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