Having been to a few crime writing festivals this year, there is one I’d really like to attend but haven’t managed yet.
Bouchercon is an annual world mystery convention where readers, writers, publishers, editors, agents and booksellers gather for four days to talk all things crime fiction and mystery. Bouchercon is a non-profit, volunteer-led festival.
The venue changes every year – this year, everyone gathered in Toronto. Although I wasn’t able to attend, the wonderful Rachel Amphlett has been kind enough to share her experience with us.
Hopefully I’ll get there one day.
Bouchercon 2017 from the frontline.
By Rachel Amphlett
Some five years in the planning process, over 700 authors and an equal amount – if not more – of avid readers, and Bouchercon 2017 was ready to open its doors on 12 October at the Sheraton Central in Toronto.
I was astounded at how many avid crime fiction readers descend on the conference – speaking to Mark and Sharon from Denver, it turns out they travel around North America every year to come to these – it’s a “must do”, and it seems they’re not the only ones!
This year was the 48th iteration of the popular conference, and included the thirty year anniversary for Sisters in Crime. The programme boasted an incredible choice of seminars and conversations – it was impossible to get to everything, but here are some of the highlights for me.
Given the number of psychological thrillers/domestic suspense novels out, the “Urban Noir” panel authors were asked: is the city scarier than the suburbs?
Not so, according to Michael Harvey, who pointed out that the current trend of psychological thrillers/domestic suspense often features characters who live in suburbia and, as Rebecca Drake added, often have more capacity for evil.
Gary Dvorik’s view was that the noir energy of the forties and fifties has been “cleansed” from cities, and that urban noir has moved to the suburbs, where it looks set to stay for some time. Julia McDermott raised a good point in that protagonists in urban noir are people who aren’t typically thought of as heroes – hence the popularity of what some are calling “domestic suspense” (although it was discussed whether the changing genre titles are simply down to publishers’ marketing departments!).
It seems that Breaking Bad still resonates with a lot of people as an example of suburban crime, and as Rebecca pointed out, “noir is a darkness that lurks in all of us, just waiting to be tapped”.
The panel entitled “Unkind Settings” proved popular, and included a wide range of thriller sub-genres including disaster and dystopia. The panel were asked what they thought the allure of apocalyptic settings was, and Tim Washburn said he likes to drop his characters into that sort of scenario to see how resourceful they can be in order to survive. Adam Sternbergh made a great point that, as a writer, the setting should make you nervous – it’s almost like a character in itself.
The panel discussed the advantages of an unkind setting, and agreed that it plants the reader right in the action from the start, and then there’s always room to turn up the heat on your characters even more!
Joe Hart’s closing remark very much made me sit up and think about story potential, in that “when consequences are taken away, a character’s moral restrictions fade, too” – exactly how far would you be willing to go in order to survive?
There were at least two panels taking a look at the advantages and disadvantages of writing a series versus writing a standalone novel.
The first, “Standalones”, moderated by Craig Sisterson and featuring Kathy Reichs and Linwood Barclay, looked at how authors with established series then strike out and write a standalone. The reasons for this were quite similar – two authors had been asked by their publishers to write something new, and another author whose first series hadn’t taken off at that time was requested by his agent to try something different.
We also found out during the panel that Kathy hates bugs – a rather large cockroach appeared on the table in front of her, but was quickly dispatched by fellow panellist Kate White. Reichs admitted afterwards that she’s “much happier dealing with maggots”!
Back to the standalone/series debate and, in all cases, the authors agreed that they relished the change, and felt refreshed upon returning to their series titles. Of course, through writing a standalone, there was also the opportunity to develop a further series if readers liked the characters.
As with all crime fiction festivals, a lot of the time could be spent on the concourse where authors and readers could mingle and share their love of the genre. The hospitality suite, bars and café on the upper levels were certainly doing a roaring trade over much of the weekend.
For me, Bouchercon 2017 was an opportunity to catch up with friends, make some new ones, chat about my own work on influences, research, and writing habits on a couple of panels (“Government Agencies” and “A World of Thrills”), and meet some of my writing heroes while taking copious notes that I’m sure will inspire me for months (if not years) to come.
And for the organisers? Well, they’re already setting their sights on the next four Bouchercon conferences to be held in North America over the coming years, with special guests already confirmed including Karin Slaughter, Mark Billingham, and Ian Rankin (2018 – St Petersburg, FL), James Patterson and Harry Hunsicker (2019 – Dallas, TX), and Scott Turow and Walter Mosley (2020 – Sacramento, CA).