Time for Me to Fly

I took today off from work; I am starting to wear a little around the edges (it happens more frequently the older I get, alas) and so two long weekends in a row, I felt, might be necessary in order for me to recharge my batteries. I’m not sure why–other than I’m older, which is something I refuse to either accept or accede to–but there it is. I started rewriting a story yesterday–this is the sixth draft, but I think I’ve finally figured out how to make it really work, and last night we watched another episode of Claws, which is really terrific; it’s so nice to see Neicy Nash finally in a complex role and she is tearing it up. We’re also going to start watching the Ellen Barkin series, Animal Kingdom, probably this evening. I can’t seem to find The Mist anywhere, though; but its reviews aren’t good, so maybe that’s a good thing? Pity, because it’s one of my favorite King novellas.

I also finished reading Lisa Unger’s Ink and Bone last night.

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Daddy was on the phone, talking soft and low, dropping behind them on the path. Nothing new. He was always on the phone–or on the computer. Penny knew that her daddy loved her, but she also knew that he was almost never paying attention. He was “busy, sweetie,” or “with a client,” or “just a minute, honey, Daddy’s talking to someone.” He was a good story-teller, a bear-hugger, always opened his arms to her, lifted her high, or took her onto his lap while he worked at his desk. Mommy couldn’t lift her anymore, but Daddy still could. She loved the feel of him, the smell of him. He was never angry, always funny. But sometimes she had to say his name like one hundred times before he heard her, even when she was right next to him.

Dad. Dad? Daddy!

Honey, you don’t have to yell.

How could you not hear someone who was right next to you?

If Mommy was out and Daddy was in charge, then she and her brother could: eat whatever they wanted (all you had to do was go into the kitchen and take it; he wouldn’t even notice); play on the iPad forever (he would never suggest that they read a book or play a game together); ride their plasma cars up and down the long hallway from the foyer to the living room. And it was only when they got too loud that he might appear in the doorway to his office and say: “Hey, guys? Keep it down, okay?”

I can’t remember who it was that insisted I read Lisa Unger, but I owe that person a tremendous debt of gratitude.

Ink and Bone is the second Unger novel I’ve read (the first was Crazy Love You, which I read last year and loved), and I enjoyed this one even more than the first one I read, and I loved that one.  Unger is an extraordinary writer; with an uncanny ability to tell her readers who a character is with a few brushstrokes that are so honest and real and true that the reader immediately knows exactly who that person is; and her ‘villains’ are all the more terrifying for being so absolutely real.

Both books I’ve read of hers were set in (or around) a small town in upstate New York known as The Hollows as well as in Manhattan. The Hollows is one of those towns; like Stephen King’s Castle Rock, a town where paranormal things happen: people can see ghosts, commune with the dead, or hear The Whispers in the woods; the dead trying to tell their stories. There is also human evil in The Hollows; whether these people are drawn there by the paranormal force (one character in Ink and Bone calls the town a ‘hellmouth’) that is active there, or if that force draws the evil out from their hearts.

The story at the heart of Ink and Bone is missing children: the Gleason family rented a woodsy cabin in The Hollows for the summer; the marriage between Wolf and Merri is teetering because of his adultery and her Vicodin addiction. Merri is too zonked out on Vicodin to go for a walk in the woods with her family; on that walk both her husband and son are shot, and her daughter Abbey taken. This disappearance, and the fact that both parents are considered suspects by the police, has further shattered the marriage, perhaps beyond repair, and Merri is convinced her daughter is still alive. She goes back up to the Hollows and hires a local private eye, Jones Cooper, to look for her daughter. Jones works with Eloise Montgomery, an elderly local psychic–but in this case, Eloise passes the case along to her granddaughter, Finley.

Finley is a the crowning achievement of this narrative; a young heroine with complicated emotions and a gift she doesn’t quite understand, doesn’t know how to control, and isn’t sure she wants. She is heavily tattooed; the ghosts she sees she has transformed into tattoos on her body. She is sort of involved with a tattoo artist, Rainer, who loves her and followed her to the Hollows from Seattle, setting up shop in the small town. She isn’t sure how she feels about him, or whether she can get more serious with him thanks to her gift/curse. She has a close relationship with her (sometimes maddening) grandmother, who sort of Yodas her about the gift; never really explaining anything and often responding to her questions with ambiguous non-answers. She has a difficult relationship with her own mother, who is estranged from Eloise and has rejected fervently the gift. Finley, though, is seeing things now; things that may lead her to Abbey.

The book is extraordinary, and while Finley is the primary point-of-view character, we get to see things from several others as well; secondary point-of-view characters who not only advance the story but also enhance our understanding of what is going on, who they are, and Unger makes us care about them, warts and all. She is an incredibly gifted storyteller, and I defy anyone to put the book down during the last hundred pages or so.

Unger has written many novels about the Hollows, and about Jones Cooper; having not read them all nor having read them in order, I can’t say whether reading them in order enhances and enriches the reader’s experience or knowledge; maybe reading them in order is a more satisfying experience. But I can say that not reading them in order isn’t a hindrance, like so many other series or interconnected books.

You need to be reading Lisa Unger, Constant Reader.

And I think next I shall read Carson McCullers’ Reflections in a Golden Eye.

And now back to the spice mines.

Time for Me to Fly

Thursday. I guess the storm has passed, as all is calm and sunshiney outside this morning. It actually was last night as well; I wound up with the entire day off because all of our testing events were cancelled, so I got to watch Real Housewives of New York in real time, and then Paul and I started watching Claws, which we really like. I’d forgotten I have the TNT app on our AppleTV, so we can also watch Ellen Barkin’s new series, Animal Kingdom,  as well. Now if I could only find that Nick Jonas playing gay show, Kingdom, we’d be all set for a couple of weeks.

I wound up not working on the WIP yesterday; I needed a day off from it after working so hard to get caught up on it, and I’ll be diving into it again tonight after I get home from work. I am very excited about it–trying not to get that way; one cannot allow oneself to get TOO excited about anything in this business; that is the quickest way to madness–but I am happier with this manuscript than I have been with any other I’ve written in a very long time.

I also spent some time yesterday in my easy chair with a purring kitty sleeping in my lap while I read more of Lisa Unger’s stunning Ink and Bone, which is simply extraordinary. The great thing about discovering Lisa Unger last year with Crazy Love You is there is an extensive backlist; I have a lot of great  reading in my future thanks to Ms. Unger’s talents and work ethic. Huzzah!

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Here’s a Throwback Thursday for you, Peter Barton from his The Powers of Matthew Star days.

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De Do Do Do, Da Da Da Da

Ah, Monday.

I was shameless yesterday; I blew off not only going to make groceries, but didn’t revise or write a damned thing. But I also started reading Lisa Unger’s Ink and Bone, which is wonderful; I’ve quickly become a fan of la Unger. Like Dan Chaon, her work straddles the line between crime and horror; and also like Chaon, her use of language is exceptional and mind-blowing, which of course makes me feel like a rank amateur.

On the other hand, I don’t mind that feeling; it certainly keeps one humble.

But I am now further behind on the revision than I originally intended, and I have a lot of original writing/revising of short stories to do now; I found (while filing) my folder full of submission calls and so forth for short stories–this is how I miss deadlines; I print them out and make notes–even noting on the print out what story is right for that submission call–and then put them in that file and never look at it again for months.

Clearly, my system is flawed. And as I glanced through the folder yesterday, I noted what stories need revising for submission purposes: “Death and the Handmaidens,” “The Scent of Lilacs in the Rain”, “Fireflies”, “The Ditch”, and “The Terrortorium.”

Heavy heaving sigh. I also need to write a new one for another call–for romance short stories; although I won’t mind so much if I miss that one. I’m not very good at romance, as I have repeatedly proven over and over again. But I keep trying.

Last night, we officially gave up on The Magicians. I just didn’t care about any of the characters, nor did I care about the growing conflict between different types of magic that was clearly coming. We started watching a Netflix original called Between, which is set in a small town in Canada called Pretty Lake (how do I know it was Canada? The gang of bully-ish high school jocks are hockey players!), where some strange ailment strikes the town suddenly, and everyone over the age of twenty-two dies quickly and painfully, without showing any symptoms. The town is immediately quarantined by the government, fenced off and guarded by armed soldiers–no one in or out–and while some of the conflict between characters seems a bit forced, and some of the characters aren’t particularly likable..we’re hoping the series picks up as it goes, like that weird mishmash show that combined The Walking Dead and The Breakfast Club that we enjoyed and whose name I can’t think of right now. I will keep you posted, Constant Reader–although I keep forgetting that we also have Amazon Prime streaming on the television and never look for things there very often. #madness

So, that’s where I am on this fine Monday morning; reading Lisa Unger and worrying about how I am going to get all the writing and revising done that I need to.

And as I head back into the spice mines, here’s a hunk to get your week started off properly:

todd sanfield

 

Every Breath You Take

Good morning, Sunday. Facebook and Twitter have both already warned me to ‘stay dry–rain is in the forecast’, but outside my windows here in the Lost Apartment it’s all sunshine, shade, and blue skies. Of course, in New Orleans that means nothing–in five minutes there could be a massive thunderstorm with the streets flooding–but I am going to just sit here for a moment and enjoy the sunshine. I need to get a lot done today–yesterday was sheer madness all day; Wacky Russian in the morning, laundering the bed linens, post office, testing at the office, lunch with a friend who is moving away, home to make mac-n-cheese for a party at Susan’s, and then, of course, the party itself. It wasn’t until well after nine last night that I was able to collapse into the easy chair and relax–and now that The Handmaid’s Tale is finished, and we have finished watching the latest season of Supernatural, we are looking for something new to watch, so we started watching The Magicians. The first episode was okay; but it seemed (with no offense to Lev Grossman, who wrote the novels the show is based on) kind of derivative; like I’d seen it before.

Then again, there have been a lot of books/movies/TV shows set in schools for magic, haven’t there? We’ll keep going, but at least tonight there will be another episode of Orphan Black, and I am STILL waiting for the second season of Versailles to pop up somewhere I can watch it. BASTARDS! I am particularly interested in seeing Versailles because I am getting to the really good part in The Affair of the Poisons…which I am really enjoying. I never understand why people think history is boring…then again, those are the people are responsible for it repeating all of the time.

I’ve also made some progress in reading  Since We Fell, but am still not loving it. I’m intrigued enough to continue reading, but it seems as though the entire first hundred pages or so is just backstory. Which isn’t a bad thing, mind you; I’m just waiting for it to get to the real story.

At some point today I need to go to the grocery store–an odious chore, but one which I usually don’t mind. I think I’m most likely going to go to Cadillac Rouse’s in the CBD; shrimp and grits might be on the menu for tonight, and I want to try maybe some different cheese in it; rather than the usual cheddar that it calls for, I may try gruyere. It was fun making macaroni-and-cheese yesterday; it’s been a long while since I’ve made it (that healthy eating thing; the recipe I make calls for sour cream, heavy cream, half-and-half, butter, and 24 ounces of cheese). If I am going to make shrimp-n-grits, I need green onions and shallots. Or, I could just stop on the way home tomorrow night and get some things–and find something in the kitchen that it already on hand for dinner. Right now, I am feeling pretty lazy, so that may be the route I choose to take. We shall see. They are also filming on my street tomorrow–actually, on the next block, so parking on MY block will be limited since all their stupid trucks and Kraft services and everything will be set up on OUR block. (I wonder if it’s New Orleans NCIS? I’ve always had a crush on what’s his name, from Quantum Leap, who plays the lead) Anyway, I need to get some shit done around the house, I need to revise three chapters today (I’ve done no revising the last two days, and thus am very behind on the revisions), and I’d like to work on my short stories as well.

Heavy heaving sigh.

Always, so much to do. It ain’t easy being a Gregalicious.

All right, best to get back to the spice mines. Here’s your Father’s Day hunk; a hot daddy!

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Spirits in the Material World

It might come as a surprise to many that someone such as myself, who not only writes crime but has spent almost his entire life reading crime books (both fiction and nonfiction), has very little knowledge of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s great character, Sherlock Holmes; a detective whose adventures have never gone out of print and have remained, to this very day, as popular as when they were originally published. Now, don’t get me wrong; I’ve always admired Doyle, and I am incredibly fond of Holmes: I love the modern interpretation of him in Sherlock; I enjoyed the first two (or three?) seasons of the American modern interpretation, Elementary; I read the Nicholas Meyer 1970’s interpretations of Holmes, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution and The West End Horror (which I really should reread), and I do suspect I would have enjoyed the novels more had I been more versed in Sherlockademia); and I both read and loved The Hound of the Baskervilles when I was in junior high school.

And yet, The Hound of the Baskervilles remains, to this day, the only Doyle Holmes story I’ve read.

Shocking, isn’t it? Shocking and appalling. And more than just a little bit embarrassing. I have lots of friends who are devoted Sherlockians–they belong to organizations like the Baker Street Irregulars, have annual meetings to talk and debate all things Sherlock–and yet I’ve kept my lack of knowledge, my complete and utter inexperience with the writings of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a secret from them. But this past week or so, I saw a discussion on Facebook on one of their pages, and on it The Annotated Sherlock Holmes by William S. Baring-Gould was mentioned as a ‘gold standard’, and I thought, ‘perhaps I should get a copy of this and commence my Holmes education with it.’ I dashed over to eBay, found a set in relatively good condition for a low price, and ordered it promptly.

It arrived yesterday, and I am terribly excited.

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I’m not, of course, going to read it straight through; I am still reading Lehane’s Since We Fell, but I can most certainly dive into it here and there.

And let’s face it, my education in things Sherlockian is very overdue.

And is there any more famous character in fiction than Sherlock? I daresay probably not; and since Doyle started publishing his stories in the late nineteenth century, I don’t know that there is another fictional character who has been studied so assiduously, written about more, or around whom an entire academic milieu of study has been built. The volumes are enormous, very thick, but just in paging through there is a wealth of study and information contained within their pages.

It’s very exciting.

And I intend to write about my Sherlockian education on here, sharing it with you, Constant Reader, as I go forth and learn.

And on that note, it’s off to the spice mines with me.

 

Voices Inside My Head

I was whining about hating to do my revisions recently to my friend Laura recently, and she gave me the best analogy: “I look at my manuscripts as a dirty house I need to clean up and organize.”

Best. Advice. Ever.

I know it’s disturbing and odd, but I love cleaning and organizing. It’s so satisfying to work on a mess and have it all be neat and tidy and sparkling when I’m done; I enjoy this so much that I even let things go for a while, rather than cleaning as I go, so that when I have time I can just go to town. Paul has decided to go visit his mom the week of the 4th of July, for example, and having already requested that Monday the 3rd off so I could have a four day weekend–when Paul told me this my immediate first thought was, oh my God, the cleaning I am going to be able to get done…

I do recognize that this is not normal.

Anyway, but approaching the revisions with this mindset had completely changed how I view doing them; my manuscript is my apartment, it’s filthy and disorganized, and I need to get it in order, cleaned up, and organized so that it reads more smoothly and makes more sense. It’s amazing to me, too, how changing the way I look at doing this has turned it into something I am actually enjoying doing–something I never thought I would say. I’m not sure when exactly I decided that I hated doing revisions–it’s probably a leftover from the old “should have gotten it right the first time” mentality that I used to have–but it’s always been something I don’t like doing, and it also plays into my laziness. Do I HAVE to? was what I always used to whine when my mother would make me do something when I was a kid–what an utterly horrible little shit I was; the more I remember my childhood the more sympathy I have for my parents–and do I HAVE to is the mentality I always seem to take into my revisions.

But looking at it as a cleaning/organizing project? Has opened a whole new world to me.

Another writer friend of mine also offered me this critique of the way I write–“you always step on the action.” She then went on to explain that I have a habit of starting a chapter after something has happened, and then have the character flashback to what happened; this kills the suspense and takes urgency out of the story. I had never really noticed this habit, but when she told me this over lunch one day last fall, I began thinking about it and thought, yes, I do that sometimes.

As I revise this manuscript, I realized I DO IT ALL THE TIME. At least, I do in this manuscript, and she’s right; it does slow the pacing, kills off some of the suspense, and cuts back on the urgency. So I am fixing that–reordering my chapters, moving scenes around and having to redirect the structure and flow; and who knew? It’s fun. I am also trying to clean up the language, focus on maintaining a mood, and so forth as I go along, but I think once I get this restructured, I am going to go through and edit for language only in the next draft. I am still hoping to get this all done by 4th of July weekend (another benefit to Paul being gone that weekend) so I can spend that weekend cleaning up the language.

Who knew?

And on that note, this chapter isn’t going to revise itself for me.

For Throwback Thursday, here’s another hunk from my youth, who helped me realize oh, yes, I like boys/men; the wonderful Christopher Reeve:

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Wrapped Around Your Finger

Good morning, Constant Reader, and welcome to Hump Day. I probably shouldn’t have been so excited about my sleep improving, as it hasn’t been that great the last two nights which has resulted in me feeling a bit tired this morning and not being quite awake. Ah, well. The revising on the WIP is going well; my goal is to do a chapter a day and before I know it, it will be finished. I’m actually starting to enjoy myself with this revision, which is also a good sign, which means I may even get on a roll and do more than one chapter a day at times.

On the other hand, I shouldn’t get ahead of myself.

I’ve started reading Dennis Lehane’s latest novel, Since We Fell, after finishing Ill Will, and am curious to see where he goes with his story. It’s the first time he is writing a book solely from the point of view of a woman, which is rare with male writers. I will report back.

I started writing a new short story this week; as I said the other day I have several ideas for new stories swirling around in my head, and finally, when I finished revising Monday I decided to go ahead and get the opening of a new story down. The story is called “Closing Time” (which may change), and it was actually not my idea originally; when I was on a panel at Bouchercon in Raleigh, I was talking about how after Katrina and the flood, for several months those of us who were in New Orleans were subject to a curfew–which was unusual, and as a result the bars closed at midnight, which was eventually moved back to 2 a.m, and then, at New Year’s, they went back to being open round the clock. Some bars simply locked their doors at closing time, and anyone who hadn’t left there was stuck there until the curfew was over, at six in the morning. The moderator, the amazing Katrina Niidas Holm, said “You should write a story about a murder that takes place when everyone is locked inside the bar overnight”–and since then, I’ve never gotten that suggestion out of my head–and for some reason I started really thinking about that lately.

We’ll see how it goes.

But I need to focus on the revisions, and getting “Quiet Desperation” finished.

And now, back to the spice mines. Here’s a Hump Day Hunk for you:

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