Magna 2014 Has Left the Building

I manned the Midwest Mystery Writers of America table for a while, with the able assistance of E.A. Poe

I returned last night from Magna Cum Murder, a mystery conference held in Indianapolis, IN at the beautiful Columbia Club. One can safely say that a good time was had by all, and the organizers, led by the indefatigable Kathryn Kennison  do a great job of making everyone feel at home.

Since I've attended many Magnas, I saw lots of authors I've chatted with, dined with, or sat on panels with in the past, either at Magna or at other cons. Molly MacRae, Sarah Wisseman, Sharan Newman, Tony Perona, Albert Bell, Dan (D.E.) Johnson, John Desjarlais, Monica Ferris, Ann Margaret Lewis, Carla Norton, Elaine Orr, Carol Preflatish, Lori Rader-Day, and Brenda Robertson Stewart. Among those authors you will find a wide array of mysteries, from woo-woo to cozy to deadly serious.

What does one do at a mystery con? If you're an author, you sit on panels and discuss why you write, how you write, and what you write. My first panel was on historical novels and the research involved in writing them. It's a delicate balancing act, keeping the story interesting but making sure you don't "fudge" history, as Sharan termed it. The panelists agreed it's a bad thing to stretch history too far. The second panel discussed writing paranormals, and there the panelists agreed that exploring paranormal things makes for interesting writing, but we couldn't agree on whether we actually believe the things we write about are real. (I was a no vote on the whole ghost question, but others were pretty sure they exist. It was a perfect discussion for a date so close to Halloween.
Tony Perona, who moderated the "woo-woo" panel

Readers come to cons to meet authors they like, find new authors, and talk about the mystery genre. I'm always surprised and pleased at the intelligent questions we get, such as one reader who asked concerning paranormal writing, "Should the paranormal element in the book lead to the solving of the crime?" We discussed that for a while. On one hand, if the paranormal doesn't help with the solution, then why is it in the book? On the other hand, is it "fair" to have an element in the story that allows some characters an advantage over others? It was a great question, proving that (unlike many sophomores I used to know) the listeners were digesting the information and actively involved with the topic.

I can't leave the subject of Magna without presenting Luci Zahray and her able assistant, P.J. Coldren. P.J. is a pharmacy tech who reviews mysteries for several different entities. Luci is a pharmacist from Texas who attends mystery cons to help authors poison people (figuratively, of course). She is extremely well-versed in toxic substances (we call her the Poison Lady) and she can scare you to death as easily as she could poison you, just by telling you what can kill you. A couple of the poisons she spoke on this time were saw palmetto and nicotine. Many don't realize how toxic these substances are, and she is horrified (as am I, now that I know) how easily they are bought and how casually they're used. She urged people who feel they must take supplements like saw palmetto to tell their doctors about it. Though it (and other supplements aren't classified by the FDA as drugs, they are not safe in some cases and are totally unregulated, so you don't know the dose you're getting or the quality of it. Saw palmetto, for example, can cause massive bleeding after surgery. If the doctors don't know what the reason is, they might not be able to stop it in time to save a person's life.

Molly MacRae, whose yarn shop mysteries include a depressed ghost
There. I learned some things I didn't know. I saw people I enjoy seeing. I talked a little about my books to people who might not have heard of me before. And I found a new author to read, not for myself, but for John (who likes thrillers). The weather was lovely, I had the company of the easy-to-travel-with Connie Doherty on the road trip. All in all, a great weekend. I recommend it for mystery lovers and wanna be mystery writers--next October.


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