Monday, November 15, 2010
MAYHEM ON MONDAY
They like us, they really like us
At Magna cum Murder, a recent mystery conference in Muncie, Indiana (yes really), I found myself flanked by lawyers at the Saturday dinner. As I finished explaining to my pleasant companion on my left that one of my series characters was also a lawyer, the charming woman on my right said, “Oh yes, I know Camilla. I’ve read your books.”
When I picked myself up off the floor, she said, “Our library book club did them this summer. We read three Canadian women mystery writers in August and you were one of them.” As this was the Tippecanoe County Public Library to which I had no known connection, it was quite a puzzle. The other two were Lou Allin and Louise Penny, so naturally I felt honoured although still mystified. Still, the topic was called Cool Canadian Crime and it was great to be included.
On the long drive home, I wondered how this had come to be. Was it a blog that someone had written? A wayward Cool Canadian Crime bookmark that had fallen into the right hands? Word of mouth? A chance remark?
I may never find out, but it gave me quite a boost to learn that the many steps we take to forge connections with our current and potential readers can pay off in mysterious ways. Because connecting with readers is what it’s all about. Oh sure, it’s nice to make a buck or two along the road, but we all know how to make money, and writing mysteries is not really the easiest way as a rule. We tell our stories and create our characters and obsess endlessly over setting, plot, ambiance and dialogue because we love the genre and we hope that readers will share in this world with us.
Canadians are always interested in capturing the American mystery reader, because, trust me, there are zillions of them and they read a massive amount of crime fiction. But how do they learn about our Canadian books?
At the same conference, Brenda Chapman was promoting her atmospheric new novel In Winter’s Grip, which is set in Canada and the USA. She spoke out on her panel and asked the audience: “We are told that Americans don’t care about Canada. Are you interested in reading books with a Canadian setting?” Every hand shot up. Everyone was interested. One woman said, “I love Canadian books, but I don’t know how to find them.”
As you can imagine, she does now. Our Crime Writers of Canada bookmarks were soon snapped up at the promo tables.
On the same trip, Brenda and I were welcomed with open arms for our mystery event at Cuyahoga County Public Library in what was surely the most beautiful library room I’d every been in. The fountain was just part of it. Even more beautiful was the fact it was packed with readers in spite of (or maybe because of) the dark and stormy night. They leaned forward, they listened intently, they laughed, they clapped. It was like a dream come true. They like us, I thought, they really like us.
The connection? The librarian, Wendy Bartlett, was a friend of my friend, the energetic mystery reader and noted blogger Kaye Barley, whom I had met through an online discussion group. Kaye had introduced her friend to my books and so it went. The North Carolina based Kaye loves Canadian authors and often has Canadian guests blogging at meanderingsandmuses.blogspot.com. A little spark here, a little connection there. It all makes a difference and the sparks continue to fly.
The Canadian contingent was sparking away again this year in Bouchercon San Francisco. President Cathy Astolpho, administrator Melodie Campbell and BC Veep Lou Allin arrived sporting the very flattering new Crime Writers of Canada T-shirts and dispensing smiles, bookmarks and nifty rulers to all and sundry. I managed to snag one too. Worth every penny. I think as a result of the visibility of CWC, there will be not only greater awareness of Canadian crime, but mysterious connections in the future for all of us. My point and I do have one: everything counts in the ongoing quest for new readers.
It’s a long battle and we’ll win it reader by reader. So, what contacts have been effective for you as an author and a reader?
Mary Jane Maffini rides herd on three, soon to be three and a half, mystery series. You can check them out at www.maryjanemaffini.com