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ConMisterio: Friday

Tuesday, July 18, 2006
The program on Friday didn't start until ten, so I had the luxury of sleeping in for a change. There was another convention at the Doubletree - public school teachers or something like that - so while munching on a Danish I had the chance to see the future governer of Texas, Kinky Friedman, holding forth to a small knot of journalists. Someone invited him to stay for the convention, but his handlers shook their heads gravely and whisked him away.

The first person I saw in the lobby was Steven Torres, author of the Precinct Puerto Rico novels and a series of short stories about Russian mercenary Viktor Petrenko.

We shot the bull for a few minutes and Bill Crider showed up with a new toy: a video camera about the size and shape of an iPod. He did a quick interview with us and he and Steven posed for a photo:

After that I headed over to the dealer room for a quick look before the first panel. One dealer I didn't expect to see: Ramble House, from my hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana. For about five years I lived just a few blocks from the Ramble House house.

Proprietor Fender Tucker was there and we had a nice chat. I looked over some of his beautiful handmake books, as well as his massive catalog of Harry Stephen Keeler books.

Unfortunate lens glare - or angel on his shoulder?

I was checking out Murder By The Book's table when someone said, "Graham?" Surprise, surprise, it was Duane Swierczynski, and he recognized me.

Take my picture, and I gut you with this pen.

Duane is a BIG guy, not big and lumpy like me, but more of a squared-away linebacker's physique. In fact, he reminded me of another familiar mystery figure:

After that was the first panel, "Is Hardboiled Hip?", with Duane, Reed Farrel Coleman, Bruce Cook, and Anthony Neil Smith.

Neil and Bruce.

Duane talks so fast, he can do an hour-long panel in only 15 minutes. So fast, in fact, that I thought he said the title of his current book was The Mailman.

After a bit of haggling among the panelists, it was decided that "hip" meant something new, on the way up, that hadn't hit the mainstream yet. Stories not meant for the mass market, but for the niche market (or as Reed called it, the "neesh" market).

I asked they panel if they'd rather be hip, or sell out, and the response was immediate and unanimous: "SELL OUT!"

After that I went next door to "What You Should Go Back And Read", with Scott Cupp, L.A. Starks, Bill Crider, Richard Moore, and Bryan Barret.

The usual suspects.

The panel turned into a discussion of old paperbacks pretty quickly, with suggestions such as Jim Thompson and Donald Hamilton, then touched on some more obscure authors such as Ralph Dennis and E. Richard Johnson. Scott Cupp was the most popular man in the room, as he brought a stack of books to give away:

I myself made off with Mongo's Back In Town.

After that it was lunchtime, which I spent shopping in the dealer room. I consider it a sign of good character that I spent over $100 on books, but when I saw the prices in the cafe I said, "Ten bucks for a hamburger? Screw that!" and bought a honeybun from the gift shop.

I did get a chance to talk with Megan Abbott for a few minutes. Abbott is the author of Die A Little a rather dark tale set in the 1950s and using some of the storytelling styles of that era - bent to her own designs, of course.

Speaking of which, Megan is a from New York, has written a mystery set in the Fifties that uses Fifties storytelling conventions... has anyone ever seen her and Sara Gran in the same room?

Add to this the fact that Megan says that someone who had actually met them both got them confused, and yeah, they're the same person.

The one o'clock panel was a discussion of the new anthology Damn Near Dead, brainchild of Duane Sweirczynski and David Thompson of Busted Flush Press. Like most good ideas, they came up with this one over a couple of beers. I understand they plied many of the contributors with alcohol, as well.

David and Duane.

David revealed that the first spark for this was a trip to a nursing home, where he saw many people basically cast loose from society the way the Eskimos send their elderly off on an ice flow. As these seniors had nothing to lose, he came up with the idea of a rampaging gang of oldsters - "Cocoon meets the Wild Bunch", as he put it.

James Crumley had a senior moment of his own when preparing the introduction. While reading the stories he wondered what was up with all the cranky old folks - until his wife pointed out the title of the anthology. So, that explained that.

Between the panels I ran into a couple of people from here and there. Mark Troy was on hand, and reports that he his second Val Lyon novel is completed and out making the rounds.

Pari Noskin Taichert from Murderati was there, too. She doesn't look anything like her author photo:

They were both on the next panel with Libby Fischer Hellman (from The Outfit). The subject was thrillers, and how they differ from mysteries. The upshot: It's all a matter of degree! Thanks for the insight, fellas.

The last panel of the day (for me) was "What caliber do you recommend?", with Jonathan Santlofer, Wallace Stroby, and Reed Coleman. If these guys had been from Texas, the conversation would have been, "Well, I prefer a .270 myself. How about you, Bart?" "I like something a little heavier, like a .30-06. And in a handgun I use a .44 Magnum, of course."

Wallace and Reed.

But instead we got three guys from greater New York City, so they talked about violence in mysteries. And since they didn't need the microphone to be heard, Reed used it for his famous Subway Conductor impression.

At each of the conventions I've been to, there was one guy whose name I'd never even heard before who turned out to be as interesting as anyone preset. At the Austin Bouchercon it was Eddie Muller; this time it was Jonathan Santlofer. Originally an artist, he got into writing through a rather unfortunate circumstance: the museum hosting a retrospective of his art burned to the ground, destroying his life's work. After that he found he couldn't paint, so he turned to writing instead.

Wallace Stroby was pretty interesting as well. I had a chance to talk to him later when he sat next to me in the bar, and I'll be damned if I could think of a single thing to say, so we just sat there. I got up to play a couple of songs on the jukebox, and when I got back he was gone, leaving me feeling like a total jerk.

After a brief reception, where I was shocked to discover food with no meat in it! This is Texas, people! we headed off to dinner, at a place called County Line Barbecue in west Austin. What do you think the leading lights of the mystery world spent the whole time talking about? Television. Specifically, HBO's Deadwood, which I have never seen, so I had no clue. As usual.

After dinner I was pretty tuckered, so I headed off to get some sleep.

posted by Graham Powell at 5:59 PM