My Malice Domestic recap this year will be completely unlike any I have done before, mainly because my new role at the Secretary (and Dealer Liaison) on the Malice Domestic Board meant that the convention was a very different experience for me.

After months of preparation, all of that hard work the Board did was going to come to fruition or disaster. Fortunately, in talking with many attendees, I think we found ourselves much closer to the “ complete success” end of the spectrum.

I headed to the Bethesda Marriott and Convention Center on Wednesday night after working the day job earlier. Joni Langevoort’s shipment of books for the bag stuffing and some inventory from one of the dealers had arrived and we spend most of the evening hauling those boxes into place, then opening them to prepare for the bag stuffing the next day.

photo by Liz Milliron

Thursday morning was the first of many early beginnings over the course of the weekend. I made sure to make time for my husband and I to have breakfast with one of our most favorite people in the world, Dru Ann Love. That will do wonders for ensuring a positive start to a stressful day. Michael and I were in charge of making sure that the dealers room set-up ran smoothly, and I also helped out in whatever capacity wherever I was needed (and there were many), as to pull off an event of this magnitude, there are so many small parts that must come together just right. Many of the rooms within the hotel had to be organized to serve their Malice purpose. Not the least of which was the registration area, so that the early registration could come off without a hitch. As always, Shawn Reilly Simmons and her team pulled that together and by the 5-7pm registration window, things were jumping. This was followed by the two film presentations in the Amphitheater – Murdoch Mysteries and the new Queens of Mystery from Acorn TV. I think the early-arriving attendees really enjoyed those movies.

Friday was the first official day of Malice Domestic 31. It was again an early morning making sure all was in place before the full influx of people. The track of panels that day too place mainly in the Ballroom and from what I have been told, there were some excellent panels. I moderated the Best Contemporary Agatha Award Nominees (Ellen Byron, Bruce Robert Coffin, Annette Dashofy, and Hank Phillippi Ryan) for a fifty-minute session. We discussed particulars about each of their books, some examination of the vast sub-genres covered by the nominees in their category, and the authors fielded questions from the audience. Needless to say, I didn’t make it to any other panels on Friday. Had I not been running that panel, I’m not sure I would have even made it to that one. LOL.

I did get to the opening ceremonies at 5:30. Here we made the formal welcome to this year’s Guests of Honor – Donna Andrews, Parnell Hall, P. J. Coldren, and toastmaster, Chris Grabenstein. No surprise, Chris was hilarious in his remarks. The nominees for the various Agatha Awards who were in attendance also received their certificates. Verena Rose introduced the Board during this event as well. 

Following this, I headed off to dinner at City Perch with a wonderful group of folks: Michael, Judy Bobalik, Clair Lamb, and Dru Ann Love. The food was delicious, especially that bread board that was recommended to us by Christine Gentes, who was at the table next to us.

I ended Friday evening with the Malice Domestic Anthology signing. Murder Most Edible is a great collection of stories and this event allowed me some time to chat with the contributors. I even went up to the room early because a. I was exhausted and b. I wanted to read the stories by the Malice Board Members (loved them!)

Saturday morning started with the tradition of the Sister in Crime Breakfast. I was sat at a table with Debra Goldstein, Dru Ann Love, and Aimee Hix, to name just a few of the members who noshed together before the official meeting. This year’s meeting seemed especially interesting with short presentations from many of the sub-committees letting us know what work they have done this year and what is coming for the future.

photo by Susanna Calkins

In between making sure the dealer room was running smoothly – especially since this was the first day/year when the author signings took place in there after each panel – and doing some other needed tasks that arose unexpectedly, I was able to attend one panel. “Keeping up the Suspense” with C. Michele Dorsey ably moderating Cathy Ace, Robert Downs, Mary Ellis, Sherry Knowlton, and Liz Milliron. It was an excellent discussion in which I learned a number of things. My favorite moment was when Cathy Ace was talking about the difference between thrillers and suspense novels. She feels that in thrillers, the author does much of the work, creating a cinematic action sequence where the reader is along for the ride, whereas in suspense, the author sets it up so that the reader must be an active participant in determining how successful the tension and suspense become.

I did take a moment to stop into the Kensington Signing Reception, which was packed with readers getting free books and delicious snacks. I wanted to say hi to J. D. Griffo because I have been a fan of his from back when he was writing YA gay vampire novels under is real name. I am very excited to try out his Kensington series, which I hear reads like a trip down soap opera nostalgia way.

I was able to catch half of Barb Goffman’s interview with Guest of Honor Donna Andrews. It was, of course, hilarious, touching, and informative. Again, a highlight for me and something I always try to remember when writing reviews came when Donna told a story about her formative years in school and an incident that stuck with her until today. The lesson learned was to always remember there is a person behind every piece of writing. You don’t need to praise something that doesn’t deserve it, but you also don’t want to trash it and the human soul that created it. From here, I rushed off to the Super Fans panel where I was a panelist with Judy Bobalik, Kate Stine, Nikki Bonanni, and Dru Ann Love. Shawn Reilly Simmons lobbed questions at us, making the panel feel like a friendly conversation about crime fiction fandom. The audience asked great questions and I know that we all had fun talking about our journeys with the genre. We kept talking for an hour and half and could certainly have gone on and on.

photo by Hank Phillippi Ryan

I checked in again with everyone before thinking about getting ready for the Agatha Banquet. I found out that the Step and Repeat featuring the Malice Logo had not been set up, so Joni Langevoort, Verena Rose, and I did our best Three Stooges impression to get that contraption put together. I think we did a great job, considering we had no ladder (just hotel chairs) and we all lacked engineering degrees. The good news is that it look good when we were done and stayed together throughout the evening. You will see that when you look at photos of the Agatha Award winners with their teapots. I was at Hank Phillippi Ryan’s table for the banquet, where she gave out vintage Agatha Christie paperbacks to all her guests. The food was delicious, the awards exciting (if you didn’t hear, there were TWO ties this year), and some of the best acceptance speeches I have ever heard. It was a wonderful end to the banquet. 

Before heading off to a pre-arranged cocktail party, I was able to sit down with Robin Agnew (of Aunt Agatha’s bookstore fame), Dru Ann Love, and Judy Bobalik to talk about reading, blogging, life, and more. I even roped (very easily) Robin into doing an upcoming Composite Sketch for BOLO Books, so keep an eye out for that.

Sunday morning was a slower start, by maybe half an hour. LOL. We still had to get that dealer room open, not to mention check out of the hotel room and pack the car. I didn’t even try to get to any panels, because I knew that I was going to be working very hard to clean up after everything was over.  I had a quick bite to eat with Tonya Spratt-Williams and her Mom before going to the Agatha Tea where I ate some more delicious food with the other board members.

Then the clean-up began. I got home sometime after 5pm. And yes, my fellow board members let me down in not telling me to take Monday off. All that same, I’ll be back next year to do it all over again.