Mystery and Mirth Mingle at Malice Domestic 2009
Malice Domestic is a mystery convention that takes place every year in the D.C. area., honoring the traditional mystery (no explicit sex or violence). The organization hands out the Agatha Awards, named for Agatha Christie. This year’s convention took place May 1 – 3 in Arlington, VA and author Elizabeth J. Duncan (The Cold Light of Mourning, which I reviewed here) attended as a panelist. She generously sent me the following insider account and photos of the festivities, which included an interview with Anne Perry. Thank you, Elizabeth!
This was my fourth Malice. In 2006, I was a prize winner (William F. Deeck – Malice Domestic grant); in 2007, I was nobody in particular; in 2008, I was a prize winner again (St. Martin’s Press/Malice Domestic contest) and this year, I attended as a published author.
Of course my book, The Cold Light of Mourning, had only been out for five minutes (published April 28). There was a stack of 12 of them in the dealers’ room on Friday. I walked by every now and then. Yep, still 12.
On Saturday morning I attended the new authors breakfast, sponsored by Kate Stine and Brian Skupin, publishers of Mystery Scene magazine. Talking to facilitator Cindy Silberblatt, we got a chance to promote our books to a very targeted audience. Then it was on to my first panel as an author. Imagine how thrilling it was for me to share a platform with Katherine Neville, Ann Cleeves, Hannah Dennison, Maria Hudgins–-all authors of wonderful novels–-to discuss mysteries set in foreign places. Mine is set in North Wales, where every hillside is dotted with sheep. We were up against stiff competition, as the nominees for the best novel were having their panel at the same time, so we were especially pleased that attendance in our salon was rather good!
Then it was on to the group author signing session. This was my first signing as an author. I wasn’t nervous about the signing part-–I was afraid no one would show up as I was signing at the same time as Carolyn Hart, Anne Perry, Louise Penny, Rhys Bowen and other heavy hitters in the traditional mystery world. Remember those 12 copies of The Cold Light of Mourning stacked up in the dealers’ room? Not anymore! I was delighted to be kept rather busy signing copies for readers and, bless their hearts, I hope they enjoy the book.
The banquet menu was standard three-course fare for this sort of event at a hotel like the Marriott: salad, pecan-crusted chicken breast (yum!) with pureed sweet potatoes and sautéed green beans. Dessert, or pudding, as we say in Wales, was a triple chocolate Charlotte–-a richly layered mousse.
The awards presentation started during dessert and I was touched when Harriette Sackler, who is a lovely, gracious woman, acknowledged me and G.M. Malliet, two previous winners, before she named this year’s winner of the William F. Deeck – Malice Domestic Grant: Kimberly Gray.
And in case you haven’t heard yet, here are this year’s Agatha Award winners:
Best novel – The Cruelest Month, Louise Penny, St. Martin’s Press
Best first novel – Death of a Cozy Writer, G.M. Malliet, Midnight Ink
Best non-fiction – How to Write Killer Mysteries – Kathy Lynn Emerson, Perseverance Press
Best Short Story – “The Night Things Changed” – Dana Cameron, Wolfsbane & Mistletoe, Penguin Group
Best Children’s/Young Adult – The Crossroads, Chris Grabenstein, Random House
One of the convention’s best-attended events was a sit-down chat between Anne Perry and Don Maas, her New York literary agent. Here are some highlights:
Maas began by describing Perry’s prolific volume of work: 25 novels in the Pitt series, 17 in the Monk series, seven Christmas novellas, and six in the World War I series, to name the most popular. Her books have continuously been in print for 30 years.
Composed and self-assured, Perry answered his questions with warmth and honesty.
Maas: What drives you?
Perry: I think I’m finally beginning to get the hang of it! I always think the best book is the next one. I feel I am writing stronger, more complex books now that go deeper and push characters into more dilemmas. There are always more things to learn and I enjoy that.
Maas: How to you develop your characters?
Perry: I imagine them at the end of the world overlooking an abyss. What would he do now? I think about all the things I see and hear. How would they deal with certain situations, like disillusionment.
Maas: Can you describe your writing process?
Perry: I live on the east coast of Scotland, about three hours north of Edinburgh in a small fishing village. I have a secretary who comes in three days a week and my brother, a retired physician, is my researcher and he comes in four days a week. I do write on the road. A hotel room with the door closed can be a fine and private place. I outline my work pretty tightly and the less familiar I am with the material, the more I outline. The outline for a book of 12 chapters will be about 24 pages.
Mass: Do things happen in your stories that surprise you?
Perry: Occasionally. Once I discovered I liked the culprit too much so I had to give that role to someone else.
Maas: Is it true that a single copy of the first edition of Cater Street Hangman (first in the Pitt series, 1979) now sells for more than the advance you received for the book?
Perry: That’s true!
Maas: You bring the Victorian world vividly alive. How do you call out all that detail and still keep things fresh and interesting?
Perry: I am getting better at cutting things out and I keep reminding myself that the detail has to serve the story.