Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Books Are the Markers of Your Life

"Books are the Markers of Your Life" was one of the most poignant statements I heard during Murder & Mayhem in Muskego this year and I thought it a fitting title for this post.

Yet another wonderful convention hosted by the Muskego Library with mucho support from Jon and Ruth Jordan.

This weekend is always filled with wonderful fun. The program starts out with an informal meet and greet session on Friday night. There's usually one panel that takes place and this year, Dana Kaye moderated John Connolly, Marcus Sakey, Duane Swierczynski and Dana Cameron. If you haven't seen any of these people in person, they are all incredibly funny and together it was wonderful entertainment. Dana ended up putting her feet up and just relaxing while the panelists did all the work!

Meanwhile, the other authors were all looking on from the audience.

During lunch on Saturday, one of the women sitting at the table commented on how accessible the authors are at M&M. She had hoped to see an author at Bouchercon but said author was always surrounded by people, but she didn't run into that issue at this convention. And I think that's a big reason so many people enjoy this weekend. It's a hidden gem.

Speaking of Saturday, the panels started off with excitement as the moderator, Alison Janssen-Dasho, was M.I.A. However, Reed Farrel Coleman surprised the conference goers by being present - he wasn't on the author list this year. So, Reed filled in on the "Playing Fair With the Reader" panel until Alison arrived. Also on this panel were Joelle Charbonneau, Alison Gaylen, Gar Anthony Haywood and Andrew Grant. In this panel we learned that Alison Gaylin feels every character should have a part of the author in them, thereby allowing the reader to understand motivation. Joelle keeps a running document about her characters and as they develop in the writing process she adds to the document. And Gar was in Annie Get Your Gun in junior high school! Unfortunately, he didn't sing for us.

The other panel before lunch highlighted historical writers: "My Generation: Mysteries of the Past." Sadly Tony Hayes and Tasha Alexander were unable to make the festivities, so Andrew Grant sat in as moderator and Reed filled in again, since his books are somewhat historical. Not quite as historical as Jeri Westerson and Kelli Stanely, but it worked out well nonetheless. Kelli talked about enjoying her ability to enter the dark elements of a time period we like to romanticize now. And Jeri emphasized the need to be sensible to the time and its people. Kelli's bit of advice in this panel is for writers to learn to self-edit. Which was not a signal to do away with outside editors but rather to complement their work with your own editing.

Following lunch, my panel took the stage. We were titled: "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere: Writing Without Borders." I was so excited to be moderating Megan Abbott, Martyn Waites, Hilary Davidson and Sean Chercover. They were funny and energetic and no one killed me when I asked them to pick their theme songs.

Martyn told us about his experiences writing with his wife. He types because he's faster and she tells him what to type. However, he isn't permitted to help with her job as a costume designer! And in the series he writes alone, he was so proud of himself for "creating" the idea of an information brokerage until an ex-girlfriend called him and threatened to sue him if he was stealing her idea as she'd just started an information brokerage as her job.

We learned Megan doesn't like to write about sex and body parts. No matter what, she can't help but think about her mother reading what she writes.

Sean opted to set his books in Chicago over a Canadian location because he had experience as a P.I. in Chicago and there are more people in the U.S....thereby, more people to buy and read his books!

Hilary shared with us her tendency to get so caught up in the world she's writing in, she can't find her friend's apartment or cross the street without assistance. 

As you can see these four talented writers were both entertaining and informative. It was such a pleasure to moderate this panel with them.

After us the panel "We're Not Going to Take It: Breaking Out of the Traditional" took the stage. Meanwhile, Tom gave boxing lessons.

This panel was led by moderator Jennifer Jordan with authors Gary Phillips (who does NOT need a microphone by the way), Stephanie Pintoff (who does), Duane Swierczynski, and F. Paul Wilson. This panel discussed Father Knox's Decalogue: The Ten Rules of (Golden Age) Detective Fiction. The panel came to the conclusion that "Father Knox is full of shit."

The final panel of the day was "Who Are You? Characters CAn Make or Break a Story" featuring Tom Schreck as the moderator, Dana Cameron, Gar Anthony Haywood, Jess Loury and Marcus Sakey.

Jess Loury recommended not over-planning. characters. And Gar said he starts off by deciding what he doesn't want his characters to be. Marcus doesn't start with a superman-type character because then the action has to be more elaborate and exaggerated and that can quickly become silly. As did this panel when Tom began talking about his farting dogs.

The actual conference was wrapped up with Ruth Jordan's interview of John Connolly. And John is the one who gets the credit for talking about books as markers of your life. He emphasized the continued value of print books...and not by disparaging electronic books but by saying that what we choose to keep in print still tells a story about us individually. He spoke specifically to a beat-up paperback he had that was a marker of a relationship earlier in his life.

When John spoke about Irish crime fiction specifically he said that it's a way for Irish writers to connect with their history.

And he also recommended that writers never underestimate the power of the chip on your shoulder.

A truly spectacular day that continued with dinner and time with the authors. This wonderful picture I'm having framed!

I also have a few new pictures to add to the Most Wanted wall, so look for those soon (I hope).

I want to send out a very special thank you to everyone who took the time to stop and tell me they enjoyed the panel or that they read the blog. In person I'm sometimes so overwhelmed by these kindnesses that I don't know how to appropriately express how much that means to me. I hope you know, you make my heart smile. Thank you so much for that gift.

I'm always sad when Muskego is over. It's such a bonding time for me and the whole fan-girl experience hasn't lessened one iota. If you have the opportunity I highly recommend you attend a Murder & Mayhem in Muskego. Even if you think you don't have the opportunity, MAKE it. This weekend is well worth it.

Happy Reading!


gspotsylvania November 16, 2011 at 7:01 AM  

So please tell Markus that I read No Rest For The Dead and liked his contribution better than the other 25!!! Just don't tell the other 25 authors!

Jess Lourey November 16, 2011 at 10:20 AM  

I agree that John's point about books being the markers of our lives was the highlight of an amazing conference. What a great weekend!

Gerard Saylor November 16, 2011 at 1:32 PM  

I missed this year's event but attended the previous three. Duane and Schreck are always interesting speakers. Coleman is always around.

Joe Barone November 17, 2011 at 7:51 AM  

Books ARE markers in our lives. Over my almost 70 years I started with the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, and like most people my age, went through a whole group of writers. I had an Ed McBain time (he is still my favorite writer), a J.J. Marric time, a Tony Hillerman time, not to mention a John D. Macdonald time, a Ross Macdonald time, a Sue Grafton time, a Patricia Cornwell time, and a Mickey Spillane time. I read the whole James Bond series one summer when I was in grad school. There's no way to list all the book times in my life! I'd bet a lot of mystery readers my age can do the same thing.

John November 18, 2011 at 3:02 PM  

Readers say its books, movie lovers says its movies, music lovers says it's songs. Songs seem to win out for me as the real markers for my life much as I'm an avid bibliophile. But I have many markers for my life. Books are only a part of them.

Beth F November 19, 2011 at 7:48 AM  

Thank goodness no one was advocating doing away with professional editors. No matter how good you are you need the eye of an expert and of an outsider.

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