Midwestern Mysteries & Me

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I’m in the current issue of Mystery Readers Journal talking about my roots in the Midwest. Thanks are due to the fine hostess, Janet Rudolph. Although I’ve not lived in my home state in ages, something of that heritage remains. Pick up a copy!

Slovenia: Another Green World

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Here’s Janez Grm, me, Funda Cinoglu, Vassilis Danellis, Avgust Demšar AKA Tomaš and Alibi mastermind Renato Bratkovič at the legendary Bar Grega. In Casablanca, everybody goes to Rick’s; in Slovenia, everybody goes to Bar Grega.

I was unprepared for just how amazing Slovenia would be. I thought it would be fun of course, as it usually is hanging out with other writers — but I had no idea how crazy beautiful this country is. Seriously, book your holiday today before everyone discovers it.

See the whole photo album here. There’s just too many wonderful pictures. Renato was a brilliant host: he took me to Lake Bled where we had their famous cream cake, then I got to nap a little at Hotel Jakec to get over my jet lag, then my first visit to Bar Grega to be greeted by the genial host Borut, who had the welcoming mat out:

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The next day the other writers arrived (not having to come quite as far) and I met Janez, Vassilis and his lovely wife Funda — they live in Instanbul so it was fascinating to hear their perspective on current events, plus they’re both delightful. Avgust AKA Tomaš is quite a legend, like the Val McDermid of Slovenia. He has a wicked dry wit. We were lavished with attention at Bar Grega, then taken to dinner at the amazing Gora pod lipo, a stunning alpine restaurant set in a restored country house with all modern meeting rooms and the food — did I mention the food yet? Surrounded by vineyards and served the most tasty array of foods. When was I ever so spoiled?

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As Renato said, nothing’s really free. He had us draw from potential titles because Saturday we would be back at Gora pod lipo to write the stories. Yes, we had most of the day to write, pampered with tea and wine and snacks like roasted pumpkin seeds covered in dark chocolate (oh, and I thought I hated pumpkin!). So of course I wrote about 6K — haahahaa! Imagine how much I’d write if I always lived like this.

Then we were whisked off to the cinema to see Psi brezčasja / Case: Osterberg, a noir film presented by writer Zoran Benčič and producer Tomi Matič. Zoran is also lead singer of Res Nullius, Slovenia’s premiere rock band (check them out). The film is based on his novel. Though we didn’t have a subtitles, it was pretty easy to follow the story (I’ll write a proper review over on Graham Wynd, maybe tomorrow). I was surprised to learn it was a no-budget film as it looked really good. The film premiered at the Festival of Slovenian Film in September 2015 and received unanimous critical acclaim while also winning the FIPRESCI Film Critics award for best film.

Then we all repaired to Bar Grega to chat and drink more Laško Noir — the official beer of Alibi — until everybody was too tired. So Renato drove us back up the winding mountain roads to Hotel Jakec (I think Janez probably still dreams of those drives and wakes up ill).

Sunday it was back to Gora pod lipo. I put the finishing touches on my story (would Borut live or die? 😉 following in Eddie Vega’s footsteps I put our Bar Grega host into my tale) then just enjoyed the beauty of the mountain and the bounty of our hosts. They took great care of us. Then it was time for the reading in the wine cellar. You can’t beat that for cool.

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Then we had a wonderful dinner with Renato’s family to wind up the day and it was just the thing we needed. His daughter is a budding Evelyn Glennie and his wife Alenka made sure we were all eating enough. It’s a wonder I did not burst at some point during the weekend.

It was hard to say good-bye! Good thing I had Venice to entertain me — but more of that later.

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When Worlds Collide

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Our brains like to label things and categorise them neatly. We can ‘unsee’ things we’ve seen if they don’t fit our categories. But we vary in how much we do this: at one end of the spectrum is the rigid labeling that leads to racism and xenophobia, at the other end lies an inability to learn because everything is seen as unique.

I’m not sure where that leaves me: I do categorise and label things but I seem nigh on incapable of making categories that others can see but make perfect sense to me. Things collide in my head in odd ways. It took me some years to understand that. And it’s okay, it works for me. Well, apart from the tendency for other people to look at me with arched eyebrows and narrowed eyes.

Example: somehow Chaucer’s Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale and Maurer’s The Big Con collided in my head and so I’ll be giving a paper at the International Medieval Congress in Leeds next summer on alchemy called ‘Chaucer and the Art of the Grift’ which should be fun.

Here’s the precis:

‘Of all the grifters, the confidence man is the aristocrat’, David Maurer wrote in his linguistic study _The Big Con_. Chaucer’s _Canon’s Yeoman’s  Tale_ offers a narrative of crime. As in his fabliaux there’s a delight in the spinning of the yarn even  while he deplores the deception. Nonetheless, I will argue that Chaucer reveals a grifter’s appreciation for the aristocratic con because he recognises it shares the same engine as his poetry: the power of a good story.

Am I having fun researching into the world of grifters and con artists? Yes, I am. I’ve always had a fascination with that art, probably at least since my brothers and I saw Harry in Your Pocket and spent the next few weeks perfecting our technique (only on each other, I should clarify). Of course there’s also the glory of The Sting, which sprang from Maurer’s study directly. Just something in the air in 1973, eh? It was the year that Watergate broke (though it took much longer to unravel…)

FREE This Week: Hard-Boiled Witch

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Bouchercon: Rally in Raleigh

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My amended badge

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My roomie — I’d never meet anyone if it weren’t for Debi meeting everyone!

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Oh, and Absolutely Kate, too — ask her about her Lawrence Block story at your peril…

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After considerable postal delays, my beautiful pledge pins arrived by FedEx (thanks again, Lys Guillorn for making them!)

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They knew the kind of glasses to serve drinks in.

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I love all the oak designs in Raleigh.

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Les Edgerton, decorated with a lipstick heart that melted in the Noir at the Bar heat.

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A long shot of the oak street light.

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Animated conversations everywhere: when the bar got too crowded we moved out into the lobby.

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The fabulous Mollie Cox Bryan was my other roomie. Not near enough time to chat even with my roommates! That’s Bouchercon.

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The big event! Fun reading as we each had just a bit of time.

I have never signed so many books! Whoohoo!

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We teased Rick Ollerman of Stark House endlessly about looking at kitten pictures. He may not have actually been looking at kitten pictures.

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It’s hard to top Les’ stories but Debi rises to the challenge.

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Kate’s still marveling at Rick’s kitten obsession.

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Or maybe at Debi getting him to unbutton an extra button or two. But she couldn’t get him to dance on the table. This time…

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The bar got in on the crime theme.

Shenanigans at the Twisted Mango

Satan's Sorority Promo Next up: after the con, the kitties…

Packing for a Getaway

I started the day teaching from the Sermo Lupi and making comparisons to current apocalyptic predictions. In 1014, Wulfstan made similar prognostications about the lack of a future, due of course to our sinfulness, leofan men. I tried to point out to them that medieval folk would have had many of the same reactions as we do — mostly because they had to get back to the work of getting enough food to live on.

Actually I started with my students working on their productions of Hrotsvita’s plays, but I didn’t have to do much in that class except answer questions while they practiced and did some blocking. I love Hrotsvita: her works run from would-be necrophiliacs to virgins threatened with the brothel life and deals with devils. Drama is so much better when the students perform it. They actually understand what’s happening!

Of course, I need to pack as I am on the road tomorrow to #RallyinRaleigh for Bouchercon. Hope to see a lot of folks there. I’ll be in Graham Wynd mode, promoting both Chastity Flame (first novel free in your bag thanks to Smashwords) and of course, Satan’s Sorority.

I will endeavour to send some missives from my travels, though more likely on FB and Twitter because of course, they’re easier. And handing out these:

Satan's Sorority Promo

Crime Fiction in Gdansk: Day One

The short version: fantastic apart from Lot Airlines. Never fly Lot. Delays going from and coming to NY, mechanical problems, plus they didn’t admit to the delays until everyone was milling around waiting to board. The crew both in the airport at Warsaw and on the plane were unfriendly and often downright surly, so it made a difficult situation even more unpleasant.

Don’t fly Lot.

It was a bit worrying because with the delay going over I got stuck in Warsaw for almost seven hours and missed my connection and Ula picking me up. So they didn’t know when I was getting in, I had trouble reaching Agnieszka because she was busy getting the conference last minute details together and dealing with all the guests. I had stopped paying attention to necessary details like what hotel I was staying at once I heard someone would pick me up at the airport.

Fortunately, Agnieszka figured out the situation and the info awaited me as soon as I turned on my phone in the airport in Gdansk. The flight there was much nicer, the lights of the city looked pretty and the big moon followed along for the journey. I showed the address to the cabbie and he took me to the right hotel. The woman at the desk expected me and handed my key before I got my name out and pointed to the kettle which was available at all hours.

Ah, tea.

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I was sad to miss the warming as I was supposed to see Mr B there, but given the worries that our finally meeting might result in an epic cataclysm (news that solar storms were approaching the planet and the volcano in Iceland was rumbling added to the concerns) perhaps it was just as well for the safety of others.

In the morning I ran into the ‘other’ Paul, Paul Johnston, who was across the hall and we shared a cab to the lovely campus, which gave us a chance to chat. Although Scottish, Paul lives in Greece and it was interesting to hear what it’s like when Tom Hanks buys up property on a small island there O.O

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It was a busy conference. Here’s the delightful David Malcolm and Agnieszka, our tireless hostess and organiser who pulled off an incredible event with mix of people from around the world. They welcomed up Rachel Franks who’d come all the way from Australia to talk about why we like to read about the bad ones who get away with it. Then came the agony of the first choice: Victorian Legacy or Nordic Noir. I might as well have flipped a coin as both looked good. I went with noir and Kerstin Bergman, Inge t’Hart and Daniel Ogden gave me a lot to chew over and the certainty that I really must read Theorin and Lapidus.

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Our tea breaks in the center of the building (the floor below the first picture) were surrounded by this very kitschy collection of North Korean art that was apparently sponsored by the NK government. There was a whole table of “our glorious leader” books. We weren’t sure if they were for taking but I had to at least get a picture of this strange horse mosaic. It was quite mesmerising.

In the afternoon I stuck with Golden Age crime with Jacqui Miller, Jadwiga Wegrodzka, Simon Dwyer and Eric Sandberg talking about Christie, Sayers and Marsh. It’s been some time since I read anything Golden Age so it made me long for those long afternoons spent reading novel after novel when I was younger. I spend so much time writing there’s very little time for reading.

Paul Johnston’s keynote was the last big event and he spoke from the somewhat perplexing position of being a writer at an academic conference — though he has a PhD, too, as well as all those novels. Paul is very droll and managed to poke at the academics a bit without making them feel any pain and gave a good deal of insight into the writer’s side of things that probably helped give perspective to the academics who are not also fiction writers.

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And then there was the wine reception where at last me and the elusive Mr B met and the world did not end and no one died and it was pretty much like we’d known each other all our lives. After the wine reception me and the two Pauls headed out to the boardwalk in Sopot which was lovely on such a mild night. A lot of the big casinos were closing by the time we got there, but we found a small cafe that stayed open late and sat and talked for ages and yes, the photos I remembered to take pretty much look like the one above.

I realise this is going to take longer than I thought or maybe being out of the habit I don’t have time to be brief so let’s call this day one and more anon as I have places to be.

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