Agatha’s Heirs: Smart Women Writing Smart Fiction–MWA Symposium Panel

The last MWA Symposium panel I’d like to talk about was Agatha’s Heirs, Smart Women, Smart Fiction. The panel was moderated by S.J. Rozan. Panelists included Sandra Brown, Meg Gardiner, and Dandi Daly Mackall, and Sara Henry.


Sandra Brown has published 70 novels. 61 of which were NYT Bestsellers since 1981.

Meg Gardiner is also a Bestselling author and won an Edgar in 2009.

Dandi Daley Mackall is an award winning author with 450 books published.

Sara Henry was a columnist and soil scientist. She is also an award winning author.


Sandra stated her career in writing after she was fired from her job. She didn’t want to join junior league and be the consummate wife and mother.ย  She wanted something of her own. She started writing romances because they were hot at the time.

Dandi taught part time at college and wrote magazine articles. When her first husband left her, she made writing into a paying gig and wrote for Hanna-Barbera.

Meg always wanted to write. Her dad told her she could write but she’d also have to wait tables. So she went to law school so she’d have income while she was writing.

Sara spent ten years working on a novel and stuck it in a drawer.

Being Agatha’s Heirs

Meg mentioned that you stand on the shoulders of those who come before you.

Sandra said that everything she read is still up there. She also stressed the importance of living up to herself. She has to be the first one she entertains.

Sara said she didn’t feel like an heir to anyone.

Dandi reminisced about how she read Agatha at a young age and felt it was almost like a YA.

Sex Scenes in Books

Meg mentioned that there shouldn’t be sex scenes if they are just a snack for the reader.

Sandra talked about how love and sex are the most compelling motivators, especially in romantic suspense.

What the upshot of sex scenes in books?

Sandra talked about how sex reveals a lot about a person.

S.J. joined in by reminding that there is a whole dimension of human interactionย  in a sex scene but it needs to propel story in a whole other way.

Any Regrets?

Sandra had a terrific perspective on whether she wished she started earlier. She explained that she would not do it differently because she would not be the person she is now if wrote then. She did regret writing under pseudonyms.

Sara regretted not writing down a story concept that came to her on a long car drive as it came to her.

Advice for New Authors

Sandra stressed the need to write a good book. She mentioned that there is so much social media and called the Internet “a giant blue whale”–the more you feed it, the more hungry it is. There are so many intrusions on your writing, make sure they come in second and third place.

Sara talked about the year before her book came out as the time to build up an audience with Facebook and other social media. The Internet gives you possibilities for an unknown book to find publicity. She also mentioned writing on laptop without Internet.

Meg mentioned the need for uninterrupted time to write. 1.5-2 hours where she can’t think about her blog, Twitter, Facebook, etc.

S.J. has no wi-fi in her house. She had made getting online a conscious decision and a chore.

Dandi cited the need to write cause you love it. If you lost that joy, something is wrong.

“Everyone in here has books in them that no one else has in them. Only you can write your book.”

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29 Responses to Agatha’s Heirs: Smart Women Writing Smart Fiction–MWA Symposium Panel

  1. Pingback: Agatha's Heirs: Smart Women Writing Smart Fictionโ€“MWA Symposium – Crime Fiction

  2. crubin says:

    So many good tips from these authors. Especially the ones about not getting sucked into the Internet and losing out on writing time, something I need to do better with. Can you imagine publishing 70 novels?! Wow!

    • Carrie, I went to bed thinking the same thing. My writing time is not enough. I need to cut back on the Internet. I’m going to set a rule of 2 hours a day and stick to it. Hopefully ๐Ÿ˜‰ I know that’s at least 2 a year every year for 30 years. With some 3 books a year thrown in there. Wow. Just wow.

      • crubin says:

        We must be telepathically communicating. I told myself this morning I’ll allow myself 3 hours max online per day–that includes blogging and Twitter. There’s no reason I shouldn’t be devoting just as much time to my writing each day–and probably more–though I know I need to maintain the social media per my publisher’s wishes. Always hard to find the balance.

        • Carrie, I love my online buddies, but I find I’m spending too much of my day reading blogs and not writing. As a soon to be pubbed author, 3 hours sounds very reasonable. I’m cutting it to two because I am not near being pubbed. ๐Ÿ™‚ So it’s all about the writing and the hoping it catches an agent’s or editor’s attention. I consider writing the blog part of my writing time. Is that cheating? Maybe. ๐Ÿ™‚ But I can rationalize it as being writing. Reading blogs and commenting is the biggest chunk of my social media time. Balance is so hard. I’m constantly wobbling. ๐Ÿ™‚

          • crubin says:

            Blog post writing counts as writing time–at least in my opinion. Although I probably can’t make the case for the comments we write. ๐Ÿ™‚

          • LOL. Glad we agree on that. ๐Ÿ™‚ Yeah, comments and replies to comments are part of my social media time–the biggest chunk of it too. I feel like I get to know people so much more via their blog than via a Twitter feed. But that’s probably just me. ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. great info, thanks Kourtney

  4. jmmcdowell says:

    That must have been an interesting panel. I devoured Agatha Christie’s books as a teenager. And one of my first Kindle downloads last week was a free version of “The Mysterious Affair at Styles,” her first book. (I love free. ๐Ÿ™‚

    I am trying to devote an internet-banned block of time to my writing. If I can do it successfully, it should improve the quality and quantity of the writing I do during that period.

    But no wi fi would be tough…. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • It was pretty cool to hear from these talented writers. I loved Agatha in my tweens and teens. ๐Ÿ™‚ I am trying to shut out the Internet and write. I couldn’t get rid of wi-fi because it’s darn handy when I need to figure out what a place looks like at a certain time of year or where something is located. But I am practicing shutting out the internet to write. The majority of my day isn’t writing, it’s social media and that has to shift. Just not sure how to accomplish that. But I want to accomplish that. ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. CC MacKenzie says:

    Thanks for this, Kourtney.

    It’s really interesting to see how Sandra feels that social networking can become more of a priority than writing. I’ve made a concious decision to cut back on social networking to write after taking a two week break doing neither due to burnout.

    Great post.

    • CC, I’m sorry to hear about your burnout, but glad to know someone else is feeling the stress of social media. I realized I spend more time online that writing each week. That has to stop. I think I am going to set a 2 hour limit to online networking time each day. Only to be exceeded when I have done all my writing and everything else on my to do list. ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. “Only you can write your book.” โ€” So true! I think it’s easy for new authors to lean on others’ advice a bit too much. Knowing that only we can best tell the story we’ve conjured in our brains/hearts/imaginations can help prevent poor choices.

    • August, it’s a great quote. While we may not tell it well for several revisions, we know the story inside us trying to get out. And we have to stay true to that story while tweaking things along the way. ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Wow…I love this. So many wonderful lines that capture the feeling of the symposium. In a way you helped bring those inspiring women to the rest of us who were unable to attend. Thanks so much!

    • Annie, glad you linked my highlights from the conference! There is so much amazing stuff I’ve learned at conferences, I try to share some of the gems here. ๐Ÿ™‚ Listening to them speak inspired me to purchase their books too. ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. Excellent panel and post. Right on re the sex scenes. They really can and should reveal a lot about a character . . . but they should not be a snack or a bit of candy for the reader. I also agreed very much re the use of Facebook–that is exactly how I launched my page in 11/2011 . . . about a year before expected publication. And :sigh: re uninterrupted time!

    • Thanks El. I totally agree about the sex scenes. They have to be there to develop the characters and advance the story. Not just to tease the reader. That’s very cool to hear about your Facebook usage. I realized too much time is going into reading blogs and not enough into reading novels and writing. Gotta rectify that issue while still keeping up with my blog friends. Balance is such a difficult word. ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. 4amWriter says:

    Great, savvy advice. I love hearing from the pros that the Internet is indeed a time sucker and to put writing first. I think I need to be reminded of that every day, because it is so easy to get caught up in promotion/marketing that the book is flung to the side.

    I also liked SJs advice about how sex scenes need to propel the story in a whole other way (this goes along with Meg’s advice against it being just a snack for readers–which I thought was hilarious). I think that’s really important to consider when we’re writing sex scenes, they’re way too easy to come off as being trite and foolish.

    Thanks for bring us a little bit of the symposium!

    • I love sharing conference tidbits. Writing up panels helps me process my notes too. ๐Ÿ™‚ I read a terrific book on writing sex scenes called The Joy of Writing Sex by Elizabeth Benedict–it really helped me understand that sex is not about the mechanics. ๐Ÿ™‚

      I agree. As I was writing up the post I realized I need to devote more of each day to writing and reading novels and less to being online. The shoulds in my life are going to be curtailed. ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. Yatin says:

    Kourtney, thanks for this excellent summarized recap.

  11. Samir says:

    A very insightful post Kourtney. Fascinating how everyone has a different story about their success yet there are always thread you can recognize in yourself which you can identify with.

  12. Great tips, thanks for sharing! There is so much pressure to be online but you can’t forget to make time to write!

    • Thanks! It was a cool event to attend. ๐Ÿ™‚ Seriously, and we heap the pressure on ourselves. But without an agent or a publisher, it makes sense to build an online presence but not to make that the biggest time suck of the day. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  13. Hi Kourtney, you took great notes! Everything you passed on to us was noteworthy. Thanks for sharing!

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