Thursday, April 26, 2018

With Malice in our Hearts



JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: It's that time of year - the Edgar Awards tonight (fingers crossed for our own Rhys Bowen, who's been nominated for Best Paperback Original and Hallie Ephron who's been nominated for the Mary Higgins Clark Award!), and the opening ceremonies of Malice Domestic tomorrow. All over the country, people who read mysteries, write mysteries, sell mysteries and critique mysteries are packing up and headed for the train station, the interstate or the airport. Destination: Bethesda, Maryland, for the 30th Malice Domestic conference. I'm not going this year (alas!) but I have so many memories surrounding Malice, I feel it's a part of my life, like the sleep-away camp you went to every summer, or the yearly trip to Grandma's house. 

Just as with summer camp or Grandmother's they're not all rosy recollections. There was the year I got a migraine a half hour before the Agatha Awards banquet was to begin. I was a nominee, and my publisher was expecting me at the table, so I popped one of my VERY strong anti-migraine pills. The pain and halos went away, but the medication made me strung-out and nauseous. I was happier than Louise Penny was when she won, because it meant I could take off for my room as soon as the event ended! Then there was another time I lost - yes, y'all, I am a MULTIPLE Agatha Award loser! - and my publisher, Andy Martin, decided to console me by ordering a nice bottle of wine at the after party. And then another. And then another... somehow I made it up to my floor and, with no one in sight, I literally crawled to my room. NEVER AGAIN.

Many of my best memories center around the times I was at the con with my husband. Taking place near the end of the school year, it was often harder for Ross to get a substitute, so he didn't come to Malice as frequently as he did, say, to Bouchercon. But if you met him at the Crystal Gateway Marriott, you'd remember - he was the bearded redhead handing out bound interviews with the Best First nominees and talking about his "beautiful and talented wife." Ross would get WAY overexcited at the charity auction and several times wound up with enormous baskets that were nigh-on impossible to bring home on a flight. When I pointed this out, the next year he switched up and bid on a character name... in our dear friend Jeff Cohen's next book. $300 for a name Jeff would have popped in if we'd asked him! The next year (I think in recompense) Jeff took us out for the ultimate "guy" dinner - a top-end steakhouse owned by, as I recall, a major league baseball player. I had never been in that sort of restaurant before, and we all got increasingly silly as the enormous slabs of meat emerged with sides of vegetables that appeared to have been exposed to nuclear radiation a la the 50 Foot Woman. I had a broccoli stalk bigger than most bonsai trees. When the waiter brought out a baked potato that was literally as large as Jeff's head, we all lost it.

But my favorite memory was in 2003, the moment the announcer said, "The Agatha Award for Best First Mystery goes to..." I had been concentrating so hard on my game face - I wanted to look pleased for whoever won and not show any disappointment - I didn't immediately register that she had said my name. Ross didn't miss it, though. He jumped straight into the air (in his tuxedo, mind) pumped his fist and said, "Yes!" loud enough for the rest of the ballroom to hear. It makes me smile to this day.

How about you, Reds? What's your memorable Malice moments?


 RHYS BOWEN: I've attended every Malice since 1998, except for last year when John was having major surgery and I didn't want to leave him. Oh, and the time I was in the hotel, but not actually able to attend because I had fallen and broken my pelvis and was awaiting a limo to take me home. And Carolyn Hart took such wonderful care of me and Hank and many others came to visit as I tried to smile bravely, while all the while screaming inside "I want to go home. Get me out of here!".

But my favorite Malice memory is when I won my first Agatha. The awards are usually given starting with best YA and moving toward best novel at the end. This presenter must have been nervous because she started with best novel. I thought I heard my name but didn't quite believe it. Then everyone around me was jumping up and down and beaming at me. I don't remember how I floated to the podium or what I said. I half expected, when I got there, that the presenter would say, What are you doing here? We didn't call you. But they did. And it was true. and it felt wonderful. 



I've been nominated many times since and won twice more but the thrill never gets old. The butterflies as the names are being read, the "gracious-loser" smile at the ready and the rush of pure joy when you hear your name.


From LCC, clockwise:Annette Rogers, Ingrid Willis, Jenn, Catriona McPherson, Rochelle Staab & Tammy Kaehler





JENN McKINLAY: Oh, Julia, that sounds like a bushelful of wonderful and humorous (minus the migraine) memories. As for me, I've only been to one Malice. It was lovely, and I got to meet so many wonderful people. But it's just too darn hard to get to Bethesda (why is it always Bethesda?) from Phoenix, so I haven't made the trek again. Left Coast Crime makes up for it, and I do try to go there every year, except this year it was in Reno and I already have to go to Reno in May for the RT Convention because I've been nominated for the Reviewer's Choice Award and it feels like bad form if I don't show up. So many conferences so little time! Gah!


HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Oh, Julia, that is so wonderful! I love that Ross moment, and I can completely picture it.  Well, Malice, it's amazing, non-stop, seeing everyone and talking talking talking!
My very first year, before I have a book,  I was SO clueless, but I figured I'd better go get the lay of the land because Prime Time would be eligible for the next year. If I remember correctly, well, I was such a newbie, that Charlaine Harris was the guest of honor, and I had absolutely no idea who she was! I was friendless and lonely, until I figured out that there were lots of people just like me, and so I tried to talk to everyone, and it was fine.

Louise Penny and Hank

The next year--long story short--PRIME TIME won for Best First! I could NOT believe it. I am having a racing heart even just thinking about it! And that year was Louise Penny's first win, too, and we bonded and hooted and hollered about it. I will also never forget how incredibly happy she was. "I have an Agatha!" she pretend-bragged to me. "I do, too!" I pretend-bragged back. It was fabulous.

I have won several times since then, and each time is a total utter complete life-changing joy.


This year I don't have a book even eligible, since TRUST ME doesn't come out til this year, and SAY NO MORE (which lost to  Margaret Maron, so that's okay :-)) was in 2016.  So it'll be fun to go without any pressure!

Hallie with Susan Van Kirk, from her blog

But readers and commenters, count off! Who'll be there??

 
HALLIE EPHRON: Not me. I wish. I've been to Malice and loved it each time. You know, every mystery conference has its own special flavor, and there's a sweetness to Malice that reflects the content of the cozy mysteries and the generosity of its authors. 


 





Barb Ross, Lucy & Krista Davis


LUCY BURDETTE: I totally remember that moment when Ross shot out of his seat, Julia. He was the king of enthusiasm and your greatest supporter! I have missed the last few Malices, as it conflicts with our driving north with elderly pets or else other more exotic travels. It's a lovely conference--and so much fun to meet readers and see old writer pals. Penguin used to take all its authors to the Ruth Chris steakhouse where everyone would eat and drink too much and share state secrets. I've got to try to get there next year!



 
Sara Paretsky & Ingrid at Bouchercon


INGRID THOFT:  I’ve never been to Malice, but it sounds like I’m missing out.  Maybe you experts can answer a question for me:  Is it still a conference for “traditional mysteries” as the website says?  I admit I haven’t seriously considered attending because I’m not sure that my books fit that description!  Any thoughts, Malice Mavens?




 




DEBORAH CROMBIE: Julia, what great memories of Ross! Oh, gosh, thinking about Malice makes me a little sad. I haven't been in ages, and it was such a big part of my first few years as a writer. 

Kaye Barley, Debs, Marcia Talley &; Kate Charles
 I've been nominated twice, for Best First and for Best Novel, so you can put me in the multiple loser category! But I had a great time, regardless, and I met so many wonderful people there, some of whom have been my besties for years. But it just got to where two big conferences and a trip or two to England were too much to put in the schedule, and I have made it to Bouchercon every year I possibly could since 1991! Have fun, everyone!






JULIA: Ingrid, "Traditional mystery" covers a lot of ground, and I think your books would fit in fine. The attendees love cozies, but they're also BIG readers of every sort of mystery. Louise's series has a cop at the heart of the story. Hank's got a reporter, which falls squarely into the "shamus" category, Margaret Maron has a judge...I don't think a private eye is too far a stretch. 

How about you, dear readers? As Hank says, are you going? Or following along at home? And do you have any conference memories you'd like to share?


Note: The photo of me and Ross was taken by Sharon Wheeler of Reviewing the Evidence. For some reason, I can't caption it!

49 comments:

  1. What great stories . . . what wonderful memories. And the pictures are terrific.
    I’m following along at home . . . Malice sounds like an amazing conference . . . .

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  2. Great memories! I have been once, and would love to get there again!

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  3. I wish, and we had planned to go but somehow it got put aside for this year. And there goes my chance to win Vera’s hat! But my grandson and his wife are here for a few days, and that’s better than all the cons ever!

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  4. What great memories, Julia! I've never been, but--and this is weird, because I never have dreams like this--but I dreamed the other night that Hallie and Rhys both won--and Hallie was cooking a celebratory dinner at her house! So, fingers crossed!!!

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    1. From your lips to Gid's ears

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    2. Let's hope they were prophetic dreams, Flora!

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    3. Yes, fingers crossed for Rhys and Hallie!!!

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  5. I am already in Silver Spring at my son's and will be heading over to the new hotel this afternoon. It's truly like going back to summer camp, meeting up with all the friends you only see in person once or twice a year, and meeting new online friends in person. This year I can't make it to Bouchercon (son's wedding is two weeks later), so this and Crime Bake are my two confs for 2018. I am nominated for an Agatha again this year (my 4th year running...). But I'm up against both Rhys and my blogmate Jessie Crockett, so I'm just going to enjoy the party. I look forward to seeing Hank and Rhys, Louise and Catriona, my Wicked Cozies, and bunches of others!

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  6. Such great stories! And love the photos so much. And that is the wonderful Kaye Barley with Debs!
    I leave for DC tomorrow—so looking forward to it! I’m going to be interviewed by BritBox. Whoo.

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    1. Thanks, Hank. I didn't recognize her without her "fluffy" hair. Very cool interview - you'll have to put a link up here so we can all enjoy it!

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    2. Britbox?? How cool is that, Hank!

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    3. Have fun, Hank! Looking forward to hearing about your interview!

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  7. Such wonderful memories and stories! Sounds like it's simply fabulous - and even more so when you win!

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  8. I'm not attending, but I'm remembering how terrific Bouchercon was last October and I'm rejoicing for those who are going to Malice, because I'm sure it will be equally terrific. As a reader, I was thrilled to meet my favourite authors. The panels were interesting, the mingling so much fun. I learned how to meet people by asking, "Are you a writer or a reader?" It didn't matter who I found myself beside, the ensuing conversation was always lively. Enjoy Malice, all of you, and the best of luck to every nominee!

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    1. That's about the best opener I've heard, Amanda, and you're right, whatever the answer, it's sure to lead to getting to know someone.

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    2. That's great advice, Amanda. Are you going to Bouchercon this year?

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    3. Bouchercon was fabulous! Sadly, I'll be missing it this year :( Who else is going?

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    4. No Bouchercon for me this year, but I'm following the organizing on their Facebook page. I'll have to enjoy from a distance this year.

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    5. I am going to Bouchercon! Just volunteered to help.

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  9. I'm in Bethesda right now and having the time of my life waiting for my crime family to arrive. I love the new hotel and was able to get scout out the various nooks and crannies.

    I'm not a hugger, but I learned to be one at Malice. That's my best memory - seeing my friends and giving them hugs.

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    1. i'll give you one in a few hours, Dru!

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    2. Have fun, Dru! Looking forward to reading your posts! XO

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  10. Love this post and discussion, and great story about Ross in particular! I have a similar one. When I won my first Agatha, my wife Tara burst into tears so loudly that EVERYONE at the table turned away from me to go comfort her! Winning the teapot was great, of course, but that kind of reaction from her was equally touching, equally memorable.

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    1. Oh, Art, that is so sweet. Sometimes it seems to mean even more to our loved ones than it does to us.

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  11. Best wishes to our well deserving nominees!

    Like Edith, I combined a trip to Bethesda with a visit to my daughter in Chantilly, but then she got scheduled for a last minute trip out of town. However, I was lucky enough to spend quality time with my new son-in-law and his son last night. We had oysters, y'all!

    Julia, I will always cherish the memory of hanging out at the bar with you and Ross at Malice. He was a very dear man.

    Looking forward to seeing everyone, but missing our absent friends.

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    1. Well, if you lift a glass to Ross, I can guarantee he'll be there in spirit. That man loved a conference bar. ;-)

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    2. I feel like I first really met Ross in Albany - the life of the party!

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  12. I really missed the boat on Malice! Although I was a fan and reader, and beginning to try to write, and I lived in Chevy Chase for thirty years and in BETHESDA for four years (three blocks from the hotel!!) -- I was blissfully unaware of this event!! Maybe I'll take a road trip one year!

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  13. All these stories and memories! I will have to rely on reports home so don’t let us down. I’ve not been to one of these shindigs and it sounds overwhelming. Any advice if I make it to Bouchercon in Dallas?

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    1. Pat, I promise you will have a fabulous time! I know it sounds overwhelming, but everyone is so friendly, and there are always lots of events that help you meet people, too. And Dallas will be fab--just sayin'!

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  14. "?" in the picture of Barb and Lucy is Krista Davis ~

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    1. Thank you! I'm terrible at connecting names and faces.

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  15. Julia, thank you for sharing your memories. Great photo of you and your husband. You mentioned migraine. Was that the first time? I'm asking because I rarely got migraines. I got really sick at my first Malice Domestic a few years ago. I was fine the first two days then the rest of the conference I had this weird headache. I noticed that in the last ten years I often get sick in American hotels, especially new hotels! Maybe allergy to new carpets? I noticed that the conference is at a new hotel this year. Hope no one gets migraines. Despite being sick with this horrid headache, I had a wonderful time at Malice. I liked Malice better than Bouchercon. Since Bethseda is comparatively close to Washington, DC (the mecca for Deaf people), they were wonderful about getting me accommodations like Oral translators for the panels so I could enjoy the panels. I got to meet many new authors. I also saw several authors that I already knew. I discovered novels that I never see at the library nor at bookstores (both chain and indies).

    I am sorry that I am missing the conference this year. I wish I could be there.

    Diana

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    1. Diana - no, it wasn't the first time. I had a real problem with migraines for five years while I was going through menopause (thus, thankfully, I had interception medication.) I wouldn't rule out something chemical in the environment, though - certain strong industrial cleaners did trigger my migraines, as did drinking wine and eating chocolate. Happily, the issue cleared up as soon as I was post-menopausal, and now I'm back to swilling Shiraz and chowing down on Hershey's Kisses!

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    2. Julia, I am glad it was temporary. I did get a migraine while I was in Rome, Italy (too much pollution). It's rare for me to get migraines. And now I know that I get headaches if I eat whole wheat bread. So now I eat gluten free bread.

      I heart hershey's kisses.

      Diana

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  16. Sounds like you're going to have a wonderful weekend! Seems like I should put Malice on my calendar...:)

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    1. It's definitely a "do at least once" conference, Ingrid.

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    2. Ingrid, I think you will love Malice.

      Julia, I agree!

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  17. It's doubtful that I'll ever be able to attend, but each year over the course of the weekend I do think of all of you writers/readers who are in attendance. And all of you are winners in MY book!

    DebRo

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    1. The nice thing is that with the stunning amount of social media surrounding the event, you can feel as if you're there without ever getting out of your PJs, DebRo!

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  18. I’ve only been twice because it’s always in Maryland. (I’m with you on that, Jenn.) I went the last two years, and I had a blast. Sadly, I can’t make it this year. Too much else going on in real life like health and job stuff. Know I’ll be here green with envy that I’m not there.

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  19. I keep wanting to go to Malice every year and still haven't made it. So many authors and others that I love attend it, and I know it would be loads of fun. I will be cheering on those I know, especially Hallie and Rhys, from home. I will be sending a virtual hug to you, Dru, until I can see you in September, and wishing I could be spending time with you and Kristopher and giving you both hugs for your Ravens.

    Julia, thank you for sharing your memories of Malice, with that special one of Ross jumping up when you won. Having had the privilege of seeing Ross and his enthusiasm in action at the Albany Bouchercon, my first, I can absolutely picture him pumping his fist and shouting out.

    I hope everyone has a fabulous time this weekend, and I can't wait to see the winners names announced.

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    1. Oh, the Albany Bouchercon. We had SUCH a good time, despite having to hike what felt like five miles between the hotel and the "Egg."

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  20. I have not been to this or Bouchercon.

    I had hoped to attend Thrillerfest, but sadly that's not going to be possible after all. I did follow it on Twitter last year while the event was in session. It led me to buying books from a couple of authors I hadn't read before and ended up with a few authors following me on Twitter because of my responses to some of the things posted.

    I'm going to look into that New England Crime Bake that Edith Maxwell mentioned in a response to me on a different blog here on JRW.

    But this year is turning out to be the year of the concert for me so I'm probably going to have to look at next year as the potential year of the book conventions for me.

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  21. Sounds like Malice will be fun. Julia, loved your story about Ross. I've only been to a few local conferences in East Texas, which were great. Next year B'con is held in Dallas, so if all goes well I hope to make it there and get to meet so many wonderful people! Enjoy, and good luck to the nominees! Lots of us will be following the Malice antics virtually!

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  22. This sounds amazing. Is this conference always in Bethesda or does it move around? Best wishes for everyone attending this weekend and may Flora's dream come true! I hope to join you next year :)

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