Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Bouchercon 2008 - My First B'con

I was buzzing the second I got off the plane in Baltimore. As I started walking down the long concourse of BWI Airport I had fond memories of when it used to be Friendship Airport. A lovely, soft name that would in today’s culture be an oxymoron. Not that BWI isn’t a lovely airport, as airports go, but I miss the days when an airport could even conceivably be named something as gentle as “Friendship.”
I’m not from Baltimore, but I am originally from Maryland. I was born and raised in Cambridge, which is on the Eastern Shore, and is still “home of my heart.” Thankfully, Donald has come to love it as I do, so we get to visit fairly often. But he’s not on this trip to Baltimore with me. I’m on my own. Getting ready to toss myself into my very first big mystery con and have chosen a real biggie in which to toss myself. Whether I sink or swim is yet to be seen.
oh my.
My very first impression of the Sheraton is brisk efficiency as my bags are swept into the hotel before I’ve stepped out of the cab. My second impression is that its extremely well run by well trained professionals who care about that first impression, and about making their guests feel welcome. I was greeted with a smile and a “Good Morning” by every single staff member from curb to front desk, and there were a surprising number of them. There’s a message waiting for me at the desk – a welcome from a woman who works in the Executive Offices with whom I’ve been chatting regarding a box of books being sent to the hotel for me to distribute to some of the book sellers for my friend Peter Rennebohm. Its there, its safe and when would I like it delivered to my room? She just wants to say hi and welcome me. When I call her from my room she asks “How’s the room?” Me being me, had to respond that it was lovely ‘cept I was awfully sorry not to see a little mini-fridge or a microwave. its the Monday before the convention starts, and I have a couple days of free time to play and visit with old friends before the mystery world shows up. Monday through Sunday is a long time to think about buying every single meal out. Besides – I need my milk and cookies at night before turning in. And real milk in my coffee. A whole week without real milk at night while tucked in in my jammies reading my book does not appeal to me. No worries. Before my suitcase is unpacked there’s a knock on the door and a very cheerful woman has brought me a mini-fridge AND a microwave. This is a woman who understands about that glass of milk with your Oreos before turning in. Life is good.
The weather is much too beautiful to stay cooped up in the Sheraton, no matter how nice the hotel is. Its one of those perfect days you just pray for when you’re on vacation. The weather stayed perfect the entire week. Perfect for morning walks down to the harbor to sit with my coffee and just look out over the water. Having been raised in a small town on the water, this is what I need occasionally to restore my soul. That and a four hour shopping spree in Filene’s Basement. Coming home to Boone with the cutest little pink leather ballet flats with an ankle strap – lovely!! There’s for sure no Filene’s Basement in Boone, which is probably a very good thing. You can bet I’ll be the only gal in Boone with pink leather ballet flats with an ankle strap.
Wednesday arrives quickly and with its arrival I watch the hotel change from a brisk, but fairly quiet world to one of convention city hustle and bustle.
I’ve already bumped into BG Ritts on the elevator earlier in the week, and she’s already bustling about in what I came to recognize as her quietly efficient “getting it done” mode. BG and I had not met previously, but recognized one another instantly from pictures and hugged like old friends. She’s been working behind the scenes helping Ruth and Judy and the other volunteer elves put together what turned out to be a perfectly magical event. It was my first Bouchercon, and I knew I was impressed by it all. However, hearing from others who have attended many, it wasn’t long before I realized this truly was a very special Bouchercon.
The event on a whole just felt “right.” But slowing down long enough to start paying attention to little details, its easy to understand why. This has been not just a convention these women decided to put on. It was an outpouring of love for a community, and a family, they love and are embraced by in return. Ruth Jordan and Judy Bobalik had sent their family a love letter. It was, I think, received with an even greater measure of love with huge doses of respect and awe thrown in. Bumping into Ruth, who I had never met before, while waiting for our elevator one morning I had to tell her how impressed I was not only with how beautifully everything was going, but with her amazing confidence in even thinking she could pull this off, which by golly she had. She told me she credits her Aunt Marie with that. Aunt Marie didn’t understand why Ruth might have a shred of a doubt about putting this event together, and bless Aunt Marie – she had it just right. Her Ruth, is indeed, an amazing woman. Those who did not know it before, know it now. Although, I suspect, being pretty new to the mystery community, I’m one of the last to know it. I’m quite thankful for only being late to the party, and not missing it completely.
And speaking of that elevator. A few days into the convention, I noticed a woman who I had been in the elevator with earlier in the week. When I asked who she was you could have knocked me over with a feather. Heather Graham. I am an idiot. HOW could I have had a conversation with this incredible woman and not recognize her?!
After a walk to Lexington Market on Wednesday, I stepped into the registration area and collected my bag of goodies. And what a bag of goodies! Oh my. I put my badge around my neck and hardly took it off again for the next 5 days. BG, bless her heart, showed me that it really didn’t need to hang down to my waist – there is, after all, a way to fix that. (I truly am an idiot). So it hung comfortably at my chest, right where Del Tinsley assured me all eyes would be for the next few days as those of us new to all this, but knowing one another virtually through DorothyL and other cyberworld venues, would be peering as we were anxious to meet up and connect in the “for real” world. And connect we did.
While standing at that registration table with BG and only a couple of other people (which, by the way, turned out to be the last time the registration area was that serene), I looked up and spotted a sweet face I knew I recognized, but asked BG just to make sure. Another dear woman who had taken me under her wing years ago – Sandra Ruttan. Squealing like 6 year olds, hugging, wiping away a tear and then drifting into conversation as if we’d known one another forever, I think I was just beginning to understand that something very special was happening under the roof of the Sheraton Hotel. At least , for me.
Here’s my first Bouchercon “Oh. My. God. “ moment.
Who’s that standing next to me? Not even 2 feet away. Nuh uh, it cannot be. My mouth dropped open and I looked at Sandra and she just nodded. Knowing that this was not an opportunity I’d likely have again I bucked up my courage and with legs shaking, walked over and asked if I could introduce myself and when I did, Mr. Lee Child said, “Kaye Barley. Nice to meet you. Actually, I’ve heard your name.” And this was my first “Holy Shit” moment.
Little did I know how many more there were to come.
As I headed back through the lobby to go to my room so I could dig into my Charmed to Death goody bag to ooooh and ahhhhh over all these books I glanced to my right and saw a sight that made my heart soar. There stood Ken Bruen. Standing in the hotel lobby registering for his room like a meer mortal. I walked over, tapped him on the shoulder and said “hey. Its me, Kaye.” He swooped me up in a hug and gave me a resounding kissaroo smack on the lips, greeted me with a lovely, oh so gentle, smile and a “Kaye, a gra!” that sent my head spinning and my heart soaring. And then he introduced me to the woman of his heart, Lisa Dill, and it was my turn to swoop her into a hug. The two of them glowed with their joy in one another and I felt honored to be included in their circle of light.
This was when I escaped to my room to just sit in complete amazement of what I was in the middle of. After a bit of decompression time, decided magical things were happening downstairs and I did not need to be sitting in my room daydreaming about them when I might be able to witness them.
Getting off the elevator I spotted Ken and Lisa again and spoke to them as I passed. Except. I stopped dead in my tracks staring into the lovely face of Laura Lippman who was having a conversation with them. Now, I do know how very, VERY rude it is to interrupt a personal conversation. I had no intention of doing that. But I was struck dumb in my tracks while my mind was processing the fact that there stood Laura Lippman and Ken Bruen. Together. In the same space. Y’all, it was a moment I can’t begin to describe. I turned into a total half-wit. Just stood there and I could not have moved for love nor money. Laura Lippman (I love Laura Lippman) in her very quiet voice said “I’m so sorry, but I’m really running late for an appointment.” I don’t think I said a word, but I really don’t know. I think I just nodded as she touched me on the shoulder and smiled and moved on. When I finally surfaced from my zombie state and looked at Ken, I apologized and he asked why was I apologizing. Graciousness was in abundance in the Sheraton Hotel that day.
O.K., so once I was capable of moving my feet again, it was back to the registration area to see who I could see. Sandra Ruttan introduced me to Sean Chercover who is without a doubt glowing in quiet graciousness. I’m telling you, graciousness is a word I might seem to be over-using but there’s just not another word that sums up some of these people as well as it does. Sean Chercover is graciousness personified. And he introduced me to his adorable little boy who poked his head out from under the registration table which was, at that particular time, doubling as a rocket ship. For the rest of the convention, Sean Chercover never once failed to acknowledge me by name or with a hug, or a little kiss on the cheek whenever I bumped into him. Graciousness.
I went to bed Wednesday night after calling home to talk to Donald (and Harley!) feeling like a very tired, very star stuck little girl. and Bouchercon is only just beginning.
8:30 Thursday morning had me seated in one of the rooms for a panel session. Robin Burcell moderating Jim Born, Sean Chercover, Vinny O’Neil, and Julia Spencer-Fleming on the Rockin’ Robin panel. Robin, along with several others who were involved in 8:30 panels were voicing a little teeny bit of concern about maybe not a lot of folks would show up at an 8:30 a.m. panel. Now, I don’t know about other cons, but the 8:30 a.m. slot for panels at this particular con was not a problem. This one drew a full house, and it was terrific! Robin did a great job, and all the panelists were lively and interesting and I loved it.
For me, the panel sessions are actually where the problems begin. But. You just have to realize – this is a problem that’s actually just a small part of quite possibly being in heaven for a few short days. You start looking at the program and there you are – faced with making decisions. There are five panel sessions going on. Each one is going to have at least one person you want to see. OR its going to be on a topic that’s of great interest to you. What to do? I am the wrong person to answer that question. I usually ended up getting caught up in conversation and missed being where I was either A) wanting to be (I thought), or B) where I was supposed to be because I had told someone I’d be there. I screwed up more than once with the being where I was supposed to be thing. All I can do is humbly apologize one more time. And swear I’ll try to do better in Indianapolis.
The panels I did attend were all wonderful. Those that I missed, I’m just trying not to think about.
The next panel I attended was “I Can’t Stand Up for Falling Down.” Moderated by Ali Karim, who reminded us all several times that it was, after all, 5:00 in Europe as he had another drink. The panelists were Ken Bruen, Michelle Gagnon, Con Lehane, Jason Starr, and Liz Zelvin . This panel was WAY lively and I very much enjoyed it. Very much. And hearing Con Lehane muse time after time about just why it might be, exactly, that he was on this particular panel was a hoot. It was also the first place I ran into the stunningly handsome, sweet, funny and utterly charming Bob Fate. And if you think for a second I didn’t throw my arms around his neck and hug him from here to glory, well – you’re wrong. I did. Baby Shark’s daddy is a delight. If you haven’t read Baby Shark, you should. If you haven’t met Bob Fate yet, you should. By whatever it takes.
After each panel session, the authors were all scooted down to the end of the corridor and seated in the signing room. This, I thought, was brilliantly done. The room was, at times, a bit small feeling, but face it – you’re not going to find the perfect room in most hotels to perfectly accommodate and hold signing lines for both Lee Child and Ken Bruen at the exact same time. My advice here is to just chill out, strike up a conversation with the people around you who you know you share an interest with seeing as how you’re in the same line after all, and just soak in the moment. Its probably not a moment you’re liable to have a whole lot of. Enjoy it. Savor it.
In addition to signing my book and writing a lovely inscription, Mr. Bruen bowled me over with yet another kiss. I could learn to really like this guy, you know?
Then I scampered over to have Lee Child sign a book and I was the very last person in his line. Lovely!!!! It gave me an opportunity to visit for a few minutes and even ask to have a picture taken. Reed Farrel Coleman stepped right up to the plate and took a picture and made me laugh to boot by telling Lee he wasn’t the best looking one in this particular picture! HA! (He was though). Then Mr. Child offered to take a picture of me and Reed. And then, asked his assistant if she had yet given me an invitation to the Reacher’s Creature party. She did that and I thanked him and went to sit down alone in a corner to hyperventilate. The man is dreamy and dishey and gracious. And it was another moment of supreme joy.
Next panel was “Concrete Jungle” moderated by the wonderfully smooth Reed Farrel Coleman. I was over the moon in awe of him along with Thomas Cook, Steve Hamilton, David Hewson and Laura Lippman. I’m a huge fan of every single one of these people and this was the panel session I had to keep blinking my eyes so as not to give in to tears. This was, I think, another one of those OMG moments. You know? It just hits you like a quiet, private thunder bolt that you truly are in the midst of greatness. Now for those who have been doing these mystery conventions for awhile, it may be all kinda ho hum every day business as usual. But for this gal – it was very big, very heady stuff.
I scampered like a wild woman to get to the signing room again. Bumped into my buddy William from California yet again. William and I seemed to have the exact same taste in our reading and writers and had shared a lot of “standing in line time.” A regret I have is that I don’t recall his last name and didn’t ask for an email address to drop him a note to tell him how much I enjoyed his company and quiet humor.
As soon as I got to the front of Laura’s line, she apologized to me for having to wander off as soon as I saw she & Ken Bruen on Wed. morning. Can you imagine?! I then proceeded to fall all over myself apologizing and trying to explain how forces had struck me totally paralyzed and glued my feet to the floor and how I truly had not meant to intrude. And there it was again. Graciousness. She proceeded to write a lovely little personalized something in my book that made me cry. Again. Laws, I bubbled up a lot at this convention.
And lo and behold, who was sitting to Laura’s right, but Laurie King. Her signing line had just finished up and I had the opportunity to tell Ms. King how much I admire her work and that I had given no less than a dozen copies of her FOLLY to favorite girlfriends.
Thursday night I had dinner with Mary Jane Maffini and Shelley Costa Bloomfield. Love them both to pieces! It was fun and lively and past time for us to have finally met one another. I’ve admired their talents as writers, and now I just love ‘em to bits as terrific women who are huge fun to hang out with.
I thought Shula’s restaurants in the hotel did an outstanding job taking care of the mobs and mobs of people coming in and out of there from early in the morning for breakfast until 2 a.m. for drinks, or just a place to sit and visit. The waitstaff and the hosts and hostesses were unfailingly courteous and fun with ready humor and a welcoming smile. And I thought the food was delish. Hotel food is always expensive, of course. It can sometimes also be less than satisfactory for the money. I did not find that to be the case at Shula’s. ‘Course, I was one of those lucky ones with a fridge and microwave in her room to handle left overs . . .
Opening ceremonies were, I thought, quite wonderful. Awards were given and graciously accepted. Speeches were made – none of which lasted too long, all were enjoyable. Mark Billingham is without a doubt, the MOST brilliant Toastmaster. B’Con was now officially open and off with a bang.
Milling around after the ceremony with my friend Margaret Maron was, as it always is when spending time with Margaret Maron, a joy. It also took us approximately one hour to move from ballroom to bar as she was stopped by friends and fans. She is always unfailingly gracious, lovely, and lively and greets everyone with the exact same degree of delight. And how cool it is to be introduced to practically every person in the room by Margaret Maron. I could not wipe that grin off my face.
After spending a short time having a drink with Margaret & Joe, I said my goodnights and wandered upstairs to my milk and cookies and a little bit of time to muse and remember and ruminate over a perfect day. And my nightly call home to Boone. When Donald put the phone down low so I could speak to Harley he barked at me. Talk about hurt feelings!!!!
Having breakfast Friday morning with Margaret & Joe started things off just right. And how do you top having breakfast with Margaret & Joe Maron and being introduced to Caroline Todd and Charles Todd – the mother/son writing team of the Inspector Rutledge series. And ooops – lookie there – there’s that Bob Fate fella AGAIN!
Margaret and I wandered down to our Friday morning’s 8:30 panel - “Southern Accents” moderated by the always delightful Chris Roerden. Panelists included some of my very favorite writers in the mystery field. I am unapologetically partial to southern writing and you just don’t get much more southern than Vicki Lane, Mary Saums, J.D. Rhoades, and Cathy Pickens. These guys were terrific! This was my first exposure to Cathy Pickens, who immediately impressed me. Add another name to the list of “gotta tries.”
Next up was “Sweet Home Chicago” based solely on the fact that I wanted to meet Shane Gericke. Shane is the creator of Emily Thompson who, I think, is one of the coolest women in the thriller world. His work, along with a few other thriller writers I’ve recently discovered, has helped broaden my reading list to include writing a bit different from my usual traditional mysteries. My gain, for sure. And by golly - who knew I’d bump into Bob Fate and get to sit next to him during this panel?! Really. Who knew?! The man will never believe I wasn’t stalking him. This was yet another enjoyable panel with Michael Allen Dymmoch moderating Jack Frederickson, Shane Gericke, Sam Reaves, Steve Sidor and David Walker. Anyone, including myself, who thought some of the Chicago corruption tales might be exaggerated or over-blown left this panel believing differently. I found it to be fascinating. And meeting Shane was a highlight. The man is a charmer.
Having Bob Fate on one side of me and Shane Gericke on the other to have a picture taken was pretty cool stuff, for real.
Friday lunch was an event some of us planned weeks before the convention. These were women I very much looked forward to meeting and spending time with.
One of them, howver, ended up having her plans changed to meet with her editor – understandable, huh?! Another was working the silent auction and couldn’t be there, and another was in the hotel and didn’t know where to find us because I didn’t have my cell phone with me. A lot of you who know me know how much I hate cell phones. Well, this time I really should have tossed that personal prejudice aside because it kept me from meeting someone I admire, and enjoy corresponding with, and was never able to catch up with for the rest of the week. As someone I love reminded me recently – “We make plans. God laughs.” True, and not to be forgotten.
By this time I was overwhelmed and felt in need of a much needed “time out.” I highly recommend a bit of advice I received from Jon Jordan. Sneak off to your room for some alone time, kick off your shoes and prop your tired ol’ feet up. Just don’t get so carried away with it you forget to get back into the fray!
There’s always someone to see and visit with in the corridor. Or hanging around the registration desk. Or in the mega wonderful book room. Or the most perfect hospitality room I’ve ever been in – always well stocked with a wide array of goodies from fresh fruit and yogurt to some of the most devilishly delish cookies to Smith Island Cake to chips and pretzels, along with a never ending supply of bottled water, coffee, tea and soft drinks. Oh my. This little haven was a pure stroke of genius. Nice comfy chairs to sink into for quiet conversation, or some alone time without going all the way back to your room – especially if you were staying elsewhere. And you just never knew who you might bump into.
I loved the book room. I heard one disgruntled body say it wasn’t large enough. When IS a book room ever going to be large enough for a bunch of people who love books?? I bumped into Vicki Lane in the book room – one of my favorite women in the world who also happens to write one of my favorite series. A lovely fortuitous accident was walking in just as Louise Penny was sitting down to sign her newest. Oh my. That was truly a high point for me. The book room was a favorite place to be.
I caught up with Shane Gericke and wandered to the Authors without Borders cocktail party an easy walk across the skywalk. Bumped into some fun folks, including Robin Burcell and LJ Sellers and BG Ritts, where I promptly became “Camera Girl.”

By now it was getting easier to whip that camera out and snap snap snap. Which is a great thing ‘cause I have a terrific collection of pictures to share with you all at
Back to the hotel and starving we popped into Shula’s for a bite and ended up at the table closest to the door. HA! Why lookie there – its Bob Fate! Swear to God. I’m now quite sure its him stalking me – not me stalking him. And that’s perfectly fine with me. He and the lovely Gwen, joined our table, along with Liz Zelvin, and Mary Saums. Donna Moore dropped by, as did a host of others. It was another B’Con perfect moment. The whole group seemed just comfortable, relaxed and quite content with the conversation and the getting to know you stuff and next thing we knew we were deciding we were much too comfy where we were to attend the Reacher’s Creatures party. This, Liz & I agreed, is what the B’Con bar scene is really all about. Its not about the drinking – seeing as half of us were drinking coffee – but about the camaraderie. And the bar just happens to be the place where it happens.
Saturday was quite a day. Bumped into Margaret again and was introduced to her friend Carolyn Hart. Oh my. And to Susan Dunlap, and Dorothy Cannell. Oh my. And re-introduced once more to Gillian Roberts and Marcia Talley. Oh my. And to Laura Lippman (who I tried to apologize to once again and realized I really really had embarrassed the both us by over apologizing and finally just shut my mouth). And Twist Phelan. I tell you – hanging out with Margaret Maron is a rush!!

My 8:30 Saturday morning panel was another total delight. Louise Ure moderating Dorothy Cannell, Susan Dunlap, Margaret Maron and Gillian Roberts in “Toys in the Attic.” This was another one of those panels where I had to keep blinking my eyes so as not to just break down and have an emotional hic-cup of major proportions. These women are remarkable. Louise said they would not let her use “legends,” when introducing them, but she did manage to say that they are the traditional mystery “Grand Dames.” That, I’m sure, is not even up for discussion. These women are obviously dear friends who have known one another a long time. The gentle barbs, teasing and loving insults were like watching poetry in motion. I loved this panel.

And Louise, who I adore even more now than I did a week ago, allowed me the honor of escorting the ladies to the book signing room. I think Louise realized she was stuck with me, so allowed me to do something just to get me out of her hair. Bless her. On the walk down to the book signing room I was treated to more banter. I suggested they take this act on the road and immediately applied for the position of “roadie.” Discussion and disagreement about what exactly a roadie does was just a hoot. Another treasured B’con moment.
Now I really needed to get a box down the street to Office Depot to be shipped home UPS. Not only had I accumulated a lot of books, but that shopping spree at Filene’s Basement wasn’t too smart for packing lightly either. I’d already taken one box the day before, using dirty undies and jeans as “packing material.” It worked well, so we did it again.
Who knew going to Office Depot could be such fun?! It was here that I met Bobbye Johnson and her husband. Bobbye is a DorothyL lurker and recognized my name. We had some giggles and shared a hug. People in the mystery community LOVE to hug! I love that. And another fortuitous accident occurred with Bobbye. Walking back to the hotel she mentioned how much she really enjoyed Robin Burcell’s books, and as we walked into the lobby, Voila!, there stood Robin. I took tremendous pleasure in introducing them. Too fun!
Bobbye was not the only DorothyL lurker who introduced herself. Sarah from Australia spotted me downstairs outside the Karaoke rooms after enjoying Don Bruns’ guitar concert. She is a doll! And once I met Anita we seemed to bump into one another everywhere we went.
That’s the thing of it. You find yourself bumping into folks all over the place and those quick hi’s and hugs are lovely. Julia Hyzy and I never did get to have a real conversation, but we did get to exchange a few hugs. Hank Phillippi Ryan and I did get to chat a little, although not as much as I would have liked. LJ Sellers and I were able to visit a little and she gave me a copy of her book, which I’m excited about reading, and not bothered a whit by the title. I got to meet a lot of DorothyL folks and that was one of the very nicest things about the week. Caryn is as cute and perky in person as she is in her posts. If I had not gotten to meet Linda Gerber I would have been beyond disappointed. And even got a hug from Neil Plakcy! And my friend Becky Swets seemed to turn up whenever I had a need for a hug and/or giggle. Aubrey Nye Hamilton will always be my convention partner - even if she's not around, she will live in my mind and in my heart as a partner in crime. There were many, though, that I missed. There’s just not enough time in a day to seek out or be able to find everyone you want to. So. Indianapolis? You bet!
Walking down the corridor and seeing a line approximately 44 miles long to have Lawrence Block sign a book? Oh my.
See the VERY tall Harlan Coben wander the halls? Oh my.
Walking back from the harbor on Saturday afternoon, bumping into three women – one of whom I recognized immediately. I had met Marcia Talley a few years back at Cape Fear Crime Fest in Wilmington, NC and its always a joy to read her newest. To bump into her was a treat. But then came a major “Fan Girl” moment when I realized the women with her were Deborah Crombie and Kate Charles. My mouth was opening and closing, but there weren’t any words. My half-wit persona yet again. Big sigh.
Another Saturday panel I attended was William Kent Krueger moderating Judy Clemens, Mary Jane Maffini, Kit Sloane, and Persia Walker on “Otherside: Keeping it Plausible” Loved this one too (why, of course), and was blown away by Ms. Persia Walker who I was not familiar with. I found this young woman to be major impressive and am quite excited about discovering this bright talent.
Being invited to join the Murderati group Saturday evening? Wow. I love that group. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to chat with them all. So. Indianapolis? You bet!
Sunday morning’s interview with Laura Lippman was priceless. I have no words to fully say all I’d like to about her, so just know she is quite wonderful. I know that’s inadequate, but I cannot begin to do her justice. Being able to sit down right next to the incomparable Meg Chittenden to see Laura's interview was pretty darn cool too.
And the brunch. Oh my. I’m going to admit being a bit disappointed that the traditional Sat. night banquet was being replaced by a Sunday brunch. Shows what I know. It was another stroke of genius. The hotel was quite accommodating about changing check-out times, and no one was surprised at that. By now, the Sheraton had proved itself to be a class act. I have a ton of stories about this wonderful hotel. Within 24 hours of arriving on Monday, most of them knew me by name. Asking for extra coffee at the front desk became so routine that just by walking by would elicit a “Mrs. Barley?? Need some coffee?” The bartender in Shula’s was a doll about letting me borrow real mugs to take to my room ‘cause I don’t like drinking my coffee from a paper cup. The evening I needed a safety pin, front desk staff scampered until they found me one. Dressed up a little more than usual in anticipation of going to the Reacher Creature party, one of the young women behind the desk made a point of telling me I looked pretty. The hostess at Shula’s never once lost her big smile and greeted me by name and a hug. When I went downstairs Saturday evening to print out my boarding pass, I had so many people helping me I forgot why I was there. And when I left on Sunday I collected hugs not only from Marcus Sakey, but quite a few of the hotel staff. I felt just like Eloise.
But I got off on a tangent. The brunch.
The brunch was just wonderful. The food was beautifully presented, bountiful and delish. And the opportunity to wander around for final hugs and goodbyes was wonderful.

Getting a final big ol’ smackeroo kiss from Ken Bruen was wonderful. Being able to share a table with a lively and lovely group was wonderful.
The awards were given and received. Speeches were made. Tears were shed. A “Thank You, Larry” video for Lawrence Block was brilliant. And then there was Mark Billingham. Genius. Pure unadulterated genius. I loved everything about the brunch and am so glad I decided to stay - which I almost did not.
It was hard walking out the door of the Sheraton that afternoon, knowing it meant that was the end of Bouchercon 2008.
Shane Gericke and I shared a car to the airport, and as luck would have it – Baltimore held one final delight.
Mr. Darryl Wainwright, our driver, was typical of the kindness and grace I had basked in since arriving in Baltimore. We had a wonderful chat about the days when citizens of Baltimore were world famous for scrubbing down the marble steps to their brownstones. When Baltimore culture included window screens painted by local screen painters with murals. Mr. Wainwright is a gentleman, a husband and a dad who has raised five children in the City of Baltimore, and is now the proud grandparent of one grandson in college. He was gracious and humorous and gladdened when we voiced our appreciation to his fine city for a few days that will live in my heart forever.
Being able to share a cup of coffee and some B’con stories with Shane before heading in different directions in the airport, and then flying off in different directions, was a lovely way to end Bouchercon 2008. I thought. Little did I know it really wasn’t over yet. The blogs are still full of stories. The pictures are just beginning to pop up. And people have popped up in DorothyL saying such lovely things about someone named Kaye Barley, I fear she may have died! Louise Ure wrote beautiful words at Murderati and made me cry. Even if my name were not included in this piece, I still would have cried. As it is, my name was included and I am humbled by it. Louise Ure is a tremendous talent with the heart and soul of a poet – very much like her friend Ken Bruen. If you attended B’con, it will touch you. If you didn’t, it will still touch you. We all need a touch of grace in our lives, and Louise gives it to us.

Ken Bruen left a message on my Facebook wall that made me wail out loud, and in a moment of EXTREME Blatant Self Promotion, which I refuse to apologize for, I share it with you:

You were voted most wondrous, warm, amazing person at B'con
Your marvellous accent alone would have won it for you and your initials didn't hurt either
But God must have loved me real well on Wednesday that the very first person we met was you, it was never equalled and never will
You are the sheer light of the Mystery world and any other world
What a true Grace to be counted as your friend