Sunday, May 4, 2014

Super, Super Sleuthfest! Thank You

Throngs of mystery/crime writers swear by their favorite conferences—Bouchercon, Thrillerfest, Love Is Murder, Left Coast, Writers' Police Academy, New England Crime Bake, Cape Fear Crime Festival, Malice Domestic, Public Safety Writers, Crime Fest UK, to name a few. If you have the time, the wallet and a suitcase—you can now go to a writers' convention/conference just about every week in the year!

A longtime Manhattan colleague, Barbara Bent—member of MWA, RWA, Authors' Guild—shares my favorite conference—that showcases many of the Best and the Brightest Mystery Writers—SLEUTHFEST of the Florida Chapter of Mystery Writers of America.

I invited her to give
Crime Writers' Chronicle some of her thoughts on Sleuthfest 2014, that featured some of America's favorite writers—Hank Phillippi Ryan, Reed Farrel Coleman, Laura Lippman, P. J. Parrish, Chris Grabenstein, Ace Atkins…

Take it away, Barbara—you're on center stage!!!

Thelma Jacqueline Straw

Hank Phillipi Ryan and Me

Sleuthfest, the annual gathering of writers, agents, publishers and others connected with mystery writing and sponsored by the Florida Chapter of MWA is my favorite conference.

For starters it takes place in Florida in late February. Having suffered through nonstop snowstorms in New York this winter, escaping to Florida would be enough to get me there even if there were no program.

The conference is big enough to attract top name speakers—Hank Philippi Ryan, Laura Lippman and Ace Atkins. But, the size is small enough, and the atmosphere casual enough, that all these authors and other luminaries walked among us.

We could stop and talk with them between sessions, buy their books and chitchat over drinks or lunch. In fact, this year, the wonderful conference planners, Sharon Potts and Linda Hengerer, arranged for an editor or agent to sit at every luncheon table.

For people like me, who don’t sit at the VIP table or the table where all the agents and editors usually sat together, this was a great way to have access to people who could help our careers. In the foot in mouth area, I wondered why the woman sitting next to me at lunch was so interested in what I was currently writing. I gave her short shrift until I found out she was Rachel Ekstrom, a charming and enthusiastic agent from The Irene Goodman agency. Then, of course, I tried to be her new best friend!

And despite the advice from my mentor in New York, a wise and wonderful woman who knows the ins and outs of the business, and told me to hand out cards, be friendly, smile and don’t make wise cracks, I managed to insult the designer of the beautiful themed baskets that were being raffled off. Having not won anything in several years, I teased the multi-talented Vicki Landis, (artist, graphic designer and author) that the people who bought their raffle tickets last always won. She assured me that the tickets are mixed thoroughly before the drawing. Embarrassingly enough I won a basket and slunk over to apologize to her. Good thing. She’s a Co-Chair for the conference next year.

But it wasn’t all fun and faux pas. The panel discussions and sessions yielded a lot of helpful hints, both scripted and ad libbed. Chris Grabenstein instructed us “never throw anything away” because he turned some of his saved words into new books! (My collection of saved manuscripts only turns my apartment into a candidate for an episode of “Hoarders: Buried Alive.”)

During the Q&A some interesting tidbits emerged. When asked, several writers mentioned, when stuck in their book, they took a shower. While no one admitted to Writing in the shower, many of them worked out Whole Chapters or Scenes before drying off and getting back to work! (I never thought to ask if you could take your water bill as a writing expense, but I may ask next year.)

Mostly, I was struck by the generosity and honest self-revelation of the guest stars and panelists. All were willing to pose for pictures. Panelists distributed handouts and were willing to answer questions long after their sessions. Even more impressive was the fact presenters would open a vein when speaking. If one of the speakers had lost a publisher or had trouble with a critique group (yes multi-published authors belong to critique groups!) they shared their stories honestly and without reservation.

Roaming the halls, I could always pass by the official table and ask the knowledgeable administrative director Margery Flax any questions about MWA.

I also exchanged pleasantries with Oline Cogdill, well-known reviewer of mystery fiction!

Because I’ve come to this conference for over seven years, I feel as if I know these famous people.

This year, determined to get all I could out of this special conference, I listened carefully at Every Single Session.

So! What did I get out of Sleuthfest!

No matter if you’re Prepublished, Multi-published, a Bestselling Author, writing and selling books is hard work! As someone said, if it were easy, everyone would do it.

I vowed to step up my game.

After all the inspiration and wonderful advice from Hank, Reed, Kristy, Chris, Sharon, Michael, Twist, Laura, Ace and Oline, I came back to New York and finished the book I’ve been working on for one thousand years!!!

Thank you, Sleuthfest geniuses!


Barbara Bent


  1. Terrific for both you and Hank - the mostest of the best... thanks for sharing. I feel I've been there in FL and now with Hank in the Malice crowd! Bless you both! Thelma

    1. Thanks for the opportunity to share. Barbara Bent

  2. Does Barbara Bent have a special pipeline to the powers that be at Malice Domestic ? Not only did Hank win an Agatha, but Chris Grabenstein ( see above ) also won at Malice! And Leslie Budewitz- a favorite of Crime Writer's Chronicle ( having written great blogs for both Bob Knightly and moi on this site!) ... we are all so happy and proud of you... Thelma Straw, beaming for all of you in Manhattan

  3. Barbara, you've done a wonderful job of wrapping up Sleuthfest's assets with both wit and clarity. Your point about it being large enough to draw some of mystery writers biggest names while still being small enough to allow access to all this wonderful talent was spot on! I have to agree. It's one of the very best conferences! And congrats on finishing that book!

    1. Thanks for your comment and encouragement

  4. Kodos to you Barbara for finishing that thousand year old manuscript!!! You did a bang up job of summarizing Sleuthfest!!! Sounds like a great conference!!

    1. Thanks Marge, I appreciate the feedback

  5. While I'm writing like mad, I'm keeping one eye out for the details on next year's conference. Try it! You'll like it!
    Barbara Bent

  6. Barbara, I appreciate your dedication, and the wonderful support and encouragement you're receiving from MWA members. I enjoyed seeing you again at the RWA/NYC brunch. You're getting close...keep writing!

    1. thanks so much Sandra

  7. Barbara Bent is one of the best writers I know! The dozens of stories she wrote for Star magazine in the '90s were exemplary. She deserves to be well published!

  8. Jo, thanks so much for remembering my Star stories. I really appreciate your very nice comments.