Get Closer

Several years ago Gillian Flynn published a book that became a runaway bestseller and  was also turned an Oscar nominated film. I read Gone Girl within a few weeks of its release; I remember I was off to Killer Nashville and New Orleans was within the cone of uncertainty for a hurricane whose name I no longer remember. I started reading the book while sitting at my gate at Armstrong International, read it while I flew on Southwest to Nashville, and couldn’t wait to get checked into my hotel room so I could go upstairs, unpack my clothes and get into the bed and keep reading. It was an incredible ride, full of shocking twists and turns, and I also loved Flynn’s writing style. I’d already read and loved Sharp Objects, and the whole time I was reading Gone Girl I was thinking about stories and turns of phrase for my own work; I always think the best writers’ work is inspirational. As with anything that’s enormously popular, after a few months it became fashionable to mock the book and its influence on popular culture.

And like with everything, just as The Da Vinci Code opened the door for dozens and dozens of copycat thrillers with their stories firmly entrenched in actual history, Gone Girl opened the door for dozens of books that may not have been actually inspired by Flynn’s success, but the big publishers were all looking for “the next Gone Girl,” and I suspect many a book was signed based on a short elevator pitch along the lines of “more Gone Girl than Gone Girl.

There was the inevitable slew of books with girl or woman in their title in the publishing seasons after (although to be fair, Steig Larssen’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series preceded Gone Girl, as did Laura Lippman’s The Girl in the Green Raincoat, but Gone Girl is usually given credit for kicking off the trend), and what Sarah Weinman calls “domestic suspense” became the hot ticket in publishing, with even male bestselling suspense writers writing books from a female point of view–which I am all for, frankly; the tired misogynist trope that men’s stories are universal while women’s are contained is almost as tired as societal sexism.

So, when I get an ARC of Samantha Downing’s debut novel, My Lovely Wife, and saw lots of comparisons to Gone Girl I kind of just rolled my eyes and sat down to read.

Well.

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She is looking at me. Her blue eyes are glassy, they flicker down to her drink and back up. I look at my own drink and can feel her watching, wondering if I’m as interested as she is. I glance over and smile to show her I am,. She smiles back. Most of her lipstick is gone, now a reddish smear on the rim of her glass. I walk over and take the seat next to her.

She fluffs her hair. It is unremarkable in both color and length. Her lips move, she says hello, and her eyes are brighter. They look backlit.

Physically, I appeal to her the same way I would appeal to most women in this bar. I am thirty-nine, in excellent shape with a full head of hair and a deep set of dimples, and my suit fits better than any glove. That’s why she looked at me, why she smiled, why she is happy I have come over to join her. I am the man she has in mind.

I slide my phone across the bar toward her. It displays a message.

Hello. My name in Tobias.

And so begins the rollercoaster ride that is Samantha Downing’s superb debut novel. Downing introduces us first to her point of view character, the husband in this marriage, who is pretending to be deaf to pick up a woman in a bar. And from that moment on, the surprises and twists come very quickly; it seems sometimes as though every chapter has a new surprise that changes the story and how we view our main character.

You see, he is not only a successful tennis instructor with a gorgeous wife and two precocious children he adores…he and his wife get their kicks from picking out victims, stalking them, and then taking them prisoner for a while before finally killing them.

That’s how they keep their marriage fresh.

And Downing’s insidious genius is how well these sociopaths (psychopaths?) manage their careers and their family in their upscale gated community; they think they are great parents and are doing a great job with their kids…but that’s only part of the surprises in store for the reader.

I really enjoyed this book a lot. Samantha was the panel I moderated this past year at the Tennessee Williams Festival (joining me, Alafair Burke, and Kristien Hemmerichs), and quite frankly couldn’t put it down. I couldn’t have predicted any of the twists and turns and surprises in this book–and Downing does a great job of making the reader care about her incredibly unsympathetic characters…the ending is very tricky to pull off, but she managed.

I am looking forward to her next book.

(Shake Shake Shake) Shake Your Booty

It’s Easter, and of course there are parades all over the city at all different times. New Orleans is a city that likes to celebrate, likes to have parades, and likes to dress up, whether in evening attire or costume. It’s one of the things I love about New Orleans; the absolute dedication to dressing up and how seriously it is taken here. For me, it’s just the final day of a three day weekend in which I have to run an errand at some point and most likely will spend the rest of the day writing while trying to get ahead of things for the week at the same time.

Multi-tasking, as it were.

I managed to write fifteen hundred new words on the WIP yesterday; replacing the 300 new words on the jump drive I forgot at the office and the story, chapter, and book are all the better for this work. It took longer than usual to get the words done, and I found myself staring at the screen and not typing for longer periods of time than usual when I am writing, but yet I still got them done and I am most pleased, not only with them but for the accomplishment.

The gears are a little rusty, but they do still work.

It does feel a rather long time since I’ve written anything new. It has felt like an eternity since the WIP  stalled out while I made excuses for not only not working on it but not even looking at it. I have been working on some other projects but there’s nothing serious there yet, just amorphous ideas and plots and characters and settings that are coming together into my head. But that’s also a part of me avoiding the WIP for some mysterious, self-destructive and self-defeating reason I have yet to get to the bottom of; perhaps someday I will understand how my mind and personality and ambition and insecurities all work together in some bizarre fashion to keep propelling me forward for some reason while also finding reasonable excuses not to move at all. I may never fully come to a complete understanding of myself; or at least one that cannot simply be reduced to needs medicating for the benefit of all.

But it felt good. It always feels good for me to write. It’s so undeniably a part of who I am I cannot imagine ever stopping permanently. The damage to my identity would be so overwhelming–but I also cannot ever imagine not creating. Even when I am not actually writing stories down, I am thinking of them; I am creating characters and settings and situations and titles and thinking about conversations and effects and damage and recovery. I’m not sure why it’s so hard for me to actually sit down and start putting words together into sentences and constructing paragraphs that become scenes. It is hard to get started; I always open up the document I am working on and look at it, see what’s come before and try to remember where it needs to go from where I am at. This is a revision so there’s something already there; I am adding things that I now know are necessary and removing things that I’ve decided aren’t actually going to go anywhere. And that makes this draft–which will be a combination of second and first drafts; the first ten chapters will be second drafts while everything else will be a first–much stronger.

I also want to work on short stories some, if not today, then the rest of this new week. I want to send some more stories out for submission, which means one last polish on the ones that are, at least I think, close to being ready–“This Thing of Darkness,” “And the Walls Came Down,” “The Snow Globe”–and some others that I would like to finish the first drafts of–“Please Die Soon,” “Never Kiss a Stranger,” and “Once a Tiger”–and others that are in various stages of the process. “Moves in the Field” probably needs another once over as well.

And on that note, this spice ain’t going to mine itself.

So Happy Easter!

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Take It to the Limit

At the beginning of this year, I decided to start something I called The Diversity Project, whose intended purpose was to read more books and short stories by diverse authors. I’ve gone back and forth on this; the sense that announcing such a thing was, in a way, virtue signaling of the most hypocritical kind; why was it necessary to make such an announcement, or to continue, once it was made, even talking about it? Shouldn’t I have been reading diverse authors all along, and making the corrective to my reading habits that shouldn’t have been necessary in the first place isn’t something that is worthy of praise in the first place. We should all be reading diverse authors, and it isn’t something that we should have to make a point of doing. We shouldn’t even have to think about it, frankly; it should be automatic.

I have always read more female than male writers; my reading aesthetic has never been geared to the straight white male experience. But just reading more women than men was also not something I have ever had to make a conscious effort in order to accomplish; I always have read more women than men traditionally. My shelves are crowded with female names: Hilary Mantel and Laura Lippman, Megan Abbott and Alafair Burke and Lori Roy and Alison Gaylin, Donna Andrews and Elaine Viets and Rebecca Chance, Charlotte Armstrong and Mary Stewart and Margaret Millar, Gwen Florio and Catriona McPherson, J. M. Redmann and Cheryl Head and Lori Rader-Day and so, so many others.

But while some of those women might me lesbians, none of them are women of color.

And that’s kind of terrible, isn’t it? Sure, I’ve read Toni Morrison and Octavia Butler and Maya Angelou and Alice Walker, but that’s kind of it for women of color. No Asians, no Latina/Hispanics, and outside of Butler, the rest all would be considered literary authors.

I also realized earlier this year, at the start of the project, that I’d never read Walter Mosley; so the first book in this project with Devil In a Blue Dress, which was truly terrific–I’m looking forward to reading more Mosley.

So, with this corrective in mind, this reboot of my brain and unscrambling and exposure of unconscious bias, I decided to read Steph Cha’s debut novel, Follow Her Home.

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It was about ten o’clock on a Friday in mid-July, the Los Angeles night warm and dry, the only wind rising from the whoosh and zoom of traffic on Rossmore. I was wearing a slinky black dress, black patent leather platform pumps, silver cascade earrings, and a black lambskin clutch. I was perfumed, manicured, and impeccably coiffed. I was everything a half-employed twentysomething should be on the sober end of a Friday night. I was calling on an open bar at Luke’s new apartment, ready to spend a little time and respectability on a blurry and colorful evening.

Luke’s place was in the Marlowe Apartments in Hancock Park, a complex towering pretty as a castle just north of the Wilshire Country Club. It stood less than two miles south of Hollywood and Ivar, where its namesake found his vocation. But the Marlowe was a luxury apartment more likely to house the rich degenerates of Chandler’s novels than his wisecracking private eye with a heart of noir gold.

Follow Her Home is Steph’s debut novel, and it’s quite excellent. It’s the first of three novels about her character, Juniper Song, a Korean-American daughter of a single parent with a younger sister. Juniper has graduated from college and is making good money as a highly paid and highly sought after tutor; the book begins with her attending a party at a childhood friend’s apartment, and being asked to ‘see if she can find out whether her friend’s father (a partner in a major law firm where the friend also works) is having an affair with a young Asian-American woman at the party who also works at the firm. Juniper is a huge fan of Chandler, as you can see in the excerpt above, and Juniper also uses her knowledge of Chandler’s novels and how Marlowe conducts his investigations to kind of LARP as a detective. But once she follows the young woman home from the party, Song finds herself involved in something even more dangerous and insidious than she could have imagined in her wildest dreams.

Cha writes in the same hard-boiled style as Chandler, emulating it while giving it a fresh face and voice in Juniper Song and reinvigorating it with a modern flair. The book–the first in a series and therefore required to give a lot of backstory on the character–is done with an interesting structure; bouncing between the modern day and Song’s current investigation to the past, when she first put on her sleuthing shoes and investigated her younger sister’s private life. Saying anything more would be spoiler-ish (always an issue when you’re writing about a crime novel), but this structure makes Song even more relatable, likable, and adds layers and textures to her character that simply focusing on the present day wouldn’t do. It’s masterful, and it would also be incredibly easy for the parallel stories to not be of equal force and value.

I greatly enjoyed reading this, and am looking forward to not only reading the next two books in the series but the stand alone being released this October–Your House Will Pay–also sounds pretty fantastic.

Sweet Love

Saturday morning and feeling fine. Another good night’s sleep is in the books, and I am swilling coffee and looking forward to getting some things done today. I have to make groceries (I wound up pretty much effectively blowing most of yesterday off–who saw that coming?) and I need to get some work done on the WIP. I did get all of the laundry–including bed linens–done yesterday, and the dishes, and some cleaning and organizing done. I also pulled the WIP out from the back-up, and sure enough, the 300 words or so I’d one on Chapter Three weren’t there, since they are on the flash drive.

But as I said yesterday, reconstructing the revisions I’d already done turned out to be easier–and better–than the revision I’d done already; and while I simply added a different three hundred words to that chapter, this 300 is better than the last 300 and I also restructured the opening of the chapter so it makes better sense and works better. So leaving the flash drive at the office was, as I thought it might be yesterday, for the best. I intend to get that chapter finished this morning, perhaps move on to the next, and then perhaps get a short story reworked before retiring to my easy chair with Alison Gaylin’s quite superb Never Look Back, which is quite superb, actually. I thought her last two novels–What Remains of Me and If I Die Tonight–were marvelous; this one looks to be even better than both of those….which means hours of reading bliss for me. Gaylin is an author who always outdoes herself with each new work, like her peers Megan Abbott, Laura Lippman, Lori Roy, and Alafair Burke.

And I think the next book up with be something by a gay author, as I continue working on the Diversity Project. I also need to get back to reading Murder-a-Go-Go’s, so I can keep writing up the stories in it. I also should be doing more promotion for Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories. I’ve done a terrible job of pushing the book thus far–even forgetting the publication date–and yeah, it’s a wonder I still  have a career to speak at all in this business.

But it’s great to feel rested and relaxed; that happens so rarely that having several good nights’ sleep under my belt has me wondering, is this how everyone else feels? Don’t take the ability to sleep for granted, Constant Reader, if it is something you are blessed with; it can be taken away from you before you know it and you’ll really, really miss it once it’s gone.

We watched some more of Kim’s Convenience  last night, and continue to enjoy it. I do want to get back to watching You and The Umbrella Academy at some point, but neither show crosses my mind when I am flipping through the Apple TV apps trying to find something to watch. I also never finished watching Pose, and there’s also Fosse/Verdon, which I’d like to take a look at as well. And I barely ever think to go to Amazon Prime…primarily because their television app isn’t really user friendly. (I’ve still never forgiven Hulu for changing theirs from something incredibly intuitive and super-easy to use to the more complicated version they have now.) But there are some terrific films I’d like to see–I still haven’t seen Black Panther, for example–and of course there are some classic films available for streaming.

It’s ever so easy to get distracted, you know?

So, once I finish this I am going to go read for an hour before getting back to work on the WIP, and then I am going to head to the grocery store. I’ll work on it some more when I get back from the grocery store, and then read some more until about five-ish, after which I’ll probably go sit in my chair and scroll through apps looking for something to watch…oh yes, the NCAA women’s gymnastics championships are on tonight, and LSU made it to the final four, along with UCLA, Oklahoma, and Denver. Paul and I are enormous LSU fans, and we watch the gymnastics team compete, whenever possible, on television. And football season will be returning soon…I am already getting emails from Stubhub about buying game tickets. Paul and I are still riding our eight-year streak of never seeing LSU lose when we are in the stadium; let’s hope that streak continues for a ninth year.

And now it’s time to head back into the spice mines. See you on the flip side, Constant Reader!

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Right Back Where We Started From

A very good morning and a very good Friday to y’all. I slept late this morning, which was fabulous. I did wake up once, sometimes after four, but rolled over and focused and was able to fall right back asleep, and yes, marvelous doesn’t even begin to cover how lovely it felt. We had a terrible storm last night–it was much worse on the north shore and in Mississippi than it was here–but there was lots of rain, wind and thunder/lightning. I was able to leave work early–half-day–and came home feeling exhausted, so I went right to my easy chair while getting some laundry going. Paul and I then finished watching the third season of Cardinal, a Canadian series that it quite excellent–Bill Campbell is exceptionally good in the lead–and then watched a few episodes of a cute comedy series, also Canadian, called Kim’s Convenience, also in its third season. I then went to bed after folding a basket of laundry; the second basket is currently tumbling dry in the dryer. At some point I need to run to Rouse’s–although I am trying to stick really hard to the “don’t be a food hoarder anymore Gregalicious” mentality I developed thanks to the Termite Armageddon.

I really am going to make it a goal to clean out the kitchen cabinets more frequently; perhaps once a quarter?

So, the three day weekend looms large before me. I realized last night I forgot my flash drive at the office, but never fear…this week I managed to back up everything, including the flash drive, to my back-up hard drive AND the cloud, so I should be able to access everything I’ve been working on. I may not have the three hundred or so words I managed on chapter three of the WIP, but I have also found that reconstructing work I have already done sometimes–not always, but most of the time–turns out better than the work I’d already done. So, yes, I am going to try to do that this weekend, and get some other work done. I have more things on the “get done” list than is likely to actually get done (as always), but hey, it is what it is, you know?

Obviously, as always, there is cleaning I want to do, and there are some books I want to read–Alison Gaylin’s Never Look Back in particular, which I’ve started and is amazing thus far–and I also need, at some point, to do some book review blog posts. I think I may have taken too much time between reading the last two books I read and writing about them; we shall see, I suppose, once I actually start writing about them.

But this morning I feel good and ready to go; rested and better and all about getting things done today, which is quite lovely. I hope this motivation lasts, frankly–although it’s pretty easy to see it going south fairly soon–it doesn’t really take very much for me to get off track. But this morning I am going to do some writing and do some laundry and some cleaning and perhaps some organizing and we’ll see where the day takes us, shan’t we? I am also going to spend some time writing answers to my emails, which I will send on Monday morning (email begets email; so I stopped answering emails on the weekends several years ago and it felt marvelous; it still does, actually).

And now, back to the spice mines. Have a lovely good Friday, everyone.

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You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine

It’s Thursday. The last day of my work week.

Huzzah!

Alas, this afternoon we are supposed to have horrible weather–rains, possible street flooding, high winds, and tornadoes!

AIEEEEEEEE!

But it’s also my half-day, and tomorrow is Good Friday (thank you, Catholic New Orleans, yet again), so I am slipping into this day like it’s the last day of my work week before a three day weekend because it is.

I have gotten, somehow, absolutely nothing done this week. I wrote maybe two or three hundred words on the WIP, answered some emails, and finished reading a book, but outside of that I’ve really done not a whole hell of a lot. Oh, I also paid the bills Wednesday morning. So, this whole week has been pretty much written off as a loss. I suppose it’s okay, but I kind of have a little bit of regret for not working a lot harder this week on my writing. I did some brainstorming on another couple of projects as well, but you know, that’s not quite the same as actually making serious progress and moving forward on projects.

I am up early this morning because i am meeting a friend for breakfast at District Donuts at eight; again, something that rarely happens. Maybe this week has been off because I’ve been doing things I don’t normally do? I had dinner with friends on Monday night; I am having breakfast with another friend this morning–that’s two social engagements in a week whereas I usually have absolutely none. And of course last Saturday Jean and I spoke at the library–so my routine has been a little off.

I can always find a reasonable excuse as to why I am not working.

But I am hopeful that today after work I can get some writing in–perhaps even finish the revision of Chapter Three that’s kind of stuck in place for the last two weeks–and do some more work on the other projects, in addition to getting some cleaning done. I also think I am going to try to  make it back to the gym this weekend, get my workouts started over again and try to keep making progress on those goals so by Decadence I can be in reasonably good shape again; not that I will be participating in any Decadence activities, but I always used Decadence and Mardi Gras as my exercise goal endpoints, and it always worked, so why get away from what worked before? After all, going back to how I used to do things with my writing has significantly paid off–other than the lack of getting anything done over the last two weeks. I had hoped to get this draft finished by the end of the month and I am still going to try to get there. You never know.

I also need to review and reread some of my short stories this weekend so I can get back on the submissions treadmill again.

Yay!

And now back to the spice mines.

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You Should Be Dancing

Well, Constant Reader, it’s Wednesday and we’ve officially made it through the first half of the week. Actually, for me it’s the first three quarters because I have Good Friday off, bitches.

Thank you AGAIN, Catholic New Orleans.

It’s payday, so I am going to relish having money in my bank account for a few moments before I start paying the bills and the money disappears. Yesterday I was tired; I had dinner with my friend Stuart (in from out of town) and his friend Jamie Monday night after work and even had a craft beer–which of course made me incredibly sleepy. Paul had gone over to a friend’s on Sunday so I’d watched Game of Thrones alone, so Monday night I watched it again with Paul, so I was already sleepy from the beer and tired, and wound up staying up later than I’d intended watching Game of Thrones. Sigh. But last night I slept really well, and even woke up relatively early this morning, which was quite lovely.

My desk is a bit of a mess and I have dishes in the sink (and I suspect dishes in the dishwasher that need to be put away) and some laundry in process…so I probably should get going on all of that before I get ready for work. Heavy heaving sigh. Today is the last of my long days at work this week–tomorrow is a half-day, Friday is a HOLIDAY HUZZAH HUZZAH HUZZAH!–so I should just buckle up and deal.

We did watch Veep last night, which was, as always, hilarious.

And while I whine about going to work all the time, I have to point out that I actually love my day job. It’s the perfect thing for me; I just wish I didn’t have to do it forty hours a week. But if I have to work forty hours a week in an office, this is the best possible option for me; I love what I do. (I just feel like I need to point that out on occasion!)

So, today I am hoping to get some writing done, read some more of Alison Gaylin’s terrific Never Look Back, and get home tonight in time to watch The Real Housewives of New York.

Yes, that’s me, living large.

Sorry to be so dull–and now it’s off to the spice mines.

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