Sunday, September 13, 2009

I Have Always Depended on the Kindness of Mystery Writers

by Libby Hellmann

Over the weekend the Chicagoland Sisters in Crime chapter sponsored a one-day conference in Schaumburg, a Chicago suburb. It was a lovely event, and the hard work Annie Chernow and librarian Susan Gibberman invested was appreciated. Any time they let us out of our cages to interact with people, it’s a plus.

As authors, we were treated to lunch and during the meal a group of us sat together. Normally we talk gossip and shop: who’s publishing, the future of publishing houses, bookstores, the impact of e-books, or the Biscottes they serve on Northwest Airlines. This time, though, it was different, and it’s one of the reasons I love being part of the mystery community.

I don’t think I’m talking out of school to say that Outfiteer Laura Caldwell brought up a plot problem with the mss she’s currently writing. As she described it, suddenly all of us started brainstorming possible solutions. One of us came up with one idea, someone else had another, and finally, someone else (OK, it was Joe Konrath) came up with an idea that we all said, “Yes. That will work!” Laura said, “OMG, I never thought of that!” Problem solved.

That emboldened me, and I described a problem I was having in my mss. Before I'd even finished, people were firing suggestions. I was reminded that my protagonist has to be active, not passive, and that the motivation for murder has to be carefully crafted. You know that moment when someone gives you an idea, and you know unquestionably that it’s the right one? Well, that happened, and I found a way around my problem.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been rescued by other authors. A few years ago Michael Dymmoch, Barb D’Amato, and I were driving to Indianapolis for an event. At the time I was going through a divorce and my best friend was dying of cancer. Not surprisingly, perhaps, I’d written myself into a corner. They spent nearly the entire drive helping conceptualize my way out of the abyss.

There are other times I recall, as well: driving cross-country with Cara Black brainstorming plots, riding around the Midwest doing the same with Kent Krueger, phone conversations with Joe Konrath or Sean Chercover.

What other community can you think of in which your competitors take the time and effort to make sure you produce the best product you can? I can’t think of any. That’s why I love this community. And will always depend on the kindness of mystery writers.


♥Jen♥ said...

This post made me smile, Libby. Through my 6-word memoir project many people have said, "how did you get all those memoirs?" I said quite frankly, "I just asked. The mystery community is made up of simply the nicest people you'll ever meet!" And that's the honest-to-God truth. This is the greatest "family" on Earth! :)

Barbara D'Amato said...

Libby, I think other writers find it lots of fun to brainstorm for somebody else's book. You can wing it--all sorts of good, bad, and outlandish things. And you aren't burdened by the notion that you will have to sit down and work it all out on paper. Some of the best ideas come up this way.

Cara Black said...

Mine certainly have, Barb. Great post Libby, can't forget the long stretch between Tuscon and Phoenix throwing plot ideas back and forth getting so excited in the gas station parking lot! People looked at us funny, but did we care?

Annie C said...

Thanks for the great post and kind word, Libby. Anytime I can help any of you wonderful writers, even in a small way, I'm here. Selfish motives, I suppose, since I'm a huge fan of Chicago writers... you're the best!

Laura Caldwell said...

What a great post, Libby! That conversation was so hugely helpful for me. I left the library thinking, "Yes, this is going to work!" And I have noticed from the beginning the kindness of mystery writers. Since I wrote women's fiction first (chick lit if you don't hate that term) I sold a mystery novel not knowing much about the industry. At my first Love Is Murder conference I was blown away by how many writers, reviewers, readers and others gave me incredible advice and support, offering to share PR contacts and so much more. So many amazing authors have helped me along the way and become friends--our own Marcus, Sean and Dave Ellis, Ken Bruen, MJ Rose, Lee Child, Steve Martini, Steve Berry (and his fabulous wife, Liz), Gayle Lynds, Jim Rollins, Dave Ellis, Joe Konrath, I could go on and on... I love writing in this genre, in large part because of the company I get to keep. Thanks y'all.

Suzanne Arruda said...

I have always maintained that mystery writers are the nicest group of writers. Maybe it's because we kill someone in the plot and get it out of our system. Ha.

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Sean Chercover said...

Konrath is scary-good when it comes to working out plot problems.