21 October 2016

Reflections on Bouchercon New Orleans

by O'Neil De Noux

I've been listening to audiobooks during my commute to work. On a recent morning, I had so strong an emotional response to a story, I almost had to pull over on the interstate. I felt my throat tighten and my eyes beginning to water because a young woman died in the story. Nothing sinister. A fever. There I was, getting choked up about a woman who never existed. Such is the power of good fiction. For years I've been saying the reason we write fiction is to get that kind of reaction. It certainly isn't for money. I've never made much money as a writer. It isn't for the awards, although being awarded by my peers and by readers has sustained me during the dark times when I doubted myself and my writing. American writers are saddled by 'success'. Only the successful writer is important.

How much money did you make? When are they going to make a movie out of one of your books? Why have I never heard of you? (OK, that last one's funny).

Photo of Katrina destruction © 2005 John Datri (used by permission)

Around the time of Hurricane Katrina, when I was at the nadir of my career (before I became an Indie writer and broke away from traditonal publishers who printed my books, opened their back doors and tossed them into the wind to see if they'd fly off bookshelves, then let the books go out of print) I remember looking at my books and the magazines I had stories in and telling myself - at least I wrote "The Heart Has Reasons," which won the SHAMUS Award for Best Private Eye Short Story. At least I wrote that story. It gave me strength.

On the morning I got choked up, I turned off the audiobook as the traffic became heavy and began to reflect on Boucherson. It was my first Bouchercon and the first writer's convention I'd been to since 1992. I don't like to travel. I thought of the highlights of the convention for me - meeting writers I've long admired, meeting the wives and husbands of writers who are the coolest people, meeting editors who have given me guidance and have published my stories, the honor of speaking about New Orleans at the opening ceremony, presenting the DERRINGER AWARDS and attending my first PWA SHAMUS Award ceremony.

Yet, one moment stood out. A brief conversation with Linda Landrigan, editor of ALFRED HITCHCOCK MYSTERY MAGAZINE. She reflected on a story of mine she's published in 2011. She told me she still thinks about "The Gorilla Murders" because of the emotional response she had to the story. That is the highest compliment given to me by an editor, that quiet remark.

Why? Because we write to elicit a response in the reader - emotional or intellectual (even anger). Robert Frost was correct when he said, "No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader."

So, to my fellow writers, I say there is so much more out there. More stories. More characters. More fevers. We just have to bear down and write the stories. Hopefully, they'll get read. But if they don't - they don't. It's worth every tear.

The audiobook I was listened to is the novel NEW YORK by Edward Rutherford ©2009



  1. As Emily Dickinson said, writing is our 'letter to the world' and we are so fortunate if someone reads us and makes an emotional connection.

  2. Writing often feels like you're just talking to yourself. Or raving in a locked room. Quiet moments of recognition certainly help. I think those moments aren't as frequent for those of us who only write short stories. Thank God for people like Linda Landrigan! And my fellow SleuthSayers!

    BTW, my favorite Rutherford book is "The Forest" - VERY moving. Also "London".

  3. I agree. I have not been published nearly as much as you have, but still in moments of self-doubt I can look at a couple of emails I got from ppl who reacted strongly to one of my stories. Speaking for myself, I'd never buy or listen to an audiobook because I worked in transcription for many years & got sick of trying to understand accents, mumbling, etc. Otherwise I see exactly what you mean.

  4. Writing a story that elicits an emotional response in the reader is damned hard to do, and I doubt I've done it more than a half dozen times. I think I'm getting better at it after a personal revelation a few years ago. Rather than writing crime fiction where the crime, the revelation of clues, and the brilliance of the investigator is the story's driving force (think classic detection stories where the suspects are all gathered in the drawing room at the end for the big reveal) or the slam-bang hardboiled crime fiction I'd been writing, I'm trying to write more crime fiction where the relationship between key characters is the story's driving force and the crime is used to reveal the depth of that relationship. (A recent example of where I think I've done it successfully is "Chase Your Dreams" [AHMM, June 2016].)

  5. Hey,this was my first Bouchercon,too. I say it was a rewarding experience meeting writers I'd only known in print and/or online. Loved your impromptu history lesson on New Orleans while we made our way to that fabulous restaurant for lunch as a group. When the conference was over, we stayed an extra day and caught a historical trip on a paddle boat up the Mississippi. What fun and I even got an idea for a story. Do I get emotional when I write or read? Absolutely! It's part of the magic and I am proud to be part of it. Great article!

  6. Deborah,
    Great you got an idea for a story. Hope it comes to pass.

  7. Yours was a thought provoking article. I always hope for an intense emotional impact on the reader. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I miss the mark. I keep trying.


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