I don’t know how other writers spend the week before publication, but I took last Saturday to launch a massive housecleaning/tidying project, attending to various tasks that had been ignored for weeks, even months. A painting whose wire had snapped was re-hung. Papers were filed. I even cleaned out the junk drawer in the kitchen, removing things that didn’t belong — photographs, a couple of movies on VHS, please don’t ask me to reveal the titles — and sorting through the various tools, screws, nails, etc., so they were orderly. In doing that, I found a tiny screwdriver, perfect for tightening the small screws in eyeglasses. I was delighted. Then I glanced at the handle, which bore the name “Barbara Serenella.”
Barbara was a crime writer who died this year, while waiting for a liver transplant. It would have been her third. We did not know each other particularly well, but we had overlapped at the same publishing house for a while, shared meals at a convention or two. She gave me the screwdriver at Ruth’s Chris Steak House in Crystal City, Va., in November 2001. It was a promotional item, linked to her series about a tough mechanic, Munch Mancini.
In the mystery world, there is an endless debate about such items — bookmarks, magnets, T-shirts, etc., give-aways emblazoned with the author’s name or character’s name. Do such efforts actually sell books? Should new writers invest their advances in these items, or use their money to tour? I’ve never had any, largely because I am a lazy, disorganized person with a complicated relationship to stuff. (I like it, I want it. I hate it, I want to get rid of as much as possible — so I can get some more.)
But in all the debate about these items, I don’t think that anyone has given thought to the fact that someone might find a bookmark/magnet/screwdriver and lose several minutes, sitting on the kitchen floor and thinking about a dinner several years ago. And tearing up, just a little, at the loss of a generous, talented person.
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