mystery writers of america hillsborough

AMBER LOVE 06-APR-2016 Yesterday I enjoyed a pleasant drive through the sunny hills of New Jersey’s premier landscape. Getting to Hillsborough took me over long and winding country roads and passed beautiful bridges some of which lead to houses. Any of my Twitter followers know my love of Parks & Rec and Pawnee’s eccentricities. My town doesn’t even come close to being as civilized as Pawnee. Hillsborough, however, is Eagleton.


I’m not trying to take a jab at them, I swear. But seriously, the municipal building has a large sign on it reminding everyone that it’s on Money Magazine’s top places to live. It’s picturesque. Almost sickeningly so. The river winds along Pleasant Run Road passed giant houses. Little creeks branch off it while maintaining the majesty of the living Andrew Wyeth painting that it is. Once in a while, the silent scenery was interrupted by Hereford cows enclosed by wire fences.


The reason I want to paint this imagery of Hillborough and the surrounding areas like Neshanic and Old York is because people get hung up on specific prejudices about New Jersey. It’s not like The Sopranos or Jersey Shore all over. You have your gumbahs. You have your obnoxious drunk orange people in ugly ass shiny clothes. They’re somewhere, for sure. Not in Hillsborough. I was looking forward to hearing authors talk about murder that didn’t involve the thoughts I’ve had of pushing down a guidette in her stilettos and stabbing her with one.

The Mystery Writers of America New York Chapter includes New Jersey, which is delightful because we have some talented writers between our farms, interstates, rolling hills, and Trump-owned properties. The MWA-NYC also includes Delaware, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Connecticut. I’m always disappointed when I get the invitations to the Mysterious Bookshop to see my friends doing readings because it’s all the way out in NYC. Having any events that are not super late at night and on this side of the Hudson are good for me and my lifestyle.

author sheila york mwa


The Hillsborough library conference room was packed! By the time things were under way, I estimate there were about 30 attendees and maybe five of the library staff there to hear the speakers. Fortunately for me, I got to sit next to the woman who organizes the Deadly Ink Conference which I attended part of last year.

Moderated by columnist Trish Vanderhoof, the two hours were a low key Q&A with John Altman, Jeff Markowitz, and Sheila York. Constructive criticism here: it would have been nice if each of the panelists had been given a chance to answer questions that were not directed specifically at one writer. There were times when it felt like they were cut off and the next question was being asked. I think the moderating part could have been better explained that they only had time allotted for one answer per question. I did get my womanly hackles up when I felt like the only female author was cut off from speaking several times. The room only had about five or six men total including the authors and a male staffer. I was probably the youngest, but it was a room full of women as most of these seem to be during weekdays. Hearing the only woman on the panel speak was going to be important to this audience.

author john altman mwa

The authors talked the longest about historical fiction. This included talking about what’s found through research and admitting that some things are made up. Altman, who is known for writing espionage stories, said he’s been called out for inaccuracies, but on the other hand he’s had real spies tell him some of his details are spot-on.

“I don’t think you need to get every detail exactly right.” ~ John Altman on historical fiction

York said she may not have her villains fully fleshed out, but she knows who the killer is when she approaches a story. What she does have in her mind clearly is the climatic scene where her sleuth, Laura Atwill, confronts the murderer.

jeff markowitz author mwa

The authors agreed that nowadays, manuscripts need to be tightly edited before they even get to an editor or an agent because they can toss them aside so easily and pull another out of their filled inboxes. Markowitz pointed out that copyediting is one of the main challenges for self publishing writers because they can’t necessarily afford someone to do it professionally; however, all of them said that typos get through regardless of the size of the publisher they’ve had.

My only question to the panelists was about modern stories where technology seems to make things like tracking someone, solving a puzzle, or even calling for help so easy for a character. There has to be something besides the lazy “dead battery” trope to work around this. Altman’s advice was to understand the technology available and work with it; if a drone is in the story, have the characters go into the woods where they’ll be hard to find, for example.



The MWA-NYC will present another free New Jersey workshop on June 23 at the Bridgewater library. Not all the events are free, bear that in mind.

To become an MWA member, as far as I know, you need to be published by a publisher on their “approved list” but Vanderhoof said they have affiliate membership available for those who aren’t. In other words, self published authors regardless of the quality of the work, won’t be considered for active membership other than the affiliate level.

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