November 12, 2012

Lessons from a noir convention


I spent this past weekend in lovely Philadelphia attending a young, adventurous crime convention that calls itself NoirCon.

NoirCon is staged every other year, and this was only its third instance, but like the very best genre conventions it is characterized in every aspect by incredible enthusiasm. I mean the word in an older, noble  sense, in contraposition to “professionalism.” While some of the con’s speakers were luminaries of the field (Lawrence Block and Otto Penzler both took turns on stage) the con itself is run by Philadelphians, some authors, some not, whose passion for the genre — and in particular for the work of perhaps the town’s greatest crime writer, David Goodis — is enough to see them through. More than see them through; to buoy them and all of us in attendance with an excitement, a camaraderie.

The choice of panel topics was beautifully eclectic. The panelists themselves were funny and intelligent without exception. The attendant booksellers from Farley’s Bookshop in New Hope were knowledgeable and stocked (to my great appreciation) with a slew of books from the best indie presses across the country. All in all — and I’ve already said as much on twitter, where you can find some quotes from the proceedings — I highly recommend the con, for lovers of noir, yes, but even for writers of other genres looking to discuss craft.

If you do go to this or any other crime writing convention, however, there are a few simple things you can do to make you time there smoother and more fun for all involved:

— Kindly consider pronouncing the ‘r’ in ‘Noir’, if for no other reason than my continued sanity.

— Served in law enforcement? Served time? You are limited to mentioning that fact fifteen times per hour.

— Own up to what you haven’t read. There’s always someone out there whose shelves are wider than yours. This is a good place to get recommendations, and people will be generous with them.

— Bring a few spare livers.

— Listen when people tell you about their projects. Those of us used to working tables at fairs tend to be gun shy about being pitched things. But places like NoirCon thrive because we are all fans. They serve as a sort of safe space for those used to pitching and those used to being pitched to. Don’t ruin the egalitarianism with disdain or skepticism.

— Bring a black leather jacket. It’ll come in handy during the traditional lights-out-locked-door switchblade fight portion of the proceedings. What, you didn’t think crime writers just wore them to look cool, did you?

— Steel yourself. You may hear depraved, inhuman things, the stuff of nightmares, the sort of detail to make even the toughest crime authors blanch. For instance, this time Lawrence Block told us he once wrote a novel in four days.

— Be awesome. Know that you, as fan or author, are part of a genre — Noir — which has saturated us all, a genre whose potential breadth and formal power and insight into politics and morality and the very human condition has only just begun to be tapped, an agile, playful, powerful genre, and one that happens to be a hell of a good time, too.



Dustin Kurtz is the marketing manager of Melville House, and a former bookseller.