I've given up telling people I'm going to Bouchercon next weekend, at least the people who aren't rabid mystery writers like me. Instead I say I'm attending a big meeting for mystery readers and writers in Cleveland. Most of the time that gets me a funny look that might mean, "I knew you were a little nuts." Mystery conferences are in some ways like the teachers' meetings I used to have to attend. There has to be programming, a sort of raison d'etre, so panels on various aspects of reading and writing are slated. These turn out a lot the same, so after a few years of attending cons, the panels aren't as alluring. Some I know don't attend the panels at all, and I find I'm more interested in learning what an author or agent is like as a person than in what they can tell me about writing or publishing. Like those long-ago teachers' meetings, however, there's often a gem of wisdom that I file away for later, something that fits my style and work habits. Conferences provide a chance to get together with others who are as passionate as I am about writing, reading, and the business that we must participate in if we're to continue to be published writers. Meeting new people, touching base with acquaintances, and (to be honest) being seen in public as a writer are important aspects of promoting our work. Bouchercon is a big conference, so there are lots of "little" authors like me who are published but not PUBLISHED. It's humbling to see so many of us scrambling for what notice we can garner while the big names are feted and praised, but it's also fun to meet those big guys and gals and learn that they were once where we are, struggling to get some agent or publisher to notice them and give them a chance. Bouchercon, I suppose, is less like teachers' meetings and more like an author circus: the headline acts in the center ring, the secondary acts in the other two rings, the sideshows that people seek out if they have an interest, and if the truth must be told, the freak shows. It's all great fun--some time away from the daily grind, a chance to admire the talent of the stars of the show, and a chance--however small it might be--to grab that brass ring, something that turns the spotlight on me and my work. I just hope if that happens, I don't fall on my dupa in front of everybody.