I’ve gone to a few writers’ conferences over the past ten years or so, but this was the first time I’ve attended a conference that’s designed for both mystery writers and readers.
I had no idea what I’d been missing!
My schedule doesn’t usually afford me the ability to travel in May (read: three kids all playing sports with better social calendars than Mom), but after thinking about Malice Domestic for a year or two, I decided to commit and figure out a plan later.
The first thing that struck me when I walked into the Bethesda Hyatt Regency was that it seemed the staff were as excited about the conference as the attendees. It’s not every day you have Sherlock Holmes offer to have your bags sent to your room.
Our first night was filled with friendly conversation in the hotel bar, and I was struck by how open and welcoming this group of authors and fans were to us newbies. Kaye George, author of Eine Kliene Murder and the president of Guppies, took me under her wing and graciously introduced me around. After a very happy hour (or two), we slipped away for dinner. While the food was good, the company trumped the menu. Nancy G. West, Kaye, and Karen MacInerney were wonderful dinner companions. The topics ranged from writing to family to life. I haven’t laughed that hard in a long time.
Laura Lippman served as Toastmaster this year and she filled the role with humility and humor. As someone who enjoys reading her books, I was pleased to find that she is a kind and generous person with both her talents and her time. We spent a few minutes swapping motherhood stories at the cocktail hour before the Agatha Awards Banquet, and I enjoyed learning more about her foray into the fabulously chaotic jungle that is childrearing. Motherhood isn’t for sissies, that’s for sure.
Friday morning came early, and with it, the hunt for coffee and some form of pastry with zero nutritional value. After attending the Malice 101 Introduction (make sure you go if it’s your first time), I headed over to the Crime Lab Gab. Max Houck may be a scientist but he’s got the comic timing of a professional stand-up artist. Seinfeld should be scared. I couldn’t possibly retell his presentation and do it justice, but one story included a felon and saran wrap. He also reminded us that the National Criminal Justice Reference Service was an excellent resource for crime writers (www.ncjrs.gov).
One panel that I enjoyed the most centered on the Agatha Best Short Story Nominees. As someone who is new to the short story form, it was interesting to learn how each author approached short story structure and how ideas evolved into tales. One important takeaway was the reminder that a short story project can be a welcome break from working on a novel or longer project. It’s a way to stay in story mode but the author experiences a sense of completion more quickly due to the smaller word count requirements. Art Taylor mentioned that it’s also a way to play with an idea or character that may not be able to hold up an entire novel but would be perfect for a short story.
Luci Zahray’s presentation on poisons intrigued and terrified me all at the same time. Her ability to articulate the impact arsenic, strychnine and cyanide can have on the human body is downright chilling. I immediately started thinking of ways to use arsenic in my current WIP. While Zahay has the knowledge of a skilled pharmacist, she has the heart of a storyteller. It was a strong program packed with information.
I’ve always been fascinated by those who can write multiple books per year so I attended Double Trouble: Authors Who Write Multiple Series. The authors included Maggie Barbieri, Joelle Charbonneau, Kaitlyn Dunnet and Denise Swanson. These ladies manage to complete a staggering number of books between them each year, and while they tried to convince us that they were ordinary ladies, I was pretty sure they had some Superwoman capes tucked beneath the table.
The conversations were lighthearted, the banter hilarious, and the tips really came down to these women all working on very little sleep and being strict taskmasters with their projects while juggling family lives, work and community commitments. The panel did give me hope, though, because they once again proved that there really isn’t any magic formula to finishing a novel. You simply make it a priority and steal whatever time you can from any place you can.
Malice Domestic was a wonderful adventure of a weekend. It was an opportunity to share time with those who love to write and read mysteries, who will willingly spend hours pulling apart storylines and dissecting plots and will gladly help you map a murder scene while waiting for the main course to arrive. And really, don’t we have these conversations in restaurants just to mess with the waiters? It’s just one more perk of being a mystery writer.