Navigating a SleuthFest

by Shelly Frome

totd_webHow do you assess what’s being offered at a sunny Florida SleuthFest, especially if you may be receiving some mixed messages?

For example, in SleuthFest 2014 there were three keynote speakers: Laura Lippman, Ace Atkins and Hank Phillippi Ryan. Let’s start with the renowned Laura Lippman who, in her inspiring talk, declared that crime writers don’t occupy a formulaic niche as Isabel Allende claimed but have created some of the most enduring works of literature.

Segue to a small panel discussion where three out of four “successful” authors tell how much fun they’re having. One lady, in fact, disclosed that her heroine is a much younger, beautiful, intrepid version of herself, able to embark on all the hair-raising adventures the author herself wished she could still have and survive without a scratch.

Best-selling writer Hank Phillippi Ryan exhorts everyone to take their time and concentrate solely on the quality of the work till it’s fully polished and receives a stamp of professional approval. At the same time, at another small panel focused on cross-promotion, the objective seems to be a continual flow of material while garnering enough followers so that a group will let you in on their joint commercial venture.

There’s no problem with Ace Atkins advice on the dais and around the pool. As long as you accept his theory that former crime reporters have an edge. That is, they know the value of a great hook up front, appreciate writers like Robert B. Parker (Atkins was selected by Parker’s estate to continue the adventures of P.I. Spencer) and are perfectly willing to toss out passages and chapters that don’t work and slow up the action.

Back to the panelists. On one devoted to editors’ demands, a publisher blatantly put down what he called M.F.A. writing because it smacks of a love of words and no clue what it takes to write a good story. At the same time, around a table at lunch, a pleasant lady from San Francisco was happy with her M.F.A. from Goddard. She also disclosed she was doing quite well as a crime novelist at Minotaur.

On the other hand, there was a panel devoted to plot springboards, especially geared to those writing a series about an amateur detective. Here you could find tips if you find yourself stuck for ideas and/or want to avoid the same old, same old motivation ploys.

Skipping now to the auctions. A duo of auctioneers claim if you win the bidding on, say, a thirty-page manuscript critique by Lee Child, you’re well on your way to climbing the proverbial ladder. But, then again, after plunking down some 600 to 1,000 dollars, this former British advertising executive may be the last person whose advice a writer should follow. He’s on record insisting his Jack Reacher character can’t evolve or even have a humanizing back story because that would ruin the brand.

Moreover, haven’t we heard over and over that any story, be it crime fiction or what-have-you, deals with at least one flawed character forced to change due to pressure and provocative unforeseen circumstances?

In short, maybe like everything else, it takes a critical eye to know exactly what you’re doing. So that you have a sense that whatever notes you’ve taken during your stay may help take you where you want to go.

TinseltownFINAL.inddShelly Frome

Crime fiction author at Sunbury Press

Mystery Writers America

Playwriting and screenwriting feature writer for Southern Writers Magazine

Shellyfrome.com

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