"Myope" must be a real word, but I don't have my OED with me so I can't look it up. It was used the other night at dinner by Catherine Manning, better known to her reading public as Elizabeth Ironside, to describe herself; her vision, actually. While we may have had to fight a revolution against them, and their lawyers do look ridiculous in those filthy wigs and robes, and I must admit to cringing when confronted with all the lord and lady stuff, and the Windsors? well, enough said. The English did, after all, invent English, something for which I am deeply indebted to them. And a word as fine as "myope"? Sometimes you just have to give it to them.
Lady Catherine - I'm poking a little fun at her here because although she is apparently entitled to the honorific, it might embarrass her were I to use it - and her husband Sir David, the U.K. ambassador to the U.S. (who I think would have laughed me away from the dinner table had I called him by his title) were at Bouchercon in Madison, Wisconsin to help promote her books. The titles, previously out of print in the U.S. are being reissued by Felony & Mayhem Press, which is owned by my pal Maggie Topkis - also one of the owners of Partners & Crime bookstore in New York City.
This is all by way of saying that I had a grand time at a very small dinner party - five of us in total - with the Ambassador and his Lady - Catherine and David - who seem to embody just what you would want from diplomats. They were friendly, warm, easy going, smart, funny, well read, well travelled and well informed. The sort of folk anyone in their right mind would want to be friends with. I was very impressed when David told us about how he had gone to Dodge City, Kansas not long after being sent to Washington D.C. to become what is almost certainly Great Britain's most important ambassador. He wanted to get a sense of America away from the big, sophisticated cities. He picked Dodge because he had watched Gunsmoke many years ago and it was around the agricultural center of the country. He spent three days there, talking to everybody he could about whatever he could. He returned surprised, a bit horrified by some of what he came across and heartened by some other of what he encountered.
Perhaps it's the difference between the foreign (diplomatic) service and politicians, but somehow it gave me a vague sense of optimism that there might yet be hope for the world.
Bouchercon, the annual mystery writers and readers convention, struck me as a bit of a mess initially. No one seemed to have the slightest idea of what, where or when things were happening. There was a terrible, near-financially ruinous screwup with Maggie's new book by "Elizabeth Ironside". I was grumpy about the panel I was scheduled to be on. Overall, the early stages put me in a grumpy mood.
But then things turned around. They sorted themselves out. In large part due to the tireless efforts of Jodi and Kate - two of the organizers. Events happened as they were supposed to. People milled about and chatted each other up. Contacts were made. Books were sold and signed. People had fun in the bars. (We're writers, we drink, or we're sober drunks. It seems to be an occupational hazard.) I was almost constantly busy, on my feet a good 14 to 16 hours or more a day and found the whole thing enjoyable and useful.
It helped that this was my third one. The first one I almost swore I'd never come back. I didn't know anybody. I didn't have a book out yet. I moped in corners. This time I can't even keep track of all the people I know from previous years. It's like trying to walk down the street in Chicago with my sister Nancy - the world's most gregarious and friendly human being - it takes forever to make a block because she has to stop and chat with nearly everyone we come across.
Anyhow, it was great, just what I wanted from a conference. And on Sunday I got in the car and headed south, then west for home.
Before all that, Chicago, Barbara's Books in Oak Park was the last gasp of the Disoriented Express. It was a disappointingly small crowd, but a nice enough one as they always seem to be. I have yet to have a heckler. I'm looking forward to one eventually though. The bookstore people and the attendees seemed to enjoy the show. We had six total, not counting the bookstore employees, but counting my sister. I'd estimate them at a reasonable 1,005 lbs. That brings the tour total to a close at:
More than four tons of people, 8,915 lbs of readers (excluding bookshop employees) viewed the DisOriented Express!
From Chicago we took the back route up to Madison, along small, beautiful Wisconsin country roads, pausing to take photos along the way. What we were photographing was Colin's Dilys award: with a fish shaped mailbox, a red, white and blue cow for Bush - Cheney 2004, a refrigerator compartment of cheese, the Welcome to Madison sign and other things. Fun was had. We showed the entire slide show of our silly Dilys photos to a group of people who'd come to hear Colin at a luncheon and we had them rolling in the aisles. (The Dilys is awarded by the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association to the author of the book they most enjoyed selling during the year.) Here's some pictures we took all along the way:
Driving across country, I was once again happy to be reminded of what a remarkably diverse and beautiful country this is. There are few places on the planet that offer as many different types of terrain, flora and fauna and in the Fall the color palette is just about overwhelming. That and despite all the carryings on about how America is becoming such an intolerant, fundamentalist Christian place, I encountered a whole lot less evidence of that (although I did come across some) than I did of the basic friendly, tolerant, good nature of most of my fellow Americans. I think if everyone in the country could drive across it once every ten years or so, and talk to a lot of the sort of folk that they don't usually talk with at home, there might be a lot fewer misunderstandings and fear of each other.
Does that sound Pollyanna-ish? Did Pollyanna ever drive 926 miles - North Platte, Nebraska to Mesquite, Nevada - in one day?