Last Wednesday, I attended the Mystery Writer’s of America Edgar Symposium. Without a doubt, one of the best one- day events focusing on the craft of mystery writing and definitely worth attending next year. The lineup alone was worth the cost. Donald Maass, Lee Child, S.J. Rozan, Mary Downing Hahn, and Laura Lippman are just a few of the panel participants.
My favorite session was Donald Maass’s Writing the Breakout Mystery. He is without a doubt a writing guru and electrifying public speaker. He’s the kind of speaker that can lead you into hell and back and you’d think it was a delightful adventure provided he kept speaking. His presentation was more like an actual training seminar where he poses the questions and concepts and you have to write responses based on your story or where your story could go. It was an amazing exercise. At times, frustrating to see potential issues in the story, but overall completely worth it. I would highly recommend ordering the recording of this session if you are struggling to write your breakout mystery because he takes you though it step by step. Favorite line: Be mean to the protagonist.
Next up was the Dialogue session: Telling vs. Showing. The panel shared their varied experiences and talked about some of the big Dos and Don’ts in dialogue. My favorite example of bad attribution: She purred conspiratorially. One author mentioned how he kept a running notebook of great dialogue overheard over the years. Another stressed the importance of the white page for the conversation happening underneath the dialogue.
In the Short Stories vs. Novels: The Long and Short of It, there was yet another great panel of talented writers sharing their experiences. One author mentioned how the recovery time is shorter for writing short stories and it is also a great way to try out a new setting/voice when you are unsure you can do it. Short stories were also a fast way to learn what you need to do in longer fiction. My favorite line was when one author compared writing short stories to a robbery: You get in and out fast. One of the good points of switching between the two is that after writing a short story you get the intensity of emotions and pacing and can now bring that into your novel.
In Fact vs. Fiction–Falling in Love With Your Research, a panel of über talented authors discussed their research and how they walk a line between incorporating too much and too little. Most authors on the panel started with newspapers and magazines to get a feel for the period as well as culling through them for story ideas. One concept that was particularly interesting was the idea of “metabolizing research” so that it becomes a part of you.
The Writing Juvenile and Young Adult Mysteries panel included an explanation about about how swearing, sex, and gay lifestyle are absolutely not accepted in the MG level and that even Young Adult faces scrutiny about sex, that gay acceptance is very risky, and that abortion is very difficult. It was also mentioned that religious swearing is not allowed in MG and that the “F” word is bad in YA. One interesting contrast to adult novels is that kids like cliff hanger endings, whereas adults tend to like the loose ends all tied up nicely. In terms of keeping up with slang, some authors admitted to eavesdropping on children’s conversation.
The last panel was From the Writer’s Desk: Q&A with Lee Child and Laura Lippman. I found this panel absolutely inspirational and I will share some of their points with you. If your goal is to get published, you have to be ambitious and tell yourself how great you are. If you can’t say that you want to be a New York Times bestseller, then you won’t be. They mentioned how it took ten years to be an overnight success. They also drove home how important it is to write the story you want to write and do what you want to do. They stressed the importance of finding your voice, your style, your material and that is how you find your way. They closed by reminding us that there are always new goals to chose and to chase them.
Overall, an awesome day. I really enjoyed the break after each session for book signings by the panelists. The atmosphere was much more relaxed than an agent pitch conference and it was great to get to hear from established and newly published authors and meet other aspiring authors. A huge thanks to MWA for making such an event possible for everyone. I cannot imagine how much energy goes into planning and executing an event like this and the day progressed so quickly and seamlessly. Much thanks!