by Margaret Lucke
I'm a veteran of mystery conferences. I don't go regularly, but I've been to quite a few, and I'm familiar with their many benefits -- networking, touching base with friends, increasing my visibility as an author and promoting my books, picking up new ideas, traveling to interesting places. There is the occasional drawback as well, of course, chiefly the costs involved. But when I go, I'm always sure I made the right decision.
One issue, especially if your money and time are limited, is choosing which conference to go to, out of the many possibilities. If you're interested but undecided, you might benefit from my experience. Here's a quick rundown on some of the ones I've attended.
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Bouchercon: Billing itself as the World Mystery Conference, Bouchercon is the longest running -- the first one was in 1970 -- and the biggest. More than 1,900 writers, readers, and publishing pros gathered this month in New Orleans. Sadly I was not among them, but I've been to a dozen or so B'cons over the years. Is it being held in a city I want to visit? Then I'm likely to sign up. The conference has been held in cities all over the U.S., in Canada, and even once in England. Next year's will be in Toronto, October 12-15. The name Bouchercon, by the way, is a tribute to a distinguished mystery critic, editor, and author, the late Anthony Boucher.
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Left Coast Crime: LCC was started in 1991 by fans in San Francisco who wanted a mystery conference that was smaller and closer to home than Bouchercon. It's a more manageable conference in some ways, about a third or half the size of B'con, and is a lot of fun. It's always held somewhere in the western U.S. Next year's will be in Honolulu, about as far west as you can get, March 16-19. I'm looking forward to being there.
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Malice Domestic: Held every April in Bethesda, MD (right next to Washington, DC), Malice focuses on what it calls the traditional mystery -- books which don't contain explicit sex or excessive gore or violence, as typified by the works of Agatha Christie. Teacups and fancy hats abound, or they did in the years when I was there, and the cozy-mystery atmosphere added to the fun. Next years dates are April 28-30.
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MWA Edgar Week: It's not exactly a conference, but many writers converge on New York City for the Edgar Week activities sponsored by the Mystery Writers of America. The highlight is the banquet at which the Edgar Awards are presented, but there is also a daylong symposium of educational panels and presentations, as well as various receptions and parties for the purpose of meeting and greeting many of the folks make up the who's-who list of crime fiction.
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Writer's Police Academy: Unlike most conferences, which are geared to the enjoyment of readers and fans, WPA takes its aim at authors. Its website says it "offers an exciting and heart-pounding interactive and educational hands-on experience for writers to enhance their understanding of all aspects of law enforcement, firefighting, EMS, and forensics," and that was certainly true of the one I attended in August 2015. We gathered at a public safety training facility in Wisconsin where first responders and their colleagues toured us through the local jail, led us through a smoke-filled building, put police dogs through their paces, demonstrated car chases, showed us how to shoot guns and investigate a crime scene -- all so we can get the details right in our books. Check the website for next year's dates and details.
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Cabrillo Suspense Writers Conference: No link for this one because, alas, it is no more. I'm including in this list it because Cabrillo sticks in my memory for giving me some of my best conference experiences. Founded by Dr. Timothy Welch of Cabrillo College and author Collin Wilcox, Cabrillo was like summer camp for mystery writers. About 80 of us gathered each summer for a decade at a rustic lodge in the redwoods near Santa Cruz. We swam, sunned, hiked, drank wine, and ate lots of delicious food -- and, oh yes, we rubbed elbows with and learned from such luminaries of the crime fiction field as Lawrence Block, Donald E. Westlake, Mary Higgins Clark, along with top editors and agents.
I haven't been to Thrillerfest, Sleuthfest, the Public Safety Writers Association conference, the New England Crime Bake, Killer Nashville, or the Book Passage Mystery Writers Conference, though I've heard good things about all of them. And there are more that I haven't mentioned; to learn about them, check out these lists from Sisters in Crime and Dead Herring.
When you sign up for a conference, check the attendees list to see if I'll be there. If I am, be sure to come by and say hello.