Wednesday, November 17, 2010

New England Crime Bake

Have you ever been to a traditional New England clam bake? A bunch of friends get together on a beach, talk about things they all enjoy, play a little on the sand or in the water, and enjoy good food and fellowship. It's a great way to spend a day, and when it's over, everyone looks forward to the next time.

Well, last weekend I discovered another New England tradition that I look forward to repeating in the future. It is the joint meeting of the New England Mystery Writers Association (MWA) and Sisters in Crime (SinC), dubbed the "New England Crime Bake." There, a bunch of mystery writers get together in a hotel in Dedham, MA, talk about writing mysteries, play a little at a banquet and ball, and enjoy good food and fellowship. It's a great way to spend a weekend.

This was my first Crime Bake, and my first writers conference, but I felt welcome among the veterans there. I have attended several writers' workshops over the years, but this was different. It was not designed to help me make great progress with developing my characters or designing my plot. It was, instead, an opportunity for networking, learning some tricks of the trade, and making new friends.

The conference was extremely well-run, packing in several days' worth of activities into just 45 hours. The 300+ participants enjoyed panels on many aspects of mystery writing, including those with such interesting titles as "Miss Marple, How You've Changed!" and "What's Written in Blood," as well as discussions of setting, using humor, how to write a page turner, and many  more.

I had an opportunity to meet the Query Shark herself, Janet Reid of FinePrint Literary Management, and her wonderful assistant, Meredith. Janet is one of the agents everyone wanted to meet. She worked with my group in the "Practice Your Manuscript Pitch" seminar. I told her I had written a cozy mystery (i.e. no "on screen" violence or sex, set in a small town, non-professional sleuth, etc.). She listened to my initial pitch and told me I had written a suspense novel. It became a running joke between us throughout the conference. Later, when I met her for a five-minute pitch session, we talked about it again. She gave me a book to read and suggested another title. I look forward to reading them both and looking at my manuscript through her lens.

The Guest of Honor for the event was Charlaine Harris, the author of the Aurora Teagarden, Lily Bard, Sookie Stackhouse, and most recently the Harper Connelly mystery series. She is best known for the Sookie Stackhouse books upon which the HBO vampire series True Blood is based. She told us that people are often surprised to hear that she is also married, the mother of three children, and active in her church. But she admits that many of her novels come from a very dark place. She was extremely generous with her time, answered countless questions, posed for photos, and signed hundreds of books for conferees. For one coming from a "dark place," she was extremely friendly, open, and funny.

The Red and Black Ball on Saturday night was probably the most fun event of the weekend. Conferees and their guests filled the ballroom--many dressed in red and black, but many others dressed as their favorite "creatures of the night." There was a costume contest with prizes in the categories of "Most Spook-tacular," "Most Boo-tiful," and "Most Hell-arious." A man who sat next to me won for most "Hell-arious." He was dressed as a lobster and wore a black cape. But he suffered for his art. By the time the night was over, I think he felt like he had been in the lobster pot himself because his costume was so warm.

All in all, it was a weekend to remember . . . and I look forward to the next time.

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