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the boston globe


Sunday Boston Globe, April 20, 2003

I’m a relatively new murder mystery author who tries to get herself known by driving to bookstores and libraries all over the state to read pretty tame passages that include remarkably little violence and no graphic sex.

I bring a carton of books with me and offer to sign purchased books personally. Sometimes, people tell me they love my protagonist, and I go home with a great sense of satisfaction, no matter how many books I sell. Other times, like when I’ve driven more than thirty miles to speak to an audience of five, I feel like a Tupperware lady selling one piece of Tupperware at a time.

So when I heard that Writers With Drinks, an authors’ event dubbed as a “Spoken Word Variety show,” was looking for someone in the murder mystery genre to include in a lineup of poets, standup comics, and authors of erotica, I volunteered. To be candid, it was the “with drinks” part that appealed to me. The readings were held at the Lizard Lounge in Porter Square in Cambridge, and I figured people who were drinking would be more likely to buy books.

I didn’t stop to think how out of my element I might be.

Usually, I appear with other murder mystery authors. We talk about research, the genesis of plot, and split over whether we know from the beginning which character “did it.” This is followed by coffee, punch, and some pretty good cookies.

It never occurred to me that murder mystery writers were probably the straightest writers of them all. But as I raced into the Lizard Lounge, twenty minutes late and had to follow Jennifer Hunter, who was reading a graphic scene about two women having sex in the midst of an oil spill at a fast food restaurant, it came to me in a flash of panic. My God! All I have to offer is murder.

As I took the microphone, my hand and voice were shaking.

True, part of that was because I’d been driving around Porter Square for forty minutes unable to find legal parking. But the other part was knowing that the raciest thing my protagonist Addy McNeil would do in the pages I was about to read was take a single, doctor-prescribed antianxiety pill.

I looked at expectant faces, at the Corona beers on the table, garnished with lime. It was a packed audience of people who were young, hip and definitely alternative lifestyle. They came to hear offbeat observations, raunchy sex and prize-winning poetry.

This should not have come as a surprise. The monthly Writers With Drinks event is organized and hosted by Charlie Anders, author of The Lazy Crossdresser. Anders came here from San Francisco to launch Other Magazine; a publication dedicated to subversive writing and to people “who defy categories.”

I stood on stage, suddenly aware that I did not defy categories; I epitomized them. Even though neither of my children played soccer, in my heart, I was a soccer mom. And hadn’t I chosen to write murder mysteries because they were an easily recognizable category that provided the structure I so obviously craved?

In the reading following mine, writer Annalee Newitz inadvertently described my situation. In an essay about Dragon Con, a convention of science fiction fans who meet in weird costume to socialize and have sex amidst the latest technology, one of her characters quickly identified a straight man who showed up with no outfit: not a fan, not a trekkie, not even a video game designer. “A mundane.”

A mundane. Translation: soccer mom from the suburbs who lives and dies for improved SAT scores; a rule follower who fretted for months before allowing her reporter protagonist to have sex with her news source.

I put my hope in Elizabeth Searle, who had been described to me as literary. Maybe she would be from academia and just a little dull? But she performed rather than read her short story, an absurdist sexual encounter involving the reenactment of the attack on skater Nancy Kerrigan’s knee. The crowd applauded wildly.

Even before the final erotic poetry reading, I knew I wasn’t going to sell a single book, but oddly, I wasn’t discouraged.

Ultimately, the evening had not really been about books or book sales, but about stage performance. Like the rest of the audience, I had been amply entertained. Even with my unopened book carton in tow, I didn’t feel like a frustrated Tupperware lady. I felt like someone who’d been a part, albeit a dull part, of something just a little ground breaking in Cambridge.

 

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