Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Late Great Cape Fear Crime Festival

We're coming up on the end of October. There's a nip in the air. Porches are decorated with jack-o-lanterns, ghosts and bats. The leaves are changing color (not around here though, where we have just the lives oaks and pin oaks that are green all year round).

And up until this year, this was the time of the Cape Fear Crime Festival.

Sponsored by the New Hanover County Public Library, the Crime Festival offered mystery writers and readers a chance to get together and talk crime. There were panels on characters, plot, humor, legal thrillers, spy novels, getting published, what to do once you got published, and a whole host of information on all things mysterious.

I attended the first conference held in 2001 as a writer wannabee. I'd just finished my first novel Caviar Dreams, but I had no idea what to do with it. Being among the writers there, I felt as if I had finally found "my own people." I realized that writers did not walk around with an otherworldy glow, they were regular folks like me. If they could get published, I could too.

And so I did. By the 2003 conference, I was helping out with registration and participating in panels as one of the authors. And by 2005, I was on the steering committee, helping run the conference.

Unfortunately, conferences like The Cape Fear Crime Festival cost money. Those authors who've written the books you've heard of don't appear for free. Each year, as we reached this point in time, the conference was always operating in the red.

But our biggest problem was that we drew far more authors than readers. Being sponsored by the Public Library, an institution supported by the taxpayers of New Hanover County, the goal was to benefit the patrons of the library. Last year, when I took a couple of attendees to the local Barnes & Noble at a nearby shopping center, I noticed the center's parking lot was packed. Unlike the library lot which had space to spare. Obviously, the citizens of New Hanover County would rather shop at Pier 1 Imports and Rack Room Shoes, than go hear a nearly famous author talk about her latest book. Even if it was for free.

This year the library is sponsoring a much scaled down event called Carolina Crimes, featuring North Carolina authors with books published this year. Eight authors, including myself and fellow conspirators Joyce and Jim Lavene and Susan Adair, on two panels over the course of a Saturday afternoon. Not the hustle and bustle of the two day conferences we used to put on.

But I just spoke to librarian Phyllis Smith, who was in charge of finances for Cape Fear Crime Festival for the last few years. I don't remember ever hearing her sound so cheerful on October 23rd. Usually she was freaking out over the ever escalating expenses piling up.

And I don't miss the stress of trying to get the Conference schedule books out. Or having to deal with the lesser known author who feels he or she has been slighted somehow. Not to mention searching for the attendee who swears he or she registered by mail and there's no record of it anywhere.

I'm grateful for all the past Cape Fear Crime Festivals. I enjoyed every one of them and I always learned something I didn't know. But I'm looking forward to seeing readers at Carolina Crimes, as well as seeing old friends and meeting new ones.

I'm hoping to see a lot of Carolina Conspiracy fans there. Swing on down to the Main Library downtown, at 201 Chestnut Street, Wilmington NC 28401. We start at one o'clock and we'll see you then.

1 comment:

Susan Whitfield said...

I have been hunting through Google to find out when the next Cape Fear Crime Festival is. I stumbled across this post. I am sorry to hear that the festival has been down-sized, but would still like to attend. Even though I'm a North Carolina mystery writer, I am also an avid reader. Where can I find the information I need to register for this Carolina Crime fest?

Susan Whitfield