Monday, September 19, 2011

Miscellaneous: Met Them in St. Louis, Louis

It wasn’t until we were on the plane en route to the annual crime fiction writers and readers convention Bouchercon that we learned St. Louis was also playing host to over 40,000 Christian women attending various conferences the same weekend. This sets up any number of obvious jokes. But after listening to Rosemarie and her seatmate, who was bound for one of those conferences, have a long conversation about their favorite mystery writers, I’ve decided to take the high road and focus on what unites these groups. St. Louis was full of people inspired enough to get out into the world and meet with like-minded individuals. I can only hope the ladies returned home as I did, with a satchelful of memories, an inexplicable minibar bill (we didn’t HAVE a minibar!) and a hacking cough so dry it merits a brushfire warning.

(With that ecumenical moment out of the way, I will say to the women wearing sweatshirts reading “God’s Love is Better than Life” that that sentiment chills me to the fucking bone. I know what it means. I do. But I can’t help thinking there’d be an unholy uproar if hundreds of members of a different religion – no names; just pick another of the major ones – walked around an American city similarly attired.)

The trip kicked off with one of STL’s fabled Noir at the Bar readings. Among the evening’s line-up were soon-to-be Crimespree and Anthony Award winners Hilary Davidson and Duane Swierczynski, John Rector, and Matthew J. McBride. Plus the St. Louis Walk of Fame ran down the sidewalk, honoring local luminaries like Buddy Ebsen and James “Cool Papa” Bell, who legend has it could throw a pork chop past a wolf.

We came, we saw, we paneled. Rosemarie and I split the duties again this year to take in as many relevant ones as possible. Some of my favorites included:

• The fight panel, with themed moderation by Eric Beetner and savvy comments from Frank Bill, my secret sister Christa Faust, Jamie Freveletti and Tom Schreck

• One on Hitchcock’s enduring legacy, disappointing only in that nobody named Strangers on a Train as their favorite

• The comics panel, with panelist Duane Swierczynski ably doubling as emergency moderator and Max Allan Collins (a ubiquitous presence whose band provided the closing night’s entertainment) provoking an interesting conversation about why graphic novels were separated from an author’s other work

• The first “Bouchercon After Dark” panel, with a battery of reprobates and S. J. Rozan discussing “Sex, Violence and Everything That Makes a Book Great”

I’d suggest to future organizers putting Christa Faust on as many panels as possible, but that might cut down on her time intimidating tough guy writers at the bar, which offers tremendous entertainment value.

But for my second Bouchercon I spent more time prowling the halls and the book room, which yielded terrific dividends. Like meeting Robert J. Randisi, one of this year’s local living legends and author of the Rat Pack mysteries. (I read the latest entry, Fly Me to the Morgue, just before the con and as usual enjoyed the hell out of it.) He even sang an Elvis song with Max Allan Collins’ band. And hearing firsthand James Crumley stories from the con’s unofficial mayor Scott Phillips and the inimitable Robert Ward. And having a long conversation with the gentleman of the genre and my favorite blogger Bill Crider. And getting to say hello to Craig McDonald.

Then there’s the bar. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy until next year in Cleveland, when I certainly hope to be in attendance. It was here that I learned Megan Abbott shares my obsession with reality TV’s staged trainwreck Ryan & Tatum: The O’Neals. That I shook hands with Johnny Shaw, like me a hugely talented man hoodwinked into writing for Ray Banks’ movie blog for free. That I bore witness to Martyn Waites’ uncanny imitation of Brian Cox in The Music Man and glimpsed the performance of Renfield in Dracula that made Martyn the gay icon he is today. That I shouted at Wallace Stroby about ‘70s New York movies. That I saw Reed Farrel Coleman bust out his Mr. Met moves at the mere mention of our shared home team. That I gaped in amazement as Lisa Brackmann chowed down on scored sheep’s head brought from Iceland by Yrsa Sigurdardottir and choked down some sheep’s head pate myself. That I lost sight of Rosemarie for a moment only to realize she was tugging Laura Lippman’s boots off. It was here, then, that I became a man.

All praise and credit is due to Jon and Ruth Jordan, Judy Bobalik, Jeremy Lynch, and the many volunteers. I also have to acknowledge the sterling work of the staff of the Renaissance Grand Hotel, especially the crack team in the bar. And I salute the winner of this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award from the Private Eye Writers of America, your friend and mine Ed Gorman.

It was raining when we left St. Louis yesterday, so I put on my cap as we walked to the train to the airport. Two stops later a group of people on a scavenger hunt yelled, “Is anyone here wearing something sports related that’s not from St. Louis?” With a sigh I walked to the rear of the car. Somewhere out there is a photograph of me in my Mets hat, pretending to be at home plate alongside four total strangers wearing neon deely bobbers. I will never see this photograph. Somehow it seemed the perfect way to end the weekend.