Anthony Boucher (1911-1968) demonstrated such an allegiance to mystery fiction writers as an author, editor, and critic that after his death, colleagues founded an annual international mystery convention and named it “Bouchercon” in his honor.
Now in its 51st year, the four-day event – held in a different city each year – attracts authors and editors, publishers and agents, booksellers and fans of crime fiction. The 2020 conference takes place in California’s capital city of Sacramento in October. Mystery authors Rae James and Michele Drier are co-chairing the convention, subtitled “Where murder is a capitol crime.”
Registered attendees receive coupons for free books, redeemable at the event’s Book Bazaar, which includes author swag and other mystery-related information. This feature is quite popular: A note on the convention website reads “CHECK-IN EARLY TO GET FIRST PICK AT THE BOOK BAZAAR.” In addition, publishers offer free books throughout Bouchercon so that participants can get autographs from their favorite novelists.
Drier’s favorite part of the event as a veteran attendee is seeing friends and meeting new people. The convention attracts 1,700 people each year who travel across the country to meet and interact with their favorite authors. “How cool is that!” she says. “I love finding new authors to read,” she adds. “I’m a writer, but I’m also a reader.”
What you’ll learn at Bouchercon
Last year’s panels included “Ripped from the Headlines,” which explored how writers can use news about real-life crime cases as inspiration for fiction, and “Red Herrings: The Art of Misdirection,” about how to create unpredictable and surprising plots in a mystery novel. Convention participants learned about the pros and cons of self-publishing versus traditional publishing, as well as how to research a piece of fiction, how to write powerful dialogue . . . even how to incorporate dogs and cats into a mystery story.
In a panel titled “All the Single Ladies,” six authors discussed whether a cozy mystery series can succeed without a love interest and how to steer away from clichéd characters and tropes toward a more original narrative. “The Mystery of History” panel included insights from bestselling historical mystery authors who discussed their research process and which details to include in, as well as which to leave out of, a manuscript.
Writers also learned how to market their books, how to make the transition from print to audiobook and print to screen, and how to find and work with a critique group for maximum success. In between panel presentations, attendees watched interviews with guests of honor including Peter Lovesey, Deborah Crombie, and James Patterson.
In 2020, guests of honor at Bouchercon include bestselling fiction author and lawyer Scott Turow, bestselling historical novelist Anne Perry, English novelist and screenwriter Anthony Horowitz, and Cara Black – author of the Aimée Leduc mystery novels, which feature a female Paris-based private investigator.
Walter Mosley – author of almost 50 books of fiction and nonfiction, including the Easy Rawlins mystery series – will receive a lifetime achievement award. Mystery Readers Journal editor Janet A. Rudolph will attend as a “Fan Guest of Honor” while Scottish American author Catriona McPherson of the Dandy Gilver historical mystery series will serve as Toastmaster at the convention.
Other attending authors include Michael Nava – author of a crime fiction series featuring a gay Latino criminal defense lawyer – and Canadian crime and speculative fiction writer SG Wong. Authors Rachel Howzell Hall and Gary Phillips will attend, as will Ghana-born physician and crime fiction novelist Kwei Quartey. “We have a really nice lineup representing a broad expanse of different genres,” Drier says.
Advice for first-time attendees
She advises those new to Bouchercon to study the schedule well ahead of the event, the better to plan particular panels to attend and authors to meet. Writers can visit the website to sign up for email updates and meet other attendees on the organization’s Facebook page. “At the convention, don’t be shy,” Drier says. “Walk up and introduce yourself to people.”
She urges people to contact convention staff about volunteer positions. Panel monitors, and those working the registration desk, enjoy multiple opportunities to interact with speakers. “Volunteer for anything that gets you involved with how the conference gets put together,” she says.
Along with the more traditional panels, book signings, and banquets, Bouchercon attendees gravitate toward like-minded participants who celebrate everything from their love of cozy mystery novels or gritty thrillers to pick-up basketball or card games. “There’s a group that gets together one night to play poker,” Drier explains. “They’re fans who have known each other for years.”
This year, Bouchercon 2020 staff will publish an anthology guided by the theme “California Schemin.’” Writers are invited to submit short fiction to be blind-judged by award-winning short story writer and book critic Art Taylor. “Contributors will appear in the anthology with pieces from authors like Walter Mosley and Anne Perry,” Drier says. “It’s a great opportunity.”
Bouchercon at a glance
Dates: Oct. 15-18, 2020
Location: Sacramento, California
Contact: Co-Chairs Michele Drier and Rae James at
—Contributing editor Melissa Hart is the author of Better with Books: 500 Diverse Books to Ignite Empathy and Encourage Self-Acceptance in Tweens and Teens (Sasquatch, 2019). Twitter/Instagram: @WildMelissaHart