NoirCon 2014 – Part 4

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Let me wrap things up: I’ve let them drag on too long, probably because I have been busier than a one-armed paper hanger since I got back. Or something like that. Fun ends and work returns and there is so much to do: I was grading papers on the train and sketching out a story in the hotel. There are no breaks for writers: there’s only writing and not writing.

There was the party though: or rather, the awards dinner. Some people really swanked up for it. I was, alas, short of any sparkling wardrobe options so I went as I was and hey, writers — so there were a lot of people to blend in with. Once again Absolutely*Kate whipped the troops into cabs, though at least a couple of the cabs had trouble getting their GPS to locate the Sheet Metal Worker’s Union Hall on the river. Swanky place!

None of the writers could quite believe that there was an open bar, but when the word spread it was like seeing a fire pass through a forest.

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There was singing, there was dancing there were ravens on the table. We had a very nice meal and a lot of chat, quite like a shindig and many tasty treats.The 4th David L. Goodis Award was presented to Fuminori Nakamura
 and the 4th Jay and Deen Kogan Award was presented to Bronwen Hruska
. Howard Rodman presented Eddie Muller with the Anne Friedberg Award for Noir Film Appreciation and Preservation and there was live music courtesy of The All Star Jazz Trio: Bruce Klauber, Bruce Kaminsky,and Andy Kahn. We danced. At some point I was inducted into the mystical order of the Black Rose Society (but my lips are sealed — for now). And there was a piñata that looked like Frank Sidebottom at the Day of the Dead. Nakamura cracked it open with a few good whacks. And then we went to the Marriott for more drinks.

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The next morning we were all (when I say “all” of course I mean those of us who were not drinking late into the night) up early for Steve Hodel’s second talk “Most Evil” in which he sketched in the case for his father as a potential candidate for Zodiac. “I’m not saying ‘he did it’ but I think he should move toward the top of the list of suspects.” Wow, it’s chilling. The weight of the evidence is really quite compelling and the thought of discovering your father as not just a killer but perhaps one of the most notorious killers of the 20th century is gob-stoppingly shocking. Despite a lot of the Black Dahlia evidence conveniently disappearing (George Hodel had procured abortions for a number of Hollywood and LAPD folks in the 40s and 50s) and Zodiac evidence being unavailable, Hodel makes a solid argument for the connections that will chill you to the bone. Do pick up his books if this is something you’re up on because wow.

I had to catch a train and missed the closing ceremony at Port Richmond Books as well as Godwin and Jay Gertzman’s Hybrid Noir panel, which I would have *loved* to see, but duty beckoned. Two years until the next one — can we wait that long?

Many thanks to the fabulous organisers, Lou Boxer and Deen Kogan, who manage to pull off an amazing experience.

Noir Con 2014 – Part 3

Chocolates at Reading Terminal Market

Chocolates at Reading Terminal Market

The longest day of the con kicked off early with a talk from Eric Miles Williamson about his unconventional path to writing and academia. From a tough Oakland childhood to the ivory tower or at least the Texas equivalent, along the way he’s been a jazz musician as well as a novelist, and now sits on the prestigious Board of Directors of the National Book Critics Circle, editor of the American Book Review, Boulevard, and Texas Review. He uses his influence to promote people who are distinctly not the typical Ivy Leaguers, so I’m on board with that.

2014-11-01 11.05.57Next up Tom Nolan interviewed Fuminori Nakamura, winner of the David Loeb Goodis Award for Literature and the Art of Writing in the tradition of David Goodis) with Sam Bett translating, though as his publisher pointed out both Nakamura and his wife had spent the last year working on English as the west began discovering this award winning writer. A fascinating discussion of influences (many European) and philosophies. Nakamura comes across as very charming and thoughtful, completely awed when Nolan showed him the full page, glowing spread in the LA Times Review of Last Winter, We Parted (which I picked up). He seemed genuinely bowled over by the attention, as it’s only the third of his books to be translated into English. I’m looking forward to reading it and got him to sign it because, as Barton Fink might write, I think we’ll be hearing a lot more from him and I don’t mean a postcard.

Many of the Japanese writers he admires have died, some by their own hand. Nakamura spoke of the very different attitude toward suicide in Japan, and there was some general discussion about the prevalence of it in the north of lands (i.e. Scandinavia too) though he was so glad that he got to meet Nobel Prize-winner Kenzaburō Ōe after winning the prize named after him.

The Stray Dogs panel featured Williamson and a bunch of newer voices, some of whom he’d mentored, talking about the ways that noir gives voice to traditionally marginalised voices. Ron Cooper, Patrick Michael Finn, Larry Fondation, Michael Gills, Joseph D. Haske, William Hastings, and Vicki Hendricks offered up their tales from off the beaten tracks all the way from carpentry with the great apes in Florida to calling out Hemingway’s depiction of the U.P. (AKA the upper peninsula of my home state, Michigan). It’s good to see noir continuing to morph into new forms all the time.

The Politics of Noir panel suffered a bit from technical difficulties, so rather than a panel discussion it was a series of statements from the panelists, Richard Godwin, John Grant, Jon McGoran, Stuart Neville, and Asali Solomon. Nonetheless they were entertaining and offered a lot to chew on. Neville spoke with great emotion about feeling an obligation to the dead in Northern Ireland, to making those losses anything but political games.

The Jewish Noir panel picked up on this note and panelists Michael J. Cooper, M.D., Alan Gordon, Marshall Stein, and Kenneth Wishnia spoke of the profound effect of tradition and history on Jewish writers like Goodis. The peripatetic life of many Jews has created a particular kind of despair for a land that no longer exists.

That sentiment helped segue into the Existential Noir panel I was on with T. Fox Dunham, William Lashner, Carole Mallory and Paul Oliver. I joked about being on the panel because I was a doctor of philosophy but my philosophy was ‘get away with whatever you can’ and mentioned being a tenured English professor without ever being an English major. I’m not sure any of us knew exactly what we were there for (meta!) but it seemed to stay lively and the audience was entertained, so that’s all that matters. Carole’s write up for the HuffPo is here.

Okay, gotta go grade some more, so I’ll wrap things up in the next post. Here’s a teaser:

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NoirCon 2014 – Part 2

2014-10-31 16.06.52After a drink with Patti and her husband Phil in the Belgian beer place on South Street, we headed back to catch the Ross MacDonald panel with Tom Nolan and Jeff Wong and a whole host of images including personal photos and memorabilia. Really fascinating and sometime sad, as there were a lot of problems with their daughter being involved in a major accident and the fallout from it. We writers are always curious about other writers’ lives, I think.

Then it was time for the Three Minutes of Terror, AKA speed reading. Joe Samuel Starnes
 kept us all to our time limit with a flashlight and a toy chainsaw. Because he’d come the furthest of the readers, Richard went first and read a bit from Meaningful Conversations (which I’ve reviewed), kicking us off in style. A wide range of readers and texts, including Patti and myself. I read the bathtub scene from Extricate which was just about the right length and seemed to please. It’s a challenge to choose something for such a short slot, but I’ve been well-trained by 2nd Sundays at the Arts Center.

Then we headed back to the hotel to change for the Halloween party. Absolutely*Kate took on the mantle of carpool organiser for the weekend and had everyone down in the lobby at the appropriate time and Christa Faust whipped us all into shape, so we hopped into a string of cabs and headed to the gig hosted by Soho Press. Fuminori Nakamura and Stuart Neville gave the event an international flair. Nakamura is a rising star from Japan (more on him later) and Neville writes of the mean streets of Northern Ireland. Soho really seems to be picking the talent and it was great to have a couple of brief readings before the showing of Get Carter, which I admit I skipped because I know it well and love it and was having a nice chat and some good beer and besides there were the birds!

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And Absolutely*Kate and me — see, I did wear a costume. Thanks for the orange scarf, Byron! But my picture of Poe and his raven was a bit too dark to show up.

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Next part: onward to Saturday — maybe I can cover a whole day in one post…

NoirCon 2014 – Part 1

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I headed off to NoirCon. It was a misty morning so the fog floated over the Hudson as the train rumbled south. Before you knew it we were passing under the George Washington and pulling into Penn Station. After a relatively quick and painless change, I was on my way to Philly. I’d already missed the Noir at the Bar night, but there’s only so many classes I can cancel (>_<) I got some grading done that night and was ready to dive into the dark the next morning.

And dark it was, kicking off with Steve Hodel‘s talk on the Black Dahlia killer — or as he called him, “Dad” O.O Yes, really — and worse, there’s a lot more murders he can be convincingly linked to in that time. There’s a good write up at Out of the Gutter, but suffice to say the crowd was riveted, convinced and horrified all at once. What must it have been like to put the pieces together (after his father’s death) and come to that realisation. Hodel, who refers to himself as the ‘black sheep’ because he became a cop, has done a thorough job. If you’re a true crime aficionado I highly recommend checking out Hodel’s work. Because the real gutting thing is that the most gruesome aspects of the killing was the ‘murder as art’ angle. Deeply disturbing stuff.

Page & Richard

Page & Richard

Of course the first thing was catching up with friends like Richard Godwin and his lovely wife Page.

Next up were Jean W. Cash, Joan Schenkar, and Robert Polito, biographers of Flannery O’Connor, Jim Thompson and Patricia Highsmith respectively to talk about the links and rifts between Highsmith and O’Connor who seem to have similarly dark imaginations but could not be more different — nor could the two biographers. Schenkar is a hoot and as lively and loopy as her superb tome on Highsmith while Cash is a genteel and soft-spoken academic, but together they gave great anecdotes and talked about the few chance interactions between the authors, two of the greatest American voices of the 20th century.

Over lunch we got to see a short film courtesy of Jeff Wong, Ross Macdonald—In the First Person (1970), which had been rescued from obscurity where the author talks about his writing and life with Margaret Millar, whose work is coming back into print and long-overdue recognition. Always interesting to see writers talk about process. Which is my excuse for skipping the next panel to have a drink with Patti Abbott — yes, after all these years we finally got to meet face to face after a lot of near misses. Skål!

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I’m going to have to do this in pieces as I have to run just now, so if you want to skip ahead read fellow Existential Noir panelist Carole Mallory’s write up.

Happy Birthday, Fox Spirit Books!

HB Fox Spirit

A big happy birthday to Fox Spirit Books! Two years old already and so many many books out there, including several I wrote, edited or contributed to in some way. Under the insightful guidance of the fearless Adele Wearing, the Muse who Kicks You in the Face®, the collection that kicked things off — Tales of the Nun and Dragon — has been followed by a wealth of gorgeous, genre-ending volumes that have in common both the little fox head logo and a commitment to excellence — from the hand-picked list of authors, through the rigorous editing process (we love you, Daz, even when we’re cursing ;-)), through the detailed process of formatting by the wonderful Handebooks, until at last they are wrapped in the beautiful covers designed by fabulous artists like S. L. Johnson, Sarah Langton, Daniele Serra and Vince Holland-Keene.

So raise a glass, look back to see how far we’ve come — and jump into the future!

We are the music makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams;—
World-losers and world-forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world for ever, it seems.
           ~ Arthur O’Shaughnessy

 Be sure to sign up for the Fox Spirit Books newsletter to keep abreast of things and drop by the Facebook page or follow Aunty Fox on Twitter today for the celebrations and give me something to sing about!

All the Fox Spirit titles I’ve been part of so far (click on the image to go shopping) — more soon!

50 Word Fiction: The Clown

Noir Carnival slide

THE CLOWN
K. A. Laity

It was the clown.

The party had been lively enough before her arrival. She promised fun on her website, that balloon-littered vomit of Pantone tones with too many gurning gifs.

But the children were weeping now and several demanded to go home. Unmitigated disaster.

Not everyone could tell jokes, eh?

 

[Written for the Scottish Book Trust 50 Words competition; alas, not a winner though I deliberately did not go for the original dark ending]

Bouncing Back from Bouchercon

Yes, it always takes a while to recover from a conference: luckily I had a visit to Brigadoon to ease me into it. The net effect of a big conference like Bouchercon is to remind me that I am a very tiny minnow swimming in an enormous ocean. On the bad days, that’s discouraging. On the good days, it brings out my competitiveness. So it goes. I got to meet a lot of folks I’ve known online forever and hang with some folks I don’t see much.

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Absolutely*Kate shows her amazement that we had to wait over an hour to get our drinks at City Beer Hall.

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The passing of the seal of office: awww! Outgoing SinC pres Hank Phillippi Ryan gives the seal to Laura DiSilverio.

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At last we meet! The fabulous Mollie Cox Bryan looking great.

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The Empire Plaza was a strange place to hold the con: the lack of a bar at a writers convention meant people didn’t hang around.

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There’s a wind tunnel under the edge of the Egg when it’s blowing. Small children were carried off by it.

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Luring people into the Weird Noir Carnival: we gave away copies of the book and the official Noir Carnival three card monty-ready deck.

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Jan Kozlowski reads from “Corkscrewed” in WEIRD NOIR

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Chris Irvin reads from “The Things We Leave Behind” in NOIR CARNIVAL

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Heather Graham wrangled a bunch of would-be rock star writers together for a big party at Red Square. A fun night out!

There’s more — once I can clear out the Dropbox enough to get the rest of the photos downloaded, like the Noir at the Bar reading. I was really glad to meet up with folks like Les Edgerton, Thomas Pluck, Vince Zandri, Helen Smith, Terrence McCauley and Rita, to see the mighty Joe Lansdale — and of course Debi and Jan were great to hang out with, especially in the quieter moments. Best panel, hands down — bad girls (of course). Ooh, and there should be a group photo of the Mavens of Mayhem dressed in the QoE‘s logo.

Perhaps someone took pictures of my panel…oh, wait. There is this one just after, but it’s missing Les.

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