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.