If you’re a member of the Mavens of Mayhem, a local writers group devoted to mystery writing, you probably know.
The group is the local chapter of Sisters In Crime (SinC) and was founded in 2006 after Audrey Friend, a Ballston Spa writer, decided to see if anyone else in the Capital Region was interested in writing mysteries.
SinC is a 3,000-member international organization offering writers — particularly female crime writers — the opportunity to network, learn from one another and share experiences on myriad topics from marketing to publishers. At the time, the closest chapters to upstate New York were in Boston and Manhattan.
Friend sent letters to local SinC members asking if they would be interested in starting a local chapter. She received solid leads, had 14 people come to the first meeting and Mavens of Mayhem was formed.
Today, a group of about 25 people meets monthly at the Orchard Tavern, in Albany. Sequestered in a back room, the women and one man sit around a long table and share common interests and some camaraderie.
They look like the sort of people you could run into anywhere. They are neatly dressed, well-spoken and friendly. But in a heartbeat their conversations can turn from amicable to malicious, even murderous as they talk about plots, characters and what they’ve read lately.
As expected, all of them are fans of a good mystery, but not all are writers. And many have been piecing together clues since they were children and picked up The Bobbsey Twins, Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew stories. Some have penned short stories and, in total, the group has about eight published authors.
Friend’s first novel, “Red Hot,” was published in 2008 by Hilliard and Harris. “I took a class on short story writing at Hudson Valley Community College in 1996. It just happened that the story I wrote was a mystery,” she said, adding that she has always been drawn to the genre. She received such a positive reception for the story she decided to turn it into a novel.
Another Maven, Marie Corcoran said she also had long been interested in writing and over the years wrote for her own pleasure. “Mostly poetry and in journals. But I’ve wanted to write a book since high school,” she said.
After she retired, she did. Her inspiration came after a hot flash during which she got entangled in her bed covers and had a fleeting thought of what would it be like to wake up dead. That became the basis for her first published novel, “Death Straight Up.”
Another Maven member and published writer, Robert Knightly, has had actual hands-on experience in solving mysteries. Knightly, who was a New York City police lieutenant and a defense lawyer in the Criminal Defense Division of the New York City Legal Aid Society, said his fiction is often inspired by characters he met while he was working.
Knightly’s writing career began when a friend asked him to contribute a short story to a book he was working on. Knightly did. The story was published and started a writing career that has included a novel, “Bodies in Winter,” as well as short stories and a pilot script that was purchased by Aaron Spelling and NBC.
While living in New York City, Knightly served as president of the New York Chapter of Mystery Writers of America and, after moving to Albany, he served as president of the Mavens of Mystery. How does he feel about being the only fellow present? “I was raised around women,” he said, adding that he enjoys being with the group.
Friend, Corcoran and Knightly each credited the Mavens of Mystery with helping their careers. The focus is to support, educate and entertain each other. In addition, speakers on topics of common interest such as forensics talk to the group each month.
What they learn from experts adds credibility to their stories. Members noted that the monthly meetings aren’t writing workshops where critiques are given — although individual members did say they have helped one another with writing and character development.
Not all members aspire to be published authors. “I’m a fan,” confessed Luanne Whitbeck of Voorheesville. She joined to see what people in the community were writing and be around others who share her interest and “think the same way.”
Angie Hogencamp, who used to write reviews for a now defunct mystery fan magazine, said she likes to be around others who enjoy what she does and welcomes the chance to talk about mysteries. She especially likes the unfolding of a good story from the first chapter through to the resolution.
“By the time the story is over, I know everything. And it’s cleaner and neater than real life,” she said.
June Kosier, a retired nurse, said the puzzle aspect of a well-written mystery appeals to her. “I like trying to figure out who done it,” she said.
The Mavens agree that a well written mystery novel is like having access to the crime scene, a backstage pass to an aspect of life they never — hopefully — will experience themselves.
Kosier, an avid reader, said there are mysteries that follow professions or interests from gardening and needlework to antiques, and mysteries set in the medical profession.
Kosier enjoys those that involve nurses but doesn’t like if the nurse turns out to be the killer. “Then, it’s bad,” she said, shaking her head.
“What if it’s the doctor who did it?” a fellow Maven asked.
“Oh that’s fine. I just don’t like when it’s the nurse,” she said.
The group, which meets at 12:30 p.m. on the third Saturday of the month at Orchard Tavern, 68 North Manning Boulevard in Albany, welcomes new members. “The only requirement is that new members must join Sisters in Crime,” Friend said. The dues are $40.