Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Make Mine Muncie...again

As regular readers of this blog know, last year I attended Magna Cum Murder in Muncie, Indiana and then spent much of the next six moths telling everyone they should attend in ’07. This past weekend was the event I’d been steering everyone towards, and while no one ran up to me and said ‘thank you for telling me to come!’, if they had I wouldn’t have been surprised. It was – as expected and advertised – fantastic.

Now a disclaimer: If you are an author looking for a 3-day event to sell, Sell, SELL your book, this may not be the one for you. The focus of Magna is not on marketing or getting published or creating believable characters, it’s on mysteries/crime fiction. If you love the genre, if your idea of fun is in-depth discussions of PI novels, thrillers, cozies and/or comic crime, then Magna is for you. All this I said in my brilliant blog of November 11, 2006.

This year one of the highlights (for me) was an open discussion led by Judy Clemens on whether a mystery's focus should solely entertainment, or should they teach something/have a message. Instead of just listening to authors pontificate, everyone got to participate. Eventually someone asked ‘well, what counts as a mystery?’ to which a fan replied ‘any book I have not yet read is a mystery to me.’ I like that.

Magna also features these breakfast roundtables. Instead of just grabbing your cuppa and sitting alone, you join others to debate the table’s resolution. I chose to sit at Beverley Graves Myers’ table where a highly intelligent discussion ensued, with me adding my two cents now and then. Our topic? RESOLVED: Readers care more about plot than historical accuracy. Our table came to general consensus that this was true. Which is good news for me since I’m starting to write a historical thriller set in World War II.

Anyone who participated in the discussion led by Libby Hellmann, Michael Black and Chester Campbell on great book titles knows what I mean when I say that this was both fun and fascinating. I must have scribbled down a dozen titles that I have to check out, so thanks for adding even more to my bloated reading list. But it was more than just titles tossed out at random – we discussed the connection between plot and titles, symbolism, obtuse references and insider insights. It was a fast hour. If you don’t know Michael Black from his writings (and you should – start with A Killing Frost), get to know him for his encyclopedic knowledge of all things mystery. No one should be able to remember all this stuff so I’m beginning to wonder if he’s not some alien robot. And it’s not just mysteries – pick a branch of literature and he’ll meet there and tell you ten things you didn’t know and two books you should have read by now, you slacker. Remember what I said: alien robot.

I was on a panel called Rules of the Genre, that asked if the rules of the genre keep it from growing and limit its relevance, or are they the foundation of its strength? Good question, huh? It’s one I suggested to Jim Huang, the program guru at McM. The panel was expertly moderated by Terence Faherty, and brilliant observations were made by D.B. Borton, Carl Brookins and Keith Kahla. I had some things to say as well. I also hosted a little game show in which Judy Clemens, Libby Hellmann, Don Bruns and Sandy Balzo endured some pretty ridiculous questions and good-natured ribbing, proving themselves the stars of the show. Hats off to Austin who somehow managed to make the audio/visual equipment obey when all hope was lost.So again, it’s a love letter to Magna Cum Murder. If you still are wondering if you should go, drop me a note (via my website) and I’ll convince you.

No comments: