Friday, October 25, 2019

The Annual Pre-Bouchercon Post

(What follows is a lightly edited post from March of 2017 when the Anthony Award nominations went out and I got to thinking about Bouchercon. With this year’s conference on the rapidly approaching horizon I realized I don’t have anything more profound to say about the conference this year, but not everyone has read this, so here you go.)

Readers are, by and large, introverts. By definition, introverts expend energy around other people and recharge when alone. That doesn’t mean introverts don’t like other people, though we may be somewhat more discerning than extroverts when it comes to who we choose to be around. It’s not that we don’t like spending time around people who share an interest, but we’d have to leave the house to meet them and that cuts into our reading time.*

Bouchercon is the perfect place for such a person. True, it’s close to two thousand people in relatively confined quarters, but it’s not just that. It’s hundreds of people who are geeked up about the same thing you are, and are often hungry for others to talk to about it. Even better, it’s not just the thousand-plus like-minded readers you’ll see: you’ll also be tripping over the people who write the books you’re so revved up about. What could be better?

They’re glad to see you, too. I’ve been to eight Bouchercons in the ten years since I discovered them. I’ve made friends there, cemented acquaintances with people I came to know online, and have created enough of a footprint myself that some people actually recognize me. I have never once been treated other than civilly, and far more often than not people have gone out of their way to be friendly.**

It can be an expense, but it’s a bargain compared to many other conferences. The conference fee itself is always reasonable and I’m constantly surprised when I see the room rate the committee gets at the host hotel. The only complaint I’ve had is the hotels rarely appreciate how much readers and writers drink and fail to put enough additional staff on the bar. Doesn’t mean I don’t socialize; I just don’t drink as much. The hotel’s loss is my liver’s gain.

So, dear readers, if you’re curious to see what over a thousand readers and several hundred crime fiction writers look like in the wild, there’s no better place to find out than Bouchercon.

* -- The Sole Heir™ was pre-teen when my tenure at Castle Voldemort ended and I was the classic single divorced father again. We used to have this conversation fairly often:

TSH: Do you ever go out?
Me: Not much.
TSH: Why not?
Me: If I go out I’m going to see a lot of people I don’t know.
TSH: What’s wrong with that?
Me: I hate people I don’t know.
After a year or so she came up with the next logical question.
TSH: Why do you hate people you don’t know?
Me: It saves time.

** -- My favorite Bouchercon story. Baltimore, 2008. My virgin appearance. Standing on the walkway between hotels with Peter Rozovsky, one of about three people I actually knew then. He asked was I having a good time.

Me: Sort of.
PR: What’s wrong?
Me: I don’t really know anyone here. (See above statement about people I don’t know.)
PR: (Looks around) Do you know Scott Phillips?
Me: I know who he is….
PR: (Waving) Scott! Come here a second! (Scott Phillips comes over.) Scott, this is Dana King. Dana, this is Scott Phillips. He wrote The Ice Harvest. (Peter does not know I am head over heels for The Ice Harvest.)
SP: (Extends hand) Hi, Dana.
(We chat for five minutes and Scott has to go to a panel.)
PR: See? Now you know Scott Phillips.

One year later. Indianapolis. I’m on the periphery of the crowd at the bar looking for anyone I know. I see Scott with a group of people, but he’s someone I’ve met for five minutes a year ago, not someone I know. Scott notices me and waves me over.

SP: Dana, we’re going to get something to eat. You want to come?

That’s what Bouchercon is like. If in doubt, go. Look me up. Mention this post and your drink is on me. I’m not paying for it. I’m just clumsy when I get excited.

I’m not paying for it. I’m just clumsy when I get excited.

(Epilog: I reposted this a couple of weeks before last year’s conference in St. Petersburg. First day in St. Pete I spy my good friend and general purpose mensch Terrence McCauley talking to someone whose back is to me and I don’t recognize. I walk up, say hello to T-Mac, who then introduces me to Frank Zafiro. What makes this story memorable is not just that Frank is a great guy and we became instant friends, but that he had read this blog post before flying to St. Pete and had me on his list of people to keep an eye out for. It was my pleasure to do what I could to make Frank feel welcome at his first Bouchercon as a way to pay it forward for the kindness Scott Phillips showed me in Indianapolis. Look me up if you see this and are in Dallas next week. I’ll do what I can to introduce you around. I’m still clumsy with drinks.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Dietrich Kalteis, Author of Call Down the Thunder

One of the blogging highlights of any year is the launch of Dietrich Kalteis’s new book, which means another chance to interview him. Dieter is someone more writers should aspire to: not only an award-winning author but a mensch, a person I have never seen the bad side of, nor do I know anyone who has. His new book, Call Down the Thunder, launches next Tuesday and is a bit of a departure for him. I could tell you about it, but it’s going to be a lot more entertaining and enlightening if he does it.

One Bite at a Time: Dietrich, welcome back. It’s always a pleasure to have you here on One Bite at a Time. Let’s get started with the quick, 100 words or less, description of your new book, Call Down the Thunder.

Dietrich Kalteis: First off, thanks very much for having me back, Dana.

Sonny and Clara Myers struggle on their Kansas farm in the late 1930s, a time the Lord gave up on. The land’s gone dry, barren and worthless. And the bankers, greedy and hungry, make life even more impossible, squeezing farmers out of their homes. The couple can wither along with the land, or surrender to the bankers and hightail it to California like most of the other farmers. But Sonny comes up with a way for them to stay on their land and prosper while giving the banks a taste of their own misery.

OBAAT: Ninety-four words; very good. You go back to the 1930s for this story. Any particular reason for that time period?

DK: I chose the period because the hardships of the time added so much to the story. And there’s this feeling of isolation as they’re in the middle of nowhere with little money, no phone, and no electricity. The couple struggles with their marriage, trying to keep the farm from the bankers, dealing with other challenges that come along, all the while trying to survive the drought and dust storms that had been happening for nearly the past decade.

OBAAT: Interesting that you mention no phone or electricity. I’m working on a Western—sporadically—and find that the absence or things we take for granted now provides both opportunities and challenges. Were there times where you had to work around something because of the lack of a modern convenience like a phone? Or the flip side, where the absence of something provided you an opportunity that would have been difficult in a more contemporary story?

DK: Well, I had to work out a few details that we take for granted nowadays. Like when Clara wants to make a phone call to her mother living across the state. She has to get to the general store ten miles away, borrow the phone there, get connected through an operator, which at the time was very expensive.

I think the absence of modern conveniences like plumbing and electricity worked to get across that feeling of isolation, and made the characters more vulnerable to everything they have to deal with. 

OBAAT: What challenges did you find in writing a period novel? Anything unexpected?

DK: There’s always a lot of research that needs to be done in an historical novel, and I found it quite interesting. I think the hardest part for me was distilling it all down. Going through archived newspapers, historical as well as personal accounts, I came up with so much that I wanted to include, but I had to leave out a great deal of it. I was afraid it would start to sound more like a history lesson than a novel.

OBAAT: Does this mean there might be another book coming that set in this period? Not a sequel necessarily, but another book that spends time with something that interested you in your research but didn’t make it into Call Down the Thunder.

DK: Interesting you should say that, Dana. When I was doing the digging for this one I came across a true story about a couple of bank robbers, lesser known than Bonnie and Clyde, but they did top the FBIs most wanted list after robbing just one bank. So, I found out everything I could about them and wrote the story. It’s now been signed with my publisher, and I can’t say too much more about it at this point other than it should be out sometime after the next one, likely in 2021.

OBAAT: Interesting you should say that, as honking about this book put me a little in mind of when Elmore Leonard stepped back into the 1930s for The Hot Kid. We’re both Leonard devotees and I see a lot of potential for that one.

As you dug into the research, did you find the period foreign to you, or did you see similarities to what you learned about the Depression to how we live today?

DK: When I researched the story I surrounded myself with newspaper articles of the time, personal as well as historical accounts, and hundreds of old black and white photos, so I became immersed in that time, and no, it didn’t feel foreign at all.

There are similarities between then and now, and I guess we all feel we struggle in our lives at times so we can relate to the story, although the hardships they faced back then hit ten on the dial.

OBAAT: I remember newspapers. Mostly I remember them as great ways to get news from places other than Washington or the state capital. Nowadays it seems that most “local” papers are virtually volunteer operations that tell about upcoming scout and PTA activities, or some club putting out flowers for Mother’s Day. Did you see a lot of differences between the papers of the period and the news as it’s covered today?

DK: I guess newspapers of today have become second tier. And while news is delivered much faster these days, it seems people had more trust in the printed word back then, as in “They wouldn’t print it if it wasn’t true.”

There sure was a difference how news was received. In major centers, people read the morning paper over breakfast, or while sitting on a bus on the way to work. The radio was becoming a staple in many households and a source for what was going on in the world. And just imagine going to the movie theatre to watch the news. A long way from catching it on your smartphone and scrolling through your social media feed.

OBAAT: This has been great fun. I look forward to your new books almost as much for these interviews as I do reading the books. We know the bank robber story is on deck. What are you working on now?

DK: Before the story of the bank-robbing couple, I’ve got one coming out sometime next year that will take readers on a wild ride through northern British Columbia and into Alaska. It’s about the girlfriend of an aging gangster who wakes in the old guy’s bed, and above his rasping snores, she hears a burglar in the hall. Getting her handgun, she confronts him, recognizes him as the wrongly dismissed chauffeur looking for some payback, knowing the gangster stashes money in the house. She hesitates, considers a couple of ways she could go. And knowing where the money’s stashed, she says, “Take me with you.”

Right now, I’m working on a new one set in present-day Vancouver involving a retiree, a runaway, a couple of casino crooks, and one killer motor home.

And I’d like to say thanks, Dana, for taking the time to put together some great questions. It’s always fun to drop in.