In 1986 Sara Paretskey helped found a new mystery writers organization, Sisters in Crime. Its purpose was to help women who write mysteries win equal treatment with men who write mysteries, particularly regarding book reviews and award nominations. (For a good article on the founding of SinC, click here.)
Sisters in Crime fought against the belittlement of women mystery writers and at the same time worked to make its organization grow. In 1990 mystery writer Susan Dunlap was elected President of SinC. One of the things Sue worked toward was “to put Sisters in Crime on the literary map” — to help bookstores, libraries, newspapers, and readers everywhere become aware of female mystery writers.
Sue asked several Chicago mystery writers to help with this project. Specifically, she asked Barbara D’Amato, Jacqueline Fiedler, and me to help. My husband, Phil Passen, who was working for Madden Communications at the time, offered to donate the paper and printing for the project, and this went a long way toward making the project possible.
For at least six months Barb, Jacquie, and I met a couple of times a week. We came up with the idea of a map of the US, with small graphics depicting mystery novels, and a line locating the setting of each novel on the map. Jacquie, who did the design work, thought of the black background and red outline of the United States.
I don’t remember how we found the almost-50 authors and novels that populate the map. We might have put an announcement in the SinC newsletter asking authors who wanted to be represented to contact us. It was definitely an opt-in proposition.
Once we had the authors and one novel of choice from each, we searched for an illustrator.
Our first choice didn’t work out: we felt the illustrations were missing a sense of energy and fun. What to do? It’s not easy to come up with an illustrator . . . especially since we were now behind schedule because the first one didn’t work out.
That was when I thought of Robin Koontz, whom I had met through projects in educational publishing. I knew that Robin could bring both energy and fun to the map. And so I asked, and Robin said yes, she would attept this tight-deadline, 46-individual-drawings idea.
As Robin awaited instructions on what to illustrate, I got in touch with each author via telephone. It was up to Barb D’Amato and me to summarize each novel in 12 words or less (!), to the satisfaction of the author. And it was my job to describe the proposed art work for each title to both the author and to Robin. (Barb and I ended up reading a lot of mystery novels in a very short time, all the while thinking of illustration possibilities.)
Some authors were calm, some worried — but when the posters were finally published, I think everyone was happy beyond expectations. Solving Mysteries from Coast to Coast went out to libraries, bookstores, newspapers, and magazines. (It appeared in Publishers Weekly, and that alone alerted every bookstore in the country to its existence.) Authors autographing at various venues had their photos taken under the poster. There were several years during the 1990s when I couldn’t walk into any bookstore or library without seeing that exciting poster on the wall.
Having done its job, the poster is now retired. Sisters in Crime has more members than ever, with a web site and a continued presence at book events of all kinds.
The poster you see with this blog hung on the wall of Centuries & Sleuths Bookstore in Forest Park, Illinois, for many, many years. Visiting authors happily autographed their spots on the map. I recently attended a talk and autographing at Centuries & Sleuths — for Julia Buckley’s new series, launched with The Big Chili — and when I asked proprietor Augie Aleksy if I could see the poster (which he now has in storage), he brought it out, I photographed it, and we reminisced about the project and its impact.
Not all publicity campaigns turn out this successful — I’m delighted that this most-deserving one did.
Barbara Gregorich’s Guide to Writing the Mystery Novel: Lots of Examples, Plus Dead Bodies, consists of 25 chapters containing explanations, examples, charts, and graphs but, alas, no enticing oval drawings.