Ann Rule died today, and I’m thinking about her. She wrote some of the best true crime books of the last three decades, in addition to her many articles, her TV work, and her frequent consultations with various authorities, including police forces and the FBI. She definitely had the best story on how she came to her particular calling, as she explained in her first published book, THE STRANGER BESIDE ME. It’s about her suicide hotline switchboard colleague, Ted Bundy. (When she said “beside me,” she wasn’t exaggerating.) My favorite of her books is SMALL SACRIFICES, the creepy-but-true story of the modern Medea, Diane Downs. I must admit, though, that today I’m thinking of her not merely as one of her millions of fans, but for strictly personal reasons.
Dion’t get me wrong: I didn’t really know her. I only met her twice, when she came to Murder Ink® to sign books for us. But she did something after our first meeting that still astounds me every time I think of it.
In 1992, I was a relatively new clerk in the bookstore with dreams of being a published mystery writer. My dreams were coming true at that point–my agent had sold my first novel to a big editor at a big publishing house, and they were preparing it for a February 1993 publication. When Ms. Rule (“Call me Ann”) came in, my boss introduced me to her as “our very own first-time novelist.” She smiled and asked me about my book, my publisher, my editor–the usual talk between writers, but I was flabbergasted. This was Ann Rule I was talking to!!! She asked me my favorite thing about the process, and I said it was getting accepted for publication. She asked me my least favorite thing about it, and I said, “Asking people for blurbs.” She laughed, signed her books, and left the store. She was doing another signing in NYC that evening and heading back to Seattle the next morning.
Two days later, my editor called me, and she was over the moon. She finally had the perfect quote for the front of the dust jacket of my book, which was going into production the next day. It seems Ms. Rule left Murder Ink® that day, called my editor, and asked if she could see my novel. She even offered to go to the publishing house to pick it up. My editor said that wouldn’t be necessary and sent a messenger to Ms. Rule’s hotel with an ARC. She read it on the plane home, and–I love this–she called my editor from the Seattle airport and dictated a quote over the phone.
I sent a thank-you note to Seattle, and she wrote back congratulating me. I saw her once again a couple of years later, when she came in to sign another book. I thanked her again, and she merely shrugged and said, “Someone did it for me once. I was just sending it on.”
As I said, I didn’t know her. She was a terrific writer, a wife and mother, and a familiar face from TV talk shows. Her accomplishments are legion, and you can read more about her remarkable life and career at her website, here. But if we’re judged by the lives we touch, she accomplished much more. I know what she did for me, and I can only assume there were others, probably many others. I’ll never forget her kindness to this complete stranger, and I’ll always try to send it on.