My First Time at the Suffolk Mystery Authors Festival

Banner from Suffolk Mystery Authors Festival,
Suffolk Mystery Authors Festival

I had to leave home at 8:30 a.m. and didn’t get home till nearly 10:00 p.m. But it was definitely worth the time! The commute was a reconnect with Heather Weidner and Maggie King. Lots of conversation about everything from work life to pets.

The Center for Cultural Arts is attractive—white columns, brick walkway, garden sculptures. On the way in and out, I was too encumbered to take pictures. Oh, sigh. Opportunity lost.

Suffolk Mystery Authors Festival table with Virginia is For Mysteries, Heather Weidner, Vivian Lawry, MARIA HUDGINS, TERESA INGE,
Our dark, sinister location at Suffolk Mystery Authors Festival – (left to right) Maria Hudgins, Vivian Lawry, Teresa Inge, Heather Weidner

Our table location—just inside the door, first on the right—was a blessing and a curse. The blessing was that everyone entering passed our table first, all adhering to the U.S custom of keeping to the right. The curse was that we were backed by a bank of windows, and all my photos there are dark and sinister looking. Heather got better pictures.

But I did get seeable pictures of Mary Miley, Fiona Quinn, and Maggie King. Mary Miley, former president of the Central Virginia Chapter of Sisters in Crime, is the author of the Roaring Twenties mystery series. Two are published (The Impersonator, winner of the Mystery Writers of America Best First Crime Novel award, and its sequel, Silent Murders.) Two more in the series are forthcoming.

Mary Miley
Mary Miley

Maggie King is author of Murder in the Book Group. Fiona Quinn is the author of the Lynx series: Weakest Lynx, Missing Lynx, Chain Lynx, and co-author with John Dolan of Chaos is Come Again.

Fiona Quinn and Maggie King
Fiona Quinn and Maggie King

Our panel presentation on getting published was scheduled for 5:00—the last hour of the festival—and I was a bit skeptical. But the room was packed! We talked about everything from traditional to DIY, short stories to novels, pen names to web presence. The attendees were engaged, asked lots of questions, no one left, and when the 6:00 end time arrived, the security guard had to clear the room because he was closing the building. What a high!

Advice for book signings: Be Prepared. Never go to a book signing with only one pen!

photo of pens on table at Suffolk Mystery Authors Festival
Never be without a pen

Read More About the Suffolk Mystery Authors Festival




Why Writers Need Empathy

Why Writers Need Empathy

The interview with Fiona Quinn started me thinking about the myriad ways that psychology and writing intersect. In particular, I’m now thinking about empathy—the feeling that you understand and share another’s experiences and emotions; the ability to share feelings. Psychology long assumed that empathy is a purely human emotion, though there are many who would disagree (witness observational studies of animals who form bonds of what appear to be friendship across species).

In any event, when a writer chooses a point of view character s/he is choosing the character with whom the reader is to identify. When done well, the reader sees the world through this POV character’s eyes and heart, understands the driving motives, and cheers for a positive outcome for that character. Perhaps empathy is a characteristic one either has or not. But (in my opinion) all good writers must have it. If you don’t care, if you don’t laugh or cry, why would the reader?

Thrill Writers, The Company You Keep - Does Your Character Act "Out of Character" in a Group Dynamic?

Rational and Irrational Behavior in Your Characters: Guest Post on Thrill Writers

Thrill Writers, Rational and Irrational Behavior in Your Characters: Info for Writers with Dr. Vivian Lawry
I was thrilled to do an on-line interview with Fiona Quinn for her blog, Thrill Writing. Here’s a snippet from “Rational and Irrational Behavior in Your Characters,” a post I hope will give insight into writing believable characters. You can read the full interview at Fiona’s blog.

Today, Vivian,  we are going to wrestle with a complex part of the human psyche. In our plots, we try to make the story conform to what a rational person would do, but the truth is that given the right circumstances, motivation, and perception, anyone is capable of anything. Would you help us to understand this concept?

Vivian – 
Circumstances refers to options and constraints.
Motivation refers to what drives the person.
Perception is what the person thinks is going on.

All of these offer writers lots of room for making anything happen—believably.

Fiona – 
Can you describe the famous Zimbardo prison experiment to give context?

Vivian – 
The Zimbardo prison experiment is classic! Here’s a quick and dirty overview that hits the highpoints:

The basic question was whether ordinary people would/could be as cruel as Nazi concentration camp guards, or whether the Nazis were truly aberrant.

So they advertised in newspapers around Palo Alto, CA, for people to participate in a paid psychological study. Volunteers were screened with all the psychological tests they could think of to make sure they were healthy, stable personalities. Then they were RANDOMLY assigned to be either prisoners or guards. The guards were issued uniforms and reflecting sunglasses.

The prisoners–all men– were picked up from their homes by real police cars, sirens blasting, handcuffed, and taken to the “jail”, which had been created in the basement of a campus building. They were stripped of their street clothes and issued night-shirt type garments, flip-flops for shoes, and stockings on their heads to simulate a shaved head. The prisoners were given no directions (as far as I recall).

The guards–also all men–were told to maintain order.

In a matter of days the prisoners were depressed, plotting a break-out, weeping, and compliant with the guards. The guards, for no apparent reason, had become controlling and abusive. They told the prisoners to stand in line and count-off repeatedly, or do push-ups till they collapsed. One guard made them do push-ups while pressing his foot on their backs. The experimenters terminated the experiment early. And I should mention that everyone involved got counseling and so forth after. But the strength of this work is demonstrating the incredible power of circumstances in shaping behavior. These two groups of people differed only in which circumstance they were randomly assigned to.

Read my full interview here.

Thank you, Fiona! And thank you for reading.