Sunday, February 04, 2007

Miscellaneous: Left Coast Crime Report

I can’t remember the last time I attended any sort of convention. Occasionally I tag along when Rosemarie goes to the annual NCURA wingding in Washington, D.C. Research administrators are animals. I still have a scar from the 2003 get-together, and remain banned from the Watergate Hotel thanks to what I’d categorize as a silly misunderstanding.

So I’m no expert, but I thought this year’s Left Coast Crime was smartly put together. A strong mix of guests and panels, an attentive hotel staff. Here’s a quick recap of my LCC.

Two bits of sage advice from toastmaster Gary Phillips: Always get your money, and never sell to a snitch.

A panel about politics in mystery seemed appropriate considering that one guest of honor was the late Dennis Lynds. I was surprised to hear the thriller described as a “right-wing genre.” Why? Because the characters are often allied with government or military agencies? What’s right-wing about a corporate conspiracy? Alas, time ran out before I could learn more. I blame the Trilateral Commission.

Thriller novelists weighed in on recent movies at another panel. Guest of honor Gayle Lynds is a fan of Casino Royale and was disappointed by the critical reaction to The Good Shepherd, while Mike Lawson praised Syriana and Munich. I was hoping someone would credit Eric Roth with writing both Shepherd and Munich. I guess that someone is me.

The most fun panel was on swearing. It was led by three of the Killer Year gang, with other members of the class there in force. All of them kept it reasonably clean.

Good times were had at Saturday’s discussion of noir featuring Megan Abbott, in which it was revealed that even practitioners of the form aren’t sure of its definition, and a surprisingly funny session about true crime chaired by David Corbett. It was also nice to put faces to names I knew from the web, like January magazine guru Jeff Pierce.

Having gotten my feet wet, though, I have to admit: I still don’t get the whole convention thing.

Let me stress that my reservations are no reflection on this particular conference. And I understand why authors go. It’s a chance to catch up with contemporaries and meet fans.

What I mean is I personally don’t get it. This is partly because I didn’t have the full convention experience. I wasn’t staying in the hotel, and thanks to other obligations I left early every day. But it’s mainly because I’m not much of a joiner. I’m a loner, Dottie. A rebel.

I can’t simply wander up to writers and start talking. I don’t want to intrude. I already know what the end result is going to be – a brief chat about the weather or the Super Bowl, maybe a request for the name of a good local bar. And it’s not a social phobia; on the way home yesterday I stopped by the very bar I would have recommended and fell easily into conversation with total strangers. It’s just that as a reader, I don’t have any expectation of a relationship with an author beyond the words he or she placed on the page.

Again, that’s just me. I’m such a bad fan that I may be the first person in the history of these events to leave without a single signed book. Not one. Simply never occurred to me. This is every signing I’ve ever been to:

Me: Hi, love your books.

Famous Author: Thanks! What’s your name?

Me: (mumbling) Um, Vince.

Famous Author: Frank, you said?

Me: (beat) Yeah, that’ll work.

Eventually, I just stopped going. (That must kill J.A. Konrath. All his carefully laid plans actually working against the purchase of a book. I’ll shatter his illusions further. When a clerk starts a conversation with me about whatever title I’m holding, it almost guarantees I won’t buy it. Years of self-preservation instincts forged on the streets of New York kick in: “Why are you talking to me? Who sent you?”)

Don’t get me wrong – signed books mean a lot to me. I’ve got a whole shelf of them in my library. Perhaps my most prized possession is a copy of the seminal baseball book Ball Four personally inscribed to me by Jim Bouton after a profile of him I wrote ran in a business magazine. In some respects, that book set me on the path I’m on now.

But I want each of those books to have a story. And “I went to a place where the author was signing books and he signed this one for me” isn’t a story no matter how well I tell it.

I probably just went in to my first con experience unprepared. (Friday kicked off with a panel called “LCC 101,” but I missed it.) I’d love to hear from authors and fans about how they run the convention gauntlet. Feel free to leave pointers. I plan on getting to Bouchercon one of these years, and I want to do it right.