Immersed in Inspiration

Pamela A. Oberg with Craig Johnson (Walt Longmire Mysteries), the 2014 Crime Bake Guest of Honor

Museums. Concert halls. Theatres. Offering opportunities for attendees to immerse themselves in art, music, dance, acting, and more, these are settings within which people have experiences independently and as part of a group or community. The craft being presented, whether painting or song, solo or soliloquy, surrounds the participants.

As a writer, I see story ideas (also known as inspiration!) everywhere. But sometimes, I need a different kind of inspiration. I crave a reminder that every writer started at the same point–staring at a blank page–and that while there are many versions of the journey, writers are mostly headed for the same destination: to tell a fantastic story that people want to read. Writing is a fairly independent venture, and writers spend a lot of time by ourselves. It is all too easy to forget that we’re not really alone.

When I need those reminders, to recharge my creative batteries, I like to immerse myself in inspiration: I attend a writers’ conference.

I’ve only attended a few conferences, but there’s one I attend every year because it’s just that good. Sponsored by the New England Chapters of Sisters in Crime (SinC) and Mystery Writers of America (MWA), the New England Crime Bake (Annual Mystery Conference for Writers & Readers) is a regional conference with a stellar history of notable guests of honor; for example, Sue Grafton, Barry Eisler, Meg Gardiner, Robert Parker, Tess Gerritson, and this year, Craig Johnson. Crime Bake offers opportunities to meet and chat with masters of the craft, agents, and oodles of fellow writers. The conference is kept deliberately small, allowing fewer than 250 attendees, which provides an intimacy that attendees appreciate. The schedule, however, is jam-packed with master classes, panels, interviews, book signings, and more. This is also when Level Best Books formally releases their annual anthology of crime fiction.  The anthology is full of stories by New England writers or set within the New England states. Hundreds of writers submit their work for consideration, and some 25 are fortunate enough to be chosen. On the Saturday of the conference, those writers in attendance do a mass signing, lining up in a long row to sign books for attendees.

Hank Phillipi Ryan with Craig Johnson (left) and Jennifer McMahon (right), talks about why she writes crime fiction

I love this conference. I love the chance to meet other people who are in the early stages of being published. I love meeting people who have sold millions of copies of their books, won awards, or had their written work turned into television shows or movies. I love being immersed in the humble, warm, kind, enthusiastic community of readers and writers that New England offers. I’ve made friends, connected with other writers, met agents, practiced pitching my story, learned a ridiculous amount about forensics and investigation (helpful when writing mysteries!), gotten books signed by favorite authors, and enjoyed the heck out myself.

I come home inspired. The energy of the conference, the magic that seems to surround the exchange of ideas, the advice shared, and the general camaraderie, fills my personal batteries and gives me a creative boost that I can’t quite describe completely.

Pamela holding the Level Best Books 2015 anthology Rogue Wave, which contains her second published short story

It’s wonderful. The conference falls very close to my birthday every year, so attending is my gift to myself (husband is very supportive, too). This year, I got to meet one of my favorite authors, Craig Johnson. He took the time to have a unique conversation with each person who approached him, and is truly a kind, warm, funny man. (His wife is adorable, too.) I got to sign my story in Rogue Wave for Hallie Ephron (!), another of my favorite writers. And Lucy Burdette/Roberta Isleib gave me a copy of Death with All the Trimmings: A Key West Food Critic Mystery, the fifth entry in that series (release: December 2, 2014).  What a privilege to have an early copy to read and discuss! I happen to love that series, too.

Now I’m home, overwhelmed with gratitude that I was able to attend the conference again this year, that my story was chosen for the anthology and I got to meet or catch up with my favorite writers, and that I was able to spend two-and-a-half days immersed in inspiration.

If you’ve never attended a conference, as writer or reader, I recommend doing so. Choose carefully! This smaller conference works for me, but there are some fantastic large ones, too. Events vary by genre, location, and purpose, so spend some time researching before you sign up.  If you have attended a conference, I’d love to hear about it in the comments section!


Author: Pamela A. Oberg

Pamela is a portfolio manager at an educational assessment company by day, writer by night. Founder of Writers on Words (a discussion and critique group), Pamela enjoys spinning tales of murder and mayhem, with an occasional foray into the world of the paranormal.

12 thoughts on “Immersed in Inspiration”

  1. Reblogged this on stonecreekwriting and commented:

    My post today at Mysteristas is all about immersing yourself in inspiration, with shout-outs to the New England Crime Bake, authors Craig Johnson, Lucy Burdette, and Hank Phillipi Ryan, Sisters in Crime New England, and Mystery Writers of America (New England).


  2. Great post, and so true: no matter where you are in your writer journey, we all start at a blank page. I went to Bouchercon in 2012 and met Lucy/Roberta, Rhys Bowen, Hank Ryan (my signpost that I had indeed arrived at the right hotel), Julia Spencer-Fleming – and shook Mary Higgins Clark’s hand! Yes, still giddy over that – and how when I said I was currently writing short stories (2012) she said, “That’s how I started. It’s a great start. Keep it up.” I’ve got to local conferences (Pennwriters). Crime Bake is on my bucket list, as is Killer Nashville. And I want to go back to Bouchercon some day (California this year was just a little out of my price range). You’re right – there’s such energy and a kind word from a favorite author can be incredibly inspiring!


  3. The right conference can be just the ticket for getting all juiced up. Craig Johnson! He is such an excellent writer. I saw him at Left Coast Crime, but didn’t say anything to him.


  4. Mary, I would still be giddy, too! I adore Julia Spencer-Fleming, too (both her writing and her sassy/sharp humor). Cynthia, ooh, really, Raleigh?! I’m not sure I’m ready for something that huge–but it could be fun, especially if we have a Mysteristas posse there. 🙂


  5. Pamela, I LOVE this post and pics. You’re so right! Just got home from Bouchercon and am feeling so much of what you describe here. (And yes, what Theresa said…we should all meet up at next year’s Bouchercon…must say that it was thrilling to meet Diane, Kendel, Susan, and Kristi in person this week…along with lots of other wonderful non-Mysteristas too, of course.) So happy about your story. Congrats again!


  6. Love this! Thank you! And yes, it was particularly wonderful.. I always say something uniquely special happens to each of us at every conference. And it’s such fun to find out what it is! Thank you so much for the kind words…xoxo


  7. I love conferences and conventions. As a former co-chair of Bouchercon, I was fortunate to attend many fine conventions and meet so many wonderful people in the mystery community. I miss those wild days and may be enticed to jump back in one day. As for conferences, my favorite one so far has been Pikes Peak, held in April in Colorado Springs. Would love to try Crime Bake one day!


  8. Pamela, one of the main things I like about Pikes Peak is the quality of the guests and attendees. Very impressive. Just like Crime Bake sounds!


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