A few hours before Denise and I were supposed to hop in the car and drive to Raleigh, NC, for Bouchercon, I found myself yelling downstairs, “Where the hell are my Boucherpants?"
I had a particular pair in mind for the con, you see. I was supposed to have tossed them in the laundry the night before, only I didn’t, so now I’d be packing without them.
Denise thought the line so funny that, for the rest of the week, we privately referred to the con itself as Boucherpants, which in our alternate universe was named after its illustrious namesake, Anthony Boucherpants.
I was in a good mood. Only a day before, the new Best American Mystery Stories 2015 anthology had pubbed. As readers here know, I have a story in that collection, “Harm and Hammer,” which pubbed November 2014 in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. To top it off, on the second night of the con, I’d be receiving a Derringer medal for a 2014 flash fiction story, “How Lil’ Jimmie Beat the Big C.” I got in the car feeling eager and proud.
But somehow, two days into my very first Boucherpants, I was exhausted, overwhelmed, and not a little terrified. On the four-hour ride over, Denise happened to ask, “What do you hope to get out of this weekend?” I knew I wanted to pick up my medal, see what there was to see, meet whoever I could, and have fun. Beyond that, I didn’t have much else on my personal agenda.
As a kid, I used to be fairly shy, timid, even. But I don’t really think of myself that way any more. Years of journalism work, book talks and signings, have largely erased my fear of socializing and public speaking. But on the ground in Raleigh, I regressed. I didn’t know how to get up the nerve to introduce myself to people, let alone carry on a decent conversation. I kept critically judging every word that left my mouth. What an idiot. How could I have just said that? I suspect that the closer you are to the thing you love—in this case, the mystery community—the more vulnerable you become.
Then came the awards Thursday night. I hadn’t prepared an acceptance speech because I’d heard through the grapevine that there typically wasn’t time for such things. And really, how much of a speech was I going to make? Uttering even a few hundred words on behalf of a 684-word flash fiction story seemed indulgent. But come Thursday, every single author who won an award gave an acceptance speech, even those who weren’t in attendance.
The Derringers were announced at the very end of the opening ceremonies. By then, the crowd had been promised some tasty Carolina BBQ. Tender, delicious meat was waiting in the wings...
As I watched those speeches, my heart sank. I thought about jotting down some notes, but I know myself well enough to know that I needed time to polish those words. I could extemporize, but I risked making a fool of myself. I couldn’t do it. The crowd looked larger than any I'd ever addressed, not to mention ravenous. In the end, I accepted my medal and sailed wordlessly off the dais. Presenter Art Taylor nimbly covered for me. (Bless you, Art.) Denise filmed the whole thing. Watch.
Only later did I realize that what needed to be said was altogether brief. If I had spoken, I might have said this:
Thank you to my editors at Shotgun Honey.
Thanks to my colleagues at the Short Mystery Fiction Society.
I'm very grateful.
I could go on, but I won’t, because I live in North Carolina, and I respect barbecue way too much.
By Sunday, I had calmed down and managed to meet quite a few people at the bar. No doubt we’ll meet again at some future con, where I resolve to be more sociable and to wear my lucky pants.