I'm making my final preparations for Bouchercon tonight--tomorrow, weather permitting, I head for Chicago. I usually spend the night before a trip in frantic motion, trying to do three times as many last minute chores as I could possibly do in a week. But for the last three days, I've been doing my packing and household chores with the televison tuned to the Weather Channel, first waiting out Katrina's landfall and then trying to absorb the magnitude of the damage. Hard to get frantic over some small missing object you meant to pack when you're watching people hack escape hatches through the roofs of their houses.
And this may be a somewhat muted Bouchercon. It's a strange feeling, being at a convention when there's something huge going on in world outside. Normally, once you're at a convention, you're in another world. On con time. Sometimes, when I get home, I ask my friends if anything big happened while I was gone.
But sometimes the outside world comes crashing in. The Romantic Times convention in November 2000. I flew down to Houston for it the morning after the presidential election, not knowing the outcome, but assuming I could probably find out from someone when I landed. Every day that passed without knowing added to the surreal feeling of being in a time warp--attending panels and banquets, and coming up for air to ask, "Have you heard anything?" Everyone knew what you meant when you asked that, and of course no one had heard anything. Late one evening, some of us found we had been sharing the same slightly paranoid notion--that perhaps the rest of the world knew and were conspiring to play a practical joke on us.
No Crime Unpublished. I couldn't remember the year, so I looked up the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, which began during the conference--October 2001. I remember Jerrilyn Farmer, who was also speaking at the conference, coming into the book room and telling several of us that the bombing had begun. Again, a surreal feeling, trying to do our best on our panels, to give the aspiring writers attending the convention the kind of solid information about writing and the publishing industry that they'd come to learn, and all the while feeling a numb sense of dread, because we were talking about a sane, ordered world that didn't quite seem real any more.
Bouchercon could be like that this year. Some people were already feeling a pall, due to the recent deaths of two giants of the mystery field, Ed McBain in July, and Dennis Lynds (aka Michael Collins) on August 19. Strangely, while looking for something I needed to pack for Bouchercon, I ran across a message Dennis Lynds had posted to an MWA list debate on the issue of profanity and gore in mystery writing--one I'd printed out as a keeper:
Re Profanity, or gore,
Do not falsify the reality of the people and the situations you are writing about. Not ever. That, to me, is the only rule.
Those were his last words to the group, that I can find. Not a bad exit line.
There's a memorial scheduled for him at Bouchercon. And maybe we'll have a lot more somber moments than usual at a convention. And a lot more people clustered around the television in the bar, shaking their heads in bewilderment.
I see from the Weather Channel that even storm-chaser Jim Cantore is slightly in awe of Katrina. Glad it's not just me.