Under normal conditions, we’d be heading to Bethesda, Maryland later this week for the annual Malice Domestic convention—and when I write “we,” I’m likely including a good many people who are reading this column right now.
These aren’t, of course, normal conditions, and the Malice board’s decisions to postpone and then to cancel this year’s gathering were the right ones in what became quickly changing circumstances—cautious in many directions, carefully considered, wisely handled. But however right that ultimate decision was, I’m still feeling awfully sad about the loss of what has been, for so long, a highlight of each year.
I love almost everything about Malice Domestic—from the Friday morning speed dating (whether one of the participating authors or in the audience) through Dame Agatha’s Tea on Sunday afternoon. The big events are never-to-be missed: the Opening Ceremonies, the anthology signing (a hit in recent years), the Agatha Banquet, of course. Panels throughout the weekend are fun and informative—always great places to learn something new about favorite authors or to be introduced to new ones. The bookroom is well-stocked (I always come home with a new TBR pile!) and also a fun place to run into people. And as much as those official parts of the program, it’s the informal gatherings that often seem the spirit of Malice: the breakfasts, lunches, coffees, cocktails, dinners, desserts, etc. with friends both old and new, and then the short chats in the hallways between times—always a friendly face, whichever direction you turn.
I’m not the first to say that Malice feels like family, but it does seem the best way to describe that community and each year’s convention as a kind of family reunion, even as we’re pulling up chairs to welcome new members to the family. In my case, Malice has been at times more literally about family: bringing my wife, Tara Laskowski, along to her first Agatha Awards Banquet, seeing her burst into tears when actually won an Agatha, having her attend the full weekend as a writer in her own right, celebrating her own Agatha Award win last year, enjoying her nomination for another this year. For the last few Malice weekends, our son Dash has joined us as well—and he’s become a regular too now, anticipating the weekend with his own enthusiasm, talking about it like a veteran himself. Just walking down the halls, he sees people he knows, meets people who know him.
This year would have expanded those family ranks, since I’d invited my mom and my brother to join us for the first time—spending the weekend with Dash at the hotel but also attending the Agatha Awards banquet along with us. In large part, this is because my story “Better Days,” a father and son tale that’s a finalist for this year’s Agatha for Best Short Story, has some connections with my own dad, who died last summer. “Better Days” features the same main characters as an earlier story, “A Drowning at Snow’s Cut,” which was inspired by a boat trip my dad and I took along the North Carolina coast. All that in mind—these stories’ background, the honor as a finalist, the loss of my dad—it felt important to have my mom and brother there. Another loss then, this year’s conference being cancelled, and all of us in isolation, everyone so far away in so many ways.
We’re still gathering together, of course—so many of us but now in different ways: group blogs, online panels and interviews, chats and readings through Google Hangouts, Zoom, WebEx, Crowdcast, and more. (We have happy hours with my mom and others in the same way.) It helps, but it’s not the same as being together, those middle of the hallway hellos and hugs.
Not sure how to end this post except with long-distance hellos and hugs to all our Malice friends and family, scattered across the country and around the world—and a hope that we’ll all be reuniting together in person again next year.
Better days ahead for all of us, fingers crossed.