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.
Tags: Gumshoe Review, Mary Higgins Clark, mystery, Parnell Hall, Rhys Bowen