Saturday, May 5, 2012

Malice Domestic Convention 24, April 27-29, 2012

Malice Academic Panel, Sunday morning, April 29.  
Audience members, Gloria Alden and Jenny Milchman


My third Malice was different from my first (2009) and second (2010). This time I knew more people I felt connected to, and I had a role for the first time: moderating the Academic Panel.  By the time of the convention, having read all their books and given them the opportunity to do a blog interview for me, I knew my panelists fairly well.  The panel itself, late Sunday morning, came off well.   Here are a few things they said:

“Colleges are hotbeds of crime.” (Linda Rodriguez)  “Give a power-hungry professor control over a classroom of students, and you can be sure he’ll take advantage of them.” (Camille Minichino/Ada Madison) “Those big empty buildings can be scary at night, and that’s when I’m usually there working.”  (Frankie Bailey) “I love teenagers.  They’re so honest.”  (Robert Spiller) “I wanted to write a book fun to read at the beach and have the murders and the tensions within the faculty be the subplot.”  (Debra Goldstein)


Photo of Linda, Robert, and me


Several people told me they liked our panel.  I was quite relieved when it was over, but it came as a rare opportunity because my own academic mystery, Killer Frost, won’t be out until September.  Here are some snippets of things other people said or I learned at Malice.  Dana Cameron, who writes archeological mysteries and was our Toastmaster, fell in love with Cleopatra at the age of eight.  Dana gives herself permission “to try new things.”  Her interviewer, Hank Phillipi Ryan, said that was “turning fear into freedom.”

Lee Goldberg, our Poirot award author, is now doing a lot of self-publishing.  He has put his out-of-print books on Amazon, as have other authors he knows, and Jan-April 2012 he earned $100,000.  He says New York publishers are no longer the gatekeeper.  “It’s like what happened to radio when TV came along.  The big publishers are stuck.”  He likes Amazon’s mind-set in relation to authors.  “Authors and readers win.  E-books are there forever.”

The Best Novel nominees told us what they have to know before they start a book.  Margaret Maron has to know the situation,, but she doesn’t have to know the victim, and the killer can change three-four times.  G.M. Malliet said she had to know how the murder was done.  Krista Davis said she has to know the killer to understand the murder.  Donna Andrews has to know the lines of conflict in the situation.  She tries several victims.  Krista commented later that “the difference between a writer and an author is perseverance.”  Louise Penny didn’t come.

During the Best Short Story panel, Daryl Wood Gerber (Avery Aames) pointed out that a short story has to have one final twist at the end, one burst of immediate emotion.  Other thoughts: because of its brevity, use dialogue to reveal inner feelings and to show where the action is going.  Have one incident, no subplot, and of the tripod of setting, character, and plot, you need only two legs for a short story. 

In the First Best Novel panel, Kaye George said she’d been working to get published for ten years.  Sara J. Henry, who won the Agatha for first novel, said that, after her book was published, her highs have been higher and her lows have been lower.  She especially appreciates it when readers tell her they’ve connected to the book.  When she won, she repeated this theme.  Janet Bolin, who had worried about giving readings, discovered she was a ham, and it was easy.  Kari Lee Townsend said it took her fourteen years to be published.  Rochelle Staab said “being published keeps me going.”  Advice offered was: “write every day” and “please yourself.”

I took sandwiches for me and Jenny Milchman, who does the “Made It Moment” blog, so we could hear Luci Zahray (the Poison Lady) talk about ethanol, methanol, isopropyl (rubbing alcohol), and antifreeze as poisons.  They’re all cheap and easy to obtain.  Several can be used instead of alcohol in a mixed drink and not be noticed.  The symptoms are easily confused with those of a drunk person.  Alcohol is the antidote to the others.  Methanol is used to clean carburetors and de-ice windshields.  At a certain point methanol, which could be served as a mixed drink, causes irreversible blindness.  In about twelve hours, you die, and it would be hard to know what you died of, unless someone got a whiff of formaldehyde, which is what methanol metastasises into.  

The homeless sometimes drink a little antifreeze, go to the hospital, and get alcohol as the antidote, food, clothes, a warm place to sleep.  If people leave antifreeze on the ground and dogs or children drink it (it tastes sweet), they die in aobut twelve hours, if given no alcohol.  I’m pretty sure that the dogs next door died that way.  If only we’d known they needed alcohol.

Only two authors were present for the Best Historical Novel panel.  Rhys Bowen, who won the Agatha, had fallen Thursday night and cracked her pelvis.  She sent word that, if it had to happen, she was glad to be with friends and have room service.  On Saturday she was flown back to California, and will need forty-six weeks of bed rest.  Jeri Westerson couldn’t come, and Jacqueline Winspeare didn’t.  

Ann Parker writes about a woman saloon owner in Leadville, Colorado, in 1879, a gold boom period.  J.J. Murphy sets his novels in New York City in the 1920s, with Dorothy Parker of the famous Writers’ Roundtable as his sleuth.  Why do people like to read about the past?  Because they can get closer to reality, away from the day-to-day routine, or to escape from present reality into the past, a new area of exploration.  One comment was: “Don’t let truth stand in the way of fiction.”

On the Mysteries as Modern Morality Plays, only Carolyn Hart came down strongly on the premise that, because people want goodness to prevail, they read mysteries.  R.J. Harlick’s sleuth gets involved because she sees injustice.  Nancy Cohen saw her sleuth’s issue more as one of personal, rather than societal, morality, e.g., searching for redemption.  Tracy Kiely thought that “what is justice” was a mystery question.  Margaret Maron thought the goal in her mysteries was justice alone.  She said that, in North Carolina, not long ago the argument that a victim “deserved killing” could be used in court.  She also said the traditional mystery appeals because of feelings.

A delightful hour Saturday afternoon gave us Barbara Mertz (Elizabeth Peters) being interrogated by her characters: Amelia Peabody (Joan Hess), Emerson (Parnell Hall), Ramses (Daniel Stashower), and a nameless character protesting that Barbara had abandoned some of her series, e.g., Vicky Bliss, also her historical romances as Barbara Michaels (Dorothy Cannell).  They ganged up on her with wit and humor about how she treated her characters, teased her unmercifully, and she was clearly delighted.  Peters got several standing ovations as well as the new Amelia award for contributions to the mystery community.  She was a founder of Malice.  I found her newest Peabody novel in my book bag, A River in the Sky.  What a treat to see and hear her.

Saturday night is the big banquet, and when we register, we can select a table at the banquet where we’d like to sit.  Most of the famous people’s tables are full, but I was happy to see that there was space at Sara Henry’s.  She was up for a First Best Mystery Agatha award, and I’d enjoyed her book and blogged about it (Learning to Swim) back on April 11.  I sat right next to her, and when she won, I had the presence of mind to get out my camera and take her picture with her new Agatha teapot.  

Sara J. Henry with teapot

The Tony Hillerman (Malice Remembers) slide show of the Southwest landscapes mentioned in his books, narrated by his daughter Ann and Don Strel was worth seeing.  Hillerman was encouraged toward English and writing away from chemistry, which he hated, by a teacher.  He was driving a truck in New Mexico and was allowed to attend a tribal ceremony, and so began his love affair with the Navajo.  An early agent urged him to “take out all the Indian stuff.”  Fortunately, he didn’t.

Simon Brett, in his interview by Parnell Hall, said several things worth pondering.  “People say the opposite of what they mean.”  “The concept of an amateur sleuth solving a crime is a huge leap of faith.  I know nothing about police procedure.  Don’t limit your options.”  Brett obviously writes what he enjoys writing.

We closed with the Agatha tea, and it was fun to sit with my friends from Guppy Press Quest, Kendel Flaum, Diane Vallere, and Anna Castle.  


Anna, Kendel, Diane, and me

My Alexandria friend, where I stay for Malice, Sharon Ewing, came Sunday, too.  She took the Sunday photos.  

PressQuest folks also met for supper Friday and chewed over their small press experiences.  


Gloria Alden and Barbara Emrys, nominated for a non-fiction Agatha--At the Guppy Lunch at Boogeymonger's, both Pressquesters, who were also at the Pressquest supper.


There were two opportunities to be with Guppies for lunch at a deli near the hotel named Boogeymonger, Friday and Saturday lunchtime.  I went Friday with two panel members.


Sasscer Hill and Sandy Parshall, both Guppies, were there.


 and Judy, Robert, and Debra.


A lot of brand new mystery writers were there at the convention.  Malice is great about including us newbies in their programming.  Next year I hope to do the New Author breakfast.


  1. Loved this post and the pictures! Looks like everyone was having a fantastic time. Thanks for sharing this AND for visiting the Schooled in Mystery blog today.

  2. Such a stimulating panel on why college campuses can be a microcosm of life--and crime! The conference overall was pure fun. And--your sandwiches were great :)