For the last two days I have been soaking up ideas and enthusiasm for the craft of writing, specifically writing mystery fiction. When I read that the Mystery Writers of America was holding their West Coast annual conference in Sacramento I was excited. When the website said that Jacqueline Winspear, author of the Maisie Dobbs series, was one of the guest speakers I signed up.
First, let me get my gush for Ms. Winspear off my chest: she is delightful. Intelligent, funny, and compassionate. Plus she has a British accent and she is beautiful and well-dressed. And she likes horses and owns a Fressian! gelding (like the horse in Ladyhawk). Her latest book JUST came out. Elegy for Eddie is based on the life of a real man her father knew. Maisie Dobbs springs into action for the ninth time. Here Ms. Winspear is graciously signing books:
You all are probably familiar with the cultures that spring up at conventions. There are the people who are new to the industry/conference who are like sheep without a shepherd and over the course of the four days gradually find a cluster of people with whom they move through the conference. Then there are the members of the organizing committee who are striding through the conference full of purpose and busy with a myriad of tasks. This conference is almost all writers and a few fans and completely organized and managed by volunteers. There are dozens of workshops each day and the panels are all made up of published writers and members of the “club”. So the organizing committee is quite large. Then there is the “in crowd.” There was very little overlap with the “in crowd” just as in high school, i.e. the popular people are not on student council. At this conference the popular people were all the published authors who are represented by one of the few remaining large publishing houses. I observed that they all seemed to know each other and then two of them explained that their publisher used to hold gatherings for their authors in a similar genre. These authors have probably been coached for book tours and effortlessly told stories mentioning that they are a bestselling, award-winning author. I am not saying they are not charming people, it is just funny to observe another culture and to see how something that is so individual and solitary as the creative process of writing a book quickly forms into the high school hierarchy when we get together.
I had a wonderful time. I was only there for two of the four days so I remained an observer in the social side of the conference. I did make one new acquaintance, Nancy from Sacramento, who I am meeting up with next week to compare notes.
I accomplished my two main objectives: to soak up lots of information and ideas to fuel my own writing enthusiasm, and to figure out why the first third of my novel is clunky. I accomplished both. And I have a slew of titles that people recommended to read. I will close this post with a few snippets from my notes:
- Apparently I write “cozy” mysteries (my subgenre) because my novel does not have graphic sex and violence.
- Professionals who fight crime by day hate CSI, like Law & Order, but prefer a comedy or no television at all.
- What is the future of mystery fiction? People will always want justice in a unjust world.