The Mystery of Mysteries

Tonight I was part of a panel of mystery writers at the West Portal Library.  I actually instigated the panel when Jess Lourey and I were on the first leg of our Thelma and Louise book tour and hitting all the bookstores and libraries in the Bay Area that we could hit in one day.  Terri and Melissa were the librarians on duty and they were as friendly and receptive as any non-famous author could desire.  They were definitely interested in having a mystery themed panel at the library and I was up for putting one together.  The panel included:

Kelli Stanley, (Nox Dormienda, the first Roman Noir mystery.

Melanie West (Conflict of Interest),

Peter Gessner (The Big Hello and the Long Goodbye);

(this was the biggest jpg of Peter’s cover I could find);

and (bats eyelashes demurely) Yours Truly,

Dana Fredsti (Murder for Hire: The Peruvian Pigeon.)

(I had a BIG jpg on hand)

Dave Fitzgerald was the moderator at my request  – I knew he’d make sure all four of us had equal microphone time and keep things moving along.

See, depending on the personality of the authors, panels can be highly entertaining and informative, or great cures for insomnia.  Sometimes one panelist will monopolize the entire session, the alpha wolf in the author pack, snapping and snarling if another writer dares to get to close to the kill (i.e. audience attention). If they don’t snap and snarl, they just don’t. stop. talking.  And if the moderator can’t take control, things spiral out of control, less extroverted panelists get shut out and no one is happy except the narcissist who wouldn’t shut up.

I am pleased to announce that not only did Dave keep the panel moving after first giving each of us well researched introductions and a chance to say a little bit about ourselves, but all four writers understood the concept of give and take.  No one tried to monopolize the panel, answers to questions sparked comments from the rest of us, and the audience members (some of whom none of us had met before, always exciting) were responsive and had plenty of questions of their own.

The only glitch for me was having it held in the children’s room of the library and the only reason that was an issue was because a ‘bitch’ slipped out during one of my answers (why did you write your mystery in the first place?  Because I worked with a total bitch and wanted to kill her) and there were still a couple of kids squirreled away in a corner with the computers.  I quickly changed my reply rating from PG to G.

So my question to my fellow bloggers and authors: what’s the worst panel experience you’ve ever had?  The best?   And if you’ve never been on one, but attended as an audience member, same questions.  Add to that, what makes a panel enjoyable for you?  And what makes you want to throw bricks at the panelists?

Inquiring minds want to know.

7 thoughts on “The Mystery of Mysteries

  1. My top ingredients for a great panel?
    You and Super-Moderator Dave!! 🙂

    Thanks, sweetie, for a wonderful time … it was fabulous getting to talk about stuff, and it felt like a great dinner conversation (with wine), which is how I like to think a panel should be. 🙂

    It was really fun to meet Rebecca and hear her and Peter’s stories … the only sad thing is now I miss all of you and wish we could do it again tomorrow … and actually with wine! 🙂

    See you soon!


  2. A panel I was on had the subject of Critique Groups, which was fine. The problem came because the panel lasted only about 30 minutes with another 15 for questions — and there were sooooo many of us on the panel, hardly anyone had time to say more than a few words or tell maybe one story.

  3. I haven’t been on panel yet, but I will at Bouchercon this year. It’s about journalists as protagonists in mysteries. But as a panel attendee, the thing that irritates me most is having one person dominate the session. Especially if that person is not all that interesting. People who constantly refer to their own work instead of answering the question are also not much fun.

  4. Great post, Dana! I’m glad the panel went well, and I completely concur with your idea of what makes a bad panel. I’ve been on mediocre and really good panels before. What made the mediocre mediocre is when the moderator, of all people, dominated the panel to speak about her books. The really good ones had humor, where the panelists didn’t take themselves too seriously but also didn’t waste the audience’s time.

  5. “panels can be highly entertaining and informative, or great cures for insomnia. ” – lol, loved that line.

    My only experience on a panel was as a member (I was then President of the local chapter) of the Home Builders Association. I was the “expert” on home improvement for a seminar given to homeowners on how to select a contractor and get your house built or remodeled. It went pretty well, but one older home builder on the panel was one of those who consider remodelors nothing but “kids playing in the corner” – not worthy of an actual Home Builder’s attention. He tried to Alpha the whole panle, but I pulled rank on him and shut the old fart up with some witticisms. Got laughs from the crowd and drew attention back to me and what I had to say (which was where it belonged! lol)

  6. Awww, Kelli, you are too sweet! Well, not TOO sweet. Just sweet enough!

    Teagan, I did a very Homeresque D’oh!. I’m subtle, I am… Heh.

    Helen, panels that are too short and with too many panelists are frustrating. I’m not sure what the point of running a panel that way would be, but I imagine you have a bunch of antsy panelists waiting for their turn to talk.

    LJ, I can’t wait to hear about your panel when you get back from Bouchercon. I’m bummed I’m not going. AH well. Anwyay, I was on a panel very much like the one you describe – one author constantly referred to her own characters and books and never actually answered the question. It was basically an hour promo for her mystery series.

    Jess!!! Heh. You and I have been to the same panels…you’ll have to tell me more about the mediocre one! And I so agree about humor… The audience not only wants to learn, I think they also want to be entertained a bit.

    Thank you, Marvin! 🙂 I wish I’d seen you shut down the old fart!

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