The mystery world has been abuzz this past week with an issue that came up around Bouchercon.
As a debut author I did not feel qualified to write about it on this space, but I did come across an article written by Dana Cameron that I thought encapsulated the entire issue.
I'm reposting this article by Dana in full with this thought from her about how people are cooperating to solve this issue and that everyone involved is excited and enthusiastic about Bouchercon this week.
As Dana put it "We raised an issue, folks discussed it, it was tough, and now we're all going to B'con!"
Here is her article in full:
This is how things change
by Dana Cameron
by Dana Cameron
If you haven't heard about the ongoing debate about Bouchercon 2014 and “Men ofMystery” (MoM), you will soon—Bouchercon is in a week. Here's a short version; I've included links if you want a fuller picture.
About a week ago, a few folks noticed that there was two sessions blocked off on the official Bouchercon schedule, dedicated to celebrating more than 60 male authors. “Men of Mystery” is a yearly local event, and its organizer, Joan Hansen, also has a yearly “Festival of Women Authors” event. Her dedication to the mystery community has been recognized with an MWA Raven award. The goal of those two Bouchercon sessions was to enfold a yearly local event into a larger one, both devoted to mystery; but there were other issues at play.
At the heart of the problem is this: When other outside groups—Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, Private Eye Writers of America, to name a few—have events at Bouchercon, Bouchercon doesn't pay for their rooms, receptions, etc. Bouchercon is footing the bill for the room for MoM and by doing so, was giving its backing and imprimatur to a private event that excluded women.
One of the great things about Bouchercon is the focus on a variety of topics in the genre, and either a man or a woman can talk about writing noir, or traditional mystery, or supernatural mystery, or historicals, and so on. A woman cannot be a Man of Mystery. I believe there wouldn't have been such a negative response if there had been a combined “Men and Women of Mystery Panel.” Or, if the event had remained "Men of Mystery," but had the MoM organizers pay for the space, and held it before or after the regularly-scheduled Bouchercon panels.
A concerned group began to reach out to Bouchercon and others in the mystery community to try and address this development. Sara Paretsky wrote a passionate and thoughtful response against the inclusion of the MoM event. Mystery Writersof America and Sisters in Crime also made statements, speaking against this exclusive outside event being part of the regular program, as well as recognizing the difficulty of the issue arising at this late date. Robin Burcell wrote eloquently about her experiences as a woman in a man's profession, but more especially about her concern that the hard work of the volunteers was being overshadowed by this discussion. Barbara Fister created a brilliant, succinct dialogue that elaborated on the structures of the arguments being made by all sides.
The Bouchercon National Board issued a statement that essentially started with “This entire episode is based upon a misunderstanding unfairly undermining the good work of a lot of caring, dedicated people without a gender-biased bone in their bodies” and ended with “We apologize to those who perceived including Men of Mystery as an offense to our diverse mystery community, for none was intended.” Which was less of an apology and more of a rebuke to people who protested.
Feelings are running high on all sides, and the situation is at once simpler and more complicated than it appears. For me, it comes down to this: Good people make mistakes without intending to. Good people can respond to those mistakes while still valuing the effort that went into the process. Working together, they can address concerns and find solutions. That's what's happening now: The Bouchercon Local Organizing Committee and Joan Hansen offered to split the time into two one-hour panels, and now the first will be “Men of Mystery;” the second is being designed even as I type this. That is progress.
I have worked on conventions and conferences, and I know what hard work and dedication it requires and all for the love of the organization—because it sure isn't paid work. There are difficult decisions to make in the planning process, problems that occur during and even after the event, and the volunteers are right there, every step of the way, working to make a fabulous convention. So right now, I want to say thank you to the organizers and volunteers of Bouchercon Long Beach. And I'd like to encourage you to thank them too, when you go.
It has been daunting, for me personally, to speak up about this. I suspect it has been the same for others, too. And so I'd also like to thank the people I've been working with (who are simply amazing) and everyone who's been offering ideas and support, for their courage and determination. It takes guts to speak up and it takes dedication to try and change something. Change requires a lot of hustling, a lot of emotion, and in this case, it's a bare two weeks before the event. I'm learning a lot from this experience, and, hard as it is, I'm grateful.
The thing that compelled me to address this situation was the notion that this is how things change. This is how they improve. This is how we learn. Negotiations of this sort are not fun, but there are big rewards. Maybe in the future, both intention and perception will be better aligned. Maybe the next time the need for a dialogue like this arises, we'll all have better skills with which to engage.
I love Bouchercon, all of us do. I've always said that it's like homecoming for crime writers, and we all rejoice in that big tent being there for us. Sometimes, the tent needs to be made bigger or restructured or fixed to keep working for us all.