Sunday morning, May 5, at Malice Domestic mystery conference in Rockville, MD started early with a breakfast honoring debut authors. We heard about each of their titles and learned about a few new books we might like to add to our TBR pile. Then I attended a panel on Culinary Mysteries with Ginger Bolton, Catherine Bruns, Tina Kashian, Maureen Klovers, Shawn Reilly Simmons and moderated by Cathy Wiley. It was entertaining to hear how they each incorporated food elements into their stories. At the break for lunch, I left the conference so we could meet my husband’s family for the afternoon. It was a long day and we retired early prepared for our flight home in the morning.
There’s quite a difference between a fan conference and a writer’s conference. This one is the former, with panels and sessions geared toward readers. As an author, I get to meet other writers and hear about their work. I don’t go to learn about marketing techniques, forensics, or advanced craft. Networking is the most important goal. That’s why I advise new authors to introduce themselves to people and sit with strangers at meals. You make friends, and next time you attend, you’ll be happy to see some familiar faces.
Saturday at Malice Domestic mystery conference in Rockville, MD began early with the Sisters in Crime Breakfast at 7:30 am on May 4th. This is always a fun event with friends where we hear about what SinC is doing regarding its various programs. It’s a great organization to join for like minds and peer support.
Panels started at 9, but after sitting for a couple of hours, I needed to walk around. So I waited for my own panel at 10 am with the Agatha nominees for Best Nonfiction. Not all our candidates were present, but we had a nice discussion with Jane Cleland, myself, and Jane Ann Turzillo, with Judy Cater as moderator.
More panels followed after lunch. Then it was time to get ready for the formal Agatha Awards banquet. It was fun to dress up for this momentous occasion. Unfortunately, I didn’t win, but Jane Cleland is very deserving of the award. I am happy to be forever an Agatha Award nominee, which is a great honor in itself. I am humbled to think how many friends voted to nominate Writing the Cozy Mystery, and I am grateful for their support. Here are some of us in our fancy outfits:
Malice Domestic mystery conference began on Thursday, May 2, in Rockville, MD. That night, a couple of mystery movies were shown if you signed up in advance. I didn’t attend, preferring to get a good night’s sleep instead after a delicious meal nearby at Del Frisco’s Grille. Here is the dessert shared with my husband:
On Friday morning, May 3, the hospitality lounge and book dealer’s room opened. We could lay out our promo materials in the former and bring our books in on consignment for the latter. Then Malice Go Round speed dating with authors began at 10 am. I’ve done this before, and it’s a frantic session where authors hop from one table to the next offering their tag lines and book blurbs to eager fans. I couldn’t participate this year as an Agatha Awards nominee, so I went to the local Drybar and got my hair done instead. Here I am with my Booklovers Bench crew: Debra H. Goldstein, Cheryl Hollon, Maggie Toussaint and myself.
Panels started that afternoon, and I attended the one with Agatha nominees for Best Historical. This included Victoria Thompson, Edith Maxwell, Sujata Massey, and L.A. Chandlar with Harriette Sackler as moderator. It was interesting to hear about their unique settings. The opening ceremonies followed. Agatha Award nominees were called up front and given these lovely certificates.
Then we were on our own for dinner. Richard and I tried a local Vietnamese restaurant that was satisfactory if nothing else. I skipped the live charity auction that evening to get a good night’s rest. It had been a good day where I’d greeted old friends and met some new people. Here are some of the photos. People included besides me are (1) Nancy G. West (2) Vicki Mejia-Gewe from Fangirl Nation Magazine (3) Diane Vallere (4) Grace Topping and Joan Long.
Malice Domestic is a conference for cozy mystery writers and fans. This one began with a bang on Friday morning with the always fun but exhausting Malice-Go-Round. I was number four on the wait list in this author lottery, but I got in as no one else waited in the wings. Armed with my series postcards and a two-minute spiel promoting Facials Can Be Fatal, I sat at the first table with my partner, author Jeri Westerson. The two of us would hop from table-to-table twenty times in total. By the time we ended, my voice came out as a croak and my throat was dry despite the water provided. But I’d met my goal of encountering new readers and greeting author friends along the way. This remains a favorite event to introduce my books to potential fans. On Friday afternoon, I skipped out to meet family at Brookside Gardens. We had a lovely stroll and a snack together. I returned in time for the opening ceremonies at Malice. Dinner on your own followed. I’m afraid I bypassed the live auction and later reception in favor of retiring early. Saturday morning, I attended the Sisters in Crime breakfast. At 10 am, I was on a panel titled Just Die Laughing: Humor in Mysteries with authors Donna Andrews, Jessie Chandler, and Nancy G. West. Our moderator was Karen Cantwell who did an excellent job. We laughed along with the audience hearing our stories about research and other experiences. Some humor can be slapstick. Some can be situational. Or some can come from secondary characters or the sleuth’s world view. I enjoyed listening to my fellow panelists. A booksigning followed upstairs in the atrium. Here I am sitting next to Marla Cooper, author of Terror in Taffeta, a Destination Wedding Mystery. After lunch, I sat in on a panel about U.S. Historicals. It was interesting to hear about each author’s sleuth and series setting. Saturday evening was the Agatha Awards Banquet. Congratulations to all the winners! The meal was delicious and my table companions were delightful. I sat with the elegant Carole Nelson Douglas along with Julie McKuras and Patti Ruocco. Sunday morning, I attended the new author’s breakfast. It’s fun to hear the newbies speak and tell about their first published mystery novels. Then I sat in on another panel titled “Death for Dessert: Sweet Murder.” These authors write culinary mysteries. Listening to them speak about their works made me hungry again. I satisfied this urge at the final Agatha Tea and closing ceremonies. Then we were off to see family again before leaving the next day. Into my suitcase went this stack of books I’d acquired at the conference. The best part of any conference is the friends you make. Here are some of the wonderful people I met at Malice. SEE ALL PHOTOS HERE Giveaway! Enter to win a $25 Amazon/BN gift card from Booklover’s Bench <><><> Sign up for my Newsletter for my latest book news, giveaways, sales, and events. Free book sampler for new subscribers.
Malice Domestic is one of my favorite conferences. What’s not to like? Friendly people, avid readers, cozy mystery fans, and mystery/suspense writers all gathered together in one place to talk about reading and writing. Malice-Go-Round begins Friday morning, if you’re lucky as an author to win the lottery for a place at this popular event. It’s intense, with 2 minutes per author per table to give your pitch and hand out your promo items. You team up with another author, and every 4 minutes you hop to the next table for a total of 20 tables. It’s a fantastic opportunity to meet readers who are interested in what you have to say before your voice gives out.
Friday night was free, so we went to Jaleo in Bethesda to try the tapas restaurant for dinner. The food was delicious and the ambiance lively. Upon our return, I sauntered downstairs to the author auction and dessert party. Here I am with author Maggie Toussaint.
Saturday morning was the Sisters in Crime breakfast which is always a pleasure. Then starting at 9am, I was on the panel, “Fifty Shades of Oy Vey: Religious Elements in Mystery.” Rabbi Ilene Schneider moderated. Fellow panelists were Anne Cleeland, Mindy Quigley, and Stephanie Jaye Evans. We had a filled audience and had a great time hearing what each other had to say on this important (and often entertaining) topic.
When not speaking on a panel or sitting in on one, I hung out with my writing buddies. I met new friends and schmoozed with writer pals I hadn’t seen in a while. Members of our Florida MWA chapter were represented by myself, Neil Plakcy, Alyssa Maxwell, Lucy Burdette, and Elaine Viets. I chatted with the always stylish Ellen Byerrum and met Ellen Byron (close in name but not the same) as well as a number of other authors I’d brushed paths with online. I could drop lots of names here, but invariably I’d leave someone out. Below left, I’m with Ellen Byerrum. On the right is Marilyn Levinson.
Here I am with Alyssa Maxwell on the left and Neil Plakcy on the right.
Saturday night ended with the glitzy Agatha Awards Banquet where the lovely Hank Phillippi Ryan won for Best Contemporary Novel. Most remarkable was the dessert, chocolate mousse inside a chocolate teacup.
The feasting wasn’t finished yet. On Sunday was a delightful tea party to conclude the conference. Balloons decorated the ballroom where we gathered to sip tea and eat sandwiches, scones, and other goodies. It was another successful Malice Domestic conference at the Hyatt Bethesda. There I am with author Maddy Hunter.
Enter my May Madness contest May 7– 21 to win a signed copy of bestselling author Joanna Campbell Slan’s historical mystery, Death of a Dowager, and a $15 FANDANGO gift card to enjoy a movie this summer. Two runners-up will each win an ebook copy of Hair Raiser (Bad Hair Day Mystery #2). https://nancyjcohen.com/fun-stuff/contest/
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What is Malice Domestic? As it says on the Website, Malice is an annual fan conference that focuses on the traditional mystery or “books best typified by the works of Agatha Christie.”
Although I’ve been attending Malice Domestic for a number of years off and on, this was the first time I participated in Malice-Go-Round. What a fabulous event! On Friday morning, 200 people filed into a room with 20 tables. At each table sat 2 authors and 8 readers. As an author, I had about two minutes to give a pitch about my book and then the other author at my table took a turn. I was lucky to pair with Linda Joffe Hull who writes the Mrs. Frugalicious mystery series. We hopped from table to table repeating the same spiel twenty times. I lost my voice by the end but was exhilarated by meeting so many mystery fans. This event was worth the price of registration alone. If you get in, bring enough promo items for all the tables.
Friday night was a dessert party. This gave me another way to connect with old friends and make new ones. I chatted with Marilyn Levinson, author of Murder A La Christie, waved hello to Toni Kelner, and caught up on news with Carol Nelson Douglas, who writes the popular Midnight Louie cat mystery series among others. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting Barbara Graham, a quilting enthusiast who combines her talent with writing mysteries.
Saturday morning, I attended the Sisters in Crime Breakfast. About 160 members attended from 50 chapters nationwide. The Guppies (Great Unpublished) wore colorful boas. Besides this program, SinC offers a monitoring project, quarterly newsletter, grants for chapter events, subsidies for members to attend Writers Police Academy, writing courses, educational seminars and an annual Publisher’s Summit.
Hank Phillippi Ryan spoke about the Writes of Passage collection of essays, and each member received a copy.
Later that morning began the panels. I attended one on Book-Themed Mysteries, ate the box lunch available at the lobby bar, checked out the Dealer’s Room and laid out my promo materials in the Hospitality Room at the end of the corridor. That afternoon, I spoke on a panel about social issues in mysteries. Fellow panelists were John Clement, Judy Hogan, and Linda O. Johnston with Debra H. Goldstein as moderator.
At five o’clock, the afternoon speakers gathered at the Mezzanine level for a mass book signing.
Later that evening, Maggie Toussaint, Barbara Graham, and I headed to the famous Agatha Banquet where the awards were presented. Everyone looked their best.
Sunday morning had more panels. I enjoyed the talk on Paranormal Mysteries with authors Carolyn Hart (“Death at the Door”), Molly MacRae (“Spinning in her Grave), TJ O’Connor (“Dying to Know”), and Maggie Toussaint (“Gone and Done It”) and moderated by Aimee Hix.
They discussed the rules and limitations of their paranormal element and why they write about it.
Why are these stories so popular? They offer an escape from reality to readers who want to experience something new. Readers can enter someone else’s imaginary world that’s fun, exotic, and touches upon the unknown. As mystery fans, we want to solve a puzzle, and what greater puzzle is there than “What’s on the other side?”
Do ghost stories and detective tales go together? “Death is a mystery,” Molly replied. Maggie Toussaint, a Five Star author and member of Booklovers Bench, agreed. “These stories engage your senses and your mind.”
Malice Domestic Conference: The New Nick and Noras: Mixing Romance and Murder
Sunday morning at Malice started out with the Sisters in Crime Breakfast. It was a lovely affair where I met new friends. The Board was introduced and volunteers were thanked for their efforts throughout the year.
Following this event, I attended the workshop titled above. Moderated by Stephanie Evans, the panel included Kathleen Ernst, Christina Freeburn, Barbara Graham, Elizabeth J. Duncan, and Kate Carlisle. Following are the questions posed by the moderator. Disclaimer: These interpretations are based on my notes and the paraphrasing is accurate to the best of my ability.
How does danger affect the relationship?
Kathleen: Her characters are a detective and a park curator. Danger reveals a new side to each character, i.e. protectiveness of the hero and a broken heart in the heroine’s past. Also it shows that the heroine doesn’t crumple in the face of danger. Chris says danger in her stories brings her couple back together. They have to work to restart their relationship. Barbara says her hero is the sheriff. “Danger finds you no matter where or who you are. Thing happen.” Hers is a loving couple. “Every day, if it’s the last one, it’s a good one.” Elizabeth’s hero is a police officer. He overrides his training and instincts to put the heroine ahead. In Kate’s story, the woman is a suspect but the hero grows to protect her. Danger heightens the sexual tension between them.
Does your couple need or seek out danger? If it wasn’t there, what else would they need?
Kate says her couple wasn’t brought together by murder but that murder found them. Her heroine is open, free, loving. Her hero is a James Bond, by-the-book type. He feels fear for her safety. Elizabeth’s hero is an inspector who wants a quiet, peaceful life away from work. He warns the heroine away from every case, but she’s curious and can’t leave it alone. He’s unable to keep his work separate from her. Barbara’s heroine listens to gossip and lets the hero do the detecting. They’d like to have a normal life. Chris: Finding people who need protection is their purpose. They each possess a strong protective instinct but in different ways. They are willing to take risks so that others can have a better chance at life. Kathleen’s hero doesn’t want the heroine involved but he needs the info she can provide, so she gets sucked into the situation. They each define danger differently. Solitude and wilderness don’t frighten her when she goes to a deserted island to restore a lighthouse, but he’s concerned about the isolation. So they define danger differently.
How do you work in the lightness and levity of romance with the darkness of murder?
Chris’s romances are more inspirational so they’re not graphic. The couple was married but the marriage ended over guilt from her sister’s death. Dark issues and pain are involved and they have to work out these problems. Elizabeth: Her heroine was a witness that the hero interviewed and subsequently liked, so their romance progresses slowly. In her stories, the romance offers comfort and security for people in their 50s, so it’s a different angle. Kate also writes romance for Harlequin. “A good romance has heavy conflict so I don’t consider that part to be light even though I don’t write dark, deep mysteries.” She adds humor in other ways like with secondary characters. Kathleen has an inner plot or personal conflict that affects the outer plot. Barbara has a married couple who are loyal and faithful to each other. Tender moments enter into the story on occasion.
For the cozy genre, what do you use to create the mood for sex?
In Kathleen’s stories, the relationship is progressing slowly. She says the power of suggestion can be incredibly sexy and better than spelling things out on the page. Chris’s couple needs to rebuild trust in their relationship. It’s more about caring and the “little things” the couple does for each other. Barbara’s characters long for each other when they’re apart. She agrees that it’s the little things, too. Elizabeth says intimacy can be pretty sexy, more so than overt sexuality. Her hero thinks about the heroine often. “It’s more about love than sex, but they’re inching toward it.” In Kate’s mysteries, nothing is overt. “Little moments are sweet but they can’t stop to consider them because they have to solve the crime.” You get the feeling that the relationship is growing.
I took a break after this panel, skipping some of the events and going out to lunch with family until the Agatha Tea later that afternoon. If I’d known we would be served little sandwiches, scones, cheese and fruit, I wouldn’t have eaten so much earlier! This final event was well attended and then it was time to say goodbye.
Our drive home was uneventful except for a stop at a historic house in South Carolina and a couple of country stores where we bought Peach cider, pecan meal (ground pecans—great for coating tilapia before frying), cinnamon honey, and peach jam.
Coming Next: Guest Blogger Peg Herring on Tuesday, May 8!
Saturday morning at the Malice Domestic conference in Bethesda began with a New Authors Breakfast wherein two dozen newly published authors spoke briefly about their works. It was a great way to get to know these newbies and to discover interesting reads.
Writers’ conferences are often more about networking than attending workshops, but I did manage to attend three sessions. One of them was for writers by “The Poison Lady” on how to kill people using alcohol. I won’t be repeating that information here, but I’ll tell you about the other two panels for fans.
Early in the day, I greeted Dana Cameron, Charlaine Harris, Ellen Byerrum, Joanna Campbell Slan, and Neil Plakcy, among other writer friends. Besides Neil, Joanna and myself, Elaine Viets and Deborah Sharp were present from Florida MWA. We discussed marketing ideas and met new readers. I was able to display my promo materials in the hospitality suite, peruse the silent auction items, and greet booksellers in the dealers’ room.
The first workshop I attended was on Southern Mysteries. Panelists were Sandra Parshall, moderator, whose mysteries are set in Virginia. Lisa Wysocky sets her series around horses. Erika Chase’s books are set in Alabama. Leann Sweeney’s cat mysteries take place in South Carolina. Christy Fifield’s haunted shop series is located in Florida. And Miranda James (aka Dean James) writes about a male librarian in Mississippi. Following are the questions posed by the moderator. Disclaimer: These interpretations are based on my notes and the paraphrasing is accurate to the best of my ability.
What is your personal connection to the South?
Miranda grew up in Mississippi in generations of farmers. He moved to Houston and went to grad school and became a librarian. Christy married a Southerner whose family comes from Alabama. Leann went to where her husband’s job took them to Texas and hopes to move to South Carolina someday. Erika loves horses and was captivated by Southern culture. Lisa moved to the South and also loves horses. “Characters in the South are wonderful fodder for mysteries.”
What is special about the South?
Leann: “What’s so wonderful about the South is there are all these secrets.” People are very polite and courteous, and they use indirect routes of speech as opposed to Northerners who say what they mean. Miranda: People in the South beat around the bush when speaking. “How many of you know the two meanings of ‘Bless your heart’?” It’s all in how you say it. Lisa: “History in the South is so much more fascinating than in the North.” Erika: “The word southern conjures the imagination, as in southern lady or southern gentleman.”
Tell us about your settings.
Lisa’s books are set in Tennessee where “many eccentric people live.” Christy’s stories are set in a small Florida town dependent on tourism. She loves the Florida Panhandle. Sandra’s mysteries take place in Virginia, while Miranda’s are set in Mississippi. Leann favors South Carolina, and Erika’s stories are centered in Alabama. Quite a variety!
How do you deal with darker issues?
Lisa approached the theme of child neglect with humor so that the humor balances the darkness. Erika doesn’t deal with any Gothic themes beyond murder. She says secrets from the past affect her characters, who help each other through them. Leann says her editor helps her balance the light and the dark. “Secrets are dangerous, and I want the reader to feel that tension throughout the book.” She often deals with dysfunctional family issues.
Christy has a main character who is a ghost. Another character is the ghost’s acquaintance, and their relationship goes back to a more turbulent time in history. She indicates how racial relationships in the South are still a fact of life there. It’s tough to balance those elements with the lightness of a cozy. Miranda likes to make the reader forget about their problems when reading his books. So he aims for a balance between real southern issues and a lighter mystery.
How do you include accents?
Miranda offers colloquial expressions and rhythm of speech instead of heavily accented speech which can be distracting to the reader. She says to be aware that certain words may be used differently. For example, do the people in a locale say cellar or basement? Erika says the flavor of interactions is more important than the words themselves.
Later that afternoon, I was on a panel called Living with the Seven Deadly Sins: Mysteries as Modern Morality Plays. Moderated by Art Taylor, our panel included R. J. Hartlick, Carolyn Hart, Tracy Kiely, Margaret Maron, and myself. I discussed the value of relationships among the characters in a mystery and how that’s the focus of my stories. We joined other afternoon panelists at a booksigning later.
Saturday night, we attended the Agatha Awards Banquet. I didn’t take pix here, too many people, and it was a long evening.
Coming Next: The New Nick and Noras: Mixing Romance and Murder
On a chilly day in April, we visited downtown Washington D.C. the day before Malice Domestic was to begin. It was so exciting to descend deep into the ground on a steep escalator, to join the hustle and bustle of people rushing to and fro, and to hear the rumble of an approaching train. When you’re not used to cities, riding the subway becomes an adventure on its own. We bought a ticket at the Metro station next to the Hyatt Regency Bethesda where we were staying and took the red line into town. I noted the urban style clothing: i.e. darker colors than we see in South Florida, closed toe shoes instead of sandals, men in suits. It was totally a different atmosphere than back home where people wear shorts and tank tops. I rode the train with a sense of wonder.Then we emerged outside, where the sky was overcast and the fifties temperature had prompted me to wear my North Face insulated jacket. We took a stroll around the White House and the executive office buildings surrounding it, noting the various gated entries. We passed the Renwick Gallery, an intriguing museum of decorative arts that I’d like to visit next time. And then we dined at our favorite place, the Old Ebbitt Grill.
After lunch, we visited the Smithsonian Museum of American History. I enjoyed the exhibit of First Lady gowns. But then panic assailed me when I realized my prescription sunglasses were missing from their perch on my handbag. We went everywhere peering at the ground searching for them. Then my brilliant niece suggested looking up. If someone had found the glasses, this person might have put them on a display case to keep them from being trampled.
She was right! She spotted them atop a glass case and I secured them. Whew! Smart tip. Remember this advice if you lose an item in a crowd.
We toured exhibits of musical instruments, historical trains and cars and trolleys, and memorabilia from the American Presidency. Tired from our explorations, we trooped outside to the Metro station and rode back to the hotel. Dinner was Italian night with relatives. We visited with family again the next day. As it had dawned into the forties, we entertained ourselves at a local mall. Friday night, I attended the Malice Domestic welcome reception. And then the conference began in earnest for me.
First Lady Gown
Coming next: Panel Discussion on Southern Mysteries.