CWC and David Baldacci at Bouchercon-2023
Canadian Crime Writers were conspicuous participants at Boucheron-2023 in San Diego, August 30th to September 3rd.
The gathering of 1700 writers and readers at Bouchercon in San Diego was another great success at bringing people together to make connections, learn from each other, and be inspired to read more and write better. Organised and initiated by Anthony Boucher of Mystery Writers of America in 1970, the Bouchercon International Mystery Conference has been a long-standing success story of its own for over fifty years. It is scheduled for Labour Day weekend annually and changes location every year. It has been held in Toronto three times (1992, 2004, 2017) and is scheduled for Calgary in 2026. Next year is Nashville and 2025 is a return to New Orleans.
Notable and representing us well in San Diego in panel discussions and author presentations were hard-working CWC authors Linda L. Richards, S.M. Freedman, Catherine McKenzie, Rick Mofina, Jen J. Danna, Cathy Ace, Susan Calder, H&A Christensen, and me – Delvin Chatterson.
A particular highlight of my recent attendance at Bouchercon-2023, however, was the opportunity to meet David Baldacci and listen to his comments during the panel discussions and his headline interview as Lifetime Honorary Member of Bouchercon and VIP guest in San Diego.
I’ve often described my writing as being influenced by the style and stories of David Baldacci and John Grisham. At Bouchercon, I learned that they are actually good friends with a lot in common – both practicing lawyers before they became global best-selling authors with millions of readers and fans and 100s of millions of books sold – but they also have their differences. “He works from an outline, I do not,” says Baldacci. And now that I’ve met him and heard his commentary on writing and the book business, not only do I want to write like him, I want to be David Baldacci. Not for the lifestyle of a rich and famous international best-selling author, but for the class and character he demonstrates as a human being. Engaging, thoughtful, articulate, and a responsible empathetic citizen dedicated to advancing literacy and education, “so we can make better choices at the ballot box.” He’s not shy to declare his own social values and his criticism of the current divisive rhetoric and dirty politics that are causing us all to lose faith in democracy and our trusted institutions.
But most valuable for writers and most insightful for readers were his comments on writing. I had previously learned a lot from his highly recommended Master Class lectures and have quoted him for years on the guiding principle, “I want to write a book that I would want to read and that makes me I feel a little smarter at the end because I learned something.”
Here are a few more memorable quotes from David Baldacci at Bouchercon-2023:
On cliffhangers, tension, and suspense
“Start with a scene that has a character doing something extraordinary that opens up lots of possibilities for both the writer and the reader. But don’t lose control to the reader who starts thinking, ‘I know where this is going. I could write it myself from here.’ Lead the reader to the obvious, then flip it. Small acts build tension. Interlace plot lines A and B, with surprise twists tying them together. Introduce a shocking twist by page 50, another at page 80, then continue to surprise yourself until the end.”
“When I finish the first draft it always has several possible endings. I pick one and stick a pin in it for first review by my editors, then I make my final choice before releasing it for publishing.”
Plot or character?
“Readers remember the characters, not the plot.”
Success and failure
“I too have had more rejections than I can count. I started writing short stories at the age of eleven, submitting to Playboy magazine and others at seventeen, and having nothing published; while working full-time as a lawyer, I was sending screen plays to Hollywood and had every major studio and agency turn me down. But I was never willing to quit and I decided to try a novel about a nasty narcissist sexual abuser who was President (that could never happen, right?) But it was accepted by 7 out of the 9 agents that I pitched. Only one wanted to work with me on my writing career instead of just making the easy sale of the future blockbuster, Absolute Power (1996). He’s still my agent and friend.”
“Writers must have curiosity and empathy and be keen observers of people.”
“I’ve learned that writing for me is not a job, not a hobby or a passion, it’s my identity.”
“No. Every day is different.”
“It doesn’t get easier…we don’t want it to get easy. It has to be new every single time.”
“No outline. Get immersed in the story. Write in real time.”
“Celebrate! Being here is an enormous victory for you.”
The other Guests of Honor adding to the energy and enthusiasm over five days of events at Bouchercon in San Diego included C.J. Box, Anne Cleeves, and Jacqueline Winspear. Bouchercon also provides a great opportunity for less well-known authors to meet new readers and promote their books.
I look forward to participating again next year and meeting Canadian and other international writers of crime, mystery and suspense at Bouchercon-2024. See y’all in Nashville.