Border Crossing

Last weekend, I attended the Bloody Words crime fiction conference in Toronto. I decided to drive, which meant crossing the border into Canada near Alexandria Bay. The border guard, who had an impressive mustache and a heavy accent, provided an extraordinary welcome. Here’s how our conversation went.

GUARD
What is your destination?

WRITER
Toronto, for two days. I’m attending a conference.

GUARD
What kind of conference?

WRITER
It’s for mystery fiction.

GUARD
Ah. What is your favorite kind?

WRITER
My favorite wine?

GUARD
No, your favorite kind. Kind of mystery. You like murder mysteries? Ghosts?

WRITER
Yes, the weird kind. Ghosts are good.

GUARD
And you write mysteries? Have you printed anything?

WRITER
Printed? My first book was published last year.

GUARD
Do you have a copy?

(At this point, a little terrified as I dug out a Manual of Detection paperback, I was beginning to think of the final scene of Cronenberg’s adaptation of Naked Lunch. But the guard only took the book and set it down in his booth.)

GUARD
OK, how much?

WRITER
You want to buy the book?

GUARD
Well, it’s mine now. How much should I pay you for it?

WRITER
Alright. Ten dollars.

GUARD
This is a used copy. Do you have a new one?

WRITER
No, I’m sorry.

GUARD
Then you’ll have to sign this. Sign it to Sophie.

(The guard gave me ten dollars Canadian, returned the book, and handed me a pen. I started to sign.)

GUARD
Can’t you write bigger than that?

WRITER
Yes, sir.

(I have small handwriting but I did my best. The guard took back the book and the pen.)

GUARD
Do you have any firearms, weapons, mace, or pepper spray?

WRITER
No, sir. Who’s Sophie?

GUARD
She is my wife. Me, I like to support the arts. But this better be a good book.

WRITER
I hope she enjoys it.

GUARD
I hope so too. OK, you move along.

On the way home, I decided to cross at Niagara instead. Getting back into the U.S. turned out to be a different kind of experience. The American guard took the keys to my car, opened the back hatch, and searched through everything there—leaving clothes out and bags unzipped, as my traveling companion and I later discovered.

Lovecraft & Hammett

The Hammett Prize thin man, pictured (for purposes of scale) next to one of Small Beer Press's World Fantasy Awards.

He also discovered some apparent contraband: copies of the five free books given to everyone who attended the conference, which I’d completely forgotten about and hadn’t thought to declare. He wanted to know why I hadn’t told him about these books, and threatened to fine me, and to confiscate everything I’d acquired in Canada.

If he’d gone through with his threat, he’d now have some great reading material, as well as a shiny new Dashiell Hammett Prize. But in the end he let us go, and the thin man sculpture is safe at home.

I often feel like a border-crossing nomad in my writing life. Mostly I try to pretend that the borders—between genres, between forms—don’t exist, or can be redrawn as needed. So far, thanks to the many wonderful readers and writers of various communities, as well as organizations like the International Association of Crime Writers and the International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts, that experience has been more like the former border crossing and not at all like the latter. I’m sincerely grateful.

In other words, mystery folks, thanks for letting me be weird. And thanks, fantasy folks, for letting me smuggle in all those guns and trench coats. I’ll see you on the other side.

Umbrellas Across America, Part One

A few updates from the road. I had some extra time in Chicago, so before my reading at 57th Street Books on Monday, I went with my friend Sondra (http://snailsaregood.blogspot.com) to visit the Art Institute of Chicago, which is free in February (thanks, Big Shoulders!).
We explored the excellent collection of impressionist art—look at those umbrellas!—as well as the American wing, and then spent some time in the Thorne Miniature Rooms, which make one wish for a shrink ray. I saw the work of Ivan Albright for the first time; his Picture of Dorian Grey is appropriately nightmarish, and it’s hard to stand in front of it for long. The Art Institute has on display some iconic works of American art, which are always worth seeing in person, I think, because the experience can breathe fresh life into the images. There’s one bench with a view of both American Gothic and Nighthawks—I highly recommend sitting on that bench for a while.
The reading at 57th Street Books was an intimate affair—there was a blizzard on its way—but those in attendance had some great questions, and I made everyone who came a bookmark. Every one of them, that is, except the gentleman who left a bit early, as though to avoid the matter of bookmarks altogether.
A blizzard kept me in Chicago an extra day, and that’s when the extraordinary news came in that The Manual of Detection is a finalist for the Hammett Prize. Here’s the full lists of nominees:
Megan Abbott, BURY ME DEEP (Simon & Schuster)
Ace Atkins, DEVIL’S GARDEN (Putnam)
Jedediah Berry, THE MANUAL OF DETECTION (The Penguin Press)
Walter Mosley, THE LONG FALL (Riverhead)
George Pelecanos, THE WAY HOME (Little, Brown)
I’m deeply honored to be in such fine company. More information on the Hammett Prize is available from the International Association of Crime Writers.
I’ve now arrived in Seattle, where I just signed books at Seattle Mystery Bookshop, and made more bookmarks, and received an umbrella for my troubles. I was also asked to blog from the bookshop, and the results are here. http://seattlemysteryblog.typepad.com/seattle_mystery/2010/02/on-bookmarks-umbrellas.html
Next, I’m reading at Elliott Bay tonight at 7pm. If you’re in the area, I hope you’ll come by. It’s raining, but you have lots of umbrellas in Seattle. Just look at this tube of official Seattle lip balm I found today.

A few updates from the road. I had some extra time in Chicago, so I went with my friend Sondra (snailsaregood.blogspot.com) to visit the Art Institute, which is free in February (thanks, Big Shoulders!).

The French sure know how to promenade.

The French sure know how to promenade.

We explored the excellent collection of impressionist art, visited the American wing, and then spent some time among the Thorne Miniature Rooms, which make one wish for a shrink ray. I saw the work of Ivan Albright for the first time; his Picture of Dorian Grey is appropriately nightmarish, and it’s hard to stand in front of it for long. The Art Institute has on display some iconic works of American art, which are always worth seeing in person, if only because the experience can breathe fresh life into too-familiar images. There’s one bench with a view of both American Gothic and Nighthawks—I highly recommend sitting on that bench for a while.

The reading at 57th Street Books was an intimate affair—there was a blizzard on its way—but those in attendance had some great questions, and I made everyone a bookmark. Everyone , that is, except the gentleman who left a bit early, as though to avoid the matter of bookmarks as soon as I brought it up.

That blizzard kept me in Chicago an extra day, and that’s when the extraordinary news came in that The Manual of Detection is a finalist for the 2010 Hammett Prize. Here’s the full lists of nominees:

  • Megan Abbott, BURY ME DEEP (Simon & Schuster)
  • Ace Atkins, DEVIL’S GARDEN (Putnam)
  • Jedediah Berry, THE MANUAL OF DETECTION (The Penguin Press)
  • Walter Mosley, THE LONG FALL (Riverhead)
  • George Pelecanos, THE WAY HOME (Little, Brown)

I’m deeply honored to be in such fine company, and it’s especially exciting to see Megan Abbott on the list. I had the opportunity to do a reading with Megan last year, and I’ve been a fan of her work ever since. More information on the Hammett Prize is available from the International Association of Crime Writers.

I’ve now arrived in Seattle, where I just signed books at Seattle Mystery Bookshop. I made some more bookmarks there, and wrote about that and some other things for the store’s blog.

Tonight at 7 I’ll read at The Elliott Bay Book Company. If you’re in the area, I hope you’ll come by. It’s raining, but if this tube of lip balm I found today is any indication, then there are plenty of umbrellas in this town.

Memorandum

To: J. Berry

From: Great & Mysterious Powers

Re: The Crawford Award

By the time you see this, you may or may not have slept. The phone call you received last night from Gary K. Wolfe, esteemed science fiction editor and critic (not to be confused with Gary K. Wolf, creator of Roger Rabbit), left you giddy, disorientated, and exhilarated. You were, after all, at a gas station somewhere off Connecticut’s Merritt Parkway when Mr. Wolfe informed you that you’d been named winner of the 2010 IAFA Crawford Award for your novel, The Manual of Detection. You were also parked in a 15-minute parking space—and are these, you couldn’t help wondering as they passed, those fifteen minutes?

Afterward, you went into the gas station, wandered the isles for a while, forgot what you were doing there, and left. You called your brother and mumbled incomprehensibly. You sent a text message to a friend. That text message consisted of the letter “a,” repeated perhaps two dozen times, followed by the letter “h” and several exclamation points. Minutes later, you remembered how to drive, continued onward to New York, missed every exit you were supposed to take, and regained consciousness somewhere in Chinatown. Luckily, you knew the way from Canal Street to your sister’s apartment in Brooklyn, and your sister knew the way from there to a good bar.

The second person perspective has never much appealed to you, but certainly you’ll allow us to communicate this much: that receiving the Crawford Award is one of the coolest things you can imagine happening. No wonder you can’t sleep.

Now get yourself together: the paperback’s out today and you’re giving a reading in a few hours.

Some additional information, now being reported by Locus:

The award committee shortlisted Deborah Biancotti’s collection A Book of Endings, Kari Sperring’s novel Living with Ghosts, and Ali Shaw’s novel The Girl With Glass Feet, and wanted to commend two other authors whose works were ineligible this year but were highly regarded: Robert V.S. Redick, whose The Red Wolf Conspiracy appeared in 2008 and whose The Ruling Sea appears in 2010, and Michal Ajvaz, whose The Other City originally appeared in Czech in 1993 but was first translated into English by Gerald Turner in 2009.

I’m thrilled and honored to be among the nominees, and deeply grateful to the members of the IAFA for this recognition.