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September 14, 2018

Bouchercon 2018: Mystery, Mayhem and Frosés in the Sunshine State

Posted by Ana

This year's Bouchercon --- the world's largest mystery convention --- took place on September 6-9 in St. Petersburg, Florida, and brought together all parts of the mystery and crime fiction community for a weekend of exciting panels and awards. Although no one from our staff was able to attend, we were so pleased that 12 writers and publishing professionals were in St. Petersburg and eager to report back to us on their experiences at the convention. Many thanks to Linwood Barclay, Laura Benedict, Lou Berney, Alison Gaylin, William Kent Krueger, Clair Lamb, Carla Neggers, Hank Phillippi Ryan, Alex Segura, Wendy Corsi Staub, Sarah Weinman and Kate White for their enthusiastic participation!

Click here to check out our Bouchercon 2018 photo gallery. Many thanks to Hank Phillippi Ryan and Laura Benedict for submitting photos! How many Bouchercons have you been to?

Linwood Barclay: I have been to about three out of four Bouchercons since attending my first in 2004.

Laura Benedict: St. Pete was my eighth Bouchercon in 12 years. 

Lou Berney: St. Petersburg was my 10th Bouchercon. (It boggles my mind writing that sentence, since Indianapolis and 2009 seem like just yesterday.)

William Kent KruegerSt. Petersburg was, I believe, my 10th.

Clair Lamb: This was my 12th Bouchercon, to my astonishment.

Carla Neggers: This was my first Bouchercon.

Hank Phillippi Ryan: I’ve been to every Bouchercon since…Baltimore! That’s where I had my first episode of Bouchercon Brain. I was so zonked on the Monday I came home, I wore one blue shoe and one brown shoe to work.

Alex Segura: Five or six? I started as a fan who was interested in writing his own crime fiction. The last two, I've come as an author. This time, I was an Anthony Award-nominated author, which was a huge honor.

Wendy Corsi Staub: This was my ninth in a row. Once you've been to Bouchercon, you're not willing to miss another. See you next fall in Dallas for the 50th Anniversary!

Sarah Weinman: This one was lucky #13! Continuous since Albany in 2013.

Kate White: Seven or eight.


BRC: What’s your best memory from St. Petersburg?

Linwood:  From my 14th floor hotel room, watching a storm move in from the gulf every day around four. A massive black cloud laced with lightning. What fun. But seriously, the best thing is seeing good friends that you haven’t seen since the last Bouchercon. I love reconnecting with --- to name only a few --- Carla Buckley, Ian Rankin, Daniel Palmer, Reed Farrel Coleman, Kimberley Howe, Meg Gardiner, Mark Billingham, Laura Lippman and Michael Connelly. Met for the first time --- and chatted with --- Sara Paretsky. 

Laura: I can’t choose a writer or fan moment because there were so many. So I’d have to say the food --- all of it. I did not have a bad meal in St. Pete. And Paul’s Landing, a restaurant attached to the Vinoy, served a fabulous salad with orange slices, pickled red onions and fennel with their excellent crab cakes. Unusual, but delicious.

Lou: My best memory was hanging out every night until three --- or four --- o’clock in the morning with writer friends at a bar across the street from the conference hotel (the hotel bar closed down way too early). So much laughter and love --- it’s what gets me through the tough writing days during the rest of the year.

Alison Gaylin: Seeing some of my favorite people, who I haven't met in ages. The crime-writing community is full of so many wonderful, supportive and like-minded folks, and it was such a pleasure to catch up with as many of them as I did.

Kent: Hanging out in the bar between panels, catching up with all my old friends across the 20 years I’ve been published.

Clair: The best memory was not actually from St. Petersburg. A group of us on our way to Bouchercon were on the same flight from Reagan National, and our flight was delayed by five hours. We spent most of that time in the bar. I made some new friends, I'm happy to say. Aimee Hix and G.M. Malliett, among others, are great people to get flight-delayed with.

Carla: Wine on the rooftop of Birchwood restaurant with authors J.T. Ellison and her husband, Randy, Wendy Heard, Hannah Mary McKinnon, Margaret Marbury, Nicole Brebner and Shara Alexander from Harlequin. Great company, fantastic views. A special evening in beautiful St. Petersburg.

Hank: Easy one! My best memory was the brilliant and generous Karin Slaughter and the brilliant and generous Lee Child in a bidding war! Lisa Unger and I were the auctioneers at the event to raise money for Dolly Parton‘s Imagination Library. It’s a terrific project  that gives free books to kids who can’t afford them. The item up for grabs was a character naming in a Kent Krueger novel --- and pretty quickly, it escalated to Karen versus Lee. It was so crazy! The audience cheered them on, as they boosted the bids up and up and up to a stratospheric $5,000 each. When it hit that amount, I said: if you will each give $5,000, I bet Kent will name a character after each of you! (Kent, that’s true, right?) So now, not only are Karin and Lee the most generous people on the planet, but they’ve generously changed the lives of hundreds of children. And all of us who buy Kent‘s new book will be able to see how he used their names.

Alex: Hearing my name --- and my third book, DANGEROUS ENDS --- mentioned alongside fellow nominees Michael Connelly, Louise Penny, Sue Grafton and Joe Clifford for the first ever Bill Crider Award for Best Novel in a Series. It was unforgettable, and I feel very grateful to have been a part of it. One of those surreal, amazing moments you don't expect.

Wendy: Dropping my phone and shattering the screen on Day One --- no, really! Because my friend Greg Herren graciously offered to drive me to the Apple Store in Tampa, and what should've been a two-hour nuisance turned into most of a day and part of a night spent waiting...and waiting...and getting ourselves into hilarious shopping, food court and traffic escapades. Afterward, Greg basically screeched to a halt at the hotel's front door and I burst into the grand ballroom for the opening night Harper signing with moments to spare, sans brushed hair or lipstick, wearing shorts and sandals --- sorry, readers! But I had my phone back in working order to take countless photos (most of which I promised will never be shared) and memories that are still making me laugh out loud.

Sarah: The enthusiastic reception to my book, essentially soft-launched there, from longtime friends and new fans. Above all, hanging with my crime fiction people. So many are like family.

Kate: Two different group dinners with author pals. Not only do I really love all those people, but it was a wonderful contrast to my first Bouchercon, where I knew no one and ate alone every night.


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

Linwood: I would have to say that the two panels I was on were my favourites because they were the only two I attended. I would rather hear what authors have to say in the bar AFTER the panel.

Laura: Do interviews count? In past years, I’ve missed so many of the interviews. This year, I loved seeing Meg Gardiner interview Sean Chercover, and Lawrence Block interview Ian Rankin. The JUNGLE REDS panel was a lot of fun. It kept everyone laughing.

Lou: I loved the Dealer’s Choice panel that Elizabeth Little moderated. Everyone on the panel was funny, smart and insightful. And the Sex panel was pretty great too. At one point, Christa Faust was making a point while gesturing emphatically with a banana that Greg Herren had brought to the panel. Only at Bouchercon.

Alison: I got in late on Friday and left Sunday, so I didn't get to see many panels. But the Women Who Thrill panel and the techno-thriller panel were great!

Kent: Honestly, my favorite panels were the ones I was on. They featured great writers --- Sara Paretsky, Cara Black, Mark Billingham, Mindy Mejia, Christine Carbo, Hank Philippi Ryan, to name just a few --- and the synergy was just terrific. Specifically they were the panels dealing with long-running series, investigation in a wilderness setting, and the David Thompson Award winners and future guests of honor.

Clair: The conversation between Ian Rankin and Lawrence Block was everything I'd hoped for.

Carla: The panel on podcasting was a stand-out panel for me. It was highly entertaining as well as informative. I laughed and took notes! Kate Malmon moderated, and the panelists were Pam Stack (Authors on the Air), Eryk Pruitt, Eric Beetner and SW Lauden. No wonder these are such successful podcasters!

Hank: My favorite event was Lawrence Block and Ian Rankin in conversation. Two incredibly talented and completely charming writers, and their mutual respect --- and senses of humor --- were brilliantly on display. Larry asked Ian what he would have done differently in his novels, ”had he but known,” and Ian said that if he had known how long Rebus would stay a fan favorite, he’d have taken better care of him, and maybe made him a little bit younger. Larry agreed, saying he would’ve done the same thing for Scudder. Such fun to hear them discuss their characters as real people --- just as we all do.

Alex: I'm blanking on the names, but I attended a great panel that featured Laura Lippman, Peter Blauner and Larry Block, moderated by Jill Block. It was really magical to see those three pros, and their fellow panelists, talk about the elements of a great novel. I got to moderate a good panel, if I do say so myself, about writing a series that featured another murdererous row of authors: Cara Black, William Kent Krueger, Tasha Alexander, Mark Billingham and Sara Paretsky. All their books are very different and their approaches vary, but they're all pros and made my job as moderator supremely easy. I almost found myself just sitting back and listening as if I were in the audience. Last, but certainly not least, was Noir at the Bar. Not a panel, and again, I was directly involved as co-host with Eric Beetner, but it's worth talking about. Think about it --- for one night, Ian Rankin, Sara Paretsky, Mark Billingham, Lawrence Block, Rob Hart, Lisa Unger, Steph Post, Kellye Garrett, Hilary Davidson, Sarah Weinman, Jess Lourey, Reed Farrel Coleman, Jonathan Lethem, Lou Berney and Christa Faust read from their latest work to a packed, boisterous crowd. It felt like a once-in-a-lifetime event, and despite some unexpected wackiness (I mean, it IS a Noir at the Bar!), I'd call the event a success --- and a highlight for me.

Wendy: My own, of course --- Fear Factor: Threatening Family in Thrillers with Art Taylor moderating our incorrigible group: Jordan Harper, Michael Koryta, Karin Slaughter, Lisa Unger and myself. 

Kate: I loved Lisa Unger interviewing Sara Blaedel, Alafair Burke interviewing Karin Slaughter, and Mark Edwards did a really nice job of moderating the panel I was on --- about psychological suspense.


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

Linwood: WATER. Have you BEEN to St. Petersburg in the summer? I was staying in a hotel about seven blocks from the host hotel, and by the time I had walked to the convention, I had lost about five gallons in perspiration. To paraphrase Groucho, I met a lot of fans, and just as well, because it was so hot, I needed several.

Laura: Sonoma-Cutrer Russian River Chardonnay. An old favorite.

Lou: It was hot and humid in St. Petersburg, so I tried to be responsible and stay hydrated: for every beer or glass of wine I had, I drank one gin and tonic.

Alison: Well, I've wanted to try a Frosé (frozen rosé) for ages, so I had one of those. It was very refreshing, but after that it was tequila for me. Don Julio Reposado, chilled and neat. 

Kent: I’m a white wine guy, and it was hot in St. Petersburg, so I was drinking nicely chilled sauvignon blancs from New Zealand --- love that crisp hint of grapefruit!

Clair: I am happy to recommend 3 Daughters Brewing's Key Lime Cider, which is brewed locally in St. Petersburg. Delightful. I wish I'd bought some to bring home.

Carla: Chardonnay and Heinekin, but not at the same time.

Hank: I arrived in the bar to see my editor Kristin Sevick, as well as Christina Niidas Holm and Chris Holm, and Hilary Davidson and her husband, Dan. In front of them were these gorgeous drinks. I said: Ooh, I want one of those! And then, just in case, what are those? And they were frosé. Frozen rosé with fresh strawberries. Life-changingly transportingly delicious. Highly recommended.

Alex: Oh, I'm boring. Seltzer. Usually with lime. Lots of seltzer.

Wendy: Mostly white wine, but I did sneak in a frozen rosé on a hot Florida night, and a couple of parting Bloody Marys Sunday afternoon on the porch.

Sarah: Rosé (and once, Frosé with strawberry garnish). Also, cranberry seltzer as a chaser.

Kate: Ice cold rosé wine. Perfect for the heat.


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

Linwood: Not a story, exactly, but I had several discussions with fellow authors --- Reed Farrel Coleman, in particular --- about whether writers can ever be happy. The unanimous answer: only for brief moments.  

Laura: The best (and most horrifying!) story was about a recent private dinner where a (nameless) rich person invited many authors to dinner, ordered piles and piles of food and expensive wine for the table before most of them arrived, then required the bill to be split evenly among everyone there --- even the people who only ate salad and water.

Lou: I don’t know if this counts as a story, but I was fascinated listening to Sheena Kamal discuss how, as part of her writing process, she takes Shakespearean acting classes.

Alison: Hmmm. I think I'll have to plead the fifth on this one.

Kent: Cara Black, who sets her series in Paris, told me a wonderfully sensual story of exploring the sewer tunnels beneath that city, squeezing through narrow passages slick with God-knows- what, encountering an army of rats, emerging finally and smelling of all the worst you can imagine in a sewer, and then getting the evil eye from every passerby who caught her scent as she made her way on foot back to her hotel.

Clair: Unrepeatable, as they always are.

Hank: I cannot tell it. I will say there’s about to be a TV show of something you will absolutely love. More than that I cannot reveal.

Alex: Oof, I don't know if I can bring myself to repeat it, but it was a hilarious tale the wonderful Laura McHugh told me. Nothing salacious, but hysterical. Ask her about it. Either that or something Ian Rankin told me, which I also can't repeat.

Wendy: It seems that on Saturday afternoon, a canned beverage called Slow and Low engaged an intrepid pack of authors --- two of whom later managed to arrive at our planned group dinner in varying degrees of coherence, with a third MIA...perhaps to this day. Just kidding. We eventually found him and continued the party well into the wee hours...but I'm sure he won't remember any of it.

Sarah: It’s classified, alas.

Kate: About two people in the business who are a secret couple. I stink as a detective because I never guessed.


BRC: What is the most fun tourist-y thing that you did?

Linwood: I went to the Salvador Dali museum. And people think crime writers have twisted minds.

Laura: I got a hotel mani-pedi. It was wonderful. Also, I got great ghost stories from the stylist.

Lou: I had planned to go kayaking, but decided that discretion was the better part of valor (see my strategy, above, of staying hydrated by drinking gin and tonic).

Alison: I wish I'd been in St. Petersburg for longer, but the restaurants there are amazing.

Kent: My wife and I toured the Dali Museum. Mind-blowing!

Clair: It was brutally hot out, so I didn't venture far, but did make it to a great diner called 2nd and Second. Crazy amounts of food, very reasonably priced.

Carla: I went running at dawn along the waterfront. It was very humid but beautiful, and I passed other runners and wondered if they were at Bouchercon, too. I know. I need to work on my idea of fun.

Hank: I am terrible at these events --- I never go anywhere (someone asked me if I had seen the arch in St. Louis, and I said: Sure, but through the cab window!), so my most fun tourist-y thing was walking to dinner with my darling Forge editor Kristin Sevick and my agent Lisa Gallagher, author Matt Goldman, and the Keenans, and more, through the two million percent of Fort Lauderdale. Truly, it was tropical-jungle level. We all arrived with crazy frizzy hair. And that’s why there are no pictures.

Alex: My wife and son came with me, so we hit up the Dali Museum and the Florida Aquarium. Lots of fun, and it was a nice change of pace from the con. 

Wendy: Does lap-swimming in the glorious Vinoy pool count? That's as tourist-y as I had time to be!

Sarah: The Dali Museum, which was as good as advertised (and the cafe food was tasty and healthful, too).

Kate: Sitting on my balcony in the balmy weather and gazing endlessly at all the boats docked in Tampa Bay. So blissful.


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

Linwood: On my last panel, I ended up sitting right next to an author --- Hannah Mary McKinnon, who apparently lives only a few miles away from me in Canada. She writes a book called THE NEIGHBORS, and it turns out we are — well, you get it. She’s very funny. 

Laura: I went to sit in a lobby alcove with my editor, and ended up very near G.M. Malliet, one of my favorite mystery authors. Of course I totally fan-girled over her, and she was very kind. It was one of those lovely coincidences that only happens at Bouchercon.

Lou: At the HarperCollins party, I turned around and found myself face to face with Lee Child. Lee Child! I’d never met him before. Luckily, I kept my wits about me and managed a sparkling, eloquent, “Uh, hello.” (What a nice guy, by the way!)

Alison: I met a wonderful reader who I only know through social media. She came up to me and told me how much she enjoys my books, and it really made my day. Actually there were a few instances of this, and I can't tell you how gratifying it is when you spend so much solitary time doing what you do, to meet and connect with people who have enjoyed your work. Also, meeting Ian Rankin was very cool.

Kent: I so enjoyed meeting up with two wonderful fans --- Sandie and Bill Herron --- whom I haven’t seen since my very first Bouchercon in 1998 in Philadelphia. That’s one of the blessings of a Bouchercon. It’s where friends meet.

Clair: Not exactly unexpected, but I got to talk to Lee Child about his recent donation of his archive to the University of East Anglia. He's always fascinating, and the conversation ranged far and wide.

Carla: A woman hopped a ride with me to the airport, and we exchanged first names and chatted about books, writing and conferences. Then she asked me my last name, and I told her and she gasped. “I had no idea! I feel so stupid!” It was a moment. We continued our great conversation before we went our separate ways to our gates.

Hank: I saw Vince Keenan taking the perfect shot of the Bouchercon main hotel, the Vinoy. Isn’t it gorgeous? Luckily you cannot feel the humidity.

Alex: I love Bouchercon because I get to meet social media friends "in real life," and those moments are truly priceless --- like connecting with fellow Florida crime author Craig Pittman, or Aimee Hix and Gigi Pandian. As far as unexpected, I didn't realize Laura Lippman would be at the show, so it was funny to run into her in the lobby and catch up for a few minutes. She's a huge inspiration, amazing writer and just a great person. I also got to meet a Pete Fernandez super-fan named Erin, who has pushed and plugged my books endlessly. It was an honor.

Wendy: I shared a signing table with the lovely and talented toastmaster Lisa Unger, whom I have known and adored for many years, and she sweetly put one of my bookmarks into every book she was signing for her legion of fans --- Understated Class Act moment from one of our industry's greats.

Sarah: Seeing someone I didn’t know read an ARC of my book. First time that has happened, and it was wonderfully surreal.

Kate: I couldn’t unzip my dress one night (I usually count on my husband to do it), and, desperate, I ran up to Karin Slaughter’s room --- she was one floor directly above me --- for help.


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

Linwood: I had always meant to read John D. MacDonald’s epic 1977 stand-alone, CONDOMINIUM, and found a mint, first edition copy in the book room for $15. And I scored an ARC of NOVEMBER ROAD by Lou Berney. I loved the cover and the title, and was hooked.

Laura: So many books! Sarah Weinman’s THE REAL LOLITA, David Swinson’s TRIGGER, and Kaira Rouda’s BEST DAY EVER.

Lou: HOLLYWOOD HOMICIDE by Kellye Garrett. UNDER MY SKIN by Lisa Unger, DEAD MAN RUNNING by Steve Hamilton, and so many more, too. Damn you for allowing me to name only three.

Alison: Lou Berney's NOVEMBER ROAD, Wendy Corsi Staub's LITTLE BOY BLUE (I read the first book in this series, LITTLE GIRL LOST, which was great!), and Sara Blaedel's HER FATHER'S SECRET are at the top of my future TBR list. I've heard wonderful things about all of them.

Kent: Mindy Mejia’s newest, LEAVE NO TRACE; Lou Berney’s next, NOVEMBER ROAD; and Tom Mullen’s latest, LIGHTNING MEN.

Clair: David Corbett's THE LONG-LOST LOVE LETTERS OF DOC HOLLIDAY; UNDER MY SKIN by Lisa Unger; and Laura Lippman's forthcoming children's book, LIZA JANE AND THE DRAGON.

Carla: THE NEIGHBORS by Hannah Mary McKinnon and FEARED by Lisa Scottoline come immediately to mind, but I made a list.

Hank: The books! I travel with one carry-on and no checked bags, so thank goodness for UPS and the shipping office! But I could not let go of the new Gilly Macmillan and the new Bryan Gruley, so I jammed them into my bag and pretended it was not heavy. There was an ARC of the new Michael Connelly in the auction, and I will admit to you, I almost swiped it. But I didn’t.

Alex: I told Bill Boyle this, but I cannot wait to read his upcoming novel, A FRIEND IS A GIFT YOU GIVE YOURSELF. Bill is a great, great novelist and one of the nicest guys around. MIRACULUM, though not a crime novel, is written by the fantastic crime novelist Steph Post, and I'm sure it'll be stellar. Last, but certainly not least, Rob Hart's THE WAREHOUSE --- the most buzzed-about book of the season ---- is high on my list of books I must get a galley of.

Wendy: DISSOLVE by Elizabeth Little, SURVIVOR'S GUILT AND OTHER STORIES by Greg Herren, and NEVER LOOK BACK by Alison Gaylin

Sarah: My plane reading home will be HOLLYWOOD HOMICIDE by Kellye Garrett and THE STRANGER INSIDE by Laura Benedict.

Kate: BLUEBIRD, BLUEBIRD by Attica Locke (Anthony Award winner), SAVING MEGAN by Daniel Palmer (coming next near under D.J. Palmer), and IF I DIE TONIGHT by Alison Gaylin --- she was on my panel and it reminded me to order!


BRC: Any additional thoughts?

Linwood: So, next year is Dallas. I guess the feeling was that St. Petersburg wasn’t hot enough.

Laura: Cannot wait until Dallas next year!

Kent: I’d been away from Bouchercon for a while. I’d forgotten how crazy and wonderful the time there can be. I’ll definitely be at the next four scheduled conventions --- Dallas, Sacramento, New Orleans and Minneapolis (where I’ll be one of the Guests of Honor!).

Carla: This was my first Bouchercon, and it lived up to its reputation as a fun, casual, friendly conference. Now I’m off to Ireland!

Clair: This year more than usual, I was astonished and dismayed by how many people I didn't see who were at Bouchercon. It's always a bigger meeting than I expect, and if you skip the Opening Ceremonies --- as I did this year --- you miss a lot.

Hank: Our blog Jungle Red won for best online content! We are so thrilled, and now have to figure out how to share the enormous red ceramic vase that is the trophy. We have decided to send it to all of us in order… Hank, Hallie, Lucy, Rhys, Debs, Ingrid, Julia and Jenn! Can you believe we have been blogging for 10 years? So we are so grateful to everyone.

And the Jungle Red panel was such a hoot! Hundreds of readers in the room, and we all collaborated to create a novel from audience suggestions. If I say the result was “American-Brazilian twins Pilar and Penelope de la Vega are sent to the international school on the Isle of Jersey where they discover treasure in a buried pot,” you will know that  A: we all have great imaginations, and B: that will never be a novel. But we all howled with laughter, and the audience was incredibly enthusiastic, and it was completely hilarious! It was also the launch for my first stand-alone, TRUST ME. What a joy to share it with the incredible line of people who wanted signatures. Wow.

My favorite description of Bouchercon, and I hope someone knows its origin, is that Bouchercon is Brigadoon. A magical wonderful weekend of joy and friendship and stories and sharing and frosé…that, poof, disappears on Sunday night. And all that is left are the treasured memories, and the joy of looking forward to the next one.

Alex: Bouchercon is the best. It's crime fiction summer camp. It's a chance to connect with our evolving, growing and diversifying community. It was so nice to see the varied, talented and vibrant writers who won Anthony Awards, and I'm excited for the future of crime fiction.

Wendy: I always come away from Bouchercon filled with regret --- not over what I've done, but what I didn't have a chance to do: attend more panels, meet more readers, pick up more books, spend more time with the friends I love. But mostly, I regret that it's over for another year.

Kate: I loved the location. Despite a little rain, the weather was great for me since I’m a hot weather girl.