Just one week ago as I draft this, I was landing at JFK to change planes and head home to Phoenix. The previous four days had been exhilarating and exhausting. A 6:20am flight out of Phoenix to Maryland, with a 2-hour layover in Charlotte, WV, meant too little sleep. A rush out the door at 5am (should have left earlier but I was groggy), being herded through TSA PreCheck (thankfully quick), and the kindness of strangers who got my rolling bag into the overhead bin made for a pleasant trip east. I finished a book on my Kindle and began another.
The hour-long cab ride from BWI Airport to Bethesda for the convention was costly but expected. And then I was there . . . Bethesda Marriott Hotel and Conference Center. Some hotels bill themselves as conference centers but weren’t designed as such. Not here. The conference center is its own large wing off the hotel, which means a lot of walking, but also a layout geared for large crowds and many breakout areas. Food service sections are discretely placed so they can service banquet and breakout rooms with much better ease than in some other “conference/convention centers” I’ve been in.
The staff couldn’t have been nicer. Eager to please–and probably glad to have a large gathering again after the pandemic drought of the past two years–they always stopped to ask how we were doing and graciously accommodated every request with a smile. The hospitality industry has been hit hard by the pandemic and I think everyone is eager to get back to a sense of normalcy and encourage travelers to return for another visit. They were understaffed in the restaurant, with servers working double shifts. But everyone smiled and did their best to accommodate us. When Thursday evening showed that the restaurant couldn’t handle dinner with ease for our large numbers, they set up a special station near the restaurant Friday evening where anyone could purchase a “to go” bowl made to order from selections of rice, meat or chicken, vegan options, greens, feta cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, and dressing. It was delicious and let us take our meal anywhere throughout the hotel.
Malice Domestic is known for its large gathering of readers and writers and a mix of panels and presentations that are pretty hard to beat. Based on the banquet tables Saturday night, I’d say there were at least 400 convention-goers. It certainly was a good-sized crowd and every session I attended added value to my writing life. Isn’t that why we go?
Billed as Malice Domestic 32-33-34, the conference rolled together the 2020 and 2021 guests of honor and Agatha Award winners within the 2022 conference. The variety of panels was excellent, and Friday and Saturday included panel interviews with the 2022 Agatha Award nominees. For a few honored guests who could not appear in-person, live Zoom interviews did the trick. I got to hear from one of my favorite authors, Ellen Hart (2020 Guest of Honor).
Of course, no conference or convention makes it just from the presentations. It’s the mix of people, networking, socializing, and generally having fun that produces the recipe for success.
It was a treat to see my friend and mentor, Edith Maxwell, 2019’s Best Historical Novel Agatha Award Winner for Charity’s Burden.
I wish I had everyone’s names for this photo, but we’re an online group and I was meeting some of them for the first time. Those I do know I’ve met through other events or at the Society’s monthly online “water cooler” sessions where we gather, move into topic-based breakout rooms, and talk about any number of topics related to writing, especially short stories. Once I get all the names, I’ll add the list here.
Since the restaurant was the path between the hotel and convention center, I got a glass of wine and staked out a counter seat next to the walkway on Thursday evening. Soon enough, someone I knew dropped by and we chatted. Others joined us. People came and left, and were replaced by others. I met faces I’ve only seen on Zoom or via FB profiles, as well as new faces to put into my memory bank. For Friday lunch, I took the same seat and was soon joined again, all the while charging my devices at the ports embedded into the countertop.
There is no one specific memory or detail that stands out, as I hustled from panel to panel, lunch, presentations or interviews, and more panels. My panel, Murder in a Few Words: Short Stories, ran on Friday afternoon, leaving me the rest of the weekend to absorb and enjoy.
L-R are Michael Bracken (moderator, Mary Dutta, Teresa Inge, Claire A Murray, Mark Thielman, and Mo Walsh.
At the Agatha Awards Banquet, I sat at the table hosted by Best Short Story nominee Judy L Murray (no relation). Judy gave each of the table guests an acrylic photo holder as a gift. I set the table norm of eating dessert before the main course because, of course, by dessert time you’re too full!
L-R are Claire A Murray, Marilyn Levinson, Donna Rae Menard, July L Murray, Alexia Gordon, Kat Fast, Robin Stern Hamby, and Daniel Hamby.
There are a number of excellent conventions (focused on fans/readers and authors so has few, if any, workshops geared toward the craft of writing) and conferences (focused on writers with craft sessions, but also welcoming of fans/readers) around the country and world. It’s hard to keep up. But selecting and budgeting for few each year helps an author develop their skills, network, and stay in touch with the industry. Malice Domestic certainly kicked my motivation into high gear!