Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Tony Hillerman, 1925-2008

I was saddened to learn that Tony Hillerman passed away on Sunday due to heart problems. I won't have anything to write about him that is more personal than this tribute by author Deanne Stillman, or as well written as the New York Times obituary by mystery fiction critic and essayist Marilyn Stasio. But if there has never been time for you become familiarized with this great author in the past, I encourage you to make time now, and experience the truly unique voice of an American great.

Everyone has seen a Tony Hillerman book. You may not have associated the name or the face, but the covers are consistently evocative and stand out among the others on the bestseller lists. The one that I seem to always see popping up is Skeleton Man, his second-to-last novel, which was released in 2004. No matter what used book store I'm in, or which overstock bin I'm standing near, there seems to be a copy there. And if not Skeleton Man, than surely The Shape Shifter or Hunting Badger.

I heard one of my friends call him Mr. Southwest yesterday, and I guess that's as good a summation as any. He has been, and always will be, connected with the "Four Corners" region where Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado meet. His mystery novels focused on Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee, two Navajo Tribal Policemen, and the cases they were involved in, which often talked about the clashes of differing ideals, whether it was between Native American tribes, the tribes and the white man, the past and the present, or the criminal and the law. His writing style represented the area as well. It was sparse, not particularly populated, but also beautiful in its openness. His sense of place is often mentioned as a strength, and I can't argue with that, but it was always the characters that brought me back.

Never let it be said that I let an opportunity to mention film go by. Hillerman's books have been adapted to film or TV 4 times, probably best remembered on PBS, with the great Adam Beach (Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, Flags of our Fathers) in the Jim Chee role and Wes Studi (Dances With Wolves, Last of the Mohicans) as Joe Leaphorn. There were three of these films: Skinwalkers (2002), Coyote Waits (2003) and A Thief of Time (2004). The Dark Wind was a 1991 theatrical adaptation starring Lou Diamond Phillips as Jim Chee and directed by documentarian Errol Morris.

Throughout his career, he received the Edgar award for Dance Hall of the Dead, the Spur Award for Skinwalkers, the Nero award for Coyote Waits, the Mystery Writers of America's Grand Master award, the Agatha and Anthony awards for Seldom Disappointed, the Malice Domestic Lifetime Achievement award and the Western Writers of America's Wister Award for Lifetime Achievement. Not to mention the Navajo Tribe's Special Friends of the Dinee Award for his contributions to expanding understanding and appreciation for the Navajo culture.

So, look, don't just take my word for it. Go pick up a Tony Hillerman book. It will be well worth your time.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Rubbing Off

There's one thing that I can always say about hanging out with other writers: It makes me want to write more. It makes me want to write more and better, and get my stuff out there for people to see.

It' s an odd mix of awe and trepidation, at least for me, to be talking with published writers. I don't know what it is about my personal makeup, whether it's my Catholic upbringing or generally low self-esteem, but I always assume people have better things to do. I've gotten better about it, but at the Madison Bouchercon I was a complete mess, being that over-talking hyper-excited star-struck guy that fawned over mid-list authors that I'm sure would have been flattered if I hadn't seemed crazy. Usually what I was faced with was the look that starts with narrowed eyes and moves to contracted brows and causes people to end their comments with ellipses and question marks.

The over-arching enthusiasm had abated by the time I got to Malice Domestic the next year, but I had gone by myself, without really an agenda, and spent a lot of my time wandering around. My good friend Charles Benoit was there and had a few drinks with me, and I actually got off my butt and did some meeting. But I felt like there were two groups of people at that conference: the great fans of traditional/cozy mysteries, and the authors. And I didn't fit with either one of them. I don't think any lasting friendships came specifically out of that conference, but I did get to meet some great writers.

Then came Baltimore. I was much more confident this time around. I had a general plan. I knew there were certain authors I wanted to catch up with, including friends from previous conferences. I made sure to be out of my room, and seen around the conference. To that end, I volunteered in the Hospitality Suite and was in the bar every night. I made it a point to contact NY Times best-selling author Harlan Coben ahead of time and arrange an interview with him about a December 19 showing of the film TELL NO ONE, based on his novel. Not only was this a goal for me to shoot for, but it helped my general confidence not only in dealing with new people, but also in asserting myself for my own goals. I shook hands with, and smiled at, a lot of people last weekend, and I felt a bit more like I belonged.

This may actually seem like putting the cart before the horse, since I haven't finished the book yet, let alone sent it out, but it's actually helped my motivation, as I have not only gotten back to work on the novel, but have also started a short story with the same character. Things are looking up creatively, and so I go forward.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Post-Game, and Onward

A list of things that I learned/had reinforced at Bouchercon 2008:

- Noir is about disillusionment.
- Charles Ardai hugs everybody.
- Marcus Sakey and Sean Chercover are about the two G-D nicest guys you'd ever want to meet.
- In a mystery, everyone is lying.
- Trey Barker is fun to hang out with.
- Charles Benoit can bring any room to life.
- A protagonist becomes who he must become to do what he needs to do by the end of the book.
- Judy Clemens is the definition of Grace Under Pressure.
- If Megan Abbott wasn't already cool enough, she's a Doctor to boot.
- Setting is a character.
- Eddie Muller makes good films.
- Lawrence Block is a god.
- Setting is both geographic and emotional.
- Laura Lippman is an incredible speaker.
- Mark Billingham is funny as hell.
- Attack your writing with arrogance and ignorance.
- Harlan Coben is a great interview.
- Jim Huang has great ideas.
- The style of writing can be influenced by the setting.
- Making new friends is one of the best parts of any Bouchercon, so I need to say "Hi" to: Kat Richardson, Sheila Connolly, Stefanie Pintoff, Meredith Cole, Sandra Parshall, Lori G. Armstrong, Jodi Compton, Beth Wasson,
- Christa Faust is so cool.
- Whether the protagonist is amateur or professional, they become amateur so that they can learn about the subject matter along with the reader.
- A PI is often discovering himself, and hiding from his own past.
- Charlaine Harris is the basis for TRUE BLOOD. Well, her books are.
- Harry Husicker is a fan of Magnum, PI.
- Sisters are sisters, but Guppies are awesome.
- Brett Battles is a temporary Rays fan.
- Robert Gregory Browne didn't have to come back, but he did.
- I need a smaller camera.
- Austin Camacho works for the Defense Department.
- Dan Wagner is a good friend.
- Keeping in touch with old friends is a good idea.
- Shannon Clute and Richard Edwards prepared me well.
- There's more to do than you can actually get done.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Bouchercon Pictures

My digital camera is of the archaic variety and very difficult to carry around without a jacket pocket to put it in, so these pics are all from Sunday Afternoon:

Max Allan Collins and Ted Fitzgerald in the Book Room.

Judy Clemens after the Anthony Awards Brunch.

Austin Camacho, also post-Anthonys.

Eddie Muller and Christa Faust hanging in the lobby.

Sean Chercover being cool. And me...not.

Brett Battles and Robert Gregory Browne, still on the clock.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Bouchercon Pre-Game, Part 7

8:30am - There are only two panels early in the morning. One is called "Sunday hangover." The other introduces us to new authors. We'll see how that works out.

10am - Laura Lippman is being interviewed as the American Guest of Honor.

11:30am - The Anthony Awards brunch. The nominations can be found here. I have certain people I'll be rooting for. You may be able to find their names in previous posts.

After the brunch, but before I catch the plane back, THD and I will be hanging out with former Selznick grad Criss Kovac and hubby Peter. Looking forward to catching up.

Although they haven't been listed on panels, I am also hoping to catch up with some other authors while I'm in Baltimore: Trey Barker, Krista Davis, Sandra Parshall, Judy Clemens. Huh. I thought there would've been more. But it looks like everyone is represented now, so wish me luck and I'll tell you how it was when I get back.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Bouchercon Pre-Game, Part 6

1:30pm - Lawrence Block is being interviewed by Charles Ardai of Hard Case Crime. Is there anything else going on at that time? There shouldn't be.

3pm - The very funny Troy Cook will be on a panel about how crime fiction reveals the darkness of human emotions. Should be interesting.

4:30pm - Ugh. Four panels I'd like to see: 1) Keeping it plausible when everyday folk solve crime. 2) Christa Faust on boundaries. heh heh. 3) Writing in more than one genre. 4) Harlan Coben and Laura Lippman. Nuff Said.

Night-time. Ah, finally some time to relax. Yeah, right. Restaurants, bars, conversation and friends. One last night.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Bouchercon Pre-Game, Part 5

8:30am - I have to be up for Charles Benoit's panel on travelling the globe. Have to.

10am - There is a panel about how the authors picked the times they write in, yet another of the Killer Year participants, Brett Battles, is on a panel about making the bad guys likable.

11:30am - A panel on classic crime authors intrigues me. Christa Faust is going to be representing Richard Prather and Max Allan Collins will be representing Mickey Spillane. Yet, there's also a panel on why someone would want to be a PI. Hmmmm...

Lunchtime - Will I be sick of crab at this point? I don't even know if it's in season. Does it have seasons?

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Bouchercon Pre-Game, Part 4

1:30pm - Easy. Best new author nominees, with Marcus Sakey and Sean Chercover.

3pm - There are three panels that I'm interested in: One has Lee Child, one has Louise Penny, and one is about applying real-life experience to your fiction. I'll play it by ear.

4:30pm - Again, more opportunities than you can shake a stick at: Harlan Coben talking about ending your book, Christa Faust talking about books with a lasting impact, and a panel on the similarity between sub-genres.

Night-time - We have reservations at J. Paul's, and hopefully old high school friend Peter Panepento will be able to join us. Beyond that, I assume there are bars and parties going on that night...

Friday, October 3, 2008

Bouchercon Pre-Game, Part 3

Friday, October 10
8:30am - We'll all just assume I can get up this early. Laura Lippman is on a panel again this day, but I'll likely be at the "Six Days on the Road" panel with Jacqueline Winspear.

10am - This time slot is the biggest travesty of the conference, making me choose between Marcus Sakey and Max Allan Collins talking about movies and Sean Chercover and Duane Swierczynski talking about TV. Why can't they temporarily clone me?

11:30am - Another tough call. There is a panel on "Making Your Characters Believable," which might be helpful, but "Noir for the New Century" with Megan Abbott and Eddie Muller sounds fascinating.

12:30pm - There is a Bouchercon business lunch meeting, where a vote will be taken on the 2010 Bouchercon applications: San Francisco and Tempe, and a confirmation of the bid for 2011: St. Louis. Otherwise, I'll be at the market again.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Bouchercon Pre-Game, Part 2

Tursday, October 9
1:30pm - An online writing group I belong to, the Guppies, read Julie Hyzy's book State of the Onion for analysis. She'll be at a panel at this time. About food. Huh?

3:00pm - I'm tempted to be at the panel which features Thomas Cook and the Anthony-nominated native Baltimorean Laura Lippman, but I may end up at the "Law enforcement in novels, fact vs. fiction" panel. Again, no authors I've read, but I've got cops in my novel.

4:30pm - This is a tough one. Barabara Peters and Robert Rosenwald of Poisoned Pen Press are getting interviewed for their Lifetime Achievement. Robert Gregory Browne is on a panel about criminal masterminds. And there is a panel about "What I Wish I Knew Starting Out." For someone starting out, it might not be a bad panel.

7pm - We'll probably have grabbed some dinner by now, but the Opening Ceremonies start at 7, and most everyone will be there. We'll have some drinks, present some awards, and mingle.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Bouchercon Pre-Game, Part 1

Well, it's a new month, so I thought I'd get a new post up. What's that, you say? I haven't been around in FOUR months? Well, that's ridiculous. I'll just look back at my last post and...

Wow. It has been some time, hasn't it? And I didn't exactly leave on a positive note. Well, fear not. I am happy, healthy, writing and looking forward to my second Bouchercon experience ever. It is going to be jam-packed with goodness, and I thought I'd give you some idea of what I'll be doing when, if you want to follow along.

Wednesday, October 8
We are arriving in the afternoon and going to the hotel to settle in. There is really nothing scheduled for that night, so we may go out to a restaurant (I believe The Hungry Detective has made reservations) and then hang at the bar and see who shows up. (You listenin' Trey?)

Thursday, October 9
8:30 am - Early, right? Well, we won't be the only ones up early, because there are 5 author panels starting at this time, including one with Sean Chercover. I have to leave this one early, but that's okay, because Sean is going to be ALL OVER this conference.

9am - I'm giving of myself by volunteering at the Sisters-in-Crime table in the Hospitality Suite.

10am - I saw Austin Camacho at the Malice Domestic conference in 2007. I'll see him again here as he talks about "Challenging the Reader."

11:30am - Lee Child has a panel at this time, but I think I'll be at "Getting Cops Right in Fiction." I haven't read any of the authors, but I like the subject matter.

12:30pm - I was supposed to attend the Sisters-in-Crime lunch, but I didn't send my check in on time. I might walk down to the market and see what they've got. I hear they have a Chocolate Festival going on.

Tune in tomorrow to see what I'll be doing the rest of Thursday, and beyond.