By Martha Reed
Last Friday I celebrated my fiftieth birthday, the big 5-0, and I suppose I shouldn’t let the event go past without writing about it, since writing is what I do. It’s been a pretty funny experience, first off because I’m okay with it, I’ve never felt healthier and I’m very happy where I am in my life, but everyone else seems to be having a bigger reaction to it than I am. It’s making me feel, well, odd.
One of my neighbors, a very nice older woman, saw the black balloon floating outside my door and offered her condolence, asking me how I felt about it. I think I surprised her when I said I felt great. Somehow, I think I’m supposed to be feeling like the end is near and the grim reaper is about to tap me on my shoulder, but honestly I can’t say I feel that at all – I’ve got way too much work to do to think of giving up now.
But fifty is a great time to take a pause and assess your life and your direction. I guess I’m one of the lucky ones – I wrecked my life pretty effectively in my late thirties and I have been rebuilding it ever since, and building it in what I think is a good direction and on a solid foundation. One of the things I’ve committed to is my writing – I’ve written before on how easy it is to get distracted and to go off and spend great swaths of time doing foolish things. Now don’t get me wrong, foolish is fine, in the proper place and at the proper time. Maybe that’s what turning fifty did for me; it seems to have freed me up to say ‘no, thanks’ and to continue on doing what I think is important (to me): the writing.
Two weekends back I did get a little distracted and I drove to Arlington, Virginia, to help celebrate another anniversary: twenty years of traditional mystery at the Malice Domestic convention. Everyone who enjoys traditional mysteries should go to Malice at least once – it’s a three-day merry-go-round of author signings and informative entertaining panels and interviews plus an awards banquet where they hand out the Agathas. I’ve always had fun making sure I read the Agatha entries beforehand so I could pick out my favorite dark horse, and the true surprise of the convention is just how accessible everyone is: I’ve met some terrific new authors just by sitting next to them in The Mez restaurant for lunch or taking a pause in a cozy chair in the lobby. This year introduced me to Nan Higginson with her Agatha nominated short story “Casino Gamble” (http://homepage.mac.com/adept/CasinoGambleMNYS.pdf) and I fell right into a great new series by Beverle Graves Myers, “Interrupted Aria” featuring Tito Amato, a castrato soprano in 18th-century Venice.
For purposes of disclosure I should mention that something big happened to me at Malice this year, and I have to laugh at it. With all the effort I put into my fiction, with the hours I spend exploring every possible plotline or trying to develop interesting new characters, the hours I spend polishing my prose to be the very best it can be, I finally won an award at Malice XX - for my hat. That’s right, yours truly won the Malice Domestic XX Most Beautiful Hat Contest for my entry “Black and White and Read All Over”. Actually, I don’t really think it was my hat that won, I think it was more likely the pun that won the judges over, and I’m sure there are some serious southern ladies with bigger hats who are a little steamed at me right now, but I’ve made it back north across the Mason/Dixon line and I’m hoping they’ll get over it in time for Malice XXI, because next year, as God is my witness, I’ll be judged for something I wrote!