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!

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?

Sep 222013
by: Joelle Charbonneau

Well, since I'm currently in Albany, NY for Bouchercon, which despite the strangeness of Albany (if you've been here recently, you'll understand what I mean) is tons of fun I have decided to run a post that I wrote about a year and a half ago.  It was advice I gave to so many aspiring authors this weekend and I figure if they had to hear it...well, I guess you get to hear it, too.

Finishing What You Start

Almost everyone I know loves to begin a new project. Whether it is a novel, a short story, knitting a scarf or building some cool new thing for the house – beginnings are exciting. Everything is bright and new and shiny. Kind of like a new toy on Christmas Day. There are endless possibilities as you imagine the fun you will have.

Beginnings are awesome.

Too bad beginnings can’t last forever. But they don’t and the bright and new and shiny wears off and you are left with something that no longer feels like fun. Instead, it feels like work.

Whether you are a third of the way through knitting a sweater, rebuilding a car engine or writing your manuscript—getting past the point where the activity feels like work can be tough. This is probably why so many people talk about wanting to write a book or knit a blanket, but never have a finished product to show anyone. They get distracted by an exciting new idea or a nifty knitting pattern and suddenly they have ditched the old one so they can have the “new toy” feeling again.

When new writers ask me what I think is the most important step they can take to becoming a published author my answer is always the same. Finish a book. It doesn’t matter if you realize halfway through that your midget werewolf, time travel, erotic mystery is not what the market is looking for. I don’t care if you say that you’ve realized your story has a huge hole in it. I don’t care about any of the reasons you have for not finishing the book. You need to keep going and finish the damn book!

Why finish something that won’t have a chance in hell of selling? Because finishing a project teaches you something very important. It teaches you that you actually can finish.. 

Why is that important? I mean, if the book will never sell, who cares. It doesn’t matter that you’ve finished the book. Right?


I know lots of aspiring authors who have been typing furiously for years and have never gotten to THE END. And while they keep blaming the story or the lack of time to write or the worry that the market isn’t going to want to buy what they are writing – they are just making excuses. With every new beginning comes the bright and shiny new toy moment. But for those that have never finished what they have begun that bright and shiny moment is laced with fear and uncertainty. 

Uncertainty because you have never finished a project. 

Fear that you never will.

Trust me when I say the first book I wrote will NEVER see the light of day. It sucked. Oh – there were good moments in it. It would be hard to write that many words without a few gems in the bunch. But I hadn’t a clue how to really construct a story. I didn’t have a feel for pacing or for keeping a scene focused. Face it—I didn’t have a flippin’ clue. The only thing I did right was I finished the sucker. All 134,000 words of it. (Yeah – now you can see why that book had problems…right?)

But that book taught me something very important. It taught me that I could sit down every day and fill the pages with words. Even though the story was less than perfect, it had a beginning, middle and most important it had an end. I learned that I could finish a book. Which meant when I started the next project, I KNEW that project would have an end, too.

I currently have two books on the shelves of your local bookstore with eight more under contract—only 3 of which are written. If I hadn’t proven over and over again to myself that I could reach the end of those as yet unwritten books I would be cowering under my bed. Instead, I sit at the computer every day and know that I will reach THE END of all of those books not just because I have to, but because I have proven to myself that I can.

We all like to talk about voice and sentence structure, pacing and characters, but so often we forget the most important milestone of a writer’s life is finishing that first book and banishing the fear. And when you are fearless, anything is possible.
Sep 182013
I'm excited to be heading north to Albany, NY, for this year's Bouchercon, the oldest and (I think) largest such conference for the crime fiction community, which begins officially on Thursday and runs through mid-day Sunday. No promises (depends on availability of Internet, etc.), but I'll try and post some updates on the doings there, including the Anthony Awards presentations on Saturday night. Lots of mystery readers, lots of mystery writers, and a good time available to be had by all.
May 092013

It has been a busy week for mystery lovers and mystery authors, with the awarding of this year's Edgars by the Mystery Writers of America and the naming of the Agatha winners from Malice Domestic.

Now, it's the turn of the Anthonys - the awards named for mystery author and influential mystery critic Anthony Boucher. The organizers of Bouchercon 2013 have announced the short list of nominees for the top awards, as chosen by Bouchercon attendees:

Dare Me – Megan Abbott
The Trinity Game – Sean Chercover
Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn
The Beautiful Mystery – Louise Penny
The Other Woman – Hank Phillippi Ryan

Don’t Ever Get Old – Daniel Friedman
The Professionals – Owen Laukkanen
The Expats – Chris Pavone
The 500 – Matthew Quirk
Black Fridays – Michael Sears

Whiplash River – Lou Berney
Murder for Choir – Joelle Charbonneau
And She Was – Alison Gaylin
Blessed are the Dead – Malla Nunn
Big Maria – Johnny Shaw

“Mischief in Mesopotamia” – Dana Cameron, EQMM, Nov 2012
“Kept in the Dark” – Sheila Connolly, Best New England Crime Stories: Blood Moon
“The Lord is My Shamus” – Barb Goffman, Chesapeake Crimes: This Job is Murder
“Peaches” – Todd Robinson, Grift, Spring 2012
“The Unremarkable Heart” – Karin Slaughter, MWA Presents: Vengeance,

Books to Die For – John Connolly and Declan Burke, eds.
Blood Relations – Joseph Goodrich, ed.
More Forensics and Fiction – D.P. Lyle, M.D.
The Grand Tour – Mathew Prichard, ed.
In Pursuit of Spenser – Otto Penzler, ed.

As always, congratulations and good luck to all the nominees. The awards will be presented at Bouchercon 2013, the 44th annual conference, which will be held in Albany, New York, this September.

Dec 202012

I am reminded that time is running out to make early travel plans to attend a couple of fine and mysterious conferences next year. Or, at least, to do so at a discount.

I am planning to attend two such conferences in 2013. The first, to be held May 3-5 in Bethesda, MD, will be the 25th annual Malice Domestic conference - home of the Agatha Awards. It's for lovers of traditional mysteries, typified by Agatha Christie. Among the honorees in attendance in 2013 will be Laurie R. King, Laura Lippman, Aaron Elkins, Peter Robinson and Carolyn Hart. If you register before December 31, you'll not only get a price break but you'll be eligible to submit possible nominees for the Agatha Awards.

Then, in September, come to Albany, New York, for the 44th Bouchercon, the granddaddy of all mystery conferences, which will run from September 19th through the 22nd. Once again, there's a special low rate if you register before midnight on December 31st. There's always a star-studded guest list of authors for this one; in 2013, the honorees will include Sue Grafton, P. C. Doherty, Tess Gerritsen and Steve Hamilton, among others. As always, attendees get to participate in the selection of the Anthony Award winners.

Of course there are others. Left Coast Crime (happening in March) comes to mind, but I'm an east-coaster, so I don't often get out to that one (though people who have attended love it just as much as I enjoy, say, Malice Domestic). There are some great conferences in the U.K. as well, and one of these years I really do want to try one.

If you've never been to a mystery writers/fans conference, and you really enjoy reading and talking about mysteries, why not make 2013 the year you attend your first conference? All the conferences I've attended have been a treat from first to last - a chance to meet and talk with literally hundreds of your favorite authors. Find out what's new, what's in the publishing pipeline, meet some new authors and get autographs from longtime favorites. Everyone is friendly, everyone loves talking mysteries. Still a reading neophyte? Not to worry; EVERYONE you meet will have suggestions for you about books you'll enjoy. It's a wonderful way to take a short vacation while talking about something you love, the conferences are NOT particularly exspensive, and the host hotels are pretty reasonably priced. I hope to see you at a conference in 2013.

Nov 012012

The redoubtable Mike Ripley, whose monthly contributions to mystery lore are eagerly awaited by the cognoscenti and unwashed alike (I am, thanks to Hurricane Sandy, currently in the latter category) has just published #72 in his column, "Getting Away with Murder," in the British ezine publication Shots.

As usual, it is a collection of The Ripster's observations, thoughts, likes and dislikes, all in a highly entertaining package. He starts off this episode with a review of Bouchercon - although I'm not sure the one he writes about and the one I attended were really the same event; I seem to have missed a fair amount of, er, debauchery...

Anyway, please do take a look. If you haven't seen Mike Ripley's monthly columns before, this is a good place to start.

Oct 122012

by Alexandra Sokoloff

I'm home from Bouchercon and as always, not very happy about it, the being home part. I haven't been able to settle down all week. Pages are being written, newsletters are being sent, my taxes got done, even - but I am not entirely back, in my own mind.

And today is my Bouchercon blog. Where to begin?

Living in California for so long, especially my years in NoCal, I’ve heard a lot of Neal Cassady stories over the years from people who actually knew him. (Cassady was Jack Keroauc’s friend who served as the model for Kerouac’s legendary character Dean Moriarty.) And one thing I’ve heard from all kinds of sources that seems true rather than legend is that the man had an uncanny ability to pick a conversation up exactly where it had left off, even if years had passed since he and the person he was talking to had seen each other.

That’s to me what Bouchercon is like. There are a LOT of people in this community who feel like my best friends in the world, the people who know me best (and me AT my best) – who I only see once or twice a year. But the connection is deeper than most of what you get in the real world, because first – as writers, we KNOW each other. We know exactly what all the rest of us do just about every second of every day, we know how we feel about it, we know what makes a good day and what makes a bad day, we know each other’s exact fears and our exhilarations – we all have the same operating system, basically. So when we see each other there are no preliminaries necessary; we pick up the conversation where we left off, and take it deeper and further than it can go with someone who is not of the same world. Not only that, but the layers and puns and references and jokes are so much more interesting than ordinary conversation; writers are hilariously funny people and we love wordplay; it’s like fencing (or dancing!) with someone of equal skill.

We work so hard all the time, and this is our chance to play.

Of course there have been a lot of BCon wrap-ups on various blogs and lists this week, and I was kind of surprised to find that not everyone is a fan of this conference – it’s my hands-down favorite, the most fun, the most inspiring. Now, I totally get that it can be intimidating – lots of people, easy to get lost or bowled over by the sheer star power walking around those halls. But even if no one ever talked to me I could still never miss it because of all I learn. I don’t understand the people who complain that the star authors get all the attention, that it’s hard to get a panel, that midlist authors get lost. Well, of course the star authors do get a LOT of the attention. I’ve always figured that when I’VE written - oh, twenty-five beloved books - I might get that kind of attention, too. But let’s get a grip! While I’m working on those books I can go to panels where I can hear people who HAVE written dozens of beloved books talk about their process, their passion, their own inspiration, and I can get better. Maybe even get worthy.

At the San Francisco Bouchercon, in the very same day, I saw Val McDermid interviewing Denise Mina, and then Robert Crais interviewing Lee Child. Excuse me? Those two hours ALONE are worth the whole price of admission. And as I sat through those two hours, a bunch of ideas I’ve had for a long time suddenly coalesced into the storyline for Huntress Moon.

If I had been totally anonymous for that whole conference, if I hadn’t sold one book, it wouldn’t have mattered in the slightest. I got not just one book, but a whole SERIES out of that one afternoon.

And I don’t think it was any accident that this year I was put on a panel with, yes, Val McDermid – AND Elizabeth George – two authors I admire so much I was actually afraid I wouldn’t be able to speak, but there I was, able to thank them publicly and professionally for how they’ve inspired me.

I think attitude might have a little to do with what you get out of the experience. I noticed, for example, that our own lovely Sarah Wesson had no problem joining conversations with any number of star authors, and people were delighted to have her. Yes, she’s a librarian and probably knows that all authors worship at librarians’ collective feet, so maybe that’s not a good example - but actually I think it is. Sarah has paid her dues, is paying her dues. That is, I think, the actual price of admission. We have to do the work before we get to play.

Speaking of playing - the theme of this conference was Cleveland Rocks, and it really did. It’s one of the most exhilarating things to me about this community that so many authors are musical (and total hams). Did you know Lee Child plays guitar, bass AND sax?  That many talents in one package – I mean, person - is almost too much to take. Did you know that Joe Finder was a Whiffenpoof (the legendary Yale a cappella men’s group)?  Classic Bouchercon moment: Paul Wilson and I were standing at the bar at the Hard Rock party talking about performing “The Lime in the Coconut” together (well, and just that, there – I am in a universe in which F. Paul Wilson can randomly turn to me and say, “We should do ‘The Lime in the Coconut’...) and Joe suddenly starts singing it beside us in this gorgeous second tenor voice – and I never, ever knew that about him. It's just magical.

My friend and idol Heather Graham has roped a whole lot of us into – I mean generously provided an outlet for us to exercise those talents with each other on a regular basis. This year, she hostessed a party at the House of Blues where her Slushpile band, which this time meant Heather, Paul Wilson, Dave Simms, Matthew Dow Smith, Greg Varricchio, Shane Pozzessore, and I - were able to perform with really anyone who felt like coming up with us: Daniel Palmer, who did a smoking harmonica solo to finish up his original “Bouchercon Blues”, Don Bruns doing his best Jimmy Buffet impersonation, Joelle Charbonneau, equally lovely at torch and opera.

I can see this party, and the band, growing into a regular fixture at BCon as it is at Romantic Times and Heather’s fabulous Writers for New Orleans conference (in December this year, and everyone should come!) and it’s one of the best rewards I can imagine for keeping my nose to the grindstone for most of the rest of the year.

Bouchercon is also a place for me to get a feel for what’s really going on in our business. This year, of course, the tension between indie publishing and traditional publishing was an undercurrent, in conversations with agents, publishers, and on panels as well.

Case in point, the “Heroes and Villains” panel, featuring Murderati's own Martyn Waites and Alafair Burke, Mark Billingham, Karin Slaughter and John Connolly.

Fantastic panel, roll-on-the-floor funny, I always love this particular combination of authors. But I do have to address John Connolly’s interesting rant at the end of it – I guess loosely filed under the idea of “villains”.

I’m a huge, I’d even say rabid, fan of Connolly’s and I understand that there was a specific subtext to all of this - but I can only deal with what was said aloud and what I and the rest of the room heard.

He was basically accusing people who have been successful in e book sales as wanting to “destroy the printed word.” I don’t know who HE might know who actually feels this way but I certainly don’t know anyone who wants that. Certainly not Joe Konrath, the obvious person Connolly was talking about.

I used to teach in the L.A. juvenile court system, teenagers, almost all gang kids, and there was a very sweet kid who took it on himself to look after me in the lockup camps, and the one time I ever saw him get truly angry was the time he pulled me out from a fight between two guys that I was trying to break up and he yelled at me – “You don’t NEVER get in the middle between Crips and Bloods.” So maybe I should just stay out of this now.

But by couching it in general terms the way he did, Connolly was grouping me into this “hatred of the printed word” category, too.

I spent some time at Bouchercon talking with other authors and being very specific about the kinds of sales I’m making with e books because I want other authors to know that there is this alternative to traditional publishing, that it is doable, that it is a whole lot easier and more logical than some people say, and that it is a much more viable living than I and a lot of my midlist - I should say “formerly midlist” - friends were making with traditional publishing.

As a screenwriter and a former Board of Directors member of the Writers Guild (including organizing for the writers’ strike) I’ve seen every kind of way a writer can be exploited. And we are. We are easy targets because the people who cut the checks know oh so very well that we will write NO MATTER WHAT. We will strive to do our best work NO MATTER WHAT. Insult us, demean us, cheat us, fire us, underpay us, don’t pay us at all – we will still write.

So when Joe talks about his sales numbers I see it as a political act, and I am grateful. Traditionally published authors have often been circumspect about how much our advances are and how much we’re making a year because it was appallingly low. Pointing out HOW low, compared to what e publishing can net a talented author who is willing to do the work, is breaking a long, long taboo that did not serve us.

I’m sure that Connolly wasn’t trying to say that authors who think about and talk about what we’re paid for e books are crass or base or somehow not real artists, but - perhaps because he wasn’t being specific about what he really WAS saying - that’s how it ended up sounding.  And to say that any of us are “out to destroy the printed word” is just specious. I happen to read almost exclusively on my Kindle now because it’s so much more comfortable to hold and move around with for the five or six hour stretches I often read. But the books I read are the SAME BOOKS – no matter what the delivery system. The fact that authors get more money for those same books because of the delivery system is a good thing, if you ask me.

I could go on and on - obviously, I kind of have - but THIS is what Bouchercon does for me. It puts me in touch with myself, my friends, my colleagues, my idols, and my business.

I don't know... sounds like a winner to me.

Thank you, Marjorie Mogg and all the fantastic volunteers who make it happen, every magical year.

- Alex


Okay, it’s October, the busiest month of the year for me, because

1. It’s Halloween, and I write spooky, and

2. It’s the month before NaNoWriMo, and by now I feel almost a sacred duty to prep people for it instead of letting them just launch into the month on November 1 with no clue what they’re going to be writing.

So I’m doing a NaNo prep series on my blog that you can join in on here: http://screenwritingtricks.com

But also this week, I’ve made the first Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workbook FREE on Kindle, so if you haven’t grabbed a copy by now, here’s your chance.

AND – for Halloween, I’m giving away 31 signed hardcovers of either The Unseen or Book of Shadows, your choice (and yes, if you win and you’d rather have an e book of something else, that’s totally fine, just say so. 

Sign up to enter here.

Happy Halloween!