Thursday, September 02, 2010


By Paula Matter

Two weeks ago, my regularly scheduled day to blog, I called off sick. Thanks, Joyce, for filling in for me at the last minute. I’d written that I had planned on blogging about the fantastic first MWA-U (Mystery Writers of America University) event I attended in Bethesda, MD in mid-August. Now here we are in September already. While writing this blog post, I’m realizing just how much I learned at the event.

Here’s the line-up of teachers, their topic, and one little nugget of wisdom I learned:

Jess Lourey, After the Idea where she discussed how to grow your idea into a compelling story. One highlight for me was this question: What’s in your main character’s wastebasket? I have done a variation of this--what’s in your mc’s purse / wallet? Looking in Maggie’s wastebasket gave me some interesting and useful info.

Hallie Ephron, Dramatic Structure & Plot One of my favorite teachers, Hallie explored the art of storytelling and plotting. Highlight: Hook the reader with the mc’s personality, voice, something that’s likeable or curious. Start with an out-of-whack event.

Daniel Stashower, Setting & Description where he discussed the process and potential pitfalls of choosing a setting, and how descriptive passages can illuminate characters and themes. Highlight was how important choosing the right word sets the tone of the story.

Donna Andrews, Character & Dialogue Creating a fully-realized unique protagonist that leaps from the page. Highlight was to test drive your characters; where was each suspect at the time of the murder?

Reed Farrel Coleman, Writing as Re-Writing More often than not, it’s the things you remove, the tweaks you make, and the tinkering that you do, that are the difference between another slush pile ms and a new book contract. Highlight: If it’s not on the page, it’s not there. How many times have you sworn you’d written something down, and it’s just not there? I know I have.

Hank Phillippi Ryan, The Writing Life The ups and downs, the solitude, the self-doubt, the revisions, the rejections and then, the rejoicing. Highlight was her story of a beta reader suggesting a major change to improve a ms, and how important it is to decipher comments made by others. When in doubt, ask for specifics.

All in all, a wonderful event. If MWA-U schedules one near you, I highly recommend attending.

What are some of your favorite conferences, workshops, seminars? Do you always get at least one nugget of wisdom?


Linda Leszczuk said...

Great post. Great "nuggets". Thanks for sharing.

PatRemick said...

Thanks for giving us a taste of what we missed! Sounds like a great experience.

Joyce said...

I wanted to go to this, but couldn't fit it in. Maybe next year!

Hallie Ephron said...

Hey, Paula - Terrific summary! So good to see you there! I've been carrying around Jess Loury's invertdd pyramid and actually used it to get started on a new novel. Turned out I had most of it in my head (until you get to the fat part of the pyramid) but it was good to get it out on the page.

Laurie said...

Sounds like a great conference. Thanks for sharing it with us!

Jennie Bentley said...

Sounds awesome. I just came off the Killer Nashville conference, which was pretty darned cool this year. Twice as big as last year (from 150 to 300+ attendees; yay!) and with some truly stellar workshops. I particularly enjoyed (if that's the right word) the forensic workshops - the brilliant Lee Lofland was back, along with the usual team from the TN bureau of investigation - and Jeffery Deaver was the guest of honor. For those of you who haven't heard him speak, he's a hoot.

Next up for me is the Central Ohio Fiction Writers conference in Columbus in a month. Suzanne Brockmann is the keynote speaker - who doesn't love Suz Brockmann? - and our own CJ Lyons is teaching a couple of workshops, too. It's a new conference for me, but I'm totally psyched about it, and hope to see some of you there.

Gina said...

Thanks for sharing.
Personally, I love the Pennwriters Conferences, especially Tim Esaias's presentations, when I can stop laughing and eating the candy he's passing out to reward participation long enough to listen, that is.