Wednesday, January 24, 2018

THE RIGHT FRIEND AT THE RIGHT TIME




The recent death of Sue Grafton has rightly inspired a flood of tributes. Her long series  of  Kinsey Milhone books were wildly popular and she – along with Sara Paretsky and Marcia Muller- gave us a whole new kind of mystery heroine.  I was also impressed by how many of the memories were about how generous she was with the encouragement for novice or hopeful writers.  The right word at the right time helped so many of the people who have written about her.

I never met her, but I did hear her speak at a long ago Mystery Writers of America program which also included Donald Westlake. Unforgettable? Ya think?

All this set me thinking about the person in my own writing life who was there at the right time.

A mutual acquaintance introduced us, because she had recently moved back to Brooklyn from California and I had written a few mysteries. I knew her name right away. Marilyn Wallace. She had written some successful suspense novels and edited some ground breaking, award-winning  anthologies. 







We started meeting for an occasional afternoon coffee and writing talk.

At that time, my writing career, such as it was, had ended with a shock. I was published by Walker, one of the last independent publishers in New York. The second book had been accepted in a few days, and though I never had any editorial guidance I thought it was the start of a career. The third book sat and sat. And sat.  And then was turned down without a word from them. The ending of their mystery line became public a few weeks later.

There were a lot of other shocks to my life that year, and I didn’t have the energy or enthusiasm for writing for a long time.

When I met Marilyn I was just starting again, unable to face a novel, experimenting with short stories. I honestly did not know if I even wanted to write anymore. She had also had a pause in her writing and was starting something new with a new name, Maggie Bruce.

 We found it helped to talk. We even started a critique group which became a source of great advice, great encouragement and great fun..      
 
Though she was a far more established writer than I was, she gave me the huge, the enormous, gift of taking me seriously. She treated me like a colleague. Assumed I was a writer. And because she took me seriously, I started to take myself seriously as a writer again.

Though I’d only known her a few years when we lost her to a recurrence of cancer, I missed her terribly. She was the friend I didn’t know I needed, and I hope I was a little of that for her.

When Brooklyn Bones was published, the first book in my new series with Poisoned Pen Press, the dedication read:
           
To the memory of Marilyn Wallace. Borrowing the great words of E. B.
            White, “It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and
            a good writer.  

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Starting a Blog. No, Really I Am


Welcome! When my spiffy new website was completed in the summer, and the designer had sent me instructions,  I planned to blog regularly. I did. Really. I used to be part of two group blogs, both of them now ended, and often guest blog when I have a new book out.  I both missed the process and felt I was losing an opportunity to connect.


Life interfered, as life will, but here at the start of a new year, I am back to good intentions.  My goal is to have a new post twice a month. There will be pieces on writing, both the process and the life;  mysteries, both my own and others; other reading, of course   and whatever observations (interesting, I hope) I have to make on life in Brooklyn, life in New York, life in senior years, life in its lovely, surprising and bewildering process. No politics, no complaining, no animals and no (ok, very little)  family chatter.  Please be forgiving if it looks a little odd at times. I'm still learning how to use it.


And please come read,  enjoy and comment.        

 Sometimes I might repost an old blog if it seems relevant. And today is one of those days! New York is having a rare, turn-off-the-city blizzard. There is a white sky, heavy winds, hours of snow falling, everyone  trying to stay indoors.   And I happen to have an old piece called “Snow Day.” It reveals I am not a native New Yorker, too. 

I hope you enjoy reading it, whether you are looking out at snow falling or sitting in sunshine. 



Snow Day

It’s Friday, January 3, 2014 here in New York and we were hit by a big snowstorm last night. And I want to say “Hooray!” That would not be a popular point of view here today, but there’s nothing I can do about it. One of my earliest memories is banks of shoveled snow along the sidewalks, piled higher than my head. Winter was permanently imprinted when I was young and impressionable.

In other words, there is a little girl in me who still gets excited about the words “Snow day”. I remember early winter mornings listening to the radio for the list of school closings before getting out of bed. Usually it was only the central schools, out in the county where the farm kids couldn’t get to school until the back roads were plowed. It took a big snowstorm to defeat those efficient, experienced snowplow drivers on the Watertown city streets. When it happened, and “City schools are closed” was announced, joy ensued. (For the children. Maybe not so much for their mothers.)

I remember the tall metal poles, painted yellow at the top, next to all the fire hydrants. They were there so hydrants buried in snow could be located when needed. I remember being on college vacation, waking up to hear the sound of shovels scraping the sidewalks and thinking “Ah. I am really home.” I remember the time my aunt and uncle, driving from New York, got caught in a snowstorm and spent the night at a farm, and the time my sister, driving back to Buffalo for college, was trapped in a car by a storm for about twelve hours. And I remember going back to my job in Boston, leaving town under clear skies and hitting a blizzard halfway to the Syracuse airport. My dad just turned the car around and we went home. And this was in April!

My sister, who recently moved from snowbound upstate NY to warm Texas, tells me I would not feel that way if I’d been battling snow all these years. Maybe she is right, but it is only a maybe. My husband has his own snowy memories, and we actually went to Winter Carnival in Qu├ębec City a few years ago. It was very, very -very!- cold, but we had a wonderful time. If we ever move away from New York, it will be north, not south.
The snow has crept into just one story I wrote,( kingsriverlife.com/04/27/snow-light-a-mystery-short-story/) but I suspect there will be more. I love books that capture that feeling of the weather as a character, one that can be enjoyed but must always be respected. When I read Julia Spencer-Fleming or Sara J. Henry or Jenny Milchman, I feel that they are writing about my own native country.