Conference dissects appeal of crime & mystery literature
They returned to the scene of the crime Sunday — mystery fans, that is — who converged for the second annual CrimeCONN at the Westport Library.
CrimeCONN, an all-day conference for mystery writers, investigators and fans, featured speaker panels of authors and forensic experts, who shared their insights into mysteries, both real and imagined.
“This is our second one and it seems to be getting bigger,” said Kelle Ruden, the library’s coordinator of adult programming. The conference was co-sponsored by the Mystery Writers of America, New York chapter.
Mystery writers talked about their craft, what motivates their interest in the field and what inspires their ideas.
“I really came at it by way of high-quality detective fiction, from more of a literary standpoint,” said Chris Knopf, author of “Dead Anyway” and “Cop Job,” listing among his influences the legendary authors Dashell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. “I’ve been writing my whole life.”
“I’ve been doing crime fiction a really long time,” said David Handler, whose many books include a series about the couple Mitch Berger and Desiree Mitry, the eleventh of which is scheduled to be published in February. He has also done a number of books about a character named Stewart Hoag, who, like Handler, worked as a celebrity ghostwriter.
“I’ve always followed the headlines,” he said, having also worked in journalism for many years, “so whatever is going on around me has a definite impact on what I’m doing.”
But rather than take ideas directly from the headlines, Handler said he’ll more often watch for trends. “I’ll collect clippings and keep a file on hand, (and) then if a character I’m creating matches up with that trend, then presto! They’ll come together.”
“We get so much news now and we have so much content coming to us … I think it’s more and more of a challenge to write things that are going to pull people away from that,” said Joe Meyers, Hearst Connecticut Media entertainment columnist, who led a panel discussion called Ripped from the Headlines, which focused on the crossroads between reality and fiction.
“I definitely follow the big celebrity events,” Handler said, noting that Woody Allen’s notorious custody battle and marriage to his adopted daughter turned out to be fodder for a story.
“More often than not, I do start with something that did happen,” he said.
“I don’t rip from the headlines,” said author Parnell Hall, who created both the Stanley Hastings and the Puzzle Lady Crossword Puzzle Mysteries series. “I write about what I know. I’m on this panel by mistake,” he joked.
For M. William Phelps, author of dozens of true crime books and creator of the “Dark Minds” television series, ideas are rooted in reality, though sorting through events is greater the challenge.
“They’re always sending me ideas,” he said of his producers, fans and contacts, noting that he chooses to pursue only about a fifth of the projects that are presented to him.
Among other issues discussed were trends among readers in the 21st century.
“I’m amazed at the number of readers I’ve talked to lately who said they’ll skip to the end (of a mystery) because they don’t have the patience to read,” Meyers said.
“The books I’ve been doing lately are 100 pages shorter because people don’t want to invest as much time,” said Handler.
Phelps said his publisher tells him specifically to keep booksshorter so that four, instead of three volumes, can fit in the rack at an airport bookstore.
“It’s strictly a sales issue,” he said.
Fans were pleased with the presentations.
“I actually studied forensics at school,” said Jana Goldenberg of Weston, “but I do read a lot of mysteries.”
She said both the authors and the criminal experts in attendance offered unique insights.