I Was a Bouchercon Virgin

WickedsBoucherconOn a recent Thursday at six-thirty in the morning I hopped in my Prius in northeastern Massachusetts. With me was author-friend Jessie Crockett, two suitcases, a bag full of snacks, and bunches of bookmarks. We were bound for Albany, New York, the site of the 2013 Bouchercon mystery convention. We talked writing business all the way to the western part of the state, where we rendezvoused with another author friend, Liz Mugavero, and then headed for Albany.

I had read about this huge conference run by and for fans of crime fiction – beginning authors had said how large and confusing it was, others complained that their books weren’t for sale or it was hard to talk to authors they liked – but the fact that it was within driving distance made it a conference not to miss. And I have a new book out!

I blog with a group of six New England writers over at the Wicked Cozy Authors blog, Jessie and Liz among them, and two of the three others were also going to be at the convention: Julie Hennrikus and Barbara Ross. So I felt like I had backup from my peeps. Plus, Liz and Barb and I all have the first book in our Kensington cozy series out and we had scored panel assignments. Since the sixth author, Sherry Harris couldn’t attend the conference, we brought her along on a stick and tried to get as many pictures of her with celebrities as we could.

Albany apparently doesn’t have a hotel big enough to host both the conference events and the more than 1200 participants. So the meetings were in the Empire State Convention Center and the people stayed in several hotels within a hilly walk from there. This can be a little tiresome when you want to grab a quick mid-afternoon nap in your room or drop off the books you’ve either just bought or received in a giveaway. The organizers did provide yellow school buses that took people who didn’t feel like walking (or couldn’t walk those hills or distances) here and there. The biggest detriment to the scattered hotel deal was not having a single bar to hang out in. It soon became clear that the Hilton bar was the happening place, though, and it was only a few blocks from my hotel. I talked to and (got my picture taken with) both Sue Grafton and Catriona McPherson one night. I have read every alphabet mystery of Sue’s, and found out at Malice Domestic this year that Catriona and I share having earned a now dusty doctorate in linguistics.

Even though Bouchercon is a fan conference, I didn’t miss a session. The moderators did an excellent job, and we authors always have more to learn about how our peers work and what they think. The fans in the panel audiences seemed so enthusiastic and happy to be there.

I write a foodie mystery. In A Tine to Live, a Tine to Die, geek-turned-organic farmer Cam Flaherty grows vegetables for a bunch of local-foods enthusiasts, and provides them with recipes so they can figure out how to use both unusual ingredients like spring garlic and common crops like freshly picked asparagus. What she didn’t count on was also dealing with locally sourced murder.

So the Bouchercon organizers put me on a food-mystery panel, along with Barb Ross and several other authors. We were gifted with a really great moderator, Clare Toohey (of CriminalElement.com fame), who set the panelists at ease and got the audience laughing. She even handed out chocolates.

Directly after each session, and there were five or six panels during every time slot, the authors from that session headed over to the signing area. Some of the Anthony Best Book nominees, like Louise Penny and Hank Phillippi Ryan, of course had long lines, as did the author guests of honor: Tess Gerritsen, Sue Grafton, Steve Hamilton, and Anne Perry. Liz and I were able to snag a picture with Katherine Hall Page, who was one of my inspirations to write a foodie cozy myself.

On Saturday afternoon, Adeola Saul, our Kensington publicist, showed up with a box of books and a poster for each Kensington author who was in attendance. She set up a book giveaway on three tables and most of the authors were ready to sign books, as she’d asked us to be if we could. This was not an event included in the program, but I guess the word had spread. A big crowd mustered, waiting for Adeola to say, “Go.” As a friend said, it was like Black Friday a minute past midnight (I’m not a big shopper, especially when I’m sleeping off a big family dinner, so I wouldn’t know personally). We were rushed by fans wanting free signed books. The box of A Tine to Live, a Tine to Die was empty in half an hour and I had given out bunches of the special salad-greens seed packets I’d assembled and clipped to bookmarks.

JuliaSpencerFlemingLater that day, some of us were eating an early dinner prior to the Sue Grafton interview and then the Anthony Awards ceremony, when Hank Phillippi Ryan sank into a chair at our table. She’s one of our peeps, being an active member of the New England chapter of Sisters in Crime, the president of SINC National this year, and a really generous mentor. We chatted and told her to break a leg.

On the last morning, I attended a great panel on how characters have a life of their own. Julia Spencer-Fleming swept in at the last minute, saying something about how it was fitting that she writes a series with an Episcopal priest and they put her on a panel Sunday morning at nine. Since I aspire to write deep characters and lyrical prose like Julia does, I always love hearing her speak.

Right before the final panel, where Hank interviewed all the guests of honor, I was wandering the book area and spied one of my favorite authors, Tess Gerritsen, having just paid for an armful of books. She graciously agreed to a picture with me and Flat Sherry and I thanked her. Then, during the panel, when Hank asked each guest of honor what they would normally be doing at ten-thirty on a Sunday morning, Tess said she’d probably be helping her son slaughter the organic chickens on his farm near her home in Maine. And Sue Grafton spoke about she would not be slaughtering her pet chickens on her farm in Tennessee.

At the end of June I sent in my second Local Foods mystery, ‘Til Dirt Do Us Part, to my editor. One of the subplots involves rescue chickens and a young man who my protagonist dubs the Chicken Whisperer. And now I have chicken connections, along with all the other ones, with Tess Gerritsen and Sue Grafton! I headed for home an hour later, no longer a Bouchercon virgin, but a happy fan and satisfied author.

Edith Maxwell

A member of Sisters in Crime and former owner/farmer of an organic farm herself, Edith Maxwell has also served on the Board of Directors of the Northeast Organic Farming Association and is an accomplished amateur chef. Her short stories have appeared in Thin Ice and Riptide by Level Best Books, the Larcom Review, and the North Shore Weekly.