Mysterium Conference Draws Writers, Readers

Stickers in the form of "bloody" handprints welcomed campus guests to Mysterium, the conference for mystery writers and readers.

Plastic window stickers in the form of bloody handprints welcomed campus guests to Mysterium, the conference for mystery writers and readers.

Bloody handprints smeared the glass doors to Usdan, the clue to Mysterium attendees that they had arrived at the scene of their conference on Oct. 8. Red footprints led them to the sign-in table and the schedule, which boasted a cohort of award-winning mystery writers and those in publishing—including Wesleyan alumni.

Hosted by Amy Bloom ’75, the Shapiro-Silverberg Professor of Creative Writing at Wesleyan, the day-long event opened with a keynote with Laura Lippman—a New York Times bestselling author of detective fiction including the Tess Monaghan series—and brought alumni, parents, as well as mystery writers and readers to campus for panel discussions, book signings, master classes and networking.

“A great mystery is a frigate,” said Bloom, introducing the conference and Lippman. “It takes you away. Great ones do it with extraordinary vision, extraordinary language. A mystery is the only literary form that lulls, compels, intrigues and gratifies you.” She praised Lippman for her capacity to illuminate characters—and to follow the thread of the story in a way that “never seems formulaic.”

Amy Bloom, the Shapiro-Silverberg Professor of Creative Writing at Wesleyan (left), and award-winning mystery author Laura Lippman open Mysterium, a day-long conference for mystery writers, with a keynote conversation.

At left, Amy Bloom, the Shapiro-Silverberg Professor of Creative Writing at Wesleyan and award-winning mystery author Laura Lippman open Mysterium, a day-long conference for mystery writers, with a keynote conversation.

Lippman described her writing process as beginning with a character, a situation, and a secret. “In a crime novel, anything can happen on page one. The options narrow as the story goes along.” The question she asks herself is, “Who will Tess Monaghan be at the end of the novel?”

Later, different panels discussed “cozy mysteries”—a genre most likely to feature a main character not a professional investigator and ensconsed in a community—as well as “noir novels”—those in which the good are not likely to find redemption, nor are the guilty to be punished. Additionally, publishers, publicists and writers gathered for a panel highlighting the process of getting one’s manuscript onto bookshelves and into peoples’ hands.

Gabriel Cohen ’92 and Peter Blauner ’82 commented on their friendship—since frosh year in the same dorm; their similar path to detective fiction—initially through journalism; and the fact that each one was recognized by the Edgar Awards. Blauner researched his book, Slow Motion Riot, by serving as a probation officer for six months. Cohen, also, noted that a memoir by a detective was key to his development in the genre. “I was not influenced by Raymond Chandler,” he said, “but instead, by a memoir by real homicide detective, which made me think about how seeing dead bodies every day would affect me.”

Johnny Temple ’88, publisher and editor-in-chief of Akashic Books, spoke on the noir panel, noted that "crime novels deal with social and political issues. The theme of moral ambiguitey. Temple won the 2013 Ellery Queen Award and has published an extensive collection of noir fiction. linked to place

At left, Johnny Temple ’88, publisher and editor-in-chief of Akashic Books, spoke on the noir panel. “Crime novels deal with social and political issues,” he noted. “The theme of moral ambiguity fits well here.” Temple won the 2013 Ellery Queen Award and has published an extensive collection of noir fiction set in different locales.

Peter Blauner ’82 (left) and Gabriel Cohen ’82 agreed that details were key in creating vivid detective novels. Blauner currently writes for Blue Bloods, the television show about a New York City police family; Cohen Cohen teaches writing at the Pratt Institute and has taught at NYU and the Center for Fiction’s Crime Fiction Academy.

At left, Peter Blauner ’82 and Gabriel Cohen ’82 agreed that details were key in creating vivid detective novels. Blauner currently writes for Blue Bloods, the television show about a New York City police family; Cohen teaches writing at the Pratt Institute and has taught at NYU and the Center for Fiction’s Crime Fiction Academy.

Vicky Bijur ’75, second from right, runs the Vicky Bijur Literary Agency, which she started in 1988, and has served as president of the AAR (Association of Authors’ Representatives).

Vicky Bijur ’75, second from right, runs the Vicky Bijur Literary Agency, which she started in 1988, and has served as president of the Association of Authors’ Representatives. (Photos by Cynthia Rockwell)