Cleveland, City of Lights

When we last met  two weeks ago I was in New Orleans. In the interim I returned home for a couple of days, put out some fires, and then travelled up I-71 North for two hours to attend  Bouchercon 2012 in Cleveland. Bouchercon is an assembly of mystery writers and fans of same, so, like, how could I not go, with it being so close and all?
I was glad I did. If I had stayed home for three days, I would have done nothing but work. I worked at Bouchercon, too, but also 1) reconnected with friends I had not seen for a few years; 2) made some new friends; 3) became better friends with some folks; 4) reconnected with a guy that I worked with some forty years ago; 5) took award-winning author Kelli Stanley and British crime journalists Ali Karim and Mike Stotter — three of the finest folks you will find on this earth —to Mike the Hatter in Broadview Heights, where they each and all found lids that looked wonderful on them; 5) visited the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame; 6) had breakfast with my editor and BFF Carol Fitzgerald, and three members of the original Bookachino internet chat room from way back when the internet was in its cradle; and 7) was the target of  an attack by a drunken troll in the men’s room of a theme restaurant near the host hotel. And how was your weekend?

I have to tell you though that one of the best parts of Bouchercon was beginning it and ending it with fellow Killzoner Jordan Dane. If Jordan ever raffles off a dinner with herself, buy up the tickets. She is wonderful company. We had dinner with author Bev Irwin Wednesday night, before the conference really got rolling, and Jordan is unbelievably funny. She was even funnier after dinner, when I was back in my hotel room, and she began texting observations about this, that and the other to me. Hilarious. And yes, Jordan, you can borrow my gun any time you want; just leave me a bullet so that I can take a shot as well.

Saturday night I was blessed by joining Jordan for dinner once again. I found myself seated with about ten million dollars’ worth of talent in the form of Jordan, Rick Mofina, Linda Castillo, and Julie Kramer. It was a celebration of wonderful news for Rick and Linda: they announced their engagement that evening. Just kidding. What was their news, really? Rick that morning had just received the news that his wonderful new novel, THEY DISAPPEARED, entered the Canadian book lists at Number Two. He learned of this from Linwood Barclay, whose own book, TRUST YOUR EYES, remains at Number One on Canada’s list. There is excellent taste up north, all the way around. As for Linda, her Kate Buckholder series, set in the Ohio Amish country about an hour’s drive from me, is on track to be a television series. Linda, if you hear that the producers are looking about for someone to play a rotund English, please tell them that Sweet Joseph is available.

Seeing Wonderful Jordan, however, was not my only encounter with Kill Zone participants. San Francisco’s Michelle Gagnon was in the house for the William Morrow party. Michelle, besides being an incredible wordsmith, has a fashion sense that any and all would envy. I don’t know anything about such matters, but she somehow always seems dressed to the nines without even trying. Everyone gravitates toward her, and rightfully so. It was wonderful to see her again and to get to spend a little time with her. And what conference would be a conference without Kill Zone alumnus John Gilstrap? John, who is always worth being seeing with and listening to, was in the “Cool Kids Corner,” outside of the hotel with the smokers, even though he doesn’t smoke. I was privileged to spend some quality time with him and Matthew Clemens and get several updates and down dates on the state of the industry. I also hear that Kill Zoner Boyd Morrison was in the House, but somehow failed to meet up with him. Boyd, you evaded me this time, but your luck will not last forever.
There’s more, of course, but that should be more than enough to persuade you to attend Bouchercon the next time it’s in your area. It will be in Albany, NY in 2013; Long Beach, CA in 2014; and Raleigh, NC in 2015. You gotta go. And if you do, say hey.


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Music to My Ears


by Kelli Stanley

First, I gotta thank my hostess, thriller author extraordinaire Michelle Gagnon, and the rest of the fiercely fabulous Kill Zone team.

So I admit it. I’m old enough to remember the days before the Sony Walkman, let alone the iPod. The days before music and entertainment because so personalized, so catering to both whim and instant gratification, that you waited around listening for “Jack and Diane” to play on the FM station. It usually did, in between the Go-Gos and Pat Benatar.

Of course, the irony with all this personal cocooning is that people now have an even greater need to socialize and share … but instead of playing a boom box, you can post an iTunes play list or even pretend to be a DJ on Blip.FM.

And, of course, if you write books, you can share what you listen to through your writing.

Quick poll for authors—raise your hand if you’re influenced by music when you write. Do you listen while you type? Does it set the mood, the tone, the pace for your scene? Do you channel Bernard Herrmann’s score for Psycho for your serial killer segments and switch to Bach for your upbeat ending?

This is one way to use music, and I’ve heard other authors claim that they like writing with the volume up. Me, I’ve never been able to hear my words and Gershwin at the same time, so I don’t actually listen when I write. But to sort of set the stage, to get in the mood … that I can do. I’ve always been a fan of jazz and the Great American Songbook, an affinity that served me well with my latest novel.

Y’ see, listening is particularly helpful when you’re trying to lose yourself in time. Because City of Dragons is set in 1940, I immersed myself in a lot of music from the era—and had to be very careful to not access something anachronistic. I wanted to hear what my characters did, and I was writing about a period in American culture when music was truly a mass medium of popular entertainment … and when our entertainment—thanks to radio drama—was more audio than visual.

The music was key to me feeling like I could capture the past. And then it became about character, too, about my protagonist reacting to that world, particularly the irony of achingly romantic big band swing juxtaposed to the atrocities of war.

So I found myself becoming immersed in the music, actually using it in the book. And I felt confident about being able to, since some writers I greatly admire—like George Pelecanos and Ken Bruen—reference music and lyrics in their works.

The rub, of course, is the permissions phase … something I didn’t know much about. But warning, all you Springsteen fans who want to include “The River” in your latest novel … the author is responsible for either acquiring permission or rewriting the scene.

In my case, I found out too late and had to rewrite certain scenes, retaining a line of lyric and hopefully the flow and rhythm and emotion of the original draft. But—like a DVD director’s cut—I was able to link up a City of Dragons playlist on my website, so that, whenever possible, you can listen to the music my characters do.

It’s a cool way of sharing not just what I like to listen to, but what became an intrinsic element of the book, and a kind of instant time machine back to February, 1940.

So … how do you respond to music in books? And what’s on your playlist today?

Kelli Stanley’s second novel, City of Dragons, has received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Library Journal and Booklist, is an RT Book Reviews Top Pick, and an Indie Next Book for February. Kelli’s debut novel, Nox Dormienda, won the Bruce Alexander Award and was nominated for a Macavity. She lives in San Francisco, and frequents old movie palaces, speakeasies and bookstores. You can find out more about her and her books at her website: http://www.kellistanley.com.




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