October 27, 2009

After nearly three decades of attending conferences of one kind or another, I no longer look forward to them with the enthusiasm I once felt. Sure, there's always the opportunity to meet friends and do necessary business, but there's also the fatigue that hits by about midpoint of the show and lasts for several days after it's over. Even thinking about going to another conference makes me tired-except Bouchercon, that is. Named after legendary New York Times mystery reviewer Anthony Boucher, Bouchercon (more formally, the World Mystery Convention) is held annually and brings together a remarkable array of mystery authors and their fans at various venues across the country and abroad. The latest Bouchercon was held in Indianapolis in October, and I was there- stargazing, book-collecting, and panel-hopping with reckless abandon.

What makes a "con" different from a conference, at least in the publishing and library worlds, is the focus: not bringing professionals together to do business, but bringing fans and authors together to rub shoulders. The ratio of fans to authors at last weekend's Bouchercon felt like one to one. Whenever you rode in an elevator, it seemed like you were surrounded by mystery writers. For unabashed fans like me, just reading name tags was a thrill: "Wow! Is that John Lutz? I've always loved his stuff. Wonder why he stopped writing his Fred Carver mysteries? Too bad I don't have the nerve to ask him."

After my Booklist colleague Keir Graff and I had dispensed with our professional obligations-presenting a panel called "Inside Booklist," which drew about 100 authors, publishers, and librarians interested in hearing about the reviewing process-we were free to indulge our inner fan. What did I learn in two days of listening to panels and chatting with fans and authors? At a panel called "Changing Gears," in which authors talked about the attractions and difficulties of switching genres, I confirmed yet again that the trend of adult mystery writers taking a run at YA fiction continues unabated. Add Laurie R. King and C. J. Box to the long list of popular crime novelists making side trips to YA -land.

I also confirmed what I'd long suspected about Loren D. Estleman, author of mysteries, westerns, and historical fiction: He is as thoroughly engaging a speaker as he is a writer. Although he's written more than 80 novels, all more or less genre fare, he describes himself as a "recovering intellectual." What's that mean? Every now and then, he thinks to himself, "Surely it can't hurt to read just a single paragraph of Emerson? I know I can stop anytime.

Then, a month later, I wake up in Mexico with a full beard." I also learned that Michael Connelly plays golf (as a mystery-reading golfer, this pleased me immensely) and that Megan Abbott, author of several cut-to-the-bone historical noirs, is afraid to say the f-word in front of her parents, who were present at their daughter's panel on "The Dark Side of the Fair Sex." That was a disappointment, but Abbott's fellow panelists, Chelsea Cain and Sophie Littlefield, whose parents weren't there, more than made up for it.


Retiring the Golden Years

By Will Manley