Wednesday, May 5, 2010

From Malice to Oakmont

Sandra Parshall

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.

19 comments:

Julia Buckley said...

Wow, Sandra. I'm exhausted just reading that! I've never been very hardy at conferences--they sap the life right out of me. But I do see their value in selling books.

I'm glad you're home and relaxing now.

Joyce said...

Sandy, it was nice to see you in person! I'm glad you made it home safely.

Dru said...

I was tired just attending Malice. Perhaps next year I'll do both. It was nice meeting and chatting with you.

Annette said...

Sandy, it was an honor and a pleasure to be your driver for the Festival. I'm sorry to hear that yet another key didn't work for your room, though! Did you hear about Wendy Lyn Watson getting trapped in the elevator in HER hotel???

maryalice@mysterylovers said...

Thanks so much for all the kind words......try as I may I cannot seem to get all those book hungry mystery lovers to use their inside voices! Thanks much.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Oh--what a wonderful and memorable photo!Thank you!And thank you so muyc for the kind words--you bring tears to my eyes!


Yes, Julia, Sandy was everywhere! Snapping photos like a true pro--and not letting anyone get a photo of her. (But I think I managed to...and I'll post asap.)

Thank yo so much, also, for your terrific blog--it brings back many lovely memories. See you soon!

Sandra Parshall said...

Yes, Annette, after you dropped me off Monday night and I went up to my room feeling so exhausted that I wanted to drop on the bed instantly and fall asleep, I almost cried when I discovered the third key (the one the clerk gave me when you and I were leaving at 12:30) didn't work either. I dragged myself back downstairs and the clerk went up with the passkey and let me in. THEN I collapsed. But I was luckier than Wendy, obviously! And poor Jenny, losing her glasses. I hope they turn up eventually.

Sandra Parshall said...

Joyce, it was great to see you too. And I met, for the first time, someone I knew online years and years ago when the SinC Internet Chapter was on Compuserve. Turns out she's a good friend of Annette's and her critique partner. Small world!

Brad Parks said...

Sandy -- It was so nice sitting next to you! Didn't even see you with the camera. (You should do undercover work like Hank does!) Meanwhile, with all this stuff about charming women, my agent just wrote me and asked if my wife was going to continue letting me out of the house.

(The truth, of course, is that she can't wait to get rid of me).

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

OH, the terrible demagnetizing...so frustrating!

At my first Malice, I think, mine got demagetized a milliion times. I was so baffled! Then I realized that I had attached a flashing-red-lips magnet from Lipstick Chronicles to my name badge.

Inside the name badge was my magnetized hotel key.

Which of course, was instantly ruined by the flashing red lips.

AH, technology!

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

I got locked out of my room at Malice, losing half of the precious hour I planned to spend primping for the Agathas reception and banquet. Fortunately, Irene Fleming was with me, so I had good company during the complex negotiations to get it fixed. The problem wasn't demagnetization. The lock battery had died. Did you know those key card locks have batteries? We learn something every day. ;)

PJ said...

Sandy, it was so wonderful to finally meet you! I guess it was years and years ago, wasn't it? Late 90s, I think. Amazing. You're right about it being a small world!

Paula Matter

Sandra Parshall said...

Somebody found Jenny's glasses! She says Mary Alice is sending them to her.

Annette said...

I'm so glad to hear Jenny's glasses were found! I wonder where??? We looked EVERYWHERE.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Sandy, oh, I know they fail all the time. So frustrating. I was just such a doofus to ruin mine--over and over--with that silly magnet!

Hi Paula, Hi Annette (and Joyce)! So wonderful to see you!

Alan Orloff said...

That was a great event! Well run, well attended, and well, uh, authored. I didn't have any trouble with hotel keys, but I did get a flat tire. Luckily I was with Donna Andrews and Ellen Crosby, and they saved the day.

Sandra Parshall said...

I have spent many hours in cars with Donna and Ellen, and I have complete faith in their ability to save the day. :-)

lil Gluckstern said...

I loved your pictures and of course I went to your Flickr page and got cold all over looking at all that snow. I remember a newborn Tai-pandas are so darn cute! Thanks for inside "eye" at Malice and Oakmont!

Sandra Parshall said...

Oh, it's nice that you went beyond the Malice and Oakmont pictures in my photostream. Writing is what I do, but pandas are my passion. :-)