Top Ten Tips from a first-time writing festival attendee

By Eileen Hammond

Buckeye Crime Writers member

I recently had the good fortune of attending the Magna Cum Murder writing festival in Indianapolis. As I reflect back, here are some takeaways from the conference.

  1. Book the conference hotel as soon as you know you will be attending. You will feel more a part of the action, as you will be having conversations in the elevator, in line for coffee, etc.
  2. Practice the elevator pitch for your book or for the project on which you are currently working. There were quite a few occasions where someone asked me what I was writing. It’s a great opportunity to share the great stuff you are doing.
  3. Order bookmarks or cards for your books, if you are published. (Thank you to board members Kandy Williams and Connie Berry for that suggestion.) After giving your elevator pitch you will be happy to be able to have something to give out as a reminder. It also makes you look more professional. I used vistaprint.com and was quite pleased with the results.
  4. Go to all the sessions you can. I got something out of nearly every one I attended. Bring a notepad and a pen. You never know when your next best idea will be triggered.
  5. Go for the weekend, if you can afford it, especially if it is a smaller conference. You will run into people repeatedly: they will get to know you and you them. According to some of the authors with which I spoke, this is a more intimate conference. It was a true family-like atmosphere.
  6. Get the complete experience. If you are an author or hope to be one someday, buy at least one of the books for sale and have it signed.
  7. Bring your laptop. There was an impromptu time-bound writing contest sponsored by the Indianapolis chapter of Sisters in Crime. (Two hundred and fifty words centered on or based on a Christmas carol.)
  8. Engage with the other attendees. Even if you go by yourself, you will feel like you are part of the community. Plus it’s a great opportunity to learn. At the lunch table a New York Times bestselling author suggested aspiring writers attend the Penn Writers conference, which is in Pittsburgh next year. It sounds like an intensive three days.
  9. Ask questions. The panel authors are grateful to get them and you can get answers to writing questions that may be vexing you.
  10. If you are a published author, let the organizers of the conference know (yes, even independent authors). When I signed up in May, I wasn’t, but by mid-October I had two books out. They are always looking for people to be on panels. And they had a place for readers to purchase panelists’ books and specific book signing times.
    Panel discussion, Old FriendsParnell Hall (left) and John Gilstrap meet in a panel discussion at Magna Cum Murder.
Guest of honor interview
Guest of honor John Gilstrap (right) with honoree Reavis Z. Wortham.
Lost in Translation panel
From left, Albert Bell, Ethan Cross, Elena Hartwell, Charles Todd and Larry Sweazy participate in the Lost in Translation Panel at Magna Cum Murder 2018.
Magna Cum Murder banquet
Keynote speaker Peter Lovesey was honored at the Magna Cum Murder banquet.

Book Review: Nabokov’s Favorite Word Is Mauve

By Patrick Stuart

Confession:  I use the word ‘that’ way, way too much.  OK, not that much. See? Just did it.  ‘That’ is one of those words that sneaks into my rough drafts with regularity, then when I go back for a revision I notice them popping up like mushrooms after a rainstorm. Not that that’s the worst . . . dammit. Twice this time. Does anyone else do this?

Turns out; yeah. A lot, actually. Even with famous authors who end up contradicting their own writerly advice. Which is what statistical word nerd Ben Blatt set out to find in his fascinating book Nabokov’s Favorite Word Is Mauve. By comparing several well-known authors of different genres and the books we know them for, he ran their work through complex computer programs to parse out their commonalities and secret habits. You know how Stephen King likes to slam adverbs (i.e., words ending in -ly)? Turns out he’s not quite so adverse with adverbs; he’s actually somewhere in the middle of the pack with usage (between Salman Rushdie and Charles Dickens). At the low end is Ernest Hemingway, whereas the high end tops out with E.L. James (50 Shades of Gray series) and J.K. Rowling. Which posits the following theory:

More adverbs > commercial work

Less adverbs > literary work

So maybe Mr. King has a point with his prejudice of sadly, suddenly, and tearfully (note: he’s hardly the only author against extraneous adverb usage). However, as the shopping channel likes to say; but wait, there’s more. Ben also compares the novels of Toni Morrison, Kurt Vonnegut, William Faulkner and others, and it turns out their most famous works (e.g., Beloved, Cat’s Cradle, The Sound and the Fury, etc.) also use less adverbs, while their lesser-known books tend to be more adverb-heavy.  Which further supports the prejudice against adverbs:

Less adverbs > higher literary quality

More adverbs > lower literary quality

But it’s not just adverbs.  No, Ben’s just getting started. There’s comparisons of swearing between male and female authors, the use of exclamation points (!), qualifiers (e.g., very), sentence length, clichés (spoiler: James Patterson and Janet Evanovich use the most), similes, and, yes, favorite words (hence the title). By taking blind snippets of books, Ben can even statistically predict who the authors were… imagine using that in a jury scene with an anonymous ransom note. One minor criticism: NKWIS is filled with statistical data, numerous bar charts, scatter plots and lists, which can come across a little dry at times. But ultimately, by teasing out these wonderful little factoids, it’s a fascinating trip inside the minds of our favorite authors and their literary peccadillos.  And that’s why this is recommended for your to-read list (another ‘that’ … shut up).

(Nabokov’s Favorite Word Is Mauve, by Ben Blatt, The Atlantic, Simon & Schuster, pub. 2017

Everything you wanted to know about publishing…

. . . and were afraid to ask?  Well, ask away, compadre!  Cuz that is exactly what’s happening at our next monthly meeting.  I know we say this a lot, but this time our next event will be extra, extra special.  An event of biblical proportions and spectacular bandwidth, as it were.  Because, ladies and gents, children and small house pets, for the first time ever Buckeye Crime Writers will be combining with another central OH writing group, the Ohio Writers’ Association (formerly Columbus Creative Cooperative), to form a DUAL MEETING as our speaker will be none other than OWA founder Brad Pauquette, who will be expounding on, wait for it:  publishing.  Among the items he will be discussing:

  • The three primary paths to publishing (self-publishing, small presses and traditional/big 5).
  • The advantages, expectations, costs and compensation of each of the above.
  • Scams, red flags and false promises to avoid.

So where are you going to be Saturday 10/27/18?  Sprawled on your couch watching OSU football?  NO (it’s a bye week anyway).  You’re going to be at the Grandview Library (1685 W. 1st Avenue) from 12:30 – 3:00, learning the process of turning your written words into filthy lucre.  Because if anybody knows a thing or two about publishing, it’s Brad.  Not only has he written a book about self-publishing (The Self-Publishing Handbook), he’s consulted with clients from professional athletes to New York Times bestselling authors, and he’s also the founder of the Columbus Publishing Lab and the Columbus Press.  In addition, Brad has edited several anthologies, authored a book on the water crisis in India (Sejal:  The Walk for Water), and when he’s not doing any of the above he spends his time thinking up stuff to do on a farm in Zanesville with a wife, four children, and several adorable critters.  So block out the aforementioned Saturday and come loaded with questions for an event you don’t want to miss.  Per usual, we will try to corral the speaker at a local restaurant after the meeting for some extra input, so feel free to join if you are able.  And since this is a combined event, two groups will be occupying one space, and the space holds up to 60 people.  Do the math.  In the meantime, keep writing.

The circle of life…

(From Buckeye Crime Writers Board President Patrick Stuart)

A skull!
It’s a skull. This means something.

“The corpse dumps a huge flood of nutrients into the earth—a blend of fats and proteins that stands out among the carbohydrates typically found in leaf litter. Quickly, a dedicated coterie of bacteria, fungi, and nematode worms emerges to dine on this artisanal feast.”

Great… now I’m hungry. BTW, that wasn’t Lee Child or Patricia Cornwell, but Ed Yong, science journalist for The Atlantic magazine. Ed was talking about the “necrobiome,” or the world of microbes that digest a body after death. We’ve all heard about the use of insects in forensics, and how the different bug types and growth stages can help determine the time a corpse has been decomposing. But what if it’s winter? Not so reliable. However, something that wants to eat us 24/7, in any season is, you guessed it:  microbes.

The beautiful thing about microbes is that they work with predictable, clock-like efficiency. How it happens: Dude gets murdered and dumped somewhere (you can work out the how’s and why’s). The ground already has microbes in it, but they’re scattered. Plus, the dead vegetable matter on top is carbohydrate-rich. What microbes love, though, is a nice ooze of fats, proteins and nitrogen, which is just what the body provides. So when those microbes sense food, invade, party and reproduce (kind of like an itty-bitty version of Sixteen Candles), investigators can then determine the time of death. Sometimes within three days, even after several weeks of decomposition.

What’s great is that microbes work the same for virtually any dead thing, any time of year. Once they’re in, they’re in. However, keep in mind factors like antibiotics or drug use that may or may not affect their digestive habits. Which is why experiments continue at places like the Sam Houston State University Outdoor Research Facility (a.k.a., “the body farm”). Note:  this is not the kind of farm where you take your toddlers to see calves and baby goats (I’ll never make that mistake again). Point being that nothing’s perfect, so homicide investigators may include this information with other studies to reinforce their findings. Which means your fictional detective/prosecutor/private investigator now has one more forensic tool in their arsenal.

So, anyone up for some oatmeal?  Fine, more for me… oh, and keep writing.

http://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2015/12/meet-the-necrobiome-the-predictable-microbes-that-will-eat-your-dying-corpse/419676/

 

So, Tell Us About Your Book.

How do you summarize your 90,000-word novel in two sentences or less? Or even in just a page? Can you summarize what your book is about quickly, before the listener begins to glaze over or lose track of what you’re saying? If any of these questions vex you, you need to come to our next event. We’re holding a workshop to help you write your log lines, elevator pitches, query paragraphs, and short synopses. Writing a book is hard enough; writing something succinct is an altogether different challenge. Our own Connie Berry, fresh off her own new book deal (yay, Connie!), will lead our session from 12:30 to 3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 29, at the Bexley Public Library, 2411 E. Main St., Bexley. Be prepared to learn to promote your work-in-progress, or if you’re between projects, use one of your favorite books as an example. This is an interactive session, so be ready to participate! See you then!

The lawyers are coming! (And that’s a good thing!)

Hi, everybody! We had a great visit last month with Michelle Pretorius; she did a great job of talking us through some writing tips and sharing some of her process. Here’s more about Michelle.

And now we’re looking ahead to our next event! For our next Buckeye Crime Writers meeting, we’re going from writing tips to practical tips on how the criminal justice system works, and we’re hearing from the experts.

Our visitors will be Melanie Tobias, Director of the Criminal Appeals Unit, and Annie Murray, Domestic Violence Director of the Domestic Violence and Stalking Unit, both in the office of Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein. They’ll talk about what they do, share information about interesting cases they’ve handled, and share their perspective on the things that authors get wrong and right about attorneys and legal issues. (We personally can’t imagine anyone would mischaracterize lawyers or the justice system – would they?)

So if you’re involving prosecutors in any way in your next story – and even if you aren’t – you won’t want to miss this! Join us at 12:30 p.m. Aug. 25 at the Old Worthington Library, 820 High St., Worthington. See you there!

Just sommer . . .

No, that’s not a misspelling for ‘just summer.’  ‘Just sommer’ is a South African phrase meaning ‘just because.’  As in, why should you attend the next SICCO meeting on Saturday, 7/28/18, at the Worthington Library (2280 Hard Road, Worthington) from 12:30 – 3:00?  Just sommer, my china (‘just because, my friend’).  Just because, as in South African writer Michelle Pretorius will be our guest speaker.  Eish,* how do we find these people?  Because we’re kief**, duh.   Michelle is not only a doctoral student at Ohio University, but she’s also the author of The Monster’s Daughter (Melville House; novel of dystopian crime fiction in South Africa) and a winner of the Friends of American Writers award (previous winners including Toni Morrison, Celeste Ng and Gillian Flynn).  She’s also a winner of Ohio University’s John Cady Graduate Fellowship, and is currently working on a 2nd novel titled Where the Devil Turns (also taking place in South Africa).  Michelle, an up-and-coming author you DON’T WANT TO MISS, will be talking about fiction writing, apartheid, South Africa and a whole lot of other stuff.  And per usual, we will be gathering at a local restaurant/watering hole afterwards for additional discussion, questions and camaraderie (location to be decided).  So waste some time with us on Saturday and revel in our leker indaba ***.  Oh, and keep writing.

*exclamation of surprise

** wicked cool

*** great discussion

 

You can also find us on our SiCCO Facebook Page!

We are the Buckeye Crime Writers!

That’s right, you found us! We’re the Columbus chapter of Sisters in Crime, formerly known as Sisters in Crime-Columbus, Ohio. We’re a group of writers from just about every sub-genre – crime noir, cozies, horror, you name it. If it has a body count, it has a place with us! We ranged from published authors to new writers – all experience levels are welcome. We work to help each other out with critique sessions, schedule authors and other experts to come visit us, and even take the occasional field trip. The goal is to help our members become better writers and achieve their dreams of publishing their stories. Please take a few minutes to check out our coming events, some past events for a flavor, and get to know us!

It’s all about the scurvy

Captain Kidd.  Blackbeard.  Pirates of the Caribbean.  The Pittsburgh Pirates.  You like pirates?  Of course you do . . . who doesn’t like pirates?  Probably some Yankees fan, like Rudy Giuliani, because his name starts with an ‘aarrrrrrr’ (shut up, that was hilarious).  Anyway, since everybody likes pirates, you have no reason to not attend the Old Worthington Library on Saturday, May 26, from 12:30 – 2:00 and converse with our monthly speaker, Steve Goble.  Steve is the home-grown Ohio author of THE BLOODY BLACK FLAG, and THE DEVIL’S WIND (coming out in September, 2018).  Both books feature a reluctant pirate protagonist who solves murder mysteries in the early 1700’s off colonial America . . . a plot device so cool it’s got antifreeze in its veins.  Steve is a debut author who’s also a local journalist for USA Today, a former speaker at the recent Murder and Mayhem Conference in Chicago (with Gillian Flynn and Jeffrey Deaver), and just for fun he has Godzilla as his spirit animal.  In short, he has tons of experiential advice to pass on to new authors which you don’t want to miss.  So bone up on your pirate lingo and fancy sword skills and spend some quality time with a few of your faves (and join us for lunch afterwards, per usual).  Oh, and keep writing.

Is A Critique Group Right For You?

(by SICCO Board Member Connie Campbell Berry)

You’ve spent months alone with your characters. The setting of your novel is more real to you than your hometown. You can quote whole chapters word for word. You laugh and cry at all the right places. But is your manuscript ready to be seen by agents and publishers?

Maybe not.

What you need is feedback. An unbiased take on your dialogue, characterization, and plot flow. Someone to point out lapses in continuity or point of view. Someone to catch the typos your brain automatically corrects. But where can you find unbiased readers who don’t demand your firstborn in payment?

One option is to join a critique group. A critique group is a small group of people who read and give feedback on each others’ submissions. Sometimes After belonging to several critique groups, here are the top ten things I’ve learned:

  1. You can’t write a novel by committee.

Critique groups work best when members feel free to express honest opinions and writers feel free to ignore them. You are the final arbiter of your work.

  1. Agree on the guidelines.

Will you meet in person or online? How many pages will you submit? How long will you have to complete critiques? My suggestion is to limit submissions to

ten or twenty pages, double-spaced. The fewer members of the group, the more pages you might agree to read. Reading whole scenes or whole chapters is the best, but the length can vary greatly. Talk about it in advance so everyone’s on the same page. A week or two to complete critiques is usually workable (depending on the number of participants and length of submissions). The important thing is to agree in advance.

  1. Limit the number in the group.

More than five is probably too many. Critiquing four submissions every two

weeks takes time. Most of us have day jobs and families.

  1. Seek a group with relatively similar skills and projects.

Including an inexperienced writer with those more skillful can work, but it can also be frustrating. Critique partners aren’t teachers or editors. And while good writing is good writing, the norms for various genres vary wildly. Would a group of cozy mystery writers really get dystopian fantasy? Would a writer of steamy romances fit into a group writing Christian historical fiction?

  1. Share approximate word count in advance.

If three manuscripts fall in the 75,000 to 80,000 range and one is an epic of 250,000 words, you’ve got a problem. Will three of you hang in there with the fourth for several additional months at the rate of 10 pages per week? If manuscripts are dissimilar in length, agree on a plan. Those with shorter manuscripts might agree to post revisions or another WIP.

  1. Don’t expect to be told how magnificent you are.

Be open to both positive and negative feedback. If you don’t want an honest

critique, ask your mother to read your manuscript instead.

  1. Don’t argue.

Avoid the temptation to defend or explain your work. You’ve made no promises to agree with or use the feedback of others. Asking questions, however, can be very helpful. For example: “Can you tell me why that section didn’t work for you?”

  1. Be timely.

Submit on time and finish critiques on time. Period.

  1. Include positive feedback.

In addition to pointing out what doesn’t work, tell your critique group partners what you loved: a character finely drawn, a passage you just couldn’t put down, a lovely turn of phrase, the place where you laughed out loud. There is always something positive to say.

  1. Give group members the right to opt out.

No explanations necessary.

If you are interested in forming or joining a critique group, find a local chapter of one of the national writers’ organizations like Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, Romance Writers of America, and American Christian Fiction Writers. I hooked up with my first critique group through the Guppies, an online chapter of Sisters in Crime, dedicated to helping writers get published.

The Columbus chapter of Sisters in Crime (SiCCo) has several Writing Critique sessions planned for 2018. Check our Facebook page and website for dates and locations. Those participating will register in advance, submit pages, and download the pages of others to read and comment in advance.

Attending writers’ conferences and workshops is another great way to meet fellow writers. The critique group I’m in now was formed at Seascape Writers’ Retreat in Connecticut.

Or you can find a group online. Check out these possibilities:

Ladies Who Critique (www.ladieswhocritique.com)

The Critique Circle (www.critiquecircle.com)

The Writer’s Chatroom (www.writerschatroom.com)

Absolute Write (www.absolutewrite.com)