Showing posts with label conferences. Show all posts
Showing posts with label conferences. Show all posts

07 October 2020

The Inspiration Panel


Next week was supposed to be the Bouchercon in Sacramento.  Alas, it had to had to move to virtual  due to you-know-what. Some of you are no doubt mourning for all the panels you won't get to attend in person, the bars you won't get to close, etc.

I can't help you with the bars, but maybe I can cause you to miss the panels a little less. Last year I wrote a play inspired by many panels I attended at mystery, science fiction, and library conferences.    I present it here for your amusement.  (And by the way, if anyone wants to perform it... contact me.)

Jewish Noir panel, Raleigh Bouchercon*

THE INSPIRATION PANEL

The stage is set for a typical conference panel: two tables together lengthwise, covered with black tablecloths.  Water pitchers and five glasses.  Three microphones.  Five chairs behind.

EVE walks onto the stage, with a great sense of purpose. She is forty, dressed flashily, but not expensively.  She carries five name tents which she carefully places on the tables.  From left to right they read: EVE BROCKHURST, CHARLES LEMMON, DEBORAH DRAKE, BILL FONTANA, AMY KITE. 

As EVE is going around the table to her seat DEBORAH arrives. She is in her thirties, dressed in business attire.  She reads the tents, stiffens, and then switches her tent with CHARLES’.  As she comes around to her seat the others arrive, read the tents, and take their places.

After a beat EVE looks down the line, nods at the panelists and then smiles at the audience.

EVE
Welcome, everyone!  Have you been enjoying our annual writer’s conference?  Good, good!  This is the Inspiration Panel, just in case you boarded the wrong flight.  (She laughs at her own joke.)  My name is Eve Brockhurst and I am the author of six books of poetry, including The Falling of the Dew, which our local newspaper called “remarkably sincere.”  The fact is, I was surprised to be asked to moderate a panel, even one as distinguished as this.  I figured the committee would need me to speak on the Poetry Panel, or the Nature Panel.  Or even the Marketing Panel.  (Brightening by sheer will power.)  But Fraser, our dear director, told me that what he needed most was a strong personality who could keep these ferocious characters in line!
Readers Recommends panel, Toronto Bouchercon

She gestures at her panel.

DEBORAH looks irritated. 

CHARLES is slumped in his seat. He is sixty years old and wears a sports coat with no tie. 

BILL is all coiled energy. He is in his thirties, dressed in business casual. 

AMY is glowingly happy.  She is in her late twenties and dressed younger.

EVE
But that’s more than enough about me.  It’s time to introduce our wonderful panelists who will inform and, dare I say it, inspire you today.  First on my left is Charles Lemmon.  He is-

She looks left and realizes for the first time that DEBORAH is sitting next to her.  She does a quick check down the line to see that everyone else is there.

EVE 
Whoops!   My mistake. Someone did a little shuffle on me.  (She sorts her notes.)  First in line is Deborah Drake, the author of the new romance novel—

DEBORAH
Women’s fiction.

EVE
Excuse me?

DEBORAH 
Women’s fiction.  It’s about real-life problems.  Not the kind you can solve by going to bed with a man whose chest size is higher than his IQ.

EVE
O-kay.  I can see you have a lot on your mind today.  Deborah’s woman’s fiction -- Woman’s?

Short story panel, Bouchercon 2017
DEBORAH
Women’s.

EVE
Thanks. It’s about a woman suffering from Reynaud’s Syndrome and it’s called The Girl With Cold Fingers.  The first time I met Deborah was at a conference just like this three or four years ago.  She came up after a panel to tell me how much she had enjoyed my book The Dancing of the Leaves, and I complimented her on her taste.   It’s so wonderful to see a person one has mentored becoming a success.  Deborah, our subject is inspiration.  In general, what inspires you?

DEBORAH
Great question, Eve.  I find that there are sparks all around if you know how to look for them.  I’m thinking right now that my next book might be about a woman with a stalker, maybe a former lover who is too self-centered and frankly too thick to take no for an answer.

BILL is getting more and more agitated.

EVE
Well, that is certainly the sort of real-life problem many of us women have had to face.  Is this based your personal experience or something you’ve heard about or…

DEBORAH
As you said we all face this sort of thing from time to time.  Men who think they have a right to your attention, who don’t understand when they are not wanted—

BILL
What about the men who have been led on?

DEBORAH
Sometimes a man simply refuses to—

EVE
Just a moment, dear.  Bill – this is Bill Fontana, everyone – You had something to add?

BILL
I just think a writer needs to look at all sides.  Modern readers don’t want set pieces with cardboard characters where one person is all right and the other is all wrong.  If you’re writing for grown-ups characters need to be nuanced.

DEBORAH
In your latest book the villain tried to strangle a kitten. How nuanced is that?

EVE
Bill, you’ll have your chance.  Deborah, do you want to finish your thought?

DEBORAH
That would be nice, wouldn’t it?

EVE
I’m sure.  Our next panelist (DEBORAH does a doubletake.) is my dear friend, one of our most distinguished, most senior, a veritable elder statesman-

CHARLES
Please!  I’m not dead yet.

EVE
Of course not.  I just wanted to point out that you have written so many books.  Even more than my six volumes of poetry.  Charles Lemmon, your most recent book is historical fiction, The Battle of Sattleford Creek.  What’s it about?

CHARLES
(Pause.) It’s about the Battle of Sattleford Creek.

EVE
I might have guessed that, I suppose.  So many titles are ironic these days, don’t you think?  My book The Fire Sonnets contains no sonnets, and never mentions fire!  I suppose that’s why the critics found it so surprising.  One of them said “Eve Brockhurst has-”

CHARLES
Eve?

EVE
Yes?

CHARLES
How are we doing on time?

EVE
Good point.  Charles, at this place in your long career, how do you still manage to find inspiration?  What moves you to keep writing?

CHARLES
The credit card companies.  Something moves them to send me bills.

EVE
Oh, come now.  Do you really mean you are only writing for the money?

CHARLES
I’d better not be, because there’s precious little of it.  And security, don’t make me laugh.  You teach English at the college, don’t you?

EVE
I do.  I have the honor of opening up the minds and hearts of—

CHARLES
You can get tenure.  Then you have work for the rest of your life if you want it. What I wouldn’t give for that.  A publisher can kick you out in the snow after you give them the best years of your life.

BILL
Wow, that is one bad cliché.

CHARLES
Shut up, Bill. 

DEBORAH
I’m glad I’m not the only one he interrupts.

EVE 
Actually. I’m an adjunct professor.  No tenure, I’m afraid.

CHARLES
Then you’re in the same boat as us professional writers.  I don’t know how a publisher can sleep at night, when they fire an editor you’ve been working with for – well, a long time, and suddenly you’re an orphan and no one wants to promote your book because the last guy picked it.

EVE
So do you find that—

CHARLES
No ads.  No tours.  No publicity.  And you know damn well that when the book doesn’t sell, they’ll say it’s the fault of the writing.  Never the publisher’s, oh no.  I might as well give up on quality and start self-publishing crap.

EVE
Now, come on, Charles!  That attitude is very old-fashioned.

CHARLES
Don’t call me that!

EVE
Some of the best, most original work coming out today is self-published.  My fourth book--

BILL
And a lot of the worst stinkers, too. 

DEBORAH
You’d know about that.

BILL
Oh, I’d forgotten.  Men aren’t allowed to talk at this panel.  Go right ahead.

EVE
Come on, Bill.  We value everyone’s opinion.

BILL
Hell of a way of showing it.

DEBORAH
Bill isn’t very good at taking cues, I’m afraid.  At understanding what people are trying to tell him.

EVE 
All right, Bill.  Since you’re so eager to talk, tell us.  How do you find inspiration?

BILL
That’s a stupid question, Eve.  Isn’t it really just the old cliché: how do you find your ideas?
Short stories panel at Left Coast Crime, Vancouver

DEBORAH
See?  He doesn’t listen.

BILL
Not so, Deborah!  A good writer, a great writer, is always listening.  That’s how he comes up with dialog that sounds true. 

EVE
So you get your inspiration from the people around you…

BILL
That’s right.  And I get so much more.  Like insight into personality.  How a person will say one thing and mean something completely different.  For example, maybe they’ll claim for months that they want to leave their husband and start a new life, but when their lover offers to take them up on it, it turns out they were just teasing him along—

DEBORAH
And this is your idea of honest observation?  No wonder Kirkus hated your last book.

CHARLES
Kirkus hated everybody’s last book.

EVE
You know, I think we’ve been neglecting one of our panelists.  Amy Kite is a fresh new face on our city’s literary scene.  She is the author of The Dragons of Zanzanook

AMY
(Correcting the pronunciation) Zanzanook.

EVE
Sorry!  Her book is a fantasy novel which has attracted major support from the publisher.  There’s an ad in the Times.

CHARLES
Oh my God.

EVE
An author’s tour.

CHARLES moans.

EVE
And I believe you are booked on one of the morning shows next week.  Is that right?

AMY
Two, actually.

CHARLES
Jesus.

EVE
Sorry.  I must have missed one.  Let’s talk about what inspires you…

AMY
Thank you so much, Eve.  I just want to say how inspired I feel simply by being here with all of you today.  What an honor!  This is my first time at a writer’s conference, you know, and here I am with Charles Lemmon!  I’ve been reading his books since I was a little girl.

CHARLES
Well, that’s wonderful.  You young whippersnapper.

AMY
And Deborah, what was the name of your novel about the girl with Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

DEBORAH
Twists and Turns.

AMY
Yes!  My mother loved that one!

BILL
Oh, I can hardly wait.

AMY
Mr. Fontana.

CHARLES
Here it comes.

AMY
When I needed a break from writing my book I would read your novel in which the psychotherapist turns out to be the serial killer.

BILL
Which one?  I wrote two of those.

AMY
Three actually.

BILL
I didn’t…  Oh yeah.

CHARLES
And there it is.

Setting as Character Panel, Left Coast Crime, Vancouver, 2019
Setting as Character panel, Left Coast Crime, Vancouver
AMY
I’m afraid I don’t remember which one I read most recently.

CHARLES
Boom.

BILL
Let’s not forget our moderator, Amy.  What do you think of Eve’s poetry?

AMY
I’m afraid I haven’t read it yet.

EVE
You probably don’t read poetry.  So few young people do these days.

AMY
Oh, but I do!  I must get around to yours.

BILL
Yes.  Do get around to it.

EVE
Well, that’s very sweet, Amy.  Let’s start another round.  Deborah, what is the inspiration for the book you’re working on now?

DEBORAH
We covered that, remember?  Stalker?

EVE
Oh.  Right.  (Checking her notes.)  Well, what inspired you to start writing in the first place?

DEBORAH
I’d say it was Greg.  My darling husband.

BILL
Oh, brother.

DEBORAH
He is my biggest cheerleader.  He knew from the moment we first met that I was a creative soul and he has always encouraged me to—

BILL
Point of order.

CHARLES
Point of order?  Is this a congressional hearing?

EVE
What is it, Bill?

BILL
I’m just wondering if this is the same husband you told me hasn’t opened a book since he got his MBA.

DEBORAH
I never said any such thing.  And frankly, I resent you constantly interrupting me.

EVE
Well, Fraser was certainly right about this group needing a strong hand, wasn’t he?  Deborah, I think it’s wonderful that you have such a supportive husband.

Ecology Panel Audience, Left Coast Crime, Toronto, 2019
Ecology Panel, Left Coast Crime, Vancouver
DEBORAH
 I can’t imagine how I could go on without him.  We truly are soulmates.

BILL
I thought you didn’t write romance fiction.

DEBORAH
You know, Bill, I think I know why you model all your villains on your psychotherapists.

EVE
I think we’re running out of time, so we had better move along.  Charles, can you tell us a little about what inspires your current work in progress?

CHARLES
I’m not sure I have one, Eve.  I write historical fiction and that means two or three years of research for each book.  By the time my next one is ready my publisher will probably have burned through five or six editors, and all that any of them care about are the latest trends.  The new expert, straight out of some Ivy League day care center, wants me to write a Civil War novel with zombies.

BILL
You’re kidding.  Zombies are like five years past their sell-by date.

EVE 
And Bill, you already talked about your plans, so any other thoughts about inspiration?

BILL
Great question!  As a thriller writer I’m concerned with revealing the truth of the human heart.  By which I mean that people are totally and remorselessly evil. 

CHARLES
Jesus.  I thought zombies were depressing.

BILL
That goes doubly so for the female heart, of course.

CHARLES
And publishers.

EVE
Moving right along.  Amy.

AMY
Yes, Eve?

EVE
Let’s get back to your debut novel, The Dragons of Zanzanook-

AMY
Zanzanook.

EVE 
Thank you so much, dear.  Would you say you were more inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien or George R.R. Martin?

AMY
(Laughing.)   Neither one, Eve.  My starting point was my doctoral dissertation on late medieval monasticism in a military context.  I just threw in dragons to make it commercial.

CHARLES
(Inspired.) Damn it, girl, we have to talk!

Short Story Panel, Left Coast Crime, 2015
Short Story panel, Left Coast Crime 2015
AMY
I’d love that!

EVE
Now we have time for a few questions from the-- Oh, I’m told we don’t.

BILL stalks off in disgust.

EVE
Please join us in the vendors’ room, where all the authors will be happy to sign their books for you, and I will be happy to take pre-publication orders for my seventh book of poetry, Life, Be Not—

The microphone is shut off.  She frowns at it.

*Photo by Peter Rozovsky

01 May 2019

Lefty Propaganda


Nervous panelist in the Green Room, striving for wisdom.
As promised two weeks ago, I am providing here a collection of wise words from authors (and a few editors... see if you can spot 'em) who served as panelists at Left Coast Crime back in March.  You may remember that I have done this at past mystery hootenannies. 

As always, if anyone feels I misquoted them I would be happy to correct it.  If you would prefer to deny being there at all, I take all major credit cards.

Regrettably, all the context for these comments were lost in a tragic canoeing accident.  (Turns out moose can't paddle.  Who knew?)  Okay: wisdom commencing.


"This book is set in the 1590s.  Totally different from the 1580s." - Kenneth Wishnia

"This novel is set in San Diego.  There's a lot of beer in it." - Lisa Brackmann

"I think everyone in Scotland is funny.  I just moved to California so I could get paid for it."- Catriona McPherson

"I can't possibly write something serious, because I don't want to read it." -E.J. Copperman

"A first draft is crap by definition." -Laurie R. King

"In my second book I forgot to include a murder." - Cynthia Kuhn

"I avoid people as much as possible."  - Timothy Hallinan

"I picked Mumbai as a setting the way you would pick a lover." -Sujata Massey

"I had a great time writing it because I got to do a lot of research into the Texas taco scene." -Meg Gardiner

"Don't the spaceships always land in Pittsburgh?" - S.J. Rozan

"What could be more noir than Iowa?" -Priscilla Paton

"I wrote a book that many dozens of people read." - G.M. Malliet

"I once got into an argument with George Clooney about Janet Jackson's breasts." - Kellye Garrett

"The way I know that I really love a book is I lose time in it." - Chantelle Aimée Osman

"If you write novellas, write science fiction." - Kate Thornton

"This is actually true.  I got it off the internet." - Ovidia Yu

"It's not particularly funny if someone is behind you with a gun.  But if the gun has a hair trigger and the guy has the hiccups...." -Timothy Hallinan

"I have my thought back." - Judy Penz Sheluk

"I don't want to love your book as much as you do because if I do I'll be blind to what needs to be changed." - Chantelle Aimée Osman


"The subject of furry novels is a thing." - Lisa Alber

"Me and God talk.  We go way back."  - Laurie R. King

"Hit the spellcheck button.  My fifth grader can find it." -Stacy Robinson

"If you get in the 150,000 word range, go do something else for a while." - Kate Thornton

"You never had a blog critic or a Kirkus review like a defense lawyer whose client you're sending to prison." -James L'Etoile

"When you call a police officer and say you want to research guns, you have to preface it in a certain way." - Judy Penz Sheluk

 "I call myself a book therapist." - Zoe Quinton

"Our experiences are all of our senses." - Elena Hartwell

"I'm delighted to still be living in a country that puts a U in humour." - D.J. Wiseman

"There are a lot worse things to believe in than God." -Suzanne M. Wolfe


"Most of the criminals I work with don't read." -James L'Etoile

"I can bang a short story out in eighteen months." - Kate Thornton

"If you're writing about someplace you don't live, make the protagonist a visitor." - Elena Hartwell

"When I started writing police procedurals I found it was very therapeutic, because you can kill your boss." -Robin Burcell

"Then an auditor dies under mysterious circumstances, the best circumstances to die under." -John Billheimer

"If you have someone speaking in an accent in a mystery, call it literary." - Kate Thornton

"I studied comparative religion, which made sense because I am comparatively religious." -Laurie R. King

"One thing I love about writing about small towns is that I can legitimately have cell phones not work." - Elena Hartwell

"You can do research forever, because you don't have to write while you're doing research." - S.J. Rozan

"I lived in England for five years and I did not want to leave.  I was not forced to leave, I might add." -G.M. Malliet

"I was so good at living in California I could have moved to Portland." - Catriona McPherson

"It is really funny to go in a bar with six cops, because they're always going to want their backs to the wall, and there aren't that many walls." - R.T. Lawton



"The only thing better than holding a book is holding a book with your name on it." - Kate Thornton

"You have to be willing to give me your darling and know I will slash it to ribbons." - Stacy Robinson

"I'm exactly like my hero except she's young, tall, and has hands big enough to hold a gun right." - T.K. Thorne

"After  every first draft the flame goes out." -James L'Etoile

"You see those people wearing shirts that say I Love New York and it tells you they are not from New York." -Vinnie Hansen

"I'm a psychotherapist.  I heal by day and kill by night." - Bryan Robinson

"A short story needs to have one point and your reader needs to get it right through the heart." - Kate Thornton

"Morris dancing is next, right after the sex." - Jeffrey Siger

"I think there probably is humor in heaven, or earth wouldn't look like this." - Ovidia Yu

"I have the right to remain silent."  - R.T. Lawton

17 April 2019

Meet Me In Vancouver


I had a great time the last weekend of March, celebrating Left Coast Crime in Vancouver, British Columbia.  Ran into some past and present SleuthSayers there: R.T. Lawton, Brian Thornton, and Thomas Pluck.  Also old friends like S.J. Rozan, Kate Thornton, Ilene Schneider, and Pam Beason.  Even better I got to make new friends: Dara Carr, Cynthia Kuhn, and T.K. Thorne, among others.

But enough name-dropping!  Let me talk about the highlights of this four-day gathering of 400+ mystery readers and writers.  Naturally that includes panels.

One thing that was new to me: the panels were only 45 minutes long.  That is short.  To my surprise, I thought they worked pretty well but it definitely throws the panelists and the audience into the lap of the moderator.  If that august personage decides to spend the first five minutes reading the bios straight from the convention program, and then five more explaining his/her understanding of the panel topic, and then decides her/his questions are clearly more interesting than those of the audience, well... it can be painful.  One writer was told by an attendee: "I went to your panel.  I wish I had heard you instead of the moderator."

To give you some idea of what goes on, here are just the panels I attended:
Editors
Humour
International Settings
Law Enforcement Professionals  
Liars' Panel 
Music
Religion
Researching the Perfect Crime
Setting as Character
Short Stories and Novellas
Writing Villains

I was happy to serve on the Ecology Panel with Sara J. Henry, Dave Butler, Mark Stevens, and Gregory Zeigler.  I had suggested that topic but I felt like a bit of a fraud, since the others had written serious tales about water theft, over-development, illegal marijuana growing, etc. while my book is a comic crime novel about the Mafia trying to save the planet.  Ah, well.  We had fun.

S.J. Rozan with annoying fan
The Lefty Award Banquet was a treat.  Each table of ten was hosted by two authors and I was lucky enough to grab S.J. Rozan as a partner.  Like good hosts we brought extra wine and some tchotchkes for our guests (organic seed packets for Greenfellas; chopsticks in honor of Rozan's Chinese-American detective Lydia Chin).  We must have had a good time because our table was the last to leave.

There are two other big events.  At Speed Dating pairs of authors rush from table to table, giving their elevator pitch to groups of readers.  I have been on both sides of this dating spectrum and I can tell you that it's more fun to listen to forty different speeches than to give the same one twenty times.  The other event is the New Author Breakfast where all those who were published in the last year get to give an even briefer explanation of their book.

But let's talk about some little events.  There was a series called One-Shots, in which authors got to talk for fifteen minutes about some topic.  At the Toronto Bouchercon I did one of these about how my library caught the thief who had robbed over one hundred libraries.  Only about four people showed up.  This is not surprising; the events were not well publicized and tucked far away from the main rooms.

So this year I was ready.  I printed up ten posters (8.5x11) announcing the subject and the location.  I left them on the swag table where writers leave book marks and other paraphernalia.

It worked.  All the posters vanished and about twenty people showed up.  So if any of you plan to do a one-shot at a convention, remember that it pays to advertise.

The next day there was supposed to be a one-shot about author events from the bookseller's point of view.  People showed up for it but, alas, the bookseller, was not able to attend the convention.

Terri talking books
But what luck!  My wife was there.  Terri has worked for a decade at the best bookstore between Vancouver and Seattle, a shop that holds more than 300 author events every year.  So she gallantly stepped in and gave the attendees a lot of helpful tips.  When she signed up for LCC she had no idea she was going to be one of the speakers.

Next year Left Coast Crime will be in San Diego.  I recommend it.  In two weeks I will be back with a collection of words of wisdom I gathered at the con.  Here is a sample.  Perhaps you can  guess which  famous writer declared: "Me and God talk.  We go way back."



23 July 2018

Why Workshops?


I loved teaching. If it were still about interacting with the kids and helping them grow and develop--as opposed to getting them ready for a pointless standardized test that keeps getting dumbed down and is only used to gauge a teacher's performance instead of the kids it pretends to test--you'd still find me in the classroom, funky tie loose and sleeves rolled one turn below my elbows, 183 days a year. But it isn't and I'm not.
That's why I still conduct writing workshops. Sure, I get paid almost enough to cover my gas to and from the event, but the truth is I still have a major teaching jones. It took me a long time to learn this stuff, so I want to help other people learn from my mistakes.

When I turned in the key to my classroom for the 33rd time, I knew how to write a decent sentence and even a passable paragraph. But I didn't know how to tell a good story. That's harder than it sounds. You probably have at least one friend or relative who can mangle a knock-knock joke or put everyone to sleep telling about something that happened to them, don't you?

Once my writing collected enough form rejection letters to make the point, I went back to what my adviser on my sixth-year project (A novel, by coincidence) told me years before. He directed me to the paperback racks in the local drug store (If you're under about forty, you may have to Google those terms) and read the first chapter of ten or twelve books at random.

 "Don't read Austen and James and Conrad," he told me. "Read Arthur Hailey and Irving Wallace and Jacqueline Susanne and Mickey Spillane. Read Michener (He hated Michener). Figure out what they do in those first few pages that you don't. You don't have 'first-chapterness.'"

Plumbers, carpenters and electricians all train apprentices. So do doctors and teachers. People take dancing lessons, music lessons, golf lessons and painting lessons. We know that one-on-one training works. How do fish learn to swim and birds learn to fly? You can buy a bunch of books and read them, but a good writing workshop is even better.

Many writing conferences offer sessions by writers who are also excellent teachers. They may even feature a one-on-one manuscript critique. At the New England Crime Bake, Kate Flora analyzed an early version of my own Blood On The Tracks and turned problems into opportunities. At the Wesleyan Writers Conference, Chris Offutt looked at an even earlier draft of that same book.

When I met him over coffee (We both wanted beer, but we were on campus), he said, "You write excellent dialogue, and you probably know it. But that's both good and bad."

"How can that be?" I asked.

"Well," Offutt said, "it's good because it is good. But it's bad because you know it, so you try to make that dialogue do too much of the work. Have you ever done theater?"

At that time, I was acting, directing, producing or designing for four or five productions a year.

"You need to learn to write better exposition and description. Even plays aren't just the dialogue. The other stuff is the context that gives it meaning. And that's even truer in novels and stories."

My bookshelves sag under the weight of fifty or sixty books on writing, including a few on dialogue. None of them ever said that. The fifteen-minute chat helped more than all those books.

Now I pay it forward. I have five workshops scheduled through mid-November, and I'll share handouts with examples, both good and bad, and leave lots of time for people to experiment with them and ask questions. We do group activities, too: creating characters, punching up plots and premises, sharpening dialogue. Every time we encounter a problem (Which I often recognize in my own stuff, too) we figure out how to fix it. Mistakes are the best teachers I know, and I'm still learning every time I teach.

Most of the venues invite me back, which is great, but I don't do it for the money. Fortunately.

I do it because I still love it.

22 October 2016

Passport to Murder! Announcing...the Bouchercon 2017 Anthology Competition


First, a bit about Destination:TORONTO

Toronto the Good
Hogtown
The Big Smoke

Toronto has had a lot of nicknames, but I like this description best:
Toronto is “New York run by the Swiss.”  (Peter Ustinov, 1987)

He meant that in a good way, of course!  Toronto is a big city - the Greater Toronto Area is more than 6 million.  Our restaurant scene is second to none.  We may be the most diverse city in the world.  How great is our diversity?  When I worked in health care, our government agency had 105 dialects spoken by staff! 

It's my great pleasure to be part of the Bouchercon 2017 Committee.  Many of you know my friends Helen Nelson and Janet Costello, who are the conference co-chairs.  With these gals in charge, you know it will be an unforgettable conference.  Come to our town, for a great Crime Time!

You can check all the details here:  www.bouchercon2017.com

 DRUM ROLL......  announcing PASSPORT TO MURDER,
the Bouchercon 2017 Anthology

Even if you aren't registered for Bouchercon 2017, you can still enter the anthology competition!

Our theme is the convention theme—Passport to Murder—so include a travel theme with actual travel or the desire to travel with or without passports. And it must include at least a strong suggestion of murder or a plan to commit murder…. All crime sub-genres welcome.

Publication date: October 12, 2017.
Editor: John McFetridge
Publisher: Down & Out Books

All stories, by all authors, will be donated to the anthology as part of the overall donation to our literacy charity fundraising efforts. All profits on the anthology (including those of the publisher) will be donated to our charity.

Guests of Honour for Bouchercon 2017 will be invited to contribute to the anthology. For open submissions, preliminary selection for publication will be blind, by a panel of three judges, with final, blind selection by the editor.

The details:
  • The story must include travel and at least a strong suggestion of murder or a plot to commit murder.
  • Story length: a maximum of 5000 words
  • Electronic submissions only.
  • RTF format, preferably double-spaced
  • Times New Roman or similar font (12 point)
  • Paragraph indent .5 inch (or 1.25 cm). Please do not use tabs or space bar.
  • Include story title and page number in document header.
  • Maximum of one entry per author
  • Open to both writers who have been previously published, in any format, and those who have never been published.
  • The story must be previously unpublished in ANY format, electronic or print.
  • Please remove your name or any identifying marks from your story. Any story that can be associated with the author will either be returned for correction (if there is time) or disqualified.
  • Please include a brief bio in your submission form (max 150 words) and NOT in the body of your story.
  • After Bouchercon 2017 and Down & Out Books expenses have been recovered, all proceeds will be donated to Bouchercon 2017’s literacy charity of choice.
  • Copyright will remain with the authors.
  • Authors must be prepared to sign a contract with Down & Out Books.
  • Submissions must be e-mailed no later than 11:59 P.M (EST) January 31, 2017. Check the website (www.bouchercon2017.com) for full details and entry form.

26 May 2015

Turnabout is Fair Play


Okay, time for me to piss everyone off. Well, at least some agents and editors I’m sure. I want to air some pet peeves about the above-named people. They have their peeves about us, so turnabout is fair play, right? They think it’s a crime if we don’t follow their guidelines—and everyone has a different set of guidelines. And I think it’s a crime that there’s no set standard so that we’re constantly scrambling to change our manuscripts every time we submit to a different person.

Peeve #1: No simultaneous submissions. Sure, I’ll send you my story or novel and I’ll just sit around for the next year and a half waiting to hear back from you....if I hear back from you at all. And lately, a lot of agents and editors are saying something to the effect of “if you don’t hear back from us within six weeks that means we’re not interested.” Nice. Whatever happened to manners—yeah, I know. But how hard is it to send a form e-mail saying thanks but no thanks. And if we never hear from them how do we know they got the story, especially if it was sent over the net. And then they put the fear of God into you if you dare follow up or contact them again. I think authors should rebel against the no simultaneous submissions policy and just submit everywhere you can. Then what? You go on some agent/editor blacklist that says “don’t accept anything so and so sends.” But what’s the alternative? Sit around and wait and grow old.


Peeve #2: Every editor or agent seems to want a different thing. The first 50 pages or the first three chapters. Some want a one page synopsis, some 2 pages. Another wants no more than one paragraph. Others want detailed outlines, another a summary. I don’t know about you but I get sick and tired of having to reinvent the wheel every time I submit something to someone. I understand they need guidelines, but do they realize how difficult they make it for us when there’s no set standard? So what if you send a 3 page synopsis instead of two pager? Or 2½ pages? You’re a malcontent. A subversive. It’s time for the balance of power to shift. Our time is valuable too. How about an industry-wide standard, so we don’t have to start over every time?

Peeve #3: They all have things that turn them off before you even get off the ground. There was a producer once who said if you submit a script with ellipses in it he would automatically reject it. Why? Did that make it a bad story? If a writer submitting to him, on their own or through their agent, would have taken out all the ellipses would that have made it a better story? Some agents or editors don’t like prologues. Well, what if there is a need for a prologue? Coming from a film writing background I understand the need to get into a story quickly. But one of the joys of books is that you can—or used to be able to—take a little longer to get off the ground. And sometimes a prologue is necessary. But I do know about cutting to the chase. In my rewriting gig I once chopped off all of Act I of a script and started on Act II, using just a few tidbits from the first act, inserting them where I could. I understand when the prologue is used for exposition and only exposition that’s not a good idea, but sometimes that’s what works for that particular project.

  Ricky_Nelson_free
Peeve #4: Everyone has a different opinion, so when you get notes from someone, but without a commitment, should you rewrite your manuscript every time? What if they still don’t like it? Or the next person who reads it doesn’t like the things you just changed for the last person? Write your story not theirs. That’s not to say you shouldn’t be open to criticism, but only if you agree it’s valid. I once optioned a script to a producer. He loved the dialogue. It was the best dialogue he’d ever heard. He gushed on and on about it. He gave it to a director who hated the dialogue. Magically and overnight the producer hated the dialogue. Another script I optioned several times went to an agent, early on, who complained that a scene was set in Union Station in L.A. “Nobody takes trains anymore,” he said. Should I have changed that? Would it have made all the difference and he would take me on? Well, I didn’t and he missed the whole point of why it was set in a train station, which was to contrast the “old” vs. “the” new in the context of a main character stuck in the past in some ways. So if you rewrite for everyone who has an opinion you’ll spend your whole life doing that. You can’t please everyone so please yourself. Like Rick Nelson said in his song “Garden Party,” “It's all right now, yeah, learned my lesson well, You see, ya can't please everyone, so you got to please yourself.”

I’m not saying it’s wrong to have guidelines and rules, but they should be consistent and not so rigid that you lose before you even get in the door. Sure, margins should be an inch. Manuscripts should be carefully proofread and edited. But just like everyone one wants one inch margins, they should all be on the same page (pun intended) with other things so we aren’t starting from scratch every time we submit to them.

Whew! Glad I got that off my chest. Let the arrows fly.

***

A little bit of BSP: My short story “Howling at the Moon” from the November, 2014 issue of Ellery Queen has been nominated for an Anthony Award. I’m very grateful to those who voted. And it certainly came as a surprise. Very cool, but very unexpected. If you want to read the story, click here and scroll down to the Short Story section. All of the short story nominees are here: http://bouchercon2015.org/anthony-awards/

Hope to you see at the California Crime Writers Conference

(http://ccwconference.org/ ). June 6th and 7th. I’ll be on the Thrills and Chills (Crafting the Thriller and Suspense Novel) panel, Saturday at 10:30 a.m., along with Laurie Stevens (M), Doug Lyle, Diana Gould and Craig Buck.

And please join me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/paul.d.marks and check out my soon-to-be-updated website www.PaulDMarks.com

Subscribe to my Newsletter: http://pauldmarks.com/subscribe-to-my-newsletter/



"Ricky Nelson free" by The original uploader was Mind meal at English Wikipedia - Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ricky_Nelson_free.jpg#/media/File:Ricky_Nelson_free.jpg



05 May 2015

All right, Mr. Demille, I'm ready for my close-up


Los_Angeles_City_Hall_2013
Los Angeles City Hall - 2013, Photo by Michael J Fromholtz
Or at least Los Angeles’ art deco city hall is ready for its close-up.

In its heyday, MGM’s slogan was more stars than there are in heaven. Well, there’s one movie location that’s starred in just about as many movies or TV shows as there are stars in heaven, Los Angeles’ City Hall.

From the time it was built in 1928 until today it can be seen in dozens, maybe hundreds, of movies and TV shows, including many crime films. One of my favorites is as the Daily Planet building in the 1950s TV series The Adventures of Superman with George Reeves.
Besides the exterior, the interior rotunda, as well as hallways, offices and the council chambers, have all been used in many movies/TV shows as well.

George E. Cryer, LA’s 43rd mayor, urged the residents of the city to build "a monument to the enterprise and progressiveness of the people of Los Angeles. Let us build a City Hall that will be a credit to the metropolis of the great West.”

LA’s new city hall was completed in 1928, with dedication on April 26th of that year. It has 32 floors and is 454 feet tall. The concrete used is made of sand that comes from each of California’s fifty eight counties and the water to mix it from each of the twenty-one Spanish missions in the state. Until 1964, it was the tallest building in LA, via the city charter.

Supposedly it made its film debut shortly after it was completed in Lon Chaney’s While the City Sleeps. And it’s been a star ever since.

Not only has it played itself in movies, but it’s doubled for the Vatican and New York City, and for a municipal building in San Francisco. In Flags of Our Fathers, director Clint Eastwood doubled up, using one side of City Hall for a building in Baltimore. He used a different side of the building for a scene of a rally in a different part of the country.

It even makes an appearance in the video games, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Grand Theft Auto V and LA Noire, and others.

Since 1940 it has appeared on the LAPD’s badges. There’s even a scene in the 1960s version of Dragnet where a police officer from another state admires Joe Friday’s LAPD badge.
In 2006, there were about 50 shoots at LA’s city hall. Everything from movies to commercials to TV shows, causing workers to dodge the lights, cameras and action.

Here are some shots from various movies and TV shows “starring” Los Angeles City Hall.

War of the Worlds (1953) – in this one city hall was blown to smithereens by invading Martians – well, okay, they blew up a miniature of it:
clip_image002

The Black Dahlia
clip_image004

Gangster Squad
clip_image006

LA’s City Hall – interiors and/or exteriors – has also appeared in:
  • Adam 12
  • Alias
  • Another 48 Hours (1982)
  • Atlas Shrugged, Part I
  • Barton Fink
  • Beverly Hills Cop
  • Black Dahlia, the (2006)
  • Bodyguard, The (1992)
  • Cagney and Lacy and Kojak had it filling in for New York City
  • Changeling (2008)
  • Chinatown had a scene with Jack Nicholson in the council chamber.
  • Crash (2005)
  • D.O.A. (1950 – the good version of this story) – one of my favorite noir films and imho the ultimate in “high concept”
  • Die Hard 2 (1988)
  • Dragnet – where it played police headquarters
  • Eraser (1996)
  • Escape from LA
  • Evan Almighty
  • Eye for an Eye (1996)
  • Get Outta Town (1959)
  • Internal Affairs (1990)
  • Jimmy Hoffa Story, The – where it played the US capitol
  • LA Confidential
  • LA Law
  • Liar Liar (1997)
  • Matlock
  • Mildred Pierce – the 1945 Michael Curtiz/Joan Crawford version
  • Mission Impossible (TV show) (1972)
  • Mission Impossible III
  • Mobsters
  • Naked Gun, The
  • Nancy Drew
  • National Treasure: Book of Secrets
  • Perry Mason
  • Ricochet (1991)
  • Rockford Files, The
  • Speed
  • Straight from the Shoulder (1936)
  • Thorn Birds, The – doubling for the Vatican
  • Usual Suspects, The – substituting for a NY police station
  • V
  • West Wing, The
  • XXX: State of the Union
And this is only a tiny sampling of the movies and TV shows that have been shot at LA’s city hall, Los Angeles’ real movie star.

***

clip_image008
Hope to you see at the California Crime Writers Conference
(http://ccwconference.org ). June 6th and 7th.
I’ll be on the Thrills and Chills (Crafting the Thriller and Suspense Novel) panel, Saturday at 10:30am, along with Laurie Stevens (M), Doug Lyle, Diana Gould and Craig Buck.

And please join me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/paul.d.marks and check out my soon-to-be-updated website PaulDMarks.com
Subscribe to my Newsletter: http://www.pauldmarks.com/subscribe.htm

25 October 2014

The HIGHS and Lows of being an Author


(This was the second half of my Mattress of Ceremonies (MC) address at the Bloody Words Mystery Conference Gala in Toronto this June.  Which was a blast and a half.  I even have a photo of me giving this address.  It actually looks like me, which will be explained below. The Spanish Flamenco outfit cannot be explained.)

We all know the highs.  Those delirious times when you win awards and/or get a royalty cheque that takes you and your family to Europe rather than McDonalds.

I’ve had a few highs this year, winning the Derringer Award and the Arthur Ellis Award in Canada.  And I’m exceedingly grateful for them.

Because - thing is - authors get a lot of lows.  It's not just the bad reviews and rejection slips.  For some reason, most of my lows seem to cluster around that scariest of all activities: the book signing.

Some people think the worst thing that can happen is nobody shows up.  Or when you’re on a panel of 4 authors, and only three people show up.

But that’s not the worst.

1.     Worse is when five people show up for your reading.  And they’re all pushing walkers. And half way through, when you’re right in the middle of reading a compelling scene, one of them interrupts, shouting, “When does the movie start?”

Sometimes, even large crowds don’t help.

2.     I did an event this year with two hundred people in the audience.  I was doing some of my standup schtick, and it went over really well.  Lots of applause, and I was really pumped.  I mean, two hundred people were applauding me and my books!  A bunch of hands shot up for questions.  I picked the first one and a sweet young thing popped up from her seat and asked in a voice filled with awe, “Do you actually know Linwood Barclay?”

3.    Another ego-crusher:  I was reading in front of another large crowd last year.  Same great attention, lots of applause.  I was revved.  Only one hand up this time, and she said, in a clearly disappointed voice:

“You don’t look anything like your protagonist.”

So I said, “Sweetheart, not only that, I don’t look anything like my author photo.”

4.     One of the best things about being a writer is getting together with other writers to whine about the industry.  I was at The Drake in Toronto this year with a bunch of other Canadian crime writers, Howard Shrier, Robbie Rotenberg, Dorothy McIntosh, Rob Brunet… who am I missing?

We were whooping it up in the bar, moaning about the book trade.  Someone bought a round.  And another.  And then I bought a round.  And soon, it became necessary to offload some of the product, so I went looking for a place to piddle.  You have to go upstairs in the Drake to find washrooms, so I gamely toddled up the stairs, realizing that I couldn’t actually see the steps.  I was probably not at my best. 

I made it to the landing at the top and scanned a door in front of me.  It had a big “W” on it. That seemed sort of familiar, but fuzzy, you know?  Then I saw the door to my left.  It had an “M” on it.  So I thought, ‘M for Melodie!’ and walked right in.

Howard, I think you had probably gone by then, but the guy at the urinal asked for my number.

Melodie Campbell writes funny books, like The Artful Goddaughter. You should probably buy it because she, like, writes about the mob.

09 June 2014

The Good Old Days


Jan Grape
Today is June 9, 2014. How did it get to be half a year so quickly. We just had Christmas last week, didn't we? No, that was Valen...no, my birthd...no, Mother's Day. Man time flies when you're having fun and even when you're not.
Never really thought I'd like to be a writer, particularly, but I always liked to write and always made perfect grades writing essays or stores for English classes. But I decided to be an X-ray technician when I was about 12. I started to X-ray School on Monday morning after I graduated from high school on Friday night.  I enjoyed my career of diagnostic x-ray and radiation therapy. But after kids were almost grown, I began writing mostly for myself. Eventually, I thought I'd write a book.

Guess I wrote about half of a novel before I realized I had no earthly idea how to write or complete a novel. My late husband, Elmer and I lived in Houston, think this was about 1980, and were fairly close to a library. So I got myself over there and checked out an armload of books to How To Write, mostly how to write a mystery. Oh, yes. Always knew it would be a mystery and it would be a female private eye book.

 The book was titled, April Anger and my main character was Jenny Gordon, P.I.
John D. MacDonald had books with color in the titles. This was just before Sue Grafton came out with "A is for Alibi." Someone else had numbers, don't remember who, but just thought months would be a good take. After I read Sue's Alibi and the "B is for Burglar" was on it's way, I still felt that months would be the way to go.

After studying the how-to books and following as many directions and tips as I could cram into my brain, I completed my first novel. This was written mostly in long-hand on a yellow legal size tablet, then transferred to print with my electric typewriter. If I'm not mistaken, I had managed to acquire an IBM Selectric.  Some of you may remember it had a print ball than danced around as you typed the words.

One of the Houston TV stations did a little news story about a writing conference held at Rice University. It was a two day event and I could stay at the University's Hotel college. The cost was something like $80. Right then I didn't have the extra money to attend. I was really upset but, I saved my money for a whole year and then registered for the Southwest Writing Conference. In the meantime I kept writing.

It was a great conference, featuring a number of editors and agents from New York. They held classes and gave great advice and the main thing you were networking. These editors and agents would pull your book or story from the slush pile once they got back to NY because they had met you in Houston.

I remember an agent from Avon paperback books telling us a story about going to conference after conference and aspiring writers asking for the secret to getting published. She said they wouldn't believe that you had to write well and write a different and intriguing story. We all nodded, more or less believing that it was true, that there had to be some magic formula or some magic answer to getting published.

Finally, she asked someone in our class to check to see if anyone was standing outside or around our door. Someone checked then she said, in a hushed voice, "I'm telling you all the secret. But you can't ever, ever let anyone know I told you because I'll get fired."

In a voice, barely above a whisper, she said, "When you sent your manuscript in to me, put the stamps on  upside down."  We laughed a bit and realized she'd been putting us on. "You'll never know how many envelopes full of manuscripts I got that year with upside down stamps on them." Of course, these were the days when you sent a full printed copy of your manuscript to an editor. But only after you sent a query letter and they responded yes, you may send your mss in to me.

At that time, there was another way, if you didn't have an agent to send your mss to an editor and that was to send it in cold 'over the transom'. In the very early days, an editor's room had a door with a small window that could be opened for air circulation. Supposedly someone could throw an mss over the transom into what was called a "slush pile." The slush pile continued but it came from the mail room and a pile of opened manuscripts were put on the editor's desk. Every so often the editor would go through that pile and for one reason or the other, interesting title or great first paragraph and
on this rarest of occasions the editor would find a manuscript they liked and would buy it. A few years after that an editor told me, she once had to buy a mss because it had too many coffee stains on it where she had placed her mug and she was too embarrassed to return it in that condition. Take that statement with a grain of salt. It could be true, I knew the editor fairly well and I could see her doing something like that.

I wound up attending the SW Writing Conference three years, they were held in August. An editor from Wichita Falls City Magazine greeted me and we discussed a short story I wanted to send to her.  In December, she called me and said she wanted to publish my story. In fact, it had already been published and she was sending me copies and a $100 check. I was thrilled to say the least. A couple of months later, another editor I had met published a humorous article in a little magazine that went out all over the country to be local businesses magazines. I got a check for $85 for that.  Neither of these were mysteries but they were publications. I was sure I was on my way.

Good thing I didn't quit my day job because I didn't sell anything else for five more years. I did have two mystery short stories published both in small subscription magazines. The first was in Detective Story Magazine and featured my private eye investigators, Jenny Gordon and C.J. Gunn, titled "Kiss or Kill." In fact, the story was chosen for the cover. I looked in my bookcase and found a copy of the magazine and hope I'll be able to put them at the end of this article.

The second story was published in Dark Starr, "A Friend To Remember." Also found that one in my bookcase. And guess what I had forgotten the story so I had to reread it.  Both stories were published in 1989.

Those all really are some of my good old days as an aspiring writer.



26 April 2014

Daddy's Girl Weekend


Sounds like the name of a drive-in movie from the 1960s, right? Not this time. The Daddy's Girl Weekend I'm referring to is an annual writers' conference hosted by my friend and prolific mystery novelist Carolyn Haines. Carolyn was kind enough to invite me to be on the "faculty" for this year's DGW, which was held several weeks ago in Mobile, Alabama. Here's a link to the conference info.


Since the Gulf Coast isn't far from our home, my wife joined me for the trip--we drove down on the afternoon of Thursday, April 3, and spent three nights and three days at the Riverview Plaza Hotel in downtown Mobile. It rained most of the time we were there, but at least it wasn't cold: I've had quite enough of the Winter of 2013/2014. Until recently, I suspected that the weather gods had confused Mississippi with Minnesota.

As for the conference itself, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and--as I do at all events like this--met some truly interesting folks. One attendee was a former writer for Saturday Night Live and the screenwriter for many of the Eddie Murphy movies; one was a New York Times bestselling author of "cat mystery" novels; one was a cardiac surgeon who'd just sold his second medical thriller; another was an author, agent, and ordained priest; several were former bookstore owners; and so on and so on. I've often heard that writers might be weird but they're always fascinating. And one of the best things about DGW is that it's a readers' as well as a writers' conference. As any Bouchercon attendee will tell you, having fans there makes a big difference.

The time passed quickly. Each night after the final session my wife and I went out for some great meals (usually seafood), and during the daytime hours at the conference I was a member of four different panels, I was moderator of another, I was interviewed by a lady from Suspense Magazine, and I signed and sold a lot of my books, all of which was fun. I also learned some useful things about writing and marketing. Actually, I don't think it's possible to spend several days in the company of dozens of other writers and NOT learn something useful about either writing or marketing or both.

In my case, and on the off-chance that this might be helpful to others as well, here is some of the information I came away with:

E-predictions

One of the panels I attended included the founder of a publishing company that deals in both printed novels and e-books. He mentioned to the group that although all of us realize that electronic publishing is here to stay, it is not necessarily "the way of the future." In fact he said sales and e-sales have recently begun to level out, and that it appears that e-books will not completely take over the publishing world as was once predicted. Disagree if you like--this was one man's opinion--but he insisted that the traditional novel will remain with us, side-by-side with its e-counterpart, for the foreseeable future.

To most of us who were present, this view was not only interesting but encouraging. I love my iPad and I enjoy e-books--especially when traveling--but it pleased me to hear an expert in the field say that the old-fashioned printed novel will still be around for a while.

Untangling the Web

In another session, a lady who spoke about blogging and social media happened to mention a place called Weebly.com, which provides a free, easy, and effective way to build a personal or business web site. This captured my attention, since for twenty years now both writers and readers have been telling me I need my own site. Deep down, I knew they were right, but I just never got a round tuit. I had several reasons not to take the plunge: on the one hand I didn't want to find and hire a webmaster and I didn't want to then have to sit around and wait for him or her every time I decided changes needed to be made to the site; on the other hand, I damn sure didn't want to take the time to learn how to design the whole thing myself. Besides, slacker that I am, I've always just pointed folks to my page at my publisher's site.

But I had to agree that this sounded good. Bottom line is, when we returned from the conference I Googled the Weebly program and decided to give it a try. As a result, I put together my own web site in a matter of hours, and at no cost. It's nothing flashy and is still a work in progress, but it's functional and I'm satisfied. If you have time, visit www.johnmfloyd.com and take a look.

Curses--foiled again!

The third piece of information that stuck with me wasn't something I didn't already know, but it's something that all of us occasionally need to be reminded of. A person who worked for a publishing company told the group that writers shouldn't be overly discouraged when their novels or short story manuscripts get rejected. She pointed out that publishing is a business. We writers tend to forget that. Publishers have employees just like other companies, and have payrolls to meet. When they decide to pay a writer an advance and produce a novel, they have to be reasonably certain that enough of his or her books will sell to exceed the amount they spend. Similarly, when a major magazine buys a story, the editors need to be confident that that story will help them sell copies, not only of that issue but of other issues in the future. If these things don't happen, that publisher or editor or product won't be around very long. The decision-makers are right when they say it's nothing personal.

Does it hurt when we're rejected? Sure it does. But rejections should prod all of us to persist and work harder. If this whole writing gig was easy, anyone could do it.

Denouement

On the Sunday that ended the DGW conference my wife and I drove back home (it was still raining, all the way), and when we got here I couldn't help feeling a bit like the traditional story character, returning to his routine after his mythical adventures, a little older and wiser than he'd been beforehand.

I just hope they invite me back next year.

29 October 2013

Magna Cum Murder


I spent last weekend among old friends.  I attended Magna Cum Murder, a mystery conference that's been held in Indiana for the past nineteen years.  For at least its first decade, Magna was based at the Roberts Hotel in Muncie.  The Roberts was a great old pile from the 1920s, with a potted-palm lobby out of an Edward Hopper painting.  One of the conference legends has Mary Higgins Clark and friends singing around a lobby piano being played by Les Roberts (the PI writer, not the guy who owned the hotel).  The Roberts also had the perfect bar for a small conference: big enough to hold a bunch of mystery writers and small enough to make them rub elbows.  I fondly remember sitting at that bar with Ralph McInerny, watching a World Series game.  Can't remember who was playing.
View of the Roberts Lobby, Showing the Mary Higgins Clark Piano
When the Roberts Hotel closed, Magna soldiered on using Muncie's convention center and a collection of satellite motels.  But as the Bouchercon occasionally proves, it's hard to do a convention without a central hotel.  This year, Magna moved to Indianapolis, to a private club older than the Roberts, the Columbia Club.  Though the club is private, it was open to Magna attendees, and the result was something very like Magnas of old.

The Columbia Club, New Home to Magna Cum Murder

The driving force behind Magna is Kathryn Kennison, a great friend to mystery writers and book lovers in general.  Kathryn set Magna's classy and welcoming tone back in 1994, and has maintained it ever since.  And every year she works the miracle of drawing a big-name guest of honor to a small Midwestern conference.  This year's honoree was Steve Hamilton.  Our banquet speaker was Hank Phillippi Ryan.  They still come to Indiana for Kathryn.


Guest of Honor Interview:  Hank Phillippi Ryan and Steve Hamilton


A big advantage of a small conference for the writer is the opportunity to speak with a good percentage of the attendees.  That's assuming you "work the room," making yourself available to fans and doing such daring things as sitting down at a table full of strangers.  It's not the easiest leap for some writers to make, including this writer.  Small conferences are good for the fans and for aspiring writers (as yet unpublished writers, someone called them this weekend) because of this same intimacy.


Magna's First Panel: John Desjarlais, Albert Bell, Molly Weston, William Kent Krueger, and Unidentified Moderator 


One of the reasons I sometimes fail to work the room at Magna is that I'm too busy catching up with writers I only see there. (I'm not naming names for fear of leaving someone out.) As important as book promoting is, it's also important for me to keep in touch with writers I admire, to be encouraged by success stories and to condole over the frustrations of the writing life. This year, I even got to watch another World Series game in another Magna bar.  (And yes, I do remember who was playing.)

Two Award-winning Writers, Sandra Balzo and Ted Hertel, Jr.,and Two Distinguished
 Critics, Gary Warren Niebuhr (holding his favorite book) and Ted Fitzgerald

Next time you're on Facebook, check out the Magna Cum Murder page.  You'll see some very professional photos of the attendees and of the Columbia Club (unlike the grainy group shots reproduced here, which were made with my very small camera.)  And if you're looking for a weekend away with new old friends next fall, consider Magna's twentieth anniversary celebration in October.  Next year's details should be available soon on Magna's web site, along with an online registration form.  I'll remind you later.