The Warrior

Yesterday I wrote approximately 3300 words of a short story that is due by the end of the month, and I am rather pleased with how it’s going, if I might be so bold. It flowed rather easily from my keyboard also; I’m hoping that mojo will still be there as I try to finish the draft today. It’s dark–when are my stories anything but dark, really–but I am very happy it’s getting close to completion in this draft. I would love to have it finished so I can spend my weekend revising and editing this and another short story I finished in a first draft recently.

I also mapped out a young adult novel over the weekend I’ve been wanting to write for years. I originally wrote it as a short story back in the 1980’s, calling it “Ruins”; I’ve always thought it would make a really good y/a novel if I could figure out how to deal with some societal and cultural issues with it which really couldn’t be ignored. And then I realized, this weekend, that the best way to deal with them is to face them head on. It will get criticized, of course, and I may even get called out, but you can’t not write something because you’re afraid of repercussions, can you? And hope that good discussion comes from it.

Then again, it could just come and go without notice. That happens, too.

This year has mostly been, for me at least, a struggle to write. I’m not sure what has caused this for me; the year had some remarkable highs–the Macavity Award nomination; the Anthony Award win–but for the most part it’s been a struggle with self-doubt and it’s horrible twin sister, depression. I don’t know why this happens to me; I always find that writing–even if I have to force myself to do it–always makes me feel better, even if the work isn’t going particularly well. Sinking my teeth into a story, feeling the characters come to life in my mind and through my keyboard, always seems to make me feel better. I also can use the writing as a way to channel things that upset or bother me; writing is an excellent way to channel anger and rage and heartbreak and every other emotion under the sun. But as this bedeviled year draws to a close, I am feeling creative and productive again; and most importantly, driven.

Then again, tomorrow I could feel like crap and be all ‘why bother’ again.

This is why writers drink.

I’m also really enjoying Krysten Ritter’s Bonfire, even as it is reminding me of Megan Abbott’s The Fever. There are some similarities; although in Abbott’s novel the mysterious illness in the girls is current and in Ritter’s it’s in the past. But it’s very wwell written, and there is some diversity of representation in her characters. It also reminds me a little of Lori Rader-Day’s Little Pretty Things, with it’s small town Indiana setting and it’s strange story from the past. (If you’ve not read Abbott or Rader-Day, buy their books NOW. You’re in for a magnificent treat!) The book also makes me think of my own Kansas past…and book ideas I have that mine that past. Reading good books always inspires me…and that really is the ultimate compliment I can give Ritter’s book. It’s inspiring me.

And that’s terrific.

And now, back to the spice mines.

Patrick-McGrath-90s-Inspired-Shoot-005

Take Me to Heart

Being an LSU fan is not for the faint of heart.

Saturday afternoon in Toronto, after my panel, Paul and I retired to our room and flipped on the television to see if we could see the LSU-Auburn game up there. There was a CBS station from Buffalo, so we were able to do so; the primary problem being that when we turned the game on, it was late in the first quarter, the score was 17-0, and Auburn had the ball.

We both sighed resignedly and collapsed onto the bed.

I was raised on college football. My dad’s family are Auburn fans, my mother’s Alabama. I’ve had relatives play for both teams; bestselling author Ace Atkins also played for Auburn, and we bonded many years ago over our lifelong fandom of the Auburn Tigers. The rules in my family were very clear: we rooted for Alabama when they played everyone but Auburn. I always liked LSU, though–I thought the whole “Death Valley” thing and having an actual live tiger mascot was kind of cool, and of course I’ve always loved the colors purple and gold. After we moved down here to New Orleans, Paul started watching college football with me on Saturdays, and he started rooting for LSU; the same way we both rooted for the Saints. I followed the same rules I’d grown up with: root for Auburn, root for Alabama when they play everyone else but Auburn, and added root for LSU when they play everyone else but Auburn and Alabama.

Paul, of course, always rooted for LSU.

I remember one night a year or so after we moved here, we were out with friends at Lafitte’s and I happened to notice that the Clover Grill’s television was tuned into the LSU-Florida game. Florida was riding the nation’s longest winning streak, hadn’t lost an SEC (Southeastern Conference) game in a couple of years, and was ranked Number One in the country; LSU wasn’t given much of a chance. I wandered across the street with my beer to watch the kick-off and was stunned as LSU jumped out to an improbable 14-0 lead early in the first quarter. I only walked back across the street to get more beer or go to the bathroom or when it was half-time; I watched that entire game without sound through the Clover Grill’s windows and improbably, upstart LSU managed to hang on and win the game 28-21. It was probably the biggest upset in LSU football history, and Death Valley went crazy–I could also hear people yelling around the Quarter every time LSU scored.

Everyone knows about the great Halloween game between LSU and Ole Miss back in 1959, when LSU was ranked number one and Ole Miss number three, and LSU won on the great Billy Cannon punt return, 7-3. I watched the Auburn-LSU game in 1988, when LSU upset 4th ranked Auburn 7-6 on a last minute touchdown and the fans were jumping up and down so much it registered on the LSU’s geology department’s Richter scale (my cousin was playing for Auburn then, and in full disclosure–I wasn’t thrilled to see that Tommy Hodson pass completion). That game is now known as the Earthquake Game, and clinched a tie for the SEC title that year for LSU with Auburn.

I switched fully over to LSU after Hurricane Katrina, during the evacuation and the return, watching the LSU games because watching those games was something about Louisiana that was normal; when everything else seemed to be disrupted there were the Tigers playing in Death Valley. I didn’t have the Saints that year because they weren’t playing in the damaged Superdome, and there was talk about them being moved to San Antonio. Tiger Stadium had been a triage center as FEMA and the Coast Guard and the Marines air-lifted people out of New Orleans; many of the players were from the city and had relatives and friends and neighbors crammed into their apartments with them. LSU and the campus were instrumental to the rescue efforts, and essentially, a life-line for the city I loved so much. That year LSU moved to Number One in my heart, and they have stayed there ever since.

And the games! My God, LSU games are nail-biters almost always. and from 2005-2007 LSU seemed to almost always pull the game out at the end with some kind of insane end. LSU won the national championship in 2007; the only time a two-loss time did so, and were the first team with more than one loss to be able to lay claim to the national title in over forty years. There were so many great moments that year–including the insane come from behind win over Auburn. With time running out and the ball on the thirty yard line, one point behind…quarterback Matt Flynn threw a pass to the end zone that was caught to win the game 30-24 with one second left on the clock.

There have been many games like that since–the Tigers don’t always pull them out, but they do more often than they don’t. Last year’s Auburn game was the same–a touchdown pass completed to win the game as time ran out, only to have the officials rule the ball was snapped after time ran out and nullified the touchdown.

Coach Les Miles was fired after that game.

This year’s LSU team hasn’t looked good. Paul and I went to watch the lackluster win over BYU in the Superdome to start the season; we went to the season opener in Baton Rouge to see another lackluster win over a second-tier team. LSU was blown out at Mississippi State, but still managed to stay ranked….until they lost two weeks ago against Troy in Tiger Stadium; the first loss for LSU against a non-conference opponent since 2000. Somehow they managed to upset Florida 17-16 the next week in Gainesville…but this weekend, Auburn was ranked Number 10, rolling over everyone they played. Mississippi State, who had beaten LSU by thirty points, lost to Auburn 49-10. No one had high hopes…even though Auburn hadn’t won in Baton Rouge since 1999.

That year, after beating LSU 41-7, Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville and some of his players walked out onto the field to the tiger eye at the fifty yard line to triumphantly smoke cigars. It was an insult no one here has forgotten….and Auburn has lost every time they’ve played here since.

After forcing Auburn to kick a field goal to go up 20-0, LSU scored to make it 20-7. Auburn managed another field goal, but LSU scored in the closing seconds of the first half to make it 23-14, and were getting the ball back first in the second half. A comeback wasn’t out of the question….but on that first possession they had to punt, and despite keeping Auburn from getting a first down, a stupid penalty gave Auburn another set of downs and it was time for us to go.

I was certain the game was over.

I checked my phone later in the lounge as we ate hors d’oeuvres and drank wine in the lounge while waiting for it to be time for our dinner reservation–and lo and behold, the score was now 23-21 with about ten minutes left. I kept hitting refresh and BOOM! LSU kicked a field goal to finally go ahead 24-23.

They held on, kicking another field goal with just seconds left in the game to go up 27-23…and somehow pulled it off.

I still can’t believe I missed seeing it.

Geaux Tigers! I hope to see a replay of the game at some point.

-54dcb6ddde52efd0

Death Valley: where dreams come to die.

I Won’t Hold You Back

Being from, not only the South but also from Alabama, I am very particular about Southern fiction, and fiction set in Alabama (there is more of it than you might think; there is certainly much more of it than To Kill a Mockingbird). Robert McCammon has written some exceptional Southern horror fiction set in Alabama; I absolutely loved Boy’s Life, while I have yet to read Gone South (which is in the TBR pile). He actually  set a book in the part of Alabama I am from; it was a good book, but it bore no more actual resemblance to that county than anything other book set in the rural South; it was as though he simply put up a map of Alabama and stuck in a pin in it, said “okay this is where it will be set” and worked from there. But it was a good book that I enjoyed; it had some interesting things to say about religion–particularly the rural Southern version of it. I myself want to write about Alabama more; I feel–I don’t know–connected somehow when I write about Alabama in a greater way than I do when I am writing about New Orleans, and that’s saying something. Mostly I’ve written short stories, the majority of which have never been published; only two have seen print, “Smalltown Boy” and “Son of a Preacher Man.”

I remember Michael McDowell from the 1980’s, when the horror boom was at its highest crest; I never read his work but I was aware of it. I remember reading the back covers of his Blackwater books and not being particularly interested in them; there was just something about them, and their Alabama setting, that somehow didn’t ring right to me; I don’t remember what or why, but I do remember picking them up several times in the bookstore, looking them over, and putting them back.

In recent years, McDowell has enjoyed a renaissance of sorts; he was a gay man who died from AIDS-related complications in 1999. I wasn’t aware that he was part of the writing team who published a gay mystery series under the name Nathan Aldyne until sometime in the last few years, and I’d been meaning to get around to finally read one of his horror novels, the reissue of The Elementals (which included an introduction by my friend, the novelist Michael Rowe–whose novels Enter, Night and Wild Fell are quite extraordinary)–which again is set in Alabama, only this time Mobile and the lower panhandle of Alabama that sits on either side of Mobile Bay (the same area, in fact, where I set my novel Dark Tide, only my novel was set on the other side of the bay). My friend Katrina Niidas Holm recently asked me to read the book so we could discuss it drunkenly over cocktails at Bouchercon in Toronto later this month; this morning I sat down and read it through. (It’s not very long; 218 pages in total.)

the elementals

In the middle of a desolate Wednesday afternoon in the last sweltering days of May, a handful of mourners were gathered in the church dedicated to St. Jude Thaddeus in Mobile, Alabama. The air conditioning in the small sanctuary sometimes covered the noise of traffic at the intersection outside, but it occasionally did not, and the strident honking of an automobile horn ould sound above the organ music like a mutilated stop. The space was dim, damply cool, and stank of refrigerated flowers. Two dozen enormous and very expensive arrangements had been set in converging lines behind the altar. A massive blanket of silver roses lay draped across the light-blue casket, and there were petals scattered over the white satin interior. In the coffin was the body of a woman no more than fifty-five. Her features were squarish and set; the lines that ran from the corners of her mouth to her jaw were deep-plowed. Marian Savage had not been overtaken happily.

In the pew to the left of the coffin sat Dauphin Savage, the corpse’s surviving son. He wore a dark blue suit that fit tightly over last season’s frame, and a black silk band was fastened to his arm rather in imitation of a tourniquet. On his right, in a black dress and a black veil. was his wife Leigh. Leigh lifted her chin to catch sight of her dead mother-in-law’s profile in the blue coffin. Dauphin and Leigh would inherit almost everything.

Big Barbara McCray–Leigh’s mother and the corpse’s best friend–sat in the pew directly behind and wept audibly. Her black silk dress whined against the polished oaken pew as she twisted in her grief. Beside her, rolling his eyes in exasperation at his mother’s carrying-on, was Luker McCray. Luker’s opinion of the dead woman was that he had never seen her to better advantage than in her coffin. Next to Luker was his daughter, India, a girl of thirteen who had not known the dead woman in life. India interested herself in the church’s ornamental hangings, with an eye toward reproducing them in a needlepoint border.

On the other side of the central aisle sat the corpse’s only daughter, a nun. Sister Mary-Scot did not weep, but now and then the others heard the faint clack of her rosary beads against the wooden pew. Several pews behind the nun sat Odessa Red, a thin, grim black woman who had been three decades in the dead woman’s employ. Odessa wore a tiny blue velvet hat with a single feather dyed in India ink.

Before the funeral began, Big Barbara McCray had poked her daughter, and demanded of her why there was no printed order of service. Leigh shrugged. “Dauphin said do it that way. Less trouble for everybody so I didn’t say anything.”

This is an auspicious beginning to a novel that straddles the line between Southern Gothic and horror; but in using the word horror I am thinking of the quiet kind of horror, the kind Shirley Jackson wrote; this isn’t the kind where blood splatters and body parts go flying or you can hear the knife slicing through flesh and bone. This is the kind of horror that creeps up on you slowly, building in intensity and suspense until you are flipping the pages anxiously to find out what happens next.

McDowell introduces all of his characters in those few short sentences; Dauphin and his wife, Leigh; her mother Big Barbara; her brother Luker and her niece, India. Odessa also has a part to play in this story, and the only other character who doesn’t appear in this opening is Big Barbara’s estranged husband, Lawton. Lawton, like Mary-Scot, only plays a very small part in this tale, and so the reader doesn’t need to meet him until later.

(I do want to talk about character names here; the Savage family all have names that have something to do with Mary Queen of Scots; the deceased is Marian, her long dead husband Bothwell; Mary-Scot is as plain a reference as can be, whereas her two brothers were Mary Stuart’s husbands: Dauphin–her first husband was Dauphin Francois, later King Francois I of France–and the deceased elder brother, Darnley; the romantic Queen’s second husband was Lord Darnley. Marian’s –of Mary–deceased husband Bothwell bore the name of the Scottish Queen’s third husband, the Earl of Bothwell. These Savage men died in reverse order of the Queen’s husband’s though; Bothwell first followed by Darnley,  and of course, as the only one living, Dauphin will die last. Also, there’s never any explanation for why Big Barbara is called Big Barbara; usually in Southern families the reason you would call someone “Big” is because there is a “Little;” there is no Little Barbara in this story, and I’m not sure where Luker came from as a name, either. I wondered if it was a colloquial pronunciation; names and words that end in an uh sound turn into ‘er’ in Alabama; Beulah being pronounced Beuler, for example, so I wondered if his name was Luka…)

The McCrays and the Savages are families bound by decades of friendship and now marriage; they have three identical houses on a southern spit of land in the lower, western side of the Alabama panhandle in a place called Beldame; Beldame is very remote, bounded by the Gulf on one side and a lagoon on the other; during high tide the gulf flows through a channel into the lagoon and turns Beldame into an island. There are no phones there nor power lines; electricity is provided by a generator and there is no air conditioning. Oh, how I remember those Alabama summers without air conditioning! One of the three houses is being lost to a drifting sand dune and is abandoned…and as the days pass, the reader begins to realize there’s something not right about that dune…or about that house.

The book reminded me some of Douglas Clegg’s brilliant Neverland; that sense of those sticky hot summers in the South, visiting a place you’re not familiar with and is kind of foreign (the primary POV once the story moves to Beldame is India, who has never been there before); those afternoons where the heat and humidity make even breathing exhausting, the white sugary sand and the glare from it, lying in a shaded hammock just hoping for a breeze–the sudden rains and drops in temperature, where eighty degrees seems cold after days of it being over a hundred…the sense of place is very strong in this book, and Beldame is, like Hill House, what Stephen King called in his brilliant treatise on the genre Danse Macabre, ‘the bad place.”

I really enjoyed this book. A lot. And it has made me think about writing about Alabama again; this entire year I’ve been thinking that, and now feel like it’s a sign that maybe I should.

And now back to the spice mines.

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.

Nyle_Feature

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.

17457810_1306427206072007_4945909802005088083_n

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:

IMG_2243

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.

IMG_2380

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!