Design for Dying

Who doesn’t love a story of a bygone era of Hollywood.  The 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s were considered the Golden Age of Hollywood.  The glitz and glamour of movie stars in those days seems more interesting than movie stars of today.  I’m fascinated by stories of actors and actresses of the past.  I went through a phase a couple of years ago and read so many biographies (both authorized and unauthorized) about many of the stars of yesteryear.  In fact, one of my most favorite books ever is a Gene Kelly biography.  I think I’ve read it 4 times already.  It’s just fascinating how stars at the time were discovered and how they traveled across the country in order to be in the pictures.

Where is this going you may ask?  Well, let me tell you.

At Malice Domestic this year I got introduced to many authors that I hadn’t read before.  One set of authors were a husband and wife team who created the Lillian Frost and Edith Head (the famous costume designer) mystery.  The first in hopefully a series:


Design for Dying by Renee Patrick

The story follows shop girl Lillian Frost, who quickly after arriving in Hollywood realizes she’s just not a good actress, into a mystery surrounding her former roommate.  The victim turns out to be a fellow aspiring actress with more skeletons in her closet than anyone ever realized.  Thrown together by a connection with the victim, Lillian meets and befriends Edith Head at the move studio.  From there, they decide to try and get to the bottom of the murder themselves after being stymied by security at the studio.  Of course there is a Detective that may become a future love interest (more books in the series will help clear that up!)

Before reading this book, I practically devoured “The Garden of Allah” books by Martin Turnbull.  The series of books (I believe there are currently 4), follow three friends through years at the hotel/living space Garden of Allah.  Movie stars, directors, famous writers all come and go, but the three friends stay together through all the trials and tribulations of hollywood.  Again, another series set in the 30’s-50’s that perfectly encapsulates what I think that time period must have felt like.

Malice Domestic 28…my first conference!

So, as you might know, I’m a big reader.  YUUUUUGGGGGE reader.  Lately, I’ve been reading tons of cozy mysteries.  They are quick to read, fun, light and still have an element of murder that I so enjoy.  (That doesn’t make me weird, right?)

I follow a lot of my favorite authors on Twitter and Facebook, which I think is the best way to get new book recommendations and follow up on current series that a person is writing.  A lot of them belong to the “Sisters in Crime” mystery writers group.  I have met a few of them at Boston Book Festivals in the past when I’ve been volunteering, and I love the stuff they produce.  So as a fan, I kept seeing these authors talk about a conference called “Malice Domestic” held in Betheseda/DC in April.  One day, I perused their website and found out more information about it.  All my favorite authors?  Check.  Book discussions about some of my favorite topics?  Check.  Book shopping?  Check.  That decided it.  I used some of my tax return money and decided to check it out.

And hey, maybe it’ll help inspire me to get started writing my own book for publication.  I’ve always wanted to, and now I can find out from people that actually do it what goes into getting a book out there in the world.

Unfortunately, due to scheduling, I had to miss the first day (Friday).   I flew into DC to visit my Dad who wanted to spend some QT time with me and my brother.  So Saturday really kicked off the festivities for me.   After registering in the morning, I picked up my free bag of books (YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS) and headed into my first panel, “Murder on the Menu:  Food & Mysteries”.  The panel was moderated by Maya Corrigan, and auothers included Rebecca Adler, Wendy Sand Eckel, Leslie Karst, and Ann Myers.  They were all great, very engaging and funny.  I even got some great tips on going forward.  One of my favorite quotes came from Maya Corrigan, who writes books based on the Eastern Shore.  She said, “Tourists provide fresh blood for murder victims.”  What a great tip!  It feels less like a crazy town with murder in it if it’s an outsider who gets the getting.

After that panel, there was a quick break, and then straight into the next one, “Extra! Extra!:  Newshounds and Murder”.  Moderated by Nora McFarland (who was awesome as a moderator!), authors included Jan Burke, Hannah Dennison, Kate Dyer-Seeley, Judy Penz Sheluk, and LynDee Walker.  As someone with limited/no experience in a working newsroom, this panel was interesting.  Some of the authors had intimate experience inside of a newspaper, but others were just freelance writer.  Kate Dyer-Seely was super nice (I met her afterwards….I bought her books cause they sounded fun!).  She made the observation that writing/reading can also be used a travelogue of sorts.  Her books set in Portland Oregon really give off that vibe.  I started her first series on the plane yesterday and it really made me want to visit the West Coast.  Hannah Denniston (from England) mentioned writing about the lengths people will go to hide bad behavior.  That’s the thing, isn’t it?  It’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up.  Unless it’s murder….then it’s the crime and the cover-up.

After a brief lunch break with my Dad…(sandwiches from the Hyatt were delicious!)  And a quick shopping break in Bethesda, it was back to the action.

Immediately after lunch (in the HOTTEST ROOM EVER), was the “Murder in New England” panel.  Of course I had to go to that one.  OF COURSE.  This panel, conducted by Sherry Harris, inluded Connie Archer, Kaitlyn Dunnett, Barbara Ross, and Lea Wait.  Mainly focused in Maine (HA, see what I did there), this panel talked a lot about location as a major part of any book.  Connie Archer mentioned that New England has an inherent creepiness to it that lends well to mysteries.  Which, as someone who vacations at a house that backs up to an old cemetery, I can attest to.  Another thing that I thought was funny was the discussion about how hard it is to use poison in a book now.  You’d need a very intimate knowledge of poisons and how to mask them in order to make it work.  They also discussed the importance of where the  body is found and how it is discovered in a mystery.  That can lead to the suspects, weapons, and final solution in one fell blow.  This panel was super fun and the panelists all seemed to be friends which I think helped the fun factor a bit.

The last panel of the day for me was the “Empire of Murder:  British Mysteries”.  Moderated by Sujata Massey, authors included Annamaria Alferi, Dorthy Cannell, Anna Lee Huber, and the mother/son team of Charles Todd.  I read a lot of mysteries set in the early 20th century based in England.  It’s one of my favorite genres.  This discussion was a bit dryer than most, up until the very end.  This group mainly talked about immersing oneself in the culture to get a better idea of how to write about it.  I think the sound might have been a bit off in the ballroom as well because some of the answers got a bit lost.

At the end of the day was a sit-down interview with the Guest of Honor, Victoria Thompson.  I think I wrote about her Gaslight Mysteries here, but to reiterate, this is one of my favorite authors and favorite book series out there.  She was interviewed by her friend, Nancy Martin, and you could tell they had a lot of stories together.  Her journey to writer was fascinating, and I was excited to hear that she didn’t have any plans to end the series after her latest book (and new series upcoming).

In between all the festivities, there was a bookstore set up and book signings held.  I got a bunch of books to start reading (and I finished one already this weekend).  The “To Be Read” pile is growing!  After all the fun on Saturday, I was exhausted!  I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited to go to bed in my life.  Early to bed, early to rise, because the next morning was a breakfast event.

Sunday morning broke nice and early, still gray and rainy, and we headed back to the hotel.  Next time I go, I would love to stay in the venue.  Less travelling and more time for naps.  First on the agenda was a breakfast with New Authors.  Each author sat at a table, and you could join wherever you’d like.  We ended up sitting with Ann Myers, who we had seen the day before and really enjoyed.  During the breakfast, various authors would get up and give a little synopsis of their current books and upcoming projects.  Perfect for a book scout like me!

This day was a bit shorter since the conference was ending.  The first panel I went to was “Murder Most English”  Verna Rose (in an adorable fascinator) was the moderator, and authors included D.E Ireland (Meg Mins/Sharon Pisacreta), Alyssa Maxwell, Deanna Raybourn, and Christine Trent.  I was excited about this one.  I just recently started the D.E. Ireland series (it involves Eliza Doolittle from My Fair Lady), and I’ve been reading both Deanna Raybourn and Christine Trent for years now.  This panel was probably one of the most fun.  One tidbit that came out of this panel was how characters are named.  This is especially important if you are writing a novel from a historical perspective.  Social security records can be an invaluable resource for learning what names were popular in a specific time period.  I also enjoyed Annamarie’s little quip about picking main character names if they are easily typable since that’s a majority of your book.

Second to last panel of the day went to “A Study of Murder:  University, Museum, Library”.  As most of you know, my dream was to be a librarian (took a bit of a hit, didn’t get accepted to an MLIS program this semester), and I’ve always wanted to work in a museum (as evidenced by my Masters in Arts Management degree).  This panel was a no brainer for me.   First of all, the moderator, Maria Hudgins was a hoot!  She was so fun and engaged in what her panelists were saying.  It was really fun to watch.  Authors on the panel included; Shelia Connolly, Cynthia Kuhn, Con Lehane, Susan C. Shea, and Tris Stein.  I’ve followed Shelia Connolly for a while, and even got my mom hooked on her County Cork mysteries.  She also writes a Museum series that I’m super into as well.  So it was interesting to learn more about the process and how museum’s and libraries can be a place where mayhem can happen.  As they said during the panel, it only takes one unlocked door.

My last panel of the conference was “Murder in Wartime:  WWII.”  Moderated by Kimberly Gray, authors were Judy Hogan, Stephen Kelly, Sarah R. Shaber.  We were back in the hottest room in America for this one.  It was a right around lunchtime and I was fading fast.  Sarah talked a lot about how she researched the time period and how she used maps of the specific time she was working on to immerse herself into the period.  I also love that Stephen was honest.  He created his setting by using Google Earth and reading local travel guides.  He’d never been to that part of England, so he was working blind.  Even Judy commented that she thought he would’ve been English the way he was writing.

And that brought my Malice weekend to an end.  My Dad had such a great time that he ended up signing up for next years conference.  Unfortunately I can’t go, I’ll be going to Ireland the next week and too much travel makes me crazy.  I can only take so many anti-anxiety meds!

I know this is a long post, but I wanted to give a shout out to two authors how were super supportive and nice to me there when I spoke about writing.  The first, Shelly Dickson Carr sat down at my table and I noticed she had Boston on her name tag….which lead to a lot of conversation.  She gave me the scoop on local events I can attend to help get my writing up and running.  I can’t wait to attend the next Mystery Writers of America meeting in Brookline now!  Possibly next week even.

The second was Kate Dyer-Seeley.  After her panel on Saturday, I went and got the first two books in her series to read.  She graciously signed them for me, and then gave me advice on what kind of books to read to  get started writing, and how to kind of work through everything.  Later that day, we ran into each other on the street in between panels and had another lovely conversation.  It’s so nice when people are nice!

So hopefully I’ll be attending Malice again, maybe next time as a writer!  I’ve already got an outline put together, now I just need to hunker down and write.  Wish me luck!