Dock of Day.jpgKiller Nashville mock crime scene 2019

“How can I begin anything new with all of yesterday in me?” Leonard Cohen

There are days when the best I can manage is to stare into the void and flick a middle finger at it. The words are always there; it’s just a matter of rearranging the letters I tell myself. Black symbols appear on the screen and in composition books that just look wrong—awkward, thin and watery, out of place…

Before me are dozens of agent and author notes and comments received after attending a crime  oriented writing conference. My new TO DO list has morphed into a scaly paper dragon that extends over my event horizon and trails into a grey smoke of uncertainty. What to tackle next; what to ponder further; what to change or obliterate?

At first glance, it’s all a blur of red ink, spilled bourbon, and post it notes. The conference was held in a county with an impressive number of unsolved murders, and a history of moonshining and bootlegging, lynching, prostitution…. Attendees were invited to visit a staged murder scene in one of the hotel rooms and speculate who done it? I was reminded of the difference between writing a who done it (mystery) vs a why done it (crime non-fic), as well as what constitutes a thriller, suspense, procedural, and romantic murder mystery. But I wondered if Hart had murder in mind when he wrote “Isn’t it Romantic?”

Panels on search & seizure, running a police department, and performing an autopsy were enlightening. Other talks, such as what makes a book literary and when to kill off a character were confusing or misleading. It was clear more authors were publishing independently and three martini lunches with your agent have gone the way of the beta max. Today’s author is clambering for the attention of readers distracted by TV & social media/Internet googling, and politics.

The conference bookstore contained delightful (though imagined) smells of printer’s ink, strong coffee, and old leather. The only things missing were a few easy chairs and a floor lamp. Some lamented that readers only bought digital renderings now. Even textbooks are being sold digitally; students can’t recover part of their cost anymore. Attendees chatted about the process of printing/digitizing their books. Many seemed shocked when I mentioned I have close to 5,000 hard and paperback books—every book a keeper. That seemed to be the deciding factor—people still bought a hard copy if it was a keeper—had intrinsic value. If it was just an entertaining read, digital was fine. How do you know before you read the book I asked?

Once home I took a long, hot shower. I needed to wash off the selling/pitching experience, which was 1 part burlesque, 1 part its tackier cousin, and 1 part snake oil/used car salesperson. Perhaps I also had a touch of Lady MacBeth syndrome“out, damned spot, out, I say…” Alas, this talking of and reading and writing about blood and gore is ingrained (see My Life in Crime (Detection) blog). I’ve been a Ripperologist since the 1980s, and my true crime collection fills a seven foot tall, 3 foot wide bookcase and spills into my Ripper and the Unexplained bookcase.

The dock of a new day looms or beckons—depending on one’s attitude. Today, there will be blood as I struggle to get Chapter 6 of Interpretation of Death right. I stare into myself, and attempt to summon sensational, succulent prose. We know the drill: If brain or fingers don’t want to budge, we give it a nudge—or a shove. That’s what we do. We plot, we ask what if? We think about the crime and do the time, though our butts grow numb and our eyes become bleary. What’s that cliché? Winning starts with beginning—over and over—and finishing what we begin. Enough sitting and staring—happy writing!