Panelists at mystery novel conference explain why a Smart phone can put them in a panic

I find it ironic that writers whose job it is to frighten their readers or at least make their pulses quicken with their plot twists and suspenseful moments sometimes find themselves facing the same emotional and physiological moments when dealing with crafting their mysteries and crime fiction.

dead-crow-logoWhile attending panel discussions at Mysterium: The Mystery Novel Conference, held recently on the campus of Wesleyan University, I was surprised to discover that some writers experience anxiety over technology. They are so afraid to deal with technology that they either avoid it by setting their novels in the pre-1985 era or they have whatever gadget the main character is using sabotaged by the end of the first page.

One crime novelist said that’s why it’s not unheard of for a main character who’s standing in an alley, looking down at a lifeless body to drop his or her cell phone in a puddle and then have the cell phone end up in a dumpster. “Because if you can Google everything,” she said, “the investigation can easily be solved.”

chris-with-the-dogThis got me wondering how mystery and thriller author Chris Knopf felt. He’s best known for his Sam Acquillo series. At the conference I attended his talk, titled “Writing Mysteries in the Age of Google.” He suggested that authors use technology in their stories as they would in real life. “If you’re going to be realistic, it has to be a seamless and a natural part of your story,” he said. “Don’t use a particular brand. Otherwise your books will only last a couple of years.” He said that Google is not something to be avoided, but embraced in degrees. “You have to deal with Google when the character is chris-knopf-book-coverresearching. I use Google for the basics and then I go talk to people. The same goes for my characters.” Knopf said that voicemail can be used as a device central to your plot. “I integrate voicemail into the story,” he said. “The dead man’s last words in a voicemail trigger the story.”

And I’m sure I’m not the only writer who thinks she can pick up hints on writing crime and law enforcement scenes from watching television. However, Knopf said, “Don’t rely on it. It doesn’t translate. I have a forensic analyst I consult. Everybody has to have a geek these days.”

And, of course, social media is too big to ignore, as are drones. “You don’t have to have a drone creep up to a house in a rural area,” he said. “New York can send a drone. They can be as tiny as a bug. They can fire weapons, shoot you with poison. There’s a lot of drama possible with drones.”

I had a surprisingly good time at Mysterium: The Mystery Novel Conference

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I’m not a mystery writer. I registered for Mysterium: The Mystery Novel Conference held at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, because two of my friends had planned to go—one who’s written a mystery novel and another who’s planning to work on one—and I wanted to spend time with them because I don’t see them very often. Their plans fell through and I thought about skipping it, but I had already paid the $100 registration.

Before the speakers arrived, I heard fascinating snippets of conversation from people around me in which they talked about the cozy mysteries they’ll have coming out in the fall, the deadlines they’re facing and the lure of procrastination.

During the keynote, conference host and novelist Amy Bloom (pictured left) interviewed award-winning detective novelist Laura Lippman.

Lippman talked about the importance of place in her novels. “I love books that have a strong sense of place,” she said. “Place to me is integral. I don’t understand stories where there is no place.”

Lippman’s “place” is Baltimore. She worked for a number of years at the Baltimore Sun, alongside her father, and talked about writing books that take place in Baltimore and the Baltimore suburbs.

She said she especially finds inspiration when writing stories that she sets in the suburbs. “I write dark stories there,” she said. “This reflects my thoughts about the suburbs.”

Mysterium is billed as a celebration of readers and writers, combining pleasure, instruction from writers, intellectual stimulation and great fun. This description is accurate. I thought I would feel out of place not only because I was alone, but because my writing focuses on general fiction, essays, and journalism—not mystery or crime writing. But once I took my seat at the keynote presentation, I felt at ease and the discussions were applicable to my own writing.

 

I heard from the editors of the New York Times today and the news wasn’t good. Or was it?

The New York Times website states that the editors of the “Modern Love” column feature, which appears in the Sunday edition of the newspaper are looking for deeply personal essays about contemporary relationships. Ideally, essays spring from some central dilemma the writer has faced in his or her life.

I thought an essay I wrote about a challenge my husband and I faced after we introduced a pet into our household would have wowed the editors enough to accept it for publication. However, I got a generic rejection e-mail this afternoon.

Initially, I felt disappointed. But then I reminded myself that the New York Times is the nation’s newspaper of record. The Sunday paper has a circulation of 1.4 million. The editors probably get hundreds of submissions to the “Modern Love” column every week, which makes the odds of getting published very low.

And then, of course there is the comforting cliché that when one door closes another opens. A few years ago, I sent a different essay to “Modern Love.” It was called short-distance-romance and got rejected, I turned around and sent it to Chicken Soup for the Soul and it got accepted. The essay has a much longer shelf life in Chicken Soul because it’s in a book, as opposed to being on a sheet of news print. So sometimes an initial rejection isn’t a bad thing.

So what has been your experience? Has an initial rejection led you to submit the same work to another outlet, leading to satisfaction with the placement?

I heard from the editors of the New York Times today and the news wasn’t good. Or was it?

The New York Times website states that the editors of the “Modern Love” column feature, which appears in the Sunday edition of the newspaper are looking for deeply personal essays about contemporary relationships. Ideally, essays spring from some central dilemma the writer has faced in his or her life.

I thought an essay I wrote about a challenge my husband and I faced after we introduced a pet into our household would have wowed the editors enough to accept it for publication. However, I got a generic rejection e-mail this afternoon.

Initially, I felt disappointed. But then I reminded myself that the New York Times is the nation’s newspaper of record. The Sunday paper has a circulation of 1.4 million. The editors probably get hundreds of submissions to the “Modern Love” column every week, which makes the odds of getting published very low.

And then, of course there is the comforting cliché that when one door closes another opens. A few years ago, I sent a different essay to “Modern Love.” It was called short-distance-romance and got rejected, I turned around and sent it to Chicken Soup for the Soul and it got accepted. The essay has a much longer shelf life in Chicken Soul because it’s in a book, as opposed to being on a sheet of news print. So sometimes an initial rejection isn’t a bad thing.

So what has been your experience? Has an initial rejection by a top-tier publication led you to submit the same work to another outlet, leading to satisfaction with the placement?