by guest blogger Julia Williams, bookseller extraordinaire and offspring of Sheila Connolly, for reasons which will shortly become clear.
Hello, internet world! I’m guesting today for my mother, Sheila Connolly, as a broken ankle and general post-conference brain-friedness prevent her from coherent typing. The doctors told her to stay away from keyboards for at least a week, but you know how she is. She continues to claw at the laptop as I write this, attempting to wrest back her sacred blogging duty, but I’ll have none of it. I think she’ll pull through. In the meantime, you’ve got me. You can call me Julie.
In case you hadn’t heard, though I’m guessing you had, this past week saw mystery writers and readers and lovers of all stripes convene for Malice Domestic 23 in sunny Bethesda, Maryland. Actually, I’ve just asked my mother if it was in fact sunny there, and she reports that she didn’t see any windows, just the inside of the conference hotel. So it might have been sunny. I’ll speak with the fact-checking department and get back to you. With the grownups gone off to points south, it was my job to hold down the fort here in Massachusetts, and while I am generally a nervous person where creaky Victorian houses are concerned, I hardly found time to be frightened, between working sixty hours a week and my very important commitments to Monday night pub trivia and constant attention to Bravo reality programming. Besides, any time I wondered what the folks might be up to, I had only to log onto Facebook, where Malice photos soon began popping up in my feed like crocuses on the neighbors’ lawns. There was my mother, chatting variously with Liz Zelvin and Krista Davis (both of whom I had the pleasure of meeting last year at the Virginia Festival of the book — small world!), and snaps here and there of another Facebook friend, the talented and eternally chic Hank Phillippi Ryan. It looks like everyone had a good time! There is something marvelous about writers’ conferences, isn’t there? You never can tell what’s going to happen.
This puts me in mind of the first conference I can recall attending. It wasn’t strictly a conference for writers, but it was an academic event at which thinkers presented their work and looked to foster dialogue within their field of study. I was in my first year of college, and drove down from school with a few other students to meet up with a professor whose history class we were all taking at the time. One morning, our group arrived late from the local bed and breakfast and sat in the back of a large conference room for the first talk of the day. After a long presentation on atrocities in Europe during the past century, we all slumped in our chairs and looked at our shoes as the audience began to file out. A tiny woman in her eighties shuffled up the aisle toward the exit, but stopped when she saw us. She patted my friend on the shoulder, said “Cheer up, dear,” and walked on. We all chuckled, felt the mood lighten a bit, and left for a late breakfast. We only discovered the next day, at the conference’s keynote reading, that the woman had been the great writer and poet Grace Paley.
Which describes perfectly what I love about conferences. You may hardly know what’s happening outside the hotel walls, but the excitement of the conversations and connections going on inside make you forget to care. Be it in Atlanta or Austin or Boston or Bruges, the simple aggregation of creative types in one place with one focus makes for an interesting time. Did you ever put some beetles in a jar when you were a kid, and then shake up the jar to make them fight? No, I didn’t either. That would be cruel. Don’t do that. But you get my point. Conferences are a great time once a year (or twice, or many times, depending on how you feel about travel) to recharge your creative batteries, to get excited about your craft, and, heck why not, schmooze with the writing community over tiny quiches and wine. What did you all get up to at Malice this year, if you went? Do tell.
Thanks for reading, cats and kittens. You’ll get Sheila back next week, I promise. Over and out!