Friends have asked what one does at Bouchercon.

As this was my first Bouchercon, here’s what I now know:

You show up after an all-night, can-of-sardines American Airlines experience, thanks to your poor planning skills and August bravado. You  hunt down your hotel roomie, Shea, and after years of emails and zines and journals, finally meet Smith, Bill, Gischler, Phillips, Quertermous. They tell you Ayres just left Indy after swaddling himself in your bed sheets and inhaling a mound of Embassy Suites breakfast buffet. You meet Bill’s buddy, Donny, an actual cop who’s packing heat, decide not to make any fast moves. Great guy.

You take a deep breath, realize, I’m home.

You realize you read about one-tenth the amount Shea does, and about one-fifth the amount of everyone else, feel like a dull turtle, a turtle watching a pack of cheetahs in full sprint. … You check out some great panels – the notion of “social issues” presented in crime fiction is your favorite, followed closely by a panel on crime and humor. John Jordan sees your name badge, asks you to sign a copy of UNCAGE ME. You hang out with your tribe, people who understand why you write what you have to write. You just hang, and talk. Beers. More beers. You meet folks, wonder if you seem like a fanboy or a writer or both, try to govern the excited praise rocketing out of yourmouth –Abbot, McDonald, Nikitas,  Gagnon, Olson, Littlefield, Crouch, Starr, Sakey, Barker, Grabenstein, Neville. You meet folks who just made it to the other side (Rector and Charbonneau and Parks), and folks who are like you. You compare notes, talk about Bruen and Ellroy and Huston. You tell  everyone about this guy they just have to read – Black. You talk projects, compare agents. You’re tugged to the St. Martin’s party,  do more of the fanboy/writer routine over more beer and two pieces of melon. You reconvene back at the main bar. More beer. More introductions.  End of night, you crawl into bed, realize you’ve eaten nothing in 24 hours but a Subway pita and the two melon pieces … and you fade to black.

Next day, you work the hangover. Shea pours a handful of vitamins down your throat. And you lard. You lard hard. More panels, more books. Meet some folks about a  project. Rendezvous with the tribe at the Rathskeller. Serious German sausage and beer. Lots of it. Huge moose heads. Lots of middle fingers for Phillips’s camera. The way back to the hotel, ribs with Shea … and then more drinks at the Bouchercon bar, more connections made, ideas exchanged, laughs had.

You get home at  midnight Sunday. You’re wiped. Your brain is shutting down — a squirrel monkey could destroy you in  tic-tac-toe. Hobbling home, almost there, can’t wait to see your family, can’t wait to get into bed, thinking, God, that was great.