writing life

The Mystery Convention

After a very busy week, it’s nice to get back to something like a “normal” schedule. I let myself sleep in, as it’s been more than a week since I didn’t have to get up and go somewhere in the morning, but now I’m trying to go by my usual working routine.

The mystery convention was interesting, though not quite what I expected. For one thing, I was probably in the youngest quarter of all attendees. I felt rather like a child. For another, I wasn’t entirely sure where it fell on the fan vs. writer spectrum. A lot of the panel descriptions made the panels sound like they’d be writing panels with how-tos and advice for writers, but then they ended up being more for a reader perspective. I still got some good info and learned a lot about the way mystery writers and readers think, but I didn’t get the nuts and bolts I was hoping for. I think most of the benefit for me was that hearing the discussions gave me ideas, and that made the vague mystery idea I’ve had in the back of my head start taking concrete shape.

As big of a mystery reader as I’ve always been, I hadn’t heard of (or hadn’t read) most of the speakers. I’ve now got a list of books I want to look for. I did get to meet Rhys Bowen, who writes the Royal Spyness mysteries, but that was in the hospitality room rather than on any panel. And I got a lot of scoop about writers I had read from Felix Francis’s talk. Of course, he talked a lot about his father, Dick Francis, but because of growing up with his father and because of the people he knew, he was also able to talk about going over to Agatha Christie’s house or visiting P.D. James. It sounds like as a kid he was very curious about writers’ processes, so he was able to talk about how they plotted their books and how they worked. I graduated from Nancy Drew straight to Dick Francis and Agatha Christie, so it was fun hearing all those stories.

I was rather surprised to learn how many mystery writers are “pantsers” who just write rather than plotting out the book in advance. I’d have thought that would be the one genre where you have to plot and plan. There seemed to be huge extremes between having everything planned out on color-coded notecards or Excel spreadsheets and just making it up as they go. Surprisingly, Agatha Christie was apparently a pantser. She made sure that every suspect actually could have been the murderer, with motive, means, and opportunity, but didn’t decide who actually did it until late in the writing process. Was Murder on the Orient Express a case of her not being able to make up her mind? And I guess And Then There Were None was a case of flipping it and making all the suspects victims.

In a way, I suppose it makes sense that if the writer is surprised by the conclusion, the reader is more likely to be, while if you know it all going in it might be harder to avoid being too obvious. My books haven’t technically been mysteries, but I have gone in thinking the culprit would be one person, then realized midway through that it was too obvious, so that person became the red herring, and then someone else became the culprit, with some editing to set it up.

I’m not sure I’d travel out of town to attend this convention again. Even if I start writing mysteries, I’m not sure the demographics are in line with my readership. I did get recognized a few times by readers who saw my name and knew who I was and commented about loving my books, which was cool. So I do have some readers there. But I doubt there would be much promo value without the backing of a major publisher. Most authors were only on one panel each, and then there were the publisher giveaway signings. That’s not a lot of exposure from an author perspective, but there’s also not a lot of business/education going on. There might have been more networking if I’d stayed at the hotel and attended the evening events instead of commuting, but networking isn’t my superpower, so I’m not sure I’d have got that much out of it.

But I did get some new books to read and I need to look up a few authors at the library.

Comments are closed.