The subject of conventions has come up more than once on the ‘Rati, but some are so special they deserve a post of their own.
Enter Murder in the Magic City.
Each year, in early February, Margaret Fenton and the Southern Sisters in Birmingham, Alabama host this one-day event at the Homewood Library. It consists of four sequential panels, a lunch, and a talk by the Guest of Honor. Sounds simple, huh?
The next day, authors caravan to Wetumpka, Alabama for Murder on the Menu. This luncheon fundraiser for the local library is the brainchild of indie bookstore owner Tammy Lynn.
A person could argue that the success of these two events rests on the fact that they’re only on one day, or that they’re small and manageable. However, I think those comments diminish the real magic here.
From the moment authors accept the personal invitation to come to Alabama, they’re treated with warmth and respect. Margaret and Tammy make a point of communicating frequently with useful information; you know they’ve got their act together. What other convention picks up ALL of its writer panelists at the airport, gives them great food and drink? What other convention strives so hard to make people — audience and author — feel appreciated? The same is true for the Murder on the Menu. There are gift bags for the authors and happy fans who can’t wait to discover new fiction.
Every single detail has been thought through and improved upon.
This year, for the first time, organizers were faced with many last-minute changes — authors got sick, the weather didn’t cooperate — and yet, I doubt anyone in the audience noticed. Every panel was excellent, each participant talking about craft and life with intelligence and humor. The audience was delighted. I loved being able to listen to all of my fellow authors at both events, to learn more about them as writers and people.
And, the audiences at both MitMC and MotM come to buy. It’s a beautiful thing to see that many people, their arms laden with books, waiting in line.
Some of the most memorable moments for me this year were:
Meeting Gena Ellis, a talented screenwriter, with whom I’ve corresponded since she posted on DL. I spent time with Julia Pomeroy, Deb Baker, Donna Andrews and Toni Kelner. Talk about quality fun! What pleasure to meet Linda Berry, Kathleen Delaney, and the K-Y man Darden North; to hear Radine Trees Nehring and Lonnie Cruse speak so eloquently about their work, to watch Gayle Wigglesworth on a panel. Betty Webb did a bang-up job as a moderator; Jane Cleland danced and sang; Donna told us about penguin sex; Rosemary Harris glowed with that wonderful newness of an author being on a panel at a convention for the first time; and J.T.‘s happiness was palpable when she explained the pleasure in returning to MitMC as an author after having been in the audience just two short years before.
One of my absolute favorite moments was after the delicious barbecue dinner on Saturday night. Most people had gone off to bed, but a few of us stayed around a table, unwilling for the night to end. Don Bruns took out his guitar and began to sing ballads so lovely they brought tears. And, in the way that these things go, others began to sing. Deb Baker wanted to hear Piano Man and Bob Morris — bless him — whipped out an IPhone (or whatever that little computer dillybob was) and looked up the words. We sang and sang until the hotel staff turned off the lights.
I’d urge EVERYONE — fan and author alike — to put one or both of these events on your to-do list. The hotel isn’t expensive. Restaurants are nearby. And, I can guarantee you’ll have a magical time.
Below are some pictures from Murder in the Magic City. I’m including them so you can see some of your friends or favorite authors. I wish I’d been together enough to have better quality, snapped more . . .
Above: Gena Ellis and husband in the bookroom. J.T. holding her debut novel.
Below: Radine Trees Nehring and her husband, John, at breakfast. Gayle Wigglesworth and Betty Webb at their signing.
Below: Julia Pomeroy, Don Bruns and Deb Baker.
And, next to that . . . well, it’s the giant statue of Vulcan that overlooks Birmingham. And, um, I liked this particular angle.
LATE BREAKING PHOTO — from Margaret Fenton this afternoon. How many of these authors can you identify??
Pari is absolutely right. It was magical this year. But the funny thing is, I think it’s magical every year. Bob Fate loved his experience last year and Chris Grabenstein told me to go, go, go. And the ladies responsible – Margaret Fenton, Tammy Lynn and the Southern Sisters, are very cool indeed.
Julia,It was magic when I went two years ago. And, that’s the thing . . . I think it’s incredibly special when a convention manages to touch the heart every single time.
It’s rare and should be both celebrated and supported.
It sounds like a grand time, Pari. And JT? You’re looking fabulous, girl.
It sounds (and looks) like a grand time, Pari – thanks for letting me vicariously travel. I needed a little mini-trip off the farm. 🙂
Louise and Billie,I know it sounds small, but I think the impact is big; both events are worth attending.
Don Bruns is not only a gifted writer, he’s just one of the best people to meet, ever. Funny, smart. And plays so beautifully, too. I think he’s going to be at LCC.
Cons used to scare the hell out of me — so many people to learn, and I am so terrible with names, so add in terror and I go blank. But now, having met so many warm, wonderful people, I cannot imagine not going to at least a couple of cons a year. I always come away from them feeling as if I’ve finally met people who get what we do and why. It’s like finding your tribe.
Don WILL be at LCC. As a matter of fact, he’s the moderator of our panel. If it’s anything like MitMC, it’s going to be a total blast.
Toni,I love your comment about “finding your tribe.” I think that sums up this community beautifully.
…what they said. I had a blast. Don, if you’re reading this how about bringing the guitar to Denver, too..
Pari, I didn’t mean small with reference to the conference with my “little” and “mini-trip” adjectives – only that my vicarious version of it was that way! A little taste of what it was like actually being there.
I forgot to mention earlier that the singing and the guitar sounded wonderful. That’s the kind of thing that gives me chill-bumps in the moment.
And Toni’s tribe comment is very apropos.
From one of the tribe:
MitMC & MotM were absolutely incredible this year, and that’s a lot to say, considering what an amazing job Margaret and Tammy do every year. Highly recommended conference.
There is something so fun about meeting people you’ve heard of but never met. I will treasure every conference experience, just for the excitement of being able to meet my heroes, and find new ones.