Well, Constant Reader, we made it to Wednesday, didn’t we? I’m going to do this blog and then run off to the gym for my second workout of this week; sorry if this is getting tedious, but I worry that if I don’t say anything that’s when I’ll start slipping and NOT doing my workouts; a slippery slope I am reluctant to set my foot on, if you will. It’s so lovely to be doing this again and being motivated to do it; it’s more than a little infuriating that I allowed myself such a long break from taking it seriously, and doing it so little. But there’s no sense in crying over spilled milk at this point, is there? I am just happy that I’m at where I am at with it.
I am also very stoked to be jazzed about writing again. It’s interesting, on every level, how gong back to the beginning (both with working out and writing) has turned out so well, isn’t it? I am really pleased with these short stories I’ve written over the last week or so, the chapter of the WIP I wrote Monday, and the rethinking of the Scotty book I’ve done. I am definitely going to keep moving positively forward; and I am going to keep seeking an agent once I get this first fifty pages of the WIP whipped into better shape. This weekend I plan on rewriting and editing the four short stories I’ve done, plus I need to start working on the Bouchercon anthology, which I am also excited about–how long has it been since I was excited to edit an anthology, well might you ask? It’s been a long frigging time would be the proper answer, I am afraid.
I also finished reading Sarah Weinman’s sublime anthology Troubled Daughters Twisted Wives, and am the better for it. If you’ve not read this collection, you really should; particularly if you’re a writer. These stories hold up incredibly well, with only the occasional dated reference–and none of them so jarring that they take you out of the story. I’ve also added several new-to-me authors to my TBR list; alas, I shall have to track down copies of their works via secondhand dealers and eBay, as so much has sadly fallen out of print. I am also disappointed in myself for waiting so long to read this collection; but now that I have, I am glad. I am also grateful to Weinman for her hard work in pulling this together and shining a light on these terrific writers of the past.
It also occurs to me that a similar volume could be done for gay and lesbian crime writers whom modern readers don’t recall or remember; I doubt, though, that there would be a market for such a thing. That’s the tricky thing, isn’t it? Finding a market?
First up was “Lost Generation” by Dorothy Salisbury Davis:
The school board has sustained the teacher. The vote was four to three, but the majority made it clear they were not voting for the man. They voted the way they had because otherwise the state would have stepped in and settled the appeal, ruling against the town…
Tom and Andy, coming from the west of town, waited for the others at the War Memorial. The October frost had silvered the cannon, and the moonlight was so clear you could the words FOR GOD AND COUNTRY on the monument. The slack in the flagpole allowed the metal clips to clank against the pole. That and the wind made the only sounds.
Then Andy said, “His wife’s all right. She came up to Mary when it was over and said she wished he’d teach like other teachers and leave politics alone.”
“Politics,” Tom said. “Is that what she calls it?”
This was my first experience reading Mystery Writers of America Dorothy Salisbury Davis; despite being aware of her for quite some time. Sara Paretsky wrote a brilliant tribute to her after she died a few years ago; she’d been on my radar before that, but again, this is my first time reading her. This story is dark and amazing. We never know what the teacher’s politics are, but given the time period it’s not too hard to imagine what they were, given the fact that the group of men who gather to take care of him also include police officers–which was an all-too true and horrible aspect of the anti-Civil Rights whites of the South; the men paid with tax dollars and charged with protecting everyone were racists who abused their privilege and power to abuse and kill people of color and civil rights workers. There’s an amazing twist in this story, and the denouement is eminently satisfying and dissatisfying at the same time–not an easy thing to do.
Some of Ms. Davis’ books are now back in print, so snap ’em up, peeps!
“The People Across the Canyon” by Margaret Millar
The first time the Bortons realized that someone had moved into the new house across the canyon was one night in May when they saw the rectangular light of a television set shining in the picture window. Marion Borton knew it had to happen eventually, but that didn’t make it any easier to accept the idea of neighbors in a part of the country she and Paul had come to consider exclusively their own.
They had discovered the sight, had bought six acres, and built the house over the objections of the bank, which didn’t like to lend money on unimproved property, and of their friend, who thought the Bortons were foolish to move so far out of town. Now other people were discovering the spot, and here and there through the eucalyptus trees and the live oajs, Marion could see half-finished houses.
But it was the house directly across the canyon that bothered her the most; she had been dreading this moment ever since the site had been bull-dozed the previous summer.
I’ve written about Millar before; I’ve become an enormous fan of her work, and have been slowly making my way through her canon over the past few years. I do have the wonderful reprinted set of her books Collected Millar; a quick glance over at Amazon shows that many of her books, including the Edgar Award winning Beast in View are available as ebooks at fairly reasonable prices.
This story, about a couple and their young daughter, whose increasing obsession with the new neighbors across the way makes the stay-at-home mother not only jealous but concerned about the intensity of the obsession, strikes several chords: the mother becoming aware that her child is growing away from her and lamenting the ways her own every day life has allowed time to slip away, regretting that she didn’t spend more time paying attention to her child; the growing realization that you can influence and affect your child’s personality, behavior and temperament unknowingly; and ultimately, the exquisite torture and pain of being a parent. Millar only had one child, a daughter; it’s not hard to imagine where the roots and inspiration for this story came from. Quite excellent.
“Mortmain” by Miriam Allen Deford
“I’ll be back on Thursday, Miss Hendricks, and I’ll drop in here in the afternoon. It’s only three days, and I don’t anticipate any change. You know what to do. If anything happens, you can call Dr. Roberts; he knows all about the case. I wouldn’t go away, with Marsden like this, but–well, it’s my only daughter, and she’ll never be married again–at least, I hope not!–and she’ll be heartbroken if her old dad weren’t there to give her away.”
Dr. Staples turned to his patient.
“Good-bye, old man; I’m leaving you in Miss Hendricks’ charge till Thursday. You won’t be sorry to have three days free of me, eh?”
This gem of a creepy short story is straight out of what (thanks to Stephen King) I call the EC Comics playbook. The sad, dying patient has a load of cash in his safe; the nurse in whose care the doctor has left him for three days wants it to start a new life with the cad she’s in love with, and there we have the setup for a most clever game of cat-and-mouse in which each sentence builds the suspense and tension. If you want a great example of how to write suspense, this short little tale is all you need. In fact, if I ever teach writing again, this story is going to be one of the things I teach. It may even be one of those stories, like du Maurier’s “Don’t Look Now,” that I reread every now and again, to savor in its delightful brilliance.
And finally, “A Case of Maximum Need” by Celia Fremlin:
“No, no telephone, thank you. It’s too dangerous,” said Miss Emmeline Fosdyke decisively; and the young welfare worker, only recently qualified, and working for the first time in this Sheltered Housing Unit for the Elderly, blinked up from the form she was filling in.
“No telephone? But, Miss Fosdyke, in your–I mean, with your–well, your arthritis, and not being able to get about and everything…You’re on our House-Bound list, you know that, don’t you? As a House-Bound Pensioner, you’re entitled–well, I mean, it’s a necessity, isn’t it, your telephone? It’s your link with the outside world!”
This last sentence, a verbatim quote from her just-completed Geriatric Course, made Valerie Coombe feel a little bit more confident, She went on, “You must have a telephone, Miss Fosdyke! It’s your right! And if it’s the cost you’re worrying about, then do please set your mind at rest. Our Departmenet–anyone over sixty-five and in need–“
“I’m not in need,” asserted Miss Fosdyke woodenly, “Not of a telephone, anyway.”
The tale of Miss Fosdyke, and why she doesn’t want a phone, is the perfect ending to this wonderful collection of short stories. This story is chilling, surprising, and turns around so brilliantly at the end in a way that you do not see coming, and then everything makes sense. Superb, dark, macabre…you name it, it’s all there in this story…and I’ve added Celia Fremlin to my TBR list. Some of her books are currently in print, and if this story is indicative of the pleasures that await in her novels…well, I just can’t wait.
Well done, Ms. Weinman, well done.
And now, back to the spice mines.