[Editor's Note: This author, in between other events and commitments, managed to get to one session—Genre-Go Round of the Southwest Word Fiesta on Saturday morning.]
Photo and article by Mary Alice Murphy
The 10th Anniversary Celebration of the Southwest Word Fiesta took place in Silver City in various locations, many of them at the Western New Mexico University Global Resource Center.
Every sort of writing process, genre or author took place during the event to inspire writers, experienced or wanna-be. It kicked off Friday with two sessions, each with four presentations, readings or talks, and an opening ceremony with a keynote speaker that evening and live music going to 11 p.m..
Saturday was booked solid with five sessions with panels, readings, presentations, talks and viewings, with four happening simultaneously in each time slot. The final keynote speaker, a retired NPR (National Public Radio) correspondent spoke at the Murray Hotel Ballroom.
The Genre-Go Round: Mystery, Science Fiction and Romance featured three speakers, one in each genre. The Romance author, Melanie Sweeney, participated via Zoom. Marty Eberhardt writes mysteries set in a botanical garden, and Kate Rauner writes science fiction.
Moderator Kris Neri asked each to talk about her work and then asked each the same questions.
Eberhardt said her mysteries are set in a fictional botanical garden in Tucson. "The mountains are real, but the garden is not. My protagonist is a single parent with a job. She helps solve murder mysteries as an amateur sleuth. My books have no gore in them."
Rauner said her science fiction for the most part is set on strange planets.
Sweeney said she writes contemporary romance, with humor, heart and heat. Her first romance brought two frenemies, who had known each other since high school, together when they had to go back home for family reasons and traveled together.
Each answered the question from Neri: Why do you write in your genre?
Sweeney said she was working in literary fiction and was working on a big book, "but I wasn't having fun doing it. I like to read romance, so I set out to write a holiday romance about two frenemies, who had known each other since high school. They must travel together back home. I wrote it during Covid."
Eberhardt said when she isn't reading serious literature, she reads mysteries. "I write serious fiction, too, but I know botanical gardens, so I thought it would be a fun location."
Rauner said she has enjoyed sci-fi since she was a kid. "My books are based on current technology and how it can expand in the future. I used to write a lot of technical reports, so it was fun to write sci-fi based on the science I knew. I'm happy to learn about new technologies and science, as I write my books."
Neri asked Rauner what the difference was between fantasy and science fiction.
Rauner said fantasy creates a new world, whereas science fiction starts with the real world and pushes toward impossible science. Sci-fi lets one get around in travels to strange places. Fantasy starts with a magic world, although each world has its own rules.
Neri asked about the importance of settings.
Eberhardt said she wanted to portray the beauty of the world. "I love the Sonoran Desert with its danger and power. I don't think I would write mystery that was not involved in nature somehow."
Neri asked Sweeney what drives people to read books that they know will be "happily ever after."
"Because of the promise that the characters will fall in love and live happily every after, "Sweeney said, "you can get into trickier topics, such as grief and loss. In a rom-com, you have the promise that everything will be OK, but with humor."
Eberhardt said things need to be brought up that are important."Another writer told me I couldn't bring up climate change or water preservation or racism. I didn't pay attention to that person."
Rauner said her books rely on current science and technology, but they go well into the future. "There's a lot we don't know, but the variety of topics is part of the fun of sci-fi."
Sweeney said romantic fiction has a short literary life-span. "The story has to be responsive to the present culture. Today, we use a lot of social media and have a quicker response to current issues. Most romance writers know their books must be aware of rapid shifts, so they write and publish more quickly. Issues such as mental health, divergence and racism are in the genre."
Keri asked Rauner if she has astronauts in her books.
"I don't use astronauts," Rauner replied. "The motivation of the characters reflects more of a range of people, but they are all serious about what they do."
Neri asked what the authors think about tropes and their benefits and drawbacks.
Sweeney said: "Some say tropes are clichés. I prefer to think of them as archetypical. One of my favorite tropes is that opposites attract. Tropes make sure the story has conflict."
Eberhardt said people when they read mysteries want a puzzle, so that they are happy and surprised at the end. "Mystery readers expect red herrings and hidden clues. It's all part of the expectation of the writing and the reading. I don't mind stepping away from the convention that with a female sleuth you need a male cop. I made the cop a female friend of the sleuth. My books are considered cozy mysteries because there is no gore and no sex. But I don't think my work quite fits into the cozies."
On the issue of where to have one's books for sale, Rauner said Amazon is the big dog. "They tell you you have to fit into a category. You're shoved into slots. That issue has not been completely resolved, as they have thousands of sub-categories, but booksellers want you to fit into a box."
Neri asked the authors what advice they would give to writers.
Eberhardt said: "The most important advice is to sit down and do it. Don't use excuses of too many emails, for instance. I set aside a big block of time on my calendar so that things begin to flow in my writing."
Rauner said: "I had to learn from the ground up. I start with the story structure. I am an engineer, so I have spreadsheets telling me how long it should be between events. I use them in my first draft. I ultimately get to multiple drafts, but I always need to start with the story structure."
Neri commented that so many books are started, but don't go anywhere.
Sweeney said she agreed with Rauner and Eberhardt. "I have to sit down. Then I ask myself questions. 'Why can't they get together now? Why can't they fall in love now?' That reminds me to keep the tension going. I have to be learning something in addition to writing. I've been learning to figure skate. It is a motivating way to keep my energy up."
Rauner said:"Writing is hard. Don't think it's going to be easy. It's hard work."
Neri asked what they were writing now.
Eberhardt said she has started a third Bee Rivers book, which takes place in La Jolla, California. "But I put it aside, and am working on my first book of American Innocents in Saigon during a time when Buddhists were being themselves, but the roots of the conflict were already there. It is about three people, a mother, father and daughter who lost their innocence during that time."
Rauner said she is thinking about going back to Mars. "I'm between books, so I'm collecting big piles of data and reading about mining in space. The cost of transportation kind of puts a kibosh on that, so I'm not sure where it's going."
Sweeney said she is in the early stages of a book. "It's interesting that my second book is set in a botanical garden, like Marty's, Hurricane Harvey flooded a library and the botanical garden. Right now, what is left of the library is in a small shed at the botanical garden."
An audience member asked how each author gets the characters in their head.
Eberhardt said she knows who her protagonist is. "I have served on many boards and composites of the board members end up in my books."
Rauner said she thinks of the setting first. "It needs to get to a certain reality.I have written both male and female protagonists and male and female antagonists."
Sweeney said her main character might have a favorite chair at a coffee shop and the male character keeps stealing her seat.
A question came up about whether dreams provide ideas.
Rauner said she has a notebook by her bed for dreams and ideas.
Eberhardt said she thinks about an issue as she's going to sleep and about 3 a.m., "I come up with the answer, so I , too have paper and pen by the bed.
Rauner said she has a blog and website where people can contact her.
Eberhardt said she, too, has a website with contact information.
Sweeney has a website and is on Instagram. "I also keep a notepad on the bedside table and at 2 a.m., I will write in it."
Neri mentioned some other individual programs coming up as the continuation of the Southwest Word Fiesta throughout the year. They will be posted on https://swwordfiesta.org/ .