“Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “A sheer pleasure.” – Tana French. “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. “The effortless cool of Elmore Leonard at his peak.” – Ray Banks. “A fine writer at the top of his game.” – Lee Child.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

100,000 Not Out

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 ...

24 comments:

bookwitch said...

Killing people is nice. That's why.

You don't listen to the same music? And here I had Eoin Colfer having to become a rich author, so that he could afford his own office, where he can sit and listen to David Bowie and Led Zeppelin without his children complaining.

AnswerGirl said...

I dunno, Declan -- I'm still listening to a lot of the same music and liking the same kind of movies ... but I am the first to admit that I never left adolescence.

It was great to meet you in person, and your panels were excellent. I'm also very impressed at how you just managed to say, "Wow, I was one of the youngest people there!" in a way that didn't make me feel like a pensioner.

Clair

Corey Wilde said...

You must have some kind of genetic mutation. The music of your youth is the music of your life. That's why I still have a Beatles bumper sticker on my car. (Sue me.) And tho I was hatched in the era of color films, my heart still belongs to black & white. Tell me Robert Mitchum doesn't trump Adam Sandler every damned time.

Declan Burke said...

A point of clarification, folks - when I was a teen, the kind of movies I was into were Star Wars, Porkies, Indiana Jones ... I prefer more sophisticated stuff than that now. Although, without a doubt, Bob Mitchum trumps Adam Sandler every time. But then, Out of the Past is a more sophisticated movie than anything Sandler's churned out, with the possible exception of Punch Drunk Love. As for music - I still listen to the stuff I loved in my teens, but I don't go looking for the likes of The Pixies anymore ... I prefer stuff that's more in tune with who I am now. Mind you, I've been playing The Smiths off the stereo for the last three months ... so what do I know?

Ms Witch? Next time you see Eoin, tell him that if you play Zep loud enough, you don't hear the kids complaining / cops knocking.

Cheers, Dec

John McFetridge said...

Congrats on 100,000.

I hadn't thought of this idea of crime fiction taking hold of me when I was young, but it did. Why? I think it may have had something to do with the characters being able guys and morally sure of themselves in an unsure world.

Like most teenage boys I struggled with massive amounts of shyness and insecurity and had trouble with the giant hypocrisy I was discovering every day. Then I met Sam Spade and however flawed he was, he wasn't afraid. He wasn't a cartoon character that stood for "justice" and reeled at the immorality of the world - he made his way through it knowing it would be just as crappy a place at the end of the day as it was at beginning but he'd keep up the fight.

This was quite a different kind of character than the ones in the books they made me read at school, the thoughtful but mostly depressing stories of middle-class men and their quiet desperation or Dicken's happy endings.

Crime fiction said, "fuck you," to the world the same way the good music of my youth did. A very appealing thing to say to a teenage boy.

And something I still like to say to the world from time to time.

Peter Rozovsky said...

Within the limits allowed by polite society, I should be glad to make the acquaintance of shitehawking. And the next time I meet Donna Moore, I'll press into her hands at least one book for her to sign.

I'll have to give a bit of thought to the serious part of your question. I read my odd bit of Chandler, Hammett and Robert B. Parker when I was young, but my main exposure to crime fiction back then was through old movies. I've only been reading crime fiction in a big was for six or seven years. I think what hooked me then was the realization that this crime-fiction thing had penetrated to so many parts of the word, and that authors could play off the conventions in so many interesting ways: Janwillem van de Wetering's philisophically inclined humor, for instance, or Qiu Xiaolong's eye-opening view of 1990s Shanghai.
===================
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

Dana King said...

Congratulations on reaching the 100,000 milestone. Keep up the good work (and good works) and we can all get together for a party when you crack a million. (Even us oldsters should still be around.)

I got hooked into crime as a teen, reading true crime stories of American organized crime. I discover crime fiction when I found a Mickey Spillane novel (THE TWISTED THING) while helping my Dad clean the basement.

It went dormant for a while until I was in my late thirties, when I started reading Robert B. Parker, and, through him, Chandler. (Kudos to Declan Hughes for his Bouchercon comment, saying we all must remember how the scales fell from our eyes when we first read Chandler, Hammett, and Macdonald.)

Now I'm old enough to see the world how it is, but still young (or idealistic) enough to see it for what it could be. Good crime fiction gives hope (usually) without glossing over too much of what's wrong, with protagonists willing to put themselves on the line. Tainted heroes may be all we have now, but if you ever need a real hero, tainted will be more than good enough.

Gerald So said...

I was fascinated with movie and TV detectives at a young age, but as many have said, I began to read my favorite characters in my late teens.

I don't need to to see good beat evil or order restored from chaos, but I do enjoy a sense of "roundness". Events or details from the beginning of a story play into the end. I enjoy trying to solve puzzles along with the protagonist (as opposed to waiting for the protag to make brilliant, surprising deductions).

Lastly crime fiction seemed to present worlds I could most easily believe. Sure, crime fiction may be too dark for some, but I prefer a little dark to too light or far-fetched.

Good meeting you at B'con, Declan.

Jon The Crime Spree Guy said...

I can't believe you called my sister a hottie.
She actually may be a hottie, I just can't believe you called her one. Now she'll want a raise or some compensation.....


I've read crime fiction and mysteries all my life, I like other stuff too, just not in the same volume. And while what I enjoy is always expanding, I still love the stuff I grew up with as far as movies and music.

Way cool to meet you in person in Baltimore bro!

Peter Rozovsky said...

I must remind myself that if I am going to misspell a word, not to misspell philosophically.

seanag said...

I bet you were a smash at Bucheron, Declan. I hope guys both had a lot of fun in the bargain.

Declan Burke said...

"Tainted heroes may be all we have now, but if you ever need a real hero, tainted will be more than good enough."

Very true, squire ...

bookwitch said...

Shitehawking? Please translate.

Declan Burke said...

'Shitehawking', ma'am, translates loosely as 'messing around' and / or 'acting the bollocks'. I'm not sure of the etymology ... It may be a Greek root.

Cheers, Dec

bookwitch said...

Is it edible?

Declan Burke said...

Certainly. I find a jus d'orange brings out its delicate flavour perfectly.

Cheers, Dec

Jen Jordan said...

Crime fiction has always spoken to a deep and dark part of my psyche that no other words have reached. The part of me that is troubled yet noble and far too thoughtful for my own good. Rarely is the hero's journey to compressed, painful and pointless as it is in crime fiction.

You are good to nuzzle randomly, Mr B.

marco said...

Whaddaya mean you don't listen to the Pixies anymore? How can you?

I began with crime very early ;) -Mom bought every week the gialli paperbacks,which were mostly cozies-I remember I didn't like the hardboileds that slipped in from time to time.
I lost interest in high school and passed on to sci-fi and "literary" though I did still read some giallo now and then.
I rediscovered crime fiction a few years later-when I was ready for a reappraisal of the hard-boiled and noir classics I hadn't enjoyed before...and now on the cozy/noir axis my tastes have shifted pretty dramatically.
Re:crime being a conservative genre,intent on upholding the status quo
-that's probably true for most crime fiction written in English,but not for French and Italian schools of noir or the novels of Sjöwall & Wahlöö,which are generally interested in depicting the breakdown of society, often from a left-wing perspective, and rarely offer consolation.

Ciao
Marco

seanag said...

Marco, have you ever come across the Do-it-Yourself giallo maker?
It can be found here www.braineater.com/misc/giallo.html I have to confess I spent way more time fooling around with it than can possibly be justified. But it did give me a strong sense of what at least a certain type of giallo is all about.

Declan Burke said...

What the hell is a giallo, people?

Cheers, Dec

Peter Rozovsky said...

Giallo means yellow in Italian. Covers of early Italian murder mysteries were yellow, and the word giallo soon became a generic term for mystery story. And I'm not shitehawking.
===================
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

marco said...

Peter is right.
Giallo is generally used in the sense of mystery story,even for real life unsolved mysteries,but can also mean any kind of crime fiction.

Seanag
It is hilarious,thank you.
Here gialli means something else-a series of Italian films popular in the 70s which mixed horror/suspense/mystery with large doses of sex and a few random psychopatologies.

They are not called gialli in Italy,however;this wikipedia article explains the origins of both the Italian and the English usage.
Of the gialli films some were good,most were bad,a few were of the so-bad-it's actually good-type,all were kitsch.
The random title I came up with from the giallo maker says it all,really:
Your Face is as Still as the Calm Surface of the Lake, But Your Heart is a Killer with Bloodstained Lips

And in this spirit,
"you'll think i'm dead, but I sail away on a wave of mutilation "
Bye
Marco

marco said...

This is so...perfectly archetypal

A Golden Armadillo on the Etruscan Altar

Directed by
Ovidio Massaprodussi

An enigmatic graphic artist is brutally raped and murdered in a public park. A blind female writer accidentally steps into the middle of the police investigation of the the crime. After several bloody murders, she finds herself faced with the decision to betray her own brother.


Ciao,
Marco

seanag said...

Glad you liked it Marco. And also glad that you and Peter are here to give more accurate definitions than I would have.

The odd thing about these fake gialli is that really the more savage they sound, the funnier they become.

...Or maybe that's just my own warped brain.