Laura Oles’ “Oceans Fifty” and M. K. Waller’s “I’ll Be a Sunbeam” are two of the twenty-four stories appearing there.
Posted by M. K. Waller
Posted by M. K. Waller
The Austin Mystery Writers blog has been quiet for several months, but we’re still living the Writing Life. Here’s what’s been going on.
In November, AMW members, along with Scott Montgomery, Crime Fiction Coordinator at MysteryPeople in Austin, appeared on a panel discussing AMW’s crime fiction anthology, MURDER ON WHEELS (Wildside, 2015), at the Wimberley Village Library in Wimberley, TX.
Laura Oles is editing her novel, DAUGHTERS OF BAD MEN, to be published by Red Adept in winter of 2017. Her story “Ocean’s Fifty” will appear in DAY OF THE DARK, an anthology compiled and edited by Kaye George. DAY OF THE DARK will be released by Wildside Press on July 21, 2017, exactly one month before the total solar eclipse that will occur on August 21. Kaye describes the anthology in “More Eclipse Glimpses “ on her blog, Travels with Kaye. Laura also attended the mystery conference Malice Domestic 29 in Bethesda, MD on April 28-30.
In November, V. P. Chandler’s story “Kay Chart” appeared on the MysteryPeople blog. V. P. categorizes “Kay Chart” as historical suspense and says it’s “creepy.” (It is.) She’s now revising GILT RIDDEN, a historical mystery set in the Texas Hill Country. She details more of her activities on her blog.
V. P. also attended the second Writer Unboxed UnConference in Salem, MA in November. She’s a moderator of the Writer Unboxed website and a contributor to WU’s Author In Progress: A No-Holds-Barred Guide to What It Really Takes to Get Published (Nov. 2017). The book comprises over 50 essays by professionals in all areas of the industry and covers the writing process from pre-writing to post-publication.
Patric Sanders is working on HOSTILE HARBORS, the third book in the Wolf Richter series, set in New England and New York City, and on a thriller, LETHAL ENCOUNTERS, set in Germany, the Pacific Northwest, Italy and Hawaii. Patric’s first novel, THE TREASURE OF THE BARRIER REEF, an adventure story set in Australia, was published by Random House-Germany. Inspired by events of his life in East Germany during the Cold War era–he witnessed the construction of the deadly Berlin Wall, served as a draftee at a secret radar station in the People’s Army, was harassed by the secret police Stasi, was fired because he ‘fraternized’ with British engineers, and planned an adventurous escape to breach the Wall–he wrote the first two volumes of the Wolf Richter-series: Chasing the Sun: Action-Packed Cold War Thriller and Singed By The Sun. To learn more about Patric, read V. P. Chandler’s interview with him here.
Kathy Waller’s story “I’ll Be a Sunbeam” will be included in DAY OF THE DARK, along with Laura’s. Kathy’s “The Snake” won the Knife Story Challenge presented to members of Sisters in Crime Heart of Texas chapter by member author Eugenia Parrish. Kathy also attended the Writer Unboxed Unconference in Salem, where she attended a session at the House of the Seven Gables, the inspiration for Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel. After some online confusion with another author writing under the same name, Kathy now writes under the name M. K. Waller.
And–[drum roll!]–the publication of MURDER ON WHEELS (Wildside, 2015), winner of the Killer Nashville 2016 Silver Falchion Award, was such an exhilarating experience that Austin Mystery Writers are now putting the finishing touches on a second manuscript: an anthology comprising stories by four AMW members and eight of their writer friends, tentatively titled TEXAS TOUGH.
So watch this space! When TEXAS TOUGH is ready for reading, you’ll be the first to know.
How do you say goodbye to a friend?
When I last saw Gale, just two days before she unexpectedly passed away, it was at the Wimberley Library where our group, Austin Mystery Writers, had given a program on writing short stories. The program went well, and we went out to lunch afterwards, enjoying the beauty of a Hill Country restaurant and the company of friends.
When I said “goodbye,” I meant “until next time,” not realizing that there would be no next time.
I don’t offer this to be dramatic, only to articulate the fact that I’m still trying to sort out the reality that we won’t share company again, that I won’t get to hear about her projects, her short stories, her weekend plans. Gale had an energy that was unique–pointed and direct but also funny and sarcastic in a way that I mean as high compliment. She loved storytelling and storytellers, and occupying those spaces where storytellers gathered. A self-proclaimed workshop junkie, she was the first to volunteer to coordinate an event. Her energy was infectious, and even when she nagged you about a deadline, you loved her for it.
My inbox still has emails from her. I can’t make myself delete them. I’m sure it’s some form of denial at work, but I’m okay with that. Maybe I’m not ready to say goodbye just yet.
Austin Mystery Writers won’t be the same without Gale’s energy and attention to detail. We have an empty chair at our table now, and we will, at some point, figure out how to move forward with our projects without her. But it will be different, unsettled.
Still, I can hear her in my ear saying, “Laura, just get on with it.”
We will miss you, Gale.
Gale Albright leaves such a big hole in the writing community. She was not only president of the Austin SinC chapter, Heart of Texas, she was coordinating the second Austin Mystery Writers anthology and, when she died, was in the process of leading a NaNoWriMo group at her local Hutto library. She has recently done a bunch of promotion for the last AMW anthology, Murder on Wheels, and heaven only knows what else she was taking charge of and leading. She rose to the top, like cream. She was a true original, feisty and funny and so full of sparkle that I still can’t believe she’s gone.
I remember the day I met her. She and Kathy Waller wanted to join the AMW group. They both came to our meeting and read some of their writings. We were all blown away by how talented both of them were and we welcomed them into the group. Others fell away and moved away and they’ve been core members, both of them, since that day. Gale leaves so many gaping holes. I’ll miss her so much for a long, long time.
What can I say about Gale Albright?
Before I had met her in person, at my first meeting for Austin Mystery Writers, I had to critique a story she wrote. I laughed and guffawed and knew I had to amp up “my game” as a writer to keep up with her and the others in the group. I was eager to meet her the next day. Who was this crazy woman?
Over the next couple of years I had the privilege to know her. From her disregard of authority to her love of noir, she had me laughing everyday. I came to know that when she got a certain gleam in her eye, it meant the wheels in her head were turning and we would probably be doing a workshop or another anthology! She always thought big.
I can hear her now, “Hey, let’s take it step further and do a writers’ convention!”
“Whoa, Gale, slow down.”
I loved her energy and excitement. And no one can write a mash-up of noir fairytales like she could.
I miss you, Gale. Thank you for all you gave us. You were one cool customer. The best kind of dame there is.
When I think of Gale I remember her great sense of humor and lovable personality. Her short stories were so crazy and funny and clever, and I’m glad two of them were published in Murder on Wheels and another in the AMW upcoming anthology. I loved her middle grade novel, Eva, too– that was my favorite, and I wish more people could read it. Gale was still polishing it last I heard, but it was already great. She will be missed.
Posted by Kathy Waller
Gale was born in Tyler, in the Piney Woods of East Texas, where her family has lived for generations. She attended the University of Texas at Austin, and in the late 2000s completed a degree in English Writing and Rhetoric at St. Edwards University.
In an interview posted on the Austin Mystery Writers website, Gale spoke of how important her East Texas upbringing was to her writing:
“I always have to write about Texas. I had many conversations with older people in my family when I was a little kid, so I heard a lot of stories about hard times picking cotton, taking a lunch to school in a lard bucket and going barefoot until it was time to start school in the fall. I am fascinated with the Great Depression and the WW II years, all from an East Texas point of view. I love Southern story telling, all the rhythms of language and colloquial expressions.”
Gale had a fine ear for language. One of her stories, Eva, winner of the 2008 Writers’ League of Texas Manuscript Contest for Young Adult Fiction, and based on her aunt’s childhood in East Texas, demonstrates her ability to duplicate the rhythms of East Texas speech on the page. You don’t just read Eva; you hear it.
In the following passage, for example, the main character, twelve-year-old Eva, describes the new boy at school:
Mama had raised me to be polite and not stare at folks, but it was hard not to stare at this boy. He looked like he had slept in a mud puddle. His overalls were patched and filthy and his shirt collar was ragged. The shirt was so dirty I didn’t even know what color it used to be. And he was barefoot. Now, some of the farm boys kept on coming to school barefoot, at least as long as the warm weather held, but this boy’s feet were solid black! …
West Jonah was a small town in East Texas. Everybody knew everybody else. Where had this boy come from? It had been three years since the hard times started, but things kept on getting worse. It was 1932 and we still had hungry strangers coming through, looking for jobs, looking for a meal. Whole families sometimes, in beat-up old cars with furniture piled high and kids sitting on top of the furniture. But I had never seen a boy my age on his own.
By lunch time, everybody was calling the new boy “Dirty Billy.”
Gale’s first ambition was to be an actress–she said by the time she was three years old, she was singing and dancing for an audience of women in her grandmother’s beauty shop. Years later, she played the role of Stella in a little theater production of Tennessee William’s A Streetcar Named Desire. But for a profession, she turned to writing and editing. In a training program at the Chicago Tribune, she learned to typeset news and proof galleys when the technology involved hot metal. Later she worked for twenty-three years at the University of Texas as a typesetter and an administrative assistant, first for the Petroleum Extension Service, and later for the School of Engineering, the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, and finally, the School of Law. After retiring, she wrote and edited for the Hutto News.
Gale loved her family: her husband, Joe; her daughter, Sarah; her brother, Stuart Inman, and her sisters, Molly Inman and Dawn Holmes. She loved her friends and co-workers at UT; the members of her Sisters in Crime chapter and of Austin Mystery Writers, and many others.
She loved the butterfly garden she was building in her yard in Hutto; Pashmina shawls and scented soaps; reading crime fiction; going to writing workshops–“I’m a workshop junkie,” she said; organizing workshops; going on writing retreats, especially those held in Alpine, Texas; and her cat, Maggie, a rescue cream tabby she adopted from Austin Pets Alive!. Maggie supported Gale’s writing career by spending a goodly portion of her time meowing to be let into and out of Gale’s office. (Gale spent a goodly portion of her time opening and closing the door).
And Gale loved writing.
She did say, now and then, that she’d been avoiding working on a piece because writing was hard, and that she knew if she just started writing, the words would begin to flow, and what had been torture would become fun; and that she was so frustrated because she avoided doing something she would inevitably enjoy. Actually, I usually said that to her and she agreed. But for a person who admitted to avoidance, she put a lot of words on paper.
She loved National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWrimo). Every November, she focused on writing 1667 words a day–a 50,000-word novel in thirty days. Last year she organized two NaNoWrimo Write-Ins at the Hutto Public Library, and this November, she hosted another for the 2016 round. She proudly wore the tee-shirt proclaiming her a NaNo winner.
I met Gale at a Writers League of Texas meeting dedicated to helping members form critique groups. We read a few pages of each other’s work, decided we could work together, and agreed to meet once a week. Of course, we wanted to be published, but we’d been told writing just to be published wasn’t a good idea–because publication is an iffy thing–our reason should be deeper, more philosophical. So we chose a reason and a name to match: the Just for the Hell of It Writers. At the time, Gale was working on a mystery novel entitled One Small Monkey. It was set in the 1970s Austin music scene, a time she remembered fondly.
A year or so later, we dissolved JFTHOI and joined Austin Mystery Writers. In the larger group, we read more manuscripts, heard more comments about our own work. Gale was a discerning reader. She focused on the positive elements in a manuscript and gently pointed out negatives. She explained how she learned to critique in a blog post: “Critic or Critiquer?”
In 2015, Austin Mystery Writers published its first crime fiction anthology, MURDER ON WHEELS. Two of Gale’s stories appear there: “Aporkalypse Now” and “Mome Rath, My Sweet.” Both showcase her ability to infuse suspense with humor.
“Aporkalypse Now” is the story of a woman obsessed with pork ribs and pistachio ice cream, and resentful–and suspicious–of her husband’s sudden obsession with his bicycle.
The story begins, “Joey Dormouse was dead and I was heading for a fall.” With that terse statement, private eye Jacob Grimm turns down the brim of his fedora, leaves his dingy office, and tangles with turquoise-eyed women and tough-talking men to rescue Alice Wonderland from the clutches of the gangster Mome Rath.
This story is probably the only example of noir fiction featuring a dormouse.
Gale joined SINC Heart of Texas in 2009. As vice president for programming, she introduced the chapter to many local authors. She edited the chapter newsletter. She coordinated the annual Barbara Burnett Smith Aspiring Writers Event. She helped facilitate a writing workshop co-sponsored with BookPeople bookstore. She moderated a panel at the Writers’ League of Texas Agents and Editors Conference, and, with host Hopeton Hay of radio station KAZI 88.7, interviewed mystery author Sue Grafton. For the December 2015 party, she wrote, produced, and acted in a radio play, “Holly Through the Heart,” in which Sherlock Holmes meets Tiny Tim. Gale brought new energy to the chapter. And her involvement wasn’t going to end after her presidency–there were other projects she wanted to pursue.
And there was her own writing. At the time of her death, she was working on edits of two stories to be included in Austin Mystery Writers’ second anthology. She was also revising Eva for middle grade readers.
Gale is survived by her husband, Joe Albright; her daughter, Sarah Hathcock; her brother, Stuart Inman; and her sisters, Molly Inman and Dawn Holmes.
She also leaves behind many friends. We miss her.
A memorial service for Gale will be held on Saturday, December 10, from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m., at the Northland AA Group, 2809 Northland Drive, in Austin.
Memorials may be sent to Friends of the Hutto Library or to SINC Heart of Texas chapter.
Watch a production of Gale’s “Holly Through the Heart.”
Some of the information in this post was provided by Gale’s husband, Joe Albright. Some came from the linked sources, above. Most came from memories.
Posted by Kathy Waller
I did it again: prepared my piece for November 21 well in advance, set it aside for later revision, forgot to post it.
As we in the writing trade say, AARGH.
As my fourth-grade teacher said, Better late than never, but better never late.
As I say, take what my fourth-grade teacher said, chop off the clause starting with but and read on.
UnCon comprised five full days of sessions heavy with both information and inspiration: not so much how to write, but how to dig deeper, make richer, write better.
The week was intense. I’m going to have to think about it for a while before I can write about it.
John ambled into the kitchen. “What’s cooking?”
“Mushroom gravy.” Mary stirred.
John frowned. “Toadstools. Fungi. Dorothy Sayers killed someone with Amanita.”
“These are morels.” She added salt. “Everybody eats mushrooms.”
He sat down. “Where’d you buy them?”
“I picked them.”
“Aunt Helen helped. She knows ‘shrooms.” Mary held out a spoonful. “Taste.”
“Well . . . ” John tasted. “Mmmm. Seconds?”
“Yoo-hoo.” Aunt Helen bustled in. “Like my new glasses? Those old ones–yesterday I couldn’t see doodly squat.”
Mary looked at the gravy, then at John. “Maybe you should spit that out,” she said.
I thought I’d do a little something different today and share a story with you. I like to mix genres, and this one is no different. In our anthology, Murder On Wheels, I wrote a story, Rota Fortunae, set in 1800, about a teen who stowed away on a merchant ship bound for America. There is murder and some supernatural components as well. Intrigued? Buy the book! (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) You can find links here on our website.
Today’s story is very short. I had a lot of fun with it. It’s not exactly a mystery, but a western with a twist. I hope you enjoy it.
And I would like to thank Mystery People for featuring it on Crime Fiction Friday on their blog. Thank you!
“Hurry up with them biscuits and gravy, old woman!”
Cooter laughs and wipes brown spit from the corner of his mouth. Damn if we wasn’t having fun. Things have been going our way since we left San Antone last week even though folks warned us not to venture so far west. Said the Comanche were still riled up after skirmishes with the Rangers.
But I got plans. Plans for me and Becky. And I can’t wait any longer to get money. When I heard she was engaged to that son of a bitch Whitney, it took the wind right outta me. So Cooter and me have been working our way west, raiding homesteads as we go. Since the Comanches have been hitting the farms, we thought we’d do some raiding of our own.
Damn if this old woman ain’t slow. “C’mon now. I’m hungry!” I poke her in the back with my knife to make my point and then laugh while I grab a chair to sit in. “Say, when’s your man coming back from mending the fence? That’s what you said he was doing, right?” It’s easier getting a corncob from a pig than to get an answer outta this woman.
“Uh huh,” she says while stirring the gravy.
Cooter wipes more spit with his shirtsleeve. “Those biscuits smell real good. It’s been a long time since we had us some real food.” He’s always antsy, fiddling with stuff. He starts poking around and finds some hats under the bed. He laughs and puts on a worn out, sweat-stained straw hat that’s way too big. Then he pulls out a dusty pork pie that’s too small. We laugh at that.
Cooter looks around some more while I start getting nervous thinking about the old man returning. I get my rifle and stand on the porch to keep a look out. It’s hot and the wind’s picked up. Sand’s blowing and makes the ground shimmer. I reach up and bat a short length of rope probably used for drying game birds.
My stomach growls. I miss my ma’s cooking. She can cook up a mess of dove like nobody else. Seeing them ropes hanging reminds me of how Ma tried to hang flowerpots on our porch. I guess she thought she’d make our place more livable. But you can’t pretty up a piece of trash. And Pa always tore down anything hopeful she’d ever done.
What a sorry place this is. We come so far west, practically nothing but desert and prickly pear. These old people got nothing – empty pigpens, empty corral, a couple o’ bare trees. One’s blood-stained from slaughtering pigs at one time, still has the rope up.
Movement in the distance catches my eye and I raise my gun. About a quarter mile away I see a damn Indian’s watering his horse at a shallow tank. I can tell he spies me by how he stands up slow-like and keeps looking in my direction. He keeps his eyes on me. I think about riding out to kill him, but I’m running low on bullets. He leaves.
I go back inside. “You know you just had an Indian watering his horse from your tank?”
She turns around and wipes her hands on her apron. Getting a gander at her now, she looks more like a hundred. Her skin’s so old and dry with brown patches and it looks about to crack from the deep grooves. “We let them water their horses and they leave us alone. Apache, Comanche, don’t matter to us. This is the only watering hole for miles. We ain’t got no troubles with them. Sometimes they bring us food. Mostly it ain’t good quality, but we take what’s provided.” She turns back around to her cooking.
Cooter gets all jumpy and wipes his mouth again. His sleeves always have a permanent brown stains. Damn, some people just shouldn’t chew tobacco. “You sure he’s gone? We don’t need no trouble like that.”
I laugh. “Why you worried? We took care o’ that other son of a bitch we saw.” I walk near to the woman and lean against her sideboard while she does a quick peek in the oven. “Yesterday we come across a guy, was he Comanche?” I turn to Cooter, not like he’d know.
He nods. “Maybe Apache, but I think more like Comanche.”
I turn back to the woman. “Anyhow, he tried to run which made us work harder. So that didn’t help my disposition none. But Cooter here’s a good shot and brought him down. Hoo! He was a tough one.” I give that Indian credit, he didn’t break until the last. I let him rest and told him I’d make it easier on him if he told me of a homestead nearby. I know he understood me. He looked right at me and said, “Kay Chart” and he pointed us to this place. When I asked again he pointed us here. I laugh now, thinking how the old woman’s luck went bad on account of an Indian, and her still thinking she might get outta this alive. I wonder if that Indian had some kind of quarrel with her.
“Biscuits are ready.” She pulls them from the stove and starts fixin’ our plates.
Cooter smiles and rubbed his hands together. He spits his chaw onto the floor, ready to eat.
She puts our plates in front of us.
I say, “Bet you don’t get many visitors out here.”
We dig in and it’s good. This is the life! Forget working yourself to the bone with cows or farming. I’ll get rich, and Becky’ll marry me. I smile at Cooter and he smiles back, cheeks full o’ biscuits. Life is damn good.
Then my mouth starts burning. “You put peppers in this?”
She leans back against her sideboard, arms across her chest. “Not exactly.”
My mouth and throat burn and I spit my food onto my plate. I look over at Cooter and he looks back, tears running down his face and foam starts to coming outta his mouth and nose. His hand goes to his throat and he starts clawing. His eyes are big and he won’t stop looking at me.
I try to drink water but nothing helps. My throat and insides burn. Foam fills my mouth and my throat’s closing up. I look at my rifle, thinking about killing the witch, but my muscles are getting tight and I can’t move. I fall on the floor and started twitching. I’m so stove up, I can’t even blink.
The old woman grabs my heels and pulls me out to the porch and down the steps. It hurts like hell when my head bounces. I try screaming but nothing comes out. I’m too young and nothing to show for it. No more Becky, no more Ma, no more nothing.
The hag drags me across the yard and to the hog-killing tree. Breathing’s getting harder as foam fills by nose and my throat gets tighter. I can’t get no air. I feel her wrap the rope around my ankles and she hoists me up. Bitch is stronger than she looks.
She crouches down in front of me so’s I can see her. She pulls out a butcher knife she had in her apron. “You fool. ‘Kay-chart’ is Comanche for ‘evil one.’”
At least she runs the knife across me quick.
Some of the books written by our HOTXSINC authors include
MURDER ON WHEELS, winner of the 2016 Silver Falchion Award
for best short story anthology at Killer Nashville
Noreen Cedeno’s FOR THE SAKE OF THE CHILDREN, finalist for
the East Texas Writers Guild Book Award in the Mystery/Thriller category
Manning Wolfe’s DOLLAR SIGNS
Helen Currie Foster’s GHOST LETTER
Eugenia Parrish’s A COLD BLUE KILLING
K.P. Gresham’s HARDSCRABBLE HOMECOMING
The mission of Sisters in Crime is to promote the professional development and advancement of women crime writers to achieve equality in the industry.
Heart of Texas Chapter meets the second Sunday of each month–with the exception of November 2016, when it meets the third Sunday–at the Yarborough Branch of the Austin Public Library, 2200 Hancock Drive, Austin, Texas, at 2:15. An informal gathering is held at La Mancha Tex-Mex Tavern after the meeting.
You never know what former AMW member Kaye George is up to! She’s very busy and always working on many projects so I thought I’d ask.
VPC- Hey, Kaye George! What have you been up to lately? What’s your latest project? I heard you were in an anthology. Can you tell us a little about it?
KG- It’s Cooked To Death: Tales of Crime and Cookery. It’s an anthology of mostly Minnesota writers. Each writer contributed a crime story and a recipe, and the food was supposed to play a part in the story. I was invited to submit because I know one of the instigators and thought it was a fun project. The editors are Rhonda Gilliland and Michael Mallory. He’s the one I know. An idea I hadn’t used yet would work for this, I was pretty sure, so I went for it.
VPC- Can you give us a little “taste” of your story?
KG- My story is called “Murder with Crow.” It features a busybody old lady who has made friends with an intelligent crow. The crow loves her zucchini bread. She has some odd new neighbors with erratic schedules and misses the guy who lived there before. The new neighbors do not appreciate her and that makes her more determined than ever to get more information about them, plying them with more and more baked goods.
VPC- Uh oh, I smell trouble brewing (or baking?) Can you give us a few words about the other stories?
KG- The stories are arranged by course, with Appetizers, Soups, Entrees, and Desserts, which I think is cute. The one that stuck in my mind was Pat Dennis’ “After the Before” that concerns a “before” diet picture and a wedding. The stories range from the rather hard-boiled “Shrimp Charmoula: a killer dish” by Carl Brookins, with a knock-down fight scene, and David Housewright’s “Dog Eat Dog” about a business man collecting payments with a snarling wolf, to more moderate stories like “A Fare to Remember” by Marilyn Jax, where two women need to solve their friend’s kidnapping when the police overlook an important clue, even if means missing their day at the fair.
VPC- Sounds good! I like an anthology with a variety of stories. Are you working on anything else? Silly question, I know, because you are so busy!
KG- Another anthology came out October 1st called We’ve Been Trumped from Darkhouse Books. I have a rather post-apocalyptic tale in that one. I’m doing proposals for new series to replace the Fat Cat mysteries that are not being continued. I hope to have good news very soon on that front! I’m also trying to squeeze in a 4th Imogene Duckworthy book.
VPC- Like I said, always busy! Thank you for taking the time to talk to me. It’s always good to know what our friends are up to.
If you would like to know more about Kaye George, you can find her at http://kayegeorge.wixsite.com/kaye-george
By Gale Albright
There are many articles about writing, but perhaps not so many about writing organizations.
As current president of Sisters in Crime: Heart of Texas chapter in Austin, I find myself constantly coming and going, requesting favors, soliciting ideas, applying for grants, arranging programs, and asking if someone wants to do something.
Sisters in Crime was founded in 1987 during Edgars Week by Sara Paretsky and other female crime writers, in an attempt to close the gap between the treatment of women crime novelists and their male counterparts. Women weren’t getting enough book reviews, or not getting the right kind of reviews. Female crime writers weren’t taken as seriously as men.
Since that time, Sisters in Crime chapters have proliferated across the United States and Canada, encouraging women writers in their craft and their self-esteem. I consider it an honor to be a part of the nuts and bolts machinery of this effort.
We have a monthly meeting at the Yarborough branch of the Austin Public Library, where we showcase authors and forensic experts. In addition to our meetings, we are expanding into the community to network with writers, libraries, and book festivals.
For example, our chapter steering committee wanted to have a presence at the Texas Book Festival, slated for Nov. 5-6 this fall. The national Sisters in Crime organization awarded us a grant to pay for our display table. We now have a TBF committee composed of volunteers who are making schedules and organizing local Sisters in Crime authors who want to sell books at our table. Authors and readers and book buyers meeting one another always creates a positive situation for those in the writing community.
Another opportunity to reach out presented itself when National Sisters in Crime “We Love Libraries” Coordinator Andrea Smith, asked me, as the closest SINC chapter president in Austin, if I would present a $1000 check to the Lake Travis Community Library, which was just awarded the May 2016 “We Love our Libraries” grant. I’m happy I was asked to show up and be of service to the organization. The program starts at 1 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 8 at the Lake Travis Community Library, 1938 Lohmans Crossing in Lakeway. I’ll present the check and give a brief presentation on the advantages of joining Sisters in Crime. Pat Dunlap Evans will then present a program on her new mystery thriller, Out and In. Community outreach is a good way to recruit new members and make new friends. That’s what you do when you work at strengthening a writing organization. You make contact, you make plans, you bring people and projects together.
Our chapter has collaborated with Malvern Books, at 613 W. 29th St. in Austin to put on a reading of Sisters in Crime: Heart of Texas writers’ books at 1 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 30. Malvern will offer our books for sale and give us a venue to promote our authors.
At its best, a writing organization provides shelter, stimulation, ideas, encouragement, and an opportunity for growth. If the building blocks are sound, there will a supportive matrix to enrich writers and readers alike.
For those who love to read mysteries as well as write them, Bouchercon is where you will find your people– and they will most likely be hanging out in the hotel bar.
The 47th Bouchercon World Mystery Convention found its home this year in The Big Easy. The combination of a compelling locale along with some of the biggest names in crime fiction created the largest registration to date. Over 1,900 guests flocked to New Orleans in search of panels, book signings, author sightings and fabulous food, along with intentions of connecting with old friends and making new ones.
I found all of those things.
This was my first Bouchercon as previous attempts to attend have been thwarted by schedule conflicts, work issues and school events. This year, somehow, we made it work. Embarking on a road trip with fellow AMW member Valerie Chandler, the two of us packed the car and hit the road, following IH-10 all the way across state lines and into the heart of New Orleans. Nine hours in a car sounds like a chore, but we fared pretty well. We found each other to be entertaining company–and the snacks were pretty good, too. A successful road trip hinges on these two things–the right people and the right munchies.
Walking into the hotel on Wednesday evening thrust us in the middle of a party already in progress. The bar area bustled with animated conversations and activity. Clearly, people were already in the “laissez le bon temps roulez” frame of mind. Writing is such a solitary process that it was a wonderful thing, seeing these mystery lovers together sharing stories and spirits. The bar served as the community meeting center for the conference, with people coming and going (and some staying all night). It was an event in and of itself.
Registration to Bouchercon includes a trip to the conference bookstore. Shopping in the Bouchercon Bookstore was a real treat. Along with our registration goodies–T-shirt, tote bag, water bottle–each attendee received six coupons for free books. The store was stocked with all the latest titles (and a few ARCs) from authors attending the conference. It took some time to make my selections, as I debated which titles to take home. These books now sit on my nightstand waiting for my attention, which I fully intend to give them after I complete the latest round of edits on my own novel.
On Thursday morning, Michael Connelly interviewed Harlan Coben, and it was one of the best exchanges between two powerhouse authors I have ever witnessed. They tackled the realities of writing vs. the fantasy of it and shared the stories of their successes with humor and humility. Harlan explained that it was his tenth book that finally garnered him some success–his TENTH. So, for those of us who do not yet have that number as a backlist, his advice is to keep writing. And when you’re done, write the next one. Tough love, people.
The panels were fantastic and the conversations afterward were equally interesting. On
average, there were six panels offered in each key time slot, making it difficult to decide which ones to attend. My conference schedule was highlighted and notated as though I had been preparing for an exam.
Bouchercon encompasses a wide variety of sub genres, and it was interesting to hear discussions related to so many different kids of mysteries– how they are constructed, how they are marketed and how they find their way to readers. I think that this broad scope of inclusion is one of the elements that makes Bouchercon so unique. It doesn’t narrow itself to a small slice of mystery. It’s about the entire pie.
Speaking of dessert, I would be remiss if I didn’t spend a moment fawning over the New Orleans cuisine. The dining options were vast, varied and with rare exception, all excellent. We found the Palace Café, located on the foot of the French Quarter, and loved it so much that we returned again a second time. The atmosphere was very NOLA, with its sharply dressed waiters, white table linens and black iron spiral staircase. The shrimp tchefuncte was fabulous and flavorful, and I still miss the bananas foster. It was that good.
Sisters in Crime celebrated 30 years at the conference, and the breakfast meeting brought some of the most talented–and supportive–crime writers working today. The breakfast, held on the 41st floor of the NOLA Marriott, was elegant yet casual, the view of the city through the hotel windows serving as the perfect backdrop for the conversations taking place. This group of women and men, who come together for the purposes of promoting equality in the field of crime fiction, have accomplished a great deal in three decades. While there is more work to be done, it is clear that their commitment has created substantial progress.
Having time to spend catching up with friends, many of whom I only see once or twice a year, was a true treasure. Those connections and conversations are experiences I bring home and keep with me as I return to the daily work of writing solo. They remind me that, even though I write alone, I am far from it.
I now return to real life, and it’s nice to be home. Still, I wish I could find a way to bring the community of Bouchercon and the New Orleans food with me. The memories will have to do, and I am thankful to have had the opportunity to attend. So, friends, until next time. Maybe I’ll see you in Toronto at Bouchercon 2017? –Laura Oles