This Town

It’s Friday morning in New Orleans, and I slept fitfully; but when I did sleep, it was terrific. I only have to work a half-day today, which is lovely, and tonight I am hoping to not only get a chance to read some more of Rebecca Chance’s lovely Killer Affair, but to get further in the line edit as well. This weekend my plan is to work on the line edit and clean, alternating between the two, which hopefully will do the trick. I’ve not gotten as far along this week on anything that I’d hoped; the weekly to-do list is a complete and utter disaster. The good news this week was that our renewed passports arrived (hurray!), I got some great books–everything from the new Michael Connelly to Eric Ambler to Chester Himes–to add to the TBR pile, and the latest short story is really taking a good shape, one with which I am really and truly pleased.

My short stories are much darker than my novels. The WIP, currently being line edited, has little to no humor in it; at least none that I’m aware of–but then again I am not the best judge of that. I love to tell the story of my New Orleans Noir story, “Annunciation Shotgun,” which I thought  was this dark, unsettling tale, and continued thinking so until at a reading for the anthology, Chris Wiltz, one of the other contributors (her story, “Night Taxi,” is quite chilling) said to me, “Oh, I loved your story! It’s so funny!”

I was a little taken aback, as I’d thought it was a dark story…and then when it was my turn to read to the gathered audience, there were times when I got laughs.

Okay, I remember thinking, I guess I can be funny even when I’m not trying to be.

This story I’m working on now is also grim and dark; but I think the primary reason I’m drawn to the genre I work in primarily is my interest in damaged people. The Great Gatsby  was about damaged people, and the damage people can leave in their wake; it didn’t try, however, to explain or get into how the people got damaged and why,  and that was its greatest disappointment to me. This current story was inspired by watching a documentary while Paul was at his mother’s; I always have to find things to watch when he’s gone that we wouldn’t want to watch together (in other words, things want to watch that he doesn’t. He tired of the TV series Scream; so I finished watching it while he was gone. Likewise, you can never go wrong with documentaries). I watched one on either Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon–I don’t remember which–about a young man and his brothers, who’d escaped a religious cult. As I watched these damaged young men trying to make sense of their childhood and fit into a world and society they were woefully underprepared for, while the main point-of-view character was also trying to reestablish a relationship with his mother, still in the cult and distant to him–I couldn’t help but wonder about the young women refugees from the cult he interviewed, and the stories they shared about their sexual abuse and, basically, being brainwashed into thinking that was normal. (The boys were also apparently sexually abused as well as physically abused, but their sexual abuse was skipped over; mentioned but not gotten into in depth.) I had my notebook in my lap, and I scribbled down notes…and eventually started writing the story I thought up while watching the documentary. The story is dark–I am revising it now, making it even darker than the first draft–which also limits its saleability quotient, but hey, I am definitely going to put it out there.

Christ, I have so many works in progress. Nothing like creative ADD without a deadline to anchor you down.

I’ve also not decided what book to write next once this WIP is finished. I am thinking about getting back to Scotty with Crescent City Charade, but there’s another noir I’d love to tackle, and my “A Holler Full of Kudzu” could easily be explored as a novel.  Heavy heaving sigh.

And on that note, it’s back to the spice mines with me! Here’s a Friday hunk for you, to get your weekend started properly.

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Yes or No

Good morning, Sunday people! I slept deeply and well last night, so this morning I feel rested. My muscles don’t feel tight, either–but I am still going to stretch this morning. I gave up on two things yesterday–reading A Feast of Snakes and writing “A Holler Full of Kudzu.” The first because it’s, quite frankly, stupid; I didn’t believe the characters, nor did I believe the story, nor did I care about any of it. Harry Crews did, however, write some terrific paragraphs and create some amazing sentences, but about halfway through–and mind you, the entire novel is less than 200 pages, and it’s taken me over a week to get halfway through it–I just wasn’t buying into it or believing it. The second I gave up on because, while I do think there’s a short story in there, there’s also more than enough story to become a novel; and I am not sure at this point what exactly the short story should be. It was also taking me a really long time to write it; I think in slightly more than a week I’d only managed slightly more than two thousand words. So, I decided to put it to the side, let it percolate for a while, and then I can come back to it. This morning, this day, I am going to try to finish “Quiet Desperation” (which I’d forgotten I was in the process of writing, because I got so caught up in the my recent interest in Southern Gothic), revise “For All Tomorrow’s Lies”, and then start the revision of my WIP. I am going to do something dramatically different with that, as well; I am going to revise the last five chapters first, and then work my way backward through the book. It’s odd, but I always am worried that working in a linear way, which is what I usually do, the first half gets more attention than the second, and the second half of the book always is like a neglected stepchild, when it is really the most important part of the book.

I also started a reread last night of one of my favorite Agatha Christie novels, and one of her lesser-known ones: Endless Night. Some of my favorite Agatha Christie novels are her less-known ones (A Murder is Announced, Death Comes as the End, The Body in the Library, The Mirror Crack’d, N or M, The Man in the Brown Suit, They Came to Baghdad, Cat Among the Pigeons,  and The Secret of Chimneys, among many others), which isn’t to say the more famous ones–The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Murder on the Orient Express, And Then There Were None, and Death on the Nile–weren’t enjoyable. I am actually curious to see the new film version of Murder on the Orient Express, but seriously; is there anyone who doesn’t know the ending of that famous novel at this point?

Endless Night is one of my favorite Christies because it is vastly different than any of her other novels; one of the things that is the most amazing about Christie is she basically did everything first. Endless Night is more Gothic in style and tone; bordering on the noir side. I didn’t get very far into reading it yesterday before it was time to go get our weekend treat (a deep dish pizza from That’s Amore) and then we watched an Andy Samberg mock-documentary, Never Stop Never Stopping, which was really funny, and then it was time for a few episodes of Ozark, which continues to amaze and enthrall us. The way it’s shot is superb, the cinematography Oscar level, and both Jason Bateman and Laura Linney are killing it in their performances; they should be frontrunners for next year’s Emmys. And the Lake of the Ozarks is almost as much a character as the actors themselves, as well as the stunning beauty of the area. And, of course, tonight is Game of Thrones.

I didn’t get as much cleaning done as I would have liked yesterday, but I did reread some stories that need revision, and I think I may have figured out how to revise them and make them stronger; we shall see when I start working on them again, no? I’ve also still be digesting my reread of The Great Gatsby, and that’s a whole other entry in and of itself.

And on that note, I should get back to the spice mines. Here’s a Sunday hunk for you.

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Our Lips Are Sealed

Tuesday morning, and a good night’s sleep was had by all, and really, what a difference that makes! We got caught up on CNN’s The Nineties and The History of Comedy last night; retired earlier than usual, and I woke up on my own before the alarm this morning and I feel rested. I stretched yesterday as well; so my muscles are feeling better. I have some tightness in my back that was causing some pain–it has decreased since I started stretching. Paul gave me a massage for Christmas; I really need to find that gift certificate and make an appointment. I know that will also make a significant difference.

I started reading Harry Crews’ A Feast of Snakes yesterday; it was on a list of “Southern Gothics you must read” and I am…intrigued by it. It’s interesting…in some ways; borderline offensive in others. I’m going to wait until I finish reading it, of course, to make any definitive statements; the problems I am having with it have nothing to do with the actual writing. Crews is a very good writer, and has an excellent grasp of language, which keeps me reading…but he also has fallen into the trap so many people fall into when writing about rural Southern people–sumbitch. I fucking hate that colloquialism, in no small part because I’ve never heard anyone in real life actually say ‘son of a bitch’ that way. But it pops up in novels/fiction about the rural South all the time; even as writers don’t try to match the rhythm of the Southern accent, or how Southern people say certain words; you can always be sure they will say sumbitch.

It annoys the crap out of me.

I managed to get some work done on “A Holler Full of Kudzu” yesterday. It’s not coming along as easily as one might have hoped; I’ve worked on it a couple of days now, here and there, and have only about 1037 words. It’s also a mess; I realized yesterday that it’ll have to be reworked extensively on the next draft–but acknowledging that the story is kind of all over the place and messy was enormously helpful; for some reason, when I write short stories I am always trying to get it right the first time, taking more time than is probably necessary so I won’t have to revise extensively. Again, look at it as a messy house you need to clean and organize. So, today I am going to work on it some more without listening to that annoying voice in the back of my head trying to get it right the first time. I think it’s actually kind of a good story, buried in there amongst the dreck, and the key is to trim it down to the polished diamond from the rough.

I also reread “For All Tomorrow’s Lies” yesterday, and I know how to fix it for the second draft. It’s a much better story than I might have thought (I am really not the best judge of my own work, seriously); the difference between this draft and “Kudzu” is that “Lies” is more of an outline than overwritten and too long; I need to further explore the emotions and the character’s past and why she is so panicked in the grocery store in much greater depth (and with greater sympathy) than what I did already; the tension that will keep the story moving for the reader isn’t quite there yet. So strange that the same writer can approach writing two stories in such completely different ways, isn’t it? I’d like to get the draft of “Kudzu” finished this morning; there’s a couple of other stories I’d like to get initial drafts of done this week. I am going to most likely go through the WIP for the final coat of polish this weekend–there’s still some things that need to be added into it, I think, to make the conclusion work better, and then next week I can start working on a list of agents to send it to…heavy sigh.

I also read another one of Faulkner’s crime stories yesterday–“Monk”, which was so much more Faulkner-like than “Smoke” was; that macabre, grim Southern sense of humor and the gothic was running through this story; it sort of reminded me of Sanctuary, which I really need to read again (I say that a lot, don’t I? I can’t even keep up with my TBR pile, let alone all the re-reading I have to do. Heavy sigh.)

Okay, I need to get back to the story and straighten up this messy kitchen before I go to the office.

Here’s a Tuesday morning hunk for you, Constant Reader:

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I’ll Set You Free

This week was so crazy and intense. We were so busy at the day job this week; combined with a couple of not good nights of sleep, and by last night I was like the walking dead. I didn’t have time to blog, was too exhausted to even write when I had free time–my brain was even too fried to do much of anything other than read and watch some television before going to bed and trying to sleep. All of my muscles were tired and sore and aching; this morning before my first workout with Wacky Russian in three weeks I headed over early so I could spend some time stretching first–it was horrifying to me how tight my muscles were! But as I stretched, slowly and patiently, the muscles gradually began to stretch and loosen, knots being released, and as a result, the workout was great and I felt terrific afterwards. I know I am going to be tired later–but after my daily chores and errands, Paul and I are going to go see Spiderman Homecoming (which I originally wasn’t very interested in seeing–until I saw Tom Holland on Lip Sync Battle nailing Rihanna’s “Umbrella”, and became a fan). Tomorrow I have to make a Costco run and we’re going over to our friend Susan’s to watch Game of Thrones and eat pizza.

Moral of the story: I need to stretch regularly. I have always been naturally flexible, and never needed to stretch much; but now that I am older my muscles tighten up without being stretched, so I need to do that on a fairly regular basis. And I should, anyway; because it feels amazing.

Last weekend I not only started rereading The Great Gatsby but also started reading William Faulkner’s crime short stories. They are collected into a book called Knight’s Gambit, and feature County Attorney Gavin Stevens. I always forget Faulkner dabbled in crime fiction from time to time; I was reminded by a piece on the Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine website blog (“Something is Going On”), about how the magazine had published some of Faulkner’s short stories (“A Rose for Emily” would have been perfect for Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, come to think of it), and I remembered my copy of Knight’s Gambit, never read, still in the TBR pile where it has been collecting dust for God knows how long. I’ve only had time to read the first story, “Smoke,” which was very Faulkner-esque. It wasn’t “A Rose for Emily” Gothic-good, but it was very Southern Gothic, very rural Southern; it was about the murder of a judge probating the will of a really awful man who owned two thousand of the best acres in the county and was estranged from his twin sons; and how Gavin figures out who the killer was and gets him to confess. It was kind of clever, and kind of reminded me of Mark Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson, which I read in my twenties and absolutely loved (another one due for a reread).

It poured while I was running my errands today; I got drenched getting into the grocery store, and while it had stopped raining when I was leaving, the parking lot was near the doors was under about three inches of water. So, my shoes and socks got soaked; which was deeply unpleasant, but hey–summer in New Orleans. It’s rained every day for the last two months, I think, and the humidity has been kind of intense.

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This was also a really good week for books; I got the new Rebecca Chance (Killer Affair) in the mail, as well as The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor and Geronimo Rex by Barry Hannah (a signed copy of the new Bill Loefhelm is waiting for me at Garden District Books; I intended to pick it up today but it was pouring, I didn’t have my umbrella and there was no place within two blocks to park, so I decided to put that errand off until someday next week). I’ve never read Barry Hannah other than a short story in college: “Love Too Long.” As Constant Reader is aware, my very first attempt at taking a writing class in college was a disaster; the instructor basically told me I’d never be published and “if being a writer is your dream, you need to find another dream.” Oy. Anyway, flash forward a few years and I started attending Fresno City College, a junior college in the Tower District of the city, to try to get my GPA back up to a point to where I could get accepted into the California State University system. Bravely, I enrolled in another creative writing class, and the teacher was a man named Sid Harriet. He required us to buy, for the class, two short story collections: Airships by Barry Hannah, and Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? by Raymond Carver. He asked us to read the afore-mentioned Hannah story, as well as Carver’s “Neighbors.” Both stories were unlike anything I’d ever read before; and I decided to try to stretch myself creatively with the two stories I had to write for the class. The first story I wrote (seriously) was called “Bottles, Booze, and Bette Davis,” about a young couple having a disagreement about their commitment to each other in a diner–and their interactions with their waitress, Marge. It wasn’t a good story by any means, but when critiqued in class, it got some favorable comments and some good criticism, actually. Sid was very supportive, as well–and after my previous experience, this was a revelation for me. The second story was worse than the first, “A Single Long-Stemmed Red Rose” was the title; and it was an alternating point of view story about an encounter between a young college student cutting through a cemetery with a beautiful young widow. Again, it didn’t work; the points of view weren’t delineated enough to justify using this technique and the story itself didn’t work. Sid was highly enthusiastic about my attempt to push myself, though, and he was the one who recommended I read Faulkner’s  As I Lay Dying (which I did, and was blown away; that was, interestingly enough, when I became a Faulkner fan). You were allowed, as a student, to take the class twice; so I took it again the next semester and decided to take full advantage of the class by writing and turning in as many stories as I could–the minimum was two; which is what everyone did. Amongst the many stories I turned into that class were “Seminole Island” and “Whim of the Wind”, which everyone in the class loved; Sid even turned them both back to me with the note, “You need to send these out for submission.”

Manna from heaven for someone who hadn’t gotten any encouragement to be a writer since graduating from high school. I can even remember having a meeting in his office, and I told him what Dr. Dixon said. He just shook his head and said “that man shouldn’t be anywhere near students.”

The funny thing is, I would have told this story years ago but I couldn’t remember his name. Isn’t that awful? The person who, in addition to Mrs. Anderson from high school, was supportive of my desire to write, and recognized my ability was someone whose name I couldn’t remember until today. 

I bought the Barry Hannah novel because it was on a list of ‘essential Southern Gothic novels’; and I remembered reading that story back in 1983 in Fresno. And when I started writing this blog entry, I knew I had to talk about Sid, owed it to him really–and as I started typing his name popped into my head.

Funny how that works.

Okay, I am now going to make some lunch, and get this kitchen cleaned and organized; maybe I can get some work done on “A Holler Full of Kudzu” before we leave for the movie.

Have a great day, Constant Reader!

Walking Down Your Street

Thursday!

I didn’t post yesterday because it was yet another morning I didn’t particularly want to get out of bed. Tuesday was a late night of bar testing , but I slept well. I woke up a couple of times but was able to fall back asleep again. I was so tired when I got home last night I could barely stay awake thru this week’s Animal Kingdom and another episode of Claws, but somehow it was one of those awful half-sleep half of the night; I am not so groggy this morning as I was yesterday, but still. I suspect I will be very tired tonight, and since I have to get up early tomorrow, that could be ugly.

It’s lovely having Paul home again–the Lost Apartment always seems so empty and quiet when he’s not here; not quite like home, you know, rather like some Air BnB I am renting for a week–and while I was able to get quite a bit done with him gone, I’d rather have him home, overall.

I was also too tired yesterday morning to work on my as yet-untitled new short story, but I’ve done some work on it today, and may do some more before I have to head into the office. It really is nagging at me that I’ve not got a title for the story as of yet; it really is hard for me to write something without a title. I almost just had one, but it slipped away almost as quickly as it popped in. Sigh.

And there it is again! “A Holler Full of Kudzu.” I kind of like that; I might change it at some point, but that’s going to be my working title for it.

Okay, back to work on the story. Here’s a Throwback Thursday hunk for you, Constant Reader: former soap stud Michael Corbett.

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Hero Takes a Fall

Well, there’s a thunderstorm brewing outside and it’s dark as night out there. I am drinking a protein shake (trying to get back on the fat-loss regimen again; I kind of fell off somehow, and now have less than eight weeks to get down to 200 pounds before Labor Day) and listening to the thunder rumbling out there and watching the trees and crepe myrtles dancing in the wind. I am fluffing a load of laundry in the dryer, need to unload the dishwasher, and straighten up some odds and ends here in the kitchen. I’d like to get to work on my short stories in a moment, but I also just finished reading Daniel Woodrell’s Tomato Red and it was pretty amazing, I have to say.

It’s quite extraordinary, actually.

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I knew it would be; many writers I admire and like love Daniel Woodrell’s work, so I knew I would like it, even if I was a bit hesitant about reading it. You see, being from the South–and the rural South, at that–I am always a bit reluctant to read books about the rural South. I know there are people who absolutely adore Eudora Welty, but I tried to read her Losing Battles and found the entire thing distasteful and condescending. My parents are from deeply rural Alabama, a part of the state that is so backward and remote that my grandmother didn’t get indoor plumbing until 1968 and I don’t think she had electricity when I was born; she was unable to get a phone until 1983. I spent every summer of my childhood in that part of the state; so I have lots of memories.

And the deeply rural South I knew? Nothing like that abysmal book. Nothing.

Faulkner, on the other hand–his rural South I could relate to, recognize and believe. Ace Atkins’ Quinn Colson series is also spot on, to name another. As I said, I know this world, I know its mindset, I know its people, and I know how they think–so the recent surge in think-pieces in major city newspapers about ‘how to reach blue collar voters’ and so forth–always miss key components; these are pieces by people who don’t know the people they are writing about. I am hesitant to read books like Hillbilly Elegy or Deerhunting for Jesus. 

But that–and how the left needs to think about rural voters–is a topic for another time.

Back to Tomato Red.

You’re no angel, you know how this stuff comes to happen: Friday is payday and it’s been a gray day sogged by a slow ugly rain and you seek company in your gloom, and since you’re fresh to West Table, Mo., and a new hand at the dog-food factory, your choices for company are narrow but you find some finally in a trailer court on East Main, and the coed circle of bums gathered there spot you a beer, then a jug of tequila starts to rotate and the rain keeps comin’ down with a miserable bluesy beat and there’s two girls millin’ about that can probably be had but they seem to like certain things and crank is one of those certain things, a fistful of party straws tumble from a woven handbag somebody brung, the crank gets cut into lines, and the next time you notice the time it’s three or four Sunday mornin’ and you ain’t slept since Thursday night and one of the girl voices, the one you want most and ain’t had yet though her teeth are the size of shoe-peg corn and look like maybe they’d taste sort of sour, suggests something to do, ’cause with crank you want something, anything, to odo, and this cajoling voice suggests we all rob this certain house on this certain street in that rich area where folks can afford to wallow in their vices and likely have a bunch of recreational dope stashed around the mansion and goin’ to waste since an article in The Stroll said the rich people whisked off to France or some such on a noteworthy vacation.

Wow, how’s that for an opening paragraph?

The rest of the book keeps up that insane pace; that mesmerizing voice; and eventually introduces Sammy Barlach (and the reader) to a white trash family called Merridew: Bev, the mom who lives in a shack in the holler where she entertains her paying male visitors, and her two teenaged kids, Jamalee (she whose hair is that shade of tomato red the book takes it title from) and her brother, Jason: He’s the kind of fella that if he was to make it to the top based only on his looks you’d still have to say he deserved it. Hoodoo sculptors and horny witches knitted that boy, put his bone and sinew in the most fabulous order. Dark-haired, green-eyed, with face bones delicate and dramatic both. If your ex had his lips you’d still be married. His size was somewhat smallish, but he was otherwise for certain the most beautiful boy I ever had seen. I’m afraid “beautiful” is the only word I can make work here, and I’m not bent or nothin’, but beautiful is the truth.

Sammy is drawn into their tangled world, of beer and cigarettes and stray cats and mutt dogs; of whiskey and wine and violence, a world where the system doesn’t work because the system is for rich people only, to make them richer and make them feel safe about keeping what they have. Jason is gay; a hairdresser with big dreams of getting out of the holler; of helping Tamalee make her dreams come true in Palm Beach. But the world is ugly for the poor, and about to get a whole lot uglier–and there’s also no justice for the poor, either.

Brilliantly conceived and executed, I can’t wait to read more Daniel Woodrell.

Hazy Shade of Winter

Saturday!

I drove over to the West Bank this morning to get the car serviced (its very first oil change!) and then made groceries on the way home.  Paul gets home this evening, and there’s some light cleaning that needs to be done. Once that’s finished I intend to spend the day finishing Daniel Woodrell’s Tomato Red; I got further into it at the Honda dealership while I waited for the car, and it really is something. I mentioned the other day that I thought of it as Southern Gothic more than anything else; but truth be told, I’m not sure I’ve ever read anything quite like it before. It makes me think of Megan Abbott (not just because she wrote the intro to this edition), and Faulkner, and James M. Cain’s The Butterfly, and even a little bit of Harper Lee. It’s truly extraordinary.

 I think I’ll reread The Great Gatsby next; then I am going to take a stab at some Hemingway, just to see. I’m also going to read some short fiction–I’ve got Bracken MacLeod’s collection Thirteen Views from the Suicide Woods, and Laura Lippman’s Hardly Knew Her, and some anthologies lying around that I really should read more of; short stories are always a pleasant respite, I find, and since I am planning on working on short stories for the next week or so while the WIP rests, reading some great short stories seems to be in order, doesn’t it? I had a great idea for another story last night while watching clips of old LSU games on Youtube last night; kind of inspired by Tomato Red, if I am going to be completely honest. I really do think I should start writing about Alabama some more…and my old ghost story y/a that’s been brewing in my mind since I wrote the short story in 1989 might just be the ticket.

I also got some new books: Nick Cutter’s Little Heaven, Mary Stewart’s Rose Cottage (one of hers I’ve not read), Phyllis A. Whitney’s Amethyst Dreams (one of her later novels; I stopped reading her around The Singing Stones),  James Ziskin’s Styx and Stones, and Tim Blanning’s Frederick the Great King of Prussia. I’ve been wanting to read a bio of the most successful gay European monarch in history for quite some time; this biography is rather acclaimed and also openly explores the Great King’s homosexuality in great depth, apparently–previous biographies glossed over his relationships with men, and other ‘interesting’ bits like banning women from his court, making his Queen live elsewhere, never having children, etc etc etc. I first read of Frederick when I was a kid, in Genevieve Foster’s George Washington and His World, and deeply empathized with the young Prussian prince who just wanted to read and study music and art and philosophy, but was forced by his father to be ‘more manly’, and was miserable as a result.

I could relate, even at eight years old.

But I am really looking forward to reading this; I may make it my non-fiction read once I finish The Affair of the Poisons. Frederick was fascinating in many ways; he was considered one of the three ‘enlightened despots’ of the late eighteenth century (the others being Joseph II of Austria and Catherine II of Russia), and he made Prussia into the preeminent military power of Europe–yet was still cultured, loved music and reading and poetry and philosophy and art.

And now, I suppose I should get that cleaning done.

Here’s a hunk for you for Saturday:

 

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