It's been two years since my last Bouchercon, so I recently marked the anniversary by having a nervous breakdown. Not a big one. Just the kind a Bouchercon would have brought on. One where I was racked by insecurity and tortured by paranoid fever dreams about people I might have accidentally insulted and friendships I might have pissed down the tubes.
Bouchercon, by the way, is the mystery world's largest annual convention. Fans come to hang out with other fans and maybe get a book or two signed by favorite authors. Writers come to hang out with other writers and score as many free drinks as possible. Editors and publishers come to hang out with their most successful authors and, if possible, get them drunk. Agents come to keep their drunk clients from signing anything legally binding. Book sellers come to sell books. And unlike some conventions, there are very few prostitutes. Of the sex-trade variety, anyway. Ba-da-BING!!!
For a time, I went every year. I wrote mysteries, so I figured Bouchercon was part of the gig. Plus, I met some great people at Bouchercons. Smart people. Nice people. Fun people. Oh, sure -- I ran into some dicks, too. But back to the smart, nice, fun people. There were lots of them! So why did I leave every Bouchercon feeling like Frodo dragging his little ass back from Mordor?
Yes, there were Incidents. The time I rubbed a clique of would-be hipster-rebels the wrong way and was made to feel their hipster-rebel wrath. The time I went drinking with an Irishman (unwise!) and ended up unable to tell left from right, up from down or real from unreal. (That became my story "Blarney," BTW.) The time I watched a big shot of my acquaintance cold-shoulder a perfectly nice writer because the guy didn't sell enough books. And then the inevitable time a couple years later when that same big shot cold-shouldered me.
Yet even without Incidents, Bouchercon was rough. If nothing traumatic happened, my brain would simply fill in the void. I think that guy thinks I dissed him! I think that other guy thinks I dissed a friend of his! I think that gal saw me peeking at her name-tag because I couldn't remember who she was and now she thinks I was ogling her breasts! I THINK THAT OTHER GAL CAUGHT ME OGLING HER BREASTS!!!
(Note: I do not actually ogle women's breasts in public. Like all decent, modern men, I do so privately, in front of a computer.)
There were other reasons not to go to Bouchercon. It can be expensive. I have young children. My wife works, and my son has special needs. (Actually, I'm not sure if my son has "special needs" or not. What does "special needs" cover, exactly? It makes it sound like he needs the blood of a unicorn and a griffin feather every morning or he'll turn into a tree. My son's needs aren't that special. They're just a lot for a working mom to deal with on her own.)
Anyway, upshot: I stopped going to Bouchercon and I told myself it was for all of these perfectly valid reasons. But it wasn't until this summer that I finally understood the real reason I didn't want to go anymore.
While on vacation with my family, I read an amazing book called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. My wife saw me nodding a lot. She heard me muttering things like, "Yes! My god, yes!" She watched my eyes go wide and my jaw drop as I discovered myself in the pages of a book written by a stranger.
Hi. My name is Steve, and I'm an introvert.
Noisy, crowded spaces throw me off. I find "mingling" physically and emotionally draining. I need a lot of time by myself and prefer meaningful conversations with a small group of people to soirees with lots of idle chit chat.
None of this was news, of course. I've been me for...oh, forty some-odd years now. What was liberating was finding that there's a reason I am the way I am. I didn't have to feel badly about being a Bouchercon washout anymore. I simply wasn't wired for it. You don't throw a blender in the swimming pool and then wonder why it doesn't float.
Of course, we blenders can't stay on the kitchen counter all the time. Because by "we blenders" I mean "we introverts," and we're human beings with complicated lives and important responsibilities. We can't just say, "If you want a margarita mixed, great, but get those goddamn carrots away from me! What do I look like, a f___ing Cuisinart?" No. We have to be more flexible than mere blenders, more versatile. Like something made by Ronco, maybe. We can stay true to who we are, yet there needs to be that "But wait -- there's more!" as well.
So I don't know. Maybe you'll see me at another Bouchercon one of these days. If you do, come up and say hi. I'd love to talk...in the quietest corner of the hotel bar.
Just don't throw me in the pool, O.K.?