Brenda Buchanan here, two days after returning from the ‘Bake, grateful I had the opportunity to spend last weekend hanging out with a bunch of my crime writing pals.
For the uninitiated, the ‘Bake is shorthand for the New England Crime Bake, an annual crime writing conference held outside of Boston. This was my 8th ‘Bake and the timing could not have been better. Last week was a difficult one for many of us. It was good to take a break from all the election-related stress and talk about murder.
The ‘Bake is solidarity in action. Several hundred people take over a suburban Hilton for the weekend, all of whom know first-hand the struggles of the lonely crime writer.
To construct plots that work. Characters who captivate. Prose that sings.
We celebrate our shared obsession at master classes with titles like Setting: It’s a Sexy Character, panel discussions called Our Big Guns and How They Got There and workshops on Traveling in Packs: Writers Band Together for Promotion.
We pitch and bitch, listen and laugh and when the day is done (and sometimes well before the day is done) join together in the bar and swap stories over drinks.
Oh, and there are costumes and dancing, because each year’s ‘Bake has a theme that riffs off the work of the Guest of Honor.
This year’s honoree was the marvelous William Kent Krueger, a New York Times bestselling author whose luminous stand-alone Ordinary Grace won the 2013 Edgar Award for best novel.
Kent also is well known for his terrific Cork O’Connor series, which has as its protagonist a man who is part Irish and part Ojibwe, a former sheriff turned private eye who solves stubborn crimes in the Iron Range. He taught the class about setting, something at which he is, in fact, a master. I’ve never been to northern Minnesota except when reading Kent’s books but feel as though I know the place well.
To honor Kent, this year’s banquet attendees wore flannel shirts and bomber hats and did their best to dance to a selection of Prince tunes while wearing pack boots.
Let’s Go Crazy indeed.
It was wonderful to reconnect with people I’ve met in past years and make some new friends. My friend and Westbrook neighbor Peter Murray was a newbie this year.
Unlike most first timers, Peter already has a publication credit, his wonderful short story Mendicants in the Median having been chosen for inclusion in Windward, the 2016 anthology of the best New England crime fiction.
I rode through the mean streets of Boston (okay, down Route 128, which is plenty mean in my book) with MCW’s own Bruce Coffin and got to spent a bit of time with a bunch of other blogmates during the weekend—Kate Flora, Maureen Milliken, Jen Blood, John Clark, Jessica Crockett Estevao, Barbara Ross, Lea Wait, Dick Cass and blog alum James Hayman.
On Sunday morning retired Maine game warden Roger Guay presented Canine CSI, a fascinating talk about his work with canine partners to solve crimes and find missing persons.
I believe his session prompted a huge run at the book table on A Good Man With A Dog, the memoir he wrote with Kate Flora. Roger is one heck of a story teller.
Readers of this post considering attending the ‘Bake or a similar event should be aware there are two kinds of gatherings. Some (Bouchercon, Malice Domestic) have programming aimed at readers, and they’re a blast.
Writer-focused conferences like the ‘Bake offer valuable lessons in craft and professionalism as well as the opportunity to meet and pitch agents and editors. But take my word for it, they also involve plenty of fun.
Imagine, if you will, people dressed like lumberjacks getting down to Little Red Corvette.