JENNIFER FIERRO • PICAYUNE STAFF
AUSTIN — Members of the Sisters in Crime-Heart of Texas Chapter chuckled at the notion that Burnet County mystery author Jan Grape’s contributions could be summed in a few sentences.
“There aren’t enough chapters in a book to measure her contributions,” said longtime friend and mystery author Susan Rogers Cooper.
Still, she and fellow chapter member Sarah Ann Robertson tried.
“The short answer is because Jan has been very involved since she owned her own bookstore, Mysteries and More,” Robertson said. “Jan has been a mentor almost every year. She has a long history.”
In honor of those contributions, Grape is receiving the 2015 Sage Award from the Barbara Burnett Smith Mentoring Authors Foundation. The ceremony is 2:15 p.m. May 17 at the Yarborough branch of the Austin Public Library, 2200 Hancock Drive in Austin.
To understand what Grape means to the genre, the two said, people must first understand the challenge of being a female mystery author.
Decades ago, the genre was dominated by male writers, so it was difficult for women to get noticed, Robertson said. The Sisters in Crime organization began as a result of this hurdle. So when female writers in Texas heard of the group, they decided to form a local chapter in 1994. Grape is one of the charter members.
Grape and her late husband, Elmer, owned Mysteries and More from 1990-99. Cooper said Grape made it a point to put Cooper’s first two books in places that invited readers to pick up the works.
“She was and is my mentor,” Cooper said. “Jan took me under her wing and got me a signing at her bookstore. She became my advocate. And I’m not the only person she’s done this for.”
Part of being a mentor goes beyond setting an example for others. Grape offers critiques to other writers and is encourager for them as they try to find ways to get their works published.
“She’s started a lot of careers of local Austin writers,” Cooper said.
Grape said the bookstore was the result of seeing mystery writers traveling to Houston for signings and other events because Austin didn’t have a bookstore that met their needs. Once the couple opened Mysteries and More, Grape invited authors to come for signings, readings and other events, including conventions. Soon, publishers, critics and agents also made it a point to attend.
And once Austin became a hub for mystery writers, people living in Dallas began opening bookstores dedicated to mysteries, too. And that helped the genre grow.
The Grapes became mystery writers when Elmer retired from working construction. The couple always loved the reading mystery books, Grape said, and they hoped to find him something to do.
Jan Grape has at least 15 published works, including “Austin City Blue,” “Dark Blue Death” and “What Doesn’t Kill You.”
Grape will add the Sage Award to her trophy case that includes a 2002 Shamus Award given to her by the Private Eye Writers of America and a 1998 Anthony Award, the McCavity and nominations for an Edgar and another Anthony Award. The Anthony Award is considered one of the highest honors in mystery writing. It’s named after the late William Anthony Parker White, a critic and writer with The New York Times.
“(The Sage) means a lot because it’s coming from the Barbara Burnett Smith Mentoring Authors Foundation,” Grape said. “I feel honored they chose me this year. I feel very privileged to receive the award. Barbara was always good about helping other writers. She was one of my BFFs. It still hurts she’s gone.”
Grape serves as president of the American Crime Writers League after being an officer of other associations too numerous to list. And she still makes time to read manuscripts if she’s asked.
“It’s amazing she has time to write,” Cooper said. “She goes out of her way to help other people.”
Grape recalled a conversation she had with mystery author Jeremiah Healy in which she said to him that she couldn’t possibly repay the authors who were so helpful to her when she began writing.
“What you can do is pay it forward and help others,” he said.
Those close to Grape say she has been paying it forward for a very long time.