I'm just back from Malice, still jet-lagged and a bit sleepy, but remembering the people I met and the good time I had. Malice is based each year on the east coast near Washington DC. It's a conference for writers and readers of what Americans call 'cozy' mysteries. There are no serial killers in the books discussed here unless they knit or talk to their pets. My novels are considered a bit edgy and dark in comparison. But while some of the fiction might not be entirely to my taste, a lot of it is great fun, and the conference participants were all delightful.
One of the reasons for hitting Malice this year was that a good friend, Joni Langevoort, is a Malice board member. Because of the economic situation, numbers were down by a third and apart from Anne Perry the guest of honour, I was the only Brit there. Despite having to switch meeting rooms to accommodate fewer peple and a drastic cut in revenue, this was a very good conference. There were 400 participants and the event certainly had a more intimate (more cosy?) feel than Bouchercon. Watching volunteers stuff goody bags with astounding order and speed, I thought there was a lot to be said for having a the same experienced team run the conference each year.
I arrived a day early, and had a terrific evening with Joni and her family: first dinner in a Turkish restaurant full, we decided, of retired CIA officers - Arlington VA is that sort of place - then a real High School musical. Jackson, Joni's son is in his final year of high school and was in the cast of Grease. I loved the energy of the students performing, though after a long flight and little sleep, it left me feeling exhausted and very old!
The next morning I caught up with Louise Penny. We'd met briefly at CrimeFest in Bristol and got on very well and on this occasion the friendship developed. I enjoy Louise's books for their wit and the sharp insights. She writes about a small village in Quebec, but her characters are universal, playing a part in a fable about a wider world. We bitched, as writers always do when they get together, about publishers and arsey writers and how fickle success can be. But never about readers. Louise has a huge fan base in the US and they must make demands on her writing time, but she's always welcoming and generous to them - and that hasn't changed after receiving two Agatha awards and hitting the New York Times bestseller list.
We both took part in Malice Go Round, a sort of speed dating when writers get 90 seconds to pitch their latest book to the readers. I have a small voice and shouting against the pitches of 20 other writers left me with none at all by the end of the morning. Most writers came armed with bookmarks and postcards. All I had was a copy of WHITE NIGHTS and a special weapon - the lovely Shetland jersey bought from Jamieson's on my last trip to Lerwick. I thought most of my audience would remember that, even if they couldn't remember the book.
On Saturday my panel had a remarkably good audience, considering the early start and the fact that we were on against the Agatha nominees. It was very well moderated by Katherine Neville and I enjoyed listening to the other speakers. I'd been invited to join Joni's book group for lunch. They'd read RAVEN BLACK and we had a great time discussing it, and Shetland, and other favourite novelists. Then I met my wonderful publicist from St Martin's for coffee. Sarah is enthusiastic and organised and we discussed the possibility of a trip to the west coast to coincide with the San Francisco Bouchercon in 2010. Later I caught up with the rest of the St Martin's team over dinner and cheered with them when Louise won her second award.
Was it worth the long flights and the expense and the chance of catching swine flu? (There were actually people who refused to shake hands because they thought I might contaminate them...) Probably not in purely economic terms. But to remind my US publisher who I am, and to catch up with old friends, like Joni and Louise and Ingrid from LA. And to satisfy a curiosity about a country that's very different despite a shared language. And to meet people with whom I've only communicated by email like Kris and Katherine. Then yes, I'd say it was.