Monday, November 18, 2019

My First Bouchercon Panel

by Paula Gail Benson

Carol Puckett with her husband Jim
While there are many special things I'll remember about this year's 50th anniversary Bouchercon, celebrated in Dallas, Texas, one in particular will be that this year marked my first to moderate and serve on a panel at the world mystery conference. I'd already felt privileged to get to know and work with the organizers on the Bill Crider Prize for Short Fiction (more on that in my post tomorrow on Writers Who Kill). Thank you to Carol Puckett, local committee organizer, for not only collecting historical memorabilia from the past 50 Bouchercons as well as honoring Bill Crider, a beloved Texas writer and reviewer, but also for recognizing the interest in different lengths of mystery stories, novellas, and novels. Carol told me that some people asked about the number of panels devoted to short mystery fiction, but that she and the organizers had heard attendees ask about different story formats and responded to it.

I moderated a panel called "Does Length Matter?" While the subject may sound titillating (I warned audience members if they came to hear a discussion about measuring body parts, they might be disappointed to learn we would be talking about word count), it's actually one about which I often hear writers speculate. For example, some of the questions we considered were: (1) have readers' attention spans narrowed? (2) is it better to write two short novels in a year rather than one lengthy one? (3) can writing short stories between novels keep a reader interested in a series or characters? and (4) how do you know if an idea is better suited for a novel or short story?


Sandy Steen, Mary Stojak, Becki Willis, Bess Carnan, Mad Hildebrandt, Angela Zeman, me, and Rhonda Gilliland
(Photo by Rhonda's husband Fr. Basil Gilliland)
We had a terrific group of panelists, some novelists, some short story authors, and some who had written both. Now that I've met them in person, I know I have many titles to add to my reading list (and I would encourage you all to check out their work).

Our two Texans were Sandy Steen and Becki Willis, both novelists. They each have written in several genres. Becki has independently published several series.

Mad Hildebrandt has written cozy mysteries, humorous romantic suspense, and dark gritty mysteries. She told us that she often writes a novel straight through in seventy-two hours, a rigorous stretch to produce the draft, but one that she found to work best for her. Angela Zeman also has written in diverse genres and has one character, Mrs. Risk, who started out in short stories before appearing in a novel. Mary Stojak has a solid reputation for writing short stories and is working on a novel.

Bess Carnan, this year's winner of the William F. Deeck-Malice Domestic Grants Program for Unpublished Writers, said that her first drafts are short, then she lengthens them through rewrites. Rhonda Gilliland, who I'd served with on a panel before at Killer Nashville, has written stories as well as served as an editor for a successful series of mystery culinary anthologies.

Many thanks to Carol Puckett and the 2019 Bouchercon organizers for the opportunity to talk about story formats and to get to know these fine writers better.


(Photo by Rhonda's husband Fr. Basil Gilliland)
Do you prefer short stories or novels? 

6 comments:

  1. I so wish I'd been in town early enough to make the panel—but glad to hear a recap here!

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    1. Art, we had a great discussion. It was so good to see you and Tara, but you're right--there wasn't enough time!

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    1. But, you didn't! And, bless your heart, I remember because you were kind enough to ask at the end what my latest project was. So good to see you in Dallas!

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  3. Apparently memory is the first thing to go. It was good to see you too in Dallas. I do remember that!

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    1. Good to see you, too. Looking forward to our next meeting, hopefully at Malice!

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