Sunday, May 17, 2015
Report on Malice Domestic 27, Bethesda, May 1-3-15
Our Malice 2015 paranormal panel: Left to right, front, Toni Kelner/Leigh Perry, Charlaine Harris, Judy Hogan; left to right, top row: Tonya Kappes, T.J. O'Connor.
It’s always hard for me to evaluate my experience at a Malice Domestic Mystery convention. It often takes some time after the convention is over. I’m writing this two weeks after the 27th Malice convention ended. As I have done with my four previous Malices, I stayed with my friends John and Sharon Ewing, who moved last August into a sky rise retirement community called Goodwin House–Bailey’s Crossroads in Falls Church, Virginia. I have enjoyed my visits with them other years and then traveled by Metro to Bethesda, this time from the Falls Church East station.
I drove my twenty-year-old pickup from North Carolina, which got me there in good order Thursday afternoon. That evening after supper in the bistro with their friends, Sharon and John drove me to the Metro station. We used John’s cell phone GPS and “the voice” told us where and when to turn. I also took notes. We noted that to get to the Park and Ride lot, I would have to go around the block, which turned out not to be easy either. We didn’t use John’s phone going home and got lost. This worried me.
Sharon and I got another Google map to the Park and Ride lot, and this map instructed me to pass the Metro station, go several more blocks and make a U-turn to come back to the Park and Ride lot. This couldn’t be right. We called Metro info and finally the man confirmed it. “You’ll have to go up to 22nd Street and make a U-turn.” I wanted to catch the 7:30 train to get to the Hyatt Regency hotel by 8:15. I set off at 6:30. It was a 15-minute drive, but if my friends got lost? I got lost. I did most of the turns but when I got to Seven Corners, where three highways intersect, I made the wrong choice. I drove through endless residential neighborhoods until I got back to a street with stores. When I saw a Starbucks, I found a young woman who drew me a map. I wasn’t that far from the Metro, but I had to get into the left lane to make the turn at the next intersection. This proved tricky, and I wasn’t very wise, but I made it. I did get to the Metro, drove past, through several lights, with menacing signs that insisted: “No U-Turns.” By the time I saw a place I could have turned, just before 22nd street, it was too late, and at 22nd, yet another “No U-Turns” sign. I made a U-Turn.
By this time it was 8:30, and I wondered if there would be any parking spaces left. There were four. The rest of the journey was a piece of cake, but by the time I’d gotten to the hotel, delivered my mystery novels to Kathy Harig of Mystery Loves Company in the Dealers Room, registered, and collected my Malice bag of free books, I was too frazzled to participate in the Malice Go-Round, which is a rather dizzying event anyway. I had been able to do it as an author in 2014, and it did gain me some readers. I didn’t this year have a new book out since the last Malice, so I wasn’t eligible this time. I did need to meet up with my friends Gloria Alden and Kathleen Rockwood so I could leave my extra books in their hotel room. I had run into Gloria in the bathroom and made the plan to meet her after the Go-Round. I sat down in the Hospitality Room and sorted out what I needed to keep with me.
Once I’d ditched my extra stuff, I joined my friends at Boogeymonger, a sandwich and salad restaurant near the hotel where Guppies (the Sisters in Crime’s subgroup–the great unpublished) meet for lunch. Gloria (Murder in the Corn Maze) and I ate with Carolyn Mulford (Show Me the Gold) and Maya Corrigan (By Hook or by Cook). We are all still Guppies and back when we met in 2008-9, hadn’t published any mysteries. Now I have two out, Gloria has five out, Carolyn has three out, and Maya has one out.
We hurried back to the 1 p.m. panels, and I went to the panel of those nominated for first best mystery: Annette Dashofy, Terrie Farley Moran, Sherry Harris, Susan O’Brien, and Tracy Weber. When the moderator, Shawn Reilly Simmons, asked why they wrote, Annette said she wrote “out of necessity.” I also feel that way. Why do a series? Annette said, in both reading and writing she likes to spend time with characters, follow the arc of their lives. I hadn’t read the new author books this time, but I was struck by how supportive they were of each other. They had done a group blog and knew each other well. It was Terrie who won the Agatha tea pot at the banquet.
Carolyn and Charles Todd (authors of the Ian Rutledge and Bess Crawford mysteries) were Guests of Honor this year, and I went to the Best Historical panel of nominees because I love their books. I also like Rhys Bowen’s, especially her Molly series. She won Best Historical teapot this year. Other panelists were D.E. Ireland (Meg Mims and Sharon Pisacreta), and Victoria Thompson.
At 3 p.m. Friday we had the Best of the Year nominees: Louise Penny, for whom I voted, doesn’t come to Malice any more after winning five Agathas. She no longer wins, and I think there’s a connection. Those present were Hank Philippi Ryan, Donna Andrews, Margaret Maron, and G.M. Malliet. Hank won the Agatha. One of them, I think Donna, said, “Every choice we make, we have to live with.”
After the opening ceremonies, I went home exhausted, and John made us poached eggs with the fresh eggs I’d brought.
The next morning was the Sisters in Crime breakfast at 7:30. The first train left at 7:10, and John got me there by 6:50, but I still didn’t reach the hotel until 8. There was food left, but no place to sit and no silverware. I found a spoon on the drinks table, brought a chair in from the hall, and devoured my egg, bacon, and croissant breakfast. Beth Wasson, our wonderful Executive Director of SinC, apologized, but I said not to worry. I was happy to be there and to eat.
I went to the 9 AM best short story panel. I’d read Barb Goffman’s “The Shadow Knows” and voted for it, but that short story whiz Art Taylor won with the “the Odds Are Against Us.” He won last year, too. Kathy Lee Emerson and Edith Maxwell, also a Guppy, who has now several series going, were also on the panel.
Sara Paretsky, another favorite of mine, was there for the Lifetime Achievement Award, and was on the “CozyNoir panel, which my Guppy friend Lane Stone was on, too. They struggled some with calling their books “cozy/noir,” especially Sara, who had never considered her seventeen novels cozy. She tries for believable characters, and finally admitted they might be toward the cozy end of the spectrum. They’re not “hard-boiled” and the sex tends to be suggested rather than explicit. Sara said, “Readers suck up dog kisses,” and admitted she doesn’t write good sex scenes. Sara’s next novel is called Brush Back, and it’s about the Koch Brothers, who, here, are called the Cook brothers. Cook in German means “a bad person.”
I took a sandwich and went to the mid-day discussion of Patricia Moyes (“Malice Remembers”) led by Katherine Hall Page and Martin Edwards, who both knew her. Moyes was the Guest of Honor in 1990, and there for Lifetime Achievement in 1999, and she died in 2000. I realized that I probably hadn’t read all of her 20 or so books, so I’m checking them out now to read/reread. She writes like the Golden Age writers but began publishing only in 1958.
Saturday afternoon we had some amazing interviews. Sara Paretsky was interviewed by Parnell Hall. I was so enthralled, I didn’t keep any notes. But Sara impressed me the whole convention as being so straight about what she thinks and so funny, too. Then I went to the panel focused on research which Carolyn Mulford was on. She writes about a retired CIA covert operative. “Everything they write is censored. You have to read between the lines.” Later Carolyn said, “Everything you hear is research, and she recommended “cultivating friends who are experts.” Laura Bradford, Laura Lebow, and Sujata Massey were also in this panel. Lebow writes about Vienna in the time of Mozart, tries to get the details as “right as possible.” Sujata writes novels set in Japan, where she lived for awhile. She writes authentically about Japanese gangsters, and “love hotels.” She told us how she managed those things–an intrepid woman. Laura Bradford writes Amish mysteries. She goes into the community often and asks questions.
This Malice I was moderating a paranormal panel on Sunday morning, but another one occurred Saturday at 3, with Ann Cleeves, an author I also like, who was this year’s International Guest of Honor. Other panelists were Dee Phelps, Fran Stewart, and Maggie Toussaint. Fran writes novels set in 14th century Scotland and wore a Scottish clan plaid dress all weekend. Maggie Toussaint’s heroine has the dead talking to her. One of the panelists said, “Ghosts lessen the finality of murder.” Dee Phelps writes historical tales of life on a Low Country cotton and indigo plantation.
Next Margaret Maron interviewed Charles and Carolyn Todd, which I found surprising. True, they are all Southerners. I like all their books. The Charles Todd books, however, take place in the U.K., mostly in England, sometimes in France. Margaret’s first Sigrid Harald series takes place in NYC, and her second and better known series takes place in rural Colleton County, NC. Her heroine there is Deborah Knott, a district judge. The Todds said they need to know the rhythm of the spoken language, which can vary a lot in the different parts of England, to make their dialogue work. They work on the Bess books in August, and the Rutledge books in January-February. They don’t use an outline. If they write one, it has nothing to do with the book. They find two books a year all they can manage. One of them said, “Murder occurs when there’s a breakdown between two people.”
Then we broke for the banquet a 7 p.m. Cocktails were served at 6:30 in the lobby outside the banquet room. I didn’t drink, but I did join the crowd to chat with people. I was at Table 42, which Tonya Kappes was hosting. (See my blog for March 22, 2015). Tonya was also on my paranormal panel. The hall held fifty tables, with ten people at each. Some folks only come for the Agatha Awards banquet. Tonya had lots of little gifts for us including a tiny chocolate skeleton in a casket, a charm bracelet, a pen with a witch’s broom at the end of it, a mug. This was her first Malice, and she was thrilled with everything. I took some photos of our tablemates.
Here’s Tonya and me.
Tonya and Kim Shaw, a fan who works for the State Department.
Then came John Pugmire, another fan, and Michael Dymnoch, author of ten novels, the John Thinnes and Jack Caleb mysteries, and Anne Cleeland–with her contemporary series set in Scotland, and an historical series set in the Regency Period.
Next, Lane Stone is a mystery writer Guppy friend, with a beauty queen P I series and a new one featuring Maltipoos. Louise Dietz is a fan. Kate Milford’s children’s book, Green Glass House, was one of the nominees for best children’s novel. I was comforting her about not winning the Agatha, and she told me she’d already won the Edgar for that book.
And here's the chocolate mousse with chocolate cup. Watching my sugar, I had fruit, but the cups were a great hit.
Sharon accompanied me Sunday. We drove. I was moderating the paranormal panel at 10 a.m. Quite a distinguished panel. Charlaine Harris, famous for her Sookie Stackhouse mystery series, was Guest of Honor in 2008. Her book for the panel, Day Shift, was released at Malice. Toni Kelner was the Toastmaster for this Malice. She has several series, and the new one for the panel is the Skeleton series. The most recent book is The Skeleton Takes a Bow. T. J. O’Connor’s series is about a ghost detective, and the book for the panel was Dying for the Past, which had just won the Independent Publishers Award for best novel–the IPPY. Tonya Kappes was doing so well self-publishing her mysteries, that she sold 80,000 copies in a few weeks, and Harper Collins snapped her up. Her book in the Ghostly Southern series that we discussed was A Ghostly Undertaking.
We had two ghosts, a talking skeleton, and a witch, psychic, and vampire. They kept the audience entertained and me, too.
In the afternoon we had the interview with Ann Cleeves, by Martin Edwards. She’s a British Crime Writers Gold Dagger winner, and has two series going, plus TV programs based on the Shetland and the Vera Stanhope series. She said she thought reading for pleasure was the best indicator of academic success.
Then Charlaine Harris interviewed Toni Kelner, who as a child read everything that came into the house. She said about her writing that she trusts herself more than she used to. As she’s writing, she thinks, “I’ll figure it out when I get there.” She writes stories, too, and said, “Stories are about the destination; a novel is about a journey.” Another Sid the Skeleton novel is due out in October, under the name Leigh Perry.
Then followed the Malice tea party. It’s the 125th anniversary of Agatha Christie’s birth, and the publisher gave us a new Poirot novel wrapped in gold paper, written by someone else. The publisher seems determined to keep Dame Agatha alive. To me, she is more alive in those black tea pots given to the Agatha winners, and the Poirot awards given to those people in the mystery community who are especially supportive of its writers. Next year it goes to the publishers of Poison Pen Press, Barbara Peters and Robert Rosenwald. Victoria Thompson will be Guest of Honor; Hank Philippi Ryan will be Toastmaster, Katherine Hall Page, Lifetime Achievement, Douglass Greene, Amelia Award, and Malice Remembers will be Sarah Caudwell.
The numbers of authors at a Malice (200? More?) can be intimidating, but I’ve gotten used to that. Among those 500 people, I like to meet the people I sit next to, chat, find out what they write, or if fans, which authors they love. I give them my bookmarks. I enjoy being on a panel, and when I have a new book out, hopefully by Malice 28, I like doing the Go-Round, if I’m chosen in the drawing. I like listening to writers I admire and love to read. I like seeing the friends I’ve made in the mystery community, mostly through the SinC Guppies. I like learning about new writers I might enjoy. Sometimes I find treasures in my book bag, and I did sell a few books in the Dealers Room. All the honored guests at all the Malices have been modest. They seem surprised that they’ve become well-known and beloved of readers. That’s what I’d like, to be beloved of readers. Maybe one day.
For more information about Malice: www.malicedomestic.org
Judy Hogan, author of Killer Frost (2012) and Farm Fresh and Fatal (2013).