Sunday, February 28, 2016

Left Coast Crime 2016 - Part 1 (Thursday)

Due to a combination of reasons I won't get into (but they include insomnia, very effective blackout curtains, oversleeping, and a relapse of my head cold), my experience at Left Coast Crime was not what I'd hoped. I didn't hit many of the panels and interviews I'd hoped to, but the ones I did were great. Here are a couple highlights, with more to come.

A Brief Dance with Death: Short Mystery Fiction
Sarah M. Chen (moderator), Dale W. Berry, Mysti Berry, Stephen Buehler, M.H. Callway

Lots of great info on writing short stories from this panel.

How they got into writing short stories:
Dale Berry: Via comics. Compact stories. (Berry writes graphic short stories, his Not a Creature was Stirring... was recently published in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine and it's the publications first ever graphic story).
Buehler: Usually writes for calls for anthology submissions - he writes to whatever the particular guidelines are.
Callway: She can send out more submissions. A professor once told her that if you throw enough mud at a wall, something will stick.

Novels versus short stories:
Callway. Likes both. Considers one a sprint, the other a marathon.
Mysti Berry: Likes the idea of a problem (short story) versus a problem over time (novel).
Buehler: Likes both, short stories are faster to finish so you get a sense of accomplishment sooner.

Sources of inspiration for stories:
Buehler: Ideas, not characters. Also likes twist endings.
Dale Berry: "I have a perverse need to manipulate readership."
Callway: Real life inspiration. Callway is Canadian and her short story, Amdur's Cat casts infamous former Toronto mayor Rob Ford as Canada's Minister of Health. She described the story as being driven by fantasy and revenge.
Mysti Berry: People of situations with contradictions.

What makes a great short story?
Buehler: Have a great ending. He likes a good twist ending that is organic to the story. Formula is set-up/story/twist.
Callway: Has to have impact, has to resonate with the human condition.
Dale Berry: Has to provide some kind of truth and emotional transport.

When writing: do you have an agenda, or just write and hope to find a market?
Buehler: Writes to market (anthologies and the criteria of online sites). Likes having ground rules set.
Callway: Writes what she wants to write, then tries to find a home for it.
Dale Berry: Usually whatever pops into his head, although for the Alfred Hitchcock Magazine article, he was approached by the magazine's editor for the project.
Mysti Berry: Tries to write to market. Wrote a story for a Malice Domestic competition which was rejected, but later accepted by Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.

Does writing short stories help or hinder a career?
Callway: Really helped her career. It increases your skills, plus awards and nominations help get you taken more seriously when you're trying to sell a novel.
Mysti Berry: You learn a lot from finishing projects.
Buehler: His novels have yet to be published, but his short story success has given him a higher profile in the writing community than he would have without it. Pointed out he wouldn't be on a panel if not for his short stories.

How they determine length and format of their stories:
Buehler: Most of his stories are flash fiction (1,000 words or less).
Callway: Has published one flash fiction. Tends to be long-winded when she writes.
Dale Berry: Depends on the type of story you want to tell. Short piece = isolating the moment. Longer stories become more episodic/three act structured (beginning, middle, end).
Mysti Berry: Doesn't matter, she always ends up writing 5,000 to 10,000 words.

The future of short stories:
Mysti Berry: Not sure, but excited to find out.
Buehler: Will stick around, at least on the internet if not in print. Problem with online publication is lack of payment, although it gets your name out there.
Callway: Evolving along with technology. She has a friend who is writing a novel on Twitter.

Interesting factoid: moderator Chen has a short story (Canyon Ladies) in LAdies Night, which was one of my October/November reads.

L to R: Dale W. Berry, M.H. Callway,
Sarah M. Chen, Stephen Buehler, Mysti Berry

Murder on the Rocks
Deborah Lacy (moderator), Nadine Nettmann, Carlene O'Neil, Johnny Shaw

Why set your novels in a winery?
O'Neil: Because it's a winery. Seriously, because it's beautiful setting and therefore it's more jarring when you find a body there, as opposed to in a big city.
Nettmann: Because wine is fun. (Nettmann is a Master Sommelier and each chapter of her upcoming first novel is includes a wine recommendation).
Shaw: His books aren't set in wineries, although he's been kicked out of a few. He's more interested in bar culture - the effects of alcohol rather than the creation of it.

Nettman was asked what wine she would recommend for Left Coast Crime. She promptly suggested an Argentinian Malbec, to which Shaw added, "Served in a paper bag."

Although he doesn't drink much these days, Shaw likes to write in bars (where he drinks coffee) because, "You don't overhear great stories in a coffee shop."

The best thing about being a writer:
Shaw: Recently served as Grand Marshal of the Carrot Festival in his small hometown near the Mexican border. The magnet sign used on the side of the car he rode in misspelled Marshal as "Marshall".
O'Neil: The camaraderie within the writing industry. Very inclusive and supportive.

Hardest thing about writing:
O'Neil: Staying to schedule.
Shaw: Has more discipline than talent. Writes multiple drafts. His advice on writing: If something you've written is bad, change it to something good.

Do they consider their books more cozy or soft-boiled?
O'Neil: Definitely a cozy. Whatever the criticisms that cozies receive, cozy audiences go through books like they're bon-bons. She wants her books to be those bon-bons.
Nettmann: Falls under cozy, but more soft-boiled. Takes the Agatha Christie approach of having all the suspects there at the beginning, then deducting from there.

Favorite mystery writers/books:
O'Neil: Agatha Christie, Carolyn Hart
Shaw: Patricia Highsmith, Gunga Din, Fat City
Nettmann: Mary Higgins Clark and Sue Grafton

Fun drinking versus the realities of alcoholism:
O'Neil: Put an alcoholic supporting character in her first book and looked at how it affected family dynamics, plus the difficulties of being an alcoholic when your family is in the wine-making business.
Shaw: Writes about drinking as a non-judgmental reality. Doesn't feel the need to preach.
Nettmann: Prefers to write about the beauty of wine.

Why do you write:
Nettmann: Always wanted to do it.
O'Neil: Only interested in writing mysteries - loves a good murder.
Shaw: "I have no other marketable skills."

Interview with American Guest of Honor Gregg Hurwitz
Erica Ruth Neubauer (moderator)

Just a note: Although I thought Neubauer was a terrific moderator, Hurwitz is so comfortable and talkative in front of an audience, they could just put him up there and tell him to talk for an hour.

Erica Ruth Neubauer, Gregg Hurwitz

Hurwitz is a New York Times best-selling author, including his new release Orphan X, which has already been optioned by Bradley Cooper and Warner Bros., with Hurwitz adapting the screenplay. Another script that he wrote 18 years ago, The Book of Henry, recently completed filming. Director Colin Trevorrow wanted to do it so badly he squeezed it in between Jurassic World and Star Wars Episode IX.

Influences as a child: Peter Benchley, Stephen King (as a child, Hurwitz hid under his bed with a flashlight while reading Salem's Lot), William Faulkner, Shakespearean tragedies.

Hurwitz is known for the intensity of his research. For Orphan X, he worked with a friend in Black Ops who is a world class sniper. A friend in Silicon Valley helped with the tech stuff. In the past, he learned to ride a Harley and hung out at biker venues, absorbing their stories. Another time he went undercover with a cult. He just feels that he can write about something better if he's actually experienced it himself.

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