Well, I pulled it off! I’m back from Long Beach, California and the biggest gig of my writing career (thus far). I was the toastmaster for this year’s Bouchercon (aka the World Mystery Convention). I was honored to have been asked seeing as over the forty-five year history of the convention there’s been less than thirty toastmasters. Past toastmasters have included Lee Child, Val McDermid, Michael Connelly, Harlan Coben, Laura Lippman, William Kent Kruger, Reginald Hill and Sue Grafton. So while I was honored, I was pretty nervous about the role. I kept thinking, shouldn’t they have gotten a grownup for this?
Besides me, this year’s guests of honor were Jeffery Deaver (Lifetime recipient), JA Jance (American Guest), Eoin Colfer (Young Adult/Children’s Guest), Edward Marston (International Guest) and Al Abramson (Fan Guest)—who to their collective credit never mistook me for a hotel employee. In all seriousness, despite having not previously met these people, they were very sweet to me and we worked well as a group.
Of all the guests of honor, the toastmaster is the tough one as that poor sap has real work to do. I had to preside over the opening and closing ceremonies, the live auction, present the Anthony Awards and generally act as the hype man for the event. The job that concerned me most was running the opening ceremonies because it sets the tone for the convention and I have to come up with a speech. Around two thousand people attend the convention and about a third attends to the opening gala. Luckily for me around fifteen hundred decided to attend…so no pressure there. I’ll be honest, public speaking is something I do, not something I enjoy, so as people poured in, my nerves grew. Impressing fifteen hundred people of all ages and backgrounds is a hard thing to pull off. But it looks as if I pulled it off, according to Publisher’s Weekly. They called me ‘witty.’ I was hoping for erudite or urbane, but I’ll take witty. I wonder if I can quote them now???
One of the perks of being a guest of honor is an interview. The wonderful Catriona McPherson—a Scot and fellow ex-pat—got the job of interviewing me. I think we needed subtitles for the American audience.
Every Bouchercon supports a local charity or two. This year was the Long Beach Public Library Foundation and WriteGirl. So, I want to mention my charity item winners: Barb Kreisel who paid $350 for a poster featuring me from my motor racing days, Janet Costello who paid nearly $200 to have lunch for me and Sarah Byrne who paid for our lunch, Danna Dennis Wilberg who donated handmade chocolates in a ‘Simon Wood’ box and to all the people who bought DID NOT FINISH in the run up to Bouchercon. I donated $110 to WriteGirl because of it.
If I didn’t have enough on my plate during the convention, I had a couple of extracurricular events. I was elected to the national board of Sisters In Crime. Apparently, sisters are doing it for themselves but only when I’m around. I also ran off to do some filming. More on that another time…
Of all the things that happened during the convention, there was one stand out moment—and that was went Sue Grafton tracked me down for my autograph. It was quite a surreal moment. I’m still a fan boy at heart and I’ve been quite lucky to have met some of my favorite authors and even luckier to call some of them friends but I’m still weirded out when something like Sue—who I’d never met before—chased me down. The weirdness continued when Gayle Lynds tracked me down for a congratulatory hug. I met over Gayle over ten years ago when my first book came out and she helped me recognize my particular brand of storytelling. She’s been a supporter ever since.
All in all, I’m very grateful to the Bouchercon organizers for picking me to be their toastmaster. It was an event to remember. I cherish their faith in me and the lovely award they gave—that I promptly broke. Sorry about that.
I also want to say thanks for all the support of my friends who attended and all the Bouchercon attendees who laughed at my dumb jokes and seemingly meant it. Thanks to the TSA for choosing my bags to examine, empty, bend and crease everything I didn’t want creased.
Finally, to all convention planners looking for a toastmaster, I’m available.