|Outside the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame|
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.