Last year, when I knew I would be moving back to Boston in 2015, I attended New England Crime Bake, an annual mystery writers conference, for the first time. This past weekend, I attended again, but this time as a resident of New England as I moved back here in October. Two prominent figures on the schedule were Hallie Ephron and Hank Phillippi Ryan. Hallie taught a seminar at Cape Cod Writers Center Conference a few years ago when I was writing DEATH AT PULLMAN. The first chapter was reviewed in that seminar and her suggestions were helpful. I had the opportunity to interview Hank Phillippi Ryan for Sisters in Crime Chicagoland at the annual Love is Murder conference a few years ago. Always gracious she was an easy subject to talk to despite the fact that one might be a bit intimidated to interview a professional news reporter. It was a very interesting and entertaining session. So I was happy to see both of them on the program.
I also greatly enjoyed panels on writing historicals, keeping a series fresh and the session Kate Flora, Gerry Boyle, Peter Abrams and Lucy Burdette did on “sustaining a career”. It was helpful for long time writers to describe ups and downs, curve balls and home runs in the course of their careers.
The noontime interview with Elizabeth George, the guest of honor was very interesting, as the one last year with Craig Johnson also was. Elizabeth George talked about her writing process. I had just sent out my next book DEATH AT THE PARIS EXPOSITION to some readers, and she said that at a certain point in her process she sends a draft to her “cold reader” who is a reader, not a writer. She includes one list of questions to think about while reading and a second list in an envelope only to be opened after the mss is read. She also talked about how important place is as a starting point for each novel and the research trip she does near the beginning of each book. She also pointed out the we are lucky in the U.S. to have conferences like Crime Bake where writers share information about the craft of writing. She had found out that this is unheard of in Germany where they think writing is some mysterious condition that could never be taught. She is a former high school English teacher who loves language. She also told us that she had to write on vacations when she was working because that is a 16 hour a day job. Sounds right from what I have heard from working teachers. They don’t get enough credit.
Elizabeth George and the other writers were very generous and thoughtful in what they shared of their own experience. I enjoyed hearing Donna Andrews talk about “bringing in a cult” to the town in her series to keep it fresh. In the category of “cult” she listed Re-enactors, and Rose growers. It’s true, we all have our fanaticisms and they make for good stories. She also mentioned “blocking” the action of a novel the way stage directors block a play. That reminds me at one point Hallie Ephron suggested taking an acting class as a useful thing for a writer, that was a different panel. Talking about series Barbara Ross mentioned that she forces herself to make a list of 25 reasons why a characters does a specific action, as a way to break through when stuck.
I not only met a possible writing group member in my area, I also ran into Nikki Flionis my college roommate and her two sisters. At least one of them is writing mysteries. I talked to agents John Talbot and Victoria Skurnick as well. So I will plan to go again next year and I have lots of food for thought from the experience.
Now back to the writing…