Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Memorable Moments in Crime Bake 2016

Crime Bake 2016 is behind us now, but it was, as expected, a solid event for writers and readers, with several memorable moments. I'll focus on two today.

We were happy to see the new incarnation of the Level Best Books anthology, now in the hands of four new editors. Kimberly Gray, Verena Rose, Harriette Sackler, and Shawn Reilly Simmons have edited thirty-two stories, arranged by state and New England, as the seventh category. They have continued the tradition carried on by Mark Ammons, Kat Fast, Barbara Ross, and Leslie Wheeler, and begun by Skye Alexander (and later by Ruth McCarty), Kate Flora, and myself in 2003.

It is very gratifying to see something that began as a single anthology live on its current form. The new editors, though not living in the area, came to Crime Bake and continued the tradition of holding a signing for all the writers whose work is included. Windward: Best New England Crime Stories offers familiar as well as new names in the crime-writing world. The anthology also continues the tradition of publishing the Al Blanchard story, won this year by P. Jo Anne Burgh for "Bagatelle."

The guest of honor this year was William Kent Krueger, whose Cork O'Connor series mixes the local lore of the First Peoples of Krueger's beloved Minnesota with complex stories and deft investigation. At Crime Bake and other conferences, the guest of honor is usually interviewed by another writer, but this year Kent broke with tradition. He gave a lunch-hour talk that had many of us ignoring our lunches to listen better. I jotted down a few notes, but mostly I listened.

Kent opened with one question. The DaVinci Code is the best selling American fiction. But what did it replace? The names tossed out by the audience were many and varied, and almost everyone reading this now will come up with the same titles. But the answer was a surprise. Brown's book replaced The Valley of the Dolls. No one named that one.

The two best-sellers will be forgotten in the near future, Kent pointed out, because they reflect a moment in time. They depend on plot. The books that most of us thought of and called out--Tom Sawyer, Gone with the Wind, and others--will be remembered and read well into the future because they depend on character.

Mysteries, he said, allow us to talk about important social issues. We can explore current events and timely questions, looking at them from the perspective of the overarching question of justice and fairness. Kent also made the point that we no longer have social novels. We don't have writers like Upton Sinclair (The Jungle), Mark Twain (Huckleberry Finn), or John Steinbeck (The Grapes of Wrath) writing fiction around certain issues. These novels have been replaced by mysteries.

Kent's talk was one of the most interesting and stimulating I've heard in a long time, and I know I'll be returning to my notes, perhaps for another post.


  1. Thanks for sharing this with us. I agree that characters make a book more memorable than plot. Plots often repeat while characters that are well-developed are unique to the writer. Today many mysteries are serious works that deal with important sociological themes and ideas.

  2. Kent was definitely one of the best and most interesting speakers I've heard in a long time. Conferences don't usually go in this direction, but I'm very glad he did. It was good to hear someone talk about the important role mysteries play in life today. Thanks for commenting on that.

  3. Sounds like a great conference, Susan. Glad you enjoyed it and thanks for sharing.
    Good luck and God's blessings

  4. I thought this year's Crime Bake was one of the strongest ever, and agree Kent Krueger was a terrific GOH. His lunchtime talk was a highlight for me, as was his master class on setting. It was nice to see you there, Susan, and to say a quick hello. Happy Thanksgiving!

  5. I agree that this year's CB was one of the strongest ever, especially the master classes--lots of variety and very capable presenters. I always go thinking I'll get to say hello to everyone, but I barely get a chance to say two words to old and new friends. But it's always worth doing. Thanks for commenting and Happy Turkey Day.

  6. Valley of the Dolls? Really? That would not have been in my first 100 guesses. It illustrates, however, how difficult it is to predict what will appeal to the massive reading public.

  7. Earl, thank you for this comment. No one in the room guessed the best-seller. We all called out the obvious names. I've never read Valley of the Dolls, and I have no plan to read it now. But it certainly underscores how unpredictable the reading public can be.

  8. Thank you for founding Level Best Books and passing the franchise along to us. We wish the new editors every success.

  9. Your team did a great job, and I know we all hope the anthology will continue to thrive.