The one thing I remember from Bouchercon

(The title of this post is not a joke about how much I drank this weekend but it very well could be…)

Hahaha ok seriously though.

This past weekend, Kellye Garrett won the Anthony Award for Best First Novel for Hollywood Homicide. Attica Locke won Best Novel for Bluebird, Bluebird, and The Obama Inheritance, edited by Gary Phillips, won Best Anthology.

It was pretty incredible to see three major awards go to black authors—especially when the awards are a popular vote by the convention attendees.

(UPDATE: I can’t believe I missed this, but I’m also so thrilled that Kristen Lepionka, who is part of the LGBT community and is a hell of a writer, won Best First Novel in the Shamus Awards!).

But there’s something I’ve been dwelling on since Saturday night, and it’s what Kellye said during her acceptance speech.

She referenced the dismal state of representation, highlighted in this list at Sisters in Crime. It lays out, in a pretty stark way, how unbalanced the crime and mystery field is (and this is just crime and mystery).

There are less than 200 people here who are traditionally-published and not straight and white. Just 81 black writers, 22 Latinx writers, 9 Native-Americans writers, 19 Asian American/Asian writers…

Seriously, give it a look.

Kellye said something important during her acceptance speech: “We need to stop treating diverse writers as a trend and start treating them as the status quo.”

I understand and appreciate the need for diversity, and recently talked about the importance of reading diverse books (both as a writer and as a person). But Kellye’s speech and this list really take the issue and underscore it and highlight it and string it with Christmas lights. It makes the whole thing a little less theoretical and a lot more tangible.

In a large sense Bouchercon was a fun weekend. I was glad to see a lot of folks and a lot of people got to meet my daughter and that was nice. I was going to write a rundown of some of the cool stuff that happened, and the lessons worth sharing… but I keep thinking of standing there in the ballroom, listening to Kellye’s speech, happy as hell for her because she is super cool and it’s a great book, and how I wished more people could hear it, because there are a lot of people in the community who were not in that room.

So, that’s the memory I wanted to share.

Go follow Kellye. She’s a smart and strong advocate for this issue. Bookmark that list and the next time you’re looking for a new book to read, or you’re setting up your own event, recognize it as a resource that is both very valuable but something we should also be sad about.

And congrats to all the Anthony winners. It was a good year.

A brief guide on how to be a cool guy at a conference, and not a dumbass

It’s almost time for Bouchercon, the biggest crime and mystery convention of the year. As such, there will be a lot of socializing, a lot of drinking, and a few dumb assholes saying or doing inappropriate things.

That’s what happens when you shove a ton of people into a hotel for a few days and add a generous helping of booze. That doesn’t make it okay.

I’ve seen other authors sharing tips and survival guides for conferences—many of which are very good (seriously, stay hydrated).

What I haven’t seen is something that shouldn’t be necessary but is probably necessary: a quick guide on how to be a cool dude and not a dumbass.

There’s been a lot of discussion about convention harassment policies, and those are all good discussions—it’s paramount on conventions to create and enforce a safe and respectful atmosphere—but there are some specific behaviors I think it’s worth talking about.

So, I submit for consideration, a brief guide on how to be a cool guy, and not a dumbass:

THINK BEFORE YOU SPEAK. Seriously. Just take a second. Say it in your head. Pretend you have to say it to you mom, instead of the woman you barely know standing in front of you. Think about how your mom would react. Hopefully then you’ll realize that anything worth considering so much is probably not a thing you should say.

MANAGE YOUR ALCOHOL INTAKE. If you know you tend to lose control of yourself after you have five drinks… have four. Even better, three. Or, if you find this is something you have a difficult time controlling, maybe it’s time to have a long hard think about your relationship to alcohol.

MIND YOUR HANDS. Once, at a publishing party, I saw a man reach up to brush the hair out of the eyes of a woman he just met. He thought he was being polite and did not notice her entire body freeze. After she quickly excused herself, he seemed genuinely taken aback when I told him that what he did was inappropriate. This should be an easy one, but I guess it’s not: Handshakes, cool. Hugs, sometimes cool if the person is a friend. A gentle, intimate caress? No!

SPEAK UP. Guys, it is paramount that we speak up when we see something bad happen. If you stand by and let it happen, or worse, if you create excuses for someone, you’re complicit. Full stop. It’s not fun to call out a friend or colleague. You know what’s also not fun? Being subjected to unwanted physical and verbal advances.

STAND UP. At this coming Bouchercon, badass author extraordinaire Christa Faust is spearheading an anti-harassment posse—folks who will wear little silver stars on their badge or elsewhere, indicating they are there to help anyone who feels like they are being harassed. Being mindful is good. Being proactive and part of the solution? That’s even better.

KNOW WHEN TO PACK IT IN. Maybe you did or said something inappropriate. Maybe you want to apologize. This is not necessarily a bad instinct. But it can turn bad real quick when you hound the person you offended so you can “properly” apologize. Because then it’s less about the apology, and more about you wanting to be absolved, which is basically putting the responsibility of your harassment on the person you harassed. Sometimes you have to know to accept you were wrong, say sorry, walk away, and find some new folks to talk to.

THE RULES HAVE NOT CHANGED, THEY ARE JUST BEING ENFORCED. You hear this a lot, mostly from rotten people—”everyone’s different now, you can’t do this, you can’t say that, now you get in trouble.” No, it’s not that we all sat down and came up with a list of words and actions that are now off limits. It was always shitty to say and do those things. It’s just that now people are emboldened to call you on it. Now there are consequences. Stop pretending like your behavior is a right you’ve been denied, and realize that what’s really been denied is the safety and comfort of other people, by you.

I’m looking forward to a good time down in St. Pete’s this weekend! I know in my heart that the overwhelming majority of the people going are in it for a good time, and that good time will be had, despite the presence of a few bad apples. And I think with a little personal mindfulness, and a little vigilance, we can pare down that bad bunch even further.

Writing Advice Sucks #7: How to navigate the publishing industry like a poker player

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There’s this analogy I’ve been working on for a little while. It started off as a chess analogy but then turned into a poker analogy, at my wife’s suggestion, because poker relies more on the winds of chance than chess. She is so goddamn smart.

I think this analogy gets to the root of how publishing works, and how to successfully navigate it.

But hey, that’s for you to decide.

Here goes: Continue reading

Writing Advice Sucks #6: Read everything, read constantly

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A long, long time ago (looking on Amazon I see it came out in 2003 and holy shit that was fifteen years ago) I read a book called The Contortionist’s Handbook. It was a noir-as-fuck debut novel by a dude named Craig Clevenger, about an uber-talented forger who constantly reinvented himself to avoid the authorities.

It was one of those formative books for me—I read it and I was like yes, this, this is what I want to do, I want to do things like this. So I tracked down Clevenger’s e-mail and I sent him a message, asking him if he had any advice.

He came back with a bullet list of ten points, and it’s some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten. I was very, very lucky to get it at the beginning of this journey, and reading it now reinforces how much of it informed my writing DNA.

That list is still, to this day, taped to the wall over my computer.

I’ve been thinking about the first point lately, a lot. Enough I think it’s worth breaking into its own post.

Continue reading

It’s almost time for Bouchercon! And here’s where I’ll be…

N@BBCSP_B.jpgYesterday I wrote about the quantum state of conferences—how they’re worth it and not worth it at the same time, and really it comes down to your definition of “worth.”

Which is a pretty good segue into some news about Bouchercon, which is taking place in Florida this year. I will be there! I will be doing stuff!

First up: Noir at the Bar on Thursday night. Will you just look at this line-up? It’s madness. Sheer madness, and I feel extremely lucky to have made the cut. I’ll try to come up with something good to read…

I’ll also be appearing on two panels. They are:

Friday, September 7th, 1 p.m. — Remington Steele Goes Digital? — Writing the Modern PI Novel. I’ll be joining Rebecca Swope (moderator), J.D. Allen, Kristen Lepionka, and Paul D. Marks

Saturday, September 8th, 1 p.m. — Yin and Yang — Cozy and Noir. I’ll be moderating this one, which features Donna Andrews, Ed Lin, Melinda Mullet, Robert Randisi, and Jim Doherty.

Otherwise, I will be wandering the conference hotel. If you want to find me, the hotel bar is a good bet, followed by the pool.

Writing Advice Sucks #5: The importance of community, the quantum state of cons, and recharging your creative batteries

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Two weekends ago me and some pals rented a cabin in upstate New York for what we like to call Broke Hack Mountain: a few days of eating, fighting, drinking, and writing.

I was working on a final pass of The Warehouse before submitting it back to Crown. It was great, to see all 472 pages over the course of two and a half days—I caught so much stuff I wouldn’t have caught if the read were stretched over a longer period.

Like, hey, I used a somewhat similar metaphor 70 pages ago and why do so many characters have ponytails? kind of stuff. I know it’s not easy to find a whole, obligation-free weekend, but if you can, it’s worth it.

That’s not what I’m here to talk about, though! I’m here to talk about community. Because one of the many, many publishing-related questions that came up over the weekend was: are conferences worth it?

It’s actually a pretty common question, and one I’ve been asked a lot: do I need to go to this con or that con?

Which is a good jumping off point, I think, that’ll bring us back to why we went to the cabin in the first place (and why we hope to make it a more regular occurrence). Continue reading

Writing Advice Sucks #4: Editing ‘The Warehouse’, why Elmore Leonard was right, and one secret editing trick that will BLOW YOUR MIND

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I run an online workshop program at LitReactor, where we bring in writers and editors to lead classes on craft. I listen to a lot of pitches. And one of the pitches I get most frequently is on editing. Not how to write the first draft of a novel or story, but how to refine a written story.

And I cannot sell them.

I’ve had authors whose other classes sold very well try to teach an editing class and I’m lucky if we sell enough seats to keep it open. I cannot for the life of me understand why this is. Continue reading