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I planned to be in New York April 24th for the Edgars week. Mystery Writers of America is sponsoring several events leading up to the Edgar awards on Thursday night.
Unfortunately, I came down with a wicked stomach virus Sunday and had to cancel my plans. So while I’m in bed, the Edgar events are kicking off.
April 27th is the Edgar Symposium.
April 28th concludes with the Edgar Awards banquet.
I planned to pop over to the Discovery Times Square Pompeii exhibit too.
Oh well. You know what they say about the best laid plans.
We watched one of Charlaine’s favorite episodes of TrueBlood with her (I Will Rise Up from Season 2) and had a Q&A about it on Friday night. Then Saturday there was a Q&A with her during lunch hosted by the Crimebake Co-chairs, Pat Remick and Margaret McLean (pictured above). These were such amazing events, I thought I’d share my notes from the Lunch Q&A.
- Sookie was a grandma’s best friend’s name and is a nickname for Susan or sister.
- Her advice to aspiring authors:
- Rejection hurts and you do take it personally
- Write the best book you can write
- Research agents you send to so you find the right person
- Check the agent’s website before you send a query
- Don’t send your book out until it is ready
- How to determine it’s ready: reach point where you know it’s mature, you put your best effort into it, and you let it go
- Find a peer to read it and give opinion
- The writing process is always hards
- Starts with crying even when writing a long time
- Have a writing routine. Go to work everyday. She works from 8-12, breaks for lunch, and writes from 1-3:30.
- The more successful you are the more demands on your time
- The business of being a writer takes up more and more of your time
- There are times she laughs out loud when reading her books
- Sex scenes are hard to write because she wants them to be good
- One time a fan told her she liked to re-enact the scenes from the book with her boyfriend!
- Experts like to be asked about what they are experts in. For example, a funeral home guy loved to tell her all about his job
- If she could write any book it would be Jurassic Park
- Her beta readers are Toni Kelner and Dana Cameron.
- She had never had a writing critique group
- How has being famous has changed her life? The money increased but brought along responsibilities, it’s nice to be recognized, and it’s been good for her kids
- Her writing process is more of a pantser.
- She edits as she goes and writes 4-8 pages a day.
- Each day she starts by reviewing what she wrote the day before and changes things as she goes.
- She doesn’t write an outline
- She edits as she goes and writes 4-8 pages a day.
- It took 2 years for Dead Until Dark to be picked up. She didn’t write other books in series. She wrote other books she was already contracted to write
- She was turned down very harshly. Her agent didn’t like Dead Until Dark. But her friend Dean at Murder by the Book loved it and gave it stamp of approval. It was enough to keep her agent working on selling it.
- She’s edited several anthologies and highly recommends editing other people’s work
- Her books are published in 25 countries
- France had translation issues where they took out the sex scenes and any mention of menstruation. Readers were very upset and publisher had to retranslate and include those scenes
- She keeps all her foreign rights
- She and her editor have vision for the books–they’ve had intense discussions but never had a huge blowout
- Harper Connelly series was optioned by CBS and a pilot show is being taped–Hope they pick it up!
- She is contracted for two more Sookie Stackhouse books and might write a third, but she wants to end the series while it is still good. The readers deserve nothing but her best :)
I also had Charlaine sign a few books. She is the most gracious author I’ve ever met. For me this was the equivalent of meeting the biggest hollywood movie star. Her books inspired my writing and I go back to them constantly as a reference tool on how to write great scenes and characters. Here’s a picture of us from the Vampire Ball!
The second workshop I attended at Crimebake on Friday night was called Techniques for Using Humor in Mystery and our speaker was Toni L.P. Kelner. Humor tends to seep into my writing, so I knew this was a must-attend workshop.
She started by talking about the different ways humor can be incorporated into a mystery:
- Crazy capers
Mysteries can be funny throughout or simply have a smart aleck character. There can be humorous moments to allow the reader to catch their breath. It also makes it easier to ratchet up the suspense. When building tension you can use humor before inserting a clue so that you are hiding information in plain sight.
There can also be humor in the setting. Keep in mind that everything in the story should be doing something. Don’t insert humor unless it performs a function for the story. Humor must pull double duty such as exposition or catching your breath between tense scenes.
Humor can be risky because no one loves the same humor. You also run the risk of losing a reader. There is no margin of error for humor. Your book can be a moderate thriller, a tepid romance, or sorta sci-fi. If you miss the mark with humor, it fails.
It is important to realize that humor differs by age, background, culture, etc. Things will not translate. Be aware that humor can hurt people’s feelings.
Revision is key–If I had longer, I’d have made it shorter. Remember to whittle down your humor. If it’s not moving the action, cut the humor.
Keep in mind there is a time and place for humor, but it slows down the pacing. And some moments cannot be funny,
Humor can be very visual and hard to do in a story–like when the Three Stooges throw pies in people’s faces.
Structure matters with humor. Don’t tell the funny line first.
Topical humor can be a roadblock–try for age trying to get to.
In her mysteries, Toni found that the more specific she got, the more universal it got. She didn’t set out to write funny, she just based things off of the people in her life and readers found it very funny.
Timing is essential with humor.
Note: This week my wordcount is not moving. I am doing another serious revision of my first book for a contest including new chapter breaks. So second book is on the back burner until next week when I get this contest submission in.
Firstoff, huge thanks to MWA NE and SinCNE for making Crimebake 2010 a fabulous conference!
Friday at Crimebake started off with an amazing welcome for Sisters in Crime New England. They had coffee and cookies and the perfect ice breaker–a scavenger hunt to find people with different abilities–like Agatha Winner or Writer of Paranormals. Immediately, we all had a conversation breaker and it make the conference kick off the best ever!
I signed up for the master classes and soon made my way to Writing the Traditional Mystery with Roberta Isleib. She’s a great public speaker and I highly recommend taking any workshop she does on writing mysteries.
She started by explaining that all cozies are traditional mysteries but all traditional mysteries are not cozies.
Typical traits of a cozy include:
- Amateur Sleuth
- Violence and sex happen off-screen (if they happen)
- A closed/contained setting
- Emphasis on deduction
- Victim and murderer know each other and the sleuth has to figure out the relationship between the two
- Being a comfort read
- Not jarring
Traditional mysteries can be darker than cozies. Cozies are a subset of traditional mysteries and usually include a craft/cooking/gardening.
She stressed the importance of knowing your genre. If a book can’t be labelled, it can’t be sold.
The killer must be in the book in enough detail so that the writer plays fair with the reader. At the end of the book, the reader should think, I should have seen it coming.
The three most important things in a Traditional Mystery are:
- Character Development
In the past, characters weren’t expected to change much in a series. Now readers expect growth and change within the book and over the course of the series. There must be a character arc–what she learns and how she changes. The arc of the character can be: character realizes she’s obsessed with an outer goal/desire but needs x to be whole/fulfilled. You have to have an idea of where you wants the character to end up.
Nathan Bransford blog talks about how every protagonist wants something and the novel is about them trying to get it. The antagonist is in conflict with the protagonist.
The character’s stakes are also crucial. Here are the things you should ask yourself to get a better grasp of the character’s stakes. (BTW, this was my favorite part of the workshop–very interactive and thought-provoking).
- What brings character into story now?
- What is her goal?
- Will her goal change?
- How will the character change by the end of novel?
- What makes your character unique?
- Central strength of your character?
- What weakness should she have?
Think about your characters history and from that make the stakes feel more real. Convince reader why they got involved. Can’t sell plot until sell character.
Setting is the third key part of a mystery. Change has to be underway–a place in turmoil and something happening in bigger world. Setting has its own value system.Something new to reader.
Setting has to intersect with character and plot. We were now asked to write a two sentence setting. Go ahead and write yours.
Okay now take that same setting and view it through the protagonist’s eyes. Description should do double duty by showing and telling character’s feelings. You can use description of setting to convey stuff about the character.
Audience members also got up and read their responses to parts of the workshop to illustrate how to use her teachings. Overall an awesome workshop–Thank you Roberta!
I’m hitting the road Friday morning with M from my CTRWA group. M and I met at the first meeting and discovered we live in the same town about 2 miles away from each other. M had already signed up for Crimebake as had I. She graciously offered to carpool. So 10AM Friday we set out!
Crimebake, or New England Crimebake 2010, is sponsored by Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime. Charlaine Harris, one of my favorite writers is going to be the guest of honor. That alone was reason to buy my ticket. But it keeps getting better. Agent pitches, published authors critiquing your first chapter, a vampire ball, classes on craft, amazing panels. Need I say more? Check out this schedule.
One of my Backspace buddies, Nora, is also attending. I can’t wait to catch up with her.
Are any of you going to Crimebake? What are you most looking forward to? If not, what conference are you looking forward to or do you have great memories of?
BTW, wordcount hit 60,532! That 18K in 3+weeks!
This Wednesday at the Mid-Manhattan Library, I attended the MWA presentation on paranormal mysteries. Meredith Anthony (MA) was the moderator and Lee Barwood (LB) and E.F. Watkins (EW) were on the panel. Being that I my first book is a paranormal mystery, I found this presentation very useful. They talked about how paranormal is hot right now, but has been around for hundreds of years. They commented on the changing lines in mystery. How genre fiction has been much more open to cross overs (even mystery which traditionally was pure mystery). Now the market has Charlaine Harris whose books are labeled mystery/ fantasy but also contain elements of humor and romance.
EW mentioned her new series about a psychic who sees ghosts. She tends to writer paranormal thrillers with paranormal villains, though occasionally creates the paranormal hero.
LB talked about her haunted Ozarks series (which I picked up a copy of cause it sounded so good). She has otherwordly people walking among us. She has amateur detectives rely on the supernatural for the solution to crimes with elements of love interest.
How do you define a paranormal mystery?
- EW said there has to be the uncanny. Until recently, mystery lovers were not looking for that. Historically, they preferred a ghost mystery with a reasonable explanation, not a real ghost and felt cheated if the supernatural was the cause. This has changed. She liked to write paranormal mystery. Before her books were categorized as horror because of the paranormal element, but it was more a thriller /mystery with paranormal elements. She has a psychic sleuth with an event going on that cannot be explained that makes the sleuth leap further than the normal mystery.
- LB has writtern a paranormal sleuth in the past. She loved Sherlock Holmes but wanted something spookier. She wrote a cross over which couldn’t be pigeon-holed into one genre. She has supernatural circumstances that people have to resolve in everyday life. She writes a story where anything can happen.
- MA noted that it’s important to establish rules at the beginning of what can and can’t be done and stick to them like in a normal world.
- EW seconded that pointing out that to prevent chaos or the reader feeling cheated, the writer must establish rules. For a supernatural entity you must develop it and explain abilities. If you are writing a creature for which there is no template (not a vampire or werewolf), you must clearly articulate the ground rules. It’s very similar to gaming in that the protagonist has to have a fighting chance while trying to figure out the rules (how it works).
- LB talked about how the Ozarks have cool superstitions that she drew upon. Her main character, April, is from a family of women with talents. Some see spirits, others heal by touch. April can see the past and future. If she takes a picture, others can see it too. There are lots of ground rules–based on locale, character, or kind of supernatural being you’re writing about. She said if you use the traditional type and go beyond the normal lore, you must have a good explanation. If the bad guy has different rules than good guy, there has to be a way for the good guy to stop him.
MA asked about the use of current events/problems in their stories
- EW used the background of Washington, DC and politics. A psychic helps a senator get his kidnapped daughter back from a cult, which is headed by vampires. Interesting twist because cult leaders are very charismatic (as are vampires). Another book she wrote had a heavy ecological message about how the earth will get you.This was set in a Pennsylvania former mining town. In her opinion, contemporary things ground the story more and make the supernatural fun with a twist. They have a message but it’s still entertaining.
- LB lived in the Ozarks when she wrote her book. She saw the sins against the earth happening around her. The area she lived in was extremely poor with few decent jobs. A good job was considered barely minimum wage. People had to have vegetable gardens to survive the year without starving. Some people lived in school buses. Some people went back to land but it was so hard to farm and the soil was so poor, but it was all they knew. She saw the factories closing and jobs moving overseas. The bad guy in her story grew up in this setting, he saw the poverty and how politics kept out jobs. He decided to bring prosperity to area. Except it has to be his way or the highway. The things he does are destroying the very thing he holds dear. The heroine uses her supernatural abilities against him. There are forces in the earth and things happen at his worksites and to his workmen to catch his attention.
MA asked about if sex and the supernatural is better
- EW said it depends on the plot of the book. Some require a strong romantic element, some just a relationship element. She wrote a relationship novel without a happily ever after.Her book Dance with the Dragon has an unusual couple and reader interest pushed her to write the prequel so that they could see how the relationship got started.
- LB has started books with a murder suicide. She’s had two ghosts fight over the heroine.
MA asked if the genre is strong because booksellers have categories that can function as barriers.
- LB felt it was a very strong genre that will continue to morph. She is fascinated with the unknown–by what makes us hesitate and not go into an abandoned house. She mentioned a plus of print of demand or ebooks is that the web does not have shelves so book can be put in 5 places electronically.
- EW has less problems with electronic and smaller bookstores because there is so much cross over. She thinks the industry is bending a little
Q: Which thread did the author focus on in cross genre books?
- EW–suspense element is her focus because it is what she is most attracted to. None of her books have a romantic focus, but there is usually a romantic thread/subplot.
- LB–paranormal element is her favorite. Although it always works out that the guy and girl end up in a romance. But the supernatural element is what throws the guy and girl together.
MA mentioned how Ken Foley has romance in his thrillers because it is easier for the reader to identify with
- EW has heroines fall for very very wrong guy. Heroines are smart women but fall for opposite of self.
- LB the hero didn’t know he represented the bad guy. He was a good person but fell in with wrong person. Then hero falls for girl…
Q: Did the writers select the genre based on real life experience?
- EW–virtually nonee. Nothing happens when she’s visited haunted places. She was raised catholic so there is the concept of things changing from one thing into another and the rising from the dead.
- LB–in the Ozarks lots of people claim to see things. She never did, but she believes anything is possible and we may not understand reason behind it. Phenomenon exists whether or not we understand why.
Q: How important is the old mythology vs my vampire=my rules?
- EW–legends do differ with few common threads. When using an established supernatural character, you research the original legends and then adapt it as needed. Ultimately, you write the book to express a concept. At times you massage it a little. Just make sure you explain why and how.
- LB–base what happens on known mythology. If you need to change it, explain it. Make sure it works. Every rule has an exception.
Q: How do you keep the momentum going to finish a novel?
- EW–trouble is she starts chapter writing before outline. The outline definitely helps when you get to middle sag. When she is done with full time day job, writing is the ice cream at the end of the day. If you fall in love with idea you will keep going.
- LB has no outline. She just writes and keeps going. Makes notes in manuscript. If gets stuck she works on on another story.
- MA mentioned her hubby has a ship and chair to keep her going.
Q: With e-publishing how much promotion must the writer do?
- All of it unless you are a big name with a big company. You do signing at bookstores, you do blogs, you do presentations, etc.
- With cyber publishing, the book is out faster and you can do more stuff online to promote it.
- EW mentioned doing a radio guest blog.
Last night I braved the wet, cold diagonal rain to venture to the Mid-Manhattan Library for the MWA NY Chapter’s Library Outreach Series. The topic was: FORENSICS AND THE MYSTERY WRITER: IS IT SCIENCE OR FICTION?
The panel featured three writers (Lindsay Faye, Stefanie Pintoff, and E.J. Wagner) and a moderator (E.W. Count), who read excerpts from their books, answered questions on forensics role in mystery writing, and gave a glimpse into their writing process. All three moderators agreed that forensics was a must have in their mystery novels.
E.J. Wagner gave historical background on the field of forensics, including how at one point in history the belief that the body had to be intact to reunite with the soul in heaven made it impossible for anyone to openly share knowledge about dissecting human bodies. Lindsay Faye pointed out how the “how” and “why” a character solves a crime is in and of itself very character revealing.
The authors discussed the importance of scientific and historic accuracy even in fiction. Ms. Faye pointed to the recent Sherlock Holmes movie as an example of how the idiomatic use of language didn’t fit the period. She talked about how there was no term for a sociopath at the time of Jack the Ripper and that using Freudian terms before the birth of Freud doesn’t make sense.
The topic of what qualifies as death was also discussed. It is interesting to note that a hundred years ago it was a heart stopping and now (in the U.S.) is when brain activity stops. E.J. Wagner made reference to death being a continuum, which I found intriguing.
All in all a great event by MWA-NY chapter. Many thanks to E.W. Count for a great job moderating and participating in the discussion and to the panel for sharing their experiences and insight.
If you’d like to hear the discussion, it was taped and is available on the WNYC website.
Last Wednesday, I attended the Mystery Writer’s of America Edgar Symposium. Without a doubt, one of the best one- day events focusing on the craft of mystery writing and definitely worth attending next year. The lineup alone was worth the cost. Donald Maass, Lee Child, S.J. Rozan, Mary Downing Hahn, and Laura Lippman are just a few of the panel participants.
My favorite session was Donald Maass’s Writing the Breakout Mystery. He is without a doubt a writing guru and electrifying public speaker. He’s the kind of speaker that can lead you into hell and back and you’d think it was a delightful adventure provided he kept speaking. His presentation was more like an actual training seminar where he poses the questions and concepts and you have to write responses based on your story or where your story could go. It was an amazing exercise. At times, frustrating to see potential issues in the story, but overall completely worth it. I would highly recommend ordering the recording of this session if you are struggling to write your breakout mystery because he takes you though it step by step. Favorite line: Be mean to the protagonist.
Next up was the Dialogue session: Telling vs. Showing. The panel shared their varied experiences and talked about some of the big Dos and Don’ts in dialogue. My favorite example of bad attribution: She purred conspiratorially. One author mentioned how he kept a running notebook of great dialogue overheard over the years. Another stressed the importance of the white page for the conversation happening underneath the dialogue.
In the Short Stories vs. Novels: The Long and Short of It, there was yet another great panel of talented writers sharing their experiences. One author mentioned how the recovery time is shorter for writing short stories and it is also a great way to try out a new setting/voice when you are unsure you can do it. Short stories were also a fast way to learn what you need to do in longer fiction. My favorite line was when one author compared writing short stories to a robbery: You get in and out fast. One of the good points of switching between the two is that after writing a short story you get the intensity of emotions and pacing and can now bring that into your novel.
In Fact vs. Fiction–Falling in Love With Your Research, a panel of über talented authors discussed their research and how they walk a line between incorporating too much and too little. Most authors on the panel started with newspapers and magazines to get a feel for the period as well as culling through them for story ideas. One concept that was particularly interesting was the idea of “metabolizing research” so that it becomes a part of you.
The Writing Juvenile and Young Adult Mysteries panel included an explanation about about how swearing, sex, and gay lifestyle are absolutely not accepted in the MG level and that even Young Adult faces scrutiny about sex, that gay acceptance is very risky, and that abortion is very difficult. It was also mentioned that religious swearing is not allowed in MG and that the “F” word is bad in YA. One interesting contrast to adult novels is that kids like cliff hanger endings, whereas adults tend to like the loose ends all tied up nicely. In terms of keeping up with slang, some authors admitted to eavesdropping on children’s conversation.
The last panel was From the Writer’s Desk: Q&A with Lee Child and Laura Lippman. I found this panel absolutely inspirational and I will share some of their points with you. If your goal is to get published, you have to be ambitious and tell yourself how great you are. If you can’t say that you want to be a New York Times bestseller, then you won’t be. They mentioned how it took ten years to be an overnight success. They also drove home how important it is to write the story you want to write and do what you want to do. They stressed the importance of finding your voice, your style, your material and that is how you find your way. They closed by reminding us that there are always new goals to chose and to chase them.
Overall, an awesome day. I really enjoyed the break after each session for book signings by the panelists. The atmosphere was much more relaxed than an agent pitch conference and it was great to get to hear from established and newly published authors and meet other aspiring authors. A huge thanks to MWA for making such an event possible for everyone. I cannot imagine how much energy goes into planning and executing an event like this and the day progressed so quickly and seamlessly. Much thanks!