“Thinking you have to read all the unread books on your shelves before buying new ones is like thinking a wine connoisseur should drink everything in their cellar before buying any new bottles. Some books just need a bit of shelf-time before they (you) are ready.”
– Bookish wisdom from Shakespeare & Company, Paris, France, quoted by Robert Gray in Shelf Awareness, 11/2/22
Later this week, many readers, authors, and others in the mystery community will be gathering in Tucson for Left Coast Crime, the fan convention held in late winter or spring every year, somewhere in the western part of the US or Canada. (Next year, Seattle!)
LCC was the first “con” I ever attended, eons ago. The fan conventions like LCC, Bouchercon, and Malice Domestic are opportunities for readers to meet authors, as well as for authors and aspiring writers to connect with each other and with booksellers, librarians, reviewers, and others in the community. They are distinct from writers’ conferences, which focus on the craft and business of writing. (Some fan conventions do offer a one-day writing workshop the day before the con begins.)
It’s that reader focus that I love. Programming varies, but the schedule is always full of panel discussions on a range of topics and interviews with the guests of honor. Some include “speed dating” (at Malice, it’s called the Malice Go-Round), where teams of authors go from table to table filled with readers, introducing ourselves and our books and sharing bookmarks and other goodies, in less than two minutes!
Some of the best moments have been chance conversations in the book dealers’ room, the bar, or the coffee shop line. I’ve begun long friendships in the airport shuttle, asked a woman I didn’t know to snug up the back zipper of my dress in the elevator and ended up chatting for an hour, heard about books that were new to me, met fans I didn’t know I had, and so much more.
Writers not yet published may wonder if the fan cons are useful. They are. You may not meet editors or agents — they attend, but are meeting with their own clients, not holding scheduled pitch sessions, although you may strike up a lovely conversation that leads to a connection later. You’ll learn a tremendous amount in the panels about writing and publishing. You’ll begin creating a network, getting to know the community. You’ll come home with ideas for your WIP and six more and a stack of books as tall as you are. All good, right?
Each con has its own flavor. LCC is casual. Malice focuses on the traditional mystery (including the cozy, but not limited to it). Bouchercon is the “world mystery convention” and it’s huge. All are volunteer organizations. Malice stays put in Bethesda, MD; LCC and Bouchercon, usually held in September or October, move around. I love helping stuff book bags if I arrive a day early or volunteering some other way — it’s a great way to meet people and keep the wheels moving.
Whether you’re a reader, writer, or both, consider it. And I promise, you don’t have to be an extravert to have a good time!
Going to Left Coast Crime in Tucson next week? Let’s talk! I’ll be participating in Author Speed Dating Thursday morning, on the food and drink panel Friday at 4:00 (wrapping up just in time for happy hour!), and moderating a discussion of political and social issues in crime fiction at 10:15 Saturday morning. Cozy author Emmeline Duncan and I are co-hosting a banquet table that evening, and we’d love to have you join us!
“Art in general reminds me that there are things we call meaningful. Time is an impersonal force, and life itself can feel airy and insubstantial, but when I hear a song that I love, something catches and holds me the way gravity holds us to the ground. There is resonance; there is traction.”
– singer/songwriter Dar Williams in How to Write a Song that Matters (2022), quoted by Kathryn Craft on Writer Unboxed, 11/10/22
Going to Left Coast Crime in Tucson next week? Let’s talk! I’ll be at Author Speed Dating Thursday morning, on the food and drink panel Friday at 4:00 (wrapping up just in time for happy hour!), and moderating a discussion of political and social issues in crime fiction at 10:15 Saturday morning. Cozy author Emmeline Duncan and I are co-hosting a banquet table that evening, and we’d love to have you join us!
(Photo: Moonrise over Wengen, in the Swiss Alps; author photo)
“She reminded herself that, this early in an investigation, she should feel that she was drifting aimlessly. Drifting was an essential, if frustrating, part of the process, allowing her to map the actual contours and characteristics of the landscape instead of setting off in a pre-chosen direction. Yes, this left her torn, between a tight commitment to Michael Johnston and a broad sweep of what the Gardener Estate had to tell her, but facts would become clear and a route would take shape.”
— Laurie R. King. Back to the Garden The character, Raquel, is speaking of police work, but it applies equally to writing and almost any kind of creative work
“You are a writer. You have a story to tell. You have something worthwhile to say. What you’ve already learned on your journey will play a part in what you write, one way or another. And your writing has a job to do: entertainment, teaching, healing, passing on wisdom or passion or comfort.”
When I started this blog, shortly after publication of my guide for writers, Books, Crooks & Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law and Courtroom Procedure (Linden/Quill Driver Books, 2011), I often wrote about how to write about legal issues. And occasionally, I see an article, case, or topic I want to share with you. Today, I’ve got two.
If you’re writing about criminal cases in the justice system, you need to be aware of plea agreements: what goes into them, what are the benefits, what are the costs.This NPR story discusses a recent report from the American Bar Association, noting that 98% of criminal cases in the federal courts end with a plea agreement. (I suspect the number is slightly lower in state court, where most cases are brought, but is still very high.) Pleas provide efficiency and certainty, but at what cost to the defendants — and to society? Worth thinking about in your story.
And too many trials result in wrongful convictions. One is too many. I wrote about such a case in Blind Faith, my latest standalone (written as Alicia Beckman), based on an actual case in Billings, Montana, where the book is set, involving faulty testimony from a state crime lab employee on hair analysis. I was pleased to see this article in the Billings Gazette about two University of Montana law students who worked with the state’s Innocence Project to overturn a wrongful conviction.
Crime victims, their families, and our communities deserve justice, and that’s often the thrust of our stories. But wrongful convictions and unfair plea agreements serve no one.
A few weeks ago, we went to Kalispell, thirty miles away, to hear Anne Lamott speak in the new performance hall. I’d reread Bird by Bird last fall, so it was great fun to see her in person, though her approach to writing is familiar.
She said many memorable things — she’s funnier than heck — but what stuck with me were her emphasis that to write (to create), we need to “stay open for business.” Stay open to what you see, hear, and remember. That’s where the ideas come from.
When I had lunch with my suspense writer pal Christine Carbo the next week, she said what had most struck her was Lamott’s urge to us to “unclench.” To breathe into the tight spots that sometimes develop around our creative work — you know what yours are — and let grace, however you define it, unclench you.
Good advice, and I’m happy I can share it with you.
All this month, BITTERROOT LAKE is a $1.99 Kindle Deal! Talk about sweet, right? BITTERROOT LAKE is my first standalone suspense novel, written as Alicia Beckman. When a young widow returns to her family’s lakeside Montana lodge in search of solace, murder forces her to reconnect with estranged friends and confront everything she thought she knew about the tragic accident twenty-five years ago that tore them apart.
But wait, there’s more!
The Solace of Bay Leaves is half price at Audiobooks.com, through February 24!
Pepper Reece never expected to find her life’s passion in running the Seattle Spice Shop. In The Solace of Bay Leaves, 5th in the Spice Shop series, evidence links a friend’s shooting to an unsolved murder, and her own regrets surface. Can she uncover the truth and protect those she loves, before the deadly danger boils over?
The audio, narrated by the fabulous Dara Rosenberg, is 50% off at Audiobooks.com, an independent audio bookseller, through Feb. 24.