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Do You Really Need to go to Another Writers’ Conference?

"But you've written and published five books," my husband said. "Do you really need to go to another writers' conference?" It was a fair question. I've been writing for years. I have a shelf full of how-to books covering every possible subject from poisons to punctuation. There are endless online sources and courses. Did I really need to hear "Show, don't tell" and "Write what you know" for the bazillionth time? And on top of that, did I need to fly to Los Angeles to hear it?

Um — yes. Not to compare myself to the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time), Roger Federer, but even he needs a little coaching every once in a while. A different voice. Maybe even saying the same thing but in a slightly different way. Or maybe reaching ears that weren't ready to hear it before the bazillionth time.

Last fall, I attended my first writers conference — as a listener, not a speaker — in years. And it was a revelation. The best conference I'd ever attended. I came away energized and with a whole new way of looking at my work-in-progress, which, truth be told, had not been progressing.

Were the speakers especially brilliant? Did they give attendees the secret handshake? The key to James Patterson-level bestsellerdom? In fairness, many of them were brilliant — James Scott Bell, David Corbett, Paula Munier. But, I already owned some of their books. The message wasn't new, but the delivery was. And maybe I was. And that's the difference between simply reading about what you should do and hearing it from the pros. Being able to ask questions. Get personal feedback.

On Saturday, June 3, our chapter is sponsoring a one-day Fiction Writers' Conference at the Ferguson Library in Stamford, Conn. Connecticut may seem like Canada to some of our members — but hey, aren't people going to Canada for Bouchercon this year? As a Nutmegger, I can tell you it's way closer. A short train ride from Grand Central. And way less expensive. Thanks to our president, Laura Curtis, and the rest of the MWANY board, this all-day event which features 10 sessions with publishers and Edgar, Agatha, Anthony and Black Orchid winners and nominees like Reed Farrel Coleman, Jane Cleland, Charles Salzberg, Lyndsay Faye, Chris Knopf, Dru Ann Love, Tim O'Mara, Jill Fletcher, James Benn, Linda Landrigan, Steve Liskow, Laura K. Curtis, Jason Pinter, and Maggie Topkis is being made available to MWA members for only $65. And that includes a continental breakfast, boxed lunch and wine bar wrap-up. Try getting that in the city 😉

I'll be there, notepad in hand. Listening and not speaking. Except to ask questions and learn from some of the best in the biz.

Check out the full schedule here.

—Rosemary Harris

Rosemary Harris is a former president of MWANY and of Sisters in Crime New England. She is the author of the Dirty Business mystery series featuring amateur sleuth Paula Holliday.

Mug Shot: Alex Segura

Miami native Alex Segura is a novelist and comic book writer. He is the author of the Miami crime novels featuring Pete Fernandez, Silent City, and Down the Darkest Street. The latest Fernandez mystery, Dangerous Ends, was released in April. He has also written a number of comic books, including the best-selling and critically acclaimed Archie Meets Kiss storyline, the "Occupy Riverdale" story, and Archie Meets Ramones. He lives in New York with his wife and son.

Tell us about your latest work.
Down the Darkest Street is the second Pete Fernandez mystery. Pete is a washed-up journalist trying to not only decide if he wants to be a PI, but struggling to stay sober. The book finds Pete paired with a woman he saved in the pages of the first book, Silent Cityas they try to solve a string of murders that are eerily reminiscent of a long-dead serial killer. The books are set in my hometown of Miami. Place is a big part of the books, and I really strive to showcase the Miami that tourists don't see.

When and how do you find time to write?
It's all about pockets of time. I wish I had a more ceremonial writing routine, but with a day job, baby, and life in general, it's really about just maximizing the time as I find it. Though, more often than not, I'm writing after dinner — when the kid is asleep and the house is relatively quiet.

In terms of finding time — it's about desire. I want to finish my book and get on to the next one so I put in the time. I don't believe in writer's block, either. You sit down and write and hope the words are good. If they words are bad, you power through them and hope the next batch is better.

How much and what kinds of marketing do you personally do?
I'm a publicity and marketing person by day, so I think I do more than the average author. I'm active on Twitter and my Facebook author page, I also try to send out a newsletter at least once a month. The biggest piece of advice I'd share is authors should strive to make their "content" as organic as possible. No one wants to read a dozen tweets to your book. Engage with readers. Support other authors. Post regularly. Be yourself. People want to get to know you via social media. If they like that, they might consider buying your book — but it's not a one-for-one trade.

What writers have inspired you?
So many. Lots of the classics, like Chandler, Millar, MacDonald, Thompson, Highsmith. Authors like Lehane, Block, Coleman, Lippman, Pelecanos, Connelly — that made setting prominent and important parts of their series. Noir masters like Megan Abbott and James Ellroy. I read books by these authors and I get motivated. I want to strive for those heights. That's what it's all about, I think.

In five words or less, what advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Write and read a lot.

Year Two: The Leon B. Burstein Scholarship

The MWA-NY Board is pleased to announce that the Leon B. Burstein/MWANY Scholarship for Mystery Writing is returning for a second year. The scholarship, which has been made possible by a donation from one of our members, is designed “to inspire aspiring mystery writers by offering financial support to writers who want to take a specific class, attend a conference, or do specific research as demonstrably necessary to a mystery work they are creating.”

Last year, we awarded Burstein Scholarships to Becky Muth and to Mally Becker.

Becky Muth is an aspiring mystery writer and the wife of a disabled fireman. In her application, she wrote:

"Attending Bouchercon 2015 was a life-changing event. It defined the art of mystery writing for me in ways that books or websites alone couldn't achieve... After returning home from Bouchercon, I put what I learned to use. My local writing group says my voice is stronger and my writing has improved leaps and bounds over my early efforts. I believe attending events like Bouchercon help. In an industry that seems custom-tailored for introverts (like myself), conferences are the one place where mystery enthusiasts - cozy, thriller, anthology, true crime, urban fantasy, whodunit- can connect. These are my people. They get me."

Muth had plans of returning to Bouchercon in 2016, but financial hardship prevented her. Thanks to the Burstein Scholarship, she will continue to pursue her writing goals and will attend Bouchercon in 2017.

Mally Becker is currently attempting to sell her first manuscript. She wrote:

"When I began writing, my goal was simply to write a story. My historical mystery, Neutral Ground, tells the tale of the two unlikeliest spies in the colonies. Rebecca Parcell is a young widow who's too busy fighting for her own freedom to give a fig about the War for Independence. Daniel Alloway is a former prisoner of war who will do whatever it takes to leave the colonies and his nightmares behind. I'm astounded by how much I like the cacophony in my head as these and other characters argue with me about plot and the real villain's identity. I like — and sometimes hate — the challenge of wrestling the right words onto the page. And I appreciate the sweet irony of smiling at neighbors in local grocery store aisles while contemplating whether one of my characters should push another down the stairs. In short, I've discovered that writing mysteries makes me happy. It's as simple as that. Except that it's not."

Now Becker wants to learn more about the craft and the business of writing mysteries. Thanks to the Burstein Scholarship, she will have an opportunity to do just that, by attending CraftFest and PitchFest this summer at ThrillerFest.

At this time, we are pleased to open applications for the second year of the scholarship. We will accept applications until September 22. We expect to award two scholarships on or about November 8.

Aspiring writers can learn more about the Leon B. Burstein Scholarship and can obtain an application by following this link. Questions about the scholarship should be sent to outreach@mwany.org.

Death and Taxes

Even now, with four books published and a fifth, hopefully, on the way, I worry that the IRS will look at my earnings and will decide that writing is really just a hobby. At which point, I will show them my publishing contracts, and after we’ve all had a really good laugh, I’ll explain that just because writing is a business doesn’t mean it’s a good business and then we’ll look at my royalty statements and we’ll all laugh just a little bit more.

It’s all good clean fun until someone finds the dead IRS agent (fictionally dead, my attorney advises me to tell you. Only and always, fictionally dead).

I’m sure I don’t need to remind you that it’s tax season. But if you’ve been waiting for the last minute to file, hoping to find those misplaced receipts documenting your legitimate business expenses, you are officially out of time.

When my first book was released, I realized I should have an author website. It wasn’t fancy (it still isn’t) but it gave readers a place to find me on the internet. It didn’t cost a lot of money and it was a legitimate business expense. At the time, my name was owned by a tax attorney, so I settled for jeffmarkowitzmysteries.com. At some point, the other Jeff Markowitz failed to renew his domain name. I swooped in and bought the domain (jeffmarkowitz.com). I kept jeffmarkowitzmysteries as well. After a couple of years, I decided to let go of the earlier domain name. Experts tell us to purchase all the variations on our name, but I knew I wasn’t famous enough for that to apply to me. I assumed that jeffmarkowitzmysteries.com would disappear into the ether.

But I was wrong. I learned recently that someone else now owns jeffmarkowitzmysteries.com. I’m pretty sure it’s a Japanese private eye. I’m relying on google translate here, but this is what I found on the home page, under the heading, Points when asking detectives to investigate cheating -

What is needed for cheating survey is "evidence of cheating" where you can apply anywhere you go. Although circumstantial evidence that can be gathered around us is also effective, evidence of flirty taking images of cheating sites themselves in images or images does not allow their opponents to escape. Also, by acquiring clear evidence of cheating, it will make it easier for you to claim consolation fees for partner as well as partner.

Obtain clear evidence that both partners and cheating partners can firmly identify. This is the result of a cheating survey asked for detectives. 

That seems clear enough to me. But in an age of frivolous lawsuits, every business needs a disclaimer.

Please be aware that "If you are a detective, you are dealing with a cat naked baby survey." 

(You’re probably wondering what you’ll find if you google “cat naked baby survey.” Before you try, let me remind you that your search history may soon be up for sale. This is just the sort of Google search that might haunt you later.)

Considering the role that money plays in crime, you might think there would be a plethora of great accountancy mysteries.  After all, it’s hard to imagine a more exciting combination than the deadly mixture of sex, drugs, and tax codes. If you’re looking for a good tax accountant murder mystery, let me refer you to the 1941 hardboiled classic: Death and Taxes by David Dodge.

We’ve all heard the advice to write what you know. Dodge knew taxes. In Death and Taxes, James “Whit” Whitney is a CPA whose partner, George MacLeod has been murdered. Whitney realizes he has a responsibility to his dead partner. (In The Maltese Falcon, Sam Spade famously says, “When a man's partner is killed, he's supposed to do something about it. It doesn't make any difference what you thought of him. He was your partner and you're supposed to do something about it.”)

Dodge wrote four mysteries featuring “tax man turned detective” James “Whit” Whitney. (He also wrote To Catch a Thief, but that’s another subject, for another day).

But there are surprisingly few mysteries which take advantage of the inherent sexiness of accountancy. So I’ve been thinking about writing one. In Death and White Diamonds, I introduced a forensic accountant who plays a small role in the story. I think she could carry her own series.

Miss Khan set up shop down the hall and began the tedious process of sorting through the financial records retrieved from Global Co. It had been her experience that police could be careless when they were logging in financial evidence. After all, most cops couldn’t tell the difference between a revenue statement and a trial balance. Before she began a forensic analysis, she made it a rule to go back through every piece of evidence, to make sure that everything is accounted for properly. She would never again allow a simple police error to embarrass her later at trial. And she would never again complicate that error by sleeping with the officer during the course of the investigation. She had been asked that question once, during cross-examination, and she would never put herself in that position again.

Detectives Johnson and McGowan seemed to Miss Khan to be capable of simple police error. Her face suddenly red hot, Miss Khan realized that she was capable of falling into bed with Detective McGowan.

Perhaps, Miss Khan told herself, the case will be settled out of court.

—Jeff Markowitz

Jeff Markowitz is a member of the MWA-NY board. You can usually find him at his computer at 5:30 in the morning, plotting someone's murder.

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