Monday, May 1, 2017

Malice Domestic 2017 AKA The Nicest Group of People in the World

I'm lying in bed, utterly exhausted, attempting to write about what an amazing weekend I had, while my dog Max does his best to thwart my efforts by demanding belly rubs.

Where do I even begin? I attended Malice Domestic for the very first time, which is a convention held in Bethesda, Maryland dedicated to celebrating traditional mysteries (probably my favorite genre). If you're wondering what constitutes a "traditional" mystery, it's loosely defined as a mystery with no explicit sex, excessive violence, or gore. The amateur sleuth reigns supreme in most traditional mysteries, and I just love reading about ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances and seeing how they measure up (or don't).

I was lucky enough to be named the 2017 winner of the William F. Deeck - Malice Domestic Grant for Unpublished Writers, which in addition to a $2,500 grant also includes free registration to the convention and the awards banquet, as well as a 2-night hotel stay. You best believe I jumped on that opportunity, and dragged along my poor husband who spent almost the entire weekend squirreled away in our hotel room writing or playing video games (we packed the PS4. Because of course we did). He did come out to breathe during meal times and was there to document the Agatha Awards Banquet, where I gave a short acceptance speech.

I'm in great company

But I'm getting ahead of myself. The most important thing about this convention (other than the books, obviously) is the people. I already knew that mystery writers were among the coolest and nicest people in the world, but Malice is like the purest distillation of these wonderfully kind and supportive people. The entire weekend, whenever someone saw (incredibly awkward and rather introverted) me standing alone, they would come up and talk to me. Ask me how I'm doing, where I'm from, what I'm writing, etc. And you could tell they genuinely cared about those things, they weren't just making small talk to pass the time.

After I gave my speech at the banquet and people realized I was the grant winner, the outpour of support was almost overwhelming. I spent the rest of the weekend grinning like a fool while thanking the many, many people who congratulated me. I know that I'm super awkward at accepting compliments, but I genuinely appreciated each and every person who reached out to me. Writing is such a solitary pursuit, and to receive validation from people whose opinion I truly respect is just...I have no words.

James and I arrived in Bethesda Friday morning, after being cooped up on a plane with an 8th grade class on a trip to Washington D.C. who had WAY too much energy for that early in the morning. The plane ride was blessedly short (about 2 hours), but did nothing to change the fact that the kid across the aisle from us got sick all over himself on the flight and the kids directly behind him were wearing "Make America Great Again" caps. Not sure which disgusted me more.

I missed most of the panels on Friday, but was lucky enough to make it to the New Kids on the Block: The Agatha Nominees for Best First Novel. I was excited about this panel because it was moderated by Harriette Sackler, the Malice Grant committee head (and overall amazing person), and included Marla Cooper (the first person I talked to at BoucherCon) and two previous grant winners. I wasn't familiar with Nadine Nettmann's work, but it sounded great (wine makes everything better). The panel was full of laughs and gave me something to dream about for the future (I can hope, right?)

Harriette Sacker (m), Nadine Nettman, Marla Cooper, Cynthia Kuhn, and Rosemary & Vince Keenan (as Renee Patrick)
Unfortunately, I had to skip the next panel about the historical mystery nominees because I needed to check into my hotel room (poor James had to hang out in the lobby alone since our room wasn't ready), and we both passed out until dinner time. I managed to rouse myself in time for the Malice Domestic Anthology signing, but then knocked out again almost immediately afterward.

I woke up stupid early (adrenaline kept making me wake up before my alarm went off) and got dolled up for the Sisters in Crime breakfast. In true Guppy fashion, I wore a purple feather boa which looked great, but shed feathers all over the place (including my plate of food).

Guppies (members of the Great Unpublished from Sisters in Crime) traditionally wear boas to the breakfast
I was lucky enough to be paired with Edith Maxwell as my Malice mentor, and we sat together at breakfast. Also at the table was Eileen Rendahl, who I met at BoucherCon, and I was so happy she remembered who I was! After we finished eating, all the Guppies got together to take a group picture, and I ended up next to Cynthia Kuhn, past Malice grant winner and Agatha nominee. When she found out I was the current grant winner, she got so excited, she literally started tearing up. She was just the sweetest, most enthusiastic and demonstrative person I met that weekend, and I couldn't be happier that she won the Agatha for Best First Novel.

Grant winner buddies!
After the breakfast, I attended a couple of panels, bought a TON of books and got them signed, and hung out with James for a bit. 

Just Die Laughing: Humor in Mysteries
Karen Cantwell (m), Donna Andrews, Jessie Chandler, Nancy J. Cohen, Nancy G. West

Thrilling Suspense
Doris Ann Norris (m), Lee Hurwitz, Lori Rader-Day, Eileen Rendahl/Kristi Abbot, Sarah Shaber, Judy Penz Sheluk

I also met up with Harriette and Janet Reid AKA the Query Shark so we could chat about what my next steps should be now that I won the grant. Janet was awesome; completely honest and straightforward, no BS, and happy to answer any questions I had about how to find/query/vet agents. As she left, she gave me her card, and I kind of held it gently in my palm for a moment and stared at it. I swear it was glowing. Then I put it in my card case and met up the MWA Midwest members for our happy half-hour. I enjoyed a tasty cocktail and shmoozed a bit, then went back up to my room to get ready for the Agatha Awards Banquet.

The food was good and the dessert adorable, but I was way too nervous about my speech to eat much (I KNOW. That's how you know it was serious). Harriette had to put her hand on my leg and tell me to relax because I was so jittery.

Some sorta yummy chocolate mouse cake

I had typed up my speech on my phone literally an hour before the banquet, so I kept checking my phone over and over, praying technology wouldn't fail me. When it was my time to go up, all I could think about was, "Why did I wear heels? What if I trip and fall in front of this entire ballroom? What if my phone magically deleted my speech in the last 15 seconds?" But I pulled it off! Adulting ftw!

After all the awards were presented (you can see the list of winners here), it was all a blur of people congratulating me and me congratulating other people and taking pictures and being handed business cards by people saying they loved my premise. IT. WAS. AWESOME.

Kellye Garrett of Hollywood Homocide (out 8/8/17)
Doing our best to represent for diversity in the mystery genre. Definitely check her out!

Rosemary & Vince Keenan (AKA Renee Patrick)
Previous grant winners and authors of Design for Dying

Me & my husband James
The best, most supportive person ever (he'd want me to add "funniest" too, but...)

Gigi Pandian
Previous grant winner and author of the Jaya Jones series and Accidental Alchemist series

Catriona McPherson
Agatha Award Winner for Best Historical for her novel, The Reek of Red Herrings

Lori Rader-Day
My former writing teacher (yes, she's the one who got me writing mysteries)
Author of The Black Hour, Little Pretty Things, and The Day I Died (get them all. You won't regret it)
Me and my Precious...

The Malice Domestic Grant Committee
My eternal thanks. You have no idea what this means to me

After the craziness of Saturday, I still managed to get up early to attend the New Authors Breakfast. I sat at Alexia Gordon's table, whose book Murder in G Major was on the shortlist for Best First Novel. It was really cool getting to chat with everyone and listen to all the new authors have their time in the spotlight. I added quite a few authors/books to my TBR list.

Alexia Gordon
Author of Murder in G Major

Radha Vatsal
Author of The Front Page Affair

Hank Philippi Ryan
Would've worn makeup if I knew I'd be taking a picture with Hank. Perfection as always.

Keenan Powell
Previous grant winner and author of the Maeve Malloy mystery series
After the breakfast, I attended two panels, ate way too much at lunch, then fancied myself up for the Agatha Tea & Closing Ceremonies.
Ghostly Murder
T.J. O'Connor (m), Alice Loweecey, Micki Browning, Casey Daniels, Alexia Gordon

Extra! Extra! Newshounds and Murder
Patricia McGlinn (m), LynDee Walker, Lynn Chandler Willis, Radha Vatsal, Christina Kovac 

Church lady hat! It's tea time!

Agatha Tea Party

Murder on the Orient Express movie coming out later this year
And so ends my enchanted weekend. 

Although maybe not so enchanted, because we somehow ended up on the same plane as the class trip from Friday. THE SAME KIDS. And one of the kids upgraded from a Trump cap to an American-flag-decorated bucket hat emblazoned with "Make America Great Again."

...yeah, I know.

In other news, I made sure to deposit my grant check during my lunch break today since I'm super paranoid. Which is good since I technically already spent the grant money. Next weekend, I'll be in San Antonio for the Writers Workshop Retreat from May 6 - 13th. A little nervous, but super excited to have such a long, intense period of time to dedicate to my writing. Maybe I'll make it after all...

How about you, dear readers (who I'm assuming exist)? What was your first Malice like? Have you ever gone on a writers retreat? What was it like? Let me know in the comments!

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