Thursday, May 22, 2008

A Wrier's Writer

James O. Born
This last Saturday I attended the Mystery Writer’s of America (MWA) monthly luncheon. As a member of the board of directors I feel obligated to attend as many meetings as possible and greatly enjoy chatting with the other members. I like the interaction so much that I often hate to have the speaker take up so much time. Like any organized group that meets regularly it is difficult to find a steady stream of interesting speakers that draw in a good crowd.

Some of my lack of interest in certain speakers comes from my career as a cop. It’s hard to sit thorough an hour talk on interviewing when that’s what I do for a living. Or hear a representative from some agency talk about a case that I know and have to keep from rolling my eyes at the over dramatization of a relatively simple case.

But this last Saturday was not like that. The MWA did a great job of landing a speaker who offers great advice, draws a crowd and is a great writer. We hosted the legendary Michael Connelly at the Florida chapter of the MWA and, as I suspected, he held the crowd’s attention, offered invaluable advice and made me proud to be a member of such a venerable organization.

I’m a huge fan of Mr. Connelly’s and feel that, along with Joseph Wambaugh, writes the best crime novels set in Los Angeles. I often cite his novel Echo Park as the best police drama I have ever read. Aside from all that he has not let success go to his head. He is a sincerely sincere guy, and that’s the only way to put it.

He talked about the process of writing, the effort he puts into writing and advice from a diverse source of authors. It was such a nice change from the seemingly never-ending lectures of promotion and publicity. Connelly recognizes that most people really need to work on the craft of writing before they worry about PR.

Some of the great bits of advice included:

Work at least 15 minutes on your novel every day, seven days a week.
Harry Crews

Think about what the bad guy is doing while writing about the good guy.
Stephen Cannell

Make sure that on every page everybody wants something, even if it is only a glass of water.
Kurt Vonnegut Jr

The best advice is from Connelly himself. He advises writer’s to get out and see the world. He believes you can't attain any form of realism unless you spend time talking with cops, seeing different parts of the city and generally not trying to write a novel based on what you know from watching TV.

I felt lucky to attend this weekend’s MWA meeting because of Connelly. I even signed a few copies of his new anthology, The Blue Religion, to which I contributed a story.

What writer do you feel is a good speaker? Is there someone who would convince you to attend a luncheon?


  1. I attended a conference conducted by this writer who claimed to be a cop. Can't remember his name. A guy out of Florida as I recall, had this very nice woman with him who did all his handouts. He was pretty funny, gave some very good writing tips, but the best thing I learned from him was that once you get your book published, don’t turn into a jerk. Be nice to people. Would I attend a luncheon just to hear him speak again? Probably so.

  2. And don't send said authors photos of Steve Spurrier.

    You are too kind. And too pretty to be married to that old cajun.


  3. Great post, thanks. I've seen Mr. Connelly in action, and yeah, he's a great speaker and a really decent human.

    Some of the writers I've enjoyed listening to include: Our Cornelia, Robert Crais, Lee Child, and GM Ford.

    And my pet peeve is authors reading from their books at events. If I'm at the event, I'm already sold on the book, so reading to me isn't going to help. I'd really rather hear about how the book evolved, or have the author share some anecdotes, or ask questions. Just my opinion, though.


  4. Writers who would draw me to a luncheon? More than I can list: You, Mike C, Steven C., D Morrell, J Rollins, D Preston, L Scottoline, T Hillerman, R Liparulo, P Smiley, L Ure, C Read, J Winspear, P Levine, R Levinson, Jon Land, H Graham, Tom Epperson, C Cussler, M Coel, K Follett, S Kaminsky, Rudolfo Anaya, R Barre, R Bradbury, N Barr, S Berry, Andrew Vachss, H Coben, J Connolly, P Robinson, D Lehane, J J Lamb, E V Lustbader, Archer Mayor, J Sandford, M Muller, B Pronzini, Ian Rankin, S Saylor, A Sokoloff, G Lynds, Mark Sullivan, D Swierczynski, R W White, Dana Stabenow, and many, many, many, many more. The above and others in no order whatsoever.

  5. Oh, one more thing: if you want my entire list of favorites plus the previous post in alpha order, just say the word.

    Tom, T.O.

  6. All I needed was the photo you sent me, Tom.

    BTW I'll be seeing Paul Levine tonight at an event.


  7. Wish we could all join you tonight. Be gentle with Paulie.

  8. Another thing Connelly said that I liked was that "the series moves forward, but at the same time it moves backward-- you fill in the character's background as you go."

    Also, "Look for the little details that give the veneer of accuracy to your crime scene."

    Connelly was a great speaker, and the Florida State grad who graciously introduced him (despite Connelly being a Gator) did a pretty good job too.