Many Wrong Turns, and One Right
Michael Reynolds (Europa Editions)
International Crime Month is a month-long celebration of crime fiction, the authors who write it, and the publishers who bring it to the attention of readers in the US. Four American independent publishers are behind the initiative: Akashic Books, the company hosting this post; Europa Editions; Brooklyn based indie, Melville House; and Grove Atlantic with their Mysterious Press imprint. Four fiercely independent publishers in whom the spirit of collaboration and the sense of shared purpose are nonetheless strong.
International Crime Month kicked off at the beginning of June during the annual book industry fair, Book Expo America, with author events featuring Jessica Hagedorn (Manila Noir, Akashic), Maurizio De Giovanni (The Crocodile, Europa), and Marek Krajewski (Death in Breslau, Melville); a panel discussion with publishers; and an unforgettable Friday-night soiree in midtown Manhattan. This week the road-show phase of the celebration got underway when editors and publishers from the participating presses traveled to Mystic, Madison (CT), Boston, and back to New York, where on Thursday night we were in conversation at McNally Jackson Booksellers.
We publishers and editors set off for Boston in a rental on Tuesday and no more than fifteen minutes into the trip took a wrong turn that landed us on Randall’s Island, smack in the middle of what seemed like a staging area for a massive police blitz about to descend on the city. There were a thousand cops milling about, ten thousand flashing lights, a couple of hundred hands on gun grips and many, many pairs of eyes watching our far-too-sporty black rental cruise past carrying its cargo of publishers, who, meanwhile, were trying their hardest to appear as if a stopover on Randall’s Island was very much a part of the plan. None of us who saw that sea of law enforcement—like some paranoid hallucination—was able to puzzle out the presence of so many cops on the Island; and, given recent news concerning privacy breeches, we were perhaps feeling a little too skittish to Google an explanation. It remains a mystery. Life, at times, throws you up an island inhabited entirely by uniformed policemen and policewomen. That happens, too. Somehow it seemed a fitting way to begin a trip during which we would be talking about crime, policemen, criminals, and justice.
We found our way off the Island thanks to a friendly fellow who ended his helpful reply with the word, “sir”—i.e., an off-duty cop!
That turned out to be the first in an astonishing streak of wrong turns, a comedy of navigational errors, miscalculations, and blunders.
Dennis Johnson from Melville House and I transited in Boston, where we have both spent considerable chunks of our lives, for at least an hour trying to get out of the city and onto the road for Mystic. It ended up being a walk down, back up, and down again Memory Lane—there’s where Ratskeller used to be, home of Boston punk; there’s Wally’s; that used to be a Cadillac dealership; when I was here it was artists’ studios; look, the Citgo sign’s still there. And then fifteen minutes later: Oh, there’s old Ratskeller again…Wally’s…the Citgo sign! I threw more U-turns in two days than I have over the past four years.
A wrong turn in Mystic left us on the fallow side of an excruciatingly slow-to-close drawbridge at a distance of no more than 400 yards from our destination. We arrived at said destination late and apologetic, shamelessly blaming Boston and its circles of traffic hell and the damned drawbridge rather than our ineptitude with maps and street signs.
We made an unplanned walking tour of Bridgeport, Connecticut, in search of bar food and beer. And we learned that there is a lonely hour in Bridgeport during which the diners and after-work drinkers have all gone home and the clubbers and night people are yet to arrive. At that time, nothing stirs. We were bounced from one bar to another where kitchens were closed and stages or back rooms were being set for hip-hop open mikes or local band nights or midnight pool and dart tournaments.
Aside: I noted that Akashic’s Johnny Temple, who balances identities as indie publishing icon during the day and rock star at night, was strangely drawn to the backrooms of these dive bars, where musicians and DJs were setting up their gear. His eyes grew wide and he craned his neck to catch details that were lost on the rest of us and we had trouble dragging him away from these places to more commodious dining options. Of which there were very few.
Between one wrong turn and another we spoke about International Crime Month and our respective noir fiction authors to a couple of dozen people at Brookline Booksmith and afterwards went for drinks at a place called the Brookline Clubhouse that was once the Rusty Nail with a group of James Joyce enthusiasts, one of whom was immaculately dressed in a suit and tie and was also living in his car; a former dancer turned literary critic; and a young novelist who has written a notable book in which the protagonist sires a Volkswagen bug.
That night, Dennis Johnson suggested a nightcap nel mezzo del cammin from the Brookline Clubhouse née Rusty Nail and our B&B. In retrospect, this last round may be partly responsible for the difficulty we experienced getting out of town the morning after.
In Mystic, we waxed lyrical about independent publishing and our crime fiction series to staff at Bank Square Books, a bookstore that recently recovered from damage wrought by Hurricane Sandy in record time thanks to support from members of the community it serves. Independent bookstores tend to inspire that kind of feeling in their communities. Love, I think it’s called.
At the venerable RJ Julia’s in Madison, we spoke to an enthusiastic audience that included all six members of book group who had traveled an hour to hear us.
I learned much about Melville House’s very necessary mission-driven publishing project and the ways that their new crime fiction line fits squarely into it. They are publishing some remarkable authors, Derek Raymond and Manuel Vázquez Montalbán among them. I listened mesmerized as Johnny Temple described the pleasure he takes in traveling to fairs and festivals in far-off places and making personal connections with authors and, especially, as he touched upon plans for a electrifying new installment in his noir series: Prison Noir. Most of all I was energized by the evident purposefulness, passion, and personality we all invest in our publishing endeavors.
We have taken a lot of wrong turns this week. But wrong turns and all, we got where we needed to be, more or less on time. We are indie publishers after all. And I had the persistent feeling over these past few days that we took one giant right turn when we started International Crime Month. The initiative began as a) an excuse to meet once a month and drink beer and eat pretzels together, and b) an idea for collectively promoting our respective crime series in such a way as to draw attention to the phenomenal international authors that we are publishing. To my mind, it has developed into something more. It has become a chance for us to explore, publicly, with our readers, with critics and booksellers, exactly what we as independent publishers bring to the publication of international crime fiction. I am convinced that independence has its own rewards, that there is an inherent and abiding strength that comes from being independent, that certain qualities are evident in the publishing projects of independent presses which are harder to find in the über-projects of large corporate houses. Exactly what these rewards, strengths, and qualities are has been the stuff of our conversations over the past few days. And the conversation continues. Next week we’ll be at WORD Brooklyn, and later in the month we’ll have some of our most exciting and talented authors doing events around the country with editors and critics.
Come out and join us at one or more of our forthcoming events and get in on the conversation.
Posted: Jun 14, 2013
Category: Akashic in Good Company | Tags: Johnny Temple, Akashic in Good Company, Melville House, International Crime Month, Europa Editions, Grove Atlantic, Dennis Johnson, Michael Reynolds, Mysterious Press
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