Last night, the Dashiell Hammett Society, in collaboration with the CCBC Creative Writing Forum hosted an evening of crime fiction on the campus of the college. Hosted by Anjili Babbar, with panelists Nik Korpon, Angie Kim, and Ed Aymar, the evening was both entertaining and informative.
After the audience, which was unsurprisingly comprised mostly of students, spend some time mingling and satiating themselves on the provided nosh, the event kicked off with Anjili introducing the authors – an eclectic mix that kept things lively and provided the opportunity for varying views on the topics at hand. Given that these authors already knew each other very well, the friendly and relaxed environment permeated the room.
The first question was an obvious one: Why crime fiction?
Nik’s answer was “because literary fiction is boring,” which set off a banter with Angie, whose book Miracle Creek (you can read my spoiler-free review here) is equal parts literary and genre. No fists were thrown between these friends and eventually Nik pointed out that crime fiction is probably the writing style that most addresses the relevant issues of society that attract him, things like race relations and class struggles. Angie went on to say that her legal background made the crime elements in her novel natural and that she feels the genre does a good job of presenting motivations and the psychological aspects behind them, topics she enjoys exploring. Ed, being his usual smartass self, said that he went with crime fiction because he was “not smart enough to write literary fiction.” Following up this humorous remark with the more serious observation that much of the crime fiction genre now reads more literary in style. Ed cited authors like Megan Abbott and Laura Lippman (playing to this hometown crowd). He also said that much of what we consider classic literature has roots in crime, books like Native Son and An American Tragedy.
The evening was filled with responses like those above – both light-hearted and well-informed both. The author’s described their current novels to the audience.
Another topic I enjoyed, no surprise, was the discussion about diversity in the crime fiction field. As Ed pointed out, the crime genre is going through a very difficult transition currently as those who have been too long sidelined are standing up for themselves and others. Nik, as a straight white man, highlighted how important it is for authors to do their best to signal boost for those that do not have the same privileges. Angie agreed that this was important, even if sometimes you get things wrong, at least the efforts are being made. Later in the evening, Angie also made the excellent point that sometimes minority characters in writing are given the unfair burden of representing their entire community rather than being allowed to exist as examples of the multitudinous variety within those groups.
Of course, Anjili asked the panelists who they feel are writers those interested in crime fiction should be reading. The responses could be a syllabus for kick-ass college literature survey class. Nik named folks like Jim Thompson, James Crumley, the previously mentioned Laura Lippman and Megan Abbott, Angel Luis Colón, Rob Hart, Jordan Harper, and Don Winslow, among others. (Side note to say that both Nik and I still can’t believe we were both brought to tears over that teddy bear in Harper’s Edgar-Award-Winning She Rides Shotgun, something we both once again admitted in public.) Angie mentioned the legendary Mary Higgins Clark (and especially Where Are The Children, which most followers of BOLO Books know is the book that started me on my journey with domestic suspense), Laura Lippman, again – do we sense a pattern here? – Dennis Lehane and Tim O’Brien’s In the Lake of the Woods. Ed spotlighted authors like Nelson Algren, Lawrence Block, Sujata Massey (whose novel, The Widows of Malabar Hill, would just a short while after this event ended be announced as the 2019 winner of the Mary Higgins Clark Award at the Edgar Awards ceremony in NYC. Ed also wanted to highlight some short story writers and mentioned Art Taylor (who would also go on to win an Edgar Award later in the evening) and Jen Conley.
This is just a small taste of what this event had to offer. These Dashiell Hammett Society events are open to the public, so keep your eye out for notifications or reach out to Anjili Babbar to be added to their mailing list.
I will just end by saying that free books were provided and it was a personal joy to see so many young people excited to read the works of the authors they just heard on the panel. We hear so much about the sad state of the world, but when you are surrounded by young people eager to learn, you really do realize that there is another generation there ready to fix what so many seem hell-bent on destroying.