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Local mystery writers’ conference features award-winning author


Sally Handley, moderator; Victoria Gilbert; Dorothy St. James; J.R. Ripley aka Marie Celine; and Maggie Toussaint in an afternoon panel presentation for writers of cozy mysteries.

Sally Handley, moderator; Victoria Gilbert; Dorothy St. James; J.R. Ripley aka Marie Celine; and Maggie Toussaint in an afternoon panel presentation for writers of cozy mysteries.

The Palmetto Chapter of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America, Southeastern Chapter hosted “Mystery in the Midlands” at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church Saturday, June 22. The conference featured panel discussions and lectures presented by published authors of mystery novels and short stories. Topics discussed included choosing a setting and point of view, the road to publication, and the creative writing process.

Conference attendees included members of chapters from South Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee. It was a time to share ideas and lessons learned from those who have committed to developing careers as published mystery writers.

The keynote speaker was Nancy Pickard, an award-winning author who has published 18 mystery novels, dozens of short stories, and a nonfiction book co-authored with psychologist, Lynn Lott, called The Seven Steps on the Writer’s Path: The Journey from Frustration to Fulfillment. Pickard has received numerous awards for mystery writers. They include Agatha Awards from the Malice Domestic Mystery Convention, Anthony Awards from the Bouchercon Mystery Convention, Edgar Awards from the Mystery Writers of America, Shamus Award from the Private Eye Writers of America, the Macavity Award from the Mystery Readers International, the Mary Higgins Clark Award, and the Thorpe Menn Award from the American Association of University Women, Kansas City, Kansas.

Nancy Pickard, keynote speaker for Mystery in the Midlands.

Nancy Pickard, keynote speaker for Mystery in the Midlands.

Her most recent book, The Scent of Rain and Lightning, a New York Times best-selling novel, was produced on film and shown in film festivals across the nation.

Seven Steps, coauthored with psychologist Lynn Lott, is a book for writers and aspiring writers.

The book describes the emotional journey all writers face as part of the creative process. The seven steps identified by the authors are Unhappiness, Wanting, Commitment, Wavering, Letting Go, Immersion, and Fulfillment.

Pickard shared her own path to find creative fulfillment as a writer. She wrote many of her novels and short stories in the setting of her home state, Kansas.

She said, however, at some point she decided she needed to take steps in her life to grow as a writer. She quit her job as a journalist, left her marriage, sold everything she had, and moved to Charleston, S.C., with everything she owned in her car. She admits it was a courageous move.

Pickard says she loves living in Charleston and has had the opportunity to focus more on her writing and on understanding her own creative process. She said “writers go through dead times and really hard times.” Some of the emotions writers feel are anger, sadness, depression, and helplessness. Pickard says in these times, writers have to pay attention to the lessons they are learning.

She advised the members of the audience to learn their “triggers.” A good exercise is to read the newspaper and notice the headlines and topics that create an emotional reaction. This shows you what you are passionate about and what ideas and topics will go well with your creative process.

Pickard also advised writers to delve into areas of mystery writing they tend to shy away from. She admits at first she was not interested in writing about the dark side of mystery such as the evil villain or describing horrific crime scenes. However, she taught herself how to expand her writing skills to accommodate more readers of mystery novels.

Pickard thinks often of times in her life when she has overcome great fears. She became a pilot after an immense fear of flying, and she learned how to ski by pressing through her fears and “leaning forward not backward” as she traveled down the ski slope. She says she continues to grow in her life though this type of reflection.

Pickard says one of her strengths is that she is continually working on her craft, even after winning numerous awards and demonstrating a high level of productivity for a writer.

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