The Beloved Spouse™ has commented more than once over the years about how little I drink, so it seemed only right when I got back to the room a little after 1:30 Saturday morning to shake her awake and say, “You’re always saying you’ve never seen me drunk. Here’s your chance.” As might be expected, Friday’s night at the bar placed the 8:30 Saturday panels in irretrievable jeopardy.
Saturday October 14
10:00 Anthony Best Novel Nominees
Given this year’s nominees, a good time was guaranteed, especially with Hank Phillippi Ryan as moderator. No one disappointed. The highlights:
Reed Farrel Coleman plays the movie of his book in his head then describes enough for the reader to create his own.
Louise Penny didn’t think her first book would be published, so all her decisions were made to please herself. (Maybe this is why I don’t care for most best sellers: The decisions are too obviously made to please the greatest number of people, of which I am not one.)
Laura Lippman understands she’s not going to write anything “new,” but sees her job as engaging the reader who’s “read it all.” Plot is not enough. She’s always a little embarrassed when people flatter her, doesn’t feel she’s deserving. She’s always struck by the fact they gave her their time to read the book.
Laura Lippman: She can’t write a better Mystic River than Mystic River, but there are other things she can do very well.
When Hank asked all the panelists what they’re working on now, Louise Penny noted she’s busy promoting next year’s Anthony Award winner, which came out last month. (Actually I said that, not Louise. I do have to wonder if it’s time to rename the best novel award in Louise’s honor and retire her from the pool. Give someone else a chance.)
12:40 20 on the 20s: Joe Clifford (That’s right. A panel at 10 and the next at 12:40. So I ate lunch and did a little shopping. Sue me.)
There are few more fascinating people than Joe Clifford. Promoting his newest Jay Porter novel, he also let slip plans for a book of the things his seven-year-old son Holden says. Having followed Holden on Facebook since he was born (all right, technically I’m friends with Joe, but Holden’s way more fun), this book promises to be far more entertaining than Shit my Dad Says.
In discussing Jay and the inspiration for the novels, Joe uttered what might have been the best bon mot of the conference: Teen angst is what happens when you realize the things your parents taught you when they were your only source of information are untrue.
1:00 Confined Crimes: Small town settings – the advantages and limitations of using a smaller stage for crimes.
With my Penns River series set in a small town, this is always a destination panel for me. (Also a soft spot in my heart, as a small town discussion in Cleveland broke my Bouchercon panel cherry.) Lynn Cahoon made sure I wasn’t disappointed, leading a sterling cast through a wide-ranging discussion.
Small town settings appeal to Lori Roy because you can’t escape your past in a small town.
Eryk Pruitt: You’ll never get better samples of small town dialog than at the local BBQ shop.
Lori Roy: Outsiders’ eyes can change everything. Bringing an outsider as the editor of the Boston Globe was what made the Spotlight story possible.
(Note to future panelists: when you say something like, “I write character-driven fiction,” it can’t help but sound like you’re saying your peers on the panel are hacks who write cartoon characters.)
Eryk Pruitt talked about the feeling of isolation in small towns. Spoke of taking a break from work and seeing the grain elevator and water tower are the town’s perpetual skyline, and how the banal and gossipy conversations never change, except for the names. While everyone in town is close, they can feel isolated from the rest of the world and end up thinking, “Is this all there is for me?”
Karin Salvalaggio learned while researching a book that residents of Bozeman MT often left their doors unlocked. This sometimes became an issue when college students, walking home drunk, got tired and let themselves in to crash on strangers’ couches. (She’d done so well on the liars’ panel the other day I had to ask her if this story was bullshit.)
4:00 The Blue Detectives: Police procedurals
Another typical destination panel for me. The Penns River books are primarily procedurals, and I scored a procedural panel in Raleigh. Caro Ramsey kept things moving and fun with great rapport with her panel, especially Jeffrey Siger. Caro’s smart and funny, but with her Scots accent she almost needs subtitles at times.
Andrew Case: “A falling knife has no handle. Never try to catch it.” Used in real estate and stocks when people try to time the bottom of a market.
Caro Ramsey: Scottish police are unarmed except for batons and sarcasm. They’re taught to engage in a non-threatening manner. She admits it works because they’re pretty sure they’re dealing with a suspect who does not himself have a gun.
Jeffrey Siger’s pet peeve with police stories is some writers’ need to wrap up every little detail.
Andrew Case’s is when a non-cop breaks a bunch of rules to solve a case and never faces any consequences because he was successful.
Jeffrey Siger: You act differently when you carry a gun. (Not said as a good or bad thing or as a political statement. Just an explanation why he doesn’t wear one even though he’s qualified and has a permit.)
5:30 Noir is the Beat-Up Black: You are compelled like a victim to a dark alley to attend this panel, even knowing it can only end…
Noir has achieved the status of pornography in the writing world: No one can define it, but everyone knows what it is when they see it. (I’ll have more to say on that in a few weeks.) Rob Brunet’s panel did yeoman’s work describing their own definitions, begun by Rob quoting Gary Phillips: Noir is a doomed character on a doomed path.
Christopher Brookmyer: The level of violence that must appear onscreen should be tied to what you need to show about the character.
Christopher Brookmyer: Film can show what violence looks like but only books can describe what it feels like.
Saturday evening was spent on a fun dinner and drink (just one, thank you very much) with John McFetridge and his lovely wife Laurie Reid; Seana Graham, Peter Rozovsky, Dave McKee, and a gentleman whose name I apologize for not remembering. (John, if you have it, please comment.) An early panel I wanted to see the next day would be followed by lots of driving, so one drink was it for me.
Sunday, October 15
8:30 The Bodies Politic: Political mysteries and how politics can lead to murder
Political thrillers aren’t usually my cup of tea, but moderator Robin Spano and panelist Nik Korpon are friends and I hate to blow off a day of any conference (I paid for the whole thing, damn it), so I went. Good move. Robin nailed her first panel as moderator and Nik was as good as expected. Other highlights:
Tom Rosenstiel: It’s acceptable in Washington to lie to a microphone but not face-to-face to a colleague.
Tom Rosenstiel: Definition of an English spy thriller: Suddenly, nothing happened.
Tom Rosenstiel: The political center in Washington meets privately and informally because to appear publicly as anything other than pure invites a primary challenge.
Mark Greaney: Reading David McCullouch’s book on John Adams shows what we’re going through now is nothing new.
Cheryl L. Reed: Other countries—such as Ukraine—have already dealt with their fake news crises. We just have to figure ours out.
And so we were done. Next time I’ll talk a little about the peripheral entertainment that made the week such a rousing success, followed by a comparison of border agents of various countries, namely Canada and the United States.