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 There hadn't been any bar or admissions test back when I was still unknown and unpublished.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?


  1. What a lovely post. That group right there in the last picture has been my welcoming committee. Every single one of you has encouraged my writing path. I attended my first Crime Bake the last year it was held in Lowell. I knew two people there. But people were friendly and I thought, Why haven't I joined Sisters in Crime yet? So I went to my first meeting of the New England chapter in Kate Flora's living room and heard Jan talk about writing dialogue (and Sheila Connolly announced her first cozy contracts!). Kate has been another welcomer, always encouraging me to keep writing even as she signed yet another Level Best rejection letter!

    Thanks to all of you and your encouragement, I now have an agent and a three-book cozy contract. Wow.

  2. Yay Edith, such a great story! and we're delighted to have you in our bunch...and such fun to look at all those pictures, Julia. Thank you!

  3. Way back in (I think) 1989, there was an International Crime Congress held in NYC in combination with that year's Edgars. At the time I had one middle-grades mystery out and two YA mysteries sold but not yet published (and, as it turned out, the line would be discontinued before they were---but that's another story!) I went with a friend, but she wasn't arriving until the second day, so I went to the first night's dinner on my own, fighting extreme shyness and probably looking pretty lost. That didn't last long. Joan Lowry Nixon, who by then had several YA Edgars to her credit, recognized my name on my nametag and insisted I sit at her table. Also there was a bookseller from Joan's home state of Texas named Dean James, better known these days as Miranda James. No doubt about it. The mystery community makes everyone feel like part of the gang. And things got even better after Sisters in Crime was founded.

  4. Kathy Lynn,

    You won't remember this, but you were one of the August Personages I went to see at the Portland Public Library. You were there with Kate Flora and another Sister in Crime (her name escapes me.) FACE DOWN AMONG THE WINCHESTER GEESE had just been published and I came up afterwards to tell you how much I enjoyed the Lady Appleton series. You were so nice - even though I was too shy to tell you I was working on a book of my own, I remember walking away feeling very encouraged.

  5. What a bracing and positive post! Thank you for encouraging the shy among us (I'm a charter member).

    I remember being on the receiving end of kindness from two of you at the Baltimore Bouchercon. Hallie was gracious when I thanked her for her helpful book on mystery writing, and Julia and I shared a laugh about pompous vestry members (I had just joined the vestry at my church and it felt like a page out of her novels).

    I also remember being awed by two of my favorite writers, John Harvey and Peter Robinson, both of whom were courteous and chatty.

    Next time I go to a meeting, I'll try to work up the courage to try next steps: drinks and dinner!

  6. Love these stories! And it's so important ro fact, Hallie was an early booster for me.. I'll always be incredibly grateful... And try to pay it forward.

  7. Three years ago, at the Bouchercon in Indianapolis, I was greeted so warmly by Hank that it made my conference experience so much smoother. I'd won one of her books, and in our conversation she invited me to have tea with her in Indy. We never did have tea, but since then we have bumped into one another a couple other places. And she introduced me to Rosemary!

    Thank you, Hank, for being so lovely to a fan!

  8. I was definitely eating the wrapper at the St. Louis Bouchercon last year. I'll try to do better next time. Great post.

  9. Detectionists? Oh what a delightful word! Lovely post, and delighted to be among you!

  10. Loving all these posts -- this really is the best thing about being a mystery writer is not only, to quote Dr. Seuss, "Oh, the places you'll go!" but "Oh, the people you'll meet!"

    Sarah Smith and Marcia Talley were early welcomers for me.

  11. I attended my first Crime Bake in 2004. My life was in shambles and a dear friend, though not a huge mystery fan herself, decided to give me the gift of something completely different. She poured me into her car, drove us to Lowell, checked us into the hotel, and there I was - seeing, embodied in flesh and blood, people whose words had taken me to places not my own and given me problems to gnaw on other than my own. And they talked me - in lines, at meals, in the hot tub. Thanks for being so "clubbable!"

  12. I first met Hallie at a mystery conference in Parsippany, NJ. She was so kind and encouraging to me. At each meal when I sheepishly approached her table and asked, “Is someone sitting here?”, she would answer with a smile, “You are!” I think we ate every meal together that weekend. She taught me so much on the perils of adverbs and gave me such great advice. I’ll never forget that welcoming experience. She certainly is the bee’s knees.
    -Bob D.

  13. First, I, too, have been made to feel welcome and encouraged here, for which I'm grateful! Having interviewed hundreds of writers (mystery and children's) for my column, I've lots of good memories. Johnathan Gash (signing at our wonderful Booked for Murder) said, after his reading, "Anyone have a pen?" patting his pockets. Everyone laughed and I got up to give him mine. Talking to him later I , like Deb, was amazed at his kindness. Ellen Hart came to Madison after I interviewed her for her first Jane Lawless book. She is a delight! Then she asked if I'd be at the signing, just to hold her up if nothing else. I was there, but she didn't need any holding on my part, terrific. And finally, I was lucky enough to do a phone interview with the late, illusive Edgar Gorey. Having been told by another writer close to him that he NEVER gave interviews, I was quaking. But his droll humor took it all away. We talked for more than an hour. At the end he asked me if I was going to be his biographer. Dumb-struck, I stammered, "Uh.." "Of course you are!" he bellowed. "I'll give you a list of friends to contact." A week later I got a thank you postcard with his list of friends. He's still alive for me.

  14. Oh, what fun stories! I met Kate Charles and Marcia Talley at my first Malice. We were all newbies then, although Kate had a book (or two?) published. We've been BFFs ever since. But I couldn't imagine ever being one of the "old guard," and, ha ha, here I am. Old, at least...

    Kathy Lynn, Joan Lowry Nixon was such a wonderful lady--very kind to me, too, in those early days. And Dean James, of course, has been a dear friend since the first time I signed at Murder by the Book.

    And AnnOxford, I am green that you got to interview Gorey, although I can't imagine I'd ever have had the nerve. So ARE you going to write that biography?

  15. Hmmm.....I have to say some of my earliest an happiest memories of "welcome to the club," were at Kate's Mystery Bookstore in Cambridge.

    I tend to overthink at the big conferences and love the little ones. That said, I will always be most grateful to Hallie at the Chicago Bouchercon, where she hooked me up with Kelley Ragland at ST. Martins, who then picked up my Hallie Ahern series.

  16. Eating the wrapper...I think Hallie has just created a new catch phrase like jumping the shark!

  17. Hey, Bob! I remember you!

    I've met some wonderful people at Deadly Ink. It's the nice thing about those smaller conferences -- it's so easy to connect.

  18. Those are such fantastic photos on the blog today! And don't they bring back some terrific memories?

    (Doesn't it look like Rhys and Debs and Louise are singing? I think that event--what was it, anyway? Was the first time I'd ever seen Debs in real life..)

    Karen in Ohio, clearly we are still on for tea! Cannot wait..xoxo And you bring tears to my eyes, remembering..thank you.

  19. Thank you, Clubbables, for this welcoming post. It's amazing to hear about others' shyness. At meetings, I am torn between my painfully shy side and my closet extrovert.
    Hallie, thank you for your gracious manner at mealtime when I sat next to you at a Book Passage Mystery Writers Conference, Corte Madera, CA. I felt included in the group. (And congratulations on your recent nomination for award! I am jumping up and down excited for you.)
    Cara Black is another mystery author to whom I owe thanks. As she signed a book for me, I explained I wouldn't be reading her book until I finished writing my own mystery novel. She said, Let me know when you're done, OK? I am both thrilled and challenged for the invitation to be held accountable to my writing goals.
    Thanks to All of you, and expecially Jan, for all the welcoming feelings I have at this forum. Reds rock!

  20. At my first Left Coast - in Denver years ago - Judy Greber/Gillian Roberts got in the hotel elevator ahead of me and I was so shy I paused. She said 'going up?' I nodded starstruck, me just a lowly fan. In the elevator she smiled and asked me how the conference was going, did I enjoy it....? So kind and welcoming I've never forgotten it.
    At my first Bouchercon in Monterey, Peter Lovesey and Liza Cody sat in the lobby and my friends and I just stood kind of dorklike near them listening and finally Liza said, 'well are you going to sit and join us ladies and talk? ok then made the clubbable grade.

  21. Oh Avi hi!! Wrote this before I saw your post...yes I are you?

  22. "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." This is so great!

  23. I specifically remember going to a Bouchercon, wow, probably 8 years ago now, and running into this wonderful author named Julia Spencer-Fleming, who had not only READ MY BOOK, but liked it, and proceeded to outline for me exactly how I should be promoting and what my next career move should be. And I count her (ahem!) as one of my very best friends in this business or out.

  24. I enjoyed meeting Zoë Sharp last spring at the Tucson Festival of Books. She was very lovely and we had a good chat.

    I really am quite shy and not sure what it would take for me to feel like a "member of the club," aside from getting published, that is.

    It's difficult for me to travel now, so I don't know what opportunities I will have for mingling, except here in Tucson, maybe in Phoenix or possibly Los Angeles. But I would like to, and after reading this blog today, I am thinking now of joining Sisters in Crime.

  25. Cara, Hi backatcha! Fancy meeting you here. How delightful to give you a thank you in person, so to speak. Heart full.

  26. Just a sweet memory from a fan at an authors/fans convention (West Coast Crime) some years ago in Albuquerque.
    Enjoying a panel discussion - then q & a started; one panelist looked beyond me to reply to a "Tony" - I looked back, & right behind me was Tony Hillerman, attending the panel & asking a question. How cool is that?
    We had first seen him at a book-signing in Alb. bookstore. Waiting for his arrival, then in came sort of academic-appearing type - carrying briefcase. The man, himself!

  27. error last post: should read "Left Coast Crime".

  28. I want to curl up with Deborah Crombie's No Mark Upon Her! Truly, truly I do!

    skkorman AT bellsouth DOT net

  29. Great post!

    "I want to curl up with Deborah Crombie's No Mark Upon Her"

  30. I've been reading mysteries (must confess mostly brits) for years, I started reading Agatha Christie around age 7, I'd pick up a library book one of my parents finished reading off the steps to upstairs (thats where they were kept and God help you if you knocked one of them off running up to your room)

    I was hooked and have been every since.

    I always dreamed of meeting Agatha Christie or Dorothy Sayers and other authors I've read.

    I've never been to the UK but feel I should have been born there, I'm most comfortable when I'm reading a mystery taking place in UK

    I still dream of meeting authors I read, then one late night I was on FB and came across Debs site and posted how much I enjoyed the latest Gemma/Duncan book I read and shortly there after I was chatting with her on FB page to page and now feel like I've known her forever, such a fun welcoming lady!

    I was in awe that someone Famous took the time out to talk to me, what a pleasure and Debs is such a fun person - when she posted the link to Jungle Red, I popped over and started reading the blogs and occassionally posting; realizing that these amazing, talented woman do love their readers, somehow that never occured to me.

    I love reading all your blogs, whether talking about a book convention/conference/author meeting to talking about P.J.'s

    Every one of you make every reader feel so welcome!

    Anyhow, Thanks Debs for "friending" me and making a entralled reader feel at home!


  31. Mar - my mom also kept a lot of her books on the stairs. When I ran out of reading ideas, I'd browse her stair collection.