BETHESDA, MD--Every once in a while, it's nice to go somewhere other than one's home and pretend to be a famous author. (Here might be the place to note that some people appear to believe the words "famous" and "author" are joined appropriately for more than, say, 10 people on the planet. They're wrong.)
For the mystery author, particularly one whose work falls into the category we unfortunately refer to as "cozies," there can be few experiences as gratifying as attending the Malice Domestic conference in Bethesda, MD every April. And so it was this weekend.
Malice, for the uninitiated, is an annual three-day (ish) conference that isn't quite of Bouchercon proportions (which is nice, since an author at Bouchercon often feels like someone trying to be noticed in the third tier at Yankee Stadium) but larger than most regional gatherings. It's not by any means an intimate con, but it isn't so huge that you won't run into almost everyone you want to see sooner or later.
Since it devotes itself almost entirely to the "traditional" mystery--and if someone could make the distinction for me between that and a cozy, I'd appreciate it--Malice's panels can be about anything from the right kind of poison to use in that tricky situation to how to work knitting cat quilts into a story about multiple murders.
Authors do their best to answer increasingly detailed questions about process while mentioning, as many times as possible, their latest works. This is tolerated by fans, who appear to be thrilled to see the creators of their favorite novels in the flesh.
From my point of view--and I just returned from Malice a few hours ago--here are my quick and unconsidered memories and impressions of Malice Domestic 24:
* Malice is a fan convention. As such, it's not meant to be an author's retreat--we're there to meet the readers, and thank goodness, they show up in great numbers. Many of them have even read our books! And they comment--almost always favorably--about what they've read. That is the greatest pleasure of the author biz, hearing from appreciative readers.
* Coming in a close second to meeting readers is renewing acquaintances and friendships with other authors. Give writers a bar and other writers to talk to, and we are a happy bunch. Among those I was especially happy to see again: Leann Sweeney, Lorraine Bartlett, Hank Phillipi Ryan, Jim and Joyce Lavene, Chris Grabenstein, Ilene Schneider, Elaine Viets, Jennifer Stanley, Kate Carlisle, Roberta Rogow, Jane K. Cleland, Dru Ann Love, Roberta Isleib, Parnell Hall, Neil Plakcy, Con Lehane and Hallie Ephron.
*Glimpsed from across a crowded room: Lee Goldberg, Jan Burke, Donna Andrews, and many, many others.
* Spent time talking to two of my favorite librarians on the planet (our own Dale, alas, did not attend), the gracious and wry Doris Ann Norris and the luminescent Cynthia Chow.
* Talked for a good while (and I mean "good") with Jack Bludis and Debbie Mack, which was fun.
* Had a blast of a panel, something different called "Dirty Little Secrets" with the moderator Aimee Hix and fellow panelists Robin Hathaway, Kate Gallison, Elizabeth Lynn Casey and Toni L.P. Kelner. Had to figure out what skills I have other than writing (hint: not many), who has done the largest kindness to me ever, and what my writing-on-a-deadline snack might be. A lot of good laughs, mostly for my panel mates.
* After the panel, got to sign books next to the too-long-absent Mindy Starns Clark, who showed me the ropes at my first mystery conference about 10 years ago and made me feel like maybe I did belong after all. It's always great to see her and hear about her family.
* Got to talk to my exalted editor, Shannon Jamieson Vazquez, whom I do not see nearly often enough. It's always a pleasure, even when she's telling me about more work I need to do on something I thought was already finished.
* Talked to a few certified legends of the biz, like Charlaine Harris and (briefly) Joan Hess. Great for those moments when you start believing your own publicity releases to remember that you haven't done anywhere near what others have accomplished.
* Heard a talk by the ridiculously knowledgeable Luci Zahray (the poison lady) about Ethanol, and no, it wasn't regarding the benefits or deteriments of using it as an alternative fuel. There's a reason nobody ever lets Luci buy them drinks at a conference.
Overall, Malice is something no writer of less-than-gory mysteries should miss. I came back recharged, invigorated, and exhausted. To a house in which my bedroom walls have been, well, demolished, there was a leak from an upstairs heating pipe to the living room ceiling, and my wife was hitting the road for a few days at a conference for her job.
I bet it won't be as much fun.