Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Soho Crime Fest Last Night in Mass.: Garry Disher, Cara Black, Henry Chang

We left home at about 11 a.m.; we got back about 12 hours later. All this, in order to attend an author event with all of the above, plus James Benn as MC and Kate's Mystery Books as bookseller of the night, at Stellina's Restaurant in Watertown, Mass.

Was it worth it? ABSOLUTELY.

I took notes like mad while the authors answered questions, panel style. Baseline info: Garry Disher, born in 1949, here thanks in part to a travel grant from the Australia Council for the Arts to Soho Books, to bring him to this side of the globe. Cara Black, born in 1951, is at home in San Francisco but flies to Paris for research for each of her Aimee LeDuc mysteries -- and recreates Paris in her mind when she's writing. Henry Chang, born in 1951 also, native to New York's Chinatown, three-quarters through the first draft for his third Jack Yu investigation. All three are among the Soho Crime authors carving out a new role for global fiction and cultural exploration, within their suspenseful mysteries.

And now, back to Garry, whose photo is above.

Garry Disher's police procedurals feature Inspector Hal Challis and his fellow investigator Sergeant Ellen Destry. Set in the Mornington Peninsula of Australia, about an hour and a half from Melbourne, they center in a region that's lush, has plenty of rain (trash that old Australia image you carry), lots of pine trees, a beautiful coastline, and wineries -- but also, said Disher last night, the doubling in size of some of the old towns of the peninsula combined with global economic issues has created social distress -- and this is what he mines as he writes. Admitting with a laugh that he inflates the murder rate in order to make better fiction -- Australia is nominally gun-free, and he says most of its murders are domestic, with either a knife or the handiest blunt object -- Disher sees his task as partly one of teasing the reader into prolonged suspense, over each book and over the series.

Writing from eight in the morning to "lunchtime" is his regular routine, and he spends the afternoons converting his longhand to typing (doing a "first edit" at the same time) and/or doing research. Usually working from a plan for each book, he places absolute trust in his instincts. And if the instincts lead him off the plan, he follows.

My favorite tidbit: He cites an Irish author as declaring each book, to be written, must have a character, a situation, and a promise.

More tomorrow on Cara Black; then Henry Chang; then I'm going to indulge in a long piece on James Benn, who held back last night in order to be a great MC, but whose new book, coming in September, features Northern Ireland and his latest insights into a long stretch of significant history.

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