Showing posts with label Noir at the Bar Dallas. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Noir at the Bar Dallas. Show all posts

22 May 2018

Noir at the Opportunity Bar


by Michael Bracken

Eeek!
In late March 2003 I lost my job. Well, I didn’t actually lose it, to steal a Bobcat Goldthwait joke, I knew exactly where it was, but when I went back there, someone else was doing it. Within a week, I was offered, and I accepted, a freelance editing gig that provided me with an income foundation sufficient to jumpstart my third attempt at full-time freelancing.

In January 2018, a few months shy of 15 years together, that client and I parted ways. Our parting was amicable, leaving open the possibility of working together again in the future, but the immediate impact was an income loss exceeding $13,000/year.

NEW OPPORTUNITIES

Losing that client also freed up 10-plus work hours each week, and I’ve been surprised at how many opportunities have arisen since January, most of them related to writing crime fiction, and many of them opportunities I might have turned down for lack of time had they come only a few months earlier.

One of them was an invitation to participate in Noir at the Bar Dallas on April 18.
Michael Pool and Michael Bracken

Michael Pool—novelist, short story writer, and editor/publisher of the recently deceased Crime Syndicate Magazine—extended the invitation, and accepting meant nearly 10 hours away from home and an unknown amount of time prepping for the event.

Of course, I accepted.

Although I attended an in-hotel Noir at the Bar at the New Orleans Bouchercon and part of the Noir at the Bar Bouchercon at the Rivoli in Toronto, I’d never participated in one. I have, however, done readings at science fiction/fantasy conventions, only one of which—a midnight, adults-only reading of erotic science fiction to a packed room at Archon many years ago—turned out well.

The other readings—all half-hour solo acts—drew audiences of one, two, and half-a-dozen.

PRACTICE MAKES NEAR-PERFECT

I chose to read “Texas Sundown” from Down & Out: The Magazine #3, an 1,800-word noir story written in first person. The first time I read the story aloud it fit within the seven-to-nine minutes authors were expected to fill. During each subsequent read-through, though, the story grew longer and longer, until I realized I had stopped rushing through it and was adding dramatic pauses.

To wrangle the story back into my allotted time, Temple helped me excise words, phrases, and entire sentences that read well on the page but which were unnecessary when the story was read aloud.

SHOWTIME

Temple and I left home early, knowing a less-than-two-hour trip would likely take far longer given traffic on IH35. Sure enough, we encountered near standstill traffic as we neared Dallas. We exited the highway, navigated side streets, and arrived a few minutes early for our 5:30 dinner reservation at Smoke.

After a leisurely dinner, we made our way to The Wild Detectives, where Noir at the Bar Dallas was scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. The Wild Detectives is an older home in the Oak Cliff neighborhood converted into a bookstore/bar, with an eclectic selection of reading material and seating both inside and outside.

Temple and I arrived early. We claimed one end of a picnic table near the outside stage in what had been the home’s backyard, and I goofed around onstage before any other presenters arrived. Soon, Temple’s daughter Emily, who knows I’m a writer but who had never read any of my work, joined us, as did the other presenters, their families, their friends, and audience members attracted to the event.

Texas weather is quite fickle, often inappropriate for outside events where sweating is discouraged. That evening, it was perfect: dry, cool, and comfortable, an uncommon combination. The backyard was packed, the audience was appreciative, and all of the authors brought their A game.

Michael Pool was both the host and a presenter for the evening. Tim Bryant, Eryk Pruitt, Clay Reynolds, Carlos Salas, LynDee Walker, and I were presenters. The first three authors read their work while the sun was dipping low in the sky. After a break, and after the sun had set, the last four authors read. Background sounds throughout the evening included sirens of all kinds—appropriate for a reading by crime fiction writers—and in the alley behind the fence blue lights flashed as if a patrol car or emergency vehicle had parked back there. Afterward, we talked with each other and with audience members.

Reading “Texas Sundown”
Unlike some of the authors, I brought nothing with me to sell because I don’t usually tote books around. I did have and did distribute a flyer prepared by Lance Wright at Down & Out Books that promoted, on the top half, Coast to Coast: Private Eyes From Sea to Shining Sea, Passport to Murder, and Down & Out: The Magazine #3, all of which contain my short stories. The bottom half of the flyer was devoted to Michael Pool’s first novel, Texas Two-Step.

FINDING BALANCE

Will I participate in another Noir at the Bar if invited? Absolutely!

I met several writers new to me, heard great stories and poetry presented in an entertaining fashion, and learned that I can—with appropriate practice—read in public without embarrassing myself.

Did I have to lose a major client in order to participate? Probably not, but it would have been much more difficult to take advantage of this opportunity—and the many others that have recently come my way—if I had to shoehorn it into an already packed schedule.

Being a freelancer means learning to balance opportunity and revenue in a meaningful way. Sometimes the work we most enjoy is the least remunerative.

Seeking nothing but dollar signs can have us no better off than we were as wage slaves, doing work we don’t enjoy just to put bread on the table. Doing only the things we enjoy, however, can mean having no bread on the table at all.

I’ve been lucky. I like my clients and I enjoy most of what I do, but I’m even more enjoying some things—such as Noir at the Bar Dallas—I’ve been able to do with the extra 10 hours I have each week.

(And don’t cry for me. Nearly half the lost income has already been replaced thanks to existing clients.)


Richard Krauss interviewed me for the June 2018 issue of The Digest Enthusiast. The wide-ranging interview fills 17 pages, reveals my pseudonyms, and touches on work written in a variety of genres. And, yes, that's me on the cover.

My private eye story “Itsy Bitsy Spider” was the story of the week at Tough, April 23, 2018.

10 April 2018

Epiphany of a Blue-Collar Writer


by Michael Bracken

Art Taylor and me trying to out-charm one another.
At the 2017 Bouchercon in Toronto, Art Taylor and I were paired for Speed Dating, an event in which pairs of authors move from table to table around a room and spend a shared two minutes at each table introducing ourselves and our work to mystery fans. The instructions were to speak for one minute each, the beginning, mid-point, and end time of our two minutes announced by the ringing of a bell. Much like Pavlov’s dogs, authors were expected to respond to the neutral stimulus of the bell by launching immediately into a conditioned response: blatant self-promotion. The premise seemed a bit automatonic to me.

I “knew” Art prior to this pairing because we occasionally crossed paths on the Internet and spoke for a few minutes at the Short Mystery Fiction Society lunch at the New Orleans Bouchercon in 2016. So, I asked, via email, if he might be interested in spicing things up. Art may look like a mild-mannered English professor, but deep down he’s quite the radical, and we kicked around several ideas.

We didn’t have an opportunity to test drive our ideas before Speed Dating began Thursday morning, so Robert and Terri Lopresti had the misfortune of being first to witness our unrehearsed song-and-dance. Art and I soon fell into a groove, though, and by the time we presented at our last table we had perfected a Broadway-worthy performance.

Rather than each of us filling a minute talking about our work and ourselves, I introduced Art and he talked about “Parallel Play” (Chesapeake Crimes: Storm Warning), a 2017 Anthony Award nominee. Then he introduced me and I discussed “Dixie Quickies” (Black Cat Mystery Magazine #1). We wrapped things up by suggesting that readers interested in learning more about our work purchase Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea (Down & Out Books) because they could easily compare and contrast how we took the same assignment and created radically different stories. (Art’s “A Necessary Ingredient” is nominated for an Agatha; my “Mr. Private Eye Behind the Motel with a .38” may only be eligible for an honorary Harlan Ellison longest title award.)

And here’s where this incredibly long anecdote is leading: While preparing our introductions, we needed, given the time constraints, to focus on one key aspect of the other’s writing career that would be memorable and easy to relate to listeners who might know nothing about us. In my introduction of Art, I focused on the number of awards and award nominations he’s received. In his introduction of me, Art focused on the number of short stories I’ve written.

In our emails leading up to this decision, I compared us to Walmart and Tiffany. (To stretch this analogy to the absurd: I have a store on every corner, filled with mass-produced goods suitable for every consumer; Art has only a few locations, each offering polished jewels to those with refined taste.) Art was polite enough not to agree with my self-assessment.

I long ago accepted my place in the writing hierarchy: I am a blue-collar writer, the type of grunt who gets up each morning, puts on his writer pants, and produces words.

Day in. Day out.

I do my best, my work gets published, and I’ve established myself as a solid middle-of-the-anthology, back-of-the-magazine writer who rarely misses deadlines. When I was younger, I bemoaned my place in the literary universe. I was dismayed by the world’s failure to recognize my genius (a common ailment among the young who feel the world owes them something just for participating) and was frustrated when I attended conventions and sat on panels with writers who had produced a mere handful of stories yet had somehow captured the zeitgeist of the moment.

That changed about ten years ago.

There’s nothing like heart surgery to refocus your attention on what’s important, but my epiphany, such as it was, didn’t arrive in a flash; it developed slowly. After quadruple heart bypass surgery in September 2008, three days after turning 51, I realized I was a grouchy old writer, complaining about the new-fangled publishing world and the writers who inhabit it. I also realized I had accomplished what many writers of my generation had not: I had survived—not just literally, thanks to surgery, but literarily as well. Many of the writers who captured the zeitgeist of their time were of their time and have since burned out, stopped writing, and turned to other things. By plodding along as a blue-collar writer, producing words day in and day out, I created, and continue to create, a substantial body of work.

On a personal level, I learned be happy, to enjoy what I have rather than stress about what I haven’t. On a professional level, that meant a return to writing for the joy of writing, a refocus on the creative act rather than on the end goal of publication, fame, and fortune. Surprisingly, or perhaps not to those who’ve experienced something similar, I not only enjoy the act of writing more than ever before, but I am reaping unexpected benefits.

Because I now realize the publishing world owes me nothing—that there are no prizes just for participating—I enjoy seeing my name on the cover of a magazine, I appreciate the kind words of a reader, and I share the joy of other writers’ achievements.

And if we’re ever paired up for Speed Dating, let’s try to make it fun!

Interested in playing compare and contrast? Art Taylor and I have stories in the current issue of Down & Out: The Magazine. Later this month, I will read my D&O story, “Texas Sundown,” at Noir at the Bar Dallas. Join us, 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, April 18, at The Wild Detectives, 314 W. 8th St., Dallas, Texas. In other news: “My Stripper Past” appears in Pulp Adventures #28 and “One Last Job,” wherein I discuss the genesis of my recent Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine story “The Mourning Man,” is a guest post at Trace Evidence.