Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Bouchercon 2018: Thursday's Panels

Bouchercon is the crime fiction devotees’ Christmas. Doesn’t matter whether you’re a reader, writer, or those wonderful folks who don’t have a title yet act as the magnets and lubricants that draw everyone together and make things so easy. Bloggers, reviewers, podcasters, interviewers, everyone’s there, and everyone’s been looking forward to it since last year. This year’s conference was in St. Petersburg FL September 6 – 9. What follows here and over the next several blogs is one man’s experience. First, the panels. Later, the extracurricular activities.

(Editor’s Note: The comments attributed to each writer here and in the accounts to come are from the best of my recollection, taken from notes scrawled at the time. I am not a journalist, and I apologize to anyone whose quote I didn’t get right. I only claim to have made every effort to capture the spirit in which the remarks were intended.)

I knew this would be an exceptional conference when I scored copies of Lou Berney’s and Sam Wiebe’s books from a trade table before the first panel even began. I just feel badly for the poor unfortunates who don’t realize what a mistake they made by not keeping them.

10:00 AM Just the Facts—Getting Law Enforcement Details Right
George Lichman (Moderator), Colin Campbell, Deborah Crombie, Margaret Mizushima, Danielle Ramsey, Leo Maloney

Colin Campbell referenced Joseph Wambaugh’s The Choirboys as addressing the elements of police life that interest him most: how they get through the day.

Margaret Mizushima: There are a wide range of things dogs can be trained to do. Most dogs are specialists but some can do nearly everything.

Campbell: Dogs will bite whoever is in the way, cops included, especially if they’re holding a weapon.

Mizushima: Dogs do occasionally turn on their handlers.

Leo Maloney: There’s a TV series being made of his books and he retains control of what goes into them. His hero is him and he doesn’t want what he does dismissed or disparaged. (Put me in mind of the scene where Lee Marvin turns down a job in a Wild West show in Monte Walsh.)

Campbell: There are as many reasons people become cops as there are reasons people become criminals.

Campbell: It’s surprising how often bad guys’ heads don’t quite clear the police car door when the cops’ frustrations run high.

12:00 Moonlighting—The PI Tradition
Ted Hertel (M), Matt Coyle, Ted Fitzgerald, Cheryl Head, Chris Knopf, Michael Wiley

Ted Hertel has seen some who think Chandler was being sarcastic when he wrote the “mean streets” section of “The Simple Art of Murder.” (Editor’s Note: How anyone could read the whole essay and know Chandler’s work and think that is beyond me.)

Ted Fitzgerald: Because the PI moves through all levels of society, these stories can be about more than just the crime.

Fitzgerald: If you have a story you want to tell by leveraging certain things, these are traditions. If you’re just trying to recreate something you’ve read—essentially checking the boxes—they’re clichés. In short, if it works, it’s a tradition. If it doesn’t, it’s a cliché.

1:00 BANG! POW! How Much Violence is Too Much Violence?
Neliza Drew (M), Matt Phillips, Linda Sands, Kieran Shea, Wallace Stroby, Frank Zafiro

Frank Zafiro: Eric Beetner is the Kevin Bacon of crime fiction. (Editor’s Note: And the James Brown.)

Frank Zafiro: The trick today is not so much to get published as it is to get noticed.

2:00 License to Snoop—Attending PI School
Michael Pool (M), Donna Andrews, Sean Chercover, Michael Koryta, Jack Soren

Sean Chercover told the story of working as a PI in New Orleans. He checked in with the police before starting the surveillance but they still rousted him, blowing his cover. He told the client he’d done everything he was supposed to do, then the client corrected him. In New Orleans, you’re also supposed to come by with a bottle of Jack Daniel’s and say you’re turning it in, you found it in a parking lot. Chercover wasn’t surprised about the graft, just that it took so little.

Donna Andrews: A female PI can hang around places men can never get away with because people may assume she’s just waiting for her kids.

Michael Koryta: PIs dread the “off the street” client. They want lawyer referrals.

Chercover seconded the notion. He only had one or two clients come to him directly. He worked mostly for lawyers and insurance companies. He even used to investigate lawyers’ potential clients before the lawyer would take the case.

Both Koryta and Chercover emphasized that everyone lies to you. Koryta went on to say that it may be a trope or it may be a cliché, but a detective cannot trust his client’s version of the truth.

Koryta: Stationary surveillance is a great way to spend time in the PI’s head. Moving surveillance is truly exciting.

Andrews: Carrying a gun mostly just adds another level of liability.

Koryta: Readers like elements of realism, so what might be boring—such as sitting on a house where nothing happens or trailing the wrong guy—can be made to sing if done well.

Andrews: Always check out the client. Told a story of a PI who was hired to remove some bugs supposedly planted by a business competitor only to find out they were the FBI’s.

Andrews: PIs understand no one can do it all. If you’re a generalist you know who the specialists are who can help you. An amateur may not understand that.

Chercover: When writing an amateur, let them run into their limitations.

Koryta: Anyone with an iPhone and $100 can do more than anything he had gadgets for ten years ago. Don’t worry about how current the technology is. It’s the writing and the characters that give a story staying power.

3:00 Small and Mighty—Small Press Publishers
Reavis Wortham (M), Eric Campbell, Kat Georges, Bob Gussin, Lloyd Otis, Chris Rhatigan

Bob Gussin can’t imagine publishing romance. The best part of publishing crime is he can tell within 10 – 15 pages if it’s worth messing with.

Worst query Kat Georges ever received: “I wrote a great book. Here’s the link.”

Georges: An often overlooked means of promotion is to write reviews for other outlets.

Gussin: The best blurbs are from the biggest authors. At least meet them to say hello at a conference, after which you can write to them to ask for the blurb, reminding them of your meeting.

Reavis Wortham: Best way to build relationships is to go to the bar and stay there.

Georges: The key advantage of a small press over self-publishing is the ability to leverage the small press’s reputation and infrastructure.

5:00 From Badge to Page—Ex=Cops Talk Writing
Danielle Ramsey (M), Bruce Robert Coffin, Colin Campbell, Tom O’Mara, Lissa Marie Redmond, Bernard Shaffer

Danielle Ramsey: Graham Greene once said “Every writer needs a heart of ice,” by which he meant an ability to look dispassionately at the most horrible or intimate things.

Lissa Marie Redmond: Male cops often have this attitude toward a female cop who’s being abused: “If you can’t handle your shit at home, how can you handle it on the street?”

Bruce Robert Coffin: Cops are used to things and people getting in the way when they’re trying to work a case.

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