Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Bouchercon Gleanings

By Sandra Parshall

Outside the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
I can envision a time when Bouchercon expands to a full week, from 8 a.m. the first day to 6 p.m. the last. And the panels and other events will spread into a second hotel (next door if attendees are lucky).

If you’ve never been to Bouchercon, the World Mystery Conference, you can’t imagine how big it is, how noisy it is, how thoroughly, down-to-the-bone exhausting it is.

So many writers now attend, all of them expecting a spot in the limelight, that a full day of panels now takes place on the first day, Thursday, before the opening ceremonies in the evening. Attendees who used to arrive Thursday afternoon now have to get there twenty-four hours earlier (and pay for another night in a hotel) if they don’t want to miss anything. If they stay for the whole thing, they won’t see home again until late Sunday. A lot of people have to select just a couple of days to attend, and suitcases roll in and out the hotel doors throughout the event.

I flew to Cleveland, the site of Bouchercon 2012, on Thursday and came home Saturday afternoon, but I still felt as if I’d been there a week, and I packed an amazing amount into my short time. I didn’t take a lot of notes, but I have a headful of recollections that I hope are halfway accurate.

The opening ceremonies were almost overshadowed by the venue, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but toastmaster John Connolly could capture anybody’s attention. Along with the usual intros of honorees and a jokey skit with a short guy named Tom Cruz (don’t ask) about the Jack Reacher film (“Was the role a stretch for you?”), Connolly offered brief but passionate words about the enduring appeal of printed books. He returned to the topic on a panel Saturday morning that was ostensibly about heroes and villains. Both Connolly and fellow panelist Karin Slaughter strayed from fictional characters to the real-life villains they believe are bent on eradicating traditional publishing and its authors.

Connolly said it’s “appalling” to hear writers express so much hatred toward the publishing business and the printed book (“They live on anger”). Because traditional publishing hasn’t met their expectations, he said, some writers want it to fail and disappear, leaving readers with no choice beyond e-books. That kind of world, without brick-and-mortar bookstores, libraries, or physical books, would be a much poorer place.

Karin Slaughter agreed and added another set of true-life villains: people who use online reader reviews to try to destroy the careers of authors they’ve never met. Why get so angry about a book you didn’t enjoy? Write negative comments about a book if you must, she said, but does your review have to be filled with vitriol? And why give a book you haven’t even read a one-star rating when your only complaint is that the e-book version costs too much? The author doesn’t set the price, so why try to hurt his or her career? Keep in mind, Slaughter said, that the author you’re ranting about is a real human being, with a family to support and bills to pay.

The current hero in Slaughter’s life is John Connolly, because he asked that she conduct the toastmaster interview with him. Women writers aren’t often invited to interview male honorees at conferences, she said. Often when a male writer interviews a male honoree, the result is guy talk and/or a joke fest. I’ve attended some of those, and found them lamentable, usually to the point that I walked out before the end. By contrast, the Connolly-Slaughter event was a genuine conversation between two fabulous writers, and I enjoyed every minute. (The Georgia and Irish accents were a bonus.)

Another favorite panel was Mysteries & the Movies, with Robin Cook, Charlaine Harris, Jeremy Lynch (moderator), Joseph Finder, and Chelsea Cain. Sitting there listening to those stars talk about the joys and sorrows of seeing their work adapted for the screen was a lot like touring a palace: I’ll never live there, but it’s fascinating to get a peek into that world. Cook and Finder are veterans, but Cain and Harris are still learning how to cope with those odd people who make movies and TV series. When Harris was asked to a meeting about adapting her Harper Connelly mysteries for TV, she was informed that her assistant couldn’t attend. When Harris protested that she needed her assistant there to take notes and remember things that Harris might forget, she was told the assistant couldn’t even be in the building during the meeting. After some negotiation, the assistant was allowed into the building, but not the meeting.

Although Cain is enthusiastic about the adaptation of her series for broadcast on FX, she’s having a little trouble with the thought of her characters being played by actors who may seem totally unsuited to the parts. Clearly she needs a pep talk from Lee Child.
The panel I most enjoyed – and I don’t know why the room wasn’t packed wall to wall – was Judging a Book by Its Cover. Robin Agnew moderated as Marcia Talley, Heather Blake, Denise Swanson and Avery Aames talked about the selling power of a good cover, the disastrous consequences of a bad one, and the author’s influence, or lack of it, in determining the way a novel will look. Marcia put together a slide show to illustrate how covers of the panelists’ and other authors’ books – including mine – have evolved over the years. She also spotlighted the current fad for covers featuring women in red, a trend I wrote about here recently. Covers are changing as the book industry becomes more mindful of how cover art will look at thumbnail size online. The internet may be pushing publishing toward simple, uncluttered covers with a single strong image on each.

And the best part of Bouchercon? Leaving. I’ll admit it. I’m an unapologetic homebody. As much as I enjoy seeing a swarm of mystery and thriller writers gathered in one place, I live for the moment when the airplane’s tires hit the runway at a DC airport.


Pat Browning said...

Thank you! I feel as if I just dropped in on Bouchercon at least for a while. Interesting comment about book covers and a single dominant image. I've noticed that but it hadn't really resonated until I read your post. I like it!
Pat Browning

Sheila Connolly said...

If it were a week long, I'm not sure we would all survive.

I'm always torn between wanting to attend panels (and all the good ones seem to conflict with each other), and just hanging out talking to people--both authors I see all too rarely, and genuine readers and fans.

It was interesting to hear how many people feel that Tom Cruise was the wrong choice to play Jack Reacher. The informal Jungle Red poll nominated Liam Neeson, and I concur. Did Lee Child go for the money?

Yes, the covers panel was enlightening. One thing that did not come up there was that authors seldom have much control over them--it's mainly in the hands of that mysterious group called Marketing.

Aubrey Hamilton said...

I agree with Sheila, a week-long Bouchercon would be more than most of us could bear. I am still recovering.

I enjoyed the panels on online communities and blogging, interesting topics.

I particularly enjoyed just seeing people, authors and readers alike.

Betsy Bitner said...

Thanks, Sandy, for summing up your highlights of Bouchercon. I wish I could have been there - it sounds like a great (and exhausting) time. I'm looking forward to attending my first Bouchercon next year when it's in my backyard (Albany, NY)

Sandra Parshall said...

It was good to see you, Aubrey. And to see Erin Hart again (and share a baby panda video with her late one night in the lobby of the Marriott Key). I finally got to meet Sara Henry and Taylor Stevens, two very different but equally talented first novelists. And I sat next to Michael Robotham in the signing area!

Marcia Talley said...

Thanks for highlighting our "covers" panel, Sandy. We had fun putting it together.

Anonymous said...

This was a very helpful review to those of us who were not able to attend. I went to Bouchercon several years ago in Toronto and was overwhelmed by the enormity of all of it. I prefer a smaller conference, like Sleuthfest.But as a longtime loyal member of MWA, I feel we should keep informed of the major conferences in our profession. Thelma Straw in Manhattan

Robin Agnew said...

What a great re-cap! I'm exhausted too. And thanks for spotlighting our panel, which really was a blast.

Sandra Parshall said...

Marcia, I'm glad the roach didn't show up for your panel in that room. It made a bold appearance right in front of me on the table while I was moderating the small town mysteries. The Renaissance has roaches! Eek.

Patg said...

Bouchercon is just to huge for an unknown writer. You have to think as a fan to attend, IMHO. I'm not a homebody by choice, I'd rather be going somewhere at any given moment, and I find crowds very interesting. My idea of a fun time, is sitting to the side on a main street of London, New York, Rome and just watching the mass of people pass by. The bits of conversation heard can lead to a whole book.

Diane said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Diane said...

It sounds as if it were a lot of fun - in moderation. For an extremely long time mystery reader, it would have been a lot of fun seeing and possibly meeting all (okay, a lot) of the writers whose books I enjoy, or will. But I'm also with you, Sandra, on large gatherings. I eventually just want to go somewhere quiet. One of the high schools I attended (military brat - went to 3) has a high school reunion (not class, but the whole school - every one who ever attended during it's time) every 3 years. I've been to 2 and was ready to crawl out of there by Saturday afternoon. Something about being home is precious.

Diane said...

It sounds as if it were a lot of fun - in moderation. For an extremely long time mystery reader, it would have been a lot of fun seeing and possibly meeting all (okay, a lot) of the writers whose books I enjoy, or will. But I'm also with you, Sandra, on large gatherings. I eventually just want to go somewhere quiet. One of the high schools I attended (military brat - went to 3) has a high school reunion (not class, but the whole school - every one who ever attended during it's time) every 3 years. I've been to 2 and was ready to crawl out of there by Saturday afternoon. Something about being home is precious.

bobbie said...

Very interesting post. I especially like the part about on-line reviewers giving bad reviews for spite or to complain about a price and never having read the book. They did that en masse to J K Rowling recently.

Jeri Westerson said...

The problem with the Thursday through Sunday convention is that people are still arriving Thursday and leaving before Sunday, two days I inevitably have my panels (this time it was Sunday morning, though it was fairly well-attended). Authors have to make plane reservations early to get a good price without knowing when panels will be assigned, and if you tell the committee you can't do a Thursday or a Sunday panel, you may end up with none. (Yes, we pay for the entire attendance ourselves)

I loved going to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a venue unto itself, but to schedule an event in a place where not everyone gets a seat seems a bit...shortsighted. The acoustics--strangely enough--were horrible for where I had to stand, and I left well-before the opening events really got going since I couldn't hear a thing.

Maybe it is too big for itself. I found it hard to actually connect with people I wanted to see. I had a far better (marketing) experience at my outside venues.

Diane Schultz said...

As a true GUPpy (Great Unpublished), Bouchercon was an interesting event, and getting to know Cleveland was great fun! I went to different panels, but did participate in the Family Feud put on my the Jungle Red writers, and truthfully, no one could come up with someone who would be good as Jack Reacher. Hollywood had a problem. In an interview, Lee Child said that Tom Cruise is a good character actor. Hollywood magic will have to fix any shortcomings if they want him portrayed as a big guy, but who is there who really could do Jack nowadays? Seems all the tough guys are "too old" and most of the right age are a little "soft" so I'm going to try to suspend my disbelief and see this movie. I met a lot of big names, but we weren't exchanging personal information, so I mostly ended up with a lot of free books. I did have a great time at an after-party at the House of Blues. Many thanks to Alexandra Sokoloff and Heather Graham for making that happen. I met musician and author Don Bruns there. He drew a picture of a coconut palm tree for me with is signature, and gave away quite a few books. I'm loving them!

Linda Rodriguez said...

Good analysis of the conference, Sandy. I, too, thought the cover panel one of the best.

And it was lovely to have the chance to see you again.

I have to say I think I prefer Malice Domestic to Bouchercon. It's easier to get together with people you know and find your way around. And no roaches!!