Today is the day I pack up my car with bookmarks, chapbooks of my Agatha-nominated short story, dress-to-kill duds for the banquet, the obligatory box of books, and a few boring necessities like toothbrush and clean underwear, and head south on the New Jersey Turnpike toward Bethesda, MD, the site of this year’s Malice Domestic, the annual gathering of traditional mystery lovers. For me, Malice has been one big lovefest every time I’ve attended, even the first time, when I knew almost nobody and had great apprehension about whether I’d enjoy it. Today, on the eve of my fourth Malice, I can hardly wait.
Malice is primarily a fan convention, and I suspect one of the reasons it works so well is that the authors who attend are themselves fans and avid readers of traditonal mysteries. So we’re all in it together, voting for our favorites for the Agathas, getting a kick out of sharing a dinner table with Margaret Maron, Nancy Pickard, or Barbara D’Amato—first come, first served, no celebrity tables at the Agathas!—talking a mile a minute about the books we love, and taking home more of them than we promised ourselves we would.
Malice begins on Friday, and the reason I’m driving down today to get there bright and early tomorrow is one of my favorite features of the con: Malice-Go-Round, billed as speed dating for authors and readers. Groups of readers are seated at fifteen or twenty tables, and pairs of authors make the rounds, presenting at each table in turn pitches that have varied, since I’ve been doing it, from a challenging ninety seconds to a leisurely three minutes. In fact, one year I prepared for ninety seconds and then found we’d have twice the time. I started my pitch with: “I’m from New York City, so all I have to do is talk more slowly.” It’s an opportunity for the authors to give out promotional materials for their new work in optimal conditions and for readers to form a connection with the authors that gives everyone an extra charge that lasts till Sunday afternoon. That sense of connection has me grinning all weekend and hugging people at the drop of a hat.
Speaking of hats, there’s no longer a hat contest at the closing tea on Sunday, but anyone who feels like wearing her most outrageous Easter bonnet is more than welcome to do so. I won the last contest for Most Creative Hat in 2008. It was a black confection with a bobblehead Poe (a favor from the previous year’s Edgars) perched on top and a black bat hanging down, as well as a blood red rose and a little tombstone. You can still see pictures of it on my website.
Besides the Agathas banquet, socially eventful meals include the New Authors breakfast, at which everyone with a first book out gets showcased with a brief but excellent interview, the Sisters in Crime breakfast highlighting the national organization’s work for the year, and what has become a traditional lunch gathering of Guppies, the online chapter of Sisters in Crime that started out as the Great UnPublished and currently has five hundred members—two or three dozen of whom attend Malice—and an impressive collective record of publications and awards. Again, I’m looking forward to a lot of squeals and hugging.
If you’re going, see you there! I can’t wait—and I don’t have to, because I’m ready for the road!