Terry Shames writes the popular Samuel Craddock series, set in the fictional town of Jarrett Creek, Texas. Nominated for numerous awards, she won the Macavity Award for Best First Novel, and her fifth novel won an RT Reviews award.
Terry’s latest book, Murder at the Jubilee Rally, is set at a motorcycle rally at the lake outside Jarrett Creek and includes a lot of the mayhem you might expect from a motorcycle rally—including murder. For more about Terry and to sign up for her newsletter and/ or purchase her books, visit www.Terryshames.com.
I thought since I’m at Bouchercon this week, I’d write about the conference and what I get out of it.
Bouchercon long before I was a writer. I had friends who wrote crime fiction, and they urged me to come as a fan. I loved it! And when I started writing crime fiction, I knew where to go for contacts, information, and support. This conference provides all of that!
For me, Bouchercon this year meant more than “talking crime.” I moved to Southern California a year ago, and settling into a new place has been challenging. I miss my old friends! I think it’s only now that I realize how profoundly the pandemic affected our lives. If there had been no pandemic, I would have gotten oriented at in-person meetings with both Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America in SoCal. Still, with in-person meetings rare to non-existent, I have found it sadly difficult to get established with writer friends in my new area.
So I was especially excited to attend Bouchercon for the first time since Dallas, 2019. It would be a chance to sit down and get to know people from SoCal, and it would also give me a chance to see old friends from the NorCal chapters. People like Susan Bickford, Diana Chambers, Ana Manwaring, Daisy Bateman, and Reece Hirsch, among others.
What is Bouchercon for if it isn’t to mingle and chat? The answer to that question is more complicated than just “mingle and chat.” Mingling and chatting with fans is always a pleasure, and since Bouchercon is primarily a fan conference, you hope to get some of that. But mingling and chatting with other authors is satisfying in a different way.
I ran into Lou Berney the first night of the conference, and we talked about why it was so wonderful to see our fellow authors in person. We agreed that authors are the only people who truly understand the challenges we go through as writers. The triumphs are easy to share with non-writers. But the daily grind of writing an xxx number of words, the frustration when you hit snags in your plot, or you realize you haven’t really got a handle on your characters is harder to convey to non-writers.
Most “civilians” will listen politely to complaints about a writer’s trouble, but a deep understanding is only possible with people who have been through it. And often, talking through your current frustrations with another author can help you get clarity and solve the problem. For example, who but another writer can understand and sympathize deeply with my most recent problem: I realized that I had written my action scenes backwards, that one event needed to happen before another. Changing it was a nightmare. Every writer I’ve shared that with has laughed along with me and immediately grasped the difficulty of the details that had to be addressed with the change. Non-writers look baffled.
Another thing that writers share at a conference is “the publishing situation”—the complaints, the triumphs, the questions: why isn’t my novel being picked up? Why did my publisher go out of business? Why did my publisher suddenly veer toward cozies and away from thrillers or vice versa? The answer always seems to be Publishing is going through a profound change. What a sentence that is! Publishing is always going through a change.
I’m not sure I’ve ever met an author who is perfectly happy with their publisher. There’s always that “little problem.” A best-selling author’s problems may be light years away from the problems a mid-list writer is facing, but there are always glitches. It’s an endless source of conversation among writers. Happily, “publishers” don’t usually include “editors. Many writers idolize their editors.
Add to this the conversations (usually whispered) about agents—do you need an agent? How do you get one? How do you know which one is right for you? How do you keep one? When is it time to move on? It’s part of the chat.
One thing that is often under-appreciated is panels. I’ve heard authors dismiss panels as something they aren’t interested in, but I think they’re missing a bet. At a “fan” conference like Bouchercon, often panel discussions are more geared toward readers than writers. But even those panels can be helpful to writers. For example, I attended a panel on family dynamics in crime fiction, and there were some golden answers to questions that I tucked away for use in my work. The panels are varied, and it’s a chance to hear what authors have to say about their process and their product. It’s a chance to find out new ways of promoting your work. And it can be a way of seeing your own work in a new light. Not to mention the chance to hear ideas that may spark your creative juices. When you are a panel participant, it gives you the opportunity to introduce your work to new readers.
I was thrilled to find that although this year’s Bouchercon was held just a couple of weeks before my next book comes out, the bookstore actually had a few copies of it. Murder at the Jubilee Rally will be the ninth book in my Samuel Craddock series and will be published by my new publisher, Severn House, in hardcover and e-book on October 4. The paperback will come out in a few months. I love the cover.
And here’s how I’m promoting the book at Bouchercon—wearing a motorcycle vest advertising “Jubilee Motorcycle Rally, Jarrett Creek, Texas.”
To end, I’ll paraphrase a quote I just heard that William Kent Krueger made in a recent interview: Make a commitment (to your writing) and stick to it! That’s the kind of advice you can get at Bouchercon than can change your writing!