no special features and every time I drove it on the scary Atlanta highways I was not happy!

Back in Madison, Chris showed me how to program Neverlost, which would have taken tech-challenged moi a lot longer to figure out. And off we went. I usually have time to research a city before I go there, but this time I was going blind. I did not even know where the airport was in relation to where we were headed, which was downtown. I dropped Chris at his hotel after hearing about his new book, which is coming out in March and his teaching gig at Harvard, which sounds great, and happily managed to Neverlost program myself to my hotel with robotic voice accompaniments.

Once I settled in and had to head to the conference I was happy that downtown Madison had a CowParade, one of those city-wide art exhibits where artists paint some animal or object --- I have seen horses, cows, pigs and apples in the past --- to tell a story. I followed the cows to the conference hotel, which made navigating easy. Go right at Half and Half, past Moo Choo left at WisCowsin and right at Mooon Shine. Very amusing and easy to navigate.

Events the first day were somewhat a blur, but I did get to talk to lots of authors including Michele Martinez, Laura Lippman, Karin Slaughter, Dan Hale and Lee Child before heading to check out some panels, most of which I confess were not exciting. The panel rhythm thing was off and while I heard some great quotable lines, I did not get the same kind of energy that I have seen at other conferences. I had a great lunch with Danielle Egan-Miller and Joanna MacKenzie from the Browne & Miller agency in Chicago at Blue Marlin. Danielle and I met at CBA, had breakfast at RWA and now are fast pals at conferences.

Friday night was party night and I hit the party trail with Joe Hartlaub. St.Martin's Press had a party in an old monastery, which was a very cool setting. The address on the invite said 104, but it was at 401 so getting there was an event.

We arrived just as Joe Finder and Clair Lamb, his webmistress, got there and had a chance to congratulate Joe on his Barry Award win for COMPANY MAN the previous evening. We then cruised down to the Hachette party where I saw Andi Schecter, who reviews for us and who is heading the Left Coast Crime Convention in Seattle next February. Andi's been writing for us for years, but this is the first time that we have met. I was reading Stephen White's new one, DRY ICE, which will be in stores next spring and Andi and I had a fun chat about Stephen as they are old friends. After lots more munching and mingling Joe H and I had a quiet dinner at the hotel and caught up on books and life. We've managed to be in the same place at the same time three times in the last 3 months. For Joe and me that is a record.

Saturday morning after a disappointing swim in what was a "non-swim pool" in my hotel (3 feet deep and not very long), which was not even good for water aerobics, I was back to checking out panels while knitting. I am making a skirt and there is nothing like sitting at panels to give you time to get something like this accomplished. Plus a made a lot of new friends who asked me what I was working on.

I had lunch with another of our reviewers, Amy Alessio, who had driven up from north of Chicago at a terrific spot that sported a cheese plate as an appetizer. Fancy that!. Amy has been working on a book and had taken a class that J.A. Konrath had taught so we spent some time yapping about those two things, as well as her adorable son, Joshua. Really fun to catch up like that. After lunch we walked around the Capitol square where the Dane County Farmers Market happens each Saturday. I wished for a mini-fridge as I saw the cheeses, fruits and vegetables on display. And the flowers were heavenly. I picked up some flowers to bring Margaret George as a hostess gift on Sunday evening.

I went to a very interesting panel about Jumping Genres with Laurie R. King, Val McDermid, Nevada Barr and Dana Stabenow, which was just terrific. Each author talked about her work and why they had done a series or a stand-alone at any given time, or written in a certain genre. Nevada did some good banter with King about her Holmes series. To Nevada she never should write anything else! They all had a very interesting conversation about series vs. standalones. Good commentary as I know many authors who take a break from a series with a stand-alone while others pick up a series to boost their traction.

Later in the afternoon there was a panel called THE WAY OF ALL FLESH: Sex Scenes and the Mystery Writer about writing sex into thrillers where the authors read sex passages from their books on a panel . The room was already warm and certainly heated up as authors read and talked about sex.

Nevada Barr was American Guest of Honor for Bouchercon and there was an interview done with her at Overture Hall that was just terrific. She talked about her Anna Pigeon books and their settings in national parks, as well as how she tries to get place to work for her as well as character. I stayed in this location for the Anthony Awards, which were handled beautifully by William Kent Krueger, who happily also won the Best Mystery Novel award for Mercy Falls.

Afterwards there was a reception where Joe Hartlaub and I caught up and got a drink with Jim Fusilli. I met David Hewson and had a lovely chat with him. We still needed a game plan for the night and the start of it was a party at Bleak House, a publisher located in Madison. Jim Born, who always knows how to get a party started commandeered the shuttle bus from the hotel to drive us. See, it pays to have the special ops guys around since they can make things happen.

The party reminded me of college with beer and soda in coolers and burger, dogs and brats on the grill. People had a great time eating, drinking and munching chips. It was one of those unplanned, spontaneous evenings that was fun. The only downside was that I missed checking out more of the Madison restaurants, which are quite good. We hopped the shuttle back to the hotel (which I was convinced was not going to show up) and indulged at the Sisters in Crime 20th Anniversary party, which was wonderfully overseen by Rochelle Krich, the new president of the organization. I consumed enough calories to make the walk back to my hotel a necessity! Cow on the right...cow on the know the drill.

Sunday morning I slept in and then hustled over to "The Moment of Creation" panel, which was moderated by David Hewson. Panelists included Linwood Barclay, Reed Farrel Coleman ( who was still on a high from his trifecta win of three awards for his PI novel, The James Deans) and Thomas Cook. I thought it was the best panel of the weekend and chatted with Hallie Ephron about just this afterwards. They talked about inspiration and plotting and getting it all right. And where ideas come from, which is every author's nightmare question. Reed had a great line about there is no such thing as writer's block, but rather there is idea block, which hit things right on the head. I will remember that line.

Following this panel, Sandy Balzo, Jerry Healy and I took off for a road trip to Spring Green to tour Taliesin, the Frank Lloyd Wright home and studio. This was a special trip for us as we all also had toured Taliesin West together when we were in Scottsdale for Thriller Fest earlier this summer. I love taking a moment to do things like this when I travel as it makes the trip feel a bit more special. We grabbed lunch at a terrific place in town and enjoyed the amazing sunshine. It was very warm for September and thus the setting was just spectacular. We chatted about book and life and Sandy gave me a copy of the anthology that she and Jerry have a story in.

The Wright tour was terrific. We were joined by Al Navis, who had run Bouchercon in Toronto in 2004. He also is quite an expert on Wright and thus made the tour a lot of fun with his asides and details. There were definitely differences between the two locations; I liked Scottsdale better, but this may be because it seemed to be better funded and more complete. It was just a wonderful afternoon, the kind memories are made of.

We drove the hour back to Madison in time for me to go to dinner at Margaret George's home. We built Margaret's website about four years ago and through the years we have visited in New York but never in Madison. She prepared a lovely dinner as she had shopped at the same farmer's market the day before. Thus she knew where my flowers were from! We had a terrific relaxing evening as she showed me her writing area and I got to meet her fabulous turtle, Trellis, who figures into the new children's picture book that she has done.

Margaret is sooo interesting and we had such fun talking about her travels and sharing mementos from her trips. She was off to Greece the following Tuesday and then will be going to Argentina, Cape Horn and Patagonia in November. I loved hearing about her adventures as Margaret is a real traveler.

Monday I took it easy, worked a bit and then swam at the Y before doing a quick driving tour of Madison. I hit two great yarn shops, Lakeside Fibers and The Knitting Factory before I headed for the airport. Yes, me being the yarn addict that I am I did buy yet more yarn. And then jammed it into my suitcase.

I had soooo much free time since I did not have to fill the tank with gas, and since I had Neverlost, I was soooo under control. They even had a button to hit to find the nearest drop off Hertz location! I have decided I love small airports like Madison, which reminded me of the Greensboro Airport. Very civilized rental car return, check in and security check. Okay, I did have to pay $25 for extra baggage, but it was not the yarn and the books. It was the warm clothes that everyone swore I was going to need! THAT was a mistake!

As I was waiting to board the plane I ran into Ken Bruen, Declan Hughes and another author whose name I am spacing. We joked that I had not seen them all weekend but thus we had a moment on the plane. The small plane. The small plane that one passenger said was smaller than his Suburban at home. The small plane that makes one feel like a pretzel. The small plane that flew through a thunderstorm. I could see the three authors writing this one in their heads --- "It was a dark and scary flight."

Fun trip. I came home and hit Expedia and started plotting my next bookish adventure. Book travel is a lot of fun!