This weekend was the 12th annual conference for mystery writers sponsored by the Florida chapter of the Mystery Writers of America. I don't generally go to this event as it is really geared towards writers, not fans. In fact, I was supposed to go to Jacksonville this weekend for their big book fair, Much Ado About Books, but due to circumstances beyond my control, I had to cancel at the last moment. So basically, I crashed SleuthFest.
One of my favorite authors, Jonathan Santlofer, was going to be there and I arranged to spend some time with him so I figured even if they wouldn't let me into anything else, my time wouldn't have been wasted. But the folks running Sleuthfest couldn't have been nicer. They welcomed me, finagled me a lunch ticket, a pass for the day and I was in. So a big thank you to Randy Rawls, Christine Kling, Martha Powers and Terry Lewis for making this gate-crasher feel so welcome.
Pictured: Bob Williamson, President of the Florida chapter of MWA, who offered me $20 not to publish this picture!
It was a very interesting experience. Anyone who is thinking about writing mysteries really ought to do whatever you have to do to get there. It's an interesting mix of newbies, midlist authors and the super successful, and I would say the panels lean more heavily towards those for the newbies. It's a lovely way for those authors who can afford to write full time to give back to the writing community. But there are also panels for those who have been doing this forever, so there really is something for everyone.
Santlofer told me he attended a panel called "Death Scene Investigations" which was given by the Deputy Chief Medical Examiner of Miami-Dade County. All I can say is I'm eternally grateful I missed it. Apparently it was an eye opening experience for those who write about the victims of violent crime, with a gruesome slide show in full, glorious color.
I also had an interesting chat with Santlofer and William Lashner about writing for a different gender. Lashner hadn't done it - his protagonist, Victor Carl, is like himself in many ways. But Santlofer writes a wonderful series featuring Kate McKinnon, and writes from the female point of view. They had attended a panel called "Across the Gender Divide" moderated by Oline Cogdill, mystery reviewer for the Sun Sentinel, and featuring writers who write their opposite gender: P.J. Parrish, two sisters whose co-write the Louis Kincaid series with a male protagonist, Lawrence Light and Peter James Quirk, who have female protagonists.
Then it was lunchtime. I was fortunate to share a table with Santlofer, Lashner, Carol Fitzgerald (BookReporter.com) and several others. They were great company. I adore Carol, I've been running into her a few times a year at various book functions and always enjoy chatting with her. The first order of business was the presentation of the coveted Flamingo Award by Stuart Kaminsky, a previous recipient. This year's recipient was Daniel Keyes, author of Flowers for Algernon, among several other books. Keyes couldn't be there so his daughter accepted the award on his behalf.
The guest of honor at the luncheon was the Emmy-award winning writer/producer, René Balcer of Law & Order fame. The introduction was great - they asked everyone who had won an Edgar award to stand up. There were several people standing. Then they asked everyone who had won two Edgars to remain standing. The number dwindled considerably. Then they asked for everyone who had won three Edgars, then four Edgars to remain standing. Balcer was the only one standing.
He talked about the TV shows, and showed a couple of clips of some favorite scenes. He talked about how they often use news headlines as story ideas, then told a great story about how one of their stories became news. Balcer was looking for a location near a river where a body could wash up. He found a spot that had lots of flotsam and figured that would work. The next day he brought the crew down to film, but the producer didn't seem to think it would work. He complained that the tide was too strong and it curved wrong, but as they approached the area to film, they had to stop. There were a couple of police cars and an ambulance at the location - you guessed it - a body had floated up to the spot Balcer had selected. All in all, he was an intelligent, articulate and entertaining speaker.
After lunch, I stopped by the bookstore, hosted by none other than Joanne Sinchuk of Murder on the Beach, my favorite bookstore. Christine Kling had made a giant card for Elaine Viets, and I wanted to sign it. In case you hadn't heard, Elaine had a serious stroke last week and at first, wasn't expected to make it. But Barbara Parker announced at the luncheon that she and Kristy Montee (half of P.J. Parrish) had been to see her the day before and she was coming along just fine and is expected to make a full recovery. I was so happy to hear that. I just saw Elaine a month or so ago and she looked fabulous, so it was just devastating to hear what happened to her. They had to rearrange the schedule a bit at Sleuthfest due to her absence and she was missed. Her new book, Murder with Reservations, comes out May 1.
I caught the end of a panel called "Team Writing: Myth & Mystery" moderated by Kristy Montee and featuring the writing duos Lawrence Light & Meredith Anthony, and Joe Moore & Lynn Sholes. They talked about the good and bad of having a writing partner, and discussed a lot of the technical details that need to be addressed, even the legal ones. Anthony talked about how their latest book, Ladykiller, was a different type of book for them - they thought it was much darker than their previous books. They took it to a noir publisher, but were told that it was "too light." So they took it to their regular publisher, but they said it was "too dark." Anthony called it the "Goldilocks" of books! Finally, last summer at ThrillerFest, they found a publisher.
The next panel was "Sex & Mysteries," and with a name like that you can bet the room was filled. William Lashner, Jonathan Santlofer & the writing duo known as P.J. Parrish - Kelly Nichols & Kris Montee - started off the session by each reading a sex scene from one of their books. Kris was brave enough to go first and told us that their Kincaid series never had a sex scene, but their publisher had asked them to spin off a female cop into a new series. The first book, A Thousand Bones, comes out in June.
This same editor asked them to add a sex scene into the book, and that's the one that Montee read. She was just adorable in her embarrassment. She was followed by Santlofer, who read at breakneck speed a hilarious scene from The Death Artist. He told us that he only includes sex scenes that are integral to the story, otherwise, he'd just be entertaining himself. Lashner told us that his protagonist, Victor Carl, is a dog - and he read a great scene that was in first person and had Carl sort of sitting back and watching the action. Lashner feels that sex is revealing of the character, and necessary. He said his first book did so well because of the bad sex. The authors all seemed to agree that that sex doesn't sell mysteries, not the way it does romance or romantic suspense and that is just isn't inherent in the genre.
The last panel I attended was called "Finding Your Dark Side: Believeable Bad Guys" and was moderated by Christine Kling. Panelists included J. A. Konrath, David Corbett, Peter James Quirk and Vicki Hendricks. Dark chocolate and dark rum were served, although Konrath latched onto the rum and practically dared anyone to take it! Jonathon King was brave enough - and big enough - to intimidate Konrath into sharing. This was an interesting panel, with Corbett pointing out that he doesn't write whodunits, he prefers exploring the bad guy so we always know "who dun it." Konrath pointed out that fear and laughter are closely related. He gave a very vivid explanation that when you are near a rollercoaster, all you hear are people either screaming or laughing.
On my way out, I was so excited to run into Kate White. White is editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan Magazine, and I've been a Cosmo reader since, well, too long to think about! She also writes terrific chick-lit mysteries featuring Bailey Weggins, and has a new one coming out next month called Lethally Blonde that I'm really looking forward to.
I had a great time at SleuthFest. The hotel, The Miami Beach Resort & Spa, was lovely and brought back some memories - I stayed there in the 1970's when it was still the Doral. The weather was perfect, the beach gorgeous and views from every window in the place were spectacular. I would have liked to seen Kate White's panel, Peter Spiegelman (I loved Red Cat and I've never met him) and Linda Fairstein, the SleuthFest guest of honor.
Quick Linda Fairstein story: I went to her book signing for Bad Blood at Murder on the Beach not that long ago. I brought my daughter, who had never read her. Linda bought my daughter a book, and personally inscribed it to her. She was so excited and I was so touched - what a sweet, generous thing to do. Besides being a terrific writer and an incredible champion of women everywhere, Linda is also one classy lady. I'm sorry I missed her, but SleuthFest sure picked a winner for their guest of honor.