Sunday, October 30, 2011
MAGNA CUM MURDER is the place to be in October!
I returned late last night from attending and participating in the Magna Cum Murder festival in Muncie, Indiana at Ball State University, and had an absolutely lovely time!
While there were a lot of authors there who I’ve seen at events such as Bouchercon, there was a decidedly different atmosphere. Less frenetic and a bit quieter, but very satisfying. While Bouchercon is made up more of thriller writers such as Lee Childs, Joe Finder, Anthony Neil Smith, Joe R. Lansdale and the like, Magna is home to a bigger contingent of mystery and suspense writers, although there were several thriller writers in attendance as well. Although, it turns out that many of those I’ve just named have been at this festival in the past. I think perhaps the reason it’s a bit less frenetic is that there aren’t any agents (or any that I was aware of, anyway), and most of the folks in attendance were there mostly as fans of mysteries and suspense, including the writers themselves. A place to enjoy the genres without business being conducted. And these folks were the best-informed audience I've ever seen.
My main initial motivation for attending was to meet author John Gilstrap in person. I’ve been an admirer of his thrillers for a long time and we even connected on the phone awhile back when we were introduced to each other by blog radio hostess Jennifer Wilkov after we’d both appeared on her Women’s Radio Show. One of the organizers of the MCM festival, Austin Lugar, graciously put me on a panel with John and we had a great time!
While meeting John was a decided highlight, I met and became friends with a number of other fantastic writers. Folks like Con Lehane (my new best friend…), Ruth Dudley Edwards, Jim Doherty, Mike Lawson (my smoking friend…), Deni Dietz (my other smoking friend), W.S. (Wendy) Gager, David Walker, T. Lee Harris, Marian Allen, Gwen Mayo, Maris Soule, and Cathy (Cat) Akers-Jordan (not a writer, but a teacher and knowledgeable fan, with whom I had a great conversation with her and her mom, Ginger Jordan. Got to meet Parnell Hall, an amazing writer who has had enough experiences to fill at least six memoirs.
I was on two panels. On the first, I was totally out of my element! It was a game-show panel where we debated along with the audience to figure out who the world’s best detective was. The only problem I had was I was only familiar with one of the names—Harry Bosch. I’d read novels featuring the others, but far, far back in the mists of time and didn’t recall enough about them to be able to argue their merits. In spite of that, it was fun, mostly because this is a nonjudgmental audience and nobody called me out on my ignorance. In a series of emails back and forth before the conference, between us participants and the moderator, Austin Lugar, in trying to determine the detectives we’d be debating over, I was thoroughly intimidated by one of the panelists, Ruth Dudley Edwards, and in fact, emailed Austin, telling him I was scared to death of her and asking that he sit me away from her—she terrified me! Well, as it turned out, he seated her next to me… and I’m glad he did. Turned out she’s not a bit scary, but a thoroughly delightful person. Besides having a REALLY BIG BRAIN, she's the sweetest person on earth. The others on the panel were Parnell Hall, W.S. (Wendy) Gager and Con Lehane.
What was great about this panel was that Harry Bosch won! If you’re only going to know one of the contestants, it pays to know the winner…
The second panel was the one I had really been looking forward to. It was moderated by my hero, John Gilstrap, and included my new best friend, Con Lehane, my smoking buddy, Mike Lawson, the aforementioned Ruth Dudley Edwards, and the festival guest speaker, Bob Brier (aka Mr. Mummy) who is the best-known Egyptologist and mummy expert working today. Our panel’s mandate was to discuss how our jobs have affected our writing. My “job” that I discussed mostly was my days as a criminal… When I told what my job was, half the audience on my side moved over to the other side…
I’m kidding! It was a great panel and we had a wonderful time and the audience was super.
I met so many interesting writers and I know I’ll leave somebody out. One guy who was really cool was Jim Doherty, a real-life cop who currently is the police technical expert on the Dick Tracy cartoon strip.
Deni Dietz was really cool. She’s a senior editor for Five Star Mysteries and told me to send her a query. Working on that now… She has had a fascinating life, including being a jazz singer in the French Quarter. I’m trying to remember if I’d ever seen her perform as it turns out we both lived there at the same time.
All the meals were provided for by the festival and were the best I’ve ever had at such a gathering. Simply delicious!
Alas, I had to leave early before the Saturday night banquet. I sprained my back a few months ago and it’s never recovered fully and it began acting up and put me in enough pain I had to leave for home early.
All-in-all, this was one of the coolest writer’s festivals I’ve ever had the pleasure of attending and honor of participating in. The folks who run it are true pros and every one a book lover and knowledgeable about the mystery and suspense genres. If you ever get a chance to go to the annual Magna Cum Murder, I recommend it heartily!
Bookmark their website for next year’s festival at http://www.magnacummurder.com/