Farewell to a Friend

By Louise Ure

Elaine Flinn, one of the co-creators of the Murderati blog and author of the award-winning Molly Doyle series of mystery novels set in Carmel, California died on Saturday night in Eugene, Oregon.

God, I hate writing obituaries for friends.

Let me try again.

Elaine Flinn, one of the most vibrant and generous authors in crime fiction, died Saturday at her home in Eugene, Oregon.

Or maybe …

Elaine Flinn, one of those larger-than-life characters you seldom meet but never forget, died Saturday after hand-to-hand combat with a virulent form of cancer.

I give up. I have no words today. My heart is broken.

I first met Elaine at an MWA charitable event in Northern California before my first book was published. I was still in my Pollyanna phase; I loved my agent, my editor and my publisher. My book covers were the best ever. No copy editor had ever made a dumb comment on my manuscript. In pure bluff-gruff fashion, Elaine took a long hit off her cigarette and said, “If you’re going to be a real writer you have to learn to whine.”

At the end, even she didn’t take that advice. Riddled with cancer, she booked her reservations for Bouchercon and next spring’s Left Coast Crime in Hawaii. And instead of sharing the news of the cancer diagnosis, she asked her friends to say she had taken a fall and hurt her back. "Are you nuts?" she said. "If you say cancer, no agent or publisher will want anything to do with me!" There was no whining allowed.

I’ll leave the eulogies to others. They say it so much better than I.

From Paul Guyot:

"Elaine was all or nothing. If she loved you, she LOVED you and would do anything for you. If she hated you, look out.

She was loyal, she was generous, she was beautiful, and she was incredibly underrated as a writer. One of my favorite things about her was the fact that she never seemed too interested in monetary success or accolades – what was important to Elaine was respect from other writers. And she had it from those that read her.

There have been some other authors to pass recently, and I’ve read all these blog postings where people are saying what a personal loss they’ve experienced and yet, they never even met the author, or they only shook their hand at a signing or conference. These people have no idea what a personal loss this is. I met Elaine through the writing community and mystery conferences. But I was friends with her because of the person she was, not the writer she was. You could talk with Elaine about writing, or you could talk with her about food or sea lions or Irishmen or barstools or eyebrows or anything else, and she always had an informed opinion, and when you talked with her, she always made you feel like you were the most important person, and your conversation was the most important conversation happening in the world at that moment.

And she loved to laugh. My God, but the two of us got ourselves into so much trouble because of our desire to make each other laugh. Those are the memories I will keep at the front of my mind. Those are the times I will look back on and smile. God, she loved to laugh."

From Lee Child:

"I knew Elaine pretty well for many years – and probably spent more time with her at conventions than I spent with anyone else, because of the hours we spent smoking together outside the hotel doors.  So today I’m missing her and mourning her – but I’m not grieving.  She would have dismissed that idea with a husky laugh and a twinkle in those dark eyes.  She lived fast and careless and had a ball.  We loved a particular line from the movie "The Taking of Pelham 123" … I called her when I found out she was sick and she hit me with it once again: "What do they want for their 35 cents?  To live forever??"  She had more fun in however many years it was than most people get in a longer lifetime, and she knew it.  So I’m not grieving.  And I’m still smoking.  My buddy Elaine would have expected no less."

From Ken Bruen:

Elaine was the original earth mother, the very life force, she gave hugs that enwrapped you in their warmth. Last year, at the Edgars, she sat beside me on the couch in the grand Hyatt, said ‘God, I love being with writers, aren’t they grand.’

Few more majestic, more truly grand than my beloved Elaine, she took my hand in hers, adding, ‘Your hands are cold, I’ll warm them for you.’ As indeed, she warmed my very life.

This is a day that nothing will warm the cold of loss I feel. Rest well my wondrous friend.

From Gayle Lynds:

I loved Elaine.  Funny, brainy, sharp, and endlessly kind, she was a
constant surprise with her earthy advice and twinkling eyes.  She was the kind of force of nature all of us should have in our lives.  A new star is shining above us, in the firmament.  When I look up, I see you, Elaine.

From Laura Lippman:

I met Elaine at Malice Domestic and had what I have to think is the classic first impression. In short: What fun! This lady is a hoot!

Over the five or so years I knew her, she was always kind and supportive, one of the first people to write me a note of congratulations when something nice happened.

I don’t know . . . I tend to be inarticulate in these things. Words have such an easy currency in the life of a writer that I think it’s natural not to be able to find the right ones in this case. I just really liked her and my heart goes out to her family.

From  MWA’s Margery Flax:

“Fendi. I’m always going to remember the Fendi perfume. When I’d give her a hug, I’d say, ‘I’m going to smell like you all day.’ ‘What’s wrong with that?’ she’d reply.”

From Cornelia Read:

The Flinns were the smartest family in Carmel, California, and the coolest. I used to hang out with Elaine’s daughter Kelly and her gang of irregulars eating crepes at a little place in town, under the stairs where I. Magnin used to be, on Ocean Avenue. We would snark and laugh for hours.

The very first time Kelly took me to her house to meet Elaine and Joe, everyone was talking about Dave Brubeck.

As a teenage hippie kid raised on Donovan and Hendrix, I had no idea who this was.

"Dave Brubeck? ‘Take Five’?" asked Elaine and Joe.

I stood there dumbly.

"Are you fucking serious?" asked Elaine, patting me on the shoulder. "Oh, you poor kid."

"Take Five" has been one of my favorite songs ever since.

And I learned early that it was F-L-I-N-N, never with a "Y," because Flinn was the REAL Irish spelling and Flynn was evidence of the lasting taint of British oppression, which is something you do not fuck around about in the presence of this family.

After that I ended up going east to school, and stayed there a good while. Kelly and I kept in touch sporadically, 3000 miles apart.

When I joined MWA NorCal, about six years ago, I noticed one particular name in the membership list. Elaine Flinn. With an "I."

I emailed immediately: "*Kelly’s mom, Elaine Flinn?"

She wrote me back about sixty seconds later: "Cornelia, where the hell have you been? Welcome, kid."

I can picture her really clearly right now, sitting at the Great Conference Bar with Tony Hillerman, a glass of Jack Daniels in her hand. She’s dressed impeccably, as always, and she just said something smart and funny and wicked that cracked him right the hell up.

There’s Brubeck on the jukebox, too.

My heart goes out to Elaine’s husband Joe, to Kelly and Sharon and Patrick. Theirs is a great, great loss.

It is ours as well.

Elaine was damn good people. I am so lucky to have known her."

From our own Alexandra Sokoloff:

"There will never be anyone quite like her – our own Hedda Hopper."

Cara Black remembers laughing at Elaine’s recent emails:

"When she asked me help on the St Martins/MWA judging panel she wrote in full-Elaine style: au contraire (howeverthehellyousayit) you’ll help with the contest? Honest? I adore you. Gonna miss seeing you at the Edgars – but there’s Bcon right?

From Ali:

So how did I first meet Elaine Flinn?
Louise Ure like myself, with fellow critics Dave Montgomery and Larry Gandle were judges for the inaugural ITW Thriller Awards, hence had spent much time emailing each other during the judging process. Though I knew David and Larry well (having met up with them at Bouchercon in 2003), I had never met Elaine Flinn. After a most difficult journey from London; when I arrived at The Arizona Biltmore Hotel I walked into the bar and the first thing I heard as “Ali’s arrived!” and it was Elaine Flinn who sprang up from her chair and gave me a huge hug. My travel stress just evaporated with that embrace. I enjoyed hanging out with Elaine during that weekend. She was so full of energy, fun and her laugh infectious. Just thinking about her today puts a smile on my face. At Thrillerfest, she even insisted on me joining her table at the ITW awards banquet with Larry Gandle and David Montgomery. She saved a seat for me and placed me next to one of my literary heroes F. Paul Wilson [as she knew that ‘The Keep’ was one of my all-time favourite novels]. She was just so thoughtful.
She championed many writers, helped people – but the greatest memory I have was when in New York with Mike Stotter the following year for the second Thrillerfest Conference. I pulled out a copy of “Deadly Vintage” a terrific mystery featuring her alter-ego Molly Doyle. I asked Elaine if she would sign it for me as I absolutely loved the book. In typical Flinn fashion she said “Oh that’s so sweet, but I thought you only read Noir?” I told her that “Deadly Vintage” was just wonderful, and she blushed and beamed replying simply “Thank you Ali, but more importantly thank you for introducing me to Nick Stone, you were right, “Mr. Clarinet” was one of my favourite books.” Again, typically Elaine was always supporting other writers.
She wil be missed by us all.

From Larry Gandle:

I have known and shared a lot of laughs with Elaine since I met her
at the Chicago Bouchercon. We spent a lot of time together at the
bar at the Thrillerfest in Phoenix. There is one photo that was humorous at the time which showed Elaine talking to a few of us with a cigarette held above her head and appeared to show her smoking from the top of her head.

As a radiation oncologist I advised her to quit or cut down but the addiction was set in for decades. I knew she would not live much longer as the cancer spread to her spine and brain. I asked her in September if she would consider going to the Bouchercon in Baltimore primarily to allow us to say goodbye and tell her how much we love her. Her oncologist said it would be too risky due to the chemotherapy.

Personally, I never tell a terminally ill patient they cannot travel to see family and friends for the last time unless it is truly impossible. Ironically, as it turned out she only lasted a few weeks longer.

And from Elaine’s daughter, Kelly:


"I wish you all could have met her and known her – there was only one and there will NEVER be anyone like her on the planet again.

Know that she loved you all – even if she may never have met you face to face – and that your good thoughts and prayers meant more to her than I can say."

A memorial service is being planned for Carmel, California. I’ll let you know the details as they’re finalized. In the meantime, God speed, Elaine.

Please share your own memories and wishes in the comments section.



44 thoughts on “Farewell to a Friend

  1. Allison Brennan

    I’ve been heartbroken and feeling completely sorry for myself all day . . . because I never met Elaine face-to-face. We met on-line shortly after I was published and I found a friend. We judged books together, we talked by email all the time, and I sought advice from Elaine because she’s one of the wisest people I know. Blunt, smart, and generous. When Evil-E started, I asked the dumbest questions of our guests and she always told me they were great. She must have liked me, but not half as much as I adored her. My heart and prayers go out to Kelly, who’s been such a rock in communicating with us even when I knew she was in emotional pain; as well as the rest of the Flinn family.

  2. J.D. Rhoades

    I met Elaine at the first Thrillerfest in Phoenix. I was an immediate fan, so much that I sat outside the bar in the godawful July Arizona heat with her and the other smokers because any group she was in was, ipso facto, going to be the coolest one to hang with. She was smart and funny and kind and this is just NOT FUCKING FAIR, DAMN IT!

  3. Zoë Sharp

    I knew Elaine only slightly in person and better in cyberspace. I was privileged enough to be the subject of one of her Evil-E interviews.

    But hearing of her death greatly saddens me. Linda L Richards made a comment at Bouchercon in Baltimore, something along the lines that we are remembered by the space we leave in the world.

    Elaine Flinn left a hell of a space.

  4. David J. Montgomery

    There’s a tendency at times like this to say too much, but the last thing Elaine would have wanted is for anyone to spout a bunch of bullshit about her. (Elaine was a person of strong opinions, and one of those opinions was a dislike of bullshit.) So I’m just going to say… She was a dear friend and I miss her terribly.

  5. Alexandra Sokoloff

    The thing that was so charming and fascinating about Elaine is that she really GOT the mystique of being a writer. She didn’t see herself or the rest of us as ink-stained wretches…. she saw the glamour, and the charisma, and intrigue and the wildness and the sexiness. She lived it, and made the rest of us around her live it, too.

    Elaine was always off in a corner with some hot talented guy, and no sweet young thing ever had kind of crowd of men around her that Elaine could draw.

    Elaine was the glamor of a more mythic era, She was a broad, in the best possible way.

    I loved her and I already miss her more than I can say.

  6. Alexandra Sokoloff

    PS – I disagree with David about the last thing Elaine would have wanted. Much like my own sister Elaine, she would have wanted men throwing themselves on her grave and weeping.

    And baby, they are.

  7. Kaye Barley

    I never met Elaine. We were supposed to meet at Bouchercon ’cause she promised to introduce me around. “Stick with me, kiddo,” is what she said. She used to drop me notes after I had said yet another particularly dumb thing at DorothyL and gotten myself in hot water yet again. “You’re a minx,” she’d say. That I never got to meet this woman is just beyond sad to me. I know I don’t feel the loss those of you who knew her did, and I send each of you warm thoughts.

  8. L.J. Sellers

    I was lucky enough to have lived in the same town as Elaine this last year, so I had a chance to hang out with her. I loved her humor, her intelligence, and her directness. I also blogged about our last lunch together, in which Elaine announced “We’re all whores.”http://ljraves.blogspot.com

  9. B.G. Ritts

    Elaine’s joie de vivre was contagious and embracing and could draw creative output from those who usually were not. We never met in person, but our online discussions gave me a few glorious conversations with her.

    My sincerest condolences to her family and friends.

  10. I.J.Parker

    I had my shock yesterday on Sarah’s blog. Yes, this grieves me. I had gone to her blog shortly before and come away very puzzled. What? No improvement after that fall? Must send her an e-mail soonest.

    Then the news. You know, some of the comments above astonished me again. I also only knew Elaine from cyberspace and some e-mails we exchanged. To me, she was an absolute sweetheart. She even took my grumpy posts with generous humor: “You crack me up, Ingrid.”

    I shall miss her a lot. She was one of the loving people.

  11. Naomi

    The last time I saw Elaine was in front of the Lighthouse in NYC, where the Edgars symposium was being held. We clapsed hands briefly, said that we would catch up during the week, but that was actually the last time I saw her. I was busy meeting editors, agents, and old friends in New York–a swirling dervish of activity. I now wish that I had slowed down, had big open times where I could just hang out with mystery buddies like Elaine.

    When Murderati first started, I hadn’t met Elaine face-to-face yet. But from her posts, you could experience a big chunk of her personality. I remember looking at a snapshot of her on the Internet and thinking, wow, this woman reminds me of Maude (TV show)! I loved poking fun at her, calling her Evil E or just Evil (just check out the comments box). And then she’d respond with all these references to Hawaii and the Japanese language–making me realize that she was full of surprises.

    As I’ve gotten to know so many new people after being published as a mystery novelist, I’ve sometimes wondered–are these real friends, friends that you’ll stay in touch with after book contracts run dry, conference appearances become less frequent? Elaine indeed was not in search of fame or fortune but definitely fun and friendship along the ride. And I’m slowly learning that these relationships are indeed important and worth investing. Thanks, Evil E Mama-san!

  12. pari

    Rough and loud laughter

    The combo of cigarette smoke and perfume

    More smarts and perceptive observations in her pinkie than most people have in their entire bodies.

    Not wanting the waiter at Morton’s to introduce the damn lobster.

    Paul’s obit rings the loudest for me; I experienced both sides of the coin.

    What an incredible woman. The world is so much poorer today.

  13. JT Ellison

    Elaine challenged me, pushed me and pulled me in a hundred directions. I had the pleasure of meeting her in person, talking to her through email, arguing and fighting and laughing with her. She always struck me as fearless, and as such scared the hell out of me. She will be sorely missed.

  14. Marianne

    I’ve come late to mystery conventions and Murderati. Bouchercon was my first mystery con: I found Murderati there and have been lurking ever since.

    I wish I’d found you lot 10-20 years ago. It’s a lot like coming home. I never met Elaine, but in reading all of your memories, she has come alive to me.

    I missed meeting Cornelia face to face at BCon because she’d fallen ill just before – and I felt that keenly. I can only imagine (and poorly so) your loss at not being able to meet Elaine one last time or have her touch your lives again. Sincere condolences, guys.

    After reading this, and losing some major authors from my regular field in science fiction in recent years, has made me all the more determined to read as many books as I can, write the way I damn well want to write, get it all published and meet you all to party and share good times at future conventions.

    Per Ardua Ad Astra!! Or the borrowed – Semper Fi!


  15. Rae

    Like Dusty, I have fond memories of Elaine at Thrillerfest Phoenix on that outdoor patio. I don’t remember many specifics, but I’ll never forget the laughter.

  16. Louise Ure

    JT and Rae … “fighting and laughing” … I think you nailed it.

    Marianne, I’m so pleased to see you here. Twenty years ago, not many of us were writing, and none of us were blogging. So you’re just in time for the party.

  17. Janet Dawson

    What devastating news. I was just thinking of Elaine this morning before I logged on and read this obituary. I will miss her.

  18. Libby Hellmann

    I was recuperating from a hip replacement five years ago… in pain, anxiety-ridden, and generally feeling sorry for myself. Elaine emailed me out the blue asking how I was doing and including a bawdy joke that made me giggle. That started an e-mail correspondence that kept up until I was ambulatory once again. I will never forget her kindness and generosity of spirit. I hope she’s telling dirty jokes to all the angels above.

  19. Sharon Wheeler

    Elaine was one of my very favourite online friends, and I adored her chatty emails — finding one in my inbox was a sure-fire way of brightening my day. I’m trying not to cry, as I can hear her telling me not to be so soppy, but I miss her and hate the fact we never got to meet.

  20. Julia Spencer-Fleming

    Oh, God, I just got home and saw the news.

    When I read about the loss of Tony Hillerman yesterday, I thought of all the books I’d miss. Hearing about Elaine–I think of all the Elaine I’m going to miss.

    She was the quintessential “great gal.”

  21. Tom

    Never had the pleasure of meeting Elaine, but I did read Evil E – Ghodamighty, how she leapt off the page at you!!

    Because this was no small life, this will be no small loss, and I’m sorry for you all, Kelly and family especially. But how wondrous such a woman lived, and *you knew her!*

  22. Lisa

    Louise –I never met Elaine, though we emailed for months, and I’ll always now regret having been within 50 miles of Eugene in June and not having gone to say hello in person.I heard about her grit, her might, her charm, the force of nature that was her personality.What I got, however, for too few short months, was her heart. She never met me, and yet she was so eager to know and protect me. And my joys were, evidently, hers as well. We loved cats, we loved books, we loved Ken. It was enough to begin a friendship. I only wish it had gone on. And every minute in Baltimore, I felt her absence.Now I feel it more.I’ve been trying, since the email arrived, to find a way to honor her memory.She said once that she read faces, and she knew all about me on the strength of a photo, and she’d share that in person.God, how I wish I’d had the chance.My heart breaks for her family and for you, her friends.I was honored to consider her my friend, even if only for a little while.Lisa

  23. Kathleen Chalmers

    I am so shocked and saddened by the news of Elaine’s death. I met Elaine on DorothyL, and she graciously named one of the characters in Deadly Vintage after my mother, Alma Faye.My family lived in the Monterey/Carmel area in the late 1960s, and Mom, an avid mystery reader, loved to revisit the area through Elaine’s books.

    Elaine and I corresponded occasionally while she was writing and promoting Deadly Vintage, and it never ceased to amaze me that Elaine made time for me given her busy, busy life.

    When Deadly Vintage was published in August 2007, Elaine sent Mom and me an inscribed copy of the book, along with a beautiful “teapot” card with a lovely note. Sadly, Mom passed away unexpectedly at Christmastime. I wrote to Elaine to let her know, once again, how much her books had meant to Mom. Elaine’s response was very touching, and it included the sentiment, “…but at least Alma Faye didn’t suffer a lingering illness…so there is that.”

    Elaine, we wish we could have kept you with us forever, but I’m glad you are at peace.

    Blessings to all who love and miss her,Kathleen

  24. John Ramsey Miller

    We were judges together for the Edgars last year and, although I’d met her face to face at two Thrillerfests, we became e-mail pals and when there was criticism of the lack of female nominees in our category she told me, “Miller, it isn’t what’s between the legs that maters here, but what’s between the covers.” She never failed to break me up and I will miss her.

  25. Vicki Hinze

    Elaine and I first crossed paths many years ago. We went through ups and downs and medical challenges and construction challenges many times. Me reaching for something positive in whatever was happening and her with irrepressible wit. I adored her.

    The measure of a life is to love well and to be loved well.She knew both. I’m grateful for that, for her and all who loved her.

    Blessings, Vicki Hinze

  26. Nancy Martin

    I ran afoul of Elaine when we disagreed—vehemently–online a while back. A couple of months after exchanging heated emails, we spotted each other from across a crowded room at Malice and grinned. Fell into each other’s arms a minute later, laughing. It takes a great lady to disagree and still be so damn lovable. I’m so sorry she’s gone.

  27. Shane Gericke

    When I first got into thriller writing, my editor suggested I join DorothyL. I did and wrote some piffle, as newbies are wont to do, and posted it. The very first person to respond (offline, so she could go on awhile) was Elaine. She was terrific. Warm, funny, and very welcoming of me into the thriller community. I’ve always been grateful for that lovely piece of humanity, and I shall miss her very, very much.

  28. Jeff Abbott

    Elaine’s was the second death of three I heard of this week. I only met Elaine once, at the Thrillerfest in Phoenix, Lee introduced her to me while they were having their smokes outside in the 110 degree heat. Even on brief acquaintance she struck me as a force of nature. She was always surrounded by people and seemed to be having such fun in the camaraderie of writers. I really wish I had gotten to know her better. My deepest condolences to her family and to her many, many friends.

  29. Natalie M. Roberts aka Natali

    Trying again. I just have to say I am so devastated by this news. Elaine was just the coolest.

    Honest, forthright, funny, and did I mention honest? You didn’t want to mess with her, but you also wanted her to have your back.

    She will be SO sorely missed.

    Godspeed Elaine.

  30. Jan Burke

    I’ve been waiting for a time when I could post something here about Elaine without crying while I typed. I still can’t.

    Kelly, your mom was one of the greatest — a real live wire who was generous and full of p & v. But you know that. I loved being her friend.


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