Tag Archives: New Orleans

My First Bouchercon: Notes From a Newbie

Okay, I cannot promise this report will be riveting, but I want to get everything down before my addled brain starts resorting my memories of Bouchercon 47, a massive mystery convention that took place in New Orleans this year, Sept 14-18.

Weds: We hate flying, so we drove down. Insane, I know, but we were giddy at the prospect of a genuine road trip. America and all. We got a late start, circling Fairfax a few times because of last minute errands, gassing up, etc. At one point I remarked to my husband that it felt like we were in a bad twilight zone episode. This is us at a fricking Cracker Barrel, we were so happy to get just a little bit down I-81.

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We made it to Athens, TN before we stopped for the night. We were vibrating.

Thurs: Mostly on I-59, which is wonderful. I remembered that when I was a kid, I hated highways that were long, green, and sign-free. Now it’s a rare treat. Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, and then this hopeful sight:

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We missed the opening ceremonies parade but made it to the conference hotel on Canal Street just before dinner time. At the center of the hotel lobby was the bar, which was insanely noisy and crawling with writers. The bell men were even joking about it.

Dean collapsed in the room while I checked into the con. Basic conference swag included 6 free books of my choosing, a BIG program, a little program, a cool bag that puts your AWP tote to shame, a brilliant T-Shirt, an awesome coffee travel cup, and probably some other stuff that I forgot or gave away.

That night, after catching some of the awards ceremonies, we went down to the lobby bar where I found myself face to face with Joe. R. Lansdale. Mr. Lansdale is my hero, and I read all of his books, eventually. I’m usually 3 behind. Anyway, there he was and I said, “Wha!” To which he politely said, “Wha?” I proceeded to gush about how great he is, how great the Hap & Leonard  TV adaptation is, and then I introduced him to my husband. Mr. Lansdale was super gracious but had to get the hell away from me, pronto. After he left I realized I’d failed to introduce myself.

I saw him a couple of other times at the conference, but I made sure to hide. I saw Walter Mosley, too. Another of my heroes. I hid from him too, just to be on the safe side.

Fri: Panels, the Aquarium, eating little meat pies, hanging around the book room, and otherwise poking around the hotel. This from the 41st floor:

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That evening, the Bouchercon 2nd line. It was raining on and off, so we watched and encouraged rather than marched.

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I think we started the journey thinking we’d have wild nights on Frenchmen Street, as we usually do, but we were beat. Friday was the day Dean said, “Let this trip be this trip.”

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We did not go to the Anthony Awards that night, but we were hugely happy to hear that Art Taylor won for his editorial work on Murder Under the Oaks. And I think he was happy that we’d driven down, so we could carry back his trophy, which was this wheel sized wooden plaque. Not Airplane friendly.

Sat: The day of our panel, “On the Other Side of The World.” We had nothing more to go on, so moderator Rochelle Staab decided that we would discuss the most unusual features of our works and characters, and with expert wit she guided the conversation beautifully. The panelists, left to right: Rochelle, Steph Post (who hooked me up with Pandamoon Publishing in the first place!!), Lisa Preston, Me, and Sarah Smith.

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Rochelle ended the session with a little game whereby she read out a quote from each of our books and asked the audience to guess which author had written it. I was guessed twice before my quote came around:

Did you know that every piece of jewelry is an apology, and that every apology is really a boast?

This is a line from a letter that a jeweler writes to a corrupt lawyer, whom he vaguely accuses of murder before advising him to grab the cursed emerald and disappear into history. I was realy pleased that she chose this line—it’s one that I’m proud to have written—but I was even more thrilled later when, at the signing table, Rochelle introduced me to Hank Phillippi Ryan by repeating the quote to her.

Another fun moment on the panel was when we started riffing on a mystery based on the hotel’s overly confusing elevator system.

I met one other interesting person—though I did not realize it at the time. A very glamorous writer was seated next to me at the signing table, and she drew all kinds of fans who LOVED her books, which were Hollywood mysteries. Turns out, she knows a lot about Hollywood mysteries. She was Kathryn Leigh Scott, who has been in TONS of things you’ve seen, but is best known for her role as—wait for it—Maggie Evans in the original Dark Shadows series. She was in 319 episodes, dammit.

Dark Shadows was very important to me growing up, but I’m so glad I didn’t know who she was while we were chatting, given my previous behavior with Lansdale and Mosley.

That afternoon I made one more pass through the book room, which was slow because everyone was at the Blood on the Bayou signing. That’s when I picked up even more swag, including these:

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Some writer was swanning through with a purse full of Jack, and the proprietor of Scene of the Crime Books proclaimed her his new best friend. I really wish I knew who she was. I want to buy her books.

We hit the road after that, so we could get home by late Sunday. The drive back was significantly more challenging as we were met with bouts of heavy rain and fog. And after spending so much time with mystery writers, we were definitely in a mood, as evidenced by the creeping terror we felt when we stopped at an Alabama rest station at dusk. It was still misting with rain, and there were no other cars in the parking lot. As we walked up to the building, we saw a man in a khaki work uniform standing outside, staring into the tree line as if he was very concerned. I tried to say hello, but it was as if he couldn’t see me.

The building was deserted, with sickly yellow light bouncing off the tiles. Also, it was already decorated for Halloween, with straw bundles and “cheerful” scarecrow and ghost cutouts taped to the walls, like the beginning to every slasher flick ever filmed. Our steps echoed, and we nervously giggled about how the decorations really cheered the place up. When we left, the sentinel caretaker had moved to a different spot but was still staring into the trees. Another couple had arrived, and when they passed us they seemed ridiculously relieved to see us.

In the car, I asked Dean, “Did you see the attendant? What’s up with him?”

And Dean said, “You mean the Confederate ghost?”

Sunday: Looong day of hard driving, bad weather, and truck traffic. The hours stretched, as they say. Our last stop before the final push for home was at a truck stop. I haven’t been to one in years, but it struck me that it was a lot like a university campus, with its same intimacy and lost island feel, except that the inhabitants were older, stranger, and possibly trapped in time.

Like I said, we were in a mood. Pulling out, we saw this:

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All in all, a very rewarding but sometimes weird trip. I’m definitely planning on Toronto. Here’s the book haul, with puppies, who were happy to have us back home:

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New Interview at The Nervous Breakdown

The wonderful Jen Michalski digs up some dirt when she interviews me at The Nervous Breakdown. Is there something in the air? Because Ethel Roan just posted this amazing entry about the risks and necessity of writing close to your own life.

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Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival Program is up!

And it looks like the program coordinators came to their senses and shifted National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward to a headliner, rather than panelist, position.  Ah well, the fantasy of paneling with her is probably better than the reality.

I’m still on a panel called “Singular women, Singular Words” with some STELLAR novelists: Lucy Ferris, Ellen Baker, and Jessica Maria Tuccelli, moderated by Bev Marshall. Check out the full program here.

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Largehearted Boy Book Notes: The Death Wishing Playlist

“Laura Ellen Scott’s novel Death Wishing is a clever, fun, and smartly written work of speculative fiction. In New Orleans, people’s dying wishes intermittently come true in this charming and unforgettable comic fantasy that begs to be adapted into a feature film.”-lhb

click the boy. he’s over there–>

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Interview at Art & Literature

In late October 2011 Tara Laskowski talked to me about New Orleans, Death Wishing, Elvis, and criticism for Art & Literature, the literary blog of Raleigh’s Metro Magazine.

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Q&A with Laura Ellen Scott

Laura Ellen Scott’s short fiction is widely published, and a collection, Curio (with illustrations by Mike Meginnis), is available from Uncanny Valley Press. Scott divides her time between the suburbs of Northern Virginia and the mountains of the West Virginia panhandle. She teaches at George Mason University.

Here she answers some questions about her debut novel, Death Wishing, to be released in October, 2011 by Ig Publishing.

Q: What is Death Wishing?

A: What would you wish for the world without you in it? Death Wishing is the phenomenon of uttering final words that can come true. Anyone might be Death Wisher, but not everyone is, and there’s no way to tell. At the beginning of the novel cancer has been eliminated, which is great, but most of the wishes that take hold are fairly eccentric: cats are wished away, the clouds turn orange, and Elvis—the 1968 version—is back.

The Wishing is the backdrop for Victor to tell his story—he’s a divorced, overweight, disgraced tech contractor from the north looking to reinvent himself in New Orleans. He’s losing weight, he’s taught himself how to make capes and corsets for his son’s vintage clothing shop, and he’s flirting with inappropriate women. To everyone else, Death Wishing is a world changer, but to Victor, it’s a huge distraction. At least at first.

Q. Did you start with the Death Wishing concept?

A. No, not at all. Victor’s personal story came first. I’m an on again off again member of a popular weight loss program based on the support group model, and that sort of sharing involves a different kind of storytelling than what I’m used to as a writer, so I wanted to explore that. But I also knew I needed a stronger context, something that non-dieters could understand and enjoy, which is where New Orleans comes in. It seems like an impossible place to be moderate.

The Death Wishing concept emerged a little later when we read that a public relations officer from the Roswell Army base left a sworn affidavit about the presence of alien bodies in 1947. My husband joked about it in a “but saying it doesn’t make it so” kind of way, and that led to my writing a story about David Duchovny discovering alien corpses while researching a movie role. That story, called “The Dusty Bastards,” was once the opening chapter of Death Wishing, but it turned out that the novel could handle Elvis or Duchovny but not both. Eventually the story was published in the online journal jmww and in their best of 2010 print annual, JMWW Anthology V.

Q: Is Death Wishing a Fantasy novel?

A: Only to the extent that I try to capture the sense of being in New Orleans, a city with a definite other-world, fantasy feel. If fantasy means writing that aims to inspire visceral reactions like fear or excitement, then maybe Death Wishing works on that level. Readers tell me the book makes them hungry, which is interesting since I tried to limit the food-porn—not just because it’s a cliché of New Orleans fiction but also because I felt bad enough for Victor, I didn’t want to be waving po’boys under his nose without good dramatic reason.

Death Wishing might not fit into a particularly descriptive genre, but others have suggested that it is literary fiction with elements of urban fantasy and/or magical realism. I wasn’t thinking about genre while writing it. I just wanted to create something funny and emotional. It’s definitely a humid story, there’s no getting away from that.

Q: Why Elvis?

A: I knew one of the wishes had to bring back an historical figure, and Jesus and Abraham Lincoln just aren’t funny. Victor sees himself as a failed father, but through the course of the novel it becomes clear that he’s quite a good dad despite his weaknesses. The Elvis that returns is like that too. He’s a vulnerable god, intelligent and uncertain. He’s the 1968 version in black leather, post army—the comeback Elvis. When he’s wished back into existence his daughter is older than he is. I like him. I think Elvis is often deployed as a symbol of excess, but that’s a little boring. There are brief moments of satire in the book, but I don’t write stories that are detached and ironic.

Q: You like Elvis, and you clearly like Vic. What about the other characters, how do they come to you?

A:  I love all the characters in Death Wishing, even the bad guys like Pere Qua, because they are all just trying to make sense out of capricious fortune, and no one really knows anything. Every character in this novel started as a quick, usually visual impression of a real person, usually someone I don’t know at all. Except Victor—he started as a voice experiment. Early versions of Vic were much more affected than he is now, I think because I had just finished reading the first Dexter book by Jeff Lindsay. I knew I wanted Victor to embody complicated feelings about aging appetites, and that he needed to be ruminative in every part of his life. But the other characters had to be put in motion before I figured them out. The toughest were Victor’s son Val and Pebbles, the bad blues singer who Victor has a crush on. Attractive people are hard for me to interrogate. How do romance writers do it?

Q: You are working with a real setting, and at times, real people as characters in Death Wishing. Did you research the book?

A. I’m from Ohio, and I now live in Fairfax, Virginia where I teach at George Mason University. I went to graduate school at ULL (University of Louisiana at Lafayette) when it was still USL, and that was a very important period for my writing, so in a sense those were the years I spent in research—well before the book was even imagined. We love Louisiana, and we try to visit once or twice a year, but I would never characterize those trips as research. Research doesn’t involve that much drinking.

I tried to be responsible, but I don’t think being accurate is as important as being evocative, and I needed to squeeze my own invented businesses and homes onto some very well known streets. In doing so I played fast and loose with what was geographically possible. As I told one reader, please don’t use my novel as a walking guide to the French Quarter! Plus music clubs are always changing—I think my description of Snug Harbor still works, but I know The Spotted Cat became Jazzbeaux’s for a while, and now it’s The Spotted Cat Music Club with an updated interior design, which renders my version of the club unrecognizable.

Q: What would be your Death Wish?

A: Sometimes I wish animals could talk, but I’m sure they’d be horrible—racist, selfish, all that, like super models. I wish tesseract travel were possible. I wish Whoville were a real place. Maybe a fair, secular Santa Claus? Wow, these are all pretty immature.

A great thing about the concept of Death Wishing is that it makes us equals. I watched three professors and a ten year old have this great, really sophisticated conversation about Death Wishing—what was possible, practical, etc. I loved that, but I didn’t feel brave enough to chime in. In the same vein, my friend has been asking folks for years: if you could have a superpower, what would it be? And I’m the only one who hasn’t been able to answer the question. I take it too seriously. I’ll need to ask my three-year-old god-daughter. She’s good at decisions.

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Death Wishing Launched at Fall For the Book Festival in Fairfax, Va

Here I am at the debut reading of my debut novel, Death Wishing. This took place in Fairfax, Virginia at the Fall For the Book Festival.

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