For those who love to read mysteries as well as write them, Bouchercon is where you will find your people– and they will most likely be hanging out in the hotel bar.
The 47th Bouchercon World Mystery Convention found its home this year in The Big Easy. The combination of a compelling locale along with some of the biggest names in crime fiction created the largest registration to date. Over 1,900 guests flocked to New Orleans in search of panels, book signings, author sightings and fabulous food, along with intentions of connecting with old friends and making new ones.
I found all of those things.
This was my first Bouchercon as previous attempts to attend have been thwarted by schedule conflicts, work issues and school events. This year, somehow, we made it work. Embarking on a road trip with fellow AMW member Valerie Chandler, the two of us packed the car and hit the road, following IH-10 all the way across state lines and into the heart of New Orleans. Nine hours in a car sounds like a chore, but we fared pretty well. We found each other to be entertaining company–and the snacks were pretty good, too. A successful road trip hinges on these two things–the right people and the right munchies.
Walking into the hotel on Wednesday evening thrust us in the middle of a party already in progress. The bar area bustled with animated conversations and activity. Clearly, people were already in the “laissez le bon temps roulez” frame of mind. Writing is such a solitary process that it was a wonderful thing, seeing these mystery lovers together sharing stories and spirits. The bar served as the community meeting center for the conference, with people coming and going (and some staying all night). It was an event in and of itself.
Registration to Bouchercon includes a trip to the conference bookstore. Shopping in the Bouchercon Bookstore was a real treat. Along with our registration goodies–T-shirt, tote bag, water bottle–each attendee received six coupons for free books. The store was stocked with all the latest titles (and a few ARCs) from authors attending the conference. It took some time to make my selections, as I debated which titles to take home. These books now sit on my nightstand waiting for my attention, which I fully intend to give them after I complete the latest round of edits on my own novel.
On Thursday morning, Michael Connelly interviewed Harlan Coben, and it was one of the best exchanges between two powerhouse authors I have ever witnessed. They tackled the realities of writing vs. the fantasy of it and shared the stories of their successes with humor and humility. Harlan explained that it was his tenth book that finally garnered him some success–his TENTH. So, for those of us who do not yet have that number as a backlist, his advice is to keep writing. And when you’re done, write the next one. Tough love, people.
The panels were fantastic and the conversations afterward were equally interesting. On
average, there were six panels offered in each key time slot, making it difficult to decide which ones to attend. My conference schedule was highlighted and notated as though I had been preparing for an exam.
Bouchercon encompasses a wide variety of sub genres, and it was interesting to hear discussions related to so many different kids of mysteries– how they are constructed, how they are marketed and how they find their way to readers. I think that this broad scope of inclusion is one of the elements that makes Bouchercon so unique. It doesn’t narrow itself to a small slice of mystery. It’s about the entire pie.
Speaking of dessert, I would be remiss if I didn’t spend a moment fawning over the New Orleans cuisine. The dining options were vast, varied and with rare exception, all excellent. We found the Palace Café, located on the foot of the French Quarter, and loved it so much that we returned again a second time. The atmosphere was very NOLA, with its sharply dressed waiters, white table linens and black iron spiral staircase. The shrimp tchefuncte was fabulous and flavorful, and I still miss the bananas foster. It was that good.
Sisters in Crime celebrated 30 years at the conference, and the breakfast meeting brought some of the most talented–and supportive–crime writers working today. The breakfast, held on the 41st floor of the NOLA Marriott, was elegant yet casual, the view of the city through the hotel windows serving as the perfect backdrop for the conversations taking place. This group of women and men, who come together for the purposes of promoting equality in the field of crime fiction, have accomplished a great deal in three decades. While there is more work to be done, it is clear that their commitment has created substantial progress.
Having time to spend catching up with friends, many of whom I only see once or twice a year, was a true treasure. Those connections and conversations are experiences I bring home and keep with me as I return to the daily work of writing solo. They remind me that, even though I write alone, I am far from it.
I now return to real life, and it’s nice to be home. Still, I wish I could find a way to bring the community of Bouchercon and the New Orleans food with me. The memories will have to do, and I am thankful to have had the opportunity to attend. So, friends, until next time. Maybe I’ll see you in Toronto at Bouchercon 2017? –Laura Oles