Bouchercon 2016 took place in New Orleans September 15 – 18. While I’ve never been to a bad Bouchercon—Albany was a logistical nightmare but the panels were solid—the Big Easy may have been my favorite.
I’m providing my impressions over the next few weeks. Your experiences may not lead you to agree with everything reported here, but it’s not your blog, is it?
9:00 Another Tricky Day: Problems All Authors Face. Scott Adlerberg, moderator.
Wallace Stroby—who looks like Jason Bateman’s somewhat disreputable older brother—says what all former journalists say about getting stuck or being blocked: it’s a job. Get it done. He says he doesn’t miss the news business much, but he does miss being around the people. I’ve heard that from quite a few former journalists. Journalism must have been a hell of a way to make a living back in the day when a living could be made from it.
JT Ellison made contact with the Nashville cops by calling and asking if there had ever been a serial killer in Nashville and the cop told her to come on down, as if they were holding interviews for the position. I’m going to have to get to Killer Nashville one of these days. They seem to have the right attitude.
God, I love listening to writers talk about writing. This was a perfect opening panel: good writers talking about writing. We’re off and running.
12:00 One More Time: Novels and Characters Taking on Another Life on Screen. Lee Goldberg, moderator.
Nina Sadowsky: Don’t remake great old movies. If the original was bad, have at it.
Phoef Sutton and Alexandra Sokoloff agree that set pieces are key to getting a novel adapted. (Filed under “Microsoft Fails:” Word considers “Phoef” to be a misspelling.)
David Morell had an interesting backstory on First Blood. The book is ardently anti-war. The original Rambo movie less so, but still leaning that way. In the sequel, the line “Sir, do we get to win this time?” set off such a jingoistic wave in the country Morell and the book were virtually blacklisted from liberal bookstores and libraries, each of which had been his champions prior to that. After ten years or so the book and films had become so much part of popular culture he and the original novel became acceptable again.
Previously Unknown (by me) Fact: Die Hard was adapted from a book (Nothing Lasts Forever) that was itself the sequel to The Detective, which was made into a movie starring Frank Sinatra.
Alexandra Sokoloff: Producers will want to change your story into whatever they fantasize their mistress is doing.
Lee Goldberg once wrote a story about a TV executive driving in his car when The Big One hits LA, and how he finds his way to safety. A studio executive was interested, but asked could they make a couple of changes. Goldberg assumed the TV exec would have to have a different profession. The studio guy wanted to swap out the TV exec for six Midwestern cheerleaders, and—since LA earthquakes are cliché—change it to a tsunami. Basically a wet tee-shirt movie. Goldberg passed. The studio exec probably still wonders why.
Nina Sadowsky, quoting Nicholas Kazan: They pay us to take the meetings. We’d do the writing for free.
Lee Goldberg: Ideas are easy. Execution is everything. That’s why people who have had previous successes can so often get something else made.
Phoef Sutton, when asked about Robert McKee, believes McKee has inadvertently done storytelling in general a grave disservice. Sutton does not believe McKee intended for his book, Story, to be followed so slavishly. McKee was a charismatic teacher, but the book is indecipherable.
Nina Sadowsky, following up on Sutton’s comment: You can learn structure, not voice.
Phoef Sutton; James M. Cain was asked if having Walter Neff dictate the entire story of Double Indemnity as he dies was Cain’s idea. Cain said, “No, but it would have been if I had thought of it.”
David Morell: It’s not a writer-friendly environment when one has to contend with executives who could not survive in any other environment, and often not even in this one. Example given: Morell pitched an idea for a story about a mutant form of rabies. The exec had just made a movie in which rabies figured, and suggested changing rabies to industrial pollution. When Morell pointed out industrial pollution is not contagious, the exec replied, “Fuck it. No one will notice.”
1:30 Road to Find Out: Research. Harriette Sackler, moderator.
Michael Gear: Always remember the term “Willing suspension of disbelief.” Research is what allows the author to get the details right, which develops the trust the reader needs to suspend disbelief.
Veronica Forand: If you don’t know something, find a book that explains it for kids to get the basics down first.
3:00 Dead Man’s Party: Realities of Death Investigations. Ayo Onatade, moderator.
Jan Burke: Coroners speak for the living, such as victims’ families and others who might be affected by this cause of death.
D. P. Lyle: The ripple effects of murder are enormous and too often neglected.
Jan Burke is appalled at the state of much of what we do forensically in this country. Examples:
- Each state has different standards for submitting DNA into CODIS (Combined DNA Index System), depending on the crime. Auditing to see if even those standards are met is lacking.
- There 100,000 unidentified corpses lying around in the United States and we cannot even assume they have been measures and weighed, let alone fingerprinted or sampled for DNA. Not all states require the reporting of unidentified remains to NamUs (National Missing and Unidentified Persons System).
- Homicide investigations do not begin until a coroner rules a death as suspicious, and there are no national standards for coroners.
Jan Burke: Forensic science is designed to be understood by “the biggest idiot on the jury.”
Jan Burke: A missing person is “where hope can become cruel.”
D.P. Lyle, quoting Lee Goldberg on why so many cop shows get the science wrong: If you give me a choice between story and fact, I’ll choose story every time.
Alistair Kimble: Most cases are still broken by talking to people. That will show the investigator where to look, what to look for, and what’s important.
Jan Burke: A real benefit of the CSI shows is the increased numbers of women going into the sciences.
4:30 Telling Lies: Fiction is Better Than Reality. Johnny Shaw, moderator.
liars authors (Ingrid Thoft—who won
the Shamus Friday night, congratulations, Ingrid—Lachlan Smith, J.D. Rhoades,
Ben Lieberman, Julie Smith) told stories that could have been true or false.
Mostly false, but two things were learned amid the laughter:
- Truth is stranger than fiction.
- The best lies have a lot of truth in them.
7:00 Down & Out Books Fifth Anniversary Event
Paraphrasing Art Mullin in Justified, it gave me a little bit of a writer’s chubby to see the caliber of talent I’m now included with by being a Down & Out author. James Ray Tuck read and emceed a lineup including Eric Beetner, Tom Pitts, Gordon Brown, Jeffery Hess, S.W. Lauden, Ian Truman, J.L. Abramo (who also went on to win a Shamus Friday night, congratulations, Joe), Grant Jerkins, Danny Gardner, Gary Phillips, Jen Conley, and yours truly that wrapped up what would have been a full and rewarding day even if Tim O’Mara had not kept me out at Sneaky Pete’s until 2:00 AM.
On Monday we have an interview with Australian author Andrew Nette that’s worth a read. We’ll get back to Bouchercon doings next Thursday.