Thursday, June 03, 2010

Eleanor Taylor Bland, 1944-2010


We lost a wonderful woman the other day. Yes, she was a pioneer for female African-American mystery writers. Yes she wrote graceful, velvety prose. Yes, she never met a cause she wasn't dedicated to. But Eleanor was so much more: a mentor, a cheerleader, a mother and grandmother, a fount of wisdom on craft and the way the "publishing world" worked, a diplomatic but endearing soul, who had a wicked sense of humor.

Many of you have written over the past few months to tell me what Eleanor meant to you -- even though you'd only met her once or twice. I hope you'll take some time now to share your memories of Eleanor in the comments section.

Btw, if all goes well, we hope to endow a scholarship in her name for female African-American mystery writers. More on that as it develops.


To start off, here are a couple of personal tributes.

FROM MARY HARRIS, A CLOSE FRIEND
June 2, 2010
This afternoon Eleanor ended her decades-long struggle with Gardner’s Disease. Despite her illness, Eleanor wrote and published 14 novels about small-town cop Marti MacAlister, and edited a collection of stories by well-known African-American writers, “Shades of Black” (2005). Her novel “Scream in Silence” (2000) was on the New York Times Bestseller List.

Eleanor accomplished more in one day than most people in a month. She helped pre-published writers at seminars, meetings and the bar; she chaired committees for outreach to marginalized writers; she spoke and taught at grade schools and high schools in Waukegan; and she always gently corrected a beginning writer by saying, “It’s good, but it’s not soup yet.” A memorial will be established in Eleanor’s name to keep her flame of helping others burning.


FROM LIBBY:
My first experience with Eleanor was at MWA Midwest's Dark and Stormy conference, probably in 1995. She was critiquing manuscripts, and I'd sent her 25 pages of my first (still unpublished) mystery. I was so nervous I was shaking. We met in a conference room, and she started to laugh. I didn't think it was that funny, but she made a joke about my nervousness, and immediately the ice was broken. She went on to say that my writing needed a lot of work, and I had to learn the craft of fiction, but she thought I "had something" -- that's the way she put it. And she said if I worked really hard, I might actually get published one day. That was the first time anyone had said anything good about my writing. I never forgot it. A year later, I ended up in her writing group, the Red Herrings. I can still remember her admonitions: "Eyes don't drop"... she would say. "They don't roll, either"...
But she always said it with a smile. Over the years we became friends. I mean, who else can you discuss ways to kill someone and what the cops might have missed at the crime scene? I will miss her generosity, her work ethic, and her stories.

FROM BARB D'AMATO:
Eleanor Taylor Bland was one of the most courageous people I have ever met. Many, many years ago, we knew how dire her prognosis was, and yet she kept on working and kept on being positive. During that time, she gave publication options to aspiring authors who had never been pubhished or who were underpublished. Through it all, she was vigorous, ebullient, and enthusiastic. I still remember her conducting the orchestra as one of the most fun things I have ever seen. Eleanor typified the best of what a writer can be. Bless you, Eleanor.

Your turn now...

34 comments:

Andi Shechter said...

Back in 1994, I was working on Bouchercon, the World Mystery Convention, held late that year in Seattle. I was the "go-to" person on our phone messages and I was in charge of program, the panels we offer at Bouchercon. When my phone rang one afternoon, I did something dumb and answered it. I shouldn't have; I was upset and worried. My father was very ill. I don't remember exactly what was wrong - that was the year he was in the hospital more than out and he died late in 1994, only a few weeks after the convention had ended.
But I answered the phone. It was Eleanor calling. I don't know why - probably to discuss her program assignment or ask a question. I was closer to the edge than I realized and to my horror, I started crying while talking with her. She asked what was wrong and I explained. I don't remember much of what she said but it helped. It helped SO much. This was a woman I'd maybe met once, if at all (I can't recall now when we met.)
And here's the thing. Before we hung up she asked if I'd mind if her church group prayed for my dad. I'm about as irreligious as can be. Dad was Jewish. It didn't matter, of course. i was....honored. It was one of the kindest things anyone could have done.
There's lots I could say about Eleanor's wonderful books, her great character in a fine series, how important she was to our field, how great it was to see her a few years ago at the Chicago Bouchercon, but what I remember? She prayed for my father, a total stranger.
I will remember her. I will remember her talent, her determination, her work in mystery but most of all, I'll remember her extraordinary kindness.

Kris said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kristine Smith said...

In the mid-90s, I was a wannabe writer working on my first novel when I learned that Eleanor Bland worked at my company. I would see her on occasion when I visited her building, but I didn't introduce myself because I figured she must have been inundated with requests for advice and assistance from wannabes, and I didn't want to bother her.

Fast-forward to 1998. I signed a 3-book contract with Avon Eos late that summer, and the next time I stopped by Eleanor's building, I screwed up the courage to go to her cubicle and introduce myself as a newbie with a contract. The first thing she did was get up and hug me. The second thing she did was dig into a desk drawer for a copy of Sisters in Crime's self-promo Guide, Shameless Promotion for Brazen Hussies. We talked for a while, and I will never forget her kindness and eager helpfulness...and her non-nonsense attitude about the business of being a writer.

Eleanor retired not long after we talked, and unfortunately, I didn't keep up our acquaintance. My loss. She was a giving, kind person who I later learned faced many, many challenges in her life. The grace she showed given the pressures she faced was remarkable. She was remarkable.

Elizabeth Foxwell said...

On my blog:
"A Glimpse of Eleanor Taylor Bland"
http://elizabethfoxwell.blogspot.com

David J. Walker said...

From the beginning of my life as a mystery writer, in the early 1990's, I had the good fortune of knowing Eleanor Taylor Bland. In our writers group, the Red Herrings, she was a kind, generous, skilled teacher of the craft...and, yes, the "business"...of writing.
And fearless. At the first mystery convention I ever attended, I listened as Eleanor "bawled out"--firmly, but with gentle good humor--one of the hottest star-authors of the crime genre for spending too much time in his hotel room (his defense: he was up there reading into a recorder for the audio book version of his latest hit) and too little time mingling with the readers who supported him and encouraging the lesser known authors who needed him. "You owe it to them," she insisted.
And that's how Eleanor lived her life, as though she were blessed--and she certainly was, with great talent and boundless energy--and needed to be about the business of giving back. And the best part? She seemed to love every minute of it.
And weren't we blessed, too, to have her in our midst?

Sara Paretsky said...

I've been knowing Eleanor since 1992, when she published Dead Time. We bonded over concerns about depictions of women and African-Americans in crime fiction, and the fact that we both had full-time corporate jobs while trying to write and raise a family. Eleanor was awe-inspiring in her gallant and tireless spirit, her commitment to helping other writers, her dedication to her beloved grandson, Antony, and her ability to keep all these balls in the air while writing some of the country's finest mysteries.
She was the among the first, if not the first, to create a hero who challenged the "mammy-whore" stereotypes of African-American women. She believed the crime novel was a perfect vehicle for pushing the boundaries of America's class/race/sex consciousness because you can tell a story and explore issues at the same time. With Marti Macallister, she said, she could "comment on slices of life within black culture....This is the one genre where you can talk about it and have a little fun with it."
Eleanor's commitment to the written word was legendary. She served on the board of the Waukegan Public Library and chaired their friends of the library.
Grace under pressure, gallantry, these are the images that come to mind, and, always, a smile that warmed us to the core of our souls. May your memory be a blessing to those of us you've left behind.

Viccy said...

I am a prolific reader of mystery series. I loved Marti MacAllister. It was the first time I had seen an African-American women police detective as a character and she was a great character. Marti cared about people in the same way, it appears, that Eleanor did herself. She, and Marti, will be missed.

Gar Anthony Haywood said...

Some words that come to mind when I think of Eleanor Taylor Bland:

Irrepressible - I pity the fool who would try to stop her from doing something she'd set her mind to do, or would dare to tell her "no."

Generous - There was nothing she wouldn't do for a colleague, let alone an actual friend.

Funny - That laugh. Damn.

Committed - She was a tireless worker and promoter of not only her own work, but the work of all African American mystery authors.

Selfless - No sacrifice was ever too great for her to make for any member of her family.

Smart - The lady could write.

libbyfh said...

Have just heard about funeral arrangements. No time yet, but it will be Saturday, June 12, at Saint Anastasia Church, 624 Douglas Avenue Waukegan, IL 60085-2999 - (847) 623-287.

Anonymous said...

I have two things I will always remember about Eleanor Taylor Bland:

1. She was always cheerful and kind, in spite of what she might be going through herself. She was a true Lady with a sense of humor and concern for others. Eleanor was a great person to be around. Good to a small & independent bookstore I know.

2. Eleanor was a serious writer, who worked at her craft and was so successful. She didn't only write a mystery, but rather a novel of real life's dealing with family, friends, tragedy, illness, fun and joy with a clever uncovering of a crime to add some spice.

There's more that could be said, but I think those are the basics and, too, that we'll miss her.

Augie & Tracy Aleksy
Centuries & Sleuths Bookstore

(via Annie Chernow)

Chris Roerden said...

I will always think of Eleanor Taylor Bland as giving the warmest, most enthusiatic hugs I've ever received, often in the women's room at the annual "Of Dark & Stormy Nights" conferences. I shall forever remain grateful to this many-talented mystery writer for those wonderful greetings, and for one additional reason. Her Marti MacAlister books demonstrate the skillful use of a technique for the writing of a police procedural that I make sure to share it in my own books for writers and workshops -- with complete credit to Eleanor. Thank you, Eleanor, for the privilege of knowing you and learning from you.
Chris

Michael Dymmoch said...

Eleanor was one of the first friends I made in the writing community. She was a terrific writer, a superlative teacher, and a beautiful soul. I miss her.

Jon The Crime Spree Guy said...

Spending time with Eleanor always left me happier afterward. A genuinely good person and wonderful human. She's the type of role models kids should all have. Hell, adults. too.

Frankie Y. Bailey said...

I don't remember what year it was when I met Eleanor. I think it must have been at an Of Dark & Stormy Nights conference. What I do remember was the warmth of her greeting. And it was that way each time we met. We wouldn't see other for long periods of time, later, not even every year. But then I would see her at a conference and she would grab my hand and give me a big hug. Those are the memories I have of Eleanor, nothing as specific as the stories other people have told. Just Eleanor. Standing somewhere talking to her about what had happened in our lives since the last time we saw each other. Having lunch with her and Anthony and some other folks in a little mall after Eleanor had arrived by train because she couldn't fly. The conversations when she talked to me about what African American writers needed to do to gain more visibility. The anthology she edited to help us get it.
Eleanor was generous and loving, and she is one of my role models for grace in the face of adversity.
She was a terrific writer who could deal with social issues and still write entertaining fiction. She broke new ground with her African American female police detective.
Eleanor was a good person. And I will miss having her in the world.

Anonymous said...

cassR22

Eleanor was the best friend a pre-published writer could ever have. Her words of encouragement and enthusiastic shouts to "Keep Writing!!!" helped to power me through many a blank page. I can hear her voice in my ear now, telling me to get on with it and get the words on the paper! I owe her a great deal. I will miss her. I hope some day to do for a new writer what Eleanor has done for me. That would be the greatest tribute.

Anonymous said...

Update: I called the church and they said that Eleanor's funeral will be at 10 a.m., Sat. June 12, at Saturday, June 12, at Saint Anastasia Church, 624 Douglas Avenue Waukegan, IL 60085-2999 - (847) 623-2875.

If anyone sees an obituary in the local papers this week, please let us know. Thanks.

Annie Chernow

Anonymous said...

Eleanor Taylor Bland will be missed by those of us who knew her as well as those who knew her through her wonderful writing. I remember her as being a very gracious and helpful person who always had a smile and a kind word to say. She was very supportive to me when I was starting out, and always made time for anyone who needed help of any kind. I'm very saddened by her passing. She was a real lady.
Michael A. Black

(via Annie Chernow)

Sharon said...

Hello:

I was Eleanor Bland's first agent. I represented her for DEAD TIME. A publisher has contacted me, hoping to put DEAD TIME as an ebook. As I just received the letter, it is not possible to gain Eleanor's signature. I am hoping someone would know the whereabouts of her heir or heirs who would be able to sign this agreement.

Please contact Sharon F. Kissane, Ph.D.
Kissane Communications
15 Turning Shores
S. Barrington, Il. 60010
(847) 318-7192

Sharon said...

My correct telephone number is 847-381-7192.

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