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.

NoirCon, Brigadoon, Writerage, and Two Hard Boiled Eggs

The cave at Brigadoon

I realise I never got around to finishing the write up of Noircon. Life intervened. There was that September that would never leave! And then the October that barely shouted hello as it scarpered past. And now we’re past the midpoint of November and eek! So much to be done — thus, I need to be doing it and not so much with the blogging.

Besides, life lately? Tappa tappa tappa. Writing whether for myself or as part of the grading process (woefully behind on that >_<) means I’m hunched over some one of my various bits of technology a lot of the time lately. At least with the holiday break this week, a good chunk of that tapping is on a novella and the novel, so hurrah.

Jingle & Bell, the neighbours

I had a lovely weekend at Brigadoon, AKA Universal Pathways, on a retreat with my HVPN pals and a couple of cutie donkeys. Not much work done, of course, but a way to recharge the creative and human batteries.

Let’s see: NoirCon — Saturday kicked off with the True Crime panel. Alison Gaylon, Megan Abbott, Wallace Stroby and Dennis Tafoya chatted about their favourite true crime books and writers and so did the audience and wow, this panel could have gone on all day long and no one would have objected. From vicarious taboo thrills to trying to understand one’s messed up family, folks were keen.

Robert Olen Butler’s keynote struck a chord with me partly because it was the most overtly academic piece but also because he knows that weird balancing act of being both inside and outside academia. He teaches MFA students, but heartily defines that genre: “Literary means ‘doesn’t sell jackshit’.” Heh. His unified field theory on fiction is that the best stuff is about yearning and described the tepid sort of lit fic as ‘no frame around the picture’ (which is what a lot of people object to as the genre has solidified in recent decades; people like story).

He then broke down what he called cinematically written scenes: the opening of Great Expectations and the moment when Spade gets the call about Archer in The Maltese Falcon. Excellent analysis and touching on one of the repeated themes of the con, that television and film have had a lot of influence on crime writing lately — and that’s not a bad thing.

The Jewish Noir panel featured Jay A. Gertzman, William Lashner and Kenneth Wishnia who quipped, “Thanks for breaking the Sabbath with us.” There was also a comment on the fact that the Jewish comedians always come on before the strippers (the Burlesque panel being next). There was a great discussion of the quintessentially noirish outlook of Jewish philosophy: that you must try to heal a chaotic world, an impossible and endless task, and how neatly the work of David Goodis fits into that.

The Burlesque Noir panel had Susana Mayer, Lulu Lollipop, Timaree Schmit and Frank De Blasé. A part of the audience had their tongues hanging out a little too much, hoping desperately for some skin. Instead of dissing romance writers (as many people did throughout the weekend) I think crime writers need to get together with the rom folks and find out how to get a little more satisfaction in their lives. Lulu even brought that up, saying she’d heard a lot about blood and murder on the panels, but considering how much noir is about sex, there was scant mention of it. A fun panel nonetheless with some terrific sassy women who know their history. And a great recommendation of a 70s art book:

The final big panel was the interview with legendary author Lawrence Block who was his usual amusing self: “Where will you spend eternity? On a fucking panel!” Nonetheless he managed to amuse everyone with his tales of travels and writing and Swierczynski managed to find some questions he’d not already addressed in various panels over his long career, so everyone was happy.

The next NoirCon will be in 2014. Consider checking it out if you like all things noirish.

What else? I have had my bookshelves featured at Overflowing Libraries and my own self featured at In the Booth with Ruth.

Oh, and two hard-boiled eggs!

NoirCon Survived

30th Street Train Station

I went off to the wilds of Philadelphia where, admittedly, I am never keen to go. It’s just not one of my favourite cities. Not sure why. But I needed to be there for NoirCon and it was certainly the place to be to promote Weird Noir

— hey, for which we got a nice review today.

I’m also over at Welcome to My World of Dreams, who also gave me a very nice review of Unquiet Dreams! 🙂 Part of the Tirgearr Blog Tour where you can win valuable prizes!

Oh, yeah — back to Philly. It started out at PhilaMoca, a really interesting venue if a bit creepy to get to through dark streets and vacant lots. Heide Hatry performed and showed off her art in the venue. Strong stuff — vegetarians, turn away now — like her performance ‘Skin Room’ which we saw playing behind her while she spoke about her background, growing up on a pig farm in Germany where she was trained to be a butcher from the age of 6. She said she had been told that her more ‘feminist’ works might not go over well with this audience (in keeping with her theme, NoirCon is a bit of a sausage fest), so she showed the video for ‘Expectations’ rather than perform it live. ‘Also, it is messy,’ she added. Hatry spoke in the morning too more directly about noir, as well as the difficulties of finding a cow vagina (‘much harder than you would imagine’) and of traveling with a deer face. Her works from ‘Heads and Tales’ and ‘Not a Rose’ were on display both at PhilaMOCA and then at the Society Hill Playhouse where most of the events took place. She actually constructed a ‘flower’ during her performance Thursday night. Fascinating if somewhat gruesome work. It was a treat to see some of those hardboiled authors wincing.

Friday panels included ‘Career in C Minor’ which featured Wesley Stace (AKA John Wesley Harding) and S. J. Rosen talking about music in their noir writings with Cullen Gallagher. Stace was persuaded to sing since some of his work was directly inspired by Jim Thompson and he has a new historical crime novel. Rosen used to be an architect, so it was fascinating to hear her talk about how her work is different. The panel on ‘Good Country People’ gave a convincing history of so-called Southern Gothic as simply noir in the south. ‘The Movie was Better’ offered a chance to talk about how increasingly influential television especially and film are on writers. Crime has taken over television it seems at times.

How you write Ripley

The ‘Double Trouble’ panel offered the unexpected bonus of seeing Maya Deren’s always lovely Meshes of the Afternoon since Robert Polito chanced up on the house where it was filmed (and still looks much the same) and made a good argument for its noir props. Joan Schenkar demonstrated that her fantastic and seemingly comprehensive biography of Patricia Highsmith didn’t cover everything — there’s more! She shared color photocopies of Highsmith’s outlines which were amazing, which inspired her to do a map chart marking where people get killed in Highsmith’s novels and where her lovers lived. Eeep! A lot of overlap there.

Jeremiah Healy interviewed the legendary owner of Mysterious Books (and publisher, writer, etc.) Otto Penzler. I got a bit of a surprise last week when Penzler bought one of my stories out of the blue for a new anthology Kwik Krime that Amazon will be publishing. Pleased for sure! Penzler’s whole story is fascinating and he had a grand time telling stories with his sardonic wit.

I think I will hold off on Saturday until I have a little more time. Other write ups can be found including the advance coverage and the controversy about the program cover illo (well deserved o_O the cover was…just inexplicable), although there was some good stuff on the inside, including a little piece from Mr B.

Oh, and Todd stood me up.

NoirCon Bound

Assuming another train doesn’t get canceled I should be on my way to Philadelphia today for NoirCon. The first event is the opening reception at the Philadelphia Masoleum of Contemporary Art, which ought to be a treat. I had hoped to get to the Mutter Museum today but the canceled train put the kibosh on that. Here’s the full schedule for the weekend. I should know one or two people who will be around, I hope. Because you know, introverts just love going to huge events where they know no one.