I can’t claim I knew Sally Fellows well. I wish I had been closer to her, that I had been able to attend a mystery convention, Mayhem in the Midlands that Sally helped organize and host. From reports, it was one of the best run and most fun of the various conferences. I met her in the late 1990s at Malice Domestic, a yearly convention held on the east coast. A history teacher, and a reader, she was well known within the community as a strong reviewer, tough, but fair. When I met her she was using a cane, she was often in pain from back problems, but this didn’t seem to lessen her zest and delight in the panels, authors, and events that comprise a crime fiction gathering. At various times she moderated panels of discussion. A no nonsense individual, you knew when you dealt with Sally, she could be acerbic, even bitting, but never mean spirited. I remember babbling incessantly at one Malice, something that got on her nerves (who could blame her) and she chastised me. For a short second, I felt as perhaps her students did when they weren’t living up to her standards. And her standards were high–for people and literature. They made you want to do better, be a better listener, reader, reviewer. She encouraged new authors, read their works, urged them on. She and Doris Ann Norris (2012 Bouchercon Fan of the Year) were given the dedication in Laura Lippman’s great novel, Every Secret Thing. (On my list of Best 100 Mysteries). Her contribution to the mystery field is vast. Besides her erudite reviews, and Mayhem in the Midlands, her encouragement to new and established authors was well appreciated. Many, many authors have been expressing sadness and shock at her passing. Far more than I realized, were touched and impacted by Sally’s gifts.
She made me nervous, at times, when I was in her presence. I didn’t want to make a mistake grammatically, or worse, recite a pun. (Or babble again, lol) Sally was known for her aversion to the world of puns. Within an on-line reader’s group, invariably someone would need to relate a great story that happened to include a pun. And also without fail, a warning was in the subject heading, “Sally, avoid!” or “Sally–skip”. The writers of puns didn’t want to be on the other end of Sally’s disapproval, lol. It was all in fun, and no one found humor more than Sally herself. She was a witty, sharp, intelligent conversationalist.
She was also a warm, empathetic, and a great great friend. Her good friends found in her a strong loyal person. When I turned from selling books to making jewelry of book covers, she kindly wore one of my pins around the conference as advertisement. And, purchased some pieces. Above and beyond the call of introductory friendship.
As years traveled on, I no longer attended Malice and therefore was not in touch with Sally in person. But I’d kept up with her exploits with her beloved dogs. My heart broke when her first dog, Trixie’s, time came. I knew how much she meant to her, and how difficult it was to let her go. And I rejoiced later, when she was ready again to love another dog, she related her trips to the pound looking for that perfect fellow to share her life with. She found him in Luke. They found each other.
I respected Sally for multiple reasons. Her forthrightness, her honesty, her love of the written word, her advocation of writers, her thoughtful reviews, her wit and wisdom online. So, although I never really got to know Sally intimately, I feel as though I knew her essence, the core of her being–a person whose existence was full of simplicity–simple pleasures and loves. A good book, a comfortable lounging chair, and a dog. If there is an afterlife, I’m hoping Sally is contentedly reading the latest angelic novel, relaxing sans back pain, among puffed cloud pillows, with Trixie at her feet.
For years Sally had this added to the bottom of her e-mails. The quote has inspired me each time I read it:
“They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary
safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” -Benjamin Franklin