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September 22, 2016

Bouchercon 2016: We’re On the Case!

Posted by emily

This year's Bouchercon --- the world's largest mystery convention --- took place on September 15-18 in New Orleans, LA, and brought together all parts of the mystery and crime fiction community for a weekend of exciting panels and awards. Unfortunately, none of our staff was able to make it out to the Big Easy, but we once again had generous authors and friends do some sleuthing for us. Here, 12 mystery superstars --- Linwood Barclay, Laura Benedict, Jim Fusilli, our very own Joe Hartlaub, Keith Kahla, Clair Lamb, Daniel Palmer, Keith Raffel, Kelli Stanley, Wendy Corsi Staub, Otto Penzler and Lita Weissman --- share with us some convention highlights; although, like all good writers, they leave some things to our imagination.

Click here to check out our Bouchercon 2016 photo gallery. Many thanks to Wendy Corsi Staub and Keith Raffel for submitting photos! How many Bouchercons have you been to?

Jim Fusilli: At least six.

Linwood Barclay: My first Bouchercon was in Toronto in 2004. Since then, I think I’ve missed four. Why I didn’t go to San Francisco, I can’t explain. Albany…that’s a little easier.

Wendy Corsi Staub: I’ve been to six --- my first was in 2010 San Francisco, and I haven’t missed one since!

Otto Penzler: Forty one or 42 --- I’m a little vague.

Laura Benedict: New Orleans was my fifth Bouchercon and has become my new favorite.

Keith Raffel: Eight, including Monterey in 1997 when I went as a fan!

Daniel Palmer: Five.

Clair Lamb: This was my 10th Bouchercon, which seems a little insane --- my first was Chicago in 2005. Since then, I've missed only Anchorage (2007) and St. Louis (2011). I'm already registered for Toronto in 2017, and I'm on the board for 2018 in St. Petersburg, FL.

Joe Hartlaub: New Orleans was the fifth...previous ones were Chicago, Madison, Indianapolis and Cleveland.

Keith Kahla: New Orleans was the 21st Bouchercon for me.

Lita Weissman: Seven.

Kelli Stanley: Hard to believe this: Nine!


BRC: What’s your best memory from New Orleans?

Jim: The line of fans in the book room who were eager to get the first available copies of CRIME PLUS MUSIC: Twenty Stories of Music-Themed Noir. We had 10 of our 20 contributors available to sign the books. It was the first time we were together since the project began. 

Linwood: A shrimp po’boy sandwich, within an hour of arriving. Close second: finding my watch. I thought it had been stolen from my room. I tore the place apart. Finally, I pulled the bed away from the wall and found it down there. How that happened, I can’t begin to explain.

Wendy: My best memory: Ubering to offsite adventures at various times of the days (and nights) with friends who are not only some of the most widely respected, talented and biggest names in the industry, but who make me laugh until my sides ache. Oh, the uber stories. On one occasion, in the time it took to ride from a Magazine Street restaurant to the Marriott, we (for reasons I won't disclose) conversationally transformed one of our traveling companions from a mild-mannered gentleman into a pirate complete with a hook and a hearty "Aaahhhrrrrr." On another, we found ourselves wedged in the backseat of a ginormous pickup truck with ginormous speakers blasting the most bizarre and eclectic playlist ever --- we got in on Led Zepplin's "Immigrant Song" and disembarked on Frankie Valli's "Grease is the Word.” We had to scream at each other to carry on a conversation; our jovial N'awlins-accented driver jumped right in and held his own on topics from football to childrearing to pork cracklins.

Otto: Self-serving as it sounds, being honored with the David Thompson Award has to top the list. Second-best was seeing Megan Abbott win the Macavity AND the Anthony for THE LITTLE MEN, the bibliomystery she wrote for The Mysterious Bookshop.

Laura: It's so hard to choose my favorite memory because I had such a great time. I think it would have to be when Joe Clifford, on the soap opera panel I moderated, said that he was devastated when the actor who played Phillip Spaulding was replaced on “Guiding Light.” Joe is very much a guy's guy, and while he seemed a little uncomfortable with the confession, he was a great sport. The audience loved it!

Keith R.: My visit to the National World War II Museum [photo in gallery]. I spent a day-and-a-half immersed there last December, but with my typical flair for good timing, the brand new “Road to Tokyo Exhibit” opened the week after I left. I stayed an extra day in NOLA to make sure I saw it this time. Hearing the recordings of old men and women recall what they did on ships, jungles and rocky islands as kids barely out of high school brought me close to tears more than once.

Daniel: Great city, but for me it's all about the people. 

Clair: My best memory from New Orleans is not a Bouchercon memory at all, but of the Gospel Mass at St. Augustine Catholic Church in Treme. I cannot recommend it enough to anyone who needs a reminder of everything that's good about humanity, life, the universe and everything. (Note to hipsters who come for the music: Take your stupid hat off in church, man.)

Keith K.: The food. So many great meals.

Lita: Brennan's Sunday brunch with Kristen Kittscher, Wendy Corsi Staub, Alison Gatlinburg and Katia Lief.

Kelli: Out of so many wondrous moments in a magical city, I'll count three: strolling the Quarter (and eating beignets) with dear friends, watching Heather and the Slushpile perform at House of Blues, and making a very special trip to Meyer the Hatter with Bookreporter (and man about town) extraordinaire Joe Hartlaub. 


BRC: What were your favorite panels? You can name up to three.

Linwood: Did I make it to three? I know I made it to one, because I was on it. The rest is a blur.

Wendy: Favorite panel was the “Real Housewives” panel on Friday morning, moderated by Laura Lippman and featuring “housewives” Lou Berney, Alison Gaylin, Greg Herren and Alex Marwood. Lou --- whose LONG AND FARAWAY GONE won the Barry, Anthony and Macavity awards that weekend --- brought down the house with his opening tagline, "I'm not the sharpest tool in the shed..." (Yeah. That was it.)

Otto: Sorry, but I don’t go to panels. After 40+ Bouchercons, I’ve heard it before. James Warren Lincoln moderated the Ellery Queen panel on which I participated and did a fantastic job, culminating in his opening a bottle of chilled sparkling wine. Moderator of the year!

Laura: "Another Tricky Day: Problems All Authors Face" (great, honest advice); "You Always Hurt the One You Love: Messing with Your Protagonist" (Jeff Abbott made me laugh so hard, I thought I would die); and "The Soap Opera Song: Soap Operas and Crime" (yes, I moderated, but the panelists really took off on the subject and the crowd was wonderfully responsive. It got silly and a little raunchy --- a total blast.)

Keith R.: There were panels? Wait, I did moderate one myself called “Real Cool World” [photo in gallery] (after the David Bowie song) and had a blast discussing questions like just how crazy a thriller writer has to be to write a good book. But other than that, I spent most of my time schmoozing at the bar and book room, steeped in delectation at local eateries, or crashing through the humidity of NOLA neighborhoods.

Daniel: I loved moderating the “Pressure Drop” panel because all four panelists were new to Bouchercon, and their enthusiasm and energy was infectious. I'm talking about you Amy Gentry, Elizabeth Diskin, Sarah Cain and Mindy Mejia. 

Clair: I have to name my own panel, "It Only Takes a Minute," which was a recreation of the BBC Radio game show "Just a Minute," with John Connolly as host and Mark Billingham, Laura Lippman, Alex Marwood (subbing for Lisa Lutz) and Martyn Waites as contestants. Contestants had 60 seconds to speak on a topic of John's choosing without hesitating, repeating themselves (except for the words of the topic) or deviating from the subject. Laura Lippman won it decisively, but the panel's best moment was probably when Martyn Waites interrupted Laura's discussion of mansplaining with, "What I think Laura's trying to say is…"

"Kick Start My Heart," the medical thriller panel moderated by F. Paul Wilson and featuring CJ Lyons, Daniel Palmer, Ross Pennie and Stephen Robert Stein, was both entertaining and terrifying, and "Some Folks Just Need Killing," moderated by John Gilstrap and featuring Joe Finder, Stuart Neville, Zoe Sharp and Reavis Wortham, turned from a discussion of vigilante justice into a thoughtful conversation about the limits of justice. 

Joe: I was not registered for the conference as I was in town on business and did not attend the functions. I did, however, participate in Jim Born's weaponry presentation (I brought and supervised the weaponry). Jim is incredibly entertaining and informative in equal measure.

Lita: The Michael Connelly/Harlan Coben discussion, the game show panel moderated by John Connolly and featuring Laura Lippman --- who won --- Mark Billingham, Martyn Waite, among others, and “The Stories from the Bayou” panel moderated by Bill Fitzhugh, featuring Harley Jane Kozak and others. 

Kelli: I loved “Stories from the Road”...not sure if that was the title, but it was all about the highs and lows of touring, with great stories by Andrew Grant, Hank Phillippi Ryan, Rhys Bowen and Deborah Crombie. And the panel I was lucky to participate in --- about genre expectations, and moderated by the fabulous Katrina Niidas Holm --- was fun, funny and thought-provoking! With panelists like C.J. Box, Wendy Corsi Staub, Frankie Bailey and Owen Laukkanen, how could it not be?


BRC: This one’s important. Tell us what you drank at the bar.

Linwood: Whatever white wine was going. I am hopelessly boring when it comes to imbibing. The Hurricanes everyone else was drinking looked kind of good, however.

Wendy: I tried to stick with white wine --- but when you ordered, they’d ask if you wanted the three, six or nine oz. pour --- and being a Go-Big-or-Stay-Home kind of gal, I believe I ultimately drank a few gallons of Sauvignon Blanc.

Otto: I was at so many parties, lunches and dinners, I spent much less time at the bar than usual. New Orleans offers more temptations than Albany or Raleigh (no offense to anyone). I drank French 75s and rose champagne at good restaurants, lots of beer elsewhere.

Laura: I confess I didn't drink all that much at this Bouchercon because I had to get up very early every morning. But I did have a lovely glass of Prosecco at the Carousel bar in the Hotel Monteleone.

Keith R.: Ooh. It hurts to even answer this one. Thanks (?) to Ben Lieberman, F. Paul Wilson, Karen MacInerney and Ann Voss Peterson, among other perpetrators, I learned what an Irish Car Bomb was early Saturday morning at the Erin Rose Bar. That was a rotten trick to play on someone who ordinarily abstains from spirits and drinks only beer. Since then, I haven’t let a drop of alcohol pass my lips.

Daniel: Water. Lots of water. 

Clair: I don't think they let you leave New Orleans without having a Sazerac, so I had one. Hemingway was right: It tasted like licorice. The Sunset cocktail at SoBou was excellent and came with a pair of cheap sunglasses, and the Vieux Carré at the Hotel Monteleone's Carousel Bar is New Orleans distilled.

Joe: Root beer. Barq's. Longneck.

Keith K.: Ambita Amber Ale. Not bad.

Lita: Mostly tequila in the hotel bar. Fave cocktail would be the Fawlty Lemonade at Brennan's.

Kelli: Guinness! Plus a Windjammer at Snug Harbor (my favorite spot for jazz) and a special, incredibly delicious drink invented by the bartender at Broussard's: the Autumn in New York!


BRC: What was the best story you heard in the bar?

Linwood: Journalist and author Neely Tucker told me about the kind of hate messages he gets when writing about politics. Not the best story out of NOLA, but maybe the most disturbing. Not sure social media is as good a thing as we think.

Wendy: That author Greg Herren was caught red-handed conducting hands-on research for his next novel, THE WALLET THIEF.

Otto: No way can I repeat the best, but second best was some British lady author explaining why no one should ever buy used books because it’s stealing from authors.

Laura: Oh, I can't tell you that! *blushes*

Keith R.: That Faulkner wrote his first book in NOLA. This juicy tidbit inspired an expedition, which included writing pals Jess Lourey and Linda Joffe Hull, to his lodgings on Pirate’s Alley [photo in gallery].

Daniel: Hmmm...what happens at Bouchercon stays at Bouchercon.

Clair: Unrepeatable, as the best stories always are. But I did wind up taking care of Mark Billingham's tiny hat for a couple of days, and I'm not going to explain that.

Joe: No story, per se, but I met James Sallis, whose work --- novels, short stories and reviews for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction --- I have been reading for close to 50 years.

Keith K.: What's said at the Bouchercon bar STAYS in the Bouchercon bar. Otherwise, people won't tell you the best stories the next time around.

Kelli: I was too busy drinking to hear properly...


BRC: What was your best meal in NOLA, and where was it?

Jim: Drum Fish with Spicy Shrimp at Upperline with Bill Fitzhugh, John Billheimer, Peter Spiegelman and Diane Fusilli, my wife.

Linwood: I had a filet at The Pelican Club. It might just have been the best piece of steak I’ve ever had in my life. 

Wendy Corsi Staub: I didn't have a bad meal the entire time I was there. Not only did I eat --- and drink --- my way through the French Quarter (Muriel's, Brennan's, SouBou, Felix's, Galatoire, Antoine's, Saint Lawrence), but I'm fortunate to have a couple of good author friends who live in New Orleans, so we got to eat in a few spots that were off the beaten conference path. My favorite was a large group dinner with some of my favorite people at Lilette, uptown on Magazine Street [photo in gallery]. I shared raw oysters and a hearts of palm salad appetizer with my friend Margery Flax for an appetizer and attempted to share a bowl of shaved brussels sprouts with her husband Steven (who, quite famously, does not enjoy The Sprout), moved on to an entree of roasted Muscovy duck in a toasted shallot sauce with cauliflower polonaise, and a peach pastry special for dessert, although we all agreed that Alex Marwood's nutella custard --- which she so graciously passed around --- was the most amazing thing we'd ever tasted.

Otto:  Best, hands down, was the tasting menu at Commander’s Palace on Wednesday night. Among the passed hors d’oevres was some pork meatball-like thing, with a piece of pork belly on the same mini-skewer, that makes me tear up just thinking how good it was.

Laura: Every single meal I had in NOLA was great. My very favorite had to be the giant pile of fried shrimp and fried oysters I had at Oceana Grill. Amazing!

Keith R.: At N7 down by the river. It’s a literal hole in the wall. When you push through the door cut through the fence, a hip hideaway opens before you. #1, my oldest daughter, recommended it. I knew it must be the right place when I saw I was the oldest person there by a decade or two. Ate salmon tartine, smoked sardines, salad and cheese, and washed it all down with a locally brewed amber ale.

Daniel: Breakfast at Ruby Slippers was a highlight. I returned a fan of grits. Who'd have thunk it?

Clair: The jazz brunch at Commander's Palace reminded me of why I declared it to be my all-time favorite restaurant more than a dozen years ago. Heirloom tomatoes, tournedos of Angus beef, and a praline parfait I couldn't finish. Honorable mention to the beignet doughnut at District Donuts, which almost sent me into a coma.

Joe: Tie between Acme Oyster House with Jim Born, Alafair Burke and Sean Duncan Simpson and at the French Quarter home of Toni McGee and Carl Causey, with C.J. Lyons in attendance as well. 

Keith K.: The Roasted Chicken at Dante's Kitchen.

Lita: No specific meal. The crab cheesecake from Palace Cafe was superb, and the spinach/ricotta gnocchi from Domenice were superb.

Kelli: That's easy: Broussard's on Conti. Food, drinks and service are unparalleled and not too expensive!


BRC: What is the most fun tourist-y thing that you did?

Jim: Had Sazeracs at the Roosevelt Hotel with SJ Rozan, Peter Blauner, Peter Spiegelman and Diane Fusilli. I also visited the National World War II Museum, but for research purposes.

Linwood: Went to the Café De Monde for some beignets and coffee. It’s just some fried dough with powdered sugar, right? Wrong. It was a religious experience.

Wendy: Sunday Brunch at Brennan's, complete with Bloody Marys and biscuits, with B&N's Lita Weissman, and my author pals Katia Lief, Alison Gaylin and Kristen Kittscher. 

Otto: Is it a tourist-y thing to go to a blues bar? That was it. Two of the guys who work with me and I went after dinner at Galatoire’s (which may also be tourist-y but was outstanding) and we stayed four sets, four hours, eight beers.

Laura: On Sunday I went on a haunted tour of the Garden District, including Lafayette Cemetery No. 1. My phone, which is ridiculously reliable, went haywire and kept shutting down when I tried to take a picture of a particular haunted house. I never did get a shot.

Keith R.: Along with virtuoso mystery-spinner G.M. Malliet, I hit the Pepper Palace, a treasure trove of hot sauces and rubs. When I saw a peach serrano hot sauce, I knew I had hit the Mother Lode (Serrano is my wife’s maiden name). I didn’t know how I was going to get all those bottles and jars on the plane, but mirabile dictu, the Palace shipped via UPS.

Daniel: Taking a walking tour through the Garden District and seeing Anne Rice's former home was certainly memorable.

Clair: I went with a couple of friends to the House of Broel, a Garden District mansion that is an events hall, dollhouse museum and designer couture exhibit --- by appointment only. The owner, Countess Bonnie Broel, is a tiny woman who is also larger than life, a gallant figure who exemplifies New Orleans in ways I can't put into words. Three of her dollhouses are currently on sale; you can find them on eBay.

Joe: A friend of mine had given me an 1884 silver dollar minted in New Orleans. I took it to the Old Mint at the edge of the Quarter and set it on a press and a cooling tray. Welcome home.

Keith K.: Beignets at Cafe du Monde? The Lafayette #1 cemetery? 

Lita: Went to Lefitte's Blacksmith Bar on Bourbon Street. Supposedly the oldest bar in NOLA.

Kelli: I love New Orleans...for me, it's just a great place to BE. During Bouchercon, I had a great deal of fun showing some of my favorite places to friends, making sure they tried a muffaletta at Central Grocery and visited the Pharmacy Museum and Faulkner House bookstore for inspiration!


BRC: What was your best unexpected encounter with an author or fan?

Jim: I was surprised how many people asked me to sign ROAD TO NOWHERE and BILLBOARD MAN. I love those books, and I feel they've been overlooked, so I was glad to see them in circulation. I thought they were forgotten. I also had a chance to catch up with Dana Cameron and Mary Anna Evans, two of my favorite people in our community. I had a brief encounter with Chris Grabenstein, and I was able to tell him how much I love what he's doing for your readers.

Linwood: I ran into author Joe Lansdale and his daughter Kasey, whom I first met at a literary festival in Piacenza, Italy some five or more years ago. It was nice to catch up. Also, I found myself across the table from Charlaine Harris at lunch one day. How is it that the nicest people write the creepiest stuff? And I spent a lot of time chatting with crime fiction’s two biggest fans, Mike Stotter and Ali Karim. I love them both, but they need help.  

Wendy: As Alison Gaylin, Laura Lippman and I stood waiting in the lobby for a friend --- carrying four tiny hats for reasons I won't get into here --- Danish Queen of Crime Sara Blaedel wandered by, and one thing led to another, as happens at Bouchercon, and we all wound up wearing [photo in gallery].

Otto: Although I’ve slightly known him for three decades, I finally had the chance to have a long conversation with Joe Lansdale, which was terrific. 

Laura: I'm going to go with the weirdest...I got onto an elevator that already had one man in it. My daughter had texted me, and I was answering. The guy tried out the worst pickup line, ever: "You look very youthful when you hold your phone that way. Particularly when you type one-handed." *headdesk*

Keith R.: How about with a dish? I learned to love shakshuka, an Israeli egg and pepper dish [photo in gallery], at a Bay Area restaurant now closed. So I had to make it all the way to NOLA to find a version as delicious. (NOLA is much closer to home than Tel Aviv, though.) Thanks for the tip, Andy Gross and Allison Davis.

Daniel: Well, there was a line (okay, linette) waiting for me after I did a panel on medical suspense. That was a hoot!

Clair: I was standing in the cashier's line at the charity auction and exchanged a couple of words with John Connolly as he was leaving. The woman standing behind me said, "Did you see his panel yesterday? He was so funny," entirely unaware that I'd spent that panel at the far end of the table from him, as timekeeper/scorekeeper/nominal moderator. It was humbling, and undoubtedly good for me.

Joe: Literally running into Ali Karim and Michael Stotter, my British brothers from different mothers, on Royal Street on the Wednesday before the conference.

Lita: So enjoyed meeting Elizabeth Little and can't wait to read her book.

Kelli: In the airport going home, I met two ladies who'd attended Bouchercon --- one in Houston, where I connected to my longer flight, and one after landing in San Francisco. They were readers who'd seen my panel and wanted to introduce themselves. They're local to Northern California, but found out about my books in New Orleans...that's the magic of Bouchercon!


BRC: And, of course, the books! Tell us some of the books that you came away wanting to read. You can name up to three.

Jim: I confess I didn't know the work of Davide Longo before Bcon '16. So I'm looking forward to reading him. David Liss has a new sci-fi book I want to read. I think David is excellent and terribly undervalued.

Linwood: I came back with Greg Iles’ NATCHEZ BURNING, which I’ve always meant to get to, but have not. Also, an advance copy of IQ by Joe Ide, which I heard reviewer Oline Cogdill say is fantastic. Finally, Lee Goldberg put into my hands OUTSIDE THE LAW by Phillip Thomson, which he described as “like ‘Justified.’” That was good enough for me.

Wendy: Greg Herren's latest Scotty Bradley mystery, GARDEN DISTRICT GOTHIC, out this week and set --- where else? --- in New Orleans!

Otto: Patrick Hoffman’s EVERY MAN A MENACE. I loved his THE WHITE VAN and didn’t know he had a new one until I chatted with him at a party. (A little embarrassing, as I also learned he’s scheduled to do a signing at my bookshop, which evidently no one thought to tell me about.)

Laura: Anything by Charlaine Harris, Dana Chamblee Carpenter or Jeff Abbott.

Keith R.: Of course, the books I want to read aren’t out yet! Hung with Danny Gardner, whose debut novel, A NEGRO AND AN OFAY, is out in November. And then fellow Bay Area denizen, the aforementioned Allison Davis, has a debut set in the City (i.e. San Francisco), which is getting close to fully baked. And Bouchercon Toastmaster Harley Jane Kozak is threatening to finish up a novel that features not a single dead body. Cannot wait for these three sure-to-be masterworks.

Daniel: Jeff Abbott's new one, THE FIRST ORDER, and THE LOST WOMAN by Sara Blaedel.

Clair: I was most excited to snag copies of DARKTOWN by Thomas Mullen, LET THE DEVIL OUT by Bill Loehfelm, and THE OLD MAN (an ARC) by Thomas Perry.

Lita: Reading the new Harlan Coben now. Also Lou Berney and Chris Holm.

Joe: SILENT RAIN by Karin Salvalaggio (2017); and THE ABANDONED HEART: A Bliss House Novel by Laura Benedict (October 11, 2016). 

Kelli: As always, Andrew Grant's next book and Don Winslow's SAVAGES.


BRC: Any additional thoughts?

Jim: I've said it many times before, but the mystery-and-crime-fiction community is the most welcoming and supportive group. To be an author is a difficult job, so to be among fans who appreciate the work and with authors who know what it takes to succeed is something special. I always come away feeling optimistic and renewed.

Otto: I’m never drinking again! Bouchercon should be in New Orleans every year.

Laura: New Orleans was the perfect choice for a slew of mystery and crime fans. There was always something going on, both inside the conference and out. The food was terrific. I can't wait to take my family back to the city and explore when I have more time. Big congratulations to everyone involved in setting this one up!

Keith R.: Appreciation for the hard work of those responsible for a smashing success of a Bouchercon. A special shout-out to the chairs, Heather Graham and Connie Perry, and to Judy Bobalik and Jon Jordan, who came up with panel subjects and then filled them up with authors. Bravo! Fantastic job.

Clair:  This year's Bouchercon was so crowded that I didn't see many of the people I wanted to see --- next year I need a strategy for finding people. Volunteering at the registration desk might be a good way to do that. 

Joe: One other favorite moment: taking Kelli Stanley and Tana Hall to Meyer the Hatter. Kelli, in addition to being a terrific author and an angel, can really rock a stingy brimmed fedora.

Lita: The fresh beignets being cooked in the lobby of the Marriott over the weekend were magic. MISSED Carol Fitzgerald something fierce. I met her at my first Bouchercon in 2003.

Kelli: My advice for any Bouchercon is to relax, enjoy and let the serendipity of the moment carry you through the conference!