Agatha Best Short Stories 2017

Edith here, super delighted to welcome my fellow nominees for this year’s Agatha Award for Best Short Story!

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Let’s have a Hip-Hip-Hooray for:

  • Gretchen Archer for “Jinx” (Double Jinx: A Bellissimo Casino Crime Caper Short Story)
  • Barb Goffman for “The Best-Laid Plans” (Malice Domestic 11: Murder Most Conventional)
  • Edith Maxwell (that’s me!) for “The Mayor and the Midwife” (Blood on the Bayou: Bouchercon Anthology 2016)
  • BK Stevens for “The Last Blue Glass” (Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine)
  • Art Taylor for “Parallel Play” (Chesapeake Crimes: Storm Warning)

Because it’s also St. Patrick’s Day today, let’s dish on an Irish connection in your story.

Gretchen: In my Agatha nominated short story “Double Jinx,” the luck of the Irish is with July Jackson, Holiday Host at the Bellissimo Resort and Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi, as she tries to locate the missing body of a previously undead zombie, foils a thief trying to make off with three million of the casino’s dollars, and meets the man of her dreams.

“Double Jinx,” is a Halloween story, complete with Asylum, the Musical playing to a sold-out audience in the theater, a Spooky Rich slot tournament in full swing, and a Black and Orange Ball after a Biohazard Buffet. Chances are if we could visit with July today, she’d be hosting the casino’s Lucky Leprechaun poker extravaganza, where her players would be shamrocked from too many Four Leaf Clover martinis, and the pot of gold at the end of the tournament rainbow has gone missing.

What a great idea! I’m off to write it. Read “Double Jinx” here: https://www.instafreebie.com/free/uQrJO

BK Stevens: Around the end of the sixteenth century, Spanish conquistadores came home from South America with plundered Incan gold and also with a strange new vegetable—the potato. In Ireland, potatoes soon became the staple crop, star ingredients in dishes ranging from colcannon to stew. But when the 1840s brought the potato famine, over a million Irish people died, and a million and a half more had to leave their homes, mostly for the United States. Apparently, some Irish-Americans still observe the tradition of defying the weather to plant potatoes in their gardens on Saint Patrick’s Day. So, in good times and bad, potatoes have played a role in Irish history. They also play a role in my Agatha-nominated story, “The Last Blue Glass.” Until Edith challenged us to link our stories to Ireland, I didn’t really realize that —I’d never thought of my characters as having any particular ethnicity, and I’d definitely never thought of potatoes as symbols. But they do crop up (horrible pun) at crucial points in the story.

“The Last Blue Glass” is framed by two dinner parties. At the first, newlyweds Cathy and Frank entertain four guests. A novice cook, Cathy has to call her mother long-distance for advice on how to keep peeled potatoes from turning brown—and to endure her mother-in-law’s snide remarks when the potatoes are underdone. Cathy becomes a far more skilled cook after Frank suddenly decides to ditch his insurance job and buy a bar. She labors to create a bar snack called Spud Balls—scooped-out spheres of potato browned in butter and carefully spiced, designed to draw in customers and support Frank’s dream. It’s a labor-intensive dish, reflecting Cathy’s devotion to her charming, impulsive husband. But their marriage is undermined by Frank’s weaknesses and by the manipulations and betrayals of people he trusts. At the end of the story, the newly widowed Cathy invites the same four people to dinner again. As she cooks up a final batch of Spud Balls, she thinks about the revenge she’s planning to take on one of her guests, the one she sees as most responsible for Frank’s death. You can read “The Last Blue Glass” at http://www.bkstevensmysteries.com/book/the-last-blue-glass/ ; and if you’d like to try the recipe for Spud Balls, you can find it at http://www.bkstevensmysteries.com/recipes-from-the-stories/.

Barb: “May the luck of the Irish be with you.” That sounds nice, doesn’t it? But it’s debatable whether the sentiment truly is. Some say the phrase stems from the Irish people being lucky—having overcome so much adversity. But others think it’s a sarcastic saying—something you’d say to someone you don’t like. My main character in “The Best-Laid Plans,” Eloise Nickel, would run with the latter meaning when it came to her nemesis, Kimberly Siger.

Both Eloise and Kim are mystery authors, and both are about to be honored at this year’s Malice International convention, Eloise as the lifetime achievement honoree and Kim as guest of honor. They once were friends, but Kim long ago moved on to friendships with more useful authors. Now, with the convention looming, Kim has been rude to Eloise in a big magazine article. Eloise vows revenge—a series of mishaps to occur at the convention to poor down-on-her-luck Kim. But to her dismay, it seems the luck of the Irish might really be with Eloise.

We mystery authors like to make our characters suffer. It keeps things interesting, and boy does Eloise suffer during the convention. Yet she soldiers on despite multiple setbacks. As she does, the reader gets a good glimpse into her psyche and even, at times, her humanity. But is the luck of the Irish with her or not? You’ll have to read the story to find out. It’s available at http://www.barbgoffman.com/The_Best_Laid_Plans.html. Happy reading and happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Art: When my dad reached the question about ancestry in the 1980 U.S. Census, he read me the list of suggested answers, and when one or the other of us said, “Irish. Let’s be Irish,” he marked it down and made it official. The odds are good that we do indeed have Irish background; North Carolina is rich with Scotch-Irish heritage, and one of the earliest Scotch-Irish communities in the state was founded in the same small county where my parents were born some two hundred years later. Plus, given that my birthday is the day before St. Patrick’s Day (yesterday as you’re reading this!), I’ve always felt an additional kinship here—always on the lookout for any potential Irish ties, whether they’re really there or not.

Given the question on the blog today, I’ve found myself in a similar situation—since there’s nothing Irish in my story “Parallel Play,” which follows a young mother and her son through a perilous afternoon in Northern Virginia. It was pointed out to me that there’s lots of rain in my story, since folks often think of Ireland’s rainy weather, and in one scene, that young mother and the father of another child in the same play group share a pot of tea, which I could probably call Irish Breakfast (one of my own favorite flavors) except for the fact that I already called it Lapsang Souchong in a post on the story at Mystery Playground a few weeks back.

So I was basically at a loss here… until circling back to that image of my father and me tackling the census: the two of us teasing through, at some fundamental level, who we were, our family, our larger connections—not just by birth but literally, in our case, by choice. To a degree, that’s what “Parallel Play” is about: what it means to be a family, the choices you make for your family, and in my story at least, the consequences too. That’s a loose connection to something Irish, I know—but it’s the one for me that stands out most. “Parallel Play” is linked here: http://www.arttaylorwriter.com/books/6715-2/

Edith: First – happy birthday, Art! But I now realize what a silly idea this was, to ask my fellow nominees to link their stories to something – anything – Irish. I am hard-pressed to do so with my own story, “The Mayor and the Midwife.” No, I’ve got it! Amesbury Detective Kevin Donovan is definitely Irish. When the mayor of New Orleans comes to the northeast corner of Massachusetts in 1888 to visit his pregnant daughter, he meets Quaker midwife Rose. He tells her he had also arranged a meeting with the town’s bigwigs – but none of them would have a drink with him. Rose takes him to meet Irish Kevin, who she is quite sure would be happy to discuss crime-fighting with the mayor over a tankard of ale. But when the mayor’s son-in-law is murdered, he and Kevin – and Rose – end up working a lot more closely to solve the crime. You can read the story here: https://edithmaxwell.files.wordpress.com/2016/12/the-mayor-and-the-midwife.pdf

Who we are:

DOUBLEJINXfrontGretchen Archer is a Tennessee housewife who began writing when her daughters, seeking higher educations, ran off and left her. She’s the bestselling author of the Davis Way Crime Caper series by Henery Press. She lives on Lookout Mountain with her husband, her son, and a Yorkie named Bently.

Malice 11 front cover proof 2 - FINALBarb Goffman edits mysteries by day and writes them by night. She’s won the Agatha, Macavity, and Silver Falchion awards for her short stories, and she’s been a finalist for national crime-writing awards nineteen times. Her newest story, “Whose Wine Is It Anyway,” appears in the mystery anthology 50 Shades of Cabernet, which was published earlier this week. When not writing, Barb runs a freelance editing and proofreading service. She blogs every third Tuesday at www.SleuthSayers.org. In her spare time, she reads, reads, reads and plays with her dog.

cover-herren-blood-on-the-bayou-200x300pxNational best-selling author Edith Maxwell is a 2017 double Agatha Award nominee for her historical mystery Delivering the Truth and her short story, “The Mayor and the Midwife.” She writes the Quaker Midwife Mysteries and the Local Foods Mysteries; as Maddie Day she writes the Country Store Mysteries and the Cozy Capers Book Group Mysteries. Her award-winning short crime fiction has appeared in many juried anthologies, and she is honored to served as President of Sisters in Crime New England. Maxwell writes, cooks, gardens, and wastes time as a Facebook addict north of Boston where she lives with her beau and three cats. She blogs here at WickedCozyAuthors.com, at Killer Characters, and with the Midnight Ink authors.

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B.K. (Bonnie) Stevens is the author of Interpretation of Murder (Black Opal Books), a traditional whodunit offering insights into deaf culture, and Fighting Chance (Poisoned Pen Press), a martial arts mystery for young adults. She’s also published over fifty short stories, most of them in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. Eleven of her stories are collected in Her Infinite Variety: Tales of Women and Crime (Wildside Press).

CC_StormWarning_FINALArt Taylor is the author of On the Road with Del & Louise: A Novel in Stories, winner of the Agatha Award for Best First Novel. He has also won two Agatha Awards, an Anthony Award, a Macavity Award, and three consecutive Derringer Awards for his short fiction, and his work has appeared in Best American Mystery Stories. He is an associate professor of English at George Mason University.

Readers: What’s your favorite short story of all time? Do you prefer reading short or long crime fiction?

 

Wicked Congratulations to Barb, Jessie, and Edith!

Malice Domestic is a conference that celebrates the traditional novel. The Agatha nominations were announced this week, and Barbara Ross, Jessica Estevao, and Edith Maxwell were on the list! The awards will be given out April 29. We’ll all be there, dancing in the aisles.

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My Big Fat Toast To The Wicked Cozies — Guest Michele Dorsey

“Surprise, surprise, surprise.” (Gomer Pyle)

I am not an extrovert. Forget that I look and sound like one. Trust me on this.

dinner with friendsI was reminded about this heading to my first Malice a few weeks ago. I was confident having survived my first Bouchercon in October that I would sail through smoothly. I forgot how overwhelming a condensed weekend conference filled with events could be, no matter how much fun, how many old friends you get to see, or new ones you get to meet. For me, it can feel so over-stimulating, I may as well wear my nervous system on the outside of my skin. Upon my arrival from a tropical island to a dank and drizzly Bethesda on Thursday evening, I was offered an umbrella that would symbolize the warmth of the Wicked Cozy Authors during the entire weekend.

So here’s to the Wicked Cozy Authors, affectionately referred to by me as the Wicked Cozies, whose skirts I clung to for nearly 72 hours straight.  I have known all of them for years now, some better than others. I’ve suffered through and celebrated the path to publication with them and had a lot of fun along the way.

Julie on the Best First Novel panel.

Julie on the Best First Novel panel.

To Julie, who gently prodded me to attend Malice, thank you for reaching out and including me in the Pre-Con dinner and for recommending I stay at a residence-type hotel two blocks away from the Marvelous Madness of Malice. When I hit a wall Friday evening and opted to order pizza in and go to bed early, I knew this respite was why she had suggested I give myself permission to take a conference time-out.

To Sherry, whose understated words of warning merely cautioned without instilling panic. Yes, avoiding the crush of the pre-Agatha Awards Banquet, was a good idea. So were so many other of her little baubles of wisdom. And Sherry, like all of the other Wicked Cozies, never failed to know who needed a friendly face in the audience during a panel.

Michele on her panel!

Michele on her panel!

To Jessie, with Wicked Cozy Accomplice Kimberly Gray Hurth, for joining me at my table at the New Author Breakfast at the ungodly hour of 7:00 a.m. after a wild night at the banquet, and for cheering me on, assuring me the fact that I couldn’t hear the interview questions (bubble in ear after plane ride, of course) wouldn’t matter at all.

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Michele at the New Authors Breakfast!

To Barb, for volunteering that I did well in the interview, even if I couldn’t hear the question or the answer, for that matter. Barb’s direct, businesslike honesty made me believe her, and I knew she was facing a deadline, so there was no time for fluff. Encouragement is such a  balm.

IMG_8948For Liz’s equanimity during the entire weekend. Also facing a deadline, Liz’s calmness and generosity was impressive. Sitting near her, I couldn’t help but absorb some of her serenity and chuckle at her quiet quick wit.

IMG_8879To Edith, whose good-natured advice about what to miss or what could be skipped, for helping me sort through the “abbreviated” 50 page “Malice at a Glance Guide.” And for the fun we had trying to figure out the check at the Lebanese tapa restaurant that foolishly declined to give our end of the table separate checks. We’re writers, not accountants.

My takeaway from Malice is that it can be a fun-filled and informative conference where new friendships are born and old ones nurtured.

Michele in the audience for Barb and Sherry's panel.

Michele in the audience for Barb and Sherry’s panel.

But my lesson from the Wicked Cozies is even better. In a profession where self-doubt, isolationism and pressure constantly abounds, there is no better remedy than the warmth and generosity of a group of writers who understand how mutual support and encouragement breeds confidence, accomplishment and joy. The Wicked Cozies get that success comes to writers who are collaborative and inclusive.

So here’s to the generosity the Wicked Cozies bring to the writing community. May it be the gift that keeps on giving.

No Virgin IslandReaders: What kinds of encouragement and support do you most appreciate? Writers: Who has lent a helping hand along the way in your journey as a writer?

C. Michele Dorsey is the author of Sabrina Salter Mystery series. First in the series is No Virgin Island and Permanent Sunset releases October 11, 2016.

Malice Memories with guest Annette Dashofy

WithAVengeance cover FRONTAnnette, thanks so much for taking time to stop by during the launch of With A Vengeance the fourth Zoe Chambers!

By the time you read this, Malice Domestic will have been long past. But as I’m writing this post, I haven’t even unpacked yet. Seriously. I need to do laundry. Later.

Wow. What a fabulous weekend.

Sherry Harris, Joyce Tremel and Annette Dashofy

Sherry Harris, Joyce Tremel and Annette Dashofy

Malice, for those of you who have never experienced it, is one big family reunion. Every year the family grows by leaps and bounds. The moment I walked through the hotel doors, I spotted Dru Ann Love charging toward me with her lovely smile and her arms open wide for the first of many hugs. Yeah. It’s like that. All weekend long. I’ve learned to start out at least fifteen minutes early to get from Point A to Point B because there will be many stops along the way for embraces and squeals of delight at seeing an old friend or meeting a new fan.

Last year I had been nominated (along with Wickedly Wonderful Sherry Harris!) for Best First Novel. I didn’t think it could get any better than that.

I was wrong.

IMG_8756This year, I went to Malice carrying the mantle of nominee for Best Contemporary Novel (for Bridges Burned). With fellow nominees like Hank Phillippi Ryan, Margaret Maron, Catriona McPherson, and Louise Penny, I went in with low expectations for a win, but with high expectations for breathing rarefied air. My Cinderella weekend. It was definitely that and more.

Does an author ever tire of having readers stop her in the hall to tell her how much they love her books? Or having readers and fellow writers whisper, “I voted for you!” as they scurry to the next panel? I think not.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Looking back at the weekend, there are a lot of special moments that stick with me and keep the smile on my face. Some big, like Opening Ceremonies, sitting in the front row next to Guest of Honor Victoria Thompson, a fellow Pennwriter, whom I’ve long admired and adored. On my other side, none other than Best First nominee Julie Hennrikus herself! Then having my name called, walking up to collect my nomination certificate, and standing with Hank, Margaret, and Catriona for the photo. Let’s just say tears were very close to the surface.

IMG_8909Speaking of tears, Amanda Flowers’ sweet speech following her win for Best Children’s or YA Novel in which she shared emotional memories of her parents will also stay with me.

But there are those smaller moments. Quieter moments. The ones with no photos to document the occasion. Sitting in a corner catching up with a long time friend. Chatting one-on-one with a reader I’d just met, and with a wonderful pair of fans—a mother and daughter I met two years ago who have become my good pals. An unplanned Working Stiffs (my old group blog) lunch reunion. And of course, hanging out with all the Wicked Cozies!

Speaking of… You ladies rock! Congratulations to Julie and Edith on your nominations! I loved watching both of you bask in the limelight. And while none of us brought home the tea pot this year, here’s my biggest take-away from Malice Domestic 28. Those Cinderella moments don’t necessarily only happen once. Never take them for granted. But don’t completely count out the idea of starting a collection of those nomination certificates!

Who knows. One day we might add a teapot.

Readers: What dream are you waiting to accomplish?

Dashofy-1559 (534x800)Annette Dashofy is the USA Today best-selling author of the Zoe Chambers mystery series about a paramedic and deputy coroner in rural Pennsylvania’s tight-knit Vance Township. CIRCLE OF INFLUENCE, published by Henery Press, was a finalist for the Agatha Award for Best First Novel and BRIDGES BURNED was an Agatha Award finalist for Best Contemporary Novel of 2015. Her latest release, WITH A VENGEANCE, is the fourth in the series.

Jane/Sadie/Susannah Goes to Malice!

Our Wicked Cozy Accomplice Susannah Hardy/Sadie Hartwell (also known as Jane Haertel) couldn’t make it to Malice Domestic, so we took her on a stick! She had a really great time and met so many fabulous fans and authors.

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Agatha winner Barb Goffman

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Laura DiSilverio and Jessie

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Nancy Parra/Coco

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Sparkle Abbey and Cathy Ace

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The Wickeds, plus fave commenter Mark Baker

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Elaine Viets, C. Ellett Logan, Alan Orloff, and Becky Hutchison

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Liz, Jacqui York, and Mark Baker

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Joyce Tremel

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With Annette Dashofy

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Terrie Moran, Ellen Byron, and Cheryl Hollon

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Paula Benson and Harriette Sackler

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Fans Nikki Bonani, Risa Rispoli, Dru Ann Love, and Aimee Hix

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Edith and Rhys Bowen

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Helping Kim and Shari Randall stuff goody bags

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She even got to go to the banquet!

Jane helps with the goody bags!

Jane helps with the goody bags!

Readers: did you spot Susannah/Sadie around Malice? Who wants to go on a stick next year?

 

Wicked Wednesday: Malice Edition

NEWS FLASH: Reine Harrington Carter won The Immaculate! Marian will be contacting you, Reine. Congratulations!

The Wickeds did Malice last weekend. Malice Domestic is an annual fan convention in Bethesda, Maryland. We’ve all been several times, but haven’t all been there together for a couple of years. Panels, banquets, dinners, meetings, catching up with friends and laughs, lots of laughs. You’ll  be hearing a lot about the weekend in the next few weeks, but for this Wicked Wednesday, here’s the question. What is your favorite Malice Memory of 2016?

Edith: Can I have three? I got to listen to two of my very favorite authors be interviewed as honorees and later get my picture with each. Katherine Hall Page was the Lifetime Achievement awardee – and she’s one of the reasons I write the kind of mysteries I do. Victoria Thompson was this year’s Guest of Honor – and she also writes about a historical midwife solving crimes. And then the great Margaret Maron moderated Julie’s Best First Novel panel, the panel she has moderated every year – and brought us all to tears with her farewell ending remarks, because she is retiring from the business. Three awesome, talented, productive women. Truly a Malice to remember.

IMG_8871Sherry: I have to share three also. Getting to see people I only see at conferences and catching up with them is first! I’m going to have Leslie Budewitz withdrawals since we’ve been at five conferences together in the last six months. Second, I signed next to the amazing Charlaine Harris — what a thrill and she is lovely! And third, I’m still new enough at this author thing that when someone asks me to sign a book I want to leap up and hug them.

Liz: Every moment at Malice is a fabulous memory. Just being able to be on a panel and sign books that people have bought is a fabulous feeling. Seeing old friends and meeting new ones is the best part of the weekend, and of course enjoying two of the Wickeds being nominated was fabulous! And agree with Edith – Julie’s panel moderated by Margaret Maron was unforgettable.

 

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Pre Malice Dinner: Wickeds, Accomplices, Friends

Jessie: I loved the interviews with both Victoria Thompson and with Hank Phillippi Ryan. It was such a pleasure to hear about their careers and the plans they have for the future.  I also love being surrounded by all the positive energy that always fills the conference.

Barb: Seeing friends, especially the people I only see once a year is a definite. Malice-Go-Round was a blast. I remember what a deer-in-the-headlights I was the first time I did it. Also, so wonderful, the third New Author Breakfast including a Wicked in a row–Liz, then Sherry, then Julie. So cool!

Julie: Being nominated for Best First Novel was wonderful. I can remember the first time I went to Malice, and walked in the hotel alone, seeing groups of friends (authors I knew and admired) sitting together, laughing and talking. I wasn’t jealous as much as I could never imagine sitting on one of those couches, laughing. Yet, here I am, living my dream, seeing friends, meeting new ones.

 

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Wicked Wednesday-Getting the Most Out of a Conference

Jessie: In New Hampshire where the birds are singing up a storm

Some of the highlights for the Wickeds each year are the conferences we all attend.WickedsBanquet We’ve mentioned some of our favorites here on the blog like Crime Bake and Malice Domestic with a great deal of affection. But even the best conferences are most enjoyable if you employ some conference-going skills. Today I’d love to hear about your tips and strategies for getting the most out of the conferences you attend!

After a fun banquet and a long day Barb goes to bed.

Barb Goffman-on-a-stick knows when to take a break.

Edith: One strategy is to give yourself permission to skip a session or two. When I get maxed out on crowds and delightful panelists, I let myself head to my bed for twenty-minutes of quiet. Maybe I’ll check email, maybe just close my eyes. Either way, being out of the busyness is very restorative. Another thing I like to do at sessions is to sit by people I don’t know. I greet whomever I land next to, ask if they are a reader or a writer, and get to know them a little. Sure, I hand over a bookmark and maybe make a new fan, but it’s also fun to branch out and meet new friends.pashmina

Jessie: Take a wrap or shawl in your bag. The temperature from session to session or room to room fluctuates wildly and it is no fun to have all of your attention focused on keeping your teeth from chattering.

Sherry: If you can afford to stay at the conference hotel. I think just as much happens in the unscheduled hours of a conference as they do during the scheduled events. Smile and talk to lots of people — that’s why you are there right?

Edith and "big dog" Sue Grafton - who was happy to post for a picture!

Edith and “big dog” Sue Grafton – who was happy to post for a picture!

Barb: I usually find it hard to talk to strangers, but the beauty of a conference like Malice or Crime Bake is, you already know you have something in common and a ready topic–crime fiction! Always introduce yourself, especially at meals and to seatmates at sessions. It’s easier than you think. Even the “big dogs” are accessible at these types of events. Tell someone how much their books have meant to you. I guarantee, they’ll enjoy hearing it.

IMG_2566Liz: Agree with all of these and would say definitely mingle! Take advantage of cocktail hours and times when people are gathering in a common space and go meet some new friends. The social/networking aspect is just as important as learning from the sessions.

JulieJulie: Such great tips from my friends. I agree with them all, and will add a couple of more. First, provisions. I have a conference bag that I bring. I include a couple of copies of my book, bookmarks, business cards, Tums, cold medicine, ibuprofen, mints, and tissues. I bring a water bottle with me. I find out where the closest Starbucks is. Second, smile. Always smile.

Readers, do you attend conferences in your own areas of interest? Do you have a favorite tip to share?