Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Unpacking the Conference

My email box fills up every few months with announcements of posts about conferences I might have missed—notes on panel discussions, awards announcements, and interviews. Since I attend only one conference a year, one held in my home state as well, I’m always curious about what happens elsewhere. I scan the posts looking for a few interesting tidbits and ideas for whatever I’m working on.

The New England Crime Bake, a mystery conference held annually in Dedham, MA, ended Sunday, November 8, and I’m now at home “unpacking” my conference experience. I was thinking about posting a summary of some of the panels I attended, and then quickly dropped the idea. For me, unpacking a conference in the days right after I get home means following up on conversations held over three days and two nights. I have lots to do this week, most of it by email.

Conferences are about readers meeting writers, writers meeting readers, and writers selling books. Crime Bake gives short story writers the same opportunity as novelists. Level Best Books held its annual book signing, and I was one of the writers included in Red Dawn, the last anthology by this group of editors. We had a long line of writers signing piles of books for readers. I have a chance this week to get two more signatures of writers who didn’t attend the conference but live in my area. 

I owe a list of books to a good friend and colleague who recently moved to Pennsylvania. We share an interest in the history of the genre and where it’s going. We talked about two nonfiction books he wasn’t familiar with, and I’m sending pub info.

Two colleagues asked me to work with them to put together a writers’ group for established writers, and that means we have to think hard about how to go about this. We don’t live near each other, but we can and do drive. Lots of planning ahead.

An agent interested in a new project gave me several suggestions for the (now considered) unfinished ms, and the revisions will be my focus for the next few weeks. I’ve made notes on what I want to change and add, and promised her a revised version.

It wouldn’t be a conference without meeting several writers whose books are unknown to me. I have a list of titles whose authors I enjoyed meeting. The bar, for this writer, is not a place to drink. It’s a place to meet other writers, and share information. In exchange for a list of mysteries from one author, I suggested a nonfiction book that would help with the research for a paranormal mystery series. (Who knew I could be useful in such an area?)

A colleague mentioned his wife’s new position, which including scouting people for work in India. I just happen to know a scientist in India who is between jobs. We’ll see what happens.

In several panels experts in various fields talked about the technical errors writers make (this is hardly news to me, since I know how ignorant I am in police procedure and hence let all the police work happen off-stage). I know this offends readers with expertise, but this is not the point of reading a novel, in my view. The technical information adds authenticity but shouldn’t overshadow the characters.

In the discussion about how to manage specialized information I would like to hear at least one expert admit that the science of policing is not the point of the story. If you want to know the rights and wrongs of city policing, read a manual. In some novels the writer is so busy showing off his or her special knowledge of legal and policing information that such information becomes the story, and the ostensible mystery devolves into nothing more than a clever anecdote. I appreciate the research, but it is not the story.

There is one experience from this conference that was totally unexpected. I met a journalist whose husband has studied Sanskrit. For the first time in my mystery writing career I didn’t feel like an oddball. Thank you, Debra.

Finally, a good conference gives participants things to think about for months to come. I keep a small notebook with me all the time and use it for anything that happens during the year, including conferences, so I can locate and revisit ideas easily. This conference almost filled my little notebook.

Crime Bake is a popular conference. The organizers made a decision early on to keep it small, and as a result registration fills up fast. If you’re thinking about joining next year, get on the mailing list and sign up early—while you can. http://crimebake.org


  1. Conferences are great for networking, and as you said, for finding out that you are not alone in your interests.

  2. A good conference gives the participants lots to follow up on, and this year's Crime Bake was no exception. Thanks for commenting, Jacquie.

  3. Sounds like a good place to be!
    Good luck and God's blessings

  4. It was a terrific conference, Pam. Thanks for stopping by.