One Morning at Bouchercon

handcuffs

I spoke with author James O. Born a few weeks before New Orleans Bouchercon 2016. Jim is the real deal. He is on the cusp of retirement from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and previously worked with DEA. He was also Elmore Leonard’s go-to guy on police procedure for over two decades. Jim has written a number of classic detective novels and next year will be moving into an extremely high profile writing slot. As if that isn’t enough, he annually presents an excellent panel on weaponry at Bouchercon each year. Because I was driving to New Orleans and he was flying, Jim asked if I would mind bringing some firearms with me. Jim assured me that he had cleared the presence of the weapons with hotel security and that I would be able to bring the weapons into the host hotel without difficulty.

On the morning in question I drove to the host hotel (I was staying elsewhere) with a square box briefcase containing three handguns and a shotgun bag containing a 12 gauge shotgun. All of the firearms were unloaded. I also had my loaded concealed carry weapon of choice (and my concealed carry permit) in my pocket.The briefcase with the handguns looked like any other briefcase (something like this Filson Briefcase); the shotgun bag with the shotgun inside looked like…well, a shotgun bag with a shotgun inside. I unloaded the car and turned it over to the hotel valet, who asked me conversationally if I was going to do any hunting, to which I replied that I was assisting with a panel at the writers’ convention. I then walked into the lobby, exchanged greetings with the gentlemen at the Bell Captains’ station, then proceeded up the escalator.

police-officer

Courtesy cliparts.co

I had reached the second floor and was walking toward the third floor escalator when I was approached at speed and with purpose by an unarmed security guard who asked me 1) where was I going and 2) what was I doing. I stopped, politely told him, and also mentioned that my presence had been cleared with the head of security. The security guard, civil enough but all business, told me 1) that he hadn’t been advised and 2) to put everything down. I complied; he asked me what I had in the briefcase and I told him, and also advised him that I had a concealed carry permit and a loaded revolver in my pocket. He told me to step back from the briefcase and gun bag, which I did, and then ordered me to take the revolver out of my pocket and unload it. I stepped back, and said politely, “Sir, I will comply with your request, but please note that I am in full compliance with the laws of the state of Louisiana in carrying this. I will happily show you my concealed carry permit as well.” He declined to see the permit, telling me that I had no right to bring a loaded firearm into the hotel (wrong, but I did not press the point) repeating again his order to me to remove the revolver and unload it. I offered to let him remove the gun from my pocket himself, which he declined to do. The entire time that we were having this exchange I kept my voice down, my hands away from my body (except while removing the revolver from my pocket), and my demeanor cooperative and polite. After presenting my revolver, unloading it, and setting it down (he had me keep the bullets) I suggested that we call Jim and get things straightened out. I did just that; Jim came running and after a polite exchange with the guard, the head of security was called. That gentleman confirmed with the guard that all was well, and after a bit of back and forth (which isn’t germane to our purpose today) we all went about our business. Jim’s program was terrific, as always: entertaining, funny, and extremely informative.

monopoly

Courtesy cliparts.co

Why all of this? My first thought upon seeing the guard approaching was that I hoped this wasn’t going to turn into a “thing.” By “thing,” I mean the summoning of a member of the New Orleans Police Department. The department is understaffed, underpaid, and over-regulated; their default response to a lot of situations is, alas, take the subject (which, in this case, would be me) to Orleans Parish Prison. I did not want to go to Orleans Parish Prison (known locally as “OPP”). I could see myself being summarily frog-marched down a long corridor where I would be quickly lost in the bowels of the criminal justice system, undoubtedly acquiring at least a couple of sets of unwanted and untoward stretch marks before things got sorted out (not to mention losing my guns). I could have given the guard an argument about my rights, the limits to his authority, and all of that good stuff, while refusing to comply at every step along the way. No; polite and cooperative, that’s me.

Now. The guard made a bunch of mistakes in dealing with me, and they didn’t have to do with failing to recognize me (“Hey, weren’t you in LA-308?”) or stopping me to begin with. With regard to the latter, he didn’t get the memo about the presentation; stuff happens. If he detected a potential problem he should be stopping me, and I have no business being unhappy, under this fact pattern. But. There’s a right way to go about this:

– A subject is either a) a threat; b) a potential threat; or c) not a threat. If c), there is no reason to be stopping them. The guard obviously regarded me as b), maybe a). So why did he approach me while alone and unarmed? He should have had at least two people with him, so that I was semi-surrounded from the beginning, one in front of me and one on each side. Nothing threatening; just folks have a chat. A couple of the bell captains would have been fine.

– He should have taken me up on my offer to let him remove the weapon himself. That I was a) polite, b) cooperative, and c) older is no reason to assume that I’m not a threat. See the paragraph above. What if I was giving him a load of buena sierra, stopped cooperating, and suddenly pulled the gun out?

– He should have searched me further, and then moved me against a wall, away from the guns, until everything was sorted out. Instead, he let me stand away from, but within arms’ reach of, my guns, and assumed that since I had told him about my concealed carry revolver that I had nothing else untoward in my possession. I did. I was wearing a utility hack knife on a necklace sheath. On those rare instances where I have been stopped and frisked — not because of what I was doing, but because of who I was with — I have been amazed that law enforcement (or whoever) always assumes that if they find two weapons you don’t have a third on you. Some folks do, and they are not all harmless little guys such as myself, full of well-mannered intent and good cheer.

This all could have gone badly. On my end, it’s an example of how being polite, civil, and reasonable can go a long way. On the guard’s end, it’s a cautionary tale. For you, the foregoing is offered as a teaching lesson, not only for your written vignettes but also for your real world dealings. I hope it helps with both. Has anyone else had an experience like this?

 

5+

Made in New Orleans

old-mint-2

I received a small envelope from an old friend in June of this year. It contained a silver dollar in a plastic collector’s case. I collected coins a long time ago and am still surprised at how much I remember, including where mint marks are located (or, in the case of the Philadelphia mint, absent) on each coin. The silver dollar in question, minted in 1885, bore the cryptic inscription ‘O’ on its reverse, or “tails” side, under the, um, tail of the eagle. The ‘O,’ I knew, stood for “New Orleans.” I called my friend, an antique dealer of some local renown, and thanked him for the unexpected gift. He advised that he had come across the item and, after making sure that it wasn’t one of of only two hundred minted, sent it to me with the thought that I could take it with me to New Orleans next time I went. I did that when I returned to New Orleans for business and Bouchercon last week and raised him one. I took that silver dollar back to its birthing room, if you will.

The place where I was born in no longer in existence — that covered wagon, alas, was attacked and set afire by Indians, but I digress — but the United States Mint in New Orleans still is. It is imaginatively and accurately known as “The Old Mint,” and does not refer to that unwrapped peppermint that James Scott Bell found in the pocket of a winter coat he hadn’t worn for a few years. No, The Old Mint is at the very edge of the French Quarter, tucked into a corner by the Mississippi River east of the French Market. It’s not a place that is close to tourist interests, so it is quiet, dim, and cool, the entrance way overseen by a somewhat sleepy-looking guard who seemed secure in the knowledge that there was nothing in the building that no one would be interested in stealing, unless steel coin presses weighing around twenty tons were to suddenly become valuable. There were, interestingly enough, a number of people there, and they weren’t drawn by the cost of admission (free!) or the promise of air conditioning on a New Orleans late summer day where the temperature was flirting with 95 degrees by 11:00 AM. No, they were coin collectors, past and present, and by dipping into conversations here and there I learned that they were serious about their hobby. They ranged in age from pre-adolescent (looking like I probably did back then, only skinny) to geriatric (um, looking like I do now, though not as vigorous and virile) and, one and all ,they were as excited to be there as the members of a bachelor party would be at Temptations on Bourbon Street, only quieter. I waited until the herd passed through and then quietly brought my silver dollar over to a press, reached across the barrier, and laid it down on the surface.

And…something connected. It was almost electric. I had set off to do the errand as a lark, and was still inwardly laughing over my good fortune of having literally run into British publishing giants Ali Karim and Michael Stotter, both of whom were in town for Bouchercon, on Chartres Street, and then being the subject of one of Ali’s recorded street interviews. The trip to The Old Mint at that point was almost an afterthought…that is, until the mission was accomplished. It felt as if a circle had been completed, and I suppose it had.

I put the silver dollar back into my pocket and left the Mint museum, though not The Old Mint building. The building is the location not only for exhibits pertaining to the Mint — which was used by both the United States and the Confederate States (at different times, of course) — but also The New Orleans Jazz Museum, which contains a great deal of memorabilia of musical greats who have come and gone but whose influence is still felt, though unfortunately generally forgotten. When I finally left, everything seemed just a tad different. I am at the age where I am deleting material goods rather than acquiring them, but I will hang on to that silver dollar. And it will come back with me to New Orleans when I return, again and again.

It was my favorite trip to New Orleans — and I had just been there three weeks previously — and my favorite Bouchercon to date. I really want to go again so I’m planning another trip near Christmas. My friend recently stayed at the InterContinental Hotel New Orleans so I will have to ask her what it was like. There were many high points…from seeing Laura Benedict at a publisher’s party and meeting Elaine Viets as she tried to sneak past me at a book signing, to meeting and having dinner with a couple of anonymous TKZ fans who have become my new best friends; from taking author Kelli Stanley and Tana Hall to Meyer the Hatter, to getting detained by security at the host hotel (don’t look like Tony Soprano and carry a shotgun bag into a crowded hotel lobby. It has the potential to ruin your day); and of course, running into Ali and Michael just about everywhere…but that silver dollar still carries a faint bit of electricity as it rests in my pocket.

That’s me. What did you do last week?

4+

The Introvert’s Guide to Writers’ Conferences, or How I Learned to Stop Hyperventilating and Leave My Hotel Room

img_4182

I spent most of this past week encouraging (forcing) myself to leave my room at the Marriott Hotel in New Orleans. It was a nice room, with a lovely view of the city framing the not-so-lovely hotel on the next block. The first room I was assigned was on the fifteenth floor, but before I left the desk, five bucks and a request to not be situated near the elevator bumped me up to the twenty-third. (Also, the thing about being away from the elevator is in my Marriott profile. So much for profiles.) But if I hadn’t had a long list of plans and obligations, I would have been sorely tempted to stay in that room and write and look out the window and order room service and fiddle with the television’s satellite connection to improve its HGTV reception (HGTV is my secret hotel vice because we don’t have satellite at home).

Last week was, of course, Bouchercon, the World Mystery Convention—four days of fun with crime and mystery lovers, readers, writers, agents, booksellers, and editors. I’m not exactly sure about the numbers, but I heard there were almost two thousand attendees, three hundred of whom were writers.

Writers. You know, those people who sit at computers (or with notebooks) communing with the voices in their heads instead of real people.

As a writer who has been in the business for a lot of years, and who doesn’t live in a major metropolitan area, most of my networking is done on the Internet or on the phone. Less frequently in person. Networking can sound a little off-putting: net working. I know what a network is, but the words, separated, bring to mind an image of a fisherman (fisherperson?) handling a huge net full of fish, gathering and sorting, selecting and touching. What if you choose the wrong fish? What if it bites? What if they all escape and you end up with nothing? What if they all dislike you? What if they think you’re pushy and rude? (Okay, maybe that’s not a great analogy.)

Conferences can be tough for someone who doesn’t get out much. I get overwhelmed, which is one of the reasons I often want to hide in my room. But I (and I think I can speak a little bit for other introverted writers) do it because it’s my job. When you meet someone, you never know what kind of influence they’re going to have on your life—or the influence you might have on theirs. You might be looking at your new best friend. Or your next editor. Or your next favorite author. Or the person who will spark your next story idea. Or the person who will talk smack about you in the bar because you didn’t bother to introduce yourself. Does it sounds like a minefield? A game of Risk? Well, it kind of is.

You can sit in your room at home or even at the conference hotel and write. And write. You might even sell your story from that room. You might become the next J.D. Salinger or Don DeLillo or Emily Dickinson. Or not. It can be scary, but in order to give yourself and your work your best shot, you have to venture out. I promise you that venturing out feels just as risky to ninety percent of the other writers you will meet. (You can always return to your room later and throw up, faint, hyperventilate, burst into tears, or tear off all your clothes and crawl into your bed and pull the covers over your head in relief. I have done four of the five.) Sometimes you’ll walk away thinking, “Oh, my God, I sounded like a complete idiot!” But more often you’ll be glad you reached out and risked rejection.

Here are some things to keep in mind if you decide to pop out of your writing cocoon and go to a conference or other gathering of industry folk:

Be confident.

This sounds difficult, I know. Sometimes you just have to fake it until you feel it. The NYT bestselling writer waiting in the coffee line ahead of you sits in front of the same blank page that you do every day, thinking, “What comes next?” You have that in common. You’re there for a reason, so act like it.

Be professional.

This is part of your job. Be sure you note the name of the person you’re talking to. It’s okay to ask, and asking is far preferable to ending up halfway through an impromptu lunch, petrified that you’ll be called on to perform introductions if someone else shows up. If small talk is required, talk about a panel or interview you just attended, or a book you recently read. Not your gallbladder, kids, or most recent tooth implant.

Be ready to learn.

Immerse yourself in the conference agenda. People who are interested in the same things you’re interested in put the panels and events together. It’s not all about networking.

Be curious.

Most people love to talk about themselves. Ask questions about their work, their pets, their hometown, their (professional) passions. Most wildly successful authors are good at making other people feel special in a short space of time. Really.

Be modest.

We’ve all gotten the FB messages: “Hey, we’re friends now. Buy my book!” Every writer wants other people to know about their work. But don’t make that your main goal. Your goal is to learn things, make new friends, and reconnect with old friends. There’s always a good time to exchange cards or bookmarks or websites. Name-dropping is a bit gauche, but allowed in small doses if it’s relevant to the discussion—or makes a better story.

Be gracious.

Be as nice to the mid-list or self-published writer standing beside you as you are to the editor you would kill to have publish you. Chances are you’ll have far more contact with that writer in your career than you will the editor. Not everything is about getting ahead. It’s about being a decent human being. Few things are uglier than people who spend their professional lives sucking up and kicking down.

Be generous.

You didn’t get to where you are as a writer all by yourself. I guarantee that someone around you has less experience. Introduce yourself to someone who looks as uncomfortable as you feel. Make them feel special. It won’t cost you anything, and the benefits are precious.

Be on time.

Even if you consistently run five minutes late every other day of your life, when you’re in a professional situation like a conference, be on time. Schedules can be tight, and people often do things in groups. (But don’t fret about sneaking into panels late, or leaving during. Just be discreet.)

Be available.

If you’re not Cormac McCarthy, or Emily Dickinson, leave your room! Put on deodorant, brush your teeth, comb your hair, and attend a panel, a cocktail party, or a lecture. Or even go hang out in the bar. You’re over twenty-one, and you’re allowed. See and be seen. That’s the way it works.

As I said, you can always go up and hyperventilate in your room—later.

 

Have you ever attended a writing or publishing industry conference as a writer, or as a fan? Did you find it challenging, or just plain fun?

 

Laura Benedict’s latest suspense novel, The Abandoned Heart: A Bliss House Novel, will be released on October 11th. Read an excerpt here.

5+

The Streetcar I Desire

new orleans streetcar

Barring something unforeseen, I will be turning 65 tomorrow. I will spend most of  the day driving to New Orleans where I’ll be doing some business next week and occasionally popping into the Bouchercon host hotel (as well as assisting Jim Born with his excellent Weaponry panel at 9:00A on Saturday September 17, for both of the attendees who do not drink even when they’re in The Crescent City). The major milestone for me, however, will be riding New Orleans’ iconic streetcar line…for 40 cents a ride. Senior citizens in New Orleans get to do that.

An elderly friend told me that getting older is actually like aging in reverse. When you’re just a few years old people are constantly taking things away from you or putting them out of reach, a practice which we now call “childproofing,” You get trusted incrementally with objects, privileges and responsibilities until one day you wake up and you’ve got a whole collection of those, which include but are not limited to driving and automobiles, jobs, voting, drinking, military service, intimacy, and child rearing. You think you’re overdue for most of them by the time you get them, but the truth is that you’re probably not ready. Experience is the best teacher, however, and we all muddle through a continuum that runs between success and disaster and all points in between.

After several decades, though, things begin to change. People start taking things and choices away from you again. The guy at the hardware superstore asks if you need help carrying any purchase that weighs more than a pack of light bulbs. Your children think that you have early dementia if you are unable to keep their schedule and yours straight without a calendar. The question “How is work?” is replaced with “When are you retiring?”. Your first birthday congratulations at 65 is from the federal government: it’s a red, white and blue Medicare card. And that driver’s license that was so important to obtain five decades ago is possibly only an accident or three from being retired. As for me…everything still works. I can carry an old-fashioned microwave up two flights of stairs without sustaining a heart attack (though it was a very near thing). I can drive nine hundred miles in one day (though I’m split it up out of caution). Things aren’t being taken away from me yet, even though I am more  Mickey Donovan than Harry Coombes at this point. I wouldn’t have it any other way. And I am going to ride those streetcars next week —on every line I can — for 40 cents a trip like they are a pack of 3-dollar government mules.

So let’s open it up. What was your favorite birthday celebration? Do you have a tradition? What would you like to do, but haven’t had the fortitude or the ability to do, at least at this point in your life?

 

9+

Aftermath of a Writers Conference

Nancy J. Cohen

Recovering from a conference can take as much time or more as preparing for one. When you get home and unpack, you’ll likely have a collection of promo items from other authors to sort through. It’s good to keep some of these, as they can inspire ideas for your swag in the future. I keep swag from other authors in a small shopping bag designated for this purpose. It helps to have samples if you’re thinking of ordering a similar item.

What impressed me at Bouchercon this year? I always like Door Hangers. I did one myself for Hanging by a Hair. I liked the little bags of chocolate covered mints. I don’t remember the author’s name engraved on the M&M sized candies, but I do remember her book title as House of Homicide. One author gave out tape measures. My Bad Hair Day combs were popular, and every one that I put out got taken. As usual, the tables were a mess with print materials, but I picked up bookmarks for titles that interested me. And coasters are always useful. I keep them on my computer desk.

Swag

It helps to sort through the business cards we receive and add relevant contact info to our address books. I’d also suggest marking the date and place where you met the person for easy recall later. You might dash off a note to people you’d met or to booksellers who carried your titles. Uploading your photos and blogging about your experience will keep the memories fresh.

NanPanel1      DonConSandy

IMG_1735

IMG_1745

I’m still recovering from Boucheron, held in Raleigh. Here you’ll meet fans as well as other authors, plus a conglomeration of industry personnel. I have piles of materials to sort out and notes from panels attended to write up. But since I’m on the road again for another book event, these tasks will have to wait. This means I won’t be around today to answer comments, but please leave any tips you’d like to share.

 

0