Thursday, April 30, 2015

Malice: A Forethought

By the time you read this, I’ll be on a train to Washington DC, sleep-deprived, but ready to commit (to) Malice. 

The Malice Domestic writer/fan convention celebrates the traditional mystery, giving the “Cozy” its due in a world that sometimes seems to think that the darker and more inaccessible a mystery is, the better it must be.

This year, for the first time, I’m headed down on Thursday at a reasonable hour. 

For years, Malice competed with the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Awards (the Oscars of the mystery world), which were held on Thursday night. So, if you went to the Edgars, you missed part of Malice. Unless you stayed up and took the 4am train.

I did that once, when Death in Her Face came out. I was lucky enough to get a spot in the Malice Go Round, which gives authors who’ve had books published since the previous Malice a chance to meet a few hundred readers in a sort of speed-dating for authors.

There was not enough Refresh in the world to get the red out of my eyes. I looked like a character in a paranormal. 

This year however, the Edgars were held on Wednesday night. I think there might have been some confusion about dates on the part of the hotel. It would explain two bottles of free wine on each table.

The Edgar Awards are the culminating event of Edgar Week, which kicked off Monday evening with the launch of the Mystery Writers of America Cookbook at Mysterious Bookshop

“Wickedly good” recipes from dozens of celebrated writers. Here are two. From left, contributors Alafair Burke and Chris Pavone, with editor Kate White, and administrative director of MWA, Margery Flax. 

And here is non-contributor me, catching some cool air and outdoor conversation with the legendary Otto Penzler, Charles Todd (contributor), Judy Bobolik, Ruth Jordan and Crimespree Cats. 

Tuesday, it was the MWA Symposium, panels of really famous writers and the Edgar nominees (some of those are the same people) with cogent insights on the craft, business and heart of writing. That’s followed each year by a cocktail party for MWA members, with agents and editors as guests. That's followed by going out and staying out late in NYC with friends you haven't seen in months!

Then the Edgars. Repeat last sentence above.

Hence, my sleep deprivation.

But I'm looking forward to Malice, especially my panel.  Although there was a frisson of anxiety about that late last week.

The moderator had to bow out suddenly, and moderating is not a job just anyone can step into. It’s not simply coming up with a few questions that fit the topic and asking each panelist the same thing, and hope interesting discussion magically occurs. Not if you do it right.

But – sigh of relief – the excellent Marcia Talley, the author of the Hannah Ives series, agreed to step in. Here’s Marcia with her Agatha for Best Short Story a few Malices ago.

Actually BIG sigh of relief. I know I'm in excellent hands. And this has not always been the case.

I’ve attended dozens of different conventions all across the country and have had largely very enjoyable panel experiences. But I've had a few bad ones, and they haunt me and can cause nervous tics to develop just upon entering a hotel ballroom. Let me give you two examples.  

Second-worst panel I was ever on, the moderator let one panelist hijack the whole show, allowing him to go on and on for about 10 minutes to each question, while the rest of us politely confined ourselves to the 3 minutes that were the alleged maximum. I was halfway into answering only my second question when the timekeeper at the back of the room held up the Time for Q&A sign.

The worst was the one in which the moderator gave us no idea what she was going to do with the topic because she liked to “wing it” and thought that was a great way to encourage spontaneity. I think it's a great way to encourage stuttering and half-considered answers that can make a person look addled. Her focus and the panel topic bore no resemblance to each other. She talked about what interested her, not what the organizers thought might appeal to the readers. In addition, she apparently paid no attention to the bio I sent her, as her introduction got my series wrong; she had confused me with another convention attendee named Sheila.

So you can see how relieved I am that at 10:00 Saturday morning, I will be with Marcia and Alice Loweecey, Sara Paretsky, Lane Stone, and Elaine Viets chatting about “Cozy Noir?: Private Eyes”.

Cozy Noir? I can’t wait to see what we do with that one. 

"Traditional mysteries" – by Malice's definition – are "...mysteries which contain no explicit sex or excessive gore or violence."  For cozies, one would certainly add “no profanity". 

My best friend Kathy once described extreme noir as "never love; never hope."

So, we have quite a spectrum here, and I started thinking about where my series would fall on that spectrum from Cozy to Noir?

I don’t write explicit sex, though you can certainly guess what might have just happened or is about to between Lauren and Peter. It never felt right to make the sex explicit. Lauren’s a lady, a lady of the 1940s, circumspect about her personal life. She’s the first person narrator. I can’t imagine her suddenly being graphic with the reader about sex. 

I don’t do gruesome violence. A couple of people have been shot on the page, and plenty of bodies have been found after the killer was through with them. But my on-page violence is more like the time Peter took the security chief of a major studio and put him headfirst into a file cabinet because the guy had put Lauren in danger, and Peter thought it was a good idea to point out to the guy that he shouldn’t ever do that again.

My series does have some profanity. Occasionally characters who are the kind of people who would swear, do. Though nobody does it very often.

However, my series’ view of the world is considerably darker than a cozy. While the killers are always caught, I'm keenly aware while I’m writing of the difference between justice and the world being put right again. People die, and the lives of those left behind will be changed forever. Those who loved the victim and those who cared about or were betrayed by the killer. And there are some recurring unsavory characters (including one based on the most dangerous gangster in LA in the mid 1940s) who will never get their just desserts.

But I hope Lauren’s wry humor keeps the tone from ever settling in too dark a place.

Speaking of a darker place…  I was going to include a picture here of me and fellow panelists at last year’s Malice.  But I was sitting right under a super-harsh florescent spotlight. Turned to the sky, it could have signaled Batman. Photoshop doesn't seem to have an option for "Make top of subject's head look normal."

Note to self: This year, pick a seat more on the noir end of the spectrum.  

Sheila York

1 comment:

  1. Sheila, I enjoyed this thoroughly and hope you will give us a followup next week! Thelma