Injuries, New Authors, Noir at the Bar, The Classy John Connolly, & A Book to Die For at Bouchercon 2012
Heading toward the venue of the 2012 Bouchercon, I realized Cleveland was a perfect setting for the world’s largest crime fiction conference. Walking some of the streets where a post-Untouchable Eliot Ness worked fighting corruption and trying to solve the still open case of “The Torso Killer”, rain pelting my hat and coat while I passed the town’s historic buildings, put be in a noir mood. No wonder this town has served as an inspiration for the likes of Les Roberts and Michael Koryta.
We even had our share of injury. After looking fine Wednesday, Wallace Stroby became bedridden in his hotel room for most of the conference. Reed Farrel Coleman sported several stitches the last two days after taking a tumble off the risers when his panel ended. He told us he’ll have a great scar to show off at our Noir At the Bar on November 13th. Another author took the same tumble at the award ceremony. Even this bookseller ended up with a nasty twist to the ankle . In true hard boiled fashion, we were all at the hotel bar on the last evening of the conference nursing our wounds (and wounded egos).
The opening ceremony was held at the Rock N’ Roll Hall Of Fame. John Connolly gave a funny keynote speech, featuring an interview with the “stand in” for the controversial Jack Reacher choice, Tom Cruise, and we all got a tour of the museum. The only thing cooler than seeing Elvis’ Caddy was finally meeting Big Daddy Thug himself, Todd Robinson, creator of Thuglit magazine and impresario of the New York Noir At The Bar. I even got to go back to the hotel in a limo van, since these things happen when you’re standing next to John Connolly.
Noir At The Bar had its own night on Friday. Hosted by new publisher on the block, Snubnose Press, at the Wonder Bar, it featured several of their writers including buddies Jonathan Woods and Jedidiah Ayres (co-founder of St. Louis’s Noir At The Bar). I also discovered Josh Stallings, an author whose work I can’t wait to dive into. He read from the darkest, toughest, grittiest and funniest thing there, and it was from his memoir. The talent was hard hitting, poetic, and mostly drunk.
This year had some of the best panels. “Eve Of Destruction” featured women writers like Sophie Littlefield and Deborah Coonts who write about crime fighting ladies. Debra said one of the most gratifying things about her writing is “…having men do what I think they’ll do.” The following hour went to the other gender with “Man Fiction” (a term which everyone on the panel dismissed). Max Allan Collins gave some great advice about writing hard boiled fiction with its more melodramatic elements. “When the story is a shout, I try to write at a whisper with character and setting to make it as recognizable as possible.”
My favorite panel was “Heroes & Villains” moderated by Mark Billingham with Karin Slaughter, Alafair Burke, John Connolly, and Martyn Waites. The authors discussed heroes and villains in their own life and on the page. Somehow the discussion got to sex scenes. Martyn said he always knows when his wife gets to one in his work. “She sighs and says, “Here’s something else I have to live up to.”
John Connolly delivered an eloquent statement about the need to put a part of himself in his heroes, villains and everyone in between. “That way they all have meaning.”
Connolly also started an impassioned discussion when he was asked who his real life villain was. He answered people who use the terms, “legacy publishing” and “dead tree publishing”. “There’s animosity with some people against the printed book…All I’m asking for is a choice.”
Mark Billingham added, “It’s like escalators being threatened by stairs.”
I also got to know some authors who are new to the game. Tim O’Mara, a New York schoolteacher, created buzz with his debut, Sacrifice Fly. If he can tell a story on the page as good as he can at the bar we’re all in for a treat. I also met ex-con turned novelist Les Edgerton, who dropped a great piece of life advice – “Never let anyone rent space in your head.”
An author who made quite a splash was buddy and fellow Texan Reavis Wortham. Both of his books, The Rock Hole and Burrows, which look at the effect of the ’60s on a small town, sold out in the book room. He also seemed to be surrounded by at least two beautiful women every time I saw him. Not bad for his first Bouchercon.
The true star at Cleveland was Books To Die For, a collection of essays edited by John Connolly and Declan Burke, with assistance from my fellow Mystery Bookstore vet Ellen Clair Lamb, where the authors asked over a hundred of their fellow crime writers to pick a book they would passionately advocate people read. One of the largest lines at the conference was to get signatures from thirty of the contributors. John told the crowd, “We laughed when we we’re told it was the hardest thing we’d ever do…We’ll never do it again.”
As closing ceremonies ended and the authors gave each other a goodbye hug before heading to the airport, I sat with Christa Faust and Johnny Shaw plotting out deeds for next years Bouchercon in Albany. I see more injuries ahead.