Jungle Love

Well, I finally got those story edits done yesterday, and it wasn’t that hard to do. I don’t know why I was resisting looking them over, reading the notes, and looking at the story; and frankly, the story is stronger for them. I now await whether or not there will be further notes–if I did a good enough job correcting things for the editor–and I feel as though a millstone has been lifted from around my neck. I honestly don’t understand myself sometimes. This wasn’t a big deal, and yet I avoided it for at least three weeks, not only letting it hang over my head like the sword of Damocles but it was always there, in the back of my mind as I worked on other things, nagging at me from the darkened recesses of my brain, worrying me the way I’d worry a loose tooth with my tongue.

And getting it done? Such an enormous relief.

And of course, once I conquered that beast, I went back to that pesky chapter and yep, sure enough, I was able to start whipping it into shape and what’s more, it was relatively easy. I guess I’d had so much trouble getting the damned thing done in the first place–and yes, for the record, it wasn’t the mess I thought it was–that I thought fixing it would be nearly as painful as writing it was. Nope, it wasn’t. Sigh. And now I know I can get back on track and on schedule. HUZZAH!

Seriously. This is why writers drink.

So I, for one, am really looking forward to this weekend and getting a lot of things done. Hurray!

I also read two more Ross MacDonald stories, from The Archer Files.

First was “The Angry Man”

I thought at first sheer terror was his trouble. He shut the door of my office behind him and stood against it, panting like a dog. He was a gaunt man in blue jeans, almost black with sweat and dirt. Short rust-colored hair grew like stubble on his hatless scalp. His face was still young, but it had been furrowed by pain and clawed by anger.

“They’re after me. I need help.” The words came from deep in his laboring chest. “You’re a detective, aren’t you?”

“A sort of one. Sit down and take a little time to get your breath. You shouldn’t have run up those stairs.”

Next was “Midnight Blue” :

It had rained in the canyon during the night. The world had the colored freshness of a butterfly just emerged from the chrysalis stage and trembling in the sun. Actual  butterflies danced in flight across free spaces of air or played a game of tag without any rules among the tree branches. At this height there were giant pines among the eucalyptus trees.

I parked my car where I usually parked it, in the shadow of the stone building just inside the gates of the old estate. Just inside the posts, that is–the gates had long since fallen from their rusted hinges. The owner of the country house had died in Europe, and the place had stood empty since the war. It was one reason I came here on the occasional Sunday when I wanted to get away from the Hollywood rat race. Nobody lived within two miles.

Until now, anyway. The window of the gatehouse overlooking the drive had broken the last time that I’d noticed it. Now it was patched up with a piece of cardboard. Through a hole punched in the center of the cardboard, bright emptiness watched me–human eye’s bright emptiness.

“Hello,” I said.

The stories are pretty good; I’m glad I took a break from reading the MacDonald stories because the style and voice were starting to grate on me. Don’t get me wrong; I think MacDonald–despite the occasional casual racism and misogyny–is one of crime’s best stylists, and I love Archer’s voice. But reading story after story consecutively was starting to grate a bit, particularly since some were clearly better than others. Both of these are gems; both of them wind up twisting and turning far away from their simple, casual beginnings.

I also have to say that reading the MacDonald stories, as well as Sue Grafton’s Kinsey and Me collection, along with Laura Lippman’s Tess Monaghan short stories in Hardly Knew Her have not only inspired me but kind of taught me how to write a private eye short story. We’ll see how my Chanse stories turn out, I suppose…but at least now I am willing to try writing them, whereas last year I never would have dared try.

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Do What You Do

Ah, it’s only midweek and I’ve not made much progress on anything; the kitchen is a mess, and time is just slipping through my fingers on a daily basis. It’s a frustrating feeling, made even all the more frustrating because I know, even as I procrastinate, that I am going to deeply regret the procrastination the following day; and yet, I do it. I suppose this would be fodder for my therapist; why do I defeat myself all the time, or set myself up to fail? Is it a fear of failure, so if I do it to myself it won’t feel like failure?

These are the mysteries of Greg that I ponder on a daily basis.

I did work on a story yesterday, rather than the Scotty book or the website writing I’d promised to do, which I need to do, both of which I should just fucking do and get out of the way. Eye roll.  The story isn’t one I am sure about; it’s one that I originally wrote back in the late 1980s during one of my I’m going to take this writing thing seriously even though I have no idea what I’m actually doing periods when I used to write piles of short stories (rather like I have done this year already), and it’s one that I’ve always thought would work. I’ve taken a run at it again several times over the years, but at last I think I have it in a place where it will actually work. The voice is the key to this story, and I think I’m getting it right; the story itself is working itself out, but once I am finished with it this time around I need to go back and make sure I’ve got the voice right. This is, of course, not one of the stories I’m including in the collection, or the one I need to get the edits done on (of course, see what I mean about being self-defeating?), and the irony, of course, is that the edits aren’t that involved; and yet somehow I just can’t make myself do them.

Idiot.

But so it goes, and how it goes every day of my life. I am often called prolific, which always amuses me to a degree; I think of myself as lazy, because I know how much more I could get–or should be getting–done. I also know about all the time I waste, and how that time could have been used ever so much more productively.

In my own defense, however, I will say that I like this story I am working on–“Fireflies”–and I’ve always liked the story, and am glad that I am finally getting to it. I have so many story partials; so many stories that have been dancing around elusively in my brain for so long, yet whenever I try to finish them they dance away just out of the reach of my fingertips; “Fireflies” is one of those stories. It’s nice to finally be getting it finished, even though I should be working on other things. But I’ve diagnosed what’s wrong with both “Don’t Look Down” and “My Brother’s Keeper” this week; I’ve also figured out what’s wrong with “Once a Tiger” and how I can move forward with it. These are good things, really; and I am getting somewhere with the Scotty book as well with my brainstorming.

I just need to get past this feeling that Chapter Eleven is such a sloppy mess that I don’t want to even look at it again. I either need to go fix it, or move on to Chapter Twelve instead of agonizing over it like an idiot.

We started watching Shooter, a really terrific Ryan Philippe series last night; I think it was a limited series–a one-off, because I don’t really see how it could go another season. He plays one of the top Marine sharpshooter/snipers, who has retired; he is dragged back into the business by an old Marine buddy who now works for the Secret Service to figure out how someone is going to try to assassinate the president. He doesn’t realize he is being set up to take the fall for the assassination, and the conspiracy runs pretty fricking deep; but he manages to get away from the authorities and has to prove his innocence. It’s pretty good–and Ryan Philippe never disappoints. I’ve been a fan since his days as gay teenager Billy Douglas on One Life to Live back in the early nineties; and I am glad to see him keeping his career going on television now that he’s no longer in demand for film roles. He really makes a hot dad.

I also read two short stories for the Short Story Project. First up was “A Bus Ticket to Phoenix” by Willy Vlautin, from Jim Fusilli’s Crime Plus Music:

Otis woke that morning to Lenny in the bathroom yelling on the phone. It was past 11 a.m. at Winner’s Casino in Winnemucca, Nevada. Under the covers he shivered in the cold and could his breath fall out and disappear into the room. He got up to find the window open and the heat off.

He set the thermostat to high, shut the sliding glass window, and looked out to see some snow falling. It covered the van and trailer and the houses behind the motel. He stood seventy-seven years old, tall and thin with greasy brown hair. He found his clothes on the floor, dressed, and walked across the street to the casino. He used the toilet, lost five dollars on video poker, and went to the casino restaurant for breakfast.

Vlautin, the author, is a seasoned professional musician, which explains why this story rings so true and authentic, I suspect. Some old guys, professional musicians who are now getting old and have never made it big, just always managed to find work and have spent almost their entire lives on the road, are now touring with some musclebound young up and comer in country music. The crime is that their stuff keeps disappearing, with something being stolen at every stop on this tour. The singer is kind of a dick, and so is his manager…and while the crime aspect of the story isn’t it’s strength, the depiction of the lonely, melancholy life on the road–and coming to the end of your lives without ever having made it big while continuing on because you can’t do anything else, is the most poignant and powerful part of this story.

I then moved back to Ross Macdonald’s The Archer Files, for another Lew Archer story, “Wild Goose Chase.”

The plane turned in towards the shoreline and began to lose altitude. Mountains detached themselves from the blue distance. Then there was a city between the sea and the mountains, a little city made of sugar cubes. The cubes increased in size. Cars crawled like colored beetles between the buildings, and matchstick figures hustled jerkily along the white morning pavements. A few minutes later I was one of them.

The woman who had telephoned me was waiting at the airport, as she had promised. She climbed out of her Cadillac when I appeared at the entrance to the waiting room, and took a few tentative steps towards me. In spite of her height and her blondness, the dark harlequin glasses she wore have her an oddly Oriental look.

“You must be Mr. Archer.”

A man is on trial in this unnamed northern or central California city for the murder of his much older, much wealthier wife. He clearly killed her for her money, or so the prosecution would have you believe. His only defense is at the time of the murder, he was with another woman–another woman whom he will not name, despite her being his only real chance at acquittal since everyone thinks he’s guilty. It is this woman who has hired Archer, and she has her own reasons for not wanting to be named…and so as Archer goes about his investigation, another murder is committed and he finally solves the case by finding the real killer…and yet everyone involved is guilty to some degree; perhaps not legally, but at least morally. This is the kind of case where the detective needs a long hot shower after to wash the stink off; which is of course, for me as a reader, the best kind of story. (Oh, yes, all that time period racism and misogyny is on display in this story; which kind of, as always, put me off–as you can see in the above opening paragraphs of the story.)

And now, to stop procrastinating and get back to the spice mines.

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What About Love

It is a lovely spring morning in New Orleans, and the sun is particularly, almost obnoxiously, bright. I woke up early after a short night’s sleep, but it was also a particularly restful sleep; I also broke out the cappuccino machine this morning and had one of those as I checked my email and prepared to face the day. In other words, I am surprisingly rested and chipper this morning; I’m not sure what that means for the rest of the day, but so be it.

The Edgars are this week, and Malice Domestic is this coming weekend; gatherings of crime writers where many of my friends will also be. I do hate missing gatherings of crime writers, and it is my goal that one of these years I am going to attend as many of these events as I possibly can. I miss New York, for one thing, and all my friends there; it’s been far too long since I’ve dashed up there for a lovely long weekend of martinis and lunches and gossip and dinners and talking about writing. I love talking to writers about writing; and I need to go to these things more often not just because I have a great time, but because I also draw inspiration from them and tend to refocus my energies on my writing afterwards; those events remind me why I do what I do. It’s so easy to get discouraged and feel alone out here in the hinterlands.

And I am luckier than most; New Orleans has a very vibrant literary scene.

Paul and I gave up on Friends from College last night; it’s just too difficult to watch a comedy which is predicated on a long-term affair between two married people, particularly when one of the couples is trying to have a baby. It may sound prudish, but I don’t find adultery particularly entertaining as a plot device for comedy; particularly when it’s straight couples who have supposedly committed to monogamy. I just don’t see how this is going to remain funny when they got caught–and they are obviously going to get caught; and their inability to stop seeing each other on the sly is kind of played for laughs. You just know the season finale is going to be the pregnant wife finding out that not only has her husband cheated on her for twenty years but with a woman she thinks is her friend all this time.

Yeah, I fail to see the humor in that.

The male adulterer is a literary writer who is now determined to sell out for money; there was some humor in that, particularly in scenes with his agent, also one of their friends from college, played by Fred Savage–who is also gay, and whose partner, played by Billy Eichner, is the OB/GYN who is helping them with fertility treatments and the in-vitro process. Yeah, this isn’t going to end well, and with each passing episode it seems even less funny. It’s a pity; they could have eliminated the affair and done the show as a kind of St. Elmo’s Fire update show; with them dealing with middle age and getting older and still not having achieved everything they want from life.

But then that would be thirtysomething, and it’s already been done.

Now, I don’t know what we’re going to try to watch next. But I am also very excited because this is the week I am cutting off the cable. Yes, I am entering the twenty-first century and its time to stop paying the cable bill. We stream everything, and the only thing that had kept me tied to the cable company was college football and the Saints; and I can get that thru Hulu Live for a LOT LESS than what I am paying the cable company. So, this week I am cutting back to wireless service only from the cable company; and if I can find a reliable, less expensive company for that, Cox will be gone for good from my life.

Huzzah!

I also read some short stories.

First up is “The Long Lament” by Brendan DuBois, from Jim Fusilli’s Crime Plus Music:

The word went out that October that the head of the Campbell clan was dying, and for the next few days a steady stream of family members, relatives, and supplicants made their way to the city of Dundee, Maine, where a part of the widespread Campbell family arrived from the Highlands when the world-wide Great Depression had struck nearly ninety years earlier.

They drove in from the rest of the New England states, others took the ferry down from Nova Scotia, and a fair number flew into the Portland International Jetport from across the world, including Duncan Campbell–the younger son of the dying Colin Campbell–who had flown in to Maine from Phoenix, where he had lived for the past twelve years. Duncan’s oldest brother, William,  was already in Dundee, where he had never left. For the past several days, William had been keeping watch over his dying father in the upper floor of his modest two-story home in the Highlands section of Dundee, which offered a grand view of the rocky harbor.

Brendan DuBois is one of those writers you can always count on for a good, well-written story that will surprise you. This story is no different; it starts out with a younger son coming home with his wife to pay his respects to his father before he dies. As the story progresses, we learn the father is a crime lord and his older brother is a monster; the wife is Latina and the entire family are racists. And then the fun begins. As I said, Brendan never disappoints.

Next up in Crime Plus Music was “Unbalanced” by Craig Johnson.

The only part of her clothing that was showing were the black combat boots cuffed with a pair of mismatched green socks. She was waiting on the bench outside the Conoco station in Garryowen, Montana. When I first saw her; it was close to eleven at night and if you’d tapped the frozen Mail Pouch thermometer above her head it would’ve told you that it was twelve degrees below zero.

I was making the airport run to pick up my daughter, Cady, who had missed her connection from Philadelphia in Denver and was now scheduled to come in just before midnight. The Greatest Legal Mind of Our Time was extraordinarily upset but had calmed down when Id told her we’d stay in Billings that night and do some Christmas shopping the next day before heading back home. I hadn’t told her we were staying at the Dude Rancher Lodge, one of my favorites because of the kitschy, old brick courtyard and fifties coffee shop. Cady hated it.

This story is poignant and sad, but not terribly sad; it’s about the bonding of two strangers in a truck during the Christmas season and during a snowstorm; oddly enough, they bond over music and she resets the sound balances on his truck stereo to make the music sound better. It seemed like a Christmas story in some ways; one of those wonderfully sentimental stories that doesn’t cross the line into cheapness and manipulation. Craig Johnson is a superb writer, and this story really shows that.

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Lonely Old Night

Monday morning, and a pretty good weekend of sleep has worked it’s magic. I’m not tired this morning, neither mentally nor physically, and that has to count for something. I was getting rather down on myself last evening , as we watched Friends from College on Netflix; I hadn’t gotten nearly enough done as far as writing and editing are concerned, managing to procrastinate almost the entire weekend. Oh, sure, I got chores done and errands run, but yeah, didn’t really do much of anything yesterday other than work on the revision of a story and read some more short stories. This means I am behind schedule yet again, but feeling good this morning has to count for something. I tend to think having days like yesterday–days with zero motivation to write/edit–are my subconscious telling me I need to take a break and let my mind relax a little bit.

Or, that could just be my justification.

And on the other hand, if that’s the case, so be it.

But I also realized, over the course of this incredibly lazy weekend, that part of the problem I am having with some of these short stories is that I don’t know the characters as well as I should–particularly with “Don’t Look Down”–and I need to know them better; I also need to know what their story is. Same with the Scotty; part of the reason I am having such an issue moving forward with Chapter Twelve isn’t just that Chapter Eleven is a sloppy mess; I need to at least have a better understanding of where the book is going rather than trying to write my way into it. So, I’m going to brainstorm a bit between clients today and tomorrow; as I said before, this is probably the most complicated Scotty book since Mardi Gras Mambo, and so I need to be a lot more careful with it than I’ve been with the previous ones. It can easily go off the rails, and I don’t want that. God, how I don’t want that!

But i am hoping–hoping–to break through on it today; I’d love to get the short story collection finished by this weekend and at least four more chapters of the Scotty so I can have the entire thing finished by the end of May. Goals.

I also read two short stories from Jim Fusilli’s Crime Plus Music.

The first was “1968 Pelham Blue SG Jr.” by Mark Haskell Smith.

While one of us was fucking the middle-aged Goth chick against a dumpster in the alley, we went and got beer. We didn’t think it would be a big deal. This kind of thing happened all the time and we tried to give each other space for a quick bang whenever we could. It made being in the van easier and gave us stories to share. For some of us, the sex was the main reason we played these gigs. It wasn’t for the money.

We found a bar a block away. It was one of those places that calls itself a tavern and has a list of beers written on a chalkboard behind the bar. They had mismatched sofas and coffee tables scattered around the room and shitty electro-groove music dripping out of the speakers. Maybe this is what people are into these days. It’s not like anyone came to our show. We had seventy-nine paying customers and one horny soccer mom wearing vintage Hot Topic. Maybe everyone else was sitting in thrift-store living rooms listening to laptops making music.

The second was “Are You With Me, Dr. Wu?” by David Corbett.

Shocker Tumbrel first encountered the loving Buddha inside a padded holding cell at San Francisco County Jail.

Twelve hours earlier, a SWAT team had dragged him out of a shooting gallery two blocks from the Bottom of the Hill, the club where his band had joined a handful of other outfits in a benefit to save the venue, one of the few left in town to offer live music, now targeted for condo gentrification at the hands of the usual cabal of city hall sellouts and bagman developers.

In all honesty, I didn’t care for either of these stories. The first is a Barry Hannah-style stream of consciousness story, about a band who go out for a beer after a show while one of their own, for want of better phrasing, “fucks a middle-aged Goth chick behind a dumpster.” When they come back, both of them are gone along with a lot of their equipment; they track them down and that’s the end of it. A lot of telling, not much showing, and characters I didn’t care much about. The second story was kind of all over the place; opens with two older guys from a punk band, with one of them overdosing on heroin while the other is too high to do anything about it, and he winds up in rehab, and that’s when the story gets really strange and all over the place. Not two of the stronger stories in the book, but the book is still worth reading–don’t get me wrong!

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Lay Your Hands on Me

I managed to get all the errands done yesterday, and didn’t feel exhausted until I was in the process of putting away all the groceries and things. I went to both the grocery store and Costco yesterday; I was rather impressed that I wasn’t worn out much sooner. I did get the bedding laundered as well. But I didn’t get any writing done; I am going to need to do that today.

There are a lot of things I am going to need to do today. Sigh.

I’ve been invited to contribute to an anthology; and I am not certain I have anything ready to send along. I do have this one incredibly disturbing story that I would like to make even more disturbing–that’s just how I roll–and I need to get back to work on the Scotty draft. I’d like to revise Chapter 11 a bit today, get it cleaned up more so it isn’t nearly as sloppy as it currently is, and I want to get these other two stories cleaned up as well. I need to spend some more time with “Don’t Look Down” than I have been; I need to get inside the characters more, understand who they are better, and then I think the story will wind up being a lot more strong. The same goes with the Chanse story; the story is really about his relationship with his brother and that’s not strong enough in the story as it sounds right now. That is also, I think, the problem with the Scotty book. I need to spend some time today with it as well, figuring out motivations and so forth.

Ah, being a writer. Always such a challenge.

We finished watching Collateral last night, and I was rather pleased with it; it was written by David Hare, the playwright, and you could tell it was written by someone good. Carey Mulligan was terrific, and I highly recommend it for anyone who enjoys complex, multi-layered crime dramas. I think tonight we may watch Justice League, to just to see if it really is as terrible as everyone seemed to think; I didn’t hate either Man of Steel or Batman vs. Superman, so I am not going into it as a hater.

I’m also still reading Tinseltown, which I am greatly enjoying. I don’t know a lot about the early days of Hollywood; the early 1920’s and late 19-teens, other than what I know from reading biographies of David O. Selznick, whose father was a producer and tried to build up a studio at the same time Adolph Zukor was building Paramount, and before the big merger that created Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM). So all this is new information to me, and William J. Mann is a terrific historian and researcher. (I am more familiar with later periods of Hollywood, but hardly an expert.) I’ve always wanted to write about Hollywood’s past; I have an idea for a noir novel to be set in the late 1940’s, but my lack of familiarity with the nuts and bolts of Hollywood in that period makes it difficult–or rather, makes my already vast insecurity about writing about another period even stronger. Although I’ve already written one short story about that time–an ambiguous setting of the early 1950’s–I don’t know. Maybe I should try it as a short story first, see if I can get the sense of the period?

I don’t know.

I’m also saddened to say that I’ve now finished reading both of Lawrence Block’s art-inspired anthologies, In Sunlight or in Shadow and Alive in Shape and Color, but I’ve heard through the grapevine that he is putting together another, which is great. So, for today’s edition of the Short Story Project, I am sad to say this is the last story from a Block anthology: “A Woman in the Sun,” by Justin Scott, from In Sunlight or In Shadow.

Could she change his mind? Four steps to the open window, lean out and call, “Don’t.”

Or walk to the window and call, “Go ahead, do it.Good luck.”

Or stand here and do nothing.

He had left her his last cigarette. She had talked him into leaving the gun and he had kept his word. It was still on the night table, wrapped in one of her stockings. She had the time of the cigarette to make up her mind. More time, if she didn’t smoke it. Let it smoulder.

This is an interesting story; in that it leaves more questions unanswered than it actually answers. We never know the characters’ names, nor do we really know what has brough them to this point. All we do learn, as the story progresses, is that both are at the end of their ropes and done, basically; they are both ready to die. The only question is whether she will stop him or will she join him, and this rather uninvolved, distant approach makes the story even more poignant and sad; there’s a very strong sense of melancholy that runs throughout this story, and the reader soon realizes you don’t have to know the whys and hows and whats of their pasts–all you need to know and feel is their now.

Powerful.

I then started reading through Jim Fusilli’s Crime Plus Music, and the next story up was”Me Untamed” by David Liss.

She covered the black eye with makeup, but I could still see it was there, something alien and unaccountable. Like a vandal’s scrawl across a museum painting, the dull outline of her bruise was an outrage. Carla smiled and greeted everyone good morning, defying us to say a word, to let our eyes linger too long. It was, I supposed, how she protected herself.

Jim Baron, the senior partner in the practice, met my gaze and flicked his head toward Carla as she walked past with a stack of case folders under her arm. Carla was getting ready, as we did every Tuesday and Thursday, for surgeries–no office visits on those days, just procedures. The practice felt a bit like a gastrointestinal assembly line, and sometimes I hated how we moved patients in and out, hardly taking the time to look at them, but Jim cracked the whip. It was volume, volume, volume as far as he was concerned. We were there to heal, not to socialize, and the more healing, the better.

The point of view is that of a divorced, shy, quiet Milquetoasty doctor,  who is kind of in love with Carla, or maybe he is not. She’s married to a thug of a guy, a man’s man, who works out and so forth, the kind of man a Milquetoast would hate. And he decides to do something about Carla’s abuse…decides to make himself into the kind of man he’s always wanted to be, the kind of man that he thinks Carla would like and love. This is a terrific story, with a terrific twist at the end that lifts it up even higher in terms of craft. Well done, sir!

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Method of Modern Love

Saturday morning–so lovely to be the weekend! But so many errands to run today, so many chores to do, so much…it’s almost overwhelming. And yet these things need to be done, need to be handled, need to be taken care of; it still doesn’t make doing them any less horrific and horrible, or less time consuming. And really, it’s about the time consumption. There is so much I need to get done, so much I need to do, so much I need I have to get finished and out of the way…that it makes doing the errands seem even less appealing than they usually do.

Sigh.

I just need to get–and stay–motivated.

And isn’t that always the issue?

We started watching a mini-series on Netflix last night, Collateral, starring Carey Mulligan, and it’s quite interesting; every hot button topic you can think of in Britain right now: immigration, crime, drugs, the military and PTSD; it’s quite compelling, and Carey Mulligan is exceptional in it. It all begins with the murder of a pizza delivery boy, and then slowly spreads from there to an enormous conspiracy involving people trafficking and refugees. It’s quite compelling, and all  of the performances are excellent; it’s very similar to Seven Seconds in that the majority of people, no matter what their actions, are understandable through the complexity of their emotional inner lives and who they are…but the underlying villains are quite awful. We watched the first three episodes, and there’s another to watch tonight.

Out of curiosity, we also watched the season finale of The Walking Dead; we didn’t continue watching once the season returned after the winter break because we were, frankly, over it. And while the first part of the show was enormously satisfying, I also understood why there was so much bitter on-line chatter about it afterwards–and I had to agree. I was just glad I hadn’t invested any time on the second half of this season.

I also have some reading to do, and I would like to go to the gym this morning, but I don’t think that’s going to happen, due to that time thing. But perhaps–perhaps--I can get over there after my errands.

We’ll see how it goes.

Meanwhile, for the Short Story Project, I read  “Blood in the Sun” by Justin Scott, from Lawrence Block’s Alive in Shape and Color:

Summer, 1973

New York City

“If you can fly, then this roof is as good as any,” Clyfford Still told Jimmy Camerano.

Jimmy was sitting on the edge of the parapet with one arm hooked around a masonry gargoyle and his legs dangling ninety feet above Tenth Street.

“Zoom from New York. Alight on a calmer island. Paint pictures undisturbed.”

Still was Jimmy’s hero, a unique painter, a founder of abstract expressionism, and a recluse who likened art galleries to brothels, museums to mausoleums, and most of his fellow artists to ambitious backstabbers. Tall, white-haired, and slick in a sharkskin suit, he stood inside the parapet, leaning on his elbows, peering down dubiously at Jimmy’s landing zone.

This is a delightful tale about the world of art in New York City, and how critics apparently wield a lot of power over the work of artists; one of the characters is one of those critics from the New York Times who can either make or break an artist’s career. It’s also a tale of playing a long game for revenge, which seemed a bit much, but only afterwards, when thinking the tale over again–it was enormously satisfying to read but then when you’re finished and remembering you think, well….But the story of an artist on a ledge, ready to commit suicide because a bad review may have destroyed his career, was something a writer (another sort of artist, although I always roll my eyes at writers who call themselves artists and their work art; while i am more than willing to concede that literature is art, styling one’s self an artist always seems pretentious to me) can relate to; although I can honestly admit that while a bad review can make me angry, it never makes me either suicidal or homicidal. But this story was interesting; it held my interest and I was fascinated by the characters and the talk of art, and the twist ending was perfect.

Next up was “Night Windows” by Jonathan Santlofer, from Block’s In Sunlight or in Shadow:

There she is again, pink bra, pink slip, in one window then the next, appearing then disappearing, a picture in a zoetrope, flickering, evanescent, maddening.

Yes, that’s the word. Maddening.

Then he thinks of another: Delicious.

And another: torture.

This story was absolutely chilling, and more than a little disturbing. It’s a stalker story; a man watching a woman from his windows through hers in New York City; watching her undress and move around her apartment in various states of undress, remembering previous victims, thinking about what he’s going to do to her–and the planning stages of how he is going to insinuate himself into her life and destroy her, break her down bit by bit until he has satisfied his disgusting urges. There are surprises here, and twists that tend to catch the reader off-guard; Santlofer delightfully lulls the reader into a sense of security several times about what the story is but actually it isn’t; these twists and turns are wonderful and executed perfectly. I loved Santlofer’s story in the other Block anthology as well; I’m going to have to read more of his work.

And now, best to get those errands and things done.

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I’m on Fire

Friday, and the day and the weekend stretch out before me like an unpainted canvas; blank and full of possibilities. I have a short day at work today, and I slept relatively well last night, so am feeling fairly good this morning. My left shoulder is mysteriously sore, tbough. Not sure what that’s about, but there you have it.

We finished watching Episodes last night, and it ended perfectly; very meta, and very funny. The entire show was kind of meta, really, and I have to give Matt Leblanc credit for not only playing himself, but playing himself as a complete egotistical self-absorbed asshole actor. Not sure what we’re going to watch now that we’ve finished both The Alienist and Episodes, but I have faith in us to find something–although we haven’t had much luck lately in finding something new; although The Alienist was absolutely a lucky find.

My kitchen is a mess this morning, which indicates that I need to get this mess cleaned up, and the sooner the better. Heavy heaving sigh. But….since I don’t have to go into the office until later, perhaps I could spend this morning cleaning the kitchen so I don’t have to do it tomorrow, which makes all the sense you can imagine, you know? I generally try to do some cleaning when I get home on my early day as well, so the weekend is freer to write or edit or do whatever it is that I want to. I need to write this weekend, as I’ve not been doing as much of that lately on the weekends as I need to. I’ve been asked to contribute to an anthology this week; which means I need to either find something I already have in a draft form, or write something entirely new. I don’t know how I feel about writing something entirely new, if I am going to be completely honest. I have the book to catch up on, some other stories that need to be finished so the collection is done, once and for all–primarily work on “My Brother’s Keeper” and “Don’t Look Down”–but there are an awful lot of stories that I have in various stages. I NEED TO REVISE THAT STORY BASED ON EDITORIAL NOTES AS WELL. WHY CAN’T I EVER REMEMBER I NEED TO DO THAT?

Heavy sigh.

Okay, I read a couple more stories for the Short Story Project, and first up was “Thinkers” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, from Lawrence Block’s Alive in Shape and Color:

1970

Leo’s blood, warm against her cold hands, steamed in the frosty night air. Like hot coffee in a paper cup.

Lisa tried not to giggle, because she knew the giggle would be hysterical. She ran a hand over Leo’s face. He was leaning against the marble edge of the empty pool surrounding the Fountain of the Waters, legs splayed, head pointed toward Wade Lagoon.

Irv was just staring at him, and Helen–God knew where Helen had gotten off to, because Lisa didn’t. Her ears still rang from the explosion, which had been louder than she had expected.

This is a good story, flipping back and forth through time. In 1970, it’s about a group of student revolutionaries, planning to blow up Rodin’s “The Thinker” statue as a blow against the ruling class. The bombing goes awry and one of them is killed, and the viewpoint character, seeing death and destruction in person for this first time, starts rethinking her own radicalism and the ‘revolution.’ In the present day, the viewpoint character is a docent/intern/volunteer, working at the museum to advance herself, and she witnesses eventually a confrontation between a museum volunteer and a museum donor, and it doesn’t make any sense to her…but for the reader, they can see that’s the two women from the group in 1970, and how they, themselves, have gone from counter-culture revolutionaries to the ruling class they once despised. It’s very The Big Chill in some ways, and these theme–youthful radicalism aging into conservatism–has been explored in crime novels/films/television shows, and it’s always interesting, at least for me.

Next was “Gaslight” by Jonathan Santlofer, also from Alive in Shape and Color:

It was true, she hadn’t been feeling well, hadn’t been herself, the headaches, the nausea, the slight vertigo. But she was fine. She’d always been predisposed to colds and flu, periods of time when she didn’t feel quite right, sensitive, her mother used to say, and that was true. It was a virus, that’s all, at least she’d thought so for the first few weeks. But now, after three months, she wasn’t so sure.

“Give it time, Paula, you know how these New York colds can linger, especially in winter,” Gregory, her husband of six months, always so sweet, always trying to reassure her.

But what sort of cold lasted three months?

I loved this story; about a young, wealthy woman married to a struggling artist, who soon begins to suspect her husband might have married her for her money and might just be poisoning her…and what is she going to do about it? This is a classic romantic suspense trope, from the title being borrowed from the film that won Ingrid Bergman an Oscar to the trope which was the plot of almost every Victora Holt novel and was also used by any number of romantic suspense writers back in the day–but Santlofer turns it on its head, and shows how the line between romantic suspense and noir is actually rather blurry. The twists in the story are fantastic and earned, and the way Santlofer builds the suspense is magnificently done. Bravo, sir!

And now, back to the spice mines.

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