On Saturday, April 19, the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance did an extremely cool thing: they sponsored a crime writing conference. Maine’s first, unless I’m much mistaken. With a clever name, the Maine Crime Wave, they enlisted some serious talent, crafted an action-packed schedule, and waited for folks to line up at the door. Which (spoiler alert!) they did. I was lucky enough to be one of those in attendance, but I know many of you were not, so I feel it’s only just and fair that I offer you:
The Top Ten Things You Missed from the Inaugural Maine Crime Wave:
10. Gerry Boyle’s workshop on character development. He may now have a dozen published novels under his belt, but before he became a writer of fiction, Boyle worked as a roofer, a postman, a manuscript reader for a New York publishing company, and a newspaper reporter who covered everything from high-school wrestling to the police beat. Crazy talent + crazy life experiences = the ideal person to teach a class on avoiding the dreaded cardboard cutout.
9. Kate Flora’s workshop on plot. Flora’s a former assistant attorney general who also did a seven-year stint as editor and publisher at Level Best Books. She’s penned everything from thrillers to police procedurals to straight-up mysteries to true crime, was nominated for an Edgar, and won the 2013 Maine Literary Award for Crime Fiction. She also teaches writing at Grub Street in Boston, and if the quality of this session was any indication, they’re very lucky to have her.
8. Paul Doiron’s workshop on setting (presented with assistance from the above-extolled Kate Flora). Doiron’s a Registered Maine Guide whose bestselling Mike Bowditch novels have either won or been nominated for every crime fiction award under the sun. If you’re looking for someone who’s an expert on setting as character and the role of regionalism in crime fiction, Doiron’s your man. (Just ask his legions of fans.) And as it turns out, Flora’s a treasure trove of knowledge on this subject, as well.
7. Julia Spencer-Fleming’s workshop on creating and sustaining tension. If you’ve ever read one of Spencer-Fleming’s Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne novels, then you’re aware this New York Times bestselling author knows more about building suspense and raising stakes than the average ten writers combined. As those lucky enough to attend this session learned, though, she’s not only an intelligent, thoughtful, entertaining writer, she’s an intelligent, thoughtful, entertaining teacher, and she wields a mean dry-erase marker.
6. The “Real Joe Friday” panel starring retired Portland Detective Sergeant Bruce Coffin and retired Game Warden Roger Guay. These two should get an agent and take their “city cop vs. country cop” show on the road, because I’d have happily spent the entire day listening to them regale attendees with tales of everything from clam cops to cadaver dogs.
5. The “It’s a Big Tent” panel featuring Chris F. Holm, Julia Spencer-Fleming, Kate Flora, Gerry Boyle, and Kathy Lynn Emerson (aka Kaitlyn Dunnett). Hearing these authors talk genre, sub-genre, and cross-genre was not only wonderfully informative, it was entertaining as all get-out. (Did you know Julia Spencer-Fleming once tried to write a science fiction novel? The result was more of a mystery on a space station. What’s that old saying? You can lead a crime writer to outer space, but you can’t make her stop killing people?)
4. The fabulous array of books offered for sale by Kelly’s Books to Go. I hate it when I attend a mystery conference and discover a fabulous new (to me) author only to learn that none of the con’s booksellers have bothered to stock said author’s books. That’s why I was so delighted to discover that Kelly had available for purchase books by every single author who participated in the Maine Crime Wave. That’s right: Every. Single. One. And as an added bonus, Kelly is a sparkling conversationalist who really knows her stuff. I hope to see her and her Books to Go at many more events to come.
3. The keynote address delivered by internationally bestselling author Tess Gerritsen. Gerritsen is a captivating speaker. She talked unhinged fans, overly suspicious homicide detectives, and trolling for victims at shopping malls, and she managed to do so while being instructive, introspective, and inspirational. Is it any wonder the Maine crime fiction community is so darned proud to count her among our ranks?
2. The setting. The inaugural Maine Crime Wave took place on a sunny spring afternoon in my favorite place in the world: Portland, Maine. This gorgeous little city by the sea has landed on national top-ten lists for everything from food to beer to technology to art to safety to ecology to, um, hipness. It’s cultured yet unpretentious and is home to an incredibly supportive and closely-knit writing community, which essentially makes it Mecca for book people like you and me. Which leads me to the final item on my list…
1. The crowd. I confess, I feared turnout would be low given the event was scheduled for the day before Easter. (It was also the first day of school vacation here in Maine.) My worry was unfounded, though, for come the opening address at 8:45 a.m., the house was full and the crowd was pumped. I’ve attended quite a few literary conferences and conventions over the past several years, and I can honestly say I’ve never seen an audience so engaged. Their energy and enthusiasm were both contagious and inspiring, and I, for one, can’t wait to be reunited with these folks at next year’s Maine Crime Wave.
All photos courtesy of Katrina Niidas Holm.
Katrina Niidas Holm loves mysteries. She lives in Maine with her husband, fabulously talented pulp writer Chris F. Holm, and a noisy, noisy cat. She writes reviews for Crimespree Magazine and The Maine Suspect, and you can find her on Twitter.