Can Texas women write crime fiction?

There has been the general perception that Texas crime fiction is by and about men.


In an article in Texas Monthly, crime novelist Amy Gentry suggests that Texas women writing crime fiction are finally coming into their own, after being unrecognized for too long. Despite such accomplished authors as Kathleen Kent, Sandra Brown, Julie Heaberlin, and Gentry herself, there has been the general perception that Texas crime fiction is “by and about men, tinged with nostalgia for the tough cowboys and small-town sheriffs of a frontier past characterized by what J. Frank Dobie called ‘the lack—temporary—of women.’”  


In a 2007 anthology titled Lone Star Sleuths, only 30 percent of the authors were women. As late as 2017, novelist Harry Hunsucker drew up his list of Top Ten Texas Crime Novels. Only one novel was by a woman—Attica Locke—and Hunsucker listed her apologetically, saying it was like asking readers to believe that Dennis LeHane had suddenly transformed into an African American woman. 


It's not just a Texas problem. Way back in 1986, a group of women mystery authors met at Bouchercon, the huge annual fan con for mysteries, and bemoaned the fact that mysteries by women were hardly ever reviewed. They decided to bond together to support each other and to work on the review situation. It took some organizing—volunteers, a committee, etc.—but by 1987 there was an organization called Sisters in Crime (SinC). And by 1988 the first chapters began to spring up in cities across the country. Chicago author Sara Paretsky, creator of V. I. Warshawski, served as the first president, and Nancy Pickard, award-winning author of several series, followed as the first elected president. Membership was open to anyone who loved mysteries—writers, readers, editors, librarians, etc. 


The group developed such programs as We Love Libraries, which makes financial awards to libraries that support women mystery writers. They joined the Authors Coalition of America, and they encouraged individual chapters. 


Today the organization has a variety of programs. One of its goals is providing educational opportunities for authors, and SinC offers podcasts, webinars, and write-ins. Because many members struggle to maintain their lives while trying to write, there are grants, loans, and scholarships available. The We Love Libraries program has been expanded to other interests: We Love Bookstores and We Love Short Stories.


There are about seventy chapters in SinC, including one worldwide and two in Canada. The rest are in the States, with three in Texas—the Heart of Texas chapter headquartered in Austin, a Houston chapter, and one in North Dallas. The largest chapter, the worldwide or online chapter known as the Guppies, has about 1150 members. The name originally stood for either Great Unpublished or Going to be Published, the theory being that newbies would begin there and “graduate” out as they became published authors. It hasn’t happened that way because so many enjoy the camaraderie, the friendships they’ve made, the online classes that are offered, and the continued support of their fellow authors. 


Membership in Sisters in Crime is a requirement for membership in a chapter, and there are currently two levels of membership plus a guest category. The levels are Professionals—writers, librarians, etc., who have a business interest in the promotion of mystery writing and who have voting rights—and Active, people who do not consider themselves to be professionals in the field. Although I have written sixteen mysteries, I am still an active member, perhaps because I never troubled to apply for an upgrade. 


Over the years, the organization has struggled with issues of membership. Men were long ago admitted so that now in emails we address Sisters and Misters. Then there was the problem of self-published authors. Not too many years ago, self-publishing was a no-no, tarred with the brush of vanity. But as technology changed and independent publishing became more reasonable, the stigma wore off. Further, consolidation of big publishing houses, often purchased by mega-corporations with no “feel” for publishing, narrowed the market for authors. Today, quite a few prominent authors are independently published.  


More recent is the SinC focus on diversity and inclusion for writers of color. There are now targeted awards, scholarships, and sub-groups for these writers who, like Texans, have been overlooked for too long. 


Can Texas women write crime fiction? Yes they can. There are close to 150 Texas authors in the organization, far too many to name, but here are some whose names may be familiar: Susan Wittig Albert, Vicki Batman, Kathy Sechrist, Kathy Waller, Gayle Yellen, and yours truly. Interestingly, none of the authors whose books are reviewed in Gentry’s article are listed in the SinC directory. 

Learn more about Sisters in Crime.