On Friday, June 19, in the early morning hours, Tempa Pagel, friend and colleague, died in her sleep. She had been admitted to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center earlier in the month, and faced a daunting diagnosis and care plan.
I first met Tempa at a workshop in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. She and two of her friends joined seven other women for a daylong program on writing crime fiction. I had published my first mystery novel the year before, Murder in Mellingham, featuring Chief of Police Joe Silva, and was bubbling over with self-confidence, as first novelists often are. In writing exercises and critiques, however, I learned that most of these women were just as good as I was, and only timing and luck put them on one side of the microphone and me on the other.
A year later, in 1994, after my second mystery appeared, Double Take, I decided to start a writing group in my home. Tempa, Jan Soupcoff, and Mary McDonald signed up, and three months later Edith Maxwell joined. Other writers came and went. Margaret Ouzts joined in 1999, and Tempa, Jan, and Margaret remained the core group over the years. We have been together since 1994, and our most recent meeting was March 31, 2015, when Tempa was wondering about a medical problem that had come on suddenly.
A writing group of any size is an intimate, personal experience. We share pages we are passionate about, even when we are unsure they are ready to be read, and even more unsure we are ready to expose ourselves. Our raw words can be too revealing sometimes. But we come to trust each other, and our comments and suggestions are kindly meant.
Whenever someone leaves a writers' group, I wish them well and hope to see his or her name in print or other indicators of the hoped-for success. We miss those who have left us for whatever reason--one woman moved to the Northwest, another accomplished her goal of writing a certain story, others gave up writing for a while to deal with family or work issues.
Tempa stayed the course and published two mystery novels. The first, Here's the Church, Here's the Steeple (Five Star/Gale, Cengage, 2006), introduced her protagonist Andy Gammon, a young woman happily married with two children, a family suspiciously like Tempa's. Andy explores a link between a corpse found in a church steeple and the historic fire of Newburyport. Tempa's second book, They Danced by the Light of the Moon (Five Star, 2014), links a murder in a newly refurbished historic hotel and the restricted life of a young woman at the turn of the last century. Tempa was working on her third book when she died.
Not everyone is meant to write. But Tempa was. If she had wanted to, Tempa could have made a successful career as a writer. I don't know if the idea ever occurred to her, or if she would have cared. She certainly had a perfect name for a writer: Tempa Pagel. You couldn't make up a better one.
But Tempa had her feet on the ground too. She chose to balance her writing with her love of family,
All of this is by way of saying, the writing community has lost a generous member who was also a fine writer. And we have lost a dear friend. Twenty years is a long time to look across the living room and know you can trust everything you see and hear. I will think of Tempa often. When I walk into the living room I will see her favorite spot. When I email the other writers in the group I will feel a jolt when I stop myself from typing in her address. When I recommend a new book to a friend I will mention her two titles. I feel like I will miss her forever. I'm grateful to have known her.