Writers participating in this year's Crawl are David Terrenoire, Jamie Mason, J D Allen, Michael Pool, Lyndee Walker, Greg Barth, S L Coney, Warren Moone, Shawn A. Cosby, Ward Howarth, William E. Johnson, Marietta Miles, David Nemeth, Eryk Pruitt, Shawn Reilly Simmons, D Alexander Ward, Kim Alexander, Kathleen Barber, James Grady, Matthew Iden, Angie Kim, Ellen Clair Lamb, Jen Michalski, Alan Orloff, Josh Pachter, J D Smith, Dave Swinson, Andrew Novak, Beth Woodward, Damien, Angelica Walters, Michael R. Underwood, Ronald Malfi, Sujata Massey, Scott Adlerberg, Chris Bauer, S A Cosby, Richard Goffman, Tony Knighton, Ed Kurtz, and Lanny Larcinese.
Now, let me turn this over to Eryk Pruitt who has an article about last year's successful crawl and as an added bonus Nik Korpon shares some ideas on how to set up your own Noir at the Bar in your town. – David Nemeth
By Eryk Pruitt
It’s five minutes to showtime and Marietta Miles demands proficient use of the c-word. She wanders the floor of McCormack’s Irish Pub in downtown Richmond’s Shockoe Bottom, from booth to booth, cheerfully reminding each crime writer in attendance.
“I expect to hear the word cunt,” she says. “Don’t let me down.”
When you look at the motley crew Marietta has assembled for her public reading that particular Friday night in June, it’s hard to imagine she would be disappointed. Despite her own dark fiction sensibilities on display in her debut novel Route 12, a veritable Murderer’s Row prepares to come out swinging.
Richmond is known for the darkness. McCormack’s sits just around the corner from a museum celebrating River City’s favorite son, Edgar Allan Poe. The last vestiges of the War Between the States occurred when Union forces burned the Confederate capital to the ground. Richmond is home to the Bailey Brothers, the Southside Strangler, and perhaps several other serial killers yet to be discovered.
It’s also home to a handful of readers scheduled to appear that night at Richmond’s second annual Noir at the Bar. Among them are LynDee Walker, author of six national bestselling mysteries, including the Agatha Award-nominated Front Page Fatality. Also Mary Burton, the bestselling suspense author, and native son Ward Howarth, author of the historical thriller River City Blues.
“Thank you all for asking me back again this year,” says author S.A. Cosby. Cosby hails from Gloucester, VA, and this is his second time to drive into town from the coast. He’s a soft-spoken man, but his short story “Walking on Grass” will later plunge the room into silence, save for the sporadic chuckle, then eventually the loud clamor of applause. It’s hard to imagine he won’t invited again next year, when Marietta hosts Richmond’s third event.
Marietta is soft-spoken herself. She has a cheery, Southern voice, one you’d expect to accompany a plate of fresh-baked cookies or a minivan full of children off to a soccer game, or slumber party. This makes the delivery of her own tragic tale, “Tell Her,” originally published by Out of the Gutter, all the more devastating. A collective gasp from the room follows her story, then a long moment of reflection that eventually gives way to cheers.
Her story landed.
In all, eight readers perform ten-minute selections of their work. Marine combat veteran Phillip Thompson drove in from Charlottesville to read from the latest of his Colt Harper mystery series, Outside the Law. The Carolinas produced Asheville’s own Jamie Mason, who read from her bestselling Monday’s Lie. Shawn Reilly Simmons took time from her busy schedule in Frederick, Maryland to leave the room slackjawed for the second consecutive year.
They play to a full house. An emcee treats folks in attendance to a raffle which awarded winners with giveaways, such as books, films, and local wine. A few passersby stop for a drink, then find themselves glued to their barstools until the end. Take a quick glance through the audience and find a couple familiar faces: Local actor Jarod Kearney, DC thriller writer E.A. Aymar, and crime fiction reviewer David Nemeth.
“It’s fantastic meeting writers I’ve only known through their books and social media,” Nemeth says with a broad smile. “With all the Southern accents and great stories, it’s like being immersed in a Drive-By Truckers album.”
There is no shortage of darkness. There is plenty of blood. The stories include one lost finger, a gouged eyeball, and a death by a crystal ashtray. Also shootings, stabbings, and beatings. Drinks and more drinks are punctuated with laughter, gasps, and groans.
However, alas, poor Marietta; There is no cunt.
But, cheer up, this is only the first night of a long weekend.
E.A. Aymar is one of those guys who can’t leave well enough alone. Since 2014, Aymar has tweaked each Noir at the Bar event in Washington D.C., fine-tuning something which may very well already be perfect. He’s incorporated introductory music for each writer, provided by local DJ Alkimist. He’s offered awards for the best story—one year was an engraved dagger, this time, an engraved machete—selected by audience vote. He’s forever tinkering.
Of course, this has long been tradition across the country. In Manhattan, Denver, Harrisburg,…Durham…folks have looked to put their own spin on the popular institution. Even its current inception was a take on an already existing formula. Peter Rozovsky first coined the name Noir at the Bar for the popular interview series he performed in Philadelphia watering holes, entertaining crowds with a single writer who both read from his own work and fielded Rozovsky’s questions. When St. Louis crime writers Jedidiah Ayres (Peckerwood) and Scott Phillips (The Ice Harvest) attended a NoirCon, they purloined the name and adjusted the concept. Their version mirrors the current, more popular inception, where 4-9 dark fiction writers attempt to one-up each other in a mad medley of dazzle, gore, and gross.
One needs only to investigate the hashtags on Twitter, Instagram, and the like, to find how far and wide the phenomenon has reached since the first days in Philly. One will pop up in Miami. Vancouver has a regular series. Last year found one in Australia. The Brits got wind of it, then it sprinkled across the U.K. There’s rumor of one forming at this year’s Bouchercon scheduled for Toronto in October.
But leave it to Aymar. He refuses to confine his boat-rocking to his own city. For this year’s DC Noir at the Bar, he’s incorporated accomplices.
“I was talking to Marietta and Nik (Korpon) about dates for this year’s event,” Aymar says, “and we decided to do one big weekend.”
And thus was born the first-ever Noir at the Bar Crawl.
Friday, May 19 in Richmond, Virginia. The following night, May 20, at the Wonderland Ballroom in Washington, DC. Then festivities wrap at Zella’s Pizzeria, in Baltimore, Maryland. Let folks choose to attend one, or all three. Promote them as a single event. Spread the news across the Chesapeake.
When word spread about the machete, folks immediately began sharpening their narrative chops. Laurel, MD, crime writer Dana King (Worst Enemies, Grind Joint) penned his hilarious noir “BPD” specifically for the event. Steve Weddle, the author of the acclaimed novel Country Hardball, mined the standing room only crowd for laughs with his rollicking “Love Boat,” an ode to redneck love, both interrupted and unrequited. Baltimore’s Nik Korpon (The Rebellion’s Last Traitor) delivered a sermon a la chicken-fried Jim Jones, complete with rubber snake handling and exploding blood packets. Anthony Award-nominated Jersey girl Jen Conley (Cannibals: Stories from the Edge of the Pine Barrens) offered a memoir from her youth spent smoking hash in London.
“The competition was tough this year,” Aymar said.
Aymar’s competition is tough every year. DC’s central location on the East Coast allows him to select top crime scribes from several communities, not only the Capitol’s rich and varied pool. Despite area celebrities who have read in the past, like James Grady, David Swinson, and Art Taylor, the annual event attracts award-winning writers from Baltimore, New York City, Virginia, and even North Carolina.
However, not moments after the end of yet another successful Noir at the Bar in DC, Aymar finds himself at a patio table outside the Wonderland Ballroom, cocktail in hand. His eyes are far away. There’s no doubt what’s going on in his mind.
He’s already thinking about next year.
Ask him who he would like to read, if he could get anyone in the world, Aymar wastes no time.
“Pelecanos,” he says, speaking of George Pelecanos, author of twenty detective fiction novels set in Washington D.C.
And knowing E.A. Aymar, he’s likely to land him.
With Noir at the Bar spreading far and wide, reaching taverns across the globe, folks are often asking how they can get one in their neck of the woods. In the words of the immortal St. Louis author, Jedidiah Ayres, who begat the proliferation:
“You have to start it yourself.”
For many, that task can be daunting. How can one person continue the legacy of Philly noir aficionado Peter Rozovsky and transfuse it to a new community? Nik Korpon did it three years ago when he hosted Baltimore’s inaugural Noir at the Bar at Slainte Pub in Fell’s Point. Since then, Charm City has hosted several and, its proximity to Richmond and D.C. made it a natural fit for the final leg of the Noir at the Bar Crawl.
To that end, I’d propose: If Korpon can do it, anyone can.
So for those of you watching at home, interested in hosting your own event, Korpon offers tips to spark your inaugural Noir at the Bar.
1. FIND A VENUE
“I’ve been really lucky with venues,” Korpon says. “A friend, Dan Morrison, hooked me up with Zella’s.”
Zella’s Pizzeria serves up tasty pizza, sandwiches, and drinks to the Hollins Market neighborhood in Baltimore, but on Sunday, May 21, it was host to eight crime writers, coming from Baltimore, greater Maryland, Pennsylvania, and even New York. An eager audience came out on a lazy Sunday evening to eat, drink, and mingle while a cacophonous symphony of restaurant work punctuated each symphony.
“Basically, find a place that has a good vibe, good food, and beer,” Korpon advises. “And preferably, a sound system.”
2. CHOOSE READERS
“I try to have as diverse a lineup as possible, which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t.”
Korpon achieved that goal for the Crawl. Not only does he make an effort to invite both men and women writers, he also reaches out to a geographically diverse bunch. He’ll also branch out from the typical fiction readings that have become mainstays at these readings. During the Crawl, Anjili Babbar, an Irish folklore professor, delivered a short lecture about Ken Bruen’s Jack Taylor series.
3. PROMOTE THE EVENT
“I’ll make a Facebook event and design a poster,” Korpon offers. “Most of the people who come know it by word of mouth.”
Often times, a couple well-targeted press releases help get the word out. Another tactic to get more folks in the door would be to invite readers who tend cultivate a following. Some of the bigger draws in your area might help, as would readers with an active and passionate fan base. But it never hurts to develop a relationship with your local newspaper and community calendars.
4. CURATE THE READING ORDER
Korpon’s constructed the perfect reading order. It’s always wise to throw someone up front who knows what they are doing, and who can give the audience an idea what they are in for. Korpon’s Charm City event kicked off with Louis Bayard reading a selection originally published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. A tough act to follow, sure, but Tony Knighton and Meg Opperman were up to the task. However, just before the break, Angel Colon delivered his raucous, untitled selection about a hapless criminal smuggling exotic fish using…um, unconventional methods. With the audience fully primed, Korpon called for a ten minute break.
Coming out of break, Damien Angelica Walters read from Sing Me Your Scars, followed by Matthew Iden offered “Plea Bargain,” followed by Babbar’s mini-lecture. All of this led up to the grand finale, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania’s Erik Arneson’s hilariously deadpan rendition of “Barnyard Noir.”
“If I have an idea what people are reading,” Korpon says, “I’ll try to orchestrate it like a mixtape or short story collection.”
5. MAKE THEM A REGULAR EVENT IN YOUR COMMUNITY
The Crawl was Baltimore’s fourth installment of Noir at the Bar in Baltimore. Korpon is always on the lookout for more talent to continue the tradition.
“I love doing them,” he says. “My favorite story is probably J. David Osborne’s story about a stripper shooting ping-pong balls from her vagina.”
Stories like that are what keep folks on the lookout for the next Noir at the Bar.