It’s been a steamy weekend, even by local standards, with temperatures within hailing distance of the century mark, and heat indices of “medium well, but still juicy.” Nonetheless, I made my way to Real City early yesterday morning and didn’t get home until early this morning. So how about a recap?
I rolled into the downtown parking lot of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church at 8 yesterday morning for Mystery in the Midlands. The bulk of the conference took place in the fellowship hall, so I picked a spot at one of the tables and got to say hello to some of the terrific people I’ve met since I started doing this stuff, folks like Maggie Toussaint, Paula Benson, Debra Goldstein, Stacy Allen, and Jaden Terrell. After a bit of this, I settled in and greeted Robert Mangeot, who wound up sitting next to me. I heard there were about 80 registrants, with a nice mix of writers and readers.
After a greeting from emcee Riley Miller, who has enough energy to shame the TVA, we went to one-hour breakout sessions on different aspects of the art and craft of writing the stuff we do. I went to Jaden’s session, and picked up a couple of ideas that I think may prove useful for my work. After that, it was back to the main room for a session on writing the gritty stuff, with writers who had experience in police work, the military, and other professions that interact with life’s seamy side. Then it was time for a fascinating interview with Elaine Viets, the guest of honor. She handled the room like the complete pro she is, and proved to be as engaging in person as she is on the page.
After a lunch that was delightfully free of the rubber chicken one encounters far too often, my panel went on stage to talk about writing short fiction. My co-panelists included Ms. Viets, Mr. Mangeot, Claire Count, and Karen McCulloch, and the abovementioned Ms. Benson moderated the panel.
Panels make me nervous. Long before I got into the professing business, I was already one of those folks who could lecture at the drop of a hat, and I’d cheerfully bring my own hat. I just get started, and ideas cascade into each other. Graduate school didn’t help the matter — my friends would occasionally laugh at what they called “Warren Moore infodumps.” And of course, my current line of work feeds that part of my personality. But I want to be a good panelist — not least because I want to learn from the other folks up there as well. So I’m always afraid that I’m talking too much — it’s not unlike my distaste for taking drum solos.
Before we got started, I leaned over to Robert Mangeot and said “I’ll give you a dollar if you describe your next work as ‘Y.A. Erotica.'” Of course Bob is a far better person than I am, and declined my offer, but I kept my dollar, so who’s the real winner here? In this case, probably the audience, who got to hear thoughts and advice on the topic from some exceptional practitioners of the form. It was also a nice moment when Ms. Viets put in a plug for Friend of the Blog (and the Blogger) Lawrence Block’s Enough Rope collection, particularly his story “This Crazy Business of Ours.” She said it was a perfect example of economical but vivid description, and by the way, she’s right, so verb. sat.
There was one more panel on genres and subgenres, with several authors of traditionals, cozies, and amateur sleuth series. Although those aren’t the way my particular inclinations, well, incline, it was interesting, and I got a kick out of hearing J.R. Ripley, who also writes as Marie Celine, talking about becoming a speaker at a birders’ convention because of his “Bird Lover’s Mystery” series, despite the fact that he isn’t especially ornithologically inclined. Then it was time for signings and goodbyes and we all went our separate ways, with some of us looking forward to Killer Nashville and others (like me) waiting an extra week for Bouchercon.
So that wrapped up the first annual Mystery in the Midlands, a team effort from the Palmetto chapter of Sisters in Crime, and the Southeast chapter of the MWA. It was a great time, and I’m already looking forward to next year. Keep a space on your calendars, and I’ll keep you posted!
After saying my goodbyes, I picked up some hot sauce for the Spawn, and then swung by a used media place and read some Jonah Hex comics before going to my favorite cheap Chinese restaurant and returning downtown to Art Bar. The night’s bands were Fixed Faces from Spartanburg, Real City’s own Los Perdidos, and Pinky Doodle Poodle, from Tokyo.
The Berries have now been defunct for almost a year, but when I went into the bar, I got warm greetings from Alan the soundman, our old friends Gina and Kevin from Turbo Gatto (who are apparently handling bookings for the club now), and even members of the first two acts. Turned out the bassist for Fixed Faces had run our sound for some of our shows at the late, lamented Soundbox Tavern, and the bassist for Los Perdidos had seen us as well. Everyone talked about how much fun we had been, and how it was clear how much we loved the style of music we were doing. As I said recently, that’s not a bad epitaph right there.
Fixed Faces led off the night, a trio that brings a loud, hooky sound that would have fit nicely on a playlist with the Stooges, the Dolls, or Mick Ronson, mixing elements of hard glam, power pop, and proto-punk. After their set, I told Gina from Turbo Gatto that I thought FF sounded like the Dolls, and she and Kevin laughed and said they had just been saying it sounded like Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers. If you can listen to them without smiling, you’ve OD’d on Botox.
After they had cleared the stage and while Los Perdidos were setting up, I found out that in addition to being familiar with the Berries, the bassist for Fixed Faces was familiar with In Sunlight or In Shadow, and in fact is a writer himself. So we talked shop for a few minutes, and then it was time for Los Perdidos.
I asked Alan how long the group had been around, and he said it’s been a while. Depending on just how long a while, I was astonished that we never shared a bill — we would have been a great fit. Los Perdidos plays reverb-drenched twin-guitar surf at volumes that will peel the enamel off your teeth, interspersing classic covers from folks like the Atlantics, Dick Dale, and Link Wray with originals, instilling the lot with punk levels of energy and tempo. There was stuff for hodads and headbangers alike, and when the set finished, bassist Byron said, “And that’s why rock and roll exists.” No one was arguing, or if they were, you couldn’t hear them anyway.
Much as I wanted to stick for PDP, it had been a long day and it was after midnight, so I had to head back to Mondoville. But I will say that I didn’t expect the Berries to be that well remembered, and I hope that I’ll be able to get on Art Bar’s stage again before too long.
And I’ll wrap things up with a bit of music, as is my tradition. The Bumble Bees (sic) were a band from the Hague who put out a few singles in their native Netherlands in the mid-60s. This one, which combines a garage vibe with some pretty cool brass, is the one I like the most. Here’s “Girl of My Kind.” Hope you like it!
See you soon!