Category Archives: Convention reports

Readercon and Gen Con

I’ll be attending a couple of conventions this summer, and recently received my schedules for both. So if you’re coming to science fiction convention Readercon in Burlingon, MA in mid-July or gaming convention Gen Con in Indianapolis, IN in mid-August, you can meet me at one of following events.

As an special added bonus, I’ve included my husband Steve Kelner’s Gen Con events, too. (Unfortunately he’s not on any panels at Readercon this year. Not sure why–his previous events there went really well.)


Burlington, MA
July 10 to 13, 2014

Friday, July 11 @ 7 PM
Panel: Emotion, Archives, Interactive Fiction, and Linked Data
Leah Bobet (leader), Toni L.P. “Leigh Perry” Kelner, Sarah Smith, Walt Williams.
In a 2013 blog post, archivist Mx A. Matienzo drew a line between the “linked data” of interactive fiction (IF) and the connections within an archive of materials and works. Matienzo suggested creating a hybrid of the two that would bolster the emotional impact of fiction with links to relevant factual information—or, from the other side, that would bolster the intellectual weight of nonfiction with more nebulous but equally important information about feelings, thoughts, and experiences.How else can archivists, authors, and others collaborate on hybrid storytelling that brings these disparate components together?

Friday, July 11 @ 8 PM

Friday, July 11 @ 10:30 PM
Meet the Pros(e)
Each writer at the party has selected a short, pithy quotation from his or her own work and is armed with a sheet of 30 printed labels, the quote replicated on each. As attendees mingle and meet each pro, they obtain one of his or her labels, collecting them on the wax paper provided. Atheists, agnostics, and the lazy can leave them in the order they acquire them, resulting in one of at least nine billion Random Prose Poems. Those who believe in the reversal of entropy can rearrange them to make a Statement. Wearing labels as apparel is also popular. The total number of possibilities (linguistic and sartorial) is thought to exceed the number of theobromine molecules in a large Trader Joe’s dark chocolate bar multiplied by the number of picoseconds cumulatively spent by the Readercon committee on this convention since its inception.

Saturday, July 12 @ 12:30 PM
I’ll be reading from The Skeleton Takes a Bow by my alter ego Leigh Perry. (I’ll also have buttons with a keen skeletal design by my daughter.)


Gen Con Writer’s Symposium
Indianapolis, IN
August 14 to 17, 2014

Thursday, Aug. 14 @ 11 AM
Writer’s Craft Panel: Mysteries
Elizabeth Vaughn (Moderator), Toni L.P. Kelner, William Alexander, Aaron Rosenberg, Carrie Harris
Look at ways to add mysteries to your stories in a way that hooks the reader without confusing them or giving too much away!

Thursday, Aug. 14 @ 5 PM
Business of Writing Panel: Creating Anthologies
John Helfers (moderator), Kerrie Hughes, Toni L.P. Kelner, Jaym Gates, Gabrielle Harbowy
How do editors create an anthology? How do they figure out who contributes to one? How are they marketed? Our panel walks you through the process from concept generation to finished book.

Friday, Aug. 15 @ 11 AM
Business of Writing Panel: Care and Feeding of Your Editor/Author
Kerrie Hughes (moderator), Gabrielle Harbowy, Toni L.P. Kelner, Aaron Rosenberg, David B. Coe
Experienced authors and editors show how to establish a good author/editor relationship and offer tips for getting the most from your partnership.

Friday, Aug. 15 @ 2 PM
Writer’s Craft Panel: Writing Amazing Short Stories
John Helfers (moderator), Toni L.P. Kelner, James Lowder, Jason Sanford, Catherine Shaffer
Learn what makes a great short story great, what types of stories work in short form, and tips for crafting amazing short stories of your own.

Friday, Aug. 15 @ 7 PM
Business of Writing Panel: Breaking Into a New Genre
Kelly Swails (moderator), Toni L.P. Kelner, Aaron Rosenberg, Bill Willingham
Learn how to break into a new genre when you’ve been writing in another genre for years. Our panelists have first-hand experience doing this, and they’ll share their tips and tricks.

Saturday, August 16 @ 11 AM
Writer’s Life Panel: Staying Energized
Elizabeth Vaughan (moderator), Stephen P. Kelner, Thomas M. Reid, Dave WolvertonCatherine Shaffer
Learn how to maintain your momentum and energy over the long haul of a career in writing. Our panel of experienced authors is joined by Dr. Stephen P. Kelner, author of Motivate Your Writing!

Saturday, August 16 @ 12 PM
Writer’s Life Panel: Breaking Writer’s Block
Don Bingle (moderator), Erik Scott de Bie, Stephen P. Kelner, David B. Coe, Dave Wolverton
Learn what writer’s block is and why it happens. We’ll also explore how to break free of its grasp.

Saturday, Aug. 16 @ 2 PM
Writer’s Life Panel: Persistence and the Reality of Being a Writer
Elizabeth Vaughan (moderator), Kameron Hurley, Toni L.P. Kelner, David B. Coe, Stephen P. Kelner
In writing, persistence isn’t the destination, but the name of the road every author travels. Explore what it means to persist, what the end game is, and the hard realities of the writing life.

Saturday, Aug. 16 @ 3 PM
Writer’s Life: Seven Deadly Myths of Creativity
Stephen P. Kelner
Join motivational psychologist Dr. Stephen P. Kelner as he helps you to motivate your writing through his exploration of the seven deadly myths of creativity.

Saturday, August 16 @ 6 PM
Urban Fantasy Panel: Variations on Urban Fantasy
Elizabeth Vaughan (moderator), Maurice Broaddus, Toni L.P. Kelner, David B. Coe, Gabrielle Harbowy
Discover ways to tell urban fantasy stories that don’t involve southern vampires or urban wizards. Learn to break new ground while still writing tales that resonate with the urban fantasy audience.

Readercon Bound

Readercon, one of my favorite science fiction conventions, starts up this Thursday. My husband Steve and I attended the very first Readercon, and I was in awe of the caliber of writers just walking around. As if they were normal people! There were some admin problems–I seem to recall them passing the hat on the last day to help pay some of the bills. But from those humble beginnings, the con has grown into a much-respected science fiction convention. The organizers were even nominated for a World Fantasy Award in 2010.

This is the twenty-third year, and while I haven’t attended them all–having babies kind of put the kibosh on my regular attendance–I’ve had a fabulous time whenever I have attended. I’ll never forget the feedback from Readercon workshops moderated by Barry Longyear and at one run by the Cambridge Science Fiction Workshop. Meeting Sarah Smith at that second workshop was just about the best thing that happened to me in my early writing career. When I was shopping around my first mystery, Sarah offered to read my manuscript and make comments. Her suggestions were exactly what I needed–thanks to her, I was able to rewrite and sell Down Home Murder, my first novel.

And I’m still in awe of the caliber of writers just walking around.

This year will be my second year actually appearing on panels, and I’ve got some great ones scheduled, including two panels and a kaffeeklatsch with Steve. If you get a chance, come on by. I’ll just warn you that given my renowned co-panelists, I may be awed into silence. (Don’t worry–I’ll have plenty to say in the bar later!)

Just FYI, advance memberships are sold out, so if you haven’t signed up, come early on Friday. They’re probably going to sell out early. However the Thursday night events are FREE!

Thursday, July 12 

8:00 PM  Managing Motivation to Write. Alexander Jablokov, Steve Kelner (leader), Toni L.P. Kelner, Matthew Kressel, Ben LooryKipling (an SF writer himself) wrote: “There are nine-and-sixty ways/of composing tribal lays/and every single one of them is right!” Science fiction writers should know this better than most, yet most people don’t realize just how different the creative process is for different writers. Join a panel of writers discussing how they keep themselves going, the underlying reasons for why a given tactic works for them, and how it might (or might not) work for others.

9:30 PM  
Reading. Toni L.P. Kelner. Toni L.P. Kelner reads from her story “Pirate Dave’s Haunted Amusement Park,” published inDeath’s Excellent Vacation.
Friday, July 13 
11:00 AM  Subversion Through Friendliness. Glenn Grant, Victoria Janssen (leader), Toni L.P. Kelner, Alison Sinclair, Ruth Sternglantz. In a 2011 review of Vonda N. McIntyre’s classic Dreamsnake, Ursula K. Le Guin quotes Moe Bowstern’s slogan “Subversion Through Friendliness” and adds, “Subversion through terror, shock, pain is easy—instant gratification, as it were. Subversion through friendliness is paradoxical, slow-acting, and durable. And sneaky.” Is subversion through friendliness a viable strategy for writers who desire to challenge norms? What are its defining characteristics? When do readers love it, and when does it backfire?

Saturday, July 14 

2:00 PM  No, Really—Where Do You Get Your Ideas?. Samuel R. Delany, Toni L.P. Kelner, Ellen Klages, James Morrow, Lee Moyer, Resa Nelson (leader). All writers have been asked this question. This panel takes it seriously, exploring the roles of accumulated knowledge, reaction, dissent, inspiration, influence, and skill in creativity.

Sunday, July 15 

10:00 AM  The Seven Deadly Myths of Creativity. Andy Duncan, Joe Haldeman, Steve Kelner (leader), Toni L.P. Kelner, Matthew Kressel, Jennifer Pelland, Luc Reid. What is creativity, really? How does it work? Many people think of it as somehow magical, but in fact there has been considerable neuropsychological research devoted to the process of creativity, and current evidence makes it clear that it is inherent in the human brain: everyone is creative; the question is how to harness it. There are many myths about creativity that not only are unhelpful but have actively blocked or inhibited writers. Fortunately, many of these myths are entirely explicable and avoidable. Stephen Kelner, a research psychologist who is also a professional writer, will give an overview of the myths and the realities, and discussion will further explore individual participants’ questions or challenges.
11:00 AM  Autographs. Jeffrey A. Carver, Toni L.P. Kelner.
2:00 PM  Kaffeeklatsch. Steve Kelner, Toni L.P. Kelner, John Kessel.

Book Expo America = Both Exhausting & Amazing!

I spent most of the past week at Book Expo America in New York City, and I’m still coming down from the high. Or is it resting up? Let’s say it’s a combination of the two.

I took the train to New York on Monday, getting into town in plenty of time to freshen up at my hotel, the Kimberly in midtown Manhattan. I’d stayed there twice before with Steve and the girls, and knew it was awesome. A nifty thing happened when I was checking in. A bobby walked by. You know, the British cop with the hat. He was followed by more British police officers. The desk clerk told me that not only were they really British, but they were from Scotland Yard! Can you be any safer than in a hotel filled with Scotland Yard officers?

The freshening up was so I could meet  Claudia, one of my husband’s colleagues in the NY office. We’d never met, but had exchanged e-mail about my BFF Charlaine Harris’s books, and I knew the office was near my hotel, so I’d asked if she wanted to get together for drinks. She did, and we had  great time that turned into dinner. Isn’t it great to meet somebody new and really get along with her? It was a lovely evening.

The next day was busy busy busy. I met Jodi Rosoff, the Ace Books publicist, downstairs at the Kimberly, and we were picked up by a car service car driven by the charming José. Then we headed for Charlaine’s hotel to get her on our way to the enormous Javits Center, where BEA was being held. As soon as we stepped inside the door, it was immediate sensory overload but in the best way possible. Picture an enormous hall filled with publisher booths and books on display and writers and people who love books as much as you do. It was just awesome!

We found the Mystery Writers of America booth, where Charlaine and I were scheduled to sign, then wandered around for an hour or so admiring forthcoming books and picking up swag. (I did try to control myself, honest! I only brought home three tote bags, about a dozen books, about the same number of comic books, some bookmarks and catalogs, and one pen. And the pen was a Rick Riordan pen for Valerie.) Then it was back to the MWA booth for Charlaine and me to sign copies of Wolfsbane and Mistletoe. I pause here for a moment to appreciate the unflagging energy of Margery Flax, who keeps the MWA running.

It was really gratifying to see the line of people wanting books. Now you’d think that getting a line for free books is no big deal, but there are so many authors at BEA and so many free books that it really is an accomplishment. We gave out 50 copies, and still ran out out of books before we ran out of people.

I can’t remember all the people we saw, but I know the list includes our agent Joshua Bilmes; writers Seanan McGuire (who gave us her new book), Darrell James (who gave me his new book), Ken Isaacson of the MWA board, and Sophie Littlefield; editors Ben LeRoy of Tyrus Books and Claire Eddy of Tor; and a quick glimpse of Temple Grandin.

Jodi, Charlaine, and I next headed off for an interview Charlaine was videotaping with Rome Quezada of the Science Fiction Book Club. The interview was at the Standard, an astoundingly trendy hotel in the Meatpacking District. How trendy? It has a bathtub right next to a full-length window, and that was in the bedroom. I particularly enjoyed the video installation in the elevator.

Next it was lunch at Dos Caminas, which serves the strongest strawberry margarita I’ve ever had. Well, I had half of. I had to give up in order to be sure I’d was able to walk afterward. I wanted to walk, because we headed back to the Javits to wander, admire books, and people watch. Among other encounters, Charlaine and I introduced ourselves to John Grace, who edits the audio editions of our anthologies for Brilliance Audio.

Finally our feet gave out, and we relaxed and gossiped…  I mean talked shop at Charlaine’s hotel until time to head for dinner with our editor Ginjer Buchanan at L’Ecole, which is the restaurant of the French Culinary Institute. May I say “YUM!”

We were still filled with energy, so changed into our clubbing clothes and hit a couple of the hotter dance spots in town. No, just kidding. I was worn slap out and was happy to be dropped off at the Kimberly to collapse.

The next morning Charlaine was one of the three honorees at a BEA breakfast, so I headed off to wander on my own, and ran into Seanan McGuire almost immediately. We joined forces to swag hunt…  I mean to explore the displays of forthcoming books. I understand there were plenty of show biz celebrities around–Jimmy Fallon, Kevin Sorbo, Diane Keaton, John Lithgow–but I managed to miss them all.

One speaker I did catch was Bill Willingham, who writes Fables, which is one of my favorite comics of all time. (You haven’t read it? Why not? It’s available in graphic novel format, so go get some.) He was talking mostly about his young adult novel Down the Mysterly River, which sounds like great fun. I’d hoped to get a copy during his signing a little later, but the line was as long as the Mysterly River, so I decided I would get one later on.

There were less formal encounters with Carrie Vaughn who I’d only met via e-mail, Harlan Coben who I’ve known for years, and Paula Munier who is actually from around here.

I know I didn’t see all there was to see, but I had enjoyed as much as I could stand, so I bid a fond farewell to the festivities and caught a cab to Bryant Park, where Charlaine was scheduled to be interviewed at the Reader’s Room. I’ll be honest here–Charlaine was only part of the draw. Oh, she’s a terrific speaker, but I have heard her before. What I was more interested in was hearing Melissa Marr doing the interviewing. Melissa is like Carrie, an anthology contributor I’d only “met” via e-mail, and I was looking forward to seeing her in person. That made the event a double treat, especially since she did a terrific interview. The gorgeous weather, the friendly Charlaine fans like Beth and Chris, and my new friend Claudia coming made it all just perfect.

After Charlaine signed a slew of books, and I got one signed by Melissa, Charlaine and I gave up on book stuff for a while and went shopping at Bloomingdales. Whee! It was great fun, even if we didn’t find the perfect necklace we were hunting for. We split up after that, with Charlaine going to get ready for a cocktail party hosted by People magazine and I was off to meet somebody else new.

A while back, I signed a TV option contract for the “Where are they now?” books with Rosalie Muskatt of Inwood Productions. Everybody knows how rarely these things come off–there’s so much good material floating around that the chances of any one project making it to fruition are microscopic. Still, having somebody intrigued enough by my work to want to make it into a series is pretty darned cool.

Rosalie is based in New York, and this was my first time to meet her. Even though I’d initiated the dinner meeting, I was a little nervous about it. I needn’t have been. She was charming and interesting and wonderfully enthusiastic. Now I really hope the project makes it because I’d love to see what Rosalie’s vision of Tilda would be.

After that, all that was left was to pack up and collapse again. The next morning I got up and headed back for Penn Station to take the train back home. (In Curse of the Kissing Cousins, Tilda takes the train to NYC, saying it’s the only civilized way to make the trip. I think she’s right.)

In looking at all I did and saw, I have a hard time believing I was only gone for four days. My head is still whirling. I keep thinking I should have some profound conclusions about where the industry is going, but I’m afraid I don’t. I just have a few observations:

  • Young adult books are still hot. I suppose that’s no surprise, given the success of the Rick Riordan books, the Harry Potter books, Twilight and its sequels, and the Hunger Games series. There seems to be plenty of excitement for Bill Willingham, too, given the length of his signing line.
  • Paranormal books are also still hot. That’s also not a surprise, given that Charlaine’s new book Dead Reckoning has been #1 on the New York Times best seller list for three weeks. But she’s got plenty of company: Melissa Marr, for one, whose first adult novel is out now.
  • There’s a lot of interest and activity in e-publishing, as I think everybody in the field realizes. Amazon’s foray into publishing their own books was much talked about. Nobody is quite sure how things are going to shake out in terms of the ratio of paper books to electronic books, but the feeling seems to be that there are a lot of opportunities for a lot of people.
  • Despite the talk of e-publishing, there are still plenty of paper publishers out there. There are the Big Six, of course, but some really excellent smaller publishers. In mystery alone, there’s Midnight Ink and Akashic among others.
  • Despite the truism that writing is a solitary occupation, it’s fascinating to see how many people are devoted to getting books to readers: agents, editors, publicists, cover artists, book designers, proof readers, marketing people, booksellers, librarians, readers for audio books, artists for comic books, and more.
So that’s my trip to BEA–it was exhausting and exhilarating all at once. There’s one last thing I came away with: I love being a part of the publishing world!

Unconventional Conventions

Let me say first that I really enjoy conventions. I’ve gone to conventions for mysteries, science fiction, comic books, romance, fantasy, circuses, anime, writers, psychologists, and collectibles. I can’t remember a one that I don’t have fond memories of. But as convention season gets underway–Anime Boston the weekend after next, and then Malice Domestic–I’ve been remembering some convention sights that were less…conventional.

Under the circumstances, I’ll be filing off serial numbers and such. Most of the oddities had nothing to do with the conventions themselves, merely with the attendees, so I don’t want to give any con an undeserved bad rep.

Spider bite?

At a romance convention, my husband Steve and I ran into a woman in the hallway who was almost in a panic. She said she’d been bitten by a poisonous spider in the hotel room, and was sure she was going to die. Plus she indignantly said the sheet on her bed had semen stains. Steve and I tried to get her to call a taxi or talk to the hotel desk and she said she didn’t have any money and the people at the front desk wouldn’t believe her. We loaned her our cell phone, thinking she was going to call 911, and she called “Daddy” and told him he needed to sue the hotel because they were being mean to her and the aforementioned semen stains. (Yes, this was a GROWN woman.) She forgot to mention the spider bite–retribution was clearly more important. Finally we handed her off to hotel and convention management, and gave her twenty dollars for a cab. It was well worth the bucks to get rid of her. We never say her again, and we really don’t know if the spider bite got her, or her father rode to the rescue.

What world is this?

I’ve attended several science fiction conventions, and the costumes are often breathtaking. But sometimes it’s more of a gasp of disbelief than awe. I remember a woman who’d semi-covered her fairly unimpressive, saggy breasts with metal spiders. The body of the spider covered the nipple, and the legs kind of made up a cage around the breast, but offered neither coverage nor support. That was a shame, on both counts.

Then there was the guy in the audience of a panel where Tarzan was being discussed. Somebody made a Cheetah joke and he scornfully said–with more disdain than I can possibly convey–“There was no ‘Cheetah’ in the books.” He was absolutely correct, of course, but it was still a funny joke.

At one convention, I saw some people in very nice black latex costumes for a vampire roleplaying game. I was extremely impressed when I saw them soon after my arrival one Friday night. I was less impressed when I saw them in the same costumes on Saturday, and then on Sunday. You see, latex does not breathe. Neither did I when I had to share an elevator with the vampires.

Life is a mystery…

At one mystery convention, I was chatting with a guy while in line for an ice cream social. We started out talking about mysteries, but at some point he started telling me about his and his wife’s experiences in polyamory. In other words, they as a couple had girlfriends. To this day I do not know if he was just chatting or inviting me. I just nodded, said something like “How interesting,” and then mentioned that I really enjoy monogamy.

At another convention, we apparently got mixed up in a dispute between management and labor. The guest of honor was giving her speech in the lobby (the meeting room was having climate control issues, and it was too hot to sit in there), and in the middle of it, a maintenance worker went to the wall with an electric drill and started drilling holes in the wall. I went to the desk to complain while Steve went to the guy to ask him to stop. The desk clerk was slow, and the maintenance guy would only say, “I have to put up this picture. Right now.”

Then were was the time I went into the suite that was being used as a hospitality room. Canned drinks had been left in ice in the bath tub, which was fine. But as I reached for a Coke, I saw that the toilet had been used recently, and not flushed. There was a floater. I passed on the Coke.



With memories like these, how can I possibly resist attending conventions? My only worry is that someday, somebody will be blogging about some strange thing I did or said at a convention.

Boskone a Blast

I had a terrific time at Boskone this past weekend, though it was so busy I don’t think I’m completely recovered yet. I had a full schedule!

I started the weekend early, meeting buddies Charlaine Harris and Dana Cameron for lunch on Friday. Much gossip and hilarity ensued, and I’m not saying any more than that. Then I met with Ginjer Buchanan, my editor at both Ace and Berkley Prime Crime, and it was time to plot book plans. I’m not saying any more about that either, at least not yet.

By then the con had officially begun so we all got our registration packets and schedules and went to the Galleria, which is the heart of Boskone.  That’s where I ran into some friends old and new, and just schmoozed. (Including with Jan and Byron, and Paula, and Kate. And Kate, thanks again for the Tilda-esque presents.)

Next I met with Charlaine and Ginjer again for a dinner to celebrate our success with anthologies and to plot our new projects. I’ve already broken that story, that we’re all set for two more anthologies.

Friday night, Boskone had arranged a Fangtasia interactive show, which Charlaine participated in. Some very convincing portrayals of Sookie and other characters from Charlaine’s books, and they served punch that was suspiciously thick and red. I think what tickled me most was realizing that the evil bartender in black was also the friendly instructor from Guard Up!, a fencing school where my daughters have taken classes and where we had Valerie’s last birthday party. It was a different look for him.

After that, I couldn’t resist a brief look at the amazing art show. The artist Guest of Honor was Gregory Manchess, and his work is just amazing. First off, he does pirates, which is a particular weakness of mine. Second, he was exhibiting an astounding version of Dorothy, Toto, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, and a flying monkey that I adore. It’s on the cover of the book Spectrum 17, and I really really hope he gets prints made of it.

Another artist did these wonderful whimsical pictures of classic Halloween toys, and though I wrote down the name of the artist, I can’t find the slip of paper. (Never fear–I will track him down before Halloween.) And the third was a woman named Donna Lee Young who did these graphic-heaving paintings of happy skeletons and that flowed onto the edges of the  canvas. I know, I’m describing them badly, but they were awesome. And don’t think those were the only wonderful artists showing their work, either.

Saturday was filled with panels–three of ’em!–and lunch with Dana and our pal Beth Krueger and a kaffeeklatsch. Fortunately, I didn’t actually have to drink coffee for the kaffeeklatsch. Instead Charlaine and I visited with a double-table-ful of really nice people.

That night was one of the conventions highlights. Joshua Bilmes, president of the JABberwocky Literary Agency, was celebrating his twenty-fifth year anniversary as an agent. And since he first entered into the world of SF fandom at Boskone, what better place to celebrate? So he took a crew of us to Morton’s Steakhouse to party. The group included Joshua, Ginjer and her husband and fellow editor John Douglas, Charlaine, Peter Brett, Myke Cole, Joshua’s sister Aura (I probably spelled that wrong), a young writer named K.J. from Somerville whose last name I’ve forgotten, and myself. (I may have forgotten someone, and if so, I do apologize.) It was just lovely, and Joshua should be rightfully proud of all the books he’s helped bring to the shelves.

Charlaine and I zipped back to Boskone to attend the awards ceremony, and I was quite touched when I got a shout-out and a round of applause for my efforts in bringing Charlaine to Boskone. Here’s my confession: All I did was send Charlaine one e-mail. That’s it. But they can’t take the shout-out back now!

I should have gone to bed after that, but I’m really glad I didn’t. One of the niftiest things of the weekend happened while I was hanging around the hotel bar. Myke Cole had joined a crew that I think included my husband Steve, Ginjer, and me. At dinner earlier, it had come out that Myke, Peter, and I were old Dungeons & Dragons players, and I bragged about having published limericks in The Dragon, which was the d&d magazine. This came up again, and I quoted one of my creations. Then Mike quoted a different limerick from The Dragon, one that he remembered from what must be thirty years ago, and it was one of mine! Seriously! I was so tickled! When I told him that, he said, “You’re my hero!” Yeah, he serves three tours overseas and still serves in the Coast Guard, and I’m a hero. I don’t think so. But it was still a nifty moment, establishing my geek cred. (Myke later quizzed Maggie and Valerie to make sure the geek force is strong in them, and then approved Steve’s and my parenting technique.)

The next morning came far too early, but I had to be up to see Charlaine off after her last panel, and to get to my reading. I read an excerpt from my zombie mystery story from the upcoming Home Improvement: Undead Edition to a small but choice audience. Then I finally got a chance to see the rest of the Art Show and the Huckster’s Room before settling down for a book signing. I was surprised when so many people brought me copies of my mysteries to sign. Boskone is an SF con, after all. This did not, however, stop me from signing.

After that, I was ready to go home and collapse, but we ended up staying two more hours because Valerie was in the midst of a tournament of the game Munchkin, which went on forever. On the good side, she won, and also on the good side, it meant we were still there when one last really nifty thing happened. Joshua had wanted one last bit of celebration for his agent-ish anniversary, and also to give a thank-you to Boskone. So he’d bought two enormous cakes for the con suite, and handed out pieces. Yum! Here’s the proud agent and one of the cakes.

So there, at incredible length, is my Boskone report. And I know darned well I’ve left out people and events I should have mentioned–it was an incredibly fun and full weekend.

Boskone Bound

Though I usually haunt mystery conventions, I also enjoy science fiction conventions, and as a plus, my daughters are far more interested in SF cons. I don’t know if it’s the art show or the dealers’ room that gets them, but either way, SF cons are definitely family outings. This weekend the Kelners will be attending Boskone here in Boston, which is one of the longer-run SF cons–this is Number 48! As a special treat, the Special Guest this year is the ebullient Charlaine Harris!

Since the urban fantasy anthologies I co-edit with Charlaine are in the Boskone ballpark and since SF fans are often mystery fans, too, I’m going to be appearing on several panels and program items. I’ll be kaffeeklatsch-ing with Charlaine and on two panels with the entertainly erudite Dana Cameron. Plus I’ll be visiting with my editor and lots of other really fun people.

Here’s my full schedule:

Saturday, 1 PM
Monsters in the City: Exploring Urban Fantasy
Moderator: Alexander Jablokov
Dana Cameron, Suzy McKee Charnas, Toni L.P. Kelner, Margaret Ronald

Saturday, 2 PM
My Favorite Mysteries: What kind of crossover qualities make so many SF/F/H fans like a good mystery story?
Moderator: Paul Tremblay
Dana Cameron, John Douglas, Toni L.P. Kelner, Resa Nelson, Darrell Schweitzer

Saturday, 3 PM
The Divide Between Mysteries and Fantasy-Horror
Moderator: Toni L.P Kelner
Ellen Asher, Christopher Golden, Joe Hill, Paul Tremblay

Saturday, 5 PM
Charlaine Harris, Toni L.P. Kelner

Sunday, 11 AM

Sunday, 2 PM

Looking forward to seeing folks there, but I have to admit, I’m almost sorry Chris Golden will be there. As fast as he writes, he could have written another book with the time he’ll be spending at Boskone.

Cooking Up Mysteries at Crime Bake

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the eighth edition of the New England Crime Bake. (In fact, it was my eighth visit–I haven’t missed one yet!) Crime Bake is aimed at mystery writers–both aspiring and previously published–but it’s great for any mystery fan. A hotel filled with writers and readers of mysteries–what’s not to like?

This year’s Guest of Honor was Sue Grafton, and she was a darned good one, whether talking about her path to becoming the bestselling author she is today (along with other bestselling authors Joseph Finder, Lisa Gardner, and Michael Palmer), or warning about mistakes not to make in your writing.

My own panel was “P is for Persistence,” in which moderator Kate Flora, Ruth McCarty, Dave Zeltserman, Dana Cameron, and I talked about strategies for keeping ourselves going despite rejections, dropped series, and bad reviews.

Ruth considers rejections “returns,” to take the sting out of them, and just keeps sending out her stories to new markets. Dave and Dana both talked about what they’ve learned from rejections, and Kate and I both told about trying new things from both of us editing anthologies to Kate’s forays true crime. I also made three observations about rejections:

  1. Rejections are bad.
  2. I don’t like rejections.
  3. Ruth calls rejections returns; I call them motive for murder.

There were plenty of other panels to learn from over the course of the weekend, but I admit what I like best is socializing and gossiping and talking shop with agents, editors, and other writers. This meant spending a lot of time at the bar, but it was a sacrifice I was willing to make. I also critiqued two aspiring authors (and wouldn’t be at all surprised to see both of them published over the  next few years), and chatted with a great group of people at the breakfast table I hosted. I only wish I could remember everybody’s names!

A high point of the weekend was the always entertaining banquet. This year’s entertainment was a murder mystery set at the Poe School of Mysterious Arts, where students learn how to write mysteries. Each table was given an author as a patron, and my table was designated the House on the Hillerman — in 3D. Our students were MWA’s ever-efficient Margery Flax, author Jedediah Berry, author Paul Tremblay, author Maggie Barbieri, bookseller Peg Patten, knitter/writer Eileen Foster Keck, author Rachel Beyer Brady, author/husband Stephen P. Kelner, and myself. It was a rocking group, and I admit that we didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to the actual mystery, despite the acting abilities shown by Ben LeRoy, Joseph Finder, Hank Phillippi Ryan, and others. Instead we concentrated on composing a house song, which we then performed. The lyrics were written mostly by Steve and myself:

“We Want Bloodshed”

Sung to the tune of “We are the Champions”
We’ve laid false clues, time after time
We’ve done no sentence, but committed a crime.
Trace evidence–we’ve left some clues
We’ve had blood splashed in our face, but we’ve come through.

We did a murder, my friends.
And we’ll keep on killing, ’til the end.
We want some bloodshed
We want some bloodshed
No time for mercy ’cause we want to murder…

See what you missed if you didn’t come to Crime Bake? But don’t despair. You’ll have another chance November 12 though 14, 2010, when the Guest of Honor will be the effervescent Charlaine Harris. Mark your calendar now–this year’s Crime Bake was sold out, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it doesn’t happen again. It’s that good a conference.

Everybody’s a Fan at Bouchercon

In 1985, a supergroup of musicians called USA for Africa got together to record the song “We Are the World,” which was sold to raise humanitarian aid for Africa.  And by supergroup, I mean people like Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder, Tina Turner, Diana Ross, Willie Nelson, Kim Carnes, Cyndi Lauper, and Bruce Springsteen.

That’s what Bouchercon is like for mystery writers.

This year’s Bouchercon was held in Indianapolis this past weekend. The hotel was a great choice, the outside venues fun and easy to get to, and the area was saturated with good restaurants. The panels were great fun, and how can you argue with honorees like Michael Connelly, S.J. Rozan, Wendelin Van Draanen, Al Hubin, and Kathryn Kennison? The convention committee did a terrific job.

Of course, the way I approach Bouchercon is not the same as that of the average fan. I spoke on a panel, went for drinks with an editor, went to my publisher’s cocktail party, ate lunch with two other editors, signed books, attended award ceremonies for the Macavity and the Anthony, recorded a podcast, met with a book packager, and discussed a forthcoming anthology. The other writers were just colleagues, so of course I didn’t take any particular notice of them.

And if you believe that, I’ve got some swampland in Florida up on eBay…

My gosh, do you know was there?  If the honorees weren’t impressive enough, there was C.J. Box, JoAnna Carl, Carolyn Hart, Lee Child, Charlaine Harris, Harlan Coben, Max Allan Collins, Heather Graham, Hank Phillippi Ryan, Loren Estleman, Dana Cameron, Peter Lovesey, Mary Saums… And that’s just a start. Do you seriously think I could wander through a hotel filled with talented writers like that without wanting to pinch myself? I was in heaven.

The fact is, I was a mystery fan long before I was a mystery writer. And one of the best parts about being a pro is the endless opportunities it provides for being a fan, for meeting these people at conventions and cocktail parties and panels. So you can bet that I brought home a load of autographed books, just like any other fan.

Come to think of it, I understand the musicians of USA for Africa signed autographs for one another, too…

Festival of Mystery

Last Monday was my first visit to the famous Festival of Mystery in Oakmont, PA, but it won’t be the last. What a great event!

Each year, the folks at Mystery Lovers Bookshop in Oakmont set up a virtual store at a hall in Oakmont, and invite a slew of mystery writers to entertain the crowd. And I do mean crowd! People lined up outside the door for hours to be among the first inside. Heck, there was even a crowd of authors–forty-two were there to sign and speak and schmooze. 

Now if that weren’t enough, there was a tea beforehand for the authors to meet local librarians, and a pizza party afterward for the authors to munch and relax.

The organization was nearly flawless, and store owners Mary Alice and Richard managed to make each and every one of us feel welcome. Plus there was a platoon of store employees and local Sisters in Crime members on hand to help out. It was just wonderful from start to finish.

It was particularly special for me for two reasons. One, because I had copies of Curse of the Kissing Cousins hot off the presses. And two, because I was sitting next to John Lamb, my daughter Maggie’s very favorite mystery author. Okay, maybe I’m her favorite, but it’s pretty darned close. 

Another treat was meeting fellow Berkley Prime Crime author Mary Ellen Hughes, who supplied these pictures of me and Mary Ellen herself, and then of me and Rosemary Harris with her latest book.

Mary Ellen



It was a lot of fun. If you’re anywhere near Oakmont, mark your calendar now for the Festival of Mystery. With any luck, I’ll be there waiting to meet you.

Malice Domestic XXI

Let me start out by saying that I LOVE Malice Domestic. Malice Domestic III was the very first mystery convention I attended, and as surely as the swallows return to Capistrano, I attend Malice each year, making this my nineteenth. So don’t expect a lot of criticism.

This Malice was smaller than some years, but despite economic woes, the committee pulled it together and arranged smaller meeting rooms which made everything (appropriately) cozy without being crowded. They even negotiated a lower room rate than what had originally been advertised, which I call handsome.

I started out the convention participating in Malice Go Round, which is kind of like speed dating for mystery fans. Every five minutes, a duo or trio of writers would visit a new table of fans and introduce themselves and their books, plus hand out cards/bookmarks/chocolates. Twenty tables, twenty repetitions of each spiel.  It was fun, but by the end, I ‘d nearly forgotten my books’ titles, let alone what they were about.

And I want publicly thank Monica Ferris and Kate Carlisle. Each table was supposed to have two authors, but I missed out on the fact that I was supposed to show up ten minutes before starting time, so by the time I got to the room, all the tables had two authors. I was told to pick one at random, and sat down with Monica and Kate, not realizing that would mean that they’d have their time shortened as a result. Monica and Kate had every right to resent my intrusion, but couldn’t have been nicer.  So go buy their books!

I was on two panels this year. First up was “Make it Snappy:  Our Best Short Story Nominees” with all five of this year’s Agatha nominees for Best Short Story, along with moderator Barb Goffman (herself a short story Agatha nominee in 2006). So that meant that Dana Cameron, Jane Cleland, Carla Coupe, Nancy Pickard, and I got to talk enthusiastically about writing mystery short stories. What’s not to like?

My other panel was “Wine, Flowers, and Murder:  The Role Romance Plays in Mysteries,” in which moderator Dana, myself, Mary Burton, and Kate Collins talked about doing “it” on the page. Or, in my case, between chapter breaks. My characters are oddly shy.

Of course, the big event at Malice is always the Agatha banquet. This year was a great one. First off, I was an Agatha nominee, which makes it fun. Second, I was sharing a table with fellow nominee Dana, who made up amazing gift bags for everybody at the table. (And let me throw in some pirate items.) And third, the people at the table were great fun, particularly Dana’s agent, the irrepressible Janet Reid.  We played with toy werewolves from Dana’s gift bags, ate some pretty darned good banquet food, and laughed our tails off until time for the grand announcement of the winner of the Short Story Agatha. Which I didn’t win.

Dana won, for “The Night Things Changed.” And I couldn’t be happier or prouder.

Sure, I like winning awards. But I like seeing good stories win, and I like seeing friends win, and I really like seeing a story that Charlaine Harris and I edited winning. Dana’s story appeared in our anthology Wolfsbane and Mistletoe, which means Charlaine and I get a nice editorial glow from her win. I tried to convince Dana that Charlaine and I should also get the lid to the Agatha teapot, but she didn’t buy it, and she had a werewolf strike force on her side.

Here we are after the Agatha banquet.

Agathas 2009

That’s Chris Grabenstein on the left, with his Agatha teapot for Best Children’s/YA Novel, me, Dana, and our fellow short story nominee Carla Coupe.

Malice ended with the traditional tea on Sunday afternoon, and left me worn out but happy. I’ve already signed up for next year.