Steppin’ Out

Home. Sunday night–early evening, really–and I am exhausted. Bouchercon just sucks the life right out of me every year, but I wouldn’t miss it for anything. I have the best time every year: reconnecting with friends I don’t see nearly enough; making new friends; drinking waaaaaaaaaaay too much; and laughing until my abdominal muscles hurt and hurt and hurt. Right now I think if I started laughing I’d also start weeping in agony–that’s how much I laughed this weekend. (And let’s not talk about the ten hours of non-stop drinking that was Friday evening. Oooooooohhhhhh.) I often have trouble sleeping when I’m home; this is exacerbated when I travel, so I’ve not had a good night’s sleep since I left on Wednesday. I am now very close to running out of steam, but am struggling to stay awake so I can hopefully get a good night’s sleep tonight.

And I won the Anthony Award for Best Anthology; rather, Blood on the Bayou: New Orleans Bouchercon Anthology 2016 won. I just edited it. It’s kind of thrilling; it was an incredibly difficult category and I was seriously just honored to be in the company of the other nominees. Art Taylor deservedly won the Macavity Award for Best Short Story; again, I’m just so thrilled that I was even on the shortlist that I really didn’t care about winning, and Art’s story was simply phenomenal.

Okay, I am too tired to think clearly. I’ve been trying to write this for hours now, and I think I should just go to bed and finish in the morning.

Monday morning. I slept so good last night. I woke up several times during the night, and I did wake up much earlier than I thought I would, but I feel rested; it was good sleep, and that’s always a plus. It’s also weird because it’s not light in the mornings anymore; it’s fine, and I’m going to love the extra hour whenever we get it–but I always hate giving it back.

Wow, what a weekend. As I said before, I laughed so hard all weekend; it was almost non-stop. I can’t believe how much I drank…but every year Friday turns into an epic drinking marathon. (This year broke Raleigh’s record.) So many great friends, so many highlights…the only low light was the “not able to sleep in hotels so am always running on accessory” thing, and that’s my low-light of every year and every conference. I met some amazing new people and made some amazing new friends; I was on two glorious panels with fantastic people and fantastic moderators and fantastic audiences; my biggest regret is the same as it is every year–that I didn’t get to spend as much time as I would like with everyone I would like. Toronto was absolutely lovely, and so was the hotel. (The hotel bar was just okay, but the private lounge on the 43rd floor was fantastic.) I read two books on the trip–Burnt Offerings by Robert Marasco and The Vines by Christopher Rice, and started reading Oh, Florida! by Craig Pittman on my way home–which is also fantastic. I got some new books that I’m looking forward to reading: The Blinds by Adam Sternburgh; Sunburn by Laura Lippman; and the new Ivy Pochoda, Wonder Valley. (I finally met Ivy this year, and she told Paul and I a story about visiting Louisiana with her mother that had us both sobbing with laughter.) I had some awesome meals–but I think my favorite was the noodles I had for lunch on Friday, with the fish and chips on Sunday night at Braddock (not sure if that was the place) a close second. I drank wine instead of martinis–the martinis in Toronto were somewhat less than what I would have hoped for–and I got to laugh with so many wonderful friends. Paul, of course, was with me for this entire trip, and he fit in like I knew he would–I swear I think some of my friends like him better than they do me (I’m looking at you, Wendy) and oh, how I could go on.

I even ran into the ChiZine crew–Michael Rowe, Brett Savory, Sandra Kasturi–on Saturday night as two of my writing worlds converged!

And that LSU game on Saturday! That and the books are getting their own posts.

But probably the best–and this is simply because it was bigger than just being a good time for me–part of the weekend was being on the Writing the Rainbow panel. Moderated by Kristopher Zgorski of BOLObooks.com, the other panelists were Owen Laukkanen/Owen Matthews (seriously, buy his books!), John Copenhaver (whose debut novel I can’t wait to get my hands on), Stephanie Gayle (read her books–and she looks like Laura Dern with dark hair), and Jessie Chandler (seriously, read her books). When I was assigned the panel, my first thought was great, three people will show up for this. 

I was wrong, The room was packed. Kristopher had great questions for us, and the answers were all fantastic and thought-provoking. We talked about great queer books and great queer writers, talked about our own experiences writing about queer characters, and the audience was so receptive and amazing. I almost got teary and emotional, honestly; it was the first time I’ve ever be on such a panel at a mainstream event to have such a  great audience and such a great crowd. We’ve come such a long way. I just wish some of the great writers who were publishing when I first was getting started were still publishing so they could have enjoyed this moment as well. It was an honor to talk about Michael Nava and John Morgan Wilson and R. D. Zimmerman and Mary Wings and Katherine V. Forrest and there were so many others we didn’t  get to mention…and there certainly wasn’t enough time to mention all the great people doing the work now–although we were definitely able to plug the two great lesbian writers, Ellen Hart and J. M. Redmann.

And now, I have some things to get done around here while my other blog posts take form in my head, so I will leave you with a picture of me and my partner in crime for the weekend, the always amazing and hilarious Wendy Corsi Staub:

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Solitaire

Sleep has eluded me all week; I lie in bed all night half-awake and half-asleep, hoping that my mind will stop racing and I will somehow, as I toss and turn, find a position in my bed that will allow me to, at last, find sleep. I grow tired every evening before bed–and have stayed away from screens, since I’ve read in many places that sleeplessness can be caused by the light emitted by computer and device screens–but it is all for naught. I’m not sure what has caused this change, and I am afraid I will never sleep deeply again.

Last night I had to do bar testing, and when I got home I finished reading Lisa Unger’s In the Blood.

in the blood

There are twelve slats of wood under my bed. I know this because I count them over and over. Onetwothreefourfivesixseveneightnineteneleventwelve. I whisper the numbers to myself and the sound of it comforts me as I’m sure a prayer would comfort someone who believes in God. It’s amazing how loud a whisper can be. Surrounded down there by the white glow of my bed skirt, the sound of my own voice in my ears, I can almost block out the screaming, the horrible keening. And then there’s the silence, which is so much worse.

In the quiet, which falls like a sudden night, I can hear the beating of my own heart, feel it thudding in my chest. I lie very still, willing myself to sink into the pile of the carpet lower and lower until I don’t exist at all, There is movement downstairs. I hear the sound of something heavy scraping across the dining room floor. What is he doing?

I have come to this place before. Here, I have hidden from the frequent and terrible storms of my parents’ miserable marriage. And I have listened as their voices break through the thick walls and the heavy, closed doors. But usually I can only hear the ugly cadence of their voices, and very rarely their words, which I know to be hateful and spiked with old hurts and bitter resentments. It is a poison in the air, a toxic cloud. Onetwothreefourfivesixseveneightnineteneleventwelve. Sticks and stone can break your bones, but words can break your heart.

Over the last year, I’ve become an enormous fan of Lisa Unger. This is the third book of hers that I’ve read since the first of the year, and like the two before it, it’s absolutely stunning. The cadence of the words, the way the story is structured to build, and the words themselves, chosen with infinite care, create a thing of beauty about a terrifying darkness.

The book is set in The Hollows, a small town in upstate New York which Unger has visited before; the two previous works of hers that I’ve read were also set in this strange town where bizarre things happen; where it is not unusual for ghosts to appear, and madness is only a short step away. The Hollows is Unger’s Castle Rock, her Collinsport, her Bon Temps; a town where violent death and passionate love are possible; where the veil between the world of the living and the dead is as thin as the wall between sanity and madness.

In the Blood is the tale of Lana Granger, a damaged young college student who has come to The Hollows to attend Sacred Heart College and completely disappear from a horrific past that is slowly revealed to the reader; each revelation even more horrific than the last. Lana is heavily medicated, “flat”, as she calls it; Unger exploration of that state of mind, a drug-induced emotionless existence, seems not only realistic but tragic and sad at the same time. Lana is convinced by her faculty advisor to take a job as babysitter/nanny for a troubled twelve year old named Luke, who lives with his mother in a big Victorian house a short bike ride from the campus. Two years earlier, a young female student disappeared from the campus and was found dead a few days later; one of Lana’s roommates, Beck, with whom she has a challenging relationship, disappears after a public argument with Lana in the library.  Luke isn’t just troubled, he’s dangerous, and the two begin a dangerous dance, as he dangles bait in front of her to lure her into his games.

As Lana’s story unfolds, every other chapter is a diary excerpt; the diary of a woman trying to maintain her own sanity as she realizes, almost from birth, that there’s something wrong, something horrifically off, about her son. Is Luke’s mother’s diary, with Unger showing the reader the horror of what being a mother to a budding psychopath must be like? Or is it something else?

And there is history here as well; murder tangled up in the DNA Lana has gotten from both of her parents. And as the reader learns more and more of Lana’s secrets, the more terrifying the story becomes.

Much has been made lately of the use of the Unreliable Narrator; Unger’s main characters are always unreliable, but she manages to not make it a cliche, nor does she seem to do it in order to pull off unforeseen, out-of-the-blue plot twists on her readers; she manages to do this in a wholly organic way that completely makes sense. She is a master; her books are stunning works of art, as complexly constructed as a human personality, with all of its quirks and tics.

I was troubled by one particular plot twist; but I cannot write about that without undermining the pleasure of reading the book; pulling that thread will unravel the entire story and ruin the book for anyone who hasn’t read it, which is a pity; it’s something that I feel should be discussed, and I also see not only why it was a necessary turn for the story–it completely made sense and pulled everything together–but at the same time it made me a bit uncomfortable.

Read this book. Read Lisa Unger. And cherish the experience.

Rock the Casbah

So, I finished inputting the line edit of my WIP. It went for 101, 276 words to 72, 545. Gulp. I literally sliced a little more than a quarter of the manuscript out, but that’s fine. I think it needs to be slightly over eighty thousand as an optimum, and I have some things I need to add. I am going to print it out one last time (this old school stuff seems to work best for me) and sit down and read it, making notes as I go on where things need to be added. With any luck, on October 1 I’ll start sending out the queries. Wish me luck, Constant Reader!

I should start drafting the query letter, I suppose.

In other drama, someone side-swiped my new car (well, bought it in January) in the parking lot at the office this morning. To add insult to injury, when they backed out of their spot they dragged the front edge of the car along the side of mine–which means they knew they’d hit it/brushed against it, and continued to back up, dragging their front edge against my car, the slimy ass motherfuckers. Of course, they left no note.

Don’t think I won’t be checking the front corners of those kidnap/rape white cans for gray paint every day for the next week or so. They’d best set their van on fire, if they know what’s good for them.

I also finished reading Louise Penny’s Still Life last night.

still life

Miss Jane Neal met her maker in the early morning mist of Thanksgiving Sunday. It was pretty much a surprise all round. Miss Neal’s was not a natural death, unless you’re of the belief everything happens as it’s supposed to. If so, for her seventy-six years Jane Neal had been walking toward this final moment when death met her in the brilliant maple woods on the verge of the village of Three Pines. She’d fallen spread-eagled, as though making angels in the bright and brittle leaves.

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Surete du Quebec knelt down; his knees cracking like the report of a hunter’s rifle, his large, expressive hands hovering over the tiny circle of blood marring her fluffy cardigan, as though like a magician he could remove the wound and restore the woman. But he could not. That wasn’t his gift. Fortunately for Gamache he had others. The scent of mothballs, his grandmother’s perfume, met him halfway. Jane’s gentle and kindly eyes stared as though surprised to see him.

I became part of a discussion on Facebook the other day on whether Louise Penny’s readership–which is quite large–was either male or female. I had not, at the time, read any of Ms. Penny’s work; but I had a paperback copy of her first novel, Still Life, in my TBR pile. I also knew Ms. Penny was quite successful–had hit number one on the New York Times list, been nominated for every possible crime writing award and had won any number of them, and had recently won the Pinckley Prize here in New Orleans (previous winners included Laura Lippman–who was the first recipient–and Sara Paretsky). Any number of people whose opinions I respected were fans, and she got excellent reviews everywhere. I am always a little reluctant to come to the party late–I believe she has twelve or thirteen titles out, and as is my wont, I tend to be hyper-critical of things that have achieved great popularity before I’ve turned my attention to them; it’s a moral failing of which I am quite aware.

First novels can also be tricky. The discussion about Ms. Penny’s readership also veered off, at one point, into a mild debate as to whether her work could be classified as cozy or traditional; there is a distinction between the two categories of crime writing, but it’s also a very fine one; a book can be either, both or neither. I always tend to think of cozies as books with amateur sleuths solving the crime, usually in a small town or village (but not always); traditional do have professionals solving the crime, but aren’t quite as hard-boiled–say, Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot novels. Someone else chimed in to say Ms. Penny wrote procedurals, yet another distinction within the field; procedurals obviously have professionals solving the crime and take the reader through police procedure.

Still Life defies categorization; I can only define what I’ve read, after all, and one novel doesn’t give one the ability to officially classify a writer as anything, but this novel seemed, to me, to be both traditional and procedural; the crime-solver is a Surete police detective in Quebec, Armand Gamache, and the book does rather follow his procedure in solving the murder of Miss Neal–shot with an arrow. It also is the story of the village of Three Pines, a close-knit community which is surprisingly diverse for such a small village in the woods in Quebec, close to the American border–there is a black woman who runs the bookstore, and a gay couple who run the B & B which also doubles as a bistro and antique shop. Three Pines is actually a very charming little town, and the book itself is also charming…but it’s not as soft-boiled as these small town mysteries often are.

Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple was also charming, an old spinster who knitted and was kind, but also was a keen-eyed observer of human nature and the goings-on in her small town, St. Mary Mead, and those observations always had a touch of acid in them; Ms. Penny’s characterizations are very similar to those. At first, the way the narrative jumped around and would suddenly give you another character’s point of view for merely a paragraph was just a bit annoying, but as I continued to read on, I realized these sudden shifts were bits where she was defining the character for the reader–and she was doing it masterfully–a few short sentences about that person’s reactions to what was going on at the moment and how their personality, who they were as a person, shaped that reaction; it gave the reader insight into a character that never faltered throughout the rest of the book. Her unpleasant characters were very unpleasant indeed, and the more time you spent with those unpleasant people the less you liked them; even if you felt a bit of sympathy for them in the beginning, she eventually showed you more and more of them until you realized what monsters they truly were. The character of the victim’s niece Yolande was one of these; another was a member of the investigation team, Agent Nichol, whose arrogance and narcissism soon became so unbearable that her final come-uppance was enormously satisfying, even as she failed to learn from it and soon justified it as not being the result of her own failing, but Gamache’s.

Quite monstrous and unsympathetic, indeed.

One of the most interesting things to me about the book–which makes me curious to read more of Ms. Penny’s work–was that the book in and itself, the way it was written, how the story played out, etc., reminded me of Fair Day, the painting Miss Neal had entered into for consideration for an art show in the story. Miss Neal’s art was always seen as primitive at first by the viewer, but the more you looked at it the more it made sense until suddenly the viewer realized that Miss Neal was, in fact, quite genius. At first, the way the story and point of view jumped around seemed disjointed and almost amateurish in its story-telling; but the more time I spent with it I realized it was impressionistic art–once you start seeing the entire story, you realize how clever and brilliant it really is.

And while I was happy to find out the secrets of Three Pines, I was also sorry to finish the book. I certainly enjoyed my visit there, as did Inspector Gamache, and look forward to a return trip.

Allentown

I was so tired last night when I got home from work–and I worked a short day! After work yesterday, a friend and I went to lunch to a place on the corner of Tulane and Carrollton called Namese, and I had an enormous  bowl of beef pho, which was absolutely delicious. I was in the mood for noodles, and having never actually had pho before, was quite thrilled to try it, and it was amazing. I’ve been wanting to try pho since seeing a show on our local PBS channel, WYES, about the big Vietnamese community in New Orleans, and one of the things they talked about on the documentary was pho. I’d been wanting to try it ever since, and got my chance.

DAMN THAT WAS GOOD.

I’d known we have a big Vietnamese community in New Orleans for quite some time–most of them live in New Orleans East, and were devastated by the flooding after the levees failed back in 2005. Poppy Z. Brite wrote about that community in his brilliant (and deeply disturbing) Exquisite Corpse, doing it so well I never had the nerve to try to write about it myself. (Our first, and only,  Congressman from Orleans Parish was a Vietnamese; Joseph Cao, who defeated “Dollar Bill” Jefferson in the post-Katrina scandal created by the fifty thousand dollars in cash he had stored in his home freezer. Cao was born in Ho Chi Minh City (then called Saigon), and only served one term in Congress–but I liked Congressman Cao; he put New Orleans ahead of party, and I was sorry to see him go.

I have an idea for a noir involving the Vietnamese communities of the Gulf Coast that I hope to write some day. I’ve also been toying with an old idea for a horror novel that’s been dancing in my head for the last thirty years or so–I can tell that I am writing another book; my creativity always spikes when I am writing a book.

Honestly. One would think I could get that under control.

Anyway, I also finished reading Margaret Millar’s Do Evil in Return last night. It wasn’t the below edition I read, but rather one of the volumes of The Collected Millar; this volume also contains Fire Will Freeze, Experiment in Springtime, The Cannibal Heart, and Rose’s Last Summer. But I rather like that Gothic-style cover.

millar-do-evil-in-return-lancer

The afternoon was still hot but the wind carried a threat of fog to come in the night. It slid in through the open window and with curious, insinuating fingers it pried into the corners of the reception room and lifted the skirt of Miss Schiller’s white uniform and explored the dark hair of the girl sitting by the door. The girl held a magazine in her lap but she wasn’t reading it; she was pleating the corners of the pages one by one.

“I don’t know if Dr. Keating will be able to see you,” Miss Schiller said. “It’s quite late.”

The girl coughed nervously. “I couldn’t get here any sooner. I–couldn’t find the office.”

“Oh. You’re a stranger in town?”

“Yes.”

“Were you referred to Dr. Keating by anyone?”

“Referred?”

“Did anyone send you?”

Margaret Millar is a treasure, and her work, despite now being dated because of societal and social changes, are worthy of not only being read by modern audiences but also deserving of study. She, along with Dorothy B. Hughes and Charlotte Armstrong, formed a triumvirate of strong women writing suspense novels featuring women protagonists that were the equal of anything written by male contemporaries; there were numerous other women doing the same, but these three had longer careers and are now being rediscovered, in part thanks to the diligent work of Sarah Weinman and Jeffrey Marks. Library of America has released a two-volume collection of works by great women writers of the time; Soho Crime is releasing thick volumes collecting all of Millar’s work, which I am happily acquiring. I read Armstrong when I was young, and loved her; I am in the process of working my way through the canons of both Millar and Hughes, as well as two other great women writers of the same period, the incomparable Patricia Highsmith and my personal hero, Daphne du Maurier.

Do Evil in Return, originally published in 1950, is ultimately a novel about how society and its hypocritical misogynistic treatment of women can destroy them. The main character of the novel, Dr. Charlotte Keating, is a strong, independent woman with a successful practice in a small California coastal town. She is both single and hard-working; owns her own car and her own home–no small feat for a woman in 1950–and the book opens with a young woman coming to her for help. The woman, Violet O’Gorman, is only twenty and married, but finds herself with a particular problem; estranged from her husband, she had a one-night stand with a married man which has left her pregnant, and she is desperate for an abortion, which of course was illegal in 1950. Dr. Keating–Charley to her friends–refuses to break the law and perform this service, but her heart goes out to her patient and wants to help her, but while distracted by a phone call doesn’t notice the girl slipping out of her office. With a local address her only clue as to how to find Violet, she goes looking for her…and soon finds herself wrapped up in a terrible string of events beyond control, a noose tightening around her own neck. For, like her patient, Charley herself is involved in a love affair with a married man–a platonic one, to be sure, for she refuses to become intimate with him as he is married–and the similarities she sees between herself and young Violet is part of what drives her. The following morning, Violet’s body washes ashore, an apparent suicide, according to the police but Charley herself isn’t so sure.

And of course, she is right.

Millar’s particular genius lies in how casually she lays out her cards; she never tells her reader straight out what’s going on, but allows it to unfurl naturally, leaving it to her reader to figure it out. When we meet Charley’s platonic lover, there is no mention of his being married–Millar simply talks about the stifling existence he has at home with Gwen. As the story continues the reader slowly realizes that Gwen is actually his wife, and she is also one of Charley’s patients. Charley has tried to foist Gwen off on other doctors, but hypochondriac Gwen refuses to see anyone else–and is incredibly needy, ringing Charley for help at all hours of the day or night. Charley’s own feelings for Gwen’s husband also aren’t that simple; and in 1950 divorces weren’t as easy to obtain as they are today.

Perhaps the strongest part of the book is how Millar clearly depicts how claustrophobic a woman’s world was in 1950, and the delicate balance a single, independent professional woman had to maintain. Exposure of the relationship would ruin Charley, both personally and professionally; just as Violet’s unexpected pregnancy has ruined her. Society’s expectations of women, and their sexuality, are the true villains, the true evil in this novel; and the realization that this world Millar so brilliantly depicts was only sixty-seven years ago is truly chilling.

I think this book would be excellent reading for a Women’s Studies course; to let young women know how truly awful and misogynistic society was not so long ago, as a reminder to everyone today how far women have come in a short period of time, and how hard they fought to get to where they are today.

 

1999

So, I had to go to the DMV this morning to renew my driver’s license, which had expired on my birthday and I hadn’t realized it, like an idiot. The DMV is never a great experience, and yesterday was no exception to that rule. But I was able to finish reading Christopher Golden’s Ararat while I was there, which made the time pass much faster (I was there slightly less than two hours) and I did end up taking what had to be the worst driver’s license photo in history–at least my personal history of driver’s license photos. Insult to injury? My last one looked terrific. Heavy heaving sigh.

Even more insult to injury? It looks like me.

Ah, well.

You have to hate that. Anyway, I managed to finish reading Ararat, which was enjoyable, and this evening I started reading Margaret Millar’s Do Evil in Return, which is quite marvelous.

ararat

Just past eight o’clock on the last morning of November, the mountain began to shake.

Feyiz froze, breath catching in his throat as he put his hands out to steady himself, waiting for the tremor to end. Instead it worsened. His clients shouted at him in German, a language he did not speak. One of the men panicked and began to scream at the others as if the devil himself were burrowing up through the heart of the mountain to reach them. They stood on the summit, vivid blue sky rolling out forever before them, the frigid air crisp and pure. An idyllic morning on Mount Ararat, if the world had not begun to tear itself apart.

“Down!” Feyiz shouted. “Get down!”

He dropped his trekking poles and sank to his knees on the icy snowpack. Grabbing the pick that hung at his hip, he sank it into the ice and wondered if the six men and three women in this group could even hear him over the throaty roar of the rumbling mountain.

The Germans mimicked his actions.

I read an essay recently which discussed how, out of all the types of genres and subgenres in literature, that horror is the most faith-based of them all. It sounded absurd at first, but as I read the essay and thought about it more–and have, obviously, continued to think about it–that premise is pretty spot-on. Not all horror is faith-based, of course; there’s nothing about faith in films like Halloween or any number of horror novels I could think of (The Other, for example); but so many of them actually are that it’s kind of fascinating; especially when you take into consideration the way religious groups generally condemn horror books and films. The Exorcist is deeply rooted in Catholicism; and to name two, neither The Omen nor Rosemary’s Baby could have been written without knowledge of the Christian Bible. Ghost stories are predicated on the idea that there is life after death; that the soul continues to live on and needs to move on to another plane–whether that be heaven or hell, those books rarely make the distinction. The existence of the supernatural in a lot of horror proves that faith, and religion, are real and true; and after all, isn’t religion itself supernatural? I have made the offensive (to Christians) joke about Easter being a celebration of a zombie; and if you can get past the faith and look at any religion and its rituals, you can see what I mean.

I blaspheme, of course. I am an apostate heretic who would have burned not so long ago in our history.

I’ve read Christopher Golden before; I greatly enjoyed his Dead Ringers, and have Snowblind in my TBR pile. This week I took his Ararat out of the pile to read, and it again put me in mind of how so much horror fiction is dependent on religion for its existence. The opening scene quoted above, of an earthquake shaking Mount Ararat in Turkey, ends with a tremendous landslide, one which greatly changes the geography and the face of the mountain itself, long purported to be the final resting place of Noah’s Ark. The existence of the Ark, of course, would prove that the Bible is, at least in this instance, literally true (although Christianity is not the only belief system from the Middle East that tells of an ancient flood); there have been reports in the past that it has been found; but the likelihood of wood thousands of years old surviving is not great. But this landslide opens a new cave on the side of the mountain, high up; and soon the race is on to be the first to scale the mountain and see what’s inside the cave. The first section of the book has to do with one particular team racing to beat several other’s to the cave; risking their lives in the process. But the team–lead by adventurous couple David and Meryam, who explore and write books and make documentaries about their exploits–that arrives first soon discovers that the cave isn’t really a cave but the Ark itself…and there’s something else there that should have never been discovered.

To tell anymore would, of course, risk spoiling the story; there are so many twists and turns and scares and shocks that to give away anything more than is contained in the cover jacket blurb would be a disservice to future readers and to author Golden. But I couldn’t stop reading; resented having to put the book down, and was very satisfied when it was finished. Golden also includes diversity of characters in all of his books and does it casually; I also appreciate the fact that he chooses not to describe non-white characters in terms of food or drink–I could go the rest of my life without reading about “cinnamon” or “chocolate” or “cafe-au-lait” skin.

But just think about it for a moment–if the story of Noah is actually true, the flood changed the world and refreshed it; a reboot by God, as it were, and there are some verses in Genesis that show how different the original world was before it was cleansed–the one that readily comes to mind is There were giants in those days.

I look forward to reading more of Mr. Golden’s work.

 

You Can’t Hurry Love

I read a lot this weekend! I did work on the writing a little bit, but not nearly as much as I could/should have. I finished reading the Highsmith, reread The Exorcist, and finally got to Ross MacDonald’s The Drowning Pool, which I read yesterday afternoon, and then last night while watching the US Open I started reading Christopher Golden’s Ararat (which is great fun so far; I’m a little less than halfway through and having a great time reading it).

It might interest you to know, Constant Reader, that I’d never read Ross MacDonald until I was on a panel somewhere with Christopher Rice, either in 2002or 2003, and Chris mentioned MacDonald as one of his favorite writers/greatest influences. I’d read John D. MacDonald and Gregory McDonald; but had somehow never gotten around to Ross. I knew of the Lew Archer series, of course, but had never read any of them, nor any of his standalones. Based on Chris’ recommendation, I started reading them, and never looked back–although I have been slowly doling them out, as there is a limited amount of them and no new ones coming anytime soon. I was a little surprised, after finishing The Exorcist, to pick up The Drowning Pool and realize it was one I hadn’t read.

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If you didn’t look at her face she was less than thirty, quick-bodied and slim as a girl. Her clothing drew attention to the fact: a tailored sharkskin suit and high heels that tensed her nylon-shadowed calves. But there was a pull of worry around her eyes and drawing at her mouth. The eyes were deep blue, with a sort of double vision. They saw you clearly, took you in completely, and at the same time looked beyond you. They had years to look back on, and more things to see in the years than a girl’s eyes had. About thirty-five, I thought, and still in the running.

She stood in the doorway without speaking long enough for me to think those things. Her teeth were nibbling the inside of her upper lip, and both of her hands were clutching her black suede bag at the level of her waist. I let the silence stretch out. She had knocked and I had opened the door. Undecided or not, she couldn’t expect me to lift her over the threshold. She was a big girl now, and she had come for a reason. Her stance was awkward with urgency.

“Mr. Archer?” she said at last.

“Yes. Will you come in?”

“Thank you, Forgive me for hanging back. It must make you feel like a dentist.”

“Everybody hates detectives and dentists. We hate them back.”

The Drowning Pool is hard-boiled, borderline noir (based on the fact that Archer works as a private eye), and can’t you imagine the above scene being played, in black-and-white by either Humphrey Bogart or Robert Mitchum, talking to either Gloria Grahame or Ida Lupino or Barbara Stanwyck? The story is simple: Archer is hired by the wealthy-seeming Mrs. Slocum to find out who has written her husband a poison-pen letter accusing her of adultery; back at the time the book was written, adultery was one of the few grounds for divorce recognized in every state. But as Archer begins to investigate, turns out Mrs. Slocum and her husband don’t have money; the money belongs to her mother-in-law, and she keeps them on a tight leash. Her estate is also sitting on a lot of oil, which she refuses to allow anyone to drill for, which would in turn make them even filthier rich. The elder Mrs. Slocum winds up dead in the swimming pool during a party, and soon the case begins twisting and turning left and right–and more bodies continue to pile up as Archer tries to get to the bottom of what is going on at the Slocum estate. It’s a great, fast read–and MacDonald’s grasp of language is extraordinary.

There’s a reason why MacDonald is up there with the greats of crime fiction.

There’s also an interesting subplot–almost a throwaway–about why the second Mrs. Slocum’s marriage is an abject failure. MacDonald doesn’t spend a lot of time on this, but it’s there for the queer reader to pick up on. It would be interesting to compare and contrast this book with MacDonald’s wife, Margaret Millar’s, Beast in View, released a few years later. There’s also an interesting comparison to be made between The Drowning Pool and James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity, in the character of Mrs. Slocum’s daughter Cathy, and the daughter in Cain’s book; also, an interesting comparison between this book could be made with Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon.

Maybe someday when I have more time.

 

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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