BoucherCon Revisited (III)
(BoucherCon 2010 starts in San Francisco four days from now—you can still register, or get day passes. In the meantime, I’m posting a handful of memories from BoucherCons [BouchersCon?] past.)
I’m a third generation Californian—northern Californian. I have never been closer to Disneyland than the drop-off outside, I have only been to Yosemite twice, and although Nevada shares the border nearest to my part of CA, I’d never been there until 2003, when I went twice.
The first trip was in the spring to the Clark County library, and yes, they do read in Las Vegas. They also pay a lot of taxes, which means very pretty public buildings and cheerful librarians, an interesting counterpoint to the frankly bizarre experience of the rest of the city, where the noise of slot machines begins at the airport lounge and follows a visitor to the door of the hotel room. I don’t do really well with noise, and the experience of walking under the Eiffel Tower into a street scene with clouds overhead, to the accompaniment of ceaseless dings, whistles, alarms, musical tunes, and just plain din was…dizzying.
So I had to seriously think about going back there when BoucherCon was being held. But I had registered, and I’d told friends I was going, and so I got on the plane again, and went to a rather more downscale hotel. A hotel, as I heard later, slated soon for the wrecker’s ball. A hotel with such plumbing problems that a number of the rooms had carpets that squished. A hotel with staff problems that meant one person found used needles in their unemptied waste bin. A hotel with, yes, slot machines at every turn. A hotel that made the conference buzzword, the word that appeared in most blog posts and every conversation, the word that captured the essence of the BoucherCon 2003: surreal.
But it was here that I had a panel that has gone down into BCon history, a panel that prompts all who attended to ask, are you going to do that again? (As if we could repeat it…) A panel that was the rare and precious blend of careful thought from four experienced writers along with, well, burlesque.
The topic was Opening Lines, in which we—which was, seated left to right: me, Steven Booth, Dana Stabenow the moderator, and Val McDermid, down at the far end—had assembled opening lines to crime novels and talked about why they stood out. The three women on the panel are all close friends, and poor Steven was a good sport. There was a big crowd.
Things started to go off the rails when the topic of sex came up, which admittedly was about thirty seconds in. Val (who is gay) and I (who am merely cheerful) began to toss genial insults over the heads of Dana and Steven, playing hard on the doubles entendre inherent in the panel title (which was, for some reason, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang—I mean, can you blame us?) A large part of the schtick being that Val is the Bad Girl and Laurie is Miss Proper.
(A deceptively ordinary looking panel in Ali Karim’s photo, isn’t it?)
Towards the end, probably during the question period, we were talking about the writing process—and remember, all along this was a serious and well-researched panel, although in no way a solemn one—and how engrossing it was to be wrapped up in a first draft. At which point I remarked that while I was writing that first draft, I was so fixed on what was going on in my imagination that I would occasionally find myself sitting at a stop sign staring at the road, that I would find it hard to think of anything other than what those characters were up to while I was off doing things like shopping for dinner. That it was remarkably like (and I knew before I said the words that I was opening myself up to a remark from the other end of the table) having an illicit affair.
And Val, given that opening, could do nothing but say, “How would you know?”
So my hand reached out for the plastic cup on the table in front of me—empty but for the faint trace that always clings to the seam—and flipped it into the air, in Val’s general direction.
Where it landed, with a startling bang and a spray of (one drop of) water, two inches from Val’s nose, smack on her microphone, scaring the hell out of her and causing the audience to explode into laughter.
As I said: surreal.