Wednesday, October 04, 2017


Next week, the world's largest mystery conference descends on Toronto, bringing together readers, authors, and others in the book business for five days of celebration of the crime genre. I'm in awe of the organizers of these events; some years ago I was part of the steering committee organizing the smaller Canadian version, Bloody Words, which after about a dozen years died from the exhaustion and burn-out of the small cadre of people running it. Other small conferences and festivals have also come, flamed beautifully for a few years, and burned out for the same reason. These conferences are conceived and run by volunteers, and consume a tremendous amount of time and energy.

Mystery lovers thank you all. We know that several years of behind-the-scenes hair pulling and scrambling has led to these spectacular five days of non-stop, everywhere-you-turn mystery. There are panels, quizzes, author speed dating, author presentations, awards, and just plain schmoozing. Something for everyone, whether you like cozy or noir, fiery debates or intimate conversations, hanging out at the bar with your favourite authors. The dizzying array of choices can be overwhelming, especially when you have to choose between several panels running concurrently, but it's rare that a mystery lover doesn't come away from the buffet stuffed and satisfied, usually with a stack of books from new-to-them authors whose work intrigued them.

Since the inaugural Bloody Words conference that I attended in 1999 just before my first Inspector Green novel was published, I have attended numerous conferences in the United States, Canada, and even Britain, including all the Bloody Words, several Bouchercons and Left Coast Crimes, and Malice Domestic. The conferences have taken me to new, interesting places like Santa Fe, Bristol, UK, and Monterey, CA. However, I've never been to a conference as a reader only. Authors are readers too, of course, but we have to split our focus between soaking up the conference offerings and promoting our own work.

Sometimes the pressure of promoting our own work can get overwhelming. Even after almost twenty years and fifteen books, I am still a very small fish in the huge ocean of authors at Bouchercons. There are still many readers who have never heard of me, and it's difficult to escape the nagging feeling that I need to get out there and tell new readers about myself. After all, conferences are not festivals; apart from the guests of honour, all the authors pay their own way, including registration fees, hotel and travel expenses. This makes it a very expensive enterprise for most authors, whose earnings are often below the poverty line. The hope is to spread the word. Sometimes this results in laughable results. I remember wandering around the cavernous lobby of the conference hotel in Austin, TX, as a newbie, looking for "readers" to chat with. I discovered all the others wandering around the lobby were also authors looking for readers. After a minute's conversation, they would switch to themselves ("Interesting. Well, I write..." and out comes the bookmark). We ended up having a good laugh and commiserating about the challenges of being an unknown writer in the sea of big names.

Along the way, authors also make many new friends and discover authors whose works we love. As I look back, that's the greatest reward from these conferences. I'm looking forward to reconnecting with the readers and writers who've become my friends, and am also looking forward to that serendipitous discovery of new friends and authors, often at the bar!. That is how I am approaching Bouchercon this year. I know I will be a small fish. I know there will be readers and authors chasing after the big fish, who will swan through the crowds with a phalanx of admirers. I am on a Saturday morning panel (10 a.m. Social Issues) as well as being a team leader in the Crime Writers of Canada Friday night pub quiz. Beyond those official duties, I will go to the panels and talks that interest me, go to my publisher's event, go to lunch with my fellow Type Mers, and hang out at the bar! I don't expect to be running around brandishing my bookmarks. Okay, maybe a few, but only if asked.

This is a conference I want to enjoy. I want to enjoy the company of fellow mystery lovers and soak up as many of the offerings as I feel like.


Sybil Johnson said...

Have a good time. Sorry I can't be there.

Marianne Wheelaghan said...

I've never been to Bouchercon so a big thank you for bringing it to life for me so well. Some fellow Scottish writers are going and I am a tad envious of them. Maybe next year? What a conference! So much creativity, so much activity, so much of everything! True, it also sounds very hard work and rather intimidating but as you say, what a lovely opportunity to meet old friends and to make new ones. Good luck and I hope you have fun!

Barbara Fradkin said...

Thanks for your lovely comments, Marianne! Maybe someday we will meet at a conference somewhere, or some side of the ocean. Best, Barbara