Rich information for writers, rich food and experiences–that’s what Bouchercon was about in New Orleans, September 15-18, held at the Marriott Hotel on Canal Street in the French Quarter. This is the same hotel where RWA held a conference several years ago.
Bouchercon is what everybody calls the Boucher conference, the worldwide event sponsored by Mystery Writers of America.
About 1,800 or more authors, new writers, and reader fans attend every year, including many authors of romantic suspense and romantic mysteries, including me. I have to admit it made my conference when a fan tracked me down in the book sales room to get an autograph. Then in a panel workshop, I sat next to a fan of fudge from Minnesota, so we had a nice chat, too.
What I love about Bouchercon is the easy access you have with famous authors (not me yet!), publishers, and reader fans. Everybody mills about in the casual break room, or book rooms (sales and freebies) and autographing areas, hallways, and hotel lobby. I had breakfast, for example, with this year’s guest of honor Harlan Coben. He sat down at the open chair at my table. (He fuels his writing of suspense and thrillers with fruit, mini-quiches, juice and coffee.)
During the conference Harlan shared a lot of wisdom. The just-published Home is his 30th novel. Harlan didn’t get on the bestseller list until his 10th book.
“Don’t get caught up in marketing. Your sales are gonna suck until they don’t.”
You’re also not going to get rich at first. He received a $5,000 advance for his first book, and by the fourth book he received a whopping increase to $6,000.
How do you know when your book is ready to send out? “You don’t. Your kid [your book] will get knocked. You learn through experience when it’s ready to go.”
He also said, “You can’t fix no pages; you can only fix bad pages.” In other words, write, write, write and then revise.
Do less research. Researching delays the writing. It also avoids allowing you to use your imagination.
“Believe it’s your best book yet or don’t write it,” he told the crowd.
He also doesn’t tell people what he’s working on. “Save that energy and use it to write and finish that book.”
Coben is currently working on two TV series’ deals in Europe, one of which will likely end up on Netflix in the United States soon.
One of the delights of this conference was going to the annual Sisters in Crime breakfast on the 41st floor, in the River Room, at 7:30 in the morning. Champagne flowed for several toasts.
I highly recommend Sisters in Crime and its Wisconsin group if you’re writing romantic mysteries or romantic suspense. The information you receive via emails is astoundingly good. Celebrating 30 years, Sisters in Crime is a support group leading the cause on issues such as more and better reviews for books by women writers and more diversity within the publishing industry.
At the breakfast, you sit down next to great authors–and fun coincidences sometimes. At my table, I introduced myself to Brad Smith–who turned out to be the husband of Nancy Raven Smith. She was a script finalist over 15 years ago when Peggy Williams and I won the Slamdance Film Festival. We hadn’t been in contact since then. Brad and Nancy and their daughter Lynn–all of them at my table–have written a new comedy memoir together called The Reluctant Farmer of Whimsey Hill. I grew up on a farm and had picked up “Bradford Smith’s” delightful bookmark by chance prior to Saturday, not knowing who he was, or knowing I’d be sitting next to him and Nancy at the breakfast.
Nancy also got her time in the limelight with Harlan Coben at one of the Mardi Gras-themed parties during Bouchercon, one of which was hosted by Heather Graham. She’s familiar to us in RWA for historical romances and over 100 novels of every kind it seems. Heather moderated the final panel on Sunday.
Some other tips from the many panels over the four days:
Humor–push it further. If you’re subtle, the reader won’t get it. Let the editor decide how far to take it.
What makes a novel cinematic and worth selling to a TV or movie production company? It has to have a “rich stew” including rich emotions, surprise potential in the scenes, and universal themes that speak to audiences.
Create more characters who might be in a wheelchair, or struggling with PTSD or autism, or other things. In general, don’t call the character “disabled.” Focus on how they’re living and coping and taking action.
Editors are looking for more multi-cultural diversity in stories and characters.
In YA books, avoid specific social media references because they change too fast. YA books have to feel current.
New forms of novels are more acceptable now, such as using a prose poem as the format for a crime novel.
On the issue of professional jealousy, Harlan Coben said, “No one has to fail so you can succeed. We’re all in this boat together.”
When you don’t have an outline, how do you start your novel? Ask “Why?” That’s the key question to push plot. Why are they where they are and why now? Start the page there.
Think only one page at a time. Otherwise, it’s too terrifying to think of 300 pages.
What makes a good book? It’s entertaining; has a main character with “voice”; and has a truth in it.
Besides the conference, Bob and I did sightseeing and ate our way around the French Quarter and on the waterfront. For those traveling to New Orleans for literary events or vacation, absolutely do not miss the World War II museum, which is one of the best museums in the country. This was our second visit to that museum and it seemed even more important to us than last time, considering the state of our world. There’s also a great narrated paddle-wheeler ride on the Mississippi, a terrific New Orleans history museum at Jackson Square in the French Quarter not to be missed, wonderful music down on Frenchmen Street, and of course we found a Packer Bar (The Irish Pub) on Decatur Street. Try the Hilton’s bar near the waterfront and convention center for happy hour; it has the best free munchies plus some say the best grilled seafood starters. We agreed!
There are endless restaurants and shops. And don’t miss the beignets at the popular Café du Monde near Jackson Square. There’s always a local band adding to the flavor of the warm, savory powdered-sugar treats.
Everything is within walking distance if you stay near the French Quarter. We stayed at the Courtyard by Marriott just two blocks from the Marriott. It was a quiet, sleek, contemporary and friendly place for much less dough. We didn’t rent a car this time and instead relied on the streetcars, which are cheap at $3 for hopping on and off all day.
The next Bouchercon is October 12-15, 2017 in Toronto. If you want to be on a panel, moderate, or volunteer in any way, get your ideas and registration in early. Also book hotel space early. This conference fills fast.
by WisRWA member Christine DeSmet
Christine DeSmet is a past RWA Golden Heart winner and finalist (3 times), and Golden Pen winner with her romantic suspense, Spirit Lake. She’s the author of the Fudge Shop Mystery series set in Door County, Wisconsin, and has a new mystery series being marketed by her agent. Christine just sold the rights to her 9 “Mischief in Moonstone” romantic mystery short stories set in Wisconsin to Writers-Exchange Publishing; those are forthcoming in late fall or winter. Christine teaches novel writing and screenwriting at University of Wisconsin-Madison Continuing Studies. (email@example.com)
The Writers’ Police Academy conference (held in Green Bay, Wisconsin, August 11-14) started with a bang on Thursday afternoon. The attendees explored armored, S.W.A.T, and bomb squad vehicles. Lesson: my characters will need a lot more agility than I have to get inside those vehicles, especially the armored one. The first step into the driver’s seat is waist high on me.
Tried on a flak vest and crowd control shield. Didn’t even attempt the battering ram. Heavy is the theme with this equipment, including the bomb squad suit. Lesson: My characters will need physical strength to handle this stuff.
For a plastic gun, the Glock 17 was heavier than I expected, but has the sweetest trigger action. Now, when I put a Glock in a character’s hand, I know what that gun feels and shoots like, with every expectation my character can be as deadly as I was.
I learned how to poison a person with bacteria from my own cupboard or the woods out back. Useful information for any amateur sleuth that might turn up in a new series. TIP: mushrooms are unreliable, even the known poisonous ones.
I finally found a use for geometry in self-defense. It’s all about the angles. No doubt I’ll have a character using these techniques. TIP: when fighting an attacker, fists to flesh, palms to bone. Meaning, don’t punch ’em in the face and injure your knuckles. Use the heel of your palm against the jaw and cheekbones.
Friday started with a mock crash scene which involved a variety of triage scenarios, among them a trapped man needing the Jaws of Life to extricate him, testing a drunk driver, and a dead guy and his hysterical and combative mother. Yes, combative is among the normal reactions in these scenarios. We got the full show of rescue vehicles arriving with lights and sirens. Even the evac helicopter dropped in. Helpful should one of my characters get in an auto accident or come across one.
Saturday kicked off with an interactive mock lockdown. No narration. Minutes into the lecture, it just happens. A knife wound victim staggers into the lecture hall. The instructor calls for help from anyone with medical training. When three more victims stumble in, it’s a lockdown situation. Belts are used to tie shut door hinges and objects jammed into the opening mechanisms. Warnings sound over the P.A. A suspect is apprehended. But, is there an accomplice?
S.W.A.T. explodes into the room, guns drawn, shouting, “Hands on your heads!” Their presence is so commanding seven men instantly control a room of hundreds. I am experiencing an adrenaline rush, just as any character I put into this situation will. I also now know what it feels like to get frisked. Told you it was interactive.
There’s much more I could share, from Lee Goldberg (author of the Monk Series and scriptwriter) who delivered his How to Use Research speech like a comedy routine and Tami Hoag (does anyone not know who this author is?) sharing a personal story about using research in one’s private life. Our instructors included an ATF agent, an arson investigator, a Private Investigator, and the amazing officer Colleen (The Rock) Belongea who my six foot plus defense instructor said he would not mess with. She was a favorite with everyone, and as much a face of this conference as organizer Lee Lofland, author and detective.
To view more pictures of this event, go to www.leelofland.com, The Writers’ Police Academy, or my author FB page. This excellently organized event will be repeated in Green Bay, Wisconsin in 2017.
by WisRWA member Barbara Raffin
We all know what it’s like to feel lonely. You can be in a room full of friends and family, people you love, and still feel lonely. They can all be talking, laughing, having a good time, and you feel like you’re outside looking in through glass. Being lonely is not the same as being alone.
Being alone is taking a much needed break from everything outside ourselves. It’s going for a long walk. It’s reading a really good book without interruption or making a jigsaw puzzle while watching a movie marathon. We all need a day like this now and then, a day where we can shut out all the worries and concerns of our everyday life. Doesn’t matter how you unwind, the point is we all need to unwind…alone.
As writers we cherish our alone time, hoard it hungrily and protect it with the ferocity of a well-trained watch dog. This is the time we can most clearly hear our characters speak to us. This is the time we can let our muse take over our thoughts, the time we can allow our plot to percolate through our brains and out our fast-typing fingertips. Writers are by nature solitary creatures. Oh, we do seek each other out from time to time to compare notes, share tips of the trade, and to reassure ourselves that we aren’t truly alone because all mankind has succumbed to a zombie apocalypse except for us and we somehow missed it while we were being alone. It’s why I belong to a number of writers’ organizations and critique groups. These are the people who help me remember WHY I write. Conferences and workshops are an excellent opportunity to not be alone.
My Chippewa Falls area of WisRWA is sponsoring a one-day Fall Into Fiction Workshop, on Saturday, October 8th, and I’m looking forward to meeting others who feel the creative urge the way I do. I’m hoping to put some faces to the names.
Come join us at The Plaza Hotel & Suites, 1202 W. Clairmont Ave, Eau Claire to hear journalist, author, and editor Candace Havens speak. In the morning it’s about “The Book Map: Plotting Your High Concept Ideas,” and in the afternoon “Fast Draft and Revision Hell.” (We all know what that’s about, right!?) Arrive early and join us for book signings and a pizza party Friday night.
I hope to see you there, but hurry! Seats are limited and I wouldn’t want you to miss out on this wonderful opportunity to not be “alone” on October 8th.
Are you wondering what the Greater Green Bay group is up to? Well, on September 7th at 11:30 a.m., at the 1951 Restaurant, the talented Randi Alexander is coming to town to help us learn to write steamy love scenes. Randi is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author and she’s chosen to spend her valuable time with us! We couldn’t be more thrilled.
Here’s a little interview I did with Randi to get to know her better and to gain a little insight from her.
Q: What or who inspired you to write steamy romances?
A: I’ve always loved reading romance, since I was a teenager, and I soon realized I enjoyed the spicier books more than the ones with the closed bedroom doors. Writing books with a number and variety of love scenes – to me – is telling the whole story of a romantic relationship. What happens between the sheets gives us insight into our characters, sometimes in a way that non-love scenes can’t.
Q: Do you have any unusual writing rituals?
A: I do. I pull my hair up into a bun, put on comfortable clothes (usually a muu muu) then I have a snack before I start writing. Oh, and the room has to be very quiet.
Q: What for you constitutes ‘sexy?’
A: Sexy is not just a running description of what part he has where, what thing she’s doing to him, etc. Its scenes written with emotion that reveal our characters’ deepest feelings, scenes with lovingly detailed description of the physical connection between our characters, and long, sweet afterglow scenes where so much can go right…and wrong!
Q: Who is your favorite character from one of your stories and why?
A: I’m having a lingering girl-crush on the last character I wrote. In Saddle and a Siren (an August 11 release in Sable Hunter’s Hell Yeah! Kindle World) I made Kally Zappa a strong, competent rancher who cusses, handles 2,500 bulls, but is still sweet and funny enough to attract the undivided attention of Paramedic Clint Black. I began the story with this independent, capable woman finding herself vulnerable and in dire need of rescue, and made her first-responder fall crazy-in-love with every contradictory inch of her.
Q: What advice would you like to share with new writers?
More About the Program – Writing Sexy Love Scenes with Randi Alexander
Keep your readers engrossed in your stories by creating love scenes that are romantic, emotional, and sensually descriptive. In this interactive, hands-on workshop, we will focus on: 1) building sexual tension throughout your book, 2) producing physical love scenes and climaxes that are emotional, unique, and unforgettable, and 3) ways to give your readers the impact they crave during the quiet moments of afterglow snuggling. You’ll learn to ask yourself two easy questions as you write, and the answers to these questions will make every scene emotionally gripping, sensually gratifying, or both!
More About Randi
New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author Randi Alexander knows a modern woman dreams of an alpha cowboy who takes the reins, and guarantees they’re rode hard and put up satisfied. Published with Cleis Press, The Wild Rose Press, and self-published, Randi writes smokin’ hot romance with heroes who’ll have you begging to ride off into the sunset with them. When she’s not dreaming of, or writing about, rugged cowboys, Randi is biking trails along remote rivers, snorkeling the Gulf of Mexico, or practicing her drumming in hopes of someday forming a tropical rock-band.
Forever an adventurous spirit with a naughty imagination, Randi is also family-oriented and married to the best guy in the world, her own cowboy, Kick. Give in to the allure of erotic passion, strong but vulnerable heroines, and irresistibly seductive cowboys, as Randi’s emotional love stories sweep you off your feet and leave you breathless with passion.
Saddle up! And prepare yourself for the sexier side of happily ever after.
We can’t wait for Randi’s workshop!
Wednesday, September 7th, 11:30am
at 1951 Restaurant in Green Bay
For more information, contact Green Bay area coordinator Val Clarizio (valclarizio @ yahoo.com).
by WisRWA member Val Clarizio
WisRWA members are invited to join an exclusive private tour of the Newberry Library in Chicago. Organized by Maureen Welli, area coordinator for the Milwaukee Area, the tour should have something of interest for historical romance writers, and everyone else too. Members who’ve had the chance to visit the Newberry in the past have raved.
The Newberry Research Library is a world-renowned independent research library. It offers an extensive non-circulating collection of rare books, maps, music, manuscripts and other printed materials spanning six centuries.
The tour, scheduled for Saturday September 17th, is open to all WisRWA members, although only the first 25 to sign up may attend. The tour begins at 10:30am. Members will travel by coach bus, which will leave the Milwaukee area by 8:30am.
Those interested in joining the tour must contact Maureen (firstname.lastname@example.org) by August 5th.
Congratulations to WisRWA member, Melonie Johnson on being named a 2016 Golden Heart finalist with her contemporary romance manuscript, SOMETIMES YOU NEED A SEXY SCOT.
We asked Melonie to share with us a little about her story. She said:
When a gorgeous guy (in a kilt, no less) literally falls at the feet of “Twitter Babe” Cassie Crow, she does what any American girl on her dream vacation would do: throws caution to the wind and locks lips with the sexy Scot. But when she realizes her hot Highlander is actually the creator of a UK Internet prank show, Cassie fears if the clip of her getting punk’d by a Scottish hunk goes viral, she can kiss her ambition to become a serious broadcast journalist goodbye.
Logan Reid’s star is on the rise. Under consideration to be picked up for a television series in the states, Logan knows this latest stunt is guaranteed to rack up the views he needs to knock his numbers out of the park. When the unwitting player in his perfect pitch cries foul, Logan vows to see the prank go live, even if he has to chase the Yank with the smart mouth and hot lips across the pond to seal the deal. Turns out, the joke’s on Logan once he realizes he’d risk his fifteen minutes of fame for a chance at a lifetime with Cassie. But with her career on the line, is Cassie willing to risk the same?
Here is her inspiration and her plans for the story:
This book started with one scene, the image of a guy in a kilt (good start, right?) and a girl finding him in a secret passageway of a castle. But unlike the time travel scenarios in many of my favorite romances, this hot Highlander is not what he seems.
SEXY SCOT is the first of five planned books in The Sometimes Series about five friends. The stories in this series follow each friend’s journey to her happily ever after, and all the trials and triumphs encountered along the way. While books 2 – 5 are not finished, they have character sketches and are plotted using beat sheets in the style of Save the Cat! The stories for these girls came to me all at once, and they’ve been living in my head for so long now I feel like I really know each of them…like they are my friends for real!
Best of luck at Nationals, Melonie! We’ll be rooting for you!
WisRWA member Molly Maka, self-proclaimed 1940s girl, writer of historical romance, and a veteran of historical reenactment, will be presenting her secrets to the Milwaukee area on Saturday, June 18.
As a ten-year veteran of historical reenacting of various time periods, Molly brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to her presentation on how historical reenacting can enhance your writing. She will demonstrate how, through reenacting, you too can create identifiable and relatable characters based in a historical context, and establish and capture the nuances of the time period of your characters’ worlds. And she’ll explain how getting involved in historical reenacting can help you get in touch with the past.
We caught up with Molly before she started pin curling her hair for the next Stars and Stripes Honor Flight to ask her a few questions leading up to her presentation.
Molly: Believe it or not I always had a penchant for dressing historically. I remember one year I asked my grandmother if she had any of her 1940s clothes because I wanted to be a 40s girl for Halloween. That might have been the first time. Another year I dressed as a colonial girl off to a ball. When I saw the gorgeous Elizabethan court dresses at the Bristol Renaissance Faire the summer after I graduated high school, I knew I had to get involved. In 2006, my dream was realized when I joined the cast of the Guilde of St. George. From there I learned about other time periods people could reenact and my involvement in different eras sort of evolved from there.
Molly: I have several that I tend to favor. Let me put it back to you: Which one do you all think is my favorite and why? Go ahead and answer in the comments. I’ll give a prize on Saturday to a randomly selected commenter. And, of course, I’ll reveal the answer.
Molly: That’s tough because, even if I don’t plan to write about something, I still look for opportunities to try new things in a historical context, if only for the experience of trying it out. You never know when you can use something. My biggest bucket list item right now is to learn how to drive a World War II-era Army jeep. And I’ve had plenty of interesting adventures I’m still planning to write about. I’ll be talking about some of the best ones on Saturday.
Molly: Right now I would have to say it’s a toss-up between my post war aluminum and lucite box purse and an adorable vintage navy blue dress with navy and red polka dot accents. It fits like it was made for me. Who knows, I might just have both of them with me on Saturday.
Molly: Absolutely. I’ve got some great stories. Of course, you’ll just have to wait until Saturday to hear them. 🙂
Many thanks to Molly for sharing a little bit about herself and her passion. We’re so looking forward to her presentation: The Historical Reenactor Who Writes: How Touching the Past Can Enhance Your Story. Please join us in Mayfair Mall Community Room (Lower Level) on Saturday, June 18th at 9 AM. We hope to see you there!
Photo Credit: Claire Noonan Photography
In October, the Chippewa Falls area will host the WisRWA 2016 Workshop, “Fall into Fiction” and celebrate our area’s 20th year. We are excited to have Candace Haven lead us through “Plotting Your High Concept Ideas” and “Fast Draft and Revision Hell”. In the theme of plotting aids, I would like to share why developing character sheets is an excellent tool and resource. I am also attaching “Character Profile Sheet” for your use.
Just imagine if you name your character Chloe and you spelled it two different ways in your book Chloe and Khloe because you were getting caught up on the Kardashians? What if your heroine’s nose appears as pertly turned up, and later as a button nose? Your hero’s eyes could appear as blue as the deepest reach of the ocean’s depth and later as blue as a Robin’s egg?
What if your book becomes the first in a series? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to hit up your digital file saved on your first book and make sure you didn’t give a character a mother in the next book who was mentioned as deceased in the first? Or in your second book, what if you give wheat glossy strands on a girl’s head, when she had ink black whirling strands in the first?
What if confusion and panic clouds your head when your first book quickly becomes a family dynasty line of serial books? Would it not be great to remember you have your character’s own Debrett’s within their character sheet and you can see who married whom or is first cousin of who so they don’t commit incest?
What about relationships? It would be nice to remember your character’s first wife’s name so he doesn’t date another lady with the same name…or maybe that itself can be part of your plot…. hmmmm?
Where did your character go to finishing school and who are her best friends? Which one is secretly evil, plotting to take away your character’s popularity? Who’s the goody two shoes who too repressed to tell on her?
Perhaps you tattoo your villain with a gang banger tat and latter you say it’s a portrait of his dead sister, not to mention you forgot what piercings you put exactly where?
Can your character sheets become tools for your plot line or time line sources? Yes indeed. Nothing is better than to be a pantser, but, really, do you want to have one of your gay characters to be mentioned as a husband first when later they aren’t married but partners? Yikes.
Here is a great tool developed by my former group in Cleveland which can be kept in your digital file you keep on each character for your book. Feel free to print out copies if you feel writing everything out is your style.
Happy writing to you as your characters lead you through their wonderful adventures!
Writer of a Regency Historical
Chippewa Falls area member of WisRWA since 3/2015
WisRWA V.P. of Programs
By Tina Susedik
Most people, writers anyway, have heard of the terms plotter and pantser. It’s a question we are asked many times – are you a plotter or pantser? It’s a personal preference with one not being better than the other.
Heavy plotters, those that map out each chapter, each scene and character to the point where the book is nearly finished when they are done plotting. I once knew someone who plotted her books in so much detail, she was able to write her chapters in random order. I simply couldn’t understand how she did it.
I rather wish I was one of those writers, or at least a bit of a plotter, but I’m not. I’m a pantser. After coming up with an idea, and fleshing out my characters, I start writing, letting the story flow as my characters learn about each other. I tried plotting once, but I became frustrated when my characters decided not to do what I kept explaining I’d plotted for them. Darn characters won. Maybe I have to go back and re-write more than a plotter would have to, but I’m a much happier author.
The reason I’m blogging about this topic is because of the fall workshop the Chippewa Falls Area is hosting on October 8th in Eau Claire. Candace Havens is our speaker. The morning session is titled: “The Book Map: Plotting Your High Concept Ideas.” I’m anxious to see if she can teach me to be more of a plotter.
Beth James and I had the pleasure of meeting Candace at The Romantic Times Convention in Las Vegas last month. She is a delight and is looking forward to coming to Eau Claire and meeting everyone. After visiting with her, both Beth and I don’t know when she has time to sleep. Candace is one busy woman. An amazing fact: At the time we met with her, she had 7,800 emails to go through from all the jobs and projects she’s involved in. I feel overwhelmed when I have 200!
I hope to see all of you in Eau Claire on October 8th – or 7th if you come the night before for the pizza party and book signing. Maybe we can have a panster/plotter discussion over a few drinks.
Tina has been a member of WisRWA since 1994 and started the Chippewa Falls Area twenty years ago in October. She is a multi-publisher author, a member of PAN, and has served on the WisRWA board as Area Contact and newsletter editor.