NoirCon Day 2 got off to an auspicious start when I bumped into Reed Farrel Coleman and S.J. Rozan trying to make sense of Google Maps' confusing directions on the street. Somehow between all of us, we did make it there on time for the opening panel, "Pornography in Noir Fiction," which included Reed, as well as Jay Gertzman and Christa Faust. Reed, always with a sense of humor, offered an alternate title for the panel: "Hegelian Motifs in Cat Cozies." The conversation had as much to do with the shape-shifting definitions of both "noir" and "pornography" as it did the function of such labels. Christa made a good point about the necessity of sex scenes in literature to show the uniqueness of characters, and that by cutting to the conventional "blowing curtains" (as she called it), or by overly dramatizing or idealizing the moment, a writer loses a great opportunity to show how a character can react both physically and emotionally.
Up next was the Philadelphia Noir panel, centered on the newly published anthology by Akashic Press. Wrtiers Meredith Anthony, Dennis Tafoya, Jim Zervanos, and Duane Swierczynski, and editor Carlin Romano, were in attendance. The panel hammered home the importance of how intimate knowledge of locations and site-specific research can not only enhance a story, but offer new avenues for plot and character.
The third panel of the day was a conversation with Johnny Temple, publisher of Akashic Books and recipient of the Jay and Deen Kogan Award for Excellence in Publishing, and Tim McLoughlin (editor of Brooklyn Noir). It was exciting to learn that Temple was a member of the punk rock band Girls Against Boys -- as a musician, I always appreciate seeing overlaps between two of my biggest areas of interest. The thing that Johnny said that stayed with me most was that his main goal with Akashic was to "normalize diversity" by publishing under-represented writers, minorities, and even genres, and by not limiting them to niche markets or labels. Everything they publish they treat as literature with the utmost respect.
It was my great honor to host a conversation with the great William Heffernan for the International Association of Crime Writers luncheon. Heffernan spoke of the real-life story that inspired his latest novel (and one of his best), The Dead Detective: it was a news story he heard about a mother who one day decided to leave her car running and murder her two children, and then headed to church. One survived, the other didn't. Heffernan then fictionalized the story by asking, "What if the surviving son became a police officer and had to deal with another case that involved abuse against children, how would he handle it?"
Stylistically, Heffernan explained his preference of switching between multiple points of views (often including the killer's perspective, even when we as readers don't know their real identity). For him, the attraction of mystery fiction is that level of insecurity, of realizing just how vulnerable we really are, of opening up to the dangers that could be present at any moment.
After my conversation with Heffernan, Laura Lippman took the stage with George Pelecanos, recipient of the David L. Goodis Award. Pelecanos gave a great, one-sentence definition of noir: "There's no way out." Laura had a great, comical quote about Pelecanos' work: "Sane, well people don't write the books you write." Pelecanos later explained that, "It is all right to wake up in the gutter once in a while, but when you are 50 and you wake up int he gutter it isn't fun any more." Regarding his latest book, The Way Home, Pelecanos explained, "There is nothing more noir than a kid born in the wrong place."
The Dark Passage: Noir Poetry panel opened up with Ed Pettit reading Joseph Moncure March, as well as a poem solely comprised of David Goodis titles. Robert Polito, author of Savage Art about Jim Thompson, read several selections from his book Hollywood and God as well as poems by Kenneth Fearing, author of The Big Clock. What stayed with me most from Polito was his point that noir fiction has a complex mainstream tradition: it is at once on the fringes, and populated by characters also on the fringes, but at the same time these stories not only get to the heart of American society, but they are also part of mainstream literature. In the case of Goodis he was writing widely-distributed paperback novels, while someone like George Pelecanos is writing a hit TV show The Wire and reaching broad audiences with his novels.
At the Awards Ceremony, Temple said many kind words about David Thompson of Busted Flush Press, who tragically died all too young last month. Pelecanos ended his speech by saying that that, "I'm very proud to be a crime writer and one of y'all."