Sunday, May 06, 2018

A Few Minutes of the Condor: James Grady at the Edgar Awards

James Grady. Photography by Peter
Rozovsky for Detectives Beyond Borders
Authors talk about how tongue-tied they get in the presence of their literary heroes.  Not me. I've made Susan Sontag and Fran Lebowitz laugh. I know from firsthand experience what one Nobel laureate thought of instant coffee.  And I've schmoozed giants of crime and thriller writing in limousines, outside banquet halls, by coat racks, and queued up for free booze.

Three years ago I wrote this after the 2015 Edgar Awards dinner of the Mystery Writers of America:
"I got my New York errands done early on Wednesday, slipped into a phone booth to change into my suit, and got to the ballrooms at the Grand Hyatt a few minutes before anything had started at Wednesday night's Edgar Awards. 

"At the end of the long anteroom outside the banquet hall, a bald man slouched on a bench, looking not nearly as tall as he does when gesticulating behind a podium.
"`Mr. Ellroy,' I said. `Congratulations.' 
"`I've met you before,' he said, extending his hand. 
"`You have. Otto's store, when you read from Perfidia.' 
"`Did you enjoy it?' he said, straightening slightly.  
"`I did. I read it in a week, a solid hundred pages a night.' 
"`That's the way to do it,' Ellroy said with an approving nod. `Steady reading, a couch, a dog.' 
"`Except for the couch and the dog, just how I did it.' 
"`Well, they want me in there. We'll talk later.' 
"`I'll be running up, getting in people's way, shooting pictures.` 
"`Shoot away.' Another approving nod.'
That meeting was funny, slightly awkward, and for me revelatory--or it would have been if I'd not already suspected that James Ellroy's outsize bluster masked a touching and eager vulnerability. I like to think that this colored my subsequent reading and rereading of his work, particularly Blood's a Rover, but also The Big Nowhere and The Black Dahlia.

I gained no such insight when I buttonholed James Grady at the 2018 Edgars a week and a half ago.   But I had just bought Grady's Six Days of the Condor, having no idea I would meet the author two days later, and I had to share the news. "Do you mind talking about a book you wrote so long ago?" I asked Grady. (Condor appeared in 1974, the film version starring Robert Redford the next year.)

"Not at all," he replied, smiling broadly, and we talked for a minute or two about that other Washington suspense novelist E. Howard Hunt, whom Grady said he had not known, and Hunt's fellow Watergate burglar Frank Sturgis, whom he had. (Grady writes about his discussions with Sturgis in an informative introduction to the Mysterious Press edition of Six Days of the Condor.)

So what's the lesson? If you're a reader or a writer, the writers you like are probably pretty interesting people who know pretty interesting stuff, and why would anyone be shy about chatting with someone like that?

© Peter Rozovsky 2018

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