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