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October 16, 2015

Bouchercon 2015: What Happens at Bouchercon Doesn’t Always Stay at Bouchercon

Posted by emily

It's no mystery that Bouchercon is one of the most thrilling literary events of the year. This year, the world's largest mystery convention was held on October 8-11 in Raleigh, NC, and brought together all parts of the mystery and crime fiction community for a weekend of exciting panels and awards. Once again, none of our staff was able to make it, but once again, our generous authors and friends played detective for us and sent back news from the front. Here, eight mystery superstars --- Wendy Corsi Staub, Hank Phillippi Ryan, Lisa Unger, Clair Lamb, Dana Kaye, Keith Kahla, Ali Karim and Alafair Burke --- share what made the weekend so special, including their favorite panels and the books they're most anticipating. Some even --- reluctantly --- repeat the best classified stories from the bar, breaking the sacred Bouchercon rule: What happens at the Bouchercon bar stays at the Bouchercon bar.

Click here to check out our Bouchercon 2015 photo gallery.


Question: How many Bouchercons have you been to?

Wendy Corsi Staub: This is my sixth in a row.

Hank Phillippi Ryan: How many Bouchercons have I been to? I'll try to remember, but like the ‘60s, they say if you remember the Bouchercon, you probably weren't there. That said, I certainly remember St. Louis, where Bill Landay told me he was worried no one would buy his brand new DEFENDING JACOB. I remember the crazy book fair in Indianapolis, people swarming to get free books in a chaotic hallway, and how my mother delivered a massive birthday cake for me, which everyone shared in the lobby. And Albany, where the cabs went rogue and events were in the building inexplicably called “The Egg,” and Sue Grafton captivated everyone with her story about Tolstoy's critique group.

It's so much fun to hear other people's Bouchercon memories --- I gave a speech at one of them promising attendees "one amazing thing happens to each person at every Bouchercon" --- and so many people since then have told me what it was that happened to them! It's absolutely true.

Lisa Unger: I have attended approximately 103 Bouchercon conferences. Okay, that’s not true. But I have been attending this event for a very long time, first as a book publicist and later as an author. So maybe 10?  

Clair Lamb: This was my eighth.

Dana Kaye: Eight.

Keith Kahla: My first one was Omaha in 1993 --- and I've only missed a few since then. I'd say it was my 20th, give or take.

Ali Karim: Las Vegas, 2003; Baltimore, 2008; Indianapolis, 2009; San Francisco, 2010; St. Louis, 2011; Cleveland, 2012; Albany, 2013; Long Beach, 2014; and Raleigh, 2015.

Alafair Burke: I started in 2003. I've missed a few, but it's possible this was my 10th. (By the way, I was surprised I didn't have a clear answer to this question and started to think it was the kind of thing I would have kept count of when I was younger. This may or may not have anything to do with an approaching birthday.)


Q: What’s your best memory from Raleigh?

WCS: Celebrating my pal Alex Marwood’s Macavity Award Thursday night on the now-legendary Red Couch, tucked behind the fireplace in the Marriott Bar. A group of us had commandeered it on Wednesday night. Within 24 hours, we were texting things like Red Couch in 5. I’ve attached photo evidence --- we all piled on with Alex to toast her Macavity, left to right: Alison Gaylin, Greg Herren, Alex, me, Laura Lippman and Elizabeth Little.

HPR: Four things: One, when two readers came up to me and said "Oh, you're on our bucket list to meet!" It's astonishing when something like that happens. Thank you Cris and Pat! Another: I went outside of the hotel, and the day seemed to be in technicolor. The sky, bluest I have ever seen. I thought, This is incredible! It's just --- Carolina blue! and then I realized. Oh. Yeah. And the anthology I edited, WRITES OF PASSAGE, won both the Macavity and the Anthony! I am still floating. And how about this? Dallas got the 2019 Bouchercon --- and I am the American Guest of Honor!

LU: Karin Slaughter, Alafair Burke, Kathy Reichs and I had dinner at a fabulous restaurant called Second Empire --- where we chatted about publishing, family and more. Afterwards, we spent a good amount of time at the Bouchercon bar. Catching up with old friends, getting to know new ones, and then talking to a million people from every phase of my career in publishing at the bar? Well, that’s what Bouchercon is all about! 

CL: A great dinner with Karen Olson and Toastmasters Sean Doolittle and Lori Armstrong, at The Pit (legendary barbecue).

DK: Meeting the amazing freshman class of authors from Crooked Lane Books.

KK: The food and the company! One of the great pleasures of Bouchercon is being able to spend time with authors, colleagues and agents in a more relaxed environment. Some authors I have only seen in person at a Bouchercon, despite having worked with them for years, even decades. Raleigh had the extra pleasure of a number of excellent restaurants within walking distances, making those meetings with authors even more fun.

AK: Way too many, but perhaps waking up to laughter and clapping in the closing ceremonies when Tom Franklin noticed I fell asleep (due to all the work I had been doing as Co-Chair for Programming), and being confused why everyone was clapping and laughing [generously].

AB: Clearly from my above response, my memory cannot be trusted these days. And it's impossible to pick just one moment that's a favorite. So I'll pick an answer that encompasses the most memories. This year, I shared a room with my dear friend McKenna Jordan (owner of Murder by the Book in Houston), a room at the conference hotel that became available at the last minute. It was like a three-night slumber party. I'd like to thank whatever traveler to Raleigh cancelled his or her reservation and to apologize to the people in the adjacent rooms. There was giggling involved.


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

WCS: Talented British author Helen Smith did a fantastic job pinch hitting for me as moderator at the 11th hour at the Traditional Mystery panel on Thursday morning --- I had been unsure if I’d make it to the convention last week and wound up joining panelists Marcia Talley, Dorothy Cannell and Terrie Farley Moran as Helen skillfully led our lively discussion. And I loved the rollicking TV Crime panel on Friday afternoon with Lee Goldberg, Megan Abbott, Alison Gaylin, Christa Faust and Tim O’Mara.

HPR: The one I moderated “On Human Nature and the Roots of Evil,” in which Michael Koryta, David Housewright and Alison Gaylin were brilliant, and so was Lawrence Block, who also told the most hilarious joke. It cannot, however, be repeated here. 

I also moderated the Librarian's Tea panel --- what a wonderful event! --- in which I asked panelists to tell stories about their childhood experiences in libraries: Margaret Maron recited HORTON HATCHES THE EGG! Kathy Reichs described how she was only allowed in the local bookmobile for a certain amount of time, and that's where she learned to be so organized because she had to laser focus on getting the books she wanted before she got thrown out. John Hart (as a grown-up child) divulged that he hid in his library and wrote his first novel there unbeknownst to the librarians, who told him later they were so disappointed to have missed such a brilliant occurrence happening right under their noses. And Karin Slaughter, after she finished teasing me about what she called my “Laura Ingalls Wilder childhood,” told the most hilarious story about her own dysfunctional family, including her sisters putting gum between the pages of her books, and getting her put on permanent school bus silence. But, as you know, one can never tell if Karin is joking.

LU: I had a couple of lively and entertaining panels. "Jumping the Shark" with Nancy Cohen, Candace Robb, Francine Matthews and Laurie King was my first when I arrived on Friday. We were a diverse group, writing psychological thrillers, cozies or historical mysteries, but we still had lots to talk about. Francine Matthews was a fantastic moderator --- informed and thoughtful. We had a standing-room-only audience and earned lots of laughs.

My panel on “Visceral Entertainment” with Twist Phelan, J.D. Rhodes, Karin Slaughter and Lee Goldberg was predictably untamed. As we devolved into an in-depth discussion about cursing in fiction, all of us wound up swearing up a storm on stage. We touched on topics as diverse as authenticity in crime fiction writing, what responsibility we have in the depiction of violence, and whether readers are simply using fiction as a way to escape --- or is there something more. There were lots of funny moments and some important points made as well. 

CL: "Matching Motivation to Character," at 8:30 on Sunday morning, was more entertaining than any panel that early had a right to be. Daniel Palmer and Lou Berney were very funny together. The ITW panel on Saturday afternoon was also excellent.

DK: “One Move, You're History” panel. It was great to hear everyone's reasoning for setting their books in different time periods, and the lengths they went through to get the research right.

AK: Not a fair question as I was involved in the programming, and didn’t see a full panel as I was running around a great deal, but from what I heard everyone enjoyed the panels.

AB: I had the pleasure of moderating a fantastic panel about character with Heather Graham, Allison Leotta, David Putnam and David Swinson. The four of them were so different as writers and speakers, shared the floor equally, and bounced stories off one another. I may have dropped the ball as moderator a couple of times, because I was too engrossed in what they were saying to remember that I was supposed to do something other than listen.  


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

WCS: Sadly, I behaved myself this year and stuck with white wine. But don’t expect a repeat performance next year in the French Quarter!

HPR: I'm a prosecco girl. And at Bouchercon, there's always something to celebrate.

LU: Grey Goose and club soda. Boring? Perhaps. But always reliable.

CL: For some reason, this year I drank hard cider. Not very much of it, though.

DK: Bulleit Bourbon.

KK: They had a local lager on tap at the Marriot --- when I drank, that's what I drank.

AK: Gin and in industrial volumes….

AB: Somehow, thanks to a very generous bartender, I ended up with the biggest glass of cabernet I have ever seen. People were calling it my Giant Globe of Wine, my Olivia-Pope pour, my Big Gulp, etc. Chris Pavone, having seen me drink quite a bit of wine in our shared neighborhood in New York, was shocked that I never managed to finish it. That's how big that glass of wine was. 


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

WCS: A late arrival joined us on the Red Couch and asked about the cocktail several were drinking. Alison [Gaylin] offered her a sip and explained that it was a martini --- “Very dry, very dirty.” Overhearing, Greg Herren commented, “Just like Alison.” From that point on, the cocktail was, of course, renamed “The Gaylin.”

HPR: You can't hear in the bar, that's part of the deal. And if you CAN hear, you're never quite sure you're hearing correctly. So I'll keep mum. But my dear editor Kristin Sevick and I came up with a wonderful new book idea! You'll hear all about that story soon…

LU: What is said at the Bcon bar stays at the Bcon bar.

CL: I cannot repeat the best story I heard at the bar. But the best thing that happened in the bar was, as I was having a quiet drink with Stefanie Pintoff, I ran into Bryon Quertermous. Stefanie didn't know Bryon, so I introduced them --- and Bryon said, "Stefanie Pintoff, you wrote HOSTAGE TAKER. That was a great book. I loved that book." So unexpected, but it's the kind of thing that makes Bouchercon great.

DK: Authors recounting their tales of internet trolls and crazy Amazon reviewers.

AK: Michael Robotham and his CWA Gold Dagger Speech, which we all applauded and laughed at when he told us it again.

AB: I have learned that what happens at the Bouchercon bar stays at the Bouchercon bar. Nothing good can come from repeating something someone else told you at the Bouchercon bar!


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

WCS: I met a debut author named Brian Thiem, who asked me if he looked familiar. He did, but I couldn’t place him. Turns out I’d visited his classroom in Connecticut to present a creative writing workshop a few years back. His first novel, RED LINE, is just out from Crooked Lane.

LU: I loved meeting Kathy Reichs; that was an unexpected treat. On the signing line, I had the chance to chat with Jay Stringer, author of WAYS TO DIE IN GLASGOW, who was warm and funny and a very pleasant signing buddy. I had coffee with Allison Leotta, and we discovered that we order the same thing at Starbucks (tall soy latte with a double shot), we both love Kind Bars, have the same taste in designer bags (Kate Spade) and the same manicure (French). We also have the same publisher and agent --- which we already knew. We’re soul mates. There were so many warm and happy encounters --- my first editor Kelley Ragland, some of my favorite pals Daniel Palmer and James O. Born, some of my favorite booksellers like McKenna Jordan of Murder by the Book in Houston, Robin Agnew of Aunt Agatha’s in Ann Arbor, and Mike Bursaw, aka Mystery Mike. It’s all a blur of smiling faces and big hugs.

CL: I guess the story above counts for that, but on the last day of Bouchercon, I met a reader named Molly, who makes Bouchercon her annual vacation. She was on her own, so my friend Judy scooped her up and included her in a last-night dinner with a group of fellow readers (and me). Loving mysteries is something that brings a lot of people together who wouldn't otherwise meet each other.

AK: Meeting up with Nanci Klanata, a dear friend from and who I hadn’t seen since Thrillerfest 2007 in New York. She is the sister I never had.

AB: Not unexpected, but I finally got to meet Owen Laukkanen and Eric Beetner --- who have been correspondence friends for years --- in person. They are both incredibly fun and charming, so...phew. And I spent a lot of time with a reader named Jenny Johnson and her mother, who might just be the sweetest people in the world.


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.

WCS: TIMOTHY, Greg Herren’s retelling of Daphne du Maurier’s REBECCA, starring a gay male underwear model. FOLLOW ME, Elizabeth Little’s sequel to her debut DEAR DAUGHTER, which revolves around nice southern gentleman lawyer Noah from the first book. WHAT REMAINS OF ME, Alison Gaylin’s upcoming hardcover suspense novel about an actress convicted of murder back in the ‘80s --- the book alternates between past and present as we unravel the truth behind the crime.


LU: I have been meaning to read Steph Cha’s books for ages, and bumping into her reminded me to dig into a copy of her first novel, FOLLOW HER HOME. I met Carrie Smith, author of SILENT CITY, and I’m excited to read her debut. I’ve yet to read Julia Dahl’s award-winning INVISIBLE CITY, so I’ll be looking forward to that.

CL: I really need to read THE MARTIAN, which was mentioned multiple times on several different panels.

DK: KILLING KIND by Chris Holm and THE FEVER by Megan Abbott. Both are sitting in my TBR pile, and I can't wait to get to them.

KK: Reed Farrel Coleman's forthcoming novel, WHERE IT HURTS (that one was recommended to me by several booksellers and reviewers); Jon Land's new one, STRONG LIGHT OF DAY (his Caitlin Strong novels are personal favorites); and Sarah Weinman's WOMEN CRIME WRITERS: Four Suspense Novels of the Fifties (doesn't everyone want to read it?).

AK: David Morrell’s INSPECTOR OF THE DEAD; Michael Robotham’s LIFE OR DEATH; and Tim Weaver’s WHAT REMAINS. 

AB: Lisa Lutz's THE PASSENGER and Ben McPherson's A LINE OF BLOOD.


Q: Any additional thoughts?

WCS: I always love Bouchercon, but this year’s convention seemed particularly charged with positive energy. There seemed to be an intoxicating combination of the setting, the timing, the state of the industry and, of course, attendees, many of whom WERE perhaps intoxicated. In any case, it was an exhilarating five days in Raleigh, and truly the most fun I’ve ever had at a conference. Can New Orleans top it? Um, of course! 

HPR: I so remember my first Bouchercon --- though I cannot remember where it was --- but I have indelible memories of being so terrified and intimidated that I hid in my room most of the time. Now I have trouble remembering my room number! Because I am never there. 

LU: There’s always a lot of talk at Bouchercon about “what works” and what “doesn’t.” With the social media age being what it is, it may seem like it’s less important to get out there on the road for appearances and conferences. Travel is hard, and events can be overwhelming for writers. We’re introverts, most of us; we wouldn’t be writers otherwise. But every time I attend Bouchercon, I’m so happy I was there. Nothing beats the experience of connecting in person with readers, booksellers, publishing folks and other authors. Publishing is a business of relationships. And you can’t have real, significant and enduring relationships only online. The Raleigh Bcon was lively, fun and well-attended. I was reminded that I never wanted anything in my life except to be a writer, and that being at Bouchercon was part of that dream come true. Mark your calendars for Boucheron 2018, where I’ll be toastmaster and the conference will be held in sunny St. Petersburg, Florida!

CL: This felt like a lower-key Bouchercon in many ways, though I don't know what I mean by that. Raleigh's a nice city for a conference, and people who skipped this year because they weren't interested in the venue missed out. The one negative comment I heard was that the book room was too small, which is a nice problem to have.

AK: I’m too jet-lagged to answer this, but my friend Jeff Peirce of The Rap Sheet has helped me out here.

AB: I think I'm in Bouchercon withdrawal. When can we go to New Orleans?