For the past five years, I’ve attended a regional mystery writer’s conference called New England Crime Bake in early November. Our lovely mascot is a handcuff-sporting lobster (it’s adorable). Sponsored and organized by the regional Sisters in Crime chapter (SinC-NE) and Mystery Writers of America, Crime Bake provides amazing opportunities for writers (and readers!). Organizers limit the conference to no more than 250 attendees, and work hard to find the most wonderful guests of honor possible. This year’s guest of honor was Elizabeth George, author of the Inspector Lynley series!
One of the many advantages to attending a smaller conference is the chance to meet and chat with the guest of honor, panelists, agents, authors, and fellow writers. At a larger conference, it’s much more difficult, if it’s even an opportunity, to meet the guest of honor or panelists; there are simply too many people and too little time. Some of my favorite Crime Bake memories include: Hank Phillipi-Ryan spending nearly an hour with a few attendees, sharing her experiences and answering questions; joking with Barry Eisler; chatting with Gerry Boyle over lunch; and sharing many a hallway chat with Hallie Ephron and Lucy Burdette/Roberta Isleib. Oh, and that time Lucy came running up to me with her not-yet-released book, and handed it to me, because she knew I loved her Key West Food Critic series, and I’d read it right away and share it with everyone I could!
Building communities can be organic, but it can also be challenging. Writers are often introverts. Writers tend to wonder if we’re good enough to be published, if we’ve earned the praise of our readers, if we can do it again with the next book, while at the same time telling our writer-friends how amazing they are and that they should be confident. (Yep, we’re complex like that.) Small conferences like Crime Bake make that easier by keeping things intimate, and providing a schedule that encourages attendees to connect.
Roughly half the attendees each year are returning, and half are brand-new. This provides a wonderful mix of people, and helps keep the event fresh. The conference committee is amazing, every year. While they maintain the traditions that make Crime Bake special, they also continue to innovate, offering new and creative opportunities, too. This year, we celebrated all the debut authors in attendance. It was so lovely to cheer and celebrate their success! Somehow, and I don’t know how they do it, everyone involved with the conference–the guests of honor, panelists, bookseller staff, committee members–is so kind, warm, and welcoming, that even a committed introvert like me can’t help but have a wonderful time.
Through Crime Bake, I’ve published my first two short stories, but I’ve also made friends. This year I reconnected with a new friend from last year, Lisa Q. Mathews; we’ve stayed in touch via Facebook, participated in Camp NaNoWriMo together (we, along with several others, started the first Guppy cabin at Camp!), and celebrated the publication of her first novel. (WOOT!) We met at last year’s Crime Bake banquet, when the evening’s contest was to write a cowboy poem (the guest of honor was Craig Johnson). Little did I know that a delightfully silly contest would allow me to make two new friends, one of whom I was able to share the banquet with again this year.
When I decided to attend Crime Bake that first year, I had no idea I would be building a delightful new community for myself. And yet, I did, and I’m so very grateful.