Kate Flora: I was never one of those girls who dreamed about being a princess. I didn’tlong for glamour, or jewels, or poofy dresses. People who know me can affirm that I don’t wear makeup, and when I do panels or library talks, I generally appear in something black and rather plain. So what is this about a tiara? It’s a long story that began in my living room.
Last weekend was the New England Crime Bake, our region’s own mystery conference featuring writers, aspiring writers, and readers from all over New England. The Bake, which takes place every November and is now in its seventeenth year, was born in my living room, at a meeting, when I said that I thought we ought to have our own mystery conference, and Al Blanchard, then president of the New England chapter of Mystery Writers of America, and Gin Mackey, then president of our local chapter of Sisters in Crime, stepped forward and said they’d organize one.
Our first conference was a one-day conference at a junior college, with guest of honor Jeremiah Healy. Our second was two days, with Guest of Honor Janet Evanovich, at a school where we discovered, to our misery, that the heat shut off over the weekend. Learning to put on conferences forced us to be innovative and quick on our feet, from having to stand in the bathroom handing out toilet paper from the single large roll we’d managed to score for a reluctant janitor, to four of us who all happened to be wearing leather vests that day stepping in to do an impromptu panel on research when our Boston Police Department forensics expert was called to a crime scene and didn’t appear.
Over the years, guests of honor have included Robert Parker, Tess Gerritsen, Lisa Scottolini, Lee Child, Harlan Coben Sue Grafton, Lisa Gardner, Elizabeth George and this year, Walter Mosley. The conference is kept deliberately small (around 250) and sells out every year. See some great photos of past guests of honor here: http://crimebake.org/about-crime-bake/
Earlier this year, I got an email from the crime bake committee, informing me that I would be the recipient of this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award for my contributions to the Crime Bake and the mystery community. I was stunned. And thrilled. And abashed and quickly fell into my Eeyore mode. My role is always to support writers and try to create a strong writing community. Like Eeyore, I lower my eyes and murmur, “Thanks for noticing me.”
Of course, I didn’t know what to expect. I would get to sit at the head table with lots of
people I really like and admire, like Sisters in Crime New England chapter president Edith Maxwell and Crime Bake co-chair Michele Dorsey. Like Sisters in Crime national president Sherry Harris and Mystery Writers of American executive director Margery Flax, the Amazing Dru Ann Love, Mo Walsh, And Pompano, and of course the amazing Walter Mosley.
On Saturday afternoon before the banquet, at the urging of an attendee, I decided to get into the spirit of the the thing by crafting a sash for my banquet dress out of crime scene tape. Where to find crime scene tape? In that crowd, it was no problem. I just rummaged around in the box of goodies Sisters in Crime had at their table, and voila! An elegant yellow and black sash was fashioned.
I still didn’t know what to expect, but some of my friends were hinting at the possibility of a tiara. Well. I began to think that that would be fun. I’ll stand up, I’ll get a silly tiara, everyone will clap, and thus will begin, and end, my fifteen minutes of fame. It was far, far more special than that. To my surprise–and tearful delight–three of my good friends got up and made actual speeches about my contributions to the mystery community. My former partner and in the instigator of Level Best Books, Susan Oleksiw, another partner and dear friend Ruth McCarty, and Bruce Coffin, aka “The Tall Guy.”
Do people always say this after a powerful, and positive, emotional moment? It was
amazing. I was stunned by the speeches and my framed plaque and my bouquet of roses and my engraved fountain pen. And of course. Yes. I got a tiara. And looked out through tear-dimmed eyes at an entire room full of people giving me a standing ovation.
There have been a few moments in life when I thought, happily, “I can die now.” This was one of them. (The last was doing an on-stage interview with Tony Hillerman before 500 people) Of course, having received a Lifetime Achievement Award, I asked the mystery community if this meant I was due to be killed off. But no. There is always more community building to be done. So I will glow with pleasure for a little while, and then get back to work.
I confess, though, that I did wear my tiara to breakfast on Sunday. Why not? One so rarely gets to wear them. As it turns out, tiaras go just fine with jeans.