Saturday, 17 October 2009

Bouchercon - The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

I have been so bad. I had great intentions of posting reams of stuff about panels every day, and instead, I have been having too good a time. So, here's a quick summary, plus one panel write up. More of those to some point.

The Good: Being at the Shamus awards while my friend Reed Farrel Coleman won the Shamus award for the amazing EMPTY EVER AFTER.

The Good: Getting back to my room yesterday to discover that the lovely Nicholas Towasser of Dissident Books (publishers of the wonderful DON'T CALL ME A CROOK by Bob Moore) had sent me a gift - a biography of The Stooges - signed "Hey Donna - Iggy Pop". Iggy Pop signed a book to ME! Do I, or do I not, have the loveliest friends?

The Bad - I lost at poker last night. Although, on The Good side, it was a very small loss and I had great fun doing it. I shall see if I can do better tonight.

The Ugly - The blisters on my feet after Christa Faust, Martyn Waites and I walked 40 blocks - including about 10 blocks where we saw no-one but cop cars (running, but empty, strangely enough), under a scary freeway underpass where we could probably have scored every drug known to man. And I had to do it in these shoes.

On The Good side of that one - we stopped off for tapas and margaritas on the way, we ended up at a great bar for the Black Mask party, and we got to ride home in a 1938 Cadillac.

As you can see, there's always a good for every bad. And far outweighing any minor badness, is the opportunity to spend time with some of the nicest people in the world, hugging old friends and meeting new ones.

And now, a panel report.


The panellists were Con Lehane (moderator), Chris Knopf, J A Konrath, Jason Pinter and Tom Schreck. Keeping to the theme of good and bad, four of the panellists were excellent. One was so awful I nearly walked out twice (speaking to people after the panel, it appeared I wasn't the only one.)

The first question to the panellists was what effect did drink or sobriety have on their protagonists and how it affected their books. Joe Konrath was the first to answer and the first words out of his mouth were "I'm not going to answer any of that." And then he launched into what was, effectively, a prepared stand up routine about his hotel and a jacuzzi. It wasn't funny, but, more to the point, I thought it was very rude and disrespectful to the moderator and the other panellists. It made me mad. However, people in the audience were laughing so I guess some people found it funny (although the biggest laugh came for Con Lehane when he said something to try and shut Konrath up).

Chris Knopf (whose books I definitely want to read, based on the panel, so I bought one. His answer to this question was really interesting However, I can't tell you what it was, because all I wrote down was "interesting response". Silly cow.

Tom Schreck said that his character Duffy Dumbrowski loves to drink. By day he's a drug and alcohol counsellor, by night, he drinks. Schreck said that he did not want a down and out cliched drunk as a protag, he wanted a happy drunk.

Jason Pinter wanted to make his character a bit contrary and not the divorced, older PI with baggage so he made him young. When Henry drinks, there is a reason for it and the lower he gets the more he drinks.

The panel were then asked how they get scenes across where their protagonist is getting more and more drunk and Chris Knopf said that he sends him to bed. Jason Pinter makes sure his character stays away from electronic equipment.

Tom Schreck says that when he is drunk he sometimes has very profound thoughts - however, when he tries to write when he's been drinking, when he sobers up he realises it's "total shit".

Con Lehane referenced a quote from Ernest Hemingway that you should make yourself a promise that you will always do what you say you will do while drunk because that keeps you a bit sober. One of the panellists quipped that he obviously hadn't lived by his own rule.

The panellists were then asked about the use of humour and all the panellists felt that there was room for some humour in with the drunkenness. Tom Schreck uses a neighbourhood bar in his books and commented that the dialogue in his books is sometimes verbatim from the conversation in the bar he himself frequents on a Friday night. Schreck had been an addictions counsellor for 25 years and he said that being drunk all the time is a tragedy, but that doesn't mean that there's anything wrong with occasionally getting a bit merry.

The next question was a really interesting one - whether it seemed to be more acceptable for a male character to get drunk rather than a female. I was looking forward to the answer but unfortunately, the panel was hijacked again. Joe Konrath said he was more interested in sex, and after telling some story about writing sex scenes, started to read the four page scene he was talking about. Luckily, Tom Schreck stopped him.

Chris Knopf did say that when he was writing his second series - with a female protagonist - he decided he didn't want to make her a hardened drinker (and be typecast as that sort of writer) so he made her take drugs instead.

The panellists were asked if they ever felt they were stepping outside any boundaries. Joe Konrath said that morals are dictated by society at any given time. Jason Pinter said that he had got letters from reader who were quite happy to read about all the murder and mayhem but that he would get told off for having characters who drank, smoked, or hurt animals.

Con Lehane talked about a big debate on the mystery discussion group DorothyL where it was clear that the idea of glorifying drinking really bothers people. He noted that there is a tradition going back to Chandler and Hammett. At that time it wasn't seen as a bad thing (the panellists mentioned Nick and Nora Charles, who always had a cocktail in their hands) and Tom Schreck said that alcoholism was declared and official disease by the American Medical Association in 1957, and by the World Health Organisation in 1958. Chris Knopf said that he does not endorse drinking as being good, and expects his readers to see the moral underpinning. Schreck is of the opinion that it's a great vehicle to tap into the emotions of your protagonist and noted that a lot of men in particular have emotions that they never get to because they use alcohol.

An excellent panel. Apart from the obvious.


  1. sounds like a good time. i need to get myself to one of these at some point.

  2. Much fun is being had, I should say, and this is as it should be. I am not quite sure why Michael Ignatieff, whom I knew when we were fellow graduate students, should inscribe for you a biography of Larry, Curly and Moe, but it must be deemed a kind and thoughtful gesture. :-)

  3. Donna those have to be one of the most uncomfortable looking pair of shoes that I've ever seen. The Black Mask looked awesome and like Jay, I'm going to have to myself to one of these things at some point.

  4. Iggy signed a book for you??? You lucky dog!!!!!

    Sooooooooooooooooooo jealous!

  5. I have to get myself over there one of these years. I hope someone has a quiet word with the a-hole.

  6. Sounds like a great time! I've just read Don't Call Me A Crook and LOVED it.

  7. I could try and teach you about nice shoes, expensive ones even, that you can run in. Assuming you can run in the first place.

    So, which one did you not like so much..? Never heard of him, anyway.

  8. Jay and Michael - you definitely need to come!

    Philip - LOL - very funny - you know, when I was writing the post I thought "I need to explain for my dad that it's not the Three Stooges" :o)

    Keith - actually, they are really comfortable - just not for walking 50 blocks in :o)

    Jen - aren't I lucky!

    Paul - isn't it a great book?

    Bookwitch - what is this word 'run'?

    Thanks all, for the comments. I've had a brilliant time. More panel reports to write up once I get home and sleep for a few days!

  9. So thats why I cant get you at home?! Sounds gr8 fun - on the iggy pop note - yes remember how lovely friends can be next time you bump into Christoopher Brookmyre for me LOL safe travels, call me when you are back amd really looking forward to seeing you in a couple of weeks jillx

  10. Donna, it was grand fun seeing you at Bouchercon, and actually driving you there from my home as Thelma and Louise updated and with a different ending. :-)
    I saw you in those shoes, which were lovely by the way, before the...uh....wayyyyyyyy too long walk in them! and they are beautiful, just not for long walks :-) Luckily you had comfy shoes at my place and we walked my dog up and back on the gravel road by my house, comfortably. But even your walking shoes were eye catching and pretty and I kept thinking 'no, do not steal house guest's shoes..bad form.' :-)

    About the panel--Knopf is an author I finally tried this year, really like his books, want more! And the others I do wish to try after reading your post..oh, one exception...and I've seen him in person also and had the same impression you did, so I agree...thanks for saying it.

    The poker--did you get your losses back? And if not, I still bet it was fun.

    Congratulations to Reed, I'm so happy he won, and what a great photo of you and Reed, thank you for that!

    Long post, sorry, couldn't stop now that I finally can do this! :-) And our lum is reeking very well today.


  11. Jill - I will try and remember :o) See you soon!

    Jeremy - great to see you and to meet your mum! I hope she had a lovely time.

    Bobbie - thank you for your long post(and glad you can comment at last), but most of all thank you for a lovely time! I had great fun and lots of wonderful memories. Hugs to you and Larry and Buddy.

  12. I was at this panel as well. You captured the essence of it, including Konrath's efforts to be not as funny as he thought he was.

    I happened onto Tom Schreck the next day and had an enlightening and entertaining discussion with him about various aspects of drinking. A very generous, intelligent, and funny man.

  13. Dana - thank you - glad it's not just me who thought that! Tom Schreck seemed like a really interesting guy.