I know a great, great story about something that made a writer look like the most brilliant person on the face of the earth — and it was a complete accident.
That story is not mine to tell. But now I have one of my own. Mine doesn’t make me look like a genius, more of a kook/idiot. But I still want to tell it.
Last weekend was Bouchercon 2008 in Baltimore, so I saw lots of my friends from the mystery world. One, Margery Flax, said to me: “Thank you so much for using the New York Times serial to pay tribute to Carole.”
And I was like: “Wha . . .?”
Carole Epstein was a good mutual friend. She helped me with a key plot point in By a Spider’s Thread. Although she had an apartment in New York, she rode the subway for the first time in, IIRC, 2003, when we went to the Matisse/Picasso exhibit at MOMA’s temporary home. She died in late 2003. Again, IIRC. I just know that I last saw her was at Bouchercon in Las Vegas.
And now I’m writing a serial, in which there is a woman named Carole Epstein. Only — it’s a complete coincidence. Or is it?
The Epstein part is no accident. In EVERY SECRET THING, a character named Harold Lenhardt is said to be haunted by the Epstein case. I used the serial to make worlds collide, putting Lenhardt in Tess’s Baltimore. Finally, it was time to find out why the Epstein case has stayed with Lenhardt.
But why did I add the “e” to Carol Epstein’s name, as it appeared in early drafts? This I do remember — looking at the words on my computer screen and feeling this absolute conviction: IT MUST HAVE AN E. IT IS WRONG WITHOUT AN E. SHE MUST BE CAROLE. But I was thinking of the character as Carole Massinger Epstein.
I’m not saying Carole guided me. She was too modest to insist on tribute. And, frankly, while the fictional Carole Epstein dresses well, she still doesn’t dress as beautifully as the real Carole Epstein. Hard to trust my memory, but I see her at the hotel pool, resplendent in a white suit, wearing a perfectly knotted scarf. She was a classy person. Classy enough to forgive a friend who didn’t even realize she was sending a shout-out.