“ The thing that sells fiction today is emotional conflict or crisis. People must feel their heart pitter patter and care about the character.”

David Hagberg, best-selling author and three time Edgar Nominee

Sleuth Fest ‘'98 Mystery Writers of America, Florida Chapter

A Special Report on the March, '98 Conference, Hollywood Beach, FL

By Nancy Ess, Authorlink! South Florida Correspondent

“It was a (dark/rainy/ominous) night. Two elderly women stood in the (freezing cold/ howling wind/ dirty sleet), on a (deserted road in Iowa/ neon lit street corner in Harlem).”

Sound like a good setting for a mystery? David Hagberg thinks it just might, as he describes the concept of scene to wannabe sleuth writers during his “Writing the Successful Synopsis” workshop at Sleuth Fest ‘98.’

What is the sense of scene at Sleuth Fest ‘98? It was a cold weekend (for South Florida, with a high of about 70o) at the Clarion Hotel (painted a fitting Deco Pink and Aqua), where undiscovered writers experienced crisis (about their writing techniques) and pilfered (marketing strategies) from multi-series published authors (like David Hagberg and Stuart Kaminsky and Anne Perry). Ultimately one budding novelist wrote a novel nominated for a Shamus Award and the Pulitzer Prize, and stayed on the New York Times Bestseller List for 48 weeks.

At Sleuth Fest ‘98 three hundred writers listened to more than 70 speakers during three tracks of seminars. [HYPERLINK: See Highlights from Sessions Below]. Literary hopefuls sat down to chat with amazingly accessible, heavy-hitter mystery and thriller writers during the busy cocktail receptions. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, and evening events featured prestigious award winners, sought after agents, and powerful attorneys. In spare hours, or hours stolen from the constant flow of seminars, authors networked with each other, and exchanged exotic real life adventures.

Special guest speaker, Anne Perry, writer of twenty-five Victorian mysteries, challenged writers to arrive at a vision that would have a lasting impact through the next millennium. Barbara Parker, a South Florida novelist who has just published her sixth novel, reminded us that “premise is the backbone of the book.” In a quiet table conversation, during Friday’s cocktail reception, Stuart Kaminsky, President of the Mystery Writers of America, and author of nearly 50 published books, mused about how much the MWA meant to him ever since he first penned his first mystery at the age of 14.

With more than 70 speakers, it is impossible to sing the praises of each, so here’s the list of the luminaries. Where the speaker boasts dual professions, the decision to list one profession rather than the other is purely arbitrary.

AUTHORS: Susan Andrews, E.C. Ayres, Edna Buchanan, Michael Connelly, Carol Soret Cope, Rose Dannay, Dianne Neral Ell, Anne Flowers, Carolina Garcia-Aguilera, James Grippando, David Hagberg, Edward Hannah, Karen Harper, Jeremiah Healy, Aphrodite Jones, Stuart Kaminsky, Daniel Keyes, The Honorable Terry P. Lewis, Cliff Linedecker, Chaplain Michael Lister, John Leslie, Diane Marcou, Margaret Maron, Harold Q. Masur, Stuart McIver, Katy Munver, Barbara Parker, Allan Pedrazas, Marthayn Pelegrimas, Heather Graham Pozzessere, Robert J. Randisi, Jerome Sanford, Cynthia Smith, Troy Soos, Patricia Sprinkle, Elizabeth Daniels Squire, Les Standiford, Joyce Sweeny, Elaine Viets, Walter Wager, Penny Warner, Polly Whitney, and Karen Ann Wilson.

FORENSIC SPEAKERS: Frank Cornetta, Commander, Bomb and Arson Unit; Merry Haber, Ph.D., Forensic Psychologist: Neil Heims, former Special Agent, U.S. Customs; Milton Hirsch, Attorney; Chris Mancini, Criminal Defense Attorney; Justin Manus, Attorney; Rafael Martinez, M.A., M.S. Ed.S. Consultant, Miami Dade Medical Examiner’s Office; Joan Mazza, Psychologist; Barbara E. Moser, Special Agent FBI “Computer and Internet Fraud”; Ramesh Nyberg, Homicide Detective, Metro-Dade Police Department; Chief Charles Raiken, Division Chief, Fire Marshal Broward County; Valerie J. Rao, M.D., Associate Medical Examiner, Dade County; David Sanford, Special Agent, U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms; George Schiro, Forensic Scientist Louisiana State Police Crime Lab.

AGENTS, PUBLISHERS, REVIEWERS, AND MARKET EXPERTS: Doris Booth, Editor in Chief, Authorlink!; Oline Cogdill, Mystery Book Reviewer; Jennifer Sawyer Fisher, Senior Editor, Avon Books; Liz Hartman, Vice President, Director of Publicity, Pocket Books; Donald Maas, Literary Agent; Janet Manus, Literary Agent; Peter Rubie, Literary Agent; Sally Schoeneweiss, Book Promotion Specialist; Loren G. Soeiro, Literary Agent; Joanne Sinchuk, Owner, Murder on Miami Beach; David Stern, Senior Editor, Pocket Books; John Talbot, Literary Agent.

OTHERS: Linda Bell Harrel, Sleuth Fest ‘98 Committee; Christine Jackson, Associate Professor, Nova S.E. University; Kathryn J. Maier, Sleuth Fest ‘98 Director.

Highlights from Conference Sessions Promoting Your Book


on the Internet

Doris Booth



Well, surfer-writers, you’ve found the Authorlink! site, and you have located this article, so I need not introduce Doris Booth who is the fearless leader of this Authorlink!. More likely than not, you have already corresponded with Doris through the wonders of e-mail, and received an amazingly quick, and a surprisingly cordial response the same day.

Doris announced her intention to outline seven strategies for marketing on the Internet, but questions and comments and interesting asides from the audience slowed her pace a little, and she only reached strategy number five. Guess we’ll just have to go to “Electrify your Writing”conference on May 2, 1998, to hear strategies six and seven. [Hyperlink: Electrify your writing.]

Every year three million manuscripts are sent to New York and only 55-60 thousand are published. Great authors may go unnoticed, and mediocre authors may have full series in print. With these statistics, authors need to be savvy and current. The Internet now offers progressive opportunities to increase the chance of publication. Here are Doris Booth’s strategies!

Strategy 1Assess the competition on line. She showed us how to tap into an on-line bookstores(i.e. amazon.com) and look up the subject that you are writing about.

Strategy 2- Determine your market niche. We learned how to find out how the publishing industry classifies different genres using the Internet. Remember that writing “right down the middle” of a genre may give you an edge in the marketplace.

Strategy 3- Be timely. The Internet offers incredible research opportunities with up-to-the-minute facts. You can also use the Internet to develop subjects for your story or novel

4. Target the right buyer. Many agents and publishers have web pages. Some of these publishers describe exactly how they prefer authors to submit their work. Publishers may include contact information on the site. Find a work similar to yours and call up the publisher to see who edited the book. The net also offers great opportunities to find an agent. (Authorlink! has an excellent agent list for authors who list their manuscripts).

5. Pitch your product on-line. Although this is in its infancy, Internet will be a major tool for query letters. Some editors already accept e-mail queries, although you should never just assume they do. Doris gave us a number of “deadly don’ts” for online query letters.

Well, Doris, thanks for these useful strategies. We’ll see you at the Electrify Your Writing conference.

Highlights from Forensic Seminars

Virtually all writers conferences will discuss the art of writing and the strategies of marketing. A good genre conference will go one step further and offer seminars in somewhat arcane subjects that apply specifically to that genre. At Sleuth Fest ‘98, forensic experts supplied up to date information on modus operandi and modes of mayhem. Want an explosion? Frank Cornetta, Bomb and Arson expert, can tell you how to really blow them away. How about killing the next victim with single “silent” shot? David Sanford tells writers what guns have the capacity to be outfitted with silencers. Thinking about incinerating the evidence? Chief Charles Raiken, Fire Marshall, follows the trail of the fire. Writing about a psychopath? Merry Haber, Ph.D. describes the psycho-dynamic manifestations. And of course, two medical examiners were on hand to analyze the exact cause of death. Here are abstracts of two of these forensic lectures.

Armed and Dangerous


David SanfordSpecial Agent

U.S. Bureau of Tobacco & Firearms.

If you are planning to blow someone away by using a pistol, rifle or semi-automatic in your next novel, there’s a lot to learn. Different character groups have strong preferences for the type of gun they use, and how they use it. According to David Sanford, a police woman will probably prefer a smaller caliber bullet for her revolver because it offers less kick. Most women Police Officers shoot two handed to give them extra control. When it comes to standard gun issuances, the preferences might be described as “different strokes for different folks.” Officers with the Department of Alcohol and Tobacco will be sent into the field with different weaponry than FBI agents. Street gangs choose Saturday night specials, pistols, revolvers, and derringers because they are small, cheap, and easily accessible. They prefer machine pistols to machine guns because they are easier to hide. Narco traffickers have more money than street gang members. Their arsenals include large caliber pistols and revolvers, and the latest brand name assault rifles and weapons.

How many words are currently in your gun vocabulary? A chart offered by Special Agent Sanford includes the following terminology for a Smith and Wesson:

From the left profile, front to back, top to bottom: Muzzle, front sight, barrel, top strap, rear sight, frame, hammer, cylinder release, grip medallion, back strap, crane, ejection rod, cylinder, trigger guard, grip panel.

From the right profile: Flash gap, logo, manufacturer identification, caliber.

Cylinder assembly detail: Cylinder, chambers, extractor, rachet.

Did you know all that? Well, if you are killing off a character, shouldn’t you? Knowing the nomenclature certainly helps build credibility in a novel.

For more information, try going to gunsgunsguns.com or smith-wesson.com. Or consult a copy of the Blue Book of Gun Values, Gun Trader’s Guide, or Gun Trader’s Guide.

Forensic Psychology


And the Criminal Mind

Merry S. Haber, Ph.D.

Forensic Psychologist

Is your villain violent and vengeful? Does he believe that he needs to clean up society by killing a few prostitutes? Then he may be a “Cluster A” murderer, suffering from a paranoid, schizoid, or schizotypal personality disorder.

Is your antagonist a pathetically clinging girlfriend, suffering from obsessive love, who turns on your hero because her love is threatened? She may be suffering from borderline personality disorder.

If the latest basic instinct of your blond bombshell is deadly, then she may have an antisocial personality.

Dr. Haber differentiates between levels of insanity. The insanity that causes a murderer to commit the crime differs in good degree from the level of insanity necessary to avoid prosecution. Judges want to know if a person is legally “crazy” or just mean or perhaps stupid. To be legally insane for the purpose of standing trial the defendant must understand the charges, the range and nature of the penalties, and the basic functions in the court room. The defendant must also have the ability to behave properly in the court, understand what is going on, and testify competently.

Here’s the statute in Florida–the legal definition for competence to stand trial may differ in other states :

916.12. Mental competence to stand trial.

(1) A person is incompetent to stand trial within the meaning of this chapter if he does not have sufficient present ability to consult with his lawyer with a reasonable degree of rational understanding or if he has no rational, as well as factual, understanding of the proceedings against him.

(2) A defendant who, because of psychotropic medication, is able to understand the nature of proceedings and assist in his defense shall not automatically be deemed incompetent to stand trial simply because his satisfactory mental functioning is dependent upon such medication. As used in this subsection, "psychotropic medication" means any drug or compound used to treat mental or emotional disorders affecting the mind, behavior, intellectual functions, perception, moods, or emotions and includes antipsychotic, anti-depressant, antimanic, and antianxiety drugs.

Courts use forensic psychologists for many purposes, including, but not limited to, evaluating whether a defendant is a “danger to the community” for the purpose of granting or denying bail; assisting attorneys in assessing their client, or another party, in custody disputes or domestic violence injunctions; assisting attorneys in understanding psychological evaluations of another psychologist; administering personality and intelligence assessments; and participating in guardianship decisions.

The moral that can be gleaned from Dr. Haber’s seminar is that any writer dealing with abnormal psychology should make a few friends in the psychological community.

The Agent’s View


Your Career as a Writer

Donald Maas,Literary Agent

Donald Maas started his seminar by asking each person in his audience to jot down on a piece of paper their favorite mystery writer, the most important ingredient in a mystery, and the single most important reason for buying a book. Then he asked the audience to raise their hands the most common reasons for purchasing a book, such as “display in a bookstore,” “book cover,” “author,” “reviews,” “price of the book,” “who agented the book,” “who edited the book,” “part of a series,” “saw the author in a book tour.” An overwhelming number of participants indicated that they purchased most books because of the author.

His point? “Authors make careers, not agents.”

Mr. Maas complains that he receives endless calls from authors complaining that their publisher isn’t spending enough to push their book; the bookstores aren’t giving the book enough display, and the agent isn’t pressing hard enough. “Never did I have an author call up and say, ‘My series is doing terrible. Boy do I wish I had written my last book better.’” And out of this thinking comes Mr. Maas’ second premise, “Writing makes series successful, not publishers.”

If you are writing in the mystery or commercial fiction markets, remember the rather obvious benefits of writing a series. A series builds name identification and momentum.

If you are interested in mastering the puzzle plot, try the following schematic.




Character A

Character B

Character C

Think of the most compelling clues for that specific crime. “If you create clues, you create mystery.” Mr. Maas reminded us that the detectives we like are eccentric, and have a strong point of view. Finally, he suggests that the great mystery writer will go “all the way.” “There’s a moment when somewhere we peer into the heart of darkness. We do not want to touch the moment we are dealing with : it is that bleak.”

Copyright, Authorlink! 1998