“[Maggie’s] hand closed around the library card. She had placed it under her pillow, as if it were a love token, or a guarantor of pleasant dreams. What else did you use a library card for, if not to borrow stories? Some of which might have a happy ending.”
Herron was the International Guest of Honor at Left Coast Crime 2022. I hadn’t known his work, though his series that begins with Slow Horses is the basis for the new Apple TV series starring Gary Oldman. I picked up this book, a standalone, and read it in two settings. In context, the quote isn’t purely a ponder on the glory of libraries, but doesn’t mean quite what you think, i
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing tidbits of wisdom that caught my ears and attention at Left Coast Crime 2022, the mystery and crime fiction convention held this year in early April in Albuquerque.
“A good story isn’t about what happens. It’s about who it happens to.”
— William Kent Krueger, talking specifically about This Tender Land (2019). Kent’s novel, Lightning Strike, won the 2022 Lefty Award for Best Novel.
I’m just back from Albuquerque and Left Coast Crime, one of the three main fan conventions in mystery and crime fiction. And next week, I’m headed to Bethesda, MD, for Malice Domestic. My first conventions in three years! I found myself both unsure and excited. Unsure what to pack. How many bookmarks do I need? How many pairs of shoes? What am I forgetting, besides my mind?
And excited to see my community. Readers, writers, reviewers, booksellers, librarians, people in the publishing business. People who love curling up with a good book—and who love getting together with others to talk about the experience.
One of my writing communities has long been Sisters in Crime and the Guppies chapter, which I helped start. In 2014, SinC published a book called Writes of Passage: Adventures on the Writer’s Journey, ed. by Hank Phillippi Ryan.
My essay is titled “Group Power, For the Writer Alone in Her Room.” I was reminded of it recently when a member of an online writers’ group I’m in said of the cons, “I’m not sure I could do that. I’m an introvert.” Let me share this passage:
“I’ve been reading Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (Crown Books, 2012). Like most writers, I’m an introvert, albeit a noisy one, or maybe an ambivert. Cain contends that most institutions in our culture—schools, corporations, even churches—push extroversion and emphasize group activities and teamwork. That emphasis often results in forming a group to tackle a problem, whether that’s really the best solution or not, and discounts key natural strengths of introverts. But while introverts need quiet time—alone in our rooms, with the voices and stories in our heads—we also like to cooperate. We value each group member’s voice, and we encourage innovation.
“That’s what makes the writers’ group so powerful. A group can help us learn new information or sift through it. SinC’s Guppies chapter thrives on that principle, with subgroups for those seeking an agent, learning Scrivener, and setting goals. A dozen writers in my neck of the woods recently formed a business and marketing group. The writer experienced with Mail Chimp presented a tutorial for would-be newsletter authors terrified by the specter of yet more technology. Those without Facebook or Twitter accounts met at a café with wifi and walked through the setup together. I helped the group learn to use our Word Press blog and conduct a blog tour. We teach, puzzle, brainstorm—and toast sales with champagne.
“What groups do best, in my ambiverted opinion, is encourage its members and leverage information. Every opportunity and accomplishment I’ve had as a writer started with something I learned from a group. And with SinC and the Guppies, I didn’t even have to put on shoes.”
I do hope you’ll put on shoes and go find your community—on line or when the time is right for you, in person. And if you’re at Malice, please introduce yourself. Just don’t say anything about my shoes.
An occasional series in which I share a recent read I loved.
The Last Death of Jack Harbin: A Samuel Craddock Mystery by Terry Shames (Seventh Street Books, 2014)
I picked this book up for two reasons: Author Terry Shames was the moderator for a panel discussion on small town crime that I participated in at the Left Coast Crime mystery convention in Portland, March 12-15, and I like to be familiar with the work of others on the panel. And her first book, A Killing at Cotton Hill, won the 2014 Macavity Award for Best First Mystery and was nominated for the 2013 Left Coast Crime Best First award. As a Best First winner myself (Death al Dente won the 2013 Agatha Award for Best First novel), I love reading other new writers.
But even before I met her, I knew Terry Shames was an old hand. Why she hadn’t been published before, I have no idea, but this is a writer with great control. Samuel Craddock is the retired police chief of Jarrett Creek, Texas, a fairly recent widow with a bad knee and a reputation as a kind man who gets to the bottom of things. In The Last Death of Jack Harbin, we meet a cast of characters who have run up against some of life’s rougher edges. Some respond better than others, of course, letting their scars make them more human, gentler rather than harsher. It’s this variety of responses that I most enjoyed in Shames’ novel.
I have not been to Texas, but I feel I know Jarrett Creek. People are people pretty much everywhere, but they have their own local variations, and Shames portrays them clearly—they are recognizable without being cliched. Small town relationships and routines, the importance of high school sports even 20 plus years later, the military veterans, the religious fanatics, the men and women who fall beneath the cracks and the men and women who pick them up. They’re all here.
As I said, control is the Shames’ hallmark. There’s a little violence, yes, but only what’s needed. Emotion, setting, clear and vibrant language, backstory—we’re given pretty much all we need to understand these characters, and nothing superfluous. The mystery is solid; the secrets of the past keep coming. And Samuel Craddock is a crackerjack of a character.
Take the trip to Jarrett Creek. If you like a good mystery, I think you’ll be glad you did.