Wednesday, November 22, 2006


The Miami Book Fair is one of the best known and largest book fairs in the country. As anyone who watches the event on Book TV (CSPAN) knows, the emphasis has always been on nonfiction, with a mega-bestselling novelist occasionally featured.

Mystery writers have had a presence, but you had to be a sleuth to find them. In fairs past, they have been shunted off into small classrooms in obscure buildings on the outer fringes of the fair. Someone has to be, I guess, so might as well make it genre authors. There have not been moderators assigned to the mystery panels either, just a fair volunteer on hand to introduce them, who would usually get the names wrong anyway.

The Mystery Writers of America decided to up the ante a bit this year. The Florida chapter's new president, Bob Williamson, has been a volunteer at the fair for many years. According to author Christine Kling, Bob convinced the membership to kick some money into the fair - $20,000, half from the local membership, half from the national organization.

What did they get for their money? Mystery Sunday at the fair had its own column on the huge schedule all fair goers cling to, but according to one author, they were "ghetto-ized" into the last column on the page. Their venue was changed from obscure classroom to something called the "Mystery Stage".

In reality, the "stage" was a patio area across from the children's event area and bordered by a busy Miami street. There was a chain link wall separating the building from the street, but it did nothing to muffle the accompanying street music of rumbling trucks, blaring horns and wailing sirens.

On the opposite side of the patio was the performer's entrance to the building. These were not just any performers; these were oversized characters of children's literature, so along with your mystery panel, you got to see the larger-than-life Three Little Pigs, Madeline, and a six-foot tall dog, which gave Edna Buchanan the giggles.

The outskirts of the patio housed picnic tables where families enjoyed their lunch. There were screaming children running around, adults chatting, cell phones chirping, all of which added a certain ambiance to the panel discussions that I'm sure the MWA had never planned on.

The weather was glorious and it was a lovely day to sit on a patio. Unfortunately, all there was to sit on were broken down folding chairs which were very uncomfortable and hard on the back. Had they done this last year with the more typical 85 degree heat/90% humidity, it might have been a problem.

The last panel of the day was scheduled at 5:00, which is closing time for the street fair. The giant trash barrels squeaked as they were pushed past the patio. The authors had to compete with the sounds of metal clanging as the booths were dismantled, a PA system blaring closing announcements and maintenance men going by with radios blasting, leading the usually loquacious Tim Dorsey to comment in his very brief closing remarks, "I couldn't top what I've seen here today."

Did the MWA get their money's worth? It was a definite step up for the mystery panels at the fair to at least have a moderator, and one who knew the author's names and work. I liked the ghetto-ization too, having them all in one place, but the venue was pretty well hidden, not comfortable or conducive to have any but the most diehard fans stay. Some panels had bigger crowds than others, but all in all I’d say attendance didn’t seem any greater than in previous years. I don’t know how book sales went so if they were good, then maybe they did get their money’s worth.

There still seemed to be the same lack of respect towards genre writers that I've seen in previous fairs. But I don't know if there is enough money in the world to change that. 11/06 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch


Anonymous said...

I realize mystery writers are not Mitch Albom and most of them don't write about the hardships of inheriting homes in the south of France, but some respect was called for in the land of Carl Hiassen and Charles Willeford, I'd say.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder is More Fun Away from Home"

Neil Plakcy said...

Thanks for a great report, Stacy. I missed Sunday so it was terrific to hear what went on.

Search This Blog