Thursday, January 26, 2012
The Ancient and Honorable Order of Detectionists
JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Yesterday's guest blogger, Val McDermid, used a wonderful word in her description of the camaraderie that exist among crime fiction writers: clubbable. That word caught me, because it seems so true for both those inside and outside the peculiar fraternity of authors.
Before I had ever finished writing my first novel, back when getting published as a pipe dream on par with winning the Maine Megabucks, I used to go to libraries to hear mystery authors speak. (This was in the dawn of the internet age, children, when Twitter was something birds do and face book was what you got when you fell asleep reading in bed.) I would listen to them discuss their craft and their experiences, and laugh with one another, and think how do I get into that club? I would shyly thrust a book towards this writer or that for signature, but I never stayed to chat. I always figured it would be an imposition on the august personages of the Published Authors.
Then a funny thing happened. I won a prize, and had my first novel put under contract, and then a second. Emboldened by my status as a soon-to-be-Published Author, I screwed up my courage to ask the next author visiting Portland, Marcia Talley, to have a coffee with me after her library appearance. Imagine my surprise when I discovered she was a human being, just like me. Our "one coffee" turned into a three-hour gabfest, and I still count Marcia as one of my great friends in the mystery world. The same thing happened when I visited my first Malice Domestic convention that spring. Authors would talk with me! Waiting for the elevator, on the escalator, at dinner, at the bar: indeed, it began to seem like the issue was going to be getting enough non-talking time to sleep and phone home.
I came to realize that, while its true crime fiction writers get along remarkably well with each other, they also, by and large, are ready to get along with anyone who loves reading, writing, or drinking (yes, sometimes those stereotypes are true.) There hadn't been any bar or admissions test back when I was still unknown and unpublished. I could have walked through the club doors simply by asking.
It's still winter, but the conference and convention season - The Edgars Symposium, Malice Domestic, Left Coast Crime, Bouchercon, Crime Bake and dozens of other book festivals and celebrations - will be upon us before we know it. If you go, remember: we mystery authors really are a clubbable bunch. And whether you're a reader, or just someone who likes thinking about murder, we'd love to have you join the club.
How about you, Reds? Do you recall the moment you realized you'd gotten your membership card in the Ancient and Honorable Order of Detectionists?
RHYS BOWEN: I remember it very well and was blown away at the time. My first Bouchercon (the world mystery convention) and I knew exactly two people. I was chatting with one of them when a noisy group joined us. I stood listening to their conversation as they decided where they were going to dinner. Then one of them turned me to and said, "Are you coming?" It was Jeffry Deaver and I've never forgotten how special that made me feel.
Being part of the club is one of the biggest perks of the field. I love going to conventions and hanging out with good friends, laughing late into the night, making up spontaneous groups for meals. I love keeping up with friends online, bouncing ideas off them, feeling their support. And I have to say that Val was one of those lofty writers at the top of the tree who made me feel welcome the first time I met her and has been a good friend ever since (so much so that I was in her back-up group when she sang at Bouchercon!)
LUCY BURDETTE: I can clearly remember the two conventions I attended before I was anywhere near published--Left Coast Crime in Arizona and Bouchercon in Milwaukee (I think that's right.) Those two events were absolutely excruciating as I'm quite shy when I don't know anyone. Over time I've met hundreds of writers and readers and count so many as friends. I love going to conventions now (especially smaller ones) and getting the chance to catch up with good pals in person. On a different note, it was so much fun to meet Red Deborah Crombie last weekend in Dallas--after all the yakking we've been doing on this blog, it felt like I'd known her forever!
Bottom line--say hi when you see us around--as Julia says, we love our friends in the mystery world, online and off!
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Oh, what a wonderful question. (And I just saw Val at ALA...stood in a looooong line to get her book! I'm such a fan.)
Anyway. When did I know. Hmm. I burst into tears at the Agatha nomination for Prime Time. Being interviewed by Margaret Maron. Getting a letter, via real mail, written by Sue Grafton. But you know--here's the thing. I was in the post office--the JFK Branch at Government Center in Boston.
A woman came up to me, and said, are you Hank Phillippi Ryan? I'm a TV reporter, have been for 30 years, so I'm used to being recognized. (and thrilled, every time.) So I said yes, thank you and...She interrupted me. I'm reading your book! And I love it, she said. And she pulled FACE TIME from her purse. Will you sign it for me, she asked?
I melted. And that's when I thought--all those authors I revere (and Julia, and Rhys, and Hallie and Jan and Debs and Ro and Lucy, you are among them!) some people think of me that way, too. Oh. Life-changing.
HALLIE EPHRON: My first book did not get awards (though my new one COME AND FIND ME was just nominated for the Mary Higgins Clark award -- WHOOPEE!) and I hadn't even the good sense at the point to belong to SinC or MWA. So my first conferences were excruciating.
My first Bouchercon in Denver reminded me of a wedding I once went to. Alone. Chinese friends were getting married, and everyone there was 'family' and they were all speaking Chinese. I ended up standing in the corner, smiling and nodding and sweating. I was halfway through eating a bao when I realized I was eating the paper wrapping.
So at every conference I just go up to people who look lost and alone and strike up a conversation. Makes me smile. Makes them smile. Keeps them from eating the wrapper.
DEBORAH CROMBIE: Hallie, too funny! But yes. Oh my god, the first Bouchercon I went to, a few months before I sold my first book--what a memory. I knew a few people from my Texas MWA group, and they were very nice to me, but still--there were all these famous authors and I couldn't imagine TALKING to them. I was so overwhelmed by everything. Then, I was waiting outside the hotel for a shuttle, and Jonathan Gash came up to me and asked me how I was doing and if I was enjoying myself. He didn't know me from Adam, he was just being kind. I've never forgotten it, and like Hallie, I try to talk to people at conferences who look a little lost.
ROSEMARY HARRIS: This was a no-brainer for me. My first conference as a published writer, Love is Murder 2008. First of all, there was a stack of Pushing Up Daisies - I'd never seen one out in public before and it was two weeks before the official pub date so I hadn't expected it to be there. Then, I was in a session Jon Jordan was leading on How to Do LIM (or something like that) and he recognized me and said my name to the group - and a librarian in the audience, the wonderful Monique Flasch from Glenview, said "Are you Rosemary Harris?" Third wonderful thing that weekend - Lee Child bought a copy of my book and asked me to sign it! Made me love Lee, LIM, Chicago and even snow that whole weekend!!
How about you, dear Reader? Do you feel like you're part of the club? Has there been a particular author (like Jeffry Deaver for Rhys or Jonathan Gash for Deb) who has made you welcome? Or have you run into another book lover (like Ro's Monique Flasch or Hank's Post Office admirer) who opened the door for you?