Twist Phelan

Finding true love at a mystery convention.,, On a per capita basis, mystery conventions are putting Internet dating sites to shame. At last count, at least four couples have found wedded bliss after first encounters at friendly gatherings of mystery fans.

Did their eyes meet at a less-than-scintillating panel? In line for an author signing? Across the room at the hotel bar? Read on for the answers, presented in roundtable format, to these and other questions about discovering true love at a crime convention.

But first, an introduction to the love-crossed couples:


Tasha Alexander & Andrew Grant (Authors) Teresa & Joseph Scarpato, Jr.
Met: Bouchercon 2008 To be married in 2010* (Book Reviewer - Joseph, and mystery fan)
*Married in the spring of 2010 Met: Bouchercon1998 Married: 2004


Ruth & Jon Jordan Kate Stine & Brian Skupin
(Publishers, CrimeSpree Magazine) (Publishers, Mystery Scene Magazine)
Met: Bouchercon 1999 Married: 2000 Met: Magna Cum Murder 1999 Married: 2000

Describe your first encounter.

Kate & Brian
K: I was on a panel about book reviewing at Magna Cum Murder and Brian was in the audience. Afterward, I walked up and asked if he had seen the conference organizer, Kathryn Kennison. There was no reason to think that he had, but as a single woman my policy was always to direct questions to the tall, good-looking stranger in the crowd first.

Ruth & Jon
R: We were in the hall of the convention center and struck up a conversation about all the people we’d met and how great the writers were to us. Then Ian Rankin came down the hall, slapped Jon on the butt and told us we were going to the bar.

Teresa & Joseph
Joe had posted to DorothyL, the listerv for mystery fans, that he’d be at the Mystery Review booth in the dealers’ room and encouraged everyone to stop by and say hi. A friend of mine was dying to meet Joe (she found him hilarious on DorothyL), so we went to the dealer’s room to meet Joe and Bob (one “O”) Smith. They were both quite funny, but there was something about Joe that made me want to see him again. I guess you could say it was love at first sight for me.

Tasha & Andrew
T: I was sitting at a table with J.D. Rhoades and a group of friends on the first night of Bouchercon. I was planning on making it an early night until I looked up and saw Andrew leaning against the bar a few feet away from me. I sidled over to him at once and introduced myself. We didn’t stop talking until long after the bar closed for the evening. The next morning, we went to a shooting range, where Zoe and Andy Sharp taught us everything we know about handling guns. It was an excellent first date.
A: I was in Baltimore for my first Bouchercon. In fact, my first book convention of any kind.... I thought the hotel bar would be the ideal place to begin, but when I saw the number of people in there I was horrified. There were hundreds. Maybe thousands. They all clearly knew each other. Walking up to complete strangers and introducing yourself doesn’t come easily to the English, so I decided to walk to the far end of the room then make my way back, talking to as many people as possible on the way. I stood at the entrance, took a deep breath and launched into the place, clear in my mission. I took two steps. Saw Tasha. And changed my plan.... My drink had only just arrived when, as if in answer to a prayer, she came over to talk to me. How kind, I thought. She can see I’m new here and that I don’t know anyone, so she’s being friendly. It was only later I discovered she had other motives.

What was his or her first romantic gesture?

Kate & Brian
K: Brian sent me a charming letter—a sure way to an editor’s heart. Still, I wasn’t certain his intentions were romantic until he suggested flying over from England for our first date—which was at the Malice Domestic Convention in Washington.
B: We had a long distance relationship for some time after we met. Kate sent me a care package of things she thought I would be interested in: music, a locked room mystery to read, that kind of thing. She was very perceptive.

pen_and_heartRuth & Jon
R: He sent me an envelope of magazine clippings and photos all to do with happiness and friendship, about a hundred in all, with a note that said, “When I think of you, I see...”
J: She sent me Miracle Whip and a mini-jukebox.

Teresa & Joseph
T: Joe’s not really that romantic. This doesn’t bother me. He makes up for it in so many other ways.

J: I didn’t know she was interested in me until after Bouchercon, when she emailed me a short story she had written and asked for my comments on it. That began an ongoing email relationship and a long-distance one at that, with her living in Atlanta and me in Boston. Eventually, she came up to visit.

Tasha & Andrew
T: Andrew is, without question, the Master of the Grand Romantic Gesture. The first one he made was flying eight thousand miles roundtrip only a few weeks after Bouchercon to come see me. This was rapidly followed up by the Most Romantic First Kiss Ever, on Fullerton Beach with a magnificent view of the Chicago skyline.
A: Tasha knew that my fortieth birthday hadn’t been celebrated in the most ideal circumstances, so on my second visit to Chicago she turned back the calendar and recreated the whole event—with a very different outcome! How did he or she propose?

Kate & Brian
K: Brian was working in the UK and I came over on a business trip. (I was consulting for Agatha Christie, Ltd. at the time.) He booked us on the Eurostar train to Paris and did a classic, on-bended-knee proposal in the Tuilleries Garden. He was such a stylish boyfriend; now he’s a stylish husband.

pizzaamoreRuth & Jon
R: We were in the grocery store, in front of the frozen pizzas. A plump and cheerful-looking woman tried to sneak by. Jon said to her, “I think she needs to marry me, don’t you?” The woman giggled and said, “Child, you sure do got to marry this man.” My ring came out of the quarter machine at the front of the store.

Teresa & Joseph
T: He didn’t. I found out he wanted to get married at a party for his brother. We arrived at the party and almost immediately, his brother’s wife and his sister came running over to me all smiles and wanting to see my ring. I had no idea what they were talking about. Then Joe’s brother joined us. He introduced me to some of the other guests as his brother’s fiancée. I told Joe’s brother to stop joking around; he looked at me, a little confused, but continued introducing me as Joe’s fiancée. After the party, we were at home watching TV. I finally muted the sound, turned to him, and asked, “Are we getting married?” He responded, “We can if you want to.” And that was that.

Tasha & Andrew
T: Both of us had come through extremely difficult divorces, and each of us assumed the other would never consider getting married again. However, in the midst of one of our long, long conversations while curled up on the couch, it became clear that the opposite was true. Neither of us had a problem with marriage as an institution, just marriages that involved the wrong people being together. We talked about it, and all of a sudden I said, “Did we just get engaged?” and he said, “YES!” The next morning, we went to Tiffany, where we learned they put you in a lovely private room and give you champagne when you buy an engagement ring.

How do you balance work and romance?

Kate & Brian
K: Brian actually works for a consulting company while I work full-time on Mystery Scene, so our collaboration is part-time. The only time it gets a little fraught is when the “What’s Happening With?” interview is running very late.
B: We’re lucky—a lot of the things we enjoy doing for fun, such as attending conventions and keeping up with mystery books, movies, and TV shows, are also things we need to do for work.

Ruth & Jon
R: Our day lives our very different and our time schedules are opposite of each other, so during our time together we try to do special things for one another.
J: Precariously. We make time for non-work stuff. We also share a lot of interests.

Teresa & Joseph
T: I work from home on occasion.
J: Weekends, holidays and vacations are best.

Tasha & Andrew
T: The beauty of both of us being writers is that we can work together, which means lots of extra time together, which we love. It’s wonderful to have someone who intimately understands the writing process right there to discuss a tricky plot point or a character who’s giving you trouble. And when you’re having one of those terrible days when it seems the only thing to do is beat your head against the wall, you suddenly find yourself much more pleasantly distracted.
A: Work and romance go hand in hand, because we get to spend our working days together as well as our free time.

If your spouse wanted to ferret out some secret about you, what fictional detective would best represent his or her investigatory process?

Kate and Brian
K: Brian is an easygoing guy who is also quite shrewd. I think of him as kind of a younger, cuter Columbo.
B: Julia Larwood from Sarah Caudwell’s books.

Ruth & Jon
R: Jon’s a fairly traditional bloke. He’d start off like McBain’s Ollie, slogging through the case, then realize he had just the person for the job and become Nero Wolfe to someone’s Archie or maybe Saul; I’d like to think it would take Saul to ferret out one of my secrets.
J: Ruth is Rebus.

alexander_andonlytodeceiveTeresa & Joseph
T: Hercule Poirot.
J: Her favorite mystery author at the moment is Louise Penny, so probably her detective, Chief Inspector Gamache.

Tasha and Andrew
T: Andrew has the intellect of Holmes, the meticulous nature of Poirot, is as dashing as Peter Wimsey, and as cool as Sam Spade.
A: The only fictional detective who could possibly match Tasha’s wit, charm, and intelligence would be Lady Emily Hargreaves.

Any words of advice for those looking for love at a mystery conference?

Ruth & Jon
R: Good luck! If you meet someone at a Bouchercon, you know you both love mysteries. Not a bad start.
J: Don’t look for it. It finds you.

Teresa & Joseph
T: If you see someone you’re interested in, pursue him or her. However, if that someone is taken, leave him or her alone! There is a woman who pursues Joe every time she sees him at Bouchercon, no matter how many times he tells her he’s not interested. She completely ignores me, even if I’m standing there. I think it’s funny; I know Joe won’t respond.
J: Don’t look for it. Let it find you.

Tasha & Andrew
T: I think looking for love is always a mistake. You’ve got to have reached the point in your life where you are truly happy to be on your own—when you’re more concerned with being yourself and following the path that’s right for you than you are with trying to impress someone. It’s when you’re in this mode that you’re showing people who you really are—and this is the time when you’ll attract someone who likes the real you, not some polished up, looking for love version. It’s foolproof, really, so long as you’re both at that point and both being completely honest.
A: It seems to me that true love is a kind of conundrum—you can only find it when you’re not looking for it. Sorry!

Kate & Brian
K: Walk up to the most intriguing person in sight and ask if he or she knows where Kathryn Kennison is. It worked for me.
B: Go with the tried and true: Head for the bar.

Twist Phelan is the author of the critically-acclaimed Pinnacle Peak mystery series (Poisoned Pen Press), and short stories for various anthologies. She is currently at work on a thriller. Twist met her sweetheart the old-fashioned way: via the Internet.

Originally published in Mystery Scene #113.