Mystery conventions are chaos—exercises in controlled chaos to be sure. But chaos. You spend your time running from panel to panel, sometimes even ones you’re on. You meet with editors and agents and other authors and fans. This time I even got to record my Anthony and Macavity-nominated story, “Howling at the Moon” for Ellery Queen’s podcast. I believe an Academy Award Nomination for “Best-Worst Reading of a Short Story in the Mystery Category, Black Mask Sub Category of a Story Under 10,000 Words, But More than 3,000 Words” is forthcoming and I hope the award will be handed to me by Jennifer Lawrence.
You spend some time eating and a lot of time in the bar at night schmoozing and maybe, just maybe, having a drink or two. Nah. Whoever heard of hard-drinking mystery writers?
But there’s other aspects of conventions besides the obvious ones. One of my favorite things is to see cities that I might not normally choose to go to or get to see. Raleigh is a perfect example of that. Albany was another a couple of years ago.
Next year, Bouchercon is in New Orleans and Left Coast Crime is in Honolulu in 2017, both places I’ve been multiple times and places I probably would have gone to again on my own. But I don’t think I ever would have thought about going to Albany or Raleigh on my own, though I’m not sorry for having had the opportunity to visit either city.
But that’s part of the problem—many of us don’t really see the city where the convention is held. You see the inside of the hotel or the convention center or a restaurant or two. And they all pretty much look the same. So when my wife, Amy, and I go to conventions we always go a day early and stay a day or two extra so we can see the city. And guess what, we both really liked Albany. It had a certain small town New England charm that maybe those who live there don’t see. But coming from L.A. and being outsiders we saw the city with different eyes than those who’ve been jaded by familiarity.
And going to Raleigh for Bouchercon 2015 was the same. We got there a day early to meet up with Amy’s parents and one of her sisters—who drove up from Georgia—for dinner the night before the convention. And we stayed a couple extra days after it was over. During the convention we didn’t have a rental car, but for those extra days at the end we did. And we explored a bit of the city. One of the things we enjoy doing is just driving around the neighborhoods seeing how they’re different—or the same—as where we live (Los Angeles area).
We particularly enjoy the older Victorian and Colonial homes, with their wraparound porches and Southern charm. And we enjoy sampling the local food. Blood-red Cheerwine (which is not alcoholic) is the unofficial state drink of North Carolina. Even so, it took some doing but we finally found some. It tastes better than Dr. Pepper and I can take it or leave it. But I had spareribs marinated and glazed in Cheerwine and they were out of this world. Just a different taste that I really sparked to. We also ate at the famous Pit restaurant. And cruised the city, seeing the North Carolina Museum of History and the Fiction Kitchen and Gringo A Go Go. And how lucky we were to be in Raleigh on the major celebration of Food Truck Day.
We saw Mordecai Park, home of the Mordecai Plantation Manor, once part of a 5,000 acre plantation. The park also now holds the home of Andrew Johnson, one of only two presidents to be impeached. The home was originally a few blocks away but was moved to the park.
We also visited the Oakwood Cemetery, with graves going back a couple hundred years, maybe more. It contains the grave of Berrian Kinnard Upshaw, the first husband of Margaret Mitchell and, some say, the possible inspiration for the character of Rhett Butler. And in that cemetery was a section filled with Confederate Civil War soldiers...and one Union soldier mistakenly put there and originally misidentified as a Confederate. Some of the graves are still tended to with flowers and Confederate flags. And despite the current brouhaha over that flag, it was a very sobering site and solemn place to be.
Standing in that cemetery, seeing all the graves of dead Civil War soldiers truly made me stop and think about how short life is and how much we take for granted.
So, while we enjoyed the convention, we also enjoyed the side trips and learning about Raleigh and its history. To see more about my actual convention experience and about my panel, with Shamus nominee Sam Wiebe and Macavity Winner Craig Faustus Buck, you can check out my 7 Criminal Minds blog post from last Friday. Click here http://7criminalminds.blogspot.com/2015/10/new-faces-new-crimes-new-challenges.html
It was good to go and good to come home. And come March it’ll be good to go to the next Left Coast Crime in Phoenix. Another place I’ve been but a place I’ll enjoy rediscovering.
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