In the Shadows of Giants

We’ve talked a lot about shadows this month: how to cast them, how useful they can be for fiction, how they can bring out characters and detail. But we haven’t talked much about another aspect of shadows. The objects (or people) that cast them.

You may have noticed (or you didn’t, which is okay, too) that I was absent last week. I had a good excuse. I was in Raleigh attending Bouchercon, the World Mystery Convention. Three and a half days of mingling with the members of the crime fiction community – readers, authors, bloggers. If you want the detailed recap, you can read my blog here.

That community casts some big shadows. For example: I went to the Author Speed Dating event Thursday morning. Met lots of published authors, but at some point a woman with a lovely turquoise necklace sat down and put a book in front of me, a mass-market paperback. The Spider Woman’s Daughter, I read, Anne Hillerman. I was so under-caffeinated, all I could think was “what a lovely cover.” Then a thought pushed through the fog. Hillerman. Navajo. Tony Hillerman.

Yes, I was sitting next to Tony Hillerman’s daughter. And she was a lovely person.

I gave directions to Karin Slaughter. “I loved Cop Town,” I said. And she was genuinely thrilled to hear it.

On Saturday, I did a panel. Beforehand, I was pretty low key. I’d met the moderator and she was a very nice person. Two of my friends were in the front row. I was calm, cool, and collected. I could do this. Then I listened to the bios of my fellow panelists. Holy. Crap. I was seriously out of my league. I felt like a player on the Class A ballclub who had been told he was going to the majors – tomorrow. I had the potential to seriously face-plant on this.

But I didn’t. My panel-mates were wonderful people. No one hogged the spotlight. The moderator asked me questions and I responded intelligently (I am told I had the sound bit of the panel: “Then one day you find yourself in the kitchen holding the meat cleaver.”). They let me respond to audience questions. They complimented me afterward, two of them saying it was one of the best panels they’d ever done and I’d contributed to that. One even approached me later to find out where to buy my short-story collection.

I’ve heard it said that the crime fiction community is the best out there. Friendly. Engaging, Encouraging. I’m sure writers in other genres will say the same thing. But based on my experience last week, yeah. My tribe — other crime fiction writers and the vibrant reader community — rocks the house. I am honored beyond measure to be a part of it.

It would have been easy to be overcome by the shadows. There were a lot of them: Hank Phillippi Ryan, Deborah Crombie, Margaret Maron, Anne Hillerman, John Gilstrap, James Scott Bell, Kathy Reichs – the list goes on. I could have been buried, totally hidden. But instead of swallowing me, these authors allowed me to take some rest in their shade, kind of like seeking solace on a hot day beneath your favorite tree. The shade comforting and encouraging. Over and over I heard: Keep it up. Keep writing.  Don’t quit.

Maybe someday I’ll be casting a shadow of my own. Until then, I’m more than happy to sit in the shade cast by others, soaking up their comfort and knowledge. Because I know when the time comes, they’ll gladly make room for me in the grove.

Mary Sutton | @mary_sutton73


Author: Liz Milliron

Liz Milliron has been making up stories, and creating her own endings for other people's stories, for as long as she can remember. She survived growing up through reading, cutting her mystery teeth on Agatha Christie, Mary Higgins Clark and, of course, Nancy Drew. As an adult, she finds escape from the world of software documentation through creating her own fictional murder and mayhem. She lives near Pittsburgh with her husband and two teenage children, and fantasizes about owning a dog again - one of these days.

12 thoughts on “In the Shadows of Giants”

  1. The crime writing community is terrifically supportive. Everyone starts out as an unpublished person with a story idea, including those folks casting tall shadows.
    Congrats on your terrific panel experience. That’s a great notch on your resume.


  2. You are so right! The giants of our tribe are the best. That’s one reason why they’re giants. So glad you had a great time at Bouchercon.


  3. I love the takeaway you had from the conference. I agree the writing community is incredibly supportive and the giants of the business are usually great people who wish you nothing but the best.


  4. Ramona, one of my panel-mates said the same thing. And told me I’d be smart and funny, so score!

    Sue & JJ: I love the fact that I could be talking to anyone, no matter the publishing credit, and the person made me feel just as important as anyone else. And truly interested in my writing career.


  5. Mary, it was great to meet you f2f! Hooray for you on your panel (great quote). You’re right, the people at these conferences cast some long shadows, but they’re comforting and welcoming, especially when you realize we all love the same thing.


  6. Mary, this really touched me. i couldn’t agree with you more. A TV writer friend joked that I have PTSD from working in dysfunctional TV writers’ rooms for so long. I can’t tell you how warm and welcoming I’ve found the mystery world. I’m so glad we got to meet… and I look forward to standing in your shadow!


  7. Diane, it was great meeting you, too. I love how the Mysteristas just instantly united us.

    Keenan, hopefully I’ll make it to New Orleans next year so I can meet you.

    Ellen, I totally understand the dysfunctional group dynamic. Luckily, the mystery world keeps their dysfunctions limited to fiction. For a group of people that write about such grisly stuff, we are a friendly bunch, aren’t we? And based on what I see, you’re going to have a shadow of your own soon.


  8. Pamela/Kait/Cynthia: Yes. I never cease to be amazed at how such a warm, welcoming bunch of people can write about death and such. But I’ve never met one grumpy mystery writer. And Cynthia – I had a blast (especially once I got over my nerves on that panel).


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