I'm happy to announce that two of us blogging buddies from Writers Plot have finally met. More accurately, some of us know each other separately, but we've never crossed paths since we joined forces in these cyberpages. This weekend two of us actually wound up face to face for the first time. I supply the evidence: Jeanne Bracken and Sheila Connolly, at the New England CrimeBake conference this past weekend.

Lee_child_photo Oh, right, there's someone else in the picture. What's he doing, muscling into our picture? He happens to be none other than Lee Child, the conference's honored guest.

The conference is organized each year jointly (and very well!) by the New England chapters of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime, and draws a couple of hundred or so mystery writers (anyone with real numbers, feel free to step up here–I was too bewildered to count). There are workshops and lectures and seminars and book signings and agent pitches. And there is a keynote speaker. I'm relatively new to all of this, so I have attended only two prior CrimeBakes, at which the speakers were, in sequence, Tess Gerritsen and Lisa Scottoline, both of whom were warm, funny, and happy to talk to anyone and everyone.

This year the Big Guest was Lee Child. Like his predecessors, he was funny (in a dry British way) and willing to talk–in fact, he attended most of the scheduled events, brave man. But there was something different about this year. Oh, that's right–he's a man, and most of the conference attendees are women. And most of the women in the room, who have read any of Child's books, secretly hanker after his knight-errant hero, Jack Reacher. You can imagine the result: a banquet roomful of (mostly) women hanging on Child's every word.

The mystery writers who attend this conference, published or not, are serious about their craft. They want to learn, and they want to network, both important components of carving out a writing career. And most of them want to get the details right–what a gun feels like when it fires, how to make your protagonist's rage or terror believable, how to craft your sentences to keep the reader interested and turning the pages. These are intelligent, thoughtful, creative people and they work hard. So it is a treat for this group to listen to a successful writer talk cogently about the process by which he creates a series of books that appeals to a broad audience, including both men and women, literari and rednecks. Not easy to do, as we all know.

How does he do it? Would that there were a simple formula (but that would take all the fun out of it, wouldn't it?). But I think there's a clue offered by the CrimeBake banquet, held on Saturday night, where in a mock trial Jack Reacher was tried for murder. Two skilled lawyer/writers presented both sides of the case, and the defendant was given the opportunity to speak for himself. Then the case was turned over to the jury–all the people in the room. Each table deliberated independently and presented its verdict...and the verdict was split across the board. Hung jury.

Which tells me that Jack Reacher is a complex, three-dimensional character whose creator places him in difficult situations and allows him to makes human and possibly flawed decisions. And that's what keeps us coming back for more.

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