Monday, March 20, 2006

Weekend of Mystery

I spent the past weekend clustered around a conference table with twelve other aspiring mystery writers. Actually I have never aspired to write mystery. In fact, except for a brief affair with Mary Higgins Clark in high school, I have rarely picked mysteries to read (plane rides being exceptions, but even for planes I prefer thrillers).

Yet I have known some teachers who teach mystery reading and writing. High school students love it. I thought: never me. I was just too uncomfortable as a nonreader of mystery. Following an old adage to do the thing that most scares me: I signed up for the weekend seminar at Grub Street to learn all I could about the genre as a teacher, not to mention pick up tips for fiction writing for my own novel-ever-in-progress and short stories.

Here is the class description:

Instructor: Hallie Ephron
2 days, 9AM - 4PM, includes hour for lunch
Fasten your seatbelts for this two-day crash course in mystery writing. Mystery author and Boston Globe crime fiction critic Hallie Ephron will step you through the process of turning a kernel of an idea into an intriguing mystery novel. You'll learn to capitalize on your writing strengths and shore up your weaknesses. The class will address:
* planning, twisting the plot, and constructing a credible surprise ending
* creating a compelling sleuth and a worthy villain
* deceiving and revealing with red herrings and clues
* writing investigation, spine-tingling suspense, and dramatic action
* revising-from sharpening characters, to optimizing pace, to smithing words
* making the reader care
Cost of registration includes a copy of Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel: How to Knock'em Dead with Style.

Ms. Ephron, author of several mysteries (see below), proved to be a dynamic teacher who is both a master of her material and an excellent presenter. We sat there and just absorbed the "bones" of a good mystery. We were given gems of practical tips for writing in the genre (and writing fiction in general), and how to establish oneself in the community.

One of her messages was: writing is not a miracle. It is hard work (massive amounts thereof) coupled with persistence that get published. She encouraged us to believe in our writing. If it is good, it will get published (after much rejection, of course). All in all, she was very positive without being falsely enthusiastic.

I had worried about dedicating an entire weekend to mystery writing. Now I can say that it has given me new ways to see my own novel (for example, how to build good dialogue and suspense). I may also teach mysteries next year armed with my new knowledge and my copy of Ms. Ephron's wonderful craft text: Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel.

Hallie Ephron Mysteries
(writing as G.H.Ephron)


Visit her website at

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