Sunday, May 12, 2013

Malice Domestic Convention--Bethesda--May 3-5, 2013

Judy Hogan at the Malice Domestic Sidekicks panel, May 5, 2013
Taken by Malice photographer Greg Puhl.


For me Malice 25 represented a double-whammy.  For my fourth Malice, I had my first published mystery out, and I loved the books of the two guests of honor: Laurie King and Peter Robinson, who was interviewed by another favorite author of mine, Louise Penny.  

Louise Penny and Peter Robinson, photo by Jim Jackson

Having a book out meant I was on an author panel as an author, and Killer Frost being my first also meant I was among twenty-six authors honored at the New Author Breakfast.

Sometimes I was so caught up in what was being said during the various panels and interviews, that I forgot to take notes, but here are some snippets of things said and things that happened in a very full weekend.

Laurie King saying “the deductive reasoning that early crime-solvers, like Sherlock Holmes, used is equal to women’s intuition” especially resonated with me, as well as Peter Robinson’s “For me character is more important than forensics.”

Carolyn Hart, receiving the Amelia award for her many contributions to the mystery community, in her interview, emphasized: “Write what works for you and reflects you.  Don’t write to a trend.  Write what you want to write.”

Aaron Elkins won the Lifetime Achievement award, and he seemed surprised that his work had been so widely read and loved, but Gigi Pandian was the real surprise.  Barbara Mertz (Elizabeth Peters) had been meant to interview Elkins, but she was in the hospital, and Aaron chose Gigi, a brand new author who is writing in the same archeological vein as Elkins and Peters.  Gigi handled it with aplomb.

Edith Maxwell, another new Guppy author, and Gigi Pandian

Felix Francis, the son of Dick Francis (Malice Remembers), entertained us with stories about his father and himself.  For a few pence, to prove he could do it, Dick, at age six, rode a mule backwards to jump a fence.  Not only did Felix pick up writing his father’s mysteries five years after Dick’s last published book, but from the beginning his mother had helped with the writing, fleshing out and correcting Dick’s drafts.  She called it their cottage industry, but “without the cottage.”

Laura Lippman, the Toastmaster, urged us to be “honest about what you want.  Until you say what you want, you don’t get it.”

Those nominated for the best novel of 2012, in their panel, talked about their writing rituals.  Hank Phillippi Ryan said hers is to do so many words a day.  Louise Penny’s is to work on her laptop with her beloved espresso machine nearby.  Krista Davis wants a hot cup of tea and to sit at her desk facing the room, not the wall.  None of them outline.  They all begin with an idea.  Louise starts thinking about the book eight months ahead and makes copious notes before she does her first of several drafts.  Hank compared her writing, scene after scene, as like dominoes: one triggers the next in line.  

When asked about their research, G.M. Malliet said she does things like visit a closed mental hospital, and she also goes to England as often as possible, but research is an excuse for that.  Hank said her life in journalism had been her research.  Louise sometimes moves her story from her main setting, Three Pines, which is familiar as she lives near such a town, to other places and then spends time there.  She spent time in a Quebec monastery for this book.

Research was also discussed on the panel with the best historical nominees, and they agreed, “If you don’t like to do research, don’t write historical novels.”  They all emphasized their belief in strong women in the past.  Rhys Bowen said women have always done a lot, e.g., they walked across America in pioneering times.  They were asked, if their mysteries left out men, what difference would it make.  Victoria Thompson likes men there to have some romance in her novels.  Carolyn Todd said her Bess character does things in her own right, but the men have their roles, too.  Catriona commented that her women characters find men a comforting presence but she doesn’t want them to be rescued by men.  She also said the plot of a suspense novel is like a bomb that doesn’t go off until the end.  Someone suggested that historical mysteries were gaining in popularity.  They all felt that men as well as women were reading their books; Carolyn said it was fifty-fifty for them.  

The best short story nominees were asked why they wrote short stories.  Art Taylor said his time was tight.  Sheila Connolly said she uses ideas that won’t fit into a novel.  B.K. (Bonnie) Stevens said some characters and situations only work for thirty pages.  Dana Cameron sees them as a way of having an adventure with her main character in an evil vs justice situation.  Barb Goffman said the Malice (traditional mystery) genre is a big tent with a lot of freedom, taking up ordinary people in extraordinary situations.  B.K. pointed out that, as to writing from experience, Henry James said, “Be one of those people on whom nothing is lost.”

I always learn and get ideas, too, from Luci Zahray, the Poison Lady.  She spoke with enthusiasm about the most famous poisons: arsenic, strychnine, and cyanide.  90% of poisoners are never caught.  All of these poisons are easy to obtain.  Arsenic once was used with burials, so it’s found downstream from Civil war burial sites.  Arsenic deaths can be slow or fast.  In fact, what matters with all poisons is the dose.  You can die in 24-36 hours, with arsenic, or it could take ten years.  Arsenic collects in the body.  There’s a test, but often it’s not asked for.  Arsenic is an odorless, tasteless white powder that looks like powdered sugar and dissolves in water.  It’s the King of the poisons and the poison of Kings.  There was arsenic in the green wallpaper and fabric that the Victorians loved.  It was used in taxidermy and embalming until the 1950s.  A piece of fly paper, if soaked in water, contains enough arsenic to kill ten people.  The U.S. now outlaws wood treated with arsenic.

Strychnine kills by causing terrible cramping and muscle contractions.  It inhibits the ability of the body to relax its muscles.  After three-five of these extremely painful contractions you die, and you never lose consciousness.  Heroine and cocaine are sometimes cut with strychnine.  It used to be put in tonics, and arsenic, too.  Strychnine heightens perception and stimulates digestion and appetite and was used for this until the 1950s.  There’s no anti-dote.

Cyanide kills fast.  They used to use it to plate silver onto glass to make mirrors.  Luci repeats her warning every year about Tylenol, one of the most dangerous poisons people tend to have in their homes.  Three-four grams of Tylenol is enough to kill you.

On the first best novel panel, the authors were asked to describe their path to publication.  Susan Boyer [Low Country Boil] tried agents first, but when they didn’t sell her manuscript, she turned to a new small press, Henery Press, begun by Kendel Lynn (Flaum), who, with Diane Vallere, had been moderator of the guppypressquest listserve, to which I and several other Guppies with new books belong. 

Susan Boyer, before she won first best novel, photo: Jim Jackson

Stephanie Jaye Evans [Faithful Unto Death–A Sugarland Mystery] won the Malice Domestic grant for unpublished writers in 2010.  Once Janet Reid came up to her, and Stephanie didn’t know she was an agent, so she asked her what kind of books she wrote.  Janet replied: “I write rejection letters.”  Janet became Stephanie’s agent.

Erika Chase felt she was lucky to get an agent for her A Killer Read.  Mollie Cox Bryan [Scrapbook of Secrets] has had thirty years as a professional writer.  She wrote novels on the side.  Mollie commented that it takes 10,000 hours of writing to succeed at it.  “Once you are published, it’s writing heaven.”

On the panel “When Death and Disaster Come Together” Shannon Baker [Tainted Mountain] takes up an environmental issue: tainted waste water is used to make artificial snow on a mountain sacred to the Hopis.  Her TV reporter Nora has to choose between the story of getting 40,000 people down off the mountain or of writing about the dead body she finds.

Lea Wait [Shadows at the Fair] writes about an unexpected hurricane hitting New England (before Hurricane Sandy).  Moderator Molly Weston suggested that when weather disasters hit, we are often prepared for certain ones but not others.  The unfamiliar ones cause the greatest crises.  New England is prepared for winter but not for hurricanes.

Jess Lourey [December Dread] writes about a terrible snowstorm in Minnesota.  Cold is a killer when people are caught in such a storm.

Nora McFarland [Going to the Bad] writes about a wild fire in California, where earthquakes are expected but not out-of-control fires–yet.  All these disasters up the ante to add suspense to the plot.

Two Guppies were on the sidekick panel on Sunday morning: Carolyn Mulford [Show Me the Murder] and Judy Hogan [Killer Frost].  We also had well-published authors Maddy Hunter [Bonnie of Evidence] and Kate Carlisle [Homicide in Hard Cover].   Patti Ruocco, an adult services librarian in Illinois and a faithful Malice attendee since the beginning twenty-five years ago, gave us questions about our sidekicks (mine is African American Sammie Hargrave, and Carolyn’s is a dog named Achilles).  These questions were great for opening up our books for the audience.

Sidekick panel with Judy talking by Malice photographer Greg Puhl
Left to right, Maddy Hunter, Judy, Patti Ruocco, Kate Carlisle, and Carolyn Mulford.

Patti ended with what she called a CSI Sidekick question.  She brought some objects, and we had to guess which sidekick the object suggested, among the beloved traditional mystery writers (from a list called Malice Remembers).  If we guessed wrong, we could ask the audience to help us.  Someone had to help me out when Patti drew out a child’s water color paint set, and I guessed Troy Alleyn, Roderick Alleyn’s wife (Ngaio Marsh), but it was Lord Peter Wimsey’s Bunter (Dorothy Sayers).  We had all been trying to bone up on the sidekicks of former years, but we didn’t do too well except for Kate, who got hers and won Patti’s prize.  I loved talking about Sammie and how she balances Penny Weaver, my main amateur detective.

As is usual at Malice, many Guppies met for lunch at Boogeymonger, a deli restaurant near the hotel, on Friday.

Left to right, Norma Huss, Kathleen Rockwood, Judy, Gloria Alden, taken by Jim Jackson

Karen Duxbury, our Guppy treasurer and Toni Goodyear, who also lives in Chatham County. Unnamed sleepy Guppy.  No wonder.

Among those Guppies honored at the New Author Breakfast Sunday morning were: Karen Pullen, Carolyn Mulford, Diane Vallere, Kendel Lynn, Jim Jackson, Gloria Alden, Edith Maxwell, Susan Boyer, Gigi Pandian, and this author.

Karen Pullen, also from Chatham County.

A new feature this year was Authors’ Alley, giving folks with new books an opportunity to draw an audience for fifteen minutes.  Among the Guppies doing that were: Gloria Alden, Jim Jackson, Debra Goldstein, Norma Huss, Kendel Lynn, and Liz Zelvin.

Gloria Alden photo by Jim Jackson during Authors Alley

At the banquet, I got to sit at B.K. Stevens’ table.  She was one of the nominees for best short story, and I was next to Linda Landrigan, the editor of Alfred Hitchcock mystery mag.  I told Linda she had rejected my story.  She looked dismayed.  I said, “It’s okay.  I’ll try again.”  Then she and I talked about farming!

Bonnie Stevens has published 40 mystery short stories.  I was delighted to sit with her.  She’s worth reading!

The First Best Malice Domestic Traditional Mystery, for an unpublished manuscript, was won by Ruth Moose, of Pittsboro and Chatham County, NC.  Ruth is an accomplished poet and short story author and teacher.  Her novel will be published by St. Martin’s Press in 2013.

Then the Agatha winners of 2012 mystery novels and short stories were announced: Louise Penny won her fifth Agatha for best novel, The Beautiful Mystery.  Susan M. Boyer won the first best novel, Low County Boil.  The best short story was won by Dana Cameron’s “Mischief in Mesopotamia,” and the best historical novel was won by Catriona McPherson for Dandy Gilver and an Unsuitable Day for Murder.  Best non-fiction was by John Connolly/Declan Burke for Books to Die For: The World’s Greatest Mystery Writers on World’s Greatest Mystery Novels.  The best children’s/young adult novel was The Code Busters Club, Case #2: The Haunted Lighthouse by Penny Warner.  The winners are voted on by the attendees.
I’m amazed at how thoughtfully Barb Goffman arranges the panels.

Barb Goffman, Program Chair, photo by Jim Jackson

There must have been four hundred in attendance, as there were five hundred at the banquet, when many bring guests.  So many authors, at least two hundred, attended, judging by those listed in the program.  It can be overwhelming for a new author, so I appreciate how Cindy Silverblatt, who was Fan Guest of Honor, led the New Author Breakfast, which she started years ago.  Being on a panel also was great for us newbies.  
It’s amazing, too, how many Guppies I’ve seen get a book published, since I became a Guppy [the Great Unpublished chapter of Sisters in Crime] early in 2008.  Krista Davis and Liz Zelvin were just getting published then, and this year Krista was one of the contenders for Best Novel.  
A fairly new Guppy, Susan Boyer, won first best novel.  Barb Goffman’s description of Malice authors as being under one big tent is a good way of thinking about it.  What a variety of mysteries there were.  For more about Malice:
Judy Hogan


  1. Wonderful blog, Judy. Unfortunately, any notes I made is in my journal which I left behind at the home of Cecilia, who I stayed with after Malice. She's mailing it to me. Anyway, I wish I could have been at some of those panels you mentioned, but it's hard getting to everything when there are at least 5 panels at the same time. I heard from someone that 600 signed up for Malice this year, and as for authors, there was a deadline for getting into the book. If they signed up later, like Kathleen did, they weren't in it.

    Malice was wonderful this year, and I enjoyed meeting with you again, and reliving it through your blog. Thanks.

  2. It was a treat to read this account. It makes this reader want to read more of the authors you discuss. Thanks for including me in the Sunday activities. SDE

  3. What a nice--and thorough--recap, Judy. Thanks for the revisit!

  4. Thanks for this thorough account. I have never been, always wanted to go, and ALMOST made it this year.

  5. Hi, Valerie, I think it's worth doing. I do it pretty inexpensively. I stay with friends in Alexandria, take the metro, which works well, is safe, though my friend came with me Sunday, which helped with getting there in time for the New Author breakfast, which the Metro wouldn't have managed. A real highlight for me is hearing the more famous authors, especially those I love. I also make connections here and there, which has stood me in good stead as I go along in this mystery world. It's a pretty friendly world, though so many new authors. It's hard to believe my book will be read very widely, but I keep after it. Cheers, Judy Hogan