Friday, 24 October 2008

Ayo's Bouchercon 2008 Roundup

As promised I have to round up what happened on Saturday and Sunday in one post. So many things were happening that I was not able to send anything off to my erstwhile editor on Saturday evening. Anyway, one would have thought that with the panels starting at 8:30 each morning that there would be a lack of faces in the audience. However this has not been the case from the start of the conference. Every morning each of the panels have had a huge attendance and Saturday was no exception, despite the fact that many were out partying until late.

Those of you who are fans of Lee Child and Zoë Sharp will recognise the name Frances Neagley. During the conference, I got the chance to meet the real life Frances Neagley and she was such a lovely person to meet.

The business side of publishing got an airing on Saturday with the panel Taking Care of Business: the business side of publishing. Amongst the panel members were publicist Maggie Griffin, freelance writer Sarah Weinman, Ben LeRoy of Bleak House Books and agent David Hale Smith, while web designer Madeira James moderated. A panel of international authors also took the audience on a jaunt around the world with their panel Been around the World: travel the globe with Janet and friends. Charles Benoit, Jason Goodwin, Arnaldur Indridason and Michael Stanley discussed the pros and cons of writing books set in another country from where they lived and, in the case of Jason Goodwin, in another period. The panel was excellently moderated by Janet Rudolph of Mystery Readers International and Mystery Readers Journal fame.

Even though the conference was being held in Baltimore that great city New York was not left out. In a panel called New York State of Mind: why New York is such a great place to write about, authors Ira Berkowitz, Parnell Hall, Lawrence Light, Jonathan Santlofer and Richard Stevenson, along with moderator Jason Starr, discussed the reasons why they enjoy writing about the Big Apple.

Two really great panels also took place in the morning. In Hooked on Classics authors Gary Phillips, Christa Faust and Max Allan Collins spoke about their favourite classic crime writers. Whilst Christa Faust spoke about Richard Prather, it was no surprise that Gary Phillips spoke about Chester Himes, and for those who know Max Allan Collins it would have come as no revelation to hear him talk about Mickey Spillane. The other panel was Private Eyes: Why would someone want to be a PI? Where moderator Harry Hunsicker, Linwood Barclay, Declan Hughes, John Lutz, Dave White and Michael Wiley fought it out.

Alongside the live auction there was also a silent auction which started on the Thursday and finished mid-morning on the Saturday. At the same time the voting for the Anthony Awards ended. Everyone who registered received an Anthony Award ballot with their papers when they arrived and were encouraged to vote.

In the afternoon there was again a huge variety of panels to choose from. The wide range of panels has been both a blessing and a disadvantage as it was difficult at times to sort out which panels to attend. I saw Lawrence Block being interviewed by Charles Ardai. Charles Ardai is, of course, the founder and editor of the excellent Hard Case Crime, a line of pulp-style paperback crime novels. The covers of Hard Case Crime are sultry and sexy and take you back to a period where having a half dressed woman on the front of your book did you no harm whatsoever. I have to admit that I adore the covers as they remind me of a time when noir was at its peak.

"I Love my chicken." Stuart MacBride

As for Mr Lawrence Block! What can I say! The queue for him to sign books went all the way down the corridor. Signing had to be limited to three books per person so as to enable him to sign everyone's books. Even the dealers who wanted books signed had to queue; if they wanted to get more books signed then they had to join the queue again.

All through the conference there was of course a number of interviews taking place. On Thursday Barbara Peters and Robert Rosenwald of Poison Pen Press – and the recipients of the Lifetime Achievement Award were interviewed by author Twist Phelan. On the Friday International Guest of Honour John Harvey was interviewed by Publisher and editor Otto Penzler who is also the owner of Mysterious Bookshop in New York. The two guests of honour interviews can be found on

On Saturday afternoon Mark Billingham was interviewed by John Connolly and, judging by the raucous laughter that was coming from the room where it was taking place it was evident that a good time was had by all. I decided to give it a miss, not because I don't like listening to Mark and John – Mark of course is a brilliant raconteur and John has such a wicked sense of humour – but because I wanted to go to the panel Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me: Batman -world's greatest detective. It was being moderated by the delightful McKenna Jordan who is the owner of Murder by the Book in Houston and who is also due to be co-host of Bouchercon 2009 in St Louis. It was a fascinating panel, and for those of us who are interested in the increasing link between graphic novels and crime fiction it was the one to attend.

Another panel that was also standing room only was Red, Red, Wine: that's wine not whine which featured Harlan Coben, John Harvey, Lauren Henderson, Jim Huang, S. J. Rozan and Laura Lippman. It was a chance for the authors to have their say (accompanied by wine of varying different names) on how they feel about the state of crime fiction and some of the comments that they have received during their careers. The audience gave in suggested questions for the panel members to answer, on the understanding that they would receive a bottle of wine if their question was used. However, due to the lack of time, names were just drawn from the question hat and each was given a bottle of wine. What can I say, improvisation at its best.

One of the best things that happened on Saturday night was Thalia's pub quiz. Sara Weinman, on hearing that I was not on a team, invited me to join her. I also managed to persuade Jon Jordan to join us. It was actually a very well run and enjoyable event with over thirteen teams. I am pleased to say that Crime Busters Unlimited, which consisted of myself, Sarah Weinman, Dave White, Byron Quertermous, Jason Pinter and Jon Jordan beat – by half a point! – the team of Kelly Smith, Val McDermid, Myles Allfrey, Liz Hatherell, David Shelley, Martyn Waites and Mark Billingham. As for my erstwhile Shots colleague Ali Karim, he was nowhere to be seen at the quiz. I am not sure what happened to him that evening.

Thalia Proctor and Ruth Jordon

There were also a number of panels on Sunday morning. The first panel was Call Me When You're Sober: Sunday hangover, which featured the two Declans – Hughes and Burke (both pictured on the front cover of the special Bouchercon edition of CrimeSpree magazine) – Stuart McBride and Martyn Waites. Running alongside it was also a panel called Beginnings: introducing first time authors. It was moderated by the extremely funny Chris Grabenstein. If you had heard him at the auction you would understand what I am talking about. There was also a panel called A Town Called Malice: where is as important as whom where a number of authors, including Ann Cleeves (as moderator) and Martin Edwards, discussed the importance of place in novels.

No conference would be the same if the fire alarm didn't go off. In this case there was a false alarm just before the first panels of the day were due to start. However, the incident was dealt with efficiently by the staff. I was not surprised to hear later on that some people had slept through the whole thing.

It goes without saying that the interview of the American Guest of Honour, Laura Lippman, was standing room only. Laura was interviewed by Michael Koryta. It is always a delight to listen to Laura talking about her work. The fact that Denis Lehane – who was not due to attend the conference – turned up unannounced to see her being interviewed is a testament to how well regarded she is by many.

This year there was not an Awards Dinner but a brunch instead on the Sunday. It was a fabulous brunch: well run, good food and of course the anticipation of the announcement of the winners. There was in fact a waiting list for tickets as it sold out pretty soon after information was put on the Charmed to Death blog.

At the start of the brunch there was a lovely tribute to James Crumley who died this year. Crumley won the 1994 Dashiell Hammett award with his novel The Mexican Tree Duck. He is, however, best known for his novel The Last Good Kiss. It is acknowledged as having one of the best opening sentences in a crime novel.

Lawrence Block received the Distinguished Contribution to the Genre Award at the Anthony Awards as he was unable to receive it at the opening ceremony on Thursday. Prior to him receiving the award there was a montage to him from a large number of friends and fellow crime writers attesting to the reason why he is considered amongst the greatest of crime writers. It was an extremely emotive tribute and it was clear that Lawrence Block was quite moved by the number of well-wishes and tributes given to him. He also received a standing ovation as he went up to collect his award.

The complete list of Anthony Award Winners is as follows:-

Best Novel: What the Dead Know by Laura Lippman - Morrow
Best First: In the Woods by Tana French - Viking Adult
Best Paperback Original: A Thousand Bones by P.J. Parrish - Pocket
Best Short Story: Hardly Knew Her by Laura Lippman - from Dead Man's Hand edited by Otto Penzler for Harcourt
Best Critical Work: Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life in Letters by Jon Lellenberg, Daniel Stashower & Charles Foley - Penguin
Special Services: Ruth and Jon Jordan
Best Web Site: Stop You're Killing Me by Stan Ulrich and Lucinda Surber

As an addition, all of the nominees received a plaque. It was lovely to see Sarah Weinman receive two plaques for her Anthony Award nominations for Special Services and Web Site.

On each chair at the Anthony Awards brunch there was either a copy of Laura Lippman's short story collection Hardly Knew Her, Trigger City by Sean Chercover or Hit and Run by Lawrence Block.

Aside from all the panels the organisers not only set up a half-hourly karaoke bar (and no, you didn't have to sing if you didn't want to) but there was also Bouchercon at the movies. A wonderful line-up of movies was shown over the course of the conference. On Friday Let the Right One In was shown. It was adapted for the screen from the award-winning novel by John Lindqvist. Jar City, which of course is based on the novel by Arnaldur Indridason, was also shown. On Saturday there was a short film called The Shovel which is based on Steve Hamilton's Plots with Guns short story ‘A Shovel with my Name on It’. There was also a double bill, reminiscent of Saturday night film shows, of The Grand Inquisitor and the Last Lullaby. The Grand Inquisitor was written and directed by Eddie Muller and adapted from his short story of the same name, published in A Hell of a Woman: An Anthology of Female Noir (Busted Flush Press, 2007). The Last Lullaby, on the other hand, is about a former hit man who is struggling to cope with retirement, and features Tom Sizemore and the gorgeous Sasha Alexander, formerly of the television programme NCIS. It was co-written by Max Allan Collins.


What did I enjoy? Too many enjoyable events took place for me to be able to chronicle them all. Where do I start? First and foremost, seeing how awesome Judy Bobalik and Ruth Jordan are. They were, and are, two of the most welcoming people ever. They put on a fabulous event and certainly raised the bar when it comes to organising Bouchercon. In the words of Jon Jordan, “they rocked”.

Spending time with the Jordan clan – they certainly know how to put you at ease, make you laugh and generally make you feel wanted.

Talking to Dan Fesperman and George Pelecanos at the Enoch Pratt Library. George Pelecanos’s latest novel The Turnaround is fantastic.

Managing to get a photograph with the deep-voiced Gary Phillips thanks to Zoë Sharp's husband Andy. I freely admit that I am a huge Gary Phillips fan. If you have not met him, I can only say that once met never forgotten. His social acumen is without par and he is one of the nicest people to talk to. His knowledge of the genre in all its forms, be it novels, articles or graphic novels, is formidable. If you have not read the anthology Cocaine Chronicles that he co-edited then you do not know what you are missing. Also Angel Town, the five-issue limited edition graphic novel that he wrote (published by Vertigo Comics) is worth getting your hands on.

Catching up with Sean Chercover and meeting his wife and son Fin and also seeing the look of delight on his face as he won the Barry Award and CrimeSpree Award for best first novel. Sean also won a Shamus Award.

The fact that my panel went off without a hitch. Thanks to four wonderful panellists – Val McDermid, Mo Hayder, Ann Cleeves and Natasha Cooper. You can’t believe how nervous I was.

Talking to Charlaine Harris, whose Sookie Stackhouse series is the basis for the series True Blood which is currently getting rave reviews in the media.

Finally getting to meet and chat with the lovely Kat Richardson whose Greywalker paranormal series is well worth reading.

Catching up with Mary Reagan and Sarah Weinman – it’s been too long.

Getting loads (and I mean loads) of hugs from Ken Bruen every time we saw one another during the conference.

Meeting the delightful Christa Faust, and getting some rather strange looks from people on the flight home as they saw the cover of her book Money Shot that I was reading on the way back.

Losing and finding my mobile phone within two hours.

Having the opportunity to have a long chat with Lauren Henderson. I can't believe that I managed to get to bed at 4:00 on Sunday morning. It was nice to close the bar with her.

The hospitality suite that was hosted by Sisters in Crime. It was not solely for the authors but for everyone in attendance. An excellent place to chill out during the conference.

Aside from attending as many panels as possible, spending time with lots of friends that I made in Chicago.

My disappointments! Not managing to meet Mario Acevedo, whose Felix Gomez vampire detective series are brilliant books with such inspired titles; the current one being The Undead Kama Sutra.

Not getting a chance to go to Lexington Market – another time maybe.

Charmed to Death may have ended but it will certainly not be forgotten.

Ali, Roger and Ayo


Ayo Onatade said...

Oops! Bouchercon in St Louis is in 2011.

Ali Karim said...

What a great report Ayo - it was a fun time, and I'll be putting my own report up at THE RAP SHEET soon.

But with so much to do over the Bouchercon weekend, the list of things I didn't get to do is bigger than the list of things I did!

Judy, Ruth, Jon, and the helpers - I salute you