I’m a bit late with my Left Coast Crime recap, although I did a comparison of reader vs writer conferences last Thursday at The Blood-Red Pencil. And there IS a big difference. The panels are geared to readers, and rely on moderators to run the panels. Since there are no descriptions in the programs, sometimes things stray from the topic, depending on how the moderator and panel members interpret it.
For example, I was assigned to be on a panel called “Out of the Ordinary Mysteries.” About the only thing we panelists agreed upon when we found out was that none of us really understood why we were on the panel. Our moderator, Deni Dietz, had questions for all of us, and we shared why we wrote the books we did, and how they fit (or didn’t fit) into the typical pigeonholes of traditional publishing. She also hit me with a question she said she gets asked a lot. “In a romantic suspense, what’s the percentage of romance to suspense/mystery?”
My answer: It depends.
Actually, I use that answer for a lot of questions, because there’s no formula. I know some of the category romance imprints have guidelines about weighting romance and suspense, but for me, it’s all about the characters and how they are dealing with the problems they face, both on the mystery/suspense level and on the relationship level. I used to joke that my characters didn’t have sex until they ‘earned’ it—usually around page 191. But sex isn’t romance, and the attraction and relationship has to build along the way. I need it to be true to the story. I’m not going to stop for a sex scene while my characters are chasing bad guys—on camelback. As a matter of fact, in my current WIP, I wondered if my characters would even have sex, since everything is very compressed in time, and they’ve been on the run and searching for people throughout the book, yet barely 48 hours have passed. They finally found what I think was a logical time, place, and reason, but that’s on page 226, in Chapter 27.
Bottom line: if you can remove either element and have the story work, then it’s not a romantic suspense. I compared the arcs to sine and cosine waves—when one moves up, the other moves down.
I moderated a panel called “Do It The Right Way…A Police Procedure Panel.” Panelists, myself included (because that’s how I was told it should be done) were Kathy Bennett, Rex Burns, Rob Kresge, and Alan Russell. We discussed how ‘right’ things should be to conform to reader expectations (CSI effect), how we did our research, and some of the lengths we went to in our research.
By far, my favorite panels were the ones where the moderators went beyond, “Tell everyone about your book.” I know readers enjoy hearing the ‘behind the scenes’ stuff, but often times all we got were awkward plot synopses, and if the same authors were on several panels, we heard it more than once. Hint: Asking an author to “tell us about your book” can prove that authors are writers, not speakers. Try asking specific questions instead.
I attended a panel on gender—writing the opposite sex, and one on setting, where authors explained their reasons for using either real, based-on-real, or totally made up settings. None had trouble moving geographic landmarks to suit the story, or changing names of rivers, lakes, or mountains. One reason for making up settings was to avoid people who live in the ‘real’ town think they’re in the book.
One of my favorite panels was about Thrillers—more because it was the closest to a ‘craft’ panel than any others than because I write books that border on thrillers. One panelist defined thrillers as “mysteries on speed.” Readers tend to follow the villains more in thrillers than in mysteries. There are usually more personal consequences for the protagonist. Characters find themselves in desperate situations and have to make desperate decisions. And, one panelist said, “Readers want to be scared.” Back in the day, a thriller was defined as ‘a suspense with consequences of global proportions,” but that definition has changed. When I spoke to Lee Child at the Writers Police Academy last year, he said “A thriller means an extra zero on your advance.”
In the panel on characters, panelists were asked if they knew their characters’ motivations before or after they started writing. One answer I appreciated was that your first ideas aren’t likely to be your best ideas, so things improve as you write. One author described herself as a “lurcher.” She figures something out, writes that part of the story, then things some more and lurches forward again. That’s kind of my method, too.
Other activities included receptions and the wonderful breakfasts organized by Mike Befeler, where debut authors and “established” authors gave 1 minute pitches about their books. (The food was great!)
I’m sure a lot of people will be talking about Saturday’s weather, when a major snowstorm closed roads, and people weren’t sure they’d be able to get out. However, in Colorado, the weather changes by the minute, and Sunday was a gorgeous day. Here’s how the weather looked.
Arrival on Thursday
View from my hotel room, Thursday
Sunday, late morning
Causes Terry Odell Supports
Pro Literacy Worldwide, The Nature Conservancy, The Adult Literacy League, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society