Killer Nashville, the international mystery writers conference, is a gold mine of inspiration and resources for the mystery and thriller author, including those who write international mystery and crime fiction.
Held last month outside Nashville, TN, Killer Nashville is a 4-day event full of opportunities to connect polish your craft and engage with writers at all stages of their careers.
Most of all, it’s a hefty dose of inspiration, most of which comes from fellow writers who share their expertise and experiences on panels with such great themes as “Creating Characters Readers Can’t Forget” or “Writing Detective and Police Procedurals.”
Writing International Mystery and Crime Fiction
I was honored to chair the only panel dedicated to the challenges of writing about people and places around the world: “Beyond Our Borders: Writing International Mystery & Crime.” I’m immersed in this genre day and night so it was a thrill to see how many others are, too.
“Beyond Our Borders” was one of the biggest panels of the conference, with 7 authors dedicated to writing suspense with an international flair:
- Maria Hudgins https://mariahudgins.com/
- Robert Kinney https://jrobertkinney.wordpress.com/
- Kathryn Lane https://www.kathryn-lane.com/
- Bill Rapp https://billrappsbooks.com/
- Stanley Trollip http://michaelstanleybooks.com/
- Linda M. Whitaker https://www.lmwhitaker.com/
- and myself, Carmen Amato. https://carmenamato.net/
Here’s a (sort of) instant replay of the questions that sparked the most discussion between panelists and with the audience:
What are the top 3 things an author needs to get right about an international setting?
Culture was the top answer from all panel members. Authentic details about the culture are essential to ground the reader in the setting and make it believable. Savvy readers will know when you don’t get it right.
Other things an author needs to get right included a sense of the foreign language, the social strata of the foreign location, physical attributes like architecture/street signs/automobiles, etc. and conveying a deep sense of place using all five senses.
What resources do you use to research a setting?
The best research is actually being there and experiencing the place as a local, not a tourist. Get a reputable tour guide from your hotel, talk to people as if you plan to move there, and keep a detailed trip journal. Authentic details matter but are also the easiest things to get wrong, like a one-way street.
If you can’t travel everywhere, research like crazy, using Google Earth, YouTube videos, memoirs, and translations of local newspapers. Google Translate is your friend. Not everything is on Wikipedia.
How do you convey to your readers that your characters are speaking a foreign language?
Panelist agreed that the best way was to sprinkle in foreign language words in a way that their meaning is easily understood. It is common practice for foreign words to be written in italics. Foreign language words should be spelled as they exist in that language, not spelled phonetically in English.
Are your plots unique to the setting? Could they only take place there?
The answer was a resounding Yes.
Either elements of the culture drive plot and motive, true events create a framework, or the specific location contributes a unique twist or complication.
(Author note: Do all three and it’s a hat trick. You also have my undying admiration.)
Thank you, Killer Nashville
I tackle these questions with each Detective Emilia Cruz mystery set in Acapulco. Thanks to Killer Nashville, I got a boost from hearing how other authors deal with them, too.
More importantly, the panel tried to give our audience tips for adding authenticity and deepening the reader’s curiosity.
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LUV your insights that you are sharing. You’re the best!
Carmen, not only was it fun to see you, I also loved being on the panel you chaired. It was a fantastic group of authors!
Good luck going back to The Galiano series!
I agree! It was an excellent panel, with everyone coming at the questions from different angles. So glad we connected at killer Nashville, too!
Thanks, Carmen, for taking the time to capture our conversation from the panel. I also found the exchange extremely beneficial and heard numerous positive comments from others at the conference. Thanks also for doing such a terrific job as moderator.
Bill, it was great to meet you and hear about your books. As for chairing the panel, I had some experience to draw on. No doubt we have both chaired more than our fair share of meetings.
You’re making me want to come to Killer Nashville again.
I’d LOVE to connect with you at Killer Nashville! Put it on your calendar for next year, please.
This was probably the best panel I’ve ever been on, and I’ve been on plenty. I made mental notes of my fellow panelists’ comments because I knew I’d use the the information later.
Maria, thanks so much! Let’s stay in touch and do it again next year. We can compare notes as to how we inspired ourselves to new heights 🙂