Wednesday, January 24, 2018


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.  


Ramona said...

What a lovely tribute, Triss. Writing careers are full of ups and downs. We need friends and mentors to buoy us. I'm happy you had Marilyn, and suspect she was happy to have had you in her life, too.

Terry said...

Tris, as you know Marilyn and I were long time friends. I had just gotten an agent when I met her and she called me the next day and said, "I want to write a book." I still remember rolling my eyes and thinking, "Yeah, right. Everybody does." But we met and became fast friends, and I was witness as she not only wrote her first book, but marched into a publishing office in New York and plopped the manuscript onto a desk. Can you imagine that happening these days? I love that story.

Her career took fire and she never looked back. She was such a great friend and mentor. I can still hear her wonderful laugh. Sometimes I wish I could just sit down with her over one more cup of tea. Or a glass of champagne.

Triss said...

Thanks, Terri. Marilyn at the publisher is a wonderful story I had not heard. I can just see her doing it, too!

Triss said...

Ramona, thanks for your thoughtful comment.

Meredith Cole said...

Thanks for your lovely post, and for sharing your remembrances of Marilyn. She was a terrific critique partner who taught me a lot, and I feel lucky to have known her, too.

Susan Oleksiw said...

Thanks for this lovely post remembering Marilyn. Hers was one of the first names I encountered when I began writing, and one of the people who demonstrated the warmth of the mystery community.

Jeffrey Siger said...

A wonderful tribute from a writer who possesses the same qualities as the object of her praise! Well done, Triss.

Donis Casey said...

I have a few wonderful people who have encouraged and helped me along the way, as well. What a bleak prospect it would be without the support of those who believe in us, Triss.

Catherine A Winn said...

I left a comment earlier and it looks like it disappeared. I'll try again. This was a very lovely tribute to your friend. I wish I had been privileged to have known her.

Triss said...

Meredith,Susan, Donis, Jeff and Catherine- thank you for your kind comments.

And apologies for this very awkward way of responding. I am still learning to use this new blog set-up on the new web page.There must be a better way and I will find out what it is.