Joni Langevoort describes herself as a lifelong fan of books in general and of the mystery genre in particular. Her knowledge of the field is impressive, and she has come to be greatly appreciated by editors and others in the business through her role as publisher liaison on the board of directors of Malice Domestic, the annual conference celebrating the traditional mystery. She’s the first person on this site to talk about the interconnectedness of the various mystery conventions and the links between branches of the mystery community. My guess is that her experiences may inspire others to take a more active role in fandom.—Janet Hutchings
Take a look at some of the titles on my Kindle—The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion; The Hour Between Dog and Wolf: Risk Taking, Gut Feelings, and the Biology of Boom and Bust; Wall Street and the Financial Crisis; 1861: The Civil War Awakening; The Political Brain.
You might think, whoa, she’s deep. And smart. Maybe a little too serious. Trouble is, my law professor husband and I share the Kindle library, and these are his titles.
Here are some of mine: Diamonds for the Dead; The Curse of the Holy Pail; Deadly Descent; The Retribution; The Poisonous Seed; Wanted Man; The Fall of the House of Usher; Death Troupe; Seven Kinds of Hell. Authors? Well, there’s Louise Penny, Lee Child, Ann Cleeves, Deborah Crombie, Charlaine Harris, Edgar Allan Poe, P.D. James, Elizabeth Peters, Harlan Coben, Sue Grafton . . .
Well, I’m smart too, and sometimes deep and serious. But here’s my confession: I am addicted to mystery and crime fiction. (Although some of these titles might also indicate: “She’s a serial killer.”)
Being a mystery and crime novel fan is not a bad addiction to have, as addictions go. It’s a bit expensive, and may lead to an occasional nightmare, but that’s about it. I blame my dad; once I passed through the Nancy Drew stage, he said, “Why don’t you try this Agatha Christie?” (It was Mrs. McGinty’s Dead.) Then it was on to Dorothy Sayers, Margery Allingham, Rex Stout, Georges Simenon, Josephine Tey, and S.S. Van Dine. By that time, it was way beyond my poor ability to turn back.
I’m not a writer—the last piece of fiction I wrote was a short story in 8th grade, called “The Man With the Black Bag.” It was about the Boston Strangler, and it earned an A-. But I do have something in common with every single mystery author I’ve met (and I’ve met a lot by now): I’m a fan. I’m a reader.
I stumbled onto my first convention in 2001, when Bouchercon was in my hometown of Washington D.C. I went primarily to meet my e-mail pal and fellow Mississippi native, Bill Fitzhugh. Bill and I had never met, but we knew all the same people in Mississippi (it’s a small state . . .). Not only did I meet Bill (who is still a treasured friend), but I met all these amazing writers whose books I had read for years, like Val McDermid and Lee Child. I also met new authors who became instant friends and favorites, like Sarah Strohmeyer.
I noticed a table there with information about a local convention that celebrated the genre typified by the works of all those authors my dad had introduced me to so long ago. I attended the next Malice Domestic, in May of 2001, and I knew immediately that these were “my people.” Although there were lots of people there who read only traditional mysteries, or only “cozies,” I discovered that these convention goers often read across the mystery genre — there were fans of historical mysteries, paranormal stories, true crime, horrifying serial- killer books, nonfiction reference books, private eyes and cops, and every imaginable kind of mystery. I volunteered for a couple of years, and somehow found myself shanghaied onto—er, talked into being on the board of directors. I’ve been to twelve Malices now, and it really is like a homecoming to meet up with all the great fans and authors, about 600 of them most years.
I kept going to the big brother of mystery conventions, Bouchercon, where I would see some of my Malice friends (I remember coming up to Louise Penny one year, and her surprise and joy that I actually knew who she was and had read every book she had written), but also those nontraditional writers I so loved. They were gracious, every one of them—Lee Child let me go all fan girl on him, and Daniel Woodrell didn’t flinch at all when I told him I thought he was a genius. Val McDermid still laughs every time I invite her to Malice (“I don’t think they’d like what I do with knitters and cats”), even though I assure her she would find hundreds of people there who love her works.
I’ve attended and loved Left Coast Crime, once purely to harass Bill Fitzhugh when he was toastmaster. LCC is similar in size to Malice, but while Malice is strictly a fan convention (remember, all those authors are also fans), LCC attracts lots of people to their author-programming track. I’ve even made my way across the pond a couple of times to attend Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate. There’s a very different vibe there: All of the authors on panels are invited by the festival, and each separate event and panel is ticketed. This means there can be thousands of people there over the course of the festival weekend, even though the events themselves are similar in size to Bouchercon or Malice. Getting to know the British crowd, like Martin Edwards and Ann Cleeves, has been a delight.
I’ve met all the wonderful authors who are on my Kindle and my bookshelves, and some of them are my pals now. I’ve also made great friends in the mystery community at large. People like Ali Karim of Shots Magazine, whose encyclopedic knowledge of the world of crime fiction led our team to a close second-place finish at the Harrogate pub quiz one year, and Janet Rudolph, Kate Stine and Brian Skupin, and Margery Flax, who know everyone in the entire mystery world (I love to hang around with them!). As the publisher liaison on the Malice board, I have met and worked closely with fabulous publicists and editors from the great mystery publishing houses, like HarperCollins/Morrow, Poisoned Pen, Berkley Prime Crime, Dell Magazines, and Minotaur, and from the newer companies like Midnight Ink, Thomas & Mercer, and Henery Press. And I love the book dealers’ room!
I come away from every convention with more books than I need, but that hasn’t stopped me from eagerly snapping them up and getting them signed by the authors. If I buy no more books ever, I will be finished with my TBR pile around the turn of the next century. And then I can buy more mysteries! Or maybe I can buy another one tomorrow . . .