Sunday, November 20, 2011

Lawrence Block, Megan Abbott, Dwayne Swierczynski, Nancy Pickard, Barry Eisler

Barry Eisler

Nancy Pickard
All at once? Well, almost -- Dave and I spent an unreal number of days on the road this month, with absurd numbers of hours in the car. But it was worth it.

We headed first to New York City, to visit The Mysterious Bookshop, Otto Penzler's reliably wonderful shop "way downtown" -- for a presentation by three authors, MC'd by Lawrence Block. What can I say: It was worth every mile, and every swerve of the final taxi, to meet this author of so many lively and entertaining mysteries. Block stuck with the role of master of ceremonies, declining to talk about his current work or what's up ahead ("It's a secret") but giving some lively patter to introduce the three relatively younger authors lined up at the table. Megan Abbott brought out The End of Everything earlier in 2011, and I enjoyed it -- at first I thought it was a YA (young adult), but quickly realized its dark reflections were much better suited to an adult, especially one a bit nostalgic for the 1980s, when the story takes place. Abbott described it as "like a Grimm's fairy tale in the suburbs ... the results are fairly perilous and the wolf does indeed appear." Her next book "is about the dark heart of cheerleaders." Gulp.

Also on hand was Dwayne Swierczynski, whose name needs to become trained into the typing fingers for all the good books ahead from this author. He pitched his crime fiction Hell and Gone as a stand-alone, and the publisher requested a trilogy instead. Yes! He commented, "I like to give myself a pair of creative handcuffs," like putting all the action within a prison, or insisting that a book contain no swearing, and see what the pressure brings about, creatively. [Lawrence Block reckoned the same thing applies to his own Drop of the Hard Stuff.]

The third young author, whose initials that evening were Q.M., has since landed in such a swimming pool of fecal matter that we won't even go there. But darn it, he seemed such a nice person ...
Lawrence Block, at right, at The Mysterious Bookshop, NYC

Our next stop was outside Boston for the 10th eruption of the New England Crime Bake, with guests of honor Nancy Pickard and Barrry Eisler. Based on observation for three days, I can completely confirm that Pickard brings out the best in the people around her in every panel or conversation. How? By being both insightful and generous. She never tried (or needed) to push her own books forward -- instead, she pointed out the skilled work in the books of others, and drew out ideas about how to write well. I especially liked seeing her encourage Jennifer MacMahon and Brunonia Barry to "dish" about secrets and how they propel the plot forward, leading to depth and intensity. An example of her grace: "I'm a thirty-year overnight success. I just live long enough." Truth is, she pushes each of her novels beyond the predecessors, and The Scent of Rain and Lightning is already a classic of fine writing and immaculately paced suspense.

Seconding Pickard's recommendations about perseverance as a writer, flying star Barry Eisler (in the news a lot lately for his decision to have Amazon publish his next book, a sure-fire winner in his John Rain ex-CIA rebel sequence) confessed, "My attitude at the beginning was, 'If somebody has to be published, it might as well be me,' and I recommend that attitude." Simply, he added, "Write the best book you can possibly write." That's why we'll keep purchasing his.

Final result of all that running around: Dave added another 45 signed mysteries to our shelves. Some are quite scarce indeed ... and all of them, worth reading.

On the other hand, please, partner, can we spend next November just staying home and stuffing the turkey? And reading good books?


Belgie said...

t is undeniable that author Nancy Pickard has a flair for writing about murder mysteries that take place in small town settings. "The Scent of Rain & Lightning" is the second novel that I've read by Nancy Pickard, the first being "The Virgin of Small Plains" which went straight into the list of my favorite mystery novels of all time. Thus, when I picked up this book, I had a lot of expectations. And despite how pre-hyped (and over-hyped, I must add) the book had been in my mind, it came through on all my expectations.

Beth Kanell said...

Thanks for your comment; I felt the same way!