Another highlight of this year’s Malice is the return of the Malice anthology—this one with a focus on conventions themselves. Malice Domestic: Murder Most Conventional is presented by Katherine Hall Page and features 22 original stories and one reprint, including stories by Marcia Talley, Neil Plakcy, Victoria Thompson, John Gregory Betancourt, Su Kopil, Kate Flora, Charles Todd, Gigi Pandian, Hank Phillippi Ryan, Frances McNamara, KB Inglee, Kathryn Leigh Scott, KM Rockwood, L.C. Tyler, Nancy Brewka-Clark, M Evonne Dobson, Ruth Moose, Rhys Bowen, and Shawn Reilly Simmons. Our own SleuthSayers are among this batch of honorees too, with B.K. Stevens’ contributing “What Goes Around” and Barb Goffman doing double-duty both as a contributor with “The Best-Laid Plans” (the stories were chosen by blind submission) and as one of the editors, along with Verena Rose and Rita Owen—with Barb focusing on developmental and line editing.
Last year I edited the Bouchercon anthology Murder Under the Oaks, and one of the great joys of that process was working with first-time writers, so to celebrate the new anthology, I’m interviewing Marie Hannan-Mandel, author of “The Perfect Pitch,” and Eleanor Cawood Jones, author of “Killing Kippers”—two authors making their debuts as traditionally published authors—and also talking to Barb about her experiences editing the project and working with these two writers in particular.
Before the interview then, a couple of quick introductions:
- Raised in Ireland, Marie Hannan-Mandel now lives in Elmira Heights, NY. She is an assistant professor and chair of the Communications department at Corning Community College. She was shortlisted for the Debut Dagger award in 2013, longlisted for the RTE Guide/Penguin Ireland short story award in 2014, and received an honorable mention in the Writer’s Digest Popular Fiction award competition in 2014. Her short story “Sisters, Sisters” will appear in Adirondack Mysteries 3 in 2016.
- Eleanor Cawood Jones got her first writing job as a reporter with the Kingsport Tennessee Times-News and now work as a marketing director and freelance copywriter in Northern Virginia. Her independently published short story compilations include A Baker’s Dozen: 13 Tales of Murder and More and Death is Coming to Town: Four Murderous Holiday Tales.
- In addition to her own success as a short story writer—including the Macavity and Silver Falchion Awards—Barb Goffman also has a distinguished career as an editor, including both the new Malice anthology and the award-winning Chesapeake Crimes series, the newest book of which, Storm Warning, was just released.
Tell us a little bit about your stories “The Perfect Pitch” and “Killing Kippers,” and given the anthology’s theme, how did your own experience with conventions—maybe Malice in particular!—inform your characters or your plot?
|Eleanor Cawood Jones|
"Kippers" is written in first-person drunk from the perspective of a narrator who is not normally much of a drinker, which made room for some off-the-wall observations and interactions along the way. If pressed, I'd call it dark humor. And it's not just about murder, it's about life and joy and sadness and unusual friendships found in unexpected places.
Malice Domestic celebrates the traditional mystery and the book cover copy explicitly calls these cozy mysteries. How do you define those terms traditional and cozy for yourself, and how did that determine your approach here? Do you usually write in the traditional/cozy vein?
MARIE HANNAN-MANDEL: To me, cozy or traditional mysteries are those that focus on the gentler side of crime fiction. I'm not interested in gruesome description or detailed forensics. My focus is on the characters and why they do the things they do. I enjoy humor and try to use it where I can. I almost always write what I consider cozy stories.
ELEANOR CAWOOD JONES: When I think of traditional and cozy I picture Miss Marple and some steaming tea and a paneled drawing room. I like to sit down in the comfort of my own home and go there to figure out with Miss M (or Poirot or any number of others) to enjoy the atmosphere of a whodunit. This applies to any number of settings, of course. Strange, but all the traditional mysteries I have read and no two are alike. They are comfortably familiar yet unique. But there's a certain feeling and mindset that goes along with reading one, and that's what traditional and cozy mean to me. Also, they are less violent and bloody than say, a traditional thriller, and thus considered less disturbing. For that reason, I wanted a milder, more bloodless plot and crime for Kippers, and though not a locked room setting, at least a self-contained area.
With that said, I do write some traditional mysteries, but I like to break rules. Some of my characters might just get away with it and I like to tamper with the definition of a bad guy—not everything is black and white and sometimes I find myself rooting for the villain. I also am extremely interested in motivation and personality of characters, and although plot is king I like to write about interesting people—even if they are only interesting in their own minds. Everybody has a story and everybody has a button just waiting to be pushed. I like to push the buttons of my characters and see what happens. So I stray into the thriller side but cozy is my home.
Finally, how did you celebrate the news when you heard that your stories had been accepted?
MARIE HANNAN-MANDEL: I took a walk on the beach in Ireland and skipped through the sand.
ELEANOR CAWOOD JONES: Best feeling in the world. I sprang up from my couch and walked around the house in circles, making celebratory shouting noises and trying to hold still long enough to text a few people who have been over-the-top amazing in their encouragement and support. Then I ate off that news for a week! All my favorite restaurants. Writing is fattening.
And now to switch perspectives on all this—a quick chat with Barb Goffman from the other side of the desk.
BARB GOFFMAN: While I'm happy to work with all authors, I love working with new and newer authors. Newer authors' stories often need more work than stories written by more experienced writers, but newer authors often are quite enthusiastic about doing revisions (sometimes several drafts) and taking advice that allows their stories to shine. I love helping them transform their stories from good to great.
More veteran authors can sometimes be less open to editing. Because they're more confident in their skills, if they like what they wrote and think it works, they might be willing to let issues slide. And that is their prerogative. But the best authors, no matter how experienced, are open to at least considering if there's a problem to fix. I've found that if I give a detailed explanation about why I have a concern about something, most authors—be they new or established—will try to address the situation.
Thinking about the anthology on the whole, what was it about Eleanor’s and Marie’s stories in particular that stood out as distinctive or memorable, or what can readers expect from the contributors by these two new voices on the mystery scene?
BARB GOFFMAN: Marie has a great, funny voice and has crafted an interesting puzzle with strong clues. In her early drafts, she had some inconsistencies and logic problems that distracted me when I read the story. When I pointed them out, she enthusiastically dug in and fixed them. The result is a much stronger story. With the logic issues resolved, Marie's voice really gets the chance to stand out. I hope everyone will take the time to read this story. It's a winner.
Eleanor's story is also very funny. (I write funny stories so perhaps that's why this element stood out to me in both stories, but I think it's something everyone will enjoy.) It takes skill to make a story involving death funny, and Eleanor does it. I also loved that she set her story at a clown convention. That's imagination at work. And, like Marie, Eleanor has a strong voice. Her first draft had a bit too much detail, but once that came out, her dialogue and internal monologue was able to really shine, making her story one readers will remember with a smile.
Malice Domestic: Murder Most Conventional is available at Amazon in both paperback and Kindle and is also for sale at Malice Domestic this weekend. A special signing by the contributors in attendance will take place at the opening reception, Friday, April 29, 9:15-10 p.m.