Please welcome Alexia Gordon, award-winning author of the Gethsemane Brown mysteries!
I returned home late last night from ThrillerFest XIII, International Thriller Writers’ premier event, a conference celebrating all genres and sub-genres of crime fiction. I’ve attended ThrillerFest three times, including this past week’s conference. This year I was lucky enough to participate on my first panel. Undaunted by the fantastical title, “Witches, Werewolves, and Vampires,” I joined my fellow panelists and moderator, Heather Graham, to discuss how and why we used paranormal elements in our crime fiction. We had a good turnout, despite being up against George R.R. Martin, R.L. Stine, and Walter Mosley, and things went smoothly—brilliant questions from the moderator, no one bogarted the discussion—up to a point. The point when a man in the audience, notebook and pen in hand and body language that screamed “unhappy person with an agenda,” asked, “When are police going to take psychics seriously?” (I’m paraphrasing, but that’s what he meant.) This man had attended a panel featuring former police officers who now wrote crime fiction and asked them about the use of psychics in homicide and missing persons investigations. He got the reaction you’d guess he’d get from a group of no-nonsense, “just the facts, ma’am,” retired cops.
Coincidentally, I’d been in the audience when the man asked the police-turned-authors about psychics. His body language there read the same as it did during my panel. The question was obviously more than just a casual, “Whadda ya think?” kind of thing. He seemed offended when most of the panelists dismissed psychics out-of-hand. Bruce Robert Coffin, a retired homicide detective from Maine (and a friend of mine) who had personal experience with psychics on a major case he’d worked, explained that, while he’d believe in psychic ability if he saw it, so far, he’d seen nothing to make him believe. He described how the psychics involved with his case offered information along the lines of “the body will be found near water, under pine trees.” In Maine. Duh.
Later, during my panel, the man recounted Bruce’s story (and conceded he had a point about “water and pine trees” not being much of a tip in a state full of water and pine trees) and the attitude of the other officers, which had been less charitable. He asked, “When will things change?” Since I include psychics in my series, both fraudulent and genuine, I jumped in to address his challenge. I admitted I’d yet to encounter any psychics in real life I believed were genuine (having gone to a handful for readings as part of my research), however, I haven’t met every psychic. I told him that the history of groups like the Society for Psychical Research had convinced me not to dismiss the possibility that psychic ability is genuine. If respected scientists, including Nobel laureates, took the subject seriously enough to investigate, who am I to say “never”? I also explained that I’m not out to convince anyone that ghosts or psychics or any other paranormal phenomena are real. I’m out to tell the best story I can. The other panelists, some of whom include psychic characters in their novels, said similar things.
But, and the reason I’m writing this post, that wasn’t the end of it. The man still seemed angry and left as soon as the panel ended without speaking to anyone. I couldn’t stop thinking about why someone attending panels featuring fiction writers would take it so personally when those fiction writers didn’t wholeheartedly endorse the role of the fantastical in real life crime investigation. As I’d said, I’m out to tell the best story I can. What, I wondered, was this man’s story? I did what any good crime writer would do—I followed him to the book seller’s room. I watched (writers watch, they don’t stalk) him for a while to see if he gave any clues as to why he cared whether law enforcement took psychics seriously. I got nothing from his outfit (sports coat and slacks) nor his name badge (he wrote for a Wall Street publication). I surreptitiously snapped his photo (It is not stalking, it’s research.) so I’d have a record of his name, intending to Google him later. Then I decided to stop snooping and just ask. “Excuse me, are you the man who wanted to know about psychics in police investigations? You seemed passionate about the topic. Are you a psychic?”
Guess what? He’s a psychic medium and a pastor in a spiritualist church. (Writing about Wall Street pays the bills.) Suddenly, his attitude made perfect sense. Of course, he felt passionate about being taken seriously. Who doesn’t? And he was a professional journalist. That explained the notebook, pen, and tone of his questions. A professional journalist/psychic medium came to a crime writing conference to find out if any crime writers believed in him or if they thought he was a charlatan whose only purpose was to be used as a gimmick or an object of ridicule in crime fiction.
We had a good chat and he even bought one of my books as a peace offering. When he left the book seller’s room, he left me wondering, what are the stories of panel audiences? Audiences get a peek into the lives of panelists, but panelists seldom find out who’s sitting in uncomfortable chairs in an ice-box of a room, listening to them answer questions, offer opinions, and dispense advice. What’s happening in their lives and how do those stories lead them to choose to attend a panel on the paranormal or cops-turned-crime writers or historical fiction or noir or own voices fiction?
If you’re a panelist, do you ever look out at the faces of the people watching you and wonder what their backstory is? If you’re in the audience, how does your backstory influence the response you’re looking for from the panelists?
A writer since childhood, I put literary endeavors on hold to finish medical school and Family Medicine residency training. Medical career established, I returned to writing fiction. I completed SMU’s Writer’s Path program in Dallas, Texas. Henery Press published my first novel, Murder in G Major, book one of the Gethsemane Brown mysteries, in September 2016. Book two, Death in D Minor, released July 11, 2017. Book three, Killing in C Sharp, released March 2018 and received a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly.
Murder in G Major won the Lefty Award for Best Debut Novel, was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best New Novel, and was selected one of Suspense Magazine’s Best Debuts.