Friday, October 30, 2009

How I Bungled Bouchercon

By John Gilstrap

This year's Bouchercon in Indianapolis was a terrific event. It was extremely well organized, and I had the opportunity to participate on a terrific panel. Then I blew it. I missed my own book signing. How humiliating is that?

For as long as there have been conferences, signings have always followed panel appearances. I know this--I'm not a rookie, after all--but at Bouchercon, I forgot. In my own defense, my panel was in the last slot of the day, just hours after I had arrived in town. Apparently I had a lot on my mind. I dunno, maybe I'm just grasping at straws to make the simple reality of a brain fart more complicated than it really was. In any case, I forgot.

It wasn't till much later that evening, well after dinner, that a colleague approached me in the bar and asked why I had blown off my signing. "What signing?" I asked. Then, as soon as the words left my mouth, I got it. The signing that always follows a panel at Bouchercon. Damn.

I did my best to make amends the next day by visiting each of the booksellers the next morning and offering my apologies. I signed their stock, and begged them to spread the word to anyone who asked that I was terribly sorry for any inconvenience or disappointment I caused. I truly am sorry. Beyond that, I'm more than a little embarrassed.

A couple of days ago, I got a blistering email from a (former) fan who tore into me for having so little regard for my readers--the people who make or break my success. God love her, she had waited for me in the signing room, and when I didn't show, she was naturally put out. I get that, and I have reached out to her to make amends.

That email, though, raises an interesting point, I think: The fragility and intensity of the relationship an author creates with his or her readers. By offering our imaginations for scrutiny, we touch people, whether for good or ill. We invite them into our brains, if not a little bit into our lives. It's important to take that seriously.

And I bet you a hundred bucks that I'll never again forget that there's always a signing after a panel at Bouchercon.


  1. You’re right, John. I think the bond between author and reader is perhaps the most intimate of all the arts. With others such as paintings, the stage, sculpture, etc. there is an object or activity that can be viewed in space by all. Although each viewer can interpret a painting differently, it still exists as an object outside our heads. But with a book, the story takes place on a one-to-one basis inside the reader’s mind, not on the page. As much as we writers crave acceptance as we share our words with another human, it can easily become an intimate relationship that can turn on us at any moment. Tricky stuff.

  2. I, however, made a few bucks on my "I Came to Bouchercon to Meet John Gilstrap and All I Got Was This Lousy Tee-Shirt" concession.

    That said, what do you know--authors are human. The readers who write to you (even angrily) care most, and I'm sure your communication will salve the wounds.

  3. That reminds me of a conference in Miami--I was sitting in the audience waiting for the panel to start, when the moderator said, "And this is where Kathryn Lilley was supposed to be sitting." I raised my hand in confusion and said, "I'm Kathryn Lilley!" Turns out I'd been assigned to two panels but had only been told about one of them. Blushing, I got out of my seat and scurried to take my seat at the table. Fortunately the panel topic was near and dear to my heart, so I was actually able to wing the session with zero preparation. And I think I managed to recover somewhat gracefully by making a joke. But I felt like a total idiot!

  4. Just be glad it wasn't an anime convention. Those guys come dressed like "rogue warriors" dressed with spikes on their clothes and hair carrying big swords and axes and hickory sticks with fake gems on the top. You really don't want to put one of them off, things might've gotten rather ugly then.

    of course most of the weapons are fake cardboard things, but can you imagine the papercut from a five foot cardboard scimitar?

  5. p.s. Offer to name your next book's hot-looking female lead after the offended reader. You'll be back in her good graces forevermore.

  6. Wow, good thing I got you to sign my book in the Continuous Conversation. I would have been devastated.

  7. Twenty years ago I had tenth row tickets to see Guns N Roses in Chicago. They cancelled the show after a pitiful little riot erupted in St. Louis. I have yet to forgive them . . . The fan/artist relationship is indeed intense . . .

    Back to reality. I would have been quite disappointed to have missed you at the signing. However, an ugly email is just rude and crude and unwarranted. Thank goodness is was just a brain-bubble and not an emergency that kept you away! But then, I have my signed copy, so I can be smug.

    Can't wait for the next book!


  8. If it makes you feel any better, John, I nearly forgot an entire panel at a conference once. Great seeing you at bcon, even if you didn't sign my book, ya bastard ;)

  9. John, How about when you do go to the signing and nobody approaches you? Do you get to send nasty e-mails to a fan and castigate them for not showing up? Seriously, I'd be willing to bet you thought you heard someone ringing a bell in the bar.

    Seriously, I know that nobody (except maybe Pia Zadora) appreciates fans more than you do.

  10. I bet that was almost as bad as the time a fan showed up at your room wearing a prom dress hoping you'd take her to the banquet. Que Psycho shower screeches.