What: A Milwaukee native who has devoted most of his free time to reading going back to childhood, almost all of it mysteries and comics. He and his wife Ruth publish Crimespree Magazine and are fan guest of Honor in New Orleans at Bouchercon. They have also won three Anthony Awards and been given the Raven by mystery Writers of America. Jon also drinks 4-6 pots of coffee a day.
Interview conducted by email. Some questions and answers have been edited.
You recently posted on Facebook that you and will once again be handling the panel programming for Bouchercon 2016. What initially got you interested in taking on this role?
It started with the Madison Bouchercon. The ladies doing the programming were friends and I had mentioned if they needed a hand let me know. They reached out and I spent a few days brainstorming with them. Ruth also pitched in and it was fun.
A few years later Ruth was running a Bouchercon in Baltimore and that’s the first time Judy and I did it together. I think for me it’s a total of f times including New Orleans. I’m also doing programming each year for Murder and Mayhem with my partners in crime, Ruth, Penny Halle and Erica Neubauer.
What has your time at Crimespree Magazine taught you about dealing with authors in general?
I give everyone three strikes. One or two bad interactions don’t mean someone is a bad person, everyone has an off day. Three in a row, I’m out. 99.5 % of authors I have met are wonderful people, and I would take a bullet for some. The .5% I wouldn’t push over a cliff into water if they were on fire.
We use different things. Sometimes with an author we may not have heard of we Google them. Their name, plus the word “book.” If nothing pops up for the first 50 hits we move them to list “B,” which is our maybe list.
We come up with panel names first and then plug and play the names. A lot of it is kind of black magic. There are obvious names that everyone knows, these people are easy to place (Laura Lippman has never done a bad panel). When we start getting to people we are unfamiliar with we start researching.
Based on your experience, what makes for a good panel? Does a mix of established and emerging authors make a difference?
I think a good panel can come from almost any topic. What really makes it work is the grouping of panelists. Get the right chemistry and they will make any topic fun and/or interesting. Kind of character over plot.
Is there one panel you’ve always wanted to try, but never pulled off?
I want to do one with all singing, a musical panel.
I know that I have already submitted a few panel ideas for New Orleans. How much do you take those kinds of pitches into consideration?
Over the years a lot of panel ideas have been submitted. We use maybe half. Sometimes the reasons for not using an idea is that we simply run out of room. We always set up more panels than we can actually do, like an extra five. Sometimes the idea has been done to death, sometimes we just don’t think it will work. Also, it’s much better to pitch an idea with more names than you need as the chances of getting the 5 authors you want may be slim.
We actually had an author who didn’t have a book out and we had never seen on a panel suggest they moderate a panel with all the biggest names. Something like that most likely won’t happen. What we ARE looking for is fresh ideas.
The biggest thing that makes me kind of sad is how many authors put their whole Bouchercon experience on doing a panel. It’s 50 minutes out of a three and a half day event and if that is the only reason you are coming you should rethink it. Also, to quote Michael in The Godfather, “It’s not personal Sonny, it’s business.” We’re not trying to screw with anyone, we actually want to place as many authors as we can, but sometimes we just can’t. Our number one priority is entertaining the fans. This is not a writers conference, it’s a fan convention.
Also, the more flexible a schedule is for an author the easier it is to place them. Someone who will only be available Saturday afternoon is less of a priority for us than someone who is there all weekend.
How ugly have authors gotten with you when they don’t got onto a panel?
Judy gets more of that than I do. A lot of what I get is pouting and threats of not coming to Bouchercon. But here’s a few: One author threatened to sue me for the cost of going if they had no panel. Another threatened to ruin our reputations and Crimespree Magazine. One author over the weekend kept coming up to me and saying they had free time because they didn’t have a panel.
Almost all of the authors are great. It’s a very, very small group that gets weird enough about this that we want to scream. But it’s funny that a lot of time default mode is to be mad, so we fill them in on what is going on and they chill out. A couple of times I have gone to the publisher and explained the problem. It’s interesting how a call from an editor or publicist will chill this out.
Pro Tip: Don’t be a jerk. We don’t play well with jerks. Also if something opens up we are not going to give the newly open panel spot to a jerk.
S.W. Lauden’s debut novel, BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION, is available now from Rare Bird Books. The second Greg Salem novel, GRIZZLY SEASON, will be published in September 2016. His standalone novella, CROSSWISE, is available now from Down & Out Books.