Events, Schmevents: aka “Yes, we’re open to suggestions”

by Michelle Gagnon

The Illustrious MWA Board

As of last weekend, I’m the newly minted president of the Northern California MWA chapter (please, hold your applause). On the plus side, I was privileged to spend a few days in New York with such luminaries as Charlaine Harris, Greg Herren, Bill Cameron, Harley Jane Kozak, and Jess Lourey; aka, the current MWA board.
However, I also suddenly find myself in charge of organizing between 6-8 events this year that will appeal to both crime fiction writers and fans of their work. And let’s just say that all things considered, I’m not much of a planner. Heck, I never even plot out my books.

So frankly, I’m at a bit of a loss. I spent the past few days trying to remember all the local MWA meetings that I’ve attended–and honestly, only a few stick out in my mind (which is probably my fault. I also have a lot of difficulty remembering my parents’ birthdays, and when the cat’s teeth are supposed to be brushed. Which lately has turned out to be: pretty much never. Sorry, Mr. Slippers. I’m sure that someday soon they’ll invent feline dentures.)

Ted Kaczynski

The most memorable meeting for me happened a few years ago, when a retired FBI agent who had been on the Unabomber case from the beginning outlined the entire manhunt for us in the world’s most dramatic and fascinating Powerpoint presentation. In the end, he was also one of the three agents who entered the cabin to arrest Ted Kaczynski. His talk went on for hours, yet I could have sat through it all over again immediately after it ended.

We’ve also done “State of the Industry” panels, featuring an agent, librarian, editor, and bookseller. They always offer frank (and occasionally terrifying) insights into…you guessed it…the state of the publishing industry. That will be a repeat this year for sure.

DO NOT eat here. Seriously.

I’d like to shake things up a bit, though. Maybe have some “field trip” meetings–I have an in with the SFPD Bomb Squad, so possibly a tour of their facility. Or a trip to the morgue (which ironically, former chapter meetings almost sent me to, twice.  For years we held meetings at John’s Grill, which has a really cool Maltese Falcon display, and a really terrible kitchen. I contracted food poisoning not once, but twice, during chapter luncheons. And the second time I had only consumed coffee. I still cringe when I remember their club sandwich.)

But who better to ask than the vast community of mystery readers and writers here? In the interest of that, I’m turning the matter over to you. What are the most memorable local mystery events you’ve attended, author appearances aside? And what kind of dream events do you wish your chapter would hold? (within reason, of course. I’m pretty sure my budget won’t allow for a Bruce Springsteen performance, or anything in that range). Ideally, I want to achieve a balance, so that they’re not all focused on the writing craft. I’d also like to continue avoiding food poisoning, if possible.

15 thoughts on “Events, Schmevents: aka “Yes, we’re open to suggestions”

  1. For 5 years, I was program director for my local writing chapter when I lived in OK. We put together some amazing monthly programs, but two come to mind most. We had a former profiler (now professor) who had interviewed Charles Manson. Dynamic speaker. We also organized a fun field trip. A ghost hunt at night, in Oct, our paranormal appreciation month. Had a blast. Field trips are great.

    We also had an annual retreat with a program agenda that had multiple speakers or a plotting retreat. Great way to get to know the other members, away from the daily routine.

  2. I enjoyed a meeting with a panel of author who wrote paranormal mysteries. One was a woman who worked with the police as a psychic who talked to dead people. Hearing her speak about her experiences was fascinating. And I’m always up for discussions on marketing, including social networking. I just gave a talk on this subject myself at our local FRW meeting. Forensic specialists are always a draw at MWA events. FRW is having a military man come next month to share his experiences.

  3. First of all, congratulations Madam President. Obviously, we must all give you a great deal more respect. 🙂 One event from the past that stands out for me was actually part of SleuthFest many years ago–a field trip to a gun range where we had the opportunity to fire a number of hand guns and rifles commonly used in crime novels. For many authors who had written about guns in their books but never fired one, it was a big eye-opener starting with the fact that guns are LOUD!

  4. Congrats and condolences. (I’ve been in your programming shoes!)

    I second Joe’s comment about the gun range trip at SleuthFest. Not being a gun person, it was eye-opening. (I still get a lot of mileage at cocktail parties talking about all the types of guns I’ve fired) and one of the guys in charge still helps us with our books.

    As for John’s: For a sec I got it mixed up with the Tadich Grill, which I never miss when I am in SF. There’s something quite sinister about your damn COFFEE being poisoned.

  5. I’m on the east coast, so I’d love to do a field trip to Quantico. So that might be along the lines of your Bomb Squad idea (which I think is a great one). I also think talking to a local precinct/district about multiple officers taking members on a ride-along might be interesting, though I have no idea if the cops would allow for that or not. Maybe a mini-con where 2-3 local law enforcement divisions might send someone over for a 20-30 minute presentation each (FD Arson investigator, local detective, and SORT/SWAT member, or Forensic specialist, for example?). I also second Joe’s gun range suggestion. You’d be amazed how many people want to write gun stories and have no idea what one feels like.

    That’s about all I got off the top of my head, but I’d be thrilled to do any of those if I was in your local chapter.

  6. I live in Canada. Northern Canada. Not a lot happening up here. We don’t have ‘chapters’. Hell, not even the bookstore. We do have a Coles but I have more books on my bedside table.

    I would give an appendage to be able to attend any of the workshops mentioned above. I have no experience with guns, poison or morgues. I have to depend on the internet and other authors.

    If I should happen to win just enough money to attend one out-of-town event (and I sincerely would give up my library card for a month for one week in California), I would go to the event like the one Ms. Gagnon described above; to listen to an agent of the F.B.I. talk about a real case. I subscribe to the F.B.I. newsletter and…well, never mind. This is the part where my friends tell me I’m scaring them.

    So I’ll rein in my enthusiasm for the moment and just answer the question. Number one choice would be he F.B.I. guy; second would be to fire a real gun. We seem to only have shotguns up here. If attacked by marauding moose, we’re safe.

  7. While not always considered part of the mystery/crime writing thought process, one thing that may be interesting is to have a demo (preferrably with audience volunteers) of either vertical or swift water rescue with paramedics or wilderness EMS. Could give a good reality marker point of just how much physical effort and equipment it takes to pull a body (live or not) off the side of a cliff, or out of moving water, etc. Always fun to get folks tied up in rappelling harnesses or stepping into freezing cold water to rescue a mannequin.

    Also I’d consider a visit to a swat ‘shoot house’ that can be a real eye opener to witness a live assault or hostage rescue. Alternatively, its 10x more fun to have one of those swat guys, or a military unit, set up a shoot house and have the conference participants run through and do the assault with air soft or paintball guns. Few things are as physically exhausting (not to mention terrifying) as a running gun battle.

  8. Yes on all of the above. Another rich field to mine is the local Emergency Management offices. I was at a seminar yesterday that discussed what the response would be to an agro-terrorist attack.

    Plot bunnies swarmed immediately. However, I’m almost afraid to write them up because of how easy it would be to make the novel into reality.

    Things have changed a lot since Katrina and someone speaking on what the response to an earthquake, or tornado, or terrorist attack would be these days is a nice tang of realism.

    If you ask nice, they might even set up a small tabletop exercise for a group. You all make the decisions.

    And Springsteen is like black, never goes out of style and is always a good choice.


  9. And if you ever need large and in charge up close photos of what a tornado leaves behind, email me or message me through FB. I can haz them (small charge for printing and mailing.) And I haven’t forgotten my promise on the flu pandemic plans, real life got in the way.


  10. Though not really on the murder theme, a good idea might be to have an author who’s published traditionally, one who’s published with a printer on demand publisher, one with a vanity press and another who self published sit on a panel. They could discuss the advantages and disadvantages of their choices. Writers in our FWA meetings always have questions about publishers.

  11. Amazing suggestions, everyone! Much food for thought- I really appreciate the input. My hope is also to both live stream events (where that’s possible- probably not in the mock SWAT house, I’m guessing) and offer podcasts on the members only section of our site. My chapter stretches all the way up to the Oregon border and across Nevada (excepting Vegas), so unfortunately many of our members can’t attend meetings in person.

  12. In and ideal situation where several members, or just board members and/or authors, could get together, I think it would be fun to do your own version of a mystery dinner. It could be an actual dinner or it could be a staged event outdoors somewhere where the board members/authors are the main characters. You could record it or stream it live and see who can figure out whodunit. A little more work (or a lot) on the planner’s part though.

Comments are closed.