Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Bouchercon 2014: Never Can Say Goodbye, No No No...

Check out time at the Are You Okay? Corral. From left: Roger, Mike, me, Ali and Diane. Just when we thought we'd get out, Ali pulls us back in.

Labels:

Bouchercon 2014: it’s said that they got off with quite a haul...

Part of the haul, a combination of book bag loot and multiple visits to the Dealer's Room. Can you guess which are mine and which are Diane's? I'll spot you one: I am giddy with the ARC of Laura Lippman's new one.

Labels: ,

Bouchercon 2014: There Are Faces I'll Remember

Top row: Mike, Ali. Second Row: Rob, me, Jeff, Jodi, Scott, Roger, Tanis. Third Row: Diane, Jodi, Linda, Heather, Connie


... and there were no survivors.

Or at least that's how it feels from this desk. There are so many faces and names, so many memories, thoughts, events both large and small still being sorted and sifted that it feels like Diane and I were away for months, not a few days.

It was a big deal for us. We hadn't been to a Bouchercon together since Wisconsin (I'd done a few quickie hit and runs to Bouchercon in San Francisco and Left Coast Crime in LA; she'd been to a few Malice Domestics), and we both felt it was high time to reconnect with the mystery community; to sniff the air and test the waters. Mr. and Mrs. Detective stepping back into the ring.

Yes, we also had ulterior motives.  I was anxious to see if Thrilling Detective still mattered to anyone but me; Diane wanted to relight the pilot light under her pen name of Diana Killian (aka "The Girl Detective;" aka "D.L. Browne") with which she'd written eight or so mysteries. We've been awful busy over the last few years on life and other projects (some classified; some about to be announced) but we wanted to get back to where we once belonged.

But mostly we wanted some time together that involved more than the two of us passing by the coffee machine, sleep drunk, on the way to our computers. To reconnect with old friends and to make new ones. And each other.

We succeeded.

Bouchercon 2014 was a riot. A head-spinning kaleidoscope of fictional murder and mayhem; of quick chats and long discussions, warm hugs and cold beverages; an orgy of books and words and the rush of knowing, for a few days anyway, that we were surrounded by people who were as passionate and obsessive (or flat out mentally unstable) about crime fiction as we are. As Ali Karim put it, after a particularly passionate discourse on the bleak, nihilistic philosophical underpinnings of HBO's True Detective, "If you talked about all this fuckin' biff anywhere else, we'd all be arrested."

Like I said, it's all still being processed, but here are a few thoughts and memories. Scrambled, with a dash of pepper.

The panels and official whoop-ti-doos were fine, but by far the best time was the time spent in conversations, over drinks, at meals or just standing in the hall ways getting in the way of everyone else. Let's face it -- that's really what Bouchercon does best. And why it's so important to have a decent bar open from about midday and easily accessible to all attendees. One that offers not just booze but good coffee and other non-alcoholic beverages for the four attendees who don't drink, light meals and snacks, and plenty of seating. Woe to any Bouchercon organizing committee who thinks they can skip this step. Remember the notorious shoe store-turned- bar in Vegas, which, when it was open (which, rumour has it, it was occasionally), had all the charm and conviviality of, well, a shoe store?

But man, reconnecting with friends, getting -- in some cases -- the first chance to really talk with people I've "known" on the internet for years? That was the main deal, right there.

There are tons of folks it was a delight to hook up with -- once again or for the first time. I know I'm gonna screw this up and leave out someone really important to me, but man, what a show. What great people!

But then, like almost everything that matters, it's always, when you get right down to it, about people. 

That crazy Canadian Content Wednesday night with Jacques Filippi (Cowansville!) and John McFetridge (my eternal homie, connecting at not just the Canadian and Montreal level, but right down to the sub-nuclear, Greenfield Park level), meeting Peter Rozovsky (Montreal!) of Detectives Beyond Borders, Thrilling Detective contributor Scott Adlerberg, Tanis Mallow (Ontario!) and Cara Brookins (winner of The Best-Dressed Grease Monkey Award five years in a row). Even Sara Henry (honourary Canadian outta Vermont) dropped by. And wouldn't you know it? We all ended up talking at one point about hockey.

Americans worried about some covert Canuck takeover need not worry, though... President Weinman will explain it all.

Or how about Thursday night, meeting my panelists Rex Burns, Thomas Sawyer and Cathi Stoler (who, it turns out, is the right Cathi) to prep for our early the next morning panel, as well as Kathy Bennett, the temporarily wrong Kathy, former LAPD cop turned writer, who turned out to be just right (Honest, Kathy, I was on my way back!). And then being bumped at the bar by my old pal Terrill Lee Lankford, asking me to scoot down a little so some guy called Michael Connelly could sign some books. Meeting the Legendary Lisa, the events manager from the Barnes and Noble at The Grove. In Palmdale we consider ourselves lucky to get self-published local wingnut slogging poetry or a self-help manual; Lisa had not only had Connelly sign so often there they were friends, but she had Jimmy Page there signing HIS book the other night. THE Jimmy Page!

In Palmdale, we're apt to land the replacement drummer for a Motley Crue cover band selling a cookbook for sushi.

Friday night was the Shamus Awards Dinner put on by the Private Eye Writers of America, where Diane and I ended up at what they should have called the press table. Sitting with Jeff Pierce of January Magazine and The Rap Sheet, Ali Karin and Mike Stotter of Shots, and Peter Kozovsky of Detectives Beyond Borders. Just an awesome night. Back at the bar, Diane and I met old Wicked Company buddies Rick (and Elaine) Helms and Jack Bludis, and then later, a rematch with Ali, Mike and Jeff, where we were joined by January Mag founder (and freshly-minted poker hustler) Linda Richards.

And oh the hit-and-runs! Knowing nods and bursts of chatter. Jan Long (aka "Steve Hamilton"); running into (and then losing again) Em Bronstein; comparing hair styling tips with Reed Farrell Coleman; and questioning the peculiar American dislike for rodent-mentioning titles with Ian Hamilton. Chatting about the Great Lost White Whales of crime fic with Jim Huang and Austin Lugar. Hooking up and talking software (I kid you not) with crime author Rob Brunet (Toronto via Ottawa and Montreal). Maggie Griffin, publicist to the stars, and some guy she was with called Child. Gary Phillips, whose voice can still manage to shake a building shake like it's 1977 and it's half an hour to closing at the disco... and somebody just turned the bass way way up. Max Allan Collins, writer, director, musician, collector, fountain of knowledge, uber-fan and my crime convention go-to since 1992, when I first embarrassed myself in front of an author, gushing about how much I loved their stuff. And speaking of stuff, then there were the Mysterious Boys, Richard Brewer and Bobby McCue.

Not that I've become cool and jaded, mind you. There were still plenty of other times I know I embarrassed myself this time out, gushing  without even actually explaining what I the hell was talking about. David Morrell and Jason Pinter are probably still scratching their heads. And possibly considering hiring some personal security for their next convention.

I also got to see some of my old DAPA-Em buddies! Art Scott, whom I spotted before we'd even checked in, and has an awesome new book on cover artist Robert McGinnis. The two Teds, Ted Fitzgerald and Ted Hertel. Steve Steinbock. Also spotted Marvelous Marv Lachman, but couldn't nail him.

And then there were the panels. The most rollicking one by far was the LA Noir at the Bar group reading, a high-energy tag team of mostly great writing; marred only by a few too many juvenile -- but well-written -- attempts at shock-and-awe. Granted, with only 60 seconds to read, context was mostly tossed aside, but is the overuse of the word "Fuck" and the lovingly detailed descriptions of dripping viscera really the essence of noir? As the Divine Ms. Christa Faust put it as she wrapped up her own excellent (and far from genteel) little snippet, "Is that the best you can do?"

The difference, gentlemen, is writing.

The Forgotten Pulp Writers of the Pulp & Paperback Era was another great panel, moderated by Peter, featuring Gary, MaxCharles Kelly, Sarah "I do all my own stunts") Weinman and Sara Henry, scratching just the surface of overlooked, obscure or forgotten writers. Anyone in the audience whose want list didn't grow by a few sizes after that one shouldn't have been there at all.

But by far the greatest, most amazing time happened after the conference was over. Diane and I stuck around, used the hotel pool, had a nice quiet lunch, figured we'd drive home Monday. Ran into Ali that afternoon sneaking out for a smoke. He invited us to dinner with "four or five" other people. At Gladstome's, the scene of the crime for the Shamus Awards a few nights earlier. But by the time we got there, the four of five had grown a little. We ended up back in the private room where the Shamuses themselves had taken place -- there was no room for us anywhere else.

It was a wonderful evening, a fantastic meal, a booze-prompted (but not booze-fueled) panel round table about books, literacy, rock'n'roll, technology, writing, Robert Parker, publishing and passions, moderated by an equally booze-prompted Ali. Perhaps all Bouchercon panels should be held in bars. 

It truly was a magical evening, starring Ali (aka "The Hardest Working Man in the Crime Biz") and co-starring Diana Killian, Heather Graham, Linda S. Richards, Jeff and Jodi Pierce, Mike Stotter, R.J. Ellory, Tanis Mallow, Peter Rozovsky, Rob Brunet, Connie and fellow bookseller Scott Montgomery. Look at the grins plastered across those mugs at that picture up there.

Man, those people.

In my life, I'll love them all.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Location, Location, Location: Bouchercon 2014


Noir at the Bar: Bouchercon 2014


Thursday, February 27, 2014

William S, Burroughs, Private Eye

Sure.
The Dapper Daddy of the Beats.
Spat out wisecrackery prose like Raymond Chandler's Phillip Marlowe on a speed jag, all clipped and terse and hard as nails, but going further -- way way further -- in his imagery  than Mr. "Tarantula on a Slice of Angel Food Cake" ever dreamed of, using words Gentleman Phil would never utter.
Especially in front of a lady.
But the influence was there.
From the age of eight or so, when little Willie began writing his earliest fiction safe in the confines of stately Burroughs Manor, his little stories were all in the adventure and crime vein. And throughout his life he remained a fan of hard-boiled detective fiction, keeping book by Hammett, Chandler et al in his library, sharing them with his Beat buddies like Kerouac and Ginsberg. He even worked detectives into his fiction. One of his most enduring characters, Clem Snide, who appeared in several of his books and stories including Naked Lunch (1959), The Soft Machine (1961) and perhaps most notably Cities of the Red Night (1981), was a private eye.
"The name is Clem Snide -- I'm a Private Ass Hole -- I will take on any job any identity any body -- I will do anything difficult dangerous or downright dirty for a price..."
But -- hold your horses -- Burroughs went beyond writing about gumshoes. He actually became one.
I kid you not.
Burroughs was born into a wealthy St. Louis family, and was given a generous allowance for most of his life. But he also worked a wide variety of jobs before he eventually turned to writing.
He was rejected for service during World War II, but before, during and after the war, he was a bartender, a reporter, an advertising copywriter, an exterminator and briefly -- get this -- a private detective.
In 1944 he applied for a job Merit Protection Services of Chicago (offices were at 612 North Michigan). He was hired to do security work for stores, verifying the honesty of employees, and was dispatched to work the Iowa and Ohio area with the rest of his team (two women and a male supervisor.) 
Their would try to catch suspicious cashiers stealing from the till, using the women on his team to pose as customers, and then swooping in verify the drawer tallied up. It wasn't exactly mean streets stuff -- he didn't carry a gun. He didn't become any more tarnished than he already was, nor was it's likely he was ever afraid.
The problem was that he soon grew bored with the work, He quit after three months.
But twenty years later he savaged his former co-workers in Nova Express (1964), where he dismissed his boss as a badge-carrying Fascist and his two female workers as "cunts."
A class act all the way, this father of the Beats.

SUGGESTED READING
Cities of the Night (1981; by William S. Burroughs)
Call Me Burroughs: A Life (2014; by Miles Barry)

Labels: , , ,

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Kreegah! Kevin Bundolo! (or "John Carter: The Post-Mortem")

True confessions. I grew up on Edgar Rice Burroughs. Tarzan of the Apes, just then re-released in paperback, was the gateway drug. But soon I was enthralled by all of Burroughs' universe, both the steady stream of reprints that started appearing everywhere (Ace and Ballantine must have kept the presses running 24/7 for a few years -- there seemed to be new Burroughs reprints every month), and DC Comics' masterful adaptations that started filling the spinner racks at local newstands, particularly Joe Kubert's raw, visceral version of the Ape Man. Weird words and place names soon began to pepper my vocabulary (Barsoom, kreegah, Pellucidar, tarmangani, Opar, etc.), as a steady stream of Burroughs pulp began to fill my pre-adolescent brain,competing for space with a swelling interest in girls. For a few years, my dreams were as much about Carson of Venus, the Mucker, John Carter of Mars, Tarzan, Korak and all the other manly men of adventure and derring-do as it was about Susan in History, Diane in English, or Pam in art. 

Of course, in the end, the girls won, but then they always do. And to tell the truth, a steady diet of Burroughs for a few years eventually wears thin, and that adolescent rush of fantasy quietly slipped into its cave.

But it emerged periodically, that heady mix of awe and discovery, of heroes and perfectly realized new worlds to discover, mostly unleashed by film: the first Star Wars, Bladerunner, the first Alien, the occasional Stephen King novel, Lord of the Rings, Justin Cronin's Passage. The whole sparkly vampire thing didn't do it, and I thought Avatar was lunkheaded and self-conscious, high-minded silliness and self-indulgent ego wrapped up in the Emperor's new 3D clothes.

Last year's JOHN CARTER from Disney brought me right back. It was a hoot. It might not have always been faithful to the text, but the magic was. It wasn't as awe-inspiring as A New Hope, perhaps, and I could have done without the cutie-pie dog beast (although from a marketing standpoint it makes sense -- after all, R2D2 was cute too), but there was enough rousing action, imaginative artistry and oh-my-god-is-that-cool! moments to keep both my the Girl Detective and I mesmerized -- with ot without 3D. 

The "critics" hated it. Well, not real critics, for the most part, who were mixed about it, but those bandwagon jumpers who think they're critics simply because they have a blog or Twitter account and an over-developed sense of snark. The same high-minded critics who drool regularly all over such sub-par but superbly hyped flicks as Sin City and The Avengers. No, John Carter wasn't perfect, but the vitriol unleashed against it -- even before it was released -- via Twitter and the blogosphere and in second rate "review" sites all over the web was spectacular. 

It was like a concerted effort to destroy the film. Bad press piled upon bad press. Almost every "review" I read rushed to mention how much it cost , how much it was losing and how poorly it did on its opening weekend. It was like a sports analyst describing a hockey game by reading only the final score.

I mean, really. "Taylor Kitsch is no Mark Hammil"? Is that the best you can do, kid?

In his new book, John Carter and The Gods of Hollywoods, film makmer Michael Sellers contends that yes, there was indeed a conspiracy to destroy this film, and most of the damage was done long before most of the Blogosphere Sheep got their bleats in. Not so subtly subtitled "The True Story of What Went Wrong With Disney's John Carter and Why Edgar Rice Burroughs Original Superhero Isn't Dead Yet," it's a sobering tale told by an insider of corporate stupidity, inept marketing, studio politics and petty rivals and jealousies, and an angry indictment of all that's wrong, not just about Disney, but Hollywood (and corporate America) itself. 

For those of you who defied the Snark Week Attacks and the Gods of Hollywood and saw the film anyway, and enjoyed it (or even if you didn't), this is still a fascinating and intriguing look at the inner workings (or non-workings) of Hollywood's Dream Factory. And for Burroughs' fans, it's worth it just to bear witness to the long, sad march to the screen of a much-beloved book written over a century ago. 

It will leave you wondering not why Hollywood makes so many God-awful movies but how they ever manage to make any good ones. 

A version of this post appeared originally on Books of Interest and Other Stuff...

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

I'm Just Drawn This Way

Today marks the release of the Who Framed Roger Rabbit 25th Anniversary Special Edition in a spiffy Blu-Ray Combo Pack, loaded with the usual orgy of back-up features most of us will never watch. But the re-release of the movie?

That really excites me, for some reason.

And it's not just because it's an excuse to see Jessica Rabbit strut her stuff again. Hell, like most people, I don't even have a Blu-Ray player.

Although the notion of seeing Jessica in even higher resolution is certainly tempting.

But hey, Who Framed Roger Rabbit has a lot more going for it than just ome babe in a red sequinned dress. It was thoroughly entertaining film in oh so many ways. I loved it when it came out, and I still love it. And so do a lot of other people.

Back before almost every film was a SFX-driven cartoon, from high-faluting stuff like The Life of Pi to kiddle pulp like The Avengers and Transformers XXIII, Who Framed Roger Rabbit was something truly unique. It blended animation and live action in a spectacular, almost unheard of fashion, with effects that were actually special. And the film charmed almost everyone:  kids, parents, grandparents, classic cartoon buffs, fanboys and even private eye fans.

If you don't like this film, you're just a poopy pants.

Released in 1988, it starred Bob Hoskins as Eddie, your typical rough-around-the-edges Hollywood dick, and featured the voice of Charles Fleischer as Roger Rabbit. Also along for the ride was Christopher Lloyd, Kathleen Turner (as the afore-mentioned Jessica) and an animated cast of thousands, in a story about greed, corruption, lust, betrayal and dropping pianos on people's heads. It was like Chinatown on acid. It was a huge critical and commercial hit.

And rarely has a film so completely overshadowed its source material. While Gary Wolf's 1981 novel Who Censored Roger Rabbit had its moments, it was clunky, inconsistent and hard to envision, the audacious concept of a world populated by both humans and toons (who speak in word balloons) too slippery to really get a grip on.

But the film smashes right through those limitations by showing, not telling. Though Wolf's vision was certainly original and audacious, it took the big buck clout of the producers (Speilberg! Disney!) and the then state-of-the-art magic of Hollywood to make it all come true.

Director Robert Zemeckis managed to streamline Wolf's vision, getting rid of those annoying word balloons (too gimmicky and distracting by half) replacing them, in an inspired bit of big name clout, with the ultimate collection of classic cartoon characters from a slew of studios (including Disney, Warner Bros., MGM, Fleischer and Universal).

They're all here: Betty Boop, Woody Woodpecker, Droopy Dog, and all the rest. Imagine! Mickey and Bugs Bunny together in the same scene! Daffy Duck and Donald Duck quacking away indecipherably, playing a piano duet that rapidly escalates into an arms race. Droopy manning an elevator! A tired, over-the-hill Betty Boop serving up drinks. For anyone who grew up watching cartoons, it's pure heaven to see all these old favourites again. The impetus for the Cartoon Network started there.

And the original toons are just as good. Roger is one stuttering, sputtering, hyperactive, accident-prone bunny. His co-star in cartoons is pint-sized, diaper-wearing, foul-mouthed, cigar-chomping Baby Herman. And of course the anatomically over-correct Jessica Rabbit certainly raised a few, uh, eyebrows. She should be ridiculous, but she's possibly the sexiest woman ever to (almost) spill out of a dress. You know that cliche about legs up to here? Hers go further. Possibly as far as Cucamonga.

And boy, do they all these characters look good. As Leonard Maltin, a film critic who knows his toons, pointed out at the time, this is an "incredible blend of live-action and animation" that allows us to "believe that Roger and his cartoon colleagues actually exist."

I believed. Still do. And for a couple of hours maybe you will, too. Watch it with your kids.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

I Been Blurbed!

According to Simon Dardick, head honcho over at Véhicule Press, the ad above'll be running as the back cover of the upcoming issue of Maisonneuve Magazine, the Montreal quarterly that covers arts, politics, ideas and "anything else eclectic and curious." He pulled the quote from my intro to the reprint of The Body on Mont-Royal by David Montrose. I'll have to get one of my kids to pick up a copy or two, since chances of Palmdale's only bookstore carrying it seem slight... (although, curiously, the premiere issue DID show up at the local B&N years ago...).

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Montréal Anglos: The Other White Meat


There's a great issue of Urbania out right now, focussing on Montreal's Anglos (aka "the world's best treated minority" aka "the conquerors" aka "les autres" aka "les blokes" aka "the dirty nasty saleslady at Eaton's department store who wouldn't speak French to my grandmother.").

There are plenty of great pieces online, and the print edition is supposedly even better, although for some reason they don't carry it at the Palmdale Barnes & Noble.

The articles are all over the place, alternately humourous, sympathetic, rude and angry (Oh, those comments!).

Could someone please read it to me?