Mystery Writers and the Fans Who Love Them to Convene at 5th Annual Mystery Fest Key West

Celebrated mystery writers, acclaimed storytellers and the fans who love them are set to infiltrate the tropical island where so many have found their inspiration during the 5th Annual Mystery Fest Key West, set for June 22-24, 2018 at the DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Grand Key in Key West, Florida.

Why is Key West such a popular incubator and setting for generations of authors— from Hemingway to Heather Graham, Tennessee Williams to John H. Cunningham, Elizabeth Bishop to Roberta Isleib? Maybe it’s the archipelago’s history as a haven for pirates and drug-runners, its salty off-the-grid renegade energy – or simply the hypnotic effect of swaying palm trees reflected against water on a tiny island surrounded by endless miles of ocean. Whatever it is, the locale has spawned a multitude of tales and a small army of authors.

Mystery Fest Key West was founded in 2014 and while it has grown in fame and attendance since then, “it still has the intimacy of a boutique-sized convention with lots of direct interaction between authors and audience,” commented author, publisher and Fest co-founder Shirrel Rhoades. “And, because of the exceptional caliber of our guest authors, the fascinating panels and unique social events—all in a tropical island paradise—we also attract writers and fans of other genres as well.”

During the weekend’s series of panels, presentations and social events, Mystery Fest attendees will have the opportunity to learn first-hand how to craft or simply refine their own tales of crime, murder and mystery from a stellar line-up of high-profile mystery and suspense luminaries and true-crime experts.


2018 headliners are Keynote Speaker Ace Atkins, the multi-award winning, “New York Times” bestselling author of twenty-one novels, including the recent Robert B. Parker “Spenser” mysteries; Special Guest of Honor, the multi-award winning editor and publisher Otto Penzler – proprietor of the famed “The Mysterious Book Shop” in New York City; and Special Guest Presenter, “New York Times” and “USA Today” bestselling author Heather Graham.

 Lisa Black 2018

Featured presenters include “New York Times” bestselling author Lisa Black, bestselling and award-winning author Nancy J. Cohen; “New York Times” bestselling author Diane A.S. Stuckart; “New York Times” bestselling co-author Charles Todd, award-winning authors Patrick Kendrick, Lewis C. Haskell and many others.

 Charles Todd 2018

Event highlights include presentation of the 2018 Whodunit Mystery Writing Competition Award, workshops on the business of being an author, how to write and sell a first novel, crisis negotiation and the forensic use of fingerprints, multiple panel discussions on subjects ranging from the state of the publishing industry to book marketing and promotion, along with author book signings, a Keynote luncheon with author Ace Atkins, a Conch Train mini-tour of Key West, an ice-cream social event with Ace Atkins and Otto Penzler at the historic Key West Lighthouse, and a Bloody Mary Morning breakfast at Key West’s historic Schooner Wharf Bar.

Sponsored by the Monroe County Tourist Development Council, the Key West Citizen daily newspaper, Mystery Writers of America – Florida Chapter, the Helmerich Foundation and the Florida Keys Council of the Arts.

All panels and presentations will take place at the DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Grand Key in Key West.  Event registration is $195 and includes all panels and presentations, a luncheon and a brunch at Key West’s historic seaport.

For a full Fest schedule, online registration, and links to accommodations visit


Mystery Fest Key West Whodunit!

Mystery Fest Key West Whodunit Mystery Writing Competition Entry Deadline is April 15

Mystery Fest Key West, Whodunit Mystery Writing Competition Award.

Key West, Florida Keys – Do you have a finished, but unpublished, mystery genre manuscript?

Mystery Fest Key West has announced a call for entries for this year’s Whodunit Mystery Writing Competition. The winner will claim a book-publishing contract with Absolutely Amazing eBooks, free Mystery Fest Key West 2018 registration, airfare, hotel accommodations for two nights, meals and a Whodunit Award trophy to be presented at the 5th Annual Mystery Fest Key West, set for June 22-24 in Key West, Florida.

Sponsored by Absolutely Amazing eBooks, candidates wishing to compete are invited to submit the first three pages (maximum 750 words) of a finished, but unpublished manuscript to no later than April 15, 2018. There is no fee to enter, finalists will be notified by May 1, and will have until May 10 to submit full manuscripts.

 The inaugural, 2015 award was won by J.E. Irvin of Springboro, Ohio, for her entry titled “The Dark End of the Rainbow.” Lewis C. Haskell of Key West, Florida, took the 2016 Whodunit with “Tequila Mockingbird,” and in 2017 Mike Pettit of Gulf Breeze, Florida, won for his entry, “Key West Flashpoint.”

 Complete Whodunit Writing Competition guidelines and submission details are available at



June 22-24, 2018

The 5th Annual Mystery Fest Key West –Join renowned mystery writers, aspiring authors, true crime experts and fans in America’s southernmost city! Featuring a who’s-who of award-winning and bestselling mystery/suspense authors and true crime experts, Mystery Fest Key West is a fun and fascinating meet-and-greet where writers can catch up with old friends and readers can meet leading authors, collect signed books and participate in workshops, panels, and presentations where the most devious of minds explain why—and how—they do it.

This year we welcome:

  • Keynote Speaker Ace Atkins, the multi-award winning, New York Times bestselling author of twenty-one novels.
  • Special Guest of Honor, the multi-award winning Otto Penzler, publisher, editor and proprietor of the famed The Mysterious Book Shop in New York City.
  • Special Guest Presenter, Heather Graham, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, with more than seventy-five million books in print, published in more than twenty languages.

. . . joined by a stellar ‘hit-list’ of renowned bestselling and award winning authors and true crime experts.

Ace Atkins

Heather Graham

Otto Penzler

Register Now

A weekend with your favorite mystery writers and friends, only $195 – it’s practically criminal!
Includes poolside reception, all panels and workshops, Whodunit Awards event, book signings, Conch Train mini-tour of Key West, prime rib luncheon & keynote speaker event, Key West Lighthouse tour & ice cream social, and Mystery Writers of America – Florida Chapter sponsored brunch overlooking historic Key West Harbor.
Want to bring a friend to the keynote luncheon, ice-cream social or brunch? It’s just $35.00 additional per event to bring a buddy.

Discounted hotel rates while available
$209 per person – nearly ⅓ off regular room rates.
(Speakers have a special room rate.)

We’ll be holed up at the luxurious
DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Grand Key
Call 800/222-TREE to make your booking
or go online to
Enter Group Code: SMA

Books & Books @ The Studios Of Key West
will provide book sales for Mystery Fest Key West.

Mystery Fest Key West: It’s About Crime!

It’s About Crime: The 4th Annual Mystery Fest Key West, June 16-18

How does one disarm a bomb? How many bullets does a particular type of firearm hold? What’s the perfect poison?

Writers and fans of all genres can get the inside scoop on these questions and more at the 4th annual Mystery Fest Key West, running June 16-18 at the DoubleTree by Hilton Grand Key Resort, 3990 S. Roosevelt Blvd., in Key West, Florida.

“Anyone who writes successfully knows that credibility in details is what separates the pros from the ‘cons,’” said Fest co-founder Shirrel Rhoades. “Our Fest attracts some of America’s top award-winning and bestselling mystery writers and true crime experts who come together and have a great time sharing details of not only WHO-dunit – but exactly HOW they did it.”

The 2017 “Murder & Mayhem in Paradise” themed weekend features headliners John Hemingway, grandson of Ernest and author of ‘Strange Tribe,’ Keynote Speaker Clifford Irving, and Mystery Writers of America Florida Chapter past-President Randy Rawls.

1 Mystery Fest_MCSO Lt DiGiovanni_024_Photo by Carol_Tedesco

Events kick off Friday afternoon with four back-to-back workshops: “How Law Enforcement Deals with Explosive Situations,” presented by Lt. Mike DiGiovanni, Monroe County Sheriff’s Office Bomb Squad Commander, accompanied by the Bomb Squad robot; “Police Myths,” presented by award-winning author and former undercover agent James O. Born; “Blood Spatter Forensics,” presented by forensic scientist and New York Times bestselling author Lisa Black; and “How to Write a Cozy,” presented by award-winning author Nancy J. Cohen.

Friday evening, guests can enjoy a celebration and dinner on the grounds of the famous Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum, presided over by Rhoades and special guest speaker John Hemingway, followed by a Sloan’s Haunted Key West tour co-hosted by New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Heather Graham.

John Hemingway_5Q0A1706_byCarol_Tedesco

Author John Hemingway, a 2017 Mystery Fest Key West headliner, sits with his grandfather Ernest Hemingway’s typewriter and other memorabilia in the late author’s Key West writing studio. 2017 Fest highlights include a reception and dinner at the Hemingway Home and Museum. (Photo by Carol Tedesco)

Saturday’s series of panels and presentations spotlights leading authors representing a variety of mystery genres including (but not limited to), action/adventure, “cozy” mysteries, forensic, supernatural, noir and police procedural. They include, “Where I Get My Ideas,” with John H. Cunningham, David Beckwith, Charles Todd and Paul Sinor, moderated by Randy Rawls; “How to Commit a Perfect Murder,” with Lisa Black, Rick Ollerman, Robert Coburn and Siera London, moderated by Heather Graham; “It Takes a Crook,” with Mike Dennis, Bill Craig, Ken Rijock and Reef Perkins, moderated by Rick Ollerman; and “Cozy Mysteries and Female Sleuths,” with Susan Haskell and Norah-Jean Perkin, Marjory Sorrell Rockwell, Renee Kumor and Meg Muldoon, moderated by Nancy J. Cohen.

Saturday’s final panel – and an annual favorite of Fest guests – features local true crime experts sharing insights on the Keys criminal element and details of the strange crimes that surround them. This year’s panel, moderated by James O. Born, includes Carol F. Frederick, FDLE; Jim Linder, JIATF; Lt. Michael DiGiovanni, MCSO, and Sheriff Rick Ramsay, MCSO.

More Saturday highlights include luncheon with internationally renowned author Clifford Irving as Keynote Speaker, presentation of the Whodunit Mystery Writing Award, an author’s book-signing hour and a “mysteriously exciting” special event at the Custom House Museum. Sunday is just for chilling along the waterfront with the Fest’s finale Bloody Mary Buffet Breakfast at the iconic Schooner Wharf Bar.

Attendee’s will also have an opportunity to meet with and pitch their own book ideas to several on-sight literary agents—Dianna Collier, owner/agent Collier & Associates, Tom Colgan of the Berkley Publishing Group, Jessica Faust of Bookends Literary Agency, and Scott Miller of Trident Media Group.

The 2017 Mystery Fest Key West is sponsored by the Monroe County Tourist Development Council, the Key West Citizen daily newspaper, Mystery Writers of America – Florida Chapter, the Florida Keys Council of the Arts, and is supported by the Marion Stevens Fund at the Community Foundation of the Florida Keys and the Helmerich Trust.

Fest registration is $195 and includes all panels, presentations, social events and four meals. For registration and information

Mystery Fest Key West: Final Schedule

Schedule of Events: June 16-18, 2017


Thursday, June 15

5:00 – 7:00 p.m. Pre-Fest Part at home of author John Cunningham.


1:00 – 1:45 p.m. Workshop 1: Lt. Mike DiGiovanni, MCSO Bomb Squad – How Law Enforcement Deals With Explosive Situations (Special Guest Appearance by Bomb Squad Robot)
2:00 – 2:45 p.m. Workshop 2: James O. Born – Police Myths
3:00 – 3:45 p.m. Workshop 3: Lisa Black – Blood Spatter Forensics
4:00 – 4:45 p.m. Workshop 4 – Nancy J. Cohen – How to Write a Cozy
6:30 – 8:30 p.m. Reception and Buffet Dinner at Hemingway Home and Museum 
Welcome – Mystery Fest Co-Founder Shirrel Rhoades
Special Guest Speaker – John Hemingway

8:30 p.m. Sloan’s Ghost Tour Key West – hosted by Heather Graham

8:30 a.m. Coffee & Danish

8:45 a.m. Introduction

9:00 – 9:45 a.m. Panel Discussion: Where I Get My Ideas
Moderator: Randy Rawls
John H. Cunningham
David Beckwith
Charles Todd
Paul Sinor

10:00 – 10:45 a.m. Panel Discussion: How to Commit a Perfect Murder
Moderator: Heather Graham
Lisa Black
Rick Ollerman
Robert Coburn
Siera London

11:00 – 11:45 a.m. the Whodunit Mystery Writing Award, presented by Shirrel Rhoades.
Introduction of 2016 winner, Lewis C. Haskell
Presentation of the 2017 Whodunit Award

11:45 – 12:00 p.m. Presentation of the Florida Keys Community College Scholarship Winners

12:00 p.m. Luncheon

12:30 – 1:45 p.m. Clifford Irving, Keynote Speaker

2:00 – 2:45 p.m. Panel Discussion:  It Takes a Crook
Moderator – Rick Ollerman
Mike Dennis
Bill Craig
Ken Rijock
Reef Perkins

3:00 – 3:45 p.m. Panel Discussion: Cozy Mysteries and Female Sleuths
Moderator – Nancy J. Cohen
Susan Haskell / Norah-Jean Perkin
Marjory Sorrell Rockwell
Renee Kumor
Meg Muldoon


4:00 – 4:45 p.m. Panel Discussion: Law Enforcement

Moderator: James O. Born
Jim Linder, Joint Interagency Task Force
Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay
Carol Frederick, Florida Department of Law Enforcement


5:00 – 5:45 p.m. Book Signing

7:00 – 9:00 p.m. Special mystery event at Key West Art & Historical Society’s Custom House Museum. 

8:30 – 11:00 a.m. Mystery Writers of America Brunch at Schooner Wharf Bar at the historic Key West waterfront (included in registration + $15 for each additional guest.

Mystery Fest Key West: Randy Rawls

Q&A with Mystery Fest Key West Guest Author Randy Rawls

Randy Rawls_5Q0A7497

Author Randy Rawls will moderate a panel titled, “Where I Get My Ideas,” with authors John H. Cunningham, David Beckwith, Charles Todd and Paul Sinor at the upcoming Mystery Fest Key West.

Soon to appear as a headlining author at the upcoming Mystery Fest Key West, June 16-18 at the DoubleTree by Hilton Grand Key Resort, author Randy Rawls is a man of mystery. He’s past-president of the Mystery Writers of America – Florida Chapter, author of the Ace Edwards, Dallas private-eye series, the Tom Jeffries South Florida private-eye series, and the Beth Bowman South Florida private-eye series, as well as short stories in various anthologies. His latest, “Justice Secured,” is a standalone featuring Josh Hawkins, ex-Army Special Forces officer and a private investigator in South Florida.

The South Florida based author agreed to share some insights about his work and methods in advance of the Fest:

Q: Your first two book series feature male private investigators. Then along came Beth Bowman. What made you decide to write from a woman’s perspective?

RR: Two things. First, the market place. Women buy the vast majority of books sold, and women read the vast majority of books read. Second, I had recently read some female protagonist books written by “name” male authors. The best I can say is the heroines fell into one of two categories: 1) The helpless female who can’t tie her shoes without calling on her boyfriend for help, and 2) the female who was nothing more than a thinly disguised male in a skirt. I firmly believed I could do better. Thus, Beth Bowman was born.

Q: What do you find most challenging about writing from a woman’s perspective?

RR: I don’t mean to sound flippant, but getting it right. When I started Beth, I was fortunate to be in a critique group with four strong women who were good writers. I asked them to keep me on track—pull no punches. If I wandered away from the way a woman might process something or used language which was too masculine, I wanted to know. They TOLD me. Actually, I think they often enjoyed jerking me back, but they taught me, and, readers have said they taught me pretty good.

Q: To clue or not to clue? Are you a clue-dropper, or do you play your cards close to the chest?

RR: Clue-dropper. I’d like to say I plant them carefully, but that would be a lie. As I go through the story, I discover that I planted a clue many pages before that fits the twist I have in mind. When that happens, I’m surprised and pleased. Of course, sometimes I plant what I consider a clue at the time, but it turns out it was only a “red herring.” In that case, I am also surprised and pleased.

Bottom line, I suppose, is I’m never sure when I’m planting a clue, a red herring, or simply more of the story. But, it’s all fun.

Q: Write then edit? Or edit as you go?

RR: Edit as I go. Since I don’t work from an outline, I choose to review the previous effort before launching into new material. Naturally, as I review, I edit. So, in theory, when I reach the end, the book has been thoroughly edited. But, that’s not true either. I let the book “cool” for 30 to 60 days, then print it out and read it with my editor’s eye turned on. Hopefully, by the end of that read, it is ready. Of course, my critique group has been helping me catch mytypos and other assorted naughties.

Q: Have you ever regretted killing off a character?

RR: Oh, yes. In my first Tom Jeffries thriller, I killed off a good guy. I thought it had to be done or Tom’s escape from catastrophe would never be believable. Tom and I shed a tear at his loss, but moved on. Then, in book 2, I needed that character. There was simply a hole without him. He fit perfectly for the role I needed played. Initially, I struggled, trying to come up with a substitute, but finally found one that I think worked. But, zapping that first guy was a mistake I will try to never make again.

 Also, in my first Beth Bowman book, I almost did the same thing. One of the nasties went down from multiple bullet wounds. A reader could easily surmise that he died. In Book 3, I needed him, so I went back and read the portion where he was shot. Satisfying myself that he could have survived, I brought him back as a crippled and weakened man. He worked out great in the role I gave him.

 The moral I’ve learned: be careful who you kill. You may need them again.