Arlingon, Virginia was the setting recently for Bouchercon 2001. This five day affair, named after the famed mystery author and critic Anthony Boucher, is the largest mystery conference. It represents all the sub-genres from cosy to hard-boiled, and features both novels and short stories, by predominantly North American and British writers. The attendance this year exceeded fifteen hundred, with surprisingly few cancellations due to concerns about the recent terrorist activity. Given that the Pentagon, with its devastated one wing, was within a few miles of the conference hotel, most attendees appeared to really need the escape into a mystery world where the bad guys actually get caught.
Bouchercon is held annually at locations around the United States and periodically in England; it draws the biggest names in the mystery world. This year's honorees included:
Sue Grafton American Guest of Honor Peter Lovesey International Guest of Honor Edward D. Hoch Lifetime Achievement Award Michael Connelly Toastmaster
Seeing and hearing these writers up close was a great thrill. Sue Grafton proved to be a very witty and feisty woman, down to earth in her comments and advice to would-be writers in attendance. Peter Lovesey started his writing career on a suggestion from his wife that he supplement his school-teacher's income by writing a mystery for a contest. The result was his Victorian Sergeant Cribb mystery Wobble to Death, which won the prize. Lovesey's comments were both charming and very funny.
Ed Hoch is the supreme master of the short story mystery having written more than eight hundred and fifty, with one appearing in every issue of the Ellery Queen mystery magazine since 1973. He entertained and wowed the audience with tales of his writing, which still (in his seventies) generates fifteen to twenty works a year! American author Michael Connelly is the youngster in this prestigious group. Having started with an Edgar win for his first mystery in 1992 he sets many of his books in southern California and has rapidly gained legions of fans for his wide range.
During the conference, attendees had to choose among seven sessions running simultaneously. The was often difficult. Choices included fact-based talks on forensics or toxicology, how to sessions by editors and agents for aspiring writers and a wide variety of panels. One highlight was a series of 'Criminal Conversations' featuring some of the more prominent authors. I attended one between Laurie King and Val McDermid, and one between Nevada Barr and a mystery book store owner - hearing how these women write was fascinating. For example, when asked where they get their ideas, Val McDermid said hers were plot driven, Dana Stabenow's came from her settings, and for Laurie King it was the 'emotional core' of the novel - in Folly she built a story on a woman with both 'extreme loneliness' and 'utter determination'.
Here is a sampling of panels ( all sessions were recorded so attendees could purchase tapes of ones they had missed and just had to hear):
New Kids on the Block A chance to meet the authors nominated for best first mystery (and an opportunity to discover tomorrow's stars).
Cops Brits versus U.S..
Kiss me Kates An insightful and hilarious panel of authors that all feature sleuths named Kate (Val McDermid's Kate Brannigan, Laurie King's Kate Martinelli and Dana Stabenow's Kate Shugak).
What's the point of historical mysteries? An ever increasing sub-genre that can satisfy the reader's desire to learn something in addition to being entertained.
Murder under the Crown Featuring British mysteries set during times when queens ruled including S. K. Penman's books during the time of Eleanor of Acquitaine, Jane Jakeman's books set just before the reign of Victoria, and Karen Harper's books which actually feature Queen Elizabeth I as the sleuth.
As always at mystery conferences, the dealers' room was a great draw. The dealers worked hard to have books by all of the attending authors so anyone intrigued or excited at discovering a new author on a panel could rush to the book room and buy a book. In addition, several British dealers offered hard to obtain English mysteries for the numerous Anglophiles in attendance.
Another highlight was the awards banquet where Anthony winners in the different categories were announced. The winners in the key categories were:
Best paperback original: Death Dances to a Reggae Beat by Kate Grilley Best first mystery: Death of a Red Heroine by Qiu Xiaolong Best mystery: Place of Execution by Val McDermid
The sight of the tough Val McDermid overwhelmed with tears was priceless, as was the endearing speech by newcomer to the US, Qiu Xiaolong. All in all, Bouchercon was a wonderful way to spend a few days with one's favorite authors. I highly recommended the experience to both fans and writers. See also: Letters from Bouchercon Another viewpoint on the conference, with author quotes and photos.
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