About Me

A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Bouchercon

The World Science Fiction Comvention is always exhilarating and exhausting for me.

Bouchercon is a little different. Named for the mystery fiction critic Anthony Boucher, it is the World Fantasy of the mystery genre in that it is a heavy networking convention, a busy bar scene for the professionals, but without the membership cap, and more fans, and people who actually go to panels.  It isn't near as exhilarating for me as a WorldCon, but I also have fewer clients, so there's a little less scheduling pressure.  And while there's a strong bar scene at night, there aren't the room parties and hospitality suites that are such an important part of the scene, social and business and fannish all in one, at the major sf conventions, so it doesn't require as much after hours time.

So I had clients to see and award ceremonies to attend, I was also able to use the weekend to see some of Cleveland and really, most importantly, to recharge the batteries a bit after an exhausting September with so many long days in the office that I didn't have energy at night to dig into the reading pile.

So, seeing Cleveland:

I saw my first game at Progressive Field, the baseball stadium formerly known as Jacobs Field, the home of the Cleveland Indians.  I'd gotten tickets on Stubhub when there was still a chance the Indians could make a wild card run, possibly the best seats I've ever had for a ballgame in the third row behind home plate.  Expensive for Cleveland, but a bargain by NYC standards where you can pay $100 for a bleacher seat at Citi Field.  In retrospect I overpaid because the Indians collapsed, fired their manager the week before, weren't in it, and they were playing the Chicago White Sox who had just been eliminated from the AL Central race.  The ballpark fits in nicely at the edge of downtown. It was nice, but with three levels of suites even the first row of the upper deck looked awfully high up and I'm not sure how happy I'd be seeing a game from there.  I got to see the Chicago White Sox hit 5 homers, several of them quite impressive, including Dan Johnson becoming only the 15th White Sox player and 4th visiting player in Jacobs Field history to hit 3 homers in a game.  Paul Konerko needed 2 hits to tie Frank Thomas for #3 on the all-time White Sox hit list but got only one.  Ketchup, Mustard and Onion all seemed to be cheating in the footrace.  All in all, it was a nice evening.

On a free afternoon, I visited my 136th and 137th Whole Foods Markets, in the rich eastern suburbs.  It was a gorgeous fall day, and the two stores were located around 4.5 miles away from one another, providing a nice excuse to have a very pleasant stroll on a very nice day.  The Whole Foods at Cedar Center is very, very nice.  The one in Chagrin is a a former Wild Oats location, a little bit smaller, but pleasant enough.  And in the same mall as an outlet of Malley's Chocolates.  I got some "good luck" boxes for my award nominated clients, and some to save for when everyone is back in the office next week.

And after the convention was over, I walked down Euclid Ave. in the rain out to University Circle where Case Western is located along with many of the major Cleveland cultural institutions, with a detour to Shaker Square, the second oldest planned outdoor shopping area in the country, or so the sign said.  It's a nice area, the cultural insitutions set in a parklike setting, a very attractive Little Italy tucked alone one end.  The day would have been nicer if it wasn't raining, but I felt as if I'd really gotten my feet on the ground in the city.

I only needed a couple spare hours to walk 1.5 miles out to West Side Market, which is nicer than Lexington Market in Baltimore but maybe not quite as nice or diverse as Philly's Reading Terminal Market.  The bakeries were "enh," but there were lots and lots of fresh fruit vendors and meat vendors and cheese vendors and etc. etc.  The market is celebrating its centennial this year.

Cleveland was one of the very first cities in the world to build a train line out to its airport.  This was quite nice, $2.25 for a quick ride from the airport to the heart of downtown.  There are a couple other light rail lines heading out to the rich eastern suburbs.  Cleveland is also one of the cities that is using BRT, or Bus Rapid Transit, as a substitute for light rail. The "Health Line" runs several miles from downtown past the Playhouse Square theatre district, Cleveland State University, and then to the Cleveland Clinic, the Case Western University Hospitals, the Stokes Hospitals, etc. etc., thus having its name.  BRT uses fancy looking buses, limited stops, prepaid boarding that allows all door exit/entry, dedicated bus lanes, and other features, to make it an attractive alternative to standard bus service.  In a big city like New York, you've got to have subways that can avoid traffic.  The problem with BRT for really high density locations is that none of these things change the fact that you're stuck in traffic with all the other traffic, this is why LA really needs to have the so-called "subway to the sea" running under Wilshire Blvd., instead of the Metro Rapid lines that sit in Wilshire Blvd., even in the DC suburbs I don't think BRT would work as a substitute for the "purple line" because there's too much traffic too much of the time on the East-West Highway for anything that's going to share the traffic lanes to be really appealing.  But on the I-270 corridor in suburban DC, or in someplace like Cleveland where you can have traffic but not absolute killer traffic, BRT probably is a cost-effective substiture for laying rails.

But there's plenty not to like about Cleveland.

Everyone at Bouchercon got to go to to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on Thursday night for the opening ceremonies courtesy of Amazon's Thomas & Mercer mystery pubilshing imprint.  I wasn't impressed with the Hall of Fame.  It didn't have an actual Hall of Fame with information on all of the inductees, the Hall area had glass inscribed signatures of all the inductees and plaques on the newest class, but not on everyone.  The exhibits didn't do much for me at all.  I've listened to plenty of rock and roll in my life, I'd expected to like this more, I was disappointed not to find much to like at all in the museum.

Like other cities, every bit of Cleveland is carved into a district, the Warehouse District and the Flats and the Gateway and Playhouse Square and Midtown and Fairfax and University Circule and Civic Center and this district and that district.  But let's say that the renaissance of Cleveland is still a work in progress.

Bouchercon was being held in the heart of downtown, the Civic Center/Tower Center Districts.  Tower Center is the tallest buidling in Cleveland, above a rail crossroads.  With some hotels and a cheesy mall and a movie theatre and a casino, there's some life here.  But, the only restaurants in the mall were food court, Houlihan's, Morton's, and Planet Hollywood.  In fact, the restaurant options are very limited.  A small restaurant row on E. 4th St.  Lots of sports bars near the baseball stadium and arena.  The Warehouse District has some eateries.  Further afield, you could find a handful of places in the Playhouse Square district.  But honestly, just not a lot of "there" there.  And downtown living was concentrated almost entirely in the Warehouse District which is full of renovated old warehouse buildings that now house yuppie lofts with a few new builds, and then there's the Flats district on both sides of the river with a lot of housing on the river's west bank.

On the other hand, the downtown area also didn't give this sense that you can get in parts of Philly or Baltimore that you'll go one block from the fancy museum and find yourself in a combat zone.  And the Playhouse Square district is full of many beautiful theatres, all in active use, believably the second biggest concentration of active theatrest outside of NY. And the cultural institutions out in University Circle are among the nicest cultural campuses you're going to find.

And the architecture!

The arcade where the Hyatt is, it's the most beautiful old shopping arcade, stunningly gorgeous.  And there are the Colonial Shops across the street. And you can peek in beautiful old office building after glorious old department store and spectacularly restored theatre, place after place after place of incredible beauty.  This is an asset that you don't have in a lot of other downtowns.

The convention itself...

The opening ceremonies at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame could have been better done.  If the program book had said "Hall open at 7, ceremony starts at 8," maybe there woudln't have been this flood of people arriving right at 7 when the doors weren't even open, so that it took until 7:45 for the line to finally die down, with the earliest arrivals sitting for an hour waiting for the ceremony to begin when they could have been visiting the galleries.  And there wasn't any official announcement or indication that there were going to be awards presented at the opening ceremonies.

The dealers room didn't have a Larry Smith or anyone selling a wide mix of new releases.  Mostly used/rare dealers selling mostly books by Bouchercon attendees.

Announcing raffle winner after raffle winner after raffle winner after raffle winner before the presentation of the Anthony Awards wasn't such a good idea.

There was some weird architecture to the hotel, with a new ballroom attached to the old original ballrooms in the hotel, which was erected in 1918.  Some oddities, like of the Grand Ballroom was sectioned into A and B parts, getting from A to B meant taking the stairs down a level and walking to another escalator up.  On the other hand the ballroom had a beautiful balcony seating area.

But by and large, people were having a good time.  The panels were well-attended.

And really, I can't complain too much about a convention where a client of mine wins two different awards!

Charlaine Harris hadn't been optimistic going in about her chances of winning in the Non-Fiction/Related categories for either the Macavity or Anthony Awards for her Sookie Stackhouse Companion.  Understandably so, in a way, you think of these awards as going to major important works of non-fiction, this isn't a category where I'd want to be competing for an Anthony against a Pulitzer-winning author like Michael Dirda of the Washington Post.  Add to that, we were all very close to the Companion, which had been a lot harder to put together than had been anticipated going in.

So were were all surprised and delighted on Thursday night when Charlaine and The Sookie Stackhouse Companion were announced as the winners of the Macavaity.  With the one surprising win, we had to think more seriously that maybe there would be an Anthony Award in our futures as well, but still, I think we were all still a bit surprised to come up with a double victory when the Anthony winners were announced on Saturday.

It's a little strange to say about an award in a non-fiction category, but I do think part of the success of the Companion is because it has a great novella by Charlaine, "Small Town Wedding," that is certainly the best piece of Sookie Stackhouse short fiction, if not one of the best pieces of Sookie fiction, period.  And when you add to that all of the excellent non-fiction in the Companion, the timetables and concordance and interviews and recipes, it is a potent brew.

I had lunch with Charlaine Harris and her personal assistant Paula Woldan at the Chocolate Bar, an interesting idea for a restaurant in a nice setting at the century-old Arcade shoppng area, but not actually a nice restaurant.  My alfredo badly needed pepper, the cupcakes were like fresh-from-freezer Sara Lee.

Another lunch was with Joe Clifford Faust at Skyline Chili, an Ohio institution where they serve chile atop spaghetti and then top it all with generous handfuls of shredded cheddar.  I think I prefer the New York equivalent of chili mac, where chili and macaroni and cheese reside on the same plate.  Afterwards we went to a comic book store in Parma that had been around for an impressive 28 years.

Jeri Westerson and Toni Kelner were the other current JABberwocky clients at the convention.

Jeri has ten award nominations for her first four Crispin Guest novels and was up again here.  I don't think we were surprised that she didn't win, but her Crispin Guest books are awfully good, and it would mean so much to me to see her win one of these some year.  Jeri travelled far afield to go to a library event and a bookstore event.

Toni is launching a new mystery series under a pseuodonym that promises to be a lot of fun, and she continues to help Charlaine edit wonderful paranormal anthologies, the most recent of which is An Apple for the Creature.

I had drinks with Rochelle Staub, a muliple award nominated author for Who Do, Voodoo.  We look forward to having Rochelle on our client list!

There were multiple publisher cocktail parties or receptions, so I had my full of cheese cubes and chicken tenders.

So that's a quick glimpse at Bouchercon.  I've got to tell you, there are worse jobs I can have than this one.

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