Thomas Pluck is a fine gentleman and excellent writer, and I say that not because he could crush my windpipe with one hand like it was a cardboard pint of milk. His work has appeared in The Utne Reader, Beat to a Pulp, [PANK] Magazine, Burnt Bridge, Spinetingler, McSweeney’s, Pulp Modern, Crimespree Magazine and elsewhere. He edits the Protectors anthologies to benefit PROTECT, an organization of veterans who fight to protect children from online sexual predators. He is a member of the International Thriller Writers and interviews authors for The Big Thrill. He has won a First Place Bullet Aware and his anthologies have been nominated for Spinetingler Awards.
I’m grateful to Tom for taking the time to talk about why he went to Bouchercon this year.
One Bite at a Time: What’s the most important aspect of Bouchercon for you? (This year, or any year?)
Thomas Pluck: Meeting people! Other fans of crime fiction, readers, publishers, editors, and other writers. I am especially energized by meeting and talking with other writers, but talking with fans of the genre in general, who are excited about new books, movies, and stories, is critical to feeding the fire that keeps you persevering. And despite books and magazines and blogs for writers, there's no one surefire way to write, have your writing published, or achieve what you define as success, so discussing wins and failures with other writers is key.
OBAAT: Were you on any panels?
TP: I read on Terence McCauley's pulp panel, but I didn't sign up to moderate one this year and I regret it. It's a great way to meet people, especially if it's outside your comfort zone. Sometimes there's a rift between the cozy and the hardboiled, but I enjoy both and many writers write in both ponds. Like Lawrence Block, for one. I wish I'd sit in on more panels.
OBAAT: To you, what makes a good panel, from a panelist’s perspective?
TP: I think it's important for the moderator to seek out questions that generate discussion rather than pat answers or repetition. It should be like social media; less promotion and more communication, let the audience learn something new about the writers and their work, something the writer him or herself doesn't announce in their bio. It's not easy, you have to feel comfortable talking with strangers, possibly writers who are much more experienced than you, but a cat can look at a king and a new author can ask Mary Higgins Clark who she wants to punch in the face.
OBAAT: What do you look for when deciding which panels to attend?
TP: An interesting topic. There's always the noir panel, the historical mystery panel, and so on. Put an interesting spin on it, if you can, to lure non-aficionados in. Break the stereotypes. If I can't find one that grabs me I'll support a friend by being in the audience. I always attend the panels that involve the genres I write in, noir, thrillers, hardboiled, action. You need to know the writers you will be shelved with, and be active with the fans. And I look for a good moderator! I know Chris Holm will be subtle and funny, that Reed Farrel Coleman will be knowledgeable and have his own say, which in turn goads the panelists into an interesting response. Fans and bloggers with a solid grasp of the genre's history are an important institutional knowledge base, and they make great moderators, because they ask new questions.
OBAAT: What makes a panel good for you when you’re in the audience?
TP: When the panelists have a good chemistry. Some writers are very quiet, others have a big personality, and a good balance makes for that special panel that threatens to go overtime because everyone is having too much fun. Anecdote panels tend toward this, such as "the worst book tour experience," or "social media disasters," but also good discussions where writers talk about the books that inspired them to write. Enough time for a good Q&A session is essential, because not everyone has the guts to introduce themselves to their favorite authors after the panel.
OBAAT: Would you like to see more or fewer questions from the audience?
TP: I'd like to see more, but if the audience doesn't respond, don't listen to crickets. Move on. A moderator can always ask a particular panelist a question. Or let the panelist ask the audience a question, and point to raised hands for the answers. Why not?
OBAAT: What’s your favorite Bouchercon story, from this year or any past years?
TP: Well there was that time that Brad Parks shot a man just to watch him die. He sang Springsteen tunes to him as the light in his eyes went out. I'm pretty sure everyone in that church will be haunted by the experience for the rest of their lives.
That's a joke, by the way. Brad didn't shoot anybody. He made me do it, to get my cat back in one piece..
* * *
Thomas Pluck’s current novel is Blade of Dishonor, available on Amazon by clicking here.
November 8 – John McFetridge (author)
November 15 – Tim O’Mara (author)
November 22 – Ali Karim (firmware)
November 27 – Zoe Sharp (author)
December 6 – Jack Getze (author)
December 13 – Walter Colby (reader)
December 20 – Michelle Turlock Isler (reader)