19 December 2012

Picking More Black Orchids

by Robert Lopresti

Two weeks ago I published in this space the speech I gave when I won the Black Orchid Novella Award. I wanted to talk a little bit more about the experience. After that I promise to shut up about it until the winning story is published in May, when I will start babbling about it again. (Hey, I don't win prizes that often; give me a break.)

Anyway, I was informed by Jane Cleland back in September that I was the winner. The reason for the early tip-off, of course, is to encourage the winner to attend, which is exactly what it did in my case.  But it meant I had to keep my trap shut for three months and that was not the easiest thing I ever did. Ironically, I applied for a promotion at the same time and in my c.v. I had to write "This year I will receive another award for my writing, but I can't tell you what it is. Ask me in December." I'm sure the peers reviewing my file wondered what the hell that was about.

We visit the Saturday farmer's market almost every week and there is a very nice woman there who makes excellent hats out of recycled sweaters. Back in September I joked that the reason I couldn't fit into one of her hats was that my head was swelled (swollen?) because I just found out I had won an award. She asked which one and of course I couldn't tell her. I did tell her last week and naturally she had never heard of the BONA. Another person wondering what the hell that was about.

Anyway, I did go to the Black Orchid events, wearing one of those recycled hats, oddly enough. It started with the Assembly, in which Rex Stout fans gather to hear experts discuss topics related to the Corpus. (Doyle's writings about Sherlock Holmes are known as the Canon; Stout's reports on Nero Wolfe are known as the Corpus, because it suggests the corpulent nature of our hero).

My favorite speaker was Bob Gatten, who spoke about Rex Stout's work as president of the War Writers Board. I hadn't known that Stout organized a program to discourage writers from using ethnic stereotypes in their writing. "We can't fight racism in Europe and appease it over here."

Another highlight was David Naczycz of Urban Oyster on the history of beer in New York City, a subject very dear to Wolfe's heart, or taste buds.

But the major event was the Banquet. Terri and I were seated next to Linda Landrigan, the editor of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, and James Lincoln Warren, good friend of this blog, and last year's winner. James had an official duty this year, presenting the first of five annual toasts. His was to Rex Stout which he delivered in rhyme. Here is a sample:
In our hearts, we all gather together to meet 
At the brownstone address on West Thirty-Fifth Street,
To drink milk or drink beer, or tonight imbibe wine,
To toast a great soul and inimitable mind.
And I can testify that a considerable amount of wine was indeed imbibed.

Another feature of the annual banquet is that each table is expected to compose and perform a song (set to a familiar tune) about the Corpus. These are always enthusiastic if not necessarily masterpieces. Ira Matetsky the Werowance (i.e. president) of the Pack said of one number "of all the song parodies I have heard, that was the most recent."

Having been warned about this feature in advance I provided my tablemates with seven songs to choose from. They selected this number, to the tune of "Ain't Misbehavin'." (That's a photo of Fats Waller, of "Ain't Misbehavin'" fame, not Ira Matetsky, in case you wondered.)
SOME BURIED CAESAR

I traveled upstate,
I don’t care to go,
I had a big date,
To show up a flower show
Some Buried Caesar,
I blame it all on you
Du-du, du-du-du, dudu-du
The car was loaded,
With orchids and me,
A tire exploded,
My Heron hit a tree.
Some Buried Caesar,
I didn’t hear you moo, Du…

Like Jack Horner

we were cornered
in the pasture,
I climbed faster,
That rescue’s what I waited for
Be-lieve me

While Archie first eyes,
the girl he’ll adore,
I won the first prize,
That’s what I went there for
Some Buried Caesar,
I solved a murder too, Du…
Some Buried Caesar,
That’s what detectives do

Matestsky gushingly described our contribution as "surprisingly competent."

One more thing. To fund unexpected expenses, the Wolfe Pack raffled off a seat for next year's banquet. I do not expect to be able to attend in 2013 but in the interest of contributing I bought one ticket.

Guess who won?

Must have been my lucky night.

8 comments:

Fran Rizer said...

Rob, I almost said, "You sure are lucky," and you are to win the banquet seat, but the honors are due to talent and hard work. Congratulations again!

Velma DiVine said...

It was your lucky night, Bobby, but well deserved.

I buy from a lady who knits sweaters from recycled hats. Maybe they're made from recycled socks.

Janice said...

Sounds like a fun evening. And who knew you could write song lyrics!

David Dean said...

Well done and deserved, Rob. You're making the SleuthSayers look mighty good!

I will be in contact when they turn my book into a musical.

Eve Fisher said...

Congratulations, and I can hardly wait to read it!

R.T. Lawton said...

Rob, nice song. If I dig trough my paperback collection, I just might be able to find Stout's novel about Ceasar the bull, and about Archie being "rescued" by a lively young female in the pasture after the car trouble. Been a long time since I read that one.

James Lincoln Warren said...

Swollen not swelled.

YOU won the raffle??? I bought FIVE tickets. Pfui! (to use an appropriate expression of frustration/contempt.)

Now folks, I HAVE read "Red Envelope" and I can tell you that it is indeed a treat, especially the "I'm-sure-you're-all-wondering-why-I-asked-you-here-tonight" scene, which is categorically priceless.

Robert Lopresti said...

Yep, I won with a single measly ticket. I was flabbergasted, as you can imagine. Fortunately it is transferable. So, if someone is nice to me this year...

Thanks for the kind words about the Red Envelope. I am looking forward to writing about the writing of it (which involves old Reader's Digests, a non-fiction book I never got published, and hearing voices in San Francisco, among other things), but that will wait until it is published in May.