Monday, September 22, 2014

Tribal Rituals

No, not African tribes.  I will get to that eventually, but today I am talking about the tribal rituals of mystery writers.  This weekend I experienced two such gatherings.  If I had not been firmly convinced already, these events would have solidified my conviction that I was born and raised to be one of us.

On Friday, I spent hours driving on ugly highways in Pennsylvania (Jeff take note!) to get to Mechanicsburg to attend Murder As You Like It.

Debut author Margaret Murray, beaming Debbie Beamer, and me.

A panel of thriller writers.

It was my first trip to this small regional conference sponsored by Mechanicsburg Mystery Bookshop, one of the last standing of such establishments, and its heroic proprietor Debbie Beamer.  Debbie gathered mystery and thriller writers and many fans, 97 in total, for a day of discussion, fun, book buying and signing.  Compared to the larger tribal gatherings at Bouchercon and Malice Domestic, this was an intimate event.  And all the nicer for being a little jewel.  Writers and readers found it very easy to connect with one another.   We all left energized.  And my buddy, the wonderful historical mystery writer Sheila York and I had identical experiences: when it came to book signing—Debbie sold and we signed more of our books at this conference than we did at the previous Malice Domestic and Bouchercon put together.

Sheila York with the volumes of her 1940's Hollywood mysteries.

Selling books is the ostensible purpose of authors attending these conferences.  Except for the blockbuster bestseller writers, we all have to do what we can just to get out the word that our books exist.  Droves of independent bookstore owners like Debbie used to introduce relatively unknown writers to readers known to have a taste for a particular sort of book.  That doesn’t happen with the Internet bookstore.  So, off we go, in cyberspace and geographical space to hawk our wares and hope for the best.

The New York Chapter of Mystery Writers of America was out in force doing just that at the Brooklyn Book Festival on Sunday.  We were selling and signing our books (sometimes) and talking them up (frequently) to throngs of New York book lovers.  Hopefully, many of those who took away promotional cards will actually buy a book.

Great writers and great friends: Jeff Markowitz and Lyndsay Faye

But, truth be told, we mystery writers get a whole lot more out of these gatherings than just blatant self-promotion.  We get to be with our own.   The periodic tribal rituals give us an excuse to wash our hair and talk to someone other than our imaginary friends.  Being with people who what we do gives us a sense of validity, of mutual understanding with people to whom we do not need to explain ourselves.  We never ask each other those forbidden questions that Zoe listed in her brilliant post on what not to say to a writer.

Me and David Swatling, who was our MIE guest yesterday.

  At the Historical Novel Society Conference in London earlier this month, I sat with a group at dinner and took a poll of about twelve writers sitting near me.  “At what age did you start writing stories and decide you wanted to be a writer,” I asked them.   ALL answered an age between five and nine years old.  Me, too.  For many of us, though, we were grown ups—aspiring writers or newly published ones—before we found the other members of our tribe.

It is my great joy to call myself a member—and to “live” in this MIE village.

Annamaria - Monday


  1. Perhaps because I was born and raised in PA, the highways there always struck me as beautiful. Then again, for hardened NYCers, those pesky things called trees and mountains might be somewhat disconcerting:).

    David looked happy, Shelia looked happy, you looked happy...let's all now segue off into Pharrell Williams' lyrics and exit dancing the MIE mash!

    1. Jeff, Happiness prevailed among us. I would have been even happier if you had been there!! And the words "hundreds of UGLY billboards" would NEVER have passed my smiling lips.

  2. When you come to Oregon, Annamaria (you ARE coming, aren't you? I don't see you on the LCC 2015 Attendees list yet... :-), you'll see relatively few billboards (at least, if you get out of metropolitan Portland). Oregon outlawed any new billboards back in the '70s, so the only roadside billboards are ones that were in existence at that time and have been maintained since then. As a result, most "country drives" are blissfully free of all but a few scenery-disfiguring, capitalistic, dinoflyswatters.

    But if you keep going on these trips to exotic places like Africa and Pennsylvannia, when are you going to get any writing done???

  3. I am writing, EvKa, but I have no choice. I have to promote my work too. Which means I WILL be at LCC and happy for the chance to meet you face to face.

  4. Your comments on the tribal joys of the wonderful togetherness a writer feels in being a part of the tribe at these gatherings are just lovely! As one who always cherished going to such meetings and gatherings - and who is prohibited from such travel now, I was enchanted! Thelma Straw in Manhattan

    1. thelma, I wish you could still participate. It would make the experience all the nicer for the whole tribe.