Friday, October 2, 2015

16 Years of Bouchercon Memories: Guest Post by Toni L.P. Kelner/ Leigh Perry

Bouchercon, the World Mystery Convention, is coming up next week. I've never added up how many I've attended. Too many to count. However, Toni L.P. Kelner aka Leigh Perry has attended 16. Today and tomorrow she will be sharing memories of those conventions! Can't wait to see her at Bouchercon in Raleigh. Toni L.P. Kelner has evolved many times since her first Bouchercon: kids, moves, job changes, publications galore. Most recently, she’s evolved into Leigh Perry, author of the Family Skeleton mysteries. The Skeleton Haunts a House, the third in the series, debuts just in time for Bouchercon 2015.  Thanks, Toni, for the memories.  

Toni L.P. Kelner / Leigh Perry: Sixteen Years of Bouchercon Memories

When I arrive in Raleigh, it will be to attend my seventeenth Bouchercon. That’s right—I’ve been to sixteen Bouchercons. I wouldn’t have believed it myself if I hadn’t counted up the years. Twice. As I dive into prepping for this year’s festivities, including enduring the personal nemesis that is packing, the carrot that keeps me moving is remembering those sixteen weekends.

Toronto in 1992 

Charlaine Harris/Toni Kelner at Bcon
My gosh, was I overwhelmed at my first Bouchercon! At that point, I’d only been to one other mystery convention and I didn’t know many people or the customs of the community. Still, it was special because it was the first time I got an official AUTHOR badge. My book wouldn’t be released until several months later and I wasn’t on any panels, but the convention organizers let me have that badge, and I was inordinately proud of it.

At one point during the weekend, I was on the elevator and a couple of other attendees were eying my badge speculatively. I swear one of them said, “Yeah, I’ve read her stuff.” I knew darned well that she couldn’t have, but I smiled just the same.

Some of the best moments for any con-related trip happen outside the hotels. In this case, my husband Steve and I spent the better part of a week in town before Bouchercon got rolling, and we fell in love with Toronto. We went to see “The Phantom of the Opera,” visited Spadina and the Royal Ontario Musem, and were flabbergasted when drivers squealed to a stop for pedestrians in crosswalks. Hey, we’re from Boston. Nobody stops for pedestrians here.

Seattle in 1994 

By my second Bouchercon, I was feeling a little more sure of myself as a professional. After all, I had two whole novels out by that point. That smugness lasted until I got to the dealer’s room and realized that not a single dealer had stocked my books. My emotional breakdown was only averted when one of the local dealers promised to bring in copies the next day.

Seattle was where I met Charlaine Harris, long before Sookie Stackhouse days. She won my loyalty forever when one of her fans came up when we were chatting, and Charlaine introduced me as a writer the fan should read. Darned if the woman didn’t buy one of my books that day. Every new writer should have a Charlaine in her corner.

Outside the convention, my fondest memory is of visiting the Seattle Troll, a huge carving under one of the bridges in town. How big is he? He’s holding a Volkswagen Beetle in one hand.

Saint Paul in 1996 

Once again, my authorial ego took a blow. Steve and I had just arrived when an acquaintance came rushing up to invite us to join a group for dinner. We were surprised, but delighted to accept. Half an hour later, the woman came back and admitted she’d thought I was writer Teri Holbrook, and she had meant to invite Teri instead. She added that we were still welcome, but we begged off, using our daughter Maggie as an excuse. Maggie was just over a year old then, and still in a stroller. I’ll never forget my friend Troy Soos asking if he could push the stroller, and then him careening down the street with Maggie as fast as he could go. She absolutely loved it.

Milwaukee in 1999 

This was my first solo Bouchercon, meaning that I didn’t have Steve with me. Back in the day—meaning back before kids—we attended conventions as a couple, so it felt very odd to be in Milwaukee without him. I remember being delighted to see Len and June Moffatt get their Lifetime Achievement Awards. I knew their names from the world of science fiction as well as the world of mystery, and was a little starstruck. I also remember a wonderful dinner in Charlaine’s hotel room, eating the best cheese soup ever while discussing what I wanted to do with my career. Since I was leaving my husband with two children, I didn’t spend any extra time touring that year, but I did walk over to a nearby department store to replace a broken compact. It was the Boston Store, though surprisingly, they had no Red Sox merchandise.

Washington DC in 2001 

This took place only a short time after 9/11, and as a result may have been the huggiest Bouchercon ever. I remember almost none of the programming, just the sense that we were gathered together to express love for the community and defiance toward those who would destroy that.

The only touring I did was looking over at the Washington Monument in the distance, and being very glad it was still there.

Austin in 2002 

I had another strike to the ego in Austin. My panel was opposite that year’s humor panel, so not only was our room half-empty, but after things got started, one of the participants from the humor panel snuck in and made off with some of our unused chairs.

On the good side, there was a fabulous ice cream social where I learned all about polyamory from one of the other attendees. Even better, I was there when Charlaine Harris won the Anthony Award for Dead Until Dark and Doris Ann Norris won a Special Award for Service to the Mystery Community. Doris Ann was so taken aback she nearly ran out of the room.

Again, there was no time for touring, but I did go to a lovely party at the home of Barbara Burnett Smith. Barbara died far too young not many years later, hit by a car as she was trying to help a rescue dog.

Las Vegas in 2003 

In what had become a rare treat, Steve came with me. Since we had two young girls, this required some serious arranging, but it was worth it because I was nominated for both the Anthony and the Macavity. Just so you won’t be in suspense, I’ll tell you right now I lost both. Janet Dawson took the Macavity, and Marcia Talley got the Anthony.

The best part of the weekend was going to a luncheon for Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine editor Janet Hutchings, who was being honored for her contribution to the mystery field. Steve and I were sitting at the same table as Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine editor Linda Landrigan, and conversation turned to the writing process. Steve told Linda about his research into applying motivational theory to writers and the book he was working on, and she said she thought her husband would be interested. A few weeks later, we ran into Linda’s husband John—an editor at University Press of New England--and he ended up publishing Steve’s book.

 Since it was Las Vegas, we had to get out onto the strip a little bit, and accompanied Dana Cameron and her husband James to Star Trek: The Experience. It remains one of the most sublimely geeky afternoons I have ever enjoyed, complete with ordering a Cheese-Borg-Er at Quark’s.

Madison in 2006 

Probably the high point of the covention was meeting Marty Greenburg and John Helfers of Tekno Books fame. Tekno provided support and ideas for most of the anthologies in the mystery field back then, and Marty was the one who came up with the idea for Charlaine to edit a book of vampire stories. Charlaine drafted me, and we ended up editing seven anthologies together. At that point, we’d just done the first one and Marty encouraged us to do more. It was a amazing career shift for both of us.

Madison was also the year of the great candy mystery. After the convention had come to an end and most of the attendees had headed home, a few of us got together for dinner at the hotel. My roommate for the weekend, Dana Cameron, had gotten a message to pick up something from the front desk, and she showed up at dinner with an enormous box of candy. For me. Accompanying it was a card from John Connolly. The thing is, I’d never even spoken to John Connolly. I was confused, but not enough to keep from eating—and sharing—the candy. It was months before I found out via Laura Lippman, somebody who actually knows John Connolly, that it had been intended for somebody else and he somehow wrote the wrong name on it. Despite that, let me just say thanks, John. I’ll never forget you!

For touring, I stayed an extra day to drive to nearby Baraboo to see the Circus World Museum. It was off-season, so I had the place nearly to myself, making me one happy circus fan. I’d intended this to just be one blog post, but I couldn’t squeeze in all sixteen years.

Anchorage in 2007

 I hadn’t intended to go to Anchorage because it was such a long trip from Boston, but then I was nominated for an Anthony. Don’t get excited because I lost to the charming and talented Simon Wood. Despite that, I’m so glad I went. It was one of the smaller Bouchercons, but it didn’t lack for fun or star power. Not only was there a full slate of writing guests, including Diana Gabaldon, but Alaska’s governor spoke at the opening ceremonies. In other words, I met Sarah Palin long before she appeared on the national stage.

A particular high point was when Dana Cameron won the Anthony for Ashes and Bones. This was followed by my deciding to join in on the native dancing demonstration, since I figured I was so far from home nobody would ever find out. I’d reckoned without cellphone video.

The touring I did on this trip was some of the most spectacular of my life. Charlaine arranged for Dana, James, and me to go up with her in a seaplane to see some of the state’s glaciers. We saw whales, moose, and isolated communities from the air. Amazing!

Baltimore in 2008 

I haven’t spoken much about the actual panels at the various Bouchercons, but I will say some of the best I’ve seen were in Baltimore, thanks to Chairs Ruth Jordan and Judy Bobalik. I also got a short story gig thanks to the silent auction. I bid on some books by science fiction writer Mark L. Van Name, and though I lost out, he saw my name on the bid sheet and knew who I was. Later on, he got in touch to say he was putting together an anthology of erotic urban fantasy stories, and immediately thought of me. I’m still not sure what to think of that, but I sure did enjoy writing that story.

I was up for the Anthony again and lost again, but it was to Laura Lippman, and who could complain about that?

I had little time to tour that trip, but did visit the waterfront Barnes and Noble for an event, and it is one of the prettiest B&Ns I’ve been to.

Indianapolis in 2009 

I’ll never forget riding the cab from the airport and being amazed at how clean Indianapolis was. This Bouchercon was willing to ring some changes on the schedules, with a big party offsite the first night and a giveaway signing instead of just books in the registration bags. It was a party kind of year.

I lost the Anthony to Sean Chercover, and the Macavity to Dana. You can’t say I don’t lose to great people.

For touring, Charlaine and I zipped over to the Children’s Museum to see a wonderful Egyptian exhibit. Not only did I enjoy the historical displays, but I loved seeing one of the old-time carousels. Yes, I rode it. I have no regrets.

San Francisco in 2010 

The hotel for this Bouchercon was a stunner, with a water wall in the lobby that stopped me cold. This convention was another party one, and I remember dancing with Catriona McPherson and talking books with aspiring writer Leigh Evans, who has done quite well for herself since.

I saw more of San Francisco than I had of most the cities I’d visited. First I went on the trolley tour specially designed to show settings from Laurie King’s books. That was great. Until the trolley broke down. But they eventually sent a replacement trolley. After the convention shut down, mystery maven Molly Weston and I went to the famous Borderlands Books and the Pirate Supply Store. Yes, there really is a Pirate Supply Store, and I got mopped there. It’s a thing. Really.

St. Louis in 2011 

I was happy all weekend long in St. Louis. Not only was it a well-run convention, but my pal Charlaine was one of the Guests of Honor. I’d known her for 16 years—see the entry for Seattle in 1994—and was so thrilled to see her being honored. Which brings up a point for me. Over the years, I’ve been friends with a number of writers who are later Bouchercon honorees, and it makes me proud every time.

Though I didn’t get out of the hotel that much, my hotel room had a nice view of the city, which made me very happy. You see, years before, my father had gone to St. Louis on a business trip, and he brought me back a charm of the famous arch for my charm bracelet. So I got such a kick out of seeing it for real. If you’re too young to remember charm bracelets, look it up. They were a big deal once upon a time.

Cleveland in 2012 

I’d just had breakfast with my agent Joshua Bilmes, and he mentioned Charlaine—also one of his clients—was meeting with an editor I’d done some work with. Perhaps we should amble over and say hello. We did so, and I introduced myself to the editor, with whom I’d only exchanged emails. He blinked, and said, “Wow. We were just talking about you.” This led to Charlaine and me co-editing Dead But Not Forgotten, stories set in the world of Sookie Stackhouse. It might have happened without that encounter, but this makes for a better story. Bouchercon is filled with great stories.

The opening ceremonies provided a fabulous touring opportunity in Cleveland. They were held at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. The whole building was impressive, but I really liked the oversized customized guitar statues outside the building. Fun!

Albany in 2013 

For the very first time—and so far only time—I was able to drive to a Bouchercon. It made packing so much less stressful. The highlight was the multi-level meeting room that held the hospitality suite, fan tables, and booksellers. It was the heart of the con, and I spent hours there talking with people. As much as I enjoy panels—and I really do love ‘em—I like conversations with other writers and readers even more. Plus it was in that room that I found out one of my books had gone into a second printing.

My Albany touring was limited to driving past the state capital in the shuttle bus and visiting restaurants, but that’s not a bad thing. It’s an intriguing city, and there are some great places to eat.

Long Beach in 2014 

Convention hotels blur together after a while, but not the one in Long Beach. There was a fabulous view in the main lobby area, and another good one from my room. I was born in Florida, and never get tired of looking at the water. In terms of events, I was floored by how heart-warming it was to participate in the Bloody Murder panel. No, it wasn’t a panel. It was an event! Charlaine, Catriona, and Sara Paretsky introduced fifty different writers, and each one of us gave a shout-out to another writer whose work we adored. It was like one big mystery-lovers-hug. And that was before the Bloody Marys were served.

I purposely took a late plane out that weekend so I could take a little time to wander. First on my list was visiting the Queen Mary, docked just a few minutes away. It’s so gorgeous, and the tour guide told such great stories. I also took a chance to visit a store that was apparently designed for and named after me: Geeky Mama. Shopping was committed.

Raleigh in 2015! 

That brings us up to next week’s mystery pilgrimage to Raleigh. I’ll be on a panel about paranormal crime, meeting people at author speed dating and the librarian’s tea, and hosting a book debut at the hospitality suite. (The book debut is Thursday from 1 to 3—you’re invited!)

This will not my first time to Raleigh—in fact, I’ve been there more times than I’ve gone to Bouchercon. My grandparents lived there, so for many years, summer vacation meant going to their house. If I’ve got time to tour, I’ll be driving past their former homes on Mordecai and Wake Forest, and going to eat at Finch’s, where Granddaddy ate breakfast almost every day for decades. I’m hoping for a visit to Pullen Park, too, to admire the Dentzel carousel I’ve been in love with since I was old enough to be lifted onto a wooden horse. And yes, I’ll ride it if it’s open.

I don’t know which memories will be the strongest when I look back at Bouchercon 2015, but given previous experience, I’m pretty sure they’ll be good ones.

See you at the bar!


Annette said...

Great post. I sure hope you are planning to come to the 2016 convention here in New Orleans. I'll be there and would love to meet you and Sid.

Toni L.P. Kelner said...

I'm already signed up,Annette, and Sid does love to travel.

Charlaine Harris said...

Toni, your memory is so much better than mine! They all blur together for me, as far as hotels and specific events go. But hanging around with you is one the best reasons for attending Bouchercon. I'm sorry I won't be there this year, but I hope you have a wonderful time without me. Sob.