The one conference I go to every year is Malice Domestic, a national celebration of the traditional mystery that meets in the DC area in late April or early May. A spinoff of Sisters in Crime, Malice is heavily skewed toward women crime writers and their predominantly female audience (http://malicedomestic.org).
Although a fan conference, I estimate a third of the attendees are published writers and another third want to be. The readers, many of whom return each year, include librarians, reviewers, teachers, and a mix of other people devoted to mysteries. Malice introduces numerous debut and established writers’ mysteries to this influential readership.
I attended my first Malice some 20 years ago as a mystery reader. I loved listening to authors talk about their books on panels and rubbing shoulders with them between panels. They were much wittier than the nonfiction writers on how-to panels that were my usual conference fare. I didn’t learn a lot about writing mysteries, but I had a great time going to sessions and chatting with people. That enjoyment kept me coming back and encouraged me to begin writing mysteries.
This year I went to Malice as the author of a debut mystery, Show Me the Murder. That meant business trumped pleasure. I went armed with bookmarks and a resolve to promote my new series in sessions and informally.
I’d won one of 42 slots in the lottery to give a two-minute pitch in Friday’s opening event, the Malice-Go-Round. The catch was that I had to give the pitch 20 times at 20 different eight- to ten-person tables in a noisy room. I teamed up with Susan Froetschel, author of Fear of Beauty, a mystery about an illiterate Afghani woman who secretly learns to read in hopes of discovering who killed her son. Our pairing worked out well because our books and pitches were so different that no one confused our books.
The Round tested our voices and challenged us to beat the clock without giving a boring rote pitch. I was surprised how attentive readers were and how many took notes. In that hour and a half, I introduced my book to more people than in all the rest of the conference.
Later I realized that by pitching rather than listening, I had missed Malice’s best opportunity to learn who’s writing and who’s publishing what. Oh, well. You have to sacrifice something.
The rest of the day featured interviews and panels with big-name authors, including Peter Robinson, Laurie King, Laura Lippman, Aaron Elkins, Carolyn Hart, and the Agatha nominees for best novel. Entertaining and thought-provoking.
That afternoon my panel—Kate Carlisle, Peril in Paperback; Judy Hogan, Killer Frost; Maddy Hunter, Bonnie of Evidence—met with super-prepared moderator Patti Ruocco to get acquained before our Sunday session and discuss any uncertainly about our topic, Loveable Sidekicks. Our books and sidekicks vary greatly, so we offered different perspectives. Judy and I are seniors in life experience and juniors in mystery credits, but we functioned as equals on the panel. No one tried to dominate or hog time.
Malice applauds cooperation rather than competition. Most authors don’t need reminders of that, but program czar Barb Goffman reminds moderators to enforce it.
Five panels run concurrently most of Saturday and Sunday morning, often forcing participants to agonize over what to attend. Whatever the topics, the most popular writers draw the biggest crowds.
Malice’s major common events are the new authors’ breakfast (a must), interviews with the stars (always good), the Saturday-night banquet (most exciting for Agatha nominees), and the Sunday afternoon tea (a treat).
Good as the panels and special events are, people come back to Malice year after year to catch up with old friends, meet online friends (notably the Guppies) face to face, and chat with strangers/friends who love mysteries.
No matter how much business you do, attending Malice is a pleasure.