Jeopardy

So, yesterday was my birthday. Fifty-six officially; although I always add a year to my age on New Year’s Day for the sake of simplicity. I had some trouble falling asleep on Saturday night; a combination of restlessness and heartburn. I wound up sleeping in till almost ten; which is late for me but since I didn’t really fall asleep until around three in the morning it wasn’t that much sleep. But I had a lovely day, really. I kind of just laid around and reread In a Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes, rewatched The Philadelphia Story on TCM (Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant were both robbed of Oscars), then watched The Nineties and The History of Comedy on CNN before finally watching last night’s Game of Thrones.  I also thought about the new Scotty some; I have today off from work as my birthday gift to myself, so I plan on doing some writing, line editing, and revising, and thinking about what I’m going to write next before actually sitting down at the computer is always a wise thing to do (although usually I never had the time to do that, thanks to deadlines). There’s a serious moral dilemma coming for Scotty in this book; one that really has been needing to be dealt with in the series for quite some time, but I’ve dodged it and avoided it; this is the book where I am finally going to have to have him face up to it, the way I am bringing it to the forefront so he can no longer avoid it is, if I do say so myself, rather clever.

Or it’s just going to be a steaming pile of shit. There’s no middle ground, really.

It was kind of fun to reread the Hughes novel; it is a masterpiece of noir that has been sadly overlooked for many years. Hughes was an exceptional writer, and I do admit that opinion is based on my having read only two of her novels, this and The Expendable Man (which, sadly, was her last and published in 1962). It’s not easy to find Hughes’ novels. I do feel safe in calling Hughes one of the best writers of her generation, and certainly one of the best noir writers of all time, based on those two books because they are just that good. I do have a copy of her The Blackbirder, which I want to read before the end of the year. In A Lonely Place was also filmed, directed by Nicholas Ray and starring Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame; the film is significantly different from the novel, but it’s also outstanding. The new edition of the novel, from New York Review Books (who also have republished The Expendable Man and The Blackbirder), includes an afterward by the wonderful Megan Abbott, who is not only one of this generations greatest writers but also one of crime fiction’s most knowledgeable critics; her literary criticism is intelligent, thoughtful, incredibly well-written, and certainly puts me in my place whenever I am lucky enough to read some of it; I would love to read her study of literary and film noir, The Street Was Mine. (Whenever I read her criticism, any thoughts I might have about pursuing academic criticism–gay noir, gay representation in crime fiction, the heyday of romantic suspense from the 1950’s till its unfortunate death in the 1980’s–go out the window.)

Her all-too-short essay in the back of this edition alone makes the cover price worthwhile.

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It was good standing there on the promontory overlooking the evening sea, the fog lifting itself like gauzy veils to touch his face. There was something in it akin to flying; the sense of being lifted high above crawling earth, of being a part of the wildness of air. Something too of being closed within an unknown and strange world of mist and cloud and wind. He’d liked flying at night; he’d missed it after the war had crashed to a finish and dribbled to an end. It wasn’t the same flying a private little crate. He’d tried it; it was like returning to the stone ax after precision tools. He had found nothing yet to take the place of flying wild.

It wasn’t often he could capture any part of that feeling of power and exhilaration and freedom that came with loneness in the sky. There was a touch of it here, looking down at the ocean rolling endlessly in from the horizon; here  high above the beach road with its crawling traffic, its dotting of lights. The outline of beach houses zigzagged against the sky but did not obscure the pale waste of sand, the dark restless waters beyond.

He didn’t know why he hadn’t come out here before. It wasn’t far. He didn’t even know why he’d come tonight. When he got on the bus, he had no destination. Just the restlessness. And the bus brought him here.

Isn’t that an incredible opening?

Not being an expert in crime fiction–there’s so much of it to read, and there’s more new stuff all the time, so it’s hard to keep up with the new let alone trying to read everything already published–I am unable to place In A Lonely Place into any kind of context as far as the history of crime fiction is concerned, but Abbott does this beautifully in her afterward. But it’s very clear in this opening paragraphs that Hughes is addressing alienation in this book, and toxic masculinity, which may have seen its ultimate pinnacle in the second World War (the alienation of returning veterans, and the difficulty of readjusting from war to peace was also being addressed in films like The Best Years of Our Lives) and by having Dix, her main character, pretend to be writing a novel also took on the glut of post-war war novels that so many returning soldiers were writing; novels that continued to proliferate for several decades beyond the war.

The first time I read the book, having already seen the film, I was more focused on the story itself rather than an examination of how deftly Hughes creates her story, the language and imagery she chooses, and the nuanced way she creates her character. On this read, knowing how it’s going to end, I was able to pay more attention to these things, and was able to marvel at how brilliant the entire package is.

A recurring motif in the novel is fog; Hughes uses the fog as a metaphor for the fog in Dix’s brain; and we are never sure when Dix’s mind changed, making him lethal. He was raised by a puritanical uncle, Fergus, who is currently supporting him while he writes his novel–but there is a limit to the support, and while in our time $250 a month may not seem like much, at the time of the novel it was a fortune, just over $2500 in today’s dollars. Dix’s resentment of the uncle–we never learn what precisely happened to his parents–who is rough on him and has always made him work, even when he was in college at Princeton trying to fit in with the idle rich sons of privilege and then goes into detail how humiliating it all was, doing things for them for ‘tips’ until he could manipulate events to make it look as though he were the wealthy one and the sad unfortunate, unpopular boy he used for money were the dolt. In this way, Hughes also makes a sly commentary about class and privilege (which, in my opinion, she does far better than Fitzgerald did in an entire novel with The Great Gatsby, and she does it only in a few pages). So, there was always some kind of a chip on Dix’s shoulder; the war simply gave him a way to channel that anger and discontent and alienation. Now the way is over, and Dix is having to find a new way to channel those diabolical energies–and he does, in committing murder.

The entire tale is told through Dix’s perspective, which also makes him one of the first unreliable narrators in crime fiction. (It was done before, but never quite so lethally.) So, when we see the other characters–and there are only three: his old war buddy Brub, now a police detective; Brub’s wife Sylvia, whom Dix despises on first sightl and of course, the love interest, Laurel Gray–is she the femme fatale he thinks she is, or is that just a product of his own warped sense of right and wrong? Who is Laurel, of the reddish gold hair and the tempting figure? Is she the hard-as-nails user he thinks she is, or is she an entirely different character altogether?

In  A Lonely Place is a masterpiece of noir, and hopefully, this edition will elevate Hughes to the position both she and the book deserve in the annals of our genre.

And now back to the spice mines.

 

Hungry Like the Wolf

Ah, Thursday. I am very tired this morning; my sleep last night was restless and of course, after a long day yesterday (twelve hours), which included bar testing and all the walking that entails, I am very low energy this morning. I didn’t get much writing done yesterday morning; I am still in the midst of Chapter Two of the new Scotty but part of that problem is trying to make sure I have the voice and tone right–which is, of course, ridiculous; it can always be fixed in a later draft. I need to plow through this first draft and get the story done. Everything else can be repaired later.

Why do I always try to make it right the first time? So stupid. How many books have I written? Some people seriously never learn, you know what I mean?

The line edit continues as well, and is beginning to feel like my own personal invasion of Afghanistan; an endless quagmire I’m never going to get out from under. I still want to have it all finished by the end of the month and the clock is seriously ticking. Heavy heaving sigh.

The lovely thing is I have a three day weekend to look forward to; my birthday is this weekend and as such, I took Monday off as a treat for myself. We’re going to go see Dunkirk Saturday evening, and have a lovely dinner out afterwards. I also hope to be able to use the extra time off to get some work done and do some reading; I want to get the Ambler novel read this weekend so I can reread Dorothy B. Hughes’ sublime In a Lonely Place in its new edition with an afterward by the sublime Megan Abbott. I read it several years ago on the recommendation of Megan, Margery Flax and the wonderful Sarah Weinman, and I became a huge fan of Hughes as a result. I went on to read everything she’d written that was still in print, and started hunting down used copies of the rest on eBay and second hand booksellers on-line. If you’ve not read Hughes and are a fan of crime fiction, you really should read In a Lonely Place. You owe it to yourself to read it.

The film, while different from the book, is also extraordinary. You can’t go wrong with Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame.

All right I need to hit the spice mines. Your Throwback Thursday hunk is actor/model Ed Fury.

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Never Gonna Let You Go

Have you read the comic book co-written by Megan Abbott and Alison Gaylin, Normandy Gold?

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It will come as no surprise that its fantastic. Megan Abbott and Alison Gaylin are two of the best crime writers of our Golden Age of women crime writers.

One of the things that can get confusing with crime fiction is the subgenres and the sometimes slight distinctions between them; take hard-boiled vs. noir as an example. I think the confusion comes because a hard-boiled crime novel, when made into a film, can fit into the film noir category, which is a bit broader than the genre definitions crime novels can use and books can fall into; for example, The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep are hard-boiled detective novels; the films, however, are classic film noir. (Your mileage may vary; I am speaking only for myself and how I classify books.) For me, a detective novel that is dark and brooding and cynical in nature is hard-boiled, Sue Grafton and Sara Paretsky’s novels, for me, fall into this category, as do Hammett’s detective fiction and Chandler’s. James M. Cain’s novels were noir, as are Megan Abbott’s. Alison Gaylin’s detective novels are more hard-boiled; her stand alone novels are more noir. For me, a noir novel doesn’t have a professional investigator as the main character; those are hard-boiled.

Charles Ardai’s Hard Case Crime line of novels contains both noir and hard-boiled fiction; the team-up of Gaylin and Abbott with the graphic serial novel Normandy Gold is a fine addition to Hard Case, and one of the best comics/graphic novels I’ve come across in a long while. As I read the first issue on my iPad, all I could think was how glorious this is; excellent, crisp dialogue and incredible storytelling, along with some amazing artwork. If there are awards for graphic novels, just start sending them along to the team that produced this now!

Normandy Gold firmly straddles the line between noir and hard-boiled with guns blazing. Set in the 1970’s, Normandy is a small town sheriff in rural Oregon. Her mother was a prostitute, and she ran away when she was a teen to try to find a better life for herself, leaving her younger sister behind. One day she gets a call from her sister, and is still on the line with her as her sister is murdered. Normandy comes to Washington DC to find out what she can about her sister’s death; the cops have written it off as just another dead whore no one cares about and unsolvable. But Normandy also finds out her sister wasn’t just a prostitute; she worked for a very elite, high level escort service, and decides to go undercover to find what happened to her sister.

This typical-sounding set-up comes alive in the hands of two master storytellers, and the art itself is stunningly beautiful. The story moves very quickly, and the 1970’s setting is perfectly done; not a false note in the entire first issue. This is the kind of story that, as a film in the 1970’s, would have earned a star like Jane Fonda or Ellen Burstyn or Ann-Margret an Oscar nomination, if not the statue itself. Vividly realized, you keep turning the pages to see what happens next…and when you get to the end of the issue, you’re sorry it’s done but can’t wait to read the next.

Highly recommended.

 

She Works Hard for the Money

Tuesday.

I had yesterday off, which was most lovely, and I spent the day relaxing, making lists, writing, editing, reading, and cleaning. I made shrimp creole for dinner, which was fabulous, and then we watched the series finale for Orphan Black. I am going to miss the sestras; it was quite a thrill ride for five seasons, and Tatiana Maslany’s talent is truly amazing.

I didn’t get as much writing done as I would have liked, but sometimes just being able to reflect and think is just as effective as actually writing. Plus, I kind of needed a rest. I am going to get some more writing done today, and I am going to finish the second half of the WIP line edit, and then tomorrow (a twelve hour day) I am going to hopefully get started on the first half of the manuscript’s line edit. I can’t believe how long it’s taken me to get this done; and then I am going to have to story edit one more time just to make sure. I want to be able to start sending it to agents after Labor Day. I want to get the first draft of this Scotty finished by mid-September as well, then let it sit for a month or so while I write this noir I’ve been wanting to write for a while. I think the working on something different between drafts is working for me. It doesn’t make sense in any sort of writing universe to write this way, but it’s working for me and as I always tell beginning writers–find whatever system works for you, even if it doesn’t make the slightest bit of sense to anyone else.

I am also way behind–and off the rails–for short stories. I need to get back to “For All Tomorrow’s Lies” soon; it’s due for an edit/revision, and I never did finish that draft of “Quiet Desperation.” Heavy heaving sigh. I think there’s another one I was working on–oh, yes, “This Thing of Darkness,” and some others, too, that never quite got finished. This creative ADD needs to stop.

I need to make a list, is what I need to do.

Heavy heaving sigh.

I’m really enjoying Journey Into Fear. The action has now moved from Istanbul to on board a ship, sailing to Genoa with Our Hero, whose life is in danger. I love these kinds of stories; and miss them. The change from trains and ships as means of transportation has kind of eliminated them as settings for crime novels and thrillers; there will be no more books like this or Murder on the Orient Express, which is really unfortunate. The whole air of being away from everyone else in the world, isolated on a journey with only your fellow passengers, any one of which might be the murderer/spy/assassin,  that whole claustrophobic feeling–an author has to really push themselves and their creativity to come up with a way to isolate the characters and seal them off from the rest of the world these days. Rebecca Chance did this beautifully in her novel Mile High, set on a luxury airliner on a flight from London to Los Angeles; Nick Cutter’s The Deep set his novel on a sealab at the bottom of the Marianas Trench (and that sense of claustrophobia was so beautifully portrayed in that novel that just remembering it makes me shudder). It is still possible, of course, to do something along the lines of And Then There Were None, where the characters are stranded on an island and cut off from the rest of the world; the single season suspense show Harper’s Island did this nicely…I’ve always wanted to do one of those types of novels, and Scotty would be the perfect character for such a book, I think, but I can’t for the life of me figure out how to make it work. I guess I’ll just let it sit in the back of my head until I get one of those a-ha moments that I am always afraid I’ll stop having.

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

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Come on Eileen

Saturday! I managed to finish Chapter One last night and started Chapter Two; huzzah! They are crap, of course, but I’ll worry about that later. I finally got a good night’s sleep today; I have Wacky Russian this morning, have to go to the office to work for a bit, and am going to make a Costco run on the way home. (Just a minor one.) It’s so nice to feel rested; I am hoping that tonight I’ll be so worn out I won’t have any choice but to sleep deeply and well.

I can dream, at any rate.

My weekend this weekend is actually, therefore, Sunday and Monday; it’s going to be strange to have Monday off–next weekend is my birthday, so I am taking a three day weekend to celebrate–so I am, of course, hoping to get some more Scotty written, some more of the line edit finished, and maybe revise a short story or two. Ambitious plans, to be sure, but I am nothing if not overly ambitious. We’re also trying to find a new show to watch; Orphan Black ends this weekend, Game of Thrones only has a few more episodes to run, and  I suspect Animal Kingdom is also approaching its season finale. We never did finish the final season of Bates Motel, though, and there have to be some other shows out there that we just haven’t discovered yet, or forgot we watched.

I want to finish reading Journey Into Fear this weekend so I can get started on my annual reread of The Haunting of Hill House. I think I might read something more noirish after that; not sure what, but there are plenty of things for me to read around the house, believe you me. Maybe I’ll do something I’ve really grown to love over the last year or so–a short story challenge, where I read a short story every day and then blog about it. I do love short stories, and I really would like to write more of them. I’d love to do a collection of my crime and horror short stories…perhaps by the end of the year I would have enough of them on hand to actually put a collection together. (I may already have enough; I’m not sure, but I’d love to have some new, unpublished material.) Maybe I’ll wait and do short-story September, which would be way fun.

And on that note, I think I shall head off to the spice mines. Here’s a Saturday hunk for you viewing pleasure, Constant Reader:

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Do You Really Want to Hurt Me

Wednesday; the week is half-over–although I am also working on Saturday; my weekend this week will be Sunday and Monday, which is lovely. My birthday is also nigh; I shall be fifty-six! Closer to sixty than fifty, but hey, there you go, you know? Getting older is not for the faint of heart, someone once said, and while there are definitely more aches and pains, and my memory isn’t what it used to be, and I don’t quite have the energy I once had–I ain’t doing too badly. Yesterday I managed to get some significant work done on Scotty; the book is really taking shape in my mind, and I also got some work done on the line edit. I am not as far along on the line edit as I would like to be, but I am getting closer to being done with each bit that I do.

Progress. It’s everything, really.

I’m enjoying the Eric Ambler novel, Journey Into Fear, that I’m reading, and am hoping to get some more of that read today at some point. I like the way Ambler writes, and there’s just this amazing sense of 40’s noir to the story and the writing; I can visualize everything in my head really easily. Writing something in a different time period–one that I didn’t live through–is kind of intimidating to me; I’ve only written one story that is set in a time period before I was alive; set ambiguously in either the late 40’s or early 50’s, it’s a noir story that still need some work. The title, “The Weight of a Feather,” is one of my favorite titles, so I am pretty determined to do something with the story.

So many stories, so little time. Seriously.

Football season looms on the horizon as well; not sure how well LSU is going to do this year, but as always we have high hopes down here in Bayou Country. New coaches, new offense and defensive plans…I guess we’ll see how it’s going to play out at the season opener over Labor Day weekend in Houston when we play BYU. And football season is, as a general rule, kind of exciting. Ten years ago was the last time LSU won the national championship, in that insane year of 2007 which was one of the wackiest football seasons of all time; from week to week no one had any idea of who was going to win and who was going to lose; Top Ten teams would get beaten by someone unranked every week. SBNation has a great website about that crazy year; I wasted some serious time reading and remembering the other day.

And on that note, ’tis time to return to Ye Olde Spice Mines.

Here’s your Wednesday hunk.

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Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)

Tuesday morning, and my windows are covered in condensation. Nothing new there, of course, but at least I can see blue sky and sunshine through the beads of water. Perhaps today will be our first day this summer without rain? Stranger things have, of course, happened.

I got quite a bit done on the line edit yesterday; at some point I am going to have to input all of this work into the e-document, and I will be very curious to see how much I wind up cutting. As I go through the manuscript, line by line, I am amazed at how often I repeat myself, or how often an entire paragraph is simply a series of sentences saying the same thing only in different words. A very strong push this week, and I might actually have the entire line edit finished by the end of the weekend. It’s not very likely to happen, but there’s always a possibility. My friend Lisa will be in town later this week, and I am going to try to see her for at least a drink and perhaps dinner. I don’t see her enough as it is.

I also got some work done on the Scotty book yesterday as well. The story is starting to take shape in my mind, and I need to get a strong first chapter together before I can get going on the rest. I am trying to take what I can from the several different versions of a first chapter I’ve already started; I think I can make the whole thing come together–at any rate, that’s my goal for today. I hope to get at least two more chapters finished this week, if not more. I also want to revise a short story. It will, I suppose, depend on how much energy and how much time I have.

I am still processing Sunday’s episode of Game of Thrones, “The Spoils of War,” and I also can’t stop thinking about Owen Matthews’ The Fixes. There’s an essay I’d like to write, about straight people writing gay characters that reading this book put into my mind, but it’s not really taking form and I am not really sure if it will–the curse of a creative imagination; too many ideas. But The Fixes is so incredibly well written and well done you’d never know that Owen Matthews himself isn’t gay; but really, if you have any experience whatsoever with alienation, you should be able to write believable gay characters; alienation is the key, now that I think about more deeply, and I wish I had thought of that before I taught my character building workshop at SinC Into Good Writing last September here in New Orleans.

Alienation, in fact, is a constant theme in Harlan Ellison’s oh-so-brilliant work.

Paul and I are thinking about going to see Dunkirk this weekend; whether we actually do or not remains to be seen. I have to work on Saturday, and as such my weekend shall be Sunday and Monday; having a Monday off will actually be rather lovely.

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines before I head into the office.

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

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