Sunday, May 18, 2014

Malice Domestic 26 May 2-4, 2014

Malice Social Issues Panel, May 3.  Left to right: Linda O. Johnston, John Clement, Debra H. Goldstein, Nancy Cohen, and Judy Hogan.  Photo by Sharon Ewing.



I was lucky this year.  The twenty-sixth Malice Domestic convention was my fifth Malice, as it’s called.  I’m still a comparative newcomer to the world of the traditional mystery, but I have two mysteries in print now, and two of the acclaimed authors of the genre, Julia Spencer-Fleming and Carolyn Hart, have given me wonderful back cover blurbs, plus this year in the winter issue, Mystery Scene Magazine’s small press columnist Betty Webb reviewed Farm Fresh and Fatal.  

I knew before I went that I would be on the “social issues” panel, which fit me to a tee.  The moderator was Debra H. Goldstein, an author I already knew, who had been with me on the academic mystery panel back in 2012, when I was the moderator and Killer Frost wasn’t out yet.  When it was published, Barb Goffman, the program chair for Malice, put me on the sidekick panel, and I got to talk about Penny Weaver’s lively friend Sammie Hargrave.

When you have at least two books out, or enough stories in print, you can sign up for the Malice Go-Round, and then names are drawn, as only forty-two authors can participate each year.  My name was drawn.  I was worried about that one, though eager to do it.  We each have two minutes to talk about our book, and we go, with a partner, to twenty tables.  They call it “speed dating,” but I didn’t know what that was.  There are eight people at each table, and we hand out bookmarks.  I was giving out two, and my partner, my friend Gloria Alden, was handing out three, since she has three books out.  I offered to hand out all the bookmarks while she went first.  I had decided, in a noisy room, with forty-two authors yelling about their books that I’d make my speech short and use simple sentences which were easy to memorize.  I practiced a lot.  It went:  

Hi, I’m Judy Hogan

Penny Weaver is a postmenopausal zest woman.

Farm Fresh and Fatal is my second novel. 

Mystery Scene magazine called it “fascinating.” 

In my series an interracial group of activists works on  local issues.

At the Farmers’ Market, things go from bad to worse.  

The obnoxious poultry agent is poisoned.  

Was it the fruit punch? 

Did the market manager do it?  She says no but is arrested.  

Will the state ag people shut them down?  

Penny and her sidekick Sammie work frantically to catch the poisoner.  

Who put black nightshade in the punch?

Carolyn Hart says I write in the tradition of Margaret Maron.  

I’m on the social issues panel tomorrow at 3 o’clock.

Farm Fresh and Fatal shows how genetically modified seeds threaten our food supply.  

That left a few seconds for questions.  In earlier years at the go-round table, I had felt overwhelmed by the frantic pace of the authors, though I did learn of some authors whose books I wanted to read.  Before I went, my friend Carol had said to be sure and drink some water between tables, and they gave us water bottles, but carrying the slippery bookmarks and my copy of Farm Fresh and Fatal, I didn’t have the dexterity to manage the water bottle, too.  I did get the bookmarks distributed and only dropped them twice.  People helped me pick them up.

My first anxiety was relieved when I got to the hotel via the Metro by 8:30, in plenty of time to register, deliver my consignment copies to the bookstore Mystery Loves Company, in the dealers’ room, and even store my rolling backpack and free convention books in Gloria’s room in the hotel, and still get to the go-round by 9:35–our deadline.  We did this for an hour and a half, which was work, but not bad, and some people responded a lot–I could tell by their eyes.

Susan, a newly retired pediatrician, said she was very worried about children growing up now because of all the GMO [genetically modififed] foods.  I kept running into her, and she said once, “I want to be like you.”

I always like to go to the panels of the Agatha nominees, so I went to the best contemporary mysteries published in 2013.  I was so glad to see Julia Spencer-Fleming, a nominee this year for her novel Through the Evil Days, which I reviewed on my blog back on Sept 15, 2013.  Julia is one of my very favorite mystery writers publishing now.  I first met her here in North Carolina in 2008, thanks to Karen Pullen, who had us to dinner with her.  I enjoy each successive book.  She hadn’t been to Malice since I began going (2009, 2011, 2012, 2013).  

When I went up to her and her husband afterwards, they were so welcoming.  They acted like I was an old friend.  That was a lift. With five hundred mystery writers and fans present, I often feel anonymous.  I do like to tell authors I like how much I enjoy their books, so I did that when I ran into them.  I saw other people I knew, but mostly we simply exchanged a comment or two and went on our way.
I also ran into Carolyn Hart briefly the next day.  I’ve been reviewing on my blog her re-issued mysteries and romantic suspense novels she published first in the 1980s, plus Letter From Home, which came later, and is my favorite so far [Blogs: In 2013:  5/25; 6/8; 7/28; 8/11; 11-3, and in 2014, 2/9.].  Carolyn gave me a great back cover blurb for Farm Fresh and Fatal.  She had the day before returned from the Mystery Writers of America awards 
banquet in New York City, where she was named Grand Master. 

Carolyn introduced me and my Alexandria friend Sharon Ewing to her daughter.  Carolyn graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 1958, Sharon and I, in 1959, but we didn’t know Carolyn then. Sharon was in English, I was in Letters (liberal arts), and Carolyn was in Journalism.

These moments of connection, though brief, were what made my Malice time happy. 

On the Saturday of the convention my friend Sharon drove us in early for the SinC [Sisters in Crime] breakfast.  When I ride the Metro, I can’t get to the hotel on the weekend until 8 A.M., and this annual breakfast starts at 7:30, though in past years I’ve never gone hungry.  I’ve belonged to SinC since late 2007, and to the subgroup the Guppies (the Great Unpublished, though some of us are published now).  Due to the Guppies, I found my publisher and got lots of good advice along the way, so I stick around for the companionship and to encourage other writers.  

Half the people at the breakfast were Guppies, and we’d been told to wear boas.  I hadn’t gone looking for a boa, but Gloria offered a lei, so I had that for our photo of some forty-fifty Guppies.  I doubt we could all be seen in that group shoot, but there we were.  So many of us have gone on to be published and even to win mystery awards.  Of the Agathas this year, Guppy Hank Phillipi Ryan won the best contemporary novel for The Wrong Girl; Leslie Budewitz won first best novel for Death Al Dente.  Several other Guppies were nominated for the awards: Amanda Flower (Children’s), Gigi Pandian (best short story), Kendel Lynn (Flaum) and Liz Mugavero for first best, Kaye George (best historical).  We do learn how to be published and to become part of the whole mystery community with the online Guppies.
Sharon and I had sandwiches with us so we could hear the Poison Lady (Luci Zahray) do her presentation on poisonous plants during the lunch hour on Saturday.  She explained that nicotine, which was now sold in concentrated amounts for the new electric cigarettes was deadly and easily obtainable.  We learned that one cigarette butt eaten could kill a child.  Nicotine can kill if you inhale it, eat it, or get it in a patch on your skin.  She discussed castor beans, coyotillo (buckthorn), rosary peas, the saw palmetto, false hellebore. daffodils, iris, and several others, which are all poisonous if eaten.  Some poisonous plants grow in pastures, and animals die so fast the leaves are still in their mouths.

I had looked forward to the “social issues” panel at 3 P.M. on Saturday.  My panel mates were not perhaps as enthusiastic as I was about discussing the issues in our books, although John Clement, who does the Dixie Hemingway cat sitter mysteries, taking on the series when his mother died, seemed to enjoy the focus on the issues, his being the fate of illegal immigrants in Florida, and the illegal sale of rare breeds of birds from Central and South America.  Nancy Cohen, who writes the bad hair day mysteries, admitted to taking up the issue of anti-Semitic bigotry, and she also likes to work in information about early detection of breast cancer, but she stressed she was writing for entertainment. Linda O. Johnston said animal rescue, her series idea, was definitely a social issue.

When Debra asked us which came first, our story idea or the social issue, I said they came together for me.  I was an activist and I used my own experiences.  I had sold at a farmers’ market, and observed the conflict between the organic farmers and the one growing genetically modified vegetables (GMO).  This conflict and what I’d since learned about GMO agriculture came into my book easily enough.  I said I used humor to make my points.  Another panelist said she didn’t want to preach.  Someone asked me if I preached in my books.  

Debra had said that all our books were good reads.  I read them Carolyn Mulford’s comment in her interview questions to me:  “You present issues important to you in your mysteries. Those issues help propel the plot, motivate the characters, and establish the setting.  Even so, the mystery dominates the message, and your endings surprise readers. What techniques did you use in conceiving and writing Farm Fresh and Fatal to assure storytelling didn’t cross over into preaching?”

So when asked about preaching, I said no.  Then I added, “My father was a preacher.”  Everyone laughed.  I added, “One of my students commented that I was like my father in that as a teacher I gathered a little congregation around me.”  The tension in the room relaxed, and I could tell the audience was enjoying me.  Then someone asked if I gave both sides to my issues.  I said, “Of course not.”  I was thinking, there’s no ‘good side’ to air pollution, unsafe nuclear storage, students admitted to college who are unprepared, or GMO foods which have been doused with Roundup.  So I spoke forcefully.  It was rather heady, knowing I’d stolen the audience for a few minutes there.

That night–we got home very late because of the banquet until ten, where they give out the Agatha awards.  I wrote in my diary: “A watershed day, I think.”  I meant that I was connecting in a way that I enjoyed and my audience enjoyed with mystery readers.  I was suddenly known and appreciated in the midst of those five hundred other people, where I spent a significant amount of time feeling alone and anonymous.

I think now that I worried too much and wanted out of the convention more than was possible.  I did get what I needed.  I’m known in a lot of roles–as a teacher, a poet (the “Poet Laureate of the Pittsboro Farmers Market” where I hand out poems weekly).  I’ve been an editor (Carolina Wren Press, 1976-91), and a leader of a brand new writers organization for our state (North Carolina Writers’ Network 1983-87).  I’m a mother, a grandmother, a great grandmother, a farmer, and an activist, and now I’m a mystery novelist with two mysteries in print.  

I do have readers, although so far most of them know me.  It’s a lovely feeling to get the sudden interest in your mysteries from some people who never heard of you until you said something in the go-round or on the panel that resonated with them, and you watched their eyes light up.  You knew you had tweaked their interest.  Then having the support and affection of other mystery authors who like my books and say so in print is a gift, as well as that Mystery Scene review which called Farm Fresh and Fatal “fascinating.”

This was the second year I’d had books for sale at Malice.  I sold none last year.  This year three Farm Fresh and at least one Killer Frost sold, as I signed a copy for my retired pediatrician fan Susan.  At the signing time, I signed a copy for Doris Ann Norris, the 2000-year old librarian, as she calls herself.  She was for many years the librarian liaison for SinC.  She bought both books and came to get the new one signed.  I’ve admired her from afar, so to have her interest–she is a thoughtful, careful reviewer–made me grateful indeed.

My dear friends Sharon and John hosted me, fed me, celebrated with me, and Sharon shared all day Saturday with me.  John sent me home with a load of firewood in the bed of my pickup for my wood cookstove that’s exactly the right size.  So you see I am very lucky.

Photo I received a little awhile ago from Rita Owen, in charge of Malice Publications.  Photographer is Greg Puhl. Here's the panel afterwards.  JH


1 comment:

  1. It was a good Malice, Judy, and I thank you for passing my bookmarks out for me while I talked. I think everyone at the tables had a lot of interest in your topic for your book. I could see the interest. You did a good job on your panel, too, better than the others, in my opinion. How nice that Doris Ann Norris bought both of your books. I just learned a few months ago that she's read and enjoyed mine. So now she's a fan of both of us.