SCENE OF THE CRIME: Mystery writers converge on Sarasota to teach, network, learn

Bradenton Herald – When more than 20 Florida-based mystery writers gather for the annual Mystery Florida Conference next weekend, it won’t be a dark and stormy night.

Instead, the setting will more than likely be two hot, sweltering days in Sarasota.

The backdrop? The Hyatt Regency.

There, some of the nation’s best-selling suspense authors will share their insights on getting a book published, how to make it a success and other desirable tidbits.

Guest panel speakers include best-selling authors such as Mary Jane Clark, Tim Dorsey and Michael Connelly.

“You run the gamut from a guy like Michael Connelly, who probably sells a million books every time he publishes one, to a guy whose doing self publishing, selling a few books and enjoying life in the process,” said Terry Griffin, organizer of the event.

The conference is limited to 100 participants, keeping things intimate for bookworms wanting the opportunity to talk to their favorite authors. But there’s also a chance for the public to meet and greet their favorite writers during the Mystery Mingle from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday. The free event will feature book signings and books for sale.

To top it off, the conference will also host two Hollywood literary scouts — one from 20th Century Fox and another from Universal Pictures/Universal Studios. Joining them will be Hollywood development film executive David Gerson. Together, they will present a talk on how a book is made into a film.

Other discussions include the best ways to grab a reader and an agent, character development and the book publishing trend.

Learning these tricks of the trade at Mystery Florida helped Griffin get published. He has had four books published with a fifth one on the way.

“It’s worked for some of us — just the networking and being there and learning,” said Griffin, a retired lawyer who’s found regional popularity with his novels. “It’s a good opportunity for people who want to be published writers.”

Griffin has also dabbled in e-publishing, intrigued at the new phenomenon. His interest in it has grown after reported that it has been selling more books via Kindle than hardcover recently.

So is e-publishing taking over the book business?

Griffin doesn’t know the answer, but said the topic will be tackled at the conference.

One thing that hasn’t changed in the book business, however, is the need for a book agent. Securing one can be a writer’s biggest obstacle. More so than writing a book itself.

Getting rejected numerous times seems like a rite of passage for most aspiring authors.

Griffin said he sent 25 letters to 25 agents for his first book, “Longboat Blues.” In return, he received 25 form rejection letters.

He wasn’t the only one to have such trouble.

“I’ve heard this from so many well-known writers now,” Griffin said. “They had some real problems finding the agent to get it done. But every now and then, it clicks.”

Two Florida-based authors who eventually lucked out finding an agent are New York Times best-selling mystery suspense author Karen Rose, of Manatee County, and Lisa Black of Cape Coral.

Both will be speaking on panels at Mystery Florida.

Rose will talk about how to develop “bad guy” characters in novels. She said creating a bad guy is more than just describing what he ate for breakfast or the color of his eyes.

“It’s what brought him to this trigger point of the story,” said Rose, who recently returned from a crime writers workshop in the United Kingdom. “What lines he won’t cross.”

Overall, it’s understanding a bad guy’s motivation and personality, she said.

The best way to create a nemesis is to figure out the characters and his backstory before writing a book, she said.

While having in-depth, well-written characters is key for a great read, the way a book ends is just as important.

Black, a mystery writer, will talk about how to successfully conclude a book after its climax.

“Basically, you can’t be self-indulgent,” she said on the biggest lesson she’s learned from being a novelist. “You have to write what makes sense in the story. It has to all follow logically. It has to be exciting, your characters have to be likable and you have to follow all the rules, which doesn’t sound like fun but the rules are there for a reason.”

Black doesn’t have to look far for inspiration. Her day job consists of working as a forensic scientist for the Cape Coral police department. Her newest book, “Trail of Blood,” set to be released in September, is based on a real-life serial killer in Cleveland during the 1930s. She got the idea from her time working for the Cuyahoga County Coroner’s office in Ohio.

“He was kind of like America’s version of Jack the Ripper,” Black said of the serial killer. “He was very bloody, very bizarre.”

There was no method to his madness, Black said. He killed in various ways and never stuck to one type of victim.

Black said he was never found.

With this in mind, Black’s book features a new series of murders in present day that may be related to the serial murders of the past.

The novel will be Black’s fifth.

With so much in store, the mystery conference is sure to give attendees goose bumps of literary joy — be they writers or book fans in general.

“The fans really enjoy it — people who don’t want to be a writer or don’t care to write,” Griffin said. “They like to listen to the writers talk on how they go about it.”

published Aug. 8, 2010


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