Sunday, September 3, 2023

My non-Bouchercon

The last five days couldn't have been worse.
A while back I announced the awesomeness that was being put on a panel at Bouchercon, the mother of all annual mystery/crime reader/writer conventions. It had the added bonus of being the first time I would get to attend Bouchercon in person since 2019. Four freaking years since I went to crime writers Disneyland. I was really looking forward to it.
Let's just say the whole Bouchercon thing didn't really happen for me this year.

A little background: Sophie (my darling but aging cat) is about to turn eighteen, and given some of her medical issues in the past year or so, I didn't even know if she was still going to be around by the time Bouchercon came. That she is still alive and kicking and doing well is a blessing I am hugely grateful for. In the past when I went to conferences, I either had neighbors who I felt comfortable being in my apartment look after her, or I took her to The Brother's house. Unfortunately, the neighbors that I could lean on in the past have moved on, as did I for a few years when I moved to Arcadia, then back to Marina del Rey.
The good news about this year's Bouchercon was that it was in San Diego, close enough that I could drive to it. I hate flying and saving on airfare was an added bonus. Plus, a hotel on the water! Heavenly! The Brother also decided to go because he likes San Diego and hadn't been in years. 

This created the problem of what to do about Sophie. I didn't want to board her because I was concerned it would be too stressful for her, especially given her age. This was non-negotiable. She's been doing so well lately that I didn't want to do anything to her that would negatively affect her.

At first I thought I'd come up with a brilliant solution - The Brother and I could do a nearby AirBnB that was pet friendly instead of the hotel. We would have amenities the hotel rooms wouldn't have and have our darling Sophie with us to boot. But that idea went over like a lead balloon, so I let it go.
I then considered staying in San Diego every other night and coming home on the other nights. I figured Sophie would be okay with me being gone one night at a time, but as the event got closer, I realized it wasn't just her being left overnight. It would be the entire day before and the entire day after as well. She would be left alone for a period of about 36 hours straight. Even if I left tons of catfood out, it just seemed stressful for her, and not particularly the action of a loving and responsible pet owner.

With about a week to go before the convention, I had to make a decision. I had been put on a panel Friday afternoon and didn't want to flake out on it. I'd finally made a Bouchercon panel, the least I could do was show up for it. I looked at some more AirBnB's near the event but I got caught up in wondering how Sophie would fare on the drive to San Diego. It would be the longest amount of time she'd been in the carrier in one shot. I had visions of her yowling during most of the drive, splitting headache material, plus she wouldn't have access to her catbox during the drive, so that could get messy, although in retrospect I wish I'd pulled the trigger on the AirBnB. Sophie tends to bounce back quickly after being in the carrier, even when I've moved and she's in a strange place. I really wish I'd done the AirBnB. I'd be kicking back in it right now blogging about all the awesome panels and writers instead of raging over the wreckage that was my Bouchercon non-experience this year. I wish even more I could have been in the hotel on the water.

I had to make a decision in time to cancel the hotel room without being charged for it, so I finally came up with a plan to just go back and forth from home to San Diego and be there most of the days. Not ideal, but better than nothing. Wednesday is mainly check in and they had some afternoon panels and I thought I'd go to those, but I also had to meet up with The Brother, who was staying at the hotel, and he ran late and I had to leave the first panel early. I finally got one panel in later that afternoon, then headed back to L.A.

The drive to the hotel had gone pretty easily - two hours. Getting home not quite as well - two and a half hours. It sucked, but Bouchercon's worth it and I wasn't neglecting my elderly cat.

I took Thursday off as planned, then headed back Friday morning. I left a little later than planned and traffic was heavier. By the time I got there I missed the first morning panels, but went to the next one. Then there was a lunch break and then we headed down to my panel. I was a little intimidated because I'd looked up the other authors and they had all been published way more than I had, in both anthologies and all the big magazines in our genre. One author alone had published over 100 times, and they were all winners and nominees of all the major awards in the genre, including the Edgar. And then there was me, who has been published five times in themed anthologies that are restricted to members and needless to say, has yet to be nominated for anything, and it was painfully obvious that one of these things was not like the others. I don't know how they assign panels, but my presence on this one was a big misfire. It's kind of weird, because I don't remember ever seeing a panel where one of the panelists was so clearly out of place. Just my bad luck. You'd think I'd be used to it by now.
I will say this  - the other authors on the panel, as well as the moderator, were incredibly nice to me in spite of the fact that I was clearly out of place. After the panel, one of them gave me some advice about submitting to magazines. It went by pretty fast, thank God. I spent the next half hour in the signing room because I didn't want to look like I was flaking out after my disastrous performance. It also made me want to get out of the there to absorb the shock, so instead of afternoon panels we went over to Seaport Village, did a little shopping, and had a late lunch since I hadn't wanted to eat right before my panel and was starving. And by then it was late afternoon, so I left. That drive home - two hours and forty-five minutes, gave me plenty of time to wallow in the crapfest that was my first ever Bouchercon panel, as well as the fact that the conference was more than half over and I'd gotten to a grand total of two panels.

I had already mentioned to The Brother I didn't know if I'd make it back to San Diego on Saturday as planned, when I had a full day of panels I wanted to attend. When I woke up Saturday morning, I was tired, still embarrassed by my panel, and very upset and disappointed about the whole thing. I should have gone out there again, but the idea of spending yet another five hours on the road was daunting, and I stayed home. I didn't go today because it 's only a half day of programming, although there were some really good-looking panels scheduled for Sunday morning that I would have gone to if I had stayed in San Diego for the whole event, which is what I should have done.

So instead of blogging about all the great panels and writers I got to see as I usually would, I'm upset, disappointed, and feeling deprived of the Bouchercon experience I wanted and should have had. In addition, I'm also feeling like a bit of a fraud writer-wise. I'm now leery of asking to be put on panels and right now am just feeling rather jaded about the whole conference thing. I shouldn't, because I've been to tons of them and have never been disappointed like this. But this was a total waste. I spent more time in my fucking car over the past few days than I did at the event. I missed tons of panels I would normally have gone to. I got less out of it than if I hadn't gone at all, and that's going to leave a mark. I am not going to get over this anytime soon.

I don't know what I'm going to do next. I'm flustered about the writing thing and angry about the Bouchercon thing. The location for the next four Bouchercons are set and none of them anywhere near driving distance (Nashville, New Orleans, Calgary, and Washington DC). I feel like I should reconsider the whole writing thing and how I approach it. Who am I fooling?

What I do know for sure is that this shouldn't have been my Bouchercon experience. I've been going to these things for years and have never been this disappointed, frustrated, and angry. Bouchercon is like Disneyland for people like me, and I rightfully expected five straight, glorious days at Disneyland as has been my experience in the past, but what I got this week was a day and a half of crap and two and a half days of nothing. And that is a massive disappointment. 

But hey, I did get to listen to an awesome audiobook! (see previous post). At least someone's a legit author! (hint: not me)

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