Yesterday I kind of hit a writing wall; not a big deal, really, just that I was mentally and physically tired for some reason (I suspect upsetting my usual routine by having to go have blood work done in the morning, and now of course I want to write a story called Blood Work), and so I was only about to get about 2300 words out on a short story. I had hoped to not only finish the draft of that particular short story but also get another one done, perhaps even getting to work on a Scotty chapter. Heavy heaving sigh. Ah, well. I’m not going to beat myself up over the lack of productivity here; I am simply going to embrace that I got a pretty decent 2300 words done. So, that is a victory, and one that I am very pleased to have. Each word is another step closer to finished, after all, and once should never berate one’s self for not getting everything done you wanted to as long as you got something done.

I’d intended to go to the gym this morning but didn’t want to get out of bed. I had a good night’s sleep for the first time this week so, well, yeah, that happened. I’ll just have to go after work tomorrow; I have to keep my eye appointment tomorrow morning before work. It’s getting increasingly harder to keep to three times a week; primarily because of my problems sleeping. Heavy heaving sigh.

But…I am liking what I am writing, and I do enjoy going to the gym. (I was wondering what to watch now that Black Sails is over, only to discover season 2 of Versailles is up on Netflix, and I believe this is the season of the Affair of the Poisons!) I just wish I didn’t always get off so late at night that I can’t make it to the gym. There has to be a more efficient way of doing this; there simply has to be.

So,  my plan is to get these two short story drafts finished this week, as well as another chapter of Scotty; I want to have this finished by the weekend, which means a lot of writing today and tomorrow. I also need to get some short stories read for the Short Story Project, and then I think I want to read a novel. (I’ll still read short stories, but I want to read a novel; it’s been awhile since I’ve plunged into the pages of one. Kellye Garrett’s Hollywood Homicide is calling to me, for one thing, and there are any number of wonderful novels in the TBR Pile, you know.) I also want to get the order of the Bouchercon anthology stories finished this weekend, and I need to get my taxes finished and off to my accountant: MUY IMPORTANTE.

The Lost Apartment is again a pigsty; it’s amazing how easily that happens. It’s not as bad today as it was last Thursday, but still. I just don’t seem to be able to manage time properly anymore. I don’t know what that’s all about, but it definitely needs to STOP.

All right, I need to get some things done before I leave for the office this morning; I need to run errands as well before I head in.

For today’s short story discussion, we are going to look at a crime story by Lia Matera, and a literary fiction story by Irwin Shaw.

Lia Matera’s story is “Destroying Angel,” copyright Lia Matera, 1990, and this short story was first published in Sisters In Crime Volume II, 1990, edited by Marilyn Wallace.

I was squatting a few feet from a live oak tree, poison oak all around me (an occupational hazard for mycologists). I brushed wet leaves off a small mound and found two young mushrooms. I carefully dug around one of them with my trowel, coaxing it out of the ground.

I held it up and looked at it. It was a perfect woodland agaricus. The cap was firm, snow white with a hint of yellow. The gills under the cap were still white, chocolate-colored spores hadn’t yet tinged them. A ring of tissue, an annulus, circled the stipe like a floppy collar. A few strands of mycelia, the underground plant of which the mushroom is the fruit, hung from the base. I pinched the mycelia off and smelled the gills. The woodland agaricus smells like it tastes, like a cross between a mushroom, an apple, and a stalk of fennel.

Lia Matera is one of my favorite crime writers, and her Star Witness is one of my favorite crime novels; deliciously sly and incredibly witty and clever. As I was reading this short story of hers, I also lamented that she’s not published a novel in quite a while. This story is incredibly well-constructed, and devious as well; there’s a lot of information in it about mushrooms, as Our Heroine is a mycologist who works at a local nature museum and is dramatically underpaid; as she talks about her work and her mushrooming and working at the museum, and of course how careful one must be to differentiate between the deadly ones and the safe ones…well, you just know someone is going to be poisoned by mushrooms, don’t you? Matera pulls off a delightful sleight of hand in that regard, though, and the overwhelming sense of melancholy and sadness she permeates the story with is masterful. Her novels are available as ebooks now; treat yourself to one and you’ll never look back.

The Irwin Shaw story I read (reread, actually) was “The Girls in their Summer Dresses” by Irwin Shaw.

Fifth Avenue was shining in the sun when they left the Brevoort and started walking toward Washington Square. The sun was warm, even though it was November, and everything looked like Sunday morning–the buses, and the well-dressed people walking slowly in couples and the quiet buildings with the windows closed.

Michael held Frances’ arm tightly as they walked downtown in the sunlight. They walked lightly, almost smiling, because they had slept late and had a good breakfast and it was Sunday. Michael unbuttoned his coat and let it flap around him in the mild wind. They walked, without saying anything, among the young and pleasant-looking people who somehow seem to make up most of the population of that section of New York City.

“Look out,” Frances said, as they crossed Eighth Street. “You’ll break your neck.”

You never hear much about Irwin Shaw anymore, but he was one of the more successful American writers from the 1950’s to the 1970’s; his books were critically acclaimed and best sellers; the novels in included The Young Lions, Rich Man Poor Man and its lesser sequel Beggarman Thief, Evening in Byzantium, and Aurora Dawn (which was lesser known but one of my favorites; it was about a radio show sponsored by Aurora Dawn soap and was clever and biting satire about art vs. commerce). I read most of Shaw’s work in the 1970’s when I was a teenager; I would love to reread some of them again.

I read “The Girls in their Summer Dresses” for an English course in college; I don’t remember which course or which college; but the fact the story was taught gives you an indication of how well-regarded Shaw was. The insights the instructor gleaned from the story–a switch of roles between the young couple, where she took on the more traditionally masculine role while the husband took on the more passive, traditionally feminine role–struck me, at the time and on this reread some thirty years later as more of that MFA program claptrap taught and regurgitated by people who don’t really understand and appreciate the art of fiction. (Yes, as you can tell, I embrace my role as a non-intellectual.) At the time I read the story in college it struck me as a really sad story about a newly married couple whose relationship was, in fact, doomed to fail; and the point of the story showed how it was either doomed to fail, or if it was going to last, how the wife was going to have to completely subsume herself and sublimate her own needs and desires to his, constantly biting her tongue and becoming increasingly bitter about those compromises as the years pass. The young husband is a narcissist and an asshole, who, despite his wife very clearly telling him how much his ‘window shopping’ of every woman they pass on the street bothers and disturbs her–cares so little about how this behavior hurts and disturbs her that his attitude is too bad so sad I’m the man and I’m not going to change so you need to get over it. This is kind of the prequel, in some ways, to Susan Glaspell’s “A Jury of Her Peers”–I can see this woman gladly strangling her husband in his sleep in the future after twenty years of being beaten down and humiliated over and over again.

Of course, I always tend to look at stories from the perspective of a crime writer now; so there’s that, too.

And now, back to the spice mines. Here’s a Throwback Thursday hunk for you:


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