I went to my first Malice in the mid-1990s. I had just finished my first novel and had no idea what to do next. A friend, who wrote and published a mystery, had discovered the conference through a collogue who lived in the Washington area. I would have someone I knew there, so I wouldn't be all alone. At the last minute he was unable to make it, so I was on my own.
Writers are people who spend long periods alone, setting words on paper (or computer screens) then going back and rewriting everything they did the first time. When the manuscript is finished they have to pull another personality out of their back pockets and enter the market place. They have to sell the work to a publisher then they have to sell it to the public. Very few people are good at both.
I am more the solitary writing type. I made a decision before I stepped on the train to Washington. I would be as outgoing as I could manage. I would go up to strangers and introduce myself. I would be humble and not push my own stellar career as a writer, but find out how they managed theirs.
An added incentive was that Dick Francis was receiving some award that year and I would do anything to meet him. Turns out he was up against a deadline and sent his son in his place. Darn, abandoned twice.
I was pretty proud of how I did. I sat down with several authors I had never heard of, and discussed writing, how they did it, what they got out of conferences like this one, how they chose their topics. The advice I got from every one of them was that I should join Sisters in Crime. I had looked into the two organizations, Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America, but hadn't joined either.
I attended a panel at each opportunity but I can't now remember what any of them were except one. I went to the short story panel toward the end of the weekend. One of the panel members was the treasurer (I think) of the Sisters in Crime chapter that was in my area. I talked to her after the panel and as soon as I could I joined the chapter.
The most impressive and inspiring thing I saw that weekend was a newly published writer, her book would be out in a few weeks and she spent the whole conference wheeling her two kids around in a stroller. If she could do it so could I.
After a couple of years I switched to a conference that focused on the craft of writing. It was in my hometown so I could combine education with a family visit.
Last year I went back to Malice, now a published writer myself. My roommate was someone from my Sisters in Crime local. I was given a panel of my own to moderate. I met some of my online friends, shopped my manuscript, and in a strange encounter, met a novelist whose non-fiction I admire.
I am so excited about attending again this year. Come see me at Uncle Sam Wants You, on Saturday afternoon.