Her name is Maddy Van Hertbruggen. And she's addicted to mysteries. And she spends many an hour making sure all of us are addicted, too. Her incredibly popular listserv,
4 Mystery Addicts (4 MA) has hundreds and hundreds of participants. She and her colleagues oversee one of the most fascinating, thoughtful and literate on-going on-line conversations about mysteries.
We can't believe she had time to chat. But then again, we're addicted to mysteries, too.
HANK: So, Maddy. When did you realize you loved mysteries? Was there a book that just changed your life?
MADDY: Unlike many fans of crime fiction, I have not been a lifelong aficionado of the genre. I've always been a reader, mostly of general fiction; but it wasn't until approximately 1993 that I stepped over to the dark side. I was on a business trip and finished all the books that I had brought with me.
There was no way I was going to get on an airplane with nothing to read, so I stopped at an airport bookshop and picked up a book almost at random. That book was "G is for Gumshoe" by Sue Grafton, of whom I'd never heard! Well, that was the beginning of the end.
I could not put the book down. I was thoroughly impressed by the fact that it had everything going for it--an interesting protagonist, a well-executed plot, good writing style. And so after that, it was off to the local bookstore to investigate the mystery section, an endeavor that nearly bankrupted me.
I was totally naïve and figured that if someone had 12 different books on the racks, they must be a good writer. That led to the acquisition of many books that I later found were not to my taste at all, but I didn't know any better then. On the positive side, I found many authors who remain my favorites to this day. And now the ONLY kind of books that I read are crime fiction.
HANK: Does the fabulous Sue know she was your inspiration?
MADDY: Sue Grafton doesn't have a CLUE that I exist!!! Well, that's not entirely true, as we did manage to share an elevator at Left Coast Crime in Tucson in the late 90s. She was utterly charming and without ego.
HANK: Yes, she's incredible. (And she's going to be the Guest of Honor at the New England Crime Bake next year--maybe we can convince you to come!)And did you go back and start with A?
MADDY: I did go back and start with A. I'm currently at P.
HANK: So where did 4MA come from?
MADDY: 4 Mystery Addicts was co-founded by Leslie Hagar ("Loon") and me. We "met" in the fall of 1999 on a very moribund online list which had something like 17 members. The owner/moderator was invisible. We took it upon ourselves to try to discuss books, but there were only one or two other people who ever said a word.
(Here's Maddy and Loon. Notice they're reading
We decided to form our own list (December 29, 1999) which we could control and focus on discussing books. Most of the other lists at that time did a very poor job of that. If they did choose a book to discuss, it was more along the lines of "I liked/did not like this" and that was it. So I had the brilliant(what an ego!) idea of creating discussion questions and posting them over a period of time.
Our first discussion was of The Red Scream by Mary Willis Walker. I would post a question, and Loon would answer.I don't know how people found us, but we added several new members in January of 2000. Loon and I would be on the computer for hours everyday and celebrate every new membership. We thought we were hot stuff when we reached 25 members.
Look at us now with over 1100! Over time,we also added additional moderators to help with all the work (and you can't imagine how much work!) that goes on behind the scenes - Sherry Sharp, Nicole Leclerc, Judith Anderson and Barbara Fister. We have several retired moderators, Karen Bevers, Paul Richmond and Loon.
HANK: Well, you're right. I can't imagine how much work. All of us who just hang out and chat and think it's all happening by itself...what's going on behind the scenes?
MADDY: We have an active group of moderators. Our main responsibility is to monitor the messages that are posted to 4MA and ensure that all is well, that people are treating each other with respect and that there are no storms brewing. If we sense someone becoming belligerent or emotional, we place them on moderation so we can look at their messages before they go to the list.
New members are also placed under moderation, and each message they post has to be approved by a moderator. That lets us look out for trolls who are just joining to cause trouble, people who are having issues with Netiquette, and authors who are joining purely to promote themselves and have no interest in the list itself. It is important to us that we maintain the integrity of the list and ensure that we keep our focus as a group of mystery readers. When there are situations that need to be dealt with, we generally handle those behind the scenes so that we do not embarrass or humiliate anyone.
HANK: Ohh. Without mentioning any names--unless you really really want to and we would never tell--like what?
MADDY: Well, at times, someone will fire off a snarky remark without thinking, and we have to tactfully call to their attention that they aren't playing nice. Or you can tell that someone is starting to become angry, and that needs to be nipped in the bud. We actually have very little drama these days, which is great. List members treat each other with civility, and differing opinions are encouraged and respected.That's pretty amazing given the size of the list.
HANK: There's also a lot of behind the scenes organizing, I bet.
MADDY: Oh, yes, we also have a lot of administrative tasks. The whole nomination/supporting/voting process for picking discussion books takes quite a bit of effort. We do a lot of work to come up with the candidates for series reads. On an ongoing basis, there are polls to be created and databases to be updated.
HANK: So. Maddy--where are you? What do you do in you non-4MA life?Pets? Hobbies?
MADDY: In real life, I am an Associate Director of Consumer Sales Training(wireless) for AT&T and lead a group of 20 people. I have a cat named Cleo. My main hobby is reading, but I also enjoy doing jigsaw puzzles and knitting. And traveling, when time permits.
HANK: And wow--you're the fan guest of honor at Bouchercon 2010? Tell me about that!
MADDY: 2010 - I am still completely gobsmacked about that!!! I still can't fathom that a reader whose obsession maybe went a little further than most would be honored in this way. I am hoping that many 4MAers will attend the convention - it is really their honor more than mine.
HANK: What are they talking about at 4MA today? What are Maddy's secret faves of the year? Edgar predictions? Maybe...she'll tell us. If we ask...