SleuthFest 2018 began on March 1, 2018 with “Third Degree” Thursday and a full day of writing workshops at this premier mystery writers’ conference held in Boca Raton, Florida. I arrived in time to give my presentation on “Developing a Mystery Series.” It was well attended and attendees asked a lot of good questions. That afternoon, I did my stint at the registration desk while greeting old friends and making new ones. In the middle photo is Steve Brown and Jeffrey Philips. Then to the right is Marty Ambrose with me and Michael L. Joy.
Panelists from earlier that day had a booksigning in front of the on-site bookstore run by Murder on the Beach. We had the chance to buy raffle tickets from the boa ladies. Here I am with James R. Benn and Hallie Ephron.
After a welcome speech by conference co-chairs Michael L. Joy and Victoria Landis, we heard guest publisher Neil Nyren from G.P. Putnam’s Sons give his presentation on “Myths and Truths, Part IV.”
Thursday evening provided an occasion to eat dinner in the lobby for those of us not attending the SleuthFest 101 banquet dinner. A mystery trivia game followed. On the left are Ann Meier, Vincent H. O’Neill, and Susan Brandt. To the right with me are Kell Levendorf and Dr. Chris Jackson.
You can view more photos on my Facebook page. Look for the SleuthFest 2018 album.
ENTER HEREto win a $25 Amazon/BN gift card from Booklover’s Bench.
SleuthFest 2017 was another stellar event held at the Embassy Suites in Boca Raton. This premier mystery writers’ conference is sponsored by the Florida Chapter of Mystery Writers of America. Third Degree Thursday kicked off the weekend with a bunch of workshops and Dirk Wyle’s Readers’ Corner. That evening, co-chairs Victoria Landis and Joanne Sinchuk welcomed everyone to the conference. We heard publisher Neil Nyren discuss the state of the industry and agents in particular. Then those folks who had signed up attended the “Sleuthfest 101” dinner followed by a trivia contest. Friday morning, I attended a workshop by publicist Maryglenn McCombs titled Seven Secrets to Promoting a Book. Then I moderated a panel on How to Keep a Series from Getting Stale with authors Lynnette Hallberg, Cheryl Hollon, Carol J. Perry, and Nancy G. West. Using different settings, interesting research, new characters, evolving relationships, and character arcs were some of the techniques mentioned. Lunch in the ballroom followed with a talk by our Forensic Guest of Honor, Dr. Vincent DiMaio. His graphic slides made swallowing our meal difficult but his talk was fascinating. He spoke about cases that appeared to be natural deaths or accidents, but upon closer examination, proved to be murder. Another round of workshops followed. Next came my own presentation on Preparing for Your Book Launch. I spoke about the various ways writers can publicize a new book release. The banquet on Friday evening included the Freddie Awards Ceremony. The winner in the Mystery category was Graham Reed from Vancouver for his entry, The Chairman’s Toys. The winner of the Thriller category was Millie Naylor Hast from Texas for her entry, Takeover.
Saturday morning found us back attending workshops. I moderated the one titled Crime Solving Couples with speakers Carol J. Perry and Nancy G. West. The three of us spoke about how the couples work together in our respective series. Luncheon brought us Keynote Speaker and Bestselling Author David Baldacci, who entertained and educated us while we ate. He’s a great speaker, and I couldn’t wait to read his book “The Finisher” that I’d bought in the on-site bookstore run by Murder on the Beach Mystery Bookstore. Then former chapter president Randy Rawls presented the Flamingo Award to the very deserving Rick Wymer, who with his wife Mary Lou, have spent hours of selfless devotion as volunteers in the service of FMWA. At this point, I’m sorry to say, I went upstairs to my hotel room to rest. I’d contracted a cold and sinus infection at the end of the FRW conference cruise, and I was getting worse instead of better. But I made it to the cocktail party that evening and had a nice chat with fellow authors. Still not feeling well, I cut out early on Sunday morning and had to miss our Sunday Guest of Honor, Jeff Lindsay. I’ve heard he was a great speaker and very entertaining. And so now we must begin to plan for next year. Go Here to see more photos.
My husband and I took a walk on Saturday, since we finally had a break from the rain and cold weather in South Florida.
Our conversation went something like this:
“I finally figured out the murder weapon,” I said. “Now I just have to determine whodunit.”
“Oh, and I thought you were looking at knives on the computer to use on me.”
“No, I found the perfect blade with a special handle. It’ll help lead to the killer’s identity. But I’m not sure how I’ll get there. I have to eliminate each suspect one-by-one to reveal the bad guy.”
“I don’t know how you can do all that. It would give me a headache.”
“Me, too. I haven’t figured out what Marla will do next. Her stepdaughter just had an emergency. We have to get past that, and then….”
And so on. You get the idea. Our imaginations are always active. I tend to zone out at times and have to remind myself to live in the moment. But it’s hard when you’re in the middle of writing a novel to stop thinking about it. We need the momentum to keep going, until the final page where we can write The End. Then it’s like a great burden lifts off our brains…at least until we start revisions.
Register Now for SleuthFest 2016 to be held February 25-28 at the Doubletree Hilton,100 Fairway Drive, Deerfield Beach, FL 33441
Florida’s premiere mystery writers’ conference sponsored by the Florida Chapter of Mystery Writers of America.
Keynote Speaker: CJ Box
Florida Guest of Honor: PJ Parrish
Forensic Guest of Honor: Valerie Plame
Publisher Guest of Honor: Neil Nyren
Sunday Brunch Speaker: Recovering Hollywood Writer, Stand-Up Comedian and Publishing Exec John Hartnett will speak on “Never Use Craigslist to Find Your Muse (& Other Lifesaving Advice for Authors)”
Four Tracks of Fantastic Workshops & Sessions for Writers at Every Level; Agent & Editor Appointments; Manuscript Critiques; Author Auction; Agent/Editor Cocktail party; 101 Dinner; Flamingo Pitch Tank; Raffle; and more!
* Agent Appointments to pitch your finished work
* Critiques of your 10 page manuscript submission
* Forensic track with current forensic techniques and hands-on forensic workshops
* Social events to mingle with agents, editors and your favorite authors
* Auction to purchase critiques of your work by bestselling authors
* Sessions on the craft of writing
* Sessions on marketing and promoting your work
* Practice your Pitch sessions with experienced authors
* Panels on crime investigations, forensics, poisons, & other research topics
* Friday Night Banquet to announce Freddie Writing Competition Award Winners
Please follow me on my blog tour. I have some interesting and unique topics lined up for you. All commenters on these guest posts will be entered into a grand prize drawing for a Warrior Prince T-shirt and magnet and a pdf copy of Warrior Prince.
Day 7, December 14, Tuesday, Emerald Princess 10 Day cruise to Southern Caribbean
We had more time on this island than Grenada and I would have liked less. It’s 112 square miles with a population of 14,000. The land appeared relatively flat and sparse with little vegetation. It didn’t look as populated as the other islands, but my cousin took an island tour and was so impressed by the upscale housing and sights that this was her favorite island. She said there’s a very low level of unemployment. Next time we’ll have to do the island tour.
We walked down the pier to the main shopping street, passed a bunch of crafts vendors, and turned left. The shops sold the usual souvenir items plus sea salt produced here. We bought aloe lotions as they grow the medicinal plant on this island. There were no bargains and nothing else new to get. A few bars face the water where you can buy a drink and admire the view. The streets were dusty with the dried mud coating the surface and buildings with second-story balconies reminiscent of the Old West. We arrived at port at 12 o’clock. My husband and I spent less than two hours walking around. I liked this port the least but it’s probably good if you like water sports. The water was beautiful and crystal clear. We could see tropical fish swimming around right up to shore.
Day 8, December 15, Wednesday
We approached the main town Oranjestad on this prosperous island of 74 square miles. Aruba’s population is around 34, 000. It’s part of the Dutch Commonwealth. Aloe is its main agricultural crop. I spied numerous freighters offshore. A sandbar protects the coast by the pier and a lone tree grows seemingly in the middle of the water. We could see oil storage tanks from the Lago refinery in the distance on one side and the airport on the other. The island appears mostly flat with a hilly area in one direction.
The affluent and well-kept town contains some of the same jewelry stores as St. Thomas. You can get jewelry galore along the main street, L.G. Smith Boulevard, along with tropical wear, souvenirs, and Delft china items from Holland. It didn’t take us long to walk up and down the street and stroll around the Royal Plaza and Renaissance Malls (attached to a hotel).
Diamonds International is a favorite store among cruise passengers, and Kay’s Fine Jewelry had some good prices. (In St. Thomas, check out Imperial Jewelers and Ballerina Jewelers in addition to DI).
We went back to the ship for lunch then explored the souvenir shops inside the cruise terminal. You can get last minute gifts here without going farther. Aruba is a large island, and if you can ignore its news infamy, worthy of exploration.
Tonight on the ship was the Captain’s Circle repeat members cocktail party. It was very crowded. They were generous with the drinks but not with the food. For dinner, I chose the roast rack of lamb. The show was a ventriloquist whose dummy was a shrieking duck that grated our nerves. We left in the middle of his performance.
Days 9 & 10, December 16-17, Thursday and Friday
We enjoyed our days at sea, sitting out by the pool, reading, eating, lounging on our balcony. Eating again. Napping. Checking out the ice cream. Getting a hot dog. Grabbing a cookie. Reading. Eating again. If you want to be busy, there are various activities going on, but this was my 25th cruise and I’d been there, done that. It was a wonderfully relaxing trip. I miss the warm weather, now that we are home again. The only solution is to plan our next voyage on the high seas.
And if you’re into cruise mysteries, check out Killer Knots, my latest Bad Hair Day mystery featuring hairdresser Marla Shore who solves crimes with wit and style under the sultry tropical sun, this time on a cruise to the Caribbean.
These tips apply equally to any holiday and to your next cruise as well. Thanks to mystery author Michael Haskins for passing them along.
1. Avoid carrot sticks. Anyone who puts carrots on a holiday buffet table knows nothing of the Christmas spirit. In fact, if you see carrots, leave immediately. Go next door, where they’re serving rum balls.
2. Drink as much eggnog as you can and quickly. You can’t find it any other time of year but now. So drink up! Who cares that it has 10,000 calories in every sip? It’s not as if you’re going to turn into an "eggnog-aholic" or something. It’s a treat. Enjoy it!!!! Have one for me. Have two. It’s later than you think. It’s Christmas!
3. If something comes with gravy, use it. That’s the whole point of gravy. Gravy does not stand-alone. Pour it on. Make a volcano out of your mashed potatoes. Fill it with gravy. Eat the volcano. Repeat.
4. As for mashed potatoes, always ask if they’re made with skim milk or whole milk. If it’s skim, pass. Why bother? It’s like buying a sports car with an automatic transmission.
5. Do not have a snack before going to a party in an effort to control your eating. The whole point of going to a Christmas party is to eat other people’s food for free. Lots of it. Hello???
6. Under no circumstances should you exercise between now and New Year’s. You can do that in January when you have nothing else to do. This is the time for long naps, which you’ll need after circling the buffet table while carrying a 10-pound plate of food and that vat of eggnog.
7. If you come across something really good at a buffet table, like frosted Christmas cookies in the shape and size of Santa, position yourself near them and don’t budge. Have as many as you can before becoming the center of attention. They’re like a beautiful pair of shoes. If you leave them behind, you’re never going to see them again.
8. Same for pies. Apple, pumpkin and mincemeat – have a slice of each. Or, if you don’t like mincemeat, have two apples and one pumpkin. Always have three. When else do you get to have more than one dessert?
9. Did someone mention fruitcake? Granted, it’s loaded with the mandatory celebratory calories, but avoid it at all cost. I mean, have some standards.
10. One final tip: If you don’t feel terrible when you leave the party or get up from the table, you haven’t been paying attention. Reread tips: Start over, but hurry, January is just around the corner.
Remember this motto to live by: "Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body. But rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in hand, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming "WOO-HOO what a ride!
Day 6, December 13, Monday, Emerald Princess 10 Day Cruise to Southern Caribbean
The day dawned bright and sunny and warm. Clouds hovered over the distant mountain ranges as we approached the famed “spice” island. I spotted a fort up on a hill, a clock tower in town, and a multitude of pastel buildings, many of which clustered up the hillside. Grenada is 133 square miles. Approximately 33,700 people live in the capital city of St. George’s which is where we docked.
We boarded an air-conditioned bus for the ship’s tour titled Grenada Explorer (the sign-up sheet says non a/c vehicles but that may be outdated). Here we drove through the insanely crowded narrow streets of St. George’s barely scraping by other vehicles. We emerged onto a road hugging the rocky coast. Sandy beaches and resorts are to the south side. We headed in the opposite direction. After a lengthy drive past many seaside villages, we turned inland toward the lush jungle interior. Wild fruit trees sprouted everywhere: tall, leafy nutmeg trees with round nuts sagging from the branches. Papayas laden with heavy green fruits. Abundant banana plants in various stages of maturity. Long cocoa pods hanging off trees. Vines aplenty. We passed some planted fields of corn and root vegetables. Most of the nutmeg, cacao, bananas are exported to Europe. It was amazing to see these fruit trees wild all over the island. I was stunned by the bountiful fruits to be found on this tropical paradise, although the standard of living could be higher.
We careened around switchback roads up and down through verdant hillsides, spotting an occasional goat. Overhead power lines strung through villages. We saw many half-built structures as though abandoned mid-construction. Men sat about watching us pass as though they had nothing productive to do. Laundry hung out to dry at many cottages. Dogs roamed the streets, and children played on open porches. Many of the homes were on stilts, without any visible air-conditioning units. Given the living conditions, I was surprised when the guide said they have cable TV with the same channels as we do.
Our first stop, an hour’s drive away, was the centuries old Dougaldston Spice Estate. The wooden buildings were faded and rundown. While I visited the outbuilding restroom, the host described the different spices grown on the island. I joined the group as he passed each spice around for us to smell: nutmeg, bay leaves, cloves, mace, ginger, tumeric, and cocoa. Small packets were available for purchase for a dollar or two each with no labels other than what spice they contained. I was disappointed; the tour description said we’d have the opportunity to buy spices here and I’d expected something more sophisticated. This hardly seemed worth the long ride, except that I enjoyed the drive through the verdant mountains to view the scenery.
Our bus resumed its route, making one roadside stop. The driver paid a guy to give us each a banana to eat. The tour list said we were supposed to stop at Gouyave Nutmeg Station but I don’t recall this being part of the tour.
We proceeded next to Grand Etang National Park 1900 feet above sea level for a view of the crater lake. I would have liked more time here as they had the best vendors for shopping but we only had 15 minutes. I gulped down the free rum punch which was mostly fruit juice, snapped a quick picture, and ran from one craft stall to the next. I bought spice necklaces made up of the different spices grown on the island. They smelled wonderful and I hoped they would keep until we got home and I hung one in my kitchen. I also bought nutmeg syrup and nutmeg jam plus some gift packs and individual packets of the different spices.
From here we visited Annandale Falls where we had a short hike downhill for the view. It was a minor waterfalls compared to the twin falls in Dominica. The vendors here were annoying, pushing their wares at us. We were now anxious to get back to town to do some shopping but our bus driver took us to Fort Frederick. We admired the ships in harbor in St. George below. There was another vendor up here plus restrooms.
Our bus stalled as we turned to make a sharp curve. All the passengers had to get out and several men helped push the bus backward. Then the driver aimed downhill, and we climbed back on. We gritted our teeth as we coasted down the steep decline but the engine restarted. Whew. The driver deserved our praise after the harrowing ride.
We’d begun our tour around 7:30 and got back to town around 12:30. Five hours was too long to be sitting on a bus. I would have liked a lot more time in town, especially because the ship left at 2:00 pm. This was our shortest port stop and one of the most interesting. Nonetheless, we appreciated the tour of Grenada’s natural wonders. My only suggestion to Princess would be to stay in port longer.
Frantic to buy more spices, I shopped in the Esplanade Mall next to the pier. Everything you’d want is right there: duty free liquor and perfume, souvenirs and spices, jams and jellies, hot sauces. This was a great shopping mall with crafts vendors outside. We didn’t have time to walk around the town at all. Maybe it was just as well. I’d already spent too much money and bought all kinds of spices that I didn’t know how to use.
Once aboard, we rested in our cabin then strolled around the ship. Most of the pool chairs were already taken so we enjoyed our balcony. For dinner that night, I had shrimp cocktail, a mushroom tart, roasted sliced duck, and a Grand Marnier soufflé.
First off, note there’s no deck 13. The decks go from 12 to 14. We stayed on Baja deck 11 and it was a great location. Our balcony cabin expanded the view and prevented us from feeling closed in. The balconies are very comfortable with a soft rubbery covering on the floor, two chairs, a small round table, and a glass partition for protection and as a wind guard under the rail. Be aware your neighbors can hear you clearly when you’re outside. Indoors, the soundproofing seemed very good unless we had unusually quiet guests on either side. We had a separate closet with hangars and shelving so there’s plenty of room to unpack. The bedding is comfortable like in premium hotels. Alas, the bathrooms can always use improvement. We had enough shelf space but you could sit on the toilet and brush your hair in the mirror at the same time. If you’re really tall, you could probably brush your teeth too. As for the shower, forget shaving your legs in there. It has a curtain that doesn’t try to grab you, but the space is small especially if you drop the soap. The controls are better than most and easy to use and the force just right. Our thermostat worked fine in the room, too, although the LCD light glared at me every night in the dark. Guests get shampoo, conditioner, lotion, and round soaps. They all smell good but the conditioner and lotion are too thick to pour. The tissues are too rough and the toilet paper is single ply and too thin. They could upgrade their quality here although this is probably one of their cost cutting arenas. Rating on the cabins: Very Good.
To the detriment of my weight, I love the food on Princess cruises. The menus are consistently good, with appealing alternate choices, and we feel no need to pay extra to go to the specialty restaurants. If you’re an early bird like us, you can get coffee and Danish and cereal in Café Caribe until the Horizon Court buffet opens at 6am. Here you have a huge array of fresh fruit, cereal and yogurt, eggs scrambled and fried and omelets and hard boiled, bacon and ham, pancakes and waffles, breads and pastries, etc. It’s making my mouth water to think about it. I liked the individual fried eggs under the heat lamp where you don’t have to wait around for a chef, and a different prepared omelet choice each day. The croissants are good, but the really secret place where I got an almond croissant was down on deck five at the International Café. Here you can pay for specialty coffees and teas but the food is free: yogurt parfaits, pastries, and quiches for breakfast, salads and sandwiches for lunch, desserts nearly all day. And there’s always the choice of the main dining room for sit-down service. Lunch usually found us at the Horizon Court because I loved their make your own salad with just about every ingredient, plus a choice of hot foods, sandwiches and soups, interesting side dishes, and the usual fruits, breads, cheeses, and sweets. I miss the different type of seeds and nuts they put out each day to sprinkle on my salad. A few items stand out in my memory: a goat cheese and artichoke souffle, the cooked eggplant medley with onion and tomato, a delicious vegetarian lasagna, the brown rice with oranges and dates. Sometimes we ate pizza at the outdoor grill. At another grill, you could get hot dogs, burgers, and chicken with French fries. Soft ice cream with or without sprinkles is available next to the the pizza bar. All this is included in the cruise price. You can eat your way to Nirvana. Dinner in the dining room consisted of several courses: appetizer, soup, salad, entrée, dessert. You can have as many or as little as you choose. My selections ranged from prime ribs to lobster tail to jumbo shrimp to duck and Rock Cornish hen. If you’re not a meat eater, you have plenty of appealing choices as well. And the desserts, well, need I say more? Oh, and if you’re sitting by the pool in the afternoon, don’t miss the bow-tied guys in uniform wheeling around a cart and serving fresh baked cookies and milk to guests. Rating on the food: Excellent.
The ship’s troupe of singers and dancers are competent and energetic, but except for the last show, I wasn’t blown away by the performances. They lacked a “Wow” factor. I liked the final show featuring rock music and hip hop dancing but the older crowd liked the Motown music and Cole Porter acts. I don’t like jugglers or ventriloquists so passed on those guys. The vocal impressionist was excellent. He imitated many famous voices, ranging from country to opera, and was multi-talented in his own right. One comedian was great; another didn’t appeal to me. But this is subjective. I’ve probably become jaded from going on so many cruises but not many of these acts stand out in my mind. The hypnotist we saw on the Caribbean Princess was memorable. The other annoying thing was that you have to reserve your seat for a half hour to forty five minutes ahead of time. There’s no band playing so nothing to do except twiddle your thumbs while you wait. This comes after sitting an hour and a half at dinner, then you sit for another half hour to claim your seat, then you sit through an hour show. My legs got restless. I picked up the daily Sudoku puzzle in the library and worked on that while I waited. Or bring a book. You’ll need it unless you have someone to talk to in the interim. It’s nice when other cruise ships have live music on stage you can listen to before a show. So my rating for the entertainment would get an Average.
I enjoyed this ship and would sail on her again. The three story atrium is always lively, with entertainment every evening. Different lounges have live music for dancing, so you have several places to go after the show. Often there are two shows each night to choose from in different locations, so if you’ve seen the production show, you can catch the comedian or an outdoor Movie Under The Stars. Other cruise lines take up lounges with karaoke and art auctions and bingo, but these aren’t pushed in your face here. There are the usual trivia contests and game shows but if you’re not a fan, you can listen to a country band, practice your ballroom dancing, or rock the night away. The food is enough of a reason to return. Plus the ship is well maintained. We saw crew brushing anti-rust goo on the joints out on deck, applying fresh varnish, and sanding down wood trim. Everything appears clean and polished. So I remain a fan of Princess and will doubtless return to one of their ships in the future.