Confession time – I have never attended a writers’ conference. I tried to, last year, I signed up for Bouchercon, even was appointed to a panel. It was in Raleigh that year and I was looking forward to it. Then health problems intervened. Had to cancel at the last minute. Dang. I was upset.
I have attended the Writer’s Police Academy. Lee Lofland, a former cop, natch, and a current writer, started it because the sound of books hitting walls when cops read them was getting deafening. He figured the best way to stop the noise was to offer training to writers. YES! It was wonderful. I loved it. The lessons were invaluable, and when used correctly give that subtle nuance of integrity to stories. For example, every police show on the face of the earth uses the term “perp.” Cops laugh. They use subject, or individual, or occasionally, bad actor, or actor. Not as glamorous as “perp.” So now, when my lay protagonist refers to the perp, my cop characters roll their eyes, hide smiles, flick glances between each other, or gently correct her. It’s a detail, and I learned it at what is basically a conference.
There is something else that I discovered at WPA, discovered is the wrong word. Had reinforced would be a better choice. As a member of both Sisters in Crime and Guppies, I know how generous other writers are to writers. Outsiders often think that writers must be insular given that we all write and the pool of readers and time to read is limited. Nope, not true. Ask a writer a question and the writer will bend over backwards to respond. Who does their publicity, where do you get the best prices for bookmarks, can I poach your webmaster, will you read and blurb my upcoming title? It’s the rare writer who will refuse those requests (the blurb request excepted if the asked writer is on deadline—or writes for a house that prohibits blurbing non-house writers). Writers genuinely want to see other writers succeed. It’s a warm and accepting community.
When I attended WPA, I had my husband with me. The event was held in Greensboro, NC and we have friends in the area. As an outsider, he had a very different view of the conference. You see, he spent time in the conference hotel, and at the bar, and he quickly discovered that mystery writers have some unusual discussions. Face it, we’re always talking or thinking about murdering someone and how to get away with it until you get caught. Now since my husband lives with a mystery writer, he’s accustomed to that and as a black belt in one of the martial arts that I can’t spell, he had a certain popularity among the writers. Other civilians at the hotel were not as sanguine. When I would return from the learning center, he would delight in telling me how many people he’d seen casting sidelong glances at chatting groups and finally leaving. Apparently hanging out around mystery writers is not for the faint of heart.
The sense of community is what I miss by missing conferences. I’ve promised myself to attend at least two this year. I’m thinking Sleuthfest in late February in Boca Raton, and Malice Domestic in late April. Bouchercon is in Toronto this year. Far from my Florida home, but a great town and a fun place to visit. It’s in mid-October. Hum…maybe.
What about you, have you ever been to writer’s conferences? Would you go to one? Malice is geared toward readers and Bouchercon is a writer/reader conference—as a reader, would you attend a conference?