Saturday, March 22, 2008

Bouchercon Memories. California Here We Come

Oline H. Cogdill is the mystery fiction columnist for the Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Her reviews also are picked up by about 250 newspapers around the world. Her blog is at That's Oline's bio. Short and Succient. It should be mentioned here that Oline is a reviewers' reviewer. Her insight into the books we read is amazing and her standards are high. And her love for crime fiction? Endless... Enjoy the weekend and I'll be back on Monday. Ruth

My first Bouchercon was the 1997 Monterrey conference chaired by the charming and gracious Toby and Bill Gottfried. I will never forget that lovely couple’s kindness to me and their ability to be the epitome of grace under pressure.

I had just been reviewing for about three or four years at that time and, frankly, didn’t really know Bouchercon was until an author explained it to me. (Keep in mind, this was a long time ago; I had just discovered the wonderful DorothyL!)

My husband and I had just been married a year and decided to go. We both love California, especially the Monterrey area. Fortunately, he’s as big a mystery fan as I am. We first spent a lovely week first in San Jose where we saw a couple of plays (we are also theater people), then Monterrey, Carmel, the Hearst castle and wondering just what was the Bouchercon going to be.

It was going to be wonderful. I learned I was in a place I pretty much always wanted to be, surrounded by as many mystery authors, booksellers, etc., learning more about the genre, who the up-and-coming authors would be, why the ones who’ve been around for years were still turning out novels that we continue to love. I think that was one of the largest Bouchercons and I think (the Gottfrieds know better than I) that it may have topped 2,300? I remember the book room was so big that my husband and I lost each other for a couple of hours.

I also remember being thrilled to be asked to be on a panel that was moderated by Janet Rudolph. I actually couldn’t believe anyone knew who I was; I also remember having several panic attacks before because (a) it was my first panel; (b) I figured everyone else on the panel knew more than I and (c) why would anyone care what I had to say. I still thank Janet for allowing me to be on that panel.

My husband had been talking to Laura Lippman in the hall and, since they were both journalists talking about the state of newspapers, he mentioned that his wife was on the reviewers’ panel and she actually said, “Is your wife Oline Cogdill?” Like I said, I didn’t think anyone knew my name.

But what I most remember, and have taken bits from each Bouchercon since, is meeting the authors and hearing how they view their work. I still have the tapes from that conference and sometimes re-play them for some insight.

I remember meeting Harlan Coben for the first time. During our conversation a reader came over to congratulate him and instead of talking about the Shamus he had just won for Fade Away, he started talking about his new baby and how thrilled he and his wife were. I thought this guy was pretty cool. Harlan, of course, has gone on to write more novels, win more awards and, most importantly, have more children.

This was the Bouchercon where I met Val McDermid, Nevada Barr, Ian Rankin; had a long conversation with Julie Smith in the hall; talked to Sara Paretsky in the book room; told Charlaine Harris how much I enjoyed her Shakespeare series and she said that her local paper ran my review with the headline “Book readable.”? We still wish we’d taken up Michael Connelly’s offer to sit with him during the awards dinner where he won best novel for The Poet.

I’ve been to each Bouchercon since, except for Alaska and that was because we’d taken a family cruise there the year before, and plan to go to often in the future. My husband often still comes with me or, if it is in the Midwest, my best friend often comes. A few years ago, we started bringing my brother-in-law, Peter, who is high-functioning autistic and a huge fan of the genre. No matter how authors may feel about me (!), everyone is gracious to Peter and I thank them for that.

Each Bouchercon has reinforced my appreciation of the genre. While meeting an author will not influence whether I like the novel or not, it does let me peek behind the curtain. (And, please, don’t offer to buy me a drink or lunch; I’ll drink and eat with you, but I have to pay my own way.)

My reviews are pretty widely published now and the Sun-Sentinel’s Books Editor and I have a books blog ourselves at But what hasn’t changed is my appreciation of Bouchercon. Baltimore, for Bill, Peter and myself, here we come.


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