By Louise Ure
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?
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.