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Twist Phelan answers: “What Bouchercon has meant to me…”

I travel. A lot. According to my travel planning software, over the past five years I’ve flown over half a million miles to 278 cities in 53 countries, with several repeated (very) often. (Spain! Italy!) I spend almost as much time abroad as I do in the States.

Among those many journeys were trips to New Orleans, Raleigh, Long Beach, and Cleveland to attend Bouchercons. They were the trips I felt as though I were vacationing and not traveling.

This may seem counterintuitive. After all, I’m a full-time writer. Most of my traveling is work-related; I research, plot, promote, and write while on the road. So attending a convention of my peers and fans shouldn’t be considered vacation, right?

Yet the whole time in New Orleans, Raleigh, etc., I was relaxed. I enjoyed attending the panels, catching up with old friends, making new ones. Sure, every day was physically exhausting (I basically get no sleep during these conventions), but at the end of each trip I felt refreshed.

Twist Phelan and Laura Lippman

For almost a decade (and through two hair colors—me), I’ve been doing high-heel yoga with Laura Lippman at Bouchercon.

I love to travel and see the world. It’s a key component of my intellectual and social growth, a chance to learn about other cultures and other histories. I never want to stop exploring the globe. That said, never do I think before leaving on an international trip, “Ah, I’m going on vacation!” That’s because at the heart of it, I’m working, which to me equates to traveling. Navigating my way around Tokyo or Marrakesh may be a memory I’ll have forever, but I don’t find it relaxing or refreshing. (Does anyone?) That doesn’t make it less valuable, of course.



My trips to Bouchercon serve more or less the same purpose for me as a beach or mountain trip might for other folks. It was a good reminder how wonderful it is to do while not exactly nothing, something close. Perhaps a better way to put it is it reminded me how nice it was to experience the familiar in terms of food, transportation, language, and people.Twist Phelan and Laura Lippman

So maybe there are two types of experiences you can have when you pack your bag and take off: travel and vacation. Travel means seeing the world, revving up your sense of adventure and putting your brain to work processing new experiences. Vacation is for re-energizing yourself, enjoying your surroundings at a slower pace and taking a break from stress.

So whether you’ll be traveling or vacationing, come to Toronto! Either way, you’ll return home with memories of a unique and wonderful experience.

Hope to see you there!


Twist Phelan is a member of Crime Writers of Canada (CWC) known for her Finn Teller Corporate Spy mystery series, Pinnacle Peak mystery series, and her short stories, which have won numerous awards. She is one of the Toastmasters at Bouchercon 2017.

This piece first appeared in the June 2017 edition of the CWC members’ newsletter Crime Time, and appears here with the permission of CWC and the author. 

Maureen Jennings answers: “What Bouchercon has meant to me…”

The very first Bouchercon I attended was in 1990 in London, England. I wasn’t writing at the time, although lurking in the background was probably the desire to do so. But I had heroes! And there they were: P.D.James; Colin Dexter; Michael Innes, among others. What a thri

Maureen Jennings and Cathy Ace

Maureen Jennings and Cathy Ace

ll to hear and see them chatting about the genre that I loved so much.

After that, I attended regularly. Not only was it an opportunity to visit different cities I might not necessarily visit, such as the glorious Pasadena, it was also the chance to mingle with other people –  both fans and writers – who loved to read the kind of books I loved to read.

Along the way, perhaps without quite realizing it, I was picking up tips about the writing process itself. All most helpful when I began my first novel.

I made friends that I have kept over the years. I met my first editor Ruth Cavin at the Nottingham Bouchercon and got launched as it were. We sat next to each at the banquet, fell into a great conversation (topic forgotten now). I mentioned I had sent along a manuscript to St. Martin’s Press. It was no doubt sitting in her slush pile. After this evening, I was a face attached to a name. She read the manuscript and made an offer. Except the Dying saw the light of day two years later.

Long may the lovers of this genre gather together.


Maureen Jennings is the author of the Murdoch Mysteries series, the Christine Morris books and the Tom Tyler books. She was shortlisted for the 2017 Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novel for her Tom Tyler book, Dead Ground In Between, just one of the awards for which her work has been shortlisted, and which it has won. Maureen was President of Crime Writers of Canada 2003-2004.

Sarah Byrne answers: “What Bouchercon has meant to me…”

I’ve been a fan of mysteries since the age of 10 when I stumbled upon a copy of Colin Watson‘s “Snobbery with Violence” misfiled in the children’s section of the Toowong Library, in Brisbane Australia, where I grew up. 

For a long time, I knew no one who really shared my enthusiasm.  In fact the first time I did find another person who really loved crime fiction I overreacted and got engaged to him. Luckily, before I made a really huge mistake, I found the wonderful – now sadly defunct – magazine Armchair Detective, realised that there was a whole international community of like-minded readers out there, and learned that I could actually get to meet them at this magical, miraculous event named Bouchercon.

I aspired to visit Bouchercon for years and years.  It seemed an unattainable Holy Grail.  How would I get there, and what would I do even if I made it?  I knew nobody; felt like I hadn’t read nearly enough to earn my stripes, and many of the authors listed had no distribution in Australia, so what could I say to them?  It seemed quite terrifying, but also potentially the best time I could ever have.  And so I yearned.

By 1998, I was finally earning enough to make my first ever overseas trip. 

Philadelphia is possibly not where most Australians dream of going for their first international holiday – but Bouchercon was there, so for me it was a no-brainer.  And it was glorious.  Everyone was friendly.  People would read my name tag, realise I was from Australia, and go out of their way to welcome me. Authors weren’t offended when I hadn’t read them, just pleased to meet a potential new fan.  When the bestselling authors’ panels were packed out, I could wander into another panel (generally wherever I heard the most laughter) and discover new and brilliant writers I wouldn’t otherwise have heard of. In the Dealers’ Room I bought a doormat with the imprint “Do You Have A Warrant?” –  which was hilarious up until the point the police knocked on my door about the burglary in the flat downstairs.

And then there was my favourite thing ever, the charity auction, and to this day I kick myself for not scraping up the US$110 it would have taken to win signed first editions of the first four novels from someone now very famous.

It was a few years before I could find the time and cash to make the pilgrimage again, but in 2005 I got myself to Chicago. And I’ve managed to attend again almost every year since, including Madison, Wisconsin, where I made no sense on a panel after 44 hours of travelling on five flights to get there. (Worse, on that last flight I was seated next to the Guest of Honour, hadn’t read a thing he’d written, and smelled and looked exactly as you would expect of a person who had spent 44 hours travelling in economy). And Alaska, where distance kept numbers low, but meant that I also got to meet several of my idols and have real conversations. (And where this year’s Co-Chairs and I serendipitously found a restaurant that was selling the 1998 vintage Grange Hermitage for less that I could have got it for at home.) 

So for the last 12 years, Bouchercon has been my respite and my oasis, and the thing I most look forward to every year. I’ve made wonderful friends, discovered brilliant writers, seen places I would not otherwise have thought to visit, and connected with the community that is closest to my heart.

To anyone wondering whether to take the plunge for the first time, stop wondering and DO IT.  Whether you’re a hermit or a hedonist, if you love mysteries, then you will find your bliss at Bouchercon.

Helen Nelson answers: “What Bouchercon has meant to me…”

When friends convinced me to come to the first organizing meeting for Bouchercon 2004 (in early 2004), I had never been to Bouchercon. In fact, although I wanted to help out, I wasn’t sure I would actually attend because it was going to be held on the Canadian Thanksgiving Weekend. And my husband and I had a long tradition spending that last long weekend of the year getting in one more camping trip before it gets seriously cold.

By the end of that first meeting, I had agreed to chair the Registration committee. A few weeks later we added other tasks to the Registration committee and I was joined in chairing the committee by Patricia Pedersen. One of the people we convinced to join our committee was Janet Costello. She, too, had never been to Bouchercon before.

Of course, by the time Bouchercon 2004 began I was there. I had taken on a wide range of tasks that really couldn’t be accomplished from a comfortable campsite in a Provincial Park. So, too, had Janet Costello, who had worked on the Registration committee and co-ordinated the charity auctions. Of course we didn’t really attend all that much of Bouchercon – we were so busy with the background tasks of making sure that everything happened. Even though we had independently bought T-Shirts that featured a picture of “The Silent Scream” with the words “Stop me before I volunteer again”, we were hooked.

What is the hook? 

It is hard to fully describe. But I’ll try. 

It’s the fact that Bouchercon is run entirely by volunteers who pour their hearts into making it happen every year. It is the fact that it has happened every year without fail for 47 years – soon to be 48. It is visiting new-to-us cities – and revisiting cities we think of as old friends. It is the same every year and different every year. It is the sense of community, of family. It is meeting new friends and visiting with old friends. It is the hugs of greeting and the tears of parting. It is mourning those who have died in the last year. It is celebrating the successes of new authors, and the veterans. It is reminiscent of a high school reunion except you like everyone! It is a joyous party for up to 2000 kindred spirits.

And so it was probably inevitable that we would want to do it again in Toronto!  In the almost 13 years since Bouchercon 2004, Janet and I have poured a lot of our energy into the Toronto Chapter of Sisters in Crime. Janet was newsletter editor for 7 years; I worked as co-editor for the first two of those, then spent 5 years as chapter president. And we’re still active there. And it didn’t hurt that people would constantly ask me “So when will we do Bouchercon here again?”

Co-Chairs Janet Costello and Helen Nelson

Co-Chairs Janet Costello and Helen Nelson

That feeling of wanting to give back has never left us. So in 2012 we made a successful bid to host Bouchercon 2017 in Toronto. Janet and I are the Co-Chairs.

We’ll be busy during Bouchercon this year.  No matter how well planned, there are always a host of last minute details and fixes and oversights and questions to be answered!  But the highlight is all of you!

See you all in October!

Peter Robinson answers: “What Bouchercon has meant to me…”

Bouchercon can be intimidating for a writer just starting out.

I remember my very first, when I found myself in the signing room sitting next to Robert Bloch. At least I can now say I shook hands with the man who wrote Psycho! Not so long after, I sat next to Sue Grafton. Needless to say, her queue was out of the door and mine was non-existent, but Sue was kind enough to share her wine with me and even send a few book buyers my way. That’s the sort of thing you remember about Bouchercons years later, as well as the fact that there was only one waitress on duty and the bar closed at eleven o’clock. It’s really the people that make it what it is.

I know there’s a lot of business involved, especially self-promotion, using the opportunity to get your name better known, but don’t forget the parties. I’ve made many lifelong friends at Bouchercons. I even met my agent at one in Pasadena, and he’s still my agent twenty-five years later. So by all means do the business, make the rounds, but don’t forget to take a little time to talk to the fans and make friends with other writers. 

Author of the Inspector Banks Mystery Series, Peter Robinson‘s work has been shortlisted for, and won, many awards, including a record-breaking four Arthur Ellis Awards for Best Novel (in 1992, 1997, 2001 and 2012). He served two terms as President of Crime Writers of Canada, and is still a stalwart member.

This article first appeared in Crime Time, the members-only newsletter for Crime Writers of Canada, in December 2016, and is reproduced here with the permission of the author and Crime Writers of Canada.

Rick Mofina answers: “What Bouchercon has meant to me…”

My first Bouchercon was in Austin. My first book had come out earlier that year. Being shy and introverted it was overwhelming. But I was fortunate to get on a panel. Exciting. Two people showed up to hear four authors and a moderator sit around a tiny table with one microphone.

It looked more like a séance.

After that experience I moped in my room wondering why I’d let my agent talk me into coming. I took solace in doing some writing and flipping through the program in awe of all the big names in the same hotel, Harlan Coben, Dennis Lehane, Michael Connelly and Walter Mosley, to name a few. All were gods to me. Weeks earlier, I had written to Michael Connelly, whose work I loved, and asked if he would consider a blurb for my upcoming reporter thriller, No Way Back. I never got a response and that was perfectly fine. I mean, I had no right to expect one. We had both been reporters but other than that, we were strangers.

I was thinking about finding my agent and telling her I was leaving on an earlier flight when she said: “Want to go to a party?”

A big publisher was having a swanky invitation-only gathering and my agent got me in.

It was nice, soft lighting, candles flickering on cloth-draped tables. Great food. While stuffing my face in the corner I couldn’t believe it. I’d spotted Michael Connelly amid a circle of people. As I finished chewing I found the courage to approach him and shake his hand. That was my goal, to tell him I enjoyed his work and was honored to meet him. When he was alone for a few seconds I moved toward him without saying a word. His eyes went to my badge and he pointed at me. “Rick Mofina,” he said, “I’m going to get that blurb to you, just need some time.”

I was stunned and within seconds he was swarmed again.

When I walked away my feet weren’t touching the floor.

Later on, instead of hiding in my room, and still buoyed by Michael Connelly, I went to the bar — where Bouchercon tradition holds — fun things happen. My panel moderator saw me, apologized for the poor showing for our panel, said he liked my book and introduced me to the editor of a leading mystery magazine, who, after a pleasant conversation, pledged to do a feature on my work as a new author.

During the rest of Bouchercon I was welcomed into conversations where I met readers, authors, editors, agents and actually made friends. At the book signing, I sat next to Harlan Coben. So cool. The conference flew by. I forgot about checking out early. I was having too much fun. Oh, and when it came time to go, I stood outside the hotel and by chance met an author I had met earlier: Peter Robinson.

“Would you like to share a cab to the airport, Rick?”

I arrived at my first Bouchercon feeling like an overwhelmed outsider.

I left feeling like family.

Mofina at table with friends

A Bouchercon evening in the bar with Lee Child and Friends. Mofina in green shirt.

Rick Mofina has written over 20 books that have been published in some 30 countries. As a two-time winner of Canada’s Arthur Ellis Award, a four-time Thriller Award finalist and a two-time Shamus Award finalist, the Library Journal calls him, “One of the best thriller writers in the business.”



This article first appeared in Crime Time, the members-only newsletter for Crime Writers of Canada, in March 2017, and is reproduced here with the permission of the author and Crime Writers of Canada.

Cathy Ace answers: “What Bouchercon has meant to me….”

To answer part of this question I need to ask another first….”Why am I a writer?” The answer to that is “Because I’ve been an avid reader of crime fiction my whole life.” As a reader, my relationship was always with the book, its characters and the world within it – not with the author; I’m not a truly fanatical “fan girl” type, I suppose. But that didn’t stop me becoming an admirer of certain authors whose work always delighted and transported me.

Bouchercon is a fan convention, and a wonderful convention to attend even if you don’t think of yourself as a “fan” but as an “admirer”. I’m delighted to meet the people who’ve created the worlds I enjoy visiting, and characters I have come to know. I attend panels where I can hear them speak about their work, spend time with them at the bar of coffee shop, and, in some happy cases, I have become truly friendly with them and have taken the chance to learn from what they can tell me about writing, and the publishing world.

Cathy Ace and Lee Child

Cathy Ace and Lee Child

There’s also another fascinating aspect to Bouchercon – I’ve met authors whose works I had never read before meeting them, have really liked the person so have read their works… and have found entire new worlds to explore, new characters to follow, and new go-to authors.

And when you’re an author yourself, Bouchercon is a wonderland of fellow authors, readers and potential readers of your work, and gives you the chance to mingle with bloggers, reviewers, publishers and agents; never underestimate the power of meeting those who can help your career face to face.

Sue Grafton and Cathy Ace

Sue Grafton and Cathy Ace

So, whether you’re an author, an unpublished writer or “merely” (and there’s no “merely” about it!) a reader, Bouchercon gives you the chance to meet people whose work you admire, from whom you can learn a great deal, or those who might be able to help you steer your career path. When Bouchercon is in Toronto in October 2017 there’ll be a great chance to meet lots of your fellow members of Crime Writers of Canada too – I hope you come and join the party.

Cathy Ace is the author of the WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries and the Cait Morgan Mysteries, the fourth of which won the Bony Blithe Award for Best Canadian Light Mystery in 2015. Cathy is current Board Chair of Crime Writers of Canada.

This article first appeared in Crime Time, the members-only newsletter for Crime Writers of Canada, in February 2017, and is reproduced here with the permission of the author and Crime Writers of Canada.