I used the term “firmware” to describe Ali Karim in the schedule for this series of interviews. By that I mean he is among a dedicated and critical group of people who are not themselves authors—at least not primarily—but are more than readers. (Not that there’s anything wrong with people who just read. None of us would have anything to do without you.) Ali—Peter Rozovsky, Judy Bobalik, Jon Jordan, et al—provide a crucial bridge between authors and readers, with reviews, interviews, news updates, and whatever else keeps information flowing so can stay up to speed on what’s current in the crime fiction world. If the crime fiction community were the Internet, these people are the cables and routers.
Ali is the Assistant Editor at Shots eZine, a contributing editor at January Magazine and The Rap Sheet and writes for Crimespree magazine, Deadly Pleasures, Strand Magazine and Mystery Readers International. He is also an associate member of both The Crime Writers Association [CWA], International Thriller Writers [ITW] and the Private Eye Writers of America [PWA].
He is a judge on the Barry Awards Committee at Deadly Pleasures Magazine, a reserve judge at ITW, and a Gold Dagger Judge at The Crime Writers Association [CWA].
He contributed to Dissecting Hannibal Lecter (Edited by Benjamin Szumsky; McFarland Press) a critical examination of the works of Thomas Harris; The Greenwood Encyclopedia of British Crime Fiction (edited by Barry Forshaw) and the Edgar and Anthony Award nominated ITW 100 Thriller Novels (edited by David Morrell and Hank Hagner; Oceanview Publishing).
At the Anthony Awards held at Bouchercon St Louis, Ali was presented with the 2011 David Thompson Memorial Award for Special Services to the Crime and Thriller Genre. At Bouchercon 2013 in Albany, he was presented with the Don Sandstrom Memorial Award for Life-Time Achievement in supporting the Crime and Mystery Genre.
Ali is a Board Member at Bouchercon (The World Mystery and Crime Convention) and programming chair for Bouchercon 2015 in Raleigh, North Carolina. As you can see, ain’t no flies on him. OBAAT is delighted he was willing to answer our questions, especially in such a thoughtful manner
One Bite at a Time: What made you decide to come to Albany?
Ali Karim: Well I attended my first Bouchercon in 2003, Las Vegas. It was my 40th birthday present to myself, but also primarily because Lee Child was the Toastmaster and I heard David Morrell was going to attend. I’ve loved Morrell’s work ever since I read FIRST BLOOD. I had a great time and vowed to attend again, despite the costs and distance from England. Though in 2004 and 2005 I was setting up a business and had no money—nor time—so I only attended UK conventions. Then in 2006, due to my involvement at International Thriller Writers [ITW] I attended the inaugural Thrillerfest 2006 in Phoenix, and also the 2007 Thrillerfest in New York.
As much as I love Thrillerfest, I like the idea of visiting a different city which Bouchercon allows; whereas Thrillerfest has been in New York now for many years. With Bouchercon, I get to visit different cities, which adds to the fun. So in 2008 I was at Bouchercon Baltimore, in 2009 Bouchercon Indianapolis, in 2010 Bouchercon San Francisco, 2011 Bouchercon St Louis, in 2012 Bouchercon Cleveland and last month in 2013 it was Bouchercon Albany.
But to answer your question why Albany? Well at Bouchercon Cleveland, I was voted onto the Bouchercon Board, and acted as secretary, though while I am still on the Board, Kim Hammond has kindly taken over as the secretary (Thankfully, as I have a maddening workload). And as I’m programming chair for Bouchercon 2015 in Raleigh NC, and I enjoy Bouchercon so much, I am committed to attend each year, besides Al Abramson is my long lost brother and I knew with him chairing Bouchercon Albany, it would be a really special event – which it was . The reason why Bouchercon wanted me on the board is that apart from my enthusiasm for the crime, mystery, thriller genre – I am also a businessman and scientists, and therefore helpful in organizational skills. Others said it’s because of my surreal sense of humour……
OBAAT: What’s the most important aspect of Bouchercon for you? (This year, or any year?)
AK: It is the friendships I have made over the years with readers, reviewers, writers, publishers making the Bouchercon week so special, spending time with people who love reading crime, mystery and thrillers. In a world where reading is becoming marginalized, it is wonderful to spend time with kindred spirits and not feel weird when you tell people you like to read books. Also I have many funny times, and as laughter is crucial for a strong immune system, I get a shot in the arm by Bouchercon like this in Cleveland and Baltimore . Some people ask why I take so many photos, well [a] I get asked by many magazines for author photos [b] I do so much (and have the odd Gin and Tonic) that it helps me remember what I got up to and [c] as one gets older, we can have bad days when melancholia sets in; a quick look at the photos always makes me smile and banish the darker moods.
OBAAT: You were moderator of the private eye panel, which, frankly, kicked ass. To you, what makes a good panel, from a panelist’s or moderator’s perspective?
AK: Thank you so such for those kind words. The panel you mention was a lot of fun thanks to the panelists and great questions from the attendees. To make a good panel, you need to make sure the moderator of a panelist doesn’t usurp the discussion for their own agenda. No hard selling or self-promotion is key, as is preparation – I have moderated many panels over the years and always email a list of possible questions we may cover as well as ensuring all panelists see each other’s bios. Another key factor is controlling those in the audience when it’s time for questions to ensure that a person doesn’t use it to hijack the time to forward an agenda…ie not ask a question, but ramble on obliquely. One of the best moderators is novelist Reed F Coleman, who always lets the attendees note the questions are just that – ‘questions’, not an opportunity to ‘ramble on’ (as Led Zeppelin once sang….)
OBAAT: What do you look for when deciding which panels to attend?
AK: I usually look at who the moderator is first, then topic and who will be on the panel. The issue at Bouchercon is that with four concurrent tracks, plus so many events and bar-time, it’s hard to get to as many panels as one would like. In previous years, panels have been taped to CD as mp3 files and I’ve purchased many over the years, to listen to when I get home, capturing the Bouchercon feeling long after the convention’s wrapped up.
OBAAT: What makes a panel good for you when you’re in the audience?
AK: Usually the ones that feature speakers who are funny, or insightful and one that does not clash with other panels or events that are happening at the same time. Also the chance to hear an author either that I have not read, but interested in reading, or when there’s a few of us who want to go to the same panel, like my dear friend Detective Peter Rozovsky’s panels – always fun and informative. The ‘forgotten masterpieces’ theme is always a good panel topic, as no matter how well read you are, there are always gaps in your reading. In Cleveland Otto Penzler moderated such a panel which was not only enlightening as various panelists championed their favourite reads, but it was also very amusing as Otto Penzler has such a dry wit.
OBAAT: Would you like to see more or fewer questions from the audience?
AK: That always depends. I’ve moderated and attended the book reviewing panel[s], and in those I always get the audience involved during the discussion. The one in San Francisco 2010 was standing room only, and we could have gone on for another few hours such was the excitement of everyone championing their favourite reads (including the audience). The same was true in Baltimore 2008, standing room only, and I championed Stieg Larsson who was just released in the US but the hype had not yet arrived – but after Bouchercon as the attendees left to their home towns, the word of mouth had well and truly spread throughout the US and Canada – from Europe. That I find exciting. In the past, attendees would often been seen scribbling book titles and authors in their note books, today they click the download button on their eReaders, when a book in a panel discussion provokes interest.
OBAAT: What’s your favorite Bouchercon story, from this year or any past years?
AK: Wow, that is a tough one, a really tough one as I have so much fun at Bouchercon, so give me a minute. I’m afraid I’ll have to give you a few as it is hard to nail one fun story.
Bouchercon Baltimore 2008 – a scary walk back to the hotel from the Lee Child Party that proves an English accent and a knowledge of crime-fiction can get you out of trouble, as can an attitude.
Bouchercon San Francisco 2010 – the opening ceremonies (also here) when Serena Bramble’s student film was shown to the audience, and as the lights went out I realized I was seated with people who share my fascination with crime / mystery and crucially, I was not alone > Bouchercon Cleveland 2012 – visiting the Rock and Roll Hall of fame put a real spring in my step
I could give you many more, as I always have a great time on Bouchercon week!
Thanks for your interest Dana, see you in Long Beach next year!
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Many thanks to Ali Karim, not only for sitting for this interview, but for his contributions toward making crime fiction not only a thriving community, but a hell of a lot of fun.
Bouchercon Interviews Schedule
(Due to Black Friday here in the States—an orgy of shopping where Americans give thanks for what they have in life by pushing, pulling screaming, cajoling, occasionally injuring, and sometimes killing others in the spirit of Christmas—next week’s interview with Zoe Sharp will be posted on Wednesday. Charlie Fox is badass, but not even I would send her into Black Friday alone.)
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)