Bookseller’s Convention

I had an interesting experience recently which is worth sharing, so here is my report:

In June, someone at my publisher sent a list of the fall regional trade shows to authors with a new book out or ARC available for one coming soon. Would we like to participate in a show, sitting at the Ingram booth? Turned out there was one in October in New Jersey, reasonable driving distance, so I said yes. I didn’t know what to expect, but why not? ingram2

It was in a large hotel in Somerset (a Doubletree), with restaurants, meeting rooms for the booksellers and an exhibit hall. That looked quite familiar to anyone who has been to Malice or Bouchercon, only this time it was the booksellers doing the browsing. The exhibitors were the publishers and wholesalers introducing new fall books. My badge was waiting for me, there was a big stack of ARC’s for Brooklyn Secrets and the friendly Ingram rep encouraged me to talk to anyone who walked by and not to wait for them to come to me. I said “Do you want a book?” About 98% of them did! They wanted them signed, they wanted to know about the series, they were happy to have eye-catching post cards about the other books, they were not put off by ARCS. (They are booksellers; of course they weren’t.) books We chatted about where they were from, I met someone whose boss I had recently interviewed for an MWA/NY project, I met someone from the bookstore nearest my home, I met someone from a bookstore in a Delaware beach town who invited me to come do a program at her store!

In other words, I was out making friends for my books. Many ARCS were given out and now many booksellers know me and my books and perhaps will remember when it comes time to order stock and make recommendations to customers. It was easy and it was fun. Unless you really, really hate talking to strangers, I definitely recommend saying yes if have the opportunity.

(PS – these are not photos of the actual event. I need to get better at remembering to do that.)

MWA Symposium

Mystery writers took over New York! Did the crime rate go up? No. Mostly we just talk about crime, though I did once hear the late, great Donald Westlake claim he learned about bank robbery by pulling a job. He was kidding. I think

EdgarThis is the week of the annual Mystery Writers of America get together.The Edgar Awards dinner. (“Dress to kill. Black tie preferred.”) A launch party for an MWA collection. Editors and agents invited to a cocktail party to meet mystery writers. Note to all: that is free for members. I’m not sure if anyone finds an agent that way, but it can be a fun way to meet and greet.

One day is usually a daylong symposium, a series of talks or panels that are a mystery writer’s mini-conference. Is it worth the fee? And a day away from work, whether day job or writing? And traveling if you are not in New York? I’m only a subway ride away, but some years the speakers were not exciting or the topics were just not useful enough for me. Another memorable year, the opening speaker was so terrific his talk alone was worth the entire price.

Plus, I was invited to meet various old friends for lunch and dinner. So there is that. Retired from my day job and mostly home writing, a day in Manhattan and some socializing obviously counts as a mental health day. 2 Pershing-Square

Herewith, my report. The opening session, on crossing genres, a topic of no interest to me, was lively and fun anyway, due to the smart, entertaining panelists. The second session on location, moderated by the distinguished reviewer, Oline Cogdill, was excellent. I made a potentially useful contact with one panelist, and on a frivolous note, I was fascinated to learn that Karin Slaughter is that famous writer’s real name, and that though she writes violent stories, she is in person a delicate-looking woman with a wispy voice and wispy hairdo. The third session, on research, was a little too wordy at times with five panelists but worthwhile anyway. One panelist, Julia Dahl, wrote an Edgar-nominated book about the Hasidic world in Brooklyn, and we had a conversation after about special Brooklyn resources. eagl0491

Otto Penzler interviewed new Grand Master James Ellroy. It won’t surprise anyone who’s read his books – or even a review of them!- that he is a pretty unusual person. It was impossible to figure out how much of the flamboyant, gonzo character was shtick,how much might be camouflage for whoever he really is, and how much is real.It was both entertaining and annoying. New Grand Master Lois Duncan was interviewed by Laura Lippman, so of course that was entirely a five-star interview, beginning to end.

Duncan Ellroy

Adding on the cocktail party, it was a very long day but worthwhile day.

Murder on the Menu, Wetumpka, Alabama


Last week I talked about attending Murder in the Magic City in Birmingham, Alabama. The very next day we caravanned to Wetumpka, a town about an hour away to attend Murder on the Menu, the main fundraiser for the Wetumpka Library. It is a superb event coordinated by the energetic Tammy Rushing Lynn, ably assisted by FOWL–Friends of the Wetumpka Library.


I was fortunate enough to moderate a panel called “Why did Johnny have to die? Creating the motivation for murder.” Mystery writing panelists J.K. Kennedy, Robert Mangeot, Sharon Marchisello and Michael Kardos were enthusiastic and so clever in their explanations of how a murderer thinks that I’m sure everyone in the audience was extra careful not to cross one of these exceptional writers for fear of, shall we say, retribution. And speaking of the audience, one of the great joys of Murder on the Menu is that the writers have plenty of time to mingle with the audience for conversations that were lively and fun.


All in all, I had a fabulous time both days. And is it any wonder I find myself singing Sweet Home Alabama from time to time? Nope. No wonder at all.


Murder in the Magic City


So I spent this past weekend in Alabama at two back-to-back writer/reader events and I have to tell you straight up that I had a super fantastic time.  Birmingham is “The Magic City” and the conference is organized by the Birmingham chapter of Sisters in Crime, Southern Sisters and the Homewood Public Library, but we all know that Margaret Fenton is the mover and shaker who makes it all happen, combining two dozen authors with one hundred readers for a very lively day of panels, presentations and conversation.

I was lucky enough to snag a picture with each of the Guests of Honor, Hank Phillippi Ryan, author of Truth Be Told and Craig Johnson of Longmire fame.



And I was happy to hang for a bit with old friends  Debra Goldstein and Paula Benson who I rarely get to see. Here they are with new friends Michael Guillebeau, Warren Bull and Robert Mangeot.

Paula, Debra etalAll in all a joyful day. And please stay tuned. Next week I’ll talk about Murder on the Menu in Wetumpka–another smashing event.



wotyWho knew? Certainly, not me. Last week in Portland, Oregon the nation’s top linguists got together to select the Word of the Year, also known a WOTY.

An article in Sunday’s New York Times, “May The Best Word Win,” written by Jessica Bennett described the proceedings. As well as choosing the WOTY, attendees have their choice of several lectures, from exploring “totally awesome,” to discussing the Cronut, to the rounded vowel in California English.

This convention marked the group’s 25th anniversary and boasted the largest crowd to date. The rules are pretty simple. Anyone can participate and can even nominate words from the floor. It’s preferred the words be sort of newish. This year’s finalists in the “most creative” category’ included “manspreading,” when a man spreads his legs on public transportation and blocks other seats and “narcisstick” a snide name for the selfie stick.

There were also more serious categories and this year, the hashtag was given its own category including #yesallwomen and #blacklivesmatter, which although three words, won the title of Word of the Year.

To find out what other new words are becoming part of our vernacular, check out The Times article. You may even find a new word or two to include in your next book or story.

Bouchercon Long Beach 2014

Bouchercon is always a great place to see old friends and make new ones, and this year was no exception. In between socializing, there was plenty of work to do. I moderated a panel entitled The Long and the Short of It—writing novels and short fiction. Panel members included  Jeffrey Deaver, Dana Cameron, Simon Wood, Brendan DuBois, and Leigh Perry (aka Toni Kelner.)  With such a talented group, the conversation was lively and informative. Here we are very relaxed because the panel was over.



Our own Clare Toohey moderated A Strange Mixture. We talked about amateur sleuths who have real careers and then, oops, murder gets in the way.  I enjoyed sharing the panel with Susan Shea, Tracy Weber, Don Passman and Beverly Allen (aka Barbara Early.)

Panel bcon14

The highlight of Bouchercon for me and for many others was the Major Crimes panel. Our good pal Deb Lacy arranged for James Duff, the co-creator and head writer for TNT’s Major Crimes . He brought a few friends with him – Jonathan Del Arco (who plays Dr. Morales), Kathe Mazur (who plays DDA Hobbs), Detective Mike Berchem (a former detective who helps the writing team with plots and details), and writers Damani Johnson, Kendall Sherwood  and Adam Belanoff . It was so interesting to hear how the scripts evolve into a tight drama that we all love to watch.


But I must confess of all the pictures taken at Bouchercon my very favorite is this one of Jonathan Del Arco and me. I am a huge fan of Doctor Morales and I think Johnathan picked that up very, very quickly.


Next October in Raleigh!


Major Crimes at Bouchercon

Here I am paying strict attention to head writer James Duff and writer and technical adviser Mick Berchem of  the fabulous tv show Major Crimes at a special meet-and-greet before their presentation at Bouchercon.


If you have wondered what is like to write as a group, you must read Linda Landrigan’s post on the Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine blog, Trace Evidence. She covers the presentation in vivid detail. Click here.


How to Moderate an Author Panel (well, one way)

How-To-Moderate-An-Author-PanelThere is, actually, NO single, right way to moderate an author panel, so I’m offering my own thoughts only. Many outstanding moderators and panelists view it differently, but here’s my take on both roles. By the time you read this, I may be already moderating my first panel of three at this year’s Bouchercon *gulp*

Like many people, I do get nervous in advance of public appearances. I still get jitters–not cripplingly, but notably–even after doing a lot of them and even though I enjoy doing them. That’s because I want things also to go well this time, and you can’t know whether it worked until it’s all done, like a manuscript. Part of my insuring things go well is that I have a clear idea of my own rationale for such appearances. It’s served me well enough so far, and I stick to it. Whether you think my tips have merit, finding any approach you like for such situations (since like public readings, author panels are something fiction writers are encouraged to do) and being consistent will help provide a buffer against anxiety.


Alfred Hitchcock interviewed by Dick Cavett

AS A MODERATOR: When I’m asked to moderate, I approach it like the authors are showing up to do the Dick Cavett show. I pick Cavett as an example, though I wasn’t alive for his whole run. But in interviews I’ve seen (and there are a bazillion worth watching online–just search), he comes across as upbeat and well-versed, confident, but with a light touch that keeps the focus on the guests. That is a smooth quality, IMO, so that’s what I try to be: an engaged, friendly person who’s done enough homework to offer the authors a positive and interesting way to showcase their work.

Now, I don’t have a team of research assistants or junior production staff, but I’m blessed by the times. For bios and book info, I’ll search. If there’s a featured interview online or guest post, I’ll find it. So, the only info I ask from authors is to let me know if there’s a specific question I should or should not ask, and whether their online materials are correct. I’ll always mention their latest publications or endeavors–that’s what will most likely be available in the book room after all–but occasionally, there’s something specific to an audience’s interest or something late-breaking that ought also to be part of their intro. There are also occasionally landmines (could be contractual or related to partnerships or series) or sensitivities (a recent online contretemps or blow-up) that an author wishes to dodge in panel conversation. I can’t control the audience Q&A, but I can and will steer clear of such things myself if notified. Yes, the latest tempest may be the most recent topic of interest, but I’m there for the work first.

I do read a lot a material for panels, but probably not an author’s entire bibliography and maybe not even to The End of the latest novel. My goal is to get enough of a feel for anything I don’t know yet (since I’ve already got some major genre mileage on my eyeballs) that I can harvest it for questions. I frequently use an author’s words, quoted in brevity, as a launch pad for my questions. If I want to ask questions about characters, I’ll read a sentence of the novel’s description about the protagonist. Humor? I’ll quote from a a funny interview the author gave. I make these quotes brief, and I mean brief, because the mod should never be the focus for too long. But when I’m spring-boarding from the author’s own work or words, I’m always confident of being on-topic. Talk To Me About Your Work is my mantra. It’s the source, the wellspring, the safe harbor to which I will return for questions again and again.

Attention-Please-Hurry-UpNow, backing up some, even if supplied the text by authors or their websites, I may need to cut panel introductions down. If you recall my How to Read Fiction Aloud post, when reading material for an audience, I’m at the pace of about 150 words/minute. Therefore, I like an author intro that’s no longer than 30 seconds, about half that time, or about 75 words at max. Why? 30 seconds can seem like a plenty loooong time to simply be reading from your notes, but audiences aren’t there to hear me, and they won’t recall all the fine details anyway. In fact, because of this, rather than introduce everybody all in a row at once, blab, blab, blab… I like to give the intro at the time when I ask each author the first question. To me, this links their bio more memorably to the question and response. Think of it like a cinematic establishing shot. (Yes, I may ask general questions for the whole panel’s response later, but I always start with an intro and question for each individual. ) To some people, this approach seems weirder than rattling all the intros off at once, but I think it gives each author’s intro pride of place, attention right at the time they can respond to it, like a natural conversation. YMMV. To condense bios, I may summarize a list of by-name awards down to “three lifetime achievement awards from international organizations.” It’s easier to recall, still sounds impressive, and lets us swiftly get onto the conversation.

I do try to retain anything unusual from the bio that will help the author stick in the mind, however, especially for those building series and careers. So sue me, I’d rather mention your parents’s ostrich ranch than each of the titles of your past four books. If I mention the series name or protagonist, interested readers can and will look up the book list themselves, but they’ll be more likely to remember they wanted to if they can mentally link your name, series, and the interesting detail of a growing up on an ostrich ranch. And since I got all that from your online materials (right?), a general search of “cozy mystery bike shop ostrich ranch” will bring your site right to the top of the list. Ta-da, your prospective reader has found you, even if the convention program and schedule get lost.

Let’s suppose your sadly impoverished bio has no ostrich ranch, no, don’t bother making one up. I’m most focused, as the audience will be, on having the conversation. Without doubt, it’s the conversation that audiences remember most of all! Casual, pithy, relevant remarks are the ones that get recalled and retold. As moderator, I’m trying to give the maximum opportunity for a conversation that feels unique to the time and place and crowd, something candid, not canned. This becomes increasingly important with authors and audiences that have a lot of panels in their pasts. I’ve heard about every crime fiction topic ever invented, I’d guess, but I still leave grinning after terrific panels. While at the dais, IMO, the moderator and panelists should work together to cultivate a spontaneous, genuine feeling and to promote generous participation (and that’s whether the topics are funny or deadly serious, or even feel at the outset to be threadbare or misconceived). That authenticity and goodwill happen in the moment. It’s not necessarily related to any advance cramming, it’s about enjoying the experience in real-time, about making the most of sharing with like-minded fans. For an audience, that creates a positive emotional impression of the experience that will outlast the details.

talk-micAS A PANELIST: Please speak right into the mic (but don’t yell) with genuine enthusiasm about your own work. If you don’t seem to care, who else will? Yes, yes, many authors are introverted and shy by nature. But, if you can sit in the dentist’s chair for an hour and resist the urge to fight back, you can overcome your other natural instincts long enough to smile for people who may actually want to invite your work into their imaginations and pay you for it!  That said, here are some of my Pet Peeves for Panelists:

1) If there’s a great story you like to tell, please don’t use the same verbiage or punch line unless it’s popular enough to be a t-shirt and people expect it. Do feel free to allude to the fact you’re aware the audience may have heard it before. In stuffy conference rooms, and especially after lunch, eyes glaze over with lusterless repetition. Make sure it’s really worth the risk to jam in that old chestnut. Didn’t something silly happen with your neighbor’s dog and the laundry last week? Survey your family’s Facebook stories, and find a way to work them in–you’re a creative liar, remember? You can always ask your friendly mod (yes, ask me!) to bring up the subject The question might be a set-up, like in a late-night talk show, but your having fresh material to share and discuss is more important.

2) If your work is a really bad fit for the panel you’re on (which definitely happens), grousing about that or other conference logistics during the panel will only make you look like a sourpuss. Your gripes may be well-founded, but is the impression you want to leave with prospective readers that you’re person who’s a drag to spend time with? Or instead, if you’re inviting readers into your written adventures of life-and-death and injustice, is there a chance you could, for the short-term, embrace a bold and adventurous can-do attitude yourself?


Even if nerves make you chatty, don’t get labeled as a glory hog.

3) Don’t steal all the airtime. As an audience member, you already know how much you hate when this happens, but be especially aware if you’re a habitual blatherer when nervous. *my hand is raised* No one, not your mother or your literary agent, wants to hear all the details of the dream in three acts you had the night before you started writing your novel. “I got the idea during a nightmare” is perfectly interesting (and Tweetable) and leaves the audience wanting to know more, not wishing you’d wrap it up. Don’t get so caught in your own head that you fail to look at anyone else–they’ll give you cues to their interest. Also, if I’m doing my mod job right, after you open an interesting topic, I can invite your follow-up or check if another panelist has had a similar experience, leading to an expanded discussion. We’re with you then, captivated, not simply held captive.

4) Your opinions are yours. Yes, you should share them (re: that authenticity I keep harping on about), but as your personal convictions and from your perspective, always leaving respectful room for disparate views–there are plenty, which is what makes life and fiction entertaining.

So many panels fail in just these simple aspects, that I can guarantee if a panel session feels genuine and collegial (of whatever style the moderation or topic or authors), people will tell you it was a great panel. Really! Take my word for it, and see you at the next panel!

Talk to me mic image via ShizzleDizzleMagic‘s 9 tips for public speaking.