Wednesday, May 6, 2015


by Clare O'Donohue

Q: What's the worst corner you've ever written yourself into and how did you get out again?

It's been said many times but writers often divide themselves up into planners (those folks who outline their books before writing chapter one) and the pantsers (those who start typing and see where it goes).

I consider myself a "plan-tser". I don't outline, and I don't know who the killer will be, but I do have some basic ideas of where I'm headed. I stop and start, writing a few chapters just to see who I'm dealing with, then I stop and think, figure out a path for the next few chapters and go forward.

Basically, I write myself into corners every other day, then spend time trying to figure my way out.

Those corners are the most frustrating and most fun part of the whole process. They're like roller coasters - they're only pretend scary because even in the worst moment I know my books aren't being streamed live as I write them. If I'm really  in a pickle, I can back up and take another route.

Of course, I don't really want to do that because that means leaving hours, sometimes days, of work on the edit floor. But I know I can, and that makes  getting out of a corner more a puzzle than a predicament.

Sometimes I go back and add in something - a piece of information, a motivation, a phone call in the night - something that makes this "corner" problem feel more organic. Sometimes I leave it there, unfixed, and move forward. It's amazing how my subconscious will work on it to solve the problem for me, weaving it into the story as I go.

Often I find those obstacles I created turned out to be the best part of the story for me.  And then I pat myself on the back, temporarily think I'm a genius, and celebrate - until the next time.

Monday, May 4, 2015

It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's That Stuck Writer Again!

Q: What's the worst corner you've ever written yourself into and how did you get out again?

A: Whatever corner I’m backed into at the moment is the worst.  Example: She left the apartment hours before she arrived at the apartment because I need her to see something that she could only see across town at that moment …but I also needed her to get the phone call at home that her partner couldn’t possibly make until that moment because he had been locked up in the villain’s basement and she had to rush out to rescue him before she realized the man she saw.... Time sucks. 

It all sounds so easy when I begin. I brush past the warning signs and write, write, write, relishing the rush until that moment I come to a screaming halt, betrayed by my decision not to have my protagonist be a time traveler of a close, personal friend of Dr. Who.

It isn’t just time issues that corner me. I sometimes find the murderer I anointed secretly in chapter one isn’t such a bad person by chapter fourteen and I get a little sad to think how much my readers are going to hate him in chapter twenty-three. So I start hedging, creating little scenes in which he shows a softer side. Such a mistake. I’m just making it harder to carry off the climax of the story without severe and unwelcome revisions.

Getting out of these corners is harder than avoiding them in the first place. So, while I don’t outline, I do try hard to construct and stay with a timeline, aided by stickie notes, that forces me to face up to plot complications and straighten them out as I go.  Either she didn’t need to see that clue, or she saw it from her window, or she saw it last week and only has to remember it while she waits for her partner’s call.

For characters who start to shape shirt, firmness is called for most the other time. The villain is the villain. If I don’t believe he’s dastardly enough for the job, I need to go back to the backstory and either get rid of him or add enough that I lose my misplaced sympathy. There’s something else that might be going on – maybe he isn’t the villain. Maybe my subconscious is telling me he’s the decoy and, if that’s the case, who is it I think is the real skunk? There’s always someone. I may merely have ignored my inner voice.

Corners are part of the business of being a writer – any kind of writing presents issues like these. The great fun of writing mysteries is the times I’m sitting at the keyboard grinning as I burst my way out like Superwoman, and rush into the next hot mess.


Friday, May 1, 2015

Write First!

By Art Taylor

Boy, does this week's question hit home: "When you’re in writing mode, do you follow a word quota, a time quota or do you just wait for your muse to arrive, words in hand?"

Given that I keep "Write First!" as the top item on my electronic to-do list each day and that's it's been carried over unchecked day after day after day for more days than I can count now...well, I feel lucky on any day when I get to write at all, much less for a certain number of words or for a certain amount of time (and no, writing this blog post doesn't count).

As Meredith wrote earlier this week, I've tried a couple of these approaches at different times over the years. Maybe the most effective was when I'd set aside a certain amount of time for my own writing each morning before the day got underway (teaching, grading, email, Facebook)—but these days, I'm wrangling a toddler first thing in the morning and then heading straight into the classroom soon after some days, so that doesn't work.

While I've tried the word count approach (and I know it works for some), I'm just ultimately not that kind of writer. As much as I like to push ahead in whatever story I'm writing, I'm more likely to be tinkering and tucking, then taking a few small steps, then tinkering some more. How many new words I've written on any given day isn't as much a measure for me as what I might have done with the words that are there—incremental additions maybe but significant changes, I hope. Looking at the xxx number of words I should've written but didn't just demoralizes me; it's counterproductive on so many levels.

I recently told the students in my fiction workshop at George Mason University that some of the best things they might get out of a creative writing degree was (1) a group of readers whom they could trust and (2) a sense of their own writing routines. More than word count vs. time quota vs. whatever, I think that writers need to recognize something about their own process and then to capitalize on that wherever possible. Much of that may involved how you measure progress, but it's also about providing the right circumstances to conjure up that muse (no waiting for her, that never works). Do you write best in silence, ambient noise, music? Morning or evening? Does a walk first help? A break for a walk during a writing session? A cup of tea or coffee or bourbon? Longhand first or directly on the computer? Carrot or stick?

Here's mine: morning, music, tea, walking away and coming back, and a combination of notes in a notebook and composing directly on screen.

I do try to set deadlines for myself so that I have some goal I'm working toward, and daily goals of some kind help toward that—but usually those are along the lines of specific tasks: draft such-and-such scene, revise such-and-such passage, figure out a troubling plot point, rework the ending, etc. I measure success there by whether I feel like I've reached the point that I can cross off that task, no matter how many words or how quickly or slowly I get it done.

As I'm writing this, I'm also prepping for this weekend's Malice Domestic—and on the day this post is published, I'll be well into the thick of the festivities. I'm looking forward to seeing many old friends and making new ones over the weekend, and I hope to see many familiar faces at my two panels on Saturday morning:
9 a.m.—Make It Snappy: Our Agatha Best Short Story Nominees
Linda Landrigan, Moderator, with Kathy Lynn Emerson, Barb Goffman, Edith Maxwell, and Art Taylor

10 a.m.—In the Beginning… Early Influences
Art Taylor, Moderator, with Dorothy Cannell, Parnell Hall, Margaret Maron, and Daniel Stashower

Additionally, two of my stories are finalists for this year's Agatha Award for Best Short Story—"The Odds Are Against Us" from Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and "Premonition" from Chesapeake Crimes: Homicidal Holidays—and I hope that folks will not only check out those stories, but also those of the other finalists, Barb Goffman, Edith Maxwell, and Kathy Lynn Emerson, all linked from the Agatha Awards page here.

Thursday, April 30, 2015


by Alan

When you’re in writing mode, do you follow a word quota, a time quota, or do you just wait for your muse to arrive, words in hand?

If I waited for my muse to arrive, I’d be a very old man before I’d have anything written. (My muse must be named Godot.)

When I’m in writing mode, I follow a strict word quota. Here’s my process:

With my premise already in mind, I take about a week before I actually begin writing to formulate an outline (not very detailed) and complete character sketches of the main characters. Then I determine when I want to finish my first draft, and divide by the number of writing days until that deadline (usually I plan to write five days a week).

That gives me my daily quota. When I first started writing and didn’t have any other writing-related tasks (promoting, blogging, Minesweeper, procrastinating, answering emails, etc.), I’d usually settle on a 2000 word/day quota. Now that I have other junk very important marketing and promotion things to do, my quotas are usually somewhere between 1000 and 1500 words per day.

better Monkey-typing When my writing period begins, I employ BICFOK. Butt In Chair, Fingers On Keyboard. In other words, I sit there until I’ve achieved my quota.

Some days, if the writing is like shoveling sludge, I’ll get up the instant I reach my daily goal, even if it’s in the middle of a sentence.

After I’ve attained my quota, I’ll move on to other things (and I’ve got no shortage of other things on my to-do list).

Once in a while, life gets in the way and I don’t reach my daily quota. That’s what weekends are for—catching up.

The great thing about his method is that I know, with a great deal of certainty, if I meet my daily goals, then when I reach my deadline, I’ll have a complete first draft. Something else I know with a great deal of certainty? The manuscript will smell to high heaven, but at least I’ll have a first draft I can carve to pieces.

Muse? I don’t need no stinkin’ muse.

I’ve got BICFOK.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

My Muse Is Unstable

When you’re in writing mode, do you follow a word quota, a time quota or do you just wait for your muse to arrive, words in hand?
 By Tracy Kiely

Here is my process, broken down in two helpful phases.

Phase One: I give myself a deadline for a first draft and begin writing. Generally, I imagine that I will be writing my book while dressed in some stylish, yet comfortable, white linen ensemble. My house will be clean, organized, and decorated in a way that suggests professional help or a stunning level of personal taste. A cup of hot tea sits beside me on my desk and I type away, not letting distractions interrupt me. I finish ahead of schedule and manage to lose five pounds in the process.

Phase Two: Chaos. After glancing away for a teensy second, my muse ups and leaves.  I don’t know if she ducked out for a quick cigarette or what, but she is MIA. I begin to suspect that she may have been hit by a bus.  Either that or she’s sprawled on a beach somewhere in Cancun. I begin to panic. My tea is cold and I gain ten pounds in one day. I try to clean my house in the hopes that this will lure my Muse back. It does not. I panic some more. After a few months, my Muse returns. She smells horrible and refuses to explain herself. I am so grateful, I don’t care (but I won’t let her sit on the white couch – I’m not delusional). We spit out the book, and I collapse and swear I will never let this happen again.

I, of course, am lying to myself.

Here is the best visual can find to explain my process.  (I’ve edited it for our delicate readers)  

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Waiting for the Muse

By R.J. Harlick

“When you’re in writing mode, do you follow a word quota, a time quota, or do you just wait for your muse to arrive, words in hand?”

It sounds so romantic, doesn’t it, ‘waiting for the muse to strike’?  I have images of a writer nestled in a comfy chair with a cat sound asleep on his or her lap. While waiting for the muse, they ponder the lofty mountain view before them.  Or better yet are bathed by warm tropical breezes as they sit waiting on a lanai and listen to the palm trees clatter and the waves crash onto the beach below (Since I’m heading off to the Caribbean next week, these tropical images are foremost in my mind) Of course, the ever ready computer is on the table beside the writer, waiting for that moment. And I mustn’t forget the most important part, a glass of scotch or wine, even Pernod, a must to help the muse along.  And when it does the words pour out… Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it?

I tell you it might work for some writers, but if this writer waited for the muse to arrive, nothing would get written. That’s not to say the muse doesn’t happen. There are times, when the words seem to flow faster than I can type them, but it happens so rarely. Besides I think I’d end up getting a rather sore bottom with all that waiting, not to mention the drunken stupor. 

Nope, for me the only thing that works is establishing a set time to write. At a minimum, I set aside three days a week, Monday through Wednesday. I make a point of never scheduling any activities on these days. If I am free, I will also write on Thursday and Friday, but these days are set aside for yoga, biking, household chores and the like. Rarely do I write on the weekends, that’s play time with my husband. And the only thing I drink is word-inspiring tea; English Breakfast, Darjeeling or Assam. If I tried anything alcoholic, I’d be too fuzzy headed to write anything.

I don’t set myself a word or time quota, rather when I am in first draft creation mode, I write until I run out of steam, usually after three or four hours. I probably tend to average 1,500 to 2,000 words, but if the muse does happen to strike, then it could go up to 5,000. But let me tell you, there are some days when it is like pulling teeth and all I manage to write is about 200 words. These are the days when I use Facebook, email and the Internet to help entice the muse. The only problem is, they are more a distraction than anything else, so I eventually have to cut myself off. I haven’t yet turned my WiFi off, but I have come close.

What I have learned over the years since I started writing crime fiction, is that writing requires discipline. Since the muse usually doesn’t arrive on schedule, I use time as my discipliner.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Counting my way to "the end"

When you’re in writing mode, do you follow a word quota, a time quota or do you just wait for your muse to arrive, words in hand? 

by Meredith Cole

Once upon a time I tried all three techniques. I find that I rely on my muse more for great ideas than I do with actually creating a draft because it’s frankly very unreliable. I think I waited for my muse to arrive for about a decade in my twenties, and I never managed to write a book. So I fired my muse and decided to try something else.

The time quota was next. When my son was just over a year, I won a NYFA grant for screenwriting. I used the money to join The Writers Room in Astor Place and pay for a babysitter two mornings a week. I would drop my son at the sitter, hop on the subway, and, when I arrived at an empty desk at the studio, I had exactly 2 hours to write. Some days I would end up writing notes or revising something. Other days I would create new material, but it was never that great. I ended up spending most of my time making tea, staring out at the view of the Empire State Building and wondering what everyone else was writing. But I eventually finished my draft so I guess it did work. Sort of.

Once I had a contract (and a deadline) I no longer had time to dither. I also didn’t have the same kind of blocks of free time that I had before. I needed to get my book done as quickly as I could. So I tried word quotas. And that worked for me.

As I write a rough draft of a new book, I play with different word quotas until I find one that’s both achievable but will help me make significant progress on my book. Right now I can do about 1,000 words a day. If I don’t get it done in the morning before I go to work, I need to do it at lunch or in the evening. But I need to get it done. The word quota helps me to keep going even when I'm not "in the mood," forces me at times to write more than I’m comfortable with, and often pushes me beyond what I already know in my WIP.

The best part of having a word count is that if I write fast, then I’m done for the day sooner. I can keep writing if I have the time and I’m excited to continue, but I don’t have to. And I can go through the rest of day without any guilt about my writing progress. Now I just need to find a way to get it so I can be guilt-free about all the other stuff (social media, email, etc.)...

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Egg and I

What are your favorite writing conferences/conventions to attend?

by Paul D. Marks

Once upon a time, I went to some seminars or conferences in the LA area, mostly on screenwriting, and once to the ABA when it was here. But I wasn’t going to fiction or, more specifically, mystery conventions or conferences. Didn’t really start going to those until a couple of years ago. But I really enjoy them and didn’t realize what I was missing. But lately, I’ve been to a couple Bouchercons and Left Coast Crime, and I like them both.

And I did go to the first California Crime Writers Conference/Convention (though the name might have been different then) put on at that time by Sisters in Crime, as I was on the board at the time. That convention continues to this day and is coming up in June. I think there’s still a few openings left. Come on down. I’ll be on the Thrills and Chills (Crafting the Thriller and Suspense Novel) panel Saturday, June 6th at 10:30am. And if I (who sleeps during the day and is up all night) can get to it, so can you ;) – See end of this post for more details.

Bouchercon is, of course, the big kid on the block. And I’ve really enjoyed the B’cons that I’ve attended which, admittedly, is only two. The one in Albany in 2013 and the one in Long Beach in 2014.

The Albany convention was my first Bouchercon and my wife and I flew out there a few days early. We flew into Connecticut since there were no direct flights to Albany and drove through four states to get there. The weather was nice and it was fun driving through all those states, even though some were short jaunts. There is a whole different vibe to New England than to CA, especially southern CA, but that’s probably for another blog altogether.

The Egg CollageWe got to our hotel and had no idea what to do. Normally the convention is at a hotel and there’s a block of rooms reserved in that hotel for attendees. But that year the convention was at The Egg in Albany, a convention center not tied to any hotel. So, there were three hotels connected to that Bouchercon, but no real central hotel or watering hole. If one had to pick it would have been the Hilton, but we were too late to book a room there.

So getting to Albany a day or two early, we did some exploring of the city. And I really liked it a lot. I didn’t think I would, so I was pleasantly surprised. It’s very different than NYC. More of a “quaint,” at least in some ways, New England town, even though it’s the state capitol. And we enjoyed trying different restaurants, especially Jack’s Oyster House, where the likes of both presidents Roosevelt ate, along with Hillary Clinton, JFK, Jr. many governors of NY and gangster, Legs Diamond, though not all at the same time, of course.  Also William Kennedy, the renowned novelist from Albany.

The convention came and I did my noir panel with Eric Beetner (M), Scott Adlerberg, John Billheimer, David Rich and Wallace Stroby. And that was enjoyable. I was honored to be chosen for a panel at my first Bouchercon. And it’s also great to meet other writers. I got copies of at least one of each of their books and read them on the plane to Albany and in the hotel once we got there. Aside from the panel I was on, we went to the various other panels and events. We didn’t know a lot of people when we got there, but we did know a few and we met some new friends that I’m still in touch with today.

We had an extra day at the end of the trip too, and did a little more exploring.

The only negative on the trip were the cramped plane seats. But other than that everything was great.
The next convention we went to was Left Coast Crime in Monterey, CA. For that, we drove up to Monterey. On the way up there, we took the “fast” route, going up the 5 Freeway. I took my very first selfie on the drive up there. It remains to be seen if I’ll post it here when the time comes. I don’t think I will...
That was my first Left Coast Crime and it, too, was a hell of a good experience. The convention was great. My panel was a lot of fun. Did a panel called Tough on Crime, with Robert Downs (M), Philip Donlay, Doc Macomber and David Putnam.  The hotel was nice and a short walk from Fisherman’s Wharf. And though we’d both been to Monterey several times, as we love it there, we got to do some exploring, try some interesting restaurants and had a great time.

And now, being convention veterans, we knew more how to go about it. We also knew more people there as a lot of LA people went. And we hung out in the bar and listened to people read from their books in a clandestine Noir at the Bar and had a great time. And how can you not have a great time in Monterey anyway?

Drove home the scenic route down Pacific Coast Highway, which is stunning beyond words. We nearly ran out of gas, running on fumes trying to get to the “next” gas station, but we figured if we ran out of gas at least the view of the ocean and rocks was gorgeous and it wouldn’t be pure hell hanging out there for a while. We stopped for lunch at Nepenthe in Big Sur. Good food and great views!

I’ve always wanted to live on the central or northern California coast and that trip only rekindled that desire.

Next convention was Bouchercon in Long Beach, which was a relatively short drive from home. Did a panel on Short But Mighty (short stories) with Travis Richardson (M), Craig Faustus Buck, Barb Goffman, Robert Lopresti, and our own Art Taylor. And it was nice to meet another Criminal Mind in the flesh.

Nice hotel. Didn’t do much exploring of Long Beach, which I would have enjoyed ‘cause it’s changed so much since I’d spent any time there years ago.Bouchercon 2014 Pike collage

The hotel and that whole area have been redeveloped. Back in the day it was the Pike and later Nu Pike, a seaside amusement area with midway and rides and lots of sailors. The perfect seedy seaside amusement zone. You can see it in several movies and TV shows, including the minor noir classic The Sniper, TV’s Emergency and many more. And it makes an appearance in my World War II homefront mystery, which hopefully will be out in the next year or so.

Then I was supposed to go to LCC in Portland recently, but had to cancel out due to personal reasons. I’m still bummed about that.

And I’m grateful to the folks at both Bouchercon and Left Coast for including me on panels. They’ve been a lot of fun and great learning experiences. It’s a great opportunity to visit a new city you’ve never been to or re-visit a city you already know well. And while the panels are great, it’s also great to get together in the bar afterward and schmooze and commiserate with like-minded authors. And that’s the best, or one of the best, parts of all these conventions, meeting your fellow authors, getting to know them, making new friends. And I did that at all of these conventions. And that alone is worth the trip.

I might have been a little reluctant to go to conventions in the past, skeptical that maybe I’d heard it all before. But I now realize the true value of these conferences is connecting with other writers. It’s not about selling tons of books, finding an agent or being “discovered,” but about connecting with other writers and fans of the mystery genre. And if you do find an agent or sell some books, so much the better. And I’ve found the panels to be both fun and informative, whether as a participant or audience member. And besides, where else can you discuss different methods of poisoning someone without being arrested?

You can bet I’ll be going to many more conventions in the future.

***CCWC snip - better
Speaking of conferences: Hope to you see at the California Crime Writers Conference
( ). 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: and check out my soon-to-be-updated website 
Subscribe to my Newsletter:

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Bloody Brilliant!

I can't pick a favourite convention. The best one is the one I'm at or packing for or still recovering from.

So I thought I'd put on my Scottish Tourist Board sash and tell you about Bloody Scotland. It's held in Stirling and if you like a bit of history with your crime cons Stirling's not too shabby. It's been there since the 12th century, Mary Queen of Scots lived there, her baby was crowned James VI there, and Robert the Bruce and Mel Gibs- I mean William Wallace both fought battles there.

There's a serious castle, by anyone's reckoning.

And then in 2012, Stirling's bloody history got a fresh chapter with the first annual celebration of Scottish crimewriting. I missed it. It was as though they waited until I left and then had a party. But I was there the next year and the third year and it's shot straight to the top of my list of cons.

Everyone from Ian Rankin to MC Beaton is to be found there. Some southerners cross the border, enough to have a Scotland v England football match, billed as a "friendly", perhaps on the theory that if you say it often enough it becomes true.

There are always a few Icelanders and other Nordics there, since it's more or less local for them. I like hanging out with Yrsa Sigurdardottir, because she makes me feel like I've got an easy to pronounce name.

And it's just a very warm, friendly, not completely sober get-together where even if things go wrong they turn out great. An example of this was the cooking/tasting demonstration tied in to the Killer Cookbook, Caro Ramsay's contribution to the Million for a Morgue appeal.

(Which is another story: did you know that, following a huge fund-raising effort, there's now a Val McDermid Mortuary in Scotland, with a Stuart MacBride dissecting room and a Jeffrey Deaver submersion tank?)

Anyway, back to the cookbook. Caro and Craig Robertson had been practicing their recipes for weeks, the event was a sell-out, and then the night before . .  it was revealed that the venue insurance wouldn't allow the use of heat.

Caro, not a quitter, drove to a late-night supermarket and bought the ingredients for all the no-cook recipes in the Killer Cookbook. These were martinis mostly. And also cranachan, which is a dessert made with a little oatmeal, a little cream, a little honey and a lo-hot of whisky. There were no complaints.

Not completely sober, as I say. But worth a visit for any crime fan.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

La Dolce Conventions

by Clare O'Donohue

Q: What are your favorite writing conferences/conventions to attend?

This is a tricky question for me because I don't attend many conferences or conventions. I'd like to, but my work schedule is already a labyrinth that involves multiple cities, various clients, and not nearly enough sleep. Fitting in writing is hard. Fitting in talking about writing has proven, more often than not, to be one item too many on the agenda.

I've not attended much in the way of conferences, which as Susan rightly pointed out, are about writing. I suppose because I first became aware of this world after my books were published I didn't think I would need the support. Lately, I've begun to realize I've missed something. I've attended Love is Murder, a Chicago (and therefore local to me) conference. But looking in the future, I'd love some advice on great conferences I should put on the list.

In terms of conventions, I've attended Malice Domestic several times, and really enjoyed the continuity and (forgive the pun) coziness of it. There are many author friends who are Malice regulars that don't attend other conferences and it's great to hang out. Plus it is one well-oiled machine, leaving less time spent being confused and more time spent having fun. I wish I could go every year, but that's not always in the cards.

I've wanted very much to attend Left Coast, which is, by all accounts, a terrific convention. I hear Hawaii is the location in a couple of years... hmmmmm.

The one place I've been a regular is Bouchercon, that moving target of a mystery convention/reunion. So, by default, this is my favorite. I like seeing friends, and making new ones. I like that it's a wide variety of subgenres represented. And I like that each year brings us to a new city. Admittedly, I don't often tour that city beyond the restaurants in the area of the convention, but I do get to see a lot of the hotel bar.

I also have to say that while neither a convention or a conference, Chicago's Printers Row Lit Festival is one of my favorite events. It's outdoors during June weekend, includes lots of hanging out with friends, and a fair amount of book sales.

I'm hoping that going forward I can spend more time at writer events, conventions, conferences etc... so it's my turn to ask a question. What is a "can't miss" I should put on my list for 2016?

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Ode to Surrey International Writers Conference

by Robin Spano

Question of the Week: What are your favorite writing conferences/conventions to attend?

First, thanks to Susan Shea, who defined the difference between conferences (collegial writerly gatherings) and conventions (fan-based gatherings).

My favorite convention is Bouchercon. I've written a post about that before. Here's a link if you're interested:

My favorite conference is Surrey International Writers Conference. The atmosphere buzzes with warmth and excellence, which radiates down from the warm, brilliant organizer, Kathy Chung, and her team of similarly devoted board members. There is so much talent in any room you're in—not only because the presenters include the likes of Chevy Stevens and Diana Gabaldon, but because the aspiring authors who attend are smart, serious, and quite advanced in their craft. Some attendees are even published authors.

I'd attended educational sessions there in the past (if you ever have the opportunity to take a workshop from Don Maass, jump at it), so I was excited to be a presenter there in the fall of 2014. I taught two workshops—one on the craft of mystery writing, another on public speaking for authors. I sat for three blue pencil sessions where attendees brought me pages of their work to insta-critique. Both during those sessions and at meals, I met aspiring authors who I've stayed in touch and become friends with.

I also doubled as an attendee. I used every break I had to sit in on other presenters' workshops and soak up the wisdom of my colleagues. Favorites were “Making Readers Cry” taught by Robert J. Wiersema, and an excellent take on setting by Hallie Ephron.

I also had a lot of fun (maybe one night too much fun?) with my fellow presenters. There's something about being in a hotel with wine and fellow writerly folks that makes your inhibitions mysteriously disappear. (But they come back with a thud the next morning, right Rachel Letofsky?)

Next convention on my list to attend is Left Coast Crime. I've never been, but it sounds warm and wonderful. Maybe 2016?

Monday, April 20, 2015

A Toast to Cons

What are your favorite writing conferences/conventions to attend?

The first thing to note in answering this highly personal question is the distinction between conferences and conventions. When I was new to the game, I didn’t realize the national/international Bouchercon was a convention and I was bemused by the flock of women who followed closely behind Laurie King wherever she went, chattering among themselves but seemingly attached to her by an invisible cord.

When another friend and I met Deborah Crombie at that Bouchercon (can’t recall the year, but it was in Baltimore), she was charming but seemed especially delighted that we were writers. It took me a bit to realize that she had been bombarded by eager fans for the half hour before that in the bar. (Her assumption was that I was a writer, not a fan, but that wasn’t really the case – I’m a big fan of the long-running Gemma/Duncan series, set in London.) A convention plays to the fans but fortifications are sometimes advised, and this martini glass is raised to Deb, who always chooses fancy drinks!.

I love the Left Coast Crime convention, partly because I seem to know everyone, or at least every author, there, and because the planners are a heroic band of crime fiction lovers who have created an ongoing festival that rotates from western city to western city but with the same band of cheerful attendees, including lots of enthusiastic fans. Blogger and salon hostess Janet Rudolph not only gets deeply involved most years, but also manages the fan-voted awards, a celebratory event that everyone looks forward to. (Yes, some year, I’d like to be a finalist!)

My first exposure to conferences, and the pivotal one for me, was the Book Passage Mystery Writers Conference, held annually in Marin County California at an influential bookstore. The first time I went, when I was tentative and apologetic at my own temerity in thinking I might write crime fiction, featured Sue Grafton, who was – and still is – so down to earth, approachable, and direct that I could stop pinching myself when I sat next to her at lunch and actually soak up a little advice and courage. I’ve been back twice since then and, in 2008, found my agent, Kimberley Cameron, there. I also met and had small classes with such accessible luminaries as Elizabeth George, Cara Black, and Jackie Winspear. Conferences are for writers because honesty, openness, and the ability to ask questions that may expose one’s weaknesses is crucial.

A new-ish conference and one I really enjoy is the California Crime Writers event (June 6-7 this year) in L.A. Sponsored and totally put together by Sisters in Crime’s and Mystery Writers of America’s southern California chapters, it’s quickly become a significant place for writers to gather, network, listen to each other, drink together, the latter being as important a part of conferences as any other aspect.

There are others, and my fellow Minds will have their own favorites. I’ll be reading theirs this week to see what further adventures I should consider. I’m guessing they’ll all have one thing in common: the party’s always at the bar! See you at CCW.