Bouchercon Aftermath

So . . . I arrived home from Bouchercon  (“Oh,  is that where you were?”) early yesterday evening, having achieved a truce with the GPS.*   I hugged and gifted and babbled like only an exhausted woman hyped on adrenaline and four bottles of diet Pepsi who is me can.

My homecoming, for those of you who didn’t see it on Facebook, went a little like this:

‎”So, how was the conference, honey?”
“I loved it! I learned a lot and met all these great people–”
“–Aaand I’m back.”

After baths and babble and a little Internet catch-up, I faceplanted into my own pillow and slept until 9:30 this morning, got up, and started doing laundry.  I swear, I didn’t pack this much . . .

But while I wait for the second load to dry,  I thought I’d do one final post about the experience.  I promise.

What I learned:

Pack something extra to wear just in case the weather gets nastier—or nicer—than it’s supposed to be.  And an umbrella.

Do not attempt the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame without sensible shoes, moleskin-lined fab shoes, or a blister-care kit.   Watson just reminded me that moleskin packs flat, so go with that.

Don’t skip lunch or a  substantial snack just to squeeze in one more panel—even if you had breakfast four mornings straight and screwed up your hunger cues—and remember to stay hydrated, or you, too, will get seasick during that last afternoon panel because your blood sugar tanked and the gentleman in front of you kept swaying fore and aft to see the speakers.

Speak to almost everyone you meet—some won’t want to go past hello or a remark about the lethargy of the elevators, but the others will turn out to be interesting people: librarians and readers and tattoo enthusiasts, writers whose books you love or will love,** and a few who are wondering what’s going on—I had a couple of great conversations with the server at my hotel bar, where I dragged myself every afternoon to have a very late lunch.

Writers and agents and editors are real people.  Most of them are really nice people.  And they really, really don’t mind you telling them how much you love their work, clients, new releases, or blog posts.

You don’t have to worry about finding something to read at Bouchercon, but you may have trouble finding time to read.

Take in everything—while eating and staying hydrated—it’s only for a few days, sleep is optional, if you’re gonna do it, do it!

And take a day or two off afterward to recover—if I’d gone to work today, I’d have died.

What I brought home:

Eleven swag books; three first chapter sampler books; three books I bought for me; five books I bought for other people; a charge on my Amazon account for four more and a DVD; two tee-shirts, five buttons, and six pencils for friends; seven new e-mail or phone contacts and three Facebook friends; something fun for Mom, who reads this blog so enough about that (Dad, you’re getting one of the Amazon-purchased books); clinical exhaustion ; and my new favorite necklace:

I collect tiger’s eye jewelry (it’s rare enough to make it interesting, but not expensive enough to make it impossible) and friends have sort of made me into a collector of skulls, so the combination was irresistible.

The book room was a treasure trove, but there were other hunters out there and I lost out a couple times.  I managed to snag one of two copies of Jaden Terril’s A Cup Full of Midnight, but couldn’t find any of Mike Cooper’s books for love or money—same with Duffy Brown and R.D. Cain (whose books, as I think I mentioned, were stopped at the Canadian border).

As for those swag books, I’m planning to mail one title to each of the four people who wrote me poems lamenting the lack of a Poetry Wednesday—and don’t think I didn’t notice that no one complained until I offered a bribe—Averil, independentclause, Odie, and Kev.  E-mail me your first and second choices and a mailing address (Averil and Kev, send me a reminder, because I don’t know where I put yours).  And thanks for humoring me.

From top to bottom (cat not included):

Vision Impossible by Victoria Laurie

The Stranger you Seek by Amanda Kyle Williams

The Pain Scale by Tyler Dilts

Life Without Parole by Clare O’Donohue

Road to Nowhere by JimFusilli

The Bubblegum Thief by Jeff Miller

Stolen Hearts by Jane Tesh

The Twelve by Justin Cronin

The Crime of Privilege by Walter Walker

Murder at the Lanterne Rouge by Cara Black

It was a great time.  I highly recommend this conference for anyone who likes mysteries, cozies, thrillers, crime fiction, and general insights about writing and the business thereof—or who just wants to have a terrific time mingling with people who do.

The next Bouchercon is in Albany, which is probably not within solo driving distance for me, but if I can, I will.***  And if anyone would like to carpool, I can always pick up people along the way.


*She did lead me slightly astray on my way to meet Sherry Stanfa-Stanley for lunch—which really deserves its own post, because the whole trip was worth it just for that—but it wasn’t her fault, really, or mine, as her maps are four years old and the restaurant had moved.

**True story: twice, I ended up chatting to people for a while, only to find out that they were quite well-known authors.  I already mentioned Libby Fischer Hellmann, but Saturday night, I was talking with a friend of Alexandra Sokoloff and found out twenty minutes later that she was Heather Graham.  My patrons, who read anything of hers we can find, are going to plotz.

**I don’t mind flying, but I dislike airlines and airports (in general, not specifically) and loathe their business models.


Bouchercon 2012–Day Three: “Look out, Holmes! That lizard has a grenade!”

I managed one set at the House of Blues last night before my brain called it quits and I shared a taxi home in the rain with lovely people whose names I don’t remember, but I loved the lady’s purple shoes and her partner’s matching fedora.

I took it easy today—only three panels, but I did have a nice breakfast with  Zoë Sharp, a great discussion and exchange of numbers with Jaden Terrell after the second panel, and lunch.

Then I hung out in the Hospitality Room and typed and chatted with writers—one of whom wrote Dad’s future Christmas present, score!—librarians, readers, and someone who knows a lot about jazz.

I also took some great photos of the hotel, and this one in the park near the conference hotel:

 I tried not to see this as an omen.

Give me a Thrill

Yesterday,  I heard a man talking about his book to someone else and I thought it sounded interesting.  I caught sight of his name badge for a second—Mike Cooper.   I then found out that his books were completely sold out—I took that as a good sign, and when I discovered that he was on this panel, I went.

I’m really glad I did, because these guys were terrific.

The line-up was Linwood Barclay, Mike Cooper, Owen Laukkanen, Boyd Morrison, and James M. TaborKaren Dionne was the moderator.

On characters:

Mr. Barclay: “Characters need to be grounded in reality.  Readers have to go, ‘Yeah, I know that person.’”

Mr. Morrison:   “I try to make my villain so formidable that even my super-competent hero is going to have problems.”

Mr. Cooper:  “Villians, to be a credible threat, have to have incredible powers, which is why I picked investment bankers.”

Mr. Tabor:  “I see things that are interesting to me and I want to explore them, so I create a character.”

Mr. Barclay: “I find that even if people are good, there’s a terrible darkness in them.”

Mr. Morrison:  “The villain is the hero of their own novel.”


On openings:

Mr. Cooper stated that the best example of a great hook can be found in the Captain Underpants series.   The kids are there in school, doing what they do . . . And suddenly giant robots attack!!  “Starting off with a bang in ordinary circumstances is good.”

Mr. Laukkanen: “I want my first chapter to be bang, bang, bang, giant robots!”

Mr. Morrison:  “The movie Die Hard takes twenty minutes to set everything up.  You couldn’t do that in a novel.”

Mr. Barclay:  “I don’t really follow the Captain Underpants model . . . Once you set the hook, you can back up a bit.”

On momentum:

Mr. Barclay:  “The most important word in thrillers is momentum.

Mr. Cooper:  “There’s a ‘revelation chain’ . . . Discoveries that keep revealing what’s going on.”

Mr. Morrison:  “There needs to be a sense of driving the plot forward.  You can’t just have action after action because I think people get tired of that.”

Mr. Barclay’s agent called him up once and said he loved the new book, but the first killing was on page 150.  “I want someone dead by page three.”

On how one creates all these action scenes:

Mr. Barclay:  “I make them up.”

Mr. L:  “I go into places like banks and think about things I probably wouldn’t do, but think about how I would react [if I did].

Mr. Morrison:  “You ever think that we would all be in jail if we weren’t writing?”

Mr. Cooper:  “Action scenes are enhanced by things going wrong . . . Everyone forgets how much action hurts.

On keeping readers reading without bombs going off:

Mr. Barclay: “[Create enough tension so the reader]  knows at some point all hell is going to break loose.”

Mr. Morrison: “Show the reader something the protagonist doesn’t know is coming.”

Mr. L: “Inserting some kind of imminent threat, some sense of time or deadline . . . the tension will be fine.”

First person?

Mr. Cooper, who is writing a first person thriller:  “It’s really hard.  If I were starting over, I would totally do third omniscient.”

Mr. Barclay:  “You never know what the bad guy is doing . . . so you have to bring the reader into the anxiety that the character feels.”

On conflict and tension:

Mr. Barclay:  “You can achieve so much without an excess of violence.”

Mr. L:  “It’s almost cathartic to deal with conflict.  I can deal with in the way I want to.”

Mr. Barclay:  “Conflict is the kindling.

Random Quote from Hitchcock:  “The length of a movie should be the size of a human bladder.”

Mr. Barclay:  “It was amazing the tension Hitchcock could achieve with just stairs and a door.  Ascending the stairs. .  . .Descending the stairs . .  .a closed door—don’t open it, don’t open it, don’t open it!”

On Denouement:

Mr. Barclay: “End with emotional resonance.”

Mr. L:  “I like having my character have emotional resolution . .  .  or a question that propels the reader to the next book.”

Ms. Dionne:  “We expect things to be neater in books than in real life.”


Elementary, my dear Cleveland

The panel included Laurie R. King, writer of the Mary Russell Holmes series of which I am a rabid fan; Daniel Stashower, who has won Edgar Awards for his fiction and nonfiction; Michael Robertson, who writes about a modern-day lawyer who is forced to deal with the mail people send to Sherlock Holmes;  Dan Andriacco, who wrote a collection of Holmes stories and; Sara Paretsky, Queen of the PI novelists.  The moderator was Leslie S. Klinger who wrote a Sherlock Holmes encyclopedia and also was a consultant for the Robert Downey movies (“I got to write Sherlock Holmes epitaph—how cool is that?”).

Frankly, I was too busy laughing and cheering with the rest of the Holmsians to write much down, but this is what was in my notebook when I sat down  to type it up.

Why does anyone care about Sherlock Holmes?

Ms. King:  “After all these years, Sherlock Holmes is just hot.

Mr. Stashower:  “I hesitate to follow that . . . but each generation looks into those steely eyes and find something new . . .he stands up to reinterpretation.”

Mr. Robertson:  “It seems that we live in chaotic times and we need someone dedicated to order .  . .My other theory is that Sherlock Holmes is the ultimate geek.”

Mr. Andriacco:  “Sherlock Holmes has an uprise in popularity [since his advent] when we need him . . . to bring order out of chaos.  What’s interesting is that he didn’t always do that.”

Ms. King:  “When I took a look at the kinds of heroes and heroism that reverberates with us . . . Sherlock Holmes is a wounded healer.  He throws himself down in the cause of justice.  And he’s also hot.”

Mr. Klinger:  “What we draw [from him] today is much different than in the Rathbone days .  . .he’s a successful loaner.”


Why write Holmes?

Ms. Paretsky was asked to write a short story for a Holmes anthology.  She thought that Conan Doyle’s stories weren’t very good, really, but that there was something about the character that strikes a chord with us . . . if it weren’t for Holmes, we might not read them.  She preferred the Amelia Peabody mystery stories that were written at the same time.  So in her story, Amelia Peabody shows up Sherlock Holmes.  The story is titled, “Take that, Holmes!”

Mr. Stashower:  “I was twelve years old and wrote a story called “Sherlock Holmes versus the Lizard People.”  The only line I remember from it is,  Look out Holmes, that lizard has a grenade!  It was just a short step from that . . . and the lizard king was hot.

(Note:  Watch for the tee-shirt, because I heard several people planning one)

On the derivative nature of Holmsian fiction:

Ms. Paretsky:  Holmes has become so iconic that you can bring out of him all kinds of things.”

Why aren’t you writing short stories like Conan Doyle?

Ms. King:  “There’s no money in short stories.”

Ms.  Paretsky:  “Short stories are harder than novels . . . Short stories are like writing a poem.  Every word  has to count.”

Across the Pond

Stuart Neville, Peter James, and Val McDermid are, in order, Irish, British, and Scots thriller writers.  I’ve read at least one novel from each of these writers, but I’m enough of an Anglophile to have wanted to go anyway.

Ms. Bowen, the moderator, wanted to know why all English bookshops were full of thrillers and gritty mysteries and all American shops were full of cats and quilts and tea things, as this seems contrary to the origins of crime fiction on either side—the UK had Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie and the US had Raymond Chandler and Mickey Spillane.

It was a terrific discussion in, if I may be shallow again, lovely accents.  Ms. McDermid said that except for audiences like the one at Bouchercon, she and other UK thriller authors didn’t sell very well at all.  The only one who sells well is Lee Child, because most Americans think he’s American.

On violence in thrillers: 

Mr. Neville:  “[I write] whatever serves the story.  If I do use violence, it’s going to be fast and hard and brutal, the way it is in real life.”

Mr. James:  “I don’t want them to turn the page and throw up.”

Mr. Neville: “The one thing I can’t write is violence against women.  It isn’t in me to do it.”

Ms. McDermid:  “You can’t sit down with a violence meter . . . It comes down to an individual writers individual decisions.”

Mr. James:  “Never harm an animal.”

And now, I’m waiting to get into the silent auction to see if I’m coming home with even more stuff. . . .

Tomorrow, I’m heading for Toledo, where I hope to have lunch with Sherry Stanfa-Stanley, and then home!


Psst:  Don’t forget to leave a poem on Wednesday’s post for a chance at something from my swag bag!

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.

Bouchercon 2012—Day One: Swag, Habits, True Crime, and Thrillsies

Poetry Wednesday is on a one-week hiatus, because, if you haven’t heard, I’m away at Bouchercon.

I’m sure you’re all very disappointed, and please feel free to send me limericks expressing your feelings of abandonment and/or my callous betrayal.

Seriously.  Best one gets a book from my copious swag bag.


This morning, before the first panel began, I met five librarians (including a head of reference services with pink hair from Mt. Vernon , Ohio, and a legal librarian whose card I will treasure as a precious resource) four writers (including two who were as lost as I was walking from our hotel to the conference hotel two blocks away), and a fellow blogger (we mastered the WiFi labyrinth together).

I was also rockin’ some serious crazed-poodle bangs from the moment I hit fresh air  and the backscratcher Janie slipped into my bag didn’t cut it as a comb.  Gotta love Ohio humidity.

Upon registration, I was given this:

Which contained this:

Which I schlepped around all day.  Remember day before yesterday, when I was kvetching about the weight of The Bag?  I take it all back (oh, my back).

If ever there was an incentive to start powerlifting again . . .

Regardless, I attended three panels—would have done four, but I ended up having lunch so my stomach wouldn’t drown out the speakers—not including the Bouchercon 101 that I attended because I was there and I knew it would be fun.  A few people came in, said, “Oh, I’ve been to Bouchercon already,” and left but a lot of us stayed and learned interesting things about this year’s conference (the evening activities are all free!  you must be present at the banquet to win the silent auction!  the hotel Starbucks is closed on weekends!).  Well worth it.

Here’s just some of the panel highlights (powerlifting and shorthand, right, making a list) .  Please for to note that this is what I think I wrote down about what I think I heard at the time, and it’s easier and more relaxing to assume that I’ve misquoted everyone but captured the jist of what they probably said:

Day in the Life: authors tell us about their writing habits and schedules

I’m describing this panel in a bit more depth because a) I’d just finished my second diet Pepsi of the day and therefore was able to write much more quickly than usual; b) like every other wannabe, I was fascinated by how Real Writers™ write and; c)  it was a terrific time.

The panelists were Cornelia Read, who says her excellent Madeline Dare series is “WASP noir” ; Gerald Elias, who writes a fantastic series about a retired violin teacher; Anne Emery, who writes a lawyer-priest partnership (sort of) series set in Nova Scotia that I have to find for my MIL; R.D. Cain, who writes the Steve Nastos series which I must read and can’t right now because his books were stopped at the border; and Charles Finch, who, when asked, said “I wrote Fifty Shades of Gray!” to much applause, but who really writes Victorian mysteries.  The panel was moderated through the comedic stylings of Dana Haynes (“Only one of us is armed, and I won’t tell you who.”)

On the writing process:

Ms. Emery can’t write without music.  Even if it isn’t related to what she’s working on, she says, there’s something about it that gets things flowing.   “It’s the only thing I have in common with Albert Einstein.”

In contrast, Mr. Elias, who is a professional musician and director, says that he can’t write to music because he ends up listening to it critically, which is too distracting.  He does most of his inspired writing in a little notebook he carries around for the purpose, before writing it all out.

Mr. Finch follows Margaret Atwood’s advice and writes one page the minute he gets out of bed:  “I write really fast, ’cause I have to go to the bathroom . . .”

Ms. Read:  “First, I go on Facebook for four hours, then have coffee . . . I live in abject terror until a week before deadline, then I take a lot of Ritalin.”   But she also says that every hour before noon is worth four hours after noon.

Mr. Cain, who is a police officer with a small child at home says that the last thing he wants to do is sit down in front of a blank screen without knowing exactly what he wants to write.  So he pre-plans throughout his day (“While I’m mowing . . . driving . . . arresting somebody.”), working on scenes or half scenes until he knows what he wants to do the next time he takes the time to write.  He writes out of sequence but because he plans so much, he knows where it all fits.

Taking off work to write:

Mr. Elias:  “I’ve never done that, but it’s a great idea.”

Mr. Haynes (who was a journalist):  “We didn’t have writers’ block—we had unemployment.”

Mr. Finch, in explaining that a writer is always writing:  “Every writer is only paying half-attention to things all the time.”

What if you need a kickstart?

Mr. Finch:  “If I’m stuck on my plot, I run as far away as possible.”

Ms. Read: “I’ve learned to pay attention when things get gummed up—often my mind is working on a problem . . . Or I’m being lazy and I don’t want to work . . . Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference . . . But there are triggers that come out of nothing.”

Mr. Elery:  “Even just a name . . . Lydia Humdinger.”
Mr. Hayes:  “Lydia Humdinger?  Too many responses . . . Sorry, comedy headache.”

Mr. Cain:  “Just two of three words together can take you to a place . . . and you can watch that scene . . .”

Do you consider writing a second job or a hobby or what?

Mr. Finch:  “I used to feel guilty [for writing all day], but then I found out that all my friends with regular jobs were just goofing around all day.”

Ms. Read:  “I started to write because I wanted that sense of self.”   She also said that writing between children and work gave her a structure that she misses sometimes:  “The friction of needing to value writing time is very precious.”

Mr. Elias said that when people heard he was a musician, they would ask him, “Oh.  So, what do you do for a living?”  He says it’s the same with writing.

Mr. Cain:  “For me, it’s a luxury . . . it’s a hobby, an indulgence and a way to use your imagination.”

What do you use to write?

Ms. Read:  “I use a hovercraft.”

On Main Characters:

Mr. Cain:  “I think about what I would do in a certain situation and then I make him do the opposite.”

Mr. Elery:  “He’s a source of stress relief for me.”


Mr. Finch:  “Writing has made me a better husband—I didn’t start at a very high level . . . ”

Mr. Haynes about Mr. Cain:  “Watch out—he’s got a four year-old and a gun.”

Ms. Read:  “It’s like a movie and I try to keep the choreography right.”

Mr. Haynes says he casts his novels—pins up photos and listens to voices for his characters so when he writes, the character voices are distinctive to him.

Murder in the Headlines: authors discuss true crimes

The panelists were Jackie Barrett, a medium who acts as an intuitive detective; Thomas Cook, who co-wrote a book with and about Jeffrey Dahmer’s father that I remember very well; Jane Turzillo, author of Wicked Women of Northeast Ohio, and Rick Porrello, who wrote The Rise and Fall of the Cleveland Mafia and Kill the Irishmen, which became a movie.

There was no moderator for this panel—he and a fifth panelist were listed in the program but were absent—and it wasn’t the most organized, but bits and pieces grabbed me:

Mr. Cook said that true crime readers were the only readers who don’t expect a happy ending:  “They like really depressing books.”   He said this was encouraging because it meant that he could write darker novels and there would be a readership for them.  He also said that there is a place for the hard truths of life—he said that the roads to the site of the Battle of Verdun, where so many lost their lives, is now lined with advertisements for Disneyland.  There’s nothing wrong with Mickey Mouse, but maybe we could remember that darker things happen, too.

He was asked near the end whether he’d thought of writing a book about Jeffrey Dahmer, and not just his father.  He said that writing about Dahmer would be like writing “about a shark eating something. . . then eating something else . . . then something else.  He was a psychopath and not very interesting.”   But writing about Lionel Dahmer, about how he felt and dealt with being the father of that psychopath—that was interesting.

Ms. Turzillo said that she loved crime and she loved history, so writing her book came out of that.  After she chose her topic, she “started in on every librarian in Northeast Ohio.”  She also hastened to say that it wasn’t a how-to.

Mr. Porello, who is a Cleveland police chief, commented that he hated crime.  But he was fascinated by the Cleveland mafia, so he started writing things down.  It took him nine years to write his first book, and after he was done, he said he was never going to do it again . . . until he held the bound book in his hand . . .

He said that his wife and his mother were concerned that it was dangerous to write about dangerous people, but when he asked  some of his contacts, he was told, “The gangsters who are going to be the most upset with you are the ones who aren’t in your book.

Mr. Cook followed this up by talking a little about being sued by convicted criminals—which happens all the time over the most frivolous, innocuous things.  But he quoted a lawyer friend who once said, “If you call a pig a hog, are you that far off?”

Ms. Barrett had some useful advice for interviewing criminals without getting sued later:  “Tape everything.”

Fifty shades of Cozy:  pushing the limits—not your mama’s cozy anymore

On my way to this panel, I met up with Matt Clemons, who is a writer and also patron at my library.  We talked for a bit and he said, “I’m off to hear Connie Archer talk about food!”

“That’s great!”  I said.  “I’m off to hear Catriona McPherson talk about sex!”

Actually, I was off to hear Dorothy St. James, Duffy Brown, Clare O’Donohue, and moderator Rosemary Harris talk about the new definition of cozy mysteries, and Catriona McPherson talk about anything she wanted to—I love her wit and her accent.

What is and is not cozy about your books?

Ms. Brown, who is bubbly and lovely and doesn’t breathe much when she talks and was wearing a fetching orange boa for the occasion,  said her two main characters still hated each other but she’s “planning a loooong series where they do a lot more than hate each other” and the book has a dog, but no cat and her characters sit on their porch and solve mysteries and “drink many, many, many martinis.”

This, and a bit more, was said in one long animated rush, after which the moderator grinned and asked in the nicest possible way, “Do amphetamines play a part in your books?”  and I decided that I’d found my MIL’s birthday present, because wow.

Ms. McPherson said that the only thing in her books that wasn’t  usual for cozies was that her main character, who is a married lady (if not a Lady) of the 1920s Scotland upper class,  is solving mysteries for the money.

Ms Harris: “If she’s married, then there’s no sex?”
Ms. McPherson:  “Oh, no.”

Ms. O’Donohue said that her books include profanity, off-page sex, and are set in a big city.  “There’s no murder.  There’s arson, because arson is so much more Christmassy.”

Ms. St. James said her books were about a Southern  gardener who works for the White House, so there’s secret service and assassination attempts.

On sex:

Ms. O’Donohue:  “He arrives in the evening and leaves in the morning.  They’re not playing scrabble.”  She claimed that the main character in her new series was going to have really, really bad, boring sex, just because the first time is always so wonderful and fulfilling in all the other stories and she wants to try something different.

Ms. McPherson:  “I always said I wouldn’t write a sex scene until my parents were dead.  But I just did.”

Ms. Brown, who used to write romance:  “I did it for twenty years, I’m tired of writing it.”  She also said that in romance, once the couple meets, that’s it—there’s no one else for them.  But cozy heroines can date around.  (Ms. Harris:  “Cozy slut!”)

On how much of their stories are autobiographical:

Ms. Brown:  “My characters always think of all the good lines I wish I could have thought to say  in time . . . ”

Ms. O’Donohue: “All the sex!”
Ms. Harris:  “That’s really . . . sad—weren’t you going to write a bad sex scene?”

At the end, there was a pop-quiz for the panelists, including their character’s porn names, safewords, and euphemisms galore.

And everyone agreed with Ms. St. James that thrillsies should be the name for today’s cozies—though ‘suburban noir’ comes close.

Ms. Brown:  “The lines are blurred and that’s good.  You want to keep it fresh, you want to keep it new.”

It’s about six-thirty here, and I’m about to board a trolley to the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame for Bouchercon’s Opening Ceremonies.

Now aren’t you sorry you aren’t here?


Note to Sunny:  How did this get in my suitcase?

Recalculating, Recalculating . . .

Lock up Your Sons

It’s six(ish) pm Ohio time and I’m here in the beautiful bar of the Cleveland Marriott at Key Tower, sipping on a diet Pepsi on the rocks in an actual glass, waiting for my white bean hummus and wondering why Watson’s GPS hates this place, because it’s  gorgeous.

Okay, Watson’s GPS doesn’t hate the hotel—though she didn’t know where on earth it was— but she absolutely loathes toll roads, and went out of her way—or mine, but who are we kidding—to avoid them, which means I saw a lot more of scenic Indiana than I had planned, including a lot of Amish Country.

Which was about the time the GPS freaked out because  her roads and the actual roads don’t always match up and she kept trying to get me to get back on the right path and turn on streets that we’d just passed, muttering, “Recalculating, recalculating, recalculating . . . ”   until she steered me into a dead end where a through road used to be and told me to take proceed straight for the next mile and get back on the bloody highway already.

In her defense, the through road was still technically there, but Rocinante couldn’t make the fence.

So I back tracked and ignored her pearl-clutching insistence that I was driving us through a pasture—
“Recalculating, recalculat—Cows! Look out for the Cows!! Dear God, where did you get your license you stupid—Recalculating . . . “—and we made it to Ohio, where I could breathe easy . . . until I was reminded that Ohio is the Tailgater State, by which I do not mean brats and beer in the stadium parking lot before the game.*  For about ten miles along the Ohio Turnpike, I could tell what the guy in the Geo behind me had for lunch while he tried his best to force me up into the bed of the pickup truck in front of me because of reasons that clearly had nothing to do with the fundamental laws of physics.**

But here I am , safe and almost sound, eating hummus.  Rocinante is under the tender care of the excellent valet staff.  The GPS is sleeping it off in the room.

I had planned to go to the Renaissance Hotel and see if they had early registration before heading to the Cleveland Public library for the Ohio Book Slueths’ Nancy Drew Scavenger Hunt, but I arrived too late for the latter and then my stomach reminded me that I hadn’t stopped for lunch and it didn’t agree that those two cheesesticks were going to cut it until breakfast.

This is really good hummus, y’all.

So, if you catch this post in time and you’re in or near the Key Tower Marriott, come join me in my corner of the bar.  I’m the brunette in the weird green sweater and tattoos peoplewatching over her Netbook until the GPS cools off a little and disengages the safety lock.

Tomorrow, we begin . . .


*Although I could—Ohioans know how to do it right.

**Edited to add:  Before all you Ohioans start chuckin’ buckeyes at me, I was born and (with a couple of detours) raised in Cincinnati, so I claim Right of Whine.