I am a writing conference junkie. But they are costly, time consuming, and I am often left wondering was it worth? Recently, I forced myself to go on a conference diet. But when my critique partner told me she was going to Malice Domestic, she waved in front of me the writer’s equivalent of a chocolate donut. Of course I had to go. And the experience was truly sweet.
What is Malice Domestic?
Malice Domestic is more than a writers’ conference – it is a fan convention. Held annually in the Washington DC area since 1989, it celebrates traditional mystery books typified by Agatha Christie. More broadly, these are mysteries that do not contain sex, excessive gore, or violence and usually feature an amateur detective, a confined setting, and characters who know one another. The convention promotes writers, celebrates fans, and honors mystery writing in their own unique way. The Malice-Go-Round is one great example.
The Malice-Go-Round is like speed dating, but with authors. Writers rotate two-at-a-time between tables filled with mystery fans. Each have two minutes to pitch their books and hand out swag. I’ve pitched story ideas before, but never received them. And I felt like reader royalty. Some authors lost their voices, but continued to push. One even transitioned to a flip chart. Their energy and enthusiasm carried through to the very end, nearly two hours later. I left with a sense of who was up and coming in the mystery market. But more importantly, I left feeling connected to the authors who shared their stories.
Another fabulous opportunity the convention offers writers is the Malice Domestic Anthology. If selected, new writers may have their stories featured in a collection with seasoned mystery authors. There is even a signing party at the convention. A year before the event, there is a call for submissions, and anyone can respond. The anthology this year is called, Mystery Most Historical, presented by the great Charlaine Harris. The 2018 anthology is called Mystery Most Geographical and it’s now open for submissions. Who can pass on an opportunity like that?
New Author Breakfast
Another way the convention supports authors is through their new author breakfast. Sponsored by Mystery Scene Magazine, the breakfast celebrates authors who debuted within the past year. The magazine advertises the event, and the list of authors on their website. At breakfast a moderator interviews each debut providing them a platform to share their story.
And of course, the panels are designed to promote authors too. On the first day, the convention highlighted the Agatha award nominees. The Agatha is a literary award, named after Agatha Christie, for mystery and crime writers. We had a chance to vote for our favorites, making the awards banquet later that weekend even more exciting for me. The panels on the remaining days were tied to themes often seen in cozy mysteries: amateur sleuths, private eyes, rural murders, etc. Again, every panel was filled with authors.
The convention program was the best I’d ever seen. It featured detailed articles about award nominees and guests of honor. But equally important were the attending author profiles. The list served as a wonderful reminder of whom I’d met and their stories. It is a great networking resource.
Agatha Awards Banquet
The Lifetime Achievement Award recipient this year was Charlaine Harris. She became famous when HBO made her Sookie Stackhouse Books into a television series called True Blood. But even more remarkable are her writing achievements. She’s had more books on the New York Times Best Seller List at one time than any other author. If you attend a conference and Charlaine is there, never pass on a chance to hear her speak. She is articulate, funny, and inspiring. In her moving acceptance speech, she talked about her family, her writing, and how the people she met at Malice Domestic years ago played a role in her life.
The Agatha Awards also recognized Guest of Honor Elaine Viets. Dead End Job Mysteries is her most recent series. The winner for Best Contemporary Novel was Louise Penny for A Great Reckoning. Catriona McPherson’s The Reek of Red Herrings was named Best Historical Novel. Best First Novel went to Cynthia Kuhn for The Semester of Our Discontent. Jane Cleland’s Mastering Suspense, Structure, and Plot: How to Write Gripping Stories that Keep Readers on the Edge of Their Seats won Best Nonfiction. Best Short Story winner was Art Taylor for Parallel Play. And the Agatha Award for Best Children/Young Adult was Penny Warner’s The Secret of the Puzzle Box: The Code Busters Club. A full list of winners and nominees is on the convention’s website.
The Agatha’s were exciting, but what I loved most about the banquet was the seating: authors and readers sat at tables together. I was fortunate to sit with Berkley Book authors and talked to writers who I’d admired and respected for years. One of the best conversations I had was with author Kate Carlisle. Known for her Fixer Upper Series, she shared with me her writer’s journey. I was amazed someone as accomplished as Kate, would take time to talk about her experience with me. I’m truly grateful.
In the end, what made the weekend most memorable for me was the mystery writing community at the convention. I felt like I was at a class reunion, and I wasn’t an outsider. Barb Goffman graciously took me under her wing and introduced me to her tribe. I connected with my local Sisters’ in Crime Chapter thanks to Art Taylor. I know more about the Writers’ Police Academy because of Linda Lovely. And none of it would have been possible without Shawn Reilly Simmons. Shawn took care of my last minute conference registration and went the extra mile to make sure I had a seat at the Agatha Awards banquet. Thank you all for bringing me into your family. I may have come to the convention as a newbie, but I left feeling like I was part of something enduring and special.
Do you have a favorite writers’ conference? What made it most memorable for you?
Stacy Woodson is a U.S. Army Special Operations veteran and a self-declared fitness junkie. She loves a good conspiracy story and has penned one of her own. She believes in the power of a good writing community and how it can elevate your writing. She is a contributor to DIY MFA’s 5onFri and a Claymore finalist. She’s represented by John Talbot at the Talbot Fortune Agency.