By now, many within the mystery community have heard about Max Allan Collins’ turn as a presenter at last weekend's Shamus Awards, during which he complained that this year’s nominees would be difficult to pronounce, on account of all the “foreigners” on the list.
Maybe he was joking. Maybe not. I wasn’t there, and I don’t know the guy, so I couldn’t say. Truth is, it doesn’t matter. His words served to alienate, demean, and diminish the very writers breathing new life into a subgenre that—as recently as a few years ago—seemed destined for ossification, and he deserves to be called out for that.
Collins’ transgressions, however, aren’t the ones at the fore of my mind; I’ve been too busy pondering my own.
Although I didn’t attend the Shamus Awards, I was in Dallas this weekend too, for Bouchercon. It was, by and large, a blast. I ate my weight in tacos and brisket. Cheered my wife on as she moderated one of the most kickass panels I’ve ever seen. Stayed up way too late, and laughed way too hard, with friends both old and new.
And twice, by happenstance, I found myself chatting with Otto Penzler.
Oddly, we’d never met before, although our paths have crossed a time or two. He and Harlan Coben selected my short story “The Hitter” (on which THE KILLING KIND was based) to appear in THE BEST AMERICAN MYSTERY STORIES 2011. A few years later, I reached out to him to snag my wife an ARC of an author published by his imprint in advance of a panel she was moderating. And, of course, his Mysterious Bookshop stocks signed copies of my work.
Our conversations last weekend were cordial. Pleasant, even. One occurred when I was talking with a mutual acquaintance in the conference bar and he ambled over. Another, at an offsite gathering to which we were both invited. I mentioned our previous points of contact. He politely claimed to recall my name, if not my work. And we chatted some about our mutual affection for Lou Berney’s NOVEMBER ROAD, which quite rightly took home three awards by convention's end.
What I didn’t say, but wish I had, was that the book I think most deserves to be in that position next year is Steph Cha’s YOUR HOUSE WILL PAY. What I didn’t say, but wish I had, was that Steph happens to be a friend of mine, but even if she weren’t, I’d still be disgusted by his characterization of her in the unhinged letter he sent to the MWA in the wake of the Linda Fairstein scandal. What I didn’t say, but wish I had, was that I stood with Steph and Attica Locke when they called upon the MWA to reconsider naming Fairstein a Grand Master of the genre I hold dear.
So… why didn’t I?
One potential answer is the professional downside to picking a fight with an established tastemaker of the genre. Thing is, I’m pretty sure that’s not the case, because I'm too dumb to worry about that kind of stuff, and regularly speak out on issues that matter to me, my sales numbers be damned.
No, I think the truth is simpler than that, and more insidious. I didn’t say anything because we were in polite company. Because I didn’t want to offend our mutual acquaintance in the first encounter, and our host in the second. Because, simply put, it was easier not to.
Presented with an opportunity to speak my mind, I chickened out.
Our interactions have haunted me ever since, for several reasons. One is the knowledge that neither Steph nor Attica would have been afforded the privilege of expediency if they found themselves in a similar situation. Another is the strong suspicion that they wouldn’t have availed themselves of such expediency either way. But most of all, I’m painfully aware of the optics of our interactions, and the chilling message they might send.
I’ve been very fortunate in my career. My books have sold well, garnered acclaim, and won awards. I’m not exactly a household name, but I recall the way I looked at authors of my stature when I first made inroads into the community—and I’m forced to wonder what it would feel like to be a young writer of color watching from across the room while I made small talk with a gatekeeper who’s been clear that they're unwelcome in his realm.
So, sure, I suppose I could pile on Collins for his xenophobic remarks—and, for the record, I think he should apologize—but it’d be performative unless I called myself out on my bullshit too. Civility has long been a tool of the oppressor, because it serves to police tone and maintain status quo. It’s a common gripe that people in positions of power glide through life without fear of repercussions; in the future, I’d prefer not to be the guy greasing the wheels.
Tuesday, November 05, 2019
Saturday, October 26, 2019
Holy heck! October is drawing to a close, which means Bouchercon 2019 is nigh! If you too are Dallas-bound, and would like to find/avoid me, here's where I'll be:
Keep Those Pages Turning
2:30 to 3:30 PM
w/Anne Hillerman, Daniel Palmer, Ed Ruggero, Carter Wilson, and Terri Bischoff (m)
More Real Than the Housewives: Unlikeable Women*
4 to 5 PM
Megan Abbott, Jennifer Hillier, Angie Kim, Laura Lippman, J.M. Redmann, and Katrina Niidas Holm (m)
In addition, I'll be around all weekend, and I'm always** happy to chat or sign books, so if you see me, please don't hesitate to say hello.
*Astute readers will note that I'm not actually on that second panel, but I'll be there anyway because a) my lovely, talented wife is moderating and b) it features several of my favorite writers.
**Bathrooms excluded. Hiding in my hotel room strongly discouraged***.
***Unless you bring pie****.
****This is a joke. Pie or no, please don't hide in my hotel room*****.
*****Instead, kindly leave the pie outside the door for me to retrieve at my leisure.
Thursday, October 24, 2019
I've been obsessed with music for as long as I can remember.
My childhood was filled with the pop and crackle of my parents' vinyl. My adolescence, chock-a-block with mixtapes and hardcore punk matinees. In college, my best friend and I had a radio show that was on so late, nobody listened, but we didn't care; we were too busy dancing around the booth like idiots. And my wife and I have road-tripped to see amazing bands play lousy venues more times than I can count.
So imagine my delight when ace author, editor, podcaster, and drummer Steve Lauden invited me to contribute an essay about one of my favorite artists—Allan Carl Newman of Zumpano and The New Pornographers—for a power pop collection he was co-editing with Paul Myers.
Now imagine my delight when I discovered that my essay would sit alongside pieces by such wildly talented people as Michael Chabon, Ira Elliott, Heather Havrilesky, and the late, great, sorely missed Tom Petty, to name but a few.
The collection, GO ALL THE WAY, will be released November 12th by Rare Bird Books, and is now available for preorder! It's up on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Indiebound, if you'd like to do so. Better yet, swing by your favorite local bookseller and have them order you a copy!
Wednesday, June 19, 2019
Shortly after the publication of RED RIGHT HAND, I struggled with a wicked case of writer's block.
Doubtless some of you are of the opinion that writer's block doesn't exist. Pray you never come to learn how wrong you are.
Appropriately enough, the first thing I finished on my long road back to productivity was a metafictional short story about grappling with writer's block and my moral obligations as a crime writer. (It was inspired by a bizarre exchange I once had at Portland's fabled Great Lost Bear, and kinda sorta features Ted Bundy, so it's probably not as boring as the last sentence makes it sound.)
That story, "Murderers' Row," appears in the July/August issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, which should hit shelves any day now. Look for it wherever magazines are sold.
Twelve years ago, EQMM published my very first short story. It seems fitting they'd publish my thirtieth. Hope y'all enjoy "Murderers' Row." It sure as hell didn't come easy, but I'm damn proud of how it turned out.
Tuesday, May 21, 2019
The festivities kick off on Friday, 5/31, with a session that's free and open to the public. From 3PM to 5PM, there will be panels, including one that features yours truly. At 6PM, Tess Gerritsen will present Lisa Gardner with the 2019 CrimeMaster Award, after which Gardner will chat with the lovely and talented Katrina Niidas Holm. Swing by, grab a book, and get it signed!
Then, on Saturday, 6/1, registrants will be treated to an action-packed schedule, featuring panels and workshops led by bestselling, award-winning authors, as well as pitch sessions with top flight agents. Neil Nyren, Editor in Chief Emeritus of G.P. Putnam's Sons, will provide this year's keynote. Hope to see you there!