Malice Domestic 2013

The Aaron Elkins Lifetime Achievement Award Interview at Malice Domestic

I had the honor of being asked to fill in to conduct an interview with Aaron Elkins, who was being given the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 25th anniversary Malice Domestic. I wrote a little bit about the interview in my Malice Domestic recap blog post earlier this month. 

Since then, several people who weren't in attendance have asked for more details about what we talked about in the interview. Here are some of the fun things I learned about one of my favorite authors:

Learning a Literary Idol is a Real Guy – and a Great One
Aaron Elkins is one of the nicest guys imaginable. Even though we'd never previously met, because he enjoyed my debut novel and he knew how much I loved his books, he thought of me to fill in for Barbara Mertz (aka Elizabeth Peters), who was scheduled to conduct the interview but was sick with pneumonia. We met for the first time for coffee the day before the interview, and after my initial star-struck-fan moment, we hit it off as much as we'd hoped.

Travels with Barbara Mertz/Elizabeth Peters
Because Barbara Mertz couldn't be there, it seemed fitting to kick things off with a couple stories about her. The two of them have been friends for decades. In the '90s, Aaron and his wife Charlotte took a Nile Cruise with Barbara. Barbara's most well-known mystery series is the Amelia Peabody Egyptology mystery series, so the trip location was fitting – and straight out of an Agatha Christie novel. Aaron recounted how several of the other passengers seemed to have stepped straight out of a classic detective novel – so much so that he didn't think anyone would believe it if he'd put it in a book!

Writing What You Know
Aaron Elkins' first Gideon Oliver mystery novel, Fellowship of Fear, was the first novel he wrote. It's about a physical anthropologist who gets an assignment teaching at military bases in Europe. Which happened to be just what Aaron was doing at the time. He had some really ingenious plot points that involved deductions Gideon made about skeletal remains. It turns out Aaron never thought those forensic anthropology deductions would be the hook for a continued series. But because he's such a smart guy and made the subject so fascinating, that's what all the readers and reviewers responded to. Thus the Gideon Oliver "skeleton detective" mystery series was born. (And he confirmed he never fudges the forensic details in the books.)

People Confusing Writers With Their Characters
Aaron mentioned how readers often imagine Gideon Oliver to look like him. Well, Aaron is guilty of the same thing – when we first met, the first thing he said to me was "But you're so tall!" He was confusing me with my character Jaya Jones, who's five feet tall. As for me, I'm six feet tall in heels.

The Gideon Oliver TV Show
In the late '80s, ABC made a series of Gideon Oliver mystery movies. I remember watching them at the time, and thinking how funny it was that they were so different from the books. Gideon Oliver was played by Lou Gossett, Jr. as a Columbia University cultural anthropology professor who solves cases with his daughter – not the childless, White, West Coast physical anthropology professor of Aaron Elkins' books. Aaron was paid a consulting fee, but wasn’t asked to consult on the accuracy of the episodes. And with much of the media attention he received after the TV show came out, interviewers assumed the books were just like the show. I've tried to find the series on Netflix to watch it again, but sadly it's not there!

Writing With a Spouse
Aaron has written several novels with his wife Charlotte. How are they still happily married? It turns out they don't actually write "together" in the same room at the same time, but pass things back and forth. That sounds like a much more sensible arrangement.

Fan Gifts
Notice the skeleton tie he's wearing in the photos above? He has several skeleton ties, all of them gifts from fans.

Thank you to event photographer Greg Puhl for the wonderful photographs!

Malice Domestic 25: Interview of a Lifetime, Friends Winning Agatha Awards, and More Fun!

I didn't think the Malice Domestic mystery convention could get any better, but it keeps on surprising me. Here are some photos and highlights from this year:

Me and Aaron Elkins after his Lifetime Achievement Award interview.
One of the things I was most looking forward to at this year's Malice was getting to meet one of my two favorite mystery authors, Aaron Elkins. Even more exciting was the fact that Barbara Mertz (aka Elizabeth Peters), my other favorite mystery author, was scheduled to conduct his Lifetime Achievement Award Interview.

It turned out Barbara Mertz came down with pneumonia and wasn't able to make it (don't worry, she's doing better now!), so Aaron asked me to fill in for her. As you can imagine, the thoughts running through my brain amounted to the extremely eloquent OMG OMG OMG!

He knew that I was a huge fan of his books, especially the fantastic Gideon Oliver "Skeleton Detective" series, so he correctly assumed that I'd have lots to talk about in the interview. We'd never previously met, but he'd read and enjoyed my debut mystery novel and gave it a blurb—which, until the day of the interview, was the biggest thing that made me feel like I'd made it as a mystery author regardless of what else happened with my books.

The interview was so much fun! The hour flew by, and I was glad to hear audience members tell me they had as much fun as I did.

*UPDATE: Several people who didn't attend the interview have asked me for details about what we talked about, so I wrote up some interview highlights here (including fun facts about Aaron and great photos from event photographer Greg Puhl). 

After the interview, there was more fun to be had. I headed over to my Treasure Hunt panel.

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

Later that night, Penny Warner was awarded the Agatha Award for best Children's/Young Adult mystery for The Code Busters Club, Case #2: The Haunted Lighthouse! Coincidence that she'd appeared on our treasure hunt panel hours before? I think not ;)

Penny Warner with her husband Tom and the Agatha Award teapot.

Susan Boyer won the Agatha for Best First Novel for her wonderful debut, Lowcountry Boil.
The Henery Press crew celebrating with Susan: Christina Freeburn, Diane Vallere,
me, Susan, Kendel Lynn, LynDee Walker, and Larissa Reinhart.

Me and Susan—with her super-cool teapot award.

Additional highlights:

The Sisters in Crime Guppies Chapter lunch.
Lucy Burdette, Shari Randal, Kathy Krevat; me and Edith Maxwell.

Running into writer friends at every turn.
Top row: Barb Goffman and Leslie Budewitz; me and Daniel Stashower;
Bottom row: Maddy Hunter and me; Kendel Lynn, Hank Phillippi Ryan, and Diane Vallere.

Kaye George, Tracy Kiely, Larissa Reinhart, Diane Vallere.

Even on west coast time, the early morning breakfasts were worth getting up for.
Top: SinC President Hank Phillippi Ryan.
Bottom: Diane Vallere, one of my fellow debut authors featured at the New Author Breakfast.

I'm looking forward to Malice 26 next year!