Contrary to what its name might suggest, Malice Domestic is an annual fan convention “saluting the traditional mystery”. Think Agatha Christie, Mary Higgins Clark, or Elizabeth Peters, and you’ve got it. Held every year in Bethesda, Maryland, Malice Domestic is a chance for fans and writers to get together, find out what’s new, compare experiences, and talk about the books we love.
For me, going to Malice is a little like being a kid in a candy store. The convention starts off bright and early on Friday morning with Malice Go Round –sort of like speed dating for writers. Sitting in comfort at a table, I listened with delight as authors presented me with synopses of their latest works. I came away with a fistful of bookmarks, candy, and other literary swag and a list about a mile long of new novels I could not wait to read. The convention was barely an hour old, and I was already calculating how many books I could stuff into my suitcase without tipping the scales at the check-in counter. After that came the panels – and the hardest thing of all was deciding which one to attend out of the four or five scheduled for the same time. Imagine trying to choose between hearing Hank Phillippi Ryan, Laurie R. King, and Beth Groundwater for example. And that was in just one session.
Then there are the moments of serendipity – running into friends, meeting new authors, seeing authors whom I’ve revered for years. I passed Carolyn Hart in a hallway, and I’m sure I impressed her with my slack jawed expression and stuttered greeting. (She, of course, was completely charming.) Before my panel (If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium: Travel Mysteries), I met a reader who not only read my novel Death on Tour, but said she had preordered my second novel Death Makes the Cut and couldn’t wait to read it. It was amazing to hear something like that from anyone who has not given birth to me. (Unless, of course, she was my mom wearing a very clever disguise…but no, I don’t think so.)
One of the highlights for me came during the session given by The Poison Lady, Luci Zahray, who is an extraordinarily knowledgeable Texas pharmacist and toxicologist who provides information to mystery writers about common and easily obtainable poisons. As she explained just how deadly antifreeze can be, her two hundred plus listeners (instead of being both alarmed and appalled) frantically took notes and interrupted her with questions about symptoms and timeline to death. And I thought …yes, these are my people.
Malice Domestic has been celebrating mysteries for the past 24 years, and although this was only my second, a few intrepid fans have attended every single year. Someone asked me if I planned to come back next year. Let me think….a convention for intrigue, betrayal, murder, and the people who love them. Darn right I’ll be coming back!
Janice Hamrick’s first novel, Death on Tour, was published after winning the Mystery Writers of America/Minotaur Books First Crime Novel award. The second Jocelyn Shore mystery, Death Makes the Cut, is now on shelves and she’s working on the third. Janice lives in Austin.