Report from the Road

I flew over to Portland on Tuesday to participate in the first ever Noir at the Bar event in Portland. This is the second one I’ve been part of, the first being in St. Louis a couple years ago. Basically what it is is kind of an underground thing where a bunch of (primarily) crime writers get together and read stuff — short stories, book excerpts, whatever — at a bar, and people come out and listen. It’s a blast.

At risk of sounding whiny, writing can be a lonely and solitary existence. Hell, the morning I left, I ran into a guy I’ve played kickball with for a couple years who was also at the airport leaving on a trip. What I didn’t know until then is that he is one of the main writers for the Independent, who I freelance for, and I wasn’t even aware. I kind of felt like an asshole for being so damn oblivious. But that’s the thing — unless you live in a town with a vibrant, social writing community, or if you teach or something, it’s rare you come face to face with your peers. At least that’s been my experience. I certainly don’t feel like any part of a writing community in Missoula, that’s for damn sure. This event really underscored that for me. I mean, who in Missoula could I have high-brow literary conversations on subjects like, for example, the opening sequence to the first Blade movie, anecdotes about puking into your own pants (I don’t have one of my own, thank you), and erotic fan fiction, all in the span of about an hour?

Right out of the gate I got to meet a couple guys whose books I’ve read and that I’ve communicated with but never met in person: Johnny Shaw and Barry Graham. Johnny organized the thing, edited and published me in Blood & Tacos, and has written a couple award winning books of his own that I highly recommend. Our conversation went late into the night, got a little beer-slurred at times, and covered a lot of ground. It was awesome. Barry Graham is originally from Scotland, doesn’t shy away from saying what he thinks, and besides writing some gritty-as-hell fiction also happens to be a Zen monk. I’ve read at least half-a-dozen or so of his books, both fiction and non-fiction, and every one is excellent. He recited his material by memory (a particularly gruesome scene from How Do You Like Your Blue-Eyed Boy), and was outstanding. His writing is intense. Hell, even his TWITTER posts are intense. In person I found him warm and loquacious. I look forward to crossing paths with him again.

I also got to be a bit of a fanboy. Greg Rucka is one of the best comics writers out there. He’s written the heaviest of hitters — Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman — as well as creator-owned stuff that are considered industry classics, like Whiteout and Queen and Country. I’m particularly partial to his more recent Portland-based P.I. series, Stumptown. He’s also found time to write something like a dozen novels too. I mean, the dude was an answer to a friggin’ question on Jeopardy last week, for crissakes! It was a thrill for me to meet him, and he was a great guy.

I also met two writers I’d never read before, Lisa Alber and Roger Hobbs. Lisa’s debut, Kilmoon, comes out in the spring. I’m pretty stoked to get a chance to read it. We had gin and tonics together, something I’d never had before. It was a nice little break between beers. Roger read from his current WIP, but also found out that day that his previous novel, Ghostman, had won the 2013 Steel Dagger Award for Best Thriller. I’ll definitely be tracking that down ASAP.

I also got to hang out with my friends Aaron Draplin and Leah Mckolay, who I was thrilled and grateful to for coming out to watch and hang for awhile. I killed a couple hours earlier that day talking shit with Draplin on the DDC Factory Floor as well, which is always a good time.

I could go on and on, frankly. It was a great trip, a great day, a great night. I came home tired but inspired. I wouldn’t hesitate a moment to make the trip again, because it is worth every minute, every penny. What a blast. What a fantastic group of friggin’ people.

 

Author: Chris

Chris La Tray is a writer, a walker, and a photographer. He lives and travels from Missoula, MT.

9 thoughts on “Report from the Road”

  1. Got a contact high reading this. Thanks. I used to have experiences like this going to conferences when I was teaching. The Writing Center gatherings were especially collegial. And despite its detractors there in Montana, the Book Festival I attended was another. The Western Literature Association not so much.

    When writers get together, you’re almost guaranteed an inspiring good time. I’m hoping to get to the Western Writers Association conference in 2014, which I believe is scheduled for Sacramento.

  2. This is one of the (admittedly many) N@Bs I would really like to have attended. Great readers, sounds like a great time. And while the Steel Dagger folks know better than I, I really enjoyed Ghostman. It was different and intriguing. Think you’ll dig it.

  3. Sounds awesome! What a cool experience for you.
    I’m definitely going to check out Barry Graham. I think I downloaded a few issues of Stumptown – I’m not into comics much (yet) but it was one that appealed to me, for more than the title.

    1. Stumptown is great. And Greg Rucka gave me the hardcover trade edition of the second collection, which I didn’t have yet. That was pretty awesome too.

  4. I’ve heard and seen the photos of how much fun these events are, Chris. I’ve been invited to several and need to get my ass in motion and go one of these days.

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