Sunday, September 25, 2011

Lessons from Bouchercon

So it's over.  The biggest (maybe) mystery fan/author/bookseller event in the word has packed its trunks and moved on.  Next stop, next year: Cleveland.

This was my first Bouchercon since 1995, when I was twelve years old, and I hadn't really considered attending another one until I got nominated (well, QUEEN got nominated) for the Macavity.  When that happened, I realized it was my duty to show up and give all assembled a lesson in losing gracefully, a skill I've honed quite a bit this year.

So I went, and it was nothing like what I expected.  It was sprawling, disorganized, tightly organized, generous-spirited, non-elitist, jammed with attractions -- a twelve-ring circus in a three-ring tent.  I had an absolutely splendid time.  (Thanks, by the way, to the programmers, who brought a certain kind of order out of chaos, while still providing opportunities for chaos to seep through.  Chaos is half the fun.)

The most coveted T-shirt at Bouchercon

As with all valuable life experiences, there were lessons everywhere.  Here are some lessons I learned from Bouchercon 2011.

1. Mystery fans are the nicest people on earth.  They'll wait patiently, even a little nervously, to come up and say the one thing we all want most to hear --  "I love your books" -- as though they're somehow imposing on us.  To one and all, I say, unless I am face-down on the floor, bleeding profusely from a stab wound, impose on  me.  If am am face-down, etc., call an ambulance and then impose on me.

2.  Mystery writers are almost as nice as mystery fans.  Beginning with my colleagues on this blog, only one of whom (Cara) I'd ever met before, virtually every writer I met was a peach.  To extend the fruit metaphor, there wasn't a lemon in the carload.  Not the world's most alcohol-abstinent group, but they have the additional distinction of being good drunks.

3.  Shut up and listen.  I'm not much at ease meeting new people.  I tend to jabber to fill silences, and I'm ashamed to say that mostly I jabber about myself.  (One of the nice things about writing is that my characters already know all about me.)  At Bouchercon, all I had to do was say, "Hi," and most of the time, the conversation immediately attained lift-off.  I talked for hours and hours with Bruce DeSilva, Chris Knopf, Jeff and Leighton and Yrsa and Stan and Michael (Cara somewhat less, just because we were never seated near each other), Stuart Neville, Martin Limon, Lisa Brackmann, and a cast of thousands.  I must have talked some, because I'd lost my voice by the end of Day Two, but what I remember is listening to people who were a lot more interesting than I was.

4.  Don't sit next to Bruce DeSilva when both you and he are nominated for an award.  He will win and you will not.  And then he'll tell you that winning doesn't really matter.  Next time this happens, immediately after he wins, I'll tell him that winning doesn't matter.  Or would that be churlish?  Anyway, I take it back.  Seize any opportunity to sit next to Bruce.  He's a wonderful guy and a formidable writer.

5.  The basic panel format could use a shaking up.  I don't know how, but there must be a more vital and less repetitive way to let people interact and have their say.  In fact, I think "interact" is the key --as it is now, we interact with the moderator and, perhaps, with questions from the audience, with almost no opportunity to attack (or even praise) one another.  The key to a good panel is a good moderator, but even so I feel as though there are missed opportunities that are inherent in the format.

6.  Go to Bouchercon.  Seriously, you'll have a great time.  And tell each of us you like our books, so we can have a great time, too.

Tim -- Sunday


  1. Tim: I agree with your comments about doing something about the panels. Most were insipid - one question another answered by all panelists. More interaction IS needed, and moderators need to be well prepared. I would love to see more interaction between panelists too, but that is not easy unless the panelists are also prepared.

    Nevertheless, Bouchercon was great, and I'll be there next year. Stan

  2. I hope all the Murder Is Everywhere contingent is at Bouchercon 2013, the one I hope to attend in Albany, NY.

  3. I always need to remind myself that the best made plans don't mean anything till the day arrives. My daughter told me she would come with me and we would have fun. She is always good company though I haven't yet convinced her to read a mystery.

  4. Beth, we're sparklers on a panel, although I have to add that Yrsa is indispensable. She's one of the most delightful, dryest, drollest people in the world (as is her husband, Olaf). So we've all got to go, and we've got to find a way to get Yrsa over, too.

    Tell your daughter that Ordipus Rex is a mystery and we've been improving on the form ever since.

    Stan, should be a way to address this. It's hidebound the way it is. Maybe we should all be asked the questions we least want to answer. Maybe the questions should be confrontational instead of supportive. some panels are like opening a vein in a warm bath; it's comfortable, but you're not sure you'll survive it. There are good panels, but it seems almost to come down to chemistry among the mod and the panelists.

    Anyway, I'm glad I went and it was great to meet you all face to face.

  5. Sorry - should have been "Oedipus." Ordipus was hie less curious twin.

  6. It sounds wonderful, and mostly joyous. It's hard not to win, but the company sounds wonderful. Yes, Tim, most of us would be very shy because we admire your talents and do what we can't do, and you give so much pleasure in the process. I think the occasional stumble is endearing, some what human. This one really seemed to really shine-maybe it was the sheeps' head :) Thank you, Jeff, for the pictures; my comment got eaten by the blogging monster. Hope your internet woes right themselves. Thank you all for your comments-it was almost like being there.

  7. Ah, you're only making me more jealous.

    I'm with you on the panel format Tim (as well as the stuff about miustery fans being nice and mystery writers being drunks, er, nice too.). I've often found myself deliberately trying to create a bit of controversy on a panel, even if it means playing Devil's Advocate, simply to spice things up when they go a bit flat and friendly and backslappy.

    The trick is to try pick people with opposing views, or different styles, under a topic of hot debate. Easier said than done in such a huge undertaking like Bouchercon.

  8. Boucheron will be about 2 hours from me in 2012. I hope to be able to get there with my books for you guys (and gals) to sign.

  9. Yrsa's blog posts are, more often than not, laugh-out-loud funny. Her mysteries are not which, in some strange way, makes me appreciate her blog posts even more.

    I fully intend to make it to Albany unless, of course, Bouchercon can make it to Boston or even as far south as Washington, DC. I love Amtrak.

  10. Well, I just wish you all could have been there with us. It was a huge amount of fun. Harvee, will see you there for sure; Lil, don't you dare be shy around me; Beth, wish you could make Cleveland -- at my age, you don't plan more than a year at a time.

    Dan, someone DOES need to do something. Most panels are duller than a hardware store. (Okay, now all you amateur handymen can jump on me. But if I'd fallen into the hands of the Spanish Inquisition, all they would have had to do to me is lock me in a hardware store overnight, and I'd have confessed anything.)

  11. Tim, my daughter has read Oedipus Rex, as have I, and Ordipus Rex has to be more interesting despite the lack of the same curiosity that got Oedipus into such trouble.

    I think our ages are in the same bracket. You're better off than I. I don't go beyond the next day or sometimes the next couple of hours.

    If Amtrak has a train to Cleveland, I'll investigate the possibilities.

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