The Winner Takes It All

I wrote over three hundred thousand words’ worth of novels last year.

That is only the final word counts on the books I wrote last year. That doesn’t count any words written and discarded; essays; this blog; short stories; or even emails.

I realized this yesterday afternoon when I got home from work; I walked into the Lost Apartment and saw that the scaffolding was finally down (I’d forgotten how much space there actually is in the living room; no worries, it still needs to be painted though); this startled me so much that I just put the groceries away and decided to sit down and read for a while. I still haven’t finished reading the Pelecanos novel; not that it isn’t good–it most definitely is–but I am trying to read a short story a day and that, of course, has cut into my reading time. I plan to finish reading that this weekend, though–it’s not one of the books I am taking on vacation with me so it must be finished before I go.

But realizing that last year I probably wrote close to half a million words (at least) was a bit of a shock; one that I am still reeling from this morning.

So, when it was time to retire to my easy chair, I looked at the pile of anthologies, single author collections, and magazines for my short story reading…and had that weird feeling of…well, nothing there moved me. The only thing I wanted to read was another story from Laura Lippman’s Hardly Knew Her, and having just done one of her stories I wasn’t sure that I should do another. I looked through my bookcases and a book I’d forgotten about’s spine screamed at me from the shelf: The Best American Mystery Stories 2014, edited by Laura Lippman. I grabbed it and retired to my chair, opened it up…and giggled.

The first story was by Megan Abbott.

As I curled up and started to read, I smiled to myself in cat-like satisfaction. Abbott AND Lippman, I thought to myself as I started to read, does life get better than this?

The story was originally published in the Dangerous Women Volume One anthology, edited by George R. R.Martin and Gardner Dozoir in 2014.

He waited in the car. He had parked under one of the big banks of lights. No one wanted to park there. He could guess why. Three vehicles over, he saw a woman’s back pressed against a window, her hair shaking. Once, she turned her head and he almost saw her face, the blue of her teeth as she smiled.

Fifteen minutes went by before Lorie came stumbling across the parking lot, heels clacking.

He had been working late and didn’t even know she wasn’t home until he got there. When she finally picked up her cell, she told him where she was, a bar he’d never heard of, a part of town he didn’t know.

“I just wanted some noise and people,” she had explained. “I didn’t mean anything.”

He asked if she wanted him to come get her.

“Okay,” she said.

On the ride home, she was doing the laughing-crying thing she’d been doing lately. He wanted to help her but didn’t know how. It reminded him of the kind of girls he used to date in high school. The ones who wrote in ink all over their hands and cut themselves in the bathroom stalls at school.

Almost everyone who writes novels about crime–well, probably every author, my familiarity runs to crime writers–always get asked in interviews where they get their ideas from. I can’t speak for other crime writers, but I know I often get inspired by the news. I’ll see a story, either in the paper, on-line, or on the news, and will think to myself, “Hmmm. I wonder what really is going on there?” True crime is often much more twisty and fascinating than actual fictional crime. I sometimes do think that I read crime, and write about it, in order to understand it better, make some sort of sense out of it because MY mind doesn’t work that way. Who are these people, where did they come from, what made them the way they are?

Megan Abbott’s wonderful story from this collection, “My Heart is Either Broken”, is about a Casey Anthony-type mother whose daughter is stolen from her from a coffee shop. She asked a stranger to watch the little girl while she ran to the bathroom; when she came back the stranger and her daughter were gone. No one believes that she didn’t kill and dispose of her child; her behavior doesn’t seem normal for a grieving mother, nor does she seem to particularly miss the child that much–at least in the public eye. She is one of those people–I’m one of them–who reacts to stress or tension or nervousness by smiling; which of course gets her reamed in the court of public opinion and in the press. The story is told from the point of view of her husband, the baby’s father…who wants to believe his wife, desperately wants to believe the woman he married couldn’t have killed their child…but the mounting evidence is making him doubt her, and hate himself for doing so. The story is genius, really; in conception and execution. The end is a real punch in the mouth, too.

And where is the single-author collection of Megan Abbott short stories?

And now, back to the spice mines.

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