Readers meet their mysterious favorites

Published 8:24 pm Monday, August 6, 2018

Fans of mystery, crime and the supernatural descended on the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts by the hundreds on Saturday to meet their favorite authors at the fifth annual Suffolk Mystery Authors Festival, including this year’s big-name headliners.

Those headliners were Charlaine Harris and Toni L.P. Kelner. Harris has 30 years of industry experience and is best known for writing the Southern Vampire Mysteries, which was adapted for the popular “True Blood” television series that ran for seven seasons on HBO.

Kelner is a fellow award-winning author of the Laura Fleming, “Where Are They Now?” and Family Skeleton series of novels and short stories. She’s also a longtime friend of Harris and edited seven urban fantasy anthologies with her.

Email newsletter signup

Readers packed into the Birdsong Theater to kick off the afternoon with an on-stage interview of Harris and Kelner by Art Taylor, author of “On the Road with Del and Louise: A Novel in Stories” and winner of the Agatha Award for Best First Novel.

“It’s been great to see some of the fans come back year after year, greeting and meeting new mystery authors each time,” Taylor said about his third year participating in the festival. “The support from the community and the enthusiasm of that readership is just overwhelming.”

Dozens of VIP-ticket holders got the chance to meet-and-greet Harris, Kelner and the other authors in the ballroom and banquet hall. Excited fans chatted with Harris, including Lovie Patish, a Northern Virginia resident who made the drive just to meet her.

“Charlaine Harris is one of my favorite authors, and I know she doesn’t do too many of these, especially on the east coast,” Smith said.

Another fan actually cut a hospital visit short so she didn’t miss Harris. Virginia Beach resident Carla Harrison said she was hospitalized earlier in the week but urged to be released in time for the festival.

She said her writing helped improve her outlook through hard times in her life.

“I started seeing life through the eyes of her great characters,” she said.

Harris and Kelner have spoken at numerous conventions together across the country, and both of them agreed that it’s still heartwarming to meet their fans. Harris said she’s particularly moved by the people who felt relief in dark times through her writing.

“That just gets you,” Harris said backstage. “You feel like you really made a difference to somebody, and you didn’t even know it. It was just what you put out there in the world and it helped somebody.”

Kelner recalled a stunning encounter she had with a fan at an event in Charlotte, N.C. He was an older teenaged boy that looked more like a sports fan than a reader of her stories with walking, talking skeletons. But he was indeed a fan of Kelner’s, much to her surprise.

“His name was Eugene and he was really there to see me. I’ll never forget Eugene,” Kelner said with a chuckle.

The annual Mystery Authors Festival is sponsored by the Suffolk Division of Tourism and they brought 39 authors to meet fans, sign books and lead workshops and panels. Festival organizer and tourism development specialist Kathleen Kelley said about 500 visitors came to the festival on Saturday.

“This has been our best year as far as people being excited,” Kelley said. “Having the addition of the co-headliners was just off the charts. The opening session was funny and I couldn’t be more excited about it. I sound like a fangirl right now, but it really was. All three of them did an outstanding job.”

The workshops and panels ranged from “An Hour with Florence Nightingale” – with featured author Christine Trent in period-accurate regalia – to “Quirky Characters and Untimely Demises: Who Knew Death Could Be So Enticing.” That panel included Alice Loweecey, author of the Giulia Driscoll mystery novels, Loweecey’s ex-nun private investigator who solves mysteries with ghosts.

Loweecey enjoys writing quirky characters partly because she herself is a former nun with a charmingly manic approach to both conversation and writing. She said quirkiness makes for intrigue when it comes to readers.

“There’s a lot of PIs, but my PI is different. She’s also a mother and she’s also dealing with ghosts,” she said while in costume as the specter from her latest book “Nun After the Other.” “People want a different thing to read about.”

Out of the 15 different festivals she’s attended, she said Suffolk’s festival was the best.

“The world should clone Katie Kelley and put her in every chamber of commerce ever,” she said. “She’s amazing.”

Many of the readers that came on Saturday were aspiring authors looking to write their own novels to break into the industry.

“Writing really is like a job,” according to Yorktown resident Annabelle Morehouse, a military spouse and mother of three. “You have to pick your eight hours a day or six hours a day, and that’s hard to do when you have obligations, especially as a mom.”

That was the topic of the workshop “From Novice to Novelist: How to Write A Novel” led by John DeDakis, a writing workshop leader at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, MD and a former CNN senior copy editor for “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer.”

“I think the most important step is just to take stock of who you are as a person and what you’re interested in, and if there is a desire to write you’ll find a way because you can teach yourself,” he said.

He believes that everybody has at least one story to write because everybody tells stories each and every day.

“It’s just a matter of tapping into your subconscious and finding out what’s lurking in there,” he said.