Sunday Potpourri: Post-Florence Edition

We’ll get a little more rain today, and the wind knocked down the butterfly bush in our backyard, but we seem to have lucked out this time. Thanks for the concern, prayers, and good wishes. And doubtless we’ll soon hear appeals for aid to the folks in areas that took the brunt of the storm. Give if you think you can — need never ends, but we can do what we can.

***

On a more upbeat note, it’s the Mad Dog’s birthday — he’s eleven days older than Your Genial Host. That may explain why the Bengals and UK both won this week. While we differ on things like religion and politics, both of us recognize that the other is speaking in good faith, and we’ve both come to realize that our lives and our friendship are bigger than which set of nitwits is running the government. Hell, we’ve even gotten past the fact that he liked American Idol.

Happy birthday, Mad Dog — have a whole bunch more.

***

The Mad Dog’s birthday also marks the 30th anniversary of one of my favorite baseball memories:

I was working at Sears during Browning’s 1985 rookie season, when he became the first rookie to win 20 games in 30+ years. Part of my job was to process requests for a Sears credit card. One evening as I was shuffling papers, I recognized his name and laughed. It made sense — Browning was only five years older than I was, and I didn’t have credit cards then, but I hadn’t really thought about major leaguers having to jump through those kind of hoops.

I imagine he was approved.

***

As part of the preparation for the storm, Flagship U in Real City had cancelled classes several days last week, and for tomorrow as well. Because we weren’t hit as badly as we had feared, the Flagship administration has made the unusual decision to reinstate classes for tomorrow, although student attendance will be optional. Judging from some of my friends on the Book of Faces, it sounds like a pain in the neck for the faculty, many of whom had left the area as well.

On Friday, Mondoville went ahead and cancelled Monday’s classes, but since we went ahead and held classes all the way through Friday midday, I suspect our cancellation will stick.

***

Last night, I read Gone to Dust by Matt Goodman. It’s his first novel, but he’s no stranger to writing, having worked on Seinfeld and The New Adventures of Old Christine, among other shows.

The novel is set in Minnesota’s Twin Cities, and features private eye Nils Shapiro (and yes, there’s a story behind his name), who is brought in to consult on a murder in the wealthy suburb of Edina. The killer uses a clever way of concealing his/her tracks, by covering the body in the contents of vacuum cleaner bags, providing a sort of white noise to interfere with forensics.

It’s an interesting case, and gives a cool look into the Twin Cities as they deal with such elements as the influx of Hmong and Somali refugees, among other things. Shapiro’s voice is convincing, and as might be expected from Goodman’s TV work, there’s more than a little humor there as well. It’s an extremely quick read, and again, I’m looking forward to seeing the series continue.

***

And to wrap things up today, here’s a little bit of post-hurricane music from the Turtles.

See you soon!

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Saturday Potpourri: Tropical Storm Florence Edition

I was awakened at about 8:30 when the power went out, but (obviously) we’re back up — the outage lasted about an hour, which speaks well of the local utilities people. Mrs. M went out for a bit and said that the stores look busy. We seem to be getting occasional wind gusts in the mid 20s, but we’re told things may get livelier this afternoon. At this point, so far, so good. I do appreciate the good wishes and prayers from my friends and neighbors near and far, and I hope y’all can spare a few for the folks along the coast and even a couple of hours from here in Charlotte, which seems to be getting a pretty hard dose.

***

One of the nice things about going to Bouchercon is that attendees get a slew of free books in our swag bags. The books run the gamut from cozy to hard-boiled, so I’m pretty sure there’s stuff for every taste. I’m starting to make my way through the stack, and I led off with A Cold Day in Hell by Lissa Marie Redmond, the debut of her “Cold Case Investigation” series.  Ms. Redmond herself is a retired cold case detective from Buffalo, NY, where the series is set, so the atmosphere and details feel convincing.

Her heroine is Lauren Riley, a detective on Buffalo’s cold case squad who also moonlights as a P.I. for cases out of her jurisdiction. In this book, the P.I. work (trying to clear a teenaged murder suspect) provides the main plot, while subplots include clearing a bar fight murder from 20 years before and dealings with an abusive ex-fiance turned stalker. Riley is an empty-nesting single mom, trying to fill the blank spaces in her life with work and for a time, with her remarried ex-husband.

There are moments when the machinery of establishing a series seems more noticeable than perhaps it should be, but Riley is a strong enough character to maintain the reader’s sympathy and interest, and some of the peripheral characters show promise as well. Redmond shifts through multiple viewpoints adeptly, and the pacing of the book is a genuine strength. The second book of the series is due out in February — I’ll look forward to it.

***

What with the weather goings-on, I’ve been spending a lot of time this week paying attention to forecasts and the storm’s potential ramifications. I was chatting with the Mad Dog yesterday, and he mentioned that both his elderly mother and mother-in-law are absolutely fascinated by this stuff, despite living well away from where the action is. He said it was like pornography for the geriatric set.

This in turn reminded me of my grandfather. After my immediate family moved to Northern KY in 1978, he would drive at night to the parking lot of the local Kroger in Hermitage, TN and tune into Cincinnati’s WLW. . . to listen to our weather. It always amused him, though, when the announcer would say “At 9 p.m., snow is falling from the sky at Greater Cincinnati International Airport.”

“Of course it was falling from the sky! Where else would it fall from?”

***

Well, before the rain gets rolling, I think I’ll close with my traditional but of music. Given the weather, this one seems appropriate. From Texas, here are The Fun and Games, with “It Must Have Been the Wind.”

See you soon!

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Hunkering Down

So Hurricane Florence has hit the North Carolina coast this morning, and we’re expecting to get a sizable dose of wind and rain this weekend in Mondoville. The National Weather Service’s predictions appear calmer than those of our local TV station, but I guess that’s why we play the game. We moved our football home opener to yesterday afternoon (emerging victorious), and we just got word a few minutes ago that classes will dismiss today at noon and are cancelled for Monday.

Closing

We live about a 3-minute walk from campus, so at least we’ll be able to eat.

Yesterday Mrs. M and I put away the patio furniture and other stuff that seemed at risk of going airborne should things get really ugly, but beyond that, we really just have to hunker down, deal with it, and hope for the best.

I’ll offer updates as the situation permits. Let’s stay safe and dry, everybody!

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Excitable Boys and Accidental Martyrs

While I was in Florida, a Facebook friend of mine posted a link to an article about the life and death of Warren Zevon. Writer Steven Hyden is pretty evenhanded in the piece, noting both Zevon’s artistic gifts and his poor choices, and I think the article is worth a read, particularly if you like Zevon’s work (as I do). However, there was a line in the piece that has echoed in my head since I read it a few days back:

Many of the things that made Zevon seem like an iconoclastic outlaw in the ’70s make him disreputable in the “virtuous music listening” era. As a songwriter, he was attracted to ironic humor and lowlife characters; as he sings in 1991’s “Mr. Bad Example,” many of the people who populate the Zevon-iverse “like to have a good time” and “don’t care who gets hurt.” Music critics now tend to prefer earnestness and unambiguous virtue[. . .]

And then there is Zevon’s checkered personal life, outlined with bracing candor in Crystal Zevon’s book. In his drinking days, Warren was physically abusive; when he got sober, he kept apologizing for a specific instance when he struck Crystal, giving her a black eye, which made her resentful. Why didn’t he say sorry for all of the other times he hit me? And then she realized that he had been too drunk to remember those other instances.

Later in life, he made amends with Crystal, and personally asked her to write his biography, warts and all. That’s not an excuse for his worst behavior, or a plea against “canceling” him, but rather an acknowledgement that his transgressions have long been part of the historical record, which is more than you can say about many of his peers.

I don’t dispute that, and as Hyden observes a few lines later, each of us is free to make an individual judgment about Zevon the man and Zevon the artist. Still, I have to acknowledge that I’m bumfuzzled by the concept of “virtuous music listening” or whatever the equivalent to that might be in other forms of art.

Mr. Bad Example

Well, that’s one for truth in advertising.

In point of fact, a lot of my favorite artists have been deeply flawed. John Lennon beat Cynthia — but he also wrote “In My Life.” Frank Zappa was unlikely to win many father-of-the-year awards, and seemed in many cases to base his relationships on the service they might offer his art. But he was a brilliant composer, performer, and discoverer/developer of talent. H.P. Lovecraft’s expressed racism was vile — and yes, it shows up in his work as well. But he also established the subgenre we think of as “cosmic horror”, and the creatures he imagined have taken a significant part in our cultural imagination. And what of Thomas Malory?

Once again, I’m reminded of Harlan Ellison’s comment that no one ever read a lousy book because the author had a beautiful soul. Insisting that the art we encounter be virtuous seems to be overly restrictive — we live in a fallen world, and to ignore the art that reminds us of that is simply a way to lie to ourselves. But to go even beyond that, and to insist that the artist himself must meet some sort of moral standard seems to me to be Puritanical, and unless you’re John Milton, Puritanism and art are unlikely bedfellows.

Having said that, I find myself considering some pretty lousy people who have done remarkable work. However, I don’t think it’s inconsistent to think that Roman Polanski is a rapist who deserves punishment by our legal system and to think that he’s a brilliant filmmaker. Likewise, while I believe Phil Spector is exactly where he should be, “Be My Baby” is still an amazing song.

Or to put it another way, Samuel Taylor Coleridge believed that if William Wordsworth could teach us through his poetry how to develop a Wordsworthian soul, it might mark a step forward in humanity’s spiritual evolution and hasten the Millennium. When I mention that to my students, they find the idea pretty wacky, and I’m inclined to agree. But it seems to me that conversely, insisting that we “cancel” (to use Hyden’s term) not only non-virtuous artists, but their art as well is equally bizarre, and has the disadvantage of limiting the spaces in which we are allowed to dream.

But we live in a bizarre era, I suppose. All the same, I’ll keep listening to Mr. Zevon’s work.

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Bouchercon 2018: Day 3

I slept in a bit this morning, but still had time for breakfast. When I got to the buffet, I sat with Frank Zafiro and we chatted a bit, agreeing that the convention has been a blast, even though we’re reaching the point at which the days are starting to run together. Things got even better when the server put my breakfast on Frank’s bill — as it happens, Frank’s breakfasts are comped thanks to some sort of loyalty package, and so mine was as well. Mondoville College will be grateful, I’m sure.

I caught the shuttle to the Vinoy and after talking to a few friends, I made my way to a session on turning true crime into fiction. Reed Farrel Coleman moderated the panel, which included Peter Blauner, Julia Dahl, Hank Phillippi Ryan, and R.G. Belsky. I have to admit that I wasn’t as attentive as I might have hoped, as I had received a message from Lawrence Block telling me he had a book for me. I told him to pick a time and place, and I’d be happy to meet up with him after my noon panel.

As it happened, I didn’t have to wait — both L.B. and Jill D. Block showed up for my panel. I have to admit — doing a panel with an MWA Grand Master in the front row is something I never expected when I started my fictioneering career. As for the panel itself, it was great. I sat between S.W. Lauden (who has drummed for several notable punk and power pop bands, and is the author of the Greg Salem “Punk Rock P.I.” series) and Rex Weiner, who wrote the original Ford Fairlane stories for the LA Weekly and once threw a pie in Joey Ramone’s face during a dispute at CBGBs. Meanwhile Nadine Nettmann (guitarist and sommelier) and Paul Charles (former band manager) rounded things out.

Bcon18Panel

(L-R) Paul Charles, Nadine Nettmann, S.W. Lauden, Mondo, and Rex Weiner. (Photo: Jenna Kernan — http://jennakernan.com.)

The conversation was a great deal of fun, and the audience seemed to have a good time as well — even putting up with my Bo Diddley beat as I backed up a recitation from Rex.

Afterward, Ell Bee had a gift for me — the Taiwanese edition of Alive in Shape and Color.

AISACTaiwan

A Chinese translation of an American’s story about a Spaniard’s painting. How cool is that?

I introduced Jill to several of my friends, and was glad to extol the virtues of her book as well. Block the Elder, meanwhile, told me that he’s already registered for next year’s B’con in Dallas. So there’s something for me to look forward to as well.

From my session, I headed to the book room for the traditional signing. I sat next to Rex and signed a few books. One buyer even complimented me on my handwriting, but she may have been charitable. Rex and I talked a little about a play he has written about Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent, and I’m looking forward to reading it.

My next stop was a panel on P.I. fiction. There was apparently some scheduling confusion, but we got to hear from Jack Fredrickson, Naomi Hirahara, Stephen Mack Jones, and Kelli Stanley, with moderator Steph Cha arriving a little late, but keeping things upbeat and interesting. Although the panel acknowledged that the private eye novel is a subgenre that rises and falls in popularity, they also agreed that as long as there are mean streets, writers will makes sure that men and women will go down them.

The 3 p.m. hour brought an interview with Sean Chercover, whose recent work has added elements of paranormal fiction and sf to the mystery scene. Chercover is funny and engaging, and I think I’ll need to investigate his work.

The final two sessions had the feel of an all-star jam session. Jill D. Block hosted the first one, which engaged the process of inspiration and writing this stuff we love to read. The panelists included Peter Blauner, Philip Friedman, Laura Lippman, Robert Olen Butler, and the moderator’s dad. The audience was treated to the stories behind the stories, both old favorites and forthcoming material.

Once that wrapped up, Lawrence remained on the stage for an interview with Ian Rankin, author of the well known Inspector Rebus series. I’ve known about Rankin by reputation (and from hearing him at Noir at the Bar the other night), but this was a reminder for me that there’s always more cool stuff to read.

As that wrapped up, I caught the shuttle back to the Hilton. I made another run to the Chinese restaurant I visited the other night, but this time I brought it back to my room.

It’s been a good day.

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Bouchercon 2018: Day 2

It’s been a long day in sunny, stormy St. Pete. Nevertheless, I’m persisting.

I started my morning once again by fueling up at the breakfast buffet, and then making my way to the shuttle to the convention. I made my way to a panel on publishing, which included (among others) Jessica Case of Pegasus Press, the folks who put out LB’s art-themed anthologies in which I’ve placed stories. Although Jessica and I hadn’t seen one another since the Hopper launch in December 2016, she immediately recognized me in the crowd and said hello on her way to the platform. Granted, I’m easy to spot, but it’s nice to be remembered.

From there, I moved to a panel on noir, hosted by Ted Fitzgerald and including Ragnar Jonasson, Caro Ramsay, Dana King, Rick Ollerman, and John Shepphird. The panel was blessedly light on discussions of the “What is noir?” variety, with the writers focusing instead on maintaining toughness in dialogue, description, and setting — a particularly interesting aspect coming from the Icelandic Mr. Jonasson and the Glaswegian Ms. Ramsey.

As an added bonus, after the panel I ran into Dale Phillips, with whom I had partnered for Author Speed Dating at last year’s Bcon. Along with the usual catching up, he told me about his visit to St. Petersburg’s Dali Museum, where I intended to go during this visit.

Next up was a panel of reviewers that included Oline Cogdill of the Associated Press, Jon Jordan of Crimespree magazine, Andrew Gulli of The Strand, and freelancer Katrina Niidas Holm. My buddy Peter Rozovsky moderated the panel, and the hour passed with remarkable speed. Apparently, getting a bunch of passionate, articulate book lovers together can yield lively conversation — who knew?

After that, I got a bonus, as I finally was able to have lunch with G. Scott Oliver, with whom I’ve been twitter buddies for quite some time. We ate at the less formal of the Vinoy’s restaurants, but the service was terrific and they make a very nice Cuban sandwich. Scott had to get back to work too soon, but it was great to actually meet him face to face.

Returning to the panels, I caught one on writing blue-collar/working class characters without condescension. Panelists included Britain’s Elizabeth Mundy, and American Southerners Steph Post and Eryk Pruitt (who is not only up for an Anthony award for What We Reckon, but whose true crime podcast The Long Dance has caused quite a stir. He also hosts a mean Noir at the Bar.) Topics included avoiding stereotyping and capturing the sound of working class and rural voices without resorting to dialect. It was a good time.

From there, I moved to the lobby where I hung out with folks like Danny Gardner, Shaun Covey, and the Down & Out brain trust of Eric Campbell and Lance Clark. But while there were other panels I would have enjoyed, it was time to play a bit of hooky and hit the Dali Museum.

Although I’ve enjoyed Dali’s work since my dad brought home a book about the artist when I was a kid, I particularly wanted to see The Pharmacist of Ampurdan in Search of Absolutely Nothing (1936).

the-pharmacist-of-ampurdan-seeking-absolutely-nothing

I had read somewhere that the painting was at the museum, but I couldn’t find it. So I spoke to a guard, and a docent, and that’s when I found out that the picture is apparently in Germany. (Insert sad trombone noises here.) Nonetheless, I managed to while away 90 minutes looking at other of the Spaniard’s masterworks.

As the museum closed, I made it back to my hotel to chill for a bit before going to a meet-and-greet sponsored by the Down & Out team. And after a bit of that, I had a pleasant (if warm) half-mile walk back to home base.

I may sleep a little later than usual tonight, but I don’t know — tomorrow’s a full day, and it’ll be my turn in the panelists’ barrel. Details to come!

Posted in Alternating Feet, Broken Glass Waltzes, Culture, Literature, Pixel-stained Wretchery, Why I Do What I Do | Leave a comment

Bouchercon 2018: Day One

Woke up this morning (Da DAH da dah DUM) in time to hit the breakfast buffet and catch a shuttle to the historic and beautiful Vinoy Hotel, home of this year’s edition of Bouchercon. It was good that I loaded up at breakfast, because I wound up skipping lunch — there were just too many cool sessions going on.

The first one I attended was called “Coat of Many Colors”, and more than a dozen writers shared recommendations for readers who want to read good stories from members of underrepresented communities. The session’s title ties into the fact that this year’s convention is also raising money for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, which provides free books for kids.

From there, I checked out a panel on writing strong characters, featuring Karin Slaughter, Lee Matthew Goldberg, Shaun Harris, Libby Fischer Hellman, and the King of Kindle himself, Mr. Parnell Hall.

From there I spent some time checking out the book room, but Mrs. M will be relieved to hear that I haven’t bought anything… yet.

Next up was a panel with a number of agents, and I chatted with a couple of them afterwards. Who knows — I might have something worth their while someday.

From there, I checked out a discussion on writing about violence, with panelists including Matt Phillips, Linda Sands, Kieran Shea, Wallace Stroby, and Frank Zafiro. Next up was a session on small publishers, including folks from two different houses that have put out some of my work. Thanks, y’all!

That was followed by a session about LGBT and other voices in crime fiction, which introduced me to a number of authors past and present. Representing the present, we had Brenda Buchanan, John H. Copenhaver, Stephanie Gayle, J.M. Redmann, and Alison R. Solomon. Along the way, they talked about the oddness of writing book that are sometimes found “too gay” by mainstream publishers and “not gay enough” by LGBT publishers. Meanwhile, they all seemed to agree that while it’s nice to see greater acceptance of LGBT characters, the important thing is telling a good story with interesting characters.

After that, I caught my last panel of the day, a discussion of life inside various American penal institutions, featuring attorney Jamie Freveletti, Christina Hoag (who teaches writing to inmates in a maximum security prison), and former correctional officer James L’Etoile. The conversation was lively and interesting, thanks in part to moderator (and new James Patterson co-author) Nancy Allen, who has enough energy to be a TVA project.

As that wrapped up, I ran into my friend (and former guest author at Mondoville) Danny Gardner, who is busily working on his next Elliot Caprice novel. He was eager to pass along his love for Newberry College, and told me that he plans to return with the next book. As we talked, James L’Etoile came by with a copy of Betrayed, the charity anthology in which we both placed stories. He said he’d get me to sign his copy later.

As I headed to the hotel exit, I encountered my friend Peter Rozovsky, proprietor of the Detectives Beyond Borders blog and Lord Snowden of the crimefic scene. We hiked through ankle-deep rainwater and scored fish and chips at a nearby restaurant, and then returned to the hotel in plenty of time to get good seats for Noir at the Bar.

There were 18 readers, and all of them were good, but the night was capped by the final three readers: Reed Farrel Coleman, Sara Paretsky, and some guy named Block, who was gracious enough to share a scene from A Time to Scatter Stones, likely the ultimate installment of Matt Scudder’s fictive autobiography. It was great seeing the outpouring of love for all three of these titans of the genre we enjoy so much.

LB’s daughter Jill D. was there as well, and it was good to see her for the first time since the release of Alive in Shape and Color. And as I’ve previously said, her debut novel, The Truth About Parallel Lines, is worth your time as well.

By the time N@tB wrapped up, I was ready to make my way back to base camp, and well, here we are! And the best part is that I get to do more of this tomorrow. I’ll share it with you later!

 

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