I start off by saying that your English teacher never mentioned the name, Eleanor Taylor Bland, but honestly and truly your History teacher should have probably mentioned her as well.
Mysteries were required readings for me throughout my scholastic career. Yet Eleanor Taylor Bland (referred to as Mrs. Bland henceforth) was not on the list of people for which I was ever required to do a book report. Due to my own ignorance, though not willful, I actually only discovered this prolific writer when I started to become interested in this genre.
What made Mrs. Bland so remarkable?
There are two things that stand out to me the most when I reach for a book written by Mrs. Bland- her personal sheer determination and a truly exceptional run of books.
Mrs. Bland wrote her first novel and it was turned down by all of the publishers she approached. I simply cannot imagine how difficult it must have been to face rejection repeatedly for what was obviously a fantastic work of art.
I would have given up if I were her. Perhaps she had an incredible support team consisting of her husband, family and friends pushing her and fueling her endeavors. Or perhaps she was entirely self-motivated and believed in her work despite the naysayers. I will likely never know. I simply know that she persevered.
Why do I say it was obviously a fantastic work of art? I know this because that debut novel that faced repeated rejection was published as book two in her Marti MacCalister series, entitled Slow Burn, it solidified the series as one for the ages. It was good enough from the very start and could have served as the book that launched her career.
Meeting Marti MacCalister
Mrs. Bland went back to the drawing board and wrote her second book. Entitled Dead Time it was released by St. Martins Press on March 1, 1993 as the series debut.
The series is based on the life of Detective Marti MacCalister who works for the fictional Lincoln Prairie Police Department. Marti is immediately presented as a tall force to be reckoned with. Towering over, literally, other women she emerges as a sharp detective who expresses no discomfort in a role in which black women are seldom seen. She is not only comfortable in her own skin but she is confident in it.
This series went on to become wildly successful and spanned a series of 14 books up until 2007. Yes… 14! A number that unfortunately has not been topped in a single series by a black crime writer since (if I’m wrong about this kindly drop me a line in the comments below).
One of the things that stands out to me about Mrs. Bland is the sense of family that she created. Both in her books, and reportedly, throughout the community of black crime writers. She even edited a book of short stories, Shades of Black: Crime and Mystery Stories by African American Authors in which she contributed a story that she co-wrote with her son.
Here is a quick article posted by Publishers Weekly in which Mrs. Bland discussed how her and other black writers create worlds in which black characters are not the first ones killed off- as we often see in movies. Her works go directly against the narrative that black characters are not relatable and merely disposable. Mrs. Bland was unafraid to broach social topics and portray strong black male characters as family men.
The legacy of Eleanor Taylor Bland… paying homage
Eleanor Taylor Bland passed away in 2010 at the age of 65. If you Google her name you will see her associated with many contemporary authors of color. Surely she influenced many of them and they are likely subject matter experts on her books. Each time they write they are paying homage to her in a sense- the road to publishing is difficult but one that she sincerely helped to pave.
Where can I find her books?
This is not the fun part.
Octavia Spencer is quoted as saying that she is a fan of Mrs. Bland and that finding her books is like a treasure hunt. Bear in mind that Octavia Spencer is a whole entire celebrity! I bet she can find almost anything that she wants to, at any time that is convenient for her.
But alas, celebrities are people too. You simply cannot find what is not there. Mrs. Bland’s books are out of print.
I have been fortunate enough to have obtained “good” quality copies of her first two books in paperback. Thankfully, I have hunted down and purchased at least two of her later books in hardback that are signed first editions. I was able to purchase these books via eBay after setting up alerts for them.
In fact, the hunting down of her books forced me to become a collector. It also forced me to spend that small fortune. But it was well worth it.
Stay tuned for my future review of Dead Time.