I am addicted to St. Honoré Cake, a delectable combination of puff pastry, rich custard, cream puffs, caramelized sugar and whipped cream. It’s not a dessert that can be slapped together; it takes the skilled hands of a pastry chef who knows how to combine quality ingredients “just so.” And one who knows how to satisfy an addict’s cravings.

The Book Passage Mystery Writers Conference is the St. Honoré Cake of writers’ conferences. Like all conferences worth attending, Book Passage incorporates the essential ingredients of focus, faculty, and opportunities to learn and connect. What makes Book Passage extraordinary and addictive is the way the “chefs de conférence” have combined those ingredients, and the special seasonings they use.

Here are five reasons I love Book Passage’s conference:

Focus

The conference focuses on mysteries, suspense, and thrillers – all things criminal. The participants write, read, agent and publish crime novels. You are among people who understand your penchant for crime. When you sit over lunch and discuss macabre ways to kill someone, your neighbours do not ask to be moved to another table. No, they’re likely to join you and speculate about your villain’s motive.

Faculty

In addition to successful authors (many of them alumni of the conference), the hard-working faculty includes experts in things such as forensics, criminal investigations, ballistics, and so on. The presenters are well-prepared, energetic and very interested in helping writers learn new techniques and hone their craft.

Education

Of course, Book Passage offers sessions on various aspects of craft – who wouldn’t want to hear about setting, plot, dialogue and characterization from the likes of Cara Black, David Corbett, Robert Dugoni, Judy Greber and Tim Maleeny?

But, the conference organizers never forget to dish up the science of crime as well: this year two former FBI agents discussed criminal investigations and counter-intelligence, a physician took us inside the mind of a criminal, a gun expert explained exactly what happens when a bullet leaves a gun’s barrel, and a perfectly respectable woman recommended poisonous plants and deadly insects that a murderous writer might want to keep in her bag of tricks.

Consultations

Imagine having the opportunity to spend a private thirty minutes with an agent, a publisher or an author discussing an extract from your manuscript, or kicking ideas or plot glitches around. That’s thirty minutes. One half of one hour. Oh, and did I mention that if it’s your manuscript you want to discuss, the consultant will have read your twenty pages beforehand and will provide honest feedback? For a mere $95, you can benefit from a consultation.

The St. Honoré Magic

Book Passage adds special seasoning to conference ingredients – the sun of Corte Madera, the fun of the Conference Challenge, the wacky sense of humour most of the presenters seem to share, the incredible staff at Book Passage who work long days to make the conference enjoyable for the attendees, and an unbelievable book store.

Add to those, the evenings with special guests such as Tarquin Hall, Don Winslow and Karin Slaughter. And the delight when you “discover” new voices among the authors at the conference, giving you a new library of crime fiction you can spend the next year reading.

You can combine puff pastry, custard, and sugar. But you won’t necessarily produce a dessert that will satisfy St. Honoré afficianados.

So it is with writers’ conferences – the essential ingredients may be present, but it takes skilled and knowledgeable chefs, like Kathryn Petrocelli and her fabulous Book Passage crew, to turn those ingredients into a mystery writers’ conference that makes addicts out of writers like me.

If you want to see for yourself what sixty some writers and I enjoyed over four days in California, here is the link to the 2012 Book Passage Mystery Writers Conference.