Given that Crime Always Pays came into being to celebrate (mostly) Irish fiction as a platform to promote our humble offering THE BIG O, it’s appropriate that the stats passed the 100,000 mark for page impressions while I was away in the States on a Toronto-Baltimore road-trip designed to mark the publication of said tome in the U.S. Now, 100,000 page impressions in 18 months isn’t exactly the kind of stat to set the interweb aflame, but by the same token – as Twenty Major once pointed out – a blog dedicated to Irish crime fiction is a niche-niche-niche sell, particularly when you’re not actually selling anything.
Anyhoos, I’m quietly pleased at having reached that mark, not least because many of CAP’s regular visitors have become good mates. I’d been warned by some Bouchercon veterans that the first experience can be overwhelming, given the scale of the operation and the numbers of people there, but when John McFetridge and I finally pulled into Baltimore, the experience was more akin to a reunion.
Peter Rozovsky I’d met before, during his sojourn to Ireland, and it would have been nice to hook up with him again even if he hadn’t sweated blood organising the Philly leg of John and Dec’s Most Excellent Adventure. Peter? Now that you’re au fait with ‘shite’ and ‘gobshite’, I really must introduce you to ‘shitehawking’ the next time.
I’d met Donna Moore before too, at Bristol Fest, and it was smashing to meet up with her again, partly because I’d read her terrific GO TO HELENA HANDBASKET in the interim, but mainly because I want her to play Diane Lane when they come to make the movie of my life. There’s nothing like a hug from a flame-haired beauty to make you feel like you belong in Baltimore. Apart from the daily hugs (“Oi, I haven’t had my hug today!”), the best part of seeing the poker maven again was the news that her follow-up novel is currently with her agent, and that she’s mailing me a copy as soon as I sign up for Bristol Fest 2009. Yon Donna Moore, she drives a hard bargain …
It was nice to meet Jen Jordan, too, my first experience of whom was having my shoulder nuzzled by some random hottie in the convention’s main thoroughfare. But lo! It wasn’t a random hottie, it was Jen Jordan. Nice …
Sarah Weinman was something of a disappointment, given that I was expecting her to be a matronly ball-breaker of indeterminate age. Dang my britches if she’s not cute as a junebug, and prone to enveloping a man in a hug even before he’s been properly introduced. Nice …
Back to Bouchercon, which I’ve actually been reluctant to write about this week, on the basis that the experience was something of a bubble I’ve been afraid to puncture. Friendly people willing and eager to talk books all day and all night – sounds like hell, I know, but you get used to anything after a while. Readers, reviewers, bloggers, writers, editors, publicists, publishers and – crucially – booksellers, all mingling freely. Anyone who hasn’t yet grasped how the chaos of minute particles colliding at random at the quantum level can translate into a solid object or force at the macro level should get along to the next Bouchercon in Indianapolis.
I suppose it helped that I had a foot in a few camps. I was there as a reader, of course, but also as a writer and a blogger / reviewer; and technically speaking, given that THE BIG O was originally a co-publication with Hag’s Head Press, I also had a foot in the publishing / publicity / distribution / selling side of things. So there were a lot of people I was hoping to see.
Jeff Pierce was one, and it was nice to hang out with him on a couple of occasions. Glenn Harper was another, although we didn’t actually get to sit down and talk books – next time, Glenn, hopefully. I also got to meet Angie Johnson-Schmidt, who was kind enough to help me try to find tobacco in late-night Baltimore, as was Dana King, albeit in vain. It was cool to meet Brian Lindemuth and Sandra Ruttan too – Sandra’s another blogger with a foot in more than one camp. And then there was the effervescent and damn near omniscient Ali Karim, and Clair Lamb, and Janet Rudolph … The inimitable Joe Long came down from New York, to greet me with the words, “So where’s the other prick, Hughes?” And it was terrific to hook up with Jon Jordan and be able to say thanks in person for all the support he’s given me ever since way back when, aka the publication of EIGHTBALL BOOGIE. Jon? You’re a gent, squire.
Greg Gillespie of Philly’s Port Richmond Books came down to Baltimore on the Saturday, and nice it was to make his acquaintance again, given that he’d brought the troops out in force to Wednesday night’s Noir at the Bar at Fergie’s. Greg was supposed to sleep on the floor of our hotel room that night, but with an 8.30am panel on Sunday morning looming, I cracked around 2am and went to bed, and haven’t seen him since. Can anyone confirm that Greg is okay?
Incidentally, McFetridge was great company on the road-trip, apart from his insistence in talking up the Toronto Blue Leafs, which plays some weird hybrid of hockey, football and baseball. Well, that and the fact that the Y he booked us into in New York had the noisiest bunk-beds ever made, and that one of the three communal showers was festooned with crime scene-style tape. Other than that, though, he was no more boring than you’d imagine a Canadian writer to be. We may even road-trip again, one day.
As for the rest, well, this post is already too long – suffice to say that Bouchercon 2008 was a tremendous experience. Ruth Jordan and Judy Bobalik deserve all the credit going, and more.
It did occur to me at one point that the attendees as a group were heavily skewed towards an older demographic, although that’s easily enough explained when you consider the cost of travelling to a four-day convention that’s a sheer indulgence. And you could also say that crime fiction is a conservative genre, concerned for the most part with upholding the status quo, and that older generations are more likely to be of a conservative bent.
But here’s the thing – I’ve never had anyone say to me, “Yeah, I got into crime fiction in my fifties.” I was a teenager when the crime bug bit, and I thought I was pretty radical back then, as most teenagers tend to do. Maybe it’s because it’s the most popular kind of writing, and therefore the most accessible, and because the world of gats, molls and grift has a certain surface cool that appeals to the impressionable mind. But once it gets you hooked, it doesn’t let go. It’s odd, especially when you consider that you don’t listen to the same kind of music twenty, thirty or forty years on from your teens, or watch the same kind of movies, or like the same artists, etc. But when I read Ray Chandler today, I enjoy him even more than I did twenty years ago.
The Big Question: any theories as to why crime fiction takes such a compelling grip as to last you an entire lifetime? Over to you, people ...
“Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.