Guest Post: Terry Shames on Sisters in Crime

We’re wrapping up our 30th Anniversary tribute to Sisters In Crime with essays from its members. We go to the president of the northern California chapter and MysteryPeople favorite, Terry Shames. Terry is known for her books featuring Samuel Craddock, an widowed police chief in a central Texas town. In her essay, Terry talks about being at one of the founding meetings of Sisters In Crime.

sisters in crime logo

Thirty years ago two writer friends convinced me to attend Bouchercon in Baltimore. They told me I’d have a blast. As an aspiring mystery writer, I’d not only learn a lot, but I’d meet lots of mystery writers and fans. They were right. I met writers I was in awe of, and found them to be warm and friendly. I was in heaven. As a beginner, I soaked up not just the atmosphere, but the information I heard on panels I attended.

What I remember most about the conference, though, is that my friends invited me to tag along to hear writer Sarah Paretsky talk about an idea for a new organization that would be geared to supporting female crime writers. It was common knowledge that although half of crime writers were women, the lion’s share of awards, reviews, interviews, and buzz went to male writers. Sarah wanted to change that.

Sarah’s talk was inspiring. It wasn’t mean-spirited. There was no talk of men not deserving recognition. It was about women deserving a share of the goodies. There were men in the audience as well; men who came to cheer on women, who they thought deserved better as well.

I, along with most of the women there, signed up enthusiastically for the new organization, Sisters in Crime. How could I have known that thirty years later I would be president of our northern California chapter of what has become a vibrant national organization.

The value I have received from Sisters in Crime is immeasurable. I’ve met both women and men dedicated to the idea that when one succeeds, we all succeed. When I started writing in earnest several years after that initial conference, I heard about a sub-group of the organization called The Guppies (the great unpublished). This was a group of women writers who were determined to be published. They wanted to help each other by exchanging information, tips on agents and publishers who were eager to hear from new writers; conferences and workshops that were especially helpful. The membership also exchanged virtual hugs when someone was disappointed; advice; warnings of predatory people in the publishing field; and finally, high fives when someone had success. The membership also included seasoned writers who wanted to participate in giving unpublished writers all the help they could.

This has been my experience through the years with Sisters in Crime. The dedication to supporting sister writers succeed was not just an empty slogan. I see it play out daily, in the email list serve where people ask for advice and opinions, and receive thoughtful responses. When you ask a “sister” for help, there’s always someone listening and willing to step up. Members are eager to exchange manuscripts for mutual critiques. They alert other members to valuable workshops. They ask compelling questions about writing and publishing, and many members join in the conversation.

From that meeting thirty years ago to the present Sisters in Crime has grown to a national force for women in the crime writing field. I am proud to be a part of it. In fact, I have just completed a week long retreat with six other “sisters” whom I would never have met had it not been for Sisters in Crime.

Sisters In Crime: Guest Post from VP Noreen Cedeno

We continue celebrating the 30th Anniversary Of Sisters In Crime by posting a guest blog from The Heart Of Texas Members (a.k.a. HotSinc) with it’s current vice president Noreen Cedeno, who gives a candid look at the group events open to the public that occur on our BookPeople third floor every second Sunday of the month.

Sisters in Crime, NOT a Group of Female Ex-convicts

Sisters in Crime is celebrating its 30th Anniversary. Who are Sisters in Crime and what do we do?

Once a visitor inquired at our meeting: Is this a meeting for female ex-convicts?

Uhhmm, no. We are writers and readers of crime fiction. All writers and readers of crime fiction are welcome to join. Our meetings are open to the public. And yes, male members are welcome to join and be our siblings in crime.

Another visitor wrote to me after a meeting: “I was a bit surprised to find not a women’s political meeting but a mixed gathering for a talk on hypnotism!!”

Well, yes, our meetings are not women-only political rallies. We are here to support female crime writers in a variety of practical ways, but we don’t discriminate, so everyone is welcome at our meetings.

One way we help our writers improve their craft is by widening their knowledge base. Writers can’t research a topic that they don’t know exists, have never heard of, or can’t imagine. Conversely, some topics are so involved, attempting research leads to outdated or overwhelming amounts of information. Therefore, at some of our meetings, we strive to help crime writers improve their craft by succinctly presenting topics that may be useful in a story.

So yes, you might walk into a meeting on hypnosis presented by a psychologist. We’ve had presentations on poisons, drones, and what different caliber bullets do to the human body. We’ve had a JAG lawyer introduce us to the military justice system. We’ve had guest speakers from just about every law enforcement group we can find.

Accuracy and authenticity are vital in writing! Nothing annoys a reader faster than an author getting details wrong. The Austin Police Department Bomb Squad was particularly nice, bringing not only their dog, Dax, but also “det cord” and C-4 for us to pass around during their presentation. It’s easier to write accurately about something you’ve touched with your own hands or seen with your own eyes. Hearing about law enforcement directly from the officers and agents who work in the field exposes us to the language and look, and the concerns and personalities of the men and women who serve as first responders. Those details are invaluable to any crime writer trying to create authentic characters and accurate depictions of how law enforcement agents handle crime.

As I mentioned before, we welcome crime fiction readers too! Sisters in Crime is open to both male and female readers of crime fiction. Therefore, we try to present subjects our non-writing members will enjoy hearing about. Luckily, most crime fiction readers also enjoy hearing presentations by law enforcement officers.

We occasionally have authors as guest speakers too. These authors may be locally known, nationally known, or internationally known. Last year, through an arrangement with the national Sisters in Crime organization, we had Rhys Bowen come and speak about her writing. We will have local authors who are members read selections of their work at our October 8th celebration of Sisters in Crime’s Anniversary.
 

Other things we offer writers:

Sometimes we have presentations specifically geared toward our writers. Those topics have included everything from marketing strategies to producing audiobooks.

We provide a place for authors to meet each other and discuss problems or share news. Authors have found critique partners and fellowship at our meetings. Our local newsletter includes industry news, writing tips, and information about opportunities to submit work for publication.

Sisters in Crime helps writers succeed by providing them opportunities to present their work. We showcase our local members work at festivals and conferences. Here in Austin, that means we will have a table at the Texas Book Festival in November. I’m only discussing the local chapter benefits. Opportunities abound at the national level as well. I’ve sent books to large conferences that I otherwise would not have had any access to or ability to attend because Sisters in Crime solicited members’ work for the conferences. Sisters in Crime works to ensure their members have opportunities that they might not otherwise have. In fact, the benefits available at the national level would be a whole other blog post.

So, if you like to write or read crime fiction, mysteries, police procedurals, cozies, thrillers, suspense, hardboilednoir, amateur sleuths, or private detectives, you are welcome to come to a Sisters in Crime meeting, usually held on the second Sunday of the month at Book People at 2:15 in the afternoon on the third floor.  You don’t even need to be a female ex-convict to come!

Sisters in Crime Turns 30: Guest Post from David Ciambrone

sisters in crime logo

Even though the main goal of Sisters In Crime is to advance female crime fiction authors, it has a large number of male authors who benefit from the group. One member, David Ciambrone, is this week’s guest blogger to celebrate the organization’s 30th anniversary. Below, David gives advise to male writers writing female leads; something his Sisters experience has helped him in.

Male Authors Writing Female Heroines – How Can They Do It?  

Guest Post by David Ciambrone

I have gotten asked, if I as a male who writes female characters, have any advice for writers on how to create believable female characters while avoiding clichés.

My first reply is:

Write all your characters as human beings in all their complexity, especially the female characters.

That’s a good answer, although rarely easy to pull off.

A man writing male heroes is not too hard. But for guys to write believable female characters it can get tricky. First, men, for the most part, do not understand women very well. Second, females can be unpredictable and moody, and, at the same time strong, outgoing, affectionate, intelligent and sometimes sexy. Your female character can run a business, be a doctor or lawyer or a librarian and/or be a housewife and mother and a detective all at the same time. She has dreams and ambition. In most of my novels the lead characters are women. They are the main character or the semi-main characters.

So, after writing multiple mystery novels, here is my advice, such as it is:

Have a good critique partner who is a woman and willing to give you her womanly opinion. Listen and take her advice.

Know your audience. If the story will tend to be read by women, then you must try and make your female character believable to them. Give her qualities the women will like and maybe aspire to or wish they had. If your intended audience is female, make sure to include plenty of personal pronouns—“I,” “you” and “we”—and descriptive terms.

If you want to appeal to a mixed audience, watch out for instances in which the language skews toward your own gender. Make revisions to include a balance of wording that caters to the other sex as well.

Put enough women in the story so that they can talk to each other.

Have female characters in the plot as strong, intelligent, energetic participants, whether as primary or secondary or tertiary characters in both public and private roles within the story.

Have your female characters exist for themselves, not merely as passive adjuncts whose sole function is to serve the males.

Get to know your female characters in depth. Have a clear understanding of who they are and the role they play in the story.  They will write themselves.

In real life, women, act and react in a multiplicity of ways to the circumstances in which they find themselves. The female character in your story should, too. Make her believable. Give her and appropriate background, dreams, and ambition in her personal life.

Write stories that move beyond the idea of gender being the most crucial thing we know about someone or the root of their behavior. Being female in a “man’s world” can have its advantages. She has natural “weapons” she can use against male characters. Use them. Your heroine can act as brave, tough, intelligent, dynamic, or as daring as a man, then slip into a very feminine role. She can do this to gain whatever she wants or needs in the story. But above all, remember…she is a WOMAN. Do NOT sell your female characters short.

Remember, men like to accomplish things and women tend to focus on relationships. BUT, keeping that in mind, blur this stereotype and have your female character go after something with the drive and vigor of a man. In real life women do this all the time.

Because the author is male, it is highly recommended that he get to know multiple women, listen to them, engage with them and learn, as best he can, how they tick. I have melded a couple different women I know into each of my female characters. Each of the “real women” brought something to the fictional character that blended into a believable, standout, strong, loving, daring, spunky, engaging, female character.

David Ciambrone is an award winning, best selling author who has published 20 books, both fiction and nonfiction. He has also written columns for newspapers and business journals. Dave is a member of Sisters in Crime, (he is a sister with a Y chromosome). Latest of his Virginia Davies Quilt Mystery series released is Suspicious Threads.  www.davidciambrone.com.

Sisters in Crime Celebrates 30: Guest Post from Francine Paino

sisters in crime logoThis 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.     

 

Coming Up on May 21st: Our Annual Free Crime Fiction Workshop!

 

Presented by Sisters in Crime and MysteryPeople

Our annual free workshop to celebrate Texas Mystery Writers Month with Sisters In Crime will start at 9:15, Saturday May 21st. Throughout the morning and afternoon Texas writers will share their knowledge. It is great for aspiring authors in any genre and for readers curious about the author’s process. This year we have a broad range of criminal wordsmiths. Our schedule is below:

9:15 AM

Orientation

Meet the authors and get a brief overview of the creative day to come!

9:30 – 10:30 AM

George Wier On Action Writing

George Wier, author of the successful Bill Travis series, puts you through the paces of a fine tuned action sequence and shows you how to ratchet up the tension.

11:00 AM- Noon

Terry Shames On Character And Setting Interaction

Terry Shames’ Samuel Craddock novels have been praised for their depictions of small town life. The award winning author shows how to make setting another character with whom your protagonist has a relationship.

Noon – 1:30 PM

Lunch Break

Don’t just use this time to eat. Ask a fellow attendee you don’t know to join you and start networking.

1:30 – 2:30 PM

Brent Douglass & James Dennis On Collaboration

Brent and James make up 2/3rds of the pen name of Mile Arceneux with their friend John Davis. They will show you how to write about murder without killing your partner.

3:00-4:00 PM

Panel Discussion With Authors

Is there something the authors didn’t cover or was there a subject we didn’t hit upon? Here’s your chance. After a quick Q&A with the authors by MysteryPeople’s Crime Fiction Coordinator, Scott Montgomery, the authors take questions from you.

Attend which topics you’d like or stay all day. It is completely free. Books by the authors will be on sale. Bring, paper, pen, and your criminal mind.

Mysterypeople and Sisters in Crime Welcome Rhys Bowen to Austin

Rhys Bowen joins us here at BookPeople this Saturday, March 12th, at 3 PM, to speak and sign her latest Molly Murphy mystery, Time of Fog and Fire

On Sunday, March 13, Bowen will be guest speaker at the Sisters in Crime Heart of Texas Chapter meeting, beginning 2:00 p.m. at the Yarborough Branch of the Austin Public Library. 

For the Rhys Bowen enthusiast, the Murder in the Afternoon Book Club will discuss her novel City of Darkness and Light on Monday, March 15th, at 1 PM on BookPeople’s third floor. All of these events are free and open to the public. 


  • Guest Post from Kathy Waller of Sisters in Crime

9781250052049Thanks to a grant from Sisters in Crime, an international organization dedicated to promoting the advancement, recognition and professional development of women crime writers, New York Times best-selling author Rhys Bowen will visit Austin March 12-13. She’ll be at BookPeople on March 12th at 3 PM, and will speak at the Sisters in Crime Chapter meeting the following day at 2PM at the Yarborough Branch of the Austin Public Library.

Bowen’s highly popular mystery series—the Evan Evans mysteries, the Molly Murphy mysteries, and the Her Royal Spyness mysteries—have garnered a string of awards including the Agatha, Reviewer’s Choice, Herodotus, Lefty (Bruce Alexander Memorial), Anthony, Freddy, Macavity, Arty, Lovey, and Audie Awards, and too many nominations to mention.

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Our Favorite MysteryPeople Moments

mysterypeople panel
From the left, Scott Montgomery, Jesse Sublett, Hopeton Hay, Meg Gardiner, Mark Pryor, Janice Hamrick, and Molly Odintz.
  • Introduction by Scott Montgomery

This past weekend, MysteryPeople celebrated our fifth anniversary, with a panel discussion featuring local authors Mark Pryor, Jesse Sublett, Meg Gardiner, and Janice Hamrick, and local critic Hopeton Hay. Molly and I moderated the discussion. Afterwards, we all enjoyed celebratory cake, beverages, and most importantly, trivia with giveaways.

After our anniversary party on Saturday wrapped up, we decided to share some of our favorite event moments throughout the history of MysteryPeople. Below, we’ve shared our favorite memories of the fantastic authors who came through and the fun times we’ve had with them during and after our events. Molly and myself picked six standout moments each. As you will learn, Craig Johnson in particular has gotten to be an important part of our store.

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