The Grapevine Art & Soul Salon

Why We Love Atlanta

Charles Knott: Launching a Book in a Brew Pub: Shades of Harry Crews

There is a new biography out this year on author Harry Crews: Blood, Bone, and Marrow, written by Ted Geltner with a foreword by Michael Connelly. Connelly was a former student of Harry Crews at the University of Florida in the 1970s. He is also the man who wrote detective stories around a central character named Bosch that got turned into a television series. Jonathan and I, who had just finished watching the first season of Bosch, went to a book-signing at the Wrecking Bar Brew Pub on Moreland Avenue in Atlanta. It was interesting to meet Geltner and Connelly, whose books furnished the material for the Bosch series. Uniquely, the author was in charge of the production of the television episodes. I heard that this is a new policy of Amazon.com, now in the made-for-TV movie business.

The launching party was held at an old Victorian house, which was vacated by its former occupants and turned into an artisanal gathering center. It is a large, pleasant, empty sort of place and perfect for activities of this kind. There was a room that seats 50 or 60 people, a free bar in one corner of the room, and a doorway that leads to a table heavily laden with hors d'oeuvres. There was no sound-deadening feature in the house, and the noise of this many people talking, plus a live band, made the atmosphere absolutely deafening.

Jonathan engaged Michael Connelly first and, among other things, told him that I very much liked the Bosch series. Jonathan then asked him to sign his copy of the biography and Connelly replied, "I'll sign the preface—I wrote that. I didn't write the rest of the book." In a philanthropic donation of his time that amazed me, he had apparently flown in from LA for this event.

A few minutes later, Connelly and I found ourselves looking each other, and he said, "So you like Bosch?"

"Yes," I replied. "Bosch reminds me of Bogart."

"That's high company," he said.

"Are you going to let him get back together with his girlfriend?"

"Which one?"

"The cop," I said, unable to remember the woman's name.

"Probably not," he said. "We don't want to let Bosch get too happy."

We made a bit more small talk and then, because the stress of the noise made conversation so difficult, wandered away from each other.

During the interviews with Geltner and Connelly, we heard that Harry Crews liked the word "naked" to describe himself and his philosophy of writing. Geltner said the first time he visited, he went with a friend of Crews and stayed in the car while the friend went to the house and knocked on the door. Crews actually was naked and had to be brought under control and clothed by the friend before the interview could take place.

Connelly said that as a student, he would go to the pub where Crews liked to drink and observe him from a distance. Crews had a barber chair installed in the pub and often sat there drinking. People would stop by to see him and buy him drinks and chat with him, but many were afraid to approach him—Connelly included. Now Connelly has published 29 books that have been translated into foreign languages, and he is an international bestseller. An audience member asked him if he ever fantasized going back as a successful author and being bolder in his approach to Crews. Connelly replied that he likes his memories as they are and would not change anything. He did say, however, that he saw a photograph made of Crews in his study years after he was Crews' student and was very flattered to read the title of three of his own books on the bookshelf behind Crews.

Many years ago, I read a beautiful story about a pit bull terrier. It was in a magazine, and there was a full-page portrait photograph of the dog. The story was about some men taking their pet bulldog into Mexico to let it fight in a pit. The fight is described in very great detail, along with their "escape" from Mexico back across the border. In the past, I had tried to find the story by searching through the contents of Esquire magazine. I had even written to the editors of Esquire but, as I recall, received no reply. This was before the days of the Internet and research of this type was slow and difficult.

In my conversation with Connelly, I asked him if the story had been written by Crews and if so, when and where it appeared. He immediately remembered it. He said it was written during the 1970s when he was a student of Crews and that it had appeared in Playboy magazine. He said that the man cast as narrator in the story had gotten in a fight in Mexico and ended up with a broken arm that had to be elevated horizontally until it healed.

After a few more minutes of consuming hors d'oeuvres and weaving around in a room closely packed with people shouting to each other at the tops of their voices, I made my way out to the front steps and leaned against one of the Old Southey columns that supported the front porch roof. Soon, I was approached by two ladies—one of whom was the interviewer who had conducted the panel. The other woman turned out to be a freelance writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. They walked up to me saying they had observed that I looked very much like Harry Crews. I was taken completely off guard by this and told them I thought there was no resemblance whatsoever between me and Harry Crews. I had met him in 1997 at East Georgia College and was very familiar with how he looked. He was a leathery, lanky, bareknuckled macho man, very much an ex-Marine, and very different from me.

Being an introverted/thinking type by nature, I was not savvy enough in the heat of the moment to realize it was merely a social overture on their part. They wanted to get to know me, for God sake!

I had a pleasant chat with them before Jonathan and I went downstairs into the pub. It is one of Atlanta's many brew pubs, and it had an atmosphere like an ancient barrow that might've been dug out of a hillside in some timeless time from the distant past. We ordered hors d'oeuvres, and I sampled their ginger beer while Jonathan sampled two of the beers he had seen advertised on the chalkboard when we came into the room. Apparently they have a large number of recipes and brew whatever they please from day to day, advising the patrons of what is available at the moment. We were quite pleased with what we drank, what we ate, and with the really quick, efficient, knowledgeable young woman who waited our table.

Finally, we left and went into the parking lot where the free valet service rep was requested to retrieve our car. I was accosted by another woman using some socially adept pretext, and by this point I was warmed up enough to engage in a bit of light banter. Our valet driver was having trouble locating our keys, and I told him it was a Honda key that was slightly bent, like the driver. My new acquaintance thought this was terribly witty, but then was distracted by the appearance of another man and used the oldest ploy on earth: "Don't I know you from somewhere?"

At this point, Jonathan and I took our keys and plunged manfully back into the rainy dark night.


Copyright 2016, Barbara Knott. All Rights Reserved.