The evening I won the Edgar Award, Donald E. Westlake put his arm around my shoulder and said, "Just remember - I don't need to fail for you to succeed and you don't need to fail for me to succeed, so we can be friends."
I had no idea what the hell he was talking about back then. Now I do. He wanted me to know that we're all in this together; that we are all in the same club. He wasn't the only one, either.
Dick Francis called me "young man" and insisted that the New York Times take our photograph together.
Mary Higgins Clark was very kind; when she was touring My Gal Sunday she made sure that WCCO-AM included me during an hour-long radio interview with her in Minneapolis.
I told Elmore Leonard in Denver that I would be honored if he allowed me to buy him a drink. His response - "If you're gonna buy me a beer, kid, you have to call me Dutch." And then we drank non-alcoholic beers and talked about westerns for two and a half hours.
Walter Mosley was the first person to shake my hand in New York and then he went out of his way to shake it again at Bouchercon in St. Paul, asking "Are you having fun?"
Jeremiah Healy took me to see the Kansas City Royals minor league baseball team play in Omaha.
One of the great evenings of my life was chatting with S. J. Rozan, Laura Lippman, Robert Crais, Harlan Coben, Dennis Lehane, Lawrence Block, John Lutz, Loren Estleman, and a dozen other authors in the Adams Mark Hotel bar on the same evening during the 1999 Eyecon in St. Louis - with no one comparing sales figures.
It sounds like all I'm doing is dropping names, but that's the point. All these great writers took the time to welcome a complete unknown to the club. Because of their example, those of us that followed them are doing the same. I don't mean just members of the PWA, either. I mean all crime writers everywhere.
I saw it at Bouchercon in Long Beach with East Coast writers hanging out with the Left Coast crowd; and with established authors sharing bar space with those just starting out. I saw it at the Shamus Awards Banquet with veterans like Rozan, Gary Phillips, Reed Farrel Coleman and the luminous Sara Paretsky chatting with writers they hadn't even met until that evening as if they were long-lost pals.
Sue Grafton shook my hand - Sue Grafton! - and said, "Hi, David. I don't think we've had a chance to talk since Albany."
Are you kidding? She remembered meeting me? Yet, that's the way it is with us private eye slash mystery slash thriller writers. I'm not sure it's true of other organizations.
Tami Hoag and Ann Frasier (yes, more names) both told me stories that make the Romance Writers of America annual conference sound like a meeting of the Sharks and the Jets. I've been led to believe that the annual Nebula Awards Weekend conducted by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America is only marginally better.
Whether it's true or just an urban legend, I couldn't say. I can say with a certainty though, that the PWA in particular and mystery writers in general are the most inviting, most inclusive, and most democratic group I've ever come across.
I'm proud to be a member.
I'm proud to help continue the tradition.
e-mail David Housewright