Michael Haskins

Friday, May 11, 2007

SleuthFest - Saturday

Rain was predicted and the clouds promised it, but I was able to walk to the hotel before it came. In Key West, this type of sky often moved northeast and dumped its cargo in that direction, Marathon and points north. Hurricanes do that too. They head toward Key West, but something, the Gulf Stream or the wind shear pushes them away – usually, not always, as Wilma showed us what dangers were held in Cat 2 flooding.

9 a.m. and I have to make a choice. I enjoy Don Bruns books about music writer/critic Gideon Pike and his panel – Music in Mysteries – was scheduled at the same time as the Agent’s Panel. Since I don’t have an agent, I thought I might pick up some tips, so I took the agent panel.

What did I learn? Getting an agent took a lot of luck, some ingenuity and a little talent. The panel reinforced what I had learned on my own, with years of sending out queries and sample chapters. These days the replies are more personal than form letters, but they are still rejections. I have been told my writing is well done, but the agent didn’t feel he/she was right for the project. Then I send out more queries.

One interesting idea I did pick up was about exclusive rights agents ask writers for while deciding if they want to represent you, are often given under false pretenses by the writer. The agent wants months to get back, one said; while another said he asked for it, but didn’t really expect an anxious writer to sit and do nothing while he/she waited. Translation, send it out to as many agents as possible, promise them anything until you get the desired reply.

Another good point they made was that the first agent to accept you might not be the right agent for you. They talked a lot about what an agent does and what an agent doesn’t do. Some good points, too. Agents don’t get paid by the writer up front. They all agreed that writers should go to the web page of the Association of Author Representatives, read its guidelines for its members and use its membership list for contacting agents. It’s what I have done.

At 10 a.m., it was Violence in the Mystery, with J.A. Konrath, the self-promo guru whose Thursday program I attended and author of the Jack Daniels mystery series; J.M. Taylor, a military writer, and Linda Fairstein, the guest of honor for our luncheon and a former prosecutor in NY. She had to know about violence. She is also a bestselling author, with eight books in print. Violence is a setting in my novel; solving the violent crime is the impetus that moves the characters.

The 11 a.m. panel of my choice was The Mystery in Mysteries: Clues, Misdirection and Satisfying Endings. Panelists, Glynn Marsh Alam, author of the Luanne Fogarty mysteries; Twist Phelan (yes, that’s her real name), retired trial lawyer and author of the Pinnacle Peak mystery series, and Kate White, editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan and NY Times bestselling author of Bailey Weggins mystery series. The panelists added support to what I have been doing in my writing, so I walked away smiling.

Lunch with guest speaker, Linda Fairstein, and the always fun ‘author auction’ went from noon to 2 p.m. I sat with John Helfers and we talked shop, briefly, and watched from the top floor of the hotel as rain poured down on Miami Beach. I enjoyed Linda’s talk on her career as chief of the sex crimes prosecution unit in NYC. How she came up within the ranks of the NY County District Attorney’s Office at a time women were rarely allowed in court, was an eye opener. She still consults for the district attorney’s office.

The auction is always fun, as guest bid for numerous things, including a tour of the set of yesterday’s guest speaker RenĂ© Balcer’s Law and Order: Criminal Intent set in NYC. That went for big bucks. Other guest bid for the rights to name a character in an author’s current work, or to be a character in a writer’s book.

It was 2:15 p.m. and I was in the Keeping Them Hooked: Pacing Your Novel, with Martha Powers, who is published by Oceanview Publishing and her book, Forget Me Not, will be out in 2008, and my old friend, military writer J.M. Taylor, who, I should mention, wrote Flash of Emerald and the thriller, Behind the Green Water. Nancy Cohen was the moderator.

The nice thing about this panel was it reinforced what I have done in my writing. That is, by the way, always a great feeling!

Getting It Done: Rewriters & Revisions, began at 3:15 p.m. Panelists were Randy Rawls, author of the ACE Dallas PI series; journalist and mystery writer Susan Sussman; Shawn Reilly, editor in chief of Hillard & Harris Publishers, and Kathryn Lilley, whose first novel, Dying to be Thin, is due out this year. Well, if you write and are abnormal like most writers, rewriting and revision is hell! We all agreed on that, but it is necessary, so live with it, make it enjoyable (somehow) because you gotta do it.

The afternoon session ended with Crime Fiction Sampler, with Twist Phelan (yeah, it's still her real name), Nancy Cohen and John Bond, who writes with Roy Cooke, has six books out, including his ’07, Home Poker Handbook. There are all kinds of mysteries out there.

Obviously, with four panels offered per hour, I missed some great discussions but heard people talking about them in the hallway. How could MWA Florida offer one panel per hour, so we could take them all in? It would have to be a week-long event and I doubt any of us could afford that. I was able to attend the panels I thought would benefit me and they did, even if all they did was reinforce what I have been doing. I think I walked away with a little more knowledge than when I arrived, so it was a good event.

The agent and editors cocktail party and raffle drawing was scheduled for 6 p.m.

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