The Malice Domestic conference is big, noisy, and exhausting. You’d think everyone would be happy to head home afterward, but every year as soon as Malice concludes, a lot of mystery writers pile into cars or board planes to attend another big, noisy, exhausting event in Oakmont, PA, outside Pittsburgh. The Oakmont Festival of Mystery is organized every year by Richard Goldman (below, with Heather Webber in foreground) and Mary Alice Gorman of the Mystery Lovers Bookshop, and it’s an event so consistently successful that writers clamor to get in.
This year I attended the festival for the first time since 2007, and while I enjoyed it and sold a nice number of books, my ears are still ringing from the din and my throat is sore from hours of shouting to be heard. When the writers arrived at the church social hall where the author interviews and book sales took place, a long line of eager readers awaited us outside the building. Inside, as we found our seats at the tables, the place was fairly quiet. Lots of anticipation – everybody has good sales at Oakmont – but not a lot of racket. Then the doors were flung open and the crowd surged in, and the decibel level rose until my normally soft voice forced me to yell in people’s faces when I told them about my books.
Only four male authors attended, and I got to sit between two of them, Jason Pinter and Brad Parks. On the whole, the book buyers at Oakmont tend to be middle aged and older, and I found it instructive to watch white-haired women check out Jason’s thrillers and decide to buy them – or tell him they’d already bought and read his books. I wish the people who run New York publishing houses would realize that women love thrillers and probably buy more of them than men do. Brad Parks, who is funny and outgoing, charmed female readers of all ages, and most of the female writers. Men were buying his first mystery, The Faces of the Gone, too, and he sold out of the store’s hardcovers and had to bring in a box of his own copies from the trunk of his car to meet demand. Give him your ear for two minutes, and he will sell you a book. Brad (below, with Kevin O'Brien) is well on his way to being a new mystery star.
Another rising star, Hank Phillipi Ryan (below with Jason Pinter), won her second Agatha Award at Malice Domestic before she headed up to Oakmont. She won two years ago for Best First Novel, was nominated for Best Novel as well as Best Short Story this year, and won for her story, “On the House.” Hank is one of those people who are so gracious and generous that any other writer would have to be a true grinch to resent her success.
Before the book sales, writers gathered at a nearby library for coffee and pastries at a reception with librarians. I am terrible at this sort of event, where authors are expected to pitch their books to all these nice librarians, and I know I’ll never become the expert that Donna Andrews (below, right) is.
Afterward, the tired, hungry writers were treated to pizza at the Mystery Lovers Bookstore, where we enjoyed the relative quiet, newcomers signed the restroom wall, and we all collected mugs with a special logo celebrating the store’s Raven Award from Mystery Writers of America.
Our volunteer driver, Annette Dashofy (President of the Pittsburgh chapter of Sisters in Crime), finally shepherded Shirley Damsgaard, Jenny White, and me back to her car and delivered us to our hotels for the night. All three of us were feeling like the character in L’il Abner who had a perpetual thundercloud over his head – Shirley’s blouse had dried fingernail polish on it following an accident in her luggage, Jenny lost her glasses at the book sale, and I was about to discover, for the third time that day, that I had yet another key card that wouldn’t open the door to my room. But the company was great, I loved getting to know Shirley and Jenny (both animal lovers) and seeing Annette again.
On the plane coming back to National Airport, it was time to collapse and recover and enjoy the view from the window. One amazing cloud formation looked like a long, thick line of whipped cream, complete with pretty ridges, extruded from a cake decorating tool and suspended over the earth. Another looked like icebergs rising from a flat, frozen sea. But what made me smile was my first glimpse of the Potomac in the distance. Soon the plane was flying in low over the water and there was the Capitol dome on the right, and the Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial. It was good to be home.
More photos from Malice Domestic and Oakmont on my Facebook page and Flickr photostream.