Monday, March 12, 2007

Raise a Glass of Jamie ...

Today, as noted elsewhere, is Ken Bruen Appreciation Day. And believe me, few people appreciate Ken more than I do. I’m probably not the only writer to say that.

I actually met Ken before I read him. We were introduced via Teh Intrawebs by Ray Banks right after Ray’s book, The Big Blind, came out in 2004. I hadn’'t read him yet, but I’d heard the buzz. Ken was one of the exceptions to my rule of never asking for a blurb from an author I haven’t read. (The other was MacBeard, whom I’ve long since been reading. Maybe on Bearded Author Day, I’ll tell you about it.) I asked Ray if he thought Ken would take a look at Northcoast Shakedown. Ray said he’d ask, but don’t be surprised if he hates it. Ken does not suffer fools gladly.

A man after my own heart already.

To be honest, I expected nothing from this. It was one of those “Hey, worth asking, isn’t it?” deals. Instead, I got a blurb. A very good blurb. I thanked Ken for it and made a point of telling him I’d buy him a drink at Bouchercon that fall.

So, Bouchercon rolled around. I was given a baptism of fire by having to do a panel five minutes after I arrive in Toronto. That done, the members of our panel went off to see Ian Rankin make Laura Lippman and Karin Slaughter blush, then attend the opening ceremony. I got to meet several people for the first time, including Lee Goldberg. It was while chatting with Lee that someone came up behind me, put a hand on my shoulder, and said, “Jimmy, lovin’ the blog. Ya wanna get a beer?”

It was Ken, who dragged me over to the nearby Overdraught several times that weekend.

OK, the man blurbed me and got me seriously drunk. Plus, I sat next to him during the Shamus Awards presentations when he won for The Guards. (That was rough, considering I sat between Ken and Steve Hamilton, who’d been helping me along as well at that point.) On the way back, I made it a point to pick up The Guards.

It’s one thing to be blown away by someone’s personality. It’s quite another to be floored by their writing. The only bad review I’d read of The Guards still lavished praise on the style, poetic and sad and darkly humorous. I immediately put The Killing of the Tinkers and The Magdalen Martyrs on my bookshelf. I have an original UK edition of Priest on my to-be-read stack. But it was my trip to New York City to cover the Dublin Noir launch where I picked up his collaboration with Jason Starr, Bust. Violence was never so funny. I read most of it on the flight home.

I also made a point of picking up American Skin. Devoured it. It was Ken, all right, but it was different, just as Bust was different. In fact, I reviewed it on my own blog in spite of my rule against blogging close friends. And Ken, in spite of my moody, temperamental artist fits, has become a close friend. (I keep expecting him to ask me what I’m so pissed off about, but then Ken’s got a better perspective on rage than most people.) American Skin was too good not to review. Plus, we all know how well I handled a street corner preacher’s dis of Ken.

It would be enough for me to talk about his writing. Everything you want to know about Ken is in those pages. The page is where Ken sends all his demons. And he’ll take a few of yours with him when you read him.

But I have to take this opportunity to thank him as well. He took an unknown writer from Ohio--a man he’d never met before--under his wing, cojoled him, encouraged him, listened to him whine, and, when it looked like the whole rollercoaster ride was coming off the tracks, sent him to the woman who would become his new agent.

And it’s a story I hear about Ken over and over again. With Ken Bruen, you have to pay it forward. Because the man gives too much to pay him back.

1 comment:

Ray Banks said...

"Ray said he’d ask, but don’t be surprised if he hates it. Ken does not suffer fools gladly."

I didn't say anything of the sort.