Mystery and crime fiction authors, long associated with drawing rooms and police precincts, want to ensure justice in voting booths too. From September 18-24, concerned authors and other donors will host a Mystery Loves Democracy online auction in support of voting-rights organization Fair Fight Action, founded in 2014 by then-Georgia state representative Stacey Abrams.
The organization advances voter education; coordinates de-escalation trainings that teach “rapid response strategic support for political violence-related threats”; pursues litigation (Fair Fight Action v. Raffensperger); and establishes task forces to combat electoral injustice in Arizona, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin, as well as in its home state of Georgia. “FFA is dedicated to voter engagement and education and is actively working to protect the freedom to vote and mitigate voter suppression,” said development manager Shannon Arthur.
Writers have donated signed books and ARCs, consultations, and manuscript critiques for consideration by auction bidders. Fans have a shot at a Zoom AMA [ask-me-anything] with Hilary Davidson (Her Last Breath) or becoming a named character in a future book by Edgar-winning thriller author Meg Gardiner (the Evan Delaney series), who is on the auction committee’s advisory committee. Potential bidders can check the event’s Twitter feed for midweek additions to the loot.
The mystery-themed auction has its origins in another genre altogether. In 2020, Tammy Kaehler (the Kate Reilly Racing Mystery series) heard about Romancing the Runoff, an auction created by romance writers Alyssa Cole, Courtney Milan, and Kit Rocha in support of Fair Fight and Georgia voting rights. Cole, Milan, and Rocha had modest fundraising expectations in the low five figures, yet they raised nearly $500,000. They rebranded as Romancing the Vote and ran another auction in February 2022, raising another $188,000 for FFA. (Abrams donated a rare hardcover copy of Rules of Engagement, which she signed with her real name and her nom de plume, Selena Montgomery.)
“Their  auction was a runaway success,” said Kaehler. In response to that success, she and mystery-writing friends Kathy Krevat and Lisa Brackmann “got fired up. We thought, wait, what about the mystery community?”
Kaehler, Krevat, and Brackmann (who live in San Diego) met on Zoom with the romance team, who helped them develop a Mystery Loves Georgia auction in December 2020. The event earned $60,000 for FFA. “We did not reach [the romance writers’] heights of fundraising,” said Kaehler, but “we experienced firsthand how the community working together created a much bigger success than any of us could have done individually. The donors felt that too.”
Authors knew their donations would result in financial support for fair elections, and almost 400 biddable items rolled in. “[Chicago crime fiction author] Lori Rader-Day offered an annotated ARC of Death at Greenway, and this time she is putting together an Agatha Christie package,” said Kaehler. “Lee Child did a named character in a Reacher book, and we hope he can do something like that again.” Among the choice items this year is a photo of Stephen King and Sara Paretsky, taken at the 2015 Mystery Writers of America awards banquet and signed by both authors—a rarity in King memorabilia. (Paretsky, creator of the V.I. Warshawski series, is honorary chair of Mystery Loves Democracy’s advisory committee.)
Mystery Loves Democracy’s fundraising goal is $100,000, and as the auction concludes, Catriona McPherson (In Place of Fear) will host a Zoom-a-thon with surprise author appearances. FFA executive director Cianti Stewart-Reid will be among the featured guests. “We can’t all fly in to canvass neighborhoods,” said Kaehler, but this auction lets armchair detectives pledge support of democracy alongside their favorite authors.