An aspiring author meets an expert, beloved one at Bouchercon 2013 in Albany. They are permanently linked through a beautiful blue necklace. . . .
Originally Posted October 5, 2013, on the Mystery/Crime Blog Hey, There’s a Dead Guy in the Living Room.
On Friday, September 20, with time to kill at Bouchercon 2013 in Albany—my first convention for mystery/crime/thriller writers and fans, I browsed the vendors’ stalls. Typical for writers and readers, on this gorgeous day we were indoors, inside “The Egg”—the oddly shaped and named convention center. My eye caught a hypnotic blue sparkle and wouldn’t let me move past it. Bluebonnet, dark cerulean, fiery cobalt, medium sapphire, fresh blueberry, intense indigo . . . I had no idea what to call it, other than “spectacular.”
I lingered, gazing at the brilliant light coming from the faceted glass beads, blue with a hint of purple, calling to mind the colors of both water and rock, of liquid and solid. This infinite pairing created something beyond the elemental, something cosmic and unified. Although it was September, my birthday was just days away, and sapphire is, after all, my birthstone (this color was close enough), it was hard to justify the cost of beauty—even when it came with matching earrings. So simple, so easy to reach for. But so complicated, so hard to decide on.
“With a name like that, I hope you’re not in construction.” The jewelry vendor, Chris, grinned amiably at me, nodding at my nametag. I smiled dutifully, explaining the origin of my husband’s last name and the British pronunciation, “Con-TRAC-tor.” “Ah. Then I hope one of your children doesn’t marry someone named ‘Expander.’” After puzzling over this for a moment, my mind contracting and then expanding, I laughed—this was a first after years of repetitive namejokes. My former married name was also British, so Bond, Pam Bond, was used to it.
The next panel session was about to start. So I left the vendor stall, glancing backward as I moved on. I guess saying no to yourself is a decision. . . . Anyway, I wanted to hear what the “new” (to me) authors had to say. I was nibbling on tidbits from so many writers, but it was like grazing at a buffet of appetizers. I longed for an intimate supper with a writer whose work—and mind—I could feast on.
My reading group unexpectedly decided to leave for home the next day rather than on Sunday, so Saturday was a bit rushed. Albany more or less shuts down on the weekend, so the only food available inside was free bagels and coffee, as well as rapidly depleting trays of finger food—no restaurants were open on the concourse, and only one food truck stood in the plaza. The volunteer organizers hadn’t planned the feedings very well, but I was somewhat pleased that writers who were respected worldwide were mingling with their fans and muddling through the same predicaments we faced. Tepid coffee and dry bagel downed, I followed my group’s lead and made a decision: if that blue sparkly necklace was still there, I’d make it mine.
And then I saw her. Anne Perry, the international guest of honor and one of the contemporary authors I admire most, stooping over the jewelry vendor’s wares. Her historical crime series—finely wrought literature cloaked in mystery (“Like reading Thackeray edited by Elmore Leonard,” according to Booklist)—had unveiled a Victorian London that I could feel myself living in. Her plots involve all strata of society, its inhabitants meandering through sections of London and aspects of life that grab hold of your imagination and fix you so firmly in another time and place that you find yourself at dusk looking for matches to turn on the gaslight. Her massive amounts of research shine between the lines in condensed form, like laser beams illuminating the places and people she has crafted—and whom she makes you care so terribly much about.
Through her Monk and Pitt novels—two of her series—we get to explore deeply an era of shadows and mist, of a prosperous yet repressive conventionality lying atop nineteenth-century social ills and aristocratic complacency, a mask that was gradually torn away by Dickens, Darwin, Freud, Maxwell, and the Industrial Revolution. The Pitt novels take place roughly during the time of Jack the Ripper, who had lured Anne Perry to this period—a figure that her stepfather, she has said, believed was never caught because he was a politician!
And then I watched myself go up to her, momentarily forgetting the necklace. I heard myself say: “Excuse me, Miss Perry, I don’t want to interrupt you. I just wanted to tell you that you’ve given me many hours of pleasure through your work. And I really enjoyed your talk last night.” Fan babble. I hadn’t known I was capable of it, having always vowed to remain silent in the presence of celebrity so I wouldn’t succumb to mush-brained utterances. “Thank you, you’re very kind.” Although she looked at me, her focal point was somewhere on the horizon of her interior landscape. I wasn’t surprised. Reality couldn’t compare with her inner vision. I left her to her jewelry gazing.
The night before, I’d gotten close to an “intimate supper” by taking in an hour of Anne Perry talking about her work, passionately and compellingly. She related a story about her five-book World War I series, a treasure I’ve reserved for future reading, in which she named a main character after her grandfather. She has him carry a picture of Dante’s bust to the battlefield because, she says, “We are not punished for our sins, but by them,” and The Inferno exemplifies the torments from within for her—and for her character. When her mother learned of this metaphorical use of Dante’s image, she asked, “How did you know?” “How did I know what?” “That your grandfather took a picture of Dante to war with him?” Anne had never met her grandfather, who died before she was born, and had never heard this story. She and her grandfather had a psychic connection, she said; and this series was “close to her heart” because of it.
Turning back toward the jewelry stall, I saw she had left. I decided: I would purchase the necklace. I walked over to the spot where it had lain. Gone! My heart thumped and slowed, and I rued the previous day’s indecisive decision that caused me to walk away from something I now felt sure was meant for me.
This was a pattern. The day before we left for the conference, I had found in a Frenchtown shop a set of pottery kitchen accessories in colors that reminded me of the sandals with ice-cream-colored straps I’d worn and loved as a child. These fifties-style kitchen accoutrements took me back to an era of innocence and possibility, a time when I felt like me because I knew what I liked, what I wanted—a time before others started calling me a “person.” Persons lose their identities; children do not.
Then it occurred to me: Maybe indecision and decision intertwine, like yin and yang symbols, one blending inevitably into the other. This means that indecision is an inextricable part of decision-making. And maybe the point is to accept this and make choices without fear, knowing that another option will appear and that another decision is waiting just around the corner. I suddenly felt that my indecision about the necklace had a purpose: it was meant for her.
I looked up at the vendor. “Chris, did Anne Perry happen to buy that beautiful blue sparkly necklace I was looking at yesterday?” She looked down at my nametag and smiled in recognition, saying animatedly, “Yes, she did! And she also bought my friend’s book!” As I absorbed this news, I realized that Anne Perry had, unknowingly, created a psychic connection with me by choosing my necklace. I was quietly thrilled. Maybe my indecision was my anonymous gift to her—and indirectly to myself because now I felt connected to someone who had manifested her passion through her work.
Then Chris said: “You know, I have a small bag of those beads left. I can make you another necklace just like Anne Perry’s.” Aha! “That would be wonderful! Thank you so much!” My indecisive decision had turned out to be a gift to both of us after all. Chris got out the measuring tape, and we decided on a 15-inch choker on the advice of my friend, Pat, who had wandered over. Pat is very outgoing and had gotten her picture taken with Anne Perry the day before! She said, “You have to go up to her and tell her she got your necklace!” Was she kidding? “I would never do that!” I heard myself say to Pat.
In Part 2, we’ll see whether I would—or would not—ever do that to Anne Perry!