Article by Eryk Pruitt
On a weekend where the heat indexes crept into the 100s across the mid-Atlantic, no place was hotter than Washington DC’s Wonderland Ballroom, the site of author and reviewer E.A. Aymar’s third Noir at the Bar. Billed as “Chapter Three,” the lineup boasted ten crime writers at the tops of their game to a packed house. The mood was kept dark and lively, thanks to DJ ALKIMIST, who spun intro music for each reader. Even amongst the crowd gathered a Who’s Who of crime fiction, as readers and writers alike mingled with folks like Peter Rozovsky, Brian Lindenmuth, and Erik Arneson.
Up for grabs: An eleven-inch stiletto with an engraved blade reading DC NOIR AT THE BAR 2016 BEST STORY, perfect for a writer brave enough to march into Pelecanos territory and make it out alive.
I’ve attended Noirs at the Bar in Durham, Dallas, New York City, Harrisburg, Baltimore, and Atlanta, and I’d easily rank DC’s event at the top. There were so many more elements than readings in play, all of which Aymar conducted like a maestro. The evening kicked off with Nik Korpon’s feel-good holiday piece from Shotgun Honey, “Ho-Ho-Hold On A Sec: The Reindeer Situation”, and included such highlights as Jen Michalski’s dark and moody thriller Could You Be with Her Now?, a Hardboiled Wonderland CriMemoir from Marietta Miles, an unpublished piece titled “Working the Steps” from Sandra Ruttan, to a short slice of suspense from Six Days of the Condor author James Grady, among others. Drinks flowed, music jammed…All in all, a perfect evening for noir.
Marietta Miles photographed by Peter Rozovsky
So how about a word from the symphony conductor himself? Ladies and gentlemen: E.A. Aymar…
- How did you get The Wonderland Ballroom as a venue?
I have a good friend named Meg Madden whose friends with the owners, so she hooked us up (she also does taxes for writers, FYI, if anyone’s interested). We’ve held all three D.C. Noir at the Bars there, and it’s just a terrific venue. The atmosphere is perfect.
E.A. Aymar photographed by Peter Rozovsky
- Are they cool? Have they been receptive to everything? Do they love NATB?
Very cool, easy to work with, and completely receptive. I think they like having us there. Love us? Maybe? I mean, they have a dance party right after our event and probably fill the room with hundreds, so we’re not breaking their bank or anything. And I don’t think we count as a tax write-off but, then again, I’m not sure what a tax write-off is.
- Do you normally schedule these on a Saturday night? What’s your prognosis on NATB for a Saturday night crowd?
We have them on Saturdays or Sundays. I think the last one was on Sunday, and I was worried about Saturday…but the turnout was the best we’ve ever had. So if they’re open to Saturday nights, we’ll do it again. Given that we have these early in the night (7 PM), we avoid issues with parking, and people can get dinner afterward. Plus, writers and their readers tend to be an older crowd (40s on up), so an early start isn’t a bad thing. Personally, I’m usually passed out by 11.
Adam Meyer photographed by Peter Rozovsky
- This is the third event. How would you rate this one against the other two?
I liked all of them for different reasons. It’s kind of like books–the last one was my favorite. These events are dependent on the strength of the writers; actually, it’s really on their strength as readers. And we’ve had strong readers at all the events. We definitely had the best crowd at this one–large and responsive. You worry about that with DC, because audiences here tend to be a little more conservative, but they were loose last weekend.
- How did you choose your lineup?
Nik Korpon, with E.A. Aymar in the foreground, photographed by Peter Rozovsky
I’m not the strictest about that, admittedly, and I feel like I’m sort of going against the Noir at the Bar tradition. I just like having dope writers at these events, and they don’t necessarily have to write noir. For one thing, it’s hard to fill a card with just strictly noir writers. I do have an informal rule that every reader have something published in crime fiction, both to bring out readers and for the quality of the writing. And if people don’t write noir, then I figure they can write something for the event. I point people to sites like this one and Shotgun Honey to get a feel for the type of writing that works best. A lot of writers prefer to read a dark passage from a recent book, but that’s risky. They get there, hear a lyrical and fucked up story from a guy like Nik Korpon, and have an “oh shit, my story doesn’t fit” moment. I want to avoid those moments, both for that writer and the audience.
- Your introduction for James Grady was hilarious. Can you share it, and also tell us how you got hooked up with him?
Here’s the quote:
“Our last writer this evening sold his first novel at 24, which was made into the celebrated Robert Redford movie Three Days of the Condor. He was also, at that same age, working on a Senator’s staff in DC from a Fellowship he’d won. What were you doing at 24? Nothing that successful. Probably getting high and fingerblasted on a futon. Anyway, he’s since written a number of novels, articles, screenplays, and stories, and won a slew of national and international awards. Here to make you feel inadequate is James Grady.”
James Grady photographed by Peter Rozovsky
I moderated a panel for the Washington Independent Review of Books conference, and he was one of the panelists. Turned out he was interested in reading at an upcoming event. The guy’s sold zillions of books and won big prizes, but he’s totally humble and, really, one of the nicest guys you could meet. A lot nicer than I’d be if I’d sold zillions of books and won an award. I’d be such a dick. But Grady’s really cool, and is down to read again.
I love having that mix of writers at the events. Some newbies, some bestsellers. I hope, someday, that I can get George Pelecanos to read at a N@B. He’s on my immediate wish list. If you’re reading this, George, hit me up.
- When’s the next NATB in DC?
I’m planning for April or May. The heat was so bad this time that I don’t think we’ll do another one in July. I’d love to have DC’s Noir at the Bar in the spring, and Virginia’s in the fall. Working on that now, even though I’m not the person putting the VA one together. I’m just in an advisor/pest role.
- Tell us how you decided on that prize?
It was awesome, right? I was originally going to get a trophy or plaque, but then I remembered that I got engraved throwing knives for my groomsmen when I got married, and that seemed like a much better approach.
I was a little worried about giving out a weapon in a bar. There was a chance someone could have been stabbed. But the knife was so cool it was worth it.
- NATBs don’t usually feature a DJ. How did you get involved with DJ Alkimist? Would you do anything different in the future?
I love working with musicians. A jazz singer named Sara Jones accompanies me when I do solo readings, and I’ve been thinking about working with a DJ for a while. So I researched DJs in the area, came across Alkimist, and I liked the music she was putting out. I hired her for the event so I could see her in action. We traded e-mails beforehand, and we share similar visions. I was really happy to work with her, and hope to in the future.
I might bring her back for the next N@B – the entrance music was a fun idea (stolen from the NC N@Bs), but I’m also open to trying new things. Anything that keeps the audience entertained, and doesn’t detract from the writers. It might be fun to have a live musician or two handle the entrance music. I dunno.
- Is the story you read available online?
I write for events, so that one hasn’t been published yet. It needs some polishing before I submit it out there.
All in all, an amazing event in Washington DC which helped take the mind off politics and the humidity. At the end of the evening, the merch table had emptied, DJ Alkimist spun a bit extra, and the engraved stiletto had been claimed by…
Photo by Eryk Pruitt
The yankee gobshite.*
Eryk Pruitt photographed by Peter Rozovsky
* To quote Peter Rozovsky in reference to Eryk Pruitt