Bouchercon 2017 Highlights! (And Funny Lowpoints Too…)

Having “Parallel Play” win the Macavity Award for Best Short Story would certainly stand as a major highpoint of this year’s Bouchercon, but there are many other events and encounters and moments that also stuck—including one that might well be even more meaningful in a number of ways.

Here’s a list of Bouchercon highlights (and funny lowpoints, is that the best description?), in some vaguely chronological order:

  • Author Speed-Dating with Michael Bracken—and really just spending time with Michael at several points throughout the weekend. Michael is a tremendously prolific and talented short story writer, and his output is matched by his extraordinary enthusiasm. Michael’s wife Temple and I were talking about the toy collection in his office at one point while he’d stepped away, and I remarked that there was something joyfully boyish about Michael: a sense of wonder and excitement, a whole-heartedness about him. When he came back to the table and I asked about the toy collection, he showed those same qualities again, talking about Hot Wheels cars and Matchbox cars and squishy toys and…. And as much as I’ve always admired Michael as a writer, I enjoy him just as much now as a person too. Just a joy to be around.
  • Honoring Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine was my first home in the mystery writing community (still is), and I loved that the Bouchercon organizers chose to honor the magazine for its distinguished contributions to the genre—and appreciated so much their decision to include me as host for the event. I enjoyed interviewing Janet Hutchings (see the photo above)—she’s always fascinating and insightful and so much my strongest supporter in the crime writing community—and I was blown away by the range of experiences and memories shared by the fifteen EQMM contributors who took part in the program. Highlights there included Josh Pachter’s story about getting a phone call from EQMM’s first editor, Frederick Dannay himself; Laura Benedict talking about how EQMM changed her life three times; Rick Helms’ story about his mother finally celebrating his work as a writer (hardly a dry eye in the house after that one); Marilyn Todd’s joke about vignette/vinaigrette (on sale in the back); and… well, I could list all of them here, a mix of funny stories and touching stories and everything in between.
  • Toronto Star! In between the speed dating and the EQMM event, Janet Hutchings suggested that I look at that day’s edition of the Toronto Star—and what a surprise and honor to see my author photo and the cover of On the Road with Del & Louise there as one of seven recommended authors/books connected to Bouchercon! (Did I mention already that Janet is my strongest supporter in the crime fiction community?)
  • Short Mystery Fiction Society Lunch. Thanks to M.H. Callway for organizing such a fun lunch for members of the Short Mystery Fiction Society. It was great to see many old friends there, but even more fun to meet new ones, including several Canadian crime writers who let me join them at one end of our long table, including Cindy Carroll, Terri McMillan, and Lynne Murphy—such a great lunch!
  • Panel Highlights. I probably attended more panels at this Bouchercon than any conference I can remember, and after it was all over, I got into a couple of conversations with people comparing which ones they’d found most informative or entertaining. Two stood out for mine. First, the “History of the Genre” panel that Sarah Weinman so deftly moderated, letting panelists Margaret Cannon, Martin Edwards, Alex Gray, David A. Poulsen, and Peter Rozovsky browse through many eras of crime fiction’s history with a discussion of foundational titles, personal favorites, rereads and whether they held up, and works that surprised in some way. Second, the “Reading the Rainbow” panel, with Krisopher Zgorski leading Jessie Chandler, John Copenhaver, Stephanie Gayle, Greg Herren, and Owen Laukkanen into discussions of the history of LGBTQ crime fiction, shifts in the ways publishers have treated these novels and stories, and then—most importantly—books that touched the panelists as readers alongside how they’ve tried to enter into the tradition as writers themselves. Fascinating stuff, powerful stuff.
  • A Humbling Moment. After my own panel with the other Anthony Award finalists for Best Short Story—Megan Abbott, Johnny Shaw, and Holly West, a great group all around!—I ended up talking with a woman who’d asked a particularly interesting question. I thought our follow-up chat was going well until she placed her hand on my arm mid-conversation and nudged me out of the way to make a beeline for Megan! I had to laugh, of course, and when I told Megan about it later, she said that the same thing has happened to her in the past—with her the one being nudged aside! (Megan is ever gracious, as I’ve said before; more on her work below.)
  • The 4:30 A.M. Fight in the Hallway. OK, this one too isn’t so much a good memory as much as it is a story that stuck. Just past 4:30 a.m. Saturday morning, I hear from the hallway what sounds like drunk people coming home after too many hours out on the town—loud voices, shouts, some kind of questions and confusion… someone looking for their room? Soon, it’s clear that these people aren’t on their way anywhere but just staying in the hallway, and those questions are more in the way of confrontation. A man’s voice: “I haven’t cheated on you. I would never cheat on you.” And a woman’s in return: “Then who is JoJo? Tell me that. Who is JoJo?” And then back and forth, eventually with one of them (the man) banging against the wall to punctuate points in his favor. That was the tipping point. I called the front desk, was told that security was already on the way. Within a few minutes, whatever was happening had ended. But I couldn’t sleep—not just because of the timing but because I kept wondering myself: Who were these people? What had been going on? Why was argument unfolded in the hallway? And—yes—who was JoJo?
  • Who was JoJo? I’m not sure if S.W. Lauden actually had the answer to that question a few hours later, but I appreciated his story of running into what he swore was a prostitute in the elevator early one morning—asking him, “Do you know how to the get to the lobby?” (He generously pointed out the “L” button on the panel, of course.) The riffs on these two stories from Steve, Angel Colon, Nik Korpon, and Baron Birtcher kept building and building—and hey, Joe Clifford, if anyone ever starts calling you JoJo, you’ll know at least loosely where the nickname came from.
  • Who is S.W. Lauden? I’ve actually known Steve for a while, brief encounters both at conferences and then online too, but I felt like I got to know him a little better this Boucercon—in conversations like that one above, in his contributions to the novella panel (both about his own work and about novellas in general), in a quick interview he did with me for his podcast, and then, later, in a small act of graciousness that will underscore for me, forever, what a fine guy he is—top-notch in every way.
  • B.K. Stevens’ Anthony Award for Best Novella. It was a small disappointment not to win the Anthony Award myself for Best Short Story, but it was hardly a surprise that Megan Abbott did, an honor richly deserved; her story “Oxford Girl” stood out as one of my own favorites from last year—masterfully conceived, lyrically written, and with that beautifully haunting ending. But whatever disappointment I might have felt was immediately eclipsed when B.K. Stevens’ “The Last Blue Glass” won the Anthony for Best Novella. (I admired all of the other finalists in this category, I should stress—friends with each of them.) The honor was bittersweet, of course, a word that keeps coming up, and also poignant, her husband Dennis’s own word about what he was feeling being there to accept the award—one that Bonnie had always dreamed of winning before her sudden death two months ago. The story was a fabulous one; many have claimed it was her best ever, though I could argue for several others over the years, so many wonderful tales. But in any case, the award helped not only to celebrate this single story but also to serve as a fitting capstone to a magnificent career. Bittersweet, yes, but celebratory too—and when we talk about highpoints, which could be better than celebrating other writers, the ones whose work, whose friendship, has meant the most over so many years?

Thanks again to everyone who helped make this year’s Bouchercon such a great success—especially Janet Costello and Helen Nelson. Hooray!