Kate Flora: Last Saturday, Dick Cass organized an author event for Olli, or Osher
Lifelong Learning Institute at USM, and invited me and Julia Spencer-Fleming to join him. The room was packed as the three of us presented one of our favorite author programs, Making a Mystery, an interactive activity where the authors and the audience join together to write a mystery on the fly. I’ve done a number of these, and because they depend on audience submissions for character names, occupations, setting, motive, and weapons, they are never the same. From a chicken coop to a lighthouse to the edge of a foggy swamp, they show that murder and mystery can happen anywhere.
For nearly two hours, we consulted with the audience as we shaped a mystery involving a water quality engineer, a judge, an antiques dealer, a pathologist, a social worker, a wealthy local schemer, and a trout farmer/wilderness guide. The story evolved to have many different characters with motives to kill the water quality engineer, and in the end, the killer was identified and we left it to the audience to decide whether one of them might want to write the actual story. Along the way, our choices provided numerous opportunities for us to talk about the writing and editing process, as well as the different choices we may make compelled by what corner of the genre we work in.
But that’s not what this post is about. Not really. This post responds to an audience question about how the three of us could work so well together and the comment that see we seemed to like each other. Well, that’s the thing: we do. Unlike some areas of writing, where writers seem to be competitive or solitary, the crime writing community is close-knit and amazingly supportive.
I discovered this a year before my first Thea Kozak mystery, Chosen for Death, was published. My editor told me I should go to a mystery conference in Omaha, Nebraska, to meet other authors and see if I could find some who would agree to give me blurbs for my book. I was absolutely wide-eyed to find myself in a room with authors I’d read and admired, and they were wonderfully kind to me and welcomed me to the community. I came home with names which I shared with my publisher (who ignored them, but that’s another story) and with the advice that if I was going to be a woman mystery writer, I should join my local chapter of Sisters in Crime.
Sisters in Crime was founded to raise the public’s, and publishers and reviewers
perception of the contributions of women to the mystery field. We have a motto which really sums up our value to writers: You write alone but you’re not alone. I came home and joined and became a member of the New England crime writing community. Because, though I am solitary, I take the notion of community very much to heart, over the years I became very active in Sisters, eventually becoming international president, and also was a founder of two conferences designed to bring our community together: The New England Crime Bake, https://www.crimebake.org/event/9054a09e-1247-4cc6-934b-c1007b77dcc3 which was born in my living room, and the smaller, but very congenial Maine Crime Wave https://www.mainewriters.org/maine-crime-wave Both events are designed to provide opportunities for writers who toil in isolation to share stories, and craft, and ideas for promotion and to build a sense of community.
That same sense of community and a belief that a rising tide lifts all boats led to forming of this blog, back in 2011. For a dozen years, a shifting cast of characters and voices have shared thoughts here about all things writing and all things Maine. I love the texture of the blog, the blend of voices and points of view, and I hope that, as one of our readers, you do, too.
Something that has struck me from the beginning is that crime writers are so generous and uncompetitive. No one has to fail for one of us to succeed. We know that readers of crime fiction are insatiable, and if they like our books, they’ll like our friends’ and colleagues’ books. We won’t lose them if they like another writer, they’ll simply be entertained until our next book becomes available.
The audience on Saturday, perhaps because many of them were part of the senior college, had a deep curiosity about the writing process and how writers work. This curiosity, and their questions, are one of the things that makes doing writer panels so much fun. My answer will be different from Dick Cass’s answer, and his will be different from Julia’s. Many times I’ve heard aspiring authors say: I was going to write such and such a story, but XX famous person has already done it. Yes, perhaps they have. But that writer will have a different background, different lived experience, a different vocabulary, and a different way of seeing the world. Their story won’t be your story, just as their process won’t be your process.
So. I’ve rambled on enough, I think. I really only wanted to say that on Saturday, when it seemed like we were having fun and enjoying each other’s company, we were. We have a wonderful, connected, vibrant crime writing community here in Maine, and love to share our enthusiasm with readers.
Who knows? Maybe one of our regular readers would like a bunch of authors to come to a library or a school or a book club or a local organization, and you can see for yourselves how much fun we can be. And how much fun we have because we like each other.
There really is a fine camaraderie among writers.
Sounds like a fun time!
Sounds fun! Sorry I missed it. Was planning on coming but ended up on Cape Cod golfing. Next time.