Sunday, April 30, 2017

Malice Domestic Conversations

When writers get together you can count on stories -- the ones they are writing and their perspectives on books, life, and whatever waltzes through their minds. This week's Malice Domestic Conference in Bethesda, MD was no exception.

On the topic of humor in murder mysteries -- a.k.a. how do you get a laugh out of death? Nancy West notes while death is never funny, how people act afterwards can be. Think funeral scenes. I can never read a Janet Evanovich book without anticipating Grandma Mazur's antics to try to pry into a closed casket.

Since two of my series are set in farm country, in Iowa and Illinois, I was especially interested in the panel on Rural Murder. Stephanie Jayne Evans put things in perspective with a Sherlock Holmes quote "Most evil can be done privately when there is no one around to watch." Also on that panel was Shannon Baker, who has a particularly alert friend. She is always on the lookout for places that Shannon could hide a body.

I got a kick out of Ray Wenck on the Unusual Cops panel. "I am quirky. Just ask any of the voices in my head."

Three new vocabulary words came from the panel "Extra! Extra! Newshouds and Murder." The mix of former print and video reporters even noted varied spellings.
Lede (print) and lead (television): opening paragraph of a story
Nut: core of the story.
Kicker or reefer: end of the piece. Lots of comments on the reefer term, of course.

Molly MacRae talks conflict.
The panel "Oh, to be in Britain" had a great discussion of conflict as the key to drama. Among the ways Molly MacRae builds it are: have people operate at cross purposes, create misperceptions, and have a character ask one question and the respondent answer a a different one.

Leslie Meier had examples of causes of conflict in small towns: tension between new ways and entrenched operations, simmering resentment, and having characters act differently than their role in town would lead people to expect.

As in several panels, an audience member asked whether authors sometimes base a character on a real person, or how they hide the fact if they do so. G.M. Maillet had a great response. She uses the Mr. Potato Head School of Writing. A character trait may come from one person, coloring from another, and so on.

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Friday, April 7, 2017

Join a Group of Writers - Even if You Aren't Published

I've heard some writers say that when they walk into a library, they think 'why do I bother?' True, there are hundreds of thousands of books published each year. My perspective is that readers always want more, so your book can join the shelves.

What keeps me enthusiastic, even during slow writing periods, is spending time with
other writers.

I’ve been fortunate to live in three states – Maryland, Iowa, and Indiana – that had active local and regional writers’ organizations. They host conferences, workshops, and less formal events. Even when I had a busy day job, I took many courses and had a group of peers without looking far.

In Illinois, not so much, but I keep looking. If you can't find groups of writers, join a book club. Every library has at least one. It can be fiction or nonfiction. At least you will be with people who like to talk about good writing.

You don’t need to join any groups – you don’t even need to tell friends you are working on a book or trying to place articles in magazines. If your schedule is chock full of work and family responsibilities, a local or regional writing organization could seem like a chore. As in all aspects of creativity, there are no 'shoulds.'

If a Google search for local groups and queries at the library don't turn up local writing groups, think about Twitter.
Twitter lets you make lists of other users – I have them for mystery writers, cozy mystery writers, Iowa writers, and many more.

Wherever I move (three times in ten years), I go through the Twitter lists I've created to see which people noted where they lived. It takes a while, but I find nearby writers (even if not in my town) and establish email relationships. I eventually meet them.

We aren't talking about stalking here, just friendly self-introductions. If you get no response, you haven't lost anything but a few minutes of your time.


Professional writing organizations exist for every genre. Dues are usually $100 or less. Most have newsletters, some sponsor magazines. You learn a lot and get a better sense of who writes in your genre and which publishers are best for your kind of writing.

A lot of groups, such as Sisters in Crime, lead you to members who live in your area.
(Assuming they have agreed to be listed in the members-only section of SINC's web page.) Even if a national organization does not publish a member list, a call or email to the national office may garner local names.
I generally go to conferences within a couple hundred miles, so I don’t incur big travel expenses. Or I find one near my extended family, so no hotel bills. (Thank goodness for family and friends.)

When you go to a conference, there’s usually a list of attendees that shows where they live. Voila – you’ve found local people. In fact, I was invited into my wonderful critique group in Illinois because I’d met some of the members at the Midwest Writers Workshop in Muncie, Indiana.

Finding other writers isn’t as hard as finding a new job, but if you don’t live in a town with an existing organization, the hunt does take concerted effort. If you have limited time to write, perhaps that has to be your only focus. Spending time with other writers can come later.

Whatever feels right for you works for you. If you do reach out, you’ll probably find other writers willing to share their experiences.


Writer’s Digest Annual Best Websites for Writers
Some are websites only, some are affiliated with organizations. This is a link to one year’s list. (Because it's a PDF file, you probably need to cut and paste the link.)

Romance Writers of America (RWA) is the largest writers’ membership organization. It also has chapters throughout the country.

Sisters in Crime (open to sisters and misters, with active local chapters).
The email monthly SINC Links is worth the reasonable membership fee.

Writers, Agents and Editors Network. Website founded by Jeff Hermann. Hard to categorize this website, but it brings a lot of people together online.
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 Check out Elaine's web page, sign up for her classes, or receive her newsletter.