Apr 212015
by Robin Spano
Question of the Week: What are your favorite writing conferences/conventions to attend?
First, thanks to Susan Shea, who defined the difference between conferences (collegial writerly gatherings) and conventions (fan-based gatherings).
My favorite conventionis Bouchercon. I’ve written a post about that before. Here’s a link if you’re interested: http://www.robinspano.com/5-things-i-love-about-bouchercon/
My favorite conference is Surrey International Writers Conference. The atmosphere buzzes with warmth and excellence, which radiates down from the warm, brilliant organizer, Kathy Chung, and her team of similarly devoted board members. There is so much talent in any room you’re in—not only because the presenters include the likes of Chevy Stevens and Diana Gabaldon, but because the aspiring authors who attend are smart, serious, and quite advanced in their craft. Some attendees are even published authors.
I’d attended educational sessions there in the past (if you ever have the opportunity to take a workshop from Don Maass, jump at it), so I was excited to be a presenter there in the fall of 2014. I taught two workshops—one on the craft of mystery writing, another on public speaking for authors. I sat for three blue pencil sessions where attendees brought me pages of their work to insta-critique. Both during those sessions and at meals, I met aspiring authors who I’ve stayed in touch and become friends with.
I also doubled as an attendee. I used every break I had to sit in on other presenters’ workshops and soak up the wisdom of my colleagues. Favorites were “Making Readers Cry” taught by Robert J. Wiersema, and an excellent take on setting by Hallie Ephron.
I also had a lot of fun (maybe one night too much fun?) with my fellow presenters. There’s something about being in a hotel with wine and fellow writerly folks that makes your inhibitions mysteriously disappear. (But they come back with a thud the next morning, right Rachel Letofsky?)

Next convention on my list to attend is Left Coast Crime. I’ve never been, but it sounds warm and wonderful. Maybe 2016?
Dec 182014

The end of the year is fast approaching – and so are the deadlines for registering for some of next year’s great mystery conferences and saving yourself a bit of money, too.

Let’s start with Left Coast Crime, coming up in Portland, OR, March 12-15. Register by December 31 and the price is $175. Dawdle until January 1 and it goes up to $195. Also, early registrants (prior to January 23) will be able to take part in the nominating process for four categories of awards. Click here for their registration page.

Next up is Malice Domestic, that annual celebration of the traditional mystery held each year in Bethesda, MD. In 2015, the conference will be held from May 1 through May 3. Price varies (depending on whether you want to attend the Agatha Awards banquet, which you should), but all prices increase on January 1. Those who register before December 31 get to help select the final nominees for the awards. Click here for registration information.

And in the fall, there is Bouchercon 2015, the oldest and largest of the conferences, coming up in Raleigh, NC, from October 8 through October 11. The price for this one is $175 until January 1, after which it goes up to $195. Their registration page is here.

Never been to a mystery conference? Maybe this is the year for you to try one. Each of these conferences attracts hundreds of mystery authors and more hundreds of readers who want a chance to meet and mingle with their favorite authors – and to learn about new authors and books they might enjoy. There are entertaining and informative panel discussions, rooms full of book dealers, prestigious awards, well-known guests of honor, autograph sessions, welcoming bags filled with books to take home, and the opportunity to make a great many new friends. I attended all three this past year; in 2015, I’ll be missing Malice (much to my regret), but looking forward to attending all of them again in 2016. Try one. You’ll enjoy it.

Got Books?

 BCon2014, Books, bouchercon, General Suggestions  Comments Off on Got Books?
Nov 122014

So as I mentioned in my last post, I have spent the morning loading bookbags to be given to Bouchercon visitors.


For those who are new to Bouchercon, each bag has a number of mysteries, plus a couple of mystery magazines. They get handed out to registrants. Come on down…

Nov 122014

We have arrived in Long Beach for Bouchercon 2014. We’ll spend today helping with part of the setup – stuffing bookbags – and then get ready for four days of talking and breathing fine mysteries. We’ve already seen some of our old friends from prior conferences. I think we’re supposed to have about 1500 or so this year. I’ll try to post updates as things really get rolling. I’m moderating a panel Thursday afternoon (4:30 PM) about mystery authors who are/were journalists and write about journalists as protagonists, and I’ll be part of another panel Friday morning called Collecting 101 (at 8:30 AM), to help readers build a collection of books they want to own. Add in a Wolfe Pack banquet Friday evening and, of course, the Anthony Awards (and others) on Saturday, plus a great many old and new friends, and it should be a great week. Will you be there? If so, please stop by and say hello!

Me Elsewhere: Hooray for Hollywood

 Books, bouchercon, Edith Head, Me Elsewhere, Shameless Self-Promotion  Comments Off on Me Elsewhere: Hooray for Hollywood
Nov 032014

All right, kids. Time to release some news that Rosemarie and I have been keeping under wraps for a few months now. Good news. Big news.

Drumroll, please!

Seriously? That’s the best drumroll we can – you know what, forget it. We’re forging ahead.

Rosemarie and I are hugely excited to announce that our mystery novel Design for Dying, which we wrote under the pen name Renee Patrick, will be published by Macmillan’s Tor/Forge Books in April 2016, with a sequel to follow in April 2017.

An early Paramount promotional photo of Edith

Design is set in 1937 Los Angeles and introduces Lillian Frost, an aspiring actress who has traded in her dreams of stardom for security as a department store salesgirl. When her former roommate is murdered, Lillian is drawn into the investigation – and the orbit of Edith Head, the famed costume designer at Paramount Pictures then in the early days of her legendary career. With assists from a host of silver screen luminaries, the two ladies join forces to track down a killer hiding in the shadows around the Klieg lights of Hollywood.

We were thrilled when Design won the 2013 William F. Deeck-Malice Domestic Grant for Unpublished Writers. (Reminder: you have until November 15 to submit your application for this year.) We are beside ourselves that the book has found a home with the great people at Tor/Forge, and that Renee Patrick will have the opportunity to write another mystery featuring Lillian and Edith. Rosemarie and I have always envisioned this as a series drawing on real Hollywood history and the astonishing legacy of Edith Head, an enormous talent who dressed everyone, knew everyone, and blazed a trail for women in show business.

Word of Design’s sale broke on Halloween in this post we wrote for the Boucheron 2014 blog. We’ll be in Long Beach for this year’s convention and participating in a Tor/Forge author event at Bouchercon on Friday, November 14. If you see us, come say hi. We’ll be the couple standing around looking dumbstruck at our good fortune.

 Posted by at 7:22 pm
Oct 132014

Today is October 13, which means that Bouchercon 2014: Murder at the Beach will begin officially in Long Beach, CA, one month from today. As I’ve noted elsewhere, I’ll be at Bouchercon (along with my wife) and look forward to meeting, speaking with, learning from and laughing with well over a thousand (maybe closer to two thousand) mystery readers and mystery authors.

While there, I’m scheduled to moderate a panel on Thursday, Nov. 13th, called “Just the Facts: Journalists Solving Crimes,” with authors R. G. Belsky, Ellen Crosby, Hank Phillippi Ryan, Susan Union and LynDee Walker. The next morning, Friday, November 14th, I’ll be on the panel discussing “Collecting 101: Tips and Tricks from the Experts on Building Your Collection,” which will be moderated by Otto Penzler with other panelists including Al Abramson, Bill Gottfried, Tom O’Day and Donus Roberts. In the off chance that you’re not coming to Bouchercon primarily to hear me speak – an unlikely thing, I know – rest assured that you will be choosing from well over 100 different panels over the four days of the conference. There are authors you’ll know, authors you don’t know yet but will want to meet, and a lot of readers who may share your tastes or be willing to debate the advantages of their tastes.

That’s not even counting all the extra events, off-site dinners and brunches, charity auctions and, of course, the Anthony Awards. I certainly hope you’ll be there. And if so, even if you don’t attend my panels, be sure to stop me in the halls and say hello.

Sep 132014

The programming gurus for this year’s Bouchercon in Long Beach, California have invited me to serve on two of the conference’s many great discussion panels this year, both of which sound like a lot of fun.

The first, “Just the Facts: Journalists Solving Crimes,” takes place Thursday afternoon, November 13, at 4 PM. I’ll be moderating that panel featuring authors Richard Belsky, Ellen Crosby, Hank Phillippi Ryan, Susan Union and LynDee Walker.

The second, “Collecting 101: Tips and Tricks from the Experts on Building Your Collection,” will be Friday morning, November 14, at 8:30 AM. This time, I’ll be a member of the panel, along with Al Abramson, Bill Gottfried, Tom O’Day and Donus Roberts, and the moderator will be Otto Penzler (who is already complaining vociferously about that 8:30 AM starting time…:-).

I know most of the people on both panels, and I can promise you a good time at both of them. I hope I’ll be seeing you there – you west coasters in particular should be there!

See You at Bouchercon?

 BCon2014, bouchercon, Bouchercon 2014, General Suggestions  Comments Off on See You at Bouchercon?
Jun 132014

Have you ever attended a mystery conference?

No, I’m not talking about one of those business get-togethers and trade shows where you frequently wonder, “Why am I here?”  I mean a conference of mystery writers and – most important – the people who read their stories and books.

I’m attending three national events this year, two of which have already happened – Left Coast Crime in March and Malice Domestic last month.

And then there is – or rather will be – Bouchercon.

We’re just about five months away from this year’s Bouchercon, which will be held in Long Beach, California November 13 – November 16. This will be the 45th annual Bouchercon. It began after the death of mystery writer and critic Anthony Boucher, for whom it is named, and has met every year since then. The last time I talked to the event’s chairpeople, they were expecting somewhere between 1500 and 2000 people to attend this year, which makes Bouchercon the largest such gathering in the world.

Who will be there? Well, there are the author guests of honor: Edward Marston, J. A. Jance, Jeffrey Deaver, Eoin Colfer, with Simon Wood serving as toastmaster. But beside the honorees, there will be literally hundreds of mystery authors mingling with, talking to (and signing autographs for) their fans. Many are quite well known to mystery readers – and then there are newer authors, building their audiences who will be honored guests themselves in future years.

What happens at a Bouchercon? Panels – authors (and the occasional fan) will talk about  every aspect of every kind of mystery fiction – opportunities to learn and to laugh. Awards – the Anthony Awards are selected every year by the conference attendees and presented during the event. Free books – every attendee gets a large bag stuffed with the latest mysteries, courtesy of the many publishers who support the event. Autographs – for new and old books, the authors are always most gracious. Mingling – authors are a thirsty lot, and a great many long-time friendships are celebrated at the hotel’s bar. Charity – there are live and silent auctions to benefit the Long Beach Public Library Foundation and an organization called WriteGirl. Side events – a lot of other organizations, such as the Private Eye Writers and the Wolfe Pack, sponsor their own events in conjunction with Bouchercon. And, perhaps above all else, the opportunity to make new friends, chat about books and authors, and – I promise you – laugh a lot.

If you’ve never been to a big mystery conference, I recommend this one heartily. I’ll be there – click here to see the latest list of the people attending, both authors and their fans. But you’d better move quickly; the host hotel is already full, and other nearby hotels are filling up quickly. Come meet the people who write the books you enjoy reading.

Dec 292013

We are approaching rapidly the end of 2013. And, as we raise our glasses to toast in the New Year, our glasses will not be the only things being raised. A couple of the major mystery conferences set for 2014 will cost you more to attend, as of January 1.

First (in terms of event dates) will be Left Coast Crime, or Calamari Crime, as they call themselves. Price through December: $209; price as of January 1: $239. Hey, it’s in beautiful Monterey, California, March 20-23. I’ll be there. Will you join me?

Only a few weeks later, from May 2 through May 4,  Malice Domestic 26 will open for business – as always, in Bethesda, MD. It’s the ideal conference for traditional mystery enthusiasts with hundreds of authors hobnobbing with hundreds more fans. These are the kind of mysteries that Agatha Christie readers enjoyed and still enjoy, and it’s quite a lineup of panelists and events. This one costs $295 until midnight December 31st – as of January 1st, it will cost you $320. As an added bonus, sign up by the end of this year and you will have the opportunity to suggest 2013 mysteries for consideration for the Agatha Awards. I wouldn’t miss it. Will you join me?

There’s still plenty of time to register for Bouchercon 2014, which will be held in Long Beach, California, from November 13-16. However, if you want to be in a hotel near the action, you’d better get moving quickly. Registration is currently $175; it goes up again to $195 after July 31, 2014. It’s a marvelous way to spend a few days talking about all kinds of mysteries – in print and on screen. It’s looking like a great conference. Will you join me?

Three fine conferences for mystery lovers of all genres. Just walking around these gatherings and talking with (up-until-then) strangers is the best part of the conferences; you’re bound to come away with new friends and/or renew acquaintances with favorite authors and fans. I hope to see you there!

Bouchercon 2013: The Week That Was

 bcon2013, bouchercon, General Suggestions, Modern Masters, mysteries, mystery  Comments Off on Bouchercon 2013: The Week That Was
Sep 242013

Another Bouchercon – number 44 – is in the history books, and my wife and I are home after another glorious long weekend devoted to all kinds of mysteries and the people who write – and read – them. Named for Anthony Boucher, the extraordinary author and mystery critic for the New York Times, the annual event which began in 1970 after Boucher’s death has become the largest such convention in the crime fiction world. Organizers say somewhere between 1200 and 1300 people were on hand in Albany, New York, for this weekend.


Most Bouchercons are held in a central venue large enough to hold all the visitors. This year, it wasn’t in a large hotel; Albany couldn’t shoehorn all of us into a single (or even a few) hotels’ ballrooms. Instead, the conference was held in – and under – this rather odd-looking building, the state’s convention center, also known as “The Egg,” for reasons which the picture probably makes quite clear. We’re told that if you fly over Albany and look down, the building looks exactly like a sort of giant fried egg.


Among the guests were a few hundred authors. Most were available at some point during the weekend for book signings – either after participating in public panel discussions or at events (usually with book giveaways) sponsored by publishers and/or bookstores and/or the authors themselves.


Fans and other readers would line up for these signing sessions – this one was one of the “main” sessions which followed the panel discussions, with the authors lined up at tables along the rear wall of the center, waiting to meet their readers. Everyone is very friendly at Bouchercon; as one author once observed, “Of COURSE everyone is friendly. You have hundreds of people here whose business is thinking up untraceable and ingenious ways to kill somebody…”

(There’s a lot more below, if you want to read more…)


Much of the fun and (occasional) educational value comes from the panels. Each day, there are up to a half-dozen time slots, beginning as early as 9 in the morning and running throughout the day – and in each time slot, up to six panels are competing for attention. The one pictured here was called “That’s Not Her (His) Style: Mystery writers who didn’t want to be remembered primarily for mysteries.” The panelists, left to right, were Parnell Hall, Dorothy Cannell, Margaret Maron, Art Taylor and the moderator, Steven Steinbock. 


There were special sessions with the various guests of honor – hour-long interviews. Anne Perry (on the right), the International Guest of Honor, was interviewed by Caroline Todd (half of the mother-son team that writes as Charles Todd).


The American Guest of Honor, Tess Gerritsen, was interviewed by Joseph Finder. There were also sessions with the Lifetime Achievement Award honoree, Sue Grafton, the toastmaster for the event, author Steve Hamilton, and the Fan Guests of Honor, Chris Aldrich and Lynn Kaczmarek (the latter’s flight was cancelled at the last minute, unfortunately!).

The conference also presented the annual Anthony Awards, which are chosen by the registered attendees at the conference who vote to select the winners. 

There’s so much more to a Bouchercon: the pleasure of just walking the halls, bumping into favorite authors, finding other attendees whom you have met at earlier events, and all the socializing at the various receptions (and hotel bars; this is generally a thirsty crew). If you’ve never been…well, Bouchercon 2014: Murder at the Beach will be held November 13-16, 2014 in Long Beach, California – and the registration is open now (with a remarkably low price if you sign up before November 1, 2013). See you there?