Saturday, November 11, 2006

Muncie & Me

Charles here.

Way back in September I posted an entry about how I was looking forward to Magna Cum Murder in Muncie and yesterday I got a note from a reader asking why I didn’t follow up with a recap. Well, gosh, now I have to.

This was my first time at Magna but it will now be a required stop for me. It’s a small conference but folks, it was amazing. There are so many things that made this event outstanding but I’ll limit myself to just a few.

Since it’s a small conference, you get to spend time with the authors and the fans. A lot of time. There’s many opportunities to get together and just chat and, unlike some big conferences I’ve attended, there wasn’t this “please buy my book/please don’t try to sell me your book” desperation to every conversation. Now this is probably true of many small conferences but Magna benefits from its location – smack dab in the middle of downtown Muncie, Indiana. This is great for the conference since there is absolutely nothing to do in downtown Muncie.¹ Now I don’t mean that as some sort of insult (but I can see how you’d read it that way) – there’s lots to do around Muncie if you have a car but many attendees don’t so almost all of the time is spent at sessions or in the hotel bar or restaurant. No one skips the luncheon to hit all the designer shops and there aren’t vanloads of attendees scooting out before the last session is over to hit the nightclubs. People come to Magna to talk about mysteries and that’s just what they do.

The programming played a role, too. All the attendees were asked to read Maureen Jenning’s Except the Dying, a book I gushed about before (and continue to do today) and the program was dotted with different discussion groups that approached the book from all sorts of points of view, some with the author participating, some without. It was a close, critical analysis of a work in common and the level of discussion went well beyond the trivial. There was also a screening of the film adapted from the book and the film’s producer was in the house to give her unique perspective. This one-book focus makes Magna a readers’ must-attend conference.

There were breakfast discussion topics (a welcome change from the same ol’ grab a coffee and sit with people you already know), an author’s luncheon at the Ball Mansion at Ball State U (with faculty members and rather clever students in the Honors Program), academic paper presentations (one of my personal highlights of the event) and an exciting keynote address by someone who is not a mystery author.²

And you can’t talk about Magna without mentioning the woman who makes it all happen, Kathryn Kennison. Warm, friendly and unforgettable, Kathryn treated me like I was an old friend – and so did everyone who put the event together. Whether you’re a fan, an author (published or otherwise) you should make Magna and Muncie your key destination in 2007.

I’ll see you there.

¹Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. There are a few good (small) restaurants, a cute coffee shop, a hopping bar with live music (20s crowd) and the same weekend there was an outdoor adult Halloween party with local bands and lots of beer. But even the biggest Muncie booster would admit that there’s less to do in Muncie than in, say, Chicago, Toronto, Miami or Bristol England, home of other recent mystery conventions.

²Anyone who knows me knows I cringe when I hear someone described as a “hero”, but they do exist and Kurt Muse is one of them. Don’t believe me? Read John Gilstrap’s breathtaking true account, Six Minutes to Freedom.

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