05 September 2023

Make Time for Meet-Ups

Temple, I think we’re
going to need more luggage.

Though this will appear after our return, I’m writing this a few days before Temple and I leave for Bouchercon San Diego. Planning for seven days away from home—who’ll collect our mail each day, how many bags will we need for our clothes and the books that will return with us, and at what temperature should we set the thermostat so the Texas heat doesn’t cause our house to spontaneously combust while we’re away?—plays second fiddle to planning our time at Bouchercon.

When Temple and I attended Bouchercon New Orleans in 2016, our first convention together and my second mystery convention (my first was Bouchercon Austin 2002), our only planned meet-up was a lunch at the Napoleon House organized by O’Neil and Deb De Noux for Short Mystery Fiction Society members. At each subsequent Bouchercon and at each Malice Domestic, which we now also attend regularly, our scheduled meet-ups have increased.

Some meet-ups (usually over a meal) are with my editors and publishers, some are with writers I’ve edited and published, and some are with friends Temple and I have made over the years. (And some of the people we’ll be spending time with belong in every category.) Of course, there are also unofficial meet-ups in the hallways, at the late-night poker games, and in the bar.

What this means is that—despite my moderating a pair of panels—we have less time to attend all the wonderful programming. There just aren’t enough hours during the convention to do everything we want to do and spend time with everyone with whom we want to spend time.


At every in-person Bouchercon since Toronto 2017 and at every in-person Malice Domestic since 2018, I have returned home with an opportunity I might never have had, had I not attended and made a concerted effort to speak with other attendees. I don’t go with the intention to pitch this project or ingratiate myself with that editor, but proximity to so many talented writers, editors, and fans is like being in an idea incubator. An idea bounced off a fellow writer over lunch and pitched to a publisher that evening over drinks became the serial novella anthology series Guns + Tacos. An anthology idea pitched to a publisher on the fly in a hallway became Jukes & Tonks. A discussion over lunch with a writer who had never collaborated with anyone became the short story “Dogs of War.” The examples seem endless.

What I take away from this is how important attending conventions can be to a mystery writer’s career, and I realize it’s something that’s out of reach of many writers. It was certainly out of my reach until Temple and I married in 2015.

I was only able to attend Bouchercon Austin in 2002 because I could drive to the hotel each day. I barely had enough money for meals, and I had no money for books and other expenses. Additionally, my previous spouse was neither interested in nor involved in my writing career. Then, during the many years between marriages, I struggled to support myself as a freelancer, so things like house payments, electricity bills, and health insurance took priority. Now, with dual incomes and a supportive spouse, Bouchercon, Malice Domestic, and maybe other mystery conferences and conventions in the future, are or can be on my calendar.

That it took so long to learn the value of convention attendance makes me wonder what might have been had I been able to regularly attend Bouchercon and other conventions when I was younger. Might I have had similar opportunities twenty or thirty years ago?

At the same time, I think about all the would-be and beginning writers who—like me when I was younger—can’t attend Bouchercon or other conferences, especially if they live in areas with no other writers in proximity. What if they don’t have supportive spouses, can’t find childcare, can’t get the time off work, don’t have the money, or have any of dozens of other reasons that put convention attendance out of their reach? How hard will they have to struggle to make the connections—big and small—that will help them advance their writing careers to the next level and the levels beyond?

Active participation in social media may give them a leg up, but nothing beats breaking bread with like-minded fellow writers, editors, and publishers, especially those who aren’t from your neck of the woods.

So, if you’re a mystery writer struggling to find a way to attend mystery conventions, consider these opportunities:

The Bouchercon Scholarship Award Program is a start. It’s too late for the Bouchercon that just ended, so watch the Bouchercon 2024 website for information about applying next year.

The William F. Deeck-Malice Domestic Grant for Unpublished Writers is another option. Watch the Malice Domestic website for information about applying for 2024.

And if readers know of similar opportunities at other mystery conferences and conventions, please add them in the comments.

My Derringer-winning story “The Downeaster ‘Alexa’” is reprinted in Black Cat Weekly #100, July 30, 2023.

My Derringer Award-winning story “Getting Out of the Box” is reprinted in Illicit Motions (Unnerving).

“Smitty’s Roadside Diner,” a collaboration with Sandra Murphy, appears in the September/October issue of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine.

All-American Male (Book 1 of the Men in Love and Lust series) was released by Deep Desires Press.


  1. Terrific encouragement, Michael. You must have been doing something right— yours was one of the few names I knew before becoming a writer.

    You are so right about home support. I've noticed how … I'm struggling to find the right adjective … tenderly? reverently? wonderfully? … you refer to Temple. Spouses should be so fortunate.

    I've gone through that hand-to-mouth routine. It's not fun.

  2. Thanks for the encouragement, Michael. I've only been able to attend one Bouchercon, but I really enjoyed every minute of it.

  3. Hope you two had a blast and hope you both miss the Bcon Covid.

  4. Michael, Austin was my first Bouchercon. It was also the first time I met Linda Landrigan, shortly after she became the editor for AHMM.

  5. I'm giggling at 'Unnerving' - and wanted to tell you, just so you know I actually do read the stuff you post to the very end. Michael! I was a main organizer for the last Toronto Bouchercon, and do miss it. Hope to get back in a year or two.

  6. It was great to spend time with you and Temple in San Diego, Michael — time with the Bracken/Walker Consortium is one of the highlights of B'con and Malice for me. See you in the spring, if not before!

  7. Great article! Killer Nashville in 2022 and Malice Domestic this year were my first mystery conventions, and they were experiences I wouldn’t trade for anything (and I enjoyed getting to meet you at Malice this year!). Maybe one day, when I’ve got an amazing book contract and a show on Hulu and I’m not teaching elementary school anymore, I’ll make it to Bouchercon, which always falls during the first week of school…big dreams, I know, but they keep me going!
    -Ashley-Ruth Bernier

  8. It was a real pleasure spending time with you and Temple, Michael. Truly been a highlight of the last two B'cons for me, and I greatly appreciate the invites. See you in Nashville!

  9. I've only made it to one convention, Bouchercon 2019 in Dallas, for many of the reasons you sited above. I look forward to a time when I might be able to attend more conferences.

  10. I'm currently trying to write a SleuthSayer piece about my experiences at Bouchercon and I realize that one problem is that meeting with friends was a highlight and that's awfully hard to make sound exciting to people who weren't there. Had a great time with you and Temple!


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