Malice Domestic, 2017

 

“It’s like a family reunion,” Charlaine Harris said, looking out over the clusters of people moving through the lobby of the Hyatt Regency in Bethesda, Maryland. “Sometimes a dysfunctional family, but a family.” Fans attend, said Marcia Talley, author of the Hannah Ives series and toastmaster of the event,  “to meet the people who write about the characters they love, and to get books personalized at signings.”

The annual convention of Malice Domestic began in 1989 “to celebrate the conventional mystery,” said Harris, author of the Sookie Stackhouse and Midnight, Texas, series, both of which have been adapted for television. At this year’ gathering, held April 28 through April 30, Harris was one of 221 authors present (plus 245 fans and 34 book dealers), but as the recipient of Malice’s Lifetime Achievement Award, she was special.

“Agatha Christie was the start of it all,” Harris said. “She was the icon of the traditional mystery.” Talley amplified Harris’ point, noting that Dame Agatha set the rules of the genre: “No excessive sex, violence or gore. No serial killers. The murder usually happens offstage. You don’t see the axe or the blood spatter. There’s not a lot of swearing and bad language.”

This year’s convention found authors talking about an emerging trend: the importance of e-books. “A lot of us, when we get home, notice an uptick in e-book sales,” Talley said.  “Instead of bringing books around for us to sign—though collectors still do that—we find people taking notes as we talk. When they leave, they look up the books on the Internet.” Sometimes they don’t wait. “When I look out into the audience, I can see people on their devices, ordering books as I speak,” she continued. “This is the trend, and we’re going to go with it.”

Many of the 245 fans are aspiring authors. That’s why the convention has authors appear in panels to discuss how to do research, how to murder someone without getting caught, how to prepare a historical mystery, how to incorporate scientific police methods. Their efforts are encouraged: each convention offers awards in categories like Best First Mystery and Best Short Story. “If you get an award, that will get you published,” Harris said. “And you get to network with established authors as well as your peers. I put a value on that.”

“Of course there’s a promotional aspect for authors in all this,” said Ann Cleeves, whose Vera Stanhope and Shetland novels were picked up for British television.  “It’s a way of meeting readers, and if they like what you’re saying on the panels, they might pick up one of your books.”

There may be no way of measuring the impact of conference attendance on sales, Cleeves notes, but fans go away happy at having made what feels like a personal connection with some of their favorite authors.

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doncrinklaw@bellsouth.net'

About the Author:

Don Crinklaw is a former university teacher currently working as a reporter for the Tribune Company in Fort Lauderdale. He's written reviews for Booklist, Commonweal, National Review, South Florida Sun-Sentinel and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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