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The insider's view of mystery convention Bouchercon

October 15, 2008 |  4:36 pm

Bouchercon08_1015

Bouchercon, at least for me, is where objectivity flies out the window. My friends Ruth Jordan and Judy Bobalik chaired this year's conference; I'll be spending the next 12 months in the same role for the convention's standing committee, looking over rules and regulations and keeping the joint running smoothly. I started coming as a wide-eyed fan in 2001, knowing no one but their online handles when I set foot in the convention hotel. Seven years later, it feels more like a family reunion and less like business -- even at a high-powered function like the annual dinner HarperCollins throws for its attending authors and the publications that write about them.

Boucherconprotest So it was with a sinking feeling that shouts of "Shame on Bouchercon" and other similar slogans woke me early last Thursday morning, in the midst of the Yom Kippur fast and a self-imposed exile from the convention. It wasn't a shock; there's been an ongoing dispute between the owners of the Sheraton City Center, Bouchercon's designated hotel, and Unite Here, the workers' union, and no contract between hotel and workers since 2006, after the hotel changed hands --
unfortunately, Boucheron's organizers had signed nonrefundable contracts a year before. But it was, nonetheless, disheartening to watch an ongoing lesson in gray area ethics: Is a boycott the same as a strike? Should enthusiastic fans of a genre be tarred with the same brush as for-profit corporations? There are only losers, I told one of the picketers later that afternoon, a feeling confirmed when I had a look at one of the posters that equated Crimespree editor (and Ruth's husband) Jon Jordan with the owner of Columbia Sussex -- rather like equating Lehman CEO Richard Fuld with an editor of a fledgling, nonprofit literary magazine.

The picketing was a strong conversation topic, but books, publishing and of course, alcohol remained the larger concerns of Bouchercon attendees. More on books, publishing and alcohol after the jump.

Aspiring writers still hungrily searched for the magic formula of how to get published, even though none exists. "Flat is the new up," industry insiders told my fellow mystery critic David J. Montgomery. Eagle eyes spotted George Pelecanos in the book room and Dennis Lehane standing in the back as Michael Koryta interviewed American guest of honor Laura Lippman. A raucous group got together Saturday night to test its knowledge of crime and mystery at a special pub quiz (my team won). The Sheraton bar was packed at all hours, while most of the day's panels came perilously close to being SRO. At the awards brunch on Sunday afternoon, a happy crowd of hundreds gave a protracted standing ovation to Lifetime Achievement guest of honor Lawrence Block and raised their glasses in a toast to the recently deceased James Crumley -- though seeing the alarming number of nonalcoholic beverages in the air, toastmaster Mark Billingham quipped he'd brought a beer bottle specially for the moment. Tana French took home every conceivable best-first-novel prize in abstentia, and Lippman likewise cleaned up awards-wise for her 2007 novel "What the Dead Know" -- but I suspect more people will remember witnessing proof of her claim to doing 50 push-ups in just under a minute early Friday morning.

Next year it's Indianapolis, then San Francisco in 2010 and St. Louis in 2011. No matter what hat I happen to wear, I wouldn't miss another chance for a reunion.

-- Sarah Weinman

Photo credits: Bouchercon welcome by freshfiction; picketers by Sarah Weinman

Sarah Weinman, who writes the L.A. Times crime fiction column "Dark Passages," is, with the help of doctor-prescribed medication, recovering from Bouchercon.

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