Monday, July 15, 2019

Mystery in the Midlands

by Paula Gail Benson

Logo by Krista Anderson

Nancy Pickard (Photo by Anita Baker)
For the second year, the Southeastern Chapter of Mystery Writers of America (SEMWA) and the Palmetto Chapter of Sisters in Crime presented a day-long mystery conference offering master classes and panels in Columbia, South Carolina. Called Mystery in the Midlands, it featured twenty-one authors, including our guest of honor best-selling author Nancy Pickard. Known for her own Jenny Cain and Marie Lightfoot series, continuing Virginia Rich’s Eugenia Potter novels, acclaimed stand-alone novels The Scent of Rain and Lightning and The Virgin of Small Plains, numerous short stories, and the nonfiction Seven Steps on the Writer’s Path written with Lynn Lott, Pickard graciously shared information about her work and her recent relocation to Charleston after spending most of her life in Kansas. She was interviewed by her good friend and fellow past President of Sisters in Crime National, Cathy Pickens.

This joint conference effort began two years ago when SEMWA brought then MWA President Jeffrey Deaver to Columbia to give a writing seminar. The following year, we organized the first Mystery in the Midlands. With each event, we have been able to have authors representing multiple states. We plan to continue the tradition during “famously hot” summers in Columbia.

Special thanks to this year’s authors: Stacy Allen, Paul Barra, Candace Carter, Tracy de Hahn, Elysabeth Eldering, Kaye George, Victoria Gilbert, Sally Handley, Sasscer Hill, Roger Johns, Terrie Farley Moran, Dorothy St. James, J.R. Ripley, Nancy Sartor, Raegan Teller, Jaden (Beth) Terrell, Brian Thiem, Maggie Toussaint, and Warren Moore. Master classes explored Hemingway’s POV, Police Procedure, and Humor in Mysteries. Panels discussed the importance of settings, writing both novels and short stories, cozy mysteries, and the journey to publication.

Midday, we had a buffet lunch and a game of “guess the author.” The first person who picked out the correct author for each description won bonus bucks to be spent with our bookseller, Books on Broad from Camden, South Carolina.

During the conference, we held a silent auction and raised $630 to benefit My First Books, the South Carolina affiliate of the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, which provides a book a month to registered children from birth to age five.

Each year, not only have readers been introduced to new writers, but also the authors have time to exchange information. This year, on the Friday before the conference, a local forensic anthropologist welcomed a group to visit his lab and ask questions about his process.

A local weekly paper advertised the event and sent a reporter to cover the conference. It was wonderful to have the stories available online as well as appearing below the fold on the first page. See

Article and photos by Anita Baker for the Columbia Star
Many thanks to all the people who participated, attended, and helped with the organization behind the scenes. Please come and join us next year!


  1. Kudos to you for pulling this conference together.

  2. Thanks, Debra, for all your wonderful support. Looking forward to seeing you in Columbia next year!

  3. Thanks so much for putting an amazing event together! Educational and enjoyable!

  4. Mystery in the Midlands is a keeper and a must-do for regional authors and readers! Thanks for being the inciting force behind this event.

  5. Terrie and Maggie, you both made the conference so much better. Thank you for traveling to be with us and please come back next year!