Sunday, May 22, 2016

Impressions from Malice Domestic 28 April 29-May 1, 2016. Bethesda, MD

Hank Philippi Ryan, Toastmaster

This year my friends Sharon and John Ewing dropped me at the Metro, so I didn’t gt lost in Falls Church, but Friday night, when John came to pick me up, I managed to wait on the wrong corner. We eventually figured it out by cell phones.  After the banquet Saturday night I came home from the Metro by taxi, and the driver got lost, but I helped him find my friends’ building.  I must have learned something last year.

I was bringing four mystery novels, two published by Mainly Murder Press in 2012 and 13, and two by my new Hoganvillaea Books in 2015 and 16.  When I go to Malice, I am always hopeful that my books will find new readers, and they often have.  Selling one’s books takes patience and ingenuity, and then out of the blue someone becomes enthusiastic.

The last morning, Sunday, at 11:45, was my panel, but I got confused about the schedule and arrived in the room at 11.  Another woman had, too, and we chatted.  Then when I realized I was too early, she went off to buy my first Penny Weaver novel, The Sands of Gower, and had me sign it.  That was one bookstore sale (Mystery Loves Company).  Still, as our toastmaster this year, Hank Philippi Ryan, said to us during the opening ceremonies, “While you’re here, something wonderful will happen to you.” That was my one thing.  And another fan, sitting next to me at another panel, after I gave her bookmarks, said she was going to buy my two new ones, maybe by e-book, which is still great.

Sarah Caudwell: "Malice Remembers"

There were other highlights for me.  I hadn’t expected to be interested in Sarah Caudwell, but I always go to the “Malice Remembers” session.  Martin Edwards, Barbara Peters of Poisoned Pen Press (Poirot Award), Douglass Green (Amelia Award), and Katherine Hall Page, our Lifetime Achievement honoree this year, brought Caudwell alive and made me want to read her books.  She published only four, was a solicitor, and graduated from Oxford.  She was almost never sober, but apparently erudite and very funny, both in her books and in her conversation.  She won an Anthony for her third book, and Peters said the weight of that paralyzed her. The fourth one was published after her death.

I like to hear the Best Contemporary Novel panelists.  Margaret Maron, who has won many Agatha teapots, was up for her last Deborah Knott novel Long Upon the Land.  Hank Philippi Ryan has won some teapots, too, and was up for What You See.  Annette Dashofy’s being on this panel was very interesting to me.  Bridges Burned is her third novel, and only last year she was on the First Best Novel panel for Circle of Influence, which did not win, though her comments on the panel interested me the most, and I thought that first novel was excellent.  Catriona McPherson’s nominee was The Child Garden.  Catriona has published twelve books and been on Agatha panels before.  Louise Penny’s The Nature of the Beast was also nominated but she wasn’t present.  Too bad.  She’s my very favorite contemporary mystery author.

Margaret reiterated a theme I like: she found there was nothing she couldn’t say in a mystery, and Annette said, “How therapeutic it is to kill people.”  I agree, though I find it shocks people outside the mystery community when I say that.

I also enjoyed the Best Historical Novel nominees, and one of my very favorite authors, Laurie King, was on it, and later won the teapot for her Dreaming Spies.  Rhys Bowen’s Malice at the Palace was nominated, as were Susanna Calkins (The Mask for a Murderer), Susanna Elia MacNeal (Mrs. Roosevelt’s Confidante), and Victoria Thompson’s Murder on Amsterdam Ave.  Victoria was Guest of Honor this year.

Laurie said about her Holmes and Mary Russell series that she wanted two characters with minds like Holmes, hence her young American, Mary Russell, and what interests Laurie are the differences between them, and then, as they work and live together, still more differences are revealed.  Rhys Bowen in her Royals series likes writing about a character poised in the 1930s between two worlds.  Vickie commented that “truth is always stranger than fiction.”

Their moderator Harriette Sackler asked them how they kept a long-running series fresh, and Vickie says she looks forward to being with her characters again.  “If I don’t love doing it, I won’t do it,” she said.  Laurie’s latest, a real series freshener? is The Murder of Mary Russell.  She has us worried now.  As to escapism, which is why some readers gravitate to mysteries, Laurie said, “I’m honored to offer people an escape.”

Some interesting ideas came up on the Outsiders panel.  Of the five, Shelley Costa (Practical Sins for Cold Climates), Jill Amadio (Digging Up the Dead), Elizabeth Duncan (Murder On the Hour), Nancy Martin (Miss Ruffles Inherits Everything), and K.M. Rockwood (Abductions and Lies), three are writing out of a different national culture experience, Shelley (Italy), Jill (Cornwall), and Elizabeth (Canada/Wales).  Nancy said being in Texas was like being in another country for her, and K.M. (Kathleen) noted that her character Jesse is an outsider in an American city because of having spent twenty years in prison.  

Shelley said, “All detectives are outsiders.”  Nancy said, “Outsiders don’t have expectations.”  Jill said, “They get away with more.”  Kathleen said, “Once out of prison, being an outsider is very freeing.”  Nancy said, “Outsiders can function under the radar.” Afterwards, I thought, writers are all outsiders, too, in that they pull back from participating and observe and later use those observations in their writing.

Barbara Peters
Robert Rosenwald

I also thoroughly enjoyed Laurie King’s interview of the Poisoned Pen Press and Bookstore duo, Barbara Peters and Robert Rosenwald.  They’ve built an international community around their non-profit press and store.  70% of their customers live outside of Scottsdale.  They see book events there as theater.

Barbara’s attitude toward trying new things, e.g., when they decided to start the press after the bookstore, “How hard can it be?” They have no credit issues now, which means that they can reliably ship large orders of books for an event.  They want to publish intelligent, well-written books, and do forty a year, plus about fifteen in the project of bringing back British authors that have gone out of print.

Robert answered Laurie’s question about whether it’s better for the author: being published by a small press or self-publishing.  He listed thee things: what an editor does for a book.  Barbara, for instance, will tell an author to leave out the first third.  Some hired editors won’t tell their clients the truth, she said.  A small press bets its money on a book, decides how much they can afford to lose, and if they’re well-known like PPP is, their marketing can make a difference.  A known press behind the author can also help in getting reviews.

They are also now publishing books from other countries, but they have to be in English.  They continue to look for good books, and their only “trend” is to publish books “we love that are well-written.”

Katherine Hall Page

Katherine Hall Page was interviewed by Daniel Stashower. Katherine can’t remember when she wasn’t reading.  She wrote her first novel in France when she and her family lived there for a year, and she was freer of child care.  She joked that her children took naps until they were sixteen.  She came first to the third Malice, where she met Carolyn Hart.  She writes the kind of book she wants to read, and likes best the traditional mystery.

I went to the YA panel on Saturday with Kathleen Ernest (Death on the Prairie), Sara Masters Buckey (moderator), Shelly Dickson Carr (Ripped: A Jack the Ripper Time-Travel Thriller).  Nina Mansfield (Swimming Alone), and Carolyn Mulford (Thunder Beneath My Feet).  In their young years, Carolyn said she read Mark Twain.  Kathleen said she “disappeared” into books, and Nina loved Rebecca.  Kathleen’s young sleuth was strong yet vulnerable. Nina said hers “speaks truth to power.”  Carolyn’s keeps going and under control even in difficult circumstances (a catastrophic earthquake in Missouri in the late 1800s).  She has courage but is shy and holds back.  Nina’s fifteen-year-old is herself at that age and a risk-taker.  

Nina has the violence off stage.  Carolyn said the violence is exposed and the death reported.  Kathleen said the difficult things were off-stage.  As to sex and romance, Nina’s heroine has a crush but it’s not a big focus.  Kathleen said sex is off-stage.  Carolyn’s has light romance.  To survive, her boy and girl sleuths have to work together, but she thinks sexual tension is needed.

On Sunday morning we had a Sherlock Holmes panel: Laurie King, with three other Holmes authors.  Lois Gresh said she has fleshed out Watson and deepened the relationship with Holmes.  She also brought out the artistic temperament she sees in Holmes.  Laurie said it took her six books to develop her Holmes character and her study of her two sleuths, Holmes and Mary Russell.  Michael Robertson emphasized Holmes’s singularity of purpose and gave him a relationship with a bright woman.  The moderator, John Betancourt (editor of Wildside Press, who publishes a Holmes journal) asked why Holmes keeps coming back.  Lois said, “He’s irresistible–a fruit you cannot have.”  Laurie said, “He’s a super hero we could be if we worked hard.  He has a passion for setting things right.”

I was on the last panel Sunday morning: “Murder in Wartime: World War II.” Kim Gray was our moderator, and she gave us some easy surprise questions at the beginning.  Which author would we choose if we could co-write with another one.  I said, “Louise Penny.”  Sarah Shaber said, “Charles Todd.”  I forget Stephen Kelly’s.  When she asked what sleuth we’d choose of the famous ones out there, to help our sleuth, both Stephen and I said, “Sherlock Holmes.”  But that was right after the Holmes panel.  I couldn’t think of a single sleuth until Holmes jumped into my mind.  As I remember Sarah chose Josephine Tey’s sleuth, Alan Grant.  I love Tey, too.
Sarah and Stephen’s books (both really good) were Louise’s Chance, and The Language of the Dead, respectively.  Stephen’s is set in England early in the war; Louise’s in Washington, DC mid-war.  Mine takes place (The Sands of Gower) in 1991, with the British still angry at the Germans after 46 years.  Both Sarah and Stephen had done a huge amount of research.  My main research was having lived in a B&B like my fictional one on the Gower Peninsula.  I did actually consult a Swansea policeman, whose territory included the Gower peninsula, but I forgot about that on the panel.  Sarah even haunts Craig’s List for old hotel menus and maps from World War II.  Stephen had never even been to the southeast part of England that he was writing about, but by internet he’d caught it so well that I thought he was a Brit.  We had a good, interested audience for that panel.

I’ve given you impressions, things that struck me especially and that I enjoyed.  When Malice is first over, I try to evaluate my feelings and can’t very well.  Malice stirs up wishfulness, to have more readers, be more famous, win an Agatha, but I know it’s better to keep one’s expectations low and remember what you did enjoy.

B.K. Stevens

One big disappointment was that B.K. Stevens, who had had three books out since the last Malice:  a new collection of short stories (she has published about fifty) from Wildside Press (Her Infinite Variety); her first novel (Interpretation of Murder), and a YA novel called Fighting Chance, was unable to come because she fell and broke her arm the Wednesday before.  I had chosen to sit at her table for the banquet and wondered how that would be handled. 

Bonnie’s daughter Rachel came, and the Wildside Press couple, John Betancourt and Carla, helped host, too.  My friend Gloria Alden and I had both chosen to sit there.  B.K. was also up for two Agathas, for the YA and a short story called, “A Joy Forever.”  I enjoy B.K.’s stories, her novel, and I’m planning a review May 29, of Fighting Chance.  I reviewed Interpretation of Murder on this blog on Feb. 25 this year.

Malice is known as the friendliest crime writers convention, and I find that true.  My friend Sharon went with me Sunday, and shared some panels and the Agatha tea.  This year they actually served the tea first before the coffee.  I do like Malice best of the conventions I’ve been to. After writing this, I feel glad I went.  As to greater success in the mystery world, I’ll keep publishing and finding new readers, and try not to expect too much.  Someone there said that what can you expect when you bring all these introverts together and tell them to communicate?  Still, we did. 

Judy Hogan

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