Saturday, October 17, 2020


The silver lining

When I was young my mom sometimes sang a WWI song to me with the line, “Through every dark cloud there’s a silver lining shining.” I think I found my own silver lining in the pandemic and quarantine. And it’s Zoom.

Yesterday I was on a panel discussing culinary mysteries, part of the annual Bouchercon international mystery convention, named in honor of writer, critic, and editor the late Anthony Boucher. Each year, Bouchercon is in a different city, and a local committee works for two or three years to put together a program. It’s a fan con, designed to attract readers, rather than a writers’ craft workshop. For writers, it’s a prize to be on a panel because it’s a terrific way to say to readers, “Look at me! Read my books!” Rumor has it 800 fans registered this year.

I have only been to Bouchercon once, when it was in Austin, many years ago. A friend and I drove down, and I remember coming home laden down with free books, book bags, lots of bling. I also remember being overwhelmed by the size of the meeting and number of panels available. Back then, I was a fan, directing TCU Press and writing Texas history. I’d never thought of writing a mystery.

By the time I turned my sights to mystery, it was usually too far and too expensive to go to this meeting. I really don’t like to travel alone (I know—reveals the shy girl who lives inside me), especially if there’s flying involved (yes, I’m a white-knuckle flier). And then when walking became difficult for me, I just wrote off the idea of ever going to Bouchercon.

But the pandemic changed everything. This year the Bouchercon committee in San Diego had to switch horses in mid-stream and plan a virtual conference! And voila! I could easily attend from my computer at home. I registered and was fortunate enough to be put on a panel. “Let’s Eat” was moderated by Mary Lee Ashford and panelists included Nancy Parry (aka Nancy Coco), Leslie Karst, Maya Corrigan, Shawn Reilly Simmons, Kaira Rouda, and Bharti Kirschner. Note to mystery readers: look for their books. They offer a wide variety, from Bharti’s set in India to Leslie’s Sally Solari mysteries in Santa Cruz.

Yes, it was intimidating. No, I didn’t disgrace myself, but I didn’t come across as brilliant and scintillating either. As one friend wrote to me, I did just fine. Still, it was fun to hear other authors talk about where they got their ideas, how they incorporate food into mysteries, why culinary mysteries are so popular. And it was great to bring Saving Irene to the attention of readers, most of whom had probably never heard of me and my books.

I spent much of yesterday and today watching panels. I”ve enjoyed discussions about creating fictional small towns, one on “furry friends” in mysteries, one on writing humorous mysteries, and another on marketing. Who knows? I may tune in for the awards ceremony tonight where the coveted Anthony Awards are announced in several categories.

Even if I only went to Bouchercon once, I have been to many writing- and book-related workshops and events over the course of a long career in publishing. For years I was a regular at Western Writers of America, Texas State Historical Association, Texas Institute of Letters, Texas Book Festival. I know that the big attraction at such gatherings is the “schmoozing,” the friends encountered and deals made in the aisles of an exhibit or over a drink in the bar. And of course that’s what’s missing from Zoom conventions. Technology will never replace that, and many will be grateful when we can resume in-person meetings.

Meanwhile, though, technology is offering wonderful opportunities. The complexity that went into planning Bouchercon amazes me—pre-recorded interviews with guests of honor, business meetings, live panels, all with appropriate graphics. A sure-fire way for registered attendees to tune in without difficulty—once my “magic link” didn’t work, but I got a quick message that I needed a new magic link and one appeared promptly in my inbox. I’ve written before about how impressed I am with the technology my church has put in place for remote services—Bouchercon took that technology to an entirely different level. I see a whole new career field for young people—or maybe it’s been there a while and I’m just learning about it. Either way, I’m blown away!

No comments: