Bloody Words Conference

by Tess Gerritsen


Sometimes, you just want to share travel photos.  And that’s what I’m going to do here, but I also want to say a few words about what brought me to Victoria, BC in the first place, and that’s the Bloody Words Conference. I was invited there as the “International Guest of Honor”, which was an honor indeed as it involved one of the most delightful few days I’ve ever spent at a writers event.  First, because it was a very low stress conference where I only had to sit on panels.  In my last blog post, I talked about how anxiety-producing it can be to solo- teach a workshop.  But panels are more like a conversation, a chance to share your honest, off-the-cuff thoughts, without the labor of composing prepared remarks. (If you want to keep writers relaxed and happy, make it a panel program!)

The other reason I had such a fine time was the fact we were in Canada and there’s something about Canadians that’s so darn, well… nice.  They’re not just helpful, they seem happy to be helpful. It started at the Victoria airport, where we discovered that my husband’s suitcase didn’t make the three-transfer flight from Maine.  He was standing there at the carousel, looking bereft because he hadn’t packed a toothbrush or even a change of underwear in his carry-on.  Suddenly an airport employee came swooping in from nowhere to ask if we’d lost a bag, and said: “Let’s just see what we can do!” After the necessary paperwork was filed, he handed my husband a sack with a shaving kit, toothbrush, shampoo, and detergent.  In all the years I’ve flown in the U.S. and lost bags (and it’s happened half a dozen times) I’ve never met anyone so anxious to help a beleaguered traveler.  

Why are Canadians so nice?  I posed this question while I was there, and one fellow offered brightly: “It’s because we’re so happy not to be Americans!”  He was quickly shushed up by his countrymen because “that’s not a nice thing to say.”  From taxi drivers to bellmen, rental car clerks to waitresses, there was something so different about the way they treated us there.  Instead of the bored and disinterested “I’ll have to check with management about this” that you hear so often in the US, what we heard in Victoria was “of course we can do this for you!”

At one point, my husband turned to me and said, “Tell me again why we live in the US?”

The conference itself was, as you’d expect, a friendly and collegial affair.  I was curious about the state of genre publishing in Canada, and was not surprised to hear about the same woes I heard in South Africa.  With a population that’s only a tenth of the US, Canadian writers simply don’t have a large enough readership for them to make a living, unless they sell internationally.  The US is considered the “elephant to the south,” the market that’s too huge to be ignored, and the market that everyone wants to penetrate.  In crime fiction, Americans are certainly familiar with Louise Penny, Rick Mofina, Linwood Barclay and Peter Robinson, but too many other Canadian crime writers simply aren’t distributed in the US.  

But now that there are e-books, it should be an international market, right?  Why don’t Canadian authors simply sell to Americans via Kindle? I discovered it isn’t as easy as just emailing a file to Amazon.  To self publish an e-book for sale to American Kindles, you must have an American bank account and mailing address.  That, at least, was what one Canadian told me.  Which makes it a bureaucratic hassle to sell your own books south of the border. 

Another complaint I heard was the lack of publisher support in Canada for genre fiction.  Publishing is partially subsidized by the government, and literary novels get all the financial support and review attention while genre fiction is left to fend for itself in the marketplace.  It’s not surprising that genre writers, who actually make a profit for their publishers, are a bit resentful. 

One of the best things about international conferences is the chance to meet authors I wouldn’t otherwise meet at US conferences.

 Michael Slade, the Canadian Guest of Honor, comes to crime writing with a lifetime’s worth of expertise under his belt.  He’s a criminal defense attorney, and some of his real-life stories will make your jaw drop.  (Like the time a satisfied client offered to kill any person of Michael’s choosing as a token of his appreciation.)  Michael originated “Shock Theater”, a staged reading of radio plays at various mystery conferences, and I was allowed in on the fun when we read “Chicken Heart.”  It’s a truly stupid play, but loads of fun to scream over.  Michael’s legion of fans are called “Sladists”, and they’re so devoted to Michael that one of them peeled down her pants to show off the “Sladist” permanent tattoo just over her rear end.  Now that is true fan devotion.

Grant McKenzie is a Scottish-born Canadian journalist whose crime novels have been translated into German, Chinese, and Russian.  He interviewed me for an afternoon session, and it was a truly delightful conversation.  He’s a terrific novelist who’s published internationally —  just not yet in the U.S.  I hope American publishers are taking note!

William Deverell, the local Guest of Honor, is another Canadian crime writer who brings a rich lifetime of experience to his novels.  He’s the Dashiel Hammett-award winning author of fifteen novels, including the Arthur Beauchamp series.  He’s also an attorney who’s been involved in more than a thousand criminal cases, serving both in prosecution and defense.  Bill and I had a lovely private lunch together where we talked about writing, the future of publishing, and some of the fascinating criminal cases that he’s litigated.  

Booksellers were at the conference as well, and here’s Frances Thorsen of Victoria’s “Chronicles of Crime” mystery bookshop, along with the author-autographed coyote placard that will hang in her shop.  Frances sat on a panel called “What’s hot, what’s not”, about trends in crime fiction.  If you want to know that answer, just ask a bookseller!

Here’s a photo of me with another writer.  It’s a statue of local Victoria heroine Emily Carr, with her pet monkey perched on her shoulder.  Hats off to any town that chooses to honor its authors.


After the conference, it was off to see world-famous Butchart Gardens, where I ogled gorgeous vines of golden laburnum.  It’s a poisonous plant, by the way, which was used as a murder weapon (fictionally) in the TV mystery series “Mother Love.”

Finally, no set of travel photos is complete without at least one shot of food:

Crab legs, anyone?

20 thoughts on “Bloody Words Conference

  1. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Thanks so much for that explanation of the invisible barrier between Canadian authors and the US market – that explains a lot.

    And it's very obvious you had a great trip – you look so happy and beautiful in those pix!

  2. Larry Gasper

    Tess, it was great meeting you in Victoria. It definitely was an enjoyable conference, and one of the highlights for me was your conversation with Grant McKenzie. I'm glad you mentioned the problems with e-books for Canadian writers. Another one is getting a tax number from the IRS so you can get back the withholding tax from Amazon. The IRS seems to work at the same speed as Revenue Canada, which is dead slow. I'm also glad you mentioned Chronicles in Crime. It is truly a great mystery book store.

  3. CarlC

    Wow, Tess, wish I'd known you were going to be in Victoria. We're just across the Strait of Juan de Fuca, on Dungeness Bay, and can see Victoria from our front porch (20 or so miles across). It would have been easy to catch the ferry over to Victoria to try to catch up with you, if only we'd known. I agree totally with your views on the "niceness" of Canadians. We always enjoy visiting over there, though it doesn't happen often enough. Glad you got to enjoy your time in Victoria.

  4. Reine

    Hi Tess,

    This is hugely interesting! I am surprised by the genre publishing problems for Canadian writers. I seek them out myself directly, through indie bookstores or It does take some effort that way, but is well worth it.

    Just started your book, THE KEEPSAKE – totally brilliant.

    Wonderful pics! I love your clothes, too – really nice tees.

  5. Matt

    Mmm – Crab Legs are absolutely delicious. I'm happy you enjoyed your visit to Canada and had such nice things to say. 🙂

  6. Zoë Sharp

    Looks like a fabulous trip, Tess, and you do look very happy and laid back. How were the crab legs, by the way?

    And what did the booksellers have to say about what's hot and what's not? Do tell!

  7. tess gerritsen

    Loved the crab legs!

    As for what's hot, there was a nod toward historical mysteries, YA, and an acknowledgment that paranormals are still going strong.

  8. Laura

    Looks like you had a wonderful time! I love travel photos. 🙂
    I'm very excited for your upcoming visit to Australia!

  9. Debbie

    I'm sorry that your visit started with lost luggage. <—see that polite Canadian apology thing? <grin> Glad that you had a good visit and thanks for all the compliments about Canadians!

  10. Pari Noskin

    Sounds like a wonderful trip! And thank you for giving me even more Canadian authors to look for and read!

  11. Rebecca Bradley

    I loved reading this and seeing the photographs. Thank you for sharing.

    I'm going to my first crime writing festival in the UK shortly and I'm really looking forward to it. There are several panels listed and now I know why!

    Thanks again.


  12. Pam Barnsley

    Thanks for your kind words about Canadians, Tess, and for posting photos. Bloody Words was a fun and interesting conference, and your presence there made it especially so. Thanks for being our Guest of Honour (pesky Canadian spelling….), and for all the great stories.

  13. Brenda Buchanan

    Went to Bloody Words in Ottawa two years ago and had such a wonderful time. The experience turned me on to a bunch of great Canadian mystery/crime writers and you are so right, they deserve a bigger audience. It would be wonderful to find a way to support them in broadening their reach into the US market.

    Brenda Buchanan

  14. Deborah Piccurelli


    Love the pics! As others have said, you do look fabulous and rested. Thank you for sharing about Canadians and their publishing woes. So glad you had a great time!

  15. Sandie Herron

    Tess, it is delightful seeing you look good and feel good and having a good time. I'm with everyone else saying you surely deserved the goof time.

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