Saturday, November 6, 2010

NoirCon Day 2

NoirCon Day 2 got off to an auspicious start when I bumped into Reed Farrel Coleman and S.J. Rozan trying to make sense of Google Maps' confusing directions on the street. Somehow between all of us, we did make it there on time for the opening panel, "Pornography in Noir Fiction," which included Reed, as well as Jay Gertzman and Christa Faust. Reed, always with a sense of humor, offered an alternate title for the panel: "Hegelian Motifs in Cat Cozies." The conversation had as much to do with the shape-shifting definitions of both "noir" and "pornography" as it did the function of such labels. Christa made a good point about the necessity of sex scenes in literature to show the uniqueness of characters, and that by cutting to the conventional "blowing curtains" (as she called it), or by overly dramatizing or idealizing the moment, a writer loses a great opportunity to show how a character can react both physically and emotionally.

Christa Faust and Reed Farrel Coleman

Up next was the Philadelphia Noir panel, centered on the newly published anthology by Akashic Press. Wrtiers Meredith Anthony, Dennis Tafoya, Jim Zervanos, and Duane Swierczynski, and editor Carlin Romano, were in attendance. The panel hammered home the importance of how intimate knowledge of locations and site-specific research can not only enhance a story, but offer new avenues for plot and character.

Meredith Anthony, Jim Zervanos, Duane Swierczynski, Carlin Romano

The third panel of the day was a conversation with Johnny Temple, publisher of Akashic Books and recipient of the Jay and Deen Kogan Award for Excellence in Publishing, and Tim McLoughlin (editor of Brooklyn Noir). It was exciting to learn that Temple was a member of the punk rock band Girls Against Boys -- as a musician, I always appreciate seeing overlaps between two of my biggest areas of interest. The thing that Johnny said that stayed with me most was that his main goal with Akashic was to "normalize diversity" by publishing under-represented writers, minorities, and even genres, and by not limiting them to niche markets or labels. Everything they publish they treat as literature with the utmost respect.

Tim McLoughlin and Johnny Temple

It was my great honor to host a conversation with the great William Heffernan for the International Association of Crime Writers luncheon. Heffernan spoke of the real-life story that inspired his latest novel (and one of his best), The Dead Detective: it was a news story he heard about a mother who one day decided to leave her car running and murder her two children, and then headed to church. One survived, the other didn't. Heffernan then fictionalized the story by asking, "What if the surviving son became a police officer and had to deal with another case that involved abuse against children, how would he handle it?"

William Heffernan and myself

Heffernan also talked about his career in writing, which began as a journalist for several different newspapers in New York and New Jersey. It was an economic necessity, but it was also a crucial training ground, as his assignments brought him close to the crime and corruption that would be at the core of so many of his novels. It also brought him close to danger: while looking into the supposed accidental death of someone, Heffernan was shot at by someone who didn't want the death investigated or questioned. He also spoke of his contacts with the police department, who could give him first-hand insight into the life and career of Johnny Broderick, who was the focus of his first novel Broderick, and how because the statute of limitations had passed, they could reveal the famed NY police officer's corruption and violence.

Stylistically, Heffernan explained his preference of switching between multiple points of views (often including the killer's perspective, even when we as readers don't know their real identity). For him, the attraction of mystery fiction is that level of insecurity, of realizing just how vulnerable we really are, of opening up to the dangers that could be present at any moment.

After my conversation with Heffernan, Laura Lippman took the stage with George Pelecanos, recipient of the David L. Goodis Award. Pelecanos gave a great, one-sentence definition of noir: "There's no way out." Laura had a great, comical quote about Pelecanos' work: "Sane, well people don't write the books you write." Pelecanos later explained that, "It is all right to wake up in the gutter once in a while, but when you are 50 and you wake up int he gutter it isn't fun any more." Regarding his latest book, The Way Home, Pelecanos explained, "There is nothing more noir than a kid born in the wrong place."

Laura Lippman and George Pelecanos

The Dark Passage: Noir Poetry panel opened up with Ed Pettit reading Joseph Moncure March, as well as a poem solely comprised of David Goodis titles. Robert Polito, author of Savage Art about Jim Thompson, read several selections from his book Hollywood and God as well as poems by Kenneth Fearing, author of The Big Clock. What stayed with me most from Polito was his point that noir fiction has a complex mainstream tradition: it is at once on the fringes, and populated by characters also on the fringes, but at the same time these stories not only get to the heart of American society, but they are also part of mainstream literature. In the case of Goodis he was writing widely-distributed paperback novels, while someone like George Pelecanos is writing a hit TV show The Wire and reaching broad audiences with his novels.

Robert Polito and Ed Pettit

The Writers on Noir panel included Vicki Hendricks, Reed Farrel Coleman, William Heffernan, Seth Harwood, and Cameron Ashely. Something Heffernan said stayed with me: "The only time I outline is if a publisher requests one. Then I throw it way. There is a certain moment when characters begin to take over a book. If they don't, then I'm in trouble..."

William Heffernan, Vicki Hendricks, Reed Farrel Coleman

At the Awards Ceremony, Temple said many kind words about David Thompson of Busted Flush Press, who tragically died all too young last month. Pelecanos ended his speech by saying that that, "I'm very proud to be a crime writer and one of y'all."

Johnny Temple and Lou Boxer

The NoirCon 2010 Awards


  1. Firstly, really enjoying these posts, sir – please do keep them coming.

    Secondly, your hairs pretty long! Do they not have barbers in Noirland? :)

  2. The money that could go towards a haircut was better spent on some books. At least that I how I rationalize it.

  3. Cullen, you are both a gentleman and a scholar. Fair and balanced reporting in the darkest of times.

  4. Cullen--keep your hair as long as you choose to...take it from someone with not much left, and not so very old.

    As a peripheral DC punk-rock guy back in the late '80s and early '90s, I knew about the GVSB connection to surprise that the more literary punks tend to be drawn, at least in part, to noir and the noirish. Thanks for this rundown, for a day I missed entirely...

  5. Some nice shots here!
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

  6. Thank you for the excellent reportage and photos. I so wanted to attend, and this has been the next best thing. Just wanted you to know how much it is appreciated!


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