Sunday, February 28, 2010


I spent the past two days mingling with well known authors, agents, editors, and those that want to be published, and I had a blast!
I posted some pictures on Facebook here:

I started the conference with the panel with the most tantalizing name: Sex: It Ain't What it Used to Be featuring mostly romance/romantic suspense authors Rhonda Pollero, Leanne Banks, Traci Hall, Terry Odell and Amy Fetzer. The lone male panelist, thriller writer extraordinaire Barry Eisler, was snowed in and missed the panel. The women all agreed that men can't write sex, and when they do, it's "all about the penis." They went on to explain how they don't write sex, they write "sexual tension" of the "make them want, make them wait" variety. Pollero explained that most people have already had sex, and to write about it would be boring, then went in to say, "Like in life, books should have as little sex as possible." All I can say is ladies, go read Eisler - the man writes hot sex! If you'd like to hear more from these ladies, they blog together at

The next panel I attended was on publishing, and featured legendary Putnam editor Neil Nyren, Penguin sales rep Dave Kliegman and bookseller Joanne Sinchuk, manager of Murder on the Beach, a mystery bookstore in Delray Beach, Florida. They discussed the publishing process from when an editor buys a book on down until it hits the bookshelves. The process isn't all that complicated, but it does take some time. When the editor is done with a book, he prepares a short synopsis with appeal characteristics which is then presented at a quarterly sales meeting. The sales reps learn about the new books, and they in turn take that knowledge to their customers like Joanne. Kliegman says after 25 years in the business, he knows which of his customers will like what books, and that's how your favorite books end up on your favorite bookseller's shelves!

David Morrell was the keynote speaker on Saturday. He was brilliant and inspiring, as always. He spoke eloquently about some of the hardships in his life; losing his father on D-Day when he was a baby, abandonment by his single mother until she remarried, a volatile, unstable stepfather. Morrell lost his teenage son to a rare form of bone cancer, then recently lost his granddaughter to the same disease. He says he's been hit as hard as a man can be hit, and I would have to agree with him. He's been writing for thirty-eight years now, and says the secret to his success is that he keeps on reinventing himself. He has a PhD in American literature and is occasionally accused of "slumming" in his reviews. But he says he owes his longevity to something he learned in college: be a first rate version of yourself and not the second rate version of a writer you admire. It seems to be working.

Saturday was a full day of panels, starting with The Plot Thickens. This panel featured Sandra Balzo, Sharon Potts, Rhonda Pollero, Terry Odell, and Lesley Diehl in a lively discussion about plotting mysteries and romance. I didn't know there was such a thing as plotting software, but Pollero swears it keeps her organized. She recommends Power Structure and WriteWayPro software.

Next up was Authors in Wonderland: Recently published authors discuss what they did right and wrong and featured Sharon Potts, Steven Forman, Vincent O'Neil, Deborah Sharp, Caro Soles and Mark Adduci. These authors had lots of advice from entering contests (O'Neill won a St. Martins Press writing contest) to marry someone who works for NBC (Sharp is married to Kerry Sanders, which helped her get a spot on the Today Show) to probably some of the best advice, attend writers conferences and workshops. Potts did for years before her first novel, In Their Blood was published to a starred review from Publishers Weekly and a nomination for Best New Thriller from the International Thriller Writers group. Forman met Doug Preston at an author breakfast and he was instrumental in getting Boca Knights published. All the authors stressed the importance of having a website and doing some social networking.

The last panel of the morning was Hooks, Lines and Sinkers: How to write good outlines, queries, and concepts, and when to use them. Any one who wants to be published would benefit from the sage advice given here by Shannon Jamieson Vazquez, Paige Wheeler, Annette Rogers and PJ Parrish. They went over the basics like a query letter should be three paragraphs long; the first paragraph should have the "log line" or hook, a 1-2 sentence synopsis of the book. Second paragraph should be a more detailed synopsis and the last paragraph should include a relevant author bio that is germane to the book or writing process, like having an MFA for example. All the agents and publishers agreed that email is better than snail mail and to check their websites to see how they handle submissions and queries. They stressed being very direct, professional and honest.

Lumch was followed by keynote speaker Stephen J. Cannell. He is a man who overcame severe dyslexia to become one of the most successful TV producers ever, then followed up that career by writing bestselling novels. For me, one of the highlights of his talk was the way he spoke about his wife, Marsha, who he has known since the 8th grade! He shared with us that he was constantly on the verge of flunking out of school, but he was "relentlessly positive." And he told us that "you don't have to be the smartest kid in school to get where you want to go." He sure proved that.

The panel on Stand Alone Novels was a lot of fun and featured mystery reviewer Oline Cogdill and writers Jonathon King, Peter Robinson, Barry Eisler and moderator PJ Parrish. They talked about the "Harlan Coben effect" by following a midlist series like his Myron Bolitar series with a stand alone thriller that catapulted him to the bestseller lists. It also worked for Laura Lippman. Robinson says he's written a couple of stand alones, but they haven't been published in the US. King spoke about writing the book you want to write, and even though he ended up having to self publish The Styx, he's glad he wrote it. Eisler followed up his terrific Rain series with a stand alone thriller, Fault Line, that I loved. He joked that you call the stand alone following the series "getting some strange" and then said he was so sorry he missed the sex panel. And I was delighted to hear that a sequel to Fault Line, Inside Out, will be coming out this June, turning his stand alone into a new series.

The last panel of the day was one of the most fascinating, Violence: Too Much or Too Little: Where and when to draw the line. David Morrell, CJ Lyons, James Swain, Don Bruns and Barry Eisler had a frank and lively discussion about the desensitization of America, particularly the youth. Eisler referenced a piece he wrote for Huffington Post called Torture Tales. It was brilliant and very disturbing. Swain talked about a cop friend of his who told him about a 12 year old who killed several classmates with one gunshot to the head each. This child had never handled a gun before, so how did he do it? Video games.

Showtime's Dexter, the lovable serial killer based on the Jeff Lindsay books, is "Pinocchio", according to Lyons - "he wants to grow up to be human" and people embrace his character. Lyons also told us that men and women have very different fears: men are afraid of being laughed at, and women are afraid of being killed. They also discussed how many of the most popular TV shows on now, like 24 and Criminal Minds, also help desensitize people to violence and torture. Morrell and Swain think it's because the writers are young and haven't experience the loss of someone close. Swain says when you still have at least one parent alive, people think they are invincible because they know their parent will go first. But once both parents are gone, "God has you in his range." In other words, you're next.

Those sobering words ended my day at Sleuthfest and left me a lot to think about it. It was a great conference and all the struggling writers I spoke with really felt like they learned a lot. I'd have to agree.


CJ Lyons said...

Stacy, I'm so glad that you enjoyed our panel on violence in books (and other media)--it was great fun, even though the topic was quite serious.

Wish we'd had more time to catch up--looking forward to when our paths cross again!

Terry Odell said...

Glad you enjoyed the sex panel. AS moderator, I was sorry Barry didn't get out of NY in time to be there, but I think he could have held is own with the babes.

I enjoyed being on the plotting panel and am glad you found it useful. I'm of the 'no-tech' school, and I think the takeaway from that panel was that there is no 'right' or 'wrong' - only what works.

Kathleen A. Ryan said...

I just returned to NY from Florida, I stayed a few extra days after Sleuthfest. I'm sorry we didn't get to meet, we apparently attended a few of the same sessions. You've done a wonderful job writing about the conference. I will probably write a post about it, too. It was my first Sleuthfest and I thought it was marvelous.

Traci said...

Great review of Sluethfest - made me miss everyone all over again, lol

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