Malice Domestic 22 – Friday
1:10 p.m. The Poison Lady – Luci Zahray
The highlight of Malice Domestic for many members (based on the attendance at the panel) is the talk on poison that is given by Luci Zahray, affectionately called The Poison Lady. Zahray is a pharmacist in a very busy hospital in Texas. Her talks vary from year to year and focus on poisons, poisoning, and how writers can use poisons as part of their plots.
This year’s talk was about poisonous plants. She covered Aconite, also called Monkshood and wolfsbane, which is a hearty perennial and grows wild in most of the US. Then came the opium poppy plant which actually doesn’t like to be cultivated and grows best where neglected and can sometimes be found in the wild having escaped from gardens. Then there’s Hemlock which looks very much like Queen Anne’s Lace except that the stem is hollow and has purple dots on it. A tidbit I found very interesting is that Queen Anne’s Lace is not as prevalent as most people think, and that what they believe is Queen Anne’s Lace is really poison hemlock. (Kind of scary actually.) There’s also water hemlock which grows wild and is an even more potent a poison. Coltracine (?) was the last plant covered and it also grows wild throughout the country. Other plants touched upon during the talk were Lily of the Valley and Oleander.
It’s amazing to learn that so many poisonous plants are so readily available if one’s villain was inclined to use it to achieve his/her goal.
2:10 p.m. Oh, Sir Just One More Thing. William Link was interviewed by Doug Green. William Link is this year’s Poirot Award Honoree. He’s just written a book of short stories about Columbo. Link and his partner Dick Levinson wrote or developed the scripts for Columbo, Manix, Murder, She Wrote, as well as some other shows. Since the death of his writing partner, Link has been going solo with screenplays and short fiction.
Link was witty, funny, and entertained us all with stories of his experiences writing for movies and television, the actors and actresses he worked with, and his writing partner. The time just flew by, not to mention the wealth of information for writers that was sprinkled throughout his comments and answers.
3:10 p.m. You’ve Got Fan Mail: Honored Guests and Fabulous Fans. Panel: Verena Rose (Moderator), Rhys Bowen, Parnell Hall, and Mary Higgins Clark.
The panelists talked about the most interesting, strange, and otherwise curious mail or email they get from fans. Clark mentioned a letter that said she must be reading the writer’s mind because her book was the same the fan had written in her head and she thought she should get 50% of the royalties. Bowen mentioned that most of her current email was of the “don’t let her marry Daniel” type. They noted the mail that puts you in your place: Clark said she got mail from a 13-year-old boy who said he’d just read the first half of her book <B>Where are the Children</B> and hoped one day to read the other half and another letter that said, “you’re books are so good I don’t mind the boring parts”.
Clark recounted an incident where someone said she stole her book and it took two years of depositions to finally get the case dropped. It seems the woman had sent her script to just about the whole world except Clark. The panel then affirmed that that was exactly the reason that authors will not read the unpublished works of others – it’s just too perilous.
The panel then went on during the Q&A to discuss how you can find great ideas in the news by asking “what if”, “suppose”, and “why”. There were many other writing tips discussed and suggested for the beginning writer.
5:10 p.m. Opening Ceremonies. The toastmaster was Rhys Bowen, assisted by Verena Rose of the Malice Domestic Board. Each of the honored guest were introduced followed by the listing of the nominees for the Agatha Award. The award voting takes place during the convention and the winners will be announced at the awards banquet on Saturday evening.
Silent Auction: The hospitality room is also the site of the silent auction. Themed gift baskets are set about the room and you check them out and write your bid on the accompanying bid sheet. Most consist of a basket, books by an author, and items that relate to the books contents. Sometimes the baskets are by a groups such as Poe’s Deadly Daughters. This year there were at least 5 chances to bid on having your name be used for a characters in someone’s next book. The money from the silent auction goes towards a local charity to assist education and reading among children.
There was also a standard auction, also for charity. At least one of the items that I saw at the preview was a collection of items related to Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series (a couple of books) and True Blood (the HBO series) which included a vial of true blood and a Merlotte’s apron. There were also many other interesting and intriguing items. We missed the auction (having to be home in time to have Gumshoe Review go live on schedule) but in previous years this auction has been not only for a good cause but very entertaining to those attending as the auctioneer solicits bids from the audience.
Malice Domestic: Saturday, May 1st.
Due to traffic and other minor inconveniences we didn’t get to Malice Domestic until just before the lunch break. I talked to people at registration and learned that there were about 500 attendees this year. Based on an eye-ball estimate, I’d say that the ratio of professionals to fans is really good. If you can only do one conference and you’re a budding mystery writer, Malice Domestic should be a conference that you seriously consider attending. The panels are not simply fluff but serious opportunities to learn more about the art of writing, plotting, character development, and use of setting, among other skills.
We checked out the dealer’s room. You’d think with the number of books that come into the office every month that I’d never need to buy books. But, you’d be wrong. We picked up several that I’d been meaning to read such as P.D. James’ About Detective Fiction (a review will follow eventually).
1:30 p.m. Behind the Curtain: An Inside Look at Unusual Settings. Panelists: C. Ellett Logan (Moderator), Marian Moore Hill, Judith Koll Healey, Penny Warner, Joanne Dobson.
Each of these authors use setting as an integral part of the story. Hill and Healey write historical mysteries. Warner uses San Francisco and its environs. Dobson uses a small New England college campus.
The combination of characters and settings drive the plots for these authors. Each author supported the need to visit the settings you intend to use and to really understand the place, its quirks, its place in society and the people who inhabit that setting. The more you know about the place the easier it is to move your characters around in it.
Most agreed that setting often determines the nature of the crime that is committed. There was a lot of discussion on how each of the authors use setting in their books and why they picked the time/place/setting that they did. When setting is used right — the story would be impossible to have anywhere else because then the setting wouldn’t be right.
One of the more important tips from this panel was to “write what you love not necessarily what you know”. If you love a time or place you’ll find a way to learn what you need to know and the love will shine through to help make a good story — if you only write what you know, you’ll not grow as a writer or a person.
2:50 p.m. Urban Fantasy Mysteries: Stories with an Extra Dimension. Panelists: Casey Daniels, Kris Neri, Maria Lima, Mary Saums, and Dina Willner (Moderator).
During the introductions it became clear that all of these authors read avidly as children and young adults. They tended to read fantasy, science fiction, and mysteries. Then there came some writers who brought magic to the modern world and once they found that mix which made urban fantasy — why not add a mystery.
The most important thing to do in writing supernatural mysteries is to set limits for your characters or magical system and stick to them. There have to be rules and you need to live by them. You need everything in a traditional mystery but you also have someone with supernatural powers that also misses the clues and that person must not be able to solve the crime with magic or it’s cheating. You must play fair within the limits and rules that you set up for your world/series/story.
As important as it is to have rules and limits, you must have consequences if you try to break the rules or the limits you set up.
4:10 p.m. Guest of Honor Interview. Parnell Hall interviewed by Dorothy Cannell and Sharon Newman.
Parnell Hall is an interesting person. He’s been an actor, a songwriter/singer, and of course a mystery writer. Rather than try to give you an idea of the life and times of this year’s Guest of Honor. I’ll let you learn a bit about him yourself. Here’s the link to Parnell Halls YouTube videos.
Unfortunately, we didn’t attend the banquet where the winners of the Agatha Awards were announced, but you’ll find the winners’ list in the Gumshoe Review News Column.
We were scheduled to cover another event on Sunday and would miss the program items on that day. However, on the way home Saturday, our transmission decided to drop two gears so instead of going to that event, we’re at home until we can get the car into the garage on Monday.
If you never attended a Malice Domestic but love traditional mysteries, consider adding it to your calendar for next year. Details will be on their webpage.
Today was the first day of Malice Domestic 22 being held this weekend in Arlington, Virginia at the Crystal Gateway Marriott Hotel. This year’s guests are:
- Guest of Honor: Parnell Hall
Toastmaster: Rhys Bowen
Lifetime Achievement: Mary Higgins Clark
Malice Remembers: Ed Hoch
Poirot Award: William Link
Fan Guests of Honor: Tom & Marie O’Day
We missed the first couple of program items this morning. But we did attend several others which I’ll write up later. We had to leave at 9 p.m. to get home in time to get Gumshoe Review up and online by midnight. (Also SFRevu.com ).
First impressions are that the energy level is as high and the feeling of camaraderie just as welcoming as in the past. However, the number of attendees seems lower though I don’t know the actual numbers — just the rooms don’t feel as full. However, there has been a single track of programming all day and not everyone is used to the programming starting so early so it may be that attendees just had other commitments this morning as the evening programs seems pretty full.
Malice Domestic celebrates the traditional mystery — no blood and violence on the page, that happens off to the side. But the traditional mystery can still be pretty edge-of-your-seat without overwhelming the reader with graphic details. Malice Domestic also awards the Agatha Awards.
Anyway, more later — I need sleep.
It’s that time of month, and this time things are really, really, tight. Hyperion and I will be covering Malice Domestic, a wonderful mystery convention held in Arlington, VA this weekend. We’ll also be at Maryland Sheep and Wool on Sunday — the biggest sheep and wool event on the east coast.
And, we’ll also be trying to get SFRevu and Gumshoe Review up and live with the May issues on the 1st.
Stay tuned to see if we actually managed to do all that and remain moderately sane at the same time. [Hyperion: I predict a 7.23% probability]
Meanwhile, the cat (Emnot) finally went to the vet this past week. We’d thought Emnot was a she but the vet, after careful and intense looking, found that she was really a he. He’d also already been neutered so that was a relief. But, he had round worms and ear mites — as well as fleas (good thing he’s an outdoor cat). So, now it’s medication and ear drops for him and he’s not a happy cat just now. However, we came back from a doctor’s appointment this afternoon and found a dead lizard and the remains of a mouse. Wonder if he’s trying to warn us off about the medications….
Unfortunately, by the time we got to the WSFA meeting, voted, caught up on business, got home, and wrote up the Malice Domestic report from Friday and got to bed, it was nearly 3 a.m. So we overslept this morning. We arrived in time to check out the silent auction and found that we’d been outbid on everything we had bid on. Looks like the auction is doing great work raising money for their charity (check the website for information on the charity Malice Domestic has chosen to assist.)
2:00 – 2:50: North, South, East, West – This is Where We Kill the Best: How Setting Impacts the Story.
Panel: Judy Cater (moderator), Deborah Sharp, Carole Nelson Douglas, JoAnna Carl/Eve K. Sandstrom, Cheryl Solimini.
NOTE: While answers are attributed to a speaker, remember it’s all from my notes and my not be exact or I might have misinterpreted what was said.
How do you decide on a place to set your series?
Deborah: I live in Florida and my part of Florida is not the usual part of state that people know about. It’s the rodeo part.
Carole: I traveled a lot throughout the country. For Midnight Louie, I need a certain type of activity and picked Las Vegas and had to then go do more research.
JoAnna: Used to work at a chocolate shop, my daughter does but in another state. Used to be chocolate was very expensive and couldn’t put in small town. So, I needed to find a place to put it. Husband’s family owned a cottage that is now in an area that is becoming popular and lots of rich people moving in so it could afford a chocolate shop.
Cheryl: My home town was 3 miles long and three blocks wide. Everyone knew everyone else and all went to school. Which now years later I realize was not that usual and that it would make a good spot for mysteries.
How was your setting an active part of the plot or a character in itself.
Carole: Las Vegas has changed much over the twenty years, and even though the characters over the books have grown by a year but I keep up with the changes in the city. It’s a fantasy city, so I can do pretty much what you want. Because of the restrictions in working with existing properties so the Las Vegas in my books is slightly imaginary.
JoAnna: People write and ask what town it is that is in my books. But my town is fictional, my towns are usual fictional so I can do what I want. Based on the town where my family cottage is located. (Michigan gold is peaches.) Lots of diversity of people living in the area and make it ideal for mystery.
Cheryl: New Jersey itself is a character in itself. Town in book is based on Edgewater across from New York City. It’s small town people living in view of metropolis and trying to hold onto their values. Set in 1992 because that was when town was going through transition when it was becoming a bedroom community for NYC.
Deborah: Character is part-time animal trapper and is based on an actual ranching town so the town is fictional. Threw in the South Florida that I grew up in — now that area is all strip malls and interstates. Town is a character itself.
Do you think the setting of your books helps to develop a fanbase?
Deborah: If I was thinking as a marketer rather than a writer I wouldn’t have sent the book in a place with more cows than people.
Carole: People always going to Las Vegas looking for Louie places but they are fictional and only exist in my mind. The apartment building that the characters live in was actually in Corpus Christie (recently found it and found out the name).
JoAnna: I get people who email to set me straight if I get something wrong about Michigan. Three types of people in Warner Pier: locals, tourists, and summer people (own or lease cottages long term). Hero in book is a guy who restores antique speed boats and thought it would be unique. Found out there are five of these guys in the town it’s based on.
Cheryl: Tried very much not to mention the name of the town or the state in which it is. I worried about being sued. I was told I had to give some geographical information so ended up mentioning New Jersey a couple of times and NYC. Hadn’t been back since I was twelve and when the book was coming out got contacted by many of the people from my childhood. Got back in touch with people I hadn’t seen for 40 years. Did use the name of the deli that it used to have.
3:30: Guest of Honor Interview: Nancy Pickart interviewed by Carolyn Hart.
There was a lovely introduction by Carolyn Hart detailing the writing history of Nancy Pickart (3 time Agatha winner, 17 novels).
Nancy introduced her agent (Meredith Bernstein) and editor (Linda Merrill).
Nancy Wolf – her maiden name, decided to use married name because she wanted to be at eye level in the bookstores. Now Pickart is at floor level and Wolf would be at eye level.
Grew up reading mysteries. Mother loved mysteries, earliest memory was of trying to mother attention when she was buried in a book.
Started as Journalism major. Graduate of U of Missouri school of Journalism. Always felt like a fish out of water and later realized because it was because she was a really a fiction writer. First job covered a large area and covered city council meetings. Covered a zoning meeting and tried to give it the flavor of the meeting, after it was published a council member called and said it was great coverage but the story says the voted “Yes” when they actually voted “No”.
Then wrote for anything that would pay for it. Saved money and quit job and went to Europe for a year. Came back and became freelance. Had a lot of little jobs and made a lot of connections.
See Nancy Drew as shining example for young women. When young lots of libraries wouldn’t allow Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys on their shelves. Years later among women mystery writers you’d find many were fans of the original (not watered down) Nancy Drew stories. Suspect that if you had a map of which libraries had the books you’d find a correlation between women writers and Nancy Drew.
When mystery writers described their sleuths they usually say she’s thinner, smarter, etc. than me. Jenny is much the same. She’s part of me because I made it up. Jenny would think snarky comments and not say them and fans would write that they thought those things and didn’t say them either. Now women Jenny’s age do say those things.
Virginia Rich diversion. Long story about writing a fan letter to her when first started writing and years later being asked to finish the books Virginia had started before her death (27 Ingredient Chili Con Carne Adventure).
Was on committee to pick best True Crime book of the year. Hoped reading these books would give them insight into why criminals did what they did. Found that this didn’t really happen because most of the criminals were alive and in prison and so didn’t really tell truth to the writers and the family didn’t either.
Lot of traditional mystery writers don’t want to get into the mind of the bad guys and readers don’t like it either. As a writer, I didn’t think I should feel that way and wanted to be able to understand that so started new series until I satisfied myself. (Ray Raintree) Then returned to the traditional mystery.
Virgin of Small Plains has won just about every award and has been nominated for most of the others. Realized that I’d set books in just about every other state and finally decided it was time to set a book in Kansas. Looked at my life and my family which now is my mother, me, and my son. Realized that I’m a midwestern girl and swept by a desire to write about Kansas. At this time Kansas was getting a lot of bad publicity and it was time to write about what I loved.
Two things happened: 1) Kansans are almost pathetically grateful. 2) people say I never realized that Kansas had such beautiful place and it makes me want to get off the highway and look at it.
Story is told from a point of view of a girl who loves Kansas.
Next books is Scent of Rain and Lightning. Set in another part of Kansas – not done and turned in yet.
Also writes short stories too. Sold first short story I ever wrote and one and half years later I hadn’t sold anything else and I was depressed and discouraged. Wondered what I was doing wrong. I always say that if you go to a writers conference and learn one thing it’s worth it. At a conference an instructor said, “Every short story must have an epiphany”–an aha moment when they learn something not about the crime but about themselves.
7 Steps on the Writer’s Path: unhappiness, wanting, commitment, letting go, emersion, fulfillment (I’m missing one but can’t remember what it was). Feel the most important one is letting go – let characters do what they are going to do.
4:30 – 5:20: Welcome to the Dark Side: Mysteries with Edge and Grit
Panel: Don Bruns, Carl Brookins, Stefanie Pintoff, Robin Burcell, Barbara D’Amato (moderator), John L. French.
Bad language doesn’t make a story dark.
Don Bruns: Bahama Burnout is based on a story a sound engineer told him about a studio that used to be magic (lots of great groups and hits), when rebuilt things didn’t go as well so went out of business. He wrote a story to go with these few facts.
Carl Brookins: Says every author absolutely must pay attention to their contracts and electronic writes.
Stephanie Pintoff: First book just came out (Shadow of Gotham), it’s turn of century New York City. Next book will also be about NYC, early Times Square.
John L. French: Is crime scene investigator with Baltimore City police department. When write that dark stuff he sees in his job comes out and that sort of makes it more real.
Robin Burcell: Forensic artist mysteries. Some of the incidents are things that happened when she was a police officer.
Satisfying to kill off someone you really hate.
Research often makes the writer very despressed but when you finally write it comes out better because you’re in the head of the character.
Stephanie writes historical fiction and likes the way you can blend what was with some new stuff. Need to do research to ground the world. Found about the beatings, and nastiness of the election for mayor at the time.
Carl Brookins: My detective tells me what to write and he’s dark.
What ever makes the book dark must be from the character — it’s the character that drives everything.
That’s the end of programming for Saturday. There’s to be a banquet tonight when the Agatha winners will be announced. We should have the list of winners for you sometime tomorrow.
Unfortunately, we won’t be at Malice Domestic for Sunday. Luckily for all your readers all the sessions were taped. I asked at the desk and the tapes will be available at some point. The information will be on the Malice Domestic website so check there for availability. If you can’t get to Malice Domestic listening to the session could be the next best way to enjoy the convention.
This year, we managed to get to the convention at lot earlier than usual. In the past, we arrived for Opening Ceremonies and missed the programming that was held earlier. So, we managed to check out the silent auction items, visit the dealer’s room, and get to some panels before Opening Ceremonies.
[NOTE: We didn’t get back until quite late and can’t seem to find the download cable to the camera so photos will probably be added tomorrow sometime.]
2:00 – 3:30 PM: The Poison Lady – Lucy Zahray
This program item is always a big hit because what writer doesn’t want to know how to kill off that annoying or evil character in a manner that will be a challenge for their protagonist to identify and find the killer. Everything is turned around in ways that would help to make a story more interesting.
The following is a smoothed out version of my notes from this panel. However, the information is general and as a writer you really need to make the plot fit the facts as much as possible and be plausible as well as working as a traditional mystery.
Poison is not a rare crime it’s just usually undetected. People are rarely caught on their first poisoning. When a poisoner is caught on their first victim it is usually because they got drunk and bragged, spent money like crazy, or killed five people in five days (overkill).
The topic today is the Big 3: Arsenic, Strychnine, Cyanide
Arsenic – a rock that’s mined straight from the ground. It’s the 25th most common earth element.
LD 50: 150 milligrams (NOTE: LD 50 is the dose at which 50% of the subjects will die from the dose.)
always arsenic doesn’t break down, found in cremains, found in cemeteries.
There are a lot of areas where the water or land is contaminated with arsenic. During the Civil War the dead were sent home, if the first war where the dead could be transported back to their homes. The bodies had all the parts that could spoil or hold disease removed and the cavity with arsenic. So, most cemeteries with Civil War bodies buried in them would contaminate the land and water around them.
You can find arsenic in antique stores – usually as fly paper, or any products that say something like “sure death” or have a skeleton on label. Often the products don’t say poison – just read the ingredient label.
Fly paper is good and common way to find arsenic. It’s water soluble and has no flavor or odor (slight garlic smell when cooked/hot), looks like sugar in a bowl and could be put in coffee, tea, juice. If someone was dosed in the morning they might not get sick for hours and the killer could be far away from the crime. If symptoms not recognized might not even no it was murder.
Two Methods – acute way – big dose get sick and die or the chronic way give tiny doses over time and they sicken/recover/sicken again then finally die usually seen by doctor in between and thus have a history of health problems so death is not suspicious. The trick is to give the poisoner a good motive and to make the murder interesting enough to deserve writing about it.
Many myths have developed around arsenic:
One is that taken a bit over long period of time and then get immune – what you get is dead.
Medically you can test bodies for arsenic so it could be found. They can test hair, for example. Many people live in environments with high background levels of arsenic (causes intestinal problems, rice water type diarrhea – may indicate arsenic poisoning.)
Arsenic has been used to treat refractory cases of leukemia (kills off blood cells) and used to kill off intestinal parasites.
Lots of history behind arsenic – once called inheritance powder…
First reliable test didn’t come along to 1850s Marsh Test after that it could be tested for. Previously to this test, they ground up parts of body and fed it to animal and if animal died same way then it was presumed to be poison.
Again antique stores good place to buy it. It was sold until 1965 as a vitamin (chocolate coated to make it taste better). It was believed to improve your blood and wind and GI motility (constipation treatment).
Strychnine is one of the most bitter flavors (1 part in 15,000 is detectible from bitter taste) so it was chocolate coated, or licorice or espresso. Or put in something that is supposed to have a bitter taste so it would be less noticeable.
The phrase “If it tastes bad it is good for you” was basted on the strychnine taste.
LD 50: 15-30 milligrams.
Didn’t need Rx or doctor’s orders, you could just buy it.
If you spit it out because of taste you still might have enough to die or at least get very sick. It inhibits the ability of the cells to not send messages. Everything is stimulated to contract (example with fist, thumb in and pull toward body). All senses are heighted and don’t loose consciousness. Strongest muscles controls contractions so body bows (head and feet on ground, body raised up). Victim can’t breathe because diaphragm is contracted. Anything can set off next wave of contractions – still aware and more sensitive to the pain.
Becomes cyclical. Most victims die between 3rd and 5th set of contractions.
You really, really, really got to hate someone to use strychnine.
Organic compound, comes from a tree can by seeds (when extracted is tarry black substance, if further processed then white powder). Seeds are size of quarter; round fuzzy, small indent (myth says that indent is finger print of God).
Any old poisons have a lot of myths and legends associated with them.
Still used in US as predator control. Legal to buy it – no real control on sale.
It was thought for a long time that if you survived contractions (can survive if get to hospital, give huge amounts of muscle relaxation drugs, put on a vent). But now they know that the contractions cause body to heat up to 106 or 108 temperatures – in about three weeks liver, spleen, and kidneys got too hot to keep functioning. Now we know there’s a latency period and will die of complications weeks to months later. More distance between victim and poisoner the less likely of being found as the murderer — which makes for better plots and the killer being harder to find and identify in the story.
Taken off market as vitamins in 1956.
When a drug is withdrawn you can sell what you have in stock…can’t make anymore. If it is Recalled — take of shelves and send it back..
Most things are withdrawn not recalled.
Rigor mortis sets in almost immediately, and body stays in contracted state by time rigor set in it’s really just wearing off – throws off the time of death.
If you want instant death – hydrogen sulfide (death on indrawn breathe)
LD 50: 2 milligrams.
Between 2 to 30 minutes to die, bitter almond smell, most people can’t smell it and most of the people who can’t smell it are men).
Death in few minutes or 3 hours depending on dose (everything depends on dose).
Generally inhaled is fastest way to kill someone
Injection is second fastest way (but harder to do)
absorbed through intact or abraded skin. (patch)
Cyanide binds up oxygen carrying cells so it’s a suffocation type of death.
Blood testing for poisons: No general test for poisons just a test for each individual poison or drug. Tests are expensive, time consuming, need to know what to test for or you won’t find it. So has to narrow down the field via symptoms or lifestyle. Test take time and often find the problem after victim is dead.
3:45 – 4:45 Mystery Shrouded in Classic Literature: The Mystery of Emma.
Panel: Jane Cleland & Peggy Ehrhart.
First, Jane Cleland went over the definition and identifying characteristics of a traditional mystery. Her talk was very interesting and filled with lots of observations and quotes. Here’s a few from my notes:
What is a traditional mystery?
Definition: work of fiction, drama, film dealing with crime.
Fair play mystery – audience knows everything as soon as the detective but it’s identifying the important from the non-important hides the clues.
Thriller – stopping the crime is the crux of the story.
Traditional mysteries – suspense is not as crucial. Try to figure out what happened.
Mystery is novel of revelation not action.
Contemporary mystery has evolved into whodunit and whydunit
Traditional mystery – character drives plot, reader must crave knowing how this person will handle that situation.
Reader engaged not by trill seeking by need to know.
Traditional and cozy are often used interchangeably.
Qualities for traditional: murder usually happens off stage, if violence occurs on stage no graphic details, murder occurs in first chapter or two, no swearing, victim and killer are known to one another, solution is from deductions of sleuth, in series secondary characters occurs. Red herrings.
Red herrings are crucial elements of trad. Mystery – false trail. A narrative element to distract reader from something else.
6 ways red herrings used:
- overlooked detail
- wrong interpretation of a known fact
- casual mention in conversation
- no reason to be significant unless you have specialized knowledge
- absence of something that should be there
- band wagon fallacy – when someone argues for a certain interpretation because of their own beliefs. Popularity is unrelated to its correctness.
Next Peggy Ehrhart discussed Jane Austen’s Emma as a traditional mystery but without a murder. It’s a mystery that rather than solve a murder tries to determine who loves who. P.D. James said that if Austen was writing today she’d be one of our greatest mystery writers.
Emma is blind to obvious clues. Mr. Knightly is far more observant. Shown best by the fact that Emma doesn’t recognize Mr. Elton true characters when she tries to match him with Harriet Smith.
Three examples of Emma’s blindness: painting of Harriet, the riddle delivered to Emma not Harriet, and the party that Harriet misses.
Second misunderstood plot element: Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax (secret engagement).
If Austen wrote mysteries they would be fair play ones since all the clues are there. Frank always promises to pay a visit to his father but only actually comes when Jane is visiting her relatives. Austen disguises this fact so that reader misses as does Emma. Jane plays piano and Frank is off to London for haircut and suddenly Jane gets a piano delivered. (to hide his involvement with Jane he grabs onto Emma’s notion that Jane must have an admirer and runs with it, setting Emma on the notion that Mr. Dickson is the man).
Clue hidden in plain sight: Mrs. Bates very talkative. At ball, Frank helps Jane on with her wrap which shows his interest but his clue is buried in the tons of other information that Mrs. Bates talks on and on about.
Mr. Knightly brings up the fact that he believes Frank and Jane are a couple and gets pooh-poohed by Emma.
Frank’s letter in Chapter 14 after Mrs. Churchill’s death is much like the final reveal in a traditional mystery.
In many of Austen’s works you end it and then it’s the realization that you should have seen this because all the clues are there.
Opening Ceremonies: Announce the Guest of Honor, the nominee for the various awards and welcome every one to the convention. This was followed by a reception.
7:30 – 8:20 pm: Humor Panel
Panel: Elaine Viets (moderator), Don Bruns, Pari Noskin Taichert, Parnell Hall, and Jeff Cohen.
There was lots of joking around and some serious discussion of humor in mysteries. The most important point that was made was that:
The humor has to come from your character not from you.
If you try too hard it will fail.
If you think what you wrote is hilarious, wonderful humor — it probably isn’t.
This was followed by the auction but we had to leave at this point. We’ll be back tomorrow to cover the full day of programming.
Sunday dawned overcast and cloudy after raining off and on all night. But up we got and headed to Malice Domestic for its last day. We arrived shortly before the start of the 10:30 a.m. panels, missing the 9 a.m. panels (we’d have been a little earlier, but caffeine was determined to be a priority).
Devious Devices: What Makes Their Sleuthing Unique? Panelists: David Skibbins, Michael Dymmoch, Jack Cater (Moderator), Chris Grabenstein, and Andy Straka. Panelists discussed how to make a story and its characters believable. This included using explicit forensic methods, correct gun information, research, more research, and even more research. They stress that the characters must have reason either personal or professional for what they do, otherwise why would they get involved. Panelists also discussed the necessity of listening to the characters — you can’t force them to go against their nature (even though you originally gave them their characteristics and beliefs). This panel didn’t stray off the subject but it did use a much broader interpretation of “device” than I had expected. Chris told an amusing story of needing to research men’s rooms along the NJ Turnpike and how difficult it can be to walk in and start taking pictures (think about it).
Signings — We managed to get to a signing session — finally. Malice Domestic has a set of panels and then a half hour of signings by all panelists from the previous session. This gives attendees a chance to get their books signed and still get to see all the panels. We introduced ourselves to a number of authors and chatted for a bit and took pictures for our archives.
The Credible Amateur: Regular People with a Gift for Detection. Panelists: Earlene Fowler, Betty Hechtman, Rosemary Harris, Barb Goffman (Moderator), Kathryn R. Wall, and Maria Hudgins. The panel talked about the need to have police involvement and how to involve the police and yet be able to keep an amateur sleuth looking for clues. And as a corollary, the difficulty of having the sleuth solve a crime that the police can’t with all their experience. There’s the belief that if you develop your character fully then there will be personal, professional, or incidental traits or knowledge that allow the amateur to string information together in nonstandard ways allowing them to solve the crime. There was also discussion on how aggravating it is when authors have the police tell the amateur things that police would never divulge to a civilian — that, to be credible, the amateur needed to be given no more information than ‘reality’ would allow. The authors discussed how they handled these problems in their own mystery series. Later, they discussed keeping the readers reading even when they know that it’s total fantasy because no one could possibly fall over sixteen bodies in two years of book time. Some interesting ways to handle this dilemma were discussed (I’d tell more but you should consider attending a Malice is you really want to know)
Lifetime Achievement Interview: Peter Lovesy interviewed by Robert Barnard. This interview was totally fascinating as it covered growing up during World War II London and what it was being a child then: the games they played (collecting shrapnel and trying to find spies), books they read, the billeting of the children to areas outside of London. Then they covered Lovesey’s early career as a sports writer and his interest in the Victorian Era and sports then and now (writing articles on the history of sports: running). Some overviews of his writing process, books to film, the genesis ideas that later led to books. Once again an interview that was entertaining, informative, and humorous.
Essentially, at this point Malice Domestic is over except for their hat contest and the Afternoon Tea. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get may pictures of hats prior to the tea, which we didn’t attend. However, we did pick up a list of the Agatha Award winner from Saturday night’s ceremony:
The Agathas were awarded in five categories:
- Best Novel – A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny, published by St. Martin’s Minotaur
- Best First Novel – Prime Time by Hank Phillippi Ryan, published by Harlequin
- Best Nonfiction – Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life in Letters by Jon Lellenberg, Daniel Stashower, and Charles Foley, published by Penguin Press
- Best Short Story – “A Rat’s Tale” published by Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, September/October 2007
- Best Children/Young Adult Fiction – A Light in the Cellar by Sarah Masters Buckley, published by American Girl.
So that was Malice Domestic for this year. If you’re interested in mysteries and want an interesting weekend with writers and other fans, check out the website for registration information for next year’s convention.
Okay, it’s me again. Technically, it is I, but that still just sounds too weird no matter what Chicago Manual of Style says. Anyway, as with yesterday, we’re going to take a quick break and get something to eat. So if you’re looking at this and don’t see any pictures, rest assured that we’ll be adding them in a little later. If you’re looking at this and you see pictures … well thank you for reading, remember to tip your blogger, and try the veal.
Saturday saw us getting up bright and early for the drive to Crystal City, VA for another day of Malice Domestic. By that I mean that the day was bright and the time was early; however, the brain of yours truly was only half awake — until I got my cup of coffee. Then of course, the angels sang and it was glorious.
First thing we did when we arrived was to take photos of some of the baskets for the Silent Auction. We even bid on three items but alas (for us) we didn’t have the highest bid. Luckily, for the charity, others bid the items up higher than we were willing to go.
Next we checked out the dealers room. You’d think reviewing books for Gumshoe Review that I’d have my fill of reading material. It would make sense that that would be true but again it’s not. So, after a significant outlay, there are now more books to stack on my To Be Read Pile. The books purchased will fill in some back stories in several series that I’m reading and add some new authors that I hadn’t had a chance to read yet. After taking several photos, we moved on to attend a panel.
Touch of Woo-Woo: Paranormal. Panelists: Lillian Stewart Carl, Elena Santangelo, Carole Nelson Douglas, Maria Lima (Moderator), Casey Daniels, and Lorna Barrett. The panelist talked about what they know about their characters that may not make it into the book. The melding of paranormal themes and myths in a story. There was a lot of give and take on character development, would the story be the same without the paranormal element, and why a paranormal element anyway. These types of panels really offer some insight into the thinking, planning, and research that goes into writing a book.
Lunch break: Malice Domestic, unlike a lot of conventions that we have attended, actually has a break in the schedule so that people can go eat and not miss a panel or talk. The hotel is connected to the Crystal City Mall and there’s a food court and a lot of restaurants — so food is available without having to travel very far.
Next was You’re History!: The Past and Its Mysteries. Panelists: Sharan Newman (Moderator), Dana Camron, Kathy Lynn Emerson, Aileen Baron, Kate Gallison, and Sally Wright. Since I’ve always loved historical mysteries, I thought this would be a great panel to sit in on. It was. Unfortunately, and with a bit of embarrassment, I have to admit that I haven’t read any of these authors (but see above about the dealers room), that is shortly to be remedied. Another reason to attend the panels is to listen to authors talk about their works (without giving any plot points away). One of the interesting questions the panel was asked by the moderator was to list one thing about the time period that they write about that they think most people don’t know or have wrong. Among other items, we learned that Griffith Park in LA has a curse on it. There was also a bit of hilarity about 1812 — the year, the time, and the overture. The authors also talked about how when writing historicals you are doing as much world building as a science fiction or a fantasy author. That an author has to make the time period accessible to modern readers while remaining true to the time period. When asked if they would change a fact if it upset the plot, they unanimously stated they’d change the plot rather than ignore a known historical truth. I found the discussion and the answers fascinating and really will follow up on all these authors.
Guest of Honor Interview: Charlaine Harris interviewed by Toni L.P. Kelner. This hour just flew by. Charlaine is as charming, forthright, and entertaining as any of her characters. We learned how she got into writing. A bit of the background and an update on True Blood, the HBO series based on the Sookie Stackhouse books. Upcoming works and some background on the Lily Bard and the Aurora Teagarden series and well as her Harper Connelly books.
International Guest of Honor Interview: Lindsey Davis interviewed by Robert Barnard. I’d read a few of the Falco books and wanted to listen to the author talk about her characters and the Roman Empire. The interview was another where the time just flew. We learned how Davis got into writing, why Rome, how Falco came to be, and about her life and background. I expected Lindsey Davis to be well informed and charming but I didn’t expect the wit and humor — obviously I just don’t pay attention.
So, home again and missing the banquet where the Agatha Awards will be presented but we should have the list of winners for you tomorrow.
Hyperion here. We’re beat and lacking in the required brain cells to do a proper job on today’s photos. We’ll try to get a set packaged up and added in tomorrow. Of course that will be in addition to tomorrow’s photos. Oh well, nobody said walking amongst the stars like giants was going to be an easy task. Till tomorrow … UPDATE: It’s tomorrow and just look, we got a few of them in, just like we promised. We still have a couple left to do, but that will have to wait until after today’s events.
We arrived at the hotel, got our badges, and were early enough to sit in on the Charity Auction to benefit JLG-RICA. The bidding was heavy and everyone was having a great time. Auctioneer was Kate Grilley with the assistance of Sue Henry. While we were there Katherine Hall Page auctioned off an item (the winner could have his or her original recipe for a dessert in her book due out for Christmas). This item got a lot of interest and finally went for $525 dollars. This is all to help a great cause and everyone enjoyed themselves. The convention is also having a silent auction for the same cause that will end tomorrow — these items are mostly baskets based on a theme. Some are very clever but all the baskets are wonderfully creative. Hopefully tomorrow, we’ll have time to get some pictures.
This year is Malice Domestic’s 20th Anniversary. During the Opening Ceremonies, Dan Stashower noted that he’d been to all but the first convention. The ceremonies included a moment of silence for the loss of members of the mystery society over the past year after the names were read out. Next was a list of all the sponsors of Malice Domestic for this year followed by presentation of certificates for all those attending this year who’d also attended the first Malice Domestic, and then an introduction of all the Malice Domestic Board members. The Guests of Honor were then introduced and presented with gifts (Charlaine Harris, Lindsey Davis, Dan Stashower, Peter Lovesey and others). Next all the nominees for the Agatha Awards were introduced and presented with certificates. (The winners of the Agathas will be announced at the Saturday evening Banquet.)
The Opening Ceremonies was followed by a reception. Lot of munchies and a chance to talk with authors, editors, publishers, fans, and all in between and combinations of the previous categories. Many of the people that I spoke with had been to previous Malice Domestic conventions and loved coming back. One couple said that the convention was a great way for them to hear about upcoming books and to hear about them from the authors themselves. But everyone loved mysteries and solving them and the opportunity to learn more about the genre.
After the reception, Lucy Zahrey, The Poison Lady, gave a talk on poison plants. Focusing on how readily available poisons are in our gardens, our neighbor’s gardens, health food stores, and other places not usually associated with poison, she told us about symptoms, strategies, availability, and novel possibilities for writers who have characters who wish to poison their enemies. Plants discussed included castor beans, yew, monkshood, poppies, oleander, and others. She warns that people should never confuse natural and organic with safe, since most poisons are both, and definitely not safe. Recommended as a good resource for writers was Common Poisonous Plants of North America by Timber Press. Each poisonous plant was presented with the ways in which it might be used by an author in a story to commit a crime that would be interesting for readers and realistic. The lecture bring home to anyone listening just how readily available poison or poisonous plants can be found if you know where and how to look.
Next was a Toastmaster Event. Dan Stashower and Parnell Hall discussed Malice Domestic’s past and present and some of the highlights of past conventions including several incidents with handcuffs (and missing keys), a Whimsy Award that was a large stuffed groundhog in a lace dress, and other misadventures or hilarious mishaps. The laughter and gaiety made for a entertaining hour.
The evening ended with a Theater of the Air presentation of “The Adventure of the Murdered Ship”. Theater of the Air is done as an old time radio show. Starring in this evenings production was Parnell Hall, Carole Nelson Douglas, Kate Flora, Hal Glatzer, Dan Stashower, Pari Noskin Taichert, Tom O’Day, David Skibbins, and Jack French. “The Adventure of the Murdered Ship”, according to the handout, was originally broadcast January 30, 1943 and was one of “The Adventures of Ellery Queen”, a radio mystery series that ran from 1939 to 1948. The acting was smooth and the mystery, it’s clues, and the solution were clever and neat. A great time was had by all.
So, the first day of Malice Domestic leaves us tired but excited to learn more and talk to more participants and attendees.