I love Baltimore.
I love its dirt and grime, its tourists with big old baggy shorts and cameras hanging from around their necks. I love the horrible drivers who get hired as cab drivers. I love the smell of rotten fish down at the Inner Harbor. I love the Edgar Allan Poe grave site.
I especially love that Baltimore was the setting for two of my three or four favorite TV shows of all time, “Homicide: Life on the Street,” and “The Wire,” both created and written and produced and whatnot by David Simon.
Spent the weekend at Bouchercon, the annual mystery convention, wherein we gather all kinds of writers and editors and agents and publishers and fans and sycophants and various whoevers, and have a ball.
I always find myself, when surrounded by writers I admire, getting inspired. They make me think about things more deeply and work the craft more seriously and read more assiduously. In short, seeing these people and catching up with their projects makes me better.
There’s a great line in Metallica’s “Some Kind Of Monster,” documentary where the band has just offered Robert Trujillo the bass spot. Hetfield looks at Trujillo and says, “You make me play better.”
The writers of Bouchercon make me play better.
But they also make me crazy. See, I’m predisposed to jealously. Hate to admit it, but there it is. When someone gets a great deal or gets included in a Year’s Best anthology or wins a prize or whatever, I get jealous. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy for them. No, really. I want to see my friends and acquaintances do well. I want to see them get rich and get awarded and get good.
I just don’t want to be left behind.
The same jealousy happened to me when I wrote and published lots of horror, too. Went to those conventions and had all the same petty and ugly bullshit. I had hoped it would all lessen as I got older but I was wrong, it’s still there. And understanding they’re there has done nothing for my control of them.
First of all, even before we got there, things were rocking. On the plane, LuAnn and I had to sit separately. She ends up sitting next to Dennis Lehane and I didn’t realize it until half way through the flight. Lehane wrote “Mystic River,” and “Gone, Baby, Gone,” both of which became great movies. He is an incredible writer and one of those I consider waaaaaaaaaaayyyyyy up the food chain from my perch. We ended up talking with him while waiting on bags at Balto airport and it was sweet.
So Thursday night, I hung out with friends and caught up and it was wonderful. Lori Armstrong’s new book just came out and it looks to be great. Sean Doolittle’s next book is scheduled for February and it’ll be fabulous, I’m sure. Karen Olson and Alison Gaylin have new books just out or on the way out and they’re rocking and rolling. Libby Fischer Hellman’s new one – ‘Easy Innocence’ – is just out and doing well. Michael Black and David Case, both Chicago PD members and writers, are doing well.
Everyone was doing great and sitting around just chillin’ out and it was fabulous.
Friday, same story. Some panels, wandering around Inner Harbor and taking a tour of the U.S.S. Constellation and the U.S.S. Tursk submarine and those were extremely cool. Then Friday night we went to Lee Child’s annual bash (he picks up the tab on an open bar for two solid hours and any attendees of the convention can drink…his way of saying thanks to some of the people who’ve put millions of dollars in his pocket…it’s a cool gesture).
And it was at the bash that the first great moment happened. I went to see F. Paul Wilson (author of ‘The Keep’ that became the movie…as well as tons of other great books), who I hadn’t seen in a few years. We’re talking, catching up, and some drunk guy bumped into me.
Turns out it was freaking Thomas Monteleone. “Trey,” he slurs. “Great to meet you!”
I almost shit a brick. This guy is one of the foremost writers in horror, one of the top editors, too. Back in the day, I had tried and tried and tried to sell something to him and just never cracked him. The fact that he was there at all, and that he remembered my work, blew me away. We had a fabulous conversation about all things writing.
Saturday was good, though things slowed down. And then I went to a shitty dinner at a shitty bar that played shitty music and had shitty-shitty food. Other than that, it was great. Ended up at the hotel bar on a panicked mission to find and schmooze an editor who has a book of mine. I’d been looking for her for the weekend and just hadn’t found her yet. Now the hours were ticking away and I was getting panicked.
No doubt the panic played into the bipolarness.
Remember, too, the building jealousy over the contracts and great reviews and all the rest. It wasn’t on display, but it was there…it always is.
So then I get introduced to two – FUCKING TWO – writers I’ve never heard of. Nor have I ever seen a byline with their name. Why? ‘Cause they’ve never written anything. Except the novels they just sold.
To the publisher I desperately want to be with.
Huh? Been working my ass off for 14 years and have no deal and these guys woke up one morning, wrote novels, and got contracts in the space of…like…37 minutes? Fuck that shit.
Oooohhhh, did I become Grampy McCrankypants. Jealous bipolar in full drama queen mode. I mean, I didn’t throw anything or yell at anyone or anything demonstrative like that. But I did have my glary face going and my monosyllabic grunt answers and flaring nostrils. And yeah, that’s all pretty hard to miss. I’m pretty obvious when I’m annoyed at something.
So, knowing I was channeling John McCain’s Grampy McCrankypants, I blew that popstand and went to bed. I figure if you’re looking for an editor to suck up to, best not have an attitude about her house offering hacks contracts but not you. See…ain’t so stupid.
Then Sunday, I was pretty much back to normal. In fact, Dennis Lehane saw me and asked after me by name…and then introduced me to? That’s right…David Simon. Couldn’t believe it. This man who wrote the book ‘Homicide,’ and then worked on the TV show, this man who showed the world it’s not just about car chases and shootouts.
And we end up having a long conversation because he’s been to Midland to cover stories. My hometown. We ate at some of the same places, we covered some of the same stories – me as a college journalist, him as a real one for the Baltimore ‘Sun.’ It was amazing. The man’s also been to Wink, Texas, home of Roy Orbison.
Then it was over and I said goodbye to some dear friends: John Purcell and Sandy Loper Herzog and Jared Case and the Jordans. And some new ones: Jim Born and Keiran Shea and it couldn’t have been a nicer weekend.
So out of the entire weekend, my bipolar/jealous/petty/ugly time, happened over about four hours. That’s a pretty good ratio of bad hours to good hours. And as horrible as all this sounds, I’m actually getting better about it. In a few more years, say around the end of President Obama’s second term, I’ll be all better.
Now that it’s all over and my bipolar has passed, I get to go work on a new short story, wherein I’ll play two different people; a situation that’s less bipolar than multiple personality disorder.