So Sunday, I got to have another of those Real Writer Moments (TM Pending), courtesy of the organizers of Noir at the Bar (who invited me) and the Newberry College Department of Humanities (which picked up the tab). I picked up my rental car on Friday afternoon (Mondoville being what it is, the rental office is closed on the weekend), and set out for the exurbs of Atlanta just past noon on Sunday.
Three hours later, I arrived at the Holiday Inn Express in Lawrenceville, GA. While it’s part of the greater Atlanta area, Lawrenceville (at least the parts I saw of it) maintains a distinct small town atmosphere. Downtown Lawrenceville is what downtown Mondoville aspires to be, but has yet to reach. I saw a number of cool looking shops (including a bookshop and a store dealing in musical gear), but since it was Sunday late afternoon, they were closed. Because I’m the sort of person I am, I’m certain that the bookstore contained a signed first printing of Rasselas, or at least The Killer Inside Me, but I’ll never know for sure. The district’s centerpiece is a gorgeous old courthouse, complete with an orator’s balcony, and the venue — McCray’s Tavern — was just across Perry Street.
McCray’s is an immediately welcoming environment. I was the first of the readers to arrive, a bit more than an hour before the starting time, but no sooner had I come in than I was hailed by my childhood friend Eric Krosnes and his father, Oscar. They happened to be in Atlanta for a wedding, and stayed an extra day to see the reading. As always, the kindness of the people I’ve known amazes me.
We chatted a bit while we waited for dinner, and were joined after a bit by Ed Brock, whose new novel, Pale in Death, came out last year. Ed’s a relative local, and was the Atlanta organizer of the event. By the time I had made my way through a burger that would have foundered the late Frank Pastore, the rest of the readers had arrived, led by Eryk Pruitt, the Durham, NC writer and filmmaker I met at Bouchercon’s reading. Eryk was the guy who invited me to participate, and we exchanged pleasantries before he checked out the stage. A few minutes later, it was time to get rolling.
The opening reader, Ashley Erwin, had come the greatest distance to read, all the way from L.A. to her home turf in Georgia. She set the tone with a ferocious tale of a young redneck who robs a poker game and brings the take back to Mama. She read at breakneck pace, and between her writing and reading, the audience was breathless. I was glad I didn’t have to follow her, but as I found out, there weren’t any duds in the night’s lineup. This is a great time for independent crime fiction.
Ed Brock was up next, with the first chapter of his new book, and he was followed by James R. Tuck. The Woodstock-based Tuck shared a story from a forthcoming anthology with an outlaw country music theme. It was a love story from the perspective of a young man from a small town who is both in love and at the end of the line. In a way, it reminded me of Richard Thompson’s “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” with a North Georgia accent. Higher praise is hard for me to imagine. Alec Cizak rounded out the first half with a happy little tale of a young airhead who decides to teach her fiance a lesson. These plans, however, gang seriously agley.
After a 10-minute intermission, it was my turn, and I read a story that tends to do pretty well at these sorts of events, and it did the trick again.
Our co-host Eryk stepped up next with a hilarious story about a Texas bareknuckles fighter brought to a brawl in Ireland, where he learns that some opponents are tougher than others. Eryk tells me that this story is part of a larger collection, and I hope it sees print sooner rather than later.
It fell to Peter Farris to close the evening, which he did with the opening chapter of a forthcoming novel about a runaway teen prostitute and the eccentric bootlegger who offers her refuge. It promises to be intense — and intensely entertaining.
After a bit of chatting with the other writers and the wonderful folks in the audience, we took a couple of pictures and said our goodnights.
I slept rather soundly, and awoke to confront an existential dilemma. It was time for breakfast, and the hotel’s free breakfast was pretty much exhausted by the time I got there. I was left with a choice between a country breakfast buffet and one of my favorite fast-food chains (which happens to be unavailable anywhere near Mondoville.) However, since it wasn’t ten a.m. yet, I chose to err on the side of biscuits and gravy. Turned out it was no error at all, and I was on the road back to Mondoville in a trice, or maybe a trice-and-a-half.
All in all, it was a thoroughly satisfying experience, and I can only hope another opportunity rolls around before long. Thanks again to McCray’s, the college, and the terrific folks who organized, read, and attended. It was a great time.