Sunday, October 14, 2012
IT WAS THE BEST OF TIMES... IT WAS (MOSTLY) THE WORST OF TIMES...
Sorry I haven’t posted in a bit, but I’ve been out of it since Bouchercon and have gotten dozens and dozens of emails since and thought it might make more sense if I just told you guys what’s been going on.
First, I’ve been through a week of what feels like a Dickens' or Russian novel, but I’m emerging fairly well.
For starters, I went to Bouchercon last week, anticipating a magical time. Well… as it turned out, it wasn’t. It’s kind of forced me to face my own mortality.
I arrived on Thursday, checked into the airport Marriott which is about 15 miles away from the convention center at the Renaissance Marriott. Jumped back in my rental and headed for the convention. This trip was a really big deal for me. It represented an opportunity to reconnect with mystery/suspense/thriller/noir writers I’m friends with and meet new writers whom I’ve admired from afar. My wife and I kind of mortgaged our Christmas and other things to pay for it and I planned to make some hay! Maybe even hook up with a publisher or three to look at some of my work. You know—what us writer-types do when we go to professional conferences. We saw it as an investment in our future.
What do they say? Man plans… and God laughs?
I got to the hotel and that’s when the troubles began. MapQuest didn’t alert me that navigating downtown Cleveland is a nightmare. I finally got to a downtown Marriott and parked a block away at their underground garage. I have fairly severe COPD and it about wore me out to hike from the garage to the hotel… only to run into old friend Hallie Ephron who told me the convention was at another Marriott—the Renaissance—which happened to be two blocks further away. For you young whippersnappers, that’s a piece of cake, but it took me the good part of half an hour to hike it, having to stop several times to catch my breath and hold a mirror up to see if my breath still showed…
Finally, I made it to the host hotel and went directly to…
Where else? It’s where the action of writer’s conferences is always at. First, I had to register, which entailed a walk of what seemed half a mile down the hall to the opposite end. Finally, that done, I hiked back to the bar and ordered some meds… a Jack and water. Instantly revived!
Where I was soon embroiled in conversation with a writer who wanted to lecture me about The Differences Between Plot-Based and Character-Based Fiction. Precisely why I always go to the bar and don’t attend a lot of panels which are often about things like: The Differences Between Plot-Based and… you get it. After I extricated myself from this guy, I started to see old friends and was introduced to new ones and everything was cool again. Made friends with the bartenders who were great. This one bartender even bought me a drink. That’s when you know you’ve arrived.
Spent a largely pleasurable evening chatting with other writers. Don’t ask me their names. I have to check my own nametag to remember my own. My wife usually goes with me to serve as my memory, due to my Halfzeimer’s. Well, I remember some—Eric Beetner, my old friend Jed Ayres, Johnny Shaw (whose new book I just finished and it was one of the best reads I’ve had in a long while), Tom Pluck, Josh Stallings, Christa Faust, Dominic Martell and a bunch of other terrific writers. As the cartoon guy says, the whole evening was “Happy, happy, joy, joy.”
Finally left to go to the parking garage three blocks away and got discombobulated (lost, homey), and it took over an hour to find my car. Wondering what the city of Cleveland had done to their oxygen supply. Finally made it back to my motel, after encountering a detour on the way and eventually figuring out how to find my digs.
Got up the next day (Friday) and headed back to the convention center. Good day. Met lots of cool writers, saw old friends, generally had a great time. Ate some fried calamari. Some of the best I’ve ever eaten. I’ll come back to that in a bit…
That evening was our Noir @ the Bar reading at the Wonderbar. It was only two blocks away but I couldn’t walk it so some really nice folks—Lee Thompson and Sabrina Ogden were kind enough to go with me and share a cab. You know, humor the old dude… I think a guy I desperately wanted to meet as I’m a huge admirer of his work was there—Duane Swierczynsky—but if he was, alas, I didn’t get to meet him. The reading went well even though the mics were terrible. I had a guy come up to me afterward and introduce himself as a publisher and he bought four of my books (thank you!) and we’d kind of made plans to meet up the next day but as it turned out that was not to be. Sir, if you happen to read this, please give me a shout!
From the reading, we went back to the Renaissance and that’s when things began to go hinky. A boatload of us were gathered in the lobby just off the bar and things began hitting me. I remember asking someone if they could find me a room I could crash in that night as I didn’t think I could make it back to my hotel. I’d begun breaking out into cold sweats and feeling faint. I didn’t want to come across as a wuss, so I just slouched down in a chair and eventually passed out (not from drinking, from illness). I woke up at 3 ayem and the place was deserted. I honestly thought I might be dying. Not to be melodramatic, but that’s the way I felt. I didn’t see any way around it, so forced myself up and down to the parking garage and found my car and drove back to my hotel. Somehow…
Woke up at six ayem and turned over and my stomach began cramping big-time and I began the first of about eight ralphings. Calimari. Felt like I was dying. Food poisoning, I assumed. There was no way I could return to the convention. I called and asked for a late checkout and then spent two hours between the porcelain goddess and packing and finally piled in my car and began the three-and-a-half hour drive back to Ft. Wayne. Pure hell all the way.
Got there, found out I’d had a hemorrhoid burst and about a cup of blood lost. Went to bed and got up the next morning and there was more bright red blood. Either a second ‘roid or the last gasps of the first one. Mary took me to the ER and we got there at 11:30 and they took a bunch of tests as they thought maybe it wasn’t food poisoning but gallbladder—in fact, I’d emailed novelist John Gilstrap to tell him why I’d left so abruptly and he suggested it might not be food poisoning but gallbladder—John, looks like you might be right—awaiting test results. Sat in the ER room until 7:30 that night and they finally released us. They talked about doing something called a “hemorrhoidectomy” and then decided against it for the time being. Ended up the next several days traipsing from doctor’s offices to hospitals to labs, et al. Tested for pancreas, lumbar (another story), gall bladder and other things. Oh, forgot—on the way home from Cleveland got a severe sore throat and cough and mentioned it at the ER but there was so many other things they forgot it. Gave me a breathing treatment for my COPD and put me on two different inhalers and all kinds of other crap. Two days later, went to RediMed as I was coughing nonstop and they diagnosed acute bronchitis and possible pneumonia and gave me meds for that. And then, just as life was looking kind of gray… it went positively black. Mary took our only car in as the idiot light went on and the news was that the engine’s shot. They said all we could do is drive it till it dropped—nothing could be done. So, that’s where we are with the car. If it goes we don’t have money for a new engine or for a new used car, so just hope our shoe leather holds up.
That brings us to yesterday. My strength and energy were starting to return which was good as I had an engagement to speak to the Indiana Romance Writers in Indy. Rented a car, drove down, and had a really good visit with those delightful folks. Felt re-energized.
Anyway, that was my week, right out of Dickens or Tolstoy. Not looking for sympathy—well, maybe a little—but it’s just easier to post this here than to reply to all the individual emails that have been coming in. I appreciate each and every one of those, btw—it’s just going to be impossible to reply to them quickly so hope y’all understand. And I wanted those folks at Bouchercon who I was going to meet with know why I wasn’t able to.
The good news? And, yes there is some. My students in both my online creative writing class and the Skype class I co-teach with Jenny Milchman for the New York Writer’s Workshop. Every single one of them has been extremely understanding and gracious. They’ve allowed me an extra week to get it together and they’ll never know how much I appreciate that. It means the world to me and I won’t forget.
Anyway, the one thing I’ve learned in my journey is that life is cyclic. It’s not up forever and it’s not down forever. I’m pretty sure something really cool and good is going to happen soon. I mean… I’m not just whistling past the graveyard here am I?
Thanks for all of your well-wishes and thoughts. Here’s something remarkable. Stuff like this shows a person the true value of friends. A good friend of mine—Bob (I won’t embarrass you by giving your last name, Bob) has far worse things going on in his life than I do—his beloved wife is dying right now and may even be gone at this moment)—Bob has truly serious things on his plate, and yet, he took the time out to call me and voice his support for me. Now… who does that? Only a truly selfless person. Thanks, Bob. People like Bob keep reminding me of that great philosopher Red Green and what he always says:
Keep your stick on the ice. I’m pulling for ya. We’re all in this together.
Yes we are.