Decisions: Friday at Bouchercon

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September 15, 2011 by Ray Yanek

Decisions.

Don’t much care for ‘em.

That guy in the McDonald’s drive-thru who stares at the menu for forty-five minutes before ordering the same damn thing from the dollar menu  he has a hundred times before?  That’s me. The guy at Starbucks whom you’d like to stab in the base of the skull with the stirrer you whittled down while waiting behind?  Yep. Right again.  Me.

But unfortunately, decisions are a part of life and decisions need to be made regarding what  Bouchercon panels I’ll attend.  If I make those decisions now, I’m hoping Val McDermid won’t find me balled-up and quivering in the hotel lobby—find me and then kick me. Hard.

Because of the day job and a four-hour drive to St. Louis, I won’t make the Thursday programming.
Friday and Saturday though, I’m in.  What I’ll do here, is discuss the panels I think will be the
highlights for me and then simply list my other choices.  If anyone going to other panels wants to
compare notes, drop me a line.

Friday:  8:30-9:30.
Cross of Fire: Religious influence in crime fiction.

In an alternate reality, I didn’t get drunk that night and piss off my wife, God, and the Buddha. Therefore, my novel has been revised, bought, and is enjoying a good run on the Bestseller list.  In that same alternate reality, I would like to think I would have been invited to sit on this panel.

Why?  Well, because religious aspects heavily influence my novel, specifically the sexual and
almost pagan influences behind Bernini’s Ecstasy of St. Teresa that sits in Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome.  Also, it’s a damn interesting panel topic, and I would like to examine why religion does influence so much crime writing.

This is what I would say when my time came to speak:

I was first introduced to Bernini’s statue in a graduate level literature course and was enraptured (no pun intended) by the violence and the power, by the eroticism and the fervor behind not only the statue,  but by the mystic writings of St. Teresa of Avila that inspired it. I was further stricken by the idea of connection. I started thinking about the isolation of people in society, especially those who are desperate and hopeless—those people that the scam artists posing as physics target with their mass e-mails and promises of a better future.

I wonder if criminals of sorts don’t spend a sizable portion of their loot on those internet psychics.

Anyway, the antagonist in my novel is one such desperate person.  He loses his mother at a young age, and with no other family, is forced to live in a Catholic orphanage that feels nothing like the safe place it should.  He is later introduced by a visiting scholar to an unorthodox form of Christian religion.  In this alternate form based St. Teresa’s writings, my antagonist finds the connections he has always desired.  He finds it with the scholar herself and also with something much higher.  Eventually though, the established religion he lives under discovers his dabblings and destroys all that he had gained, thus leaving him more completely isolated then before.  He cannot let that happen, not after the ‘religious’ marvels he has experiences, and his path turns bloody as he tries to regain those connections.

Crime fiction, in general, is about isolation.  Criminals (and many of those who hope to stop said criminals) are separated from ‘normal’ society, from ‘normal’ relationships, from ‘normal’ lives, and from traditional methods that instill a moral compass.  Think of the stereotypical gang-banger.  He is young; he is raised in a dysfunctional family, and he lives in a bad neighborhood.  He takes the dysfunction around him as his moral code.  He has to survive through crime until established society puts him behind bars to rehabilitate him and give him a promise that there is hope for a better life.  That same gang-banger leaves prison and, no matter how hard he tries, can’t find a job because of the felon label attached to him.  He is thus forced to return to his original state, more disillusioned, more jaded, and more violent than before.  What society has done to this character is really no different from what  religion has done to my antagonist.  And what religion (and I refer to a faulty religion controlled more by man than God) has to done to many.

Religion, it seems then, works a helluva lot like society.

I think only a few would argue that we as a people are becoming increasing isolated from religion, or that we are influenced by the corrupted messages and meanings of dysfunctional organizations who believe themselves infallible.  In its purist sense religion, like it or not, is a pillar of morals.  But if or when we find the stone pillar of religion has been replaced by a plastic construct of man, the believer is left with nothing but disillusionment.  Religion becomes just another false foundation of morality and hope just like the criminal who lets himself believe in society’s promise that there is a different life. Rather than curing that isolation, is only helps it grow.

A good percentage of the reading public has some knowledge and experience with religion, probably more so than with situations and environments that would breed crime (I hope).  Religion can be sometimes used as a metaphor then, a metaphor that would lead us to better understand the isolation, the feelings of betrayal, the anger, etc. of the criminal.  It’s not a justification for the criminal actions or the violent actions of my antagonist; it doesn’t necessary make criminals victims, because the criminals still choses the effect to the cause.  And that’s the beauty of crime fiction, it forces us to not only to look at the choices of criminals but also the causes they are reacting to.

And perhaps it’s a good thing this alternate reality hasn’t come to pass.  That way I don’t have the opportunity to expound on these thought and end up with Val McDermid kicking me…a second time.

Unfortunately, I’m not familiar with any of the authors on the panel, but I have a strong feeling I’ll spend a fair amount of money after the panel.  Panelists include: Julie Kramer, John Desjarlais, Tony Perona, Frederick Ramsay, Judith Rock and Kenneth Wishnia.

If anyone could recommend any of these author’s novels, please let me know.

Friday:10:00-11:00: Evil Going On: Does evil truly exist or is it just human failing?

Of course evil is fascinating, but I can sum-up my choice for this panel in a couple of words: Thomas H. Cook and John Connolly.

Thomas H. Cook is a master.  I first heard him speak somewhere around 2006 at the Midwest Literary Festival held in Aurora, Illinois.  Cook is the consummate southern gentleman and one of the most intelligent and charming individuals I have ever had the chance to hear speak.  I never read anything of his before hearing him talk, but I picked up The Chatham School Affair directly after the conference.  The book blew me away, and I passed it around to more people than I can count.  There are great interviews with Cook here and here. I’ll let him speak for himself.

I am ashamed to say that I haven’t yet read anything by Irish writer John Connolly. There is a reason for this and it’s not because I didn’t know him or want to.  When I got “the call” from my agent, she quickly pointed out that my novel reminded her of Connolly’s work.  I was rather high on myself after “the call” and although I wanted to read his stuff, I didn’t need some hotshot Bestselling author, showing me how it was really done and busting up my mood.  I’ll man up this week end though, and I’m looking forward to it.

Oh, Connelly has also compiled a list of 10 crime books you should read before you die.  You can find that here.

This panel is filled with other powerhouse authors including: Reed Farrel Coleman, Peter James, Laura Lippman, and Daniel Woodrell who garnered much attention when President Obama bought and read his “Bayou Trilogy”.

The rest of the day in brief:

11:30-12:30:  Hot Ice: Caper Novels

1:00-2:00: In Harm’s Way: Ridley Pearson interviewed by Jeff Abbott

2:30-3:30:  Either It Hurts Me Too: Taking chances with your characters or Dark Angel: Morally challenged heroes.  (See?  Decisions.  They kill me.)

4:00-5:00: The Last Detective: Robert Krais interviewed by Gregg Hurwtiz

And once again, if anyone would like to compare notes, let me know.

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