By Peter H. Green
This weekend St. Louis hosted the 42nd Annual Bouchercon World Mystery Conference, the unique literary event that allows fans and authors to meet and greet each other, up close and personal. Highlights included:
Locally-based writers published, or soon to be, by L & L Dreamspell (of whom there are several, including yours truly) participated and met those from both coasts, including Cindy Sample (Dying for a Date) of the Sacramento area and Nancy Means Wright (Walking into the Wild ) of Middlebury, Vermont.
I enjoyed being a lone Brother at the national Sisters in Crime breakfast, and, arriving late, took one of the few empty seats, right next to Sarah Paretsky, whose latest V. I. Warshawski novel Body Work features a Body Artist, who invites nightclub audience members to sketch on her naked flesh. I recalled for her my nightly chore as a set designer in summer stock of inscribing a boat on Luther Billis’s belly and passed along a story for her husband , a professor at the Enrico Fermi Institute, relating how, during air raid drills in 1944 Miss Dickey, my Chicago kindergarten teacher, would march us like ducks in a row to presumed safety beneath the overhanging walls of Stagg Field, where Fermi himself was producing the first sustained nuclear chain reaction, arguably the most vulnerable site in the world for enemy attack (see Dad’s War with the United States Marines, Chapters 6 and 14). At Friday’s breakfast Ms. Paretsky was honored for her role in founding this nationwide society in 1986 to advance the recognition of women as mystery writers.
Among the many informative and entertaining panel discussions held here was a session aptly entitled Trouble, including Jeff Abbott (Adrenalin), Ridley Pearson (Walt Fleming mysteries and the Peter and the Starcatcher series with Dave Barry), Steve Hamilton (Misery Bay, an Alex McKnight Mystery), Harlan Coben (Shelter, his latest Mickey Bolitar novel) and Joseph Finder (Buried Secrets, the new Nick Heller novel, Yale Class of ’80, Whiffenpoofs member), moderated, to the extent she could manage it, by the popular Boston TV personality and suspense author (The Other Woman) Hank Philippi Ryan. A typical interchange, punctuated by uproarious audience laughter, went like this (and I quote):
Harlan Coben: I never let research slow down the act of writing the story. Don’t slow the action with cute factoids. Just write the goddamn book!
Joseph Finder: Fix it in post.
Ridley Pearson: All we really mean when we say research is tax deductible travel.
Hank Phillippi Ryan: What did you read as a kid?
Ridley Pearson: Kipling and Poe.
Jeff Abbott: Well, aren’t you special! I read the Hardy Boys.
Harlan Coben: As a young boy, as I was dandled on my daddy’s knee, we read the Collected Works of Ridley Pearson.
Coben, Pearson and Hamilton, when asked about what it meant to have arrived as authors, agreed that the experience was anticlimactic, since the real fun was in the journey, coming up together from obscurity, celebrating each other’s little victories along the way. When the barbs and gags threatened to get completely out of control, Ryan, the only woman on the stage, pulling rank in utter frustration, said: “Do I have to stop this car?”
A nice touch at the opening ceremonies was the official recognition, announced by Ridley, who served as Toastmaster, of the life work of St. Louis’s own “Living Legends”– Robert Randisi, who graciously accepts the title, “The Last of the Great Pulp Writers,” and John Lutz, who wryly commented at the next night’s Shamus Awards dinner, “You don’t know what it’s like to be half of a living legend.” At that event I also had the pleasure of accompanying on our mini brewery tour, fellow architect turned multiple award-winning mystery author, S. J. Rozan, and of comparing notes with her on urban architectural scams in New York and St. Louis, such as midnight brick theft and black market dealings in historic architectural millwork.
Bumming with St. Louis Writers Guild members Angie Fox, Elaine Viets, David Lucas and Leigh Savage, at the Saturday evening party, we almost broke the photo booth and concluded that a good time was had by all.
Till next time, as John Ciardi would say, good words to you