“Excuse me, Do You Mind if I Puke in Your Book Bag?”

Author Charlie Huston says there’s no polite way to decline a drink if you want to remain welcome among professional writers at Bouchercon.

Worse fates there
are than to be asked repeatedly, “What are you drinking?” Indeed, for
that first day it was something of a fantasy come to life. Not only
were drinks being purchased for me, but they were being purchased by
people who had read my books, people who had read them and took
occasion from time to time to mumble a word of praise. As I drank deep,
my ego drank deeper.

The only fault with the scenario being on the second day when I
realized I was supposed to repeat my performance as
sloshed-youngish-writer-with-an-attitude, found that I was in far over
my head, and tried to cry uncle.

You’d think I had squatted in the middle of the carpet and shat upon it.

There is, I promise you, no gracious way to bow out of a round that
has been offered by a far more experienced writer than yourself who has
just told you he likes your work. If you ever have the good fortune to
stumble into this situation, humbly nod your head and repeat after me,
“Hell, yeah, I’ll have another fuckin’ Bud, just let me take a quick
puke in this potted palm here, HHrrrruuuuPPP, whew that’s better, now
where was I? Cheers!”

No offense to Charlie, but while that  might be true with a certain clique,  it’s certainly not true of mystery writers, or Bouchercon, as a whole. I’ve been going to Boucheron for years. I don’t drink. But that hasn’t stopped me from being welcomed  in the bar or restaurant to hang out with "big name" authors more experienced and vastly more successful than I am (I don’t say that to brag, but to make a point).  If I am offered a drink, I take a Diet Coke. No one has ever made me feel like a pariah.

I would hate for Bouchercon to be painted as a convention of puking-on-themselves drunks…though drinking certainly seems to be the big issue coming out of the Chicago fest.

As soon as author J.A. Konrath got back from Bouchercon, he began wondering if he drank too much and behaved like a jerk.

But I also heard many negative things about me, some of them from good friends.
Those include drinking too much and acting inappropriately, showing off, being
loud and obnoxious, trying too hard to be funny, and crossing the lines of good

His post brought him a lot of comments, prompting him to later write:

Why is it when I act like a loudmouth on a panel and drink too much that’s
grounds for excommunication from the mystery world, but when I work my butt off
and do some good, no one cares? Rhetorical question.

I think that is all
that needs to be said.

Not me. I think too many writers drink at these events as much for pleasure as for a ridiculous desire to live up to an  image. Some writers think that drinking to the edge of alcohol poisoning is what hard-ass mystery writers are supposed to do…and if you don’t, or can’t, you’re a fake.

That’s bullshit. It’s trying to live up to a cliche.

Writing is an art, but it’s also a profession. When you’re at Bouchercon, you’re there as an artist and a professional, mingling with authors, fans, publishers, editors and agents.  Is it any wonder you’re judged by how you behave?  Writing is a solitary profession. Most of the time, people can only judge you by your books. On those rare occasions when they can see you in person, you will be making a far bigger impact than you would if they saw you on a regular basis.  If you’re an obnoxious drunk, that’s what people will remember about you.

I’m not saying Joe Konrath was obnoxious or a drunk — I wasn’t there. But I can understand why people are judging him on how he behaved (besides, in his post he invited them to).

I’m sure there was a lot more going on at Bouchercon than writers drinking and puking into their book bags. Besides, is that really the professional image we want to project to the public about mystery writers?

12 thoughts on ““Excuse me, Do You Mind if I Puke in Your Book Bag?””

  1. I’ve been to a couple of Bouchercons, and while there was a vibrant bar scene, I didn’t see any indication that you’re supposed to maintain a hard-drinking persona. In fact, during the Philly con, when I had to drive back to Dover, Del., each night, I could only drink Diet Coke.
    It may be a small community, mystery writers, but it aint all that.

  2. Keith, man. That’s brilliant. I mean it.
    And Lee, I appreciate your honestly re: drinking. I quit after my dad died from it. I remember standing at one of those LA back yard barbeques with an A-list screenwriter so drunk he couldn’t stand, and me apologizing for not drinking. I now realize, I never should have apologized to that f**ker. I’d rather be sober than dead, or even dead inside.

  3. Drinking rule for Bcon:
    Jaegermeister + Hazmat warning = ansinthe.
    Follow rules according to that simple equation, and you should survive.
    Actually, I drank a lot of Diet Coke between cocktails and beer. A couple people gave me a hard time. I also noticed they were both unpublished. Some of us were working out of hotel rooms that weekend. I’ve got better things to do with my time there than nurse a hangover, esp. with a 6 hour drive home.

  4. I agree. My college roommate discribed me 20 years ago as being somewhere between a social drinker and a teetotaler, which is to say, if I’m in the mood, I’ll have a drink. Mostly I just take a Diet Coke and leave it at that. No one can actually pressure me into drinking. I’m a grown-up and I’m perfectly capable of politely saying no thanks.
    And I agree with Lee. At these cons, you’re projecting an image, and the image I want is professional, polite and warm. And if I offer to buy you a drink and you decline, we can still chat. No prob.
    Mark Terry

  5. The myth of the hard drinking writer must die. I have been clean and sober for nearly twenty years and have seen far too many lives ravaged by alochol abuse to ever treat the romance of drunkeness with nothing but the contempt that it deserves.

  6. I want JA to stop beating himself up over this. i wasn’t at bouchercon, so i didn’t see the so-called obnoxious behavior he’s accused of. But i do know that JA is irrepressible, funny, and at heart a generous guy, and he is being too hard on himself. If i was to dwell on all the stupid things I’ve said over the years at writers conferences, I would never emerge from hiding.
    As for the drinking issue, we so seldom get the chance to hang loose with other writers. Okay, so we sometimes have a few too many drinks, let slip a few stupid comments. I do it all the time. I hope to god people will be kind enough to forgive me for it.

  7. If i was to dwell on all the stupid things I’ve said over the years at writers conferences, I would never emerge from hiding.

    Me, too. I certainly don’t need a drink to be obnoxious and make a fool of myself. I’m an expert at doing it completely sober (so I have no excuse!). Heck, I’ve done it here on a regular basis.

  8. What’s with all the Diet Coke sipping around here? I’ll tell you, when I order a drink it had better have some real high-fructose corn syrup in it, or it’s going back. Pansies.


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