Saturday, November 13, 2010

"Cutman" by Christa Faust

Scott D. Parker

When I discovered Christa Faust back in 2008 with her excellent novel Money Shot, I started looking for other things she had written. Lo and behold I found that I already had a Faust-penned short story in A Hell of a Woman: An Anthology of Female Noir, edited by Megan Abbott, published by Busted Flush Press. Judging an author by one book or story can be tricky. You only get a pattern the more you read. And, upon reading two stories by Faust, all I’ve got to say is watch out, brother, she’ll slay you with her words as soon as look at you.

A cutman is the guy at the side of a boxing ring whose sole job is to stop fighters from bleeding. Except that the Cutman in Faust’s story is a woman. But not just any woman. She is a self-described “big, ugly dyke” but she does her job well. And men respect her for it.

But not all men. Santiago Diaz, a fighter, doesn’t give the nameless Cutman a second look. He’s the boyfriend of the girl—Mia “Tinkerbell” Ortega—the Cutman loves and wants to be with. When Mia ends up in the hospital, suffering from injuries sustained in a “car accident” or “a fall,” the Cutman knows the truth. And knows who to blame. That’s when she decides to kill Diaz.

Like all good short stories, the ending is not what you see coming. Or, perhaps, you do, if you’ve got a twisted mind. Well, a lot of us do and we’re drunk on stories in books, TV, and film that ram the formulaic down our throats and tell us it’s something new. I’ll admit that I saw part of the ending coming, or rather, as I was reading the story, I thought “Wouldn’t it be interesting if this happened?” It did. Still, the story gives me a punch in the face when it happened.

If you listen to Faust in interviews, you’ll get an honest, blue-collar vibe from her: she’s just a storyteller, a 9-to-5er who bangs out prose like other people mine coal or work a diner. But she’s gifted, especially with short, powerful sentences that can evoke a feeling in you that other authors need a paragraph or more to do. Here’s her narrator describing the boxing hall: “The raw, animal sound of the crowd. The fighters’ wordless language of grunts and heavy breath and the dull slap of leather against flesh. The smell of sweat under hot lights.” This isn’t Madison Square Garden. This is something old, beat-up, somewhat dingy where rules might be tossed if the price is right.

Stories, whether novels or short stories, need that killer opening line to reel us in and make us read the story. “Cutman” has two. The first line sets the hook: “Just because I’m a cutman, doesn’t mean I’m a man.” Okay, that’s intriguing, and, for folks like me, I needed to keep reading just to figure out what a cutman actually was. But then Faust reels me in with this sentence: “I guess you heard about what happened with Mia?” Okay, if you didn’t already have me, now I’m really there.

But I was already there. Faust has a way with prose that is not just workmanlike. Her characters sing with authenticity. She’s good. And I’ll read anything she writes. You should, too.

Friday, November 12, 2010

"Its good to talk..."

By Russel D McLean

Last Saturday, Fife Libraries hosted a Reader’s Day. Now an annual event, they invite readers to come and mix with authors for a full day of discussion on books. In the morning, the readers split into groups with an assigned author to talk about a book that means a great deal to the author. In the afternoon, they talk to the author about the author’s own work.

It’s a great day, mixed in with panel discussions, quizzes and all kinds of other fun stuff.

But I wanted, today, to talk about my morning session, in which I sat in a room full of Fife’s finest readers to talk Race, Responsibility and A Psychopath Named Mouse as we discussed Walter Mosley’s Devil in a Blue Dress.

I chose the book because for my money it was one of the first to open my eyes about what crime fiction could really do. It talked about a time and a place that was alien to me and did so in a way that seemed utterly natural and so completely involving that it never once felt like I was “learning” anything. And it talked about issues I had been lucky to avoid, but which I soon understood upon completing the book, or at least felt I had been exposed to.

I chose the book because I had a feeling maybe some of the readers in Glenrothes, Fife, might have the same experiences.

And they didn’t disappoint.

It was interesting to note that only one person in the room was already a convert, and that only one other person admitted they wanted to read Mosley before I put him on the list. Everyone else had been unsure what to expect.

But they all loved the book. And not just because the person who chose the book was in the room. These guys had all gone deep into the text, coming out with opinions and ideas about the book that really got discussion going. The matter of responsibility came up, particularly around the character of Mouse, who everyone felt was more than just the “psycho sidekick” and who toyed wonderfully with their emotions. Charming one minute, and repulsively amoral the next, one woman said she didn’t like him at all, but was so interested to know more about who he was and where he came from, which is why she was so torn when he got away with some terrible things in the novel.

We talked about entering another person’s shoes. How to us, Easy Rawlins lived in world we didn’t know, but by seeing through his eyes we came to understand that world and talk about issues of equality and tolerance. How it wasn’t just about race, but about money and power. How the book was as much about class as anything else, that we could relate parts of Easy’s world to things we knew much closer to home.

In other words, we talked about the book. And we made connections between each other in that room. What happened was that a disparate group of people shared ideas and talked about how a book perhaps changed the way they thought of things or opened them to ideas they hadn’t considered.

I talked a lot when on tour about how bookshops and libraries are more than places of commerce. They are about community. They are places where people come to talk and discuss and debate. Not anonymously or across distance but face to face. Person to person.

The reading of books is a solitary activity in one sense, but the true joy comes in the dissection and discussion of a tale. In the back and forth of ideas and opinions. Its what I love about touring, why I think bookstores and libraries are marvellous places when run with such ideas in mind. In the end its about ideas and reactions. Reading books is an ongoing conversation that starts between reader and text and evolves long beyond that from reader to reader, constantly changing, refining, redefining. I dread to think what the world will be like if this conversation ever ends.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Winter's Bone (Live Blog)

This is one of my old favorite tricks. I'm going to liveblog my comments while watching Winter's Bone. Now, I've never read the book or any Woodrell, so I have no idea what's in store.

Of course, since I'm doing this Wednesday night and you'll be reading it Thursday morning, it won't exactly be "live," but you get the point. Now, if these damn unskippable trailers at the beginning of Netflix would end, we could get going....Here there be spoilers.

8:00 pm: Here we go. Kids on trampolines... so noir. I think they had a panel on it at NoirCon this year.

8:04: First gun sighting. It's ROTC though, so that doesn't count, right?

8:06: Now there's an ax. I am sure this is going to be bloody.

8:10: Stakes meet main character. Main character . . . stakes.

8:14: Thank God I'm not a child of the ADD generation, otherwise my attention would be slipping because of all this whispering.

8:22: This girl's dad has some crappy friends. Also, they don't believe in painting their walls.

8:25: Don't know why I keep forgetting the main character's name. Each scene starts with her introducing herself as "Rhee."

8:28: Throughout this movie Rhee has been offered coke, weed, meth, and a mysterious liquid in a thermos cup. The latter is the most frightening. Did you see the woman who offered it?

8:29: She's also been grabbed and pushed twice so far. Her response "GET OFF ME!" Did not fight back. Nothing funny here, just summarizing.

8:34: Oooh, teaching kids how to shoot rifles. More noir than trampolines? Debatable.

8:36 Hey! Musical interlude. The old lady band!

8:40: Waiting for the characters to break into a 4 hour conversation on what noir is... but whisper it.

8:47: Drugs drugs drugs drugs.... shot of the sky...

8:53: OOOOOH girl just took a thermos cup of liquid to the face. AWESOME.

9:01 Sorry, this movie is pretty compelling...


9:08: A military man talking someone out of being in the military? Any recruiter I've ever met is annoying as all git out trying to get you TO join up.


9:16: Awesome scene right there. "Is this gonna be our time?"

9:24: Don't DO IT!!!


9:27 Please pardon me, I'm still mid-ew.

9:32: Musical interlude #3? Yeah, it appears so.

9:34: What I've learned about Noir. Chickens, trampolines, banjos, and children.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Upbeat Noir?

John McFetridge

Is that an oxymoron? Does noir have to be a downer? Certainly for anything to be treated as ‘serious” these days it needs to be downbeat, depressive, even defeatist.

Pretty much every serious TV show from the past ten years has been a downer; Tony Soprano was in therapy (was he suffering from depression?), no one was ever happy on The Wire, Breaking Bad is about a guy with lung cancer getting ready to die, Rome, Deadwood (wow, Deadwood, could you be more of a downer?), Boardwalk Empire, Treme, Mad Men, Rubicon – all these shows do is mope around. They’re pathologically depressed.

Is it the zietgiest these days?

It’s taking me back to my youth in the 70’s, back when every movie seemed to end on a down note. At the time Pauline Kael said it was the result of Hollywood being unable to tell stories about the war in Vietnam – war movies were Audie Murphy and John Wayne and the triumphs of the allies.

I have a slightly different theory that says after World War Two there was a fear of a new world being created in which the “common” people might actually have a say and the powerful laid a “beat down” on them. Oh, it wasn’t just a beating, it was a carrot and a stick – the carrot was a good economy and a house in suburbs and the stick was enforced conformity and no complaining allowed (even if you were the wrong colour or you were a single mother or someone else who wasn’t getting any carrots).

A good example, I think, is the movie The Best Years of our Lives which was released in 1946 and actually feels more like a post-Vietnam movie, all those guys with post-trauamatic stress not being able to do their old jobs, especially now that their bosses are the guys who didn’t go to war, or having only one arm and not being able to work. It swept the Academy Awards but a year later the HUAC trials started up again, ten Hollywood writers went to jail, thousands of people lost their jobs and were blacklisted and movies were no longer critical of any aspect of post-war life and certainly no one had any trouble adjusting to life in the suburbs where it was all happy days all the time. The Peter Seeger song, “Now That It’s All Over” explains the era quite well, I think, with the lines, “There’s plenty of men struttin’ around/That’ll have to be put back down.”

And then TV emerged as the dominant medium and a production code was voluntarily adopted by the networks (or forced on them by advertisers, reports vary ;) that not only required Rob and Laura Petrie to sleep in single beds and wouldn’t allow Lucille Ball to be “pregnant,” but also required all crimes to be solved, all cops to be good guys and all bad guys to be completely bad – born that way. Oh yeah, homosexuals had to die in the end.

By the 70’s the damage was done (or the code was a success, if you prefer) and the post-war world looked a lot like the pre-war world – individual wealth was always good and unions were always bad. The political spectrum started in the middle and moved to varying degrees of the right. The carrot wasn’t needed so much, the economy took its first downturn and even the stick wasn’t needed so much, happiness didn’t have to be enforced and the production code (remember it was voluntary) slipped away.

And the movies started to have downer endings.

So what’s going on today? How come all these characters are depressed or dysfunctional?

I can understand the cops, I guess, having to fight this seemingly endless, losing battle with crime but why are the criminals so depressed?

Is it because they aren’t sociopaths and even they wish the world was in better shape?

Is it just cyclical? Star Wars pretty much ended the bleak 70’s downer endings movies and started up the happy endings again, have we just passed into the next cycle, the depressive TV show?

Does this trend have anything to do with the world at large? Is it even a trend?

What do you think?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Bored Of Edukation

By Jay Stringer

After yesterdays great post from the Weddle, I was tempted to change my plan. I thought maybe I should make you all jealous of how I spent my weekend, but I realised that lying in bed and shouting at the passing seagulls is not a very glamorous existence.

So, back to plan A.

Over on my own site I've been running a few pieces on living with dyslexia. Being such a big comic book geek, I like the occasional crossover, so I'm finishing the series here at DSD. In the first two entries I talked about some of the every-day problems that I can encounter, as well as a few early indicators to look out for in a child. Today I want to look more about the positive side.

I wouldn't trade it for the world.

At the end of my last piece I said that the only job I've found so far that suits the way my brain works is to be a writer. First I want to expand that a little bit; it's being a story teller. When I was a film student there were a great many things I sucked at. I couldn't direct my way out of a paper bag, my acting was appalling, and my time-keeping was non-existent. The one thing I did really well was editing. I could sit in that booth and piece together a story from raw footage quicker -and at the time I liked to think- better than anyone else. Moving all of those pieces of the story around on the screen, cutting, stretching, stealing. Remembering two lines of dialogue that we had in one piece of footage that would fix the problem with had with a scene five minutes further on, editing the ending so that I knew what the beginning had to be like. These were all things that just felt natural to my 3-d brain. A story has a shape, a structure and a feel, and it felt very organic to me.

Back to the writing. It might sound crazy. How can someone who struggles so much with words say that writing is his best fit?

Something that gets overlooked -and often destructively so- is the big difference between writing and spelling.

Spelling is just a hang up. It's a set of rules and guidelines about how we should contain our ideas on the page. If we include grammar in that, then it becomes even more restrictive. At the risk of offending a few people, it becomes even more anal retentive. These rules are constantly changing. Spelling is as relative as Einstein's time. It varies from country to country, generation to generation. The rules that people try to enforce these days bares little in common with the writings of Chaucer, but the spoken word still has a lot in common with the old fella.

So these things change, and yet people get beaten into trying to conform to one thing or another. You know the surest way to make sure a dyslexic child doesn't progress? Try and force him into those rules. Hell, I still can't say the alphabet, and I couldn't explain grammar to you if my life depended on it.

But writing is different, just as with my extended example of video editing. It's taking a block of text, or a blank page, and arranging patterns around until it looks right, until those patterns click together in a way that is telling a story, and has an ebb and flow, a rhythm. It's 3D mapping; taking the structure and flipping it, spinning it, chopping it. Beating on it until it's the right shape.

Writing is about meaning, story, voices and memories. And these are all things that a dyslexic brain is naturally attuned to.

Back when I was being diagnosed, the psychologist showed me a painting of a tree-house. I was allowed to look at it for a short amount of time before it was taken away, then I was asked questions about it. Now short term memory can be a bit of a problem, because we access information in a different way. Many of the questions I was being asked were making me feel stupid, because I simply couldn't remember the answers. But then she asked me one that wasn't about remembering unimportant facts and details. Is there anybody in the tree-house? She asked. Yes, I said. How do you know? Because there was no ladder hanging down from the door. Someone must have already climbed up and pulled the ladder in after them.

Of course, straight after giving me the chance to feel clever like that, she then went and asked me to say the months of the year in reverse order. Secretly I think she only did it to laugh at me.

Einstein was dyslexic. A man who couldn't even find his way home managed to change the way we see the universe. The theory of relativity is so simple and so obvious that it takes someone with a different view of the world to come along and see it.

I think I'm a better story-teller because the written word is like a second language to me. My mother and grandfather filled my head with stories and songs when I was young, so I had an understanding of structure, pacing and character from a very early age. At an age when other kids might have been starting to fill their heads with the rules of the language game, I was pre-occupied with images and stories. Later I learned to read through comic books, I was getting to grips with narrative more than rules. And then like a novelist who won't let facts get in the way of a good story, I came to the written word unwilling to let English get in the way of what I wanted to say.

(Which didn't lead to good grades, but that's another story.)

I have another example of how dyslexia helps me as a writer, but you'll need to bear with me for another tangent.

I've picked up a reputation as an adult for having a good sense of direction. Generally I can find my way anywhere on foot, and I never get lost. That last part is not really true. I'm lost all the time but it's the way that I do it that counts. As a child I was known for having no sense of direction. I could get lost on the way from the living room to the bathroom. This is another trait quite common in dyslexics (I mentioned Einstein earlier. Google 'Einstein red door,' for a laugh.)

What I realised as I grew up was that I had a way around my problems with direction. It seemed to me that everyone else could handle sequences and facts. Their brains could work in MS DOS, and there was a logical progression to information that meant they could also find their way where they wanted to go. It was simple; turn here, then here, then turn left, then turn right. Job done.

I couldn't do that. I would lose track of the sequence by the second or third turn. My brain was a desktop window, it filed information differently, and the key was to use visual cheats. Now, this could be the way everybody does it, I don't know, but it didn't seem that way as a child. I couldn't think in terms of a flat map on a piece of paper, because that had no relevance to me finding where I wanted to go in the real world. So I started 3D mapping. Everywhere I go, every time I walk past a street, or into a room, or get off the bus, my mind is adding to my 3d map. Each street is added in and connected up to the last one that I saw. I'm always seeing not where i am, but where i am in relation to everything else, and so I can give the impression of never being lost. That's also why I found Manhattan so easy to navigate so quickly. Once you get your head around the fact that the centre is a grid, and then add in the bits around that off the grid, you always know where you are on the island. That's what I'm doing all the time.

Now, how the hell does that long winded crap relate to writing?

Okay, I did promise, so here goes.

I've said before that I'm one of the 'seat of the pants' writers. I don't plan things out and I don't use much in the way of notes. But the truth isn't really that simple. As with the video editing, as with arranging shapes on a page, and as with my sense of direction, my brain is always building the story. As I walk down each page and turn every chapter, the model of the story in my head expands. So I always know exactly where I am in the narrative, and have a pretty solid idea of what's behind the next door.

So across the 3 pieces -one today at DSD and two over on my site- I've tried to show a little of my side of things. I've probably not done it justice; I couldn't explain how my brain works anymore than anybody else could explain theres. It's like Elvis Costello dancing about architecture, it just don't work.

But one thing I hope I have gotten across is that you'll rarely hear me complaining about it. And that's because dyslexia rules. I wouldn't have it any other way.

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.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

This and That and Some of Those

As I write this there are a couple of questions popping around in my head: 1)Where will I post this from as I'm typing it in MS Word because we don't have internet anymore? and 2)Will I be able to bring this around by the end to pertain to writing so it's not just a random "about me" post?

Let's find out.

I've got some hamburgers on the grill and I'm typing this on my laptop at the kitchen counter and we're watching TBS which is one of the few non-network channels we get now that we've given up our major cable package. Now in theory this whole non-internet non-cable thing should be all about writing because one of the major excuses I gave myself when plotting this idea out was that it would give me more time to read and write. So far, after about two weeks, I've definitely been reading more, but I've found many new ways of procrastinating that are related more to playing more with the kids and going to bed earlier than plowing hours of time into the TV and internet void.

Side Note: After a couple of paragraphs, I can see two different topics to steer this toward writing and make it a more acceptable Do Some Damage post. We could either go off on a rant about procrastination and the internet which, frankly, I think needs to be added to Dave's list of over-discussed topics, or we could talk about low tech versus high tech writing and who writes long hand or on typewriters and such. Neither of those really get me worked up, but just now, a side conversation with my bride has presented a third topic, one of the writing-related reasons I've been procrastinating since cutting the cable.

For a while now I've been working on a novel manuscript (not always the same novel but I don't talk about it like I used to which has saved me some real grief) but a couple of opportunities have presented themselves to me short story-wise that I've been thinking of pursuing. I don't know that I've made up my mind for sure, but I've ordered the new Best American Mystery Stories from the library for inspiration for the first opportunity and I've also special ordered a copy of Joe Gores DKA story collection as inspiration for the second opportunity.

Second Side Note: Another topic presents itself as a discussion of networking because of the short story opportunities came from a Do Some Damage cast member which I probably wouldn’t have known about otherwise. I guess this could also be one of those day-in-the-life posts about the writer's life. I always love reading those.

But here we are almost 500 words in and none of these topics has really jumped out and bit me so in the end, I think it will work out best to open the comments for discussion and you can use any one of these side notes points as a jumping off point. Also, for final consideration, I'm also thinking of writing Janet Evanovich to inquire about being one of her new co-authors.