I was gone last week attending Bouchercon 2007 here in Anchorage where mystery writers, editors and fans converged to discuss what makes mystery writing so fun. I picked up a few things here and there if there are any budding writers out there . . .
1. Writers think everyone must read their book. From each editor to the art designer for the cover to the sales lady at Barnes & Noble there's no excuse for not having read their masterpiece of the English language. Never mind that said art designer has 50 other book covers to design that year, never mind that their book could be described as "Miss Marple meets Catcher in the Rye" if you have touched it, you should have read it. The writers accuse the editors of not reading their books when they market them, the editors accuse the writers of not bothering to send them enough information about the book and expecting them to have time to read something they will actually publish. Yea, there were some egos there.
2. Editors aren't much better. If you have slaved for the last twenty years to finally write your little work of prose don't even think of approaching them with your book without first getting an agent, getting an attorney, getting a strong drink, then talking to them at a party, buying them a pizza, kissing their feet, and learning that you shared the same college dorm with them. Those were the big guys anyway.
3. But not Poisoned Pen Press. There was one publishing house that was different. Poisoned Pen Press, a small company with about six on staff that outsources a lot of stuff like art design. I was impressed by their sense of fairness, their willingness to publish new authors, their early adoption of publishing technology and their overall professionalism. If you ever try to get a mystery novel published, try them first. Senior Editor Barbara Peters just oozed class.
4. It was funny when the writers and editors puzzled over the decline in reading. They wondered why sales are down, they speculated about the ebbs and flows of the market, they offered a whole panel discussion on modern uses for the internet but no one seemed to think that self-publishing and blogging are going anywhere. Heh.
5. Every panel discussion has weirdos in the audience who ask the whacked-out things when a panel opens things up for questions. For example, "If you're publishing a novel, does it help to have the movie tie-in come out before or after the book is published?"
It brought laughter from everyone. Then we realized he was serious.
6. Everyone looks down on whoever they think is "less serious" in their craft. There's a food chain among mystery writers just as there is in any other profession with those on top turning their noses up at those they perceive to be lower than they. Writers who think they produce "serious literature" look down on writers of genre fiction (as if there is anything BUT genre fiction--doesn't everything fit into a genre somewhere, even "serious fiction"?) Forget that reading people like Cormac McCarthy and Annie Proulx is like being buried in an avalanche: you're stuck, you can't figure out which way is up and you're about to be asphyxiated. But that's another post.
So serious writers look down on genre writers and within the mystery or crime genre serious crime writers look down on non-serious writers there. The stories that get the awards are the hardboiled, "realistic" crime fiction--almost entirely written by men--and cozies or the stories without the graphic violence, sex and ugliness get patted on the head and told to sit by the fire with a cup of tea. As Laura Lippman said, all mystery and crime fiction has a rather tenuous hold on reality anyway so claiming one variety is more real than another is hysterical.
7. And everyone rolls their eyes at The DaVinci Code and Harry Potter. Maybe it's me but I loved both stories. Couldn't put them down and wish there were more out there like them for when I'm in those bubble-gum reading moments. It's not as if they're marketed as non-fiction people. Give me a good story and I'm yours forever.
8. Always be nervous of a writer who talks about their main character as if they just had dinner with them. Kind of creeps me out. Oh I know they flush their characters out so they can write about them more realistically but come on people--a nineteen year-old blond who operates a backhoe by day and solves mysteries in her tiny Idahoan town by night while packing seventeen guns and looking to avenge the murder of her family by the Japanese mafia when she was six? You start thinking they're real and you're ready for the couch. Oh and every detective or protagonist needs a good, strong Irish (maybe Scottish in a pinch) name like Cork O'Connor, Kinsey Millhone, Annie Kincaid, Mitch McDeer, etc. Everyone. Can't find bad guys without an Irish name.
9. Bouchercon was a great place for people-watching. The majority of attendees were women between the ages of 50 and 60, short hair, lots of book bags and purses, a little on the heavy side, who spend an inordinate amount of time with their cats.
10. But there were exceptions. You had the occasional person going for the "tortured artist" look--like Jason Starr, a writer I'd never heard of who looked so tortured and full of demons that he decided I didn't exist at the registration table and was justified in cutting in front of me in line. Thanks. I'll be sure to pick up your book.
11. And the vixens, don't forget the vixens. You also had the occasional sexy writer which came in two varieties: the sixty-five year-old Annie Lennox and the seventy-five year-old who didn't realize she's past the expiration date on her jeans. All very serious about their books.
12. In fact Bouchercon would be a great setting for a murder mystery. All those characters, all those experts, it's just begging for a story. Who killed the annoying fan? Was it the ex-Navy seal-turned-writer or the cat lady? In the end it would probably turn out to the be the tuna salad because . . .
13. No one goes to conventions for the food. It was like an airlines meal, back when they were "good." Or when they at least existed. Yes, that chicken on "foccacia" that I had would have killed anyone.
But even though this may sound as if I'm being pretty snotty and sarcastic, it wasn't a bad conference. I was particularly interested in what I saw from Poisoned Pen Press--can I say again that Barbara Peters was terrific?
Time to start thinking about your entry for this month's Write-Away Contest: the theme is "what scares me."
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