Murdercon, 2019–The Perfect Ménage à Trois!

By K.P. Gresham

I’m talking about the recent crime writer’s convention recently held in Raleigh, NC. What did you think I was referring to?

To create this perfect threesome, you combine Lee Lofland and his crew at The Writers Police Academy with Sirchie—the leading manufacturer of criminal investigation, forensic and law enforcement products, and add a few crazy crime writers who want to learn new and innovative ways to kill people. Then you title it, Murdercon, 2019, and put all those three elements together in Raleigh, NC for four fantastic days of murder and mayhem. More importantly, the goal of the conference is to teach the mystery writers what REALLY happens in the world of criminal investigation. What we see on TV or the big screen is often a far cry from what really happens at a crime scene and beyond.

For example, I love watching NCIS and NCIS New Orleans (shout out to Captain Archer, A.K.A. Scott Bacula), but let’s be real.  DNA identifications don’t happen in less than a day, nor do face ID’s, fingerprint analyses, or hook-ups to every street camera in the known universe.

The experts at Murdercon absolutely know what they are talking about. In fact, this year’s conference was held at the actual Sirchie headquarters in Raleigh. Okay, so who or what is Sirchie?

Sirchie, founded in 1927 by Francis Sirchie, supplies law enforcement agencies with fingerprinting supplies, advanced equipment, customized vehicles, and kitting services. He got his big break in World War II with his state of the art fingerprinting technology. The U.S. Government awarded Sirchie’s company the contract to fingerprint every World War II soldier, munitions worker, medical personnel—the list goes on. That contract rocketed Sirchie into the forensic investigation giant that it is today.

They “manufacture high-quality criminal investigation, tactical, surveillance, and other police-related solutions including customized special purpose vehicles as well as delivering industry-leading training for public safety, medical, and education communities featuring hands-on learning techniques.” That came straight from their website,  https://www.sirchie.com/. Check out what this incredible company does to keep our country and our world safe.

So, back to Murdercon. The conference was nonstop from dawn to way after sunset. I attended sessions on latent fingerprint development, fire arms and ballistics, an impromptu talk given by David Alford, one of the FBI’s lead Crime Scene Investigators of the Unibomber’s cabin, and a session on “Weapons of Mass Destruction”. (Scared the pants off of me, and yes, I’m going to use the info in a book!) We got to touch, use, experience some of the equipment Sirchie develops, and we even got a tour of their factory.

But the one-on-one interactions between the experts and writers was the best part for me.  Thanks to the patience of James Reynolds, a Sirchie guru who helped lead the conference, I was able to get my crime scene for an upcoming book “just right”. For two hours he helped me line up who had to be where, what evidence would be left, how the investigators would find it—the entire experience was off the charts. By the time we finished mocking up the crime scene in the hotel lounge, I think we’d scared some folks away—were we really planning a crime?

Hats off to those who put together this incredible conference. A perfect ménage à trois ? More like a match made in heaven!

Bouchercon 2016: New Orleans

For those who love to read mysteries as well as write them, Bouchercon is where you will find your people– and they will most likely be hanging out in the hotel bar.

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Cafe Du Monde-a must in New Orleans!

The 47th Bouchercon World Mystery Convention found its home this year in The Big Easy. The combination of a compelling locale along with some of the biggest names in crime fiction created the largest registration to date. Over 1,900 guests flocked to New Orleans in search of panels, book signings, author sightings and fabulous food, along with intentions of connecting with old friends and making new ones.

I found all of those things.

This was my first Bouchercon as previous attempts to attend havelauravalerie been thwarted by schedule conflicts, work issues and school events. This year, somehow, we made it work. Embarking on a road trip with fellow AMW member Valerie Chandler, the two of us packed the car and hit the road, following IH-10 all the way across state lines and into the heart of New Orleans. Nine hours in a car sounds like a chore, but we fared pretty well. We found each other to be entertaining company–and the snacks were pretty good, too. A successful road trip hinges on these two things–the right people and the right munchies.

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Laura Oles & Harlan Coben

Walking into the hotel on Wednesday evening thrust us in the middle of a party already in progress. The bar area bustled with animated conversations and activity. Clearly, people were already in the “laissez le bon temps roulez” frame of mind. Writing is such a solitary process that it was a wonderful thing, seeing these mystery lovers together sharing stories and spirits. The bar served as the community meeting center for the conference, with people coming and going (and some staying all night). It was an event in and of itself.

Registration to Bouchercon includes a trip to the conference bookstore. Shopping in the Bouchercon Bookstore was a real treat. Along with our registration goodies–T-shirt, tote bag, water bottle–each attendee received six coupons for free books. The store was stocked with all the latest titles (and a few ARCs) from authors attending the conference. It took some time to make my selections, as I debated which titles to take home. These books now sit on my nightstand waiting for my attention, which I fully intend to give them after I complete the latest round of edits on my own novel.

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Michael Connelly interviews Harlan Coben

On Thursday morning, Michael Connelly interviewed Harlan Coben, and it was one of the best exchanges between two powerhouse authors I have ever witnessed. They tackled the realities of writing vs. the fantasy of it and shared the stories of their successes with humor and humility. Harlan explained that it was his tenth book that finally garnered him some success–his TENTH. So, for those of us who do not yet have that number as a backlist, his advice is to keep writing. And when you’re done, write the next one. Tough love, people.

The panels were fantastic and the conversations afterward were equally interesting. On

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Hank Phillippi Ryan moderates a panel discussion–very well as always!

average, there were six panels offered in each key time slot, making it difficult to decide which ones to attend. My conference schedule was highlighted and notated as though I had been preparing for an exam.

Bouchercon encompasses a wide variety of sub genres, and it was interesting to hear discussions related to so many different kids of mysteries– how they are constructed, how they are marketed and how they find their way to readers. I think that this broad scope of inclusion is one of the elements that makes Bouchercon so unique. It doesn’t narrow itself to a small slice of mystery. It’s about the entire pie.

palacecafeSpeaking of dessert, I would be remiss if I didn’t spend a moment fawning over the New Orleans cuisine. The dining options were vast, varied and with rare exception, all excellent. We found the Palace Café, located on the foot of the French Quarter, and loved it so much that we returned again a second time. The atmosphere was very NOLA, with its sharply dressed waiters, white table linens and black iron spiral staircase. The shrimp tchefuncte was fabulous and flavorful, and I still miss the bananas foster. It was that good.

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Bananas Foster at the Palace Cafe

Sisters in Crime celebrated 30 years at the conference, and the breakfast meeting brought some of the most talented–and supportive–crime writers working today. The breakfast, held on the 41st floor of the NOLA Marriott, was elegant yet casual, the view of the city through the hotel windows serving as the perfect backdrop for the conversations taking place. This group of women and men, who come together for the purposes of promoting equality in the field of crime fiction, have accomplished a great deal in three decades. While there is more work to be done, it is clear that their commitment has created substantial progress.

Having time to spend catching up with friends, many of whom I only see once or twice a year, was a true treasure. Those connections and conversations are experiences I bring home and keep with me as I return to the daily work of writing solo. They remind me that, even though I write alone, I am far from it.

I now return to real life, and it’s nice to be home. Still, I wish I could find a way to bring the community of Bouchercon and the New Orleans food with me. The memories will have to do, and I am thankful to have had the opportunity to attend. So, friends, until next time. Maybe I’ll see you in Toronto at Bouchercon 2017?  –Laura Oles

Murder on Wheels Nominated for 2016 Silver Falchion Award

Posted by Kathy Waller

MURDER ON WHEELS, Austin Mystery Writers’ first crime fiction anthology, has been named a finalist for Killer Nashville’s 2016 Silver Falchion Award.

Best Fiction Short Story Anthology
Ramona DeFelice Long, Fish or Cut Bait
Kaye George, Murder on Wheels
Joe McKinney, Shrieks and Shivers from the Horror Zine
Josh Pachter, The Tree of Life

71QiKRIkj+LThe Killer Nashville Silver Falchion Award™ honors “the best books published for the first time that are readily available to a North American audience in any format from the past year.”

The idea for MURDER ON WHEELS came from a late-night group e-mail session.  As Kaye George explains in her Introduction, she and her husband had taken a ride on a large commercial double-decker bus, the Megabus, that runs between major cities.

“I started thinking that the bus would make a good setting for a murder,” Kaye writes. “There was only one problem–where to hide the body.”

One night, when all the AMWs were online, Kaye mentioned the idea. That led to members suggesting other vehicular settings: Bopped on a Bicycle, Creamed in a Car, Vaporized on a Velocipede… The thesaurus got involved, wordplay began, and an idea formed–we would all write stories around the theme of wheels. Once momentum started to gather, there was no getting off that bus.

So we wrote. Each of us contributed one or two stories. We were pleased to have two guest writers, Reavis Wortham and Earl Staggs, contribute as well. Ramona DeFelice Long edited the manuscript. MURDER ON WHEELS was published by Wildside Press in April 2015.

The final line-up goes like this:

A NICE SET OF WHEELS, by Kathy Waller
FAMILY BUSINESS, by Reavis Z. Wortham
ROTA FORTUNAE, by V. P. Chandler
MOME RATH, MY SWEET, by Gale Albright
THE WHEELS ON THE BUS GO ROUND AND ROUND, by Kaye George
BUON VIAGGIO, by Laura Oles
APORKALYPSE NOW, by Gale Albright
HAVE A NICE TRIP, by Kaye George
DEAD MAN ON A SCHOOL BUS, by Earl Staggs
HELL ON WHEELS, by Kathy Waller
RED’S WHITE F-150 BLUES, by Scott Montgomery

We’re also pleased to announce that member Laura Oles’ manuscript, THE DAUGHTERS OF BAD MEN, is a finalist for Killer Nashville’s Claymore Award.

Winners of the 2016 Silver Falchion Award and  the Claymore Award will be announced tonight at the Dinner and Awards Banquet at Killer Nashville Writers’ Conference in Franklin, Tennessee.

We’ve all heard, It’s an honor just to be nominated. In this case, it’s not a cliche. Austin Mystery Writers are honored to be nominated for these awards.

We’re also delighted, ecstatic, effervescent, excited, flabbergasted, frolicsome, joyous, jubilant, thrilled, thunderstruck… and in a veritable tizzy.

###

Kathy Waller blogs at MOW BOOK LAUNCH 003 (3)
Telling the Truth, Mainly and at
Writing Wranglers and Warriors.
Her short stories appear in
MURDER ON WHEELS and at
Mysterical-E

Write What You Know: A BookPeople Event with Martin Limón, Manning Wolfe and Billy Kring

A lawyer, an Army clerk and a border patrol agent walk into a bookstore…

BookPeople, our much beloved independent bookstore here in Austin, hosted a panel of crime writers this past week, and the discussions kept us laughing, interested and entertained the entire evening. Scott Montgomery, BookPeople’s Crime Fiction Coordinator, moderated the panel, although it quickly evolved from a formal Q&A session to a fascinating conversation amongst colleagues and friends.

Martin Limón, Manning Wolfe and Billy Kring gathered together to share how each of them has taken their professional experiences and used them as foundations upon which to build successful crime writing careers. The program was titled “Write What You Know,” and it’s clear that each author has executed this writing tenet with substantial skill.

martin_manning_billyIt seems that a solid sense of humor is a requirement in each of these fields, as Billy, Manning and Martin shared stories that were equal parts heartbreaking and humorous. Like any profession that is also a passion, the work is made easier by the love for it, but the injustices are more painful for the same reason. Manning’s debut mystery novel, Dollar Signs, is loosely based upon one of her cases while working as an Austin attorney, and the nuances of that case are brought to life, mixed with a healthy dose of savvy storytelling.   When asked what had prompted her love of reading during her childhood, Manning gave credit to a librarian in her life. “Once I started, I just took off and read every book in the library. Books were a way for me to escape my small town and expand and travel in many ways, all while just sitting in my room.”

Martin’s fascination and respect for Korea and its culture was evident during this panel discussion as he shared how some family and friends were puzzled by his desire to stay in Korea during his time of service. As he explained to Scott Montgomery, “Culturally, I realized early on how different Korea is from the West. Not only are the buildings and the food and the clothes and the music and the art much different, but also the way people think. I was fascinated by this (and I still am).” His attraction to the culture and the time period in which he served is evident in his latest release, Ping Pong Heart, which takes us into the heart of a North-South Korea espionage mystery.

When asked what drew him to reading, Martin admitted that he hadn’t been much interested in reading when he was a child. He’d found it difficult to find stories that captured this imagination. Then along came Jack London, whom he had discovered when he was fourteen years old, and To Build a Fire converted him into a life long reader.

panel_bookpeople1.jpgMartin shared with us that, while he would have loved to have spent his entire military career in Korea, the Army decided to send him back to the States to serve as a recruiter. It was during this time that he decided he would use his spare time to write. “I had wanted to write for twenty years, and at that point, I decided to give myself permission.” That decision was the catalyst that sparked a successful writing career, one that has allowed Martin to share his fascination of both Korea and time period in which he served in that country.

Billy Kring’s latest novel, Tonton, features female border patrol agent, Hunter Kincaid, throwing her into a South Florida case involving a Haitian community and vodou. When asked if some of his villains were based upon actual people he had encountered during his time working border intelligence and security, he replied, “Yes, and I haven’t even used some of the worst offenders yet.”

Are you scared yet, readers? You should be. Billy paints an effectively frightening villain within his book’s pages, and it has been recommended that this latest book is best read during the daytime. The opening scene of Tonton is based upon an actual experience of Billy’s while working border security. “Well, everything but the shark, but the shark is from another case,” he explained.

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Billy explained that he truly enjoyed the work he did, which meant that he came late to the writing game. He had once had a bank job and he hated it, living each day in a cubicle and not being out in the world. He loved the fact a career in border security meant that each day brought new challenges and experiences. “I never knew what was going to happen next, and I liked that part of the job.” Like Martin and Manning, Billy then realized he could take his enthusiasm and experience for his work and bring it to a life writing fiction. Billy also shared the nuances that ripple across our borders. “There are two distinct cultures that have changed and merged over many generations, and it’s important to recognize that and bring those elements to the story.”

One thing is clear after spending an evening with these three authors–each one of them brings their experiences to life in ways that are engrossing, entertaining and compelling. While an evening with their books is fantastic, an evening with the authors behind those books?

Even better.

–Laura Oles

 

 

 

Mystery Workshop At Book People

Last Saturday I attended a writer’s workshop at Book People, sponsored by Mystery People and the Austin chapter of Sisters In Crime. I honestly didn’t think I’d learn much new. But I was wrong. *Note- Between classes we had drawings for giveaways like books and tote bags!

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41VaFJ3tHPL._UX250_It started with George Wier speaking about writing action scenes. He’s literally a pro at this. Just read any of his books. (www.billtravismysteries.com) It wasn’t about how to describe a blow-by-blow fistfight. It was more about how to add tension to a scene, how to make it move along. I don’t know about you, but I like bullet points. So I’ll share my notes in that manner.

 

  • Before you can add action, you must put the reader in the moment. They won’t follow anything if they aren’t there. To accomplish this, describe the lay of the land and the surroundings.
  • What are the results of the action? There should be consequences or the reader won’t care.
  • The scene must have a beginning, middle, and end.
  • Don’t describe things in terms of time. (aka- three hours later). Believe it or not, that doesn’t do anything for the reader. Time isn’t as tangible as distance. “They walked down a flight of stairs.” Is much easier for the reader to see and instantly understand.
  • Perception is everything. Use all the senses. Have your characters be aware of their breathing, their surroundings, sounds, pain, everything.

The idea of writing about distance instead of time interests me. All of the things listed above make sense, but the idea that the reader can intuitively understand distance better than the concept of time is fascinating.

Scott Montgomery of Book People recommended the book, The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson. He said it was a good example of what Wier was talking about.

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Cutting up between classes. Friend and author Billy Kring dropped by. He’s trying to distract me while George Wier looks on.

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The guys behaving for Terry’s talk.

 

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Next at the workshop was Terry Shames. She gave us many tips on how to writing compelling settings. And she should know. She does an excellent job of describing the Texas town where her Samuel Craddock series takes place. (www.terryshames.com) I came away with the concept of interior settings and exterior settings. No, not what a living room looks like, interior as in what’s going on inside a character. (More bullet points!)

  • Treat your scenes as characters.
  • The way to make your story interesting is to show how the interior setting (of characters) intersect with the exterior setting. How would someone from a Texas ranch interact with the people and setting of New York city? How would that same person act in their own hometown?
  • The devil is in the details. Immerse the reader in the setting. You don’t have to do an information dump. (Please don’t.) But you can provide things like smells and sounds.
  • If you aren’t familiar with a place, research it. Talk to people who know the place.
  • Above all, know how your characters would interact with the setting. Someone who almost drowned would have a different reaction to falling in the water than someone who is an Olympic swimmer. So Know Your Characters!
  • Every scene should try to have-
  1. Action
  2. Dialogue
  3. Physical description of setting
  4. Physical description of characters
  5. Internal thinking
  6. Internal physical descriptions.
  • A good rhythm of a scene would be: 2/1/2, 4/3/5, 6/2/1. Try it and see what happens.

 

 

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Brent and James. Looking forward to reading their books.

After lunch we gathered for the last class about collaboration. Brent Douglass and James Dennis, two of the three authors who make up the persona of Miles Arecenaux (www.milesarceneaux.com), led a funny discussion on their journey of collaborative writing. They started their first book back in the days before email. Thank goodness the days of mailing a manuscript back and forth are gone. Thank you email! So what are their tips?

  • Don’t be afraid to be honest with each other. Actually, they said to be brutally honest. Treat each other like siblings.
  • Play up to your partners’ strengths. You are different people with different experiences. You that to your advantage.
  • Work to maintain “one voice” for your book. It will get easier with practice but it will also take many edits to achieve this.
  • Defer to people with experience. (Again, take advantage of your partner’s strengths.)
  • It helps to build accountability. If you know that you’re expected to get your part done by a certain time and the others are counting on you, you better do it.
  • Broadcast gratitude. Not only show gratitude to your partners, show gratitude to other writers.

 

(Collaborating sounds interesting. I think I’d like to take a stab at that just for fun.)

 

P1010257 (3)The last event was a panel discussion that was very informal. It was about publishing, marketing, and networking. Honestly, I was so caught up in listening, I forgot to take notes! All the speakers were charming, personable, and informative. It was worth every moment that I was there.

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Gale Albright helped put it all together and did the raffle.

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George answering questions between classes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Terry and Scott

 

 

I’d like to say thank you to Book People and Scott Montgomery of Mystery People for hosting us!

 

Writer Unboxed Un-Conference

Salem house

Just got back from the Writer Unboxed Un-Con a couple of days ago and like many of my peers, I’m having a hard time adjusting to real life again. It was so great! What’s Writer Unboxed? I guess I’ll start at the beginning.

WU is a wonderful blog (www.writerunboxed.com) that’s all about the craft of writing fiction and providing moral support for fellow writers. I’ve been a member of the “family” for a few years now and I can say that it’s been invaluable.

This was the first conference and it was held in Salem, Massachusetts and what a wonderful time of year to be there! The leaves were gorgeous and it was right after Halloween so there was still a magical feeling in the air.

The days were packed with classes and workshops. I literally filled my notebook with notes. I wish I could tell you everything I learned and the insights I discovered, but that would take  pages and pages to do. So instead I’ll share some granules of wisdom and some links so you can delve further on your own.

My first class was Lisa Cron’s Wired for Story. I’m now a groupie. It was about how stories are the most powerful form of communication and our brains are literally wired for story because that’s how information has been passed down for generations. When someone says, “Let me tell you a story…” your brain releases Dopamine and you’re ready to experience the story. A good story is more important than beautiful writing because you’ll get a better reader response. She compared it to a tricked out car with no engine. It’s pretty, but it won’t get you anywhere. And most importantly—story is internal, not external. It’s what happens to your characters. Lisa has a TED talk all about this. I highly recommend it. It’s almost more like learning philosophy and about writing.

Learned about Setting as Character taught by Brunonia Barry and Liz Michalski. Both are from the area so not only was it a good class about describing your setting, they offered some new insights into the area. Most of it was a writing exercise and some of us shared what we wrote.

Velveteen Characters taught by Therese Walsh. Therese is a founder of WU and organized the conference so she is a powerhouse, to say the least. Basically she said that all of your characters are important, even the secondary ones. You should try to give each one a quirk or flaw, it makes them more real and will enhance the story. She suggested for a writing prompt to make 5 assumptions about a character and flip them. See what happens!

Plot vs  and Story taught by Lisa Cron, Brunonia Barry, and Donald Maass. This was a biggie. To sum up copious notes, story is internal and the changes that happen within your characters. Plot is actions, events and things that affect your characters. Also a side-note,  every single scene should have conflict, action, suspense, and a turning point.

Where Story Comes From led by Meg Rosoff. Basically, you are unique so your voice is unique. It was about tapping into the conscious and unconscious mind, to get to those memories, fears, and feelings that are real. If you can convey those feelings, your voice will be unique and you’ll connect with the reader.

Donald Maass’s class on How Good Manuscripts Go Wrong. So many notes! He talked about how to make your characters deeper and more interesting by giving them flaws and obstacles to overcome. Does your MC (main character) do something that no one else can do? Does your MC know something that no one else knows?  And don’t forget to add tension to every scene. Most books don’t have enough tension.

The last day was an all-day long workshop about 21st Century Fiction. It seems that genres are starting to cross over and readers are expecting it. Plot driven books have deeper characters and literary books have more suspense and action. His method was to ask questions which make you think about your characters and the events. Many people, myself included, had “aha!” moments which made us look at things differently. So insightful.

That’s it in a nutshell. I’m including a video of me singing the Un-Con song. It’s embarrassing and the quality isn’t great, but it was fun.

 

 

 

Don’t Cry for Me, Austin, Texas

0kathy-blog

Posted by Kathy Waller

*****

On Saturday, Gale and I will leave on a seven-hour drive to Alpine, in West Texas. We’ll attend the Writers’ League of Texas’ 2014 Summer Writing Retreat.

  • Big Bend National Park. By Kathy Waller.

    Big Bend National Park. By Kathy Waller.

    I’m almost ready to leave. All I have to do is

  • print out and re-read all email correspondence from the WLT concerning the retreat;
  • put together and print at least fifty pages of my rough raft, which isn’t too rough considering all the revising and polishing I’ve done, against all the best advice; (putting together the draft entails sorting through the many files I’ve saved under a variety of names, none of which makes sense now);
  • buy new sneakers (the retreat doesn’t require formal dress) and a passel of socks to replace those the dryer has eaten; buy new khaki slacks if I can find a pair whose legs don’t drag the ground (petites are usually sold out);
  • pile everything I need to take, and a few things I don’t, on the guest room bed beside the suitcase, which is closed to prevent William and Ernest (big, hulking guy cats) from sleeping in it;
  • find my favorite novel, Harper Lee‘s To Kill a Mockingbird, for class, even though the book violates the cardinal rule of novel-writing by beginning with several pages of backstory and getting away with it;
  • buy a notebook, even though I have several, because a week-long retreat merits a new one, and pens in a variety of styles and colors;
  • make sure the laptop, the cord, the mouse, and my camera are stowed safely inside my

    More prizes!

    More prizes!

    green Austin Mystery Writers tote; make sure my charged cell phone and the charger are stowed safely inside my purse;

  • confirm with my husband that the car will make it to Alpine and back;
  • do one last load of laundry; pack;
  • get up early, load the car, pick up Gale, and head out.

Gale is probably ready to leave now. She is organized.

Some people would say we’re crazy, driving half-way across the state to do homework every night. Before my first retreat, three years ago, I might have said the same.

But at the end of the first day’s class, I was so energized that I couldn’t stop writing. I wrote long emails that made better reading than anything else I produced during the week. (I had a friend patient enough to read them and kind enough to say, “Send more.”) I might even have done some blogging. After all that, I completed my homework.

The person responsible for my sudden productivity was Karleen Koen, novelist and teacher, whose class was titled something like Writing Your Novel, but who actually taught creativity, with activities designed to quiet the internal critic and allow ideas to surface. One of the ten-minute writings I did in class later turned into a thirty-page story for the Austin Mystery Writers’ anthology of short stories.* Anyone who can pull me out of the doldrums and start me on a creative binge, as Karleen did, is an exemplary teacher.

Next week, I’ll spend five days in another of Karleen’s classes: The Damned Rough Draft: Reframing and Reimagining Your Novel in Its Beginning Stages. Gale is registered to take the class, too. I have a vision of two roommates writing busily away every night.

Of course, we’ll also sit on the porch of the little 1950s tourist court where we’re staying (and where I once ran into a lizard in the shower), enjoying the cool, clear, mosquito-less evenings in a town that, every night, turns off all lights and lets the stars shine through.

And there’s the restaurant in nearby Marfa that serves pistachio encrusted fried chicken breast. I hear they’ve added pistachio encrusted steak to the menu.

Some of our Sisters in Crime will be there. We’ll definitely run into them and will perhaps cook up some mischief.

And there’s the extra day Gale and I will spend after the conference roaming around the countryside. Fort Davis. The MacDonald Observatory. Balmorhea State Park, a cool oasis in the high desert. Big Bend National Park. Endless possibilities.

But I’m going out there to write. I’ll do nothing to distract us from Karleen Koen’s class. Based on my experience, it will be too valuable to play hookey, even mentally.  But we will play, because Karleen believes that’s where creativity comes from.

And that’s how my August will begin.

English: This is Alpine, Texas with the six-th...

English: This is Alpine, Texas with the six-thousand foot plus Ranger, Twin Sisters, & Paisano Peaks in the foreground. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Public domain. By Rebelcry (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

So, ‘though I’ll be far away from beautiful Austin, Texas for an entire week, there’s no reason to pity me.

I’ll be in the mountains, doing what I love.

 

 

 

 

 *****

*Have you heard about the AMW anthology? If not, you will.

 *****

Kathy Waller blogs at To Write Is to Write Is to Write.

Karleen Koen blogs at Karleen Koen–writing life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where Do You Find Hope?

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Posted by Kathy Waller

*****

This isn’t a kindergarten for amateur writers. I’m sorry, Mr Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.” ~ Rejection from the editor of the San Francisco Examiner to Rudyard Kipling

*****

What makes a successful writer?

Aside from a working knowledge of the language and a certain amount of talent, answers generally include persistence, organization, initiative, professionalism, practice, vision, confidence, tolerance for criticism and rejection, vision, confidence, self-discipline, resilience, motivation, creativity, empathy, patience, courage, flexibility . . . Well, it’s a long list.

But Ralph Keyes, in The Writers’ Book of Hope, says aspiring writers need two basic things: a knowledge of how the publishing industry works, and hope.

Publishing has changed considerably since Keyes’ book was published just over ten years ago, and the Internet has made it easier to find what beginning writers want to know.

Hope is a different matter. There’s plenty of pessimism and discouragement out there. Where does a writer seeking publication acquire hope?

In my experience, much of it comes from other writers.

Last month I spent a Saturday morning in a class sponsored by the Writers’ League of Texas and taught by novelist Karleen Koen. I first met Karleen three years ago, when she taught at the WLT Summer Writing Retreat, and I’ll see her again at the WLT retreat this August. Last month’s class was a “sneak peek” at the August class: “The Damned Rough Draft: Reframing and Reimagining Your Novel in Its Beginning Stages.”

I’m not the only one of Karleen’s students who keeps coming back for one more course. She’s a good teacher. What she knows, she shares. She also acknowledges both the highs and the lows of her own writing life. (The title of this year’s class–“The Damned Rough Draft”–is evidence of her empathy with students.)

Karleen doesn’t promise the people sitting in her classes will become novelists, but she makes the possibility come alive. She is generous. She offers hope.

Who are other hope-givers?

Members of Austin Mystery Writers, and similar groups, who read and critique thirty to fifty pages every week. Beta readers, who go through entire manuscripts–hundreds of pages–to offer criticism. Strangers who read blog posts and Like or Reblog or Tweet or leave comments. All readers who tell the truth–both positive and negative–in a way that says, “I believe in you. Keep writing.”

It’s your turn now, writers: Who gives you hope?

Much Ado About Malice Domestic 2014

photo 1Writing is often a solitary endeavor. Working alone for long stretches of time can take a toll on us and on our work.   We spend too much time chatting with our imaginary friends and not enough time with our real ones.

This is one of the reasons I believe attending a writers’ conference is so important. When you spend stretches of time in your own imagination, plotting where your perp should hide a body or debating how your protagonist will emerge victorious from her latest dilemma, it’s important to get out among others who share your love and frustration for the craft that is crime fiction

Malice Domestic 2014 was my choice this year, in part, because I had attended in 2013 andphoto 4 found the people enthusiastic and welcoming. I also wanted to cheer on our friend and Austin Mystery Writers member, Kaye George, who was nominated for an Agatha for her novel Death in the Time of Ice. While I have attended a few other conferences over the years, Malice Domestic is the first one that I attended that brings together both readers and writers. Many of the panels were directed toward reader questions, although I gleaned important tips designed to help me improve my craft as well. Overall, the experience focused more on the shared love of mysteries and the opportunity to discuss the many facets of why we love this genre.

We are members of the same tribe.

The conference sessions ranged in topics from the role of outsiders in mysteries to how to
balance murder and humor and mysteries to mysteries set on different continents. Perhaps one of my favorite sessions was Dr. Max Houck’s Crime Lab Gab. A favorite from last year’s Malice Domestic, he returned this year to share more insight into his daily life as the director of D.C.’s Department of Forensic Sciences. With a sense of humor twisted perfectly to fit the rest of us in the room, Houck provided an inside peek into what it’s like to oversee cases ranging from food poisoning to contagious diseases to the realities of processing a crime scene.

It ain’t pretty, people.

Dr. Houck tells us “your house is far cleaner than you know. However dirty you think your homMax Houcke is, it isn’t. It’s just fine.” He then shares a story of walking through the front door of a crime scene to find a hoarder’s home filled with piles of trash. And a body.

And farm animals.

Yes, farm animals in the living room.

So, ignore the dusting this week. You’re good.

Houck also discusses the prickly issue of DNA as it is used in fiction and on television. Unlike contemporary TV shows that produce forensic DNA results quicker than a fashion model denounces dessert, the reality is that the average DNA turnaround time is 78 days. That’s right–over two months. This is due mostly to backlogs, with crime labs working at 200% or higher capacity. So, Houck advises that it’s fine to play with the timeline when it comes to referring to DNA in fiction but he pleads with us to put in the effort to make it feel authentic.   He also tipped his hat to Jan Burke, who he feels is one of the most accurate authors handling the topic of forensic science.

One of Houck’s most compelling comments still sticks in my mind. “Anybody will do anything to anyone, given the right conditions.” It was a cautionary comment, a reminder that his experience has taught him that even the most virtuous among us might be pushed over the edge, given the Perfect Storm of circumstances. It is certainly the launching point for many a mystery and an observation with brutal reality at its core.

It is in these sessions, and with other passionate mystery lovers, that writers can find Hank & Laurainspiration and an opportunity to explore the many “what ifs” of a project with others who have their own work in progress. This camaraderie should not be underestimated; many a ‘stuck’ writer has found a story resolution in a hallway conversation at Malice Domestic with another writer. We are all Ping-Pong balls, bouncing ideas and character motivations off one another.

Nancy and SharonCommunity is at the heart of this conference. It is the red thread that binds the attendees and authors together, a shared love for figuring out “who did it and why.” It is commiserating over dinner to suss out why a certain plot point isn’t working out and to share with others why we love writing, why we hate it and why we simply can’t do anything else.

Sometimes you have to venture out behind your desk to find your tribe. It can be a challenge to make the time, but make the time. Juggle what you need to and live in chaos for a bit to make it happen.

 

Your people are waiting for you.

–Laura Oles