III. “And it has been fun, though there were times that first nerve-wracking year when some of us wondered whether we had rocks for brains.”

Elizabeth Peters, “Malice Domestic I”

The first year of Malice was a blur of mishaps and unforeseen problems.

The food was inedible. The tea was served in Styrofoam cups. The maids left little notes in some rooms asking people to clean the rooms themselves.

The convention drew about 350 people initially. By comparison, Bouchercon was drawing around 1,500 people at the time.

“There always was the feeling that we didn’t want it as big as Bouchercon,” Elizabeth Foxwell said. We wanted it sort of small and intimate. There was always some tension about how big do we want it. More and more people wanted to come, and yet we didn’t want it to be this gigantic convention center event.”

As they launched the convention, the Agatha Committee was still figuring out what type of book deserved an Agatha Award.

“We kind of made up some of the rules as we went along, in terms of the Agathas,” said Dean James. “Because when you’re starting at the very beginning, people are not really sure what’s going on.”

“We got some very bizarre nominations that first year for totally inappropriate writers,” he added. “You know, like Sue Grafton and some of the hardboiled stuff. So we went from there and people began to be more aware of what the point was.”

As for the hotel, it was nothing if not memorable.

“That was a horrible hotel,” Mary Morman said. “It was so bad that it was really funny. We only saw before the convention the best of the rooms. They had two or three floors full of rooms that were okay, one floor that was quite nice and three floors of rooms that didn’t even have hot water… I still have somewhere the note from a chambermaid saying, ‘Please clean the room before you leave.’”

But everyone pulled together and enjoyed themselves in spite of their surroundings. And the hotel became a conversation piece for guests at the convention.

“It was really interesting, because once Barbara was talking to Mary Higgins Clark about how bad the first Malice hotel was,” Foxwell recalled. “And Mary said, ‘Oh no, it’s very important to keep the price low, so people can come.’ Mary was all about how you make it affordable for people to come.”

And thus the sense of camaraderie overpowered the hotel’s downsides, even in that first year. Longtime Malice attendees speak fondly of the serendipitous conversations, pranks and general merriment to be had at Malice.

Foxwell said one highlight of Malice was the sorts of conversations people had in the bar at midnight. “People would say so many times, ‘I didn’t know there were other people out there who read what I like to read,’” she said. “And so, you would hear conversations like, ‘Oh, have you read this author? Oh, you need to try this book!’ Those sorts of wonderful types of conversations.”

Stay tuned for Part IV.

Barbara greets Charlotte MacLeod arriving for Malice