Showing posts with label Raleigh. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Raleigh. Show all posts

18 November 2015

Bouchercon: Vision Revision


by Robert Lopresti

First things first: in my last piece in this space I complained about something I thought Sisters In Crime did at Bouchercon.  It turns out it was actually done by SmashWords.  I don't know where I got my misinformation and I apologize to Sisters In Crime and to anyone who read my piece before I corrected it.  Now onto today's fresh blunders…

As I mentioned last month, I am pleased as punch to have a story in Murder Under The Oaks, an anthology published in October to celebrate Bouchercon, the annual mystery convention, held this year in Raleigh, North Carolina.  I am also delighted that the profits go to Wake County, NC libraries.  How can I argue with a cause like that?

This photo shows me at the end of the assembly line, eighteen or so authors signing their stories.  I'm the last guy because my story ends the book.

When I heard about the proposed anthology I went through my old files, searching for an appropriate piece.  I was happy to give a story to charity, but only one that had already been rejected by the major markets.  This doesn't mean there is anything wrong with the tale; most of my stories that have  been nominated for awards were rejected at least once along the way.

I settled on "On The Ramblas,"  which is set in Barcelona.  (Well, I don't have any set in Raleigh... yet.)  I pulled up the file for an edit and decided the plot was fine and the writing was okay, but immediately the question of theme came up.

Eileen Gunn said that "'Theme' is what the critics use to describe what you did."  Someone else said theme is what the story is about other than the plot and the characters.  I prefer the latter definition.

Usually I don't know what the theme of a story is until I am in the final edits.  That's when a sentence in the text will pop up in front of me and I'll think: Oh, THAT'S what it's about.  But in the case of "On The Ramblas" I knew early on that the theme was: What does it take to make you happy?

Happy American tourists on the Ramblas,
with animals.
My story is about two American tourists in Spain. Frank is miserable because he would rather be back home making business deals. His wife, Helen, is unhappy because Frank is making sure she is. My third character, Josep, is a Catalonian pickpocket, and he is brokenhearted because his girlfriend left him, taking his team of thieves with her. He is not only lonely (say that three times fast) but he is trying to do his job without the proper co-workers. What will happen when these freight trains of unhappiness collide on the Ramblas, Barcelona's main tourist shopping street?

So I thought I was all set in the theme department. But as soon as I sat down to revise I realized that there was a second theme, begging to come out and play.  It was right there in the first sentence:  Tourists wandered through the Ramblas like sheep, waiting to be fleeced.  I loved the animal/people metaphor.  I realized I could punch up that connection.

(A little inside baseball here: technically  my metaphor is a motif which I am using to build a theme.  I say that strictly to show off to the English majors.  Back to business.)

Of course , there is a connection  between  happiness and the people/animal thingie.  Back in Philosophy 101  my professor quoted John Stuart Mill to explain the importance of her topic: It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied.

There was one more thing I needed to do before sending in the story. It was recommended that the submissions include a reference to oak trees.  (Remember the title of the book?)  So I searched the web to see if there was 

The other end of the line,
with editor Art obscuring Margaret Maron.
any interesting connection between oaks and Spain.  There was!  And here's the beauty part: the connection has to do with animals. This is the sort of thing that happens when a writer is "in the zone." Things fall into place with spooky precision. It is the sort of thing that makes one invoke the muse or other magical explanations. I only wish it happened more often.

So I sent the story in, editor Art Taylor accepted it, and as a reward for his good taste and erudition he was invited to join the ranks of the SleuthSayers.

That last part is a joke: his name was brought up by someone who knew nothing about the anthology.  But I am glad to be in the book and I hope, well, that it makes you happy.

21 October 2015

Bouchercon: Good golly, I miss Raleigh


by Robert Lopresti

So, I spent a week in beautiful Raleigh, North Carolina.  We tacked on a few days before Bouchercon to attend the launch party for Diane Chamberlain's new book.  As I have mentioned here before my sister is a terrific novelist who happens to live near Raleigh.  This was her first Bcon, and I am happy to say she enjoyed it.

It was at least my sixth (New York, Seattle, Chicago, San Francisco, Long Beach...I think that's it) but I enjoyed it too.  Among the highlights were meeting two SleuthSayers for the first time: John Floyd and B.K. Stevens, and saying hello again to three more: Art Taylor (see proof on the right) , R.T. Lawton, and Barb Goffman.

Last year I reported that one of the highlights was the Author Speed Dating Breakfast, which I attended as a reader.  This year I was back as an author.  I was paired with Craig Faustus Buck, a fine short story artist whose first novel has just come out. (He's the guy brandishing the book in the foreground.) At every table we each had three minutes to explain to the breakfasters why they would absolutely love our books.  Then a bell would ring and we would jump up and charge off to the next table.


What struck me as most interesting about this was the way Craig and I each changed our patter as we went.  Both of us saw what got a good reaction and what got blank stares and by the end of the two hours we had our pitches down perfectly.  At one of the last tables I suggested that for variety we should each do the other's speech, since we had heard them so often.  Cooler heads prevailed.

Every author attending the Speed Dating Breakfast was required to bring "swag," defined here as something for the attendees to take away.  This ranged from candy to magnets to band-aids printed with the book covers to pouches of lavender to book marks.  Congratulations go to Cate Holahan for the cleverest booty of all: a folder to carry the rest home in!

Kenneth Wishnia, Washisname, and Jason Starr, as photographed by Peter Rozovsky
Another highlight was the panel celebrating the anthology Jewish Noir.  Editor Ken Wishnia led us in a discussion of such subjects as the connection between angry prophets of the Hebrew Bible with  hardboiled private eyes (they all rail against corrupt society, for one thing), and the link between Jewish outsiderness and the noir sensibility.  Ken also discussed the importance of not including every Jewish food you know in every meal in your story.  Not get for your cholesterol or credibility.

I was proud to be one of the contributors to Murder Under The Oaks, the second Bouchercon anthology.  The eighteen or so authors who were present formed an assembly line, signing copies for hundreds of people who apparently failed to get the publishing industry's email explaining no one reads short stories anymore.

I even attended some panels I was not on.  (You may think that's a joke.  The biggest problem at Bouchercon is Buyer's Regret.  Whatever you choose to do, and no matter how much fun it is, you will wonder if you should have been doing something else... so I skipped a panel on short stories to have tea with SJ Rozan, one of my oldest writing buddies, for instance.  Can't clone myself yet.)

There was a panel on pairing your protagonist with the right antagonist.  Most of the participants denied that their books had typical antagonists at all.  Someone asked whether the writers had ever met anyone they considered truly evil.  The two who immediately replied that they had were Mark Pryor (a prosecuting attorney) and Diane Chamberlain (a former psychotherapist).  I guess they would know, huh?

There was a wonderful panel in which masters were asked which classics of the genre influenced them.   They all digressed into the non-classics they loved as well.  Bill Crider said: "I love the old sleazy paperbacks where the titles all ended in exclamation points."  Lawrence Block replied that he had always wanted to sell that company a novel titled One Dull Night!

Other highlights included meeting some of my favorite mystery writers for the first time: Margaret Maron, Chris Muessig (look to the right), Sarah  Shaber, Reed Farrell Coleman, Richard Helms, Bill Crider, and Jack Bludis, to name too few. 

I had another favorite moment but I can't tell you about it, because, heh heh, I will put it into a short story in the near future.  So you will have to wait until I get it written, edited and published.  Three, five years max.

Okay, this is getting too long.  Next time I will give you my inevitable collection of quotations from the festival, and I will offer one complaint about my favorite book convention.

17 October 2015

Boucherconnections 2015



by John M. Floyd



A week ago today, at Bouchercon, something happened that I'd been looking forward to for several years: I met fellow SleuthSayer Rob Lopresti for the first time. Rob was one of half a dozen writers at the former Criminal Brief mystery blog (Leigh Lundin was another) who invited me in 2007 to join their ranks, and since then Rob and I have swapped so many emails and read so many (hundreds) of each other's blog posts, it seemed as if I knew him already. But we'd never met face-to-face until last Saturday, when I caught him hurrying down a hallway in the conference hotel, carrying a sheaf of papers and looking appropriately librariany.

That, to me, is the most appealing thing about Bouchercon. It's a rare opportunity to not only make new friends in the literary world, but to put faces to familiar names that I've corresponded with or seen many times in bylines or on bookcovers. That's also the way I met Leigh (at the Baltimore B'con in 2008), and, over the years, most of the other Criminal Briefers and SleuthSayers as well.

At this year's conference in Raleigh, I was able to shake hands for the first time with e-friends Bonnie (B.K.) Stevens, Art Taylor, R.T. Lawton, Brendan DuBois, Paula Benson, Su Kopil, and others. And meeting a person in the flesh does make a difference. I doubt I'll exchange emails or Facebook messages with these folks any more often now than I used to, but when I do, it will somehow feel even more comfortable. I'll finally be able to picture them in my mind.

Other highlights of my trip to Raleigh included a delightful group lunch with members of the Short Mystery Fiction Society; an afternoon meeting with EQMM editor Janet Hutchings and Canadian writer Rob Brunet (who turned out to know my fellow SleuthSayer Melodie Campbell); a long and high-decibel bar conversation with Joe D'Agnese, his wife Denise Kiernan, Reavis Wortham, Tom Pluck, and John Gilstrap; pecan pie and ice cream with Strand editor Andrew Gulli and screenwriter David Rich (who will always be my hero for having written several episodes of MacGyver); and dinner with author and friend Josh Pachter. Josh, if you're reading this, I bought your book the following day and I still need you to autograph it for me.

I was also able to reconnect with several other editors and old buddies I'd met at previous conferences--Linda Landrigan, Terrie Moran, Cathy Pickens, Steve Hamilton, Bill Crider, Austin Camacho, Barb Goffman, and others (in that sense B'con always feels like old home week)--and to meet a number of writers and readers I'd never even spoken with before. And I should mention that the panels were, as usual, interesting and informative. My favorite was the panel of contributors to this year's Bouchercon anthology, Murder Under the Oaks. Several SleuthSayers and other friends were among the 21 authors, and Art Taylor did a great job of moderating.
All in all, my wife and I enjoyed our four days in Raleigh and our stay at the Marriott, and I even managed to sell some books via the conference bookstore and the great folks at Ontario's Scene of the Crime Books (thanks as always, Don and Jennifer Longmuir!). The only disconcerting thing about the whole trip was that the waitress who served the aforementioned pecan pie at the Mecca Restaurant one afternoon informed me and my two companions that we were eating pee-can pie. Pee can? My childhood home had fourteen pecan trees in the back yard, and I've been cracking and eating pecans since I was old enough to walk, and until last week I was convinced that all southerners called them pa-CONs (sort of like B'cons). For me, pee can has a whole different meaning, but our waitress insisted that that's the way Raleighites pronounce it. Live and learn.

One more thing about Bouchercons, in general. Unlike many mystery conferences, B'con is for fans as well as for writers. It's easy to lose sight of the fact that none of what we authors create would ever be published without readers to read it, and I'm always able to meet (and learn from) some of the huge number of mystery fans in attendance. They're quick to tell me what they like and what they don't and why they like it or not, and as writers we'd be crazy not to listen to those opinions.

In closing, let me say that I'm already planning to go to Bouchercon 2016, in New Orleans. Otto Penzler told me he expects the attendance to be the largest in years--the location itself will be a big draw, and many attendees will probably bring their spouses. Besides, it's a no-brainer for me, since New Orleans is less than three hours from where I live. The only problem is that it might be hard to corral audiences for the panels. Let's see . . . on the one hand you have a hotel meeting-room full of writers and readers, and on the other hand you have a French Quarter bar, also full of writers and readers. Where would you rather be?

By the way, Otto also said that next year will be his 41st Bouchercon. I've been to four, he's been to forty. But I'll tell you this: I have enjoyed each one more than the last.

I hope to see you in N.O.