Saturday, October 6, 2012

Bouchercon Cleveland - Fri., Oct 5 (part one)

I arrived a bit late to the first panel "Old Friends, New Friends" so I have no idea why Chris Grabenstein was not present. I attended this panel not because I am so much an avid fan of the series characters,  the topic of the panel, but I wanted to see and hear Jen Forbus whose blog, Jen's Book Thoughts, has done so much for the genre and its writers and readers. It was one of the first mystery blogs I read before I become completely devoted to out of print books. Also, two panel members -- Parnell Hall, Mary Jane Maffini (at left) -- are favorites of mine and I had never heard them talk about their work at previous conventions I've attended. Topics covered included eBooks helping readers obtain an author's back list more easily these days, the role of libraries and bookstores in helping talk up the series, and whether or not the writers present could actually work on two different series character books at the same time. A fun question from the audience:  "Who do you envision playing your series character in a movie or on TV?" There were the usual jokes about the Tom Cruise/Jack Reacher when Jeff Cohen said his character is 5'5" and Cruise was very welcome to play the part any day. Maffini mentioned a few Canadian actresses she was sure no one would know. I didn't recognize the name and I can't even remember it now having not had the smarts to write it down. Parnell Hall said he'd like to play Stanley Hastings himself and if not he'd take on the Puzzle Lady as well.

"Mystery & the Movies" -- Unlike last year's panel in which several writers discussed their favorite crime related movies this year's movie panel was about writer experiences with their own books being adapted to the screen. On hand to discuss the were Charlaine Harris, Robin Cook (one of the Guests of Honor), Chelsea Cain, Joseph Finder and Derek Haas, a last minute addition who is both a novelist and screenwriter, and most recently co-creator the new TV show Chicago Fire. Topics included all sorts of anecdotes about the hassles of dealing with Hollywood, the differences between writing novels and screenplays, whether the writers have ever or would ever want to adapt their own work, and -- once again drawing on the Tom Cruise/Jack Reacher business -- the importance of casting actors who match the character's physical description.

Haas had a great description of the difference between script writing and novel writing. When working on TV he'll get notes form his producers asking him to take out entire scenes or add a dog for the main character to make him more likable.  But when he gets a note from editor it's more along the lines of a polite email asking, "Do you think you could use a semi-colon here?"

I also liked Robin Cook's anecdote about learning that Michael Douglas would play a lead in the film version of his book Coma. He had just appeared on a talk show in Philadelphia with Mike Douglas and confused the two. He told the producer "Don't you think he's a bit old...and corpulent for a young doctor who has to do a lot of action scenes?"

We learned that Chelsea Cain whose series about Gretchen Lowell, a female serial killer and the police detective she once tortured then set free, is in the process of becoming a TV series for F/X.& She has absolutely no desire to write for TV or the movies. She wants to be in charge of her characters and knows that writers in Hollywood tend to be at the mercy of producers and directors. "I want to be able to control my own little universe," she told the audience. Another interesting bit form Cain was the revelation of a previous screen life for her debut novel. Heartsick apparently almost became a TV movie for another network at the hands producer Freddy DeMann. He showed her a portion of the script and she hated it. She said it was drippy and like "a deep, deep cable movie, like one of those Torey Spelling things." Then she revealed to the audience that all the dialogue was hers. They had used her exact words but when the dialogue had been removed from the book and set down on the page without her usual sardonic prose it sounded trite and lifeless.

Haas was the voice of Hollywood, so to speak, and gave a good insider's take on the way the collaborative work of TV and movies can be both good and bad. With Chicago Fire he says he finally got the kind of producer most writers dream of in Dick Wolf who respects and honors the writer's script. After giving a short speech to the cast about sticking to the script as written and restraining themselves from any kind of ad libbing, Haas said he would have actors come up to him and ask, "You have the line as 'I'm going to go home now.' Can I say 'I'm gonna go home now' ?"

There were several very funny stories from Finder and Harris as well.  Harris told a long story about how her personal assistant was refused entry to a meeting she was going to have with people of the True Blood production team. Not only refused entry to the meeting but the building! She was told her assistant could wait in the car in the parking garage. That was fixed but with a ridiculous amount of seemingly needless negotiation. Finder talked about so many things and did so eloquently and wittily, but I'll highlight his story about his cameo part in a TV movie of one of his books. He was given the role of an assistant D.A. and was told to not reveal to anyone that he was the author of the book. But after listening to an actor explain to him, a mere bit player, what the movie was all about (and Finder admits the actor knew the story and the themes very well) he couldn't hold back. So he leaned into told the actor and in a low discreet voice said, "I wrote the book."  Immediately the actor shouted out to the entire set: "Hey Morgan [Freeman]! Hey, guys!  This guy wrote the book!"

Next post I'll wrap up Friday's events with the third panel I attended on Nero Wolfe (many notes taken at that one), my first visit to the book room and my talks with two of the dealers there.


  1. John: It sounds like a wonderful time. I wish I could attend sometime.

  2. Hi! I had to cancel my trip to Cleveland at the airport when my 92-year-old father-in-law ended up in the ER. My wife and I thought we'd be on the next plane to Detroit. Fortunately, the docs released him after 24 hours and he is home!