Saturday, September 21
9:00 (That’s right, nine in the morning) Big Man on Mulberry Street: Creating the perfect villain
This panel hit the ground running. None were of the “criminal mastermind/serial killer” school of villainy. Steve Hamilton called out Mags Bennett from Season 2 of Justified as the perfect villain. She poisons a man for talking to the police, then adopts his daughter, going so far as to side against her own sons to protect the girl.
Noteworthy comments came too fast for my note taking skills to keep up. Among the more memorable ideas expressed:
Every villain is the hero of his own story.
The panel’s consensus, first expressed by moderator Barbara Fister, is that the serial killer/dogged detective genre may have run its course. A lot of people are sick to death of them. (Me, for one.)
Joe Lansdale pointed out that villains are not made notable because they have an eye patch or a wooden leg, but by how they feel about having an eye patch or a wooden leg. Two books he recommends: They Don’t Dance Much, by James Ross; You Play the Black and the Red Comes Up, by Richard Hallas. (One of the great titles of all time.)
John McFetridge said most criminals understand they’re breaking the law, but they think of laws as being temporary. He noted the now-respectable fortunes made by Canadian alcoholic companies smuggling whisky and beer into the United States during Prohibition.
John also has a great idea to get all the James Bond villains together to write a book about how to succeed in nefarious enterprises. Rule Number One: Don’t tell Bond your plan.
10:20 You May Be Right: Law enforcement and crime fiction—serve, protect, and entertain
Moderator Colin Campbell ran the session as a mock interrogation and his panel was up to the task. He began by asking if anyone was faint of heart, upset by graphic descriptions, or offended by foul language, then told them they could fuck off right now.
Former New York detective Robert Knightley gave it to us straight:
· Cops are evaluated by how quickly they can get a confession. Means and method are secondary.
· In New York, they don’t bring in the video camera until everything has been agreed upon; they’re taping a performance, not an interrogation. The real work was done off camera. He’d been involved in interrogations that ran in shifts, going on so long one set of cops goes home for some sleep and their replacements are still at it when the original cops return.
· CSI evidence is nice, but it works best with a confession.
Something too many writers get wrong: suspects do not have to be read their Miranda warning upon arrest. It’s only when the police are about to ask questions. Patrol officers are sometimes told never to Mirandize suspects; leave that for the detectives, who may try to dance around it.
Tim O’Mara, the only non-cop on the panel—he does have cops in th family—had several entertaining tales of how life as a New York schoolteacher isn’t always mush differen from life as a cop, though his solutions to the resulting incidents were much different. And entertaining.
Connie Dial said she was rarely cursed at by a criminal without receiving an unsolicited apology.
The writers’ most frustrating inaccuracies in books and scripts:
· Calling for an ambulance instead of the medical examiner for an obviously dead body.
· Detectives working alone in situations where they clearly would not.
· Cops saying they’re “on the job.” Cops only say that when they’re pulled over for speeding.
· Unlike in Law & Order, people do not continue what they’re doing when police question them.
When asked by an audience member what police do when they find a false confession, Knightley replied there are no false confessions from their point of view. Once the guy confesses, they’re done with him; the case is closed. He also strongly recommended Ken Burns’s latest documentary, The Central Park Five, about the 1989 case of the Central Park jogger who was raped and murdered in an alleged “wilding” incident.
12:30 Famous Last Words: Writing multiple series/ending a series
Max Allan Collins began with the final word on when to definitively end a series: the publisher doesn’t want any more. Collins spoke of continuing and ending Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer series, at the behest of Hammer, with whom he worked closely late in Spillane’s life. (I was shocked to learn Spillane wrote only thirteen Mike Hammer novels; Collins has completed six more that Spillane had begun, thus completing the series.)
As might be expected, there was discussion about continuing a series someone else had started. Collins didn’t feel that was what he had done with Spillane, as Spillane had started all of the books Collins completed. He also didn’t see anything wrong with writers picking up where dead authors left off.
Reed Farrel Coleman is finishing his Moe Prager series, but also went back to write a Moe prequel. His money quote in setting stories in the past—in his case the late 60s—was not to take the easy way out and give everyone long hair, tie-dyed shirts, and bell bottoms. The great majority of people in every time period—well over 90%--get up every morning and go to work.
Laurie King named Josephine Tey as her most influential writer prior to 1995. I’ve been tripping over Tey references since I read Books to Die For; I need to track her down. (Congratulations to good friend Declan Burke and John Connolly for winning an Anthony for BTDF.)
2:30 Noir at the Bar
Well, sort of. Eric Beetner hosted a speed dating version of the popular series, giving each author one minute to read enough of his or her work to make the audience want to read more. All succeeded, though few so well as Les Edgerton with his fifteen-second poem. There was plenty of talent in the room to hold a crowd without the book giveaways, but giving away books is always a cool thing. A little hurried, but a rousing success, even though high winds caused the cancellation of the much-anticipated human sacrifices.
3:30 Terrence McCauley (with guest game show host Todd “Big Daddy Thug” Robinson)
Terrence picked up where Noir at the Bar left off, literally, re-convening half an hour later to continue the readings. This time was more of a slam, with anyone who had something to read encouraged to do so. Todd Robinson broke things up by awarding free books to anyone who could correctly answer Thuglit trivia questions. The talent level was considerable here—both for writing and trivia—and my copy of Todd’s short story collection, Dirty Words, will remind me we’ll always have Albany. (My correct answer: What was the UK title of Stuart Neville’s Ghosts of Belfast? The Twelve.}
Enormous thanks are due to Terrence McCauley for enticing most of his hard-earned crowd to stay for what had potential to be a drone-a-thon, a one-sided “discussion” of the modern relevance of Raymond Chandler’s ideal hero. The time and attention devoted by the audience are much appreciated.
Dinner: The Beloved Spouse returned from a family visit to make a good weekend even better, accompanying John McFetridge, Rick Ollerman, Jacques Filippi, and myself to The Hollow, where I had a bacon cheeseburger with egg yet again, though this time the egg was over easy. As was I, by that time.