To Bouchercon and back again – a writer’s holiday

Mary Sutton / @mary_sutton73

IMG_2607My apologies to J.R.R. Tolkien. And yes, I’m using the same picture of a packed suitcase for this post. Why? Well, you’ll have to read on to find out.

Last week, I attended Bouchercon, the world mystery convention, in Raleigh, NC. I will not talk about the process of getting to and from Raleigh. Suffice to say, my journeys were fraught with experiences that will make great story fodder. Some day. When I’ve recovered from them emotionally. Thank goodness I had my posse of friends from the Pittsburgh Sisters in Crime with me (Annette Dashofy, Martha Reed, Susan Thibadeau, and Rebecca Drake) or the experience might have ended in murder.

But I digress.

I arrived in Raleigh on Wednesday. The first thing I did was take an afternoon workshop from James Scott Bell. I own, like, 95% of all the craft books Bell has written. No joke. I’ve wanted to take a class from him for, oh, forever so when he was announced as the presenter for the SinC Into Great Writing event before Bouchercon, I jumped at the opportunity. I find his writing style illuminating and accessible. I’m pleased to say his teaching style is just as accessible. I gleaned several nuggets to think about when I write. And as I looked around, I noticed several published authors in attendance, including Hank Phillippi Ryan, Laura DiSilverio, and Kristi Belcamino.

Lesson: Never stop learning.

Thursday morning, I peeked into the Author Speed Dating, just to see what it was about. The moderators cajoled me into coming in and I joined Susan at her table. The details were: two authors came to each table to pitch their books (and pass out the inevitable goodies). When the bell rang, they left and were replaced with two more authors. We started with Annette and Art Taylor, giving them an opportunity to practice.

And here’s how brain dead I was. Eventually, a woman wearing a lovely turquoise necklace sat next to me. She put a book in front of me. Lovely cover with Navajo elements. Anne Hillerman, the cover proclaimed. What a nice looking cover. Hillerman. Why do I know that name? Hillerman. Navajo.

Yeah. Anne Hillerman. Tony’s daughter. That Hillerman.

A little while later, Alexandra Sokoloff sat down next to me. If you’re not a writer, you might not recognize that name. But she’s a former screenwriter and a best seller. I blurted, “My Sisters in Crime chapter has talked about getting you in for a workshop forever, but we can’t seem to get the details down.” She offered to email me a copy of her book, Stealing Hollywood. And she did.

Lesson: Authors are regular people. Really.

I won’t give you a blow-by-blow description of every panel I attended. I don’t think I can remember them. But I was struck by something: everybody was so dang nice. It’s been said that mystery authors are the most generous community in literature. I’m sure writers in other genres would say the same. But the mystery community has set a high bar. I met Kristopher Zgorski of BOLO Books; despite never having seen him before I got a big hug. Another hug from Texas author Reavis Wortham. Every author was unfailingly, genuinely interested and encouraging to this lil’ unknown author. And I appreciated it.

This included my panel-mates on Saturday afternoon. Mysterista friend Cynthia Kuhn had to back out of the conference and suggested me as a panel replacement. To my shock, they asked. With much trepidation, I agreed. And despite listening to my panel-mates’ bios and thinking, “Oh man, I am so out of my league,” I’m glad I did. The topic was “Danger and Death in Suburbia” and we had a lot of fun. One of the writers on the panel looked me up afterward to get the name of my short-story collection so he could read it and all the authors said I did a great job and it was one of the best panels they’d ever been on. My friends assured me I had the sound bit of the session: talking about martial strife, “And one day you find yourself in the kitchen holding the meat cleaver.”

While I sat resting my feet with Susan, I spotted a woman who looked rather familiar. She had a lost expression on her face. “Do you know where the Oak Room is?” she asked. Sheraton, I told her. “By the way. I loved Cop Town.

Yeah, I’d just given directions to Karin Slaughter.

I skipped the Anthony Awards when I was at Bouchercon Cleveland and had always rather regretted it. So this time I went. Nice, short ceremony with a lot of fabulous winners. I didn’t intend on sticking around the reception, but I got into a conversation with a young woman from State College, PA. “When you said Laurel Highlands, I got it,” she said. We closed down the reception.

Lesson: Stay open to possibility and never be afraid to say “yes” because you don’t know where it will take you.

So I’ll give Bouchercon Raleigh a big thumbs up. Will I go next year? All depends on the money. But if someone were to ask, “Should I go?” I’d not hesitate to say yes. Great people, great books, great community that will welcome you with open arms. What’s not to love about that?

PS: The pictures. Well, I spent so much time blabbing, I rarely took my phone out of my pocket. Lesson: Shut up and take more pictures next time.

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