Writing Southern Mysteries

Malice Domestic Conference: Writing Southern Mysteries

Saturday morning at the Malice Domestic conference in Bethesda began with a New Authors Breakfast wherein two dozen newly published authors spoke briefly about their works. It was a great way to get to know these newbies and to discover interesting reads.

Writers’ conferences are often more about networking than attending workshops, but I did manage to attend three sessions. One of them was for writers by “The Poison Lady” on how to kill people using alcohol. I won’t be repeating that information here, but I’ll tell you about the other two panels for fans.

Early in the day, I greeted Dana Cameron, Charlaine Harris, Ellen Byerrum, Joanna Campbell Slan, and Neil Plakcy, among other writer friends. Besides Neil, Joanna and myself, Elaine Viets and Deborah Sharp were present from Florida MWA. We discussed marketing ideas and met new readers. I was able to display my promo materials in the hospitality suite, peruse the silent auction items, and greet booksellers in the dealers’ room.

Nancy Cohen and Dana Cameron
Nancy Cohen and Dana Cameron
Live Auction
Live Auction
Ellen Byerrum and Hank Phillippi Ryan
Ellen Byerrum and Hank Phillippi Ryan
Southern Mysteries Panelists

The first workshop I attended was on Southern Mysteries. Panelists were Sandra Parshall, moderator, whose mysteries are set in Virginia. Lisa Wysocky sets her series around horses. Erika Chase’s books are set in Alabama. Leann Sweeney’s cat mysteries take place in South Carolina. Christy Fifield’s haunted shop series is located in Florida. And Miranda James (aka Dean James) writes about a male librarian in Mississippi. Following are the questions posed by the moderator. Disclaimer: These interpretations are based on my notes and the paraphrasing is accurate to the best of my ability.

What is your personal connection to the South?

Miranda grew up in Mississippi in generations of farmers. He moved to Houston and went to grad school and became a librarian. Christy married a Southerner whose family comes from Alabama. Leann went to where her husband’s job took them to Texas and hopes to move to South Carolina someday. Erika loves horses and was captivated by Southern culture. Lisa moved to the South and also loves horses. “Characters in the South are wonderful fodder for mysteries.”

What is special about the South?

Leann: “What’s so wonderful about the South is there are all these secrets.” People are very polite and courteous, and they use indirect routes of speech as opposed to Northerners who say what they mean. Miranda: People in the South beat around the bush when speaking. “How many of you know the two meanings of ‘Bless your heart’?” It’s all in how you say it. Lisa: “History in the South is so much more fascinating than in the North.” Erika: “The word southern conjures the imagination, as in southern lady or southern gentleman.”

Tell us about your settings.

Lisa’s books are set in Tennessee where “many eccentric people live.” Christy’s stories are set in a small Florida town dependent on tourism. She loves the Florida Panhandle. Sandra’s mysteries take place in Virginia, while Miranda’s are set in Mississippi. Leann favors South Carolina, and Erika’s stories are centered in Alabama. Quite a variety!

How do you deal with darker issues?

Lisa approached the theme of child neglect with humor so that the humor balances the darkness. Erika doesn’t deal with any Gothic themes beyond murder. She says secrets from the past affect her characters, who help each other through them. Leann says her editor helps her balance the light and the dark. “Secrets are dangerous, and I want the reader to feel that tension throughout the book.” She often deals with dysfunctional family issues.

Christy has a main character who is a ghost. Another character is the ghost’s acquaintance, and their relationship goes back to a more turbulent time in history. She indicates how racial relationships in the South are still a fact of life there. It’s tough to balance those elements with the lightness of a cozy. Miranda likes to make the reader forget about their problems when reading his books. So he aims for a balance between real southern issues and a lighter mystery.

How do you include accents?

Miranda offers colloquial expressions and rhythm of speech instead of heavily accented speech which can be distracting to the reader. She says to be aware that certain words may be used differently. For example, do the people in a locale say cellar or basement? Erika says the flavor of interactions is more important than the words themselves.

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Later that afternoon, I was on a panel called Living with the Seven Deadly Sins: Mysteries as Modern Morality Plays. Moderated by Art Taylor, our panel included R. J. Hartlick, Carolyn Hart, Tracy Kiely, Margaret Maron, and myself. I discussed the value of relationships among the characters in a mystery and how that’s the focus of my stories. We joined other afternoon panelists at a booksigning later.

Lisa Wysocky, Maggie Toussaint, Nancy Cohen
Nancy and Tracy Kiely
Lorna Barrett and Nancy Cohen
Nancy Cohen and Jacqueline Corcoran

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Saturday night, we attended the Agatha Awards Banquet. I didn’t take pix here, too many people, and it was a long evening.

Coming Next: The New Nick and Noras: Mixing Romance and Murder

Washington D.C.

On a chilly day in April, we visited downtown Washington D.C. the day before Malice Domestic was to begin. It was so exciting to descend deep into the ground on a steep escalator, to join the hustle and bustle of people rushing to and fro, and to hear the rumble of an approaching train. When you’re not used to cities, riding the subway becomes an adventure on its own. We bought a ticket at the Metro station next to the Hyatt Regency Bethesda where we were staying and took the red line into town. I noted the urban style clothing: i.e. darker colors than we see in South Florida, closed toe shoes instead of sandals, men in suits. It was totally a different atmosphere than back home where people wear shorts and tank tops. I rode the train with a sense of wonder.Then we emerged outside, where the sky was overcast and the fifties temperature had prompted me to wear my North Face insulated jacket. We took a stroll around the White House and the executive office buildings surrounding it, noting the various gated entries. We passed the Renwick Gallery, an intriguing museum of decorative arts that I’d like to visit next time. And then we dined at our favorite place, the Old Ebbitt Grill.

Washington Monument
White House
View from White House
Gated Entry
Other Impressive Building

Renwick Gallery

After lunch, we visited the Smithsonian Museum of American History. I enjoyed the exhibit of First Lady gowns. But then panic assailed me when I realized my prescription sunglasses were missing from their perch on my handbag. We went everywhere peering at the ground searching for them. Then my brilliant niece suggested looking up. If someone had found the glasses, this person might have put them on a display case to keep them from being trampled.

She was right! She spotted them atop a glass case and I secured them. Whew! Smart tip. Remember this advice if you lose an item in a crowd.

Old Ebbitt Grill
Inside Restaurant
Crab Cake lunch

We toured exhibits of musical instruments, historical trains and cars and trolleys, and memorabilia from the American Presidency. Tired from our explorations, we trooped outside to the Metro station and rode back to the hotel. Dinner was Italian night with relatives. We visited with family again the next day. As it had dawned into the forties, we entertained ourselves at a local mall. Friday night, I attended the Malice Domestic welcome reception. And then the conference began in earnest for me.

First Lady Gown
Michelle Obama gown
Detail on Dress

Coming next: Panel Discussion on Southern Mysteries.

FRW Cruise Conference

Florida Romance Writers is thrilled to announce our

Keynote for the 2013 Fun in the Sun Conference

 

Charlaine Harris

 

Charlaine is the author of the Sookie Stackhouse novels,

the basis for the hit HBO series, True Blood.

 

Our other Guests include

Angela James, Executive Editor of Carina Press

Elaine Spencer, Agent with the Knight Agency

Leslie Wainger, Editor-at-Large for Harlequin

 

We set sail from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida onboard

Royal Caribbean’s beautiful Liberty of the Sea,  

on Thursday, January 24, 2013 and

return to port Monday, January 28, 2013.

 

Join us to see the beautiful blue seas of

Cozumel and bask in the Caribbean sunlight.

 

Other highlights include:
* Stellar Agents and Editors
* Sizzling Workshops
* Floridian Idol
* Shipboard Entertainment
* Panoramic Ocean views

 

  This year our conference will include a Pre-sail party

on Wednesday night January 23, 2013.

This will not be included in the conference registration.

Location, cost and time to be announced.

 

For additional information:

Pricing

Keynote

Agent & Editor

Schedule

FRW Chapter website

 

 

We have a few slots left to fill in our workshop schedule.

Send your proposal and a brief bio to our workshop coordinator

Heidi Lynn Anderson at heidilynnanderson@att.net

Feel free to contact Heidi with any questions you may have.

 

 

We look forward to seeing you onboard!

 

Kimberly Gonzalez

FRW Conference Coordinator

Come Cruise with your Muse

 

 

 

Ninc Conference

“Brainstorming on the Beach” Conference with Novelists, Inc.

Tradewinds Resort

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

We checked in for the Novelists, Inc. conference at Tradewinds Resort in St. Pete Beach. In the lobby, I met authors Cynthia Thomason, Brenda Hiatt Barber, Thea Devine, Ruth Glick, Judy Fitzwater, Barbara Keiler, Annette Mahon, Patricia Rosemoor, and Mary Stella.  It’s great seeing people I haven’t met up with in a while and meeting new friends, especially folks I’ve only seen online. It’s always good to match a face with a name.

Consisting of multiple buildings, the Island Grand portion of the Tradewinds Resort occupies several acres and includes beachfront property, numerous pools, picturesque footbridges over meandering canals, swans, plus several restaurants and bars.  We went over to a tiki hut our first day.  I had a Trade Winds Sunrise, a mixed rum drink, and hubbie and I split a potato skins appetizer. We ate dinner later in Beef O’Grady’s sports bar, a noisy venue with a reasonably priced menu.  We watched the spectacular sunset over the water as the blazing tangerine orb sank into the horizon.           

pool
One of many pools

We had a standard suite, with a comfortable sitting area and a mini-kitchen separated from the bedroom and bathroom by a regular door. There are old-fashioned TVs in each room.  Shampoo, lotion, bar soap, conditioner are supplied. There’s a coffeemaker in the kitchen with packaged supplies. The staff are all very courteous throughout the place. Guests can get Starbucks coffee at a bar in the main lobby beginning at 6am.  Breakfast in the Bermudas dining room opens at 7am. My single complaint is that the soundproofing could be better in the rooms. I could hear outside noise through the doors/windows. Otherwise, it’s a lovely resort with many facilities and activities throughout the property.

beach
Beach
                                                   
swan
Swan
                                                           
tiki
Tiki Bar
                                                                
Sunset
Sunset

RWA 2010: Day 2

RWA NATIONAL CONFERENCE, ORLANDO 2010

Thursday, July 29

The morning’s annual RWA meeting was followed by a keynote luncheon featuring NY Times bestselling author Nora Roberts aka J.D. Robb. 

Nora Roberts
Nora Roberts signs her books

 NORA ROBERTS Keynote Luncheon

Nora spoke about how technology changed from when she started writing in the days of typewriters.  Writers used to go to the library for research, wrote letters by hand, and made phone calls on land line telephones.  RWA started in Houston in the early 1980s, and Nora’s friends from those early days stayed with her throughout life.  RWA provides networking and education and is a springboard for publishing. 

Even though technology has changed, there are more opportunities in romance today. She talked about how we have to stay in the pool and avoid excuses like it’s too cold or we’re too tired or there are too many people crowding the water.  Getting published is “supposed to be hard.  Hard is what makes it special.”  And regarding the value of RWA, “No one should have to face the hard alone.” 

Lunch
Lunch with Zelda Benjamin (left) and Sandra Madden (right)

 

Publisher Lou Aronica’s State of the Industry Address at the PAN Retreat

“Slightly down is the new up” in this economy.  Only a few bestselling titles sustain the publishing houses, according to veteran publisher Lou Aronica.  Sales at the bottom of the list are low, as in dozens of copies sold.  It’s very hard to sell a novel today even though many romance programs are fully sustainable.  Sales at Amazon are up while Barnes & Noble sales are flat and Borders is having problems.  Bookstores are in trouble like the CD music stores.  Barnes & Noble realizes their brick-and-mortar stores are in jeopardy because consumers prefer to buy books online.  Amazon buyers purchase books they are looking for in particular. The main problem there is that we cannot duplicate the bookstore browsing experience.  There’s no place for impulse buyers. Amazon tries with their “if you like this book, then you’ll like…” but they mostly recommend bestsellers.  Few readers are discovering new fiction online. 

 E-books are changing everything.  Few people estimate the speed of change.  It was predicted there would be 11 million ebook readers by the end of 2011 but we’ve already reached this level.  3 million iPads were sold by the end of last month.  Before Kindle hit the market at the end of 2007, a few e-reader devices were available but not many people were interested.  Now it’s a different story.  But with soaring e-book sales, consumers don’t want to spend more than $12.99 on an e-book.  This loss in sales revenue concerns publishers and bookstores.  Barnes & Noble is making an effort by allowing consumers to read ebooks for free in their stores and to preview books they see on the shelves that way.  Booksellers may promote the store as a social site for people to hang out, but if nobody buys print books from them, what then?  CD stores went out of business because listeners wanted to buy online.  Readers like the price and convenience of buying e-books online.  It eliminates the need for manufacturing, distribution, and returns.  This means a publisher could potentially make more money by selling an increased number of books for less.  However, marketing is critical because the browsing experience is lost.  Far more effort has to be put into marketing, plus ebook prices have to rise to return a profit.

Publishing to date has been a business-to-business industry.  It goes from publisher to bookseller to consumer.  Now, however, there is a business-to-consumer model, a demand market instead of an impulse market.  New books go unsold because readers know what they want when they go online.  Many publishers don’t have the staff, training, or interest in consumer marketing.  So authors have to take charge of marketing their own work.  As a writer, you need to find a community of readers specific to your book and market directly to them, but this requires time and money.  Social media is a necessity.  Book reviews used to drive sales and so did independent booksellers, but this is not the case anymore.  Bloggers fill this void.  Authors should reach out to bloggers who have a passion for reading.  Again, this can be very time consuming. 

 If no one is printing or distributing the book, why do we need a publisher?  Lou offers these reasons:

  • Editorial input
  • Advances
  • Marketing
  • Multimedia access

More niche publishers are yet to come with expertise in locating readers.  Connecting to individual readers will rise in importance.  Lou foresees a Renaissance and says it’s “a great age to be a writer.”

Lunch
Nancy Cohen, Allison Chase, Sharon Hartley

 Writing  in Multiple Subgenres: the Pros and Cons of Branching Out

Panel with authors ANN AGUIRRE, CYNTHIA EDEN, BETH KERY, ELISABETH NAUGHTON, JULIANA STONE, and BETH WILLIAMSON

I sat next to author LAURA BRADFORD who writes romance and mystery. It was nice to meet her. Panelist ANN AGUIRRE said she keeps her work fresh by writing in multiple genres.  She takes a week off between books.  She wanted to write a science fiction book women could enjoy and that inspired her popular Jax series.  She would not want to settle down writing just one genre.  CYNTHIA EDEN said she writes very fast and can do a draft in six weeks.  The advantage of writing in multiple genres is you can produce as many books as you want although you may need a pseudonym.  You can meet reader expectations in a new genre by writing with the same voice.  “Don’t be afraid” to try a new genre.  The cons of writing multiple genres are:

  • Fans may not cross over if they’re dedicated genre readers.
  • Multiple websites and promo may be necessary for pen names and this can get costly.  
  • Fans want you to stay in the genre they like.
  • It can dilute your brand.  You should be clear with your labeling on your website and other sites.
  • Your publishers may expect you to write two or more books a year.

One author suggests doing double-sided promo items to separate the genres which can save you money.  Connecting websites can be a way to attract crossover readers.  But heed this caveat: “The only thing worse than not selling is overselling.”  In other words, don’t overbook yourself when setting deadlines.  Allow time for vacations, edits, page proofs, blog tours, etc.  And just because Author X writes 10 pages a day doesn’t mean you have to produce the same.  Everyone is different.  Do what suits your lifestyle.

 Paranormals

Panel with authors KELLEY ARMSTRONG, JEANIENE FROST, TERRI GAREY, COLLEEN GLEASON, JULIANA STONE, and CHERYL WILSON

The panelists discussed the differences between paranormal romance and urban fantasy.  Paranormal romance has the happy ever after ending expected in the romance genre along with spin-off sequels, while urban fantasy employs first-person viewpoint and will have the same character recurrent in a series.  However, these lines are blurring as some PNRs may have recurring heroines and some UFs may be less gritty. One author defined fantasy as more Tolkien in scope, while PNR involved “things that go bump in the night.” Whatever the subgenre, world building rules must be consistent.  We may be seeing more stories based on mythology because this is still a “rich area to mine.” 

The panelists spoke about their world building process.  One author first defines her forces of conflict, i.e., good versus evil.  Then she goes from the macro level down to the micro level starting with government and ending with daily life.  What is unique about your world must be essential to your story.  What does the culture value the most and what will they do to protect it? 

Our last workshop on Thursday finished at 5:30.  We headed off for drinks at the bar with our FRW pals: President KRISTIN WALLACE, KATHLEEN PICKERING, ONA BUSTOS, MICHAEL MEESKE, MONA RISK, CAROL STEPHENSON, DEBBIE ANDREWS, and more. Publicist JOAN SCHULHAFER stopped by to say hello. So did CFRW members DARA EDMONSON aka WYNTER DANIELS and CFRW prez LORENA STREETER.  Then we all split to find dinner.

More workshop writeups coming over the weekend.  Hit the Subscribe button if you want to stay informed about new posts.

Disclaimer: These workshop reports are based on my notes and are subject to my interpretation. 

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Prize drawing from August commenters at all my blogging sites for a free signed book from my personal backlist collection, your choice of paranormal/futuristic romance or Bad Hair Day mystery.

Friday, August 6: I’ll be blogging on Secrets and Suspense at http://coffeetimeromance.com/CoffeeThoughts/

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RWA CONFERENCE REPORT: Day 1

Wednesday, July 28 

I arrived at the Dolphin Resort with my roomies for the weekend, authors ALLISON CHASE and SHARON HARTLEY.  We went early in the morning to register at the RWA Annual Conference and to drop off our promo items in the goody room. Not too many people were around but we figured it would get crowded later. We said hello to JOYCE HENDERSON and LYNETTE HALLBERG from SWFRW and to DARA EDMONSON and MICHELLE YOUNG from CFRW.  MONA RISK was there from FRW looking for the booksigning room to drop off her stuff for later.

Allison,Nancy,Sharon
Allison Chase, Nancy Cohen, Sharon Hartley

 At 2:30, we attended the Librarian Networking Event where we met librarians from Florida and around the country. Many authors were there too and offered book giveaways and other promo items for the librarians. The mass Literacy Booksigning followed with over 500 authors in alphabetical rows sitting with their books in front of them and cashiers at the far end. NY Times Bestselling authors like HEATHER GRAHAM and SUSAN ELIZABETH PHILLIPS had their own spots. I roamed the aisles greeting fellow authors and introducing myself to people I hadn’t met.  I greeted JUDI MCCOY who writes the dog walker mystery series, and other authors whose names were familiar from the various listserves where I hang out online. A bevy of our own FRW authors were present: KATHY PICKERING, BONNIE VANAK, DEBBIE ANDREWS, MICHAEL MEESKE, ONA BUSTOS, and many more. The two hours went fast, and over $55,000 was raised for adult literacy.

Allison Chase at Booksigning
Allison Chase at Booksigning
Joan and gang
Joan Schulhafer, Kristen Wallace, Kathleen Pickering, Ona Bustos
Nancy and gang
Kathleen Pickering, Nancy Cohen, Sharon Hartley
Sharon and Traci
Sharon Hartley and Traci Hall
Sharon and Nancy
Sharon Hartley and Nancy Cohen

 Coming Next: Day 2 with keynote luncheon and workshops.

Prize Drawing from all my blog commenters in August for signed book from my personal backlist collection.

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FRW CRUISE CONFERENCE

FLORIDA ROMANCE WRITERS FUN IN THE SUN CONFERENCE ABOARD A CARNIVAL CRUISE SHIP!  

The Florida Romance Writers are proud to present              

Independence of the Seas
Independence of the Seas

Heather Graham, Joan Johnston and Sally Schoeneweiss
as the keynote speakers for the 2011 Fun in the Sun Conference.

Join us and Cruise with your Muse January 20th-24th, 2011
on-board the Carnival Destiny
Departs from Miami, Fl.
Ports-of-Call: Key West, Fl. & Cozumel, Mexico

Confirmed Agents and Editors are:
Wanda Ottewell- Harlequin,
Erica Tsang- Avon,
Lucienne Diver- The Knight Agency, and
Lucy Childs- Aaron M. Priest Literary Agency.

Current pricing valid thru June 15th, 2010, register today!               

Other Highlights include:
A sampling of events and workshops is available on our website at:
http://frwfuninthesunworkshops.blogspot.com/
* Sizzling Workshops
* Floridian Idol, Season 4
* Shipboard Entertainment
* Panoramic Ocean Views

Conference with FRW on our 25th Anniversary!
We promise to make it an amazing experience!

Space is limited, so don’t delay. Reserve your spot and get those passports ready.

For more information visit our website at http://frwfuninthesunmain.blogspot.com/

Passport is required!

You can also find us on Facebook @ FRW Cruise With Your Muse
http://www.facebook .com/group. php?gid=33410248 0558#!/group.php? v=wall&gid= 334102480558

We look forward to seeing you in January,
Kimberly Burke
Conference Coordinator
Email: FRWfuninthesun@yahoo.com