What I learned at Killer Nashville

I was on three panels at Killer Nashville Mystery Writer’s Convention (August 22-25), where JACKAL: A Jessica James Mystery was a finalist for a Silver Falchion Award for best suspense.

Of course, it was great to hear the legendary Joyce Carol Oates talk about the writer’s life and some of her books. And David Morrell’s presentation on writing Rambo and writing comics was fun. Alexandra Ivy talked about how to write sex scenes—good to know. And, Lori Rader-Day was entertaining, as always. Thanks to Clay Stafford for putting on such a great convention!

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[David Morell & Clay Stafford, Joyce Carol Oates & Clay, Alexandra Ivy, Lori Rader-Day]

Being a a professional student (ie. a college professor), I did my homework. Before talking about Women’s Fiction, Subplots, and Writing Dialogue, I did research and spent time thinking about each topic. I learned a lot from my fellow panelists and from the other panels I attended throughout the weekend.

I don’t know about you, but I find these conventions pretty intense—it feels like an alternative lifetime is crammed into four days…Like when Captain Jean-Luc Picard lives out forty-years as the flute-playing scientist, Kamin, before returning to the Enterprise to realize only minutes have passed for the rest of the crew.

So what did I learn from my life at Killer Nashville? From attending past KN cons, I knew it was easy to make new friends at Killer Nashville.

Although I’d met him before, I learned Roger Johns has a wicked sense of humor and knows how to play an audience. He moderated our session on writing dialogue.

On the dialogue panel, I learned that Alexandra Ivy writes her novels first as screenplays and then goes back and fills in the rest, Mike Faricy knows a lot of Irish swear words, Dana Carpenter imagines her scenes as movies first, Lynn Willis loves y’all and all y’all, and Jim Nesbitt isn’t as intimidating as he looks with that big hat.

We agreed that dialogue should be realistic but not real because if you just record the way people talk, it would be deadly boring. I think of Alfred Hitchcock trying real blood in Psycho, but deciding it didn’t look real, so he used chocolate sauce instead. You have to make it look real, a condensed or crystallized version of reality—the chocolate sauce version.

writing dialogue panel

[Mike Faricy, Alexandra Ivy, Dana Carpenter, Roger Johns, Lynn Willis, ME, Jim Nesbitt]

For my part, I talked about using dialogue to create conflict. Not just the obvious argument kind of conflict, but internal conflict. I love to use to dialogue to show how what a character thinks or desires is in tension with what she says. I think of the funny scene in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall when they are having a serious conversation about art and we see subtitles telling us what they’re really thinking: “I wonder what she looks like naked?” “I hope he’s not a schumk like all the rest.”

It also fun to use dialogue to create misunderstandings. Ian McEwan is the master of misunderstandings in dialogue… think of Atonement or On Chesil Beach.

You can use dialogue to add humor and picturesque language or sayings.

We talked about making each character’s voice unique by giving them unique speech patterns or associating certain words with a particular character. I go back and do this when editing. I reserve some turns of phrase, and even some verbs, for particular characters.

The women’s writing panel was kind of weird because none of us really write women’s fiction as it is traditionally defined—although it was fun to talk about possible intersections of crime writing and women’s fiction. I think of my Jessica James Mysteries as more feminist noir than women’s fiction.

One of my recent favorites that might fit the bill as both crime and women’s fiction is the fabulous The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey. I love that novel!

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[ME, Saralyn Richard, Amy Rivers on the women’s fiction panel]

The subplot panel was a lively discussion of how to use subplots and the relation between subplots and main plots. It was fun to hear how others use subplots to advance their stories. I like to use subplots to modulate both the tone and the pace of my novels. You can use subplots to develop characters, build suspense, and add humor to an otherwise serious subject (like campus rape, or human trafficking) to lighten the mood.

But the hardest lesson I learned is one I’ve learned countless times before, but tend to forget—maybe like the so-called amnesia after childbirth that allows you to consider having another baby—What goes up, must come down.

After spending an intense weekend surrounded by people, coming home alone to my quiet house is depressing. It’s weird. While I’m at the convention, I’m full of excitement and joy. It’s scary, but fun. Then, when I get home, I’m a complete basket-case and can barely function. Thank God for my cats, Mischief and Mayhem.

wimsey and mayhem

What about you? How do you cope with the postpartum depression of conventions? Asking for a friend…

 

 

Author: Kelly Oliver

Kelly Oliver is the award-winning (and best-selling in Oklahoma!) author of The Jessica James Mystery Series, including WOLF, COYOTE, FOX, JACKAL, and VIPER. Her debut novel, WOLF: A Jessica James Mystery, won the Independent Publisher’s Gold Medal for best Thriller/Mystery, and was a finalist for the Foreward Magazine award for best mystery. Her second novel, COYOTE won a Silver Falchion Award for Best Mystery. And, the third, FOX was a finalist for both the Claymore Award and Silver Falchion Award. JACKAL was a finalist for a Silver Falchion and a Mystery and Mayhem Award. The first novel in her new middle grade mystery series, Kassy O'Roarke, Cub Reporter, is out soon. And she has an Agatha Christie inspired historical mystery, MISS LEMON'S MYSTERIOUS ASSIGNMENT AT STYLES out in March, 2020. When she’s not writing novels, Kelly is a Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Vanderbilt University, and the author of fifteen nonfiction books, and over 100 articles, on issues such as the refugee crisis, campus rape, women and the media, animals and the environment. Her latest nonfiction book, Hunting Girls: Sexual Violence from the Hunger Games to Campus Rape won a Choice Magazine Award for Outstanding title. She has published in The New York Times and The Los Angeles Review of Books, and has been featured on ABC news, CSPAN books, the Canadian Broadcasting Network, and various radio programs. Learn more about Kelly and her books.

9 thoughts on “What I learned at Killer Nashville”

  1. Sounds like you had a great time, Kelly. I don’t usually have depression – but I am always exhausted. Because I’m an introvert, I don’t want to talk to many people. Time and sleep usually get me back on track.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. What a great post, Kelly! When I get home from a convention/conference I’m a bit depressed to come back to the real world where not everyone is writing/murder/crime/craft 24/7. Plus, my return plane ticket always seems to come with a bit of ‘imposter syndrome’ tacked on. But I muddle through the next day or so while I return emails and do my laundry, remembering how much fun it all was to learn stuff, catch up with friends, and meet new ones.

    Congrats on the nomination and rockin’ your panels!

    Liked by 3 people

  3. What an all-star cast they had this year! I was so sorry to have to miss it. Glad you had a fabulous time. I love Killer Nashville. I either return from conferences energized to plunge back into my writing, or wrung out. If I had three panels, I would definitely be wrung out!

    Liked by 3 people

  4. I’m not depressed so much as I am exhausted. (Hard work for an introvert to spend so much time around so many people no matter how much fun it is.) Past that I find conferences get me jazzed to write. That always becomes my biggest takeaway.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Well, I do not have advice for you about the aftermath of conventions, but I am going to at least one next year, so I will see what it is all about.(all set for Left Cost Crime, and considering Bouchercon — both in California next year)
    O did visit Nashville a couple of years ago for the total solar eclipse, and loved the area. Perhaps I should plan another trip!!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I’ve never been to Killer Nashville, but this post really makes me want to go. Great people, great panels–so much to love!

    After conferences, I feel time-starved as I make my panicked re-entry back to work and mom-ing, but that’s probably a good distraction from the post-con blues. I also come home with a brain full of “I-wish-I’d….” thoughts about who I wish I’d had more time to talk with, what panels I should’ve attended, etc. I console myself with the promise of next time.

    Huge congrats on the nom, Kelly, and your panels! All kinds of awesome!

    Liked by 2 people

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