Books, On the Run

Too Big for my Boots

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The scale of the New World is both beguiling and disorienting.

New York is large and dense and teeming with life and people and detail. The flourishes of the architecture – gargoyles, cornices, frescos; street vendors selling pretzels with mustard; dog walkers; New Yorkers; tourists; children – there is minutiae as well as a sense of grand scale. This is the Big Apple. It is busy and noisy and energetic.

Dallas is another thing altogether. The buildings are just as large, but they are modern and sleek. There is space between them and little detail. The sidewalks are wide and there are few trees or people aside from bands of friendly Jehovah’s Witnesses on the occasional street corner. The city is a painting of broad strokes, blocked in but unfinished. It feels somehow sparse and empty – lacking the disorder and decay that population brings. Like a new house waiting for people to move in. Wide roads dominate and locals regard us curiously from behind their steering wheels. They are kind and wave us indulgently across the multi-lane asphalt even against the lights, as if the sight of people on foot is quaint. Walking here one feels small and alone.

Bouchercon is the world’s biggest mystery writers’ convention. There are thousands of attendees, many of whom are writers – big names with bestselling books and HBO series. Into this walk four Australian crime writers.

One gentleman in a backwards baseball cap is at pains to point out that we really must make it here for our literary existence to be worthwhile.

We are greeted by Marjery Flax of the Mystery Writers of America who welcomes us quite literally with open arms. We’ve been invited to sign books at the MWA table though we aren’t members. It is a kindness, and international offer of solidarity between crime writers, and we are honoured and a little awestruck.

One gentleman in a backwards baseball cap is at pains to point out that we really must make it here for our literary existence to be worthwhile. In my mind I hear Frank Sinatra singing a similar refrain. Our new friend is adamant that being “big” in the UK market is not enough, that we must be “big” here in the America. Emma Viskic points out quite gently that Australia is not in the UK, by telling him that our market is even smaller. The idea astounds him, and he wishes us luck.

The life of a writer is not one that is generally conducive to ego. We are accustomed to being unrecognised – it’s part of the gig. And we are after all here for that very reason – to talk to Americans about the Australian crime writing scene. 

Even so I am delighted when a woman in the elevator clutches my arm and says “I must tell you that I love your books. They’re wonderful.”

I feel several inches taller.

I gush thanks but the elevator doors close before I can enquire which book was her favourite.  Jock Serong grins at me. “Well you must be bigger here than you thought – a total stranger said she loves your books!”

Emma looks puzzled. “Books? I thought she said boots.”

I’m unsure now. She might have said boots. I do have very nice boots. I’m suddenly glad the elevator doors closed before I could ask which one she liked best.

And I am small again, looking down at my stylish red boots and contemplating New York and Dallas and the gentleman with his advice and my own sense of scale. And I realise that the ‘bigness’ in this place is not always related to physical size.  The largeness of America is sometimes just a state of mind.

For the other installments in this series, click here.

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