Thanks to my spot in the TNW blogging schedule, my report on Malice Domestic 2015 can’t be news, it’s already olds. (For those who don’t know, MD is an annual convention of those who love ‘traditional mysteries.’ Think Dorothy L. Sayers.) So I’ll skip the usual list of superlatives – just google the program — and instead I’ll tell you about the people, things and events that really got me where I live or made me wonder.
Item: Why does a vendor of nesukes and other Asian carvings in glass or stone take a booth every year in the Malice dealers’ room? The booth next door sells jewelry, which makes sense since perhaps 95% of the attendees are female. All the others booths sell books old and new or hand out information on other conventions. Why netsukes?
Naturally, I opened my wallet. This is what I bought:
I recognized it instantly. Here is my first book, breaking out of its egg. I had been expecting an angel.
I don’t know what its Chinese maker thought it was. The vendor told me that she instructs her supplier on what to carve, but the objects that travel back over the Silk Road may or may not comply. The carvings of birds are wonderful. The cats too are very much like cats. The horses begin to morph into strange, wavy beasts, especially about the nose. And the vendor says that, describe as she will, her carvers cannot produce a coyote. Her coyote standards are high; she raised litters of them in her kitchen for years.
My theory on the demand for netsukes at MD is that they embody convolution. Everything is folded back on itself, twisted out of shape, more complicated than it should be, but in the end, you can hold it all in one hand. Just like a good mystery.
Item: How could it come about that Marcia Talley, author of several excellent mysteries, an Agatha Award winner and a 2015 MD panelist, looks precisely like Eliza Harris, protagonist-to-be of my first mystery? She was kind enough to let me take a photo. Here is Marcia/Eliza:
The physical resemblance is amazing, but the core of the coincidence is a matter of style. Marcia comes across as warm and open, but there is an enlivening tang of acid in her take on things. The opening sentence of her first mystery, Sing It to Her Bones, could almost have been said by Eliza, mutatis mutandis: “When I got cancer, I decided I wasn’t going to put up with crap from anybody anymore.”
Item: Where does the booze fit in? As far as I could see, MD attendees are fairly abstemious. At least I was invited to no wild parties and heard no reports of trashed hotel rooms. (I may just be unpopular.) But the Hyatt Hotel bar was Malice Central; every chair was occupied from an early hour, and those weren’t tea cups on the tables. How much of the three-day, non-stop effervescence was powered by sheer creativity, and how much by the traditional writers’ fuel?
The tipple of choice seemed to be wine, but here and there the drinks of the Golden Age appeared. On the first afternoon, two of the rare male attendees were bracing themselves to face the female maelstrom:
And a final item, the hats. The Hyatt bar notwithstanding, Malice Domestic ends with a tea party, a formal tea party with glittery place settings, scones, clotted cream and strawberry jam. It is the custom for the Guppies to wear feather boas, whatever else their costume. (Guppies = “The Great Unpublished,” a subgroup of Sisters in Crime, the association of — mostly — female traditional mystery writers. ) Regardless of publication status, ladies of verve appear at the tea in hats. No, in HATS. The year 2016 will see me shopping for something to rival these: