Bouchercon 2017: Pretty Damn Good

Bouchercon 2017: Pretty Damn Good

 

This year I attended Bouchercon for the first time. It was pretty damn good. Here’s why.

View from hotel room

Wednesday, October 11th

*SinC Into Great Writing’s “Learn How to Give Your Novel Structure” Workshop with Alexandra Sokoloff

My friend and roommate, Mia Manansala, and I arrived in Toronto a day early to attend the Sisters in Crime’s workshop which was being led by the great author and screenwriter, Alexandra Sokoloff.

We learned about the eight-sequence structure in film. Originally, film reels could hold only fifteen minutes’ worth of film. To keep the audience’s attention while reels of film were being changed, filmmakers would end each fifteen-minute sequence with a question. Alexandra explained that in a 400-page novel, every 50 pages is considered a sequence. Each sequence should end with some sort of cliffhanger or climax of major suspense (someone dies) or minor suspense (phone rings).

We finished our session that evening with a scene-by-scene description of the movie, “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” I could write an entire post about that experience, but there’s no need since Alexandra has already done that for us here.

I’m looking forward to reading Alexandra’s book, “Screenwriting Tricks for Authors,” to learn more about structuring my novel.

Stealing Hollywood by Alexandra Sokoloff

In between sessions, Mia and I checked off two must-have Canadian culinary experiences: poutine and Tim Horton’s. I asked for a “double-double” at Timmy’s.

Mia & me

#WereBasically #LocalsNow

Thursday, October 12th

First thing in the morning, Mia and I attended “Speed Dating for Authors.” Authors ranging from brand-new to well-known were paired up and given two minutes each to sell us on their books. After five minutes, the authors would move on to the next table of potential readers. As writers working on their first novels, I felt this was an invaluable experience for us as someday (gulp) we might also be in the same position of pitching our completed books.

We met quite a few authors including fellow Finn, Antti Tuomainen, whose darkly humorous book, “The Man Who Died,” sounds wonderful. I was also immediately sold on Sara Driscoll’s “Lone Wolf,” a mystery about an FBI canine handler which features a black lab like the one I had left at home. I told Sara I would see her at noon in the Grand Foyer during her signing.

Grateful readers of Lone Wolf

There were so many other great writers and I was fortunate enough to get photos with a few of them including Leigh Perry (Family Skeleton series), fellow MWA-Midwest member, Lynn Cahoon (Tourist Trap series), and the writing duo of Caroline and Charles Todd (Inspector Rutledge series).

With Leigh Perry
With Lynn Cahoon
With Caroline & Todd Charles (*wow*)

In the afternoon, I went to a few sessions including the interesting “Changing Times: The State of the Publishing Industry” which was moderated by the very talented Clair Lamb.

With Clair Lamb

In between sessions, I ran into some familiar faces including writer Becky Bays, whom I had met at the Writers Police Academy two years ago  and fellow Minnesotans, Barb Lindquist Schlichting (First Lady series), Christine Husom (Winnebago Co. & Snow Globe Shop series), and Sherry Roberts (Maya Skye series).

With Becky Bays
Minnesota! Barb Lindquist Schlichting, Jessica Laine, Christine Husom, Sherry Roberts

I don’t know when we snapped this selfie,

With Mia

but shortly thereafter, Mia and I were happily ensconced in Momofuku, mofos.

Momofuku

After dinner, I ended up at the hotel bar where I ran into the Minnesota Mafia including Devin Abraham from Once Upon a Crime Mystery Books (seems like you can’t ever really get away from them).

MN Mafia: Sherry Roberts, Devin Abraham, Jess Lourey, Jessie Chandler, & friends

And I learned why you can’t assume everyone in the bar is part of Bouchercon.

Man staring at me in bar.

Me: You look like you have a question.

Man: What’s this? (Points at badge)

Me: Sisters in Crime.  It’s an organization for mystery writers.

Man: I’m a writer too.

Me: Really?

Man: I wrote a poem last year.  (Hands me phone) Here, you can read it.

Me: Sorry, I don’t have my glasses.

Man: I’ll read it to you.

Me:

Friday, October 13th

A new day, a new dawn, a new author’s breakfast. We heard from several break-through writers including fellow Chicagoan, Danny Gardner (“A Negro and an Ofay”),

Danny Gardner

met up with some cool people, and then had lunch with writer Kristen Lepionka (“The Last Place You Look”) where I ate my first (but not my last) chicken pot pie of the day.

Kristen Lepionka, Shaun Harris, Danny Gardner, Mia Manansala
Mia and Kristen
Lunch with Mia and Kristen
Kristen Lepionka signing
With Kristen Lepionka

After enjoying some more sessions, it was on to Mystery Writers of America – Midwest’s Happy Half Hour. Yes, we saw the Minnesota Mafia again, but also met some new folks including Cheryl Reed (“Poison Girls”), Penni Jones (“On the Bricks”) and Libby Kirsch (Stella Reynolds series).

MWA-Midwest Happy Half Hour: Christine Husom, Libby Kirsch Wamsley, Penni Harris Jones, Mia Manansala, Jess Lourey, Cheryl Reed, Jessica Laine & Jessie Chandler

We went out for dinner and ended up at the same place where we ate lunch. And yes, I had another chicken pot pie, they were that good.

Dinner: Christine Husom, Cheryl Reed, Libby Kirsch, Penni Jones, Mia Manansala, Jessica Laine

#potpie4ever

Somehow, we walked by the Pub Quiz that evening with several people including fellow Minnesotan Mindy Mejia (“Everything You Want Me to Be”) and author Dale T. Phillips. Someone (not me) suggested our small group enter the competition.

Mindy Mejia, Sherry Roberts, Devin Abraham, Dale T. Phillips

We were shoved into a corner far from the action (kind of like our own Island of Misfit Toys), and as of question #1, I knew we were screwed. It went something like this:

“On June 16, 1823, there was a steam train that ran through Vancouver every day at noon. Name the steam train, which is also the title of Elvis Murphy Brown IV’s mystery best-seller. Since this is such an easy question, we will only be awarding half a point for the correct answer.”

I am a high school quiz bowl nerd, and I was basically crying inside. Apparently, there was another table shoved into the opposite corner filled with hooligans who kept Googling their answers.

“Table in the corner, stop Googling your answers,” the emcee shouted through the microphone, garnering us tons of negative attention.

“It’s a different table,” we told tables nearby, but they didn’t believe us.

“Guys, we have to get out of here,” someone said (maybe me).

I won’t say *how* we escaped the Pub Quiz without having to walk in front of the emcee and surrounding tables. Suffice to say, we did.

And wrote a musical about it. At the bar. The songs went something like this:

“Take Off” – Bob and Doug McKenzie

“I Lost on Jeopardy” – Weird Al Yankovic

“Questions” – Chris Brown

“Hotel California” – The Eagles

“We Gotta Get Out of This Place” – The Animals

“Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” – Rupert Holmes

“Take the Long Way Home” – Supertramp

“Stairway to Heaven” – Led Zeppelin

“Oh Sherrie” – Steve Perry

“Don’t Forget Me When I’m Gone” – Glass Tiger

“Looks Like We Made It” – Barry Manilow

“Survivor” – Destiny’s Child

“I Got Friends in Low Places” – Garth Brooks

Requisite photos at the bar:

Mindy Mejia, Jessica Laine, Devin Abraham, Sherry Roberts, Christine Husom
Leslie Budewitz, Dale T. Phillips, Sherry Roberts
Past SinC Presidents Catriona McPherson & Leslie Budewitz
Devin Abraham & Christine Husom
Christine Husom, Sherry Roberts, Leslie Budewitz & Devin Abraham

Saturday, October 14th

Finally, the moment I’d been waiting for all weekend: the 30th Anniversary Sisters in Crime breakfast where I would receive the Eleanor Taylor Bland award for unpublished manuscript by a writer of color. Keeping it short and sweet, I thanked four tremendous women: Eleanor Taylor Bland, Sisters in Crime founder, Sara Paretsky, and my mentors, former Twin Cities SinC President, Erin Hart (Nora Gavin/Cormac Maguire series) and MWA Grand Master, Ellen Hart (Jane Lawless & Sophie Greenway series). Then I got a hug from Sara Paretsky and decided I could die happy now.

SinC Presidents Diane Vallere & Kendel Lynn

Thanks so much to everyone at Sisters in Crime for their support, especially SinC President, Diane Vallere, Beth Wasson, and Gigi Pandian. It was so amazing to win this award. I hope I make you proud.

Next, I attended the excellent “New Kids in Town” panel with fellow Minnesotan Matt Goldman (“Gone to Dust”), Steph Broadribb, Kristen Lepionka, Jennifer Soosar, Mary Torjussen, and moderator, Eric Beetner.

New Kids In Town
With Matt Goldman
More Minnesotans: Matt Goldman & David Housewright

Later, the “Best Novel” panel delivered some of my favorite quotes:

“The first chapter is Medusa-like. It turns people to stone.” – Laura Lippman

“I didn’t think Still Life would be published so every decision I made in my writing was selfish.” – Louise Penny

“Reading takes away people’s time. I want to make it worth their time. I want to be good company.” – Laura Lippman

I followed this up with the “50 Minute Novel” panel where authors created a plot with audience participation. Well, we lost the plot (something about a Yeti, some spaghetti, the Himalayas, and a finger in the dryer), but nobody cared. Because Charlaine Harris.

Because Charlaine Harris

I sort of redeemed my high school quiz nerd past life by sweeping James L’Etoile’s prison trivia game during his 20 on 20.

James L’Etoile

Here were my fabulous prizes. Can’t wait to read his arc, Bury the Past.

I ended the day with my favorite panel, “Reading the Rainbow: an LGBTQ+ panel.” Minnesotan Jessie Chandler, John Copenhaver, Stephanie Gayle, the hilarious Greg Herren, Owen Laukkanen, and moderator Kristopher Zgorski from BOLO Books made for an amazing discussion of LGBTQ+ mysteries, past and present.

Reading the Rainbow
With Owen Laukkanen

Overall, I had a great time at Bcon17. I met people, came away with tons of free books, won an award, got a hug from Sara Paretsky, danced to “That’s Amore,” and shared a meal with Devin Abraham on the way home.

With Penni Jones and Libby Kirsch
My pretties

Devin Abraham

Pretty. Damn. Good.

 

 

 

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Top Ten Reasons I Love the Writers Police Academy, Part Two

Top Ten Reasons I Love the Writers Police Academy, Part Two

Last year was my first time at the Writers Police Academy and it was amazing.  I wasn’t sure what to expect this year, but there was no need to fear: the 2017 WPA was awesome.  Here’s why:

1. Road Tripping with Me, Myself, and I. When you drive by yourself, you can roll down the windows while you blare Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again”:

“And here I go again on my own
Goin’ down the only road I’ve ever known,
Like a hobo I was born to walk alone”

Although with my hair blowing in the wind, I felt I was a little less “hobo” and a little more “Tawny Kitaen”.  But I digress.

Tawny Kitaen "Here I Go Again"
Giphy.com

2. Old and New Friends. That song we sang in Brownies said make new friends but keep the old so that’s what I did.  It was great to see my old buddies Shoshona Freedman, Savannah March, Tes Brown, Jim Bennetts, Josh Cejka, and Mike Riegel of the “Riegel Island” Riegels (sorry, inside joke).  Plus, I met some cool new people including Heather Wilson and Rebecca Faye Koss.

Mia Manansala, S.M. Freedman, Jessica Ellis Laine
Mike Riegel & Josh Cejka
Josh Cejka, Jessica Ellis Laine, Rebecca Faye Koss
Laine, Manansala, Bennetts, Cejka, & Riegel
Sarah Bennetts, Jim Bennetts, & Jessica Ellis Laine

I lucked out and got an awesome roomie, Mia Manansala.  Mia and I are both having an excellent year; Mia recently won the William F. Deeck Malice Domestic grant and I found out the week before the WPA that I’d won the Sisters in Crime Eleanor Taylor Bland award.  We were ready to learn a lot at the Writers Police Academy and celebrate a little, too.

Jessica Ellis Laine & Mia Manansala

3. Sisters in Crime President Diane Vallere. It was a great honor to meet SinC President Diane Vallere at Thursday’s reception.  She was amazing and very down-to-earth.  I’d like to give a big shout-out to Sisters in Crime for sponsoring the Writers Police Academy, a great resource for both aspiring and seasoned writers.  Looking forward to seeing all of my Sisters at Bouchercon in October!

Mia Manansala, Diane Vallere, Jessica Ellis Laine

4. Craig Johnson. On Friday morning, I met Craig Johnson, the author of the Longmire series.  He was very friendly and offered up a great speech at the banquet on Saturday night.  It was interesting to hear about his career as a writer and his involvement in the Longmire television series.  Plus, he said “howdy” to me on Twitter and I almost fainted.  

Jessica Ellis Laine & Craig Johnson

5. Shooting Range. I was fortunate enough to shoot both hand guns and long guns at this year’s academy.  I was incredibly impressed by our instructors who had a gentle touch with the people who were nervous about shooting.  They were also good eye candy (LOL).

Jessica Ellis Laine

6. Emergency Driving.  My instructor’s face after my emergency driving session is priceless.  He looks terrified.

Jessica Ellis Laine

7. Martial Arts for Writers. Our instructor, Esoma kung fu master, Howard Lewis, beat the crap out of me as he showed us how to defend ourselves from potential attackers and I liked it.  That is all.

Howard Lewis & Jessica Ellis Laine

8. Gifts and Prizes. As an unexpected bonus, I was given a WPA mug and patch after Saturday’s banquet for referring my roommate, Mia, to this year’s academy which was cool.  Mia and I also purchased raffle tickets and Mia ended up winning two K-9 plush animals.  She graciously gave me the Mason the Retriever doll to take home as a gift for my son.

9. Purcell’s Lounge. There was drinking and music in the hotel bar each night after the academy wrapped up.  It was great to catch up with friends and hear about the classes others had taken.  On Saturday night, we let it all hang out and danced with our favorite dance partners, Colleen and Jill.  One memory I will take to my grave is when a grown-ass man ran out of the bar while screaming these words at me: “Fine!!  You’ve proved your point!!!”  I’m not sure what my “point” was (perhaps that I’m a good salsa dancer which I am) but in any case, I will not stop dancing next year until at least *two* grown-ass men run out of the bar screaming at the top of their lungs.  #goals

Heather Wilson, Josh Cejka, Mia Manansala, Colleen Belongea
Heather Wilson, Jessica Ellis Laine, Mia Manansala, Colleen Belongea
Mia Manansala & Jessica Ellis Laine

10. Kroll’s East. Before leaving Green Bay, Mia and I met up with another mystery writer, Julia Lightbody, at the famous Kroll’s East.  My dining companions, the spaghetti with chili, and the cherry shake were all wonderful.

Mia Manansala, Julia Lightbody, Jessica Ellis Laine

Overall, I had another amazing year at the Writers Police Academy.  I learned a lot, partied a little, and came away with many great ideas for my work-in-progress, The Sundowner.  Special thanks to Lee and Denene Lofland and the instructors, staff, and volunteers at Northeast Technical College for all of their hard work and planning.  I can’t wait to see what will happen at next year’s academy!   

Jessica Ellis Laine

Jessica Ellis Laine is the winner of the 2017 Sisters in Crime Eleanor Taylor Bland award and the 2016 Mystery Writers of America-Midwest Hugh Holton award.  She lives online at http://www.jessicaellislaine.com.