where the writers are
Left Coast Crime recap


Left Coast Crime 2013Left Coast Crime hotelI’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.

Left Coast Crime Scenery

Arrival on Thursday

Left Coast Crime Scenery

View from my hotel room, Thursday

Left Coast Crime Scenery

Sat­ur­day afternoon

Left Coast Crime Scenery

Sun­day Morning

Left Coast Crime Scenery

Sun­day, late morning