Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Our Queen For a Day--Barb Goffman

RHYS: Today it is our great pleasure to welcome Barb Goffman to Jungle Red. Barb was our high bidder at last year's Malice Domestic auction and won the right to be Queen for a Day on Jungle Red Writers. We told her she could do anything she wanted--within reason.

Barb has chosen to have us interview her and we're delighted to do so.

RHYS: Welcome to Jungle Red Writers, Barb. It's so good to have you here, and especially nice to talk to a writer who specializes in short stories, as this is a specialty within our genre we don't often have the chance to talk about. So tell us a little about your background and how you were drawn to the short story medium.

BARB: Hi. Thank you all for having me! I'm a former newspaper reporter and now make my living as an attorney. Early in my law career, I needed a creative outlet, so I started taking mystery writing classes at a wonderful place in Bethesda, Maryland, called The Writers Center. I took several classes run by author Noreen Wald, who introduced me to Sisters in Crime.

Around 2004 or so, our local SinC chapter was planning a short story anthology. I thought it might be an easier way to break into the mystery field than with my then (and still) unpublished novel, so I read a lot of mystery short stories (especially by Jan Burke), got a feel for the genre, came up with an idea, and sat down and wrote the story (which was published in the anthology (Chesapeake Crimes II) and subsequently received an Agatha Award nomination). I loved how I could start writing and just a few hours later have a completely finished product (sans editing). I've been hooked on shorts ever since.

RHYS: And your other major role in the mystery world at the moment is as program chair for Malice Domestic, isn't it? Now that's a tough assignment .

HANK: Program chairman for Malice Domestic! You're amazing. That must be the most challenging job in the world! Tell us your secrets. (And later, I want to ask you how we all can help)

BARB: Ahh, Malice. I absolutely adore being program chair. Oh, for those who don't know, Malice Domestic is a fan convention held every spring in the DC area. It celebrates the traditional mystery. This is my second year as program chair. The job matches my skills really well. I love organizing things, I love coming up with creative ideas (panels), and I love telling people what to do!

I think programming the conference must kind of be like figuring out who will sit at which table at a wedding. There are lots of things to keep in mind. Who would be best to be on this panel? Which panels shouldn't be scheduled against each other? Who's not available after 11 a.m. on Sunday? Who hates who? I end up with a lot of slots that get moved around and around until, walla, the perfect schedule materializes. I love how much freedom the board gives me. Last year I was able to come up with several new panel ideas last year, which I think gave the conference a bit of freshness. You got to participate in one, Hank, when you played Nancy Drew. You were excellent!

HANK: Aw. Thanks. It was quite a--treat. Tell us tell us--what's in store for this year? C'mon. You can give us SOME scoop.

BARB: Well, it's hard to say, because so much of what happens depends on who registers. I'm hoping to have a panel on outdoor mysteries, for instance, but whether we will depends on whether we get enough authors who write that type of book. So far we have two authors registered who could fit that bill. I need two more. So Sandi Ault and Nevada Barr, if you're reading this, have I got a panel for you! C'mon. Register!

That said, here is a little bit of scoop: Authors and attendees from the DC area sometimes skip the Friday night activities to go to dinner with friends or their publishers or simply to go sleep in their own beds. Well, I'm going to give them a reason to stick around the convention. While nothing's definite, I'm pretty sure that this year, the panel showcasing the authors nominated for the Agatha Award for best novel will be held on Friday night, followed by the humor panel. These sessions are often standing room only. Friday night is going to rock this year!

HALLIE: I love that your story was about "Murder at Sleuthfest" - is there a series of these in the offing? Murder at Malice? How would the conference affect your plot?

BARB: That's a really good idea, which I may explore. "Murder at Sleuthfest" was written as a stand-alone short story (as most are, I think). I had attended Sleuthfest in 2004 and left a beautiful sapphire and diamond ring sitting by the sink in the women's restroom. By the time I realized it 15 minutes later and ran back, the ring was gone. The conference attendees were the only ones on that floor, so I feel pretty certain someone who attended the conference found my ring and kept it. (I guess it could have been hotel staff, but what are the odds they would have cleaned that bathroom in that 15-minute period?) I had announcements made at every session for the rest of the conference about my lost ring, but I never got it back. I vowed murder on the thief. In "Murder at Sleuthfest" I made it happen. I was very inspired. Of course, a good mystery writer can find inspiration in a lot of places. Perhaps I'll write "Murder at Malice," and I'll kill whichever author gives me the hardest time this year. Just kidding! (Maybe.)??

RHYS: Barb, we thank you for visiting us at Jungle Red. We congratulate you on the success of your short stories and we promise to be well-behaved authors at Malice.
And by the way, Barb's latest story is The Worst Noel in The Gift of Murder (Wolfmont Press). We look forward to featuring Barb's first novel here in the future.


  1. Hey, Queen!! Welcome to JRW! We do love having you here...and thanks for wanting to win a day with us!(You can stay as long as you like...)

    Whoa. I'm so in awe of organizing the Malice panels. It must be quite a job to keep everyone happy.

  2. Good morning, Hank. Thank you all again for having me.

    Regarding panels, frankly, I had been warned by everyone who had ever done any conference scheduling that I'd likely have some prima donna authors. But my experience last year was completely different. All the authors were so easy to work with. No one complained about their panels or fellow panelists. Everyone was very professional. It was a dream.

    Anyone interested in attending Malice - fans and authors - are encouraged to register sooner than later. By registering before the end of the year, you get a discount and the ability to nominate books and stories published in 2009 for the Agatha Award. The conference will be April 30 - May 2 in Arlington, Virginia (just outside DC). Y'all can learn more at www.malicedomestic.org.

    I'd also like to say, regarding The Gift of Murder, that this is a wonderful anthology with 19 crime stories all set during the winter holiday season. Like a little murder with your eggnog? Then this book is for you. Plus the publisher is donating all the profits to Toys for Tots, so it's like two gifts in one - a book for you (or a friend or relative) and the chance to help a needy child at the same time. Fastest way to get the book is through the online bookshops, especially The Digital Bookshop, http://digital-bookshop.com. The DB sells hard copies, e-books and audio books. Amazon also has the book for Kindle.

  3. After each Malice, I always say, "This was the best one yet."
    But Malice 2009 really is my favorite so far. Looking forward to your twists in 2010 Barb.
    You do “twists” really well (just read her short stories!)

  4. Hi Barb, welcome to Jungle Red! We're pleased to share our crown with you today--it's got the same jewels in it as the ring you lost. (Uh-oh, that sounds bad...I can hear her mind churning now...Murder At JRW...)

    I've worked on the program committee for the New England Crimebake so I can imagine what a big job Malice is. Hopefully, writers remember that you're doing all this as a volunteer, for the love of mysteries.

    It's interesting to hear you say you can draft a short story in a couple of hours. Plotting a short story is hard for me--seems like you have to have the perfect tiny plot. Any tips on how you do it?

  5. Hi Barb,
    Welcome...I've already registered for Malice. It was the first mystery con I ever attended and still one of the friendliest (I'll spare you my oft-repeated Pari Noskin Taichert story..) Cliffs Notes version...she was a doll and very helpful to the newbie.

    I love the idea of juicing up Friday night. There are so many people to talk to, it always goes so fast!

  6. I can't imagine what is involved in organizing those panels. It's actually a little scary to contemplate, so I'll stop thinking about it now.

    I signed up for Malice about a week ago. Wouldn't miss it.

  7. Hi, Logan. Thanks for commenting. I do love a good twist in a short story. It's fun to surprise people!

    Hi, Roberta. Tips for plotting. Hmm. I find I often need specific inspiration for ideas to come. If I know who I want to die (example: ring thief), then I often will start having ideas about how I could kill just such a person, making sure the death is tied to being a ring thief. Or if a publisher puts out a call for stories with a certain theme (such as the upcoming Chesapeake Crimes: They Had It Comin' - yes, the theme was They Had It Comin') my mind starts thinking how I could fit the bill. Basically, it helps to have people you hate (and really, who doesn't?). Then boil it down to: Who dies? Why? Who hates that person? Why? How can I add a twist at the end? I find that when I know these things, I can start writing. (It helps that chracters voices will just start showing up in my head.)

    Rosemary, in the past people have felt Friday was a throw-away day; that not much happens at Malice. That couldn't be further from the truth. I'm planning for activities to start around 10 a.m. Friday and run throughout the day. So if you're Malice-bound, you might want to consider arriving Thursday night or get an early start Friday.

  8. Hi, G.M. So glad to have you back at Malice this year. Between Rhys Bowen as toastmaster, Parnell Hall as guest of honor and Mary Higgins Clark as our lifetime achievement award receipient, I'm certain it's going to be a fabulous conference!

  9. I am so impressed that you mastermind the programs - it takes a very special person to juggle all the different personalities. That's a real skill.
    Thanks for the reminder to register too! I think having a fun event on Friday is a great idea. I'll be there!

  10. Barb did a fantastic job last year. I LOVED Hank as Nancy Drew and I also loved the one where authors played their characters!!!

  11. Hi Barb. I don't really have much to say (I'm grading papers so my mind is a bit numb), but I wanted to check in -- mainly to avoid getting killed off in your next story. I can't wait to get the new book. According to Amazon it's on its way.

  12. Hannah, I'm so glad you're coming back to Malice this year. Maybe you can be on one of the authors-in-character panels that Terri and others enjoyed last year. How are your acting/improv skills? (I'm always on the hunt for fresh meat!)

    Last year, we had a Sleuthoff Panel, where Hank Phillippi Ryan played Nancy Drew and Miss Marple. Judy Clemens was Emily Pollifax and Amelia Peabody. Jeff Cohen was Sherlock Holmes and Phillip Marlow. And Vinny O'Neil played Hercule Poirot and Nero Wolfe. Chris Grabenstein made the magic happen as moderator. The sleuths faced off in different rounds (like the basketball sweet 16), with the audience voting each time. Ultimately the audience voted Sherlock Holmes the best sleuth of all. It was so much fun. Between the costumes and the accents and the jokes, it was a great panel. It would be hard to replicate, but I'm game if we have authors who are game, too. So calling all authors, if you're interested in playing SleuthOff this year, please let me know.

  13. I can't wait for Malice. It's always one of the highlights of the year!

  14. Hi, JB. I started working on programming in earnest last weekend. I had been jotting down program ideas all year long on little scraps of paper all over my house. I gathered them up and put them on one list. Turns out I have about 30 ideas for new panels! Which ones will work, of course, depends on who registers.

    And Barbara, I would never kill you off in a story because then your mom might kill me! (Or would she laugh?) Hmm.

  15. I want to put in another plug for The Gift of Murder — it's got some great stories in it! Add that to the fact that it's for a great cause, and what's not to like?

    Oh, okay, I'll make another plug for Malice, too — a good time will be had by all (thanks in no small part to the excellent program chair), so go ahead and register early and often!

  16. Thanks, Joni. Everyone, Joni Langevoort wears a few Malice hats. One of them is advertising. If you're an author who wants to promote your book through an ad in the Malice program book (which hundreds of people read), contact Joni. Her email address is on the Malice website. And if for whatever reason you can't make it to Malice this year, you still can advertise. Though please do try to come, all authors and fans. The more is definitely the merrier.

  17. Barb, I loved appearing in character last year as Lady Georgiana. I especially enjoyed walking through the hotel with Parnell beside me as the puzzle lady and seeing the incredulous glances of those who were not connected with Malice!

  18. Hi, Rhys. One of the reasons I was determined to do that panel in which authors appeared as their own character was so I could get Parnell to wear the dress. And he readily obliged. Such a great guy to work with.

    I loved how one of the audience members asked Lady Georgiana about her ... um ... burden, and you looked rightly shocked for a fine lady from the Golden Age. It's the little moments like that, the ones that stay with you, that make in-person conferences so great. I hear sometimes that people think they don't need conferences, because they can keep up with friends/authors online, but the in-person experience offers so much more.

  19. Barb, you *are* amazing, and you hit a home run with your first Malice as program organizer.

    I'm looking forward to next spring's conference because (1) I'll have a new book out at long last; (2) I'll finally get to meet one of my favorite writers, Erin Hart, who will also have a new book out and has told me she'll be there; and (3) I know the panels will be great and the whole program will run smoothly because Amazing Barb will have her hand firmly on the controls.

  20. I bow to thee, oh Queen Barb, for your skill in being program chair at Malice. You did a fantastic job last year, and I can't wait to see what happens this year.

    And anyone who hasn't read one of Barb's short stories is missing out on a fun tale. Her stories draw you in from the very beginning and keep you there until the twisted end. Keep 'em coming, Ms Queen!

  21. Barb,

    You know, I haven't been to Malice Domestic... YET. The upcoming con in 2010 may just have to be my initiation into the joys of that con!

    Tony Burton
    The Digital Bookshop

  22. Thank you, Sandy. You're very sweet. I'm excited about your next book. And thanks for sharing that Erin Hart will be returning to Malice this spring. It looks like we'll have a bunch of authors this upcoming spring who didn't attend last year, as well as a slew of our beloved regulars. We update the Malice website semi-regularly so readers can check back often to see if their favorite authors (and their friends) have registered yet. (And if they haven't, please bug 'em!)

    And Becky, thank you for always being a good sounding board and for giving me helpful feedback. It is much, much appreciated.

  23. Tony, you have to come! It's been a wonderful experience to work with you on The Gift of Murder, and I'd love the chance to meet you in person. Peg Herring, Liz Zelvin and Kris Neri are already scheduled to attend. With a little prodding, I'm hoping more of the anthology authors will think spring in D.C. And let's work on John Floyd, too.

    I'd like to take a moment now to give a shout out to everyone who served as a moderator last year. These folks worked hard to bring my ideas to life. They read the authors' books and they came up with questions. No conference, Malice included, could be a success without the hard work of the moderators, so thank you. Thank you for last year, and thank you, in advance, for 2010. It's gonna rock!

  24. Thanks for all the hard work. I just signed up for Malice a few days ago. Looking forward to it!

  25. Nice interview, Barb!

    I did programming for the LCC 2003 con -- not alone, with two other people -- and it was huge work. But fun. I also thought working with the authors was great. We only had one diva, who happened to be a guy. (What do you call a male diva?)

    Tony, it would be huge fun if you came to Malice!