At local meetings and on national listservs, writers often ask for advice about which conferences to attend. Having attended many, I can only say that the best conference depends as much on what the writer seeks as what the conference offers.
This spring, with promoting Show Me the Murder my top priority, I chose three annual conferences serving different audiences:
- Missouri Writers’ Guild conference for writers with varied interests,
- Malice Domestic 25 national convention for mystery fans,
- Marshall (MO) Writers’ Guild workshop for their members.
Here, in Part 1, is what the state conference offered.
This estimable annual three-day conference (http://www.missouriwritersguild.org) features solid how-to presentations on topics appealing to beginners and professionals but focusing on writers hovering between those levels. Attendees are serious writers eager to establish careers.
From my conversations and observations, more than half have finished at least one unpublished manuscript (usually a novel) but don’t know much about the route to publication. The self-publishing and social media sessions here (like everywhere else apparently) drew a big crowd.
Many come to the conference hoping to hook an agent or a publisher. Quite a few skipped the how-to seminars to concentrate on pitching to the half dozen East and West Coach agents and regional publishers in scheduled five-minute sessions and in informal conversations. One of the advantages of a relatively small (around 200) conference is that you can sit next to an agent at a meal or corner her (usually not him) in the bar or hall. The toilets are off limits.
Agents who fly from either coast to the heartland usually agree to look at anything that might possibly interest them. And almost every year at least one writer signs with an agent or sells a manuscript to a publisher. Even those who don’t sell get valuable feedback.
This friendly conference also gives writers a chance to socialize, exchange information, and feel part of a community. Writing may be a solitary activity, but networking never hurts.
As for carrying out my special agenda, I handed out bookmarks and a fast pitch for my new mystery series to dozens of writers/readers from around the state.
In the 1950s, television threatened to divert children from reading. In the 1990s, the Web tempted tender minds to abandon linear reading and writing. In the last decade, portable multimedia, omnipresent (and often mindless) communication, and misspelled texting further endangered literacy.
Thinking of this descent into darkness, I dreaded opening my assigned selection of second graders’ stories, essays, and poems. I had agreed to comment on their award-winning work during Young Authors’ Day at the University of Central Missouri, Warrensburg. What if their writing was, well, dreadful?
I needn’t have worried. These kids show a surprising grasp of the art of storytelling and the craft of writing. They already perceive these five key factors.
1. Stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end.
2. You have to grab readers’ attention fast. Otherwise you lose them.
3. The sound and rhythm of the words matter.
4. Readers like to see themselves in the writer’s story, even if the story is about a fox, a wizard, or a mermaid.
5. The right words support the story or theme.
You can bet these second graders like to read. Writers begin, and end, as readers.
Can you go home again?
I’m going back to my hometown Saturday, April 13, to talk about the origins of my new mystery, Show Me the Murder, and visit from 2-4 p.m. with old and new friends at the Hastings, 1800 North Baltimore, 2-4 p.m.
More to the point: Can a writer ever really leave home?
Wherever I go, I carry my past with me. An unreliable memory may alter and even delete parts of it, but the essence of life experiences remains. No period affects us as much as our early years when we see things for the first time. That’s one reason the protagonist in my mystery series comes back to her hometown after living most of her adult life in Vienna.
Laycock and Vandiver County don’t appear on any Missouri map, but many people who live in Kirksville will find the setting, and the people, familiar.
Those words open Show Me the Murder. The protagonist, a former CIA covert operative, expresses her relief at reaching the sanctuary of her hometown in northern Missouri after surviving a shooting in the Istanbul spice bazaar.
Those words also express my relief that the book, my first published mystery novel, finally is coming to library and store shelves. People will read it for entertainment rather than evaluation.
I invite anyone interested to come celebrate with me at my book launch party at 2 p.m., Sunday, March 17, Columbia Books, 1907 Gordon Street, Columbia, Missouri (off Old 63 North just behind the Westlake’s).
Here’s a little reminder of what some reviewers have said.
Kirkus: “amusing and touching”
Library Journal: “a tightly woven tale”
Gumshoe Review: “appealing characters” and “compelling story”
Myshelf.com: “One of the best books I have read in a long time.”
Book Launch Party: 2 p.m., Sunday, March 17
Columbia Books, 1907 Gordon Street, Columbia, Missouri
Reading and discussion
Open to all
Young Authors’ Day: 9:30 a.m., Saturday, April 20
University of Central Missouri, Warrensburg
Comments on second graders’ prize-winning work and a writing exercise
The writers and their families
Missouri Writers’ Guild Conference: Friday-Saturday, April 26-27
Sheraton Westport Hotel Lakeside Chalet, St. Louis
Book signing, 4 p.m. Friday, 11:45 a.m., Saturday
Annual regional writers’ conference
Malice Domestic: Friday-Sunday, May 3-5
Malice-Go-Round, 10 a.m., Friday
Panel discussion on loveable sidekicks, 9:45 a.m., Sunday
Signing, 10:45 a.m., Sunday
National conference of mystery fans and writers
Marshall Writers’ Guild Annual Meeting: 9:30 a.m., Saturday, May 11
Guest Writer’s Workshop: Turning Your Idea into a Book
Summer Reading Kickoff, 2:30 p.m., Saturday, May 11
Marshall (MO) Public Library
Talk and signing: Reading for Life
Open to all
Talk and signing: Developing Your Novel Idea, Thursday, June 27
Missouri River Regional Library, Jefferson City, Missouri
Dozens of editors and publishers have rejected my nonfiction and (especially) fiction manuscripts over the years, so forgive me if I report some reassuring praise.
In the February issue of Gumshoe Review Magazine of Mystery Literature, reviewer Verna Suit ended her review of Show Me the Murder with, “Phoenix is a can-do heroine and all three of the women are appealing characters. The reader cheers when Annalynn steps up to take control of her life. Plot and setting are convincing and the compelling story keeps one reading. I look forward to finding out what the future has in store for all three of them.”
The 15 other books reviewed in the issue included Garment of Shadows by Laurie R. King, Calculated by Death by J.D. Robb, and Buried in a Bog by Sheila Connolly.
To read the full review of Show Me the Murder, go to http://www.gumshoereview.com/php/Review-id.php?id=3558.
Week 32 is my stop on a blog hop set up to help readers discover authors new to them. On each stop, you’ll find an author’s answers to 10 questions about a book or a work in progress and links to three to five other authors. We include behind-the-screen tidbits about why we write and how we choose titles, characters, plots, themes, etc.
My thanks to fellow author Thomas Kaufman for inviting me to participate in this event. To learn more about him and his work, click on this link: http://thomaskaufman.com.
Here are my answers to the questions of the Next Big Thing.
1: What is the title of your latest book?
Show Me the Murder, the first in a series, comes out February 15, 2013. The title fits the plot and indicates the Missouri setting, but I arrived at that title only after numerous drafts. I started with a working title of Second Adolescence, an indication of my main characters’ age (mid fifties) and their crises and opportunities. Upheavals in their lives compel the three women to begin again much as they had as teenagers. My critique group hated that title. Several drafts carried the title Phoenix Rises, both an illusion to the protagonist’s first name and to the mythological story of the phoenix rising from the ashes. A lot of other writers liked a similar title. I kept looking.
Show Me is part of the title of each book in the series. The next one is Show Me the Deadly Deer (December 2013).
2: Where did the idea come from for the book?
I got the idea from newspaper stories about outed CIA covert operative Valerie Plame during the Bush Administration. Having worked in Vienna during the Cold War, I could imagine the suspicion anyone she knew even casually would face and her anguished desire to protect both CIA contacts and friends. My protagonist, wounded on a post-retirement mission in Istanbul, loses both her day and night careers—and her home in Vienna. I lived in the Washington, D.C., area, but I was preparing to move back to Missouri. That led me to send Phoenix there and to research local problems when I visited there. I was surprised to learn that Missouri ranks at the top in meth use. This easily made, terribly addictive drug ruins many lives and strains the resources of rural law enforcement.
3: What genre does your book come under?
It’s a mystery with a lot of suspense. It cuts across subgenres, with an armed amateur sleuth, a bit of police procedure, and a rural setting often associated with cozies.
4: Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Ex-spy Phoenix is brilliant, athletic, and immodest with a well-developed sense of irony and a passion for fairness. She’s a little above average height and wears her black hair short for easy care and quick covering when putting on disguises. One possibility would be Jamie Lee Curtis. Civic leader Annalynn is reserved, aristocratic, and both intimidating and charismatic. She’s tall, wears her long brown hair in a French roll, and remains impeccable at all times. She has the kind of presence that Marcia Cross had on Desperate Housewives but with more warmth. Never-been singer Connie is short, blond, and trim with great warmth and considerable insight. Phoenix complains that Connie is irredeemably perky. Kristin Chenoweth could capture Connie.
5: What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? A former covert operative returns to her hometown to relax but instead must use her skills to solve a murder—and to survive.
6: Is your book self-published, published by an independent publisher, or represented by an agency?
The publisher, Five Star, is a fiction imprint of Gale, Cengage Learning, a giant in library and education publishing. Five Star distributes through bookstores (including online ones) but emphasizes library sales.
7: How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
The first draft, roughly 123,000 words, took me about a year. The next dozen or so drafts took several years, including breaks for other projects. I cut the manuscript down to 89,000 words and, after several drafts, changed the point of view from third to first person.
8: What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Like every book and every writer, Show Me the Murder is unique. In the decade or so since I became serious about writing mysteries, I have enjoyed reading many mystery writers, among them Barbara D’Amato, Nevada Barr, Robert Crais, Earlene Fowler, Tess Gerritsen, Carolyn Hart, Joan Hess, Tony Hillerman, P. D. James, J. A. Jance, Laura Lippman, Margaret Maron, Grace Miriam Monfredo, Sara Peretsky, Anne Perry, Elizabeth Peters, Nancy Pickard, S. J. Rozen, and Julia Spencer-Fleming.
9: Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I’ve wanted to write stories since I learned to read. After decades of earning a living writing and editing articles, a wide variety of documents, and a few nonfiction books, I longed to write a novel, to create and populate a world.
10: What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
I hope readers will enjoy watching the interactions of three old friends who’ve led very different lives for decades but come together as each faces a crisis. I suspect readers will love the dog, a Belgian Malinois who flunked out of K-9 training. Conceived as a walk-on character, he forced his way into the characters’ lives and my pages. In fiction as in real life, once you name an animal, you belong to it.
On Week 33 of the Next Big Thing, the following four writers will answers these questions on their websites/blogs.
Elaine Douts (writing as E. B. Davis): http://writerswhokill.blogspot.com
Maria Hudgins: http://mariahudgins.com
Karen McCullough: www.kmccullough.com/kblog
Erica Obey: http://ericaobey.net
Please feel free to share your thoughts and questions.
The first review of Show Me the Murder came from Kirkus Reviews, the venerable magazine that carries pre-publication reviews.
The reviewer sums up by writing, “The first in Mulford’s planned series explores the unsettling rise of crime in rural areas and provides an amusing and touching look at the reunited gal pals.”
The magazine reviewed 17 mysteries and 258 other books in the issue. You can read the entire review of Show Me the Murder on the website ((http://www.kirkusreviews.com/search/?q=Show+Me+the+Murder) or on page 33 of the January 1, 2013, issue (Vol. LXXXI, No.1).
The book will be released February 15, 2013.
Anyone who has taught a basic English or creative writing course will recognize some of the characters and situations in Killer Frost, a debut mystery by Judy Hogan.
Most of the book takes place at a financially and academically distressed historically black college in North Carolina. An idealistic untenured professor wars against the administration to bring ill-prepared but determined students up to standard and to give gifted ones a chance to soar. He brings in Penny Weaver, a dedicated white writer/teacher, to take over both the remedial and the creative writing classes.
Hogan obviously knows both groups of students well, and some of her best scenes involve teaching rather than detecting. Finding the killer takes second place to rescuing the students from poor teaching, bad conditions, and the burnt-out and corrupt staff. The victims’ behavior had given faculty and students reasons to want to murder them.
The major subplot revolves around Penny’s disconcerting attraction to the professor who hired her (both are happily married). A more effective subplot involves her difficult relationship with her single-mother daughter.
Some of the numerous characters in Killer Frost live on the page. Unfortunately some students get lost in the classroom, and neighbors overpopulate Penny’s diverse community. Most talk too much and act too little—until the fast-paced climactic scene, which ends with a satisfying twist.
Killer Frost, by Judy Hogan, Mainly Murder Press, 2012, 244 pp., $15.95 in paperback and $2.99 in e-book; ISBN: 978-0-9836823-8-7. For more information about the writer, her work, and where to buy the book, go to http://judyhogan.home.mindspring.com.
I couldn’t resist the challenge: a call for humorous short stories featuring a resourceful woman dealing with a bad day.
For me, short stories pop into the brain almost whole. Nothing popped, but I’d toyed with a vague idea for a new mystery series. I decided to test it in a short story.
A lot of writers turn a chapter into a short story. I hadn’t written a chapter. Instead I developed a protagonist and a setting in backstory—what happens before the mystery begins. I submitted that short story, “Leftovers,” to Mozark Press for consideration for A Bad Hair Day, the third in the A Shaker of Margaritas series.
Mozark accepted my story and 23 others from the Heartland and around the country. The paperback and e-book editions are now available.
With the cooperation of Mozark Press publisher Linda Fisher, I’ve arranged for the Columbia Branch of the American Association of University Women to sell the book as a fundraiser tied to the international Half the Sky Movement. Until the end of 2012, our Raising Our Half the Sky Committee and other members will sell the anthology. Our profits will go to Women for Women International.
I’ll be signing A Shaker of Margaritas: A Bad Hair Day and The Feedsack Dress from 1 to 5 p.m. November 23 and 24 in the historic Community Hall, Rocheport, Missouri.
The story convinced me that I would enjoy writing the series. In spare moments, I’ll come up with character bios, fiddle with plot ideas, and gather background information. Putting chapters on paper will have to wait until after I complete another book in my Show Me series.