Deadly Ink: “Everybody Wins”

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The annual Deadly Ink conference held in northern New Jersey last weekend was loads of fun. Guest of Honor Wendy Corsi Staub was a lively presence and toastmaster Dick Belsky charmed. I saw a number of old friends, met authors I admire, and was delighted to be included on several panels. Yesterday’s post reviewed some of the discussion about “character.”

The Dark Side
The panel on noir stories and hard-boiled characters  risked bogging down in semantics but clearly demonstrated the many shades of black actually out there. Apologies if you’ve read this here before, but I offered Dennis Lehane’s definition of noir: In a tragedy, a man falls from a great height (Macbeth, the Greeks, Chinatown); in noir, he falls from the curb. Panelist Rich Zahradnik provided another good one: “In noir, nobody wins.”

Hard-boiled stories usually involve a detective who is not emotionally involved or is struggling not to be. Humphrey Bogart’s portrayals of Sam Spade (written by Dashiell Hammett) and Philip Marlowe (Raymond Chandler) epitomize the genre. Cynical and street-smart, not reliant on the intellectual powers of Sherlock Holmes or the “little grey cells” of Hercule Poirot.

The hard-boiled character nevertheless gets the job done. Occasionally crossing my path are books that are too dark. They feature down-and-out characters living in filthy apartments who smoke and drink too much; some of them can’t think beyond their next fix. I don’t find them interesting. With four strikes against them already, whaddaya know, they make (more) bad decisions. Give me a character who at least has the opportunity to make choices.

With me on this panel were Charles Salzberg (whose Swann character operates on the fringes of society, but has plenty of agency), Al Tucher (whose work features a smart and tough prostitute), and moderator Dick Belsky.

Location, Location, Location
In the session on story setting, historical mystery author Annamaria Alfieri said she chooses her location first (British East Africa, for example), then the time period in which that place offered the most interesting fictional possibilities.  

Panelists’ strategies for establishing a strong sense of place included attention to the small details and local idiosyncrasies (lots of research here, including site visits for contemporary works), plus making sure to describe the character’s emotional reaction to the location. If you could pick a San Francisco story up and move it four hundred miles south to Los Angeles, you should end up with a different story. New Orleans isn’t New York, and South Carolina isn’t South Dakota.

Of course, panelists and audience alike thought Al Tucher is onto something with his new book set in Hawai`i. “It’s a research trip.” Yeah, right.

This and yesterday’s post about “character” are a small sample of the conference’s varied and interesting program. Whether you’re a writer or a fan, be there in person in 2020!

Photo: Sebastien Wiertz, creative commons license

****The Bad News Bible

Jerusalem

(photo: David Holt, Creative Commons license)

By Anna Blundy – Reading and reviewing classics like The Long Goodbye or best-sellers like Mr. Mercedes and trying to develop my own take on them is fun, but even more rewarding is discovering an author whose books have flown under the radar and bringing them to your attention! In that category, here’s The Bad News Bible (2004), published by Felony and Mayhem Press, a murder mystery set in the heart of Jerusalem, with all the dangers and dislocations thereunto. Ask Brian Williams.

Perhaps because in real life her father was a British war correspondent, killed in El Salvador, Blundy made her protagonist a war correspondent, too. Faith Zanetti is ensconced with a profane, chain-smoking, hard-drinking crowd of journalists with whom she’s spent many dusty hours. Though they work in deadly dangerous places and though gallows humor is one way they stay sane, Faith doesn’t expect murder to invade this close circle of colleagues and competitors. Reviewers have said Faith “is a heroine who was waiting to be created,” the one “we’d love to be.” Faith has been carried along by her courage and her cynical sense of humor into four more books after this one, first in the series.

The book’s title is what Faith’s best friend calls the reams of advice the correspondents are given about staying safe in a war zone, information in stark contrast to the ever-present “Good News Bible” in their hotels’ bedside table drawers. Faith has humor, sharp perceptions, and calls them as she sees them, exactly the traits needed to survive—and Get the Story—in her tricky situation. And Blundy’s writing has the energy to carry it off.

(If you order this book, make sure you buy the one by Anna Blundy. Another has the same title but is a different thing altogether!)