Thursday, March 3, 2011
Seated to my Right
By Deborah Sharp
Sleuthfest starts today in south Florida, my home turf. I hope I seem friendly and welcoming to the authors and conventioneers who travel here from elsewhere. I don't want to be like those obnoxious surfers in California, who begrudge outsiders the chance to catch a single wave. ''Locals Rule,'' is their credo. That sentiment resides in other cliques besides surfers, though.
Writers, for instance.
How many of you have felt excluded by the more experienced hands at mystery conferences? Felt like everyone was in the know but you? Maybe it's my own insecurity, but that was how I felt -- a lot -- in the first year or two I spent as an author. It took me at least that long to learn the secret handshake. (Note to the newbies: That's a figure of speech. There is no secret handshake. Or, maybe there is, and they're STILL keeping it from me.)
This weekend, I'll be on a panel at Sleuthfest. Panels can be either a welcoming or an exclusionary experience, depending:
Is the moderator a dear friend of a panel hog, and loathe to rein him in?
Is everyone on the panel -- except you -- from a similar genre, making you the ugly cousin?
Is the panel led by a graduate of the Narcissistic School of Moderating, who believes this session should rightfully be her 50 minutes of fame?
Vicki Doudera, a fellow Midnight Ink author, made a great point recently about panel etiquette on our Yahoo group. Panelists, Vicki wrote, should try to reference other writers instead of acting like they're the only people on Earth who ever wrote a book. They shouldn't bogart the microphone; and they should answer the questions they're asked without using every one as a springboard to blatant self-promotion. Vicki didn't say why she felt moved to post tips for polite panelists, but I'd bet she's been seated somewhere on a Panel from Hell. I know I have. Here are a few of my most-hated panel types. No names, of course, to protect the guilty:
The Unprepared Moderator. Really? You didn't even take 10 minutes to Google me? I don't expect you to read all the panelists' books, but at least have a clue about what we write seeing as how you're supposed to be leading the discussion.
The Name-Dropping Panelist. I was once empaneled next to an author who made much of a friendship with a famous country music star. Each topic raised was another opportunity to brag about how much this certain star LOVED the author's books; how the star couldn't wait to make them into movies; how the star called just to chat about how FABULOUS these books are. Okay, we get it. You're somebody.
The Time-Sucker. You've been there, right? As an author, or maybe in the audience. Tapping your fingers and seething as one panelist goes on and on and on . . . Yeah, you're terrific. One of a kind. Now, stop being a baby and let somebody else grab a hold of that microphone.
How about you? What's your worst panel experience ever? Or, is it just me, and all the panels you've seen or been seated on have been dreams.