Last week I returned from New Orleans where I took in the annual Mystery Writers of America conference known as Bouchercon. It was my second trip to this annual convention and as always I found it instructive. Exploring the city of New Orleans was a blast. I would have guessed that there were 500-700 authors in attendance including the some of the biggest best-selling mystery authors. The other attendees were fans of the genre and perhaps numbered 1500.
New this year was a book selection room. In past conventions, an attendee received a book bag with various materials like bookmarks and other marketing materials, and 3-4 books. This year we were sent into a large room to choose 6 books that appealed to our tastes, and it was wonderful. I generally shy away from certain subgenres of the mystery thriller category and this book room allowed for readers to come away with new books and authors that matched their tastes.
I started the conference with the session on social media. From there I moved on to a total of nineteen panels, three evening events, a Second Line parade, and a Sisters in Crime Breakfast. It was a wonderful opportunity to learn the writing craft, meet fans, be a fan when Michael Connelly interviewed Harlan Corben, or likewise Lee Child interviewing another author. As a fan of the mystery genre, I found new authors to read.
I was amazed to hear my fellow authors talking about their characters deciding where their story will go. Characters clearly lived in the heads of several authors. Some authors admitted when they start a story, they didn’t know how the book was going to end. It’s the way I write; all I know is by the end of the book, the murderer will be identified, and be arrested, or will die. Other writers admitted that characters in their books were drawn from relatives or as one writer said ‘Frankenstein’, meaning she pulled bits of pieces of character out of several people she knew to make a whole personality. Writing is about imagination and every writer find inspiration in different ways. Some are able to do an in-depth fifty page outline, while for others the story unfolds in their heads as they begin to write it down.
The city overall was inspiring. I spoke with several natives about their Hurricane Katrina (August 2005) experiences. One merchant had a shop on Decatur street which is main street closest to the Mississippi River. During the Hurricane, the French Quarter for the most part didn’t flood. However, there were looters, no electricity, no tourists, and no schools in the immediate aftermath of Katrina, so they emptied their shop and moved to Houston for a few years selling artwork on the internet until they opened in a new location in the French quarter in 2007.
Another native that I watched a Green Bay Packer game with at Manning’s bar said that someone blew open the dykes of the canal to purposely flood the poor ninth ward in an attempt to save the French Quarter and Garden Districts. He said he was forced into the second story of his home and flood waters rose twelve feet. He left for Houston only to eventually made it back over the next six months. I asked other residents and they said no, the problem was that New Orleans was a fish bowl with parts of it below sea level. The ninth ward was at the lower part of the fishbowl, while the French Quarter was the highest. My Uber driver agreed with the fishbowl theory.
FEMA provided reconstruction dollars for many homes, businesses, and services. One of those was a new facility for EMS and the coroner of New Orleans parish. In the nearly ten years since the Hurricane, the medical examiner had been performing their services in an old mortuary facility.
I didn’t see any Hurricane damage but then I never made it out of the two areas that I have mentioned. Regardless, it appears to this outsider that New Orleans has recovered its heart and soul after such a devastating time in its history.