The Mystery Writers of America is an organization that has been contributing to the mystery genre for over eighty years. During their presentation titled “Mystery Making,” spectators are welcomed to put on their sleuth hats and come into close contact with their investigative side. Building up to this exciting yet mysterious event, we have asked Sarah Smith, Leslie Wheeler, Carolyn Marie Wilkins, Kate Flora, and Clea Simon some questions to get you started. From personal opinions to sneak peeks, we invite you to fish for any clues.
BBF: I know mystery novels come in lots of different flavors—from hard-boiled to cozy. What range of sub-genres can readers expect to encounter at Lit Crawl?
Sarah: From me, you’ll be seeing a historical mystery: a woman in 1912 who suddenly doesn’t know whether she’s black or white. She has to solve a longstanding family secret—and decide what she’ll do about it.
Leslie: My first series, the Miranda Lewis mysteries, falls into the traditional/cozy category, while my Berkshire Hilltown Mysteries can be classified as either romantic suspense or domestic thrillers. And my short stories range from humorous to quite dark.
Carolyn: My book is a traditional mystery with paranormal elements and a dash of African American history thrown into the mix. The protagonist in my book Death at a Seance is an African American psychic who must survive in a segregated Indiana town run by the KKK at the height of the Roaring ‘20s.
Clea: I’ll be wearing two genre hats at Lit Crawl. My most recent mystery, A Cat on the Case, is decidedly “cozy”—a very gentle puzzle-style mystery. But my next, Hold Me Down (coming in October from Polis Books), is psychological suspense, featuring a woman with a past that makes her a very unreliable narrator.
BBF: I see that Edgar Allan Poe is very present in your image. Are there any other classic mystery authors in particular that have inspired your organization?
Sarah: Poe terrified me when I was a kid, and I love Dorothy Sayers and Sherlock Holmes; but right now is a classic period for the mystery, with diverse writers like Alyssa Cole and Deepa Anappara bringing a whole new depth to the form.
Leslie: I grew up on Nancy Drew, then graduated to Dorothy L. Sayers, Agatha Christie, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Wilkie Collins, the Bronte sisters, Charlotte and Emily (for gothic mysteries), and Jane Austen, whom P. D. James is considered a great mystery writer, though no one gets killed in her books.
Carolyn: As a kid I grew up on Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers. I still love these English classics but am now thrilled to find great mysteries from a more diverse cohort of authors. Eleanor Taylor Bland, Barbara Neely, and Valerie Wilson Wesley were huge influences.
Kate: Dorothy Sayers…strong female characters.
Clea: As much as I love Poe, my heart belongs to Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes. Devoured their works growing up, and I find myself still thinking of plot points I learned from them. This was after I outgrew my infatuation with Encyclopedia Brown, of course.
BBF: Some people say “there’s no such thing as a perfect crime.” Should audiences come with this mindset to Lit Crawl?
Sarah: No perfect crimes, but perfect entertainment!
Leslie: I believe it occurs, though it takes a very clever criminal to pull this off.
Carolyn: There is definitely no perfect crime, at least not in my books. The villain is always caught and brought to justice in the end.
Kate: Perfect crime? Maybe…but modern forensics and the ubiquity of cameras make it difficult. Best bet? Stranger on stranger in a location with lots of tourists or transients.
Clea: What I would tell people looking for a perfect crime is simple: everything leaves a trace.
BBF: From misleading clues to eccentric detectives, are there any beloved tropes that you are most fond of and we might expect in the event?
Sarah: I love the long-kept family secret.
Leslie: The hero’s journey, in which a character embarks on a quest, encounters many obstacles, but manages to prevail, and in the process, learns things about herself that enables her to grow and change.
Carolyn: Look for a red herring or two along the way. We like to keep you guessing.
Kate: Hiding in plain sight/deliberate misdirection. The boy who cried wolf scenario, so the person isn’t believed when there is real danger. Casting suspicion on everyone à la Death on the Nile.
Clea: I love the red herring—the suspect who feasibly could have committed the crime if they were just pushed a little further…but didn’t!
BBF: Here’s a fun one. If you were forced to live as a mystery character for the rest of your lives, which one would it be?
Sarah: Harriet Vane for the intelligence, the friendships, the feminism, the man who appreciates her as a human being—but Phryne Fisher for the clothes.
Leslie: Harriet Vane, from the Dorothy L. Sayers novel Gaudy Night, because she’s highly intelligent, strong-willed, a feminist, a successful mystery author, and has a beau who appreciates her for who she is.
Carolyn: Sherlock Holmes. His life was never boring!
Kate: Could I be both Whimsey and Harriet Vane? It would be nice to have Bunter to look after things.
Clea: Hmmm…. Could I join Inspector Brunetti’s family and live in Venice and eat all that wonderful food Donna Leon is always writing about?
You can find out more about the Mystery Writers of America here. And then put on your deerstalker and register for their “Mystery Making” session on June 10 to continue your investigations at Lit Crawl 2021!