Monday, November 8, 2010

NoirCon 2010: Stuff I learned

By Steve Weddle

The trouble began around Maryland when I saw the big "No Texting" sign crossing the border. I can't text in Maryland while I drive? Geez, texting while driving is my only skill. (That's a joke about texting and driving, of course. I have many skills.)

But the downtime from Twitter and texting and emailing would be worth it. A few hours through the badlands and I'd be at NoirCon 2010 and all would be teh awesomes. Or, you know, so I thought.

Stuff I Learned at #NoirCon2010 (a terribly unwieldy hashtag, by the by)

An extra dose of Lucky Jim pills this morning
Can I just go back outside and come back in again?

So the panels for NoirCon2010 were at the super cool Society Hill Playhouse in Philadelphia. (Only two problems with this. One involved Seth Harwood's height and an elderly man's penis, but I'll get to those later.)
I walk in and see Dennis Tafoya right away. So my brain says, "Tafoya. Book. Hole. Remember?" So I tell Mr. Tafoya the story that pops into my head. Because apparently I'd left my dumbass filter back in the hotel's holy-crap-I-can't-make-that-turn parking lot.
I introduce myself and tell him how I accidentally stabbed a hole in the front cover of his book, a library book I'd checked out. Then, you know, I kinda realized that I'd just told a very nice man and critically-acclaimed author that I hadn't bought his book. Nice move, Weddle.
No sooner had I insulted him, than I ran into Reed Farrel Coleman.
"Mr. Coleman, I just wanted to say how much I loved THE JAMES DEANS."
He seemed please. Said thanks.
Then I said the thing I shouldn't have said:  "It's the only book of yours I've read but it was cool."
He didn't seem as happy about that. I don't know why I said it. I don't know why I came. I don't know why I'm allowed around civilized people.
Then I turned around and punched Dave White in the gut. As a joke. While he was on his way to the bathroom. Uh, yeah. I know. Sorry, Dave. Send the cleaning bill to Stacia Decker.
Oh, and it wasn't even Mr Tafoya's book I was thinking of. His is on the Kindle. D'Oh.

The slugger and the signers

So I brought one of those Food Lion canvas grocery bags full of books for folks to sign. Only, it kinda ripped in the parking garage. Books everywhere. And I didn't have books for all my favorite authors. And not all my favorite authors have books. Lucky for me I'd thought about this on the way up.

For the past dozen or so years I've kept a Louisville Slugger in my office. My lovely bride had picked it up at a yard sale and I've had it ever since. Keep it behind my desk. Not really useful, of course. I just keep it for show. Kinda like my MFA.

I figured I'd always have the bat near me and wouldn't it be cool if everyone at NoirCon2010 signed the bat. I asked and no one said it was a stupid idea. I was kinda surprised how nice everyone was because this would have to be the point at which my stupidity and sheer dorkiness was greater than authors' politeness, right? Turns out, no. Everyone seemed to think it was a good idea. Christa Faust took pix of folks signing it. (More on her in a bit.)

By the time I sneaked out Sunday morning, many folks had signed. I mean, how nice is that? I even managed to snag George Pelecanos. I said "Very nice of you, sir" and he said "No problem. Just please don't call me 'sir'" and then because I'm a dork I said "yes, sir." Again, it just kinda fell from my mouth. I mean, I'm talking to George Pelecanos, you know. I'm lucky I didn't pull a russel all over his shoes.

The madman and the madman

So back at the NoirCon HQ, I apparently still wasn't done offending people and making an ass out of myself.

I caught Scott Phillips out of the corner of my eye. He was deep in conversation, but still kinda bouncing around the way he does.

I'll never forget Saturday night. Scott was leading a dozen of us from the Field House to the Locust Plague Neighborhhood Bar and Grill. He was high-stepping and chugging his arms, like a butt-raped marching band leader. And there we were, dancing through the exhaust-smoked midnight of Philadelphia like an army of maniacs on parade.

But this was after I'd first attempted to tackle Scott the day before at the playhouse. I don't really want to get into it, because he didn't take it too well. Um, sorry, man. If the knee is really messed up, send Stacia the bill.

Cameron -- It's Australian for "lunatic"

Soon I met Cameron Ashley, who was in the final days of his five-week trip across the US from his home in Australia. The only real problem occurred at the German wiener house that first day.

We were sitting down for lunch. I was next to Sarah Weinman (one of many nice people I didn't get to talk enough with) and Cam. Behind me was Laura Lippman. I tried to sneak a picture of the famous person eating behind me, but, um, I stink.

So Cam says to me, "Hey, you know what's really disgusting?" I had a mouthful of brat and just raised an eyebrow in an attempt to explain that American custom generally frowns upon any disgusting discussions until at least dessert. He took the look to mean "do tell."
"Old man penis," Cam said*. At the lunch table. And I'd just met the guy.
Apparently Cam had been making use of the facilities at the NoirCon HQ (Society Hill Playhouse) when an elderly gentleman unflapped his khakis and flopped out his johnson "like a discarded jumprope," Cam said.
I put my brat back on the plate while Cam continued his explanation, which this author will spare his gentle readers.

Being in a conversation with Cameron Ashley is like trying to watch a tennis match in the middle of a fireworks show. His hands are everywhere. He jumps back in his seat when he is happily excited, which is often. I'm not sure I've ever met someone so genuinely excited to hear whatever you had to say.
Cameron Ashley
Me: "So then the guy slides into third."
Cam: [rocking back and forth in his chair] "You are fucking KIDDING me!"
Me: "No. And he was safe."
Cam: [falling forward in his chair and smacking both palms on the table] "Are you fucking KIDDING ME?"

I knew Cam was a talented writer and the work he does with CrimeFactory is unparalleled. But to find out what a fascinating and cool guy he is in person, well that's what the weekend was about, right?

It's Friday, Jed's in love

If you have never gotten a chance to see Jedidiah Ayres shoulder dance in a crammed booth, you haven't lived. He can dance to any sort of music, from Duran Duran to The Cure. And he will. Was it a coincidence that as soon as Jed started dancing, The Field House began charging a cover Saturday night? The shimmy and shake? He's your guy. The thing with the fishing pole in which the dancer casts his or her line and then mimes an attempt to "reel in" someone? He's the master.

Oh, and if you think you've read a book that he hasn't? Heh. Doubtful. If you think you understand a book better than he does? Feh.

And many people commented on how regal and cool and tall Jed appears. I think the completely undoctored photographic evidence will show that I am just as tall as Mr. Ayres, thank you very much. Gentle Ben and I are pretty much the same. In the height thing, I mean. In everything readerly and writerly, though? Yeah. You can't match this guy.

One of the highlights was Jed's continual taking of each phrase and pinning it on the tip of an aggressively annoying Australian accent to the delight of Australian Cam Ashley. Someone might be having a harmless conversation.
A perfectly nice guy everyone is beginning to think is a dork: "This is blood pudding? Dang. I think I'm gonna puke."
Jed: [in that Foster's beer commercial accent] PUKE. Australian for perfume.

And then there was one

Kieran Shea leads Jed, Neil, Cam, and me to fish tacos.
When George Clooney looks in the mirror each morning and wishes he had a stronger chin, he's wishing he was Kieran Shea. As with all the other guys and gals at NoirCon2010, I knew most of these folks online a bit. I'd read everything online I could find from Kieran. When he put his PI character away, I was sad. And I hate PI books. Kieran Shea can friggin write.

A couple of people I met this weekend have serious presence. Scott Phillips radiates. Christa Faust is the most upright and least uptight person I've ever met. (I sat near her for a couple of panels and her back never once touched the chair. Like straight-up posture. Oh, and so nice. Crap. I should have led with that. Sorry. Amazingly nice. And such presence. In person as she is on the page, there's not a drop of ink out of place. Her books are so well put-together, I guess you should expect. Oh, and her dog Butch is super cool and so mellow.)

Kieran Shea is one of those people. One of the really astounding things about this weekend was sensing the control Kieran has on the air around him. I mean, the dude is in charge. A commanding presence, you know? He was talking to me about "what character would you want to have your back in a fight?" He's thinking Joe Pike from Robert Crais or Gravedigger from Sean Chercover. Both good choices, of course, but I'm thinking "Kieran Shea."

When Kieran writes his new sci-fi piece or crime fiction, you have to pay attention. But in person, don't worry about that. He'll be paying attention. Back to the wall. Eyes on the front door. Never having to do a damn thing other than just being the biggest badass in the room.

Kieran said he comes from a family of five brothers. I couldn't help but think that if Kieran Shea were my big brother, I would have been a much better person than I am today.

I didn't say that, of course. And if he really were my big brother, maybe he'd punch me in the nose for saying something so dorky.

The Winterfahrt and Neil Smith

I wasn't kidding about the fish tacos. At an Irish pub. But that wasn't the Neil Smith highlight. That occurred during his panel discussion with Megan Abbot about Noir. (By the way, two things really stunk about the conference. One was I'd be talking to someone for five minutes before I realized I hadn't shut up about the novel or magazine or story or cord of wood I was working on. Like they came to listen to me say a damn thing, right? Still, almost everyone was too polite to walk away. (Except for that one lady at the reception.) The other thing that stunk was not getting to chat much or at all with everyone I wanted to. Megan Abbot was one of those. Her encyclopedic knowledge of mysteries and noir and hardboiled stories is amazing. If I were that smart, you wouldn't be able to get near me, I'd be so wrapped up in my own intellectual arrogance. Not her, though. What a nice person she is. Oh, and a fantastic author. If I were that talented...)

Oh, so Neil. Yeah. His layered, nuanced definition of Noir is worth the price of admission. The manner in which he weaves in twelfth-century candle making to talk about the history of "shining a light" on the dark places is simply miraculous. And watching his use of German cognates and traditional Peruvian puppets to answer "What is Noir" is one of greatest enjoyments of my life.

And when we told the cabbie "Mummers Museum" and ended up at the "Mutter's Museum," Neil Smith was the one who calmed us all down and suggested we forgo taxis and just walk the rest of the way, as that is a much more economically and environmentally friendly alternative. And healthy, too!

Should I wrap this up or continue next week?

Oh, and the panels were great. Not just the Neil/Megan one. All of them. Especially the one on Patricia Highsmith. I gotta read some of her. Sounds great.

More people I didn't get enough of -- Patti Abbot and her husband. How cool are they? So pleased to finally get to meet Patti. A shame we didn't get more time to chat.

Rector, Cam, and Jed
John Rector loves his phone. And checking his phone. Often. Plus, he was working on edits all weekend, so he saw more of his room than anything, I'm afraid. Bad in the short-term, but good long-term because it means more John Rector coming up. And from the sound of what he was saying, expect tons of awesomeness in the near-future.

If Stacia Decker is ever throwing out the first pitch at the World Series, keep yourself safe and get seats right behind home plate. Oh, and never try to be nice to her. She had mentioned in passing that the maid at the hotel had left her much extra soap that morning. Well, thinks I, the maid must know something. So I grab a few extra bars out of my room. Nice bars, too. According to the box, they came from some mill in France. Anyhoo, while she is in the lobby thumb-Twittering some mean-spirited insult about her favorite client, I dropped a few bars of soap into her opened duffle-bag of a purse. You know, to be helpful like the maid. Then I moved away so that she wouldn't feel that she had to thank me. Before you can say "Look out, she's gonna throw" one bar of soap flies across the lobby and into the shoe of some girl who seemed sad that momma had taken big sister's green bridesmaid gown and tried to craft a sort of avante garde prom gown for little sister. She was not happy to begin with. She was soon less happy. World's Best Agent will say that she hit me between the eyes, but c'mon. Her world is fiction writing. She's gonna make stuff up.

At the reception on Friday, I got a chance to chat with Reed Farrel Coleman at length about THE JAMES DEANS, so that worked out well. I should probably send him some sort of gift. Maybe a fedora from 1940s LA, a time and place Mr. Coleman seems passionate about.

Of the people who signed my Louisville Slugger, I think we missed Mr Dennis Tafoya. That's not good. He's an amazing writer and I'd love to have him along there. Same with Neil Smith. Guess I gotta head back to another one some day.

Somehow Jedidiah Ayres, Owen "Canadian Seth" Laukkanen, Calvin Seen, Libby Cudmore and their dates and I ended up at the very back table "Reserved For Unpublished Authors" at the Friday night rewards reception at which people who are not me got awards. One woman there walked across the room at a quick clip to reach me. She leaned in and looked at my name tag. Then my face. "Oh, nevermind. I thought you were someone." She walked off.

Also, it is possible that I had a piece of spinach go down the wrong way and kinda coughed back up something that may have been part of last week's cold right into a cup. It's also possible that Jed had some of that thinking he was sneaking whiskey and warming ice cubes while I wasn't looking. I should have said something then. I'm sorry. I would have said something, but it was kinda funny so I didn't.

The good part of the reception is that Hilary Davidson finally stopped by from her 40 Cities in 30 Days Tour, or whatever she's calling it. I think Hilary has been the topic here at DSD more often than "Where Do Your Ideas Come From." So everyone knows about THE DAMAGE DONE and how cool it is. It was fantastic to see and talk to Hilary and I'd love to tell you it was all delightful, but it wasn't. See, Hilary is Canadian. Or part of her is. I don't know how that works. Anyway, they do the metric system up there. So Hilary thought it would be fine for us to walk the two miles back to the hotel after the reception. You know, instead of taking a cab and ending up at the Mutter's Museum. So a dozen of us agreed. And she led. Just two miles. That's what she said. She must have been confused. She must have meant two kilometers or two megameters or whatever they do in Canada. Because it ended up being something close to seventeen-thousand miles. I'm scheduled for a shin replacement on December 16. This tragedy only added to the disservice done to me by Seth Harwood. Seth and I walked from the hotel to the playhouse together. He is eleven-foot-three. I had a tough time keeping up. Seth kept asking if the wind was irritating my eyes. Screw you, Harwood.

Delaware charged me actual cash money at a toll to drive the two miles across their state. If they get that much money, there must not be any state income tax for the entire state population of nine people.

Chatting with Edward Pettit about fights between Baltimore and Richmond was a good time, too. Except that it was in the German wiener house. German wiener house -- it's Australian for Cam's story told in poor taste.

I don't know if it was because he wasn't there or what, but I heard more about John Hornor Jacobs and his talent and his fantastic novels than I heard about practically anything. The dude can't even get there and he's the talk of the town. Sheesh.

Next week I'll probably catch up on all the stuff that wouldn't fit here. Meanwhile, I'm thinking about the weekend. The authors who took time to talk to me about whatever I could think of to hold their attention, um, I mean to generate a meaningful discussion. All the cool folks online I've "known" but never met. Honestly, there were only seven or eight people who were complete assholes. Nearly everyone was super-nice. So now when I think about the weekend, all I can hear is Jed's awful accent:
"NoirCon -- Australian for friendship."

It is possible that I was the one who told Cam the story about the old man penis.


Julie said...

I never should laugh this hard this early.

You should have gone into the Mutter Museum, you know...

Dana King said...

Great synopsis. I feel like i was there, except for not having done all the stupid shit you did.

NoirCon an easy drive for me, and I've wondered for a few years if I should make the trip sometime, since I don't really write noir, and I don't read a lot of contemporary noir. Your description makes it sound like something worth getting up to.

BTW, if you liked THE JAMES DEANS, read SOUL PATCH.

Paul D Brazill said...

Cracking stuff!

chad rohrbacher said...

Very fine read. Seeing different sides of the authors that I read beyond than the personas they create on the page is great -- thanks.

John McFetridge said...

Sounds like a great time. And it sounds like Noircon just keeps getting bigger, which is great.

Cullen Gallagher said...

HA! This is priceless. Thanks for recording your experiences, Steve. And nice meeting you at NoirCon!

Steve Weddle said...

Julie -- Mutter closed when we got dropped there and never got a chance to go back. Heard we should have made the effort but, you know, it was far.

Dana -- Thanks. I will check it out. And I'm not even going to tell you what Jed would say SOUL PATCH is Australian for.

Paul -- Thanks

Chad -- Yeah

John -- It is, from what I understand. Still very "cozy"

Cullen -- Thanks. Good to meet you, too

pattinase (abbott) said...

At least you can think of "something" to say to people whereas I freeze. Couldn't think of a thing to say to Stacia for one. She must wonder how Megan could be so smart and her mother so dumb.
It was nice seeing you. I have to admit I wish I was young and male and could have hung out with you guys more. But I did corral Jed at the airport, Cullen quite a bit, and Kieran here and there. I give myself a 25% improvement over the last Boucheron.
Is there a nicer man in the world than Lou Boxer?
PS. Vicki went with the Mutter with us. It was not so much fun for $14.

jedidiah ayres said...

Soul Patch - Australian for Brazilian

Graham Powell said...

Steve, if you live to be 100 you will never write anything better than this post. May as well just stop now.

Seth Harwood said...

Love this shizz! Fo sho! Glad that I can be included here in the list of folks who did damage to your body. Hence the blog title, right?
In any case, why don't you go ask Neil Smith for his definition of Noir.

Yer boy,


PS: Great to meet ya!

Kathleen A. Ryan said...

Quite an entertaining post, Steve ~ thanks! I was home, wishing I could have attended...I am soaking up the blog posts to find out what it was like...Thanks for sharing the "stuff you learned."

M. C. Funk said...

Thanks for making the summary almost as much fun as being there. It sounds like a marvelous time, and no doubt your gracious, positive outlook has much to do with that. Not that one can feel less than happy as a coked-up prom queen in Cam Ashley's presence.

I must hear more of these Peruvian puppets, too.

Don Lafferty said...

Good stuff. Great people. Killer good time. Come back to Philly soon.

Pop Culture Nerd said...

Hilarious. I want more details on the old man's penis, though. I also thought it said you went to the Nutter's Museum, which sounds like it'd have super interesting stuff.

Kieran Shea said...

You know what I regret? Not recording Neil's response to the question --what is noir? Rhymed with yuck foo. That southern tinted dismissal would be the ultimate ringtone.

Chris Rhatigan said...

Jesus, this sounds like a phenomenal time. Wish I could've been there.

Naomi Johnson said...

Damned sorry I missed all this, but if I'd gone I'd still be laughing. Wait, I am laughing.

David Cranmer said...

A terrific write-up, Steve. You put me there with many of my favorite people.

Cameron Ashley said...

this is what I come home to? unbelievable, weddle, or weedle, or whatever your nametag said.

seriously brilliant to meet you, mate. I had a ball. and not an old man ball, you sick bastard.

Peter Rozovsky said...

The Mutter Museum is a more noir location for an awards dinner. Ask "What is the definition of noir?" there, and someone would clout you on the head with a misshapen body part instead of just shouting, "Fuck you!"

Brilliant round-up!
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

Steve Weddle said...

Thanks for the read, folks. It was a a good time with a bunch of nice people. Some jerks, too, but I'll save that for emails.