Wednesday, August 22, 2018

What's the Deal With Bouchercon?

I re-posted some thoughts about Bouchercon last week, which got me to thinking about the conference in more detail. With this year’s event beginning two weeks from tomorrow, this seems as good a time as any to share thoughts I’ve had about more than why it’s a fun opportunity.

Not that it isn’t a fun opportunity. It’s safe to say that for The Beloved Spouse™ and me Bouchercon is the social event of the year, to the point where I save up time off from work so we can make a road trip of it. Two years ago we drove to New Orleans from the Baltimore-DC area. Last year we took a couple of extra days to go to Niagara Falls and the Hockey Hall of Fame. This year we’re making three stops along the way to visit family and friends, plus a day at Busch Gardens. We’re already thinking of driving to Dallas next year. We work our annual schedules around it.

It’s obvious that we have our own agenda when going each year. We’ve made enough friends over the years that it has in many ways become more of a social event than anything else for us. Yes, I still wait with growing anticipation for the panel announcements to come out and I attend as many panels as I can, notebook in hand, soaking up as much information and good writer vibe as I possible.

When one is trying to make a go of it as an author it’s easy to get caught up in the authorly aspects. (Yes, that’s a word. I just made it up, and I’m a writer, so I have what’s called license.) It’s fashionable among writers to kvetch about our panel assignments or any of the various social issues authors get involved with; diversity is big this year, and rightly so. We’d all like to make a good impression and sell some books in the process, which is another thing I like about Bouchercon: the attitude is less to sell books than to get readers interested in you. It’s a soft sell.

I’ve been involved in some discussions about how we as authors can make changes to improve either the diversity of panels, or support the #metoo movement. I’m all for both, but there’s one thing that keeps me from taking a more active role in either when going to Bouchercon.

It’s not a writers’ conference.

It’s a readers’ conference that I attend as a writer. I am their guest, and, as such, I’m grateful to have been invited. That doesn’t mean I’ll stand by if someone is being harassed. Nor will I reserve my opinion about any conference-related issue if asked.* I’m just not going to impose my opinions on anyone. It’s not my house. The organizing committees—composed mostly of readers and those who run web sites and magazines and hold the entire community together the way mortar binds brick—do an outstanding job year after year. They have more competing priorities than I want to think about, and the last thing I want to do is tell them how to run their conference.

What I will do is whatever I’m asked. I will be just as gracious if assigned to a panel of supernatural animal cozy writers for whom English is a second language as I would be if I sat next to Michael Connelly, Laura Lippmann, Megan Abbott, and Reed Farrel Coleman. If an organizer asks me to help out with something, I will. If a reader wants to talk to me, just come on up, so long as the standard rules of civility are observed. There are more writers looking for exposure than there are slots for them. I’ll never take such an opportunity for granted. The best news about Bouchercon is that the vast majority of the writers have that same attitude, and that includes those at the top of the profession. It is as egalitarian an occurrence as any you will find.

So, at the risk of sounding like I’m sucking up (which I’m not, as I already have my panel assignment and it’s a peach), thank you to everyone responsible for pulling this year’s (and last year’s, and the year before that, and next year’s) conference together. From finding the hotels to getting us good rates to finding sponsors to organizing the peripheral activities to setting up the schedule and assigning panels, what I think of most when pulling up to the conference hotel is how my work is done; everything that happens for the next four days has been taken care of. All I have left to do is to make sure I enjoy myself and, for that, I’ll do whatever the readers ask.

(* -- A “politics-free zone” extends for three feet in every direction from my center of mass. I’m not saying you can’t talk about politics; it’s a free country. Just don’t be distressed or think me rude if I walk away. These four days are for the books.)

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