This has been the year I’ve attended writers’ conferences: In March it was the Colby Military Writers and now, in October, the Bouchercon Mystery Writers. The first in Vermont and the second in San Francisco.
The Bouchercon began in l970 and is named for a SF Chronicle book critic and author, Anthony Boucher, active in the mid-forties. The organization awards new writers and recognizes those who have been around a bit. But it isn’t just writers who show up: agents, publishers, vendors, editors, librarians, would-be writers and people like me - readers. There were 1350 attendees signed on for the full four days with an average of eighty coming in for a day’s session, per the event’s organizer.
I’m familiar with the writings of probably two or three dozen crime/mystery/ adventure authors, particularly over the past twenty five years of serious travel. As I’m not a TV/film watcher aboard flights, I’ve managed to read my way to and fro where ever. Which means I’ve picked up paperbacks, allowing me into virtual reality - figuring out the good and the bad guys - in LA or Edinburgh or London or Amman, rather than the harsh reality of sausaged into some airline’s economy seat.
I’ve always been a mystery reader starting with Conan Doyle, Dorothy Sayers, Agatha Christie and PD James. I trained, in time gone by, as a journalist . I vividly remember sitting nights in The Shack, a quonset hut, housing The Emerald, the University of Oregon’s student newspaper, reaching for the inspiration to type out a decent short story for a creative writing class. Nada! Though I did get through the class, I realized I should stick to the facts, just the facts.
So in another life, I wrote reports about offenders and offenses for Judges and prison staff to read and use in their decisions about the care and feeding of various violators, from minor to major. In many ways, writing was the fun part of the job fro me,where it was a tedious bore for most of the others. Which is why I do a blog. Which is why I was delighted to spend time at a writers conference. To see and hear people who are able to create fascinating characters in challenging landscapes.
The conference was at the Hyatt Regency, a massive building, very modern with hanging light, an atrium and many meeting spaces. There were at least sixty panel discussions about various bits and pieces involved in the craft of writing: there were some seven interviews of authors by other authors; ongoing conversations with authors along with the milling about and socializing that comes with such a gathering.
I happily sat in on five of the interviews, three with authors whose work I do enjoy - David Baldaccio, Michael Connelly and Lee Child. The fourth was with a couple of Scots women who were really a kick: Val Dermid and Denise Mars. And one was with Bill Link, a TV series man, creator of Columbo among others.
Other than a Dashiell Hammett Walk around downtown San Francisco, the rest of my time was spent in the panels, which covered about everything one could imagine. Panelists ranged from totally unknown (though published) writers to top drawer authors. To me, E J Ellroy stood out - a Brit, very clear and confident about his writing.
Another panelist whose work I like was James Rollins of the Delta Force series, a ex- Sacramento veterinarian, who lived up to expectation. I really enjoyed a discussion involving US and UK cop authors - listening to them talk about the differences between US and UK policing was fun for me.
One panel with Bret Battles - I had just finished his latest - and Walter Mosley, whose now deceased detective character was named Easy Rawlins (Mosley says the name was made up!) was part of a discussion of East Coast, really New York, and West Coast, really LA, influences.
There were two other panels I attended: one about San Francisco Noir and another a theatrical effort from a SF based work. I was intrigued with a local author,Eddie Muller, a very articulate and enthusiastic guy, who I hadn’t heard of and whose works I will look up. I may be alone in my ignorance for there was an hour interview with him and is a page long appreciation of him the event’s program.
It was interesting to see how many authors had morphed from lawyer, journalist and cop into a writing career. Once successful, few stayed with their day job but moved onto full time author-hood, as it were. I couldn't help but remember what Khaled Hosseini, who has moved on from his day job as a physician, said: Medicine was the girl I liked and respected , but writing was the love of my life.
There were several dozen vendors about. Books, t-shirts, bags, jewelry!. Even a table with L. Ron Hubbard’s old science fiction stuff for sale. II did not succumb.
There were evening activities: an awards ceremony and reception, Lee Child hosted a Reacher’s Creatures event that really tempted me, a go-go party - I missed them all, racing to catch my bus/train back to Menlo Park. I commuted up, catching my transport at 7AM and trying to get home by 8 PM. Long days. I also missed the final morning’s events which included the Anthony awards.
But all in all, I got my money’s worth: a couple of hundred for the conference and fifty for transportation and meals - I picked up sandwiches from Starbucks across the street. and caged bites from the Hospitality Room, including a welcomed Hagen daz bar one afternoon.