Bouchercon? What’s That?

Oct 8, 2011 | 2011 Articles, Every Other Book, Mysteryrat's Maze, Sandra Murphy

by Sandra Murphy

Anthony Boucher. It’s appropriate the name is an alias, derived from his Grandmother’s maiden name and the name of his favorite saint. He was also known as H. H. Holmes, not from Sherlock Holmes but from Herman W. Mudgett, a famous serial killer, executed in 1896.

Boucher (pronounced like voucher) was born William Anthony Parker White. His aliases were used not to commit crimes, but to write mystery, horror, fantasy and science fiction books and short stories. In 1942, he wrote his last novel and instead became a critic.

Although he continued to write short stories for mystery and science fiction markets, fame came from the reviews he wrote for the San Francisco Chronicle, the Chicago Sun Times and the New York Herald Tribune. Critical acclaim came from writing for the New York Times Book Review, from 1951 until his death in 1968. In all, he wrote over 850 review columns, titled Crime At Large. Recognized as the nation’s foremost authority on crime fiction, he was also its most popular reviewer. It’s been said he never forgot the plot of a book.

It is fitting that one of the largest mystery conventions in the US be named after him. Bouchercon 2011/St. Louis ran from September 15th through September 18th and brought 1,600 writers, editors, agents and fans together in the shadow of the Arch. The purpose is to introduce both new and established writers to get people excited about books. Mission accomplished!

Panel with Elaine Viets coming onto the stage. Lisa Lutz is next, then Colin Cotterill, and then Bill Crider

There were ninety-two panel discussions and interviews, an indoor firing range simulator, book signings, a live auction, silent auction, a bowling tournament, awards, dinners, and books, books and more books.

Each year the convention is held in a different city. Cleveland will be the host the fourteenth Bouchercon in 2012. Planning the schedules of writers for panels, shipments of books for sale, seating, rooms for receptions, hospitality, registration, and outside events like library appearances, can take years. A block of rooms for guests at the Grand Renaissance Hotel was booked three years in advance. Those rooms sold out and overflow guests stayed at nearby hotels—when there was time to sleep.

Of the panels

Thursday morning, I got registered and then made it to the first panel, Night Chills, Making Things Go Bump in the Night with St Louis writer Angie Fox, M. R. Sellars, Jason Starr, Monette Draper, Dakota Banks, and Sarah Glenn.

While early morning is not my best time of day, what I remember from this panel is Angie Fox talking about the first mysteries she wrote—they didn’t sell. She finally decided to write something she’d like to read. Late night thinking led to the idea of grandma in a biker gang of witches, a Jack Russell terrier who rides along and a woman who led a calm life until she got caught up in the whole thing. The Accidental Demon Slayer series was born. Angie’s very popular with biker gangs—and her publisher, agent, editor and fans.

Jason Starr pitched a television show based on a book he’d written. It was picked up by Fox. They asked if he had more ideas. He said, “Sure! I have tons of ideas.” He had none then—but by the next day he made sure he did.

Fox passed on those ideas so his agent said, “Maybe you should write another book. They liked that before. Let’s try it again. Got any ideas?”

Jason, who had none, said, “Sure!” And soon, he had five chapters of The Pack (werewolves) to show. Fox loved it and bought the option before the book was even sold to a publisher.

Another favorite panel was You Smell Like Dinner with Avery Aames, Julie Hyzy, Joanna Carl, Ellen Crosby, and Cathy Pickens. When asked if their characters are based on themselves, Cathy Pickens reminded us, “Although there are parts of us in our main character, don’t forget, we also write the murderer.”

Joanna Carl confessed it once took her six weeks to work out a problem within the plot. Deciding to make her main character a chocolatier came to her during a conversation when she mentioned a relative worked in a chocolate shop. Ellen Crosby lives in Virginia, an unlikely but good growing climate for wine grapes—the setting for her books. Julie Hyzy’s character is the White House chef. Because of security issues, Hyzy had to base the setting on research available, not personal experience. She said the kitchen is much smaller than you’d think. Avery Aames said she’s written so much about cheese, she should also do a cookbook.

My only regret is I’m so nearsighted. The name tags we wore around our necks had first names in large font but last names were smaller. Squinting and trying to read the small font was much like greeting someone with a dog and saying, “What a nice {take a peek under the dog} boy you have!” It was a little too much into personal space. Thus I missed talking to Jack Bludis and St Louis author (540 books? really?) Robert Randisi.

Dealers' room is of Tom Roberts (publisher of Black Dog Books), Bob Randisi, Larry Sweazy, and Bill Crider

In all, I attended fourteen panels, one reception hosted by Kensington Press for John Lutz, found the hospitality room, got a huge bag of books and magazines, wandered the book room (booksellers at work), cruised the author signings (couldn’t make myself carry more books), met authors and fans, laughed a lot, nearly fainted from hunger (couldn’t stop for lunch and miss something!), discovered the best way to talk to a writer is before the panel starts (after they are being herded to the book room for signings), and had a fabulous time. I only wish I’d had the stamina to make it to the bowling tournament, the auctions (almost $30,000 raised for St Louis libraries), and to spend time in the bar as a B Girl. Do I know what a B Girl is?

What I Learned—the Trivial Stuff

A bag of books that weighs 20 pounds at 8AM will weigh nearly 200 pounds by 5PM.
The comfortable shoes weren’t.
Parking garages are now cash only.
What I Learned—the Important Stuff
Don’t follow trends in writing. Write what matters to you and wait for the world to catch up.
Never say no. Ideas will come and Google was made for research.
Writers are fans too. The person on the panel at ten is the person next to you in the audience at eleven.
Val McDermid has a great sense of humor. She knows her craft and is willing to share the information. She walks really really fast. I never caught up to her.
Writing is a job. It’s just more fun than any other job. You get to make stuff up.

Disclaimer: These are the recollections of a sleep-deprived writer and fan. Any errors are mine, not the writer or Bouchercon—unless like in classic noir, I can find the perfect patsy to take the rap.

2012 Bouchercon will be in Cleveland, Ohio.

If you love mysteries, why not check out Left Coast Crime:
Mystery Conference in Sacramento, March 29-April 1, 2012.Registration through 12/31/2011 is only $210 (it goes up to $225 after that). Registration information can be found at the conventionwebsite, or by sending an email to or

Sandra Murphy lives in the shadow of the arch, in the land of blues, booze and shoes—St Louis, Missouri. While writing magazine articles to support her mystery book habit, she secretly polishes two mystery books of her own, hoping, someday, they will see the light of Barnes and Noble.

1 Comment

  1. Great article Sandra. I’ve been to two Bouchercons and I didn’t know all the background. People are always asking me what a Bouchercon is. Now I can just send them your article. You really captured the flavor.


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