Getting By With a Little Help From My Friends

By Louise Ure

By all rights, I should be telling you today about the fabulous (but grueling) Book Passage Mystery Conference that just concluded Sunday night. It really was grand, with some terrifically talented writers in attendance, and not all of them were on the faculty. This was a group with strong, solid writing skills who came to figure out how to hone their work and how to sell it.

But there will be lots of other folks blogging about the conference this week and filling in the details on their favorite panels and presentations. (Mine would have to include “The Definition of Murder,” by Dylan Schaffer, the defensive attorney representing the BART police officer who killed an unarmed man in Oakland on New Year’s Eve, and the crime fiction primer David Corbett offered based on a murder case presented by FBI Supervisory Special Agent George Fong.)

But the thing – the person — that’s uppermost in my mind is Patty Smiley.


Patty and I met at the very first convention I ever attended, Left Coast Crime in Monterey, back in the Spring of 2004. Patty was my role model. We both came out of the business world before our writing days, we were with the same publishing house and we had the same editor. Only Patty did it one year before I did, so she taught me all the ropes.

Here we are, five years and seven books later (four for her, three for me), and we finally find quality time to catch up again as Patty joined the faculty at the Book Passage event. I picked her up at the airport and it didn’t take even one freeway exit to get into it.

“How are you?” she asked. And she meant it.

We’ve become inured to the casually asked “How’s it going?” from supermarket bag stuffers, telemarketers and the neighbors we pass on the way to the bus. It’s a polite thing to say, but they don’t really want an answer. Heaven help you if you really reply, listing all the aches and pains of your incipient lumbago or detail your worries about your mounting credit card debt. They’d run for the hills, thinking, “Who was that crazy person? I was just saying ‘hello.’”

Not Patty. When she asks how you are, she wants to know. And then she listens.

So I unloaded. Every disappointment, fear, concern, ailment and wound that has been crawling around my feet and up my legs like slithery snakes for the last few months. All of it, gushing out, in a lava-hot tirade of angst.

It’s a forgotten art form, listening. We half commit to hearing a response, all the while waiting for that bon mot – that half split-second — when we can jump in with our own take on the subject. After all, it’s not a conversation unless it’s equal time, right?

Not Patty. The only time she speaks is to ask for more detail. None of that “I know how you feel, I’ve got the same kind of problem with my in-laws. Let’s talk about me.”

And then she does something remarkable. She weighs all the words and offers practical, reasoned, rational, objective suggestions. Nothing heavy-handed. Nothing condemning. Just “here are some things you might think about doing.”

I’ve only had a few people in my life like that. My sister. Judy Greber. I hope they know what a featherbed of support they’ve been.

But today I also have Patty Smiley, and I want to thank her.

Tell me ‘Rati? Who is the wise counselor in your life? Who really listens after they ask, “How are you?”

21 thoughts on “Getting By With a Little Help From My Friends

  1. JD Rhoades

    Patty is indeed a class act.

    I’ve been blessed with so many, it’s hard to know where to start. All of the Murderati crew have been great listeners and counselors, but I have to single out Our JT for how great and sympathetic she was that night at Love is Murder when I got the news my beloved dog had passed away.

    Outside the "Rati, there are the Honorable Companions, Kristy Kiernan and Tasha Alexander, who have both talked me down off the ledge at least a dozen times during the last couple of years. Laura Bradford has also been not just a great friend and confidant, she’s been an incredible example of determination and courage.

    Finally, Joe Konrath has been extremely generous with his time and advice, both professional and personal.

    Thanks again to all of you.

  2. Louise Ure

    J.D., There’s a special place in heaven for people who not only understand personal angst. they also understand dog angst. And I was going to comment that all your wise counselors were women … until you got to Konrath. Hmmm … maybe there’s something unnatural about that beard. (But I’m glad he’s there for you.)

  3. Alli


    What a wonderful post – and Patty sounds like a truly amazing person. How lucky we all are to have people in the world who keep the art of listening and compassion alive.

    Like J.D. I have many I could list. But three that stick out most are my husband (who was my listening buddy and best friends for 17 years before we got together romantically – it’s all very When Harry Met Sally meets Melrose Place). My brother, who is not only the most logical person I know, but a fabulous writer. And my writing support group, MTW – a bunch of seven women with amazing talent and wonderful friendship to offer.

    Louise, thanks for making me stop and think about those who truly are angels on earth. I now have the urge to tell them all how amazing they are and how thankful I am to have them cheering me on.

    Great post, Louise.

  4. Karen Olson

    I love Patty; she’s such a wonderful person and friend. She makes my list, as do my fellow First Offenders and countless others who know who they are. And you, who have offered up sage advice and a friendship I hope lasts forever.

  5. Louise Ure

    Zoë and Allli, you are so right to mention partner-counselors. I’ve seen your connection to Andy, Zoë, and can imagine the same for you, Alli.

    Back ‘atcha, Karen. There’s a special bond with those who have walked in exactly the same footprints.

  6. pari noskin taichert

    Beautiful post, Louise. I don’t know Patty well, but every encounter with her has been meaningful.

    When I thought about your questions, my answers came in two waves.
    First were friends and family, people I’ve known for decades who would drop everything to help and would be the first to celebrate, people to whom I turn when at my lowest.

    The second wave consisted of the ‘Rati, the members of a private listserv called MysteryBabes, and the three women in my critique group who just get this whole writing life/writing thang down to their cores. When I’m most distressed or doubtful about the profession, it’s to them that I turn: Pati Nagle, Debbie Smith (D’Lynn Smith) and Sally Gwylan.

    Thank you for reminding me how blessed my life truly is.

  7. Patricia Smiley

    Okay, you made me cry. Hope you’re happy. You’re words are always achingly beautiful and I feel so honored that you are my friend. Your post is a reminder how important it is to spend quality time with our friends and to tell them how much we care. Ditto in spades, Ms. Ure.

  8. Louise Ure

    Pari, you’re lucky to have all those folks around you, but those three special friends sound remarkable.

    Mornin’, Patty. I’m honored to call you Friend. Thank you again.

  9. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Louise – I’ve met Patty a couple times now and I agree with you that she is a very special person. She is giving and considerate. I am especially impressed with her background in the LAPD. Absolutely fascinating. I’m looking forward to getting to know her better as time goes on.
    I also am enamored with all of the Murderati gang, especially JT who immediately stood out as an exceptional individual, and Brett, of course, for his giving nature and selfless friendship. Really, I’ve had this same impression of every single member of Murderati. It kind of freaks me out that you guys are so, so giving.

  10. Louise Ure

    Patty, as long as you don’t misspell Ure, I’m happy.

    And Stephen, I know what you mean. With some group blogs I feel like the writers have no good reason to be writing together. Ours feels like a marbled cake, somehow.

  11. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Careful, Louise – "marbling" is also the term used by coroners to describe a process of decay in human flesh. I’d hate to think that you feel the Murderati writers are decaying like human flesh.

  12. JT Ellison

    Ah, jeez, y’all. You’ve brought tears to my ears. Dusty, you know I love you. Stephen, you’re one of those people who you just know immediately will be a wonderful part of your life, and I’m so glad you’re in mine.

    This is going to be a Murderati love fest, as well it should be. This is the single most special group on the Internet. We really are a family. I would do anything for any of my ‘Rati brethren, and I know they would do the same for me. It’s an unusual group dynamic, actually. I’ve never been a part of something so special.

    On the personal side, I have been utterly blessed with confidants and friends who I know will tell me the truth, listen when I cry, and cry out, and put up with my antics. I’ve made some of my best friends since I joined the publishing world, and I couldn’t do it without them. (You know who you are.)

    Louise, thank you. I was a bit cranky this morning, and you’ve made me realize my blessings, yet again. A sense of peace and calm stole over me as I read your words about friendship. You have a true gift, my dear. A true gift.

  13. Louise Ure

    Stephen, you make me laugh! No, no, my dear, I was not thinking about decaying flesh. It was "marbled" cake versus the chunkiness of chocolate chip cookies I had in mind. (Can you tell I had no breakfast?)

    And yes, JT, Murderati is a haven. And I do so love the "bring tears to my ears" line.

  14. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Patty Smiley is awesome! She is absolutely as real as all that.

    I do feel like I can unload on the Rati, it’s a huge gift.

    Heather Graham, Kathy Love and Kathy Pickering were lifesaving to me at TFest, and Margaret Maron, Sarah Shaber, Diane Chamberlain, and Brynn Bonner also saved my life a few weeks ago with unconditional love and support. I don’t disclose unless I’m practically dying but every one of those women was a haven, individually and collectively, and I am beyond grateful.

    I agree about Joe Konrath. I could tell him or ask him anything.

  15. Allison Brennan

    Since the first moment Toni and I met at Thrillerfest in Arizona, I knew she was my long-lost Southern sister. She listens and understands even when I don’t make any sense and am babbling frustrations. And I can ask a question and she answers the question I MEANT to ask if I had known to ask it in the first place.

    My pal Karin Tabke, who was in my old crit group long before any of us sold, has always been a fantastic listener, especially about personal issues (since her kids are a bit older than mine . . . ) and she never bullshits, just tells you straight up if you’re being bitchy or have a valid gripe. Gotta love honesty.

    And I agree that the gang here is a class act.

  16. Louise Ure

    JT, that reminds me of the famous country song: I’VE GOT TEARS IN MY EARS
    (Harold Barlow)

    Alex, that’s a high-powered support team you’ve got there.

    And Allison, having friends who answer the questions we meant to ask are worth their weight in gold.

  17. Jill James

    I have a best friend, Lee. My first best friend I’ve ever had. I was a loner all through school and when I got married my husband was my only friend. Now, thanks to RWA I have lots of friends, but Lee is still the best.


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