I'm sitting in a hotel room. A weak lamp lights my keyboard. A bottle of beer sits at the ready. If only I was in a huddled in some fleabag dump clacking away on a typewriter. That might play better for a tale of Noircon 2010...
This was my third time hitting the Society Hill Playhouse for a weekend of dark detective fun (Goodiscon in 2007 and Noircon 2008). Each time it seems that I speak with a few more people. Perhaps this core group provided a foundation or that I've been forced to come out of my candy-colored shell with the book events I've been doing lately but this third time around I really felt a strong sense of camaraderie with this eclectic and talented group of people.
As I already wrote, things started off with a bang for me on Wednesday night's Brickbat Books signing. On Thursday night Noircon proper began with a screening of Larry Withers's David Goodis: To a Pulp. My face burned in embarrassment every time I was on screen. I appreciated seeing the movie with an audience, though, and feel like I got a lot more out of it this time around. I have been hesitant to write a full review because of my involvement with this project (conflict of interest) but think my role is small enough (and the documentary important enough) to forgive.
The first full day of Noircon started off with a bang. A discussion of pornography and noir hosted by Reed Coleman with Jay Gertzman and Christ Faust set the tone for the entire event, mixing intellectual discourse with seat of the pants commentary. Coleman engaged the panel while challenging the audience. From the back of the cabaret David Corbett kept everyone honest and helped foster an attitude of free expression. He wasn't afraid to call bullshit when needed, as often was when talks became mired in semantic masturbation. By day two anyone who asked for a definition of noir got a response that might make a sailor blush.
In the afternoon Laura Lippman did a wonderful job of getting fellow author (and David Goodis award winner George Pelecanos to open up. Later, Ed Pettit and Robert Polito presented an hour of noir poetry with Pettit providing a stunning interpretation of Joseph Moncure March's "The Set-Up" - a poem about boxing that rippled with a hardboiled beat which informed Robert Wise's film of the same name.
That night I hooked up again with Chris Cummins for a couple beers and a meal fit for a king -- corndogs and tater tots -- at Sugar Mom's before I headed down to South Philadelphia. On the bus to Grindcore House where I finally met Joseph Gervasi (of Bizarre Videos and Exhumed Films) I started getting a series of texts from folks at Mummer's Museum where the Noircon Awards were underway. Their pleas and the promise of an open bar wooed me away from Joseph's documentary screening. I'm a weak man when endless, free gin & tonics are involved.
From the Mummer's Museum folks started trickling over to the bar at the downtown Double Tree which was soon taken over by a slew of Noircon attendees. As I guzzled more gin I bent poor Duane Swierczynski's ear about Brian De Palma for far too long. After he disappeared (running for his life, no doubt), I hitched a ride back to my hotel where I passed out, cursing that the next day's 9:15 AM presentation sounded too interesting to sleep through.
Joan M. Schenkar presented a slide show of Patricia Highsmith pictures (and charts) she'd unearthed during her years of research for The Talented Miss Highsmith. This lead perfectly into the subsequent panel on Highsmith's Ripley in film. Tracing the life of a fictional character depicted in multiple films from several countries over many decades hits my sweet spot. Presenters Richard Edwards and Thomas Kaufman got me where I lived.
The afternoon had its ups, its downs, its laughter, and tears through a few presentations that included a moving tribute to Busted Flush Press honcho David Thompson.
Though program guide promised us much more Megan Abbott -- a fellow Michigander and one of my favorite people -- she was only able to attend one panel before heading back to NYC. A shame. But, the panel that replaced her in the afternoon -- a discussion by former private investigator David Corbett and former reporter Wallace Stroby provided purple prose about colorful characters.
The day's program over, Richard Edwards, Christa Faust, her dog Butch, and I walked over to the Double Tree where I resumed my position at the bar for a marathon bullshit session. A revolving cast of characters joined and departed but most of my attention went to Richard and Christa as we discussed important things like comic books, belly button fetishists, Stormbringer and Star Wars. After a while something bizarre happened where Richard and I transformed. Two mild-mannered men sitting in a hotel bar suddenly hulked out into two wild-eyed raging fanboys who locked horns in a wild discussion of George Lucas, his career, his mentors, and his impact on history. This took us on some wild tangents, through moments in our lives better left untold, and left us spent, tipsy, and dazed some five hours later. I collapsed off of my bar stool and called for a taxi.
It's odd. I don't drink that much when I'm in my neck of the woods. I suppose that's because I don't go out too often, much less to bars where I hang out with a bunch of writers and/or film geeks. I usually save my writer/film geek discussions for Baltimore... as well as my drinking. But this Noircon was a gin-fueled barrage of "Did you ever read...?" and "Have you ever seen...?" up the banks of the Schuylkill and down the Delaware.
The folks showing up on the final day of Noircon often did with a hungover and haggard look about them. We had made it. We ran the race and managed to cross the finish line. And, for that, we got the brass ring. Or, at least, the bottle of J&B. I picked mine up in the Russian Roulette raffle where you lost if your number was drawn first... or something like that. By the end, no one knew what the fuck was going on as our MC, the affable Charles Benoit, pulled numbers out of a bag and people were showered with gifts of booze and books.
One of the final panels before the doors of history closed on yet another successful Noircon included the guy with whom I was mistaken for most this year, David White (only because of our surnames, he's far more handsome than I am) and one of my heroes, the erudite Howard A. Rodman (who was accidentally rechristened as "Howard A. White" for the panel). Tying the Fantomas crime fiction to the various media in which the character has been adapted and portrayed throughout 99 years scratched that same itch that Edwards and Kaufman had with their Ripley discussion. They done me right.
Though I came with luggage leaden with a score of books that I sold at Brickbat, delivered to people who preordered Impossibly Funky via IndieGoGo, or put on consignment with Farley's Bookshop (the official dealer of the show... and we were willing junkies), I left Philadelphia dangerously close to breaking the 50 pound barrier with the airlines again. I'm smuggling back the used books I picked up near my hotel, the books I won in the raffle, and those I bought from Farley's. It's tough to talk books with so many talented authors for four or five days straight and not pick up some titles, especially those of the people you've been talking to.
The only post-Noircon activity I could make was like taking an alcoholic to the bar... it was a trip to a bookstore (Robin's Bookstore for a discussion of the recently released Akashic collection, Philadelphia Noir (or "nwah" if you will). The audience bolstered by a cadre of authors and Noircon participants, the event seemed a huge success and ended just in time to hitch a ride to the airport for the trip back to a world in which your first question to a stranger isn't often, "And what did you write?"
Huge thanks to everyone I talked to, met, and bothered at Noircon 2010, especially Deen Kogan and, man among men, Lou Boxer. Brilliant.