Nicola Does Dedham! New England Crimebake and research trip to Boston

Boston Skyline by Dennis Forgione. CC BY 2.0.
Boston Skyline by Dennis Forgione. CC BY 2.0.

Crimebake

I returned this week from an adventure in Massachusetts, where I attended the New England Crimebake conference in Dedham and then stayed on in Boston to sightsee and do some research for a couple of days.

Here's a selfie of me in the outfit I had to wear for pretty much the whole conference due to missing luggage!
Here’s a fuzzy selfie of me in the outfit I had to wear for pretty much the whole conference due to missing luggage!

Although Air Canada oversold my flight and lost my luggage for three days,  I can’t say enough good things about Crimebake – the food and service at the hotel were great, and the speakers and sessions were awesome.

Super cute picnic lunch on Day 2 of Crimebake. It's the little things, you know? And thumbs up on providing adequate quantity - I'm a BIG eater for my size.
Super cute picnic lunch on Day 2 of Crimebake. It’s the little things, you know? And thumbs up on providing adequate quantity – I’m a BIG eater for my size.

Some of the topics covered included:

  • investigation tips and techniques from real-life police officers and PIs
  • how to conduct great research interviews (especially useful for aspiring true crime writers!)
  • writing great settings
  • developing a series

and lots more!

There were also sessions on developing your manuscript and query letter/pitch, individual pitch sessions with authors, and round table discussions with various experts.

One of my favourite things about the conference was the mock crime scene that was set up. A retired MA State Police Lieutenant went over the scene with us at the end of the conference and showed us in detail how the clues would be interpreted to catch the criminal. This included really fascinating information about things like blood spatter patterns, canvassing a neighbourhood, and crime scene contamination. Definitely stuff I’ll use in my writing!

Although most writers who attended were more firmly in the “crime writer” category than I am as a romance author, I didn’t see this as a downside. Instead, it gave me a chance to meet lots of writers I wouldn’t otherwise have come into contact with, and I learned things that I wouldn’t have at a romance writers’ conference. If your primary motivation in attending Crimebake is pitching to agents/editors, though, you might want to keep the demographics in mind.

One other major plus about this conference (in my mind at least) – I learned to line dance!

All in all, I had a great time. Schedule and finances permitting, I’ll definitely be back next year.

Boston

Once I left Dedham, I headed in to Boston to sightsee and research the city a bit, since most of my fiction is set in MA and I expect Boston to figure more prominently in my work as I go. Since a picture is worth a thousand words, I took lots!

The lone adventurer.
The lone adventurer.

After the conference, I took the commuter train to Boston and felt very accomplished and adventurous. We don’t have a very sophisticated transit system here in little ol’ Halifax, Nova Scotia (buses only, no trains or subway), so I’m very impressed with myself when I go to a bigger city and manage to find my way around.

My first night in Boston, I just wandered around to get the lay of the land. I checked out the Christian Science Center reflecting pool (no water in it for the winter, but the fountain/courtyard are still beautiful) and then I went to Feneuil Hall to check out the tourist shops and food. I LOVE gift shops and touristy knickknacks with a passion, so it was very difficult to restrain myself, but I managed not to buy any junk I didn’t need.

Christian Science Center courtyard/fountain.
Christian Science Center courtyard/fountain.

 

Feneuil Hall lit up at night. So pretty!
Feneuil Hall lit up at night. So pretty!

One thing that stumped me was the pronunciation of Feneuil Hall. It looks like French pronunciation should apply (sort of like Fen-oi), but apparently you say Fen-you-ell. When I tried to say it to a cab dispatcher for the first time, she actually had no idea what I meant!

Another thing I noticed about Boston is that everyone jaywalks like crazy – you Bostonians are all jaywalkin’ maniacs! No one waits for a light to change, ever. They just go for it and the cars have to stop whether they want to or not. I asked a Bostonian about it and he said it’s because the police don’t give out fines for jaywalking, which I guess makes sense, but I’ve never heard of a jaywalking fine in Halifax and we definitely wait at the crosswalk. I guess we’re just a bunch of scaredycats here!

I also went to the central location of the Boston Public Library – and friends, I was in book-loving heaven. The marble! The old books! That reading room!

Murals and marble at the Boston Public Library.
Murals and marble at the Boston Public Library.
Boston Public Library reading room.
Boston Public Library reading room.
Let me at 'em! Old books at the Boston Public Library.
Let me at ’em! Old books at the Boston Public Library.

Since I’m a huge animal lover, I was really pleased to meet the ginormous grey squirrels that run rampant in the Boston Public Garden. They’re so bold, they scamper right up to you in anticipation of being fed. The owner of the B&B I stayed in was less enthusiastic since they dig in his garden and hide things there, but I thought they were adorable.

Oh, hello there! Thanks for stopping by!
Oh, hello there! Thanks for stopping by!

Another thing Boston has that Halifax doesn’t is an aquarium. I have been to very few aquariums in my life, so the New England Aquarium was pretty thrilling.

(Insider tip, I think they have the best gift shop in Boston. Want a painting made by a seal? This is the place to get it. I didn’t buy one because the price was a bit much, but man, I was tempted).

Finally, I also checked out a bunch of museums, including:

  • the Museum of Natural History at Harvard. (People kept thinking I was a student the whole time I was in Boston. I’ll have you know I am a VERY SERIOUS BUSINESSWOMAN. Yeah, sure…)
  • and the Museum of Fine Arts

Do I have any readers out there who are from Boston? Anyone else ever visited Boston? Let me know what I should see next time I go!

 

New England Crimebake 2014 and tips for getting the most out of writing conferences

Check out the conference website at crimebake.org or facebook.com/crimebake.
Check out the conference website at crimebake.org or facebook.com/crimebake.

I am very, very excited to be attending this year’s New England Crime Bake, a mystery/crime writing conference in Dedham, Massachusetts. It’s an annual conference hosted by the New England chapters of Sisters In Crime and Mystery Writers of America, and celebrates New England crime fiction and non-fiction.

"The Cold Dish", book one of Craig Johnson's Longmire series.
“The Cold Dish”, book one of Craig Johnson’s Longmire series. You can buy the books and assorted tie-in merchandise from Johnson’s website, here.

This year’s guest of honor is Craig Johnson, author of the excellent Longmire mystery series, which you may have also seen on TV. (According to Johnson’s website, Longmire is A&E’s most-watched original drama series of all time).

I have a limited budget to spend on things like workshops and conferences, particularly those that require travel, so why did I choose Crime Bake?

Here are some of the more personal reasons:

  • Most of my projects are set in New England, so the setting and focus of the conference were an obviously good fit. (The decision to set my work in the US rather than Canada, where I live, is a whole ‘nother post for another time, but it is a conscious decision).
  • The cost wasn’t prohibitive, as Massachusetts is reasonably close to the East Coast of Canada.
  • One of my online critique partners is planning to attend, so I’ll finally get to meet her in person.
  • Enrollment is capped at a low number (250), so chances are better that I’ll make real, personal connections with other authors/readers/agents/etc. than at a big, “anonymous” conference (this will be my first writing conference!).

Aside from these logistical pluses, I’ve never been to Boston and am hoping I can make time to check out the city for a couple of days while I’m in the area. My first completed book, Fury’s Kiss, takes place on Cape Cod and in Boston, and while I’ve done extensive research online, there’s nothing like seeing the real thing.

I have also entered the short story contest associated with the conference, the Al Blanchard Award, and have just started work on a novel featuring the same characters, so the conference date in November gives me a deadline to finish it. If all goes according to plan, I’ll be able to talk about the book and pitch it at the conference.

So in the spirit of first-time conference attendance, here are some of my favorite online tips for getting the most out of a writing conference:

From Writer’s Digest, courtesy of Zachary Petit:

  • Arrive early to scope out everything, get settled and make friends.
  • Strike up conversations with faculty (those presenting/organizing), but don’t focus on your projects and what you think they can do for you  – make it your goal to learn from these conversations.
  • Focus on what you want to get out of the conference and come up with a specific goal. This could be something like “learn about police procedure”, or “come up with a better first chapter”.
  • Don’t be afraid to speak up and ask questions.
  • Don’t feel bad about cutting your losses – you don’t have to attend every session if you’re not getting something out of it.

Things to have ready and on-hand at a conference, from Scott Hoffman of Folio Literary Management:

  • A one sentence explanation of your book. For example: “It’s a literary retelling of the Noah’s Ark story.” Or: “It’s about a young Japanese-American man and woman who fall in love on the eve of World War II and are torn apart by the war.” Hoffman cautions us to expect an agent to ask what your book is about when you’re not expecting it.
  • A one-page synopsis of your novel.
  • The first three chapters, double-spaced.
  • A complete manuscript.

Chances are, Hoffman says, no one will ever ask for the chapters or manuscript, but it’s better to have them and not need them than vice versa. (And I have seen author accounts of situations where this sort of preparedness has led to representation and publication).