I woke up before the girls did yesterday, but woke them up after a bit, because they had a plane to catch back to Charlotte, and would drive back to Mondoville from there. The Spawn had brought a box of TimBits (or for my readers who don’t speak Tim Horton’s, “doughnut holes”) back from the previous day’s trips to New York, so that was my breakfast, and after kissing the girls goodbye, I walked to the venue. (As an aside, my summer’s adventures in foot alternation proved useful this trip — while I took the occasional taxi, I walked more often, spending shoe leather instead of cash.)
I had an appointment — not in Samarra, but at the Hotel Brotherhood HQ, where I was part of the first panel, on “Forgotten Innovators of Suspense.” My fellow panelists were Larry Light, who discussed spy novelist Len Deighton, and Roger Hobbs, who threw most of the audience a curve when he discussed Rebecca Sugar, who creates what is currently the Spawn’s favorite cartoon. Fortunately, the fact that the Spawn and I talk about vast quantities of pop culture meant that I was conversant in the Steven Universe… well, universe.
I actually led off the panel, and talked about William Goldman’s novels of the 70s and 80s, specifically Marathon Man, Magic, The Color of Light, and Heat. While Goldman isn’t precisely forgotten, he has become so well known for Princess Bride and his film work that I think a lot of his novels have been overlooked. In particular, I talked about a technique Goldman used that I called “fiveshadowing”, because it’s even more than foreshadowing. In the books I mentioned, Goldman flat out tells the reader that something horrible is either going to happen — or has already happened. While this would seem to be the antithesis of suspense, it manages to instill a remarkable amount of dread as we proceed through novel. More insidiously, he’ll make a direct reference to something awful that lies ahead, but he does it in an offhand way or as part of another episode, so that when the horrible thing is finally revealed, the reader flashes back in his or her head: “Oh, he said this was coming, but not like this.”
It was well received, with folks laughing in the appropriate spots, several really good questions, and many kind words afterwards. Woody Haut then gave a really cool presentation on L.A.’s Central Ave. scene in the 1940s and 50s, and then we broke for lunch, which was graciously provided by the International Association of Crime Writers. After lunch, the IACW presented the Hammett Award for the year’s best crime writing to Lisa Sandlin for The Do-Right.
A personal highlight of the afternoon sessions was when Howard Rodman and Robert Polito talked about films noir, which morphed into a discussion of revelation and apocalypse, and looked at the Flitcraft episode from Maltese Falcon as a parable for noir: People in noir stories recognize that the lives they believe they want aren’t the lives they’re living, and so they blow up their existing lives, only to find that they aren’t up to the life they think they want… and it either destroys them, or if they’re lucky, they return to a life that is more like the previous one than it is different.
I also got a chance to talk for a few minutes about the open-access scholarly journal we’re starting at the college. The response seemed enthusiastic, and given that several of the attendees are academics, I’m hoping to have found some more writers and readers.
The afternoon was wrapped up with a panel about the Concord Free Press, a publishing enterprise that is, well, highly unusual. They go in knowing — indeed, planning — that no one will get paid, but they do it in the hope of spreading what they call a “gift economy” or an economy of generosity. Instead, they ask the people who take the books to make a donation of any amount to anyone they choose, whether an organization or a person on the street, and then to pass the book to someone else so the process can repeat. In the meantime, they print and distribute limited runs of books — including very dark ones — that a publisher with a typical business model wouldn’t touch. (Interestingly, according to CFP stalwart Stona Fitch, about half of CFP’s books are later picked up by commercial publishers, but once CFP has done their 1-shot, 3000-copy run, they essentially depart the process.)
I walked back to the hotel and then met up with the NoirCon crew at a local restaurant and watering hole, where we sat around the fireplace in a repurposed 60s-style penthouse, ate, drank, and laughed. We write about the nastiest things that people can do to one another, but as I’ve said, the crime writers I’ve met are some of the nicest, kindest folks I’ve ever run into.
I probably won’t get to the morning session today — I have my own plane to catch, and my own return to Mondoville — but I want to thank NoirCon organizers Lou Boxer and Deen Kogen, the designers and staff (all volunteer) who made this happen, and the writers, editors, publishers, and fans who have welcomed me to their community. We write about darkness, but the people behind the stories provide remarkable light and warmth. Here’s looking at y’all, kids.