I just got back to Oregon from the Left Coast Crime convention in Phoenix, where over 700 writers, agents, publishers, publicists, and fans spent four days focused on one thing—the mystery genre. Like all artists, mystery writers need inspiration and find it in nearly as many ways as there are writers. Personally, I read a lot, take long walks, and network with a number of Portland authors to keep my edge. And even though I’m not a lover of big crowds and I don’t schmooze that well, I try to get to at least one major convention a year. This year’s Leftie did not disappoint.
Just being immersed in the conference would have been enough, but I was also tapped to moderate a panel on the state of small press publishers. (Kendel Lynn, Matt Martz, Lee Goldberg, Barbara Peters, and Maggie Topkis.) I believe small presses are a national treasure, so I was honored and delighted to participate in this panel, which featured five movers and shakers in the industry. A wide-ranging, no-holds-barred discussion, I gained new appreciation for the difficulty of successfully melding a creative endeavor with a small business, and learned that a great driver for these entrepreneurs is their love of the genre and their desire to publish what the hell they like, not necessarily the next block buster.
The bottom line for me: We need small presses in this country keep a steady stream of diverse, high quality mystery literature flowing.
I also participated in a panel on mysteries and thrillers featuring lawyers as sleuths, a role my protagonist, Cal, plays in the Cal Claxton Oregon mystery series. Moderated by a favorite author of mine, Jeff Siger, the panel featured a group of great writers who are also practicing or former practicing attorneys. (See photo.) It was fascinating and instructive to hear how they brought their knowledge of the law to bear on their fiction. Was it my imagination or did all eyes in the room really swing to me when I mentioned I was a Ph.D. chemist, not a lawyer? How did I make sure the law is represented accurately and authentically in my books? No magic, I admitted, just lots of Ma Google and, like Ringo Starr, a little help from my (lawyer) friends, including Portland author Phil Margolin.
The hardest thing at LCC is deciding which panels to attend. For example, I had the tough choice of a discussion on sex in mysteries or a panel on the psychology of murder. Setting prurient interest aside, I took the high road. Murder, it was emphasized, is a complex psychological endeavor. From the point of view of compelling fiction, the most interesting murders are carried out by people trapped in a situation from which they see no escape, a catharsis for an internal conflict that is literally unbearable. Our darkest impulses are at work here, often in combination. Shame and humiliation are deep wells in this regard and tend to be overlooked by writers, it was pointed out. The key to a compelling mystery, then, is to make sure the murderer has a set of complex, believable reasons for committing the ultimate act.
Something to think about, for sure.
I’m back at the keyboard now, hammering away on the fifth Cal Claxton mystery. I’m 30,000 words in, a murky area where the going normally gets tough for me. But, it was a great conference and I’ve got a full head of steam. Bring it on!
Warren C. Easley is the author of the Cal Claxton Oregon mysteries. Coming in June: Not Dead Enough