Everyone has a mystery convention. We’re almost to the point where there is one for every weekend of the year. It’s exhausting. I’ve been to a number of charming ones, but the one I love every year is Magna cum Murder. It’s not because I work for it; it’s because I love it that I work here. So in true David Letterman fashion, here are the Top Ten Reasons Why I Love Magna.
#10 – We Don’t Have Any Awards
I love awards given out for art. I have never complained about the Oscar telecast length or being snubbed for an Edgar. (Seriously it’s not a big deal.) They are a fun celebration of stories done well, but there are too many of them. If we added another mystery award it would dilute what makes the others so special. When authors are nominated they say they aren’t thinking about the upcoming ceremony, but of course they are lying. (Don’t trust writers.) A weekend without competition allows everyone to just have fun.
#9 – One Book One Festival
Jim Huang started this a few years ago by telling everyone attending Magna they should read And Then There Were None before attending. There were panels, films and discussions over the Christie classic throughout the weekend. It was a great way to connect everybody in a common ground. The easiest way to start a conversation with someone at your table is to bring up the book. Since that year we’ve covered Except the Dying, Brat Farrar, The Steam Pig and next month it’ll be Death on the Nile. Many people comment on being thrilled to finally have the chance to read a classic they’ve been meaning to get to.
#8 – The Meals Are Delicious
Twice a day during a conference, it’s up to you to find some people you want to eat with and then figure out where you can walk to. It becomes a bit of a hassle if you hit a restaurant at the wrong time and it always ends up being more expensive than you attend. A nice trait of Magna is how we keep everything tight knit. We supply the meals and they are glorious. We have large tables at the convention center and very little assigned seating. That means if you thought John Gilstrap was hilarious on a panel and wonder he’s funny when he’s not behind a mic, you can sit at his table!
#7 – Less Business, More Fun
At Magna we have our fair share of editors, agents and publishers attending. They like to keep tabs on their authors. During a larger convention, there are deals going on or work being reviewed. Here people are just having fun. Even the staff of Magna who are working to sell merchandise or the book vendors all feel less pressure because of the friendly atmosphere.
#6 – Continual Conversations
The great Carl Brookins came up with this concept a few years ago. Three authors will sit at a table and talk about whatever they want to. Every 15 minutes, one author will leave and another will take his place. There are plenty of chairs around so people can listen or even participate. The conversations typically range from publishing trends, sports, and why the current season of Doctor Who is so awesome. Some authors are nervous on panels, so this is a more relaxing way to be naturally interesting.
#5 – It’s Small
People read mysteries where the private eye is running through the big city investigating all of its hidden layers. People also read mysteries about the small town that seems like a joy to live in—aside from the murder once a year. We’re the latter. There isn’t the anxiety of everything happening at once and everyone always seems busy. It’s so easy to meet an author you admire or a fan who is caring around a really interesting book.
#4 – The Community is Great
There are plenty of conventions all across the world ranging from the mainstream to the completely bizarre. Those who are excited to attend always leave happy. It’s because this is the weekend when we’re all cool. When you’re talking to your work friends, often times your nerdy references will go over their heads. I guarantee you this is the weekend where your Lord Peter Wimsey joke is really going to hit. You are surrounded by fascinating people who love the books you love. This is the time for great dialog, new recommendations, and wishing every weekend was like this.
#3 – We Have a Focus on Panels
Since we are a program devoted to fans and their appreciation for the genre, we work hard to make sure the panels are worth their while. We want the hour to be insightful and the way to do that is to give them something new. If the author is not reiterating their overdone thoughts on why humor can be done in a mystery or why they write about a certain city, they can become inspired. If the panel goes well, the author’s work can have greater understanding, a new favorite writer can be discovered, or you just laugh yourself silly. To quote A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum: “We shall employ every device we know in our desire to divert you.”
#2 – The Authors Are Awesome
Oh sure, we’ve had some big names in the past. We’ve had M.C. Beaton, Mary Higgens Clark, Harlan Coben, Michael Connelly, Alexander McCall Smith, and Charles Todd. They were fantastic! You know who else we had? Troy Cook. Troy wrote a hilarious book called 47 Rules of a Highly Effective Bank Robbers and I wouldn’t have discovered that if he didn’t attend Magna. Chatting with the lesser-known authors and discovering gems that deserve to be New York Times bestsellers is a treat all by itself.
#1 – Kathryn Kennison
If I don’t make this a more universal answer, I’m worried she’s going to cut this paragraph. The reason this festival is running is because of her. It’s because of her that people will travel from all over the world to come to Muncie, Indiana. Sure, part of the reason is because we’re all scared of her. The real reason is her passion for every single person who walks through the doors. She is the symbol for all of us behind the scenes. We’re not doing this to become filthy rich or internationally famous. We run this sucker because we love the genre and everyone involved in it. There is no greater example of this than seeing Kathryn welcome everyone to another year of Magna cum Murder.
Originally published in the Magna cum Murder newsletter