Malice Domestic: My Introduction to the World of Mystery Writing

I'm feeling rather sentimental as I'm packing to leave for the Edgars and Malice Domestic, because Malice was my introduction to the world of mystery writing, back in 2007, and this year I've been nominated for an Agatha Award for my locked-room mystery story "The Hindi Houdini." It's a tremendous honor to be nominated by the community that got me to take my writing seriously.

Seven years ago, the Malice Grants Committee selected my work-in-progress for a grant, showing me there was promise in my scribblings. When I arrived at the convention to accept the award, I didn't know a soul in the mystery community. By the time I left three days later, I had a local writers group, an online community, and a convention I knew I'd be back to every chance I got. 

With Malice Grants Chair
Harriette Sackler
at Malice Domestic in 2007.
I was looking through my photos from Malice Domestic over the years. I'm posting a few of them here, along with some thoughts about how this community has impacted my writing and my life. Hey, it's better than packing, which is what I should be doing right now!

Maybe in the process of walking down memory lane I can also help those of you who are attending the convention for the first time feel more comfortable. Malice Domestic is the friendliest convention I've ever attended--and I've been to a lot of wonderful conventions over the years.

Though I often credit the William F. Deeck-Malice Domestic Grant as giving me the push I needed to take my writing seriously, in truth it was the whole traditional mystery community at Malice Domestic that convinced me I could be a writer.

With Juliet Blackwell.
At the opening ceremonies in 2007, I met Juliet Blackwell, who was up for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel for Feint of Art, a book I'd read and loved. She and I got to chatting, and it turned out she was the president of my local Sisters in Crime chapter in Northern California! The following month I attended my first Sisters in Crime NorCal meeting, and the following year I began serving on the board.

As I wandered the halls during that first convention, I was also hailed over to a table by a friendly group who told me about the Guppies, an online group of aspiring mystery authors. I'd never heard of the Guppies, but since then I've learned more than I ever imagined about both the craft of writing and the business of writing--not to mention finding the greatest camaraderie I could ask for.

When I returned to Malice, I knew a few people, but I still felt like a tiny fish swimming blindly in a huge pond. But by then I knew that everyone was so friendly, it didn't matter that I was a newbie. It was wonderful chatting with mystery readers who shared my passion for traditional mysteries, getting to know fellow aspiring writers, and meeting authors whose books I loved. I even discovered that a woman who knew me when I was a baby was now a mystery writer!

With Aileen Baron, who taught anthropology with my parents years ago.

Sisters in Crime Northern California members at Malice Domestic in 2009.
I was waylaid by a breast cancer diagnosis and couldn't attend while undergoing chemo, but one of the few positive aspects of cancer is the way it clarifies life priorities. As soon as I was well enough, I threw myself into my writing and came back to Malice. That was a special year for many reasons, the first of which is that I had the opportunity to meet Barbara Mertz, aka Elizabeth Peters, whose books I devoured as a teenager and who inspired me to become a writer (and who I've gushed about elsewhere).

Meeting Barbara Mertz (Elizabeth Peters), whose Vicky Bliss books
inspired me to become a mystery writer. 

I reconnected with dear friends I met through the Malice community. The chance encounters I've made over the years have led to wonderful friendships and collaborations. 

With Kendel Lynn and Diane Vallere, as we plotted Other People's Baggage
our collection of interconnected mystery novellas.

The following year was the 25th anniversary of the convention. Aaron Elkins was being honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award. There are three authors who get a full shelf on my bookshelves devoted to their books: Elizabeth Peters, John Dickson Carr, and Aaron Elkins. After meeting my first literary idol the previous year, I was excited that I'd get to see Aaron Elkins in person for the first time. (John Dickson Carr passed away shortly after I was born, so I won't be meeting him any time soon.) 

My encounter with Aaron Elkins exemplifies the spirit of the Malice community. He knew I was a huge fan of his Gideon Oliver books, because of articles I'd written online that he'd seen. Barbara Mertz was scheduled to conduct his Lifetime Achievement Award interview, but when she was ill and couldn't make it, Aaron thought of me and asked me if I'd like to step in and do the interview. We'd never met before that weekend, but he'd read my first novel that had recently come out. After a few moments of disbelief about being asked, I said yes (of course!). I had a great time chatting with my idol, asking him all the questions I always wanted to know the answers to. 

Filling in for one of my literary idols to interview another.
The Aaron Elkins Lifetime Achievement Award interview at Malice 25. 

After that, I knew I was no longer a newbie to Malice. Now I look forward to getting together with old friends and new, such as at the Sisters in Crime breakfast and Guppy lunch. It's difficult to take more than a few steps down the hall without getting caught up in an interesting conversation. 

Lucy Burdette, Shari Randal, Kathy Krevat; me and Edith Maxwell.

Hallway conversations:
Barb Goffman and Leslie Budewitz; me and Daniel Stashower;
Maddy Hunter and me; Kendel Lynn, Hank Phillippi Ryan, and Diane Vallere.

Dorothy St. James, moderator Becky Hutchison,
Penny Warner, me, and Susan C. Shea.

This year I'm also hosting a table at the Agatha Awards banquet on Saturday night. Attendees choose which table they's like to sit at when they check into the convention. If you'll be there and want to sign up for my table, you'll get some pirate table favors (since Pirate Vishnu is the latest Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery). Having read all the fantastic short stories nominated for the Agatha (you can read all of them here), I'm not expecting that I'll have to give an acceptance speech, meaning I get to sit back, relax, and enjoy the evening. 

Another first for me is that I'm not flying home until Monday, meaning I get to attend the tea on Sunday for the first time. If you're attending this year's Malice, I hope you'll stop me in the hall to say hello!


One Crazy Week

Artifact poster in a bookstore window.
Somehow it's been over a week since Artifact went on sale. You'd think it was more work to *write* the book, and yes, to some extent that's quite true. But it turns out it's true that publicity is important to help people find the book, so I've been busy attending to opportunities that arise.

Today, I'm featured on Jenny Milchman's "Made It Moments" blog. Jenny is a mystery author whose first novel, Cover of Snow, debuts in 2013. For years, she's had a feature on her blog where she invites authors to share the story of when they feel like they've "made it" as an author. I used to think the answer would be when your book is published, but that's not generally what authors choose as their moment! It's not what I chose either.

It's really fun, and slightly surreal, so be hearing from mystery fans who already read the book. And it was cool to see this review of Artifact that appeared in ForeWord Reviews magazine. The most interesting thing is to hear the specifics of what different people think--the book is no longer mine alone, but a freestanding entity.

Post-chemo hair, week 8.
I'm getting ready for my book launch party at A Great Good Place for Books this weekend (there's a photo above of an Artifact poster in the window of the bookstore), and in the meantime of course it's a busy week at work so I can't take time off! But that's what coffee is for....

Lastly, so I don't slack off taking photos of my hair as it grows out, here's this week's photo. For the first time since it's been growing back, it's long enough that I feel the hair resting on my forehead. But at the same time, I'm also finally getting used to having short hair! Who knows if I'll decide to keep it.