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November 20, 2014

Bouchercon 2014: Seven Mystery Superstars Give Us the Inside Scoop

Posted by emily

Bouchercon 2014, aptly called “Murder at the Beach,” took place in Long Beach, CA, last weekend (November 13-16). Bouchercon is an annual event held by the World Mystery Convention, which brings together all parts of the mystery and crime fiction community for a weekend of thrilling panels and awards. Unfortunately, none of our staff was able to attend  --- our own Carol Fitzgerald has attended eight times in the past and was sorry to miss this year --- but we had a few amazing authors and friends who were kind enough to do some sleuthing for us. Here, seven mystery authors and lovers --- Dana Haynes, Ali Karim, William Kent Krueger, Clair Lamb, Keith Raffel, Wendy Corsi Staub and Wendy Webb --- share some highlights of Bouchercon 2014, including best books, best panels...and best drinks. See our Bouchercon Photo Gallery here.

Question: How many Bouchercons have you been to?

William Kent Krueger: I’ve attended 13 Bouchercons. The first was in 1998, which means I’ve missed three across all this time (D.C. in 2001, Toronto in 2004, and San Francisco in 2010).

Wendy Webb: This is my second Bouchercon. There will be many more!

Ali Karim: Previously, seven: Las Vegas, 2003; Baltimore, 2008; Indianapolis, 2009; San Francisco, 2010; St. Louis, 2011; Cleveland, 2012; and Albany in 2013.

Keith Raffel: Long Beach was number six. First was Monterey in 1997, when I had no intention whatsoever of writing crime fiction. Back then, I was owned body and soul --- almost --- by a startup and slipped away for one day. I remember talking to Ian Rankin and having no idea who he was. 

Q: What’s your best memory from Long Beach?

WKK: Well, heck, it was winning three awards, including the Anthony! In second place was sitting in shirtsleeves on the patio of a Long Beach marina restaurant eating a wonderful breakfast and watching a seal at play in the harbor a few yards away (and knowing that back home in Minnesota the temperature was in the teens).

WW: My panel, “Mind Games, Psychological Thrill Rides.” Yes, it was on Sunday and we were all mildly disappointed about that, but we had a great turnout all the same. It was moderated by the great Ali Karim, who came up with such deep, insightful questions about the nature of psychopaths and sociopaths, it really got us all thinking and the conversation flowing. My fellow panelists Patricia Gussin, Andrew Kaufman, Dennis Palumbo and Mary Vensel White and I couldn't get enough of talking to each other --- after the signing we stood in the lobby and talked for a good 20 minutes, and really could have gone all day. A fantastic subject brilliantly moderated, with a smart, insightful audience, and a panel of highly intelligent people I'm proud to call new friends. My only regret is that we didn't meet in the bar the night before. Ah well, next Bouchercon…

AK: So many, though the Sunday post-Bouchercon dinners I organise are always my favourite. But rather than write about last Sunday’s invited gathering, I’ll quote what Kevin Burton Smith of Thrilling Detective wrote:

“But by far the greatest, most amazing time happened after the conference was over. Diane and I stuck around, used the hotel pool, had a nice quiet lunch, figured we'd drive home Monday. Ran into Ali that afternoon sneaking out for a smoke. He invited us to dinner with "four or five" other people. At Gladstome's, the scene of the crime for the Shamus awards a few nights earlier. But by the time we got there, the four of five had grown a little. We ended up back in the private room where the Shamuses themselves had taken place --- there was no room for us anywhere else.

It was a wonderful evening, a fantastic meal, a booze-prompted (but not booze-fueled) panel round table about books, literacy, rock'n'roll, technology, writing, Robert Parker, publishing and passions, moderated by an equally booze-prompted Ali. Perhaps all Bouchercon panels should be held in bars.

It truly was a magical evening, starring Ali (aka "The Hardest Working Man in the Crime Biz") and co-starring Diana Killian, Heather Graham, Linda S. Richards, Jeff and Jodi Pierce, Mike Stotter, R.J. Ellory, Tanis Mallow, Peter Rozovsky, Rob Brunet, Connie and fellow bookseller Scott Montgomery. Look at the grins plastered across those mugs at that picture up there.

Man, those people.In my life, I'll love them all.”

KR: Terry Shames floating on air after winning the Macavity award for best first novel. Or Stephen Jay Schwartz smilingly waving at me from the other side of the bar. I'm more used to a nod or a grunt from him. All explained when it turned out he was acknowledging Ursula Ringham, who was directly behind me. 

Clair Lamb: Teaching Karen Olson to play Jenga in the Hyatt Lobby. She'd never played, and my set was Extreme Jenga, which has slanted pieces and is especially challenging. The table we were playing on was metal, so things got a little noisy.

Wendy Corsi Staub: With Southern California in a severe drought, it didn’t occur to me to pack an umbrella. Late on night two, I emerged from a restaurant into a drenching downpour with a merry and illustrious band (Oline Cogdill, Margery Flax and her husband Steven, Serena Mackesy, Dan Hale and Alison Gaylin). No cabs, and we were half a mile from the hotel. Splashing along, we came upon another restaurant’s wheeled valet parking cart, huddled beneath it, and someone may have suggested that we roll it back to the Hyatt just before the valet appeared to nip that in the bud. Forced to continue on foot, Oline, Serena and Dan took the situation in stride, unlike we four New Yorkers, who took it in breakneck speed. As the Flaxs, Alison and I sprinted all the way back, someone whose initials may or may not be WCS may or may not have slipped on wet granite and fallen into a puddle. Our entire group arrived in the hotel bar utterly drenched to confuse and amuse our cozily ensconced colleagues who had no idea it was even raining.

Q: What were your favorite panels? You can name up to three.

WKK: “Badge or No Badge,” which had a great moderator in Ted Hertel, and terrific comments from the panelists; along with S.J. Rozan, our interview of Fan Guest of Honor Al Abrahamson, all of us drinking beer the whole while; and Joan Hansen’s amazing “Men of Mystery” presentation.

WW: See above! I also loved “Women Kill at Mysteries.” This was not part of the original programming, but a response to the fact that there was a big “Men of Mystery” panel featuring a dozen or more male authors, but no “Women of Mystery” panel. What are we, chopped liver? The MWA put it together at the last minute, and it was a bunch of mystery writers recommending books by other writers. And it included a free Bloody Mary bar at 10am on Saturday. Only at Bouchercon. The “Major Crimes” panel was also really great. The writers behind the TNT show “Major Crimes” talked about how they come up with the show's plots (hint: a former cop with 29 years of experience on the LAPD is one of the writers). Much of what we see on the show, and on its mothership, “The Closer,” is from his old cases. It was a highly interesting inside peek at a facet of the writing industry I know nothing about.

AK: “Masters of Suspense,” moderated by Otto; “Beyond Hammet, Chandler and Spillabe,” moderated by Peter Rozovsky; and “Belfast Noir,” moderated by Peter Rozovsky.

KR: “Living Vicariously” --- Is it fair to name a panel where I served as moderator? M.P.Cooley, Rory Flynn, Hannah Dennison, Gayle Lynds and Chris Pavone were so great in explaining how they migrate from the misbegotten world of reality to the dangerous world of fiction. As E.L. Doctorow said, "Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia." Also, lunch with Melodie Johnson Howe, Kathryn Leigh Scott and Kathy Bennett --- I'm counting this as a top-notch panel with a select audience. Kathy Bennett and I were enthralled by Melodie and Kathryn's stories of crime and Hollywood, today and yesterday. Melodie and Kathryn, two actors who now write crime fiction, had more than enough stories to fill a bookshelf or a 100-episode TV series. And, of course, “Mind Games” moderated by Ali Karim, with Patricia Gussin, Andrew Kaufman, Dennis Palumbo, Wendy Webb and Mary Vensel White. Ali managed to probe the dark recesses from which these writers pull their damaged heroes and even more damaged villains.

CL: I'm deliberately not choosing my own, but if I were being honest, I'd choose my two panels first. Otherwise: "A Place By Any Other Name," which was a conversation among John Connolly, Tammy Kaehler, William Kent Krueger, Mark Pryor and Julia Spencer-Fleming, moderated by Deb Lacy. "Keep Them in Their Places or Let Them Steal the Scenes," which wasa conversation among Don Bruns, Marcia Clark, Sharon Fiffer, Kent Harrington and Tina Whittle, moderated by Erin Mitchell. And “The SoCalMWA” audiobook panel on Saturday afternoon, with audiobook readers such as Scott Brick, Kirby Heybourne and Julia Whelan.

WCS: Saturday morning’s last minute “Bloody Murder” panel, hosted by Sara Paretsky and Charlaine Harris, which I was privileged to help plan; Thursday afternoon’s “Where Do You Like Your Violence” panel (yes, I was on it); and Alison Gaylin interviewing YA Guest of Honor Eoin Colfer on Saturday morning.

Dana Haynes: "Sassy, Sexy and Smart Female Protagonists," moderated by Elaine Viets, witg panelists Hilary Davidson, Andrew Mayne, Nora McFarland, Diane Vallere and James Ziskin. "Murderers Row," moderated by Harley Jane Kozak, with panelists Sheila Connolly, Christopher Farnsworth, Jamie Freveletti, Roger Hobbs and Jeffrey Siger. And my panel, "Close Enough for Government Work," moderated by Chantelle Aimee Osman, with panelists Andrew Grant, Derek Haas, Dana Haynes, Harry Hunsicker and Boyd Morrison.

Q: This one’s important. Tell us what you drank at the bar.

WKK: I didn’t. I just talked and talked and talked.

WW: My readers know. Chardonnay, as usual.

AK: Gin, and beer (plenty of both) and consumed with alacrity at many parties including the late night poker game that the team of Linda Richards (of January Magazine) and I won!

KR: I was right not to trust the in-lobby Starbucks to have decent tea. I brought my own Kumi green darjeeling for a morning cuppa. Later in the day, I was more than happy to partake of the Congregation Ale on tap. (Appropriate for a gathering of crime writers, don't you think?) Good stuff. I've always felt like a misfit in California, land of coffee- and wine-drinkers. Give me tea and beer any time.

CL: Margaritas, mostly.

WCS: As a veteran of Bouchercons past, having found myself joining the walking wounded in the glaring light of many a morning panel, I wisely stuck with white wine this year --- and even managed to resist bad influences Christine Goff and Matt Martz who coaxed me to order a Moscow Mule with dinner the night before my 6am flight home.

DH: Coffee.

Q: What was the best story you heard in the bar?

WKK: It wasn’t actually in the bar, but close. Denise Hamilton, a fine author out of L.A., told me about her work with economically disadvantaged high school kids, helping them prepare the essays that might win them a spot at a good college. Oh, the stories she told were both heartbreaking and incredibly inspiring. For example, she relayed the tale of a kid who was living out of a dumpster, cleaning himself up every day for school in the washroom of a gas station, and who was still able to maintain a 4.0 GPA. The work she’s doing with these kids is so important, and she has a great vision of involving other MWA authors in this kind of effort. From her mouth to god’s ear.

WW: I heard a lot of stories at the bar, but my favorite was something that happened later. I got an urgent text at 10pm informing me that Jess Lourey was arranging for Sharknado [the 2013 made-for-television satirical disaster film] to be shown in the lobby and I needed to get down there, STAT. Again, only at Bouchercon.

KR: How an author we'll call Ivan suspected infidelity from a spouse. What did he do to decide if he was imagining things? Write a short story about it and ask his critique group to vote. They were split down the middle.

DH: Guy 1: “Wow, that’s a sexy cover.”
Guy 2: “Christa Faust would appreciate that.”
(Christa Faust, smiling, passes unnoticed behind them.)

WCS: An author who shall remain nameless to protect the innocent --- not to mention the guilty --- won the Shamus but wasn’t in attendance. The trophy found its way to the bar Friday night, where everyone from Lee Child to the hotel bellman took turns being photographed holding it.

Q: What was your best unexpected encounter with an author or fan?

WKK: I was walking to lunch with my wife and the incredible Judy Bobalik. We heard a voice pipe up behind us, “Are you talking about audiobooks?” [Editorial Note: “Sounding Off,” perhaps?] We were. This lovely lady came abreast of us, and we all walked to a harbor restaurant, talking the whole way, of course. Once there, we invited her join us. She politely declined, and declined again, but we continued to insist. She finally gave in, and we all met our new best friend at the convention, Jill Maxick, an editor at Seventh Street books. What I love about this story is that it’s SO Bouchercon and SO how new friends are made there.

WW: Apparently there were some people, fans, trying to find me throughout the weekend, who would end up in the bar or at receptions or parties just after I had been there. I was eluding them without knowing it! Not Where's Waldo, but Where's Wendy! They all came to my signing on Sunday, which was great. 

AK: The surreal nature of reality never ceases to amaze me. David Morrell is a very dear friend and we were delighted that his novel MURDER IS A FINE ART was awarded the Sue Feder Memorial Award for best Historical Mystery by Mystery Readers International/Macavity Award (presented by Janet Rudolph). David had to leave Sunday morning, as he was visiting his daughter Sarie, who lives near Long Beach, so we said our farewells Saturday night.

Then when R.J. Ellory, Mike Stotter and I were leaving for London, from Long Beach Airport, while I was checking in my luggage, I was startled by a tap on my shoulder. As I turned around, one of the greatest living thriller writers, David Morrell, creator of Rambo,smiled back. He was returning home from a visit to his daughter’s house. We had lunch as we shared the same flight --- we were all changing planes in Phoenix, which was also the city that hosted the very first Thrillerfest in 2006; David, along with Gayle Lynds founded the International Thriller Writers organization, which hosts ThrillerFest.

Bouchercon coincidences are surreal!

DH: For Thrillerfest this year, I had a large poster of my novel made and rented an easel. Didn’t know if it worked or not, but a fellow writer came up to me at Bouchercon, said they’d seen it in New York, and vowed to do the same thing for their book next year. You never know if random marketing pays off until you hear something like that. 

KR: I met Karen MacInerney eight years ago at the late, lamented Con Misterio conference in Austin, where we were both debut authors. Great to catch up. Some newspaper syndicate should pick her up. In addition to being a terrific crime writer, she's the funniest commentator on family life since Erma Bombeck.

CL: Not so unexpected, but I was absolutely delighted to see Judy Clemens, whom I only tend to see at Bouchercon. I also saw Jim Fusilli --- only long enough for him to crack me up --- before we went to separate panel sessions.

WCS: I met Elizabeth Little, author of this year’s debut splash, DEAR DAUGHTER, when we signed together at R.J. Julia this summer. She attended her first Bouchercon this year, and we managed to connect for a last minute happy hour at my hotel before the opening ceremonies. Love the woman, love her book.

Q: And, of course, the books! Tell us some of the books that you came away wanting to read. You can name up to three.

WKK: Catriona McPherson’s AS SHE LEFT IT; Becky Masterman’s RAGE AGAINST THE DYING; and anything by Mark Pryor.

WW: Anything by my panel mates, Patricia Gussin, Andrew Kaufman, Dennis Palumbo and Mary Vensel White. I was so impressed by their insightful comments; I know anything they write will be fantastic!

AK: David Morrell’s MURDER AS A FINE ART by David Morrell (award recognition at Bouchercon); Emily St. John Mandel’s STATION ELEVEN; Garrison Allen’s DINOSAUR CAT.

KR: Gayle Lynds’s THE ASSASSINS…way too long since the last novel from this thriller icon. Only one regret: not out till June. Rory Flynn’s THIRD RAIL, a gritty debut novel set in Boston (home of Parker, Lehane, and Higgins), which received a starred review in PW. Michael Connelly’s BURNING ROOM, which I listened to on the road trip back to the Bay Area and was everything I hoped for.

CL: Adam Sternbergh’s SHOVEL READY (got it in my bag); Rachel Howzell Hall’s SKIES OF ASH, the second in her Detective Lou Norton series, coming out next May; Stuart Neville’s THE FINAL.

WCS: Our Saturday morning “Bloody Murder” panel consisted of 50 of us (published authors) each standing up and recommending a relatively unsung fellow author. As a result, I came away with 50 titles on my To Be Read list.

DH: BLOOD ALWAYS TELLS by Hilary Davidson, THE GENEVA STRATEGY by Jamie Freveletti and WHAT DOESN'T KILL HER by Carla Norton.

Q: Any additional thoughts?

AK: Again, I got to spend some time over dinner with [Thrilling Detective editor] Kevin Burton Smith, and this sums up our discussion and why Bouchercon is so special:

“Bouchercon 2014 was a riot. A head-spinning kaleidoscope of fictional murder and mayhem; of quick chats and long discussions, warm hugs and cold beverages; an orgy of books and words and the rush of knowing, for a few days anyway, that we were surrounded by people who were as passionate and obsessive (or flat out mentally unstable) about crime fiction as we are. As Ali Karim put it, after a particularly passionate discourse on the bleak, nihilistic philosophical underpinnings of HBO's “True Detective,” "If you talked about all this f***in' biff anywhere else, we'd all be arrested."

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