Tuesday, August 15, 2017

A Visit from Jeffrey Deaver

by Paula Gail Benson

SEMWA Board with Jeffrey Deaver (Photo by PGB)
This year, the Mystery Writers of America’s President Jeffrey Deaver has given a great gift to the regional chapters. On his own dime, he is visiting each of the chapters to provide a writing workshop for members and guests. The chapters organize the event and may use it as a fundraiser and a means of bringing awareness to the chapter’s activities. It’s a wonderful opportunity for writers throughout the country to hear from a master of the craft without having to travel to an expensive conference.

As a board member for the South Eastern chapter (SEMWA), I was thrilled to hear the news. I was even more delighted when the board decided the program should take place in my home state. It’s been more than twenty years since SEMWA held a “skills build,” the title usually applied to a craft workshop, in South Carolina. I remember that long ago workshop because it was one of the first writing seminars I attended, and I still use the concepts I learned there from such distinguished folks as editor extraordinaire Chris Roerden and our own blogging colleague Carla Damron.

Our board’s first task to prepare for the visit was to explore various locations. We finally determined to have it in Columbia. I was delighted that my church’s assembly hall was available. We went through a process of evaluating caterers and setting reasonable pricing to cover the costs. We felt fortunate to be able to offer the event for $25 for members and $30 for non-members and to include lunch and a reception as part of the package. We attracted participants from South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee, four of our six state area. Over fifty registered to attend. To say “thank you” to Deaver for donating his time, we provided each participant with one of his books.

Jeffrey Deaver Presenting Workshop (Photo by PGB)
Deaver’s presentation was generous and comprehensive. He addressed both craft and business aspects of the profession. Some of the important information that he emphasized included:

(1)  Understand what you want from writing and what methods work best for you. He told us that today’s writing world offers lots of options, including traditional, hybrid, and independent. All are viable depending upon each writer’s goals. Be honest about what you are seeking to achieve.

(2)  To build confidence and an audience, produce a regular product and don’t miss deadlines. He pointed out that both Shakespeare and Mozart worked on commission. To build a reputation as a successful, readable author, you must approach the work as a business.

(3)  A writer’s mission is to produce an emotionally engaging story, or creating good and bad characters who confront increasing levels of conflict that are resolved in a largely positive manner. These principles are almost direct quotes.

(4)  Novels, short stories, and plays all require different craft skills. Learning how to write one won’t teach you how to write another. Write in the style that comes most naturally for you and discover all you can about the marketplace for your writing.

(5)  The four basic elements of storytelling are plot, character, setting, and dialogue. Propel your story by conflict and suspense. Always keep the readers on the edge.

Panel Discussion (Photo by PGB)
Following Deaver’s presentation, our board members joined him in a panel discussion of how we had applied his recommendations. Hearing about the individual techniques and applications allowed us to explore the many options open to writers and helped emphasize that success can come in many forms.

The opportunity to meet Deaver and hear about his personal writing habits (he is a confirmed planner who does not write a novel until he has outlined it, then completes it only after revising through approximately fifty drafts) made the day truly informative. I was particularly impressed with his humble, structured approach and his continuing curiosity. If you have the chance to hear his presentation when he comes to a MWA chapter near you, please take advantage of the experience. You won’t regret it.

Group Attending Deaver Event (Photo by Lynda Sasscer Hill)
Also, if you haven’t had a chance to consider MWA membership (chapter membership is included when you join MWA), check out this link to the website.

Have you been influenced by a particular writer or piece of writing advice?


  1. The reason I'm not a MWA member? Unless you are published through their narrow approved list of publishers--they don't consider me published. I could only be an associate. I'm sure I'm biting off my nose, but it seems as if it is a very closed circle. The program by Deaver reminds us of those basics we all must remember. You are one busy writer, Paula!

  2. What a wonderful program! Maybe he'll come to Chicago, which is the hub for MWA activities in the Midwest.

  3. What a wonderful opportunity! One thing stood out to me - he writes 50 drafts. That's a craftsman. Thank you for sharing, Paula. You must feel so inspired after that talk.

  4. Great advice. I was lucky enough to be in the same chapter as Nancy Pickard who taught me a lot.

  5. What a great program that must have been, Paula. We had Nancy Pickard come to one of our chapter events. She was very good.

    As for writers who inspired me, there have been so many, but probably Louise Penny has inspired me the most. Just meeting her at Malice every time she was there as well as reading her excellent books. I've preordered her latest and am expecting it in the mail any day now.
    Some other authors are Elizabeth George even though I don't write police procedures. There's Laurie R. King's series, too. I have a library full of mysteries, too many to list here.

  6. What a great opportunity for your local group. I had the good fortune to hear Jeffrey Deaver speak in a casual setting at Sleuthfest a few years ago. He sat in the middle of a circle of conference attendees on the hotel patio. You couldn't find a more relaxing setting. He was open and engaging and generously shared information.

  7. He did a great job at the Mid-Atlantic chapter! I have pages of notes!

  8. That's inspiring! This is definitely a blog to print and keep. The full event must have been wonderful. 50 drafts. That's daunting.

  9. Paula did a great summation of the event, but she left out the most important part. It was due to her unflagging energy that everything went so smoothly. We had setups for three meals, the first graciously provided by the Palmetto Sisters in Crime chapter, a buffet lunch, and a grand snack bar of goodies to wrap up with - and the setups went so smoothly, the participants didn't even realize the food was ready! That's smooth. Paula is a pro, she's generous with her time, and she made everyone feel welcome! Maggie Toussaint, 2017 President of Southeast Mystery Writers of America.