Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Mayhem Report

At long last, here is my report from Mayhem in the Midlands, the mystery conference held every year in Omaha. That's in Nebraska.

Like most East Coasters (and probably West Coasters), I had unfair expectations of Omaha. No, corn does not actually grow in the streets there. No, cows do not roam free. The people do not all dress in overalls (not that there's anything wrong with any of that. I do, after all, live in North Carolina). In fact, it was a very nice place,with great food, cool record shops, Irish pubs, blues bars, and a wine shop where I scored a fifth of very tasty Appleton Estate rum.

Omaha: my deepest apologies. I'll not underestimate you again.

But is it always that damn windy?

As always, first credit goes to the people who put the thing together, especially the folks from the Omaha Public Library, and of course, the volunteers. Thanks to you, the thing ran like it was on rails, and that's no easy task.

One highlight of the conference for me was getting to spend some time talking with the amazingly talented and gracious Laura Lippman. It's become a cliche among conference attendees that mystery writers (most of them anyway) tend to be nice folks, despite the violent, bloody stuff we write. And, like a lot of cliches, it's true. I've been truly humbled by how kind and generous the writers I've met have been. And, as the formidable Jerry Healy reminded us at one event over the weekend, it's a long-standing tradition.

Even in that community, however, Laura stands out. Despite a crushing schedule, she was unfailingly generous with her time and unselfish about sharing her experience in the industry. She's a very thoughtful person , in both senses of that word. In short, Laura Lippman is a class act, and I'm happy I got to meet her.

Another high point was getting to meet and talk a bit with Victor Gischler, who's been one of my favorite writers ever since Gun Monkeys. Victor let it be known during one of his appearances that he is currently working on something extremely cool. Expect surprises.

Sean Doolittle is not only a kick-ass writer, he knows the best places to eat in Omaha, including one catfish and chicken place way the hell and gone out by the Missouri River...or for all I know it could have been the Colorado, considering how far we drove. It had great drinks. And raccoons, which are always a plus.

It was good to see Jeff Shelby again. I met Jeff at last year's Cape Fear Crime Festival, and soon after, I got to know his surfer PI, Noah Braddock. Jeff's a great writer and great company as well. He was, however, a bit evasive on the question on everyone's mind: since Jeff's main character's a surfer, when are we going to get to hear him say "Cowabunga!" ? Your intrepid reporter, however, will continue to pursue this one.

A new discovery for me was Jeff's compatriot from the First Offenders gang-blog, Lori G. Armstrong. Lori's appearance on the "kick-ass heroines" panel intrigued me enough that I picked up her first novel, Blood Ties. I fell straight in love with her main character, Julie Collins. Angry, profane, drawn to the wrong kind of guy, and frequently found with a bottle in hand, Julie is a tough chick with issues. I do love me some chicks with issues. It takes a courageous writer to craft a character that comes close to being unloveable, and it takes a writer of uncommon skill to find the character's heart and make you love her anyway. Lori Armstrong is one to watch. (In person, I'm happy to say, Lori's refreshingly issue free, and loveable all on her own).

I did see one truly amazing thing that no one believes, but I swear on the graves of my Confederate ancestors, it's true: I saw Anthony Neil Smith smile. I just wish I'd had a camera. Or knew how to work a camera phone. As a fan of 80's hair-metal, of New Orleans, and of noir, I'm really looking forward to reading his latest, The Drummer.

As with any conference, there are folks I met or re-met who I wish I'd had more time with: William Kent Krueger, Susan McBride, Denise Hamilton, the aforementioned Jerry Healy (that's lawyer talk, he'll understand), Maria Lima, Donna Andrews, Patty Smiley, Pari Noskin Taichert (Duane Swierczynski, I will never again complain that your name is hard to pronounce), Twist Phelan (see you in Boise),...really too many to mention,

And what conference would be complete without the Jordans, Jon and Ruth, of Crimespree magazine? It's great to be around such truly joyful people.

Last but not least...I finally met Sue Kelso. I mean, Sue freakin' KELSO, man! What else is there to say?


Patrick Shawn Bagley said...

"It had great drinks. And raccoons, which are always a plus."

Were the raccoons fried or broiled?

Sounds like you had a blast. I look forward to the day I can afford going to a convention, either as a fan or a writer with my first book under my belt.

Anonymous said...

Aww, shucks, Dusty, you had to go and make me blush with your comments on Blood Ties. Thanks, though! And it was great meeting you and hanging out drinking Fat Tire (until someone switched to rum). You are a true Southern gentlemen - I didn't see a hint of that red neck all weekend :) Looking forward to the next con>

Anonymous said...

Those wonderful, kind words about my friend Lori Armstrong are so so true. Lori's a great person, a great writer. And of course there's Jeff Shelby, another fantastic writer and good friend. Wish so much I could've been there, too, but hopefully we'll get a chance to meet in Madison.

JD Rhoades said...

Patrick: Sauteed.

Lori: Now you're making ME blush.

Karen: Looking forward to it.

Anonymous said...

What wine shop in Omaha sold Appleton Estates Rum?