Sunday, March 6, 2016

Bill Syken: A Newbie on Attending Conferences

Last week I attended Left Coast Crime, the Mystery Conference that I helped start 26 years ago. Boy has it grown. We had over 700 participants this year. A great time was had by all. One of the fun events at the convention is the New Author Breakfast. New authors are invited to give a one minute 'pitch' for their book. I was lucky to sit with new author Bill Syken. Bill is a former writer and editor for Sports Illustrated. His novel Hangman’s Game (Minotaur Books, August 2015) was described by Booklist as “the very best sports-themed mystery in years and a robust debut.” Since this was Bill's first fan convention, I asked him to jot down some ideas about the con for Mystery Fanfare.


Last week I did a good bit of writing—mostly in the margins of my program for the Left Coast Crime Convention in Phoenix. This was my first mystery convention, and I found the experience both educational and fun. I would recommend that any writer or fan give one a try.

Part of what I enjoyed was meeting fellow writers, all of whom bring such fascinating background to their work—a former mariachi band violinist who writers mariachi mysteries, for example. I appreciated the chance to speak at events for new authors, and to participate in a panel (mine was on sports-themed mysteries). Most of the education came from attending panels and taking notes. Here, to give you a sense of the thoughts that can be provoked, are some of my jottings, and the stories behind them:

—“I ate lunch with Jezebel the anteater every day.” I enjoyed hearing writers tell their origin stories—what it was that led them to write their first mystery. At a panel for former journalists, Betty Webb talked about how after she retired from newspapers, she felt restless and ended up volunteering at the zoo. There she met Jezebel the anteater, and soon she had written a mystery called The Anteater of Death, which was the beginning of her Gunn Zoo series.

—“Control enthusiast.” The writers at these panels used many vivid turns of phrase. When discussing the attention he paid to his covers, Andrew E. Kaufman, with a smile, called himself a “control enthusiast.” Nearly every other sentence from delightful Scottish author Catriona McPherson contained a memorable line; for instance, in reference to a dull TV show, she said “I didn’t have to hold onto my hat very hard.”

—“Goodread discussions be yourself.” This was another comment from Andrew E. Kaufman, who began as a self-published author and found great success. He felt one of the keys was honest engagement with fans on Goodreads. A good, practical note.

—“I didn’t mean to do that.” I found that hearing writers talk about their creative process helped inspire new ideas for my own writing. I attended a panel on short stories and came out with a premise for a story of my own, the last line of which would be—subject to revision—“I didn’t mean to do that.”

—“Glen Erik Hamilton, Past Crimes.” Go to these conferences and you are guaranteed to come away with a greatly expanded reading list, and Hamilton’s book is one of many that I heard praised by panelists. (Hamilton was at the event but I regrettably missed his panel because it was the same time as my own). The above title is just one of many I wrote in the margins. The book I am reading first, FYI, is Carla Norton’s What Doesn’t Kill You, simply was given to me at a panel, as reward for asking a question. So far I love it. If I remember correctly, Norton was the source of a quote I wrote in the margins, about the process of crime writing: “It does give you nightmares, if you’re doing it right.”

—“Ashland Shakespeare Festival.” During a panel on Culinary Mysteries, Kate Dyer-Seeley sang the praises of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (in Ashland), where one of her book series is set. The festival attracts a million and a half visitors a year, and yet somehow I’ve never heard of it. It’s now on my bucket list.

This last item has nothing to do with mysteries, but it reinforces the broad point of the value of a writer leaving his isolation and attending a conference—you get to hear what other people have to say about all sorts of things, and learn from it.

1 comment:

Kay said...

I'm not a write, but just a fan and I attended Left Coast last weekend too - for the first time. I loved it and was so overwhelmed and tired and happy! Immersion in books and talks about books - wonderful. I do remember hearing Bill and his story about HANGMAN'S GAME - wondering about the quarterback who became the punter - right? As a Texas girl, well, I love football. So, Bill, thanks for telling me about your book. I heard you at the Debut Author's Breakfast and also at that wild and mind-boggling Speed Dating thing. Now that was an introduction to a conference. Good luck and I'll be watching for more books from you.