Bouchercon 2012– Day Two: Old Friends, New Friends, and Gender Switcheroos

Sorry for the late post—I just came back from dinner at the hotel bar and grill, where the waitress and I had an in-depth conversation about tattoos.  When she was called away, I was joined by a couple of librarians with whom I’d grumbled over the slow elevators earlier in the day.  Small world, good times.


Last night, I went to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and had a great time, unspoiled by the dreadful moment when I stopped at the music of my teenage years and realized I still had a lot of museum left to see.

The gift shop was convenient for souvenirs, too, and I decided to get the kids a tee-shirt each.  I found Sunny’s right away—it’s pink, which is all it needed to be—but none of the children’s selection seemed right for Jane.  I finally found a good one in the adult section, but couldn’t remember her size equivalent.  I called home and my MIL and I figured it out, then the kids wanted to say good-night.

I was wandering around as I heard about everyone’s day, and asked Jane at one point if she wanted a pair of Grateful Dead socks.  She didn’t understand the question—I’ve neglected that child’s education terribly—and when I explained, she said, “No thank you, Mom.  But are there any Lady Gaga socks?”

There are no words.  None.

I don’t mean to name drop—no, really, hush—but I ended up going to a late dinner at a Japanese restaurant with Zoë Sharp, Jaden Terrell, and Tim Hallinan, all of whom are brilliant, fun, interesting people whose books you should buy immediately because damn, but each of them can write.  The three-year old daughter of the owner provided an adorable and high-pitched floor show and a good time was had by all.

Which brings us to [far too early] this morning, when I had a lovely breakfast with Mary Higgins Clark . . .  along with a ballroomful of my fellow librarians and also several authors, including Matt Clemons, who agreed to donate his books to our local authors collection, bless him, and  Libby Fischer Hellmann, whose blog I follow and whom I conversed with briefly about a year ago over a  Top Suspense anthology  I’d reviewed.  I’d been talking to her* outside the dining room for a few minutes before I realized who she was and grabbed her hand and told her that she was Libby Fischer Hellmann(!!), which she already knew.

I introduced myself and she immediately grabbed my hand and told me my name(!!), which was truly cool of her, and that she remembered my blog, or at least my review, which was extremely kind.  We sat at the same table and she enjoyed Mrs. Clark’s talk as much as I did and (I hope) enjoyed talking about her projects and eBook experiences as much as I did listening.

Great start to the morning, even if it was chillier outside than I’d dressed for and the sky didn’t look happy.  But I made it to the conference hotel without incident and with two bottles of diet Pepsi to keep me going.

Which brings me to today’s panels.    I went to five so brace yourself for a loooong post, even though I’ll just share my favorite moments.  Please keep in mind the disclaimer from yesterday about accuracy because my memory card is full.

Old Friends, New Friends: How authors switch from one series to another

The panel was Parnell Hall, who is one of the funniest men on the planet, Mary Jane Maffini, who is a “lapsed librarian,” Jeff Cohen, who won the Barry Award last night for The Gun also Rises and blogs on Dead Guy in the Living Room, and Libby Fischer Hellmann, see above.  The moderator was Jen Forbus, who kept everyone on track.


On writing the opposite gender:

Mr. Parnell:  “It’s not a big deal. . . . but I’m not writing a first person narrative.  I make her as far from me as possible.”

Ms. Hellmann:  “My writing group said, ‘Libby . .  .when cops enter a house [to question a suspect], they don’t notice the curtains.”


On  writing two series at the same time:

Ms. Maffini:  “It’s like having two teenagers in the house giving you trouble and you can only concentrate on one at a time.”

Ms. Hellmann:  “My characters are so yin and yang, it really isn’t a problem.”


On writing two books at the same time:

Ms. Hellmann:  “I write one at a time, but I’ll take a break to write a short story.  Its’ like a palate cleanser.”

Ms. Maffini:  “I can’t switch novels because of deadlines.  But a break with a short story can be energizing.”

Mr. Cohen:  “I’ve done in twice.  I live on a 1,000-word a day diet, so I lived for a while on a 2,000 word a day diet . . . It was exhausting, but kind of helped clear my head.   Working on one project helped me figure out where the other one was going.   So it was exhausting, but sort of helpful.”


On opposite gender pseudonyms:

Mr. Parnell:  “My editor said, ‘we can’t sell two books with your name on it in the same category.  We can barely sell one.  Can’t you be someone else?’  After [several books in a series with a female main character], under my protest, they put my name on the covers . . .  I would have sold better as Alice Hastings.”  (Mr. Cohen:  “Are you ever jealous of yourself?”  Mr. Parnell:  “No, because I’m not doing that well.”)


On giving out free eBooks:

“I gave out 15,000 copies in three days.  Ninety percent of people won’t read it.  They only took it because it was free.  But it’s out there, and that feels good . . . the upside is that you can’t get anyone to review it.  The upside is that it’s out there.”


On writing what you want, rather than what pays:

Mr. Cohen:  “I write whatever I want to write, plus whatever someone will pay me to write.”

Ms. Mafini:  “If I’m writing it, it’s what I want to write.”

Mr. Parnell:  “I’d like to write my name on a movie contract.”

Eve of Destruction:  Apple anyone?  Female Sleuths beating crime with skill and conviction

The panel was Deborah Coonts, who writes one of my favorite series ever, about Lucky Santiago; Tracy Kiely, whose first book I reviewed; Sophie Littlefield, with whom I shared an close-quarter trolley ride last night—we talked nail polish and tattoos; and Rochelle Staab, whom I met last year but wouldn’t know me from Eve (see what I did there?).  The wry and savvy Nancy Martin moderated and participated.

This panel was a blast and also a bit like a ping-pong match.  This is what I managed to catch:

On writing strong female characters:

Ms. Martin:  “A lot of us are writing that victim series.”

Ms. Kiely:  “[My characters] have a brain, they don’t always conform, they have a mouth on them. .  .”

Ms. Staab: “I wanted a relatable character.”

Ms. Littlefield:  “Yes, my series is about a woman who beats the crap out of men, but .  . .” (Ms. Kiely:  “They totally deserve it.”)

Ms. Staab:  “There’s an expected vulnerability in a female protagonist that isn’t expected in a male protagonist.”

Ms. Coonts:  “I grew up in that last gasp of the Donna Reid era . . . I would go to college and Gloria Steinem would come speak and tell us that we could be anything we wanted.  And then I’d go home to the real world and my mother would be concerned about what I was going to wear to the party that night and if I knew my manners and could talk about china—all the patterns.”

Ms. Littlefield:  “I thought, I’ll make her fifty years old because that’s how old I’ll be when I get published.”


On men reading women authors:

A cab driver once asked Ms. Littlefield if she could change the covers on her books (“Sure, no problem.”) because he and his friends loved them, but the covers were too girly.  They tore them off so no one could see what they were reading.



Ms. Martin:  “I started out writing romances, but then my kids grew old enough to read Mommy’s books, so I thought I’d better write something else.”

Ms. Staab:  “I’m from Milwaukee, where there’s a bar and a church on every street corner.  Then I moved to Manhattan, where there’s a deli and a bank on every street corner.  And now I’m in LA, and there’s a nail salon and a psychic on every street corner.  So if there are any professional psychics in the audience—” (Ms. Martin: “They know it’s coming . . .”)

Ms. Coonts:  “I always try to make my murders a little Las Vegas.”

Ms. Littlefield:  “I typically don’t know what I’ve done until years later.”

Ms. Coonts:  “I thought I wanted to be Sandra Brown—who doesn’t want to be Sandra Brown . . . but what I really wanted was Sandra’s wardrobe.”

I am Woman, Hear me Roar: protagonists that are kicking butt and taking names

The panelists were Zoë Sharp, who writes about close protection specialist Charlie Fox; Sara J. Henry, who writes the Troy Chance series; Jennifer McAndrews, who writes about PI Lorraine Keys; Meg Gardiner, who writes about lawyer Rory Mackenzie; and Taylor Stevens,who writes about the androgynous Vanessa Michael Munroe.  Nora McFarland, whose character Lilly Hawkins is no pushover, either, moderated.

Even though Ms. Stevens said about halfway through, “We put ourselves in our characters, but you should never assume we are our characters,” these are some seriously self-possessed, confident women.


About their characters:

Ms. Sharp:  “I wasn’t interested in writing a guy in nylons . .  .  I tried to keep her a real person, with all the fears and foibles . . . but if you cross the line, she will drop you.”

Ms. Stevens: “I’ve actually learned more about her from my readers than from myself.  I just wrote her the way she made sense to me.”

Ms. Henry:  “I grew up reading Mary Stewart . .  .and Charlotte Armstrong.  I wanted that concept of an ordinary woman . . . in extraordinary circumstances.  We all have greatness and the capacity to be heroes.”

Ms. Sharp:  “I wanted a character who was capable but also often underestimated.”


On gender stereotypes:

Ms. McAndrews: “I never grew up thinking that there was anything women couldn’t do.  Because we had to do everything.”

Ms. Sharp:  “How people react under stress defines them and we are constantly throwing rocks at them to see how they react.”

Ms. Gardiner:  “What always annoyed me is when the woman runs three steps and falls down . . . what’s the matter, are your shoes too big?”

Ms. McAndrews: You can’t chase anyone in stilettos.  It just isn’t done.

Ms. Stevens:  “It’s like we’re stereotyping ourselves by the media we absorb.”


Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus:  how can an author convincingly write from the opposite sex?

The panelists were Alan Jacobsen, who writes, among other things, a series about FBI profiler Karen Vail; Elizabeth George who should need no introduction but if she does, get to a library stat; Val McDermid, who is equally impressive and hilarious to boot—go read everything she’s ever written and thank me later; Alexandra Sokoloff, whom I’ve mentioned around here once or twice; and Tom Schreck, who writes the excellent Duffy Dombrowski series and the TJ Dunn series.

Daniel Palmer moderated the hell out of this panel, starting with, “Okay, this is Favorite Political Ads of the Twentieth Century . . . “

He then asked Val McDermid why she’d made one of her series characters impotent.

Ms. McDermid said,  “I’ve scared enough guys in my time . . .”  and then explained that she thought she was writing a stand-alone, and that the impotence was a plot point in that first book.  She said that if she’d known it was going to be a series, she might have chosen something else, but maybe not:  “I must be doing something right.  I’ve never had a man come up to me and say, ‘It’s not like that, you know, being impotent.”

Ms. George, a little later:  “Obviously, [my character’s] not impotent.”
Mr. Schreck:  “I’m beginning to feel a little uncomfortable.”
Mr. Palmer:  “Don’t worry, Tom—I spiked your water.”

Things calmed down after that . . . sort of.


On Writing the opposite gender:

Ms. Sokoloff:  “I write horror, so getting into the heads of men is key.”

Mr. Schreck:  “It would be cliché to say that men only do this and women only do this . . .”

Mr. Jacobsen:  “Voice is key. . . . I was told, ‘You can’t write a female in first person.  Your readers will be confused.’  Because readers are stupid, I guess.”


On checking their facts with persons of the opposite gender:

Ms. McDermid:  “That’s not writing, that’s sociology.”

Ms. George:  “You can’t overthink these kinds of things . . . I never think of these things as being determined or predicted by their sex.”

Mr. Palmer:  “So, basically, we’re going around observing and that becomes intrinsic to our writing.”

Ms. Sololoff:  “I like to play with the sociology of it.  I’m looking for those differences to achieve a polarity.”


On gender stereotypes:

Mr. Jacobsen:  “I don’t write the weak female personality.  I don’t think it’s accurate.”

Mr. Schreck:  “I see real life stuff that goes against all the clichés.”

Ms. George:  “What I believe is that in real life is it possible to be friends with a man and love a man and have him love her back and have it not be sexual.”



Ms. McDermid:  “Over time, [series characters] carry the weight of their history.”

Mr. Palmer:  “You’ve revealed to the audience that I haven’t read the book.”
Mr. Schreck:  “You aren’t alone.”

As a treat for myself, and because I was starting to fuzz along the edges from skipping lunch, I decided to attend  Morally Challenged Heroes without taking notes.

So I basked in the banter of Elizabeth Hand, Lou Berney, Chris F. Holm, and Seth Harwood (under the morally ambiguous guidanceof Ali Karim) whom I would gladly debate the limits of one’s moral compass and whether Batman is really the go-to 911 call.

But I did end up scribbling down something Mr. Holm said because I wanted to remember it before my blood sugar caused a total system reboot:

“Crime fiction, by nature, is transgressive.”

Yeah.  That.

It was raining pretty hard when I trudged back to the hotel on feet that haven’t yet forgiven me for last night—gotta love Ohio humidity.

It might have been a bit windy, too.

Oddly enough, my bangs looked fabulous all day, thanks for asking and go figure.

So, having eaten and posted, I’m changing shoes and heading over to the House of Blues to hear the Slushpile Band.

Hair this well-behaved deserves to be taken out on the town.


*And also Joanne Dobson and Beverle Graves Myers, who just released the first book in a new mystery series featuring a Japanese-American artist incarcerated on Ellis Island in World War II.  It sounds like a really good read.


13 thoughts on “Bouchercon 2012– Day Two: Old Friends, New Friends, and Gender Switcheroos

  1. How exciting and very cool about Libby Fischer Hellmann! Yes, glad the hair was well behaved, and hope you had a good time out this evening. Hubby said we haven’t been to House of Blues. When we were dating, he took me to Maxwell’s – a jazz house. Have fun tomorrow!

    • It was loud and rockin’, Maddie!

      I only stayed for one set and then shared a cab back with a couple of people—one shouldn’t yawn in the House of Blues—but it was a good set. 🙂

  2. Very amusing snippets of the panels. It’s interesting to hear how much a book cover can stereotype a book as “girly.” Certain covers are even too girly for me, and I happen to be a girl.

    • i didn’t put this in, but Zoe’s panel talked about all the wrongness that had happened to their covers, including dressing a ex-Special Forces security specialist in a polka-dot dress, long scarlet nails, and a tiny gun in a clutch bag, ala 1950 femme fatale pulp.

      Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

  3. How do you get down so much of what is being said? Do you know shorthand or something? Incredible.

    • I wish I knew shorthand! Nah—I’m just jotting the stuff that hits me hardest and trying to absorb the rest.

      Come to Albany next year—you’ll see how much I miss!

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