Thursday, July 31, 2014

Writer’s Conferences -- What can you expect?

Who done it?
Last weekend I attended the Mystery Writers Conference at Book Passage in Corte Madera, California. The conference offered four days of events and sessions that totaled more than 35 hours of lectures, Q&A’s, conversations and great food. Some of the authors involved in the sessions were: Isabel Allende, Cara Back, Laurie King, John Lescroart, D.P. Lyle, Anne Perry, Sheldon Siegel, Tom Rob Smith, and Jacqueline Winspear. There were also more than a dozen other agents, writers, authors, and booksellers that added their experiences and expertise.

Subjects included understanding the craft of the thriller and suspense novel, opening sentences and paragraphs, character development, maintaining suspense, plotting, and who really is a hero and a villain. Most sessions were too. Thanks to all who gave their time and energy to many of us attendees who more often than not hadn’t a clue what we were doing. Some of the most enjoyable moments were the reflective conversations by Anne Perry and Isabel Allende.

Ms. Perry is the author of more than 80 novels—yes 80 novels. Her books are historical detective stories set in England (amongst a dozen other locations and non-detective stories as well). She is known for her Thomas Pitt and William Monk series. So to sit and listen to a woman who knows her craft and art so well and is more than willing to share most everything she knows is more than an honor, it is revelation.

Isabel Allende is almost the polar opposite—just five feet tall (compared to Ms. Perry’s resolute presence), they had to gather some thick books to help her reach the microphone. Ms. Allende talked of her life in Chile and her first books and the experience as a writer of historical novels, family sagas, and books that portray characters trying to find a new life or escape an old one. Two years ago she decided to write a thriller and by all accounts she has succeeded with her novel, Ripper.

What I enjoyed most was talking with aspiring writers who are hoping to publish their first novel. Some have just started, some are midway, some are waiting for their muse. If there is one thing that the conference is short of it’s muses—the common answer is that you have to find one your own. For most this was their first Mystery Writers Conference and by Sunday morning exhaustion had set in. But they hung in and I expect that many will return next year.

If there was one aspect of the conference that is lacking is a serious discussion of the turmoil that the publishing industry is in right now. There was a session on ebooks and traditional publishing but my take was that they were at least a year behind the curve about what is really happening out there. No bookstore—the sponsor Book Passage is one of the best in the western United States—wants to acknowledge that the paper book is under dire threat. But it is and that peril won’t go away. The change to electronic publishing in all its forms is the future. Convenience, cost, accessibility, and flexibility (formatting for one thing) is driving readers to ebooks and devices such as smartphone, tablets, ipads, and even the computer. Vilifying the product will not change the outcome. I hope that in years to come they will offer sessions that help the new and seasoned mystery writer learn how to become an independent publisher. Case in point: Earlier this week it was shown that at Barnes & Noble the independent publisher (in all its many forms) is selling more ebooks than all the five big publishers combined. Now that is a mystery/thriller that needs to be written.

More later . . . . . . . . .

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