On Dream Detection

Drawing inspiration from The Manual of Detection, artist Tony Renner recently completed a new painting, “On Dream Detection.” Visit his website to see a larger version, and to check out more samples of his work. (I especially appreciate his pieces for Philip K. Dick, Tom Waits, and Syd Barrett.)

“On Dream Detection (for Jedediah Berry)” by Tony Renner

Take This, Brother

MeeksEarlier this week, over at the Small Beer Press blog, I revealed a handful of secrets about Meeks, a first novel by Julia Holmes. If you’ve seen me in the last year or so, chances are I talked to you about this book. And maybe talked and talked and talked to you about it. It’s an extraordinary novel, dangerous and funny and strange. It will be in bookstores on July 20th, and I can’t wait for everyone to read it. And yes, I do mean everyone.

On a related note, Julia Holmes and I participated in a roundtable on first books for Hobart recently. We had the chance to discuss the editorial process, as well as a host of other matters. Many fine writers were involved, and you can read the whole conversation here.

What else? Soon I leave for Germany, to speak to the German people about Handbuch für Detektive. But first I’m off to a super secret stronghold in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Speaking of which, here’s a little video about beards.

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 Two

You have to give them back, though.

You have to give them back, though.

The paperback tour for The Manual of Detection brought me on Thursday to Portland, OR. It was my first time in that city, though I knew a bit about it from the many friends who live(d) there, and from Benjamin Parzybok’s novel Couch. I made the pilgrimage to the Powell’s mothership, did an interview for Reading Local, bought a pile of zines and ephemera from Reading Frenzy, then read to a wonderfully warm crowd at Powell’s on Hawthorne while the rain pattered on the roof. Ben Parzybok was there, and after I refused to answer his question during the Q&A, we went to a Thai restaurant called Pok Pok. There, I was faced with a conundrum: Do I eat boar? It turns out that yes, under the right circumstances, I do eat boar.

I was telling Ben and his wife, writer Laura Moulton, and their friend, writer Lisa Hoashi, about how much I appreciate the yellow umbrellas, made available for public use, that I’d been seeing around the Northwest. They said they had no idea what I was talking about, but then, right there in front of Pok Pok, we spotted a repository of these umbrellas, so they knew I wasn’t crazy.

Dark Carnival

It's like a hall of mirrors, except with books instead of mirrors.

I wish I could have seen more of Portland, but it was off to Berkeley the next day for a signing at Dark Carnival. This is an extraordinary place, a labyrinth of science fiction, fantasy, and mystery books, spilling out of the shelves to pile over the carpet and the stairs. You have to climb over the kids reading comics on the floor and duck under inflatable monsters to find what you’re looking for—in my case a copy of Gene Wolfe’s The Urth of the New Sun.

At Dark Carnival I made some more mystery bookmarks. This one here is waiting in a copy of The Manual of Detection for someone to find.

Later I was reunited, after eleven years, with my friend Deborah Steinberg, a writer who also sings in Conspiracy of Venus (check out their cover of Rain Dogs!). We attended a MediaARTS event curated by Tanya Vlach, which was a bit like a rave, except everyone was in theater seats and watching—well, it’s hard to describe. How about: “an exhibition of the intersection of emerging technology, performance, and the moving image attempting to compute what it means to love and to lose.” The performance by Ghosts and Strings was especially good, and I also liked the floating video cube that ocul8r made.

On Saturday I visited the Belmont Library, saw the headquarters of Tachyon Publications, and read with Laurie R. King for the SF in SF series. Among the many fine people in attendance was Edward Gauvin, whose excellent translations of stories by Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud are forthcoming in book form from Small Beer Press.

I had an early flight home the next day, and just when I thought I might meet someone who isn’t a writer, it turned out that my cab driver has written four books, including this one.

I guess now it’s time to write something other than blog posts, mystery bookmarks, and LOST haiku for a while.

Goodbye, goodbye, California

Goodbye, goodbye, California.

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.