Thursday, September 08, 2005

How Much is Too Much?

I'm looking back on Bouchercon with mixed emotions.

There were many good parts. I was able to touch base with dozens of writers and friends. I had a signing line for a solid hour. I emceed the charity auction and helped raise over eight grand. I gave away over a hundred free drinks at the ITW table. I moderated a standing room only panel and got some big laughs.

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 taste.

I've been thinking about these comments---the bad ones. I haven't been focusing on the good ones, because you can't learn from praise. Criticism, however, is a great teacher.

In my profession, being viewed negatively isn't helpful. Public appearances are a time to shine, to make friends, to spread good-will.

While I don't recall insulting or offending anyone personally (though I was drinking Absinthe on the last night of Bouchercon and can't remember much of anything,) I can honestly say that it's never my intention to hurt anyone, ever. Shock them, perhaps. But not anger them.

If I pissed you off, I apologize.

My attitude toward conventions is a simple one; be entertaining. This doesn't mean get up on a table and yell "Joe Joe Joe!" And it doesn't mean push other people out of the limelight so I can step in with my sound bite. But if there's an opportunity to say or do something funny, I always take it, and don't consider the consequences.

When I'm at conventions, I'm a performer.

During the panel that I moderated, I talked very little about my own books. I didn't even introduce myself. I spent most of the panel trying to make the audience laugh.

I received many compliments on that panel when it was over. A day later, I still had people coming up to me, saying that the panel I moderated was the funniest they'd ever seen.

But I also found out that one of my panelists thought it was terrible. "There goes Joe, doing his stand-up comedy routine again," was their comment. And another author came up to me and sarcastically said, "Didn't you do the exact same thing at another conference?"

Well, yeah. It's called a routine. Was I that bad?

I'd kept an eye on my audience and they seemed to be enjoying it. They were laughing and smiling.

I also made sure that the panelists had ample time to talk about their work, and about the topic at hand (the difference between thrillers vs. mysteries.) I even made the audience say the panelists' books out loud, several times each, so they'd remember their titles.

In my mind, we were entertaining for an hour, got some information out there along with the laughs, and the panelists did a great job.

But at least one of the panelists didn't think so. And word-of-mouth got back to me, and I found out that many other authors shared that view. I'm gaining a reputation among my peers as Mr. Obnoxious. And that's not a moniker I particularly like.

On one hand, I know I'm reaching some fans, and making a lot of people laugh.

On the other hand, I'm alienating some fellow writers, who think I'm an unbearable egomaniac with a drinking problem.

While I'm not going to defend myself, I would like to mention that the average conference panel is not a non-stop thrill-ride. I can safely say that I've seen the panelist who disliked my performance on many other panels, and this person always does a wonderful job. But I can't for the life of me remember any of those panels, their topics, or a single thing this person said.

Panels have very little substance to them, very little about them that is memorable.

People remember my panels. I'm not saying that because I'm stuck on myself. I'm saying that because that's what I work very hard to accomplish, and that's what I hear afterward.

The rule in performing is simple: be anything but boring.

So what percent of the population am I allowed to piss off in order to be memorable? Or should I tone it down several notches, and try to act more like a responsible adult?

The only thing I'm 100% sure about is: I'll never drink Absinthe again.

I'd like to hear from folks in general, and folks who went to Bouchercon. Feel free to post anonymously. Feel free to post hearsay. I'd like to hear some negative things about myself.

That's the only way I'll learn.