Bouchercon 2017: Pretty Damn Good
This year I attended Bouchercon for the first time. It was pretty damn good. Here’s why.
Wednesday, October 11th
*SinC Into Great Writing’s “Learn How to Give Your Novel Structure” Workshop with Alexandra Sokoloff
My friend and roommate, Mia Manansala, and I arrived in Toronto a day early to attend the Sisters in Crime’s workshop which was being led by the great author and screenwriter, Alexandra Sokoloff.
We learned about the eight-sequence structure in film. Originally, film reels could hold only fifteen minutes’ worth of film. To keep the audience’s attention while reels of film were being changed, filmmakers would end each fifteen-minute sequence with a question. Alexandra explained that in a 400-page novel, every 50 pages is considered a sequence. Each sequence should end with some sort of cliffhanger or climax of major suspense (someone dies) or minor suspense (phone rings).
We finished our session that evening with a scene-by-scene description of the movie, “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” I could write an entire post about that experience, but there’s no need since Alexandra has already done that for us here.
I’m looking forward to reading Alexandra’s book, “Screenwriting Tricks for Authors,” to learn more about structuring my novel.
In between sessions, Mia and I checked off two must-have Canadian culinary experiences: poutine and Tim Horton’s. I asked for a “double-double” at Timmy’s.
Thursday, October 12th
First thing in the morning, Mia and I attended “Speed Dating for Authors.” Authors ranging from brand-new to well-known were paired up and given two minutes each to sell us on their books. After five minutes, the authors would move on to the next table of potential readers. As writers working on their first novels, I felt this was an invaluable experience for us as someday (gulp) we might also be in the same position of pitching our completed books.
We met quite a few authors including fellow Finn, Antti Tuomainen, whose darkly humorous book, “The Man Who Died,” sounds wonderful. I was also immediately sold on Sara Driscoll’s “Lone Wolf,” a mystery about an FBI canine handler which features a black lab like the one I had left at home. I told Sara I would see her at noon in the Grand Foyer during her signing.
There were so many other great writers and I was fortunate enough to get photos with a few of them including Leigh Perry (Family Skeleton series), fellow MWA-Midwest member, Lynn Cahoon (Tourist Trap series), and the writing duo of Caroline and Charles Todd (Inspector Rutledge series).
In the afternoon, I went to a few sessions including the interesting “Changing Times: The State of the Publishing Industry” which was moderated by the very talented Clair Lamb.
In between sessions, I ran into some familiar faces including writer Becky Bays, whom I had met at the Writers Police Academy two years ago and fellow Minnesotans, Barb Lindquist Schlichting (First Lady series), Christine Husom (Winnebago Co. & Snow Globe Shop series), and Sherry Roberts (Maya Skye series).
I don’t know when we snapped this selfie,
but shortly thereafter, Mia and I were happily ensconced in Momofuku, mofos.
After dinner, I ended up at the hotel bar where I ran into the Minnesota Mafia including Devin Abraham from Once Upon a Crime Mystery Books (seems like you can’t ever really get away from them).
And I learned why you can’t assume everyone in the bar is part of Bouchercon.
Man staring at me in bar.
Me: You look like you have a question.
Man: What’s this? (Points at badge)
Me: Sisters in Crime. It’s an organization for mystery writers.
Man: I’m a writer too.
Man: I wrote a poem last year. (Hands me phone) Here, you can read it.
Me: Sorry, I don’t have my glasses.
Man: I’ll read it to you.
Friday, October 13th
A new day, a new dawn, a new author’s breakfast. We heard from several break-through writers including fellow Chicagoan, Danny Gardner (“A Negro and an Ofay”),
met up with some cool people, and then had lunch with writer Kristen Lepionka (“The Last Place You Look”) where I ate my first (but not my last) chicken pot pie of the day.
After enjoying some more sessions, it was on to Mystery Writers of America – Midwest’s Happy Half Hour. Yes, we saw the Minnesota Mafia again, but also met some new folks including Cheryl Reed (“Poison Girls”), Penni Jones (“On the Bricks”) and Libby Kirsch (Stella Reynolds series).
We went out for dinner and ended up at the same place where we ate lunch. And yes, I had another chicken pot pie, they were that good.
Somehow, we walked by the Pub Quiz that evening with several people including fellow Minnesotan Mindy Mejia (“Everything You Want Me to Be”) and author Dale T. Phillips. Someone (not me) suggested our small group enter the competition.
We were shoved into a corner far from the action (kind of like our own Island of Misfit Toys), and as of question #1, I knew we were screwed. It went something like this:
“On June 16, 1823, there was a steam train that ran through Vancouver every day at noon. Name the steam train, which is also the title of Elvis Murphy Brown IV’s mystery best-seller. Since this is such an easy question, we will only be awarding half a point for the correct answer.”
I am a high school quiz bowl nerd, and I was basically crying inside. Apparently, there was another table shoved into the opposite corner filled with hooligans who kept Googling their answers.
“Table in the corner, stop Googling your answers,” the emcee shouted through the microphone, garnering us tons of negative attention.
“It’s a different table,” we told tables nearby, but they didn’t believe us.
“Guys, we have to get out of here,” someone said (maybe me).
I won’t say *how* we escaped the Pub Quiz without having to walk in front of the emcee and surrounding tables. Suffice to say, we did.
And wrote a musical about it. At the bar. The songs went something like this:
“Take Off” – Bob and Doug McKenzie
“I Lost on Jeopardy” – Weird Al Yankovic
“Questions” – Chris Brown
“Hotel California” – The Eagles
“We Gotta Get Out of This Place” – The Animals
“Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” – Rupert Holmes
“Take the Long Way Home” – Supertramp
“Stairway to Heaven” – Led Zeppelin
“Oh Sherrie” – Steve Perry
“Don’t Forget Me When I’m Gone” – Glass Tiger
“Looks Like We Made It” – Barry Manilow
“Survivor” – Destiny’s Child
“I Got Friends in Low Places” – Garth Brooks
Requisite photos at the bar:
Saturday, October 14th
Finally, the moment I’d been waiting for all weekend: the 30th Anniversary Sisters in Crime breakfast where I would receive the Eleanor Taylor Bland award for unpublished manuscript by a writer of color. Keeping it short and sweet, I thanked four tremendous women: Eleanor Taylor Bland, Sisters in Crime founder, Sara Paretsky, and my mentors, former Twin Cities SinC President, Erin Hart (Nora Gavin/Cormac Maguire series) and MWA Grand Master, Ellen Hart (Jane Lawless & Sophie Greenway series). Then I got a hug from Sara Paretsky and decided I could die happy now.
Thanks so much to everyone at Sisters in Crime for their support, especially SinC President, Diane Vallere, Beth Wasson, and Gigi Pandian. It was so amazing to win this award. I hope I make you proud.
Next, I attended the excellent “New Kids in Town” panel with fellow Minnesotan Matt Goldman (“Gone to Dust”), Steph Broadribb, Kristen Lepionka, Jennifer Soosar, Mary Torjussen, and moderator, Eric Beetner.
Later, the “Best Novel” panel delivered some of my favorite quotes:
“The first chapter is Medusa-like. It turns people to stone.” – Laura Lippman
“I didn’t think Still Life would be published so every decision I made in my writing was selfish.” – Louise Penny
“Reading takes away people’s time. I want to make it worth their time. I want to be good company.” – Laura Lippman
I followed this up with the “50 Minute Novel” panel where authors created a plot with audience participation. Well, we lost the plot (something about a Yeti, some spaghetti, the Himalayas, and a finger in the dryer), but nobody cared. Because Charlaine Harris.
I sort of redeemed my high school quiz nerd past life by sweeping James L’Etoile’s prison trivia game during his 20 on 20.
Here were my fabulous prizes. Can’t wait to read his arc, Bury the Past.
I ended the day with my favorite panel, “Reading the Rainbow: an LGBTQ+ panel.” Minnesotan Jessie Chandler, John Copenhaver, Stephanie Gayle, the hilarious Greg Herren, Owen Laukkanen, and moderator Kristopher Zgorski from BOLO Books made for an amazing discussion of LGBTQ+ mysteries, past and present.
Overall, I had a great time at Bcon17. I met people, came away with tons of free books, won an award, got a hug from Sara Paretsky, danced to “That’s Amore,” and shared a meal with Devin Abraham on the way home.
Pretty. Damn. Good.