Crime Writing Conferences by Christina Hoag

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Conferences: Where to go? Which to Choose?
By Christina Hoag

 

For crime fiction authors, the good news is that there are plenty of  writing conferences. The bad news is that there are plenty of writing conferences. It can be hard to choose the best investment for your money and time.

I decided not to choose. I just went to a slew of them, although not all by any means. Not only did I have a great time at every one, I found value in all of them. Each offers something different, and from each I took away things I didn’t know before, as well as a host of new friends. Frankly for me, networking is one of the best reasons for attending conferences. I love meeting other writers and discussing writing, publishing, reading. These are my peeps!

The two biggies are Bouchercon, held in a different city every year, and Thrillerfest, held in New York City every year. Both get well over 1,000 attendees. I chose to attend Thrillerfest this year, leaving Bouchercon for 2018. Thrillerfest is the most expensive con of the bunch, plus Manhattan is a pricey destination, which is something to keep in mind. But this is the place for networking and there’s plenty of opportunity to mingle with the biggest names in the business from Lee Child to Lisa Gardner. Thrillerfest also hosts a separate event, Pitchfest, which attracts a ton of top agents and editors, a key advantage to being in the center of the publishing industry.

There are also a host of smaller regional conferences, usually sponsored by local chapters of the Mystery Writers of America and/or Sisters in Crime. These typically attract 200-300 attendees, including published and aspiring authors as well as fans, and cost in the range of $200 to $350. Most offer authors a chance to participate as panelists and to sell and sign their books in the con bookshop. This makes them great promotional vehicles if you’ve got a new book out or are simply seeking exposure.

However, cons have different requirements for panelists so that may affect where you choose to go if promotion is your goal. Sleuthfest, held around Florida, for example, requires panelists to be published by approved publishers. Killer Nashville is friendly to independent and pre-published writers while New England Crimebake in Boston does not allow authors to request panels and selects its own. Magna cum Murder in Indianapolis, California Crime Writers Conference, held biannually in Los Angeles, and Left Coast Crime, offered in a different western city every year, generally offer authors panel spots.

Another factor to look at is the con’s subgenre emphasis. Malice Domestic, held annually in Bethesda, Maryland, is geared to cozies and traditional mysteries while Thrillerfest is as its name suggests.

Finally, you may choose a particular conference simply because it’s in a place you want to visit or where you have friends or family. Whichever conference you choose, you can save by planning well in advance and taking advantage of early bird prices, which usually start the year before. Another cost-cutting tip: you can stay in less expensive hotels, or AirBnBs, or with friends and Uber back and forth. I’m already looking forward to my next conference in 2018!

Christina Hoag is a former journalist for the Miami Herald and Associated Press who’s been threatened by a murderer’s girlfriend, had her laptop searched by Colombian guerrillas and phone tapped in Venezuela, hidden under a car to evade Guatemalan soldiers, posed as a nun to get inside a Caracas jail, interviewed gang members, bank robbers, thieves and thugs in prisons, shantytowns and slums, not to forget billionaires and presidents, some of whom fall into the previous categories. Her noir crime novel Skin of Tattoos (Martin Brown Publishing, 2016) was a finalist for the Silver Falchion Award for suspense, while her thriller Girl on the Brink (Fire and Ice YA, 2016) was named to Suspense Magazine’s Best of 2016 YA list. She also writes nonfiction, co-authoring Peace in the Hood: Working with Gang Members to End the Violence (Turner Publishing, 2014. Christina makes her home in Los Angeles and lives on the web at www.christinahoag.com.

 

Her novel Skin of Tattoos is available at Amazon

 

 

Skin of tattoes

 

 

When Cyco Lokos gang member Magdaleno (Mags) Argueta comes home to Los Angeles after serving prison time for a robbery, he wants nothing more than to start a new life. However, there’s one obstacle he has to overcome first…his old life.

Mags tries to let go of his bitterness–he was framed by Rico, the new leader of the Cyco Lokos–and stay out of gang life for the sake of his Salvadoran immigrant family and his girlfriend Paloma, but trying to integrate into society after a stint in prison doesn’t come easily. Faced with low job prospects and Rico’s demands to help the Cyco Lokos make money, a broke and disillusioned Mags makes the only choice he can. However, Mags soon discovers that loyalties have shifted, including his, and being a part of the Cyco Lokos with Rico in charge is far more dangerous and uncertain than it used to be. With his sister pregnant by a rival gang member and his own relationship with Paloma, his best friend’s sister, a violation of gang code, Mags becomes caught in a web of secrets, revenge, lies, and murder that might ultimately cost him everything.

 

Amazon | Goodreads | My review

 

 

 

 

What Is Suspense by Crime Writer Sue Coletta

Suspense film. Serie géneros cinematográficos.

 

 

What is Suspense?

 

Suspense arises from our readers anticipation of what’s about to occur. They worry, even fear, what will happen to the characters they love.

To build suspense, we need to raise our readers concern over how our POV characters’ plans can go array. Ever hear this comment when talking books with a friend? Nothing really happened so I stopped reading. I’ve put down numerous books for the same reason, and some by authors who are household names, authors who should know better. But that’s the thing about suspense. It’s not easy to hold our readers hostage for 300 pages. By employing the following techniques we have a better shot of grabbing them by the throat. Then it’s just a matter of not letting go.

 

“Show that something terrible is about to happen, then postpone the resolution to sustain the suspense.” ~ Writer’s Digest

 

 

 

Promise Word on Green Puzzle.

 

 

 

Promises, Promises

Every book makes a promise to the reader. The difference between concept and premise is, something happens to the main POV characters that disrupts their lives. If you’re not familiar with the difference between concept and premise, there’s no one better to learn from than Larry Brooks. He has several posts on the subject, including this 3-minute workshop video.

Rather than asking yourself, “What should happen next?” Try: “What can I promise that’ll go wrong? Problems that will bring my characters to their knees.”

The central dramatic story question promises an intriguing quest.

By making promise after promise, we keep our readers engaged. Don’t tell the reader, of course. Instead, hint at the trouble to come; tease the reader into finding out. Do it right away, too. We need to establish our CDSQ on page one. If we can accomplish it in the first paragraph, all the better.

Every promise, no matter how minor, should either setup or pay off a future scene. Once a promise is paid, make another. The largest promises, like the central dramatic story question, should be paid off in the climax.

For an example of a CDSQ, let’s look at Wings of Mayhem.

After unknowingly stealing his trophy box, can Shawnee Daniels a forensic police hacker by day; cat burglar by night, stop the serial killer who’s destroying her life before he murders everyone she loves?

If your story drags, it’s often due to the lack of tension and/or suspense. In other words, you haven’t made your reader worry enough. How can we fix a dragging plot? By making bigger, more important, promises. Promises that will devastate our hero and secondary characters. Promises they might never recover from.

 

 

 

Strategy on Pocket Watch Face.

 

 

 

Don’t Give Away Too Much Too Soon

This is a story killer. Don’t explain what’s happening, or why. Trust the reader to figure it out on their own. I realize it’s not always easy. After all, we know what will happen next (at least we should), and we can hardly wait for the reader to find out.

Trust me on this. Keep it to yourself for as long as possible.

No info. dumps! Just because we know our characters’ backgrounds does not mean our readers need to know it. Share what’s relevant to the story, or enough about the POV characters so the reader can empathize with them. Sprinkle the information throughout the story rather than dumping it all at once.

 

Characters’ Goals

“To create powerful suspense, make your hero face her greatest fear, and risk losing the thing that matters most to her.” ~ Dan Brown

No matter how we try to build suspense, if our readers don’t care about our characters, we’re sunk. Contrary to belief, the reader doesn’t have to like our characters, but they do need to empathize with them. That’s the key word: empathy.

For three-dimensional characters, we need to know their backgrounds, flaws, world views, religious beliefs, causes they support/protest, fears, concerns, mannerisms, dialect, profession, childhood, history with other characters, how they look, how they act in difficult situations, how they dress, nervous tics, scars, tattoos, favorite music, food, I could go on and on. We don’t need to show all these things, but we do need to know our characters as well as ourselves in order to slip into their skin.

To build suspense the character must have goals that really matter to them. What does she want it, and why? What happens if she doesn’t get it? What’s standing in her way? A strong hero needs a strong opponent. If our character is more timid, then we better make sure she desperately needs to achieve her goal. If she doesn’t do X, then Y will happen. Y is bad. The reader doesn’t want Y to happen. Hence, they stiffen up and pay attention. Bam! You’ve just built suspense.

 

 

“A murder is not suspense. An abduction with the threat of a murder is.” ~ Brian Klems

 

 

Violence, Where and When?

I love this quote from Brian Klems, because it’s so true. The act of violence isn’t suspenseful. The snapping of twigs as our character stumbles through the darkened forest, knowing the killer could attack at any moment is suspenseful. Or the squeaky floorboard on the second floor when the character is home alone. The phone ringing in the middle of the night. A knock at the one door the character never uses. Footfalls gaining on the character when they’ve wandered off the hiking trail. Tires screeching around the corner, the headlights appearing in the rear view mirror seconds later. The click of a shotgun in the deadly quiet milieu. A single flame that shoots from the tip of a lighter in the dark. The possibilities are endless.

 

 

Sentence Rhythm

Our sentence rhythm should match the reader’s emotion. Many of us do this automatically. Ever notice when you’re writing a suspenseful scene how you’ll pound the keyboard? When you’re slowing the pace, your fingers glide over the keys. Same holds true for sentence rhythm. Fragmented, staccato sentences quicken the pace. Long, run-on sentences tend to slow it down. As with most things in writing, though, there’s an exception. You can use run-ons to increase suspense if you vary the sentences with shorter ones.

 

Example from MARRED:

Adrenaline masked my pain, and I sprinted from room to room, closed and secured all the windows and double-checked the locks on the front and back doors, bolted upstairs, and pressed my foot on the sliders’ security bar. Colt and Ruger watched me zip around the house, not knowing what was wrong. Ruger gave up and laid his head on crossed paws while Colt bounded over and stayed on my heels.

When I returned to the kitchen table, the phone rang again. My gaze locked on the handset, and I froze. Colt’s face ping-ponged between me and the phone. He put the pieces together in his mind, trotted over, and knocked the receiver off the cradle, gently clasped the handset in his lips and carried it to me. By using his training to aid me, he was trying to help, but at that moment, it was the last thing I wanted him to do.

I didn’t speak.

Mix staccato and fragmented sentences with longer sentences to create an overall effect of balance and maintain rhythm in your writing. Is every sentence in the scene the same length? The reader will fall asleep.

 

 

 

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Scene and Sequel Structure and Motivation-Reaction Units

I’ve discussed these subjects several times, so I won’t repeat the tips here. You can find a couple of the posts here: Importance of MRUsScene and Sequel in Action.

 

Start Late, End Early 

Start each scene with a story question, intrigue, or conflict. Our goal is to arouse the curiosity of our reader. Keep them guessing. (Start late) If we make it easy on them, and answer all their questions at once, there’s no reason for them to keep reading.

We can’t wrap up our scene in a nice little bow, either. That’ll undo everything we’ve worked so hard to accomplish, to hook them in the first place. Rather, end on a note of uncertainty, or with a new challenge. (End early)

 

Scene Cuts or Jump Cuts

This is a cinematic technique that can work in any genre. Create a series of short, unresolved incidents that occur in rapid succession. Stop at a critical point and jump to a different scene, maybe at a different time and place, maybe with different characters.  For example, we could pick up a scene where we left off earlier. Or switch from protagonist to antagonist. Or from one tense scene to another. Rapid alternations keep the reader in a state of suspense.

 

Micro-Tension

Micro-tension is the moment-by-moment tension that keeps readers in suspense over what’ll happen in the next second. The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maas is a fantastic resource that discusses micro-tension. When the emotional friction between characters reaches a boiling point we’ve built suspense. Keep in mind, the characters don’t have to be enemies. Husband and wife. Tension between partners. Parent and child. Micro-tension is added in numerous ways. An easy way is with dialogue.

 

 

 

Sue Coletta author pic

 

Member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writer, Sue Coletta is a bestselling, award-winning author of psychological thriller/mysteries. In 2017, Feedspot awarded her Murder Blog as one of the Top 50 Crime Blogs on the net. Sue’s also the communications manager for Forensic Science and the Serial Killer Project. She’s also a proud member of the Kill Zone, where she blogs every other Monday. Learn more about Sue and her books at

 

Website | Amazon | Goodreads | Twitter | Facebook

 

Free Master Class: Connect with Readers, Build your Platform

Build your platform 2 Gabby

 

 

Monday, April 2nd at 1pm ET

 

In this live broadcast, you’ll learn…

 

  • My go-to technique or identifying your audience, so you can get off the content hamster wheel and connect with your reader authentically and with integrity.

 

  • How to identify your core message as a writer, so your platform has focus and intention.

 

  • Who your ideal reader is so you can envision that person while you write and revise your book, and…

 

  • How to identify actual potential readers because imaginary readers don’t buy books.

 

  • What the Breadcrumb Technique is and how to use it to research your potential readers, so that even if you have no platform, you can “borrow readers from more established writers.

 

 

 

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plus email updates about the live broadcast.

When: Monday, April 2nd at 1pm ET

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Gabby P

 

Gabriela Pereira is the Instigator of DIYMFA.com, the do-it-yourself alternative to a Masters degree in writing. While undercover as an MFA student, she invented a slew of writing tools of her own and developed a new, more effective way for writers to learn their craft. She dubbed it DIY MFA and now her mission is to share it with the world. Teaching at conferences and online, Gabriela has helped hundreds of writers get the MFA experience without going to school. She also hosts DIY MFA Radio, where she recreates the MFA speaker series in podcast form.

Before becoming a writer, Gabriela has done lots of wild and nerdy things like: playing violin at Carnegie Hall, singing madrigals in full Renaissance garb, designing toys for kids ages toddler to tween, and taking applied topology and number theory “just for kicks.” Despite her varied interests, Gabriela’s main passions have always been teaching and design. Now at DIY MFA she can bring these two elements together. Her favorite thing to do is come up with new dastardly plans and innovative resources for writers.

 

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DIY MFA Gabby P

 

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Masterclass

 

 

 

 

Masterclass: How to Get Reviews with Mark Dawson

Retro TV

 

SPF Podcast 106: How to Get Reviews

 

 

 

Audio | How to Get Reviews Tip sheet | Full Transcript

 

 

 

thumbs up young man

Indie Author Joni Dee & Bookgobbler.com

 

Joni_Dee

 

 

Joni Dee is the author pen name of a UK based young financial professional. His enthusiasm for thrillers in particular and fiction in general, has led Joni to write his debut novel “And the Wolf Shall Dwell”.

While his writing style is inspired by the great masters of imagery such as Hemingway and Clavell, his gripping story lines have taken after giants such as le Carré, Greene and Derek Raymond. A Chief Sergeant (Ret.) from military intelligence, Joni bases his novels loosely on his vast knowledge of the espionage world. He lives in London with his wife and two children.

 

 

 

Where are you originally from?



I grew up in Tel Aviv Israel, although half of my family is from Canada and North America. As a kid,we travelled to North America annually, and I hold both a Canadian Passport as well as an Israeli. I’ve been living in London, UK for the past 7 years, and now also a British national. So, one might say I’m the national version of “the Mixed Up Chameleon” (by Eric Carle).

 

 

 

What did you study in college?



My BA is a dual degree of International Relations and Business Administration. In addition, I hold an MBA specialising in Finance and Business Strategy.

 

 

What led you to become a writer?



Long lost dream perhaps? (chuckles) I always wanted to write and never thought I was good enough. I tried a few genres but always ended up throwing the manuscript in the bin. However, I always still felt like I had something to tell. When I moved to London it finally hit me and I started writing my thriller.

It was a slow process, taking five years or so, with many ups and downs. But once I reached two thirds of the novel, the plot started to write itself and the dramatic ending unravelled itself. In a sense throughout the process the City of London had inspired me, and whenever I got stuck, the local scenery became my salvation: I simply started describing the city and the plot would soon follow.

 

 

How did you determine which genre to write in?



As aforementioned, the thriller genre kind of found me, and not the other way around. I had always been an avid reader of le Carré and wasn’t sure I had it in me to write the complexities of a political/espionage thriller. I’m happy to have proven myself wrong (lol).

 

 

Do you have a current work in progress, or publication?



“And the Wolf Shall Dwell” is my debut novel which has only just been released. It tells the story of John Daniel, a foreign professional working in the city of London who starts his cold London morning by bumping into an old man who’s being chased across Liverpool Street Station. The old man manages a garbled message not before he jumps in front of a speeding train. Meanwhile, retired
MI6 agent Adam Grey receives a call from an old informant: “Your service is rotten…”. Soon Adam is dragged out of retirement, and John is dragged into the murky world of international espionage, politics, and jihadi terrorism.

Link to the novel: And the Wolf Shall Dwell


 

AND_THE_WOLF_PRINT_XXX

 



I am also working on a second novel, trying to keep the “writing flame” burning. It will have the same characters but will be a standalone, with the plot being much less political than the first book, and focuses on ISIS and terror in Europe.

 

 

Why did you create the site BookGobbler and how does it work?



BookGobbler is an initiative that I started after realizing how hard it is to get your work reviewed and build readership. If you’re not publishing with a big traditional publishing house, then you are virtually ignored by everyone, even if you have an extremely talented publisher like myself.

NetGalley, to anyone who knows it, is a service for free books which accommodates big publishers. It costs a few good hundreds to list a book for only a week, and even more to have them promote it. That’s very unfair to unknown authors, small publishers and indie authors. Let’s say I was willing to pay thousands to push my book, even if you did catch a glimpse of it, would you select Joni Dee over Salman Rushdie? I wouldn’t…

BookGobbler is trying to give a chance to everyone. It’s free to read and it’s free to list books, and you are almost guaranteed reviews and exposure (although we may start charging a token fee because the traffic is huge and we are incurring some costs). We are committed to keeping a minimum of 20% self-published authors.

It is set out to address another issue which I’ve encountered: biased reviewers. I found a lot of review web site charges for favourable review or even require some sort of summary to even look at your book. This is a terrible practice and must end. We set out to publish honest reviews, written by real readers, and not an occasional critic / blogger who would not look at your book unless you sent him a sparkly paperback as a gift.

 

 

 

 

bookgobbler-promo

 

 

 
How can it benefit readers?



For the readers, it’s simple: First and foremost – you get books for free and you get a chance to win paperbacks (the odds are very good unlike Goodreads and other websites, with a 10-20% chance of actually winning a paperback, depending on the title’s popularity). Also, there is a platform for honest reviews, where you can also express yourself as a reviewer, without needing to start your own blog and build-up your own crowd.

 

 

How can authors benefit?



Authors get exposure, get their books read, get reviews in return (we ask the readers to post on Amazon so that it increases the general exposure of the title) and it’s free. Plus, we won’t treat you any differently whether you are an indie author or part of a big publishing house, so for the “little guys” it has an added value which they can’t find anywhere else.

 

 

How do the giveaways work?



Very simple:

1. You register to BookGobbler (we need your consent as well as your details)

2. You register to whichever giveaway you want (up to 2-at- a-time for eBooks to make sure people actually write reviews; raffles entries are not limited – you can request them all)

3. You write a review when finished and post it to us, on Amazon and anywhere you want,  really.

4. You may win the paperback when the giveaway ends

 

 

 

 

bookgobbler

 

 

 

 
How did you hear about Mystery Thriller Week?



I’ll admit that I heard about this from two of your organizers. I’ve never actually met them but they’re amazing women, dedicated to thriller authors, who came across my book once in the past when it was crowdfunding (a campaign that succeeded but eventually things didn’t work out with that specific publisher), and they took a chance on me.

These two organizers are dedicated people who truly love thrillers & mysteries and want budding authors like myself to succeed and I will forever be in their debt. They know who they are.

Thanks to all the readers and thanks for the chance to feature here!

 

 

 

Links:



BOOKGOBBLER
Facebook
Amazon
Website

 

 

Have a question for Jon? Drop a comment below!

 

 

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