Thursday, July 12, 2007

It's A Small World

Elizabeth Zelvin

I love small world stories. I’ve been collecting them for most of my life. I live in New York, a city of 8 million residents plus 44 million visitors per year. It constantly amazes me how people who are connected to people I’m connected to pop up in unexpected places. The Internet has made the world much smaller, exponentially increasing the connections. But I’ve found I don’t have to go online to find those one and two and three degrees of separation that are so much fun to discover.

If I exchange emails with a fellow mystery reader from DorothyL about a book we both loved as children, then run into her at the Edgars in April and Malice Domestic in May, that’s not a small world story. In what I call a genuine small world story, the connections must be complicated and not too obvious—in fact, the more tortuous the better.

One of the emerging mystery writers I see the most of is Meredith Cole.
I live in Manhattan, she lives in Brooklyn, and we both attend the monthly meetings of the local chapters of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime. We’ve both volunteered at the registration desk at the Edgars Symposium and have had stories accepted for the anthology Murder New York Style by members of SinC. We’re also both Guppies, so we meet online there and on other mystery e-lists. I think we're friends, and I hope she does too. None of that makes this a small world story.

Last fall, the legendary Ruth Cavin accepted my first mystery for publication by St. Martin’s. This spring, Meredith won the Malice Domestic Best First Novel contest. Ruth Cavin picks the winner, which is published by St. Martin’s. So Meredith and I have the same editor and will have our first books out at around the same time, next spring. Ruth even took us out to dinner at the Malice Domestic convention. And of course I whooped and hollered when they made the formal announcement of Meredith’s win during the Agatha awards banquet. So far, this is still not a small world story.

At the June meeting of MWA New York, during the schmoozing hour before dinner, someone mentioned Swarthmore College in conversation. I think it had to do with a discussion of funny names on the Guppies e-list. I didn’t attend Swarthmore, but my older sister did. I said so when someone mentioned Peter Gram Swing, founder and longtime chair of Swarthmore’s music department, who indeed had a great name for a musician. Meredith overheard me. “Swarthmore!” she said. “My mother just went to a Swarthmore reunion.” I meant to ask how old her mother was, but it was time for dinner, and the moment passed.

Fast forward to the following weekend. My husband and I drive to a cousin’s home in New Jersey for my Aunt Hilda’s 95th birthday party, for which she’s flown in from Seattle. Her actual birthday was back in April. She spent it playing tennis and going out dancing with her boyfriend. But now the East Coast friends and relatives are celebrating. (My Aunt Hilda isn’t part of the chain of coincidence, but the exquisite flavor of a small world story is in the details.) My sister, who lives in Boston, is present. She tells us that she attended her 45th college reunion the weekend before. I know that colleges schedule reunions by multiples of 5. I wonder when Meredith’s mom graduated. For her, it might have been the 40th or even the 35th, since Meredith is in her 30s. I don’t ask my sister if she knew her, since I don’t even know Meredith’s maiden name, no less her mother’s.

The next day, my sister emails to tell me that, driving to Swarthmore
(near Philadelphia) from Boston, she made a detour through Brooklyn to pick up a classmate who was staying with her daughter so they could travel together to the reunion. She even met the daughter. Yep, you guessed it. The daughter was Meredith Cole! Now, that’s a small world story.

1 comment:

Meredith Cole said...

Liz -
It's unfortunate that if we were to write such a thing in one of our books, someone would tell us it was completely improbable. OK, so both the sister and the mother go to Swarthmore, but the same year? C'mon. And then one picks up the other to drive them there? Who can believe that??? No wonder some people write fiction and call it a memoir.