Monday, May 25, 2009

MAYHEM IN THE MIDLANDS

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/

37 comments:

JanB said...

Beth, you are so right - Mayhem was a wonderful experience! I too have just returned home with new friends, greater insights into the writing world, and a lengthy "to be read" pile. Some of the panels I attended were different - like the fun and revealing "The Me You Don't See" - but the overall experience boiled down to many laughs, much wine, a shared comraderie with fellow lovers of the mystery genre, and a jolly good time. And did I mention the wine?! Dana and Zoe more than fulfilled their spotlight roles and all the authors were friendly and accessible. In addition to you, Beth, and those you've already mentioned, I especially enjoyed Sharan Newman, who confessed that as a child she wore a sword to school on a regular basis; Marilyn Meredith, who is always so willing to talk with aspiring writers; and Sean Doolittle, whose dark writing is so at odds with his engaging sense of humor. Kudos to you, the other authors and the Mayhem committee!!

Beth Groundwater said...

Thanks for the comment, Jan! Also, I wanted to let BookBitchBlog readers know that I just finished posting some photos from the conference at my blog: http://bethgroundwater.blogspot.com/

Take a look!

©DGreer said...

I avoid hotels like the plague, but had I known about this conference, I might have gone. It sounds marvelous, and I have relatives in Omaha. Maybe next year if I haven't died of old age!

Great write-up, Beth. I know that took a bit of time, but your readers thank you for the effort. Will go tweet it right now.

Dani
Your Blog Book Tours HQ

Karen said...

What a wonderful report. Thanks for making us feel as if we were there. I would have loved to have had a chance to bid for a character name! What fun! --Karen Dyer

Patricia Stoltey said...

I hated missing Mayhem this year and hope to attend in 2010. Thanks for this great report.

Patricia Stoltey's blog

Maryann Miller said...

What a great report, Thanks, Beth. One of these years I am going to have to make a point to go back. I really enjoyed this con the few years I lived in Omaha and was able to attend. Miss that local Sisters In Crime chapter, too.

Thanks to Dani's Tweet about the blog, otherwise I might have missed it.

Helen K said...

Thanks for giving us such a great writeup of what went on at Mayhem.

You are very fortunate to have one of Margaret Grace's miniature scenes. I was a lucky winner of one of her mini scenes & I treasure it highly.

Old Fogey said...

It was lovely, wasn't it, Beth, even the pub crawl. Despite the cigarette smoke, the company was grand.

Mayhem is definitely one of the most enjoyable conferences because, like the New England Crime Bake here in Massachusetts, writers and readers get to hang out and talk, and the panels are very thoughtfully done.

Anonymous said...

What a great report on the conference Beth! I wish I could go sometime it really sounds like fun!
Glenda (from cozy armchair group)

Camille Minichino said...

Such a great report, Beth. AND, lucky me, as you see, I don't need to be entered into the drawing for Beth's books -- I received a specially autographed set with witnesses present!

If anyone from Omaha is "listening" -- thanks for the incredible welcome and flawless set up.

Camille/Margaret Grace
http://www.dollhousemysteries.com

Debbie said...

Reading this made me want to write mysteries so I can go to that conference too. It sounds like alot of fun.

Beth Groundwater said...

In answer to Debbie's post, I can attest to the fact that mystery writers and readers are the most fun bunch of folks I've ever been around!

Kaye George said...

Thanks for the writeup, Beth. And for the pictures! Since my camera quit soon after the conference started. It was my first time at Mayhem and I'll try to make it back, for sure.

Sheila Deeth said...

Sounds like a wonderful experience. So nice to share it - you write so well about it Beth! (Better read your books hadn't I?)

Margaret said...

Thanks so much for the post, Beth. It was a virtual visit to the conference for those of us who have never been. I have attended Bouchercons (in Milwaukee and Chicago) and one Love is Murder (also in Chicago). I was thinking of going to the Indianapolis Bouchercon, but I notice that the Conference hotel is already sold out--too bad. Anyway, thanks again.
Margaret Franson

Karen B said...

What a fun post - and what a fun time you all had! Oh, to be a writer! That will never happen so I'll just enjoy being a reader.

Margie Vawter said...

Thanks for this report, Beth. This is a conference I'd like to attend sometime.

brneyes said...

This just sounds like so much fun. But since I am "just" a reader, i have to live it through your eyes

LouiseH said...

What a wonderful conference! Thank you for sharing all of your experiences with us "stay-at-homes". Is there ever anything in Colorado that non-writers could attend?

Tempest52 said...

Oh, to be a mystery writer! I'm sure it was written that my destiny was to follow brilliantly in the footsteps of the greatest authors of mystery, but alas...I am but an avid and adoring reader.

marleenandlouie said...

Sounded so great! Wish I could write but alas, all I can do is enjoy what others do so well. Thanks for the chance to win some lovely works.

Donna L. said...

It sounds like such a fun conference. Thank you for sharing. I love a great mystery. Once I get started I can't seem to put them down.

Have a great summer - enjoy!

Anonymous said...

vicariously living through your stories, keep them coming

Gail Wood said...

It sounds like a wonderful conference, full of fun and good food. I love complimentary breakfasts! And the panel on What Would Your Character Do has real legs so to speak. Great idea!

Marie said...

Great report! Thanks for sharing it with us. The books sound good, too. I love mysteries.

lag123 said...

You made me feel as if I were there!

Susan E. Bunting said...

Wow! I wonder if there is a similar conference in the San Francisco area. That sounds like soo much fun. My boss (Sheriff Ahern of Alameda County) actually met Camille at an Alameda County (CA) Library event earlier this year and had nothing but nice things to say about her. I'm also a big Dana Stabenow fan. I sure wish I could have been there.

Rosemary said...

I had a chance to attend a book conference in Florida. I was not prepared for what one day can bring. Massive lines of fans all wanting to buy books, meet the authors and collect all the freebees. I started off like a deer caught in a car's headlights, but soon got my bearings and enjoyed meeting the fans as much as the authors. Given the opportunity, I'll be the first in line for the next book conference in my area.

pennyt said...

Although I'm an avid mystery reader, I've never been to a mystery conference. Your description of the fun you had sure made me think about attending one in the near future.

Anonymous said...

just wanted to say that I ordered the new book because the first one was so good!

bettycd said...

Your report helped us share in the excitement. I've never been to a book conference and didn't have a clue what to expect.

Beth Groundwater said...

Wow, this post "has legs"! I just checked back and there are a LOT more comments. I'd like to say to all you mystery readers that you should definitely attend a mystery conference near you sometime. These conferences are FOR readers and we writers come to meet you and talk to you and "lift a few" with you.

For a list of upcoming mystery conferences, go to:
http://www.blackravenpress.com/calendar.htm

I hope you'll find one near you to attend!

And to Anonymous, I must say thank you, thank you, thank you. Convincing people to buy or read TO HELL IN A HANDBASKET is what my May blog book tour is all about.

Cecilia H said...

What a time you all had...sounds like great fun with lots of old and new friends. Also, I bet the Omaha librarians (especially in the kiddie dept.) are really excited to have what appears to be a wonderful donation. I love the mystery/suspense/thriller genre and would love a chance to read your books.
Thanks for the very descriptive write-up of your experiences.
--Cecilia

Cheryl S. said...

Wow! Sounds like you had a very busy conference filled with lots of fun. I've never been to a book conference but from all the posts, it seems like something fun to do.

Thanks,
megalon22[at]yahoo[dot]com

Shannon said...

I'm sad because I lived in and near Omaha for YEARS and never once attended this conference because I had no idea about its existence. Now that I live five hours away and it's inconvenient, I want to go every year. One day I make it there. Sigh. Beth, you made it sound glorious. I might just need to make a trip to O this summer.

irish said...

I loved reading all about the conference. I have never been out of Biloxi MS, so I am living my life vicariously through all of you! I love the way you describe everything in such detail that I actually feel as if I were there. Thank you for sharing as I love reading about adventures!

robynl said...

I've never heard of this conference before. What a wonderful time by the sounds of it.
Many things to do, new/old acquaintances to me made. thanks for sharing.

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