I've been trying to think of how to express some of the thoughts and feelings I've had since learning that my friend Elaine Flinn passed away over the weekend. My inclination was not to write anything at all -- there's something a little awkward about public displays of grief, especially when conveyed through a medium as crass as a blog.
But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that Elaine would have wanted people to talk about her. Not because she was vain or needy, but because she liked being a part of things and loved being a member of the crime writing community. She took great pleasure in spending time with other writers, introducing people to each other, dispensing advice and cracking wise. So I think she deserves a last turn in the spotlight.
I first met Elaine five years ago. She wrote me a polite email before the publication of her first mystery, Dealing in Murder, to let me know she was a new author and that she hoped I'd have a chance to look at her book. I dug it out of the "get rid of" pile, read it -- and loved it. I ended up reviewing it in the Chicago Sun-Times.
We met in person a few months after that first email, at the Bouchercon mystery conference in Las Vegas. We got together in the bar (along with Elaine's wonderful husband, Joe, a man with a great sense of humor) and it was like we'd been friends for years.
Elaine was the kind of person who knew more about a variety of subjects than you'd ever expect. We'd be talking about some new mystery novel we'd read -- and she read most of them, it seems -- and she'd bring up Camus or Dostoevsky or some other writer I'd always meant to read, but never had.
Elaine had not only read a lot of literature, and could discuss it intelligently, she could discourse on philosophy, politics, whatever. The conversation would turn to sports and she'd tell some funny story about Jimmy Connors and Roscoe Tanner. (She and Joe had staged tennis tournaments in the Bay Area back in the early-'70s.) Just when you thought you had her figured out, she'd surprise you.
I don't think it will come as a shock to anyone if I state that there is a lot of phoniness in the mystery community. A lot of it is good-natured -- it's generally a convivial bunch of people, after all -- but it does get tiresome after a while. Elaine didn't have any patience for it. She had no tolerance for the bullshit and backstabbing. She was never rude, but she was honest. You knew where you stood with Elaine.
Elaine didn't write books because she was trying to be the next big bestseller or make a lot of money. She wasn't looking for a movie deal or a six-figure advance. (She'd already had a couple of long and successful careers.) She wrote because she loved it. She loved to tell stories, loved to entertain fans. She was as crazy and neurotic as all the rest of us -- when you get right down to it, virtually every writer is barking mad -- but her motives were among the purest: she wanted to write books that people would enjoy reading. And she did.
Elaine was a dear friend, and even as we were made richer by her friendship, losing her has robbed us of something rare and special. I'm going to miss her.