Bouchercon 2011 report, LGBT edition

by Sunita

Bouchercon came to St. Louis this year, and despite having way too many work obligations at the same time, I snuck away and went to panels on three of the four days. I’ve written a couple of posts over at Dear Author, but there’s a lot more to cover, so I’m continuing the conversation over here.

LGBT authors and mysteries have been around for quite a while in the genre, but there aren’t separate panels dedicated to them. Val McDermid was one of Bouchercon2011′s International Guests of Honor, and there was an LGBT author discussion and book-signing at my local independent bookstore, but for the most part authors and books were represented on relevant theme panels.

One panel I attended was titled “It Hurts Me Too: Taking Chances With Your Characters.” The panelists included Neil Plakcy, who writes the Mahu series, and J.M. Redmann, who writes the Micky Knight series about a lesbian PI that is set in pre- and post-Katrina New Orleans.

Plakcy talked about how the main character, Kimo’s, coming out as a gay police detective took place over a series of books. He had originally intended to write a stand-alone, but then as the character kept speaking to him and he found an editor and publisher for subsequent novels, the way Kimo dealt with the intersection of his sexual orientation and his job became part of his development through the novels. Plakcy discussed how he didn’t feel that Kimo’s love interest in the first book could be a long-term relationship because of the stage Kimo was at then. The character returns in a later book in the series, when Kimo is in a different place psychologically.

The challenge to JM Redmann’s character, Micky Knight, was the challenge of living in New Orleans after Katrina. Redmann was partway through writing a book in the series when Katrina hit and she was evacuated for months. When she came back, the city was totally different and she had to decide whether to scrap the book and start over or make the events part of the story. She chose the latter course, and the series sounds as if New Orleans functions as a character in the books, not just a setting (which is the case in books set there). I was especially intrigued by Redmann’s description of Micky as not especially likeable, especially in the first book. I’m definitely hunting down the first couple of books in the series.

The LGBT signing at Left Bank Books featured a number of authors, who were working in sub-genres ranging from comic to noir. Rob Byrnes, who contributed a story to the gay noir anthology Men of the Mean Streets, turns out to write caper novels; he cited Donald Westlake as an inspiration. Ellen Hart, who has been NY published in the past, has written a number of cozy mysteries set in Minneapolis featuring lesbian restauranteur and amateur sleuth Jane Lawless. There were several other authors, including Jessie Chandler, whose debut is titled “Bingo Barge Murder” and is appropriately set on a sleazy bingo boat on the upper Mississippi.

Val McDermid talked about how lesbian and gay authors were more integrated into the mainstream book world in the UK than they seem to be in the US. Alan Hollinghurst, for example, isn’t described as a gay author but as an author. Of course, Hollinghurst writes lit fic, so that may be part of the difference (although Stephen McCauley was inevitably described as a gay writer when his books first came out in the States).

There was some Amazon-bashing (hey, we were in an indie bookstore), but mostly the conversation centered around the marginalization of LGBT writers and topics by New York publishers. There was a little bit of blogger/reviewer bashing as well. When I finally was able to ask a question, I introduced myself as a blogger/reviewer, which let us all have a nice chuckle. I pointed out that with the rise of ebooks and digital ARC services like Netgalley, LGBT books could be found more easily by readers like me who wanted to read them but had trouble sorting the quality from the dreck in the vast sea of e- and print-published books. I didn’t care whether the books came from big or small publishers, and on Netgalley it doesn’t matter. What matters is whether the book looks interesting.

Coming from reading romance and m/m, it was a little surprising to hear authors still talking about New York publishers as the Holy Grail. While I understand the sentiment, I would have expected more discussion of e-publishing, especially since a number of these authors are published by small presses.

Overall, I was glad I went. I found out about some new authors and I got to meet Val McDermid (who is all kinds of awesome). I thought it was interesting that a couple of the writers said frankly that they wrote gay romance, including those who wrote more lighthearted books. They didn’t seem to have any trouble with the idea that romance and mysteries could coexist in the same genre. That said, I’m not sure how much explicit sex there is in these books. I will read and report.

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