Conferences I love

Corte Madera is a small town on the freeway just north of San Francisco, out of the main summer fog belt but close enough to feel its cooling effects.  Every July, Book Passage runs a mystery writing conference, limited to around 80 people, although it seems as if the published writers outnumber the would-be writers, since it’s just such a great place to come and talk about craft. 

Book Passage is a full-service independent bookstore with a second branch in San Francisco’s Ferry Building, where I’ve done two launch parties now.  The store in Corte Madera reflects the interests, Elaine and Bill Petrocelli: mystery and travel, with a preponderance of books on those two subjects, and a lot of very cool travel gear as well.  Going with this, they also run a conference for travel writers, later in the summer.

Unlike fan conferences (BoucherCon in October being the biggest–join me there!) this is exclusively for beginning writers, a meaty four days of how-to, from how-to-plot to how-to-get-an-agent.  I gave a lecture on Friday, and despite it being filled with substance rather than the Friday-night-break of jokes and tidbits they probably could have used, everyone seemed to appreciate it.  Which may be why the conference has such a high rate of its participants getting published.

I had three panels on Saturday.  Two of them were moderated—Gillian Roberts leading Tony Broadbent, Katherine Neville and me in a discussion of history mysteries that was weighted towards research questions—and in the afternoon Hallie Ephron led Tony, Cara Black, David Hewson and me in a discussion on “creating authenticity” that was again heavy on the research and technique aspects.

The other panel was ninety minutes of Tim Maleeny and me in discussion with the participants about plot: what is it, why do we need it, how do we do it, what problems have we encountered?  When I first heard about this panel, I’d just posted on this blog about the problems I was having with…plot.  So as you could imagine, I had a fair amount to talk about with Tim.  And it turned out to be one of those panels in which the speakers (certainly this speaker) learn as much as the audience.

Tony Broadbent (If you don’t know his Jethro books, about a post-WWII London cat burglar, you should read them—I’ve just read his third in manuscript and it’s fabulous.) then interviewed Martin Cruz Smith for 90 minutes about his background, his writing, his goals and attitudes in his work, prising out details with wit and dexterity.

Then at 8:30 the conference staff was invited to the home of local über-agent Kimberly Cameron, high overlooking the San Francisco Bay, for an evening of the sorts of small bites that make you groan and the sort of conversation that reminds you how much fun writers can be.

Today is the conference’s final day, and the students head home with their heads exploding from the amount they’ve tried to absorb, while I drive through the heat to the rewrite that’s glowering on my desk, restored by camaraderie and grateful for the Petrocellis and Book Passage. 

I love independent booksellers.

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  1. Pat Floyd on July 19, 2009 at 10:44 am

    Thank you for this interesting report on what sounds like an excellent conference. We are all cheering on your progress on the rewrite.

  2. David Hewson on July 20, 2009 at 7:45 am

    Lovely seeing you at Book Passage, Laurie. What a fun and interesting event. Hope to see you again at Bouchercon. Kipling’s home, by the way, was Batemans at Burwash if it’s any use to you – a beautiful place to visit.

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