What’s so funny about crime? Well, nothing. But crime writing is an altogether different story, no pun intended. The Chicks got together recently to chat about some funny situations we’ve found ourselves in over the course of our writing career.
Ugh, this is so embarrassing I hate to even type this. But I was on a panel at a large conference (I honestly can’t remember which one), and the subject was YA mystery. Back in a former life, as a lot of you know, I was a Nancy Drew editor and wrote more than 20 kids’ titles for various series. The other writers worked for hire, and so did I, to supplement my editorial salary. But occasionally a writer didn’t work out, and the publisher would ask me to step in and “fix” (or completely rewrite) the book to their specifications. Well, the “wrote for Nancy Drew and other series” info was in my conference bio. When the panel Q&A session came up, a woman raised her hand and asked which Nancy Drew titles, specifically, I’d written. I told her, very truthfully, that I’d signed a contract not to reveal my identity (everyone was “Carolyn Keene”). After the panel she came up and asked me to tell her, because it was so long ago and she was putting a list up on her website with the true authors, and everyone else had supposedly come forward. But even if I’d wanted my name up there, I couldn’t remember which books I’d been officially contracted for and which I’d ghostwritten. Some of the authors never knew about the ghostwriting–or, at least, they never knew it was me, their editor, rewriting their work. Yikes. I mumbled something like, Sooo sorry, I really can’t, and got out of the room as fast as I could.
When I was nominated for an Agatha Best First Novel award, I don’t have to tell you how exciting it was. It was also my first experience hosting a banquet table. Being new to the mystery world, I only knew two people at the table, my publisher and fellow Chick and dear pal Lisa Q. Mathews. A woman sat down next to me and declared to the table she was bringing me luck because every time she sat at a nominated author’s table, they won their award. She mentioned this more than once. It was basically her claim to fame. So, my category comes up, they announce the winner – and it wasn’t me. (It was the lovely and talented Art Taylor for On the Road with Del and Louise.) Cue incredibly awkward silence at my table! I wasn’t remotely surprised I didn’t win. But oh, how uncomfortable that moment was, given the build-up. That poor woman slunk off and I’ve never seen her at Malice again. (Of course, it’s a big conference, so maybe she’s been there and I missed her. I hope!)
Oh, I just came up with another one! I don’t know how to silence our landlines during virtual events, so either I put them all in a distance room or keep one nearby to quickly press on and then off to send off spammers. I was in the middle of a virtual event via St. Louis’s Left Bank Bookstore when my mother called. I did my on-and-off thing, but being my mother, she of coursed immediately called back. I had to answer. I responded with a hurried “I can’t talk right now.” To which she responded with a loud-enough-to-be-heard by all, “Are you on the toilet?”
Does embarrassment count as funny? Yes, if it’s not you who’s the one embarrassed. So here goes: It was at Malice Domestic, 2018. Louise Penny was the guest of honor, and Nancy Pickard received the lifetime achievement award. I watched both of them speak at the convention.
Come the Agatha Tea on Sunday afternoon, I finally get up the nerve to go talk to Louise Penny (who had said during her talk, “I come to these events so I can chat to fans; so do come talk to me!). And then, like a total doofus, as we’re talking (she was absolutely warm and lovely, by the way) I mention something about her having expressed an interest in moving to Northern California, and proceed to tell her how fab it is. A blank stare from Louise. Followed by a clearing of the throat and rapid changing of the subject by me. I later remember it had been Nancy Pickard who had said that about moving to California, not Louise. Oy….
I pretty much specialize in being awkward, so it’s no surprise that I spend a lot of time mentally face-palming and waking up in cold sweats remembering something embarrassing that I did. A gentle favorite was at my first Malice Domestic. I was in an elevator with a group of authors. Floor by floor, they stepped off to retire to their rooms. Finally, just one woman remained. After the elevator doors closed, I leaned over and whispered (mock) menacingly. “And then there was one.” She laughed nervously and took one Mother-May-I giant step away. It wasn’t until she reached her own floor and fled the elevator that I realized that she didn’t have a conference lanyard. She was a regular hotel guest who I had accidentally terrorized. Whoops. I’m sure she thanked her lucky stars that our paths didn’t cross in the lobby!
I’m lucky enough to have a military police officer son, a big-city-police-officer-turned-detective nephew, and a paramedic son in my life. I’ve relied on them for a long time when researching my books. I had to train them, though. When I first started asking my nephew the cop for police advice, he kept telling me, “No, that’s not exactly how it would happen.” After explaining it didn’t have to be exactly proper, but just within the realm of logic and feasibility, things got much more fun for him. (One of my sons helped me choreograph killing someone with his tuba, so he was used to me and my weird questions.) We’ve had enough of these conversations where I can now just text any of them and without any pretext say, “I’ve tied someone up in my basement. There’s a gas leak. How can they get out?” Or “What would happen if I sent a staple through this guy’s temple?” Then they text or call with the info I need. It’s a really great system for us because we’re all busy. But recently I was struggling with an electrocution scenario and couldn’t land on exactly the info I needed. Coincidentally—and much to her regret, I’m sure—a young woman came out to fix our dishwasher. Aha! I thought, I bet she knows of such things, and said, “Before you get started, what’s the best way to electrocute someone and kill them immediately?” The horrified look on her face made me realize she needed a tad more information from me.
Right before my first bookstore event, my shipment of novels somehow disappeared. My small press publisher guaranteed that they’d mailed out the books, but the shop owner couldn’t find them anywhere. Thankfully, they were finally located—next door!
At an author signing event, it was so cold out that my knuckles started cracking and bleeding. I spent the whole night awkwardly signing at an angle and hoping I wasn’t dripping blood on the title pages! (Although that would have made the murder mystery novels more authentic-feeling…)
Readers, drop us a note in the comments below! Let us know we’re not the only goofballs around!