I’ve got New England Crime Bake fever, and I don’t want a vaccine

Last year’s Crime Bake special guest Ann Cleeves gets some tips from a panel of all-stars, from left Hallie Ephron, Hank Philippi-Ryan and Julia Spencer-Fleming.

Early fall 2008 I was trying to get some traction on writing my first mystery novel. It was something I’d intended to do since I was 9. As I tried to figure out how to go about things, it occurred to me that maybe the reason it had taken until then to do anything about it was I had no clue. Working in newsrooms for nearly three decades didn’t help. Woe to she who mentions she’s writing a book.

I could expect one of two reactions. Or maybe both at once:

“Every journalist has an unpublished book in their bottom desk drawer.” Always the BOTTOM desk drawer.

“It’s impossible to get a book published.”

Yes, these are the words of encouragement a budding novelist can expect to hear in a newsroom. I needed a new crowd. One who got me.

I’m not sure how I stumbled onto New England Crime Bake, but stumble I did. I was so out of it, that until a week before it started, I thought it was still in Lowell, Mass., where it began in 2002. I was living in Manchester, N.H., at the time, so Lowell was a quick 45 minutes away. Then I found out it was in Dedham, Mass. I couldn’t get Friday night off from work, but I managed to get a hotel room at the site for Saturday and drove down. If memory serves me right, it snowed that morning.

Breakfast was finished when I got there, but the coffee was still out. The only seat I could find in the packed ballroom was way back in the farthest corner. One vivid memory is that Raffi Yessayan was at the table, too. Later, when I realized he was an author and presenter I was thrilled. I was sitting next to an author and presenter!

And the authors and presenters ranged from guest speaker Harlan Coben — an actual best-selling famous writer– to dozens of people who all had awesome things to say.

It didn’t matter that I was so far from the action that first morning, I was hooked. A group of 250 people all doing what I was doing. A weekend talking about mysteries and mystery writing. It was about as far from the newsroom and those ink-stained wretches as Mars (except, of course, the popularity of the bar, that was pretty familiar).

I went home Sunday afternoon fired up and ready to write. And yes, authors new and old can learn a lot at Crime Bake. But the biggest benefit for me was — and is — how inspiring and motivating it is. People DO write books. The DO get them published. And we can have fun talking about it all weekend long.

Lunch with Elizabeth George, 2015

Nowadays, with three books under my belt and another one slowly working its way to the surface, when an aspiring author asks me for advice, the absolute number one thing I say is, “Get to Crime Bake.” I honestly don’t think I’d be where I am as an author without it.

As with so many other things, Crime Bake “is going to look different this year.” Sorry to put it in quotes, but the phrase almost types itself nine months into the pandemic. I’m excited about the fact there’s going to be a virtual event on Saturday Nov. 7. It really does sound like a lot of fun and I’m looking forward to it. I’m glad the committee made sure it’s happening and worked to make it enticing. It would’ve been easy to just say, “See you in 2021.”

But, man, I want the real thing. Because, like so many other things we’ve realized this year, but even more so, there’s nothing like being there.

Don’t just take my word for it. My sister Becky came with me in 2015 because Elizabeth George was the special guest and she’s a big fan, but she’s come back every year since because she enjoyed it so much. And she’s not even a writer!

My sister Becky came along in 2015 because she’s an Elizabeth George fan, but now she comes every year because she’s got Crime Bake fever, too.

Here are some of the top best things about Crime Bake, in no particular order, and leaving a lot of stuff out because it’s just too much to get my head around all the great things:

It doesn’t matter what the panel is, everyone always has a good time.

  1. No matter how much you know about writing, publishing — or don’t — the panels are fun and informative and like nothing you’re going to hear in a newsroom.
  2. Hanging out with mystery writers, fans and industry folks for a weekend is a friggin’ blast.

    Pal John Radosta, who I’ve hung out with at every Crime Bake since my first one, was almost as excited about my second book as I was. I believe this was in 2016.

  3. I’ve made friends I only see once a year, but it’s like I just saw them yesterday. And I’ve also made friends who’ve become valuable go-to people in both my writing and non-writing life.

    Gotta love the book table! 2014 I believe.

  4. There’s a wicked long table piled with books to buy.
  5. If you’re a panelist, they sell your books, and it’s alphabetical, so my books can be right next to Walter Mosley’s (2018), and some of the magic must’ve seeped on over, because people actually bought a few!

    My sister Becky won a basket of books one year!

  6. You can also win a big basket o’ books in the raffle!

    My sister Becky hangs out with her new BFF Elizabeth George in 2015.

  7. You get to hang out with really really cool famous authors. And really cool not as famous ones.

    Donna Andrews introduces me as one of the debut writers in 2015. I wouldn’t have gotten that far if I hadn’t gone to my first Crime Bake in 2008, then my second one in 2009, then my third one…

  8. No matter what stage of the writing game people are in, everyone is welcome, celebrated and treated like they belong. Because they do!
  9. I find myself, often during the other 362 days of the year suddenly just thinking about Crime Bake.

I could probably put together a more coherent pitch for those who have never been there, but it’s too much for me to fully describe. I just want it to come back.

About Maureen Milliken

Maureen Milliken is the author of the Bernie O’Dea mystery series. Follow her on Twitter at @mmilliken47 and like her Facebook page at Maureen Milliken mysteries. Sign up for email updates at maureenmilliken.com. She hosts the podcast Crime&Stuff with her sister Rebecca Milliken.
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6 Responses to I’ve got New England Crime Bake fever, and I don’t want a vaccine

  1. Brenda Buchanan says:

    So many great pictures, Mo! I’ll miss being at a “real” Crime Bake this year too, but the virtual one is going to be a lot of fun. I’m glad you’ll be there (Becky, too?) and appreciate this shout out to our blog’s readers. Please do join us — it’s free!

    • Maureen Milliken says:

      Not sure if Becky can make it — she has to work and stuff. I’ll never forget meeting you in the bar in Crime Bake. It was packed and I was at a table with someone I didn’t know who was insufferable and you asked if you could take the empty seat. And we found out we were both from Maine! And you’d been a reporter at the York County Coast Star when I was at the Biddeford J-H, etc. It was one of those great Crime Bake connections that grew to be much more.

  2. I agree that it’s well worth attending. I’ve been to three and the highlights for me were chatting with William Kent Krueger (One of the nicest people you’ll ever meet) and being in a group picture of writers appearing in that year’s Level Best Anthology.

    • Maureen Milliken says:

      And I believe that’s where I first met you, too, introduced by your sis. I think we’re on the forefront of the trend of sibling attendence. 🙂

  3. Vicki Erwin says:

    I’m “attending” this year for the first time, although I have always wanted to, but alas I live I’m Missouri. That’s the good news about virtual!

  4. Pingback: New England Crime Bake should be on every writer’s calendar | Maine Crime Writers

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