Wednesday, December 10, 2008


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
fershlugginger MAD.)

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.

(Here's Maddy in Aruba. There's something about cabana boys, which we don't understand.)

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...


  1. Yikes, it's the famous Maddy! Nice to meet you. I was a lurker on 4MA for a while but you guys are amazing - I couldn't keep up with all of the new, cool books I was being turned on to (and write my own humble series.)
    On behalf of all newbie I'd like to ask, - other than word of mouth - what draws you to a writer you've never heard of? We all obsess about covers, colors and titles, how much does all that matter to a pro like you?

  2. Oh, great question,Ro. Love to know the answer.

    And if someone wants to join your stellar group, Maddy, how do they do it?

  3. Welcome to JRR, Maddy!
    I've heard so many friends rave about 4MA. I haven't dared join yet, because I know how much time I waste online as it is. If i'm not careful I will have literally ten minutes a day left for writing!

  4. Welcome Maddy,
    I'm so thrilled there are people like you out there -- I have not checked out 4MA yet, but will go there next week after my launch craziness is over.

    I also really like Sue Grafton, but have only gotten one third into the alphabet.

    I have the same question as Rosemary and would love to hear your answer.

  5. Rosemary, your comment made me laugh - a "pro" like me - but that is an interesting question. I have to say that covers, colors and titles really have very little impact on what I choose to read. Well, sometimes the title may influence me in a negative way if it's too cutesy. I tend to look at the plot summary and see if it sounds like it's up my alley. That's a dark alley most of the time. If there's something unique about the book, such as its premise or setting, that will also grab me.

  6. Thanks, Maddy!

    If you're still has this experience--heading up hundreds of mystery readers--changed you?

  7. Hank, to join 4MA, folks just need to go to and sign up there. Be forewarned that it is an active group, and your inbox may explode! You can choose to receive messages via email, digest (25 messages per digest) or no mail, which means reading at the web site. It is a bit daunting at first, but it is a warm and friendly group so please hang in there!

  8. Hank, another interesting question - you are so good at those! I formed 4MA merely as a vehicle to find other people with whom to discuss books. The discussions are wonderful, and I learn a lot from them. I love how people express their honest opinions, and there's back and forth about reactions. What I didn't expect was the whole personal side of the thing. I have formed some lifelong friendships from the people I've met on this list. It seems to matter to people on an emotional as well as intellectual level. I can't imagine being without it!

  9. Fascinating interview, but no surprise since Maddy is a #1 fan, prolific reader and great organizer. Looking forward to seeing you at LCC2009 in Hawaii, and, of course, in San Francisco at Bouchercon. Fan Guest of Honor, well-deserved.