I couldn’t help but smile at year’s end when the Arts section of the New York Times published an essay by James Franco called The Meanings of the Selfie. It followed a November announcement by Oxford Dictionaries that selfie was their international Word of the Year 2013. Old news now, with the lightning speed of the information highway. But together the stories had a full-circle resonance for me. I began the year with a determination to pave new paths in social media. And almost everywhere I turned, James Franco popped up waving a checkered flag.
Yule Lads and Iceland Noir
I woke early this morning, as I did when a child many Christmas moons ago. Perhaps I was hoping to meet Bjúgnakrækir, or Sausage-Swiper, the ninth of thirteen Yule Lads who visit in the two weeks prior to December 25, according to Icelandic tradition. He might leave a gift in your shoe, depending on whether you’ve been naughty or nice. But mostly he hides in the rafters waiting for the chance to steal one of your smoked sausages. The Yule Lads are the original Bad Boys of Christmas.
In Icelandic folklore, the criminally inclined Yule Lads were the sons of terrifying mountain trolls who feasted on children. (Merry Christmas, kiddies!) But by the early 20th century they’d evolved into mischievous pranksters – with some help from poet Jóhannes úr Kötlum, Iceland’s answer to the Brothers Grimm. I discovered the Yule Lads in the airport as I was leaving the lovely city of Reykjavik last month, after an inspiring crime fiction weekend.
Butchers, Beasts & Bonkbusters
First thing I learned at Bouchercon? I was pronouncing it wrong. I assumed the name was from the French boucher, or butcher. A bit gruesome, if not inappropriate for a convention devoted to crime fiction. But, no. It rhymes with voucher. Bouchercon. Still doesn’t sound quite right. (Many years ago when I was a newsreader for Radio Netherlands, I received a letter from a listener in Seattle: “Mr. Swatling, why do you always adopt a French intonation whenever uncertain of the correct pronunciation? It is increasingly annoying. If you don’t know, you should ask someone who does!”)
Bouchercon is the Anthony Boucher Memorial World Mystery Convention. All you need to know about sci-fi editor and mystery writer Anthony Boucher is in a tribute essay by William F. Nolan. But a couple things caught my attention. He was active in college theatre, wrote book reviews for newspapers, and worked in radio for several years. Mr. Boucher and I have a fair amount in common. At Bouchercon I discovered many crime fiction authors had backgrounds in theatre and/or journalism. Me, too.
Murder Most Queer
Amsterdam. Summer 1995.
I’m homeless, living in my jeep with my dog. (Long story, not so interesting.) Early one sunny morning in Vondelpark, we run into a crowd gathered behind crime scene tape that surrounds a pond by the rose gardens. (Infamous gay cruising spot – still is.) Police everywhere, divers in the water. I ask some guy what’s going on. He tells me, and it’s not pretty. Not first thing in the morning, not anytime. Take my word for it. But what he tells me will inspire a book. My first. The one I’m trying to get published. About a murder.