I’m Still Smiling
By Tracy Clark
When I was a kid, I often thought how cool it would be if Topps made author trading cards like they made all those ho-hum baseball ones. I would have loved to have opened a pack of Topps to find a small sheet of chewing gum and a cardboard card with Agatha Christie’s picture on the front and her stats on the back. Agatha Christie. Birthday: 9/15/1890. Birthplace. Torquay, United Kingdom. First published novel. The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Favorite pastime: Dreaming up ingenious ways to kill people. (I made up this last one, but I bet it was true.)
A voracious reader, then and now, writers are my jam. I knew I wanted to be one early on, though I kept that aspiration on the QT. It was too preposterous a thing to want or even hope for, so I told all those grown-ups who would always ask, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” that I wanted to be something normal like a lawyer, or a doctor, yada, yada, yada. When I was feeling particularly snarky, I’d answer circus clown just to see the smile fade and a look of concern take its place.
But it was always books and secretly in my little kid heart of hearts, it was always writing, and even though there were no author trading cards from Topps, missed opportunity, if you ask me, writers were my rock stars, and they still are.
OK. I said it. I’ve been holding it in for a few weeks now, my internal glee evidenced by only a little smile that breaks out while I’m driving in the car or on the elliptical. The grand dames of mystery were under one roof, and to borrow a lyric from the musical “Hamilton,” this lucky so-and-so was in the room where it happened.
The author conversation took place at Volumes, a wonderful indie bookstore here in my town, and leading the conversation with the two greats was the equally fantastic Lori Rader-Day whose new book, The Death Of Us, releases in October. (Check it out. It’s wonderful). I sat in the back hanging on every word, soaking in the talent, marveling at the intelligence of these gifted writers, quietly hoping some of it rubbed off on me. The creator of “Vera” and “Shetland?” The creator of the iconic V.I. Warshawski? Mind. Blown. In. Awe.
A lot of what they talked about I could relate to. Writing is universally difficult, though each writer finds it difficult in their own way. How comforting to learn that Cleeves and Paretsky struggle at times with the words and suffer self-doubt about their books in progress. How nice to be reminded that writing is a process mired in imperfection, and that best-sellers are figuratively hacked out of solid rock, bit by bit and not magically presented on a golden plate like manna from heaven. Writing is work. It’s craft. Writers are both born and made. Sweat and determination are prerequisites for success. Those writers who make it are the ones who refused to give up. Amen, sisters. Preach.
The evening ended in the most unimaginable way. A shout-out from Paretsky. An invite to dinner. Picture it. Me and my Chicago writing pals, all of whom help to make our local writing community great! There we sat over chicken shawarma, yakking about all things great and small. Creatives. Members of a vibrant community. Writers doing the dang thing.
Well, all I can say is, it was an experience for the memory books. Still smiling BTW.
What awesome writer experience has made your memory book?
Tracy Clark, a native Chicagoan, is the author of the Cass Raines Chicago Mystery series and the Det. Harriet Foster series. A multi-nominated Anthony, Lefty, Edgar, Macavity, and Shamus Award finalist, Tracy is also the 2020 and 2022 winner of the G.P. Putnam’s Sons Sue Grafton Memorial Award. She is a member of Crime Writers of Color, Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime.