Mysteries and Open Doors

Back in the early 90s, I asked my editor at St. Martin’s Press what he thought I should write after my prize-winning collection of short stories Dancing on Tisha B’Av.  I had also published a psychological and literary study of Edith Wharton and a coming-of-age novel with St. Martin’s;  I wasn’t sure where to go next.

He didn’t hesitate.  There’s a story in that collection called “Remind Me to Smile” where an academic couple has dinner with the ex-lover of one of them.   My editor loved the voice and comic tone, and said I should try writing a Nick and Nora Charles sort of mystery.  “And make sure the ex- dies after dinner this time!”

I was instantly excited by the possibility.  I’d fallen in love with Agatha Christie and Phoebe Atwood Taylor in high school but had never thought I could tackle a mystery myself.  Now, with three books published, and an editor encouraging me, I was ready to try.  And I was looking forward to drawing on the comic side of my personality for my work.

The Edith Wharton Murders
soon after opened up many doors for me.  It was my first book to be reviewed in the New York Times Book Review, and with a rave, no less.  I kept hearing from people who’d seen it in bookstores, and that it was shelved not just in Mystery sections but Fiction or Literature, too.

Other mystery writers and readers were talking about it on the listserv DorothyL, which was a wild and wacky place when I signed on in the late 1990s.  I felt emboldened by the buzz to attend my first mystery conference and eventually ended up moderating or appearing on dozens of panels at Magna cum Murder, Malice Domestic, Bouchercon, Sleuthfest, Left Coast Crime, and the now-defunct Landscapes of Mystery.  I was hobnobbing with writers like Walter Mosley, Linda Fairstein, Val McDermid, Ian Rankin.  At Oxford one night, my dinner companion was Ann Perry (we talked Bible translations).

I amazingly wound up one year with an all expenses-paid trip to a Club Med mystery conference, and a second trip for follow-up research.  My editor at the Detroit Free Press signed me up to do a monthly crime fiction column and with boxloads of books coming to me every month, I discovered a whole world of independent press mysteries that deserved as much attention as books from the giants, books from publishers like City Lights, Soho,  Akashic, Perseverance, Bitter Lemon.

Writing mysteries led to reviewing to radio reviewing to blogging in an ever-changing publishing world.  I never imagined any of this when I started writing my series.  That makes me even more thrilled to be welcoming all of you to our new group blog where a dozen mystery authors will share their stories, their insights, their expertise, and their love for a genre that can do anything from challenge the social order to serve as fictional comfort food–and even both at the same time.  We’re a diverse group of authors with different perspectives on our craft, but all of us our dedicated to the genre and to you, our readers.  You’re the ones who keep us writing and dreaming, so we hope this blog will open many doors for you!

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14 Responses

  1. Great blog, Lev, and oh, those Edith Wharton Murders! My students would have loved to murder her when years ago I made them read Ethan Frome and the Age of Innocence… Now I’ll look for your Tropic of Murder, and ooh…Hot Rocks! Thanks for this intro to wonderful Perseverance Press.

    • Ethan is a tough sell even for grad students but it makes sense when you know Massachusetts and when you read it with Summer. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Thanks for getting us off to a good start, Lev. I hope this will be fun for all of us. Readers: let us know your favorite topics!

  3. Good start, hope it all gets very busy!

  4. Congrats on the new blog!!!! Thanks for the blog post!!!!

  5. Congratulations on the new blog, and on the many, many Made It Moments you describe, Lev!

  6. Thanks for leading off, Lev! I missed the “wild and wacky” days on DorothyL, but have heard many references to them. And I loved reading that page on your website of old DL posts. All the riffs on Let’s Get Criminal, like Let’s Get Shopping, etc., were great.

  7. Lev and Camille have both stirred the pot nicely (I like to cook). Lev, thanks for reminding me to reread Phoebe Atwood Taylor. I’m a westerner, so I love the New England ambiance. Camille, what an interesting question. Sometimes writing about murder is terribly sad. I don’t suffer from grass/mold allergies (good thing in my house), so I like rambling around the average wheatfield, but I see your point. Fiction, perhaps all art, can be a way of distancing ourselves from experience at the same time it gives a point of access. Tell the truth but tell it slant.

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