Access

Since the shutdown started last year, one of the best things in my life has been online chatting.

(Screen shot/Sharon P. Lynn)

I’ve been a fan of the magic of the internet since I went back to school in the early 1980s. I was working for a publisher who was an early adopter of computers and those schreechy dial-up modems. I was able to take one of our “trash 80s” — a Texas Instruments keyboard with a minuscule memory — to campus with me. Between classes, I’d find a table in the student center near enough to an outlet that I could plug it into, and work through stacks of articles that I needed to edit.

I much prefer the tablet I’m writing on now to that “trash 80,” but the principle of portable computing power has always appealed to me.

And now that I can connect to online chats, it’s even better.

Since last March, I have “zoomed” to conferences and conversations with people all over the world. The first one was with folks in Italy, one of the earliest and worst-hit by the coronavirus. Just last night, I had a chat with siblings from my Sisters in Crime Chicagoland chapter.

Chicagoland stretches at least half-way across the stateline with Wisconsin (that would be me), and at least as far south as Champaign (hi, Robert). And neither of us would have made it to our 6:30 p.m. chapter meeting if it had been one of the pre-COVID-19, in person meetings at a book store, or library, or coffee shop in the city. Even one of the women who lives in Chicago might not have made it because of mobility problems.

I understand that some people crave face-to-face meetings. But I can only hope that the wonderful flexibility of online gatherings doesn’t go away just because in-person is becoming possible again.

Malice made fun

More than Malice program cover (Screen shot by me)

I’ve been “attending” More than Malice, an online conference that’s taking the place of the in-person Malice Domestic conference this year. I’ve wanted to go to Malice almost since it’s inception. I found one of the early anthologies a year or two after it started, and it piqued my interest.

This year, thanks to the pandemic, the organizers opted to develop the online alternative. Since it’s held in Bethesda, Maryland, I signed up as soon as registration opened. And it has been everything I hoped for.

I loved the opening chat Wednesday night featuring Louise Penny. I’ve loved her Inspector Gamache series since I discovered it years ago. And the Thursday opening session was a panel of academics who have done research about cozy mysteries. Given my background in sociological research, I found that fascinating. I’d love to read the anthology — Reading the Cozy Mystery — they’re all part of. Here’s hoping the library will buy a copy.

The first two nights they held author speed-dating sessions. I’ve never been to one, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Each night they had nearly 50 authors and gave each of them one minute — 60 seconds — to tell everyone about her (mostly hers) or his latest book. It was a hoot — right down to the technical glitches. Anything can happen when you’re live.

Today already, I’ve listened to some of my favorite authors on panels. The first featured Chicago author Lori Rader-Day, as well s British author Sophie Hannah, Scot-American author Catriona McPherson, and a young British Ph.D. scholar JC Bernthal. What do they have in common? Agatha Christie.

Lori’s soon-to-be-released book is Death at Greenway, a fictionalized account of the time evacuated Londoner’s were housed at Christie’s vacation home. Sophie was selected by Christie’s heirs to pick up the pen for Poirot. She recently released her fourth Poirot novel, The Killings at Kingfisher Hall. I haven’t read it yet, but I expect it will be as good as the first ones. I’ve been lucky enough to meet both of these authors: Lori at the final Love is Murder conference in Chicago, and Sophie at the second Murder and Mayhem in Chicago conference, which Lori and Dana Kaye organize.

I have seen Catriona at so many Sisters in Crime events since everything went online that I almost feel I already know here. (I’ll need to remember to introduce myself properly if I ever do get to meet her in person.) She talked about how reading Christie influenced her own writing. Her latest is The Gingerbread House, in case you’d like to experience the results of that influence.

And JC (Jamie) talked about starting to read Agatha Christie with his mother when he was 8 years old. He puts many of us to shame with that early start. I have to admit, I didn’t really start reading Christie until I was already hooked on her stories from the PBS Mystery show. Since then, I’ve read quite a few, but clearly not with intensity of Jamie.

I have been having great fun, though, and feeling alternately inspired and incapable. Fingers crossed, by the end of the conference, I’ll have more chalked up on the inspiration side.