Monday, October 18, 2010

Bouchercon...Festival of Kindness

When I told an author friend of mine that I'd finished my first novel he told me I "must" attend Bouchercon. ("Boucher-what"?) Well, I've just returned from the crime fiction writer/agent/fan conference, this year hosted in San Francisco, and knew within minutes of arriving that my friend had been right.

I'd contacted the conference registration office to find out if there were opportunities to network with agents. "Just hang out in the bar," the friendly woman told me. Okay... I really had no idea what I was getting into, but figured it was worth a shot. I contemplated strategies. Should I bring business cards? Have my "elevator pitch" ready? Prepare a song and dance?

More importantly, how would I avoid pestering agents the way I've seen actors harass Hollywood executives, agents and models/actresses with agents. As it turned out, the only "strategy" required, if you could call it that, was good old genuine kindness. I've never been in a more welcoming community; the kindness was reciprocal to say the least.

An author from the U.K. shared an on-going joke and point of tension in the British writers community. Apparently someone high up in the mystery/thriller genre commented that mystery/thriller writers are the "nicest bunch of blokes" because they get all of their angst out in their novels. Romance writers, on the other hand, are "a bunch of caddy bitches." I can't say the latter is true, but from my personal experience thus far, the mystery/thriller writers is.

I loved the conversations with fellow writers that went something like, "Are you enjoying the conference?" "Yes! It's great. I love your sweater." "Thanks! Yours too. What's your novel about?" "A man who eats policemen's feet for dinner. Yours?" "That sounds fascinating! Mine's about a cannibal who stalks pedophiles." "Awesome!" And so on...

At one point I was wandering in a spaced-out cloud, contemplating the novel I started that morning in my hotel room, when an author I'd met previously approached me. "Did you hear me calling your name and waving my arms wildly?" "Sorry..." I mumbled, blushing. "I was...writing?" Rather than look at me as though I was crazy, the multi-published author smiled, nodded and said, "You're gonna do all right, kid." Affirming, to say the least...

A highlight of my trip came when I stepped out of a panel to get a beverage and decided to sit at a table of two men and an empty chair. "Mind if I sit?" They looked at me, seeming a bit stunned. Fearing I had food bits on my face, I sat down anyway. They promptly asked me if I was a writer.

"Yes, I just finished my first novel—a thriller. I'm starting the "find an agent" process."

The men exchanged knowing glances then asked me what my novel is about. I told them. "We'll take a look at it," one of them replied. "Sure," said the other.

"You will?" (My turn for a shocked glance.)

Anyone with guts enough to talk to them was worth a shot, they said.

*GULP* I walked away clutching a business card, hoping my palpating heart wasn't apparent through my blouse... It wasn't until I returned home that I discovered via Google that one of the men owns a prestigious literary agency. (HOLY CRAP!) The other represents a slew of authors I admire.

Perhaps one day someone will ask me the proverbial "How did you get an agent?" question and I'll reply: "I was thirsty." or "Ignorance." I suspect it will be something like "By being friendly." Of course you have to write your heart out, produce good work, tell great stories, etc... Regardless of what happens next, I left the conference feeling like I was leaving a gathering of friends in a community in which I fit.

"Do it. Whatever it is. If you have a dream, go ahead, take the risks, and make whatever sacrifices you possibly can."
~Robin Black