Beth Groundwater’s Report on the Mayhem in the Midlands Conference
After a weather delay at the Denver airport, I’m finally home from a wonderful weekend in Omaha, Nebraska spent hobnobbing with fellow mystery authors, readers, and lovers of all things mysterious. The conference, known for being intimate because of its cap on attendees set at 200, was even more intimate this year due to the economy, but those intrepid souls who came all had a great time, as far as I could tell.
I arrived late morning on Thursday, checked into the room at the Embassy Suites hotel (the conference site) I was to share with mystery short story author Kaye George, and walked into the Old Market area to eat lunch. After a refreshing swim in the hotel pool, I checked my consignment books into the booksellers, Tom & Enid Schantz at Rue Morgue and Kathy Magruder at Lee Booksellers, all lovely people. I highly recommend you patronize both of these independent booksellers.
Kaye found me at the hotel’s afternoon guest reception, where we drank our share of the free alcoholic beverages offered to hotel guests. This daily ritual was a big hit with the mystery convention crowd! Hearty munchies (enough to be considered dinner) and drinks followed at the conference’s cocktail party and 10th anniversary celebration. The speeches were short and sweet and the distinguished guests were welcomed: Guest of Honor Dana Stabenow, Toastmaster Jan Burke, and International Guest of Honor Zoe Sharp.
The Embassy Suites offered a breakfast to hotel guests the next morning that included made-to-order omelets and pancakes. Conference goers raved about the complimentary breakfasts almost as much as the complimentary cocktail receptions. The conference swung into full gear at 9 am with three tracks of panels, and I was on stage right off that bat as a member of the humor panel: “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Crime”. Pat Dennis, stand-up comedian and publisher of the humorous anthology of bathroom mysteries titled Who Died in Here, among others, soon had the audience in stitches, while the rest of us authors limped along trying to keep up. At the end of the panel, Margaret Grace, author of the miniature mysteries series, presented me with a commissioned outdoor scene including a sleeping bag, campfire, books (including my own), flashlight, woodland animals and trees, and a gift basket complete with wine, glasses, and a gun. I was thrilled with it!
Next, I sat in on the panel, “Putting the Ms. in Mysteries, Tough Female Protagonists,” consisting of Kate Flora, Ann Parker, and Dana Stabenow, three tough broads themselves. Kate said her character Thea has made her learn how to shoot a gun, defend herself, go through a police citizen’s academy, and more. Dana said that growing up in Alaska automatically makes a woman tough, and that her mother was one of the first female deck hands on a fish tender. This was followed by a fascinating presentation by scientific illustrator and forensic artist Sue Senden, who described how skull shape and texture can be used to determine the sex, rough age, and race of the victim and how facial reconstructive sculpture is done using tissue depth markers.
In the afternoon, I attended the “What Difference Does Age Make? Senior vs Younger Sleuths” panel, where Radine Trees Nehring elicited laughs by remarking, after Claire Langley-Hawthorne said she found writing love scenes difficult, that “I love all the parts, and especially the research.” At the end, I presented panelist Margaret Grace with her payment for my miniature scene, signed copies of both of my books, A Real Basket Case and To Hell in a Handbasket. Then I and a standing room only crowd had the pleasure of watching Zoe Sharp and Dana Stabenow pretend to beat each other up in a Self-Defense Demonstration. Zoe gave us the handy tip that when organizing a bar fight, you should have a designated sniper—someone who stands back while the others pile on, then administers pokes and punches to those on the other side while they’re occupied.
That evening was the Sisters in Crime light supper reception, followed by a live auction of items donated by authors and others to benefit the Omaha Public Library’s children’s books collection. Talented and humorous auctioneer Donna Andrews got everyone to loosen their pocketbook strings as well as their funny bones. Afterward, David Housewright organized a pub crawl for a group that included me, Kaye George, Kate Flora, Michael Mallory, Kent Kruger, and others into the Old Market area.
The Guinness Ale that went down so smoothly Friday night made it hard to look bright-eyed and bushy tailed Saturday morning, but I soldiered on and moderated a panel at 9 am on “The Art of Brevity: Writing Short Stories.” We learned that Kaye George has a “short mind” and that Pat Dennis finishes diets, jobs, men, and short stories all within a three-month time period. When the talk turned to rejections, an audience member shared his worst: “I’m returning these pages. Someone seems to have written all over them.”
Next, I sat in on the “What Would Your Characters Do” panel with Carl Brookins, Donna Andrews and David Walker. Donna said she usually tries to start with a short-term situation that generates a lot of stress and characters enter into a gentile pastime with an extreme passion. David suggested “competitive Buddhism” to audience guffaws. Then came lunch at a Persian restaurant with my fellow panelists on the “Shake Well and See What Happens: The Writer’s Life” panel. We decided the title had to refer to martinis, and brought suitable props, including martini glasses, olives, and cocktail shaker. Gary Bush started the discussion with a demonstration of the proper way to make a dry martini.
After chatting with the booksellers and others in the book room, I snuck in late to a late afternoon writing game session led by Ann Parker and Margaret Grace, with much-appreciated chocolate prizes for opening and closing lines that best mimicked the style of varoious mystery authors. After fortifying ourselves with free drinks from the hotel bar, a well-lubricated group stumbled to the downtown library for a murder mystery dinner. The setting was a twenty-year class reunion that also commemorated the mysterious death of Jean Harlow, and audience members were recruited to play the parts of movie stars from the 1940s. Kate Flora portrayed an alluring Veronica Lake, but David Housewright won a standing ovation for his amazing and gut-splittingly funny portrayal of Peter Lorre.
Sunday morning came too soon, with an interesting and wide-ranging interview of Dana Stabenow by Toastmaster Jan Burke, a fitting end to a wonderful conference. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole gathering, renewed connections with old friends, made lots of new friends, and was so thrilled to find out that two people were fighting over my character name in the silent auction that I offered to name characters after both of them if they each made a donation. I’ll definitely return to Mayhem in the Midlands in the future! And I’ll upload photos soon to my blog, http://bethgroundwater.blogspot.com/. If you comment there or here on my report, the photos, or your own Mayhem experiences, you’ll will be entered into a drawing for an autographed set of both books in the Claire Hanover gift basket designer mystery series: A Real Basket Case and To Hell in a Handbasket. Good luck!
Many thanks to Beth Groundwater for this very special report.
Beth Groundwater’s first mystery novel, A REAL BASKET CASE, was published in March, 2007 and was nominated for a Best First Novel Agatha Award. The second in the Claire Hanover gift basket designer series, TO HELL IN A HANDBASKET, was released May 15th. It is set in Breckenridge, CO and opens with a death on the ski slope. As Kirkus Review said, "Groundwater's second leaves the bunny slope behind, offering some genuine black-diamond thrills." Between writing spurts, Beth defends her garden from marauding mule deer and wild rabbits and tries to avoid getting black-and-blue on the black and blue ski slopes of Colorado.
Please visit her website at http://bethgroundwater.com/
Monday, May 25, 2009
Beth Groundwater’s Report on the Mayhem in the Midlands Conference
Posted by BookBitch at 5/25/2009 07:59:00 AM