This October, Sisters in Crime celebrates its 30th Anniversary. We reached out to HOTSINC (Heart of Texas Chapter, Sisters in Crime) for a few guest posts to help our readers celebrate the work of Sisters in Crime. Our first post comes from Secretary of the Heart of Texas Chapter Francine Paino. You can celebrate with Sisters in Crime at BookPeople on Sunday, October 8th, from 2-4 PM on BookPeople’s 3rd floor. There will be cake.
History, Mystery, and Crime for Women Writers
Guest Post by Francine Paino
In 1986 forces in the universe converged and an idea materialized into reality through the efforts of Sara Paretsky, Phyllis Whitney and a host of women writers. Change was in the air. It was time for women to have a place at the table as crime and mystery authors.
In an impassioned speech before a conference of women writers at Hunter College in New York City, Paretsky expressed her concerns over the trend of women being portrayed as either vampires or victims. She had, in 1982, introduced the writing world to her lady investigator V.I. Warshawski, a believable protagonist with the strength and intellectual capacity to traverse the wicked streets and take on the ugly underbelly of society: the criminal class. And now another first for Paretsky. Time for women crime and mystery writers to band together to promote and support each other.
The cause was also advanced through the now famous letter written by Phyllis Whitney to the Mystery Writers of America, pointing out that women authors weren’t being taken seriously or nominated for awards. At first, her letter was dismissed, but Mystery Writers of America soon learned that these women were to be taken seriously. They would not be ignored.
Paretsky convened the initial meeting of interested women at the Baltimore Bouchercon in October 1986. A steering committee was formed and its members started a newsletter and organized information on publishing books. The ball wasn’t rolling, it was cannon shot, flying through the air reaching all corners of the country. Sisters in Crime was born.
Nancy Pickard, an original member and the first president of the national organization said it was scary. She described the hard work with no guarantee of success. It took determination and the belief that women crime and mystery writers had arrived in their corner of the women’s movement. They never wavered reaching out to as many women writers as they could contact through the mailing lists they assembled.
A short ten years later, in 1996, Elaine Raco Chase recalled that Publishers Weekly referred to Sisters in Crime as “ubiquitous.” She had to look up the word. It wasn’t an insult. It meant that Sisters in Crime were everywhere, and indeed they were.
The dream of these forward thinking women reached across the nation and arrived in Austin in the early 90’s. The Heart of Texas chapter was formed. The 1994 president, Betsy Tyson, a published author and member of the Texas Section-ASCE, one of the largest sections of the American Society of Civil Engineers, led the organization dedicated to the goal set out by the national leadership. They were “committed to helping women who write, review, buy or sell crime fiction.”
One of its stellar members, the late Barbara Burnett Smith, president of the national organization from 1999-2000 and an activist whose many accomplishments advanced the cause of the organization, was also dedicated to growing the Heart of Texas Chapter. After her untimely death in 2005, the Barbara Burnett Smith Mentoring Authors Foundation was established in her honor to uphold one of the major goals of Sisters in Crime: to support and provide mentoring to help budding writers, because in the words of Sara Paretsky, a founding member and the woman credited with starting it all, “you have to be alone to write, but being alone is very painful. An unsolvable condundrum,” but as a member of Sisters in Crime, you are not alone.
The Heart of Texas Chapter has been a base of support and encouragement for its writing members. It is also an open and welcoming organization for others, non-writers, readers, anyone interested in crime, both fiction and non-fiction, elements of what it takes to write and the informational lectures offered to all.
It’s been thirty years, not a long time in the scheme of life, but time passes, attitudes change, people grow and the Heart of Texas Chapter also continues to grow. It has opened its arms to brother writers in crime, as evidenced by the presidencies of Chuck Tobin in 2001, and Dave Ciambrone in 2011.
Under the current president, Helen Currie Foster, Sisters in Crime has had a great year bringing in fabulously interesting speakers with expertise in subjects ranging from drones to bombs, JAG lawyers, U.S. Marshalls and Cyber Security for the edification of members and the public; there is more to come.
As we celebrate thirty years of Sisters in Crime, we can be proud of the company we keep from the founders to the current leadership, nationally and locally, as we continue advance the organization. Happy Thirtieth Birthday, Sisters in Crime.