Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Joy of Control

By Barb Goffman, guest blogger

Hi. My name is Barb, and I have control issues.

This might be a problem for some people, but I’ve found ways to turn it to my advantage. For instance, I’m now in my second year as program chair of Malice Domestic, one of the biggest annual conventions for fans of the traditional mystery. My job involves promoting the conference, enticing authors to attend, coming up with panel ideas, and doing all the scheduling.

Most people would run away screaming at the very proposition. I embraced it.
About a year ago, I was chatting on the phone about Malice Domestic with author Pari Noskin Taichert. The conference was four months away, and I think I heard her jaw actually drop onto the floor (bam!) when I told her that I was nearly done with the programming. When Pari finally wrapped her mind around my statement and reatt
ached her jaw, she said something profound along the lines of, “Huh?”

I smiled and shared my secret. I’m a control freak. I love coming up with panel ideas and figuring which authors will sit on which ones. “Donna Andrews, not only will you talk about how being pregnant affects a character’s ability to sleuth, but you’ll do it on a panel on Saturday at 2 p.m.” I have spoken!

This upcoming year at Malice Domestic will be even better. I’ll get to order around folks like our guest of honor, Parnell Hall, our toastmaster, Rhys Bowen, and our lifetime achievement award winner, Mary Higgins Clark. (Okay, fine, nobody orders Mary Higgins Clark around. Give me my little fantasy, will ya?) And we have a lot of other biggies in the traditional mystery community coming, too, including Margaret Maron, Dorothy Cannell, Charles Todd, Nancy Pickard, and Katherine Hall Page. And I have power over them all. Bwah hah hah!!!

Since becoming Malice program chair, I’ve learned that conferences s
ometimes have a hard time getting people to agree to do the programming, much less get it done early. (Or in my case, extra early.) I find this bizarre. All you conference organizers out there, you’re definitely not looking in the right place for your program chairs. Find your local meeting of Control Freaks Anonymous and go to town. (If you’re not sure if you’re in the right place, look for me. Believe me, I’ll be there. Taking attendance.)

Can’t find a meeting? Here’s another way to look for control freaks. In books. Sometimes they’re hiding in plain sight.

My most recent short story, “The Worst Noel,” provides a perfect example. In it a woman with an overbearing mother finally breaks and decides to get her revenge against her mom and her sister during Christmas Eve dinner. (Ah, yes, crime at the holidays. So festive!) Does the mother deserve it? Well, she does have massive control issues. Did I get those details right by accident? Nope. I wrote what I knew. (Some people wonder if the mother in the story is based on my mom; unfortunately, I think she’s in part based on me!) So if you read a spot-on story or novel involving a control freak, you might have to go no farther than the author’s page to find your next conference program chair.

Even as I type these words, I find it difficult to know that I have no control over you, dear reader. I can’t force you to attend Malice Domestic, even though I know you’d love it. (C’mon, you know it, too.) And I can’t force you to buy The Gift of Murder either—that’s the anthology in which my Christmas Eve-dinner story appears. (Go to The Gift of Murder to learn more.)

But, thankfully, I still have a few tricks up my sleeve.

If you register for Malice at before January 1st, you’ll be eligible to nominate books and stories published in 2009 for the prestigious Agatha Award. (Everybody’s nominations are tallied by the Agatha Committee, and the top vote-getters become the official nominees, which are announced in February.) By registering early, you’ll also get a discount. And if you’re an author I know—or want to know— by registering early, you’ll save yourself from being hounded by me. Good, I see you registering right now.

And you, reluctant readers. You’re curious about my Christmas Eve story. I can feel it. But your pile of unread books is already teetering precariously, and you fear you can’t add one more book to the pile.


Especially with me telling you that all 19 short stories in The Gift of Murder are set at the holiday season, that all 19 authors donated their stories, and that the publisher, Tony Burton of Wolfmont Press, is donating all the profits to Toys for Tots. Crime stories that benefit needy children! Have I tugged enough at your heart yet? Excellent, excellent. I see you dialing up your favorite indie bookstore at this very moment. Some of you are downloading it onto your Kindle, too.

And if none of that has worked, here’s my secret weapon: You’re all invited to comment below, sharing either your favorite memory of attending Malice Domestic or your funniest holiday memory. Everyone who shares one or the other before midnight tonight will have their names thrown in a hat, and I’ll send a signed copy of The Gift of Murder to the person whose name I pull out. Who could resist that? No one, surely. So now I know you’ll do as I say. Ahh, the joy of control.

Barb Goffman is an Agatha Award-nominated author who toils as a lawyer by day to pay the vet bills at night for her miracle dog, Scout. (He had cancer three times, but now he’s cured!) She grew up on Long Island but figures she must have been Southern in another life because half the voices she hears in her head—oops, sorry, half the characters she creates—are Southern. In addition to the short story mentioned above, Barb has had stories published in the second and third volumes of the Chesapeake Crimes anthology series, and she will have a new story coming out this spring in the fourth: Chesapeake Crimes: They Had It Comin’, a wonderful book with twenty tales of murder and revenge. Barb’s website is


Alan Orloff said...

Hi Barb. I'm looking forward to being controlled by you! :)

(Thanks for the reminder to register before Jan 1st!)

Sheila Connolly said...

As the battle-scarred veteran of the organizing committee of exactly one conference (this year's New England Crme Bake--sold out!), I salute you! It's not easy, and the devil is in the details.

My favorite Malice memory? It has to be the time I ran into the person who had reviewed my first contest submission, and I practically fell into her lap thanking her for saying such kind things about the entry, even though it didn't advance.

Gail Farrelly said...


I loved your story in The Gift of Murder. What a family!

Kindle rage, rather than family rage, is the subject of my story, "The Kindle Did It," in the book. My Kindle is sitting on my desk and looks innocent, but........

Anyway, it's a pleasure being published with you.


Sandra Parshall said...

I'm not eligible for the drawing because I'm a blog member (I *will* buy the book, Barb! I promise!), but I'm happy to share my favorite Malice memory: hearing Margaret Maron read aloud a passage from my first book, The Heat of the Moon. By then I was so familiar with the book that I was sick to death of it, but Margaret's reading magically transformed it into something new. She made ME want to rush to the book room and buy a copy!

Susan Breen said...

Dear Barb,
I'm not a control freak myself, but I find they make great friends. They remember birthdays, organize surprise parties. Who cares that they're always ordering me around? Your conference sounds great. So does your book!

Unknown said...

When I attended my first Malice I belive I knew two people there (my daughter and author Sarah Strohmeyer). I was in the ladies room before the banquet with an older woman whose face meant nothing to me, and we chatted amiably about lipstick, slips that won't stay put, and other weighty matters. When I walked out behind her, I heard someone indentify her as Elizabeth Peters, one of my idols — if I'd known that I might have tried to sound moderately more intelligent...

Pari Noski n Taichert said...

Oh, come on, Barb,
I must've said something more profound like, maybe, "Gah?"

Actually, now that I'm chair of LCC Santa Fe, I have a whole new respect for the superb job you did last year and most surely will do again this one.

Now, here's one thing I can be profound about: "Go to Malice; it's a wonderful, wonderful convention. One of the best . . . period."

Barb Goffman said...

Hi, Alan. I'm so glad you're planning to come to Malice! Malice is a wonderful place for new authors to come and promote their works, and I know you have a first book coming out. So congratulations in advance!

Hi, Sheila. Yes, if you don't love details, don't try to program a writers conference. (Or any conference, probably.) I love your memory about meeting your reviewer. It's meetings like that that make conferences worthwhile. Yes, we can all keep in touch online, but there's nothing like talking with people in person.


signlady217 said...

One of my favorite holiday memories from childhood involves a package about the size of a shoebox. I picked it up and was surprised by how heavy it was; could not figure it out. It didn't rattle or slosh, no great smells were seeping out, nothing to give a clue of what it contained. But when I opened it, wow! It had 8 or 10 Nancy Drew books (the hardback, yellow-spined ones that were published in the 70s). Mom had hit a really good sale. That was such an awesome present. I still have them, too. Of course, later on Mom decided that was maybe too good a present because trying to pry my nose out of them was pretty difficult!

Barb Goffman said...

Hi, Gail. I loved your story. You really made reading come alive! And it's been so great being published with all the other wonderful authors in The Gift of Murder. Too bad we all live so spread out. I hope to meet you in person some time. Maybe at Malice?

Barb Goffman said...

Hi, Sandra. Margaret Maron wasn't able to make it to Malice last year, so we are so pleased that she is planning to return this year. It's tradition that she moderates the panel comprised of the authors nominated for the Agatha for best first novel. We plan to continue that tradition next spring so other authors can share that same special moment you had.


Lonnie Cruse said...

Hi Barb,

Thanks for guest blogging for us.

Now, down to business. Have I got it straight? You are having Parnell Hall and Mary Higgens Clark at the SAME conference, knowing he sings a song about her, for which he is famous, and she knows he sings that song because he's sung it to her??? And you think you can control him? Muwahahahah!

I've never planned a conference, but I did agree to moderate a panel Parnell was on once. I'm still laughing.

Please give Parnell a hug for me. Once you catch him.

Wow, I gotta try to make this conference!

Barb Goffman said...

Hi, Susan. From one Long Island girl to another, thanks for stopping by today. I checked out your website and saw how you teach writing classes and love how you meet so many interesting, sometimes famous, people in them. I have to agree. In one of my mystery writing classes, I didn't recognize the woman sitting next to me until someone called her by name: Betty Friedan! I took that class at the Writers Center in Bethesda, Maryland, to which I give big props!

Barb Goffman said...

Hey, Joni. Loved your memory about Elizabeth Peters. That's one of the great things about going to conferences, especially Malice. You get to rub elbows with some really big names in the mystery field. I remember how much I loved Julia Spencer-Fleming's first book (and the rest of them, too), and then when I got to meet her at Malice, it was tremendous.

Barb Goffman said...

Hi, Pari. Maybe it was "gah," now that I think about it. Hmm. And Left Coast Crime Santa Fe should be fabulous, especially because you started the planning so early. Thank you for your kind words about Malice. I hope you're considering coming back this year. Our fans love you!

Barb Goffman said...

Hi, Signlady. (Wish I knew your real first name.) I love that memory about the Nancy Drew books. I also read the ones with the yellow spine - did my reading at sleepaway camp, after the lights were out, with a flashlight.

That said, what kind of gifts did you receive as a child that made sloshing (or no sloshing) something to consider as you tried to figure out what was in the box? Did you get boxed goldfish or things like that? Inquiring minds want to know!

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Hi, Barb. I'm registered, I'm registered! I'm both a Deadly Daughter and a Gift of Murder author, so leave my name out of the hat. "Death Will Trim Your Tree" features Bruce sitting on the floor cursing those pesky strings of lights. Do you mean that if he were a control freak, he would ENJOY this task? As it is, he'd rather solve a murder. ;)

Barb Goffman said...

Hi, Lonnie. Control over Parnell? Hmm. Well, I did get him to wear a dress at last year's Malice. He was his Puzzle Lady character for a panel in which the authors played their charactes. It was a hoot! Carole Nelson-Douglas switched outfits midpanel (you had to be there) and was all three of her protagonists (including Louie the cat)!

The hard part about being a control freak is that you set up the panels, but then you have to simply pray that they go well. Last year they all went so well in large part because of the wonderful moderators and panelists we have at Malice. My proverbial hat goes off to all of them.

milesmom said...

Hi Barb! I needed to add an old, friendly voice. I bought the book and read your story (love the ending!) but refrained from reading the other stories as I thought it tacky to give my mother a "used" book as her holiday gift. Glad to see that you're putting your control freak tendencies to good use.
-Susan Blanco

Barb Goffman said...

Hi, Elizabeth. If Bruce were a control freak, he wouldn't have to unstring his lights. They would have been put away perfectly neatly the year before! (But I'm glad, too, that he's spending his time solving murders. Much more fascinating that untangling lights!)


Barb Goffman said...

Hey, Susan. Oh, it's been way too long. I'm sitting here typing, laughing my you know what off. I'm glad you liked the story. Please give your mom my regards. And happy early holidays!

Unknown said...

Let's see...a good holiday memory. I'm sure that I have one or two that could probably freak out the control freak. But you know I don't remember them. That's the best thing about having a control freak friend -- they remember everything so you don't have to!

But, definitely one of my best holiday memories was spending Christmas in Florida with Barb and her family. Where absolutely no one was killed.

becky hutchison said...

I've been a recipient of Barb's demands...oops...I mean suggestions and have lived to tell about it. So really, she's not TOO bad of a control freak.

And Barb, you've made Malice sound so enticing, I guess I'll have to break down and actually register before 10:00 pm on New Year's Eve (a mini-tradition of mine). I've already made my hotel reservation, so I guess I need to balance out all my plans for Malice.

jbstanley said...

I think I look forward to your having control over me, Barb. I know I am in such good hands!

Can't wait for Malice! It is one of the highlights of my year and you are truly Wonder Woman (can you tell I want a Saturday panel this year? Just kidding! Maybe.)

Kudos on being a control freak. I am shouting orders to my peons (excuse me, "children") from my wheeled desk chair.

Replicate Dr. Evil laugh again. Cheers!

jbstanley said...

P.S. I'm a Long Island girl too. Centerport and Roslyn. Now I'm a confused Southerner. Well, I'm just confused.

Forgot to recall my favorite Malice moment, but I think it was being able to "host" Louise Penny's husband at my table the year she won her first Agatha. Both of them are such delightful people and Louise is one of my idols.

Barb Goffman said...

Hi, Barbara. That was a nice Christmas time - though I think my family came very close to a murder that trip...

Becky, there's nothing wrong with starting a new tradition of registering early. So congratulations on the new one! And you know, if you register at Malice for the next Malice, we typically give a price break. Keep in mind for next May...

Jennifer, Wow! Who took your picture? It's fabulous! Good for you. And that's a nice memory with Louise Penny and her husband. She's such a class act.


Martha said...

Did I miss where you said what city Malice Domestic is being held in?

Barb Goffman said...

Hi, Martha. Good question. I'm embarrassed I failed to answer it in my blog. Malice is held each spring in the DC area. The next Malice will be Friday April 30th through Sunday May 2, 2010 at the Marriott Crystal Gateway in Arlington, Virginia. Full information is available at our website: I just tried the link in the blog, and for whatever reason, it's not working, but if you type the link into your browser, you should have no problem getting there. Hope you can make it!

Lover of Books said...

My funniest holiday memory is one I was told about so not sure it counts but I vaguely remember it When I was 2 years old on Christmas Eve, I walked down the stairs to ask my mom for a drink of water and found her wrapping my presents. She had to cover them up quick. lol


Barb Goffman said...

Hi, Krista. Did your Mom have a good cover story? Like: Santa has too many houses to visit, so he dropped these off and asked me to wrap them? It certainly sounds plausible, considering how many houses the man has to enter in one day, and especially given how many of them lack chimneys!

Lover of Books said...

Nope, she didn't really say anything and sent me back to bed bringing my drink to bed. I think I figured it out on my own then about Santa. :) I'll just leave it at that. :)

Rev. Dr. Anthony Burton said...

Barb, Gail, Liz... and any of the other authors who stop by here:

GREAT STORIES! I'm the publisher, by the way, and although not the editor of THE GIFT OF MURDER, I edit a lot. Talk about control freaks!! Editors, oy!

Anyway, Barb and the rest, many thanks to all of you for all the support you have given this year's Toys for Tots anthology. You're the ones who make it happen, truly.


Elena Santangelo said...

Already signed up. A year without Malice is always a bad year. I'll try to drag a few other authors along with me from DV SinC in PA.

Jane K Cleland said...

Loved your blog... very funny. My favorite Malice memory is from my first Malice--meeting Laura Lippman, Donna Andrews, Elaine Viets, and Margaret Maron, all within minutes of one another. I was awed. It's a wonderful conference, and of course I'm registered!

Edith Maxwell said...

I haven't been to Malice yet, but hope to go in 2010. Most interesting holiday story? As an exchange student in Brazil for a year when I was 18, sitting outside in the warm summer night at 11 pm, listening to an uncle in the host family play the guitar, waiting for the unveiling of the decorated evergreen tree indoors - on Christmas Eve!

Edith Maxwell

Meredith Cole said...

So great to see you here Barb! As one control freak to another, it's clear that Malice was run by someone with great organizational skills--it was tons of fun!

Of course my favorite memory is winning the SMP/Malice Domestic Best Traditional First Mystery Competition--it was my first Malice and will always be my sweetest, I think.

This year I'm looking forward to coming from Central Virginia rather then New York--a semi-local!

Barb Goffman said...

Hi, Tony. Thank you for your kind words. We authors couldn't do this without you, though. You're the one who puts in the time and energy to make this anthology possible every year!

Elena, I'm so happy you're coming back this year. I hope sales are going well on your new book about Agatha Christie's shorts.

Jane, the chance to meet and talk with your favorite authors is indeed one true reason to come to a conference. Last year I had breakfast with Anne Perry!

Edith, I've spent a number of December vacations in Florida. Having come from the Northeast, it's indeed strange to have a warm holiday season. I hope you do make it to Malice this year. Don't forget about the discount if you register before January 1!

Meredith, welcome to Virginia! It's my adopted state. Glad to have you with us. And I'm so happy you'll be returning to Malice. As you know from wonderful personal experience, it provides a great opportunity for new authors to get to know readers.

Julie Hyzy said...

Barb - I can't say enough about how wonderful Malice was last year. Having assisted with programming duties for Love is Murder a couple of times, I know how much work is involved and you, my dear, are amazing!
I'm very, very sorry not to be making it out there this year... I *love* Malice. But it's my daughter's senior prom that weekend and there's not much give on that one.
Your short story sounds wonderful. I can't wait to read it and can't wait to have you guest blog on Mystery Lovers' Kitchen in December ;-)

Beth Groundwater said...

Hi Barb,
Great guest post--and a great story in The Gift of Murder! From one control freak to another, I will appreciate being managed by someone else who knows what they're doing. See, I'm learning to let go a little bit. I'm looking forward to next year's Malice conference and can't wait to see what panel you've put me on. :)

Barb Goffman said...

Hi, Julie. Thank you for your kind words. We'll all miss you at Malice this year, but I understand about that once-in-a-lifetime moments. And there's always next year! Am so looking forward to blogging at Mystery Lovers Kitchen in mid-December. See you then!

Hey, Beth, good for you for learning to let go. When you figure out how to do it completely, please let me in on the secret! And I'm glad you liked my story. Thanks so much for the blurb you gave the book. Every little bit helps!

Congratulations to SignLady217, who won a copy of The Gift of Murder. It will be in the mail to you in a day or two. I hope you love it.

Happy early Thanksgiving everyone!


Tara Newell said...

Hi Barb! Wanted to stop by and support a fellow New Yorker. I can't wait to read your story and I promise to buy the book!! Congrats!