Last year my short story “The Butler Did It”, a murder mystery that takes place in a butler school, was published in A Year of the Monkeys. I have often wondered about the history of that saying. I recently found out in this post from Rocky Mountain chapter of Mystery Writers of America.
One of my guilty pleasure TV shows is Lucifer on Netflix. If you aren’t familiar with it, the devil gets tired of meting out punishment and comes to Earth in human form. He participates in human vices, sex, drugs, alcohol, and more. He becomes a special consultant to LAPD and, of course, is partnered with an attractive female detective. Pure fiction, right? Well, there is more than just the plot. Everything about police work is done incorrectly:
- Another detective, who frequently works with the attractive female detective, is her ex-husband.
- The forensics tech frequently declares cause and time of death.
- In one episode, the detectives arrive at the crime scene and ask the forensics tech, “Any suspects?”
- Random people off the street walk through the crime scene.
It’s the job of the crime writer to get the facts straight. That means doing your research. There are many ways to do this. One that I completed this spring was the Citizen Academy in West Valley City, UT. Many cities across the country do this training at no charge.
In West Valley, the course is once a week for ten weeks. Each week, a different department would talk about their jobs and we could ask questions. Here’s the schedule we had:
Week 1 – Welcome from Chief Jacobs, overview of the purpose and organization of WVCPD, city prosecutors.
Week 2- Pursuits and Traffic. We learned about accident reconstruction and investigation and saw pictures and video of pursuits and some nasty traffic accidents (no dead bodies were shown), including information about one accident that resulted in the decapitation of one driver.
They also setup a driving course in an empty parking lot and we got to drive patrol cars. I ran over lots of orange cones. It was so much fun.
Week 3 – Patrol Division and K9 unit. The department has both Belgian Malinois (similar to a German Shepherd) and Bloodhounds. I have to say, the Bloodhounds are so friendly.
Week 4 – SWAT and Firearms. We met at a Police Academy firing range and got to shoot Glocks and sub-machine guns. Great fun! WVCPD has one of the best SWAT sniper shooters in the country.
Week 5 – Detectives and Community Oriented Policing. As a writer of murder mysteries, this was really interesting to me. We had lots of questions about the Susan Powell case. It’s now closed, but they still want to find her body so the the family can have closure. Note that I met Josh Powell a couple of times before Susan’s disappearance and felt there was something “off” about him, but couldn’t place what it was.
Week 6 – Forensics and Evidence. We learned about how forensics works. Then we went to the forensics lab for hand-on learning how to lift finger prints off of items. WVC has the only shoe print expert in Utah.
Week 7 – Use of force and scenarios. We paired up with another class member and ran through scenarios on arrest with cops posing as the bad guy.
Week 8 – Fire Department and First Aid training, including CPR. We got to ride up 100 feet in the air in the bucket of one of the trucks.
Week 9 – Dispatch and Gang Unit. We met at the dispatch center to learn how calls are handled then met with a member of the gang unit to learn about gangs in the area and how they’re dealt with.
Week 10 – Graduation.
It was an amazing ten weeks.
If you write about crime of just have an interest in how your local police department works, check if they have a Citizen Academy. Mine was free and totally worth the time.
Also, as a writer, there is the Writer’s Police Academy, that is held every year, most years in Green Bay, WI. This year it’s called MurderCon and will be in Raleigh, NC. Maybe I’ll see you there
In the mean time, I’ll be watching more Lucifer.
This is an open message to conference organizers everywhere. I want you conference to succeed and people say, “That was an amazing event.” I’m sure you do too. But why do many conference organizers shoot themselves in the foot? In this post, I’ll give you some advice that will help you succeed.
In my day job, I’m a software engineer. For over thirty years, I have spoken at conferences large and small, organized by professional event planners or an all volunteer staff. These events have been across North America and Europe. I have also helped organize conferences large (1000+ attendees) to small (10+). I’ve seen things that work and things that don’t. This all gives me unique experience to help you make your event even better.
Call for Presenters
Many conferences start with a call for presenters. You may target specific presenters, directly invite some, or make a public announcement to accept proposals. What ever form this takes, there is some very specific information you need to include:
- Event name
- Location – City and State is generally enough at this point
- Event dates
- The last date that submissions are due. If you say, “Submissions will be accepted until midnight, January 31” make sure you include the timezone.
- URL of the event website. Yes, your website should be live before making a call for speakers.
- Description of the type of event. For example, are you targeting writers of a specific genre or is it just general topics.
- Presentation length. This may vary anywhere from an hour to several hours for a workshop. Make it clear what you are looking for.
- You may include a list of topics you are looking for.
- What information you need about the presenter. This should include name, bio, website, and email address. Some conferences at this point also ask for presenters website address, Facebook and Twitter links, phone number, and photo, but the reality is, you’ll only need this information if a presenter is accepted.
- If the conference is covering travel, hotel, and other costs and/or an honorarium you should include this with the call for presentation.
- Your email address in case the presenter has questions before submitting the proposal.
- Instructions on how to submit the proposal. Do you have your own portal, using a submission website, or via email?
Once you receive the submission, send a confirmation email to the presenter. Tell them the names of each presentation they submitted and give them a date when you expect to have made a decision on accepting their proposal. You will get more proposals than you anticipated so give yourself plenty of time to review everything and make decisions.
When a presenter is accepted, email them a confirmation. You will likely get multiple proposals from the same presenter. Tell them which presentations have been accepted. Ask them to reply as confirmation of acceptance. Do not accept too many from the same person. I have attended events where a single presenter seemed to be presenting at every time slot.
Also, make sure you contact presenters who were not accepted. Thank them for their submission.
One final thing. Many conferences use Google forms and such to collect speaking proposals. This is a bad idea as Google does not respect anyone’s privacy. This means all the information entered can be scanned by Google and assimilated into their advertising platform. This includes author names, phone numbers, email addresses, etc. Do the right thing and protect the privacy of your presenters. There are many free or low cost alternatives.
Make your event website easy to navigate and have complete information. The home page needs the event name, dates, and city clearly listed near the top. Don’t bury this in small text or on another page. These are the first things attendees will look for.
If you have a big-name keynote speaker, put this on the home page, including their picture.
Initially, you won’t have presenters listed, but have a Presenters page with something like, “Presenters will be announced beginning March 1.” Make sure you hit that date. You can list all your presenters at the same time, or reveal them slowly over time. The latter works well if you have big name presenters coming. Otherwise, just list them all at the same time or once they’ve confirmed acceptance.
Every presentation needs to be listed with it’s description. This can be done on the Presenter page or on a Presentations page.
A schedule page is important, even very early in the process. Something as simple as “The event will be on Saturday, February 9, 2019, from 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM” is all you need. Once you have a complete schedule, post it on the Schedule page. This way confirmed attendees or those still on the fence, can find it. Be prepared to change the schedule. Things will come up and some presenters will drop out. Others will only be able to speak in the morning or afternoon. Also, make the schedule printable.
The venue must be clearly listed. Name and address are important. Adding a map to it is nice, but not required. The venue should have its own page.
Registration should be really, really easy. List everything an attendee needs to know and make the registration link easily found on your website. I’ve registered for events that had Friday night and Saturday presentations as well as Friday dinner and Saturday lunch. Each of them was a separate ticket and each had to be purchased separately via a PayPal. That’s four purchases. Not cool. Eventbrite makes registration easy. You can list each item separately. The attendee selects what they want and are charged one time. Also, an attendee often brings a spouse or child. Eventbrite makes it easy to add others on a single purchase.
Send a confirmation email to the attendee once they have registered. Again, Eventbrite does this. The confirmation email should include the attendee name, name, dates, and location of event, and list what they have signed up for.
Have a way for people to contact you. Attendees sometimes have questions before and after registration or they may need to cancel. I advise against just using an email address link as bots can easily find this and start spamming you. Have an information form that a person can fill out and is emailed to you behind the scenes.
If you have a multi-day event you may have a hotel that you recommend to attendees. List this information on the web site and provide a link for registration.
Summarizing the required pages on your website: Home, Presenters, Schedule, Registration, Venue, About, Contact (About and Contact may be the same page). Optional pages are Hotel and Presentations.
There are hundreds of other details I’ve left out, but these are the basics to have a successful conference. Good luck with your event and may it be wildly successful.
Every once in a while, people ask who my favorite authors are. Specifically, they ask about mystery writers. Every time, I stumble trying to remember names, so I put together a list of some of my favorites. Some of these authors, like Johnny Worthen or Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling) have also written other genres. I’m sure there are names I’ve left off the list. No slight to you, fine writer. It’s another case of not remembering at the moment. Never fear, your name will be added as will new writers that I find. You can find the list here.
Once again this year, I participated in the GoodReads Reading Challenge. My goal was 30 books. I’d like to read more, but with a full-time day job, and work on the novel, the goal seemed achievable but at the same time, a challenge. I’m happy to report that I’m a winner! Where’s the Publisher’s Clearing House novelty check when you want it? My final tally is 38 books. Here’s what I read:
- Dynamic Story Creation in Plain English, Maxwell Alexander Drake
- Writing Mysteries, (various)
- Pack Dynamics, Julie Frost
- Interviews & Interrogations, Darren Drake
- Clownfish Blues, Tim Dorsey
- Magpie Murders, Anthony Horowitz
- Ordinary Grace, William Kent Kruger
- Knots and Crosses, Ian Rankin
- Ten Dead Comedians, Fred Van Lente
- A Case of Espionage, Paula Longhurst
- This Fallen Prey, Kelley Armstrong
- Dark Matter, Blake Crouch
- Bound to Die, Laurie Rockenbeck
- Protocol, Kathleen Valenti
- The Bishop’s Wife, Mette Ivie Harrison
- Death of a Cozy Writer, G. M. Malliet
- Holding, Graham Norton
- Abra Cadabra, David Kranes
- Think of a Number, John Verdon
- Odds On, John Lange
- Bluebird Bluebird , Attica Locke
- Money Shot, Christa Faust
- Hollywood Homicide, Kellye Garrett
- The House of Silk, Anthony Horowitz
- An Exaggerated Murder, Josh Cook
- A is for Alibi, Sue Grafton
- Tiny Crimes, (various)
- Winterkill, C. J. Box
- Follow Me Down, Sherri Smith
- A Year of the Monkeys, (various)
- Lethal White, Robert Galbraith
- The Facts of Life and Death, Belinda Bauer
- Killshot, Elmore Leonard
- Dodgers, Bill Beverly
- A Different Kind of Evil, Andrew Wilson
- The Killer Inside Me, Jim Thompson
- Pistols and Petticoats, Erika Janik
- Elusive Elixir, Gigi Pandian
So what does 2019 look like? I’m going again with 30 books. I think I can do more, but 30 is still a stretch. It will again be a mix of anthology, mystery, and craft improvement titles. What is your reading goal for 2019? Hit me up on Goodreads. Let’s keep each other moving forward to meet our goals.
Last week I celebrated my birthday, although as you get older you tend to think that a birthday is less important and a 1-Up is much better.
My wonderful wife, who always comes up with great gifts, gave me a membership to a book club. I don’t read just anything so she had to be picky. My choices tend to be mystery (but not cozies), thrillers, and crime stories. She chose Blind Date with a Book. As it is based in the UK, I get the UK versions of books. The blind date part comes from you not choosing specific books. Instead, you just pick genres, in this case she selected three genres, and they pick the book for you. You don’t know what title you’re going to get.
There is good and bad in book clubs. The first is you’ll likely get books you don’t want to read. The good is you get books you likely wouldn’t pick on your own. Such is the case with my first book, Dodgers by Bill Beverly (The US imprint was published by Penguin). This is a crime story, not a baseball story. The book club shipped it gift wrapped and with a personalized birthday card. Here’s the book’s Goodreads synopsis:
Dodgers is a dark, unforgettable coming-of-age journey that recalls the very best of Richard Price, Denis Johnson, and J.D. Salinger. It is the story of a young LA gang member named East, who is sent by his uncle along with some other teenage boys—including East’s hothead younger brother—to kill a key witness hiding out in Wisconsin. The journey takes East out of a city he’s never left and into an America that is entirely alien to him, ultimately forcing him to grapple with his place in the world and decide what kind of man he wants to become.
Written in stark and unforgettable prose and featuring an array of surprising and memorable characters rendered with empathy and wit, Dodgers heralds the arrival of a major new voice in American fiction.
Dodgers won several big awards including the LA Times Book Prize for Best Mystery/Thriller, the British Book Award for Best Crime and Thriller Novel, The CWA Golden Dagger, and the CWA John Creasey Dagger Award. This isn’t a new book. It was first published in 2016.
I’ll withhold my review until I’m done reading the book. Watch my Goodreads page for the review in the next few days. And I will anxiously await the next delivery from Blind Date with a Book.
Earlier this year I took a new day job. Instead of working from home, I now commute about 23 miles one way. Recently I decided to listen to writing podcasts during the commute and started with some recommended by writerly friends. As I expected, the quality varied.
There are two things that make a podcast successful. Great content and great sound. While every podcast I sampled had the content, the sound quality wasn’t there on many of them. Typically, one of the hosts sounded fine while another didn’t. While I recognize the sound can’t be great every single time, I sampled more than one episode of the suspect podcasts and found each of them consistently had bad sound quality. Despite the good content, I have dropped all of the bad sound ones from my feed.
I spent my high school and college years working at several different radio stations and learned much about sound. For a podcast, there are three primary causes of bad sound.
First up is low quality microphones. If you’re going to have a good quality podcast, get good quality mics. You don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars. Quality mics are available on Amazon for around $50. Read reviews. Talk to other podcasters. Do your research. Note that most headsets have very poor quality mics, so skip these all together unless you want to pony up the cost for broadcast quality hardware like TV sports announcers use.
Second, make sure you are close enough to the mic. My guess is the poor quality on most of the podcasts I checked out was due to having one mic and the second host was too far away. TV and movies are notorious for doing this in scenes, even where the actor was supposed to be a professional. Get one mic for every person. You don’t need to put your lips on the mic, but it should quite close to you.
Third, make sure you use the mic correctly. Have you ever been to a meeting where the speaker holds the mic in front of their mouth and you still can’t hear them? Some mics are designed to speak directly into the top end, others the side of the mic. Still others are designed to pick up lots of sound. These are called omni-directional. Not good for podcasts as they are more likely pick up your barking dog or the garbage truck outside. Know what kind you have and how to use it.
One final tip to keep that mic in top usable condition. Don’t tap it to check if it’s on. That can damage the sensitive filament that picks up sound. You should speak into it.
There were other reasons why I dropped some podcasts. On one the host would giggle for no reason. It was annoying. But for most, it was due to poor sound.
As a writer, sometimes the best thing to do is get away. This weekend, I am at the Infinite Weekend Writer Retreat at a cabin in the mountains of Utah. I am surrounded by 30 of my writerly friends who are all at various stagings of writing their short stories or novels spanning various genres, mystery, horror, and fantasy.
What is the retreat all about? Basically it is hitting some writing goals, whether that be actual new words on a page, pre-writing for NaNoWriMo, revising, or editing. We all take turns at preparing and cleaning up a meal. There are a couple of short educational presentations each day. There is plenty of time to hike, sleep, explore, or just think. And at night there are games or movies to rest the brain. It’s also a time to make new friends and see old ones again.
This is my third year at the Infinite Retreat, a testimony to how great this weekend it. Getting a retreat is something every writer should take time for. They are amazing.
One of the awesome perks of being a member of the League of Utah Writers is attending the annual Fall Conference. This year, it will be October 6-7 at Salt Lake Community College in Taylorsville.
I decided not to speak at the conference this year so that I can concentrate on learning. With Friday being free for everyone and Saturday featuring special guests Kevin J. Anderson and J.H. Moncrieff, as well as a host of local presenters, there is so much to learn.
Some classes I plan to get to are Get to Work, Law for Writers, Improve Your Online Karma, Scrivener Beyond the Basics: Outlining your Novel, Tips for Beginners, Writing Courtroom Scenes, and Grand Opening: How to Get Your Book Off to a Good Start. And that’s just the first day.
Things will wrap up Saturday evening with the Awards Banquet, where the league hands out awards in many categories. Then there is the Passing of the Gavel, where the new President takes over. I’m excited to see why my friend Johnny Worthen has planned for the league over the next year.
No matter what level your writing skills are at, there will be something for you at the Fall Conference. Please find me and say hello. I’ll be wearing a t-shirt with a funny saying. And above all, take what you learn, and get writing.
A year ago I was struggling with my first work of fiction, “Compelled to Kill”. When I started writing, I thought it would be easy. After all, I’d written two books and numerous magazine articles on software development. But I was struggling. It was much harder than I thought. So, I attended the League of Utah Writers Spring Conference.
I met other writers. I met editors. I met agents. I took notes. I learned. I applied. Here we are a year later and I’m still struggling with the story. But the difference is, today I have an idea of what I need to do. And it started at that conference.
What followed is exciting. I got sucked into the Utah writer community and I’m happy I did. I regularly attend two different chapter meetings, Oquirrh and Infinite Monkeys. I attended a writing retreat. I went to the Fall Conference.
Then in January, I started giving presentations at chapter meetings. And today, I’m excited to announce that I will be speaking at Spring Conference. My topic there will be Unintrovertable. I’m thrilled to be chosen. And not only will this be your own opportunity to grow your skills and meet others. It will also be your chance to heckle me. Not something you get to do every day.
How do you sign up? I’m glad you asked. First, block off Saturday, April 8 on your calendar. Second, plan your route to Salt Lake Community College Taylorsville Campus. Finally, go to www.leagueofutahwriters.com and click on the Spring Conference banner right on the home page. Prices start at just $25, making this a cheap date.
Do it. Now. And I’ll see you there!