Where does a mystery author begin? Was it the Agatha Christie novels my mother read while pregnant with me? The Nancy Drew books I devoured as a young girl? The fact that Mom was a charter subscriber to Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and kept stacks of them around the house? Or maybe it was the night Daddy made an inspired exception: even though I had school the next day, I could stay up to watch Alfred Hitchcock Presents on Sundays at 9:30, provided my homework was done.
The seed had been planted.
I wrote my first “novel” in eighth grade, a shameless Hardy Boy ripoff set in a ghost town out west. At the top of my “manuscript” Mr. Ramerez wrote, “Write what you know, Marcia. Have you ever been to a ghost town?”
If I was discouraged by his negative review, I don’t remember it. I continued to write stories with twisty Hitchcockian endings all the way through high school, until the rigors of college and the realities of being the full-time working mother of two young daughters gave me new priorities.
A dozen or so years ago, I had never heard of Sisters in Crime. Slogging away at my job in a windowless office in Washington, DC – where I had begun to fantasize about writing a novel in which I bumped off the woman who married my father after my mother died -- I often lunched with colleagues who, I soon learned, were also mystery fans. In the early 1990s Steve the Techie introduced me to the DorothyL listserv, which I promptly joined. Another colleague, Salle, told me about the Malice Domestic conference in Bethesda, Maryland which I first attended the year Nevada Barr won the Agatha for “Track of the Cat.”
At Malice I met Deborah Crombie, Kate Charles, Donna Andrews, Margaret Maron, and dozens of authors who are still my friends. It was one of these new friends, in fact, who made a suggestion over dinner that changed my life – “Why don’t you join Sisters in Crime?”
I walked into my first Chesapeake Chapter meeting at Bish Thompson’s Seafood House one Saturday knowing no one. I selected a table pretty much at random, and found myself chatting about mystery novels in progress with two other aspiring authors -- Laura Lippman and Sujata Massey. Sisters in Crime brought Sujata and me together in a writers critique group (ten years later, still offering tough love) where we browbeat one another into finishing a novel. After Sujata won the Malice Domestic grant that would launch her career, she encouraged me to enter my novel in progress, and amazingly, Sing It To Her Bones won the Malice grant, too, which led to an agent and a three-book deal with Bantam/Dell. Sujata, Laura and Margaret Maron graciously provided me with my first blurbs, and Sisters in Crime members have fed me, housed me and driven me to book signings from Maine to California, with stops in Ohio and Kansas along the way.
But support from SinC didn’t stop there. Publishers merge, editors get fired, imprints are dropped, proposals get rejected, contracts aren’t renewed, agents retire prematurely .. and through it all, SinC has been there offering resources, advice, ideas, support, and even shoulders to cry on. In the volatile and increasingly perplex world of publishing, SinC is more than a network, it’s a safety net. With help from my Sisters (and Brothers) in Crime, I have a new agent, a new two-book deal, and life is good.
Back in the 50s, sitting cross-legged in front of a flickering black and white tube on which a familiar profile took shape while Gunod’s Funeral March of a Marionette played in the background, I confided to my father that I wanted to write mysteries when I grew up. He simply smiled. The seed might have been planted that day, but it lay dormant for many years, until my Sisters in Crime helped the dream grow, blossom, and flower.
And I couldn’t be more grateful.
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Marcia Talley is the Agatha and Anthony award winning author of six Hannah Ives mysteries including Through the Darkness. Hannah’s seventh adventure, Dead Man Dancing, will be published in 2008. Marcia is Secretary of the national board of Sisters in Crime.