The Best Mystery Fan
When I wrote Tainted Mountain, the first in the Nora Abbott series, I thought I’d written a thriller. But I accidently sold it to a mystery editor and she told me, no, it’s a medium-boiled mystery. When we negotiated the contract and she asked me if I intended it as a stand-alone or a series, I cleverly responded, “Series.”
Then I had to set about writing a couple more books. In a mystery series. For mystery readers who’ve been reading the genre all their lives. These readers know the conventions and tropes. They have way more mystery savvy than I do.
Here’s my confession: I was never a mystery reader. I didn’t grow up with Nancy Drew. I’d never read an Agatha Christie book until I sold Tainted Mountain. My mother handed me a Phyllis A. Whitney book when I was in junior high and I mowed through several of those but that’s as close to mystery as I came. Before that, I read Little Women and Bambi, Black Stallion. Later, I devoured mainstream and literary fiction.
No mystery series.
At my first Left Coast Crime convention in Sacramento, I met a very nice retired lady. I knew about two people at the convention and she had such a sweet smile I struck up a conversation with her. I met her again at Malice Domestic later that year and we talked more. She is something of an expert mystery reader. I asked her for suggestions to start my mystery education and she sent me an initial reading list.
I worked my way through her suggestions and we continued to build our friendship. I was honored and thrilled to share accommodations with her at Bouchercon in Long Beach. This is where I learned she reads well over 500 books a year. That’s more than one per day. Every day. She keeps two data bases and records all the books she reads. She races through whole series. She not only attends the mystery conventions in the United States, she also takes mystery convention tours in Europe.
Then, after all this time it occurred to me. She is why we write. (I know, I often miss the obvious.)
I’m banging my head on the wall trying to slam some great ideas into it, or pounding away on the keyboard to get the story down, I’m thinking about what my agent, my critique group, my editor will think about my writing. What are reviewers likely to say? And hovering over it all, how am I going to make a buzz so people will buy my book. Too many times it’s about the sale and not about the read. In other words, I’m trying to be a great writer so I’ll sell a bunch of books, not so that I’ll entertain readers. It’s a subtle difference.
In her gentle, unassuming way, this woman whopped me upside the head with the basic truth that it’s not about me. It’s about her and everyone like her. Readers.
What I need to remember above everything else is this woman. This smart, funny, interesting woman who loves the stories we create. My focus should be toward her, to give her something worth her time. For all her devotion to our genre, she deserves my best.
Here is my promise to you: I will continue to work hard to get better. For all the selfish motivations I have for improving, I hope I can always remind myself the real reason for writing stories is for you.
If you’re a writer, has a fan ever motivated you? If you’re a reader (and aren’t we all?) do you ever contact your favorite writers? Leave a comment below for a chance to win a copy of Tattered Legacy. (United States residents only.)
Shannon Baker, author of the Nora Abbott Mystery series involving murder, environment and Hopi Indians, can often be found backpacking, skiing, kayaking, cycling, or just playing lizard in the desert. She’s proud to have been chosen Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers 2014 Writer of the Year. Visit her online at www.Shannon-Baker.com.
Tattered Legacy, the third in the Nora Abbott series, is set in the iconic red rocks of Moab, UT. Working to solve the murder of her best friend, Nora uncovers an unlikely intersection of ancient Hopi legends, a secret polygamist sect and one of the world’s richest men. Will Nora put all the pieces together in time to prevent disaster?