So we did a thing last night, and it was nearer than we anticipated, but we got a happy ending, and what’s wrong with that?
I got to Bar Figaro at 6:30 last night, the first of the Noir at the Bar group to make it. I went into the event room to check the PA setup, only to discover that there wasn’t one to check. Apparently I had misunderstood things when I had made the arrangements.
So I started placing phone calls — specifically to Marshall Maddy from the college’s Marketing Deparatment, and when I didn’t raise him, I tried my department chair (and fellow reader) David Rachels. His youngest son is a musician, and I checked with David about the possibility of making an impromptu PA system from spare gear. No dice, and I was starting to envision myself as The Guy Who Ruined the Night when Marshall showed up. Fortunately the venue is only about half a mile from the college, so Marshall saved the day, getting everything set up while I greeted arriving writers, friends, and other visitors.
Marshall moved to his video gear while campus photographer Larry Cameron got ready to shoot stills. The crowd was solid — it wasn’t standing room, but there weren’t many empty seats either. Since we were competing with a soccer game, a concert, and a departmental festivity on campus, we really did pretty well. Those of us with books to raffle or sell set them on a table near the stage. I then moved toward the back of the room, sitting with S.A. Cosby and Eryk Pruitt as the house stereo was turned down and it was showtime.
Newberry underclassman Caleb Lawrimore acted as MC for the evening, introducing readers and drawing tickets for the book raffle. In fact, it was a very Newberry affair, as our first reader was freshly minted grad (and my former student) Karina Tarbell. Karina’s story (set in Newberry) was a nice opener to the night, dealing with a writer’s innovative — and violent — attempt to get past a case of writer’s block. She was followed by David Rachels, who shared a couple of flash pieces. The first, “A Serial Killer Buys a Watermelon,” is a cross between a shaggy-dog story and an Andy Kaufman anti-comedy bit, with some comment on true crime media as well. I didn’t catch the title of the second piece, but it was a dryly funny piece about a boxer’s desperate efforts to throw a fight, which proves more difficult than one might expect.
Next up was one of our out-of-town guests, Jill D. Block, who shared a section from her story “Tess and Julie, Julie and Tess,” which will appear in LB’s forthcoming anthology of stories set in academia, The Darkling Halls of Ivy. Like the recent At Home in the Dark, this antho will come out in a hardbound collector’s edition from Subterranean in May 2020, with a softcover version following in short order. (Also like At Home in the Dark, Ivy will include a new story by Your Genial Host, but more on that in the weeks ahead. Get ready, is all I’m saying.) As has been the case with JDB’s other stories and her novel The Truth About Parallel Lines, she finds a character with a strong voice and draws us into that character’s life and world. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the story when the book comes out.
Shawn Cosby closed the first set with a reading of his Anthony-nominated story, “The Grass Beneath My Feet.”
The story (which originally ran in upstart crimezine Tough) is a remarkable thing, a hard-boiled tearjerker, and well deserving of its accolades. Indeed, he should be getting used to accolades at this point, with his debut novel My Darkest Prayer receiving a great deal of positive attention as well. The story was greeted with a storm of applause, which seemed as good a time as any for an intermission.
The second set began with another former student of mine, Kasey Schroer. Her husband has shown up in this blog on occasion as keyboardist for the Berries, but both halves of the couple have considerable and varied talents, and Kasey (a truly gifted singer) demonstrated that she is a notable writer of dark fiction, sharing a story of a vile individual who learns the error of his ways in no uncertain terms. The story was squirmworthy throughout, and was nastily effective.
Eryk Pruitt lightened the mood considerably with “Knacker,” a tall tale of a big Texan in a bareknuckles fight in Ireland, who meets an unlikely and dangerous opponent. Pruitt, a Texan himself, does a fine job with the first-person narrator, who shares his adjustment to a new culture and an unexpected challenge. Fans of the humor in Joe Lansdale’s Hap and Leonard novels will like this one, which can be found in his short story collection Townies.
I was up next, and read “Bowery Station, 3:15 A.M.,” from Dark City Lights.
I hadn’t read it in about three years, but it worked just fine, and it’s quite short, which is a good thing, as (with the possible exception of Mrs. M), no one was there to see me, and the headliner was up next.
That, of course, is the indefatigable Mr. Block, who took the stage with an advance copy of The Burglar in Short Order, a collection of tales and excerpts featuring Bernie Rhodenbarr, Block’s beloved gentleman burglar. The story he shared was a conversation between Bernie and Carolyn Kaiser, in which Carolyn introduces Bernie to a potential employee — a cat named (remarkably enough) Raffles. The piece is a fine example of LB’s ability to tell a story with wit and grace, almost entirely through dialogue.
Before he began reading, he mentioned that since he was the evening’s final reader, the audience should feel free to walk out any time they got bored. Unsurprisingly, the advice was unnecessary. The crowd was thoroughly satisfied with the chance to hear the Grand Master do what he does so well — charm an audience and leave them wanting more.
Afterward, we all shared congratulations and good vibes, interspersed with moments to sign copies of the promotional flyer for the event and to sell a few books. A lot of folks congratulated me for putting this together, little knowing how close I had brought us to a fiasco. But who can resist a happy ending?
And the story continued this morning, as a number of friends told us what a good time they had, and this afternoon, as the folks at Bar Figaro told us they’d be happy to host these events on something of a regular basis in the future.
That’s the mystery genre for you — who can resist a good series?