What has always amazed me about the crime fiction world, and is probably true of other fiction genres as well, are the number and variety of annual conferences and conventions offering fans—readers and writers, librarians and editors, agents and publishers—opportunities to meet, mingle, and discuss. There’s Left Coast Crime, which takes place in the American Northwest; Malice Domestic in Maryland, which celebrates the “traditional” mystery; ThrillerFest in New York; Murder and Mayhem in Chicago; and New England Crime Bake, to name just a few. Many attendees visit year after year and some are regulars at multiple conventions each year. These become events where long-distance friendships are renewed and, as I’ve experienced myself, newcomers are welcomed. Crime readers and writers are a generous and quirky community.
Carol Puckett is chair of this year’s Bouchercon in Dallas, Texas (Oct. 31-Nov. 3), reportedly the largest mystery convention in the world. She is delighted that of the 1,650 attendees registered so far, 450 will be participating for the first time. Puckett has attended Bouchercon annually since 2002, when the convention was held in Austin, Texas. Since then, it has moved across the country and beyond: from Missouri to Alaska to California, and also to Canada and the U.K. The massive event, with multiple days of author interviews, panels, book signings, awards and parties, is organized by local volunteer committees and takes place in a different city each year. Puckett owned the Adventure Bookshop in Arkansas before moving to Texas, and she and her host committee have been working on organizing Bouchercon 2019 for the past five years. After it’s done, she plans to rest—and read a book.
Bouchercon is named after Anthony Boucher, a mystery writer, critic, editor and ardent fan of the genre. For the convention’s 50th anniversary, its organizers have put together a Historical Alley featuring memorabilia from previous conventions and images of all the Anthony Awards (they’re different each year) presented since 1986 in categories such as Best Novel, Best First Novel, and Best Short Story. The first Best Novel award was won by Sue Grafton for B is for Burglar, the second entry in her now classic Kinsey Millhone “Alphabet” series. More recent winners include Louise Penny for A Great Reckoning and Attica Locke for Bluebird, Bluebird.
Anthony Award nominees are selected by attendees in advance of the convention and voted on by attendees. The winner is selected by readers and fellow writers as well as other members of the industry. Locke wasn’t at Bouchercon when she won last year. She heard the news on Twitter. “Which was strange,” she told me in an email, “but also amazing.” When she attended Bouchercon in 2010, she says, “it was like being let into a secret society. It was the first time I really understood the loyalty and devotion of mystery and crime readers.”
In preparation for Bouchercon 2019, Puckett and her team reviewed five to six years of previous convention surveys and put together a slate of panels that represent different viewpoints, and which they hope will be of interest to fans as well as self-published and traditionally published writers. Each day includes five panel sessions (plus other events), with each session offering about eight different options. There’s everything from “Don’t Quit Your Day Job,” to unreliable narrators, writing for page and screen, Australian crime fiction, and the future of feminist mysteries. There’s a presentation of 10 new ways to poison people, and a look a look at paperback mystery covers from the 1930s to the 1970s.
Puckett has noticed a boost in author diversity this year. New authors are emerging from different walks of life, she said in our conversation, and there’s a “diversity in characters. Authors are writing about everything.” This is reflected in panels such as writing about differently abled characters, and writing for a young adult audience.
In addition to the socializing, panels, awards, and book signings, a major draw of Bouchercon is the guests of honor, who are interviewed one-on-one in front of the audience. Among this year’s guests are James Patterson, for his distinguished contribution to the genre; Peter Lovesey, for lifetime achievement for his Peter Diamond mysteries; Emmy Award-winning investigative journalist and bestselling author Hank Phillipi Ryan; Deborah Crombie, the local guest of honor; and Felix Francis, the international guest of honor, who has continued the series of horse-racing mysteries started by his late father, the legendary Dick Francis.
But it’s not just an opportunity to rub shoulders with one’s favorite bookstore owner, such as McKenna Jordan of Murder By the Book in Houston, Texas, or Charlaine Harris or Sandra Brown or the several hundred other authors in all stages of their careers who attend.
As Kristopher Zgorski of Bolobooks.com puts it: “On your first day, you may feel like that new member of the family who just married the shy second cousin, but give it a few hours and it will soon feel like a full on family reunion with people you have known for decades.”
Mystery correspondent Radha Vatsal is the author of A Front Page Affair and Murder Between the Lines.