Must be my journalism roots. I can't resist reporting... and I'm just leaving the three-day cozy fest known as Malice Domestic. There, I attended panels on "mysteries around the world" and "social issues in traditional mysteries" and I was invited to speak on a panel about paranormal mysteries, called "Me and My Dead Friend." And while I didn't take notes about everything, I did jot down some of the funnier and pithier bits, which I share with you now.
Guest of Honor Laurie R. King was interviewed by Hank Phillippi Ryan and was both funny and modest. She said her goal was "to keep the mirrors flashing enough so....they're blinded to the machinery." (She also added, since she doesn't outline, that "an outline is something you force out to gjve to your publisher so you can get an advance.")
Receiving her award as honored guest, Carolyn Hart noted that we were 500 strong at the Malice banquet and "I know you are good and kind because you read the traditional mystery and you believe in goodness." Whereas Aaron Elkin receiving a lifetime achievement award joshed "Your royal highness, distinguished members of the Swedish community..." (A bon mot he then credited to Ed McBain.)
Hart also noted that, when she started writing, "As far as NY was concerned the only books [worth publishing] were hardboiled thrillers written by men or mysteries by dead English ladies." But, she added, "Sue Grafton, Sara Paretsky, and Margaret Marron changed all that."
Speaking of historical mysteries, the Agatha award nominees talked about the importance of detail. As eventual Agatha winner Catriona McPherson put it: "I want to see where the scullery maids lived because that's what I would have been."
Rhys Bowen was quite eloquent about the importance of historicals, saying, "History is written by men, historical novels, written by women...run around the back and give you the social history." She then added: "the fascinating thing about the British upperclass is that they really do believe God created them and then he rested." And, most tellingly: "you have to write with no foreshadowing...in 1930s England, Hitler was 'that funny little man.'"
Speaking of the difference in mysteries set outside the US, the panelists pinpointed some important fact. "In the UK, guns are illegal," noted Peter Robinson. "But CCTV is everywhere and everyone knows that so you have to work around that."
Toastmaster Laura Lippman closed the festivities with some encouraging words.
"So many times you solve a particularly troublesome plot problem when you're not trying to solve it," she said, explaining that (like me) she gets some of her best ideas on the treadmill.
"You have to get lucky in this field but to get lucky you have to do the work." She related this to a story of her agent giving one of her books to a film producer... the agent meeting the producer was luck. But the book? That was the work Laura had already done. "you've got to own your dreams," she also said. "You've got to admit what you want. And when you get it, dream bigger.
And finally, she gave us a haiku: ""what a swell party/you don't have to go home/but you can't stay here."