Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Writers’ Police Academy: SinC will pay more than half your way

Sisters in Crime members can attend the Writers’ Police Academy, to be held Sept. 23 to 25, 2011 near Greensboro, North Carolina, for a deeply-discounted registration fee of $100. SinC national will pay the balance of members’ $255 registration.

Act quickly to take advantage of this offer, which is in effect until June 15, 2011.

If you’re not a Sisters in Crime member, you can sign up for a SinC membership to receive the discount. The annual membership fee for a SinC professional membership is $40.

The Writers’ Police Academy, helmed by SinC member Lee Lofland, provides a hands-on interactive experience designed to help writers increase their understanding of all aspects of law enforcement and forensics.

The three-day training program offers access to active-duty police instructors, an on-site working fire station and working police, fire and EMS equipment. Law enforcement professionals participating in the event include ATF special agent Rick McMahan; Lt. Josh Morris of the Central Point Police Department, assigned to the FBI as the commander of the Southern Oregon High-Tech Crimes Task Force/FBI Cyber Crimes Task Force; Dave Pauly, retired from the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command as a Special Agent-in-Charge/Commander and forensic science officer, and others.

Exhibits and demonstrations will focus on crime lab work, firefighting equipment, command post vehicles and motorcycles, as well as the work of dive teams, the state police, K-9 teams and hazardous material teams.

Sessions and workshops will examine the use of force, 3-D laser modeling, bloodstain patterns and cold cases, including how cases go cold and the realities of homicide units. Dr. Katherine Ramsland will offer a special presentation on “Psychological Sleuthing and the Tools of Forensic Psychology.”

The keynote speech will be presented by award-winning author Christopher Reich, the author of eight espionage thrillers. His most recent work, Rules of Betrayal, is the third installment in the series featuring Dr. Jonathan Ransom, a surgeon who previously worked with Doctors Without Borders, and his wife, Emma, a secret agent.

Sisters in Crime will sponsor a mix-and-mingle reception on Friday, Sept. 24, from 7 to 9 p.m. The get-together will be followed by a “night owl” presentation by Lee Lofland, author of Police Procedure and Investigation, a bestseller in the Writers Digest “Howdunit” series.

To register, or for more detailed information on the Writers’ Police Academy, go to www.writerspoliceacademy.com.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Join Mystery Writers in Sending Books to the Troops

By Mary Kennedy

[Published previously at huffingtonpost.com]

I'd never met Lt. Colonel Lisa Schieferstein, yet I found myself intrigued by her story. I knew Lisa was half a world away, doing a tough job in a gritty, remote location. As the garrison commander of the 389th "Renegades" division in Iraq, she was stationed at a desert outpost and had 90 soldiers under her command. The heat was appalling (115 degrees Fahrenheit), the conditions were rugged and the danger was ever-present.

Even though my life is incredibly cushy by comparison (a nice psychology practice in Delaware, a second career as a mystery novelist), I knew right away that Lisa and I had something in common: a love of books. I saw a photo of Lisa--in full body armor--visiting a one-room Iraqi schoolhouse to bring books to the children.

We began to e-mail each other, and I had a little window into her daily life. When I learned that the 389th was a sustainment division, offering food and snacks to American convoys passing through, I decided to send boxes of books and homemade goodies every two weeks.

When Carolyn Hart (America's Agatha Christie) heard about the project, she made an interesting offer. "Let me send twenty pounds of coffee, snacks and books to celebrate the publication of Laughed 'Til He Died. It's the 20th release in my Death on Demand series, and this would be a nice way to commemorate the event."

Nice? It was fabulous! A very generous offer, indeed. I was thrilled. Carolyn was as good as her word, immediately sending more than 20 pounds of goodies and books to the troops.

But it didn't stop there. We received such a positive response from the 389th Renegades that we kept on going. We had to! The soldiers said they loved these boxes from home.

Carolyn confirmed, "When I packed the boxes for the remote garrison in Iraq, I pictured young Americans--and some not so young--far from home, beset by horrendous heat and dirt, lonely, tired and always in danger. The boxes held so little, but they were sent with love to say, 'Thank you for all that you are and for all that you do. God Bless.' I sent candy, tuna fish, instant coffee, and books. I wished I could send safety and peace."

Other writers heard about the project and joined us. Kate Collins, J. B. Stanley, Julie Hyzy, Beth Ciotta, and Robin Burcell are just a few writers who donated autographed books and goodies. Jill Cesa-TenEyck, Lisa's best friend, insisted on sending a dozen copies of my own Penguin mystery, Dead Air, to the Renegades.

The numbers kept soaring. To date, we've sent more than 200 pounds of homemade goodies and books to Iraq. Yes, 200 pounds!

The generosity of my fellow writers is truly an inspiration to me. New York Times best-selling author Caridad Pineiro said, "As an immigrant to this country, I value the liberties in America every day. I try to regularly help our soldiers as they protect our nation. Whether it's sending books, candy or basic necessities, I know those small things mean the world to them."

What does the military think about the project? Kim Adams, SOS Military Liaison and an Air Force spouse in Honolulu, said, "As a veteran of the first Gulf War, I know first-hand what difference mail makes to deployed personnel--actual snail mail since email and Skype were nonexistent. But the war was short term and our troops came home. Today, our military personnel are facing longer and repeated deployments. While email and Skye are available, nothing can replace the warmth of a personal letter, the excitement of a care package and the thrill of receiving books hand-selected by readers who support our deployed personnel."

I wish everyone reading this piece could adopt a soldier and send books, candy, snacks, and, of course, homemade goodies. It's easy to do and it really means the world to our brave men and women in the military forces.

As Janet Evanovich said, "If Stephanie Plum could meet the Renegades, she'd give them a high-five and say, 'Well done!'"

If you'd like to donate books, please contact http://www.operationpaperback.org/, http://www.booksforheroes2010.com/ or http://www.booksforsoldiers.com/.

Mary Kennedy is a clinical psychologist in private practice on the East Coast and the author of The Talk Radio mysteries. The most recent title in the series is Stay Tuned for Murder.

Monday, May 23, 2011

SinC Into Great Writing: Mapping the New World of Publishing

Sisters in Crime presents its annual “SinC Into Great Writing” seminar on Wednesday, Sept. 14, from 1 to 9 p.m. at the Holiday Inn Select in St. Louis, Mo.

This year, SinC Into Great Writing focuses on navigating the changing landscape of publishing. The official title of the workshop is “SinC Into Great Writing: Mapping the New World of Publishing (Or, How to Succeed in a Business That’s Really Trying).”

The day includes speakers and sessions focused on practical professional development topics for crime fiction writers.

Keynote speaker David Wilk, Chief Executive Officer of Booktrix, a publishing and marketing services consultancy, will speak on “Planning for a Long Career in a Changing Industry.”

The afternoon programs include:
  • Traditional, Small Press, Self-Publishing, E-books. Or…? Making the Decision That’s Right for You
  • Everything You Need to Know About Getting Your Book Into (or Back In) Print, and Were Dying to Ask
  • Look, Ma! I’ve Been Kindled: A Step-by-Step Guide to E-book Publication

The dinner speaker, New York Times bestselling author and Edgar Award winner Meg Gardiner, will talk about “Lying for a Living.” Meg is the author of the five-book Evan Delaney series and the three-book Jo Beckett series. Her most recent title is The Liar’s Lullaby, a Jo Beckett novel.

The after-dinner panel discussion, “Brazen Hussies Speak Out: Marketing Your Novel in an Electronic World” includes Gina Panittieri, President, Talcott Notch Literary, and Debbi Mack, author of the two-volume Sam McRae mystery series. The first book in Mack’s series, Identity Crisis, cracked the extended New York Times e-book bestseller list in March 2011 at number 35.

SinC Into Great Writing takes place the day before Bouchercon officially begins. For those attending Bouchercon, the Holiday Inn Select is two blocks from the Bouchercon conference hotel. Bouchercon registration is not required to attend this event.

Registration is $50 for Sisters in Crime members, or $150 for nonmembers. (The annual dues fee for national membership in SinC at the professional level is $45.)

To register online, go to http://sistersincrime.org/cde.cfm?event=351458 .

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Just One More Page

By p. m. terrell

[Originally published at http://workingstiffs.blogspot.com]

The most terrifying moment you can experience is a threat from someone—or something—you cannot see. It’s the door knob rattling in the darkness of night. Breath on the back of your neck when there is no one there. It’s the raging storm that cuts off your communication, leaving you vulnerable to the shadowy figure that lurks just beyond your door. The sound of footsteps as you cower in the corner of the closet, waiting for the door to open—and praying that it never does.

It’s the fear of the unknown that causes your heart to race out of control, your breathing to come quick and shallow, the adrenaline to pump wildly through your veins.

And it’s the fear of the unknown and the overwhelming desire to see what is beyond that door, to confront the demon and move past it into the arms of safety that keeps the reader turning the pages of a book well into the night.

The first book I could not put down was What Dreams May Come by Richard Matheson, originally published in 1978 (Putnam). Though other books were certainly compelling and many have remained with me over the decades, this book was such a page-turner that after I finished it, I began all over again. But this time, I dissected Matheson’s writing in a yearning to know how he manipulated me into turning those pages well beyond the moment that I should have taken a break.

The answer lay in his use of cliff-hangers.

As my eyelids grew heavy, I would glance ahead to determine how many more pages existed before the end of the chapter. I would promise myself I’d stop when I reached that natural pause. Inevitably, though, a cliff-hanger arose in those final paragraphs—one so dramatic that I could not put down the book before I discovered what happened next. And it continued that way through every chapter to the very last page.

I have used that technique in every novel I’ve written. Readers know once they’ve read that first paragraph, they won’t sleep until they’ve finished the final scene. The most common comment I receive from readers is, “I couldn’t put the book down.” That’s what you want in a readership. Because the next time they see your name on a book, they’ll remember how you took them on a journey they’ll never forget. And they’ll want to go on another ride with you.

When I was learning how to write—because the technical aspect is every bit as important as the creative—I often heard of the “midway” slump. The author may have an interesting beginning and a suspenseful ending, but the middle sags. Quite by accident, I discovered my books never drag in the middle because I work toward a climactic scene in the middle.

I know, for example, that my book is going to be approximately 400 pages. Rather than write that first page with a goal of reaching the climactic scene on page 390, I decide on a pivotal scene in the middle. A scene so compelling that it causes the reader to sit straight up, widen their eyes, and realize everything they thought was happening might be leading to something else entirely.

So assuming that pivotal scene is on page 200, I have only half the book to get the reader to that moment: to lay the groundwork, to set the stage, to place the players where each needs to be. It means that every scene must do double duty—it must be instrumental to the plot on its own, but it also must propel the plot forward by setting the stage for the next scene.

Once the reader reaches that pivotal scene, they are propelled forward at the speed of light until they reach that suspenseful climactic scene at the end.

Because, in the end, the goal of a writer is to take the reader on that journey: to make them feel the anxiety, the tension, the anger, the fear—and propel them forward until they’ve faced the demons and they’ve landed in safe arms.

p. m. terrell
is the award-winning author of 12 books, including the internationally-acclaimed suspense/thrillers,
The Banker’s Greed, Exit 22, Ricochet and The China Conspiracy and the historical suspense novels, River Passage and Songbirds are Free.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

First Novel, First Malice

By Janice Hamrick

Before I finished my first novel, I thought that publication was the golden end of a very long and sometimes meandering journey. Just over a year ago, when I received that magic call telling me that my novel would be published, I thought I’d reached the far country. I rejoiced, I celebrated, I did the happy dance (and, trust me, you don’t want to see the happy dance). However, eventually euphoria wore off and it slowly dawned on me - I had no idea what to do next.

The post-contract process kept me occupied for a bit. I had edits and then copy edits. I started working on the second novel. But months began to pass, and I started to feel that I should be doing more.

I made a website and a Facebook page. I found and joined Sisters in Crime and started attending the monthly meetings. But I just had the nagging feeling that I should be doing more. I knew how to write. Now I needed to learn how to be a writer … and quickly. But how? I started asking around, and finally the only published author I knew answered with three simple words: “Go to Malice.”

So I went. I arrived at the Hyatt Regency Bethesda fairly late and the Malice registration desk had closed for the evening. On a whim, I decided to go to the hotel bar and have a glass of wine. And that’s when the magic of Malice began for me. Within five minutes of climbing onto that bar stool, two Malice attendees approached and asked me to join them.

The next person to walk up was a member of my own Sisters in Crime chapter in Austin – someone I knew only through email and couldn’t have found by myself if I’d searched all evening. Malice is full of such moments of serendipity.

The next days were even better. From Malice Go Round (speed dating for authors and fans) to fascinating panels where authors described their experiences, I started to learn what I needed to know. In the halls and in conference rooms, I met authors who offered tips and encouragement and who answered my questions about things from social media to signing autographs.

They gave me a solid glimpse of what waits for me, and I now have at least an inkling of ways to avoid the pitfalls and seize the opportunities. I also was privileged to meet the most wonderful fans – people who love to read mysteries and who work tirelessly to support the genre and reading in general. I’d arrived at the conference alone and wound up as part of an amazing community.

I came away from Malice with all my questions answered and with connections and friendships that I hope will last a lifetime. I could hardly lift my suitcase because it was so full of the books written by the fascinating people I’d met. New authors, experienced authors, friends, and fans. And I’m already looking forward to my second Malice.

Janice Hamrick is the winner of the 2010 Mystery Writers of America/Minotaur Books First Crime Novel competition for Death on Tour, the first novel in a series starring Texas high school history teacher Jocelyn Shore. Born in Oklahoma and raised in Kansas, Janice now lives in Austin, Texas, with her two daughters. When she is not writing, she spends her time traveling, planning to travel, or plotting murders (usually fictional).

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Braving the New World of E-book Pricing, Part 2 of 2 Parts

By Lori L. Lake

Bransford’s final question in his essay was this:

Are we headed to free for e-book prices or will we find a way to charge as much as people are willing to pay?

Is he kidding? Of course the answer MUST BE the latter! This writing business may be creative/touchy-feely/artsy fartsy and all that, but at the end of the day, the bottom line always ends up being the bottom line. Can we make enough to live on so we can keep on being writers? Joe and Barry can afford to give books away. Evanovich and Patterson and Clancy and Dan Brown and all those other heavy-hitters could afford it. 98.9% of the rest of us would be seriously unwise to do so.

All of these people who are trying to make a name for themselves now by giving away free copies and 99-cent copies aren’t doing themselves or anyone else any favors. They may be capitalizing on the “Tragedy of the Commons,” but only those few who got their foot in the door early on will benefit. The market is flooded more every day. It’s also unfortunate to have to say that, as far as I can tell from a random experiment, far too many of them are giving away crap. (Pardon my "French.") I “bought” a couple dozen free and 99-cent books from unknown authors, and the vast majority were really odorific smelly stinkers!

This $2.99 to $9.99 price scale that Amazon has jammed down everyone’s throats is all well and good at the moment, but that means that $9.99 is being set up as the future top-end cost of a “book” (print or digital). Why are we letting readers get accustomed to that level when actually a hardback (at $25) or trade versions (at $13-16) have been underwriting the e-book process all along?

It’s clear and verified now that as every day goes by, print books are selling fewer copies and yielding smaller revenues while e-books are increasing in sales volume. But, because the price point has been set up arbitrarily, most publishers will have declining revenues – even if they sell more e-books than print books. The cost of producing and distributing a printed hardcover can’t settle at $9.99. It can’t be done that cheaply with the overhead a big press has.

This point cannot be overlooked: E-books from many publishers have been cheap so far because the physical book had already been created and it wasn’t too hard to convert it from the printed book’s digital file.

Some say NY will save money in e-book creation compared to print books because they don’t pay warehousing or for the returns process. I have to argue that all the funds saved from the cost of printing/warehousing will have to be allocated to pay someone to format, upload, and test the e-book product. Instead of paying the printer, publishers are now having to hire whole staffs to set up and administer the e-books.

So where is the big savings that warrants NY charging $9.99? There’s not enough room in the equation to pay for the expenses from initial acquisition through editing/cover/rollout to promotions all the way up to e-book promulgation to the various sales outlets. This is why most presses are trying very hard to pay 8% and 10% or maybe 15% NET INCOME to the author for e-book royalties. How else can they survive if the writer doesn’t take the hit? I’ll spare you the math on Net Income for even 15%. It’s not pretty. (Along with Dean Wesley Smith, Joe and Barry do a great job discussing this: http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2011/04/ebooks-and-self-publishing-part-2_03.html).

The time is coming where big presses simply will not be able to afford to support the structure as it’s currently set up. Not to mix metaphors, but a lot of what I see happening lately in publishing is the fretful rearranging of deck chairs and book and magazine supplies on the Titanic. The center will not hold, and the iceberg of expectations and ignorance is about to crash into NY – which also includes everyone who is published by the big houses. The financial foundering, bankruptcies, and closings of Big Box stores is just the beginning. Indie stores are feeling it too—even if they do have dedicated readers to whom they cater. The NY publishing houses are next.

What will take the place of NY, which busily anointed numbers of authors and distributed their print books? How will the readers find books without the (seriously inaccurate) NY Times Best-Seller List? What’s this new digital world *really* going to look like when the over one million books published each year are ALL vying for the reader’s attention in the e-book virtual world?

And the big question: how fast is it coming on? In 1983, compact disks and players became available and sales grew steadily as people adopted the new technology. In 1985, David Bowie put his records on CD, kicking off a rush by other music houses to get their “Big Artist” backlists up.

I bought my last record album in April 1987. In 1983, I said I’d *never* give up my LP albums to buy CDs. I now have over 2,000 CDs, some of which duplicate my old LP collection (which is mostly long gone). Once again, new technology is on the rise and now I’ve also got several hundred digital music downloads. I say today I’ll never want to get rid of my CDs….but I suspect the day will come when they’ll all be digitized, and I’ll have moved on to the next technology.

Just like the people who are now adopting e-books and eReaders.

But to answer Nathan’s question: Many early adopters of this new technology (including me) are making enough to live on with the 70% of each $9.99/book sold, but I’m not able to sell any cheaper anytime soon. If the price goes up, I’ll be perfectly happy to go with it.

Lori L. Lake is the author of six novels, two short story collections and is the editor of two anthologies. Her most recent book, Like Lovers Do, was released on May 10. For more information, see www.lorillake.com.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Braving the New World of E-book Pricing, Part 1 of 2 Parts

By Lori L. Lake

Nathan Bransford recently wrote a timely and insightful piece called “99 Cent E-Books and the Tragedy of the Commons” in which he responds to the latest news about e-book pricing.

In addition, Jeffrey Trachetenberg has an informative article called “Cheapest E-Books Upend the Charts: 99-Cent Titles From Unknown Authors Put New Pressure on Big Publishers”. The title says it all.

Many fellow writers and colleagues have fallen into a frenzy of excitement about the prospect of getting rich (or, in the alternative, at least finally making a living) with their writing. Self-pubbed Amanda Hocking’s name is bandied about. People are telling anecdotes about authors making thousands of dollars in mere days. At long last, maybe all of those years of toil will pay off!

The much-discussed dialogue between Joe Konrath and Barry Eisler is also cited as further evidence that authors may finally receive their due. All over the place I’m hearing writers saying that all you have to do is write a book, get it online, and voilá -- instant presto money!

The problem with extrapolating the Konrath/Eisler situation to a general author’s circumstances is that those guys have made names for themselves. They’ve already built huge fan bases to rely upon and have the stature to continue to gain more notoriety. Many small press and midlist authors have cultivated fan bases as well, but there’s only so much room for blockbuster authors. A writer friend of mine once said that for pop fiction, the public can’t recall more “Big Apostles” than 12 or 13 – and she argued that the number may be lower than that since most of us can’t remember all the apostles names either.

If a writer has a dedicated group of readers and libraries regularly purchasing his or her works, then putting out her or his own e-books can certainly bring in some revenue. But I would argue that little by little, the marketplace is flooding. A tremendous number of fiction backlists are popping up steadily online, and new books are being uploaded daily (some would say frantically). The more e-books that become available, the smaller the pie gets for everyone. I know, I know, the reports are telling us that people are buying more books than ever. But that always happens when someone gets a new toy. Once the market becomes saturated with e-readers, the sales will normalize.

At some point, quality is really going to start to matter. A lot of authors are getting away with substandard editing and formatting. That won’t last much longer. (See the Jacqueline Howett meltdown for a good example of how readers are starting to fight back: http://booksandpals.blogspot.com/2011/03/greek-seaman-jacqueline-howett.html).

But the vast majority of writers – certainly almost all of the ones aspiring to the mainstream (like many of those on the SinC Yahoo listserv, for instance) – do not have the luxury of a rabid following. They can post their books all they want on Amazon and other sites, but nobody’s going to find them on page 473. Having been with a publisher or having found a niche is a HUGE advantage.

Whether you have a name or not, I would argue that charging 99 cents or even $2.99 for a full-length novel is a wretched, stupid idea. If we do the math, you can see what I mean. I’ll just use my own work as an example.

It typically takes me about 300 hours to write a complete first draft. Add another 100 hours of my own revising and editing, then another 30-50 hours for working with the editor and proofing, and I’m up to, let’s guesstimate, 440 hours. (I’m not even going to count research and the time I spend dithering and fretting and all that. And of course, this doesn’t include e-book creation time with formatting/uploading/testing, cover creation, marketing and promotions, etc., or doing all the administrative work that a publisher used to do.)

Anyway, 440 hours x $30/hour means I need to make about $13,200 selling The Novel as an e-book or I may as well go back to government work. (And I need to make AT LEAST $30/hr because the government is going to tax me out of over 40% of it!)

I’ll use Amazon as an example because they have some of the best rates for writers publishing their own work – 70% for $2.99 to 9.99 price points and 35% for .99 to 2.98. Applying their price points, here are some calculations for how many units I must sell to make $30/hour for the work I did on the book:

• I have to make 37,714 sales if the e-book sells at 99 cents.
• I have to make 18,857 sales if the e-book sells at 1.99.
• I have to make 6,316 sales if the e-book sells at 2.99.
• I have to make 4,204 sales if the e-book sells at 4.49.
• I have to make 2,699 sales if the e-book sells at 6.99.
• I have to make 2,223 sales if the e-book sells at 8.49.
• I have to make 1,889 sales if the e-book sells at 9.99.

I share those numbers to illustrate how ridiculous – or perhaps I should say, damaging – a .99 cent price point is. How can the average non-blockbuster author make ends meet? And my needs are probably a lot lower than those of authors like Joe and Barry. They can probably sell 37,714 e-books easily, I suppose – but the rest of us I’m not so sure about. I know I’m a long way off from that. I happen to write in the niche of lesbian fiction, and for many gay/lesbian authors, we have a dedicated audience of GLBT people, along with some open-minded mainstream readers, but we get little promotional support. We’re often lost completely in the enormous and busy marketplace of mainstream works. 37,714 books would be a dream that few niche and/or self-pubbed authors could achieve.

To be continued...

Lori L. Lake is the author of six novels, two short story collections and is the editor of two anthologies. Her most recent book, Like Lovers Do, was released on May 10. For more information, see www.lorillake.com.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Readers & Mystery Reading at the Popular Culture Association

By Barbara Fister

As I was saying, my panel at the Popular Culture Association Meeting in San Antonio focused on mystery readers.

First up, Mary Bendel-Simso and LeRoy Panek of McDaniel College in Maryland talked about an amazing project that anyone interested in the history of the mystery will want to check out: the Westminster Detective Library. They are documenting 19th century detective fiction published in the popular press, with the goal of making available online all short fiction dealing with detection published in the United States before Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1891 publication of “A Scandal in Bohemia.”

Crime stories were enormously popular and had a huge audience in newspapers and magazines. The trick is to find the old newspapers and comb through them for stories and poems. Their research shows that the mystery was a beloved genre long before most histories indicate, and includes some surprises such as the use of fingerprints in a story in 1861 and women detectives featuring in stories from the 1860s onward.

The second speaker was a dynamo named Katherine Clark, whose topic was “Who is the American Mystery Reader and Why Does it Matter?” For her dissertation research she surveyed more than 700 mystery readers, who she found tend to be avid readers, loyal fans of the genre, and devoted to it throughout their lives, starting in childhood. Unlike the readership for the romance genre, which tends to fall off in middle age, mystery readers are fans for life. She had fascinating things to say about readers and their tastes, as well as insights into the publishing industry. I was entrusted with keeping time for the panel, so was crushed when I had to give her the “five minute warning.” I could have listened to her for hours!

Finally, I spoke about Sisters in Crime, taking a look at its origins, reporting some of the findings of the Sisters in Crime/Bowker study of the mystery consumer, and sharing results from a member survey. I was fortunate beforehand to have the help of archivists at both Rutgers University, which houses the organization’s papers, and the Newberry Library in Chicago, which has a collection of Sara Paretsky’s papers, some of which deal with the formation of the organization. (It’s pretty exciting to get an e-mail with .pdfs of early memos and meeting minutes from our founding! Okay, I admit it, I’m a nerd.)

Looking back, I found that our mission remains remarkably consistent and that, in spite of progress, the issues that led to the founding of the group remain relevant. If you’re curious, you can read the paper here. The fact that Sara Paretsky was just about to be recognized as a Grand Master at the Edgar awards was a happy note on which to end my brief history.

At this conference, I was delighted to find a thriving and close-knit community of mystery fans who happen to be academics. Like most mystery fans, the members of the Mystery and Detective Fiction area of the association are welcoming and enthusiastic about the genre. I’ve already been unofficially declared a Sisters in Crime liaison to the group and will try to attend next year’s conference in Boston.

There will be opportunities for writers to participate, and plans are afoot for Frankie Bailey, our next president and a member of the Popular Culture Association, to be on the program. That reminds me: I suppose I should warn her.


Barbara Fister is the author of the Anni Koskinen mysteries. The most recent title in the series is Through the Cracks. She is an academic librarian and serves on the SinC board as Secretary.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Presenting 25 Years of Sisters in Crime to the Popular Culture Association

By Barbara Fister

I recently attended the national meeting of the Popular Culture Association in San Antonio, Texas where I gave a paper titled “Sisters in Crime at the Quarter Century: Advocacy, Community, and Change.”

I was on a panel with two other fabulous presentations, had a chance to attend other sessions organized by the wonderful andwelcoming Mystery and Detective Fiction section of the association -- and had the opportunity to hang out with some dedicated and smart fans of the genre.

This was my first experience of the Popular Culture Association meeting, and what a trip this gathering is! There are panels on film, fashion, fan studies and fan culture, or you can focus on pulp studies, punk culture, or even the vampire in literature, culture and film. Lest you think this some peculiar grab-bag of obsessions, well . .. it sort of is, but the obsessions are backed up with serious scholarship. And there’s plenty to think about when it comes to our favorite genre.

Among the sessions I attended were one on the armchair detective and mysteries with a strong sense of place. John Scaggs pointed out that there are a number of features of this kind of book: a focus on authenticity, local food and wine, the presence of a foreigner, conflict between tradition and change, and a picture postcard quality that sometimes conflicts with the ugliness of the crimes that arise from the setting. What was particularly fun for me was that he focused on Martin Walker’s Bruno Courrèges series, which we were just discussing in a reading group that I belong to. It gave me lots of ideas to bring back to our discussion.

Barbara Emrys talked about the cross-genre mixing of horror and supernatural elements with the conventions of the mystery genre demonstrated in Crimes by Moonlight, an MWA short story anthology edited by Charlaine Harris. One of my favorite take-away points from the ensuing discussion was when Barbara Emrys compared the detective in the serial killer story to the archetypal slayer of monsters. It was one of those light bulb moments.

Among the events organized by the Mystery and Detective Fiction group was a presentation by Susan Wittig Albert, who gave a fascinating talk about her start as an academic, teaching college, becoming an administrator and rising to university vice president before turning full-time to writing.

She got her heart’s desire when she was hired to reincarnate Carolyn Keene by writing new adventures for Nancy Drew. But she was also happy to create her own series character in China Bayles and to write additional series, including the Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter, the new Darling Dahlias series, and with her husband Bill Albert, a Victorian series written under the name Robin Paige.

She described her busy calendar writing and promoting her work (emphasizing her start as a “production writer” – though I would call her a productive writer) and gave a stirring short history of the genre since 1980, with a shout-out to Sisters in Crime. Yes, she is a member, and I notice her biography in Wikipedia features a photo of her wearing a Sisters in Crime t-shirt.

After that event, the incredibly welcoming people of the Mystery and Detective Fiction group went to dinner at Rosarios, where we ate Tex Mex food, sipped Margaritas, and talked about mysteries. After that, a group went to do some sightseeing and get ice cream, but I was wiped out and only made it as far as the plaza in front of the Alamo before having to call it a night.

My panel, “Readers Reading Mysteries,” was early the next morning, and in addition to my talk on Sisters in Crime, there was a fascinating presentation by Mary Bendel-Simso and LeRoy Lad Panek on the Westminster Detective Library and an extraordinary talk by Katherine Clark on “Who is the American Mystery Reader and Why Does it Matter?” But I think I’d better save this for another blog post.

Barbara Fister is the author of the Anni Koskinen mysteries. The most recent title in the series is Through the Cracks. She is an academic librarian and serves on the SinC board as Secretary.