What I'm reading: Mind Prey, by John Sandford
Yesterday, J L Wilson's post on small conferences generated a lot of interest. I'd mentioned I'll be going to SleuthFest, which is geared toward mystery writers.
Way back when writing was more of an experiment, something in the "can I learn how to do that?" category, my local crit group encouraged me to go to a writing conference. I went to a 'general' conference in St Petersburg, followed by a small RWA conference in Melbourne. Very different, although being surrounded by other people who have voices constantly playing in their heads was encouraging.
When I saw that Robert B. Parker was going to be the keynote speaker at a mystery conference, I decided to attend that one as well, although it was a little farther afield. Left hubby at home and drove the 4 hours to Fort Lauderdale (which was a major trip to do solo back then). At the time, I thought I was writing a mystery. Turns out, it was more of a "romantic suspense" according to industry labels, but what did I know? I had a detective, a crime and a victim. So what if they fell in love along the way, right?
I remember applying for a slot in Barbara Parker's workshop for a critique session. I think I got the best of both worlds on that one when she didn't accept my pages among those she would critique, because she certainly pulls no punches when she discusses the writing. "Nothing wrong with this that a pair of scissors wouldn't cure," sticks with me all these years later. But she'd jotted a note on my returned pages and said she'd like to discuss the chapter with me. Over lunch (I paid, of course), she pointed out strengths and weaknesses – 'You've got the writing down, now learn about structure."
I also remember having an agent appointment with Dominic Abel. I was clueless. Totally. I knew he represented some big name favorites of mine, and had no delusions he'd be the least bit interested in my humble attempts at a story, which wasn't even a mystery. He said that didn't matter; if I could get readers to love Sarah, my heroine, that was the important thing. And he asked for a partial, which I thought was a given at a conference, but others said he only requested a few submissions. He wrote a very nice and personal rejection letter, too!
It took 3 tries before I managed to snag a spot in the "hot seat," and I hit the jackpot big time with feedback both from Barbara Parker's and PJ Parrish's workshops on Third Degree Thursdays. And by now, I also felt I had something to contribute during the discussions.
Year three, hubby came along, more because he had to give a short talk at a nearby university, and a 4 hour drive for a 30 minute brown bag lunch seminar seemed to be an inefficient use of his time. The King Tut exhibit was also in town, so with 3 reasons to make the trip, he tagged along. He's a biologist, specializing in marine mammals. Usually dead ones. So he had an absolute blast in the forensics tracks, and has been coming along ever since. I had to nudge him (ok, stronger than a nudge) to get the books he bought autographed. He "didn't want to bother the authors." Duh!He's learning.
I've met Christopher Whitcomb who gave me an ARC of his book, with an inscription I can't share. And Robert Crais and Michael Connelly showed much patience with my blathering about having grown up in Los Angeles while they signed books for me. I discovered Lee Child and Jack Reacher. This year's featured guests are John Hart and Brad Meltzer, who will probably end up on my readling list.
And last year, I was on the other side of the table for the first time. I moderated a panel, and participated in another. I signed my books. I met great people. This is one conference that stays on my list. I can't wait to get back.