Tag Archive for: New England Crime Bake

Confessions of a Conference Junkie


Writing conferences cost money, take precious time out of one’s schedule, and always seem to have chicken on the banquet menu.  Despite their bustle, loudness, and sense that people are constantly out to sell themselves, I love attending them. I am a confessed “Conference Junkie.” Whether the conference is fan oriented like Malice Domestic or Bouchercon or more devoted to the craft of writing like Sleuthfest or Killer Nashville, I always come home having learned something and, more importantly, having made new friends.

In some ways, networking at conferences is my favorite part.  Although I tend to be an introvert,

there are numerous ways, besides the bar, for me to meet, mingle and make an acquaintance who grows into a friend. One of the best ways to interact with four or five people is being a panelist or a moderator. Not only does one get to know the other panelists through email exchanges before the conference and often a meeting before the actual panel, but the wider audience attending the session has the opportunity to put your

name and face together. Because of my panel participation, I’ve made friends who have invited me to join a group blog, people who as Facebook and Twitter friends reciprocally share the good things happening to us, and writers further up the food chain who have given me golden advice.

I will always remember Malice Domestic 2012 as the place I acquired my first two loyal fans. I was participating in the New Authors breakfast when two women randomly sat at the table with me because the seats at the table they really wanted were filled.  As one of the twenty-four new authors summarizing my book and my life in three minutes, I decided to stress the fact that my book, Maze in Blue, was designed to be a beach or airplane read – fun and fast. I topped my presentation off with an anecdote that left the room laughing and convinced the two women that not only had they not made a mistake sitting at my table, but they wanted to purchase my book.  A year later, as I walked into the Sisters in Crime breakfast, the same two women grabbed me, told me how much they enjoyed Maze, and asked if I would join them for coffee or a drink. In the three years that have followed, we always make time for each other – they’re my fans and I’m indebted to them for being avid readers of my works.

Killer Nashville is one of my favorite writer-centric conferences because I found the publisher for my newest book, Should Have Played Poker: a Carrie Martin and the Mah Jongg Players Mystery, there.  The KN panels, which I have been lucky enough to be on since Maze in Blue was published, are geared toward skill development or specific topics of interest to authors. In addition, usually, Sisters in Crime offers an educational workshop that sells out and is fantastic and Mystery Writers of America offers an equally impressive opportunity to socially network.

Private agent and editor critiques are available at Killer Nashville but rather than pitch sessions, one can sign up for agent and editor roundtables.  The roundtables each have ten to fourteen registered writers and two of the featured guest agent/editors. The first two pages of each roundtable participant’s work is read aloud and orally critiqued by the agent/editors, who also can express whether they would like to see more of the manuscript. In addition, everyone in the room has a paper copy of the pages on which they can dash written comments that are handed back to the authors.  In my case, Deni Dietz gave me some solid comments, but also asked to see the entire book. Within days of receiving my full manuscript, she purchased it for Five Star.

Some of the other well-run conferences I have attended and plan to go back to include Sleuthfest,

New England Crime Bake, Murder in the Magic City, Murder on the Menu and the Alabama Writers Conclave. The latter three tend to draw more regional attendance, but their workshops and execution are just as good as some of the more nationally recognized conferences.  The Alabama Writers Conclave this year will be in Birmingham from July 15-17 while Murder on the Menu and Murder in the Magic City are always held in February.

In the next year or two, I hope to be able to report attending some of the other ones that everyone raves about like Left Coast Crime and Police Writers Academy.  Let me know about some of the other ones I need to add to the list this self-confessed “Conference Junkie” should attend.

The Voices in My Head

I recently attended Crime Bake, a convention in Massachusetts for mystery writers and fans. I was fortunate enough to see Dennis Lehane, one of my favorite authors, speak about writing. Recently, after publishing several stand-alone novels, which unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past decade, you’ve heard of: Shutter Island, Mystic River, The Given Day. But it’s his series featuring Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro that I’ve been eagerly awaiting another installment of, and this past year, my wish was granted when he published Moonlight Mile, the sixth book in the series. One of the attendees at Crime Bake asked him why he a) stopped writing the series and b) why he returned to it. He answered that after he published the fifth book in the series, around ten years ago, Patrick stopped talking to him. And he decided to write a new book in the series a year or so ago because Patrick had started talking to him again.

I understood exactly what he was talking about, because Alison Bergeron talks to me constantly. If she’s not complaining about her pot belly, she’s itching for a new mystery to solve. So it has been easy working up a new story because Alison has a lot of stories to tell me and they are easy for me to transcribe. But lately I’ve noticed that I have a trio of new characters talking to me and what they have to say is very interesting. One is partially deaf, the other makes jam for a living, and another is an obstetrician. Yet another, whose role is yet to be determined, is a very handsome detective with his own secrets. All very disparate, all very much alive to me. And all involved in a murder.

With all of this going on, my head is a very crowded place right now. No wonder I keep forgetting to buy toilet paper at the grocery store.

I never anticipated that this would happen. I just assumed that Alison would keep talking to me and Crawford would whisper sweet nothings in my ear every now and again that he would, in turn, then whisper to Alison. Max would continue to screech about her issues, and Fred would grunt. Other people would cycle in and out of the stories I was told and they would provide new life for the next book. The nuns would make me feel guilty for thinking impure thoughts. So it’s very exciting to think that there are a bunch of other characters floating around in there, just waiting for me to tell their stories.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Writers write and there is so much potential in the world and the people around us to come up with new ideas and new characters. It reminds me of when people talk about having extrasensory perception: you just have to be open to the energy around you. It’s the same with writers. We just have to be open to what’s around us—and listen to the voices in our heads—in order to make a new story come to life.

I’m interested, most of all, from our Stiletto faithful if your characters talk to you or if there is some other way that your stories begin. What makes you want to sit down and write?

Maggie Barbieri

Crime Baking

This past weekend, approximately 200 hundred mystery fans and writers gathered together in the Dedham, Massachusetts, Hilton to participate in Crime Bake. It was a horrible weekend in New England, weather-wise, but that didn’t dampen the spirits of the attendees, all enthusiastic mystery lovers. We were treated to a lunchtime talk by Sue Grafton, creator of the “alphabet” mystery series and the fabulous sleuth, Kinsey Millhone, in which she listed ten things writers shouldn’t do in their writing. I was dismayed to find that I am guilty of oh…all ten.

But that aside, it was a great conference. Great panels, lots of interesting conversation, and a boxed lunch (my all-time favorite mode of food delivery). I met some great people at the banquet Saturday night including Dana Cameron, Paul Tremblay, and Jedediah Berry, where we all participated in trying to solve two murders that took place right before our very eyes when we weren’t growsing about how our dinners were being interrupted by the aforementioned murders.

I’m a newcomer to conferences, having only started going this year. I went to Malice Domestic in May with the northern half of Evelyn David, and now have gone to Crime Bake, which I most certainly will attend again next year. I’m not sure how much selling goes on at these conventions; remember, I come from a college textbook background and selling at conventions is what we do. But I do know that it’s great to meet other writers and fans (I fall into both categories), and to hear about how other people navigate the stormy and lonely seas of writing. I know that after having attended these two conventions, I have been spurred to write more and complain less. I always get inspiration from talking about writing and mysteries and I write more words that sound better together when I come home. (This post may not be an example of that, but hear me out.) I learned about fellow Stiletto blogger Rachel Brady’s participation in Nano Wrimo, where in you write 50,000 words in the month of November, no editing allowed. I was exhausted just listening to her talk about trying to reach the goal of writing 50,000 words in a month—most of my books run from 80,000-90,000 words when they are finished so 50,000 is no small feat—but then I remembered who I was talking to: writer, mother, rocket scientist, and all-around fabulous stiletto-wearing gal. Who, if not Rachel, would be able to undertake this task successfully?

Thankfully, November is half over so I don’t have to participate in Nano Wrimo. But something tells me that next year, Ms. Brady will be knocking at my door.

Marilyn’s post yesterday says it all: treat yourself to a conference. I was nervous about attending my first conference but I’ve learned that the mystery community is generous, accepting, and wonderful. You may meet one of your favorite authors, or find out that you have a fan or two. Going to a conference gives your solitary writing life a context and a purpose. There are more of you out there than you ever imagined and it’s nice when you can all come together to celebrate and discuss what you do and love.

Hey, Stiletto Readers: what are your favorite conferences and why?

Maggie Barbieri



10. Early bird members who sign up soon (before October 1st) get a $30.00 discount. Put that in your gas tank for the drive to the commodious Dedham Hilton where Crime Bake will be held November 14-16.


9. After arriving at the Dedham Hilton, feast on pizza and conversation at the FREE pizza party where you can meet and greet mystery readers, writers, agents and editors.

8. Following the FREE pizza party, you get to choose to attend one of two fabulous and FREE Friday night workshops: Practicing Your Pitch with Lynne Heitman, a huge hit at previous Crime Bake conferences or Creating Your Wave with publicist Susan Schwartzman about how to effectively market your mystery in today’s tough market.

7. Yes, another FREEBIE! Crime Bake conference attendees are entitled to sign up for a FREE 5-minute one-on-one session to pitch their work to a literary agent. This year, attendees will have the opportunity to list their top three agent choices. Don’t wait to take advantage of this fabulous opportunity.

6. The agents are coming, the agents are coming and they include some of the finest, including Janet Reid, Donna Bagdasarian, Susan Gleason, Christine Witthohn, Ann Collette, Esmond Harmsworth, Sorche Fairbank and Gina Panettieri.

5. Great Master Classes are offered again. Choose two from PLANNING THE PLAYS – “Painless Research” with Kathy Lynn Emerson; WHO’S ON FIRST – “Point of View” with Hallie Ephron; HITTING IT OUT OF THE PARK – “Ten Key Ingredients For a Successful Thriller” with Gary Braver; and PEEWEE LEAGUE – “Writing for Young Audiences” with Peter Abrahams.

4. Manuscript Critiques are available. Attendees may submit a 15-page writing sample (novel or short story) in advance and receive a one-on-one critique with a published mystery author during the conference.

3. A fountain of forensic experts, including the popular Poison Lady, will hold panels where you can fill your writing well with ideas on how to commit those dastardly deeds.

2. You can dine elbow to elbow with agents, authors, editors and forensic experts at the SATURDAY NIGHT BANQUET where the menu includes delicious food and maybe even a book deal. Your fabulous Saturday night will be topped by “Mystery Bingo” hosted by our own prime-time Hank Phillippi Ryan.

1. The number one reason to register for Crime Bake today is the NUMBER ONE New York Times, Los Angeles Times and London Times author and our Guest of Honor, HARLAN COBEN.