I follow a lot of crime fiction blogs, groups, and websites. So, of course, it came to my attention that Raymond Chandler’s birthday was this past week. Might have thought of it myself if I hadn’t been busy juggling a dozen literary balls at the same time. And in some way they all seem to relate to Chandler.
A couple years back I referenced his essay The Simple Art of Murder (1950) in a review of a terrific debut thriller (The Hollow Man by Oliver Harris, available now in paperback.) I’d written my own first novel, and was looking forward to attending ThrillerFest that summer to see if I might generate some interest. I wasn’t sure what to expect. My book wasn’t like the classic detective fiction of Raymond Chandler. But my protagonist did have some of the qualities he discussed.
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.
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.