Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Bouchercon - Day 2 (Friday)

Update: I realized that I had included meeting Matt Coyle, my editor on LAst Resort, on this post. That didn't happen until Saturday, so I moved it to the Day 3 post. This is what happens when you recap several weeks after the fact. And also because Bouchercon is so overwhelming at times it turns into a blur.

Speaking of LAst Resort I ran into Rochelle Staub, President of Sisters in Crime Los Angeles, and she had spectacular news about who is writing the forward/introduction for the anthology. It hasn't been officially announced, so I don't want to say anything, but let's just say my jaw just about hit the floor. Definitely raises the book's profile. It also means that my story will be read by one of the most successful writers alive. So very, very cool. I asked her about the cover art and she told me it resembles the cover of Hotel California, which I think sounds awesome. LAst Resort will be released in early April 2017 and will be available for pre-order 6-8 weeks prior to that.

And now, panels!

Writing Groups: Our Experience Forming and Running a Group
Eleanor Cawood Jones (moderator), Donna Andrews, Ellen Crosby, John Gilstrap, Alan Orloff, Art Taylor

The panelists (with the exception of moderator Jones) have been in a writing/critique group for six years. They shared their experience and advice.

  • They meet monthly and schedule several months in advance. Attendance is about 95%.
  • Andrews: "What's said in group stays in group."
  • When they formed the group, they selected all writers who had already been published in order to avoid tension over success or lack thereof. They recommended that if you're starting a group to have writers with similar experience (new and experienced is a bad mix). They also live in the same area, so getting together is doable. They also decided to meet at Gilstrap's house because he commutes to and from Washington DC, so this makes it easier for him to make the meetings.
  • Orloff: "I know everyone in this group has my back."
  • They all indicated that they have learned a lot about writing from the critiques they've received from the group over time. 

You Always Hurt The One You Love: Messing With Your Protagonist
Karen McInnery (moderator), Jeff Abbott, Laura Benedict, Cara Black, Susan Elia MacNeal, Michael Wiley

The worst thing they've done to their protagonists:
Wiley: He's divorced, but still in love with his ex-wife.
Black: Internal pain and loss of her parents and fiancee.
Benedict: Rape, loss of child.
MacNeal: Made her kill a man.
Abbott: Pregnant wife kidnapped, brother killed on video by terrorists.

And why:
Abbott: "I have pages to fill."
Benedict: Conflict moves the story forward. Bad things are going to happen, but revenge is sweet.
Wiley: Facing fears and overcoming them is important.
MacNeal: Likes the idea of ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances. "What would you do?"
Black: Arc of her story is characters learning about themselves.

On the subject of going too far, or at least considering it and then pulling back:
Benedict: Her agent once told her that a decapitation in her story was okay, but rolling the head across the floor to the heroine was a bit much.
Black: Had a pregnant woman in an ambulance but couldn't decide if the baby was going to live. Her agent: "Yes, the baby will live."
Wiley: Wouldn't kill a dog for the longest time, and when he finally did, he made it a bad dog. Won't go after kids. Also feels there's a difference between something horrific happening onstage as opposed to offstage.

Have they ever cried about something they did to a character?
Abbott: Had to kill off a character he loved and had to walk away from his computer.
MacNeal: Just killed off a major character and all she could think about was his mom.
Benedict: Recently killed off a young character and it made her feel sad.
Black: Killed off a character and made her agent cry.
Wiley: Killed off a secondary character once and got a letter from a reader complaining that she had been in love with the character and wanted to kill Wiley for offing him.

Dirty Boulevard: Hard Boiled
Susan Alice Bickford (moderator), Craig Faustus Buck, Rob Hart, Barbara N.S. Nickless, Lisa Turner

  • Buck and Hart when asked about the difference between hard-boiled and noir, cited editor Otto Penzler's take on noir: that it's about losers and everyone is doomed. Hart feels that hard boiled stories are about winners who feel their moral compass is superior to others. Buck also feels that noir has a certain hipness.
  • Hart on archetypes: The hard-boiled private investigator, the gunslinger, the hero - important that they have a disconnect from the world. Orphans, children of tragedy or estranged from their families. 
  • Nickless believes the "lone hero" is an American thing - cited Shane as an example of a story in which the hero comes in, saves everyone, then rides off into the sunset alone.
  • Buck noted that a hard-boiled protagonist can't be a normal, well-balanced guy. Stories need conflict, and that's hard to do if everything is rosy.

Common People: Amateur Sleuths
Clea Simon (moderator), Tim O'Mara, Marcia Talley, Con Lehane, Suzanne Trauth, Susan Oleksliw

On their amateur sleuths:
Trauth: Sleuth is a restaurant manager - her hook is her organizational skills.
O'Mara: His protagonist is a New York City schoolteacher/former cop. O'Mara himself is a long-time NYC teacher and said that there isn't much difference between being a teacher or a cop in NYC. Had a cop in his classroom one day and at the end of her visit she asked him, "How do you do it?" His brother is also an NYC cop.
Oleksliw: Her sleuth is a photographer. Oleksliw uses her camera as a character.
Talley: Librarian - research is her strength.
Lehane: Sleuth is a Library Crime Fiction Coordinator.

Justifying the continuing involvement of an amateur sleuth in stories and series:
Trauth: Give protagonist an emotional imperative in relationship to the crime. A driven personality helps too.
Talley: Try to make her involvement logical (friend, family or self in danger or under suspicion).

Other points made:
  • Talley: If using a real location, be as accurate as possible. She has noted things as specific as where a coke machine is located in the waiting room of an ER. If you get something wrong, someone will let you know about it.
  • Amateur sleuths are usually softer than sleuths in other sub-genres of mystery and crime. Think Agatha Christie's sleuths.
  • Talley often auctions off characters names as fundraisers. Usually the "winners" ask to be murder victims. Was once asked if she could off the person's ex-husband in the story. She did.

Next up: Saturday panels!

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