DEADLY INK MYSTERY WRITERS CONFERENCE
AMBER LOVE 20-JUNE-2017 This site and the Vodka O’Clock podcast are supported by the generous backers at Patreon.com/amberunmasked. You can subscribe for as little as $1/month.
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The Deadly Ink conference and academy are co-hosted by the NY chapter of the Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime. You don’t have to be a member of either to attend. The conference is open to fans and writers of mysteries, suspense, and thrillers whether adult, kids, or YA.
This year the show was held in northern New Jersey which was much more convenient for me. I didn’t even need to set my GPS. It was a 45-minute drive to Rockaway Townsquare Mall and the Hilton Gardens is right in front of the mall.
The biggest change for me was that instead of attending the much less expensive Friday of the show, I went on Saturday. I had originally planned to also go Sunday, but it was a busy family weekend (wedding, Father’s Day, birthdays). On Friday, they run “the academy” which is more workshop style: one instructor to lecture and usually people get opportunities for interaction about story elements in a classroom environment.
Deadly Ink is always looking for talented volunteers. They need help updating their website to a content management system like WordPress. They also need coordinators and volunteers for every other aspect like making swag bags, getting sponsors and advertising, liaising with publishers and more. Whereas, Saturday and Sunday are for discussion panels. There are evening activities like the awards night and gala, but I’ve never attended those.
Saturday was more like one might see at comic conventions only on a much smaller scale. There were two book vendor rooms and two panel rooms. Panels ran in tandem with the exception of the spotlight on the guest of honor, Vicki Delany. The swag bags are nice totes with the Deadly Ink logo (I use mine from 2016 all the time). Inside there was the program guide and an issue of Mystery Scene magazine. There were other items for sale like coffee mugs, shirts, and ball caps.
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The Hilton staff were incredibly cordial, but I have to say, not informed. Other than knowing which ballrooms the conference was in, they didn’t have any answers to basic questions like where lunch would be or will pitchers of water be available. But they said they didn’t know with big friendly smiles.
Lunch was tragically disappointing. I’m vegetarian and even for those who aren’t, there was nothing that looked health-friendly; it was a platter of cold cuts, cheeses, potato salad, cole slaw, pickles, and tuna salad. Needless to say, I had a roll with butter and a mountain of potato salad because I needed to eat. The lunch break was long, so had I thought of it, I could’ve popped over to the diner and been back in time.
I would definitely say there were handicap accessibility issues for anyone who may have needed a wheelchair: the hallways were cramped and barely passable because of tables that were set up for registration and author signings; the buffet service was so high up it wouldn’t have been within reach; one of the panel rooms had the tables at awkward angles so if there had been a panelist trying to get to the front of the room, it would have been difficult. There were water pitchers and tiny cups for panelists, but the two water fountains in the hallway needed some improvement; at first the water shoots out a foot then goes down to barely a bubbling spout. I couldn’t refill an average size bottle. I’m grateful the front desk simply gave me one. I don’t know what would have happened if I had I gotten dehydrated on top of the vertigo problems I had that weekend. The only water I saw in the lobby had cucumbers floating it; I tried it and found it not to my liking.
I wasn’t particularly comfortable with the book vending arrangement. All indie authors were allowed to bring their books and the one vendor would sell them, keeping 40%. I need a certain amount just to cover printing costs and this would have been just under being able to do that. I didn’t sell anything, but many other people didn’t either. I happily swapped a copy of Cardiac Arrest with another author for a copy of her book.
Attendance and Features:
Not surprising for this area of NJ, it was almost all white people in attendance. One of our panelists on the “Touchy Topics” subject even quipped about how our panel of white people would get to address racial issues.
The gender ratio seemed more equal than when I’ve gone on Fridays. There was one young person, but for the most part it seemed to be people 40 and up.
Writers had the opportunity to book an appointment to pitch Sarah Poppe from Crooked Lane Books. I didn’t take advantage of this because I don’t have another manuscript ready. However, this was a great feature. As one writer said to me, it’s still good practice to pitch even if you know your story isn’t for her.
During the “Setting the Scene” panel, three of the authors on the panel of seven said that they weren’t published until after the age of 50. Most of the panelists said they had been published by publishers who went out of business.
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My favorite part of the “Dialogue that Works” panel was the insight of editor Chris Roerden. She’s been in the publishing business for over 50 years and has written a couple of books about submitting successful manuscripts. She gave tips on what not to do in dialog and what to cut out. There was a handout, but not enough for everyone.
- Don’t start dialog with “Well”.
- Don’t use ellipses.
- Don’t use semicolons in dialog.
- Remove one-word affirmative replies like “yes” or “okay”.
- If you leave off the tags (Jane said) and can’t tell the difference between the characters, then you need to work on establishing their personalities.
Mary Jane Maffini’s spotlight interview with Vicki Delany was entertaining. They’re fun women to listen to. Delany’s life sounds like a modern Agatha Christie biography. She moved to South Africa where she got married and had three children. Then she got divorced and moved to Canada. She spends time traveling the world and writing under her own name and under Eva Gates. Her new series is about a protagonist named Gemma Doyle who runs a Sherlock Holmes themed book shop.
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I think all the moderators did well making sure everyone on the panel spoke. This is also credit to the panelists who were considerate of each other. I don’t recall anyone looking as though they were left out.
I was part of the panel on “Touchy Topics” which included subjects like mental illness, racism, sexism, and disabilities. It was surprising to us that anyone came to listen because we were scheduled at the same time as a forensics panel where Bill Aronoff had machines to give demonstrations. About sixteen people were eventually in our audience. When it comes to diversity, I could have talked for an hour or more just on my own characters. Two of the authors, Jeff Cohen and Ilene Schneider, have characters on the autism spectrum. I think the overall message from all the authors was that it makes common sense to include people who are not cookie cutter.
Then I was fortunate to moderate the short story panel with four writers: David Manfre (the fan guest of honor), Christine Bush, Albert Tucher, and Vicki Weisfeld. All of these panelists had different experiences and reasons for writing short stories. Christine Bush uses her novellas as marketing tools for her full length novels. Albert Tucher has written over 70 shorts about his character Diana Andrews. One of the magazines mentioned by Vicki Weisfeld was Betty Fedora, a feminist magazine of crime fiction stories.
Overall, it’s hard for me to say whether such a small conference is “worth it” for local authors. I think the admission rates are high, personally, but I can’t speak for everyone. I’m used to comic cons where you can pay $65 for an entire weekend at a show with a few thousand in attendance. I love being on panels and moderating them; I love the academy’s classroom style teaching (even though I skipped this year). Smaller cons are great for the opportunities to talk to guests, especially if you aren’t a traveler that gets to the big shows. I think Deadly Ink has always suffered with attendance and prestige issues. MWA events are usually more impressive.