Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Mrs. Smith Goes to Washington

Now that I'm mostly recovered from my adventures at the Malice Domestic Mystery Convention, I thought I'd share some of the highlights of my trip. First off, I HIGHLY recommend this convention if you are a fan of the traditional or cozy mystery genre. It's a relatively small and very cordial gathering of authors and readers with an emphasis on the tender care and feeding of fans.

I arrived Thursday afternoon following a fast and totally trouble-free flight (you have no idea what a pleasant change that was for me because my flying tends to be plagued by delayed and/or missed flights, terrifying taxi rides, and lost luggage). Anyway, I arrived safely and found that the books and gift basket that I had shipped ahead to the hotel had also arrived safely. Score! So I pre-registered, delivered my "vintage mystery" gift basket, and then settled down to enjoy room service including a bottle of Clos du Bois pinot noir and a box of Sees candy--and let us not forget that delicious cloud of pillows and comforter known as a "sleep system." I rented two really awful movies--UNDERWORLD: EVOLUTION and AEON FLUX. Don't ask me why I am always attracted to movies about violent and energetic women in tight clothes because personally I'm much happier in my nest of pillows eating chocolates and drinking wine. Mr. Smith attributes this to my feline bloodline--although I've never met many wine-drinking cats.

Nothing was scheduled to begin on Friday until the Author-Go-Round which is a kind of musical chairs sales pitch whereon teams of authors rush from table to table taking turns synopsizing their books in 90 seconds to folks who actually volunteer to be victims. I was paired with Sue Ann Jaffarian who I believe we previewed a million years ago when Claudia and I ran the Wicked Company Book Preview Club. Anyway, Sue Ann and I met for lunch and chatted a bit about books and publishing (Sue Ann started out self-publishing, did very well marketing her books and has since sold them to Midnight Ink--which is a lovely and encouraging success story, so take heart those of you still struggling to land that first wily fish).

Anyway, the Author-Go-Round was fun in a nerve-wracking way, and at the very last table who should I run into but last week's Guest Girl Detective, Heidi Vornbrock Roosa , which was lucky because it turned out I had her OLD cell phone number and would probably never have managed to find her on my own--given that my tendency at conventions is to go hide in my room and rent terrible movies.

Heidi, who is every bit as smart and charming in real life as she is on the net, chatted for a bit and then we (naturally) headed over to the Dealer Room where she further endeared herself to me by asking for my advice on vintage mysteries. (I steered her towards some Leslie Ford gems and a couple of Little sister novels from Tom and Enid at Rue Morgue. I'll detail my Dealer Room purchases--of which there were many--once the books arrive (I had them shipped home since I sort of--predictably--lost my head and spent waaaay too much money).

Somewhere along the way Heidi and I connected with Sara Rosett, who I've corresponded with a few times, and Tasha Alexander. Sara is one of these sweet and sassy Southern types and Tasha is a wicked and vivacious blonde. Both Sara and Tasha have debut novels--Sara's is MOVING IS MURDER and Tasha's is AND ONLY TO DECIVE. So naturally we had to all head back to the Dealer Room and buy each other's books. Or was that Saturday? It all blurs together, I must admit.

Anyway, eventually Heidi and I headed out for dinner through the amazing underground tunnels that lead from the Marriot to the Metro to...well, I have no idea how far they extend, but they are clean and relatively quiet and full of shops and cafes. Very cool. When we surfaced it was raining. We had dinner at a seafood place and chatted a bit about writing and publishing (what else?).

On the way back to the hotel (in the underground city) we ran across (not literally--although it's a great place to set a murder) Sara and her agent. So Heidi and Sara and I headed off to the bar--the bar accomodations are my one and only complaint about the conference. The main bar closed at 10:00 and the mini bar that we were directed to really did not have the seating or staff to accomodate.

We were joined by Jan Giles who is this amazing woman who had traveled all the way from Bahrain for the convention--more to the point she's a fan and not a writer, so we actually discussed (for a few moments, anyway) something besides writing and publishing.

Just a wonderful day talking (and buying) books. What more could you ask for?

It wasn't until I was lying there snuggled in the cloud bank watching LAW AND ORDER that it occurred to me I hadn't gone to a single panel all day!

Saturday was pretty much the same thing again--Sara and I had lunch and headed to the Dealer Room where she introduced me to Sarah Stewart Taylor (who I always hear I should be reading because her books are sort of similiar to mine) and Karen MacInerney who like me is a BookEnds client. So more buying of each other's books and then signing each other's books and then we found Heidi and Tasha and the gang of us rounded up some chairs and talked about...you'll never guess...writing and publishing!!!

You would think it would be boring, wouldn't you, but it isn't because most of the time you have to refrain from blethering nonstop about writing and publishing because normal, sane people, like your friends and family, can't take it. So you try your best to pretend that you're not obsessed and have regular and reasonable interests too. Sooo...after an afternoon of this--again missing all the panels--I went up to my room and indulged in chocolates and wine and pouring (er--PORING--that was a Freudian slip) over my hoard of new (old) books. Absolute and utter heaven for about ninety minutes before I had to get ready for the banquet.

I wore my new black beaded blouse and slit satin skirt--people wear everything there--I saw denim shorts and vintage clothing, but a banquet means dress-up for me and Miss Manners (besides, I like playing dress up). Anyway I was supposed to "host" a table, but no one seemed really clear about what that meant. If I had it to do again--and that might be next year, now that I think of it--I'd order a bottle of wine for the table and maybe supply some kind of party favors. Anyway I was lucky to have a great bunch of people at the table--two terrific ladies from "across the river" Noreen and... her sister's name escapes me, but I'd have loved to chat with them more. And then Sue Stimpson and her partner Jane Dilucchio--Jane who has a new book out called RELATIONSHIPS CAN BE MURDER. Sue Rice and three other very pleasant ladies who were too far across the expanse of water glasses and candles and butter rosettes to really talk to.

The dinner was the usual unremarkable chicken with equally forgettable salad and side. The award ceremony was brief and rather touching--this was the 18th Malice and there was a great deal of reminiscing.

I won't go into the awards as the winners are listed numerous elsewheres. I agreed with some of the votes and strongly disagreed with others--and that's how these things go. It's a great honor to be nominated and winning depends on many variables. In this case winners and nominees were all equally gracious--and Heather Webber (TROUBLE IN SPADES) gets extra points on sheer classiness for putting aside whatever disappointment she may have felt to take a few minutes to listen to me have a career melt-down moment and offer some wise words.

I wound up that evening with Tasha and Heidi and Sara in the bar where we swore an oath in blood and GTs and formed THE GOOD GIRLS KILL FOR MONEY Club. Well, maybe I exaggerate slightly (at least about the blood--there were definitely GTs involved). There's nothing like a weekend of spending too much money and eating too many carbs--and ultimately confessing your darkest insecurities--to move from friendly acquaintanceship to the basis of real friendships and strategic alliances.

(Anyway, you will no doubt hear many stories of Malice Mischief, but take it from me, The GGKFM Club were the last ones to leave the bar. It's just talk, talk, talk with those other authors.)

On Sunday I had my panel CLASS, MANNERS AND OTHER THINGS--and it was one of the best panels I've been on. The topic is one I think we could have all blabbed on and on about forever. I discussed Leslie Ford (particularly appropriate in that setting!) and it all went really well. I was hardly nervous at all.

One of the nicest moments was when Katherine Hall Page, the Guest of Honor (and Agatha winner for best novel) told me before our panel that she had read and loved SONNET OF THE SPHINX--and she really had read it! She actually was able to discuss Peter and Grace's relationship. That just impressed the heck out of me. How incredibly gracious. She even mentioned the book again when we went into the signing hall--and by the way, I actually had a line of people wanting me to sign their books. I admit that floored me. The last convention I went to was three years ago and I might have been a ghost for all anyone noticed me. (That might have had something to do with the bedsheet I wore over my head--I'm KIDDING!)

So that was my little moment in the sun and then Tasha and I met up at Sara's panel (which also went really well) and then we all said our goodbyes and I had to rush off to catch my plane.

The plan is that next year the GOOD GIRLS KILL FOR MONEY club will stay over on the Sunday in order to relax and have a little mini-vacation--and maybe go to the Tea, which I had to miss since I was flying out at 3:00ish.

So lovely, lovely trip--and on the flight home all the usual disasters happened.

The one bright spot was Sara's MOVING IS MURDER, which I had the foresight to bring on the plane. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this. I'm not a big fan of books with children--let alone a novel that offers the selling point of a "Mom Zone Mystery," but this was very well done. It's low-key and gently paced--the characters are engaging and believable--and the new mother thing is smoothly handled and provides a nice sub-plot. (Kudos for the baby Livvy being a "real" baby. Part of what is so tiresome in books with children is how totally unreal the children are--too cute, too precocious or too much in the way of the plot.) Anyway, Sara did a great job in creating a unique and interesting setting -- the background being that of military spouse. It's a nicely done debut novel.

Anyway, we arrived late in Phoenix and I had only nine minutes to run across the @#$%^*ing airport and make my connecting flight, they lost my luggage, and when I got to Burbank my shuttle driver turned out to be a maniac who ranted and raved at me for being late, nearly ran us off the road several times, and told me all about his co-workers private lives in loud and embarrassing detail. Holy moly! I was never so glad to see home and my dear Mr. Smith!

And now I can't wait for Bouchercon and the next adventures of the GOOD GIRLS KILL FOR MONEY Club.


Heidi Vornbrock Roosa said...

I had a wonderful time too, though I missed Sunday. I did make two panels on Saturday and I always enjoy how very civil Malice authors are. And funny too!
I vow, here in this (cyber)pages to actually stay over in the hotel next year. And I also think Sunday night dinner should be good ole Maryland crabs! Any shellfish allergies? Get over it. I'll bring the mallets.
Heidi Vornbrock Roosa

Coneycat said...

Wow, I am so jealous of you guys. Getting to Malice has become an ambition of mine. Maybe next year or the year after... Anyway, thanks so much for detailing your adventures, DL! They were such fun to read!

Tori Lennox said...

Wonderful trip report! I'm jealous, too! :)

Tasha Alexander said...

It really was a wonderful weekend, and the GGKFM club ROCKS--I can't wait for Bouchercon!

Jan Giles said...

I had a great time drinking with you guys. Nothing like GTs to buoy sagging spirits! Thank you for allowing a reader in your midst. Hope to see you all next year.

girldetective said...

YES! Shelley, you've GOT to come to Malice. Tori, you too! Heidi, Sunday is the SLUMBER PARTY!!! Woohoo. Jan, it was great to meet you. I don't know how I blanked on your last name. Of course, by the end of Malice I was blanking on my OWN last name.