15 September 2018
by John Floyd
by John M. Floyd
I recently attended an annual literary conference held on the grounds of the State Capitol Building here in Jackson, Mississippi. It was fun as always, but I'm especially glad I went because it wound up serving as my replacement for Bouchercon this year. (I underwent abdominal surgery earlier this summer, and though I'm recovering well, I opted at the last minute not to make the long road-trip to St. Petersburg. In doing so, I missed out on (1) participating in a short-story panel, (2) signing with fellow contributors to the B'con anthology, (3) receiving in person an award during the Opening Ceremonies, and (4) visiting with a legion of old friends--but, under the circumstances, I think it was the right decision. And I thank you again, Michael Bracken, for agreeing to stand in for me and accept my award in my absence.)
Instead of B'con, I ended up driving about a hundredth of that distance a few weeks ago to take part in our fourth annual Mississippi Book Festival. Almost ten thousand readers and writers braved the heat and humidity and intermittent thunderstorms to attend, and about three-fourths of those folks attended the more than forty panel discussions held throughout the day. Guests included Salman Rushdie, Karl Rove, Greg Iles, Richard Ford, and Jon Meacham.
I was on two panels, one of them "Southern Writers on Writing," because I'd contributed an essay to an anthology of the same name, and the other "Life's Great Mysteries," which I also moderated. It's this second panel I'd like to talk about today, because my three fellow panelists were indeed great mystery authors, and wrote three of the most interesting and entertaining crime novels I've read in a long time.
The first, Michael Kardos, is the author of Bluff (Mysterious Press), a thriller that Kardos has described as "a heist book disguised as a poker book disguised as a magic novel." It's the story of disgraced magician and card-trick prodigy Natalie Webb, who's been reduced to performing for local festivals and birthday parties and lives alone with her pigeons and stacks of overdue bills. She teams up with another cardsharp to try to win a fortune in a high-stakes poker game with a group of Jersey big-shots, an operation which of course doesn't go as planned. Kardos, who has also written two other novels, a short-story collection, and a textbook on writing, is an associate professor of English and the co-director of the creative writing program at Mississippi State University.
The second panelist was William Boyle, author of The Lonely Witness (Pegasus Books). Though not a sequel, this novel features as its protagonist a character introduced in Boyle's book Gravesend (which was also covered in one of Thomas Pluck's SleuthSayers columns)--and both stories are set in the depressing but fascinating Gravesend neighborhood of Brooklyn. A truly "literary" mystery, this novel features former convicts, wanna-be gangsters, almost-forgotten classmates, Italian and Russian mobsters, and working-class people struggling to survive. Boyle, whose work has been compared to that of Elmore Leonard, George Pelecanos, and Dennis Lehane, is also the author of the novel Everything Is Broken and the short-story collection Death Don't Have No Mercy. He lives in Oxford, Mississippi.
The third panelist, Stephen Mack Jones, discussed his novel August Snow (Soho Crime), which is the first in a series featuring Snow as an ex-Detroit police officer who--after being ushered out of the force for blowing the whistle on department corruption--returns to Detroit to try to prove his worth as a member of the community. The author has described this book as a novel of second chances--for Snow, for some of his drug-dealer acquaintances, and ultimately for the battered and crumbling neighborhoods of his hometown. A Detroit native himself, Stephen Mack Jones is a poet and a playwright, and was awarded the prestigious Hammett Prize by the International Associaton of Crime Writers. His work has also been nominated for the Shamus Award, the Nero Award, and the Strand Magazine Critics Award for Best First Novel.
Two of these three novelists--Mike Kardos and Bill Boyle--I already knew; Stephen Mack Jones I'd not met before. All three made my moderating job easy and kept the audience interested throughout.
I encourage you to try their books--you won't be disappointed.
03 September 2016
by John Floyd
by John M. Floyd
Two weeks ago today, while my friend Elizabeth Zelvin was entertaining our loyal SleuthSayers readers far better in this timeslot than I could've, I was in the middle of another kind of literary endeavor. From 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on August 20, at the height of our summertime heat and humidity, I participated in what was billed as the state's biggest lawn party: the second annual Mississippi Book Festival, held on and around the grounds of the State Capitol Building in downtown Jackson. Also known as the state's Largest Gathering of Sweaty Writers and Readers.
A quick word of background. As some of you might know, Mississippi has more published writers per capita than any other state. In other words, you can't open your car door around here without bumping into another writer. (A lesser-known fact is that the Delta town of Greenville, Mississippi, has more published writers per capita than any other city in the nation--past and present examples include Walker Percy, Shelby Foote, Ellen Douglas, Hodding Carter, Beverly Lowry, William Alexander Percy, Jim Henson, and so on.) We might spit tobacco juice and talk like Forrest Gump and dodge alligators when we mow the back yard, but the ghosts of Faulkner and Welty will forever live in our libraries and bookstores.
My point is, there are a lot of writers here, and I think most of them--at least most of those who are alive and still pushing keys or pencils--came to the recent Book Fest. In fact we had plenty of authors from elsewhere as well. The number of attendees expected last year, at the first annual festival, was 1,000; more than 3,000 showed up, including John Grisham. This year, according to the official figures, some 6,200 people attended the many panels throughout the day, and several hundred more were outside and around the grounds. And, like last year, several attendees DFOed (in medical terms, they succumbed to the heat; in Southern terms, they "done fell out").
This time, more than 120 authors served on 30 different panels held in and around the Capitol Building (I was on the panel for the recently-released Mississippi Noir), and about 70 more were featured in an "Authors' Alley" venue, an area where self-published writers could display and sell their wares. Also on the grounds were tents for different publishers and bookstores here in the state--I was part of Dogwood Press's tent, along with our head honcho Joe Lee and fellow authors Randy Pierce and Valerie Winn. There were also additional activities for panelists, including a cocktail party at the Old Capitol Museum the night before, an authors' breakfast the morning of the festival, and an after-event celebration at a nearby restaurant/bar.
It was a long day, and as hot as Satan's pitchfork, but that surprised no one--this was, after all, mid-August in the Deep South. And I think everybody had a good time. I met a great many interesting people, renewed old friendships, sold and signed some books, guzzled a dozen bottles of water, and gave and received a lot of damp hugs. At the signing tent after my panel, I was fortunate enough to sit beside one of my longtime heroes, John Hart, who's written some of my favorite mystery/crime novels.
With this year's Bouchercon drawing ever nearer, our event the other day reminded me how much I enjoy this kind of gathering--being in the company of fellow writers and readers, and spending hours on end talking about nothing but stories and books and writing and the magic of fiction. And the great thing about B'con is that the focus is on mystery writing. What could be more fun than that?
I hope you'll be in New Orleans, I hope we'll be hurricane-free, and I hope it'll be drier and cooler than usual. And if it's not, I hope you won't DFO on Canal Street.
Either way, I'll see you there.