Thursday, September 30, 2021

Summer's Favorite Reads

 I had a nice post written but when I came back to edit it, OneDrive had disappeared it into the ether, even though it still appeared on my Recent Files list. So here’s an abbreviated version, and, while we’re at it, fuck you, Microsoft.


Bottom Feeders, John Shepphird. The mystery is good, and well told, but the inside baseball stuff about how low-budget vanity project movies are made is fascinating.


Time to Murder and Create. Lawrence Block. I’m done beating myself up over how long it took me to dig Block. Now I’m just going to dig him.


Murder, DC, Neely Tucker. The second of three Sully carter novels; for me it completes the cycle. All are outstanding, all are different. Tucker has a gift for describing a reporter’s life without getting bogged down in any single aspect.


The Friends of Eddie Coyle, George V. Higgins. There’s nothing I can say about this book that hasn’t been said. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, get a copy.


The Black Marble, Joseph Wambaugh. Working my way through Wambaugh in order is a lot of fun. The Black marble is a relatively early book, but it’s outstanding as it weaves three disparate stories together with earned pathos and the humor that became one of Wambaugh’s trademarks.


The Eviction of Hope, Colin Conway (editor) et al. I don’t usually list books I contributed to here, but this is as well-organized, and uniformly excellent, a collection as I have been involved with.


Midnight Lullaby, James D.F. Hannah. I read the two Shamus nominees (and one winner) from this series already, so I’m reaching back and starting over. This is the first Henry Malone book, and as good a first novel as I’ve read in a long time.




Thursday, September 23, 2021

Creatures, Crimes, and Creativity 2021: A Look Back

 This year’s Creatures, Crimes, and Creativity conference took place in Columbia MD September 10 – 12 and may have been the best ever, despite several obstacles. Part of this success was, I’m sure, the result of people just wanting to get back with their tribe. Columbia and Howard County are among the most-vaccinated and least-infected locations in the country, and the hotel and organizers did well with their safety and masking policies. I felt secure the entire weekend.


A few weeks ago I laid out what past C3 experiences have been like, and what to expect this year. Today I’ll look back.



12:00                 Old home week commenced with Austin and Denise Camacho welcoming everyone. C3 feels more like a family reunion than a conference, and no one is more responsible for that than those two.

12:45                 “Secrets to Snappy Dialog.” Not the most auspicious start, as the moderator forgot his notes and had to wing much of the session. His panelists were up to the challenge and the end result was solid.

1:45          “Pitfalls to Avoid When Writing a Series.” I was a member of this panel, and happy to be there. Norwood Holland touched all the bases the title implied, and everyone on the panel (Karen Neary Smithson, Kelli Peacock, Ilene Schneider) had slightly different perspectives on series writing.

2:45          “Living With a Professional Liar.” This was the spouses’ panel, and The Beloved Spouse™ acquitted herself well. This has become an annual event and is always entertaining. I’ve seen several and can’t help but think how these better halves (regardless of gender) keep the writers on their toes, while supporting their (our) often unusual needs.

3:45          “Adapting the Written Word to Screen.” Christopher Chambers piloted James Grady and John Wren through a fascinating 45 minutes of advice, war stories, and tales of horror. A couple are worth recounting, but this is not the place.

4:30          Cash bar and book signings. Basically a social hour. Given those who attend C3, it’s always a damn fine social hour.

6:00          Dinner, followed by keynote speech by Hank Phillippi Ryan. Hank’s new book dropped that week, and she was busy doing promotional work, but she carved out time to join the conference virtually on a couple of occasions. She also worked out a virtual book signing to prove what a class act she is.

7:30          Noir at the Bar. I hosted this year, and got an outstanding group of authors to work with, including Lanny Larcinese, Kelli Peacock, Mark Bergin, D.W. Maroney, Ef Deal, Bruce Robert Coffin, Maria Kelson, and Jeff Markowitz. (Listed in reading order.) All not only wrote excellent and varied stories, they read them well (not something one can assume at most N@Bs), and were all good sports when I took liberties with their bios.


Then I closed the bar, with assistance from The Beloved Spouse™, Bruce Coffin, and Lanny Larcinese.



9:00          “Espionage for Everyone.” Outstanding panel that explored fictional espionage vs. the real thing. Made me want to consider shifting genres, if I weren’t already booked solid. (See what I did there? “Booked” solid? You know, a writer? Booked? I crack myself up sometimes.)

10:00                 “Just the Facts, Ma’am.” It is no slight toward Noir at the Bar when I say this was my highlight of the conference. I moderated a panel of three retired law enforcement professionals discussing where fictional cops get it right and wrong. This is a favorite topic of mine and Mark Bergin, Bruce Coffin, and Jeffery Higgins were perfect as the panel. Maybe the best panel I’ve ever been involved in, regardless of conference.

11:00         “Write Drunk, Edit Sober.” I was a panelist this time as Ellen Geib Butler led three of us (Rick Pullen, Lane Stone) through a discussion of writing techniques, with and without alcohol.

12:00                 Lunch, followed by Hank Phillippi Ryan interviewing Kathleen Barber, neither of whom was actually in the room. Hank was still on tour, and Kathleen, who has two small children, wisely chose not to risk exposing herself to the virus.

1:15          “Murder is Everywhere.” Once again, I was a panelist (thank God for lunch; they were working me to death) as Austin Camacho, D.W. Moroney, and I followed Jeff Markowitz through an exploration of the effects of location on our writing.

2:15          “Mixing Fact With Fiction: Does Historical Fiction Need More Than Just a Time Frame?” I haven’t given up on ever writing a Western (not yet) and was happy for John Wren to help Serg Koren, Ellen Butler, Frank Hopkins, and Bill Rapp show me what to beware of when writing of periods I have no direct connection to.

4:30          Cash bar and book signings. There were panels at 3:15, but I was exhausted. Nap time.

6:00          Dinner and keynote by Sherrilyn Kenyon. Any time you think you had it rough as a kid, check out her story, then shut up.


I closed the bar once more, with the able assistance of Bruce Coffin (again), Kelli Peacock, and a very nice gentleman who didn’t wear his name tag so I have no idea who he was.


“It’s a Small World” Award to Sherrilyn Kenyon, whose father was post sergeant major at Fort McPherson GA when the Army stationed me there in the early 80s.



8:00          Breakfast, and Austin Camacho interviewed James Grady. As one would expect from those two, funny and informative.

9:15          CLASS: James Grady – Mastering Your Writing. A true master class, as Grady is a master with enormous class. I’ve been writing for quite a while and sessions like these are why I keep going to conferences.

10:15                 “Journalism in Mysteries.” Another outstanding panel. Rick Pullen led John DeDakis, Mark Bergin, and Jeffery Higgins (former journalists all) through a discussion of how authors use journalism in fiction, and journalistic trends in general.


And then, alas, the end. There was another panel session, but The Beloved Spouse™ and I had to check out of the hotel and take care of a couple of administrative things before going home to collapse. Was this the best C3 I’ve been to? I have to admit the fact we had to skip last year, and this is the first time I’ve been with my writer tribe since November of 2019 in Dalla might affect my judgment, but I can think of none better. The hotel laid out perfectly, the staff was courteous and helpful, and, aside from a couple of minor technical problems with the remote speakers, the conference went off with out a hitch. The Beloved Spouse™ and I registered for 2022 on our way out. We’ll see you there.



Joe Lansdale will be one of the 2022 keynotes. If that’s not incentive, I don’t know what is.)

Thursday, September 16, 2021



I say enough unprovoked stupid shit that I try not to jump too hastily into controversies. This post concerns a disagreement between two friends of mine I didn’t want to get into, but have strong thoughts about. I’ll not mention either name; those who know them will likely know who they are. If you don’t, or aren’t sure, don’t bother asking. This is not about either of them, but the general principle the discussion raises.


Person A won a significant award, for which he gave a public acceptance speech. Person B was upset that the speech did not mention the influences and inspiration of women writers on Person A’s work. I was late to this party, not having seen the speech, nor read the Facebook post criticizing it before it came down. What I know is all from the aftermath.


To me, it’s tough to criticize a person for something they didn’t say, unless the exclusion is so glaring it qualifies as an insult by omission. Listing influencers and inspirations is particularly tricky. Influencers change over time; inspiration varies from story to story. I’ll use myself as an example, not because I have the answers, or am even the best illustration, but because I can speak authoritatively only about myself.


The first authors who inspired me to want to write were Raymond Chandler and Robert B. Parker; my first four books were PI novels. The “inspirations” for novels evolved even during those first four PI stories, as did what, and who, provided the inspiration. Were I to win an award, how many inspirations should I note, especially since events were more responsible for some recent books far more than anything I read?


Regarding influences, when asked early on I always said “Chandler, Elmore Leonard, and Ed McBain.” Dashiell Hammett soon superseded Chandler. Over time, Joseph Wambaugh had increasing influence over what stories I told, and George V. Higgins over how I told them. James Ellroy is not without impact. Should I credit them all? Give the timeline? Or only those who had specific influences on the novel in question? Am I wrong not to mention a more diverse group?


It’s the diversity question that hangs people up, and rightfully so. All my listed influences are white men, most of whom are dead. What can I say? I’m a product of my environment. I grew up in semi-rural southwestern Pennsylvania in the late 60s and 70s. That’s when my tastes formed.


Have my horizons broadened since I got serious about writing? Damn right. I understand that Walter Mosely and Chester Himes are masters. No one does, or has ever, written crime better than Laura Lippman or Megan Abbott. Did any of the above inspire me to be a writer? Hardly, since I wasn’t aware of them when I first started. Have they been major influences on my writing? No again, as none of them writes the kinds of stories I write. True, Mosely and Lippman write (wrote) PI stories, but their universes and the experiences are foreign to my background. Do I have an obligation to credit a diverse range of writers as influences, even if they were not, at least for the book in question?


(I should point out that Person A has been a tireless supporter of women writers. He just didn’t make a big deal about it that particular night.)


Leaving diversity aside for a moment, let’s look at the entire business of author acknowledgements. Some novels now have acknowledgement sections that rival the bibliographies of scholarly works. Aside from the usual suspects (editor, publisher, agent, experts who provided special insights) we get heartfelt gratitude for beta readers; people we discussed the book with at conferences; people we drink with; our spouses, children, and friends for putting up with us while we write; Mom and Dad (possibly though neither one ever did dick to inspire or assist us as writers); our third grade teacher who liked a story we wrote; our junior-year teacher who was a prick and inspired us out of spite; Gutenberg for inventing publishing; Cai Lun for inventing paper; and our sophomore roommate’s girlfriend for inspiring the fantasies that led to those awesome sex scenes.


I’m not questioning the sincerity of those expressions of gratitude. I’m just saying, when we spread acknowledgements so thin, they become akin to participation trophies and lose all meaning. 


“But I don’t want to leave anyone out.” I get that. I do. We do no justice to those who were truly influential in the creation of a particular work if we provide equal gratitude to everyone even peripherally involved. There is no obligation to thank everyone who crossed our path, literally or through literature, every time we open our mouths. We’re writers, and among the most important traits every writer needs is the ability to know what to leave out, lest what remains loses impact.



Thursday, September 9, 2021

From the Archives: Collateral Damage


I’m at the Creatures, Crimes, and Creativity Conference in Columbia MD this weekend and won’t be available to moderate comments, so I looked back into the archives to see what I was blogging about ten years ago. (Yes, this blog has run for over ten years now. Today’s is Post 983.)


There was no post on September 10, 2011, but this one from September 8 seems oddly suitable for a couple of reasons, at least to me.


Collateral Damage


The earthquake knocked over a picture. The hurricane didn't even flicker the lights. Yesterday thunderstorms left us without power for twelve hours and water so deep I had waves behind me as I ran the wet vac at 2:30 in the morning.


We have water in our basement almost as often as John Boehner reneges on a deal. Tomorrow I'm scouring Angie's List for wet basement contractors; they can come by during my scheduled time off next week. Interviewing contractors in Maryland and attending Bouchercon in St. Louis at the same time is beyond even my multi-tasking abilities, so I'm afraid Bouchercon will get a pass this year.

I'd ask anyone I might have shared a beverage with to meet me next year in Cleveland, but it's Cleveland, for Chrissakes. I'll probably go, but the Pittsburgh boy in me can't ask someone else to go to Cleveland with a clear conscience.

There's always Albany.

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Next Week: Creatures, Crimes, and Creativity


The (hopefully) annual (again) Creatures, Crimes, and Creativity conference kicks off one week from today. I missed the first C3 but have attended all since. It and Bouchercon are the anchors of my annual conference schedule.


For those unfamiliar, C3 is a multi-genre conference that takes place in the late summer or early fall in Columbia MD and runs from noon Friday through noon on Sunday; this year’s dates are September 10 – 12. Special guests this year are Hank Phillippi Ryan, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Kathleen Barber, and James Grady.



12:00 Welcoming session

12:45 – 4:30 Panels. I’m up at 1:45 as part of Norwood Holland’s discussion of “Pitfalls to Avoid When writing a Series.” The Beloved Spouse™ follows as a participant in Denise Camacho’s always entertaining “Living With a Professional Liar.”

4:30 Cash bar, book signings, and social hour. (This event is free and open to the public.)

6:00 Dinner (Included with conference fee. They’re always good.) After dinner, Hank Phillippi Ryan will deliver her keynote speech. (Alas, virtually, as scheduling issues made it impossible for her to be there in person.) Previous years have included the likes of Reed Farrel Coleman, Jeffrey Deaver, Jamie Frevoletti ,Heather Graham, Julie Hyzy, Brad Parks, and others of that ilk in this slot.

After keynote: Noir at the Bar. I’m hosting this year. Readers include Mark Bergin, Bruce Robert Coffin, Ef Deal, Teel James Glenn, Maria Kelson, Lanny Larcinese, Jeff Markowitz, and Kelli Peacock. The event is open to the public.

After the readings: Bar time. Enjoying yourself at the bar does not require you to be a drinker. Think of it as socializing with optional lubricant.



8:00 Breakfast buffet. (Included with conference fee.)

9:00 Panels. I’m up at 10:00 to moderate a panel I’m ecstatic about: “Just the Facts, Ma’am” with Mark Bergin, Bruce Robert Coffin, and Jeffery James Higgins. We’ll discuss how actual police methods and practices differ from what you might read.

At 11:00 I’m past of the “Write Drunk, Edit Sober?” panel moderated by Ellen Butler. (WDES was Hemingway’s advice to writers.)

12:00 Lunch. (Included with conference fee.) For dessert, Hank Phillippi      Ryan interviews Kathleen Butler through the miracle of modern technology.

1:15 Panels. I’m back at 1:15 for “Murder is Everywhere,” moderated by Jeff Markowitz.

4:30 Cash bar, book signings, and social hour. (This event is free and open to the public.)

6:00 Dinner, followed by a keynote speech by Sherrilyn Kenyon.

After dinner: Skip the noir and go directly to the bar.



8:00 Breakfast buffet. (Included with conference fee.) Austin Camacho interviews James Grady.

9:15 – 12:15 Panels


This year’s C3 is special for me. Last year’s had to be canceled due to covid, and, while there will still be some restrictions, this is the first time I’ll be in the company of other writers since Dallas Bouchercon in November 2019. (The event for which I had my most recent haircut.) I’m also delighted to be assigned panels with so many friends I’ve made here at C3 over the years. It will be like homecoming.


If you’re on the fence about coming, attendance is typically under 100, which is a good thing, especially if you’re new to conferences. Larger events, such as Bouchercon, can be intimidating for virgins. (First-time conference goers; actual virgins have nothing to fear.) At C3 you can eat meals with a favorite author, or meet someone new you decide is worth checking out. Even though something is always going on, the pace is more relaxed than larger cons, which makes it much easier to strike up a conversation.


Full disclosure: I have no financial interest in C3. The organizers are friends of mine, but that has not unduly affected the descriptions above. Come yourself and they’ll likely become friends of yours, as well. (Not to get too far into the whole “Friends of mine, friends of ours” thing.) More detailed information is on the C3 web site.