NoirCon 2012 Sunday Panels

 Lou Boxer, NoirCon, NoirCon 2012  Comments Off on NoirCon 2012 Sunday Panels
Nov 172012
Lou Boxer, bless his soul, programmed Sunday’s first panel a little later than normal — 10AM. An inspired idea, as Saturday night involved a couple of bars, lots of noir talk, and several goodbyes to NoirCon attendees and friends that were heading home early Sunday morning before the last two panels. Even with a solid 6 hours of sleep, however, somehow I managed to run late and not have time to get breakfast before the first panel of the day. So — as soon as I hit the lobby, I scoffed down 4 donut holes, 1 red velvet cupcake, and a nice hot cup of coffee before taking my seat in the front row.

William Buffy Hastings of Farley’s Bookshop took the mic first and spoke about Farley’s Bookshop, the need to support indie bookstores, and some of the great books they brought out to NoirCon. More than just the authors as the convention, Farley’s brought out a diverse selection of contemporary books they feel are important and urgent to know about. They brought out a number of politically-themed books from PM press, including Gary Phillips’ The Underbelly (which I bought). Buffy also highly recommended East Bay Grease by Eric Miles Williamson, “behind Woodrell, the great American novelist.” High praise indeed, but coming from Buffy, it’s an endorsement I take seriously. I’ll be checking out East Bay Grease soon.
Next, Buffy interviewed Kent Harrington about his new novel, The Rat Machine, which had its world premiere at NoirCon. The Rat Machine is an epic novel of global political intrigue about the international drug trade and how high-ranking Nazi officials were placed into positions of government authority instead of being prosecuted. Instead of compromising with major publishers, Harrington decided to self-publish the novel and craft the narrative as he saw fit. 

Before the final panel of NoirCon 2012, Ed Pettit MC’d some epic raffling. 
Since Lulu Lollipop had gone home, Crime Factory’s Liam Jose tried his best to fill her shoes. I think he has a bright future as Australia’s premier pin-up noir model.

Here, Liam models the big prize: a signed, limited edition, 1 of 1 special galley copy of Ken Bruen’s The Galway Trinity, signed by Bruen, Gary Phillips (who wrote the introduction), and Phil Parks (who provided illustrations). Jeremiah Healy won the prize. (I won an unsigned galley, which is still pretty damn cool!)

Last but certainly not least was Crime in Primetime, a panel about noir television shows.

Rich Edwards (co-author of The Maltese Touch of Evil: Film Noir and Potential Criticism) spoke about Breaking Bad.

Mystery novelist and cinematographer Thomas Kaufman spoke about Hill Street Blues and its innovative documentary realist style. He interviewed the show’s creator, who said that it wasn’t modeled after noir specifically, but that they did encounter resistance from the studio who didn’t understand their dark lighting and realist staging.

Jared Case, from the George Eastman House, spoke about The Shield, a show I’ve heard many great things about. He showed a number of great stills from the series and discussed how it integrated noir aesthetics (particularly shadows and other lighting motifs) and how it reflected changes in characters throughout the different seasons.

And that’s a wrap!
I was sorry that NoirCon 2012 came to an end, but before it was over everyone was already talking about 2014, ideas for future panels, potential guests, and essays for the program. I can’t wait for the Goodis Bus To Hell Tour in January 2013, when we noir heads gather at the grave of David Goodis and pay tribute to his memory, legacy, and the dark but soulful world he created.
Thank you to Lou Boxer an Deen Kogan for throwing such a great party! Thanks to Jeff Wong for all of the great artwork, beer label, coasters, and for giving a look to NoirCon 2012. And to all NoirCon fellow travelers, of which there are too many to name here.
See y’all in Philly in 2014!

NoirCon 2012 Keynote Address Robert Olen Butler

 NoirCon, NoirCon 2012  Comments Off on NoirCon 2012 Keynote Address Robert Olen Butler
Nov 142012
Here is an excerpt of Robert Olen Butler’s Keynote Address from NoirCon 2012. 
Recorded Saturday, November 10, 2012 at the Society Hill Playhouse in Philadelphia, PA.

This Keynote Address was delivered by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Robert Olen Butler. His speech centered around the tools of narrative, and the shared language mechanics of literature and film. Comparing examples from Sam Peckinpah, Charles Dickens, Dashiell Hammett, The Bible (The Book of Judges), and The Matrix, Butler shows how the core concepts of slow-motion, establishing shots, visual movement, and montage are not just cinematic components, but the basic building blocks of storytelling. Butler concluded his address by expressing how “The intellectual electricity in this room is wonderful.” He was dead-on. One of the things that makes NoirCon so wonderful is that it isn’t just a writer’s conference, or a gathering of fans, or a reading series, or an academic conference — there’s a little bit of each of those, but they add up to something much greater. Passion and community, as much as creativity and scholarship, form the crux of NoirCon. Its relatively small size (about 100 people), and welcoming and supportive atmosphere, mean that everyone gets to meet each other, and there’s no pretensions to make anyone feel left out. It’s a remarkably open atmosphere, and a great place to meet people and have genuine conversations.

Nov 142012

By David Corbett

I spent last weekend attending the 2012 Noircon, the biannual lovefest to all things noir devised and convened by Lou Boxer and Deen Kogan in Philadelphia. 

I love this festival, which is far more intimate and writer-centric than most others I’ve attended. The participants largely form a congress of equals, and there is never a great divide between the contributions of the various panelists and the comments from the floor. It’s a smart group, widely read and not shy, and I always come away learning more that I could have imagined.

This year was particularly exceptional, with what at times seemed to be a continuous string of highlights. That said, one presentation stood out for me—the keynote talk by Robert Olen Butler.

Butler’s a gracious, witty, generous man with a knife-like body and a steel-trap mind. An astonishing talent, he’s written thirteen novels, six story collections, nine screenplays, an essential guide to writing (From Where You Dream—trust me, read it), and has won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and a Guggenheim Fellowship in addition to an almost unseemly bundle of other awards and distinctions.

Why, I hear you ask, is such a literary hotshot slumming at Noircon?

Well that’s an interesting question, one ironically answered by Otto Penzler the day before Butler spoke. Otto explained how, after studying English and American Literature at the University of Michigan, he discovered crime fiction and promptly realized that its best practitioners owe apologies to no one.

Butler agrees, not just in theory. His most recent novel, The Hot Country, is a historical thriller set in Mexico in 1914, combining intrigue from both that country’s revolution and the worldwide cataclysm routinely known as World War I. The plan is for nine more novels in the series, all to be published by Otto Penzler’s Mysterious Press.

But what Butler chose to discuss at Noircon was craft—specifically, the way in which fiction mimics the cinematic portrayal of events in the mind. (His remarks, I now know, were a distillation of his chapter, “Cinema of the Mind,” within From Where You Dream.)

The American filmmaker D.W. Griffith, Butler informed us, once remarked that he owed everything he knew about cinematic technique to Charles Dickens—who died years before the advent of film.

By way of example, Butler turned to the following passage from Great Expectations, which appears shortly after the narrator, Pip, sets the stage, identifying himself and his family, then continues:

Ours was the marsh country, down by the river, within, as the river wound, twenty miles of the sea. My first most vivid and broad impression of the identity of things, seems to me to have been gained on a memorable raw afternoon towards evening. At such a time I found out for certain, that this bleak place overgrown with nettles was the churchyard; and that Philip Pirrip, late of this parish, and also Georgiana wife of the above, were dead and buried; and that Alexander, Bartholomew, Abraham, Tobias, and Roger, infant children of the aforesaid, were also dead and buried; and that the dark flat wilderness beyond the churchyard, intersected with dykes and mounds and gates, with scattered cattle feeding on it, was the marshes; and that the low leaden line beyond, was the river; and that the distant savage lair from which the wind was rushing, was the sea; and that the small bundle of shivers growing afraid of it all and beginning to cry, was Pip.

“Hold your noise!” cried a terrible voice, as a man started up from among the graves at the side of the church porch. “Keep still, you little devil, or I’ll cut your throat!”

A fearful man, all in coarse grey, with a great iron on his leg. A man with no hat, and with broken shoes, and with an old rag tied round his head. A man who had been soaked in water, and smothered in mud, and lamed by stones, and cut by flints, and stung by nettles, and torn by briars; who limped, and shivered, and glared and growled; and whose teeth chattered in his head as he seized me by the chin.

“O! Don’t cut my throat, sir,” I pleaded in terror. “Pray don’t do it, sir.”

Butler called our attention to several techniques here, all of which have cinematic elements, and there are two particular points that stuck with me, involving the first and the third paragraphs.

Butler noted that the first paragraph serves as what in film is routinely called the establishment shot—setting the story in its initial setting. We start at a distance in a long shot then move in to the nettles of the churchyard and the headstones in arresting close-up, then look out across the landscape again, as though to put those deaths in perspective.

That perspective is not local. Dickens moves beyond the “low leaden line” of the river to : “the distant savage lair from which the wind was rushing … the sea.” A great many writers might leave that phrase out. Such an omission, he argued, would be a mistake, for the establishment shot doesn’t just lay out the scenery. This crucial phrase broadens not just the physical landscape but the thematic one, extending our view not just to the immediate environs but to the world at large, setting the stage for so much of the story to come, and hinting at its universality.

And then, with incredible boldness, Dickens snaps us back again to “the small bundle of shivers growing afraid of it all and beginning to cry,” the narrator himself, Pip. This movement in and out creates a marvelous sense of the larger savage world and the small scared soul that form the essential focus of the tale, and do it subtly with this implicit, cinematic movement in and out of the action.

Similarly, the third paragraph might readily find itself in many a writer’s Dead Darling file—another error. It’s not just the unnerving description of Magwitch we’d lose. Note the suspense that builds by separating “I’ll cut your throat” from “‘O! Don’t cut my throat, sir,’ I pleaded in terror.” Note also how that tension is created and how it builds. There are no independent verbs in the main clauses of any of the sentences, for the desired effect is one of attenuation—Pip staring in terror at the man emerging before him—and verbs in grammatical structure are the device for conveying movement in time. Omit them, and you’re standing stock still.

The next example was one with which more of the crowd was familiar, the first few paragraphs from the second chapter Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon:

A telephone-bell rang in darkness. When it had rung three times bed-springs creaked, fingers fumbled on wood, something small and hard thudded on a carpeted floor, the springs creaked again, and a man’s voice said:

“Hello?…Yes, speaking…Dead?…Yes…Fifteen minutes. Thanks.”

A switch clicked and a white bowl hung on three gilded chains from the ceiling’s center filled the room with light. Spade, barefooted in green and white checked pajamas, sat on the side of his bed. He scowled at the phone on the table while his hands took from beside it a packet of brown papers and a sack of Bull Durham tobacco.

Cold steamy air blew in through two open windows, bringing with it half a dozen times a minute the Alcatraz foghorn’s dull moaning. A tinny alarm-clock, insecurely mounted on a corner of Duke’s Celebrated Criminal Cases of America—face down on the table—held its hands at five minutes past two.

Spade’s thick fingers made a cigarette with deliberate care, sitting a measured quantity of tan flakes down into the curved paper, spreading the flakes so that they lay equal at the ends with a slight depression in the middle, thumbs rolling the paper’s inner edge down and up under the outer edge as forefingers pressed it over, thumbs and fingers sliding to the paper cylinder’s ends to hold it even while tongue licked the flap, left forefinger and thumb pinching their end while right forefinger and thumb smoothed the damp seam, right forefinger and thumb twisting their end and lifting the other to Spade’s mouth.

He picked up the pigskin and nickel lighter that had fallen to the floor, manipulated it, and with the cigarette burning in the corner of his mouth stood up. He took off his pajamas. The smooth thickness of his arms, legs, and body, the sag of his big rounded shoulders, made his body like a bear’s. It was like a shaved bear’s: his chest was hairless. His skin was childishly soft and pink.

He scratched the back of his neck and began to dress. He put on a white union-suit, grey socks, black garters, and dark brown shoes. When he had fastened his shoes he picked up the telephone, called Graystone 4500, and ordered a taxicab. He put on a green-striped white shirt, a soft white collar, a green necktie, the grey suit he had worn that day, a loose tweed overcoat, and a dark grey hat. The street-door-bell rang as he stuffed tobacco, keys, and money in his pockets.

As with the Dickens example, the main focus again resided on the creation of a series of mental images that form a vivid film-like sequence, visually clear in our minds, even including camera angles—the ceiling light shot from below, followed by the close up of the rolling of the cigarette, both mimicking Spade’s own focus.

But there’s more than that, too. Once again, suspense gets created through the use of detail an impatient writer might discard—or never visualize to begin with. Spade rolls himself a smoke right after learning his partner, Miles Archer, has been killed. We don’t know as yet for sure that the two o’clock phone call concerned Archer, and it’s not until later we’ll learn Spade was sleeping with Archer’s wife. Instead we get this enigmatic, slow-motion rolling of a cigarette. Its intrusion into the scene piques our interest, precisely because it doesn’t quite fit. It suggests without stating outright that Spade has something serious on his mind, and yet in the casualness of the activity we also sense no great alarm. There’s even a hint of relief.

Note: Interestingly, the day before, Lawrence Block had remarked that Hammett, sensing that his literary success might well depend on his novels being made into films, deliberately limited his descriptions to only what could be seen and heard. This wasn’t, as many have believed, a nod to Hemingwayesque technique. It was a professional calculation.

In the Q&A that followed his talk, Butler noted that as a teacher in the Ph.D. program at Florida State, he encounters some of the best aspirants to literary fame to emerge from the various MFA programs across the country. And all too often, “They know the second through tenth most important things about writing, but they don’t know the first.” The first, he explained, was that stories are about yearning.

He suggested that genre writers often understand this point well—if they sometimes have an insufficient grasp of the next nine most important things about their craft—because genre often has the yearning built into the premise of the form. Crime fiction is driven by the search for justice, romance novels by the craving for love, science fiction by the need to humanize technology, etc.

His talk burned a nasty little hole in my brain, and as soon as I could I got my hands on a copy of From Where You Dream and I’ve been devouring it ever since.

So, Murderateros — how does the cinema of the mind guide you in your writing? Do you take time to envision camera angles? Do you consider tempo in your descriptions? Do you play with quick alteration betweeen and long shots and close ups to create a dramatic effect between thematic or narrative extremes?

* * * * *

There were a great many other excellent presentations at Noircon, including but not limited to:

            —Well-deserved awards bestowed on Lawrence Block and Otto Penzler, with interviews of both men, giving Block a chance to, among other things, recount his days as a writer of lesbian romance novels, and Otto an opportunity to discuss how obscenely cheap real estate was when he bought his first store in Manhattan.

            —A panel on music with SJ Rozan and John Wesley Harding (who writes crime fiction under the pen name Wesley Stace), complete with songs.

            —A wickedly lurid, funny, and confessional true crime panel with Megan Abbott, Allison Gaylin, Wallace Stroby, and Dennis Tafoya.

            —A blackly comic panel of cautionary tales from Hollywood featuring Lawrence Block, Duane Swierczynski, Anthony Bruno, and Ed Pettit.

            —And last but not least, a panel on burlesque and noir, with Lulu Lollipop, Frank De Blasé, Timaree Schmit, and Susana Mayer.

As I said, I had a gas, and I fully intend to return in two years. Even without Lulu Lollipop.

* * * * *

Blatant Self-Promotion Segment: For all the month of November, Open Road Media/Mysterious Press is featuring 100 titles for less than $3.99, including The Devil’s Redhead at a nifty $2.99.

If you haven’t yet read it, pick it up. If you have, share it with a friend. (Or an enemy. I can live with that.)

* * * * *

Jukebox Hero of the Week: In tribute to John Wesley Harding, who so graciously regaled us with song, here’s “Ordinary Weekend,” which he wrote after reading Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me. (In his performance for us, he remarked somewhat sheepishly he should have practiced, and ended up forgetting several verses, only to offer some of the best advice I’ve ever heard: He said years of performance had made him utterly un-selfconscious about fucking up. Not that anyone cared. We were enthralled):


Nov 132012
How could NoirCon 2012 get any better after Friday’s panels and the awesome party at the Awards Ceremony? By having Wallace Stroby, Dennis Tafoya, Alison Gaylin, and Megan Abbott talk True Crime. Four of the best and smartest crime novelists out there today, gathered around a table, sharing their knowledge. They’re all such good conversationalists and so well-read in their subject, it was a joy and an education to listen to them speak.

“True Crime pulls the lid off the world,” Abbott said in her introduction. For True Crime Neophytes such as myself, the panelists were gracious enough to provide a True Crime Canon. I’ll put the panelist’s name in parentheses after the book.
The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer (Alison Gaylin)
Hollywood Babylon by Kenneth Anger (Alison Gaylin)
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (Megan Abbott)
Murder Machine by Gene Mustain and Jerry Capeci (Wallace Stroby)
My Dark Places by James Ellroy (Megan Abbott)*
People Who Eat Darkness: The Fate of Lucie Blackman by Richard Lloyd Parry (Megan Abbott)*
The Poet and the Murderer by Simon Worrall (Dennis Tafoya)
True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa by Michael Finkel (Dennis Tafoya)
Wiseguy by Nicholas Pileggi (Wallace Stroby)
*added in conversation after the panel ended

The Keynote Address was delivered by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Robert Olen Butler. His speech centered around the tools of narrative, and the shared language mechanics of literature and film. Comparing examples from Sam Peckinpah, Charles Dickens, Dashiell Hammett, The Bible (The Book of Judges), and The Matrix, Butler shows how the core concepts of slow-motion, establishing shots, visual movement, and montage are not just cinematic components, but the basic building blocks of storytelling. Butler concluded his address by expressing how “The intellectual electricity in this room is wonderful.” He was dead-on. One of the things that makes NoirCon so wonderful is that it isn’t just a writer’s conference, or a gathering of fans, or a reading series, or an academic conference — there’s a little bit of each of those, but they add up to something much greater. Passion and community, as much as creativity and scholarship, form the crux of NoirCon. Its relatively small size (about 100 people), and welcoming and supportive atmosphere, mean that everyone gets to meet each other, and there’s no pretensions to make anyone feel left out. It’s a remarkably open atmosphere, and a great place to meet people and have genuine conversations.

Next, Kenneth Wishnia, William Lashner, and Jay Gertzman took the stage to discuss Jewish Noir. Wishnia went all the way back to the Old Testament. Lashner read an excerpt from Kafka’s The Metamorphosis and discussed how that book, along with The Trial, could be seen as the forerunners to Noir. Gertzman discussed religious and spiritual tropes in Goodis’ fiction.

Before the next panel, Ed “Philly Poe Guy” Pettit and his world-class beard handed out some raffle prizes. Lulu Lollipop and Charles Benoit assisted. The money from the raffle will go to Project H.O.M.E., an organization that helps the homeless in Philadelphia.

After some great prizes went to their respective winners, NoirCon took a sensual turn: BURLESQUE NOIR. The panelists included photographer Frank De Blase; Dr. Susana Mayer, Ph.D., founder and host of the Erotic Literary Salon; Lulu Lollipop, a burlesque dancer and director with the Peek-A-Book Revue; and sexologist Timaree Schmit, Ph.D. 

The panelists discussed the art, craft, and history of burlesque and its relationship to changing social and sexual mores in the US. It was a surprise to learn that in the 1930s, burlesque was more liberal and less conservative than in the 1940s and 1950s. The four panelists had a blast on stage with each other, riffing off each other’s comments, weaving a provocative and enlightening discussion about sexual politics and history, and the artistic craft of burlesque. It’s interesting to think about the history of pulp and paperback fiction in regards to their discussion, and the changing presentation of sexuality and the evolution of language and written images. Frank De Blase even read a passage from one of Richard Prather’s Gold Medal novels. 

After the panel, Ed’s duties as co-Master of Ceremonies compelled him to pose with two of the Burlesque panelists. All in the name of duty.

Concluding Saturday’s panels was an event that soon become the stuff of legend and lore: a conversation between Duane Swierczynski and Lawrence Block. Not only are they both phenomenal novelists, but they’re also damned funny. I’ve never heard so much laughter at NoirCon — Block’s droll delivery and Duane’s improvisational quips are well known, but when combined the effect is simply awesome. They build off each other, instinctively setting up punch lines for the other to execute. Seriously, if they want to take this act on the road, I think Block and Swierczynski have a second career in comedy in the works.

But the dynamic duo did more than just make us laugh — they delivered an impressive and insightful interview about one of crime fiction’s most distinguished careers. As Otto Penzler pointed out in the Q and A, what was so unique about the conversation is that the obvious subjects of Matthew Scudder and Bernie Rhodenbarr weren’t mentioned at all. Instead, Duane grilled Block about his early days as a reader for Scott Meredith, his early books for Gold Medal, as well as his many sleaze novels under pseudonyms for Beacon, Nightstand, Midwood, and others. When I asked about the editorial processes for those paperback houses, Block told me that at Midwood and Nightstand there were almost no edits because they hired writers who didn’t need it. At Beacon, however, the editor there was under the assumption that everything needed editing … lots of editing. Even if it didn’t. He had a team of editors whose job it was to edit and re-write and change things, often needlessly. Block recalled one novel where all of his compound sentences were split in two. The editors made the edits because, if they didn’t, they would have been out of a job.

When asked by Otto Penzler to select his favorites among his own books, Block chose When the Sacred Gin Mill Closes and Small Town.

During the Q&A, Wallace Stroby asked Block, “Can writing be taught?” Block responded, “I don’t suppose so. What an instructor can do is create an environment in which a writer can teach himself.” Good advice, indeed.
That brought Saturday to a close … the panels, at least. That night, we gathered at the 10th floor bar of the Hilton Garden Inn and talked until Sunday morning came around. I went home a little after midnight because, at that time, I turn into a pumpkin. Pumpkins need rest. Plus, there were still two more panels on Sunday morning, and more raffle prizes!
Stay tuned for more on NoirCon 2012.

NoirCon 2012: Awards Ceremony

 Lou Boxer, NoirCon, NoirCon 2012  Comments Off on NoirCon 2012: Awards Ceremony
Nov 122012
Friday night was the NoirCon 2012 Awards Ceremony at Penns Landing Caterers!
DJ Mobita spun rare soul 45s throughout the night, while we were blessed with a fabulous open bar and tons of amazing food. 
I didn’t really eat much on Thursday because, well, I was either on the road or too busy having fun running around with Lou Boxer to think about eating. Friday was also busy, but I decided to catch up on lost calories that night. Roast beef au poivre, turkey and gravy, ziti, caesar salad, roasted vegetables, bread, cranberry sauce, ice-cream with caramel and bananas, washed down with — best of all — BLACK FRIDAY BREW, a NoirCon special. Jeff Wong designed the awesome art work, and I was honored to be asked to write the text for the back.

“Five thousand years ago, Mayan prophets foretold that the Fourth World would come to an end after the 13th b’ak’tun. The First World ended with a rain of fire; the Second with the sinking of Atlantis; the Third with alien invasion. Our doomsday will be December 21, 2012. Who knows what wrath will end the Fourth World? In the meantime, retreat from almost certain oblivion with this Black Friday Brew. Deep and soulful, tinged with bitterness, despair, and a hint of life’s sweetness, Black Friday Brew is the perfect companion down the street of no return. Guaranteed to help you find the moon in the gutter.”

The evening concluded with an impressive and exhilarating one-man performance of Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Grover Silcox. On stage with nothing but a single chair for a prop, he brought to life Poe’s chilling classic with a murderous intensity.
Anyone who has been to NoirCon can attest to the fact that nobody throws a party like Lou Boxer. I could go on about chatting with Charles Kelly, Mike White, Oren Shai, Wallace Stroby, Jared Case, William Lashner, Eric Rice, Ed Pettit, Nik Korpon, Jonathan Woods, and so many others all night. But — I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

Nov 122012

Friday morning when I arrived at the Society Hill Playhouse, I found the backroom abuzz with this year’s participants. A nice-sized crowd that filled the room without feeling overcrowded. There was enough room to take a look at Farley’s or Port Richmond’s books without having to resort to murder.

First up was Heide Hatry and “The Art of Noir.” She showed slides of her body of work, including many of the performances shown on the opening night for participants who weren’t able to make it out. Lots of blood and pig skin in the name of provocative, political performance art. Heide imparted a few important noir lessons from her career. First, don’t leave dead animals in your luggage when traveling — the authorities always take them away. Your backpack is much safer. And second, if you live in a shared apartment building, don’t leave dead animals in the communal freezer in the basement if you don’t want the cops to show up thinking they’ve located a serial killer.
Next, I humbly took the stage to moderate a conversation between S.J. Rozan and Wesley Stace (aka John Wesley Harding) called “Career in C Minor.” Stace’s most recent book is a classical music-themed mystery called Charles Jessold, Considered as a Murderer — it’s a terrific book, just imagine Thomas Mann’s Doctor Faustus with a little more murder. Rozan’s latest is Ghost Hero, the 11th in her Lydia Chin / Bill Smith private eye series, another stellar NYC novel fueled by an art-related murder that goes back to the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Stace and Rozan discussed their respective backgrounds in music and architecture and its affect on their subsequent work as novelists. Stace also graced us by singing two songs.
“Good Country People: Deranged Preachers, Crazed Cops and Other N’er Do Wells of Southern Noir” followed. Jonathan Woods, Vicki Hendricks, Jake Hinkson, Joe Samuel Starnes, and Peter Farris discussed a wealth of Southern Noir writers whom they admired. These are just a few of the topics. Jonathan Woods presented on how obsession and “mad, first person narrators” links Poe with Jim Thompson. Joe Samuel Starnes discussed the noir side of Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom. Jake Hinkson talked about religion, noir, and The Night of the Hunter and Flannery O’Connor. And Vicki Hendricks spoke about Harry Crews and his advice to young writers that that “If you can be discouraged, you should be discouraged.”

After lunch, Lawrence Block, Anthony Bruno, Ed Pettit and Duane Swierczynski took the stage for “The Movie Was Better,” a discussion about which films have influenced these writers. Anthony cited Chester Himes’ Cotton Comes to Harlem. Duane mentioned that seeing Faces of Death at age 9 had a profound affect on him and was, perhaps, one of the reasons why he turned in decapitation stories while attending Catholic grade school. Some of the nuns loved it, he mentioned, but some of them were terrified. “Nuns are my target audience still,” Duane joked — or maybe he was serious? Block mentioned that the anthology television shows of the 1950s “taught me something about dramatic instruction.” He mentioned one particular episode whose program title he can’t remember — it was about a group of people plotting an assassination. At first, you are rooting for them, but at the end it is revealed that it was Lincoln’s assassination they were planning, which makes you re-think everything you previously felt. “Your sympathies were inverted in a wonderfully tricky fashion,” said Block. The mysterious nature of the show continues to intrigue Block, but not in the same way that it used to. “The fact that it has disappeared from the public consciousness has tempted me to write it.” Here’s hoping he does.

Duane recalled working with Brett Simon on an adaptation of his novel Severance Package. In a reversal of the cliche, this time it was Duane who wanted to make a lot of changes to his novel and Simon who wanted to be more faithful to the source material. Sadly, the studio’s initial enthusiasm mysteriously disappeared and the project fell through. Sigh … well, I still have my fingers crossed the movie will see the light of the projector soon, as I’d love to see that. Block also mentioned that Hammett’s style increasingly moved towards “prose screenplays” because he realized that movies were the future of his income as a writer. Block also shared this wisdom that too many filmmakers and screenwriters don’t realize: “When you have good actors, you don’t have to have the words do all the work.”
Robert Polito and Joan Schenkar, two of Noir’s finest and most original scholars, shared some of their great findings. Polito recontextualized Maya Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon as a Noir film, and Joan enlightened us with maps of Patricia Highsmith’s literary murders and real-life lovers — it’s chilling how they line up when compared!
“Noir is the spider that sits on top of the world,” said Schenkar — that’s one of the best definitions of Noir I’ve heard.

Author and former Private Eye Writers of America president Jeremiah Healy interviewed Otto Penzler, winner of the Jay and Deen Kogan Award for Literary Excellence. Their conversation covered the beginnings of Penzler’s career, from his small apartment in the Bronx in the 1970s when he was a one-man operation, writing receipts, fulfilling orders, editing manuscripts, and shipping the first Mysterious Press books. When Penzler began his limited edition, cloth-bound, signed editions, it was groundbreaking for the mystery field. Of course “literature” and “poetry” had been treated so ceremoniously before, but never crime fiction. Since then, Penzler has continued to give crime writers, and readers, the respect they deserve, both through his Mysterious Press and Bookshop.

The Bookshop is a miracle that couldn’t happen today. With only $2050 in his bank account, Penzler found a partner to buy a building behind Carnegie Hall for $177,000. Penzler’s contribution to the down payment was $2000 — the other $50 he kept to celebrate. His idea was that the first floor would be all paperbacks, the upstairs all hardcovers. All the publishers told him that readers didn’t buy mysteries in expensive hardcover edition. History proved Penzler right, and his good judgement has kept him at the front of the field for many decades since.

The conversation was truly great, and I could have listened all day and night to Healy and Penzler. Among my favorite parts were when Penzler gave his list of favorite books. Here’s what he listed:

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White
Raymond Chandler
4/5s of Hammett (“The Dain Curse is silly.”)
Fredric Brown (“The Night of the Jabberwock is so fascinating … a tour de force.”)
Ira Levin’s A Kiss Before Dying
Lawrence Block’s Matthew Scudder series
Michael Connelly
Rober Crais (“Consistently wonderful.”)
Lee Child
Dennis Lehane
James Crumley’s The Last Good Kiss (“The best Hardboiled novel.”)
Charles McCarry (“The best American Espionage writer.”)
“I love too much,” Penzler said. “I could go on all day.”

As Penzler’s list shows, he’s a man of great taste, and his publishing record is astonishing. I’m happy he won the award and very pleased that he was able to come out to NoirCon to speak.

And now, some candid shots of the NoirCon crowd from throughout the day.

Do Writers’ Conventions Still Matter?

 bouchercon, Frank Wheeler, NoirCon, Steve Weddle  Comments Off on Do Writers’ Conventions Still Matter?
May 012012

By Steve Weddle

A couple of years ago I went to a conference. I wrote about it here. Great fun.

But pricey.

Of course there was the $43 to get the urine out of Dave White’s pants (totally my fault, but still).

And the hotel room that was around $200 a night. It’s one of those where they tell you it’s $120 conference rate or whatever but then there’s tax and a separate room tax and then a separate room-with-a-door tax. I mean, it was Philly, so it wasn’t like DC with its extra $87 for-the-hell-of-it tax, but it wasn’t cheap.

And the conference registration fee, which was worth every penny.

I mean, you start adding up NoirCon and Bouchercon and Left Coast Crime and Murder in Muskego and one in Canada and one in Florida and Malice Domestic. You could go broke.

So maybe you have to choose. Or maybe you go to all of them and use your $150,000 advance to pay for hotels and bacontinis. I dunno.

I guess what I’m wondering is what many folks have asked me via email and in person.

Are you going? Why? Why not?

I guess it’s become popular these past few years to say that people won’t attend conferences because they can meet in the Gopher Chat Rooms and on MySpace, or whatever the kids are into now. You can twitter away all day chatting with people. You don’t have to wait in line at a signing table to meet authors. You can shoot them a message online. Email them. MyFace chat. You can connect for free, without having to battle the “Bring Out Your Dead” piles of flesh at the Atlanta airport or $12 hotel bar bourbon.

Then you’ve got the folks who say that nothing beats hanging out in person and getting to know people.

But, as a man with fiscal responsibilities, I have to look at the ROI of something like a convention or conference.

I wouldn’t give back my trip to NoirCon. Met some nice people there, as well as a couple of complete assholes.

So my thinking is that conventions and conferences are most certainly worth the time and the money — if you choose what works best for you. For example, I doubt there’s much overlap between NoirCon and Malice Domestic.

What do you get out of conferences that you don’t get out of chatting online and emailing and MyFacing?

Do you have a favorite conference? One you’ll never again attend? One you’ll never miss? One you wish existed?


Speaking of authors I’ll probably never meet — Frank Wheeler, Jr has a new book out. Right now. Like now, folks. It’s called THE WOWZER.

In the Arkansas Ozarks, old-timers spin tales of the Wowzer, a giant panther-like creature that decapitates those who wander too far into the woods. County sheriff’s deputy Jerry was raised on Wowzer stories, but they aren’t enough to stop him from carrying out his own business in the remote hills. Jerry’s more than a sheriff’s deputy; he moonlights as muscle for local drug traffickers, who sometimes need people to get hurt—or get dead. 

Fortunately, Jerry’s pretty good at his job. And since Tom Haskell runs the sheriff’s office and the drug-protection racket, Jerry doesn’t see much of a moral dilemma. That is, until he starts thinking about getting out of the trade, and then things get complicated fast. For starters, Jerry’s girl Maggie flees the state after learning about a disturbing diagnosis tucked inside Jerry’s psych report. 

And now Sheriff Haskell is dragging his feet paying Jerry his cut of the drug money. Is Haskell just reluctant to lose his top muscle? Or is he plotting to take out the man who knows his dirtiest secrets? Fans of hardboiled, “country noir” fiction will love gnashing on Frank Wheeler’s violent and darkly comic debut, sneaking a glimpse into the mind of a killer whose inner monster is about to be unleashed. 

Because I love you all, I will send to one of our commenting people an electronic version of this book. So, to the comments, folks.

NoirCon 2012 — Will You Be There?

 Lou Boxer, NoirCon  Comments Off on NoirCon 2012 — Will You Be There?
Feb 252012
NoirCon 2012 is this coming November. Pulp Serenade will be there. If you love all things Noir, you should strongly consider attending. Without exaggeration, I can say that NoirCon 2010 was one of the best trips I’ve ever made. There I met in person a number of people I had been corresponding with online, and made a number of new friends that I still keep in regular touch with. The setting is small and intimate, so everyone is able to interact with each other and get involved. You might just wind up using the urinal next to your favorite author, chatting about the previous panel — hey, it happened to me!


What: NoirCon 2012: An extraordinary convention specializing in the noir genre in books, film, etc.

When: November 8th, 9th, 10th & 11th

Where: Society Hill Playhouse, 507 South 8thStreet, Philadelphia, PA 19107

Society Hill Playhouse will once again host the literary convention, NOIRCON 2012, in November 2012. Distinguished guest include David L. Goodis Recipient, Lawrence Block; Jay and Deen Kogan Award Recipient for Literary Excellence, Otto Penzler; and Keynote speaker, Robert Olen Butler.

The official NoirCon 2012 hotel is The Hilton Garden Inn located at 1100 Arch Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107, 215-923-0100 or Room rate is $115/night. Mention NoirCon at the time of your reservation.

Registration fee is $250. The registration form can be found at or at Attendance is limited to 200 participants.

For more information or questions please call 215-923-0210 or emai


Deen Kogan
Lou Boxer