Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Generosity of Mystery Authors

by Kay Kendall

The first conference for mystery fans that I attended was Bouchercon 2011 in St. Louis. Previously I’d only attended writers’ conferences where would-be authors pitched manuscripts to agents and sat at the feet of those hallowed gods/goddesses called published authors. Bouchercon, billed as theWorld Mystery and Suspense Conference,“ was an entirely different breed of cat. I couldn’t get my mind around what was going on.  

And then I got it! The published mystery authors weren’t there to tell us how to write, how to sell, or how to win an agent. No, they were there to talk about their writing and their writing worlds. Once I figured that out, I soaked up every tiny detail that came my way. And I loved it.
I'm holding Charlaine's LIVING DEAD IN DALLAS,
 the second Sookie Stackhouse book,
and she holds my debut mystery, DESOLATION ROW. 

The session that stands out, still to this day, was an afternoon panel of new authors. One man exclaimed his astonishment over the generosity of mystery writers. He said they supported each other and even him—a newbie. But he was shocked to discover that mystery writers do so little backbiting. Then he leaned over and leveled a hard look at us in the rapt audience. “Poets are not like that,” he said. “I’ve attended meetings of poets with a relative, and they're just awful.” The audience howled.

While I can’t comment on poets, I can say from experience that mystery authors are indeed generous. At Bouchercon 2012 in Cleveland I met two authors who later agreed to blurb my debut mystery, Desolation Row. First, thriller writer extraordinaire Norb Vonnegut gave key advice that helped me through final edits. Whenever I need advice from a seasoned pro, I still turn to Norb. Janet Maslin, influential book review at the New York Times, calls him “the author of three glittery thrillers about fiscal malfeasance” in which “he is three for three in his own improbably sexy genre.” 

The second author was Hank Phillippi Ryan, to whom I was introduced only in passing. Yet brief as that encounter was, this multi-award winning mystery author agreed to blurb my debut effort when I asked her. 

As well, Stiletto Gang member Linda Rodriguez reached out to me as an online pal to offer help setting up a bookstore event in the Kansas City area. (Her writing career began as a poet so she may disagree with the opinion I quote above.)

I could go on and on, but you get the idea. Mystery authors are a benevolent group. At heart they love the genre we write in and seem to understand that the success of one does not take away from the others. In fact, a whole organization has been founded on that principle, the International Thriller Writers. After attending Bouchercon 2004 in Toronto, ITW founding members decided to reach down and pull up writers who needed help in climbing the slippery slope to publication, “providing opportunities for mentoring, education and collegiality among thriller authors and industry professionals.” 

A much older organization is the Mystery Writers of America founded in 1945. It underwrites MWA-University, one-day seminars led by experienced authors who share their how-to advice for a minuscule fee. The session I attended last weekend in Dallas was, as the under-30s would say, “awesome.” The attached photo of me with Charlaine Harris was taken at that event. When this creator of the Sookie Stackhouse series of paranormal mysteries (on which the HBO series True Blood is based) wished me success like hers, I almost fell over. In truth, I’d be pleased with one percent of her enormous fan base.

Traditionally the holiday season is when we are encouraged to be more big-hearted and giving than usual. As I contemplated blogging about generosity, I remembered the mystery authors I’ve been privileged to meet. While I can’t thank each one individually because they're too numerous, I can offer this posting as an ode to them collectively. Both their writing and the generosity of their spirit serve to inspire me. 

Kay Kendall
To celebrate the conclusion of 2013, the year in which my debut mystery was published, I will give away one copy of Desolation Row to someone who leaves a comment here about the joys of reading mysteries . . . or how you feel about mystery authors . . . or, heck, anything that you think is related! 


  1. What a lovely way to put that, Marilyn. And I dare say (not trying to be sacrilegious but thinking mostly of the Old Testament here) that you find lots of extremely dramatic stories in both places.

  2. Kay, maybe I've lead a charmed life, but I've always had great experiences with writers. I've attended workshops led by writers in big name conferences (Romance Writers of America) and little venues (South Coast Writers Conference held in Gold Beach, Oregon) and I've always found support and encouragement, along with a wealth of knowledge and tips. I am a member of a couple Goodreads groups that have lots of writers, and despite that forum's potential for so-called 'bad behavior', I've made a lot of good 'virtual' friends. I have met big name authors like Lisa Jackson, Nora Roberts, and Debbie Macomber, and they are wonderful people. I don't have as much experience with mystery writers, as of yet, but I can now anticipate a wonderful community here, too. Indeed, we should all support one another. It is a big world, with a large audience for a wide range of books. I'm happy to 'play' with everyone. :-)

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  4. Kay Kendall here, replying:
    Hi, Kristi. I'm glad your experiences have been good ones. I"m copying here what our Linda Rodriguez wrote on the Gang's FB page--make it easy in this busy season....Verrrry interesting...
    Linda Rodriguez-- Kay, great post--and so true! I'm actually still a poet as well as a mystery writer, writing and publishing both, and I agree with everything you said. Literary writers do much more backbiting, badmouthing, and hierarchical stuff than mystery writers, and poets are the worst of all. My husband, who's a literary publisher for his day job, loves to attend the mystery conventions with me because their atmosphere is so congenial and welcoming in comparison to literary ones.

  5. I read lots of mysteries, not just, but lots. I find that i get involved with the characters (some of whom I'd like to slap, others I'd like to hug) and the mystery. Some are good to read any time, some I regret reading at night (LOL)

    1. Sometimes I want to yell at characters I care about...WHAT we're you thinking?!?

  6. I love mystery authors. Their work gives me pleasure.