What I learned at Bouchercon

by Alexandra Sokoloff

St. Louis has a much prettier downtown than I ever would have guessed. Great architecture.

However, all the women dress like 1980’s hookers at night (just agreeing with Greg Hurwitz, there).

All male authors would give it up (writing) in a heartbeat to be rock stars (Mark Billingham).

Always keep asking for the hotel you really want and you’ll get it (the suites were dreamy.)

The world may be crumbling but people are still reading my books and happy to see me.

Always be aware of readers hovering who are too shy to talk to you unless you make eye contact and smile or sometimes walk right over and pull up a chair.

Never, ever miss a panel that Val McDermid is on.  You will always get the best writing advice and the best laughs of your life.

Ditto Harlan Coben.

There are good moderators, stellar moderators (Tom Schreck, Hank Philippi Ryan) and moderators who should never be let near a microphone, let alone called upon to moderate.

And: it is the panelists’ responsibility to take control of the panel if they are so unfortunate as to end up on a panel with a bad moderator.  We owe that to the audience.

There are few thrills as great as being up on a panel and seeing people in the audience pull out their Kindles and order my books as I’m speaking.

There will always be one day that the hotel is so cold it will take the rest of the conference to thaw out. Not bringing a coat is suicidal.

If you wait long enough, misogynists do accrue a critical mass of fury and bad karma and get their comeuppance.

Always go to the one-on-one interviews.

Always go to the heavy-hitters panel.

It’s sad when Lee Child isn’t there.

If I were casting Ridley Pearson it would hands-down be Tom Hanks.

I’m not the only one who is outraged that anyone could hold Lisbeth Salander up as this feminist heroine when the first thing she does in the second book is get a boob job to feel better about herself (Thank you, Karin Slaughter).

Nothing makes me happier than seeing teenage girls so into reading.

There is no better place to meet British men.

Weather.com lies.

You will always get EXACTLY the information/information/kick in the ass that you need  (thanks, Harlan).

There is no better way to find new favorite authors. (Last year, RJ Ellory, the year before, Mo Hayder, this year I suspect it will be Colin Cotterill and Simon Toyne.  Yes, I love those Brits.)

Steve Schwartz would rather go to Ireland for 3 weeks than to St. Louis for four days, even though ALL HIS FRIENDS WERE THERE.

I might move back to San Francisco just to hang out with Michelle Gagnon, Sophie Littlefield and Juliet Blackwell.

I need to go clothes shopping with Rae Helmsworth and Maddee James.

If you set an intention to meet someone, they will walk up to you in the bar and start a two-hour conversation.

If you don’t, you’ll meet someone just as great.

There are not enough hours in a day.

Even if you feel near death you can still achieve major enlightenment by half-sleeping in panels and letting your mind drift to your book.

Be that as it may, I will never make it to an 8 a.m. panel that I am not actually on.

Not just me, but everyone I know in this community pines for a recreation of the first Thrillerfest.  That would be in Phoenix, people.  PHOENIX.

Sex happens.  (Okay, I knew that.)

It majorly sucks but is also strangely comforting to hear from Those Who Know that writing is just hard. Hard, hard, hard.  And it never gets any easier.  But at least we’re not suffering alone.

I would rather dance than eat. 

However, if you want to eat well and laugh lots, follow JT Ellison.

We owe Judy Bobalik, Ruth Jordan, and Jon Jordan more drinks and massages than we can possibly pay out.

Mystery authors have the greatest life on the planet.

I love you guys.

Never, ever miss it.


Of course, my question today is – What did YOU learn at Bouchercon?  Or give us a few gems from other cons.  We can create our own McGuffey Reader, right here.


38 thoughts on “What I learned at Bouchercon

  1. Louise Ure

    "If you wait long enough, misogynists do accrue a critical mass of fury and bad karma and get their comeuppance." Oh, I'd love to know the details behind this one! Do tell, Alex. Or at least hint.

  2. Sarah W

    I'm with Louise! You don't have to name names, but I'd love to hear some details.

    I'd add that following Parnell Hall practically guarantees laughing until you cry. He nearly hijacked "Laughter of the Clowns," which he wasn't even *on,* so I went to "Mermaids Singing" because he was. Holy cow—the stories from Val McDermid and John Gilstrap (who may be the most drily funny man on earth) and the Todds . . . I had to stilfle my own sobbing giggles so I wouldn't miss anything.

  3. Rae

    Thanks for the shout out, Alex, happy to go shopping any time 😉

    And can we start a petition for another Thrillerfest in Phoenix? That was some kinda good time.

  4. JT Ellison

    Alex, that's how I want to be remembered – good food, good wine, and a lot of laughter – that dinner was so much fun!

    What I learned – I'm with you on all of that, actually. One of my best events was off site but I missed almost all day of the conference, and a lot of fun panels, so next time I'll work on scheduling.

    Yes, can we PLEASE have another hot Thrillerfest? I mean really, people pay to do hot Yoga…

    And yes, what's with the Brits and their fabulous hair????

    Also, you must schedule one late night in the bar per conference. I know people do 4 late nights, but that would kill me, so I just schedule one. It was Friday this year, and ridiculously fun. xoxo

  5. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Sarah W, the one that had me laughing until I was sick was the one Hank moderated with Joe Finder, Jeff Abbott, Harlan Coben and Steve Hamilton. I really thought I was going to pass out, but I also got the best writing inspiration from that one.

    Well, and the one with Val and Laura Lippman.

  6. Lisa Alber

    Yes, there must be many a good story underlying this Bouchercon roundup! Great recap.

    I agree about Val McD. I didn't go to St. Louis but went to S.F. last year: she was funny and bright, as were so many for the authors.

    I wrote down a few things I learned…Does it still count if they came from S.F.? Actually, looking through my notebook, I see a note to check out your blog, "The Dark Salon." 🙂

    I wrote this down from Kevin Guilfoile: "An editor's job is to show you the relationship between your story and the reader."

    And from Denise Mina: "The novelist's job is to make the unexpected seem inevitable."

    Talking to Stephen, he advocated hiring your own publicist. For his first novel (if I remember correctly), he hired one who specialized in California while the publisher's publicist work on the rest of the U.S.

  7. Tom

    You learned nothing important, X; you haven't mentioned Ted Drewes' Frozen Custard. And you could have danced in the parking lot to make up for the calories.

  8. David Corbett

    I will second the "sometimes you have to hijack a panel to save it" dictum. I'll say no more.

    It is safer to stagger back to your hotel at 4 AM in downtown St. Louis than many would have you believe — even when you start off in the wrong direction and have to backtrack half a mile, though God does smile on drunks, fools and Irishmen. (Note: stay away from tequila gimlets, no matter how charming and lovely the young ladies from Philadelphia who urge you to join them may be.)

    If you want an opinion, stand near John Connolly. And prepare to engage. And laugh.

    Maddee James and Harley Kozak are the best friends a guy ever had. I adore them both. And miss them to pieces. My sisters.

    RJ Ellory may be a fine writer, but he did himself no favors with his behavior. He tried to tell Martyn Waites that Maddee James was "dying to sleep with him" based on a conversation they were having in the bar — Maddee is Martyn's webmaven, and they're very good friends — and nothing Martyn could say could get RJ off this nonsense. But even worse than that, RJ became the butt of everyone's jokes with his comment, "I'm a god in France." To which I remarked, "Yes, but in France, that's how they insult you." (And "rap" doesn't mean "rhythm and poetry," you chucklehead.)

    If you remark to Megan Abbott that you really didn't need in your head the image of a homoerotic relationship between Edward G. Robinson and Fred MacMurray, she will charmingly, as only she can, shoot back, "Well, maybe you should look into that."

    I second Alex's love affair with the Brits, but I extend it to the Irish and the Scots. Stuart Neville is a prince, Russel McLean a charming rogue, and Martyn Waites the most graciously funny charming and very tall man in the world. Clea Koff is beautiful and smart with stories that will make your hair stand on end. (Your hair, not mine, obviously.) She was gushingly grateful because I introduced her to Deborah Crombie. This is a forensic anthropologist who at age 23 was a member of a crack UN team sent to Rwanda, acting like a schoolgirl with a crush.

    What the folks at Severn House don't provide in advances they make up for in, I dunno, love. Can't live on love, I realize, but it sadly matters more than one would think. (And everyone who knows Gar or his writing admires him, btw. For good reason. You were spoken of glowingly, good sir.) Kate Lyall Grant in particular is a gem.

    If you have a breakfast meeting with an editor/publisher, hope to god her earlier appointment doesn't oversleep from a hangover — and then show up during your hour so he can profusely and repeatedly — if charmingly — apologize. (If this does happen, roll with the punches. Enjoy your eggs benedict with tri-tip instead of Canadian bacon. Only in the Midwest.)

    If you schedule anything with Scott Phillips, have a back-up plan.

    Laura Caldwell is the hardest working woman in real life + show business. Working death penalty appeals and cranking out two books a year. I feel like such a slacker. (And she's gorgeous.)

    Daniel Woodrell is as gracious and warm a human being as God ever put on this planet, with the possible exception of Deborah Crombie. And Sean Doolittle.

    For all her trampy brashness and kinkiness, Christa Faust is really a small-town girl. Of course, the small town in question can only be found in a Jim Thompson novel.

    I also second Alex's remarks re: the big guns panel — and the one this year was notable especially for the humility of its participants.

    It's easier to miss having a drink with someone than you think. (Sorry, Jonathan.) The bar is a black hole.

    Crime writers are indeed as worthy a tribe as one could hope to belong to. I'm grateful.

    The Jordans can never be repaid for all they do, but we must all spend the rest of our lives trying.

    P.S. Alex, if you come to SF, don't forget Lisa Lutz and Domenic Stansberry and Eddie Muller and Cara Black and Kirk Russell and and … me? (Michelle and I are doing a reading together with Barry Gifford at Litquake on October 9th. Come up for that.)

  9. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    I learned that I really, really missed seeing my friends at Bouchercon.
    On the other hand, Ireland…well, I might just retire in Ireland one of these days. And maybe we can bring Bouchercon to the Ring of Kerry.

  10. Alexandra Sokoloff

    JT is so right about the late night. You lose the next day but it must be done.

    Yes, the Brits have the hair thing won but the Irish do, too, and I'm just as much a fan there. And the Scots, obviously. All those islanders.

  11. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Yes, David, I know there are many more of you in SF to want to be there for – I just have dancing on the brain.

    No way I can come up in October. 🙁 Booked solid – occupational hazard of writing spooky.

  12. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Lisa, some great tips! I especially love that from Guilfoile: "An editor's job is to show you the relationship between your story and the reader."

    Last year everything that came out of Denise Mina's mouth was gold, but what I really took to heart was: "Write about what makes you furious."

  13. Reine

    Alex, if Thrillerfest ever returns to Phoenix, I'll be there for sure. Although Corbett's post scares me a bit.

  14. Judy Bobalik

    I believe I can speak for Jon and Ruth Jordan when I say we do this because we love you. The crime fiction community is our family. (Even the crazy ones)

  15. Karen Olson

    Alex, always great to see you! What I learned at Bcon is more what I already knew: The mystery community is full of fabulous people who always know how to have a good time.

  16. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Hey Karen,you too – and I know – it's just such a great thing to be able to depend on everyone being there and being wonderful.

    Aw, Keith, it's never the same without you. LCC, though – no excuse this year.

    Lisa, the ony damn problem with Denise Mina is she doesn't write fast enough! Not really much of a problem, though, because I can read her over and over and never get tired.

  17. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Alex

    I was devastated to end up in a meeting and miss our Sat get together in the bar, but at least we did manage to hook up, however briefly.

    And David, I'm equally devasted to be missed off your list of entertaining Brits. <sigh> How quickly they forget …

    But I totally agree with your comments about the behaviour of certain authors. I could name another who needs his legs slapped for getting uppity at B'con.

  18. David Corbett

    Dearest Zoe:

    I admit, and apologize, I did not state this overtly — I did not name Brits/Scots/Irish with whom I already have established a strong and fond acquaintance, such as you, Mark Billingham, Val McDermid, John Connolly (in this context). Rather I mentioned those whom I got to know much better this time around in St. Louis. So you were not forgotten — and could not be. But again, I apologize for not being clear.


  19. JJ

    Yes, YES! Another Phoenix Thrillerfest, please. I'd sign the petition. So many of us can't get to NYC. And we're missing the fun!

  20. Mary Quite Contrary

    What I learned at Bouchercon…

    Take your Kindle to all panel discussions so you can download books by the panelists. Downloading the panelists books during the session makes them smile, but it's a bitch to get it signed.

    Don't leave an expensive necklace on the nightstand wrapped in paper so it doesn't get kinked up

    If housekeeping accidentally throws away your expensive necklace and you have to file a police report, be kind to the cop, his job sucks. Officer X was harried, burned out and stressed, but still managed civil on my very non-emergency call. As he left I said "be safe officer". He answered "thanks, enjoy our cesspool of a city." Yes, he really said that. No, you can't use it in your next book.

    If you're chatting with someone and their eyes repeatedly drift over your shoulder to see if someone more interesting has come in the room, move on. Life is too short to swim in the shallow end of the pool.

    The Irish\Brit\Scot contingent were an absolute delight. Val McDermid is funny beyond my ability to describe. Her story about an overheard conversation in a steam room had me laughing till it hurt.

    When Val McDermid is signing a book for you, if you're starstruck and call her Val Kilmer by mistake, she won't embarrass you by mentioning it. But your friend standing behind you will never let you forget it.

    If you are late for a panel and get seated for lunch at a chilly table outside a crappy bar it will begin to rain, roaring traffic will prevent all conversation, and a brilliant waiter will forget you completely for at least 30 minutes. If this happens, be having lunch with Simon Wood. He'll show you his drawrings, make you laugh, and prevent you hurting the brilliant waiter.

    If you are hesitant to talk to Mark Billingham because you may go fangirl on him, he will be seated next to you on the flight home. The awkward picture he graciously allows you to take as you're getting off the plane will not save to your memory card. (no, I didn't talk to him the whole time)

    Robert Crais will not let you buy him a drink. It might have just been me. It was probably just me. Okay, it was me.

    Do not, under any circumstances, say the word "kindle" in the book room.

    Brilliant, talented authors who are wonderful and kind one-on-one can come off very badly in discussion panels.

    Some of the moderators should be taken out and smacked. I'll do it.

    I'm missed Lee Child, but I'm happy for him that he wasn't there. The Tom Cruise\Jack Reacher panel would have been bloody debacle.

    Read everything Bobby McCue or Ali Kareem tell you to read.

    David Corbett is a good, kind man, and his name is not Colin.

    The staff of Starbucks in the Renaissance Hotel in St Louis work their asses off…I've never waited longer for a coffee or tipped more for it.

    If your top read of the year was THE END OF EVERYTHING you will not see Megan Abbot anywhere.

    Have sympathy for the mature lady at the counter in the Starbucks mayhem. She is clearly out of her comfort zone. Be kind and keep your mouth shut when she tells the customer leaving that he dropped a dollar on the counter by mistake. When she leaves, tip on her behalf. She grew up during the depression. You will be in her sensible shoes some day.

    The people who work for years to pull off the conference are amazing.

    JT Ellison is very nice and seems like she would be great fun to hang out with. Alex Sokoloff is great fun to hang out with; she's also lovely and charming. Chelsea Cain still scares me just a bit.

    Most people, even in the mid west, have not experienced cow-tipping and are very curious how it should be done.

    With apologies to my husband, making new friends and enjoying old friends at Bouchercon is some of the best fun I have all year. Sorry honey.

  21. David Corbett

    Dear Mary QC:

    Thank you for your very kind (aka delusional) words. What a shame about Megan — she left early on Saturday, I understand. And what a triple shame about Mark, who is probably one of the most approachable people in the whole community. Don't worry, he'll be back. Plenty of time to muster up your nerve.

  22. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Mary, what a brilliant post! I want to have YOUR BCon experience! (I'm pretty sure I would have been struck equally dumb if seated next to Mark Billingham on a plane. Or worse, I would have talked….)

    It was great to hang a bit with you, too. I HATE that we ever have to leave.

  23. Mary Quite Contrary

    Sadly, you are not the first person to suggest I may be delusional. You're not even the first person today, but it's early on the west coast. I read THE END OF EVERYTHING months and months ago, and it is still kicking around inside my head. I wanted to tell her that.

    No, your post was brilliant and I want to have your BCon experience. Sex definitely did not happen. Not a smidgen. It wasn't even on my program guide! I was patted down very thoroughly at airport security, but that's as close as I got.

    About Mr. B- I did gather my wits and manage a brief, polite chat during landing. He was charming. I wanted to gush, fawn, and emphatically communicate my devotion to Tom Thorne. A combination of self-control and fear prevented it; mostly fear that I would read a blog post about the mad woman he sat with on the plane.

    It was so much fun, I have the post-Bouchercon blues! On the upside, I have new authors to explore and many new books to read! Wonderful meeting you both.

  24. Colleen

    You guys have covered a lot, but here are mine that have not been mentioned.

    Your first Bouchercon will triple your reading list, and make you want to go to every single one held in your lifetime.

    Even if you don't hurt, and are not having a crappy day, or sitting outside, have lunch with Simon Wood. Then go to his signing and ask him if he's related to Stuart Wood, he loves that.

    The author you are incredibly excited will be there may not make it, but you probably won't notice.

    The guy who wrote the book you are listening to is (thankfully) NOT staying in the hotel room next to you.

    If you discover a brand new (to fiction) author who's first book is just the sort of thing you like, buy it and have her sign it, you may find out you are only the second person to do so.

    Don't leave the day the conference ends, you will miss spending a little time with the amazing people who put the whole thing together as they finally get to catch their breath.

    Authors are just as excited to hear you say "I love your books" as you are to tell them so in person.

    Sometimes going to the less popular panel means you get to hear some things a lot of people miss.

    During the panel on Witnesses is not the time to ask Taylor Stevens the things you need to know to start your own cult. She is a very nice lady, who wants to talk about books.

    Jeremy Lynch's version of how I won the auction basket is far more entertaining than my own.

    If they do another bowling tournament it should be with Bumpers.

    J T Ellison knows how to help you get your kindle book signed digitally

    Shipping a signed book to Ireland is going to cost twice as much as buying the first edition in the book room. But the excitement when they open the book (that happens to be the one they have not read) and see it is signed by the author makes up for that.

    You will go home with at least two books in every piece of luggage.

    I agree with Mary, somehow I missed the sex.

    I am not sure if I am more bummed it is over, or that now I have no time to read all these new books thanks to my work schedule. I cannot wait for next year.


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