Lonely Old Night

Monday morning, and a pretty good weekend of sleep has worked it’s magic. I’m not tired this morning, neither mentally nor physically, and that has to count for something. I was getting rather down on myself last evening , as we watched Friends from College on Netflix; I hadn’t gotten nearly enough done as far as writing and editing are concerned, managing to procrastinate almost the entire weekend. Oh, sure, I got chores done and errands run, but yeah, didn’t really do much of anything yesterday other than work on the revision of a story and read some more short stories. This means I am behind schedule yet again, but feeling good this morning has to count for something. I tend to think having days like yesterday–days with zero motivation to write/edit–are my subconscious telling me I need to take a break and let my mind relax a little bit.

Or, that could just be my justification.

And on the other hand, if that’s the case, so be it.

But I also realized, over the course of this incredibly lazy weekend, that part of the problem I am having with some of these short stories is that I don’t know the characters as well as I should–particularly with “Don’t Look Down”–and I need to know them better; I also need to know what their story is. Same with the Scotty; part of the reason I am having such an issue moving forward with Chapter Twelve isn’t just that Chapter Eleven is a sloppy mess; I need to at least have a better understanding of where the book is going rather than trying to write my way into it. So, I’m going to brainstorm a bit between clients today and tomorrow; as I said before, this is probably the most complicated Scotty book since Mardi Gras Mambo, and so I need to be a lot more careful with it than I’ve been with the previous ones. It can easily go off the rails, and I don’t want that. God, how I don’t want that!

But i am hoping–hoping–to break through on it today; I’d love to get the short story collection finished by this weekend and at least four more chapters of the Scotty so I can have the entire thing finished by the end of May. Goals.

I also read two short stories from Jim Fusilli’s Crime Plus Music.

The first was “1968 Pelham Blue SG Jr.” by Mark Haskell Smith.

While one of us was fucking the middle-aged Goth chick against a dumpster in the alley, we went and got beer. We didn’t think it would be a big deal. This kind of thing happened all the time and we tried to give each other space for a quick bang whenever we could. It made being in the van easier and gave us stories to share. For some of us, the sex was the main reason we played these gigs. It wasn’t for the money.

We found a bar a block away. It was one of those places that calls itself a tavern and has a list of beers written on a chalkboard behind the bar. They had mismatched sofas and coffee tables scattered around the room and shitty electro-groove music dripping out of the speakers. Maybe this is what people are into these days. It’s not like anyone came to our show. We had seventy-nine paying customers and one horny soccer mom wearing vintage Hot Topic. Maybe everyone else was sitting in thrift-store living rooms listening to laptops making music.

The second was “Are You With Me, Dr. Wu?” by David Corbett.

Shocker Tumbrel first encountered the loving Buddha inside a padded holding cell at San Francisco County Jail.

Twelve hours earlier, a SWAT team had dragged him out of a shooting gallery two blocks from the Bottom of the Hill, the club where his band had joined a handful of other outfits in a benefit to save the venue, one of the few left in town to offer live music, now targeted for condo gentrification at the hands of the usual cabal of city hall sellouts and bagman developers.

In all honesty, I didn’t care for either of these stories. The first is a Barry Hannah-style stream of consciousness story, about a band who go out for a beer after a show while one of their own, for want of better phrasing, “fucks a middle-aged Goth chick behind a dumpster.” When they come back, both of them are gone along with a lot of their equipment; they track them down and that’s the end of it. A lot of telling, not much showing, and characters I didn’t care much about. The second story was kind of all over the place; opens with two older guys from a punk band, with one of them overdosing on heroin while the other is too high to do anything about it, and he winds up in rehab, and that’s when the story gets really strange and all over the place. Not two of the stronger stories in the book, but the book is still worth reading–don’t get me wrong!

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Lay Your Hands on Me

I managed to get all the errands done yesterday, and didn’t feel exhausted until I was in the process of putting away all the groceries and things. I went to both the grocery store and Costco yesterday; I was rather impressed that I wasn’t worn out much sooner. I did get the bedding laundered as well. But I didn’t get any writing done; I am going to need to do that today.

There are a lot of things I am going to need to do today. Sigh.

I’ve been invited to contribute to an anthology; and I am not certain I have anything ready to send along. I do have this one incredibly disturbing story that I would like to make even more disturbing–that’s just how I roll–and I need to get back to work on the Scotty draft. I’d like to revise Chapter 11 a bit today, get it cleaned up more so it isn’t nearly as sloppy as it currently is, and I want to get these other two stories cleaned up as well. I need to spend some more time with “Don’t Look Down” than I have been; I need to get inside the characters more, understand who they are better, and then I think the story will wind up being a lot more strong. The same goes with the Chanse story; the story is really about his relationship with his brother and that’s not strong enough in the story as it sounds right now. That is also, I think, the problem with the Scotty book. I need to spend some time today with it as well, figuring out motivations and so forth.

Ah, being a writer. Always such a challenge.

We finished watching Collateral last night, and I was rather pleased with it; it was written by David Hare, the playwright, and you could tell it was written by someone good. Carey Mulligan was terrific, and I highly recommend it for anyone who enjoys complex, multi-layered crime dramas. I think tonight we may watch Justice League, to just to see if it really is as terrible as everyone seemed to think; I didn’t hate either Man of Steel or Batman vs. Superman, so I am not going into it as a hater.

I’m also still reading Tinseltown, which I am greatly enjoying. I don’t know a lot about the early days of Hollywood; the early 1920’s and late 19-teens, other than what I know from reading biographies of David O. Selznick, whose father was a producer and tried to build up a studio at the same time Adolph Zukor was building Paramount, and before the big merger that created Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM). So all this is new information to me, and William J. Mann is a terrific historian and researcher. (I am more familiar with later periods of Hollywood, but hardly an expert.) I’ve always wanted to write about Hollywood’s past; I have an idea for a noir novel to be set in the late 1940’s, but my lack of familiarity with the nuts and bolts of Hollywood in that period makes it difficult–or rather, makes my already vast insecurity about writing about another period even stronger. Although I’ve already written one short story about that time–an ambiguous setting of the early 1950’s–I don’t know. Maybe I should try it as a short story first, see if I can get the sense of the period?

I don’t know.

I’m also saddened to say that I’ve now finished reading both of Lawrence Block’s art-inspired anthologies, In Sunlight or in Shadow and Alive in Shape and Color, but I’ve heard through the grapevine that he is putting together another, which is great. So, for today’s edition of the Short Story Project, I am sad to say this is the last story from a Block anthology: “A Woman in the Sun,” by Justin Scott, from In Sunlight or In Shadow.

Could she change his mind? Four steps to the open window, lean out and call, “Don’t.”

Or walk to the window and call, “Go ahead, do it.Good luck.”

Or stand here and do nothing.

He had left her his last cigarette. She had talked him into leaving the gun and he had kept his word. It was still on the night table, wrapped in one of her stockings. She had the time of the cigarette to make up her mind. More time, if she didn’t smoke it. Let it smoulder.

This is an interesting story; in that it leaves more questions unanswered than it actually answers. We never know the characters’ names, nor do we really know what has brough them to this point. All we do learn, as the story progresses, is that both are at the end of their ropes and done, basically; they are both ready to die. The only question is whether she will stop him or will she join him, and this rather uninvolved, distant approach makes the story even more poignant and sad; there’s a very strong sense of melancholy that runs throughout this story, and the reader soon realizes you don’t have to know the whys and hows and whats of their pasts–all you need to know and feel is their now.

Powerful.

I then started reading through Jim Fusilli’s Crime Plus Music, and the next story up was”Me Untamed” by David Liss.

She covered the black eye with makeup, but I could still see it was there, something alien and unaccountable. Like a vandal’s scrawl across a museum painting, the dull outline of her bruise was an outrage. Carla smiled and greeted everyone good morning, defying us to say a word, to let our eyes linger too long. It was, I supposed, how she protected herself.

Jim Baron, the senior partner in the practice, met my gaze and flicked his head toward Carla as she walked past with a stack of case folders under her arm. Carla was getting ready, as we did every Tuesday and Thursday, for surgeries–no office visits on those days, just procedures. The practice felt a bit like a gastrointestinal assembly line, and sometimes I hated how we moved patients in and out, hardly taking the time to look at them, but Jim cracked the whip. It was volume, volume, volume as far as he was concerned. We were there to heal, not to socialize, and the more healing, the better.

The point of view is that of a divorced, shy, quiet Milquetoasty doctor,  who is kind of in love with Carla, or maybe he is not. She’s married to a thug of a guy, a man’s man, who works out and so forth, the kind of man a Milquetoast would hate. And he decides to do something about Carla’s abuse…decides to make himself into the kind of man he’s always wanted to be, the kind of man that he thinks Carla would like and love. This is a terrific story, with a terrific twist at the end that lifts it up even higher in terms of craft. Well done, sir!

And now, back to the spice mines.

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I’m on Fire

Friday, and the day and the weekend stretch out before me like an unpainted canvas; blank and full of possibilities. I have a short day at work today, and I slept relatively well last night, so am feeling fairly good this morning. My left shoulder is mysteriously sore, tbough. Not sure what that’s about, but there you have it.

We finished watching Episodes last night, and it ended perfectly; very meta, and very funny. The entire show was kind of meta, really, and I have to give Matt Leblanc credit for not only playing himself, but playing himself as a complete egotistical self-absorbed asshole actor. Not sure what we’re going to watch now that we’ve finished both The Alienist and Episodes, but I have faith in us to find something–although we haven’t had much luck lately in finding something new; although The Alienist was absolutely a lucky find.

My kitchen is a mess this morning, which indicates that I need to get this mess cleaned up, and the sooner the better. Heavy heaving sigh. But….since I don’t have to go into the office until later, perhaps I could spend this morning cleaning the kitchen so I don’t have to do it tomorrow, which makes all the sense you can imagine, you know? I generally try to do some cleaning when I get home on my early day as well, so the weekend is freer to write or edit or do whatever it is that I want to. I need to write this weekend, as I’ve not been doing as much of that lately on the weekends as I need to. I’ve been asked to contribute to an anthology this week; which means I need to either find something I already have in a draft form, or write something entirely new. I don’t know how I feel about writing something entirely new, if I am going to be completely honest. I have the book to catch up on, some other stories that need to be finished so the collection is done, once and for all–primarily work on “My Brother’s Keeper” and “Don’t Look Down”–but there are an awful lot of stories that I have in various stages. I NEED TO REVISE THAT STORY BASED ON EDITORIAL NOTES AS WELL. WHY CAN’T I EVER REMEMBER I NEED TO DO THAT?

Heavy sigh.

Okay, I read a couple more stories for the Short Story Project, and first up was “Thinkers” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, from Lawrence Block’s Alive in Shape and Color:

1970

Leo’s blood, warm against her cold hands, steamed in the frosty night air. Like hot coffee in a paper cup.

Lisa tried not to giggle, because she knew the giggle would be hysterical. She ran a hand over Leo’s face. He was leaning against the marble edge of the empty pool surrounding the Fountain of the Waters, legs splayed, head pointed toward Wade Lagoon.

Irv was just staring at him, and Helen–God knew where Helen had gotten off to, because Lisa didn’t. Her ears still rang from the explosion, which had been louder than she had expected.

This is a good story, flipping back and forth through time. In 1970, it’s about a group of student revolutionaries, planning to blow up Rodin’s “The Thinker” statue as a blow against the ruling class. The bombing goes awry and one of them is killed, and the viewpoint character, seeing death and destruction in person for this first time, starts rethinking her own radicalism and the ‘revolution.’ In the present day, the viewpoint character is a docent/intern/volunteer, working at the museum to advance herself, and she witnesses eventually a confrontation between a museum volunteer and a museum donor, and it doesn’t make any sense to her…but for the reader, they can see that’s the two women from the group in 1970, and how they, themselves, have gone from counter-culture revolutionaries to the ruling class they once despised. It’s very The Big Chill in some ways, and these theme–youthful radicalism aging into conservatism–has been explored in crime novels/films/television shows, and it’s always interesting, at least for me.

Next was “Gaslight” by Jonathan Santlofer, also from Alive in Shape and Color:

It was true, she hadn’t been feeling well, hadn’t been herself, the headaches, the nausea, the slight vertigo. But she was fine. She’d always been predisposed to colds and flu, periods of time when she didn’t feel quite right, sensitive, her mother used to say, and that was true. It was a virus, that’s all, at least she’d thought so for the first few weeks. But now, after three months, she wasn’t so sure.

“Give it time, Paula, you know how these New York colds can linger, especially in winter,” Gregory, her husband of six months, always so sweet, always trying to reassure her.

But what sort of cold lasted three months?

I loved this story; about a young, wealthy woman married to a struggling artist, who soon begins to suspect her husband might have married her for her money and might just be poisoning her…and what is she going to do about it? This is a classic romantic suspense trope, from the title being borrowed from the film that won Ingrid Bergman an Oscar to the trope which was the plot of almost every Victora Holt novel and was also used by any number of romantic suspense writers back in the day–but Santlofer turns it on its head, and shows how the line between romantic suspense and noir is actually rather blurry. The twists in the story are fantastic and earned, and the way Santlofer builds the suspense is magnificently done. Bravo, sir!

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Angel

Wednesday morning.The sun is shining outside, Scooter is on my desk staring outside at the outdoor kitties, and my kitchen is a disaster area. In other words, it’s a typical morning here at the Lost Apartment.

We continue to watch, and be enthralled by, The Alienist. There are only three episodes left, which is disheartening, but all good things must come to an end, and we shall simply have to find something else to watch.

I continue to work on “Don’t Look Down,” which is probably the longest short story I’ve ever written and will undoubtedly wind up either a novelette or a novella or however they determine what those things are. Which is fine; it’s just taking a lot longer to pull together than I thought it would, but I am also working on it piecemeal; a bit here, a bit there, and I am not worrying about language or sentence structure or so forth as I sort of map the story out. I’ve worked my way through the first half again, and now I have to work  my way through the back half, which needs to be strengthened and made more creepy. I also worked on “My Brother’s Keeper” a bit yesterday, filling in a couple of scenes that were missing–again, structural issues being repaired and filled in; I’ll go back over it and make it resonate stronger emotionally in a future draft. I also realized I never got around to doing the edits on a short story I got from the editor; I need to get that done, as well as some website writing I forgot about. My bad! Oops! Must get on that….

So here are some short stories. First up is “Trial by Combat,” by Shirley Jackson,  from The Lottery and Other Stories:

When Emily Johnson came home one evening to her furnished room and found three of her best handkerchiefs missing from the dresser drawer, she was sure who had taken them and what to do. She had lived in the furnished room for about six weeks and for the past two weeks she had been missing small things occasionally. There had been several handkerchiefs gone, and an initial pin which Emily rarely wore and which had come from the five-and-ten. And once she had missed a small bottle of perfume and one of a set of china dogs. Emily had known for some time who was taking the things, but it was only tonight that she had decided what to do. She had hesitated about complaining to the landlady because her losses were trivial and because she had felt certain that sooner or later she would know how to deal with the situation herself. It had seemed logical to her from the beginning that the one person in the rooming-house who was home all day was the most likely suspect, and then, one Sunday morning, coming downstairs from the roof, where she’d been sitting in the sun, Emily had seen someone come out of her room and go down the stairs, and had recognized the visitor. Tonight, she felt, she knew just what to do. She took off her coat and hat, put her packages down, and, while a can of tamales was heating on her electric plate, she went over what she intended to say.

Again, what Shirley Jackson is able to do so beautifully is also what, I think, Raymond Carver tried to do in his stories: the small details and foibles that make up human personalities. Emily’s struggle to get up the nerve to confront the person she thinks is stealing from her, how she goes over it again and again in her head before marching down the stairs–it’s just so utterly human, and real. I wish someone would do a movie like Short Cuts from Jackson’s short stories. She’s better than Carver.

“And Now to God The Father” by Daphne du Maurier, The Doll and The  Lost Short Stories

The Reverend James Holloway, Vicar of St. Swithin’s, Upper Chesham Street, was looking at his profile in the glass. The sight was pleasing to him, so much so that he lingered a considerable time before he laid the mirror back upon the dressing table.

He saw a man of about fifty-five years of age, who looked younger, with a high forehead and magnificent iron-grey hair, that was apt to curl slightly at the temples.

The nose was straight, the mouth narrow and sensitive, and he had been told that his deep-set eyes could be in turn humorous, dangerous, and inspired. He was tall and broad-shouldered; he carried his head a little to one side, and his powerful chin was tilted in the air.

This is another of du Maurier’s lost gems. It isn’t so much a story as a character study, of a particular kind of cleric; one who is more interested in his social position and the invitations he gets than actually doing anything to help unfortunate people, which is supposed to be his calling and his purpose. We see him flit through meetings and flirtations with wealthy and titled women…and then he actually causes harm and damage, trying to clean up a mess created by a profligate earl’s son. Of course he does the wrong thing, because he is the worst kind of cleric. Brilliant character study, absolutely brilliant, with that macabre du Maurier twist.

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Valotte

Tuesday!

It’s supposed to get up to a high of eighty-one degrees today, which would be lovely, considering how cold it was when I woke this morning. Shiver.  Of course, it didn’t snow here and all things considered, I should be grateful that I live somewhere that snow is an anomaly rather than the norm.

We’re still enjoying The Alienist, and I am now rather curious about the book. I’m not going to have time to read it anytime soon, of course, and it’s not like my TBR pile isn’t higher than Mount Everest, but I am curious about it. I know it was extremely popular, and as I said, we are greatly enjoying the show.

I also watched Southern Charm New Orleans last night. I watch reality television; always have, beginning with The Real World back in the early 1990’s. It was…interesting. I will say this; New Orleans looked absolutely beautiful on the show, but…I will probably continue to watch; and I will say this for it: it’s not as bad as the execrable show The Big Easy was. If you have Amazon Prime and want to watch a truly awful show about New Orleans, The Big Easy is just sitting there, free, on Prime.

Yesterday I managed to work on both “Burning Crosses” and “My Brother’s Keeper”; the latter is getting very close to being finished. I also worked a little bit on “Don’t Look Down,” but I think I am going to focus on working on Chapter Eleven of the Scotty next. I am terribly unhappy with it, and while there’s a big part of me urging me to keep moving forward on the book, I am so eminently dissatisfied with this chapter that I don’t know that I’ll be able to. So, I may just give it a light going over before moving on to Chapter Twelve. Plus, the light going over might help me with Chapter Twelve.

Ah, rationalization.

First up today in the Short Story Project is “The Great Wave” by S. J. Rozan, from Lawrence Block’s Alive in Shape and Color:

The water’s cool silk slipped past her shoulders, her breasts, her hips. Terence permitted her to swim whenever and for however long she wanted, in the tiled pool in the basement just outside her suite. He required her to swim nude, as she had done at the beginning, when she was here by choice and the smooth sluicing delight of her swims always brought her out joyful, aroused, and aching for him. Arousal, ache, certainly joy, were no more, but she was she grateful for the sensation, however temporary, of fluid, enveloping protection.

She drew breath and dove. Powerful kicks and strong strokes propelled her through this underground underwater world, and though she still, always, felt a stab of despair when her fingers found the slick hard wall where the water ended, once she kicked off and turned she was again alone and almost free. Terence couldn’t swim. Her life, her body, the place she now lived, he had and would continue to invade; but in the water she could be without him. She knew he was sitting forward in his rattan chair, watching her, and so when she resurfaced to swim laps she alternated the side of her breathing as she changed direction. The whole time she was in the pool she never saw him.

I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: S. J. Rozan is one of my favorite crime writers–writers in general, really. This is a terrific story; like the Oates from yesterday, it’s about a woman who is being held prisoner by a man, but while it explores the same themes as the Oates story from yesterday, it tackles them in a completely different way, and the story ends perfectly. Two definite thumbs up here, but I have to say I am getting a little weary of “women being held captive” stories–nothing to do with this story, it just seems like I’ve read a lot of them lately. Or perhaps because the Oates and Rozan stories resonated so strongly, I don’t see how another writer could possibly do a better job? The bar definitely has been set pretty high for this theme.

And then there’s “Like Mother Used to Make” by Shirley Jackson, from The Lottery and Other Stories:

David Turner, who did everything in small quick movements, hurried from the bus stop down the avenue to his street. He reached the grocery on the corner and hesitated; there had been something. Butter, he remembered with relief; this morning, all the way up the avenue to his bus stop, he had been telling himself butter, don’t forget butter coming home tonight, when you pass the grocery remember butter. He went into the grocery and waited his turn, examining the cans on the shelves. Canned pork sausage was back, and corned-beef hash. A tray full of rolls caught his eye, and then the woman ahead of him went out ans the clerk turned to him.

“How much is butter?” David asked cautiously.

No one mastered the small short story quite like Shirley Jackson; and what I mean by small is the poignant sadness of a quiet life. David Turner is one of those Milquetoast-y people, but at the same time he is incredibly happy with the quiet, peaceful little life he has made for himself. He is overly fond of a female neighbor, thinks there’s more to the relationship than there really is–and as it turns out, she is actually quite awful–but David is one of those people whose interaction with other people is so limited, so timid, so shy, that he doesn’t even recognize how horrible she really is; and maybe the fact that she treats him so contemptuously when we are seeing everything from his point of view makes her seem much more monstrous. It’s a sad, melancholy little tale, and I couldn’t stop thinking about for quite a while after I finished reading it; wondering about David and where this was going to go from here. Jackson was such a genius.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Solid

It still feels chilly this morning, after a weekend of lowered temperatures. But the sun is shining, and all feels well with the world. I wrote yesterday; a lot, in fact, well over three thousand words; which is a lot for me to do on a weekend day. I even did it all by two pm, so I had the rest of the day to putz around. I finished a very weak first draft of “Burning Crosses,” worked on “Don’t Look Down” some more, and finished a very weak Scotty Chapter 11. But i know how to fix “Burning Crosses,” so that’s not a problem, and I know what I need to do with “Don’t Look Down,” which I just can’t seem to focus on. I also recognize that my feelings about the Scotty manuscript are the usual loss of faith I always have somewhere mid-manuscript; and I just need to ignore it and soldier on, with the mantra I can always fix this later! I can always fix this later!

Which I seem to be using a lot lately. I’m not quite sure what that says about the quality of what I’ve been writing.

I’m in this weird place right now with my writing; trying to feel more confident in it and my ability, while at the same time my insecurity is undermining me while I am actually writing. I need to ignore the things that pop up in my head as I work on the Scotty book, the slings and arrows hurled at me over the years that I can’t seem to get out of my mind and try to remember all the positive things that have been said about me and my work; which I don’t tend to take as seriously as the negative.

Honestly.

We started watching Lost in Space and Troy: The Fall of a City; we stopped because Paul didn’t like them–I was, so it gives me something to watch when I’m on the treadmill at the gym. We also gave Siren on Freeform a try; neither one of us was terribly sold on it, although I’d be willing to give it another episode or two before giving up on it entirely. Then we moved on to The Alienist, and yes, we are both committed to it. I never read the novel when it came out, but I do remember it made quite a stir when it did, and that the queer publishing community stood up and took note of it as well. I never could grasp why, but now that I am watching the show, I see why; there is a serial killer praying on boy prostitutes in 1890’s New York, and the ‘alienist’, Dr. Kreuzler, is rare in that time that he doesn’t see homosexuality or trans issues as either sinful or mental illness; it’s very queer positive, if you can get past the slaughter of the boy-prostitutes, which are particularly gruesome. But it’s very well done and interesting; we’ll keep going.

I also read some short stories. First up is  “Les Beaux Jours” by Joyce Carol Oates, from Lawrence Block’s Alive in Shape and Color:

Daddy please come bring me home. Daddy I am so sorry.

Daddy it is your fault. Daddy I hate you.

Daddy, no! I love you Daddy whatever you have done.

Daddy I am under a spell here. I am not myself  here.

The place in which I am a captive–it is in the Alps, I think. It is a great, old house like a castle made of ancient rock. Through high windows you can see moors stretching to the mountainous horizon. All is scrubby gray-green as if undersea. The light is perpetual twilight.

Dusk is when the Master comes. I am in love with the Master.

Daddy no! I do not love the Master at all, I am terrified of the Master.

I’d not read Joyce Carol Oates before a few years ago; I read her short story that was a Macavity finalist the same year I was, and was blown away by it. I always thought Oates was more of a literary writer, but she writes crime and horror and dark stories, and she does it incredibly well. This story is Oates at her best; disturbing and creepy and horrifying. She manages to get the voice of the trapped girl perfectly; that strange mix of Stockholm syndrome and desperation to get away; the fear that she might die there. Very disturbing.

“Truth Comes out of Her Well to Shame Mankind,” by Thomas Pluck,  also from Alive in Shape and Color:

The cracking of the skulls was performed by a practiced hand. The bowl separated from the eye sockets and teeth. These were no virgin cannibals like the lost colonists of Roanoke, with their hesitation marks. Whatever people had done this had been done before, and had perhaps been doing it for a very long time.

Devin cupped the skull in his palm, reminded of how Danes toasted before a drink.

Thomas Pluck is one of the better writers we have in the crime fiction world right now, and I hope this appearance in the Block anthology is a sign that he’s beginning to get his due. He wrote a story for Blood on the Bayou that was superb; I have his novel Bad Boy Boogie, in my TBR pile. This story, about an arrogant ass of a man who visits an archaeological site, being led by a woman he didn’t get along with in college, is not only chilling but timely; men all so frequently are unaware of the damage they leave in their wake, aren’t they, and this story is about that very thing; carelessness, just as The Great Gatsby was about the carelessness of the Buchanans. Very well done.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Some Like It Hot

Our weather forecast for today is grim; thunderstorms and downpours and flash flooding. Happy Saturday! Right now, even at this early hour, it’s already grim and gray outside; yesterday my sinuses were bothering me–another sign, not only of impending heavy weather but that I’m getting old because I am predicting the weather with my body–and I was incredibly tired when I got home. I repaired to my easy chair and read some more of Bryan Camp’s The City of Lost Fortunes (it’s wonderful, preorder it now), and then watched the first episode of two Netflix series, the Lost in Space reboot and Troy: The Fall of a City. I enjoyed both–although of course with Troy, I know how it ends–and there was a moment when Helen was telling Paris the myth of Actaeon and mentioned the goddess Diana and I was all “wrong! Helen would have called her Artemis!” which then sent me into another spiral because Wonder Woman is also from Greek mythology yet her name is Diana…and did the Greeks have the name Diana, or was it Roman? Yeesh, my mind.

It’s getting darker and the wind is picking up.

The plan for today is to do some writing, do some cleaning, and finish reading Bryan’s book. I also need to catch up on Riverdale and Krypton. Heavy sigh. I am really happy with some of the work I’ve been doing this week, and need to stay focused. I want to get “Don’t Look Down” finished, and I need to write an introduction to the short story collection, and there’s another story that needs to be done, and I still haven’t work on that revision based on editorial notes on another story. As you can see, it never ends for one Gregalicious. But as I said, I’m enjoying the work–which I couldn’t say last year–and that’s always a plus. I think the direction in which I am taking the Scotty novel in Chapter Eleven is quite fun and different; whether I am right in that assumption or whether it’s more a symptom of my creative ADHD, I suppose we’ll see once we have the first draft completed. But I have to have a completed first draft in order to see, don’t I?

Heavy heaving sigh.

Anyway I’ve got two more stories read for The Short Story Project. First up is “Office at Night” by Warren Moore,  from Lawrence Block’s anthology In Sunlight and In Shadow:

Margaret heard the train rumble by as Walter looked at the papers on the desk. The cord on the window shade swung, whether from the trains’s vibrations or from the breeze through the window, she didn’t know. She couldn’t feel either, nor did she feel the blue dress–her favorite–clinging to her curves. All she saw was Walter, and all he saw were the files in the pool of light from the desk lamp.

She had put the papers in the file cabinet and rested her arm atop the folders for seemed like–could have been–a lifetime ago. The phrase brought a slight smile to Margaret’s face. Any time could be a lifetime, depending on how long you lived. And she had thought from time to time that she and Walter might have had a lifetime together. Before she had died.

I really enjoyed this story; which is about lost opportunities and melancholy. Margaret was a large woman while alive; tall and big boned, tauntingly called Large Marge by the cruel children in the small town where she grew up. This made her withdrawn and shy. As soon as she was able she moved to New York, moved into a rooming house, and got a job, slowly starting to build a life for herself and leave “Large Marge” behind. Then she accidentally is killed–not in a crime or anything, just an accident–and her ghost visits the office where she worked, and loved her boss–but that past history made her unable to speak up, unable to say anything, unable to make a try for happiness. Like I said, it’s more about that sense of sadness and melancholy than a story with beginning, middle and end; but it’s incredibly well written and that melancholy…wow.

The next story was “Still Life 1931” by Kris Nelscott, also in Lawrence Block’s  In Sunlight and in Shadow.

She first noticed outside Memphis: they didn’t ride segregated in the box cars. At the time, she was standing outside yet abotehr closed bank. The line of aggrieved customers wrapped around the block–men in their dusty pants, stained workshirts, caps on their heads; women wearing low heels, day dresses, and battered hats.

Lurleen looked just different enough to attract attention. Her green cloche hat was a bit too new, her coat a little too heavy. Her shoes were scuffed like everyone else’s. but hers were scuffed from too much travel, not age and wear.

This story is absolutely amazing, and one of the most powerful in this collection, which is saying a lot. Set in the early 1930’s, Nelscott captures the era perfectly; the failing banks and the desperation of people losing their savings; the racial issues in the deep South; and Lurleen’s own sense of who she is, of right and wrong. When the story opens, Lurleen, recently widowed, is taking the train to small towns and cities all over the South, closing bank accounts she’d opened years earlier and withdrawing all the cash. The story opens with her in line at one bank where a run has happened; the bank has closed “temporarily”, but the sign on the door doesn’t indicate any time when the bank might reopen. As the story progress, we learn that Lurleen, before her marriage, worked for the NAACP, going around the South and interviewing witnesses and survivors, documenting lynchings and racial violence in the South. The story is powerful; Lurleen is well developed, and I was sorry when the story ended because I wanted to know more about Lurleen and the work she had done, the work she was going to begin doing again. According to the author bio, Nelscott is planning to write more about Lurleen, which is kind of exciting; I certainly hope she does.

And now back to the spice mines.

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