Showing posts with label Bouchercon. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bouchercon. Show all posts

29 October 2023

Going to Bouchercon

I assume that others will write about the Bouchercon held in San Diego long before this article gets published, therefore I will report mainly on our encounters at the conference.

The first step toward attending the conference was writing a story ("Shanghaied") for their anthology and submitting it before the deadline. Unfortunately, it didn't make the cut. Oh well, can't win them all. "Shanghaied" is the third story in a new series set during the California Gold Rush. It now rests in the AHMM e-slush pile for future determination. First in the series, "Sydney Ducks," was published in the West Coast Crime Wave e-anthology and the sequel, "Sydney Coves," was published in AHMM's July/Aug 2023 issue. Two out of three ain't bad and gives me hope for this third one to find a home.

Upon registering for the conference, I discovered two other writers with the last name of Lawton, Rob & Robin, on the List of Attendees. To my knowledge, we are not related, but I could see the possibility for some confusion. Sure enough, several months after registration and we still hadn't made the List of Attendees. I sent an e-mail mentioning this oversight, plus the difference between the two groups, just in case the conference planners thought we were already listed. Kim e-mailed back that she would take care of it. More months passed before our names were finally listed.

On the first of July, I was placed on a short story panel, but when the schedule came out in print, it said Rob Lawton, who is a novelist. I e-mailed Kim to explain the problem. In a return e-mail, she said she would fix it. I checked the schedule later and it said R,T, Lawton. I don't think I've ever seen anyone use commas with their initials. E-mails ensued. Kim explained she hadn't had her morning coffee yet.

We had learned in earlier travels to always build in an extra day when flying somewhere. It seems the weather and/or the airlines seldom co-operate anymore in getting the passenger to his destination on time. Therefore, we arrived on Tuesday. Many of those flying in on Wednesday found themselves stacked up over the San Diego airport due to thick fog. Some flights were even diverted to other airports to refuel. Our MWA Chapter President ended up at the nearby Ontario airport and was left behind along with some other passengers in the airport restaurant when the aircraft resumed its flight. They rented a car to finish the trip. She missed the panel she was supposed to be on.

Kiti and I had an excellent cab driver from the airport to the conference hotel. He spoke perfect American English which he learned in a school in Somalia. We had a great conversation in which I learned about his culture, to include food on their menu. I have eaten some exotic food, but never camel meat, a staple in Somalia. Arriving at the hotel, we over-tipped our driver, but he was worth it.

Our room on the 16th floor of the South Tower had a tremendous view of the marina, the bay and the naval harbor. It was worth the extra $20 a night, especially when the large Navy ships were gliding past our window on their way out to sea.

Wednesday morning, we had breakfast at Richard Walker's House of Pancakes with Rob & Teri Lopresti and Michael & Temple Bracken. Good company, good conversation and good food. My bacon and Havarti cheese omelet was so good that Kiti and I returned to the restaurant the next morning for a rerun on another omelet.

Wednesday evening was supper at Roy's with the Brackens, James & Dawn Hearrn, and Hugh Lessig & his partner Shana. Once again, good company, good conversation, good food. Roy's is one of those first class restaurants where the online menu shows no prices, however our macadamia nut encrusted Mahi-Mahi turned out to be quite tasty.

The panels were entertaining, the conference rooms convenient, the hospitality room well stocked with coffee, muffins and pastries. The Marina Bar inside the hotel was handy for appetizers, drinks and a good place to find old writer friends, which is one of the best reasons for attending a B'con.

So there I was leaning against a wall in the hotel while Kiti made a shopping foray into a store when this guy walked by. He stopped, looked at me and said, "I know you." If I was working undercover in the old days when I heard those words, then it became a tense time until we figured out whether or not he really knew me.

Most of the time the speaker of those words did NOT know who I actually was, It appears I have a common face, or resemble someone they knew. Whew. This guy and I talked for a while, but couldn't place each other. We exchanged business cards. It was only much later that I realized Frank Zafiro, a retired police captain, and I had met at the Left Coast Crime Conference in Vancouver. I was with several authors celebrating the publication of Brian Thornton's Die Behind the Wheel anthology and signing copies, while Frank knew and conversed with several of the writers.

L to R: Walker, Taylor, Hearn, Steinbock, Loomis, Lawton
(don't know the white-hat guy down in front)

And then, there was Steve Steinbock who had the misfortune to fumble his cell phone while in the elevator on the 8th floor. Yep, it slipped through that narrow opening between the floor and the elevator. The hotel was going to charge him for the cost of the elevator company making a service call to retrieve the phone, but fortunately Steve had insurance on the phone, in which case replacement was considerably less expensive than the elevator service call would have been.

One morning in the hospitality room, I saw a lady arranging the muffins. When I noticed she was wearing a purple t-shirt from the New Orleans B'con anthology from a few years back, I approached her and mentioned that I too had a t-shirt from that B'con anthology. Turned out she was a current volunteer at the San Diego conference. She told me that other volunteers were also wearing B'con anthology shirts. I thanked her for her service. Writers conferences need lots of volunteers in order for events to go smoothly.

There were many new and old writer friends that came to the San Diego Bouchercon. Too many to name individually. Just know that we enjoyed conversing with you all, and hope to see you at another conference in the future.

04 October 2023

Quotes at the Marina

Two weeks ago I reported on my adventures at Bouchercon in beautiful San Diego.  As usual I had my trusty notebook with me and was jotting down words of wisdom, and other words as well.  Here are the results...

 "If the book begins with three dead girls on the floor of an Irish bar you know where you are.  It's not a sweet little romance.  So stop giving me those one-star reviews." - Linda Sands

"This novel started as a 700-word piece of flash fiction." - Hugh Lessig.

"My first novel is Dead Lawyers, which was therapeutic." - Judith Ayn

"When my book was published it was like I sent a child out into the world.  Go make friends.  Some people are going to hate you.  I'm going on to do something else." - Sadie Hartmann
"Writing a book is cheaper than therapy." - S. A. Cosby

"People like to talk to writers and they tell me things they wouldn't if they were sober." - Jeffrey Seger

"My bio on Amazon indicates I'm 25 years old and all I ever did was go to college." - G.M. Malliot

"I spent nine months in New Zealand and everywhere I looked there was a murder that needed writing." - Sara E. Johnson

"All the members of my family think the people in my books are based on other members." - S.A. Cosby 

"My protagonist is Japanese-American like me but I don't think that gives me any kind of advantage, like there's some kind of ancestral memory." - Scott Kikkawa

"The murder people are the nicest people." - Erin Flanagan

"This is a first person book so all the swearing is his fault." - Jo Perry

"How did I deal with a bad review?  I stopped reading reviews." - Cara Black

"There is a small subgenre of stoner noir." - J.D. O'Brien

"I've already written a draft.  It's currently a big pile of garbage on my editor's desk." - Lina Chern

"How many times have you come up with the perfect comeback at three in the morning?  There's still time to put it in the book." - Donna Anders

"English teachers don't kill themselves without leaving a note." - Lori Robbins

"No one has a baby and gets a one-star review." - Lee Matthew Goldberg

"The funniest thing is really death.  It's the big banana peel we all slip on." - Jo Perry

"My work is pretty dark and I look like a middle school teacher so  get asked a lot if I'm okay." - Meagen Lucas

"The talk in small towns: I love the poetry of profanity." - Bobby Mathews

"Lips may lie but teeth never do." - Sara E. Johnson

"I love reading a book where I disappear.  For me that's a book that starts with small decisions." - Mark Stevens

"Pantsers terrify me." - Keir Graff

"It took me about forty years to figure out that people were laughing with me, not at me. - Greg Herren

"Eat. Pray. Barf." - Wendall Thomas

"My first goal is to entertain.  No, that's not true.  My first goal is to break your heart and make you cry."   - Meagen Lucas

"Wanna lose sixty pounds in a hurry? Die." - Jo Perry

"We don't call it a sensitivity reader.  We call it someone who knows things." - Donna Anders

"One-star reviews also sell books." - Sadie Hartmann

"My husband said you better have an agent look at that contract.  I said why? I'm going to sign it anyway." - Cara Black

"A friend said 'your book is so good I forgot you wrote it.'" - Heather Chavez

"Jewish grandmothers, Black grandmothers, Italian grandmothers, all sing the same song." - Cheryl M. Head
"I was stinking it up with sincerity." - Jamie Mason

"Historical fiction is allegorical, like science fiction." Scott Kikkawa

"I don't remember agreeing to [edit the anthology]. I drink a lot at these things." - Greg Herren

"Our children own history and we owe them accuracy." - Vanessa Riley

"Ellery Queen doesn't want your robot erotica.  At least they didn't want mine." - E.A. Aymar

"'Write about what you know' gets a bad rap.  If you don't know do the research and then you know." - Barb Goffman

"I don't personally poison people." - Heather Chavez

"If I was historically accurate I would write in three languages and four dialects, and that would be hard on the publisher, much less the reader." - Ovidia Yu

"I don't think anything I have ever written has matched the bright and shining vision I have in my head." - Eleanor Kuhns

"The 1990 Pride and Prejudice is the best version.  If you bring up that 2000 thing I will meet you outside." - Vanessa Riley

"My secret belief is that writers like short stories more than readers." - E. A. Aymar

"Families: you can't really kill them.  Usually." - S. A. Cosby

"There's nothing better than my next book because the one I am writing now is always crap." - Mike McCrary

"What's superstition? Everyone knows if you take pork over the Pali your car's gonna stall." - Scott Kikkawa  

"I think I still don't know what I didn't know then." - Scott Von Doviak

20 September 2023

That San Diego Treat

 I am writing this on the plane back from San Diego after having enjoyed the 2023 Bouchercon.  It is, I think, the eighth I have attended  and it was at least as well-run and fun as any of the others.

Here is one big improvement they came up with (at least, I have never been to a con where they did this).  Instead of stuffing the attendees’ swag bag with free books, each member was given three tickets which they could take to a room called the Book Bazaar (NOT the dealer's room) and swap them for any three new books they chose.  Once the organizers knew how many books were coming from publishers the freebie count went up to five.  As you can imagine this resulted in a lot of boxes of swag being shipped back home.  I myself made a little pilgrimage to UPS.

One of the highlights of the weekend (for me) was a panel I moderated.  I stole the idea from the World Science Fiction Conference where it is called “45 Panels in 60 Minutes.”  We called our version “20 Panels in One.” The idea is that audience members write down topics and toss them into a hat and panelists pick them out and have less than a minute to bestow their wisdom on that subject.  

At Worldcon this turns toward comedy but here the questions were serious and the brave panelists (Mike McCrary, Eleanor Kuhns, Steve Von Doviak, and Keir Graff) did a great job.  The result seemed to me to be close to an mini-unconference.  Instead of the usual panel arrangement (moderator asking questions for 40 minutes, followed by 10 minutes from the audience) this was 40 minutes of audience queries, with me finishing up. 

Sample questions: “What is your protagonist most afraid of?  What are you?”  “Donald Westlake. Discuss.” 

It was an interesting experiment.    One audience member told me she thought it should be repeated at every con, but I don’t plan to be at the Nashville con, so someone else would have to take that on. I can think of two improvements: instead of using a floppy sun hat, I should have brought the dapper fedora you see in the picture.  And instead of going down the row each time I would ask the panelists to speak up if they have anything to contribute on the topic.

And speaking of reactions… I have mentioned that I was once on a panel with a very chatty moderator.  Afterwards a stranger came up and said “I attended your panel.  I wish I’d gotten to hear you.”

Well, after “20 Panels in One” a stranger said “I wish you had spoken more.”

I replied “The moderator isn’t supposed to.”

“But in this case it would have been okay.” Maybe she was right, since none of us had been chosen for our expertise on the topics.  

I also got to be a panelist on “What Librarians Wish Readers and Writers Knew,” with Sarah Bresniker, John Graham, Leslie Blatt, and Michal Strutin.  This turned out to focus on three main topics: how to get books and book events into libraries, doing research in libraries, and coping with the recent attacks on libraries by conservative groups.  The question period turned into mostly passionate defenses of libraries from audience members.  One author said it was the most useful panel of the weekend. And being librarians we even created a webpage with useful resources to go with it.

Librarians Panel

Still on the subject of libraries, I did an Author Spotlight (one person blabbing for 20 minutes) on how we caught the guy who stole rare books from over 100 libraries.  I had good attendance which I attribute to creating posters (that is, 8x11 pages).  I left 20 on a freebies table, they were all picked up, and 15 people came.  That’s a good sell-through rate.

I attended two panels on short stories (three if you count the Anthony nominated anthologies panel, and four if you include Josh Pachter’s Spotlight about editing music-themed anthologies.)  

More highlights were two humor panels, one of which featured one of the best and rarest conference moments: the point at which all the panelists suddenly discover something together.  

An audience member had asked if any of the panelists used a sensitivity reader for their books.  All of them said no.  Then each of them got thoughtful and acknowledged:  “But when I write about a certain group, I ask my friend to read it…” Donna Anders summed it up: “We don’t call them sensitivity readers.  We call them people who know things.”  When I told my wife this she said “Volunteers are undervalued.”

Another highlight: there were more people of color than I have ever seen at a mystery event.  This may be in part because of the geography, but I’m sure some of it is due to Crime Writers of Color.  CWoC sponsored a reception called Underrepresented Voices and bragged that while they started with 30 members in 2018 they are now over 400.  That’s great.

As former president of the Short Mystery Fiction Society I had the honor of announcing the Derringer Award winners and giving out the medals and certificates to those present.  I was especially delighted to give Martin Edwards the Edward D. Hoch Memorial Golden Derringer Award for lifetime achievement.

One great point of any con is making new friends and meeting up with old ones.  I won’t try to name all the ones I shared a meal or a chat with, except to mention fellow SleuthSayers Michael Bracken, R.T. Lawton, Travis Richardson, and Barb Goffman.  I left Barb for last so I could single her for congratulations: she won a well-deserved Anthony Award for her short story “Beauty and the Beyotch.” Whoo-hoo!

Let me end with one more gathering of friends.  Jackie Sherbow, the managing editor of both Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazines, invited all of the Dell magazine writers present to join her poolside for a drink.  I won’t try to name them all but if you read AHMM and EQMM you would recognize the 20 or so names.  

I looked around and said: “Boy, if a bomb went off right now the face of mystery short fiction would be changed forever.”

Because, hey, that’s the way we think, isn’t it?

Join me here in two weeks for my favorite quotes from San Diego.

Oh, one more thing: I have a story on TOUGH which you can read for free.

19 September 2023

Bouchercon takeaways: being a successful panelist

Like some of you reading this, I recently attended this year's Bouchercon, which is touted as the world's largest mystery convention. It's held in a different city each year. This year, approximately 1,700 crime/mystery readers and writers converged in San Diego, where--among other things--we participated in and attended panels devoted to crime fiction. 

I like panels. I like learning new things and finding new-to-me authors whose books I'm excited to read. I probably attend more panels on average than many other people do at conventions like this. Some people actually leave the convention hotel to tour the city! Me, wherever we go, I attend the panels. This is partly a byproduct of having been the program chair of Malice Domestic from 2008 - 2014. If you live and breathe panels for as long as I did, you get attached and you like going to ones that sound good. Of course, I became program chair because I loved going to panels and thought I could do a good job at creating and scheduling them, so I guess this is a chicken-or-the-egg situation. But I digress.

Bouchercon started on Wednesday afternoon this year instead of the usual Thursday morning. The extra half day of panels really made a difference. It made the convention seemed less rushed. It enabled more authors to be on panels. It gave attendees more chance to see panels on topics they were especially interested in because there often was more than one panel on a similar topic. For instance, this year they had several panels devoted to short stories, to which I say: two thumbs up.

This is all a lead-up to say that I attended a lot of panels at Bouchercon, and I noted some problems occurring in panel after panel after panel. The biggest one: too many panelists far too often do not speak into the microphone. That makes it difficult for people in the audience to hear you or hear you clearly. So, for future reference, here are my handy dandy tips for being a successful panelist:

  • Speak into the microphone. Either move the microphone so it is CLOSE to your lips or EVERY TIME you speak lean forward so it's close to your lips. If the mic is sitting in the middle of the table and you're sitting with good posture, chances are your mic is a foot away. That's too far. It will not pick up what you're saying well. Pretend the mic is your high school crush. Get up close and personal. A couple of inches between mouth and mic is about right.

  • Speak to the audience. Look to the front. When you do that, you have a much better chance of speaking into the microphone. I can't tell you how many times panelists turned their head, talking to their panel moderator or fellow panelists when answering a question. When they did that, their lips were not near their mic. I understand the inclination to want to look at the person you're responding to, but this is not a conversation between two friends. Think of the moderator as a stand-in for the audience. Look at the moderator if you like when the question is posed, but then look to the audience when you answer. They're the ones who chose this panel to hear what you have to say. Make it easy for them.
  • Image by
  • If you're considering standing your book up on the table during the panel so audience members can see it, make sure it is not a hindrance to the audience seeing your face. If a book is a short mass market paperback, it probably won't block you. If it's a hardback, it very well might. And if you set your book on a little holder, the chances are even greater you'll be blocked by your book. So, before the panel starts, set your book up and have a friend sit in various spots in the audience and let you know if you're visible. If your book is blocking you from any spots in the audience, then I would hold it up while you are being introduced and then set it down. You might think you don't care if the audience can see you, that you want your book to be seen. But as an audience member, I beg to differ. It can be hard to connect with an author if I'm annoyed that I can't see them, no matter what they say or how charming they are. Think of the audience as your annoying relative who brushed your hair from your eyes when you were a kid. Bubby, we want to see your face.
  • When an audience member asks a question, repeat it before answering it. This is a moderator responsibility, but sometimes questions are posed directly to a particular panelist, and the panelist will jump in to answer. If you do, try to remember to restate the question first (speaking into the mic) so everyone in the audience can hear it. I know it can be easy to forget to do this. I'm guilty of it myself. All we can do is try our best to remember.
  • The best panels I attend often have conversations between the panelists. Rather than having a question posed and each panelist answer it down the line, saying their piece and waiting quietly until the next question is posed, see if you have something to add to what other panelists say. Engage in conversation.You'll probably end up with more interesting and less canned answers. (But don't talk too much. If you are talking twice as long or twice as often as anyone else, it will be noticed by the audience members and not in a good way.)
    Thanks to photographer
    John Thomas Bychowski.

I hope to see (and hear) you at Bouchercon next fall in Nashville (and Malice Domestic next spring in North Bethesda, Maryland, as usual). 

And before I go, a little BSP: I was delighted to win the Anthony Award for Best Short Story of 2022 at Bouchercon for "Beauty and the Beyotch," originally published in issue 29 of Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine. Thanks to the magazine's editor, Carla Coupe, who helped make the story better.

27 September 2022

The Gift of Writing—and Reading—Fiction

Families come in all shapes and sizes. Ideally, what keeps them glued together is love. With love comes understanding and acceptance and an inclination to give your family members the benefit of the doubt.

At least, that's how it should work. But life isn't ideal, at least not always. Sometimes people are selfish. Or immature. They could be rigid and stubborn and damaged. When such people clash, conflicteven crimecan be inevitable. 

In real life, it's sad. But in fiction, examining such people can give readers not only an opportunity to feelmaybe satisfaction or anger, sadness or joybut it can prompt them to examine their own inclinations, to think about what they'd be willing to do for others, especially when what's wrong seems right. Maybe they'll even find a better way to live. The prompting of such self-examination might be a lofty goal, but I think it's what many authors want. To entertain, yes. But also to make a difference with our words. To affect people. To make them feel and think.

It's what I hope to do with my newest story, "The Gift." It appears in Land of 10,000 Thrills, this year's Bouchercon anthology, which was published earlier this month by Down & Out Books. In "The Gift," Debbie has always believed in setting a good example for her grandson and the kids at her high school, where she toils as principal. But sometimes the line between right and wrong blursespecially when family is involved.

I can't say more about the story without saying too much. So instead I'll tell you a little more about the book. It's edited by the wonderful Greg Herren, and the call for stories required they be set in Minnesota (where this year's Bouchercon was held) or an adjacent state or Canadian province. My story is set in Iowa.

Knowing the quality of the writing of many of the other authors in the book, I expect I'm in for a treat with all of them. You too. These other authors are: Eric Beckstrom, Eric Beetner, Mark Bergin, Susanna Calkins and Erica Ruth Neubauer (co-writers), L.A. Chandlar, Meredith Doench, Mary Dutta, John M. Floyd (a fellow SleuthSayer; yay, John!), Jim Fusilli, R. Franklin James, Jessica Laine, BV Lawson, Edith Maxwell, Mindy Mejia, Richie Narvaez, Bryon Quertermous, Marcie R. Rendon, Raquel V. Reyes, Bev Vincent, Tessa Wegert, Michael Wiley, and Sandra SG Wong.

Here's an abridged version of the anthology's back-cover copy:

For years, the Midwest has been used as a stand-in for "average America." The sweeping Great Plains, the heavy snows of winter, ice fishing and mighty rivers and frozen lakes. Midwesterners have a reputation for being the salt of the earth, friendly and kind and helpful and nice. But is "Midwestern nice" merely a cover for what really goes on in this part of the country? John Wayne Gacy, the bloody Benders, and Jeffrey Dahmer were all Midwesternersbut that doesn't mean every Midwesterner has bodies buried in their basement ... or does it? 

Editor Greg Herren is proud to present a series of tales that will shock and surprise youand maybe make you think twice about that ice-fishing trip or before taking a snowmobile out after the sun goes down. Featuring authors from all over the Midwest who know just how dark and lonesome it can get out there in the country at night, these crime stories will entertain you with their trip down the dark side of the "real America"where the twilight's last gleaming has an entirely different meaning and feel.

You can buy the anthology in trade paperback and ebook from all the usual sources. To get it right from the publisher, click here. For Amazon, click here. For Barnes and Noble, click here. To get it from an indie bookstore near you, click here.

Happy reading!

06 September 2022

Road Trip

     As this blog posts, my traveling companion and I are pulling out of our driveway. This morning, we embark on our trip to Bouchercon 2022 in Minneapolis. Traveling through America's heartland, we will be preparing ourselves to cannonball into the deep waters of mystery fiction. Today, I'm wading slowly into that mystery pool. I'd like to consider the contributions to the mystery genre of some places we'll pass by as we motor up I-35. 

    Unless we stop for a fried pie in the Arbuckle Mountains, we should arrive in Oklahoma City in a smidge over three hours. I don't come to "The City" without remembering The Long and Faraway Gone. Lou Berney's book, set around a pair of crimes in Oklahoma City, explores memory and the continuing consequences of crimes. As I think about my writing, I try to remember what Berney taught me about damaged characters. If you've not read it, pick it up. Bring it to Bouchercon. He'll be on a panel moderated by Michael Bracken. 

   Another four-hour jump north will bring us near Topeka, Kansas. This selection, I'll acknowledge, is a total cheat. Perhaps I should go with The Late Man by James Girard or In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. Rex Stout, however, was raised in Topeka before attending the University of Kansas. He created Nero Wolfe and his assistant, Archie Goodwin, in Fer-de-Lance in 1934. Although there are books and authors more closely associated with Kansas, Mr. Wolfe's devoted fans, the Wolfe Pack, have been kind to me. Their Black Orchid Novella Award recognized my first published short story. I'll think about Rex Stout on our drive across Kansas. We might even pass the time listening to Too Many Cooks. In that book, Nero Wolfe left his New York brownstone and took a road trip. It seems fitting. 

    BTW: The Man Who Went Down Under by Alexis Stefanovich-Thomson, this year's Black Orchid Novella Award-winning story, was in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine's July/August issue. 

    Four hours later, we'll be solidly in Iowa. I just finished reading The Fields by Erin Young. This 2022 mystery is a procedural set in Black Hawk County, Iowa. The setting is a smidge east of I-35, the road we'll take through the state. But it couldn't be helped; I don't have a good Des Moines mystery at the ready. 

    The Fields is dark with an engaging female protagonist, Sergeant Riley Fisher. It opens with a murder on a family farm. Combining small-town life with the threats of corporate farming, the book moves at a quick pace. It may be located east of here, but it is not hard to imagine the setting as we slice through the corn belt. 

    Journeying northward, we'll cross the Minnesota state line. The first town we come to on that side of the border is Albert Lea. To the east, the next town is Austin, Minnesota. On this small sample space, the state appears organized alphabetically. If that's true, then Aurora County must be nearby.

    Aurora County, Minnesota, is the setting for the Cork O'Connor mysteries written by William Kent Krueger. And we won't find O'Connor here in the corn belt. The books are set in the state's north woods. Krueger, however, will be one of the guests of honor at Bouchercon. To commemorate this fact, I'll put forward Iron Lake, the first of the Cork books, as my state representative. I don't think I need to say much about him. Nineteen books in the series sort of speak for themselves. 

    Bonus: We will likely decide to return through South Dakota, the land of my youth. I reached out to fellow Sleuth, Eve Fisher for a recommendation on a Sioux Falls mystery. She didn't have one to offer. Instead, she suggested I try Kathleen Taylor's books set in Delphi, South Dakota. I read the first one, Funeral Food. I liked the small-town tropes. They felt authentic. When I picked it up, I expected to read a cozy. The protagonist is a waitress at the town's caféBut not all the sex occurred off camera. The plot felt a little forced in spots, but the humor was genuine. I laughed. 

    The westerly swing into South Dakota means we will return home through Nebraska. (You can check the map.) The state claims the hard-boiled crime fiction writer Jim Thompson on a Nebraska librarian website. He attended the University of Nebraska for a time. Oklahoma, however, also considers Thompson one of theirs since he was born in the Oklahoma Territory. His family subsequently moved to Fort Worth. The Lone Star State also takes credit for shaping him. Thompson was praised by Anthony Boucher. He was hailed as a Dimestore Dostoevsky. That label alone, I think, is worth a mention. With his tie to Boucher and nearly every state on our return, Thomson seems the ideal writer to recognize for the trip south. (Apparently, he never paused long enough to write a postcard from Kansas.) I'm pushing The Killer Inside Me

    If Bouchercon has left you too tired to read, you can catch The Killer Inside Me on video. Stacy Keach starred in 1976, and Casey Affleck reprised the lead role in a 2010 film version. 

    If you have other recommendations from these midwestern states, I'd love to hear about them. I can't promise, however, that I'll read them anytime soon. My traveling companion and I will likely return from Bouchercon with a tall new stack for our TBR piles. 

    Until next time. 

07 October 2020

The Inspiration Panel

Next week was supposed to be the Bouchercon in Sacramento.  Alas, it had to had to move to virtual  due to you-know-what. Some of you are no doubt mourning for all the panels you won't get to attend in person, the bars you won't get to close, etc.

I can't help you with the bars, but maybe I can cause you to miss the panels a little less. Last year I wrote a play inspired by many panels I attended at mystery, science fiction, and library conferences.    I present it here for your amusement.  (And by the way, if anyone wants to perform it... contact me.)

Jewish Noir panel, Raleigh Bouchercon*


The stage is set for a typical conference panel: two tables together lengthwise, covered with black tablecloths.  Water pitchers and five glasses.  Three microphones.  Five chairs behind.

EVE walks onto the stage, with a great sense of purpose. She is forty, dressed flashily, but not expensively.  She carries five name tents which she carefully places on the tables.  From left to right they read: EVE BROCKHURST, CHARLES LEMMON, DEBORAH DRAKE, BILL FONTANA, AMY KITE. 

As EVE is going around the table to her seat DEBORAH arrives. She is in her thirties, dressed in business attire.  She reads the tents, stiffens, and then switches her tent with CHARLES’.  As she comes around to her seat the others arrive, read the tents, and take their places.

After a beat EVE looks down the line, nods at the panelists and then smiles at the audience.

Welcome, everyone!  Have you been enjoying our annual writer’s conference?  Good, good!  This is the Inspiration Panel, just in case you boarded the wrong flight.  (She laughs at her own joke.)  My name is Eve Brockhurst and I am the author of six books of poetry, including The Falling of the Dew, which our local newspaper called “remarkably sincere.”  The fact is, I was surprised to be asked to moderate a panel, even one as distinguished as this.  I figured the committee would need me to speak on the Poetry Panel, or the Nature Panel.  Or even the Marketing Panel.  (Brightening by sheer will power.)  But Fraser, our dear director, told me that what he needed most was a strong personality who could keep these ferocious characters in line!
Readers Recommends panel, Toronto Bouchercon

She gestures at her panel.

DEBORAH looks irritated. 

CHARLES is slumped in his seat. He is sixty years old and wears a sports coat with no tie. 

BILL is all coiled energy. He is in his thirties, dressed in business casual. 

AMY is glowingly happy.  She is in her late twenties and dressed younger.

But that’s more than enough about me.  It’s time to introduce our wonderful panelists who will inform and, dare I say it, inspire you today.  First on my left is Charles Lemmon.  He is-

She looks left and realizes for the first time that DEBORAH is sitting next to her.  She does a quick check down the line to see that everyone else is there.

Whoops!   My mistake. Someone did a little shuffle on me.  (She sorts her notes.)  First in line is Deborah Drake, the author of the new romance novel—

Women’s fiction.

Excuse me?

Women’s fiction.  It’s about real-life problems.  Not the kind you can solve by going to bed with a man whose chest size is higher than his IQ.

O-kay.  I can see you have a lot on your mind today.  Deborah’s woman’s fiction -- Woman’s?

Short story panel, Bouchercon 2017

Thanks. It’s about a woman suffering from Reynaud’s Syndrome and it’s called The Girl With Cold Fingers.  The first time I met Deborah was at a conference just like this three or four years ago.  She came up after a panel to tell me how much she had enjoyed my book The Dancing of the Leaves, and I complimented her on her taste.   It’s so wonderful to see a person one has mentored becoming a success.  Deborah, our subject is inspiration.  In general, what inspires you?

Great question, Eve.  I find that there are sparks all around if you know how to look for them.  I’m thinking right now that my next book might be about a woman with a stalker, maybe a former lover who is too self-centered and frankly too thick to take no for an answer.

BILL is getting more and more agitated.

Well, that is certainly the sort of real-life problem many of us women have had to face.  Is this based your personal experience or something you’ve heard about or…

As you said we all face this sort of thing from time to time.  Men who think they have a right to your attention, who don’t understand when they are not wanted—

What about the men who have been led on?

Sometimes a man simply refuses to—

Just a moment, dear.  Bill – this is Bill Fontana, everyone – You had something to add?

I just think a writer needs to look at all sides.  Modern readers don’t want set pieces with cardboard characters where one person is all right and the other is all wrong.  If you’re writing for grown-ups characters need to be nuanced.

In your latest book the villain tried to strangle a kitten. How nuanced is that?

Bill, you’ll have your chance.  Deborah, do you want to finish your thought?

That would be nice, wouldn’t it?

I’m sure.  Our next panelist (DEBORAH does a doubletake.) is my dear friend, one of our most distinguished, most senior, a veritable elder statesman-

Please!  I’m not dead yet.

Of course not.  I just wanted to point out that you have written so many books.  Even more than my six volumes of poetry.  Charles Lemmon, your most recent book is historical fiction, The Battle of Sattleford Creek.  What’s it about?

(Pause.) It’s about the Battle of Sattleford Creek.

I might have guessed that, I suppose.  So many titles are ironic these days, don’t you think?  My book The Fire Sonnets contains no sonnets, and never mentions fire!  I suppose that’s why the critics found it so surprising.  One of them said “Eve Brockhurst has-”



How are we doing on time?

Good point.  Charles, at this place in your long career, how do you still manage to find inspiration?  What moves you to keep writing?

The credit card companies.  Something moves them to send me bills.

Oh, come now.  Do you really mean you are only writing for the money?

I’d better not be, because there’s precious little of it.  And security, don’t make me laugh.  You teach English at the college, don’t you?

I do.  I have the honor of opening up the minds and hearts of—

You can get tenure.  Then you have work for the rest of your life if you want it. What I wouldn’t give for that.  A publisher can kick you out in the snow after you give them the best years of your life.

Wow, that is one bad cliché.

Shut up, Bill. 

I’m glad I’m not the only one he interrupts.

Actually. I’m an adjunct professor.  No tenure, I’m afraid.

Then you’re in the same boat as us professional writers.  I don’t know how a publisher can sleep at night, when they fire an editor you’ve been working with for – well, a long time, and suddenly you’re an orphan and no one wants to promote your book because the last guy picked it.

So do you find that—

No ads.  No tours.  No publicity.  And you know damn well that when the book doesn’t sell, they’ll say it’s the fault of the writing.  Never the publisher’s, oh no.  I might as well give up on quality and start self-publishing crap.

Now, come on, Charles!  That attitude is very old-fashioned.

Don’t call me that!

Some of the best, most original work coming out today is self-published.  My fourth book--

And a lot of the worst stinkers, too. 

You’d know about that.

Oh, I’d forgotten.  Men aren’t allowed to talk at this panel.  Go right ahead.

Come on, Bill.  We value everyone’s opinion.

Hell of a way of showing it.

Bill isn’t very good at taking cues, I’m afraid.  At understanding what people are trying to tell him.

All right, Bill.  Since you’re so eager to talk, tell us.  How do you find inspiration?

That’s a stupid question, Eve.  Isn’t it really just the old cliché: how do you find your ideas?
Short stories panel at Left Coast Crime, Vancouver

See?  He doesn’t listen.

Not so, Deborah!  A good writer, a great writer, is always listening.  That’s how he comes up with dialog that sounds true. 

So you get your inspiration from the people around you…

That’s right.  And I get so much more.  Like insight into personality.  How a person will say one thing and mean something completely different.  For example, maybe they’ll claim for months that they want to leave their husband and start a new life, but when their lover offers to take them up on it, it turns out they were just teasing him along—

And this is your idea of honest observation?  No wonder Kirkus hated your last book.

Kirkus hated everybody’s last book.

You know, I think we’ve been neglecting one of our panelists.  Amy Kite is a fresh new face on our city’s literary scene.  She is the author of The Dragons of Zanzanook

(Correcting the pronunciation) Zanzanook.

Sorry!  Her book is a fantasy novel which has attracted major support from the publisher.  There’s an ad in the Times.

Oh my God.

An author’s tour.

CHARLES moans.

And I believe you are booked on one of the morning shows next week.  Is that right?

Two, actually.


Sorry.  I must have missed one.  Let’s talk about what inspires you…

Thank you so much, Eve.  I just want to say how inspired I feel simply by being here with all of you today.  What an honor!  This is my first time at a writer’s conference, you know, and here I am with Charles Lemmon!  I’ve been reading his books since I was a little girl.

Well, that’s wonderful.  You young whippersnapper.

And Deborah, what was the name of your novel about the girl with Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

Twists and Turns.

Yes!  My mother loved that one!

Oh, I can hardly wait.

Mr. Fontana.

Here it comes.

When I needed a break from writing my book I would read your novel in which the psychotherapist turns out to be the serial killer.

Which one?  I wrote two of those.

Three actually.

I didn’t…  Oh yeah.

And there it is.

Setting as Character Panel, Left Coast Crime, Vancouver, 2019
Setting as Character panel, Left Coast Crime, Vancouver
I’m afraid I don’t remember which one I read most recently.


Let’s not forget our moderator, Amy.  What do you think of Eve’s poetry?

I’m afraid I haven’t read it yet.

You probably don’t read poetry.  So few young people do these days.

Oh, but I do!  I must get around to yours.

Yes.  Do get around to it.

Well, that’s very sweet, Amy.  Let’s start another round.  Deborah, what is the inspiration for the book you’re working on now?

We covered that, remember?  Stalker?

Oh.  Right.  (Checking her notes.)  Well, what inspired you to start writing in the first place?

I’d say it was Greg.  My darling husband.

Oh, brother.

He is my biggest cheerleader.  He knew from the moment we first met that I was a creative soul and he has always encouraged me to—

Point of order.

Point of order?  Is this a congressional hearing?

What is it, Bill?

I’m just wondering if this is the same husband you told me hasn’t opened a book since he got his MBA.

I never said any such thing.  And frankly, I resent you constantly interrupting me.

Well, Fraser was certainly right about this group needing a strong hand, wasn’t he?  Deborah, I think it’s wonderful that you have such a supportive husband.

Ecology Panel Audience, Left Coast Crime, Toronto, 2019
Ecology Panel, Left Coast Crime, Vancouver
 I can’t imagine how I could go on without him.  We truly are soulmates.

I thought you didn’t write romance fiction.

You know, Bill, I think I know why you model all your villains on your psychotherapists.

I think we’re running out of time, so we had better move along.  Charles, can you tell us a little about what inspires your current work in progress?

I’m not sure I have one, Eve.  I write historical fiction and that means two or three years of research for each book.  By the time my next one is ready my publisher will probably have burned through five or six editors, and all that any of them care about are the latest trends.  The new expert, straight out of some Ivy League day care center, wants me to write a Civil War novel with zombies.

You’re kidding.  Zombies are like five years past their sell-by date.

And Bill, you already talked about your plans, so any other thoughts about inspiration?

Great question!  As a thriller writer I’m concerned with revealing the truth of the human heart.  By which I mean that people are totally and remorselessly evil. 

Jesus.  I thought zombies were depressing.

That goes doubly so for the female heart, of course.

And publishers.

Moving right along.  Amy.

Yes, Eve?

Let’s get back to your debut novel, The Dragons of Zanzanook-


Thank you so much, dear.  Would you say you were more inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien or George R.R. Martin?

(Laughing.)   Neither one, Eve.  My starting point was my doctoral dissertation on late medieval monasticism in a military context.  I just threw in dragons to make it commercial.

(Inspired.) Damn it, girl, we have to talk!

Short Story Panel, Left Coast Crime, 2015
Short Story panel, Left Coast Crime 2015
I’d love that!

Now we have time for a few questions from the-- Oh, I’m told we don’t.

BILL stalks off in disgust.

Please join us in the vendors’ room, where all the authors will be happy to sign their books for you, and I will be happy to take pre-publication orders for my seventh book of poetry, Life, Be Not—

The microphone is shut off.  She frowns at it.

*Photo by Peter Rozovsky

09 June 2020

Some thoughts on the short-story-related Anthony Award nominations

While we talk about many things that are writing related here at SleuthSayers (and many things that aren't), our primary focus is crime short fiction. So it's wonderful timing that today, a few hours before I sat down to write this column, the Anthony Award nominations were announced, including for best short story and best anthology/collection published last year.

I'm not going to write long today because I'd rather you take some time to read one of the nominated anthologies or short stories. But I do want to say a few things:

First, thank you to all of the authors who heard about my crazy idea to do a cross-genre anthology, mashing crime with time travel, and submitted stories for Crime Travel back in 2018. (Crime Travel was among the nominated anthologies.) I could only accept fourteen stories (plus one of my own). I wish I could have taken more.

Thank you to everyone who has congratulated me today. I love the camaraderie of our industry. This nomination belongs to the authors in Crime Travel as much as it does to me, and I applaud them.

Congratulations to my fellow SleuthSayers Michael Bracken (whose The Eyes of Texas: Private Investigators from the Panhandle to the Piney Woods was nominated for best anthology) and Art Taylor, who is up twice (!) in the short-story category, once for "Better Days," which appeared in the May/June 2019 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, and once for "Hard Return," which I was proud to include in Crime Travel. I'm so proud of you both!

I'd edited anthologies before Crime Travel, but this was the first time I chose the stories. It was a daunting task. One thing I learned from doing it is that while stories about a theme can be wide-ranging, in different sub-genres with varying approaches to storytelling, the best stories--at least to me--are the ones that touch you. The ones that have heart. And I hope that the nomination for Crime Travel today means that the stories in this book touched a lot of readers just as they did me. Thank you to everyone who read it and nominated it.

So, without further ado, here are this year's nominees for the Anthony Award in the best short-story category and the best anthology category. I hope you'll pick up one of them (or all of them).

“Turistas,” by Hector Acosta (appearing in ¡Pa’que Tu Lo Sepas!: Stories to Benefit the People of Puerto Rico)
“Unforgiven,” by Hilary Davidson (appearing in Murder a-Go-Gos: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Music of the Go-Gos)
“The Red Zone,” by Alex Segura (appearing in ¡Pa’que Tu Lo Sepas!: Stories to Benefit the People of Puerto Rico)
“Better Days,” by Art Taylor (appearing in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, May/June 2019)
“Hard Return,” by Art Taylor (appearing in Crime Travel)

The Eyes of Texas: Private Investigators from the Panhandle to the Piney Woods, edited by Michael Bracken (Down & Out Books)
¡Pa’que Tu Lo Sepas!: Stories to Benefit the People of Puerto Rico, edited by Angel Luis Colón (Down & Out Books)
Crime Travel, edited by Barb Goffman (Wildside Press)
Malice Domestic 14: Mystery Most Edible, edited by Verena Rose, Rita Owen, and Shawn Reilly Simmons (Wildside Press)
Murder a-Go-Go’s: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Music of the Go-Go’s, edited by Holly West (Down & Out Books)

Happy reading!