Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Anthony Awards.....

As a true testament to “fandom” the first wave of Anthony Ballots are in the mail. It is a testament that John Purcell, the 2008 Anthony Chair and “Old Beeg” are getting these out to you. Up until a month ago we all believed we’d be doing this with a great friend who’d done it before. Sadly, Soren won’t be joining us. He did however give John the knowledge he had to have before he left us. True fandom. So, if you saw your name on the list of registrants before or on Feb 20th start thinking of what books and stories captured your heart in 2007. We will be sending ballots out from here on in small batches, all will be numbered and if you have any questions at all, you may contact John at his e-mail which is on the ballots.

This year the Awards are: Best Novel, Best First Novel, Best Paperback Original, Best Short Story, Best Critical Work-Non Fiction, Special Service Award and Best Mystery Web Site/Blog. The final category was a no-brainer to the committee. For fifteen years we’ve kept up with our community on-line and the people who bring this information to us deserve to and should be recognized by the mystery community.

Today also marks the beginning of a segment we're calling Bouchecon Memories. I'll post a memory a day for the forseeable future and I invite all to contribute their own.

We're going to start with Reed Farrel Coleman (His new book, EMPTY EVER AFTER is coming out from Bleak House Books in March). The following is an article Reed wrote for Crimespree long time gone (shout out to P.B.), our first issue. He asked me to include the following forward.

Bouchercon Austin seems like several lifetimes ago, but it was one of the
greatest experiences I've had. It is no exaggeration to say that it changed
my career and my life, both for the better. I made friends during those few
days that have mentored me, nurtured me, and been there for me ever since.
During my time at Bcon Austin I was taken into the mystery community with
open arms and complete acceptance. It was that generosity of spirit which
set me on the course to pay back that loving debt through service in MWA.
Bouchercon is a perfect storm of friends and fans, of readers and writers,
of drinks and dreams. Baltimore, here I come.

Very Pro Bouchercon
By Reed Farrel Coleman

In spite of what you might have heard, there are certain comforts to middle age. Just surviving till forty imbues you with a sort of weary serenity. You’ve been around the block and don’t sweat the small things quite so much. You’ve survived acne, probably marriage, maybe kids and jobs you’ve hated. You realize that neither the loss of love nor your hair is apt to be fatal. The kind of panic you felt everyday in high school is now a distant, almost fond, memory. Yeah, well, then you can imagine my surprise at the utter panic I suffered as I sat in the lobby of a hotel on the outskirts of Austin, Texas.

It was October 2002 and I had just checked in for Bouchercon 33. I was forty-six years old at the time and sick with fear. All I could think about was how to get out of there and how to explain my premature departure to the publicity department at Plume. It was the head of publicity there who had suggested, demanded actually, that I attend Bouchercon in the first place. Although it would be several months until my first Plume product, the paperback of Walking the Perfect Square, was due out, he said I needed to show my face, get to know the fans and booksellers, other writers.

Fans! Who was he kidding? I didn’t have fans. During the first ten years of my illustrious career, I received a whopping five fan letters(not all positive, by the way). That’s one every two years for those of you math challenged folks out there like me. Even beyond my skepticism about fans was my fear of dealing with the booksellers. My early novels were published by a small press. That meant very little money and less publicity. No publicity meant I was forced to walk into stores, mostly mega-stores, and beg to have them carry my books and/or to have me in for signings. Though I had some great experiences, I had several that were rather demeaning.

The thing I was most panicked about, however, was the prospect of dealing with other mystery writers. I didn’t know any, not really. I had once shared dinner with a group of people on Long Island that included John Westerman and K.J.A. Wishnia, but that was the sum total of my experience with fellow mystery writers. Forget that I didn’t know any of them. None of them were going to know me or about me, my work, my. . . I envisioned spending the next three days explaining myself, justifying my presence, trying to get out of Dodge without embarrassing myself too badly.

I didn’t run. I wanted to, but I didn’t. I was from Brooklyn, after all. I worked the cargo area of Kennedy Airport for four years. I drove a forty thousand pound Mack Truck. I wrote hard boiled detective novels. I spent an hour in that lobby pumping myself up. Four o’clock arrived. Time for my panel. Oh God!

But the panel was great. Don Bruns, David and Jan Grape, the writers with whom I shared the dais, couldn’t have been more friendly and accepting. The room was packed and the audience was attentive. They asked insightful questions, some actually directed at me. There were even people in the audience who’d read my books! Some had brought the books with them for me to sign.
In the signing room, I noticed another writer autographing a book entitled, Red Hook. I asked him if the title referred to Red Hook, Brooklyn. He said it did and I explained that I too was from Brooklyn and that my novels took place there. That author was Gabriel Cohen, of course. We exchanged books, and agreed to meet the following day. On Friday, Gabriel took me from panel to panel, introducing me to writers he knew. Encouraged by Gabriel, I introduced myself to a few booksellers. Though many didn’t have my last book, they all knew who I was and all seemed anxious for the arrival of my next work.

Later that day, I played in the annual basketball game. Here I was on the court with Edgar, Shamus, Anthony and Hammett winners. There were fans, booksellers, and reviewers. No one asked for my credentials. All anyone cared about was my jump shot. So here I was in some schoolyard in Austin, Texas playing b-ball with S.J Rozan, Steve Hamilton, Lise McClendon, Katy Munger, Gabriel Cohen. . . On the ride back to the hotel, all Steve Hamilton was interested in was where in Michigan my wife was from and if I played golf.

I was suddenly a part of things not apart from things. Steve Hamilton introduced me to George Pelacanos. George remembered me from his panel earlier in the day and complimented me on asking him a good question. Katy Munger and Lise McClendon adopted me as Gabriel had and took me to several parties, introduced me to their friends, made me feel comfortable.

On Saturday, Gabriel and I made it a point to attend a panel about how to deal with the subject of 9/11. In less than thirty-six hours, I had been transformed. No longer did I want to run from things, but to them. I was a New York writer just like S.J. or Gabriel or Lawrence Block. It no longer seemed to matter who my publisher was or had been or might someday be. It was about the writing and the writers, regardless of status.

The point of all this is not to see how many names I can drop. On the contrary, I didn’t know who most of these people were when we met. All I knew about them and all they knew about me was that we were writers. We all faced the same hurdles, experienced the same joys, insecurities, struggles. We drank together, exchanged stories about agents and editors, about signings, rejections and triumphs.

No one, as far as I could tell, was interested in a pissing contest. We were all in it alone, but we were alone together. For the first time since I started writing in high school, I was made to feel part of a community. In Las Vegas, I tried to return the kindness that the folks I’ve mentioned extended to me. As I discovered, my initial experience in Austin is not terribly uncommon.

Beyond gaining a sense of community, there are several less lofty reasons why attending Bouchercon is a worthwhile venture for writers and for their publishers. In these days of shrinking publicity budgets and author-financed book tours, I would argue that the thousand dollar expenditure per author would be the best investment a publisher could make in their

Blurbs, for instance, are a very thorny issue. While many writers would argue that they have limited value, marketing people will tell you they are crucial, especially in piquing the interest of booksellers. Well, three out of the four blurbs that will appear on the dust jacket of my next Moe Prager Mystery, Redemption Street (Viking, March 2004), were supplied by authors I met at Bouchercon Austin. Don’t misunderstand, these blurbs were not given out of a sense of charity or friendship or duty. Some of my Austin acquaintances were polite and forthright in declining my request. That’s the point. Because I had attended Bouchercon and met a broad range of authors over a short period of time, I was afforded the luxury of being able to absorb a few rejections. At least I knew people to ask. I am confident that I would not have been nearly as successful in obtaining these blurbs without Bouchercon.

Although I didn’t spend nearly enough time with the booksellers in Austin, I corrected that mistake in Las Vegas. Though the mystery genre is far from a cottage industry, you cannot underestimate the value of hand-selling books. The bottom line is, people who know an author personally are more apt to hand sell his or her books than those of a stranger. And when it comes time to tour your book, booksellers who know you are more willing to have you in.

Ah, touring your book! Given the harsh reality that almost all book tours are now author-financed, the free flow of information between authors about touring is essential. Bouchercon is the perfect venue for establishing connections between authors and the sharing of data about bookstores, fans, cities, etc. I am in the process of booking a tour for Redemption Street. At Bouchercon Las Vegas I had the good fortune of meeting Jim Fusilli. Jim, as it happened, was in the midst of a self-booked tour for his latest novel, Tribeca Blues. When we got back to New York, Jim generously shared the details of his tour. He gave me a list of stores, contact names, suggestions on places to stay, where to eat. . . This information has helped streamline the usually cumbersome tour booking process.

Bouchercon is an important event to attend for the reasons I’ve stated and for many which I had neither the time nor space to discuss. It’s wonderful for a writer’s self-confidence and, perhaps, more importantly, to deconstruct the walls of self-inflicted and unavoidable isolation. Yet, as important as Bouchercon may be for a writer’s head, it may, in fact be, more beneficial to his or her finances.


Post a Comment

<< Home