The Song: "Watching the Detectives," Elvis Costello and the Attractions. Words & music by Declan Patrick MacManus (Elvis Costello). Track 7 of My Aim is True, 1978 (US release).
How/when acquired: Purchased cassette, c. 1987
Music geek trivia: "Watching the Detectives" does not appear on the U.K. version of My Aim is True, but was added to the American album, released a year later. I'm a little worried that we're barely six weeks into this blog and I'm already on my second quotation from this record, but it might be possible to do an entire year of nothing but lines from Elvis Costello songs. Anyway, what could be more appropriate for a Bouchercon wrap-up post?
The highlight of this year's meeting for me was the culmination of a year-long project, a reading of "I Can't Get Started" by Declan Hughes. "I Can't Get Started" was Hughes' first play, and is a biographical riff on the last 30 years of Dashiell Hammett's life. It moves back and forth between scenes from Hammett's life with Lillian Hellman and scenes from an imaginary novel Hammett never wrote, during the years of his famous writer's block.
I first read the play after meeting Declan at the Baltimore Bouchercon in 2008, and thought it would be great to include it in the San Francisco meeting, because of Hammett's connection there. Declan gave his blessing, with the warning that he wouldn't be in San Francisco himself. I pitched it to Sarah Weinman, who thought it was a great idea and brought it to Rae Helmsworth, the conference chair. Rae liked the idea, too, and gave me a slot on the program.
The question then was how to make it happen. I had some ideas about casting, and approached a few authors; many crime writers come from backgrounds in theater and film. Martyn Waites and Alison Gaylin were enthusiastic about it from the beginning, following a three-hour breakfast at last year's Bouchercon. I approached Brett Battles, who writes great espionage thrillers and did theater in college, in the airport on the way home from Indianapolis. Queen of noir Megan Abbott was a no-brainer, but needed to be persuaded that she would be great, as did the incomparably hard-boiled Christa Faust. Declan, God bless him, changed his mind and decided to come to San Francisco after all, and he recruited his friend, international bestseller, standup comic and consummate professional Mark Billingham.
We met Saturday morning for a table read that was hilarious and reassured everyone, I hope, that this was a good idea that would come off. We had an excellent turnout for the last slot on a Saturday afternoon, and although we warned people we'd run over the 60-minute time limit (which we did, by 20 minutes), almost no one left. I could not have been more pleased with how it all went, and am so grateful to everyone involved in making it happen. My only regrets were that 1) everyone had to scatter to different obligations after the reading, so that we weren't able to congratulate each other over drinks; and 2) no one videotaped or recorded the session.
Over dinner that night, though, Mark said — and I, obviously, agree — that every Bouchercon should include something like this, maybe even more than one: sessions of actual storytelling, in addition to the endless panels in which authors talk about their process. Sessions like our reading remind everyone of what brought us to this genre to begin with, and of why it's so much fun to assemble once a year to talk about it.
Congratulations to Rae Helmsworth, Jon Jordan and Judy Bobalik on a fabulous four days. Jon and McKenna Jordan are co-chairs of next year's meeting, in St. Louis, and Judy will once again be coordinating the panels. Family obligations will keep me away next year, but it's not too soon to register yourself.
In the meantime, if you're in the Los Angeles area, you can see Declan Hughes himself at an event with author Laura Caldwell this very night at The Mystery Bookstore. 7:00 p.m., in the heart of Westwood (1036-C Broxton Avenue), with plenty of parking available. Wish I could be there.