Monday, April 20, 2015

A Toast to Cons

What are your favorite writing conferences/conventions to attend?

The first thing to note in answering this highly personal question is the distinction between conferences and conventions. When I was new to the game, I didn’t realize the national/international Bouchercon was a convention and I was bemused by the flock of women who followed closely behind Laurie King wherever she went, chattering among themselves but seemingly attached to her by an invisible cord.

When another friend and I met Deborah Crombie at that Bouchercon (can’t recall the year, but it was in Baltimore), she was charming but seemed especially delighted that we were writers. It took me a bit to realize that she had been bombarded by eager fans for the half hour before that in the bar. (Her assumption was that I was a writer, not a fan, but that wasn’t really the case – I’m a big fan of the long-running Gemma/Duncan series, set in London.) A convention plays to the fans but fortifications are sometimes advised, and this martini glass is raised to Deb, who always chooses fancy drinks!.

I love the Left Coast Crime convention, partly because I seem to know everyone, or at least every author, there, and because the planners are a heroic band of crime fiction lovers who have created an ongoing festival that rotates from western city to western city but with the same band of cheerful attendees, including lots of enthusiastic fans. Blogger and salon hostess Janet Rudolph not only gets deeply involved most years, but also manages the fan-voted awards, a celebratory event that everyone looks forward to. (Yes, some year, I’d like to be a finalist!)

My first exposure to conferences, and the pivotal one for me, was the Book Passage Mystery Writers Conference, held annually in Marin County California at an influential bookstore. The first time I went, when I was tentative and apologetic at my own temerity in thinking I might write crime fiction, featured Sue Grafton, who was – and still is – so down to earth, approachable, and direct that I could stop pinching myself when I sat next to her at lunch and actually soak up a little advice and courage. I’ve been back twice since then and, in 2008, found my agent, Kimberley Cameron, there. I also met and had small classes with such accessible luminaries as Elizabeth George, Cara Black, and Jackie Winspear. Conferences are for writers because honesty, openness, and the ability to ask questions that may expose one’s weaknesses is crucial.

A new-ish conference and one I really enjoy is the California Crime Writers event (June 6-7 this year) in L.A. Sponsored and totally put together by Sisters in Crime’s and Mystery Writers of America’s southern California chapters, it’s quickly become a significant place for writers to gather, network, listen to each other, drink together, the latter being as important a part of conferences as any other aspect.

There are others, and my fellow Minds will have their own favorites. I’ll be reading theirs this week to see what further adventures I should consider. I’m guessing they’ll all have one thing in common: the party’s always at the bar! See you at CCW.


Paul D. Marks said...

Susan, it's always interesting to see how others react to these questions. And I didn't really realize the difference between a conference and a convention till you explained it here. And as you say, drinking together is as important as any other aspect of conferences or conventions. Hey, that's what writers do, right ;) ?

I'll be at CCWC. Hope we can finally meet up in person.

Susan C Shea said...

Let's make sure that happens, Paul. And let's see which other CMs are attending. Definitely a meet-up at the bar!

Robin Spano said...

Yeah, echoing Paul here. Thanks for the clarification re: conference vs. convention.

And echoing on the drinking too--nothing bonds like honest talk late at night, somehow.

RJ Harlick said...

I second you, Sue, with Left Coast Crime, one of my favourite conferences too. Janet, the Gottfrieds and all the other organizers do a fabulous job of making it one of the best for both the writers and the fans.

Catriona McPherson said...

It doesn't help that they both get shortened to Con.

I've been to rather few conferences, I realize now.

Art Taylor said...

A great post here, Susan—and a nice distinction being made between conference and convention. Like you, even when surrounded by writers, I still count myself as much of a fan as a peer! :-)