Adventures in Genre Fiction

It’s been a while. Life intrudes; you know how it is. If you’re a parent and a writer, you especially know how it is. That’s why Pen Parentis exists, and the world is richer for it. They are dedicated to helping authors keep writing once parenthood turns their worlds inside out.

After I read at the Literal Latté 20th anniversary party in 2014, a very nice woman came up to me and told me she liked my poem; she was (and still is) M. M. Devoe, the founder and executive director of Pen Parentis. She told me that her group had a monthly salon held in a swanky Wall Street hotel, and asked me to read at it. Given that I’d just driven four hours from Boston to read a single three-minute poem in New York before driving four hours right back again, I said I was absolutely interested.

Months passed, as they do, and eventually we firmed up a plan for me to read at the first salon of the post-summer season, which was to take place this past September. What I didn’t know until I checked the web site over the summer to get the exact date was that I was slated to read alongside Ed Lin and Tim O’Mara, two accomplished mystery authors with at least three detective novels apiece.

And the posted theme for the evening was Crime Fiction.


Eventually I figured that I wound up on the slate for Crime Fiction night because the poem I’d read at the Literal Latté event was “Five-Course Noir,” a poem with criminal elements, but calling it crime fiction was a stretch. I considered emailing Pen Parentis and letting them know that, well, I’m not a crime writer.

But then I started digging through all my poems, just to see if I could scrape together a list that would be at least vaguely on-topic. “Tryst” is about adultery; “The French Have a Word for It” is about theft. “Veninum Lupinum” is about poisoning, “Force Majeure” has overtones of rape, and “HC SVNT DRACONES” is about arson. “Confession” is about unspeakable crimes.

I have many, many more unpublished poems about murder, fraud, terrorism, suicide... plenty more than would fit into a reading slot at the salon.

So maybe I’m a crime writer after all.

Still, what I had was crime poetry, not crime fiction. So after putting together a batch of crime poetry, I dusted off a long-unfinished mystery novel I’ve been putting off for donkeys’ years, and wrote a draft of a particular scene I’d been carrying around in my head for over a decade but never written down. I brought that, too, and let the organizers and audience decide whether I should read poetry or a raw attempt at crime fiction.

Since nobody cares about poetry (you know this to be true), crime fiction won the night. I read my piece about a car at 3 AM crammed full of four adults, a baby, and a severed head, and it went over well. With luck, this will be the beginning of a big push to get the book written. It helps that at the salon, Tim O’Mara revealed that his first book took him twenty years to finish, while I’m only pushing thirteen so far.