Friday, January 23, 2009


Blogging about SleuthFest

My local crit group encouraged me to go to a writing conference when I was just getting my feet wet in the writing business. When I saw that Robert B. Parker was going to be the keynote speaker at a mystery conference, I decided to bite the bullet and attend. Left hubby at home, drove the 4 hours to Fort Lauderdale (which was a major trip to do solo back then), and was immersed in the world of writers. At the time, I thought I was writing a mystery. Turns out, it was more of a "romantic suspense" according to industry labels, but what did I know? I had a detective, a crime and a victim. So what if they fell in love along the way, right?

I remember applying for a slot in Barbara Parker's workshop for a critique session. I think I got the best of both worlds on that one when she didn't accept my pages among those she would critique, because she certainly pulls no punches when she discusses the writing. "Nothing wrong with this that a pair of scissors wouldn't cure," sticks with me all these years later. But she'd jotted a note on my returned pages and said she'd like to discuss the chapter with me. Over lunch (I paid, of course), she pointed out strengths and weaknesses – 'You've got the writing down, now learn about structure."

I also remember having an agent appointment with Dominic Abel. I was clueless. Totally. I knew he represented some big name favorites of mine, and had no delusions he'd be the least bit interested in my humble attempts at a story, which wasn't even a mystery. He said that didn't matter; if I could get readers to love Sarah, my heroine, that was the important thing. And he asked for a partial, which I thought was a given at a conference, but others said he only requested a few submissions. He wrote a very nice and personal rejection letter, too!

It took 3 tries before I managed to snag a spot in the "hot seat," and I hit the jackpot big time with feedback both from Barbara Parker's and PJ Parrish's workshops on Third Degree Thursdays. And by now, I also felt I had something to contribute during the discussions.

I've met Christopher Whitcomb who gave me an ARC of his book, with an inscription I can't share. And Robert Crais and Michael Connelly showed much patience with my blathering about having grown up in Los Angeles while they signed books for me.

One year, hubby came along. He's a biologist, specializing in marine mammals. Usually dead ones. So he had an absolute blast in the forensics tracks, and has been coming along ever since. I had to nudge him (ok, stronger than a nudge) to get the books he bought autographed. He "didn't want to bother the authors." Duh! He's learning.

And last year, I was on the other side of the table for the first time. I moderated a panel, and participated in another. I signed my books. I met great people. This is one conference that stays on my list. I can't wait to get back.

Terry Odell is a Los Angeles native who now makes her home in Florida. Her latest release, When Danger Calls, was released in December, 2008, by Five Star Expressions. You can find her website at, and her blog, "Terry's Place," at


Deborah Shlian said...

Thanks for sharing. Everyone's experiences from writing that manuscript to finally getting published may be different, but I think most of us have had some bumps along the way. It sounds like yours are all behind you. Hope to see you at Sleuthfest!

Neil Plakcy said...

I met my agent at Sleuthfest a few years ago, and I know many others who have made contacts and gotten deals. It's always interesting to read stories of how folks have gotten published.

Terry Odell said...

I think there are always going to be bumps in the road -- that's why conferences are so valuable. It's easier knowing everyone has dealt with them (and most continue to do so!)

Terry Odell said...

Thanks for the reminder -- I met the editor for Five Star at SleuthFest -- an actual 'elevator pitch' although I didn't know who he was as we were chatting! (Good thing--spared me a lot of nerves!) The "what do you write" kind of conversation comes up so automatically at conferences, and I'd mentioned I was sort of a genre-straddler as we waited for the elevator. By the time we got upstairs, he'd given me his card and asked me to stop by his table at the pitch sessions the next day (even though I didn't have an appointment). You were probably the one who let me tiptoe in, Neil!

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