Heaven

So, I survived my voyage out to Metairie. I like the new eye doctor–Dr. Moses at Target–and I am trying out progressive contact lenses. I never really got the sense from my previous eye doctor of how they worked–basically, it sounded like witchcraft–but Dr, Moses very patiently explained how they work in a way which was incredibly easy for me to understand–and it wasn’t that hard. Basically, the pupil expands to see far away and contracts to see up close; so the progressive contact lenses are for distance viewing with a small spot in the center for reading; the pupil will contract and see through that small spot for reading, etc. Was that really that hard to explain? But they are…odd. I have a tester pair, for me to try out and get used to; and they are definitely going to take some getting used to. I can see fine for working on the computer and pretty much everything else, but reading things on say, the television–I can read it but it’s blurry. I’m assuming this is part of the adjustment process; or if it’s not, I need to have the prescription altered. I also tried reading with them in–a couple of books–and I couldn’t. I doubt that is part of the adjustment process. Heavy sigh. But I’ll have to go back in  have my eyes looked at again, I suppose, if these issues aren’t part of the “getting used to them” process.

I was very tired yesterday; I didn’t sleep as well as I should have on Friday night, so I really knocked myself out last night and feel very rested this morning, which is great. I think part of the sleep issue I’ve been having has to do with both not working out in a couple of weeks in addition to drinking more caffeine–I’d cut back dramatically on both coffee and Coke–and so today I am off to the gym and I am going to try to not drink as much caffeine. I need to drink more water anyway.

I didn’t get as much writing done yesterday as I had wanted to; I hadn’t originally planned to even try–errands and so forth generally don’t put me in a very good hey let me write place; and I was right. Plus the contacts made it seem weird, if that makes any sense? I’m sure it doesn’t. So I tried to get chores done–I laundered the bed linens, cleaned the kitchen, etc. I also got caught up on Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and Riverdale; when Paul finally got home last night we got caught up on How to Get Away With Murder. I also did some serious thinking about the things I am working on–a recently rejected short story, for example, that I’ve been having trouble figuring out how to fix for years and it finally hit me last night; the Scotty book and where it’s going; the WIP and where it’s going; a couple of other short stories I am working on (Christ, I am working on a lot of shit, aren’t I).

So, this morning, after sleeping in for a bit, I am going to get some filing done, do some writing in my journal (to work around some thought about what I am writing now) and then I am going to go to the gym, come home and get cleaned up, and then I am going to write/edit for a few hours before it’s time for the ice dancing tonight on the Olympics (I already miss Adam Rippon).

And of course, I read some more stories for the Short Story Project.

First up was “Black-eyed Susan” by Laura Lippman, from Hardly Knew Her:

The Melville family had Preakness coming and going, as Dontay’s Granny M liked to say. From their rowhouse south of Pimlico, the loose assemblage of three generations–sometimes as many as twenty people in the three-bedroom house, never fewer than eight–squeezed every coin they could from the third Saturday in May, and they were always looking for new ways. Revenue streams, as Dontay had learned to call them in Pimlico Middle’s stock-picking club. Last year, for example, the Melvilles tried a barbecue stand, selling racegoers hamburgers and hot dogs, but the city health people had shut them down before noon. So they were going to try bottle water this year, maybe some sodas, although sly-like, because they could bust you for not paying sales tax, too. They had considered salted nuts, but that was more of a Camden Yards thing. People going to the track didn’t seem to want nuts as much, not even pistachios. Candy melted no matter how cool the day, and it was hard to be competitive on chips unless you went off-brand, and Baltimore was an Utz city.

Parking was the big moneymaker, anyway.

Every fall, Paul and I try to attend as many LSU games as we can at Tiger Stadium. It’s so much, frankly, to be in the stadium and being in a crowd of like-minded LSU fans, yelling and screaming and jumping up and down. The first two years we went to games we parked in an African-American church’s parking lot–they were so nice, and would give us cans of soda as well as letting us park there–because it was very easy to get out of there with post-game traffic. The church sold its property, alas–no idea why, but then we needed another place to park. About a block or two closer to the stadium we found a place–Miss Fay’s. Miss Fay is an older woman of color who owns a vacant corner lot next to her house and can fit about twenty cars in there for twenty dollars each; not a bad haul for a Saturday. She’s very friendly and nice, as are the rest of her family, and so we’ve been parking there for about seven years now–and they also keep watch over the cars. The walk is a little less than a mile to the stadium from there, and even on the hottest days (that Auburn game in 2015, Jesus!) it kind of gets you in the mood for the game to walk there, and after the game–we always stay to the end–the walk back allows the traffic to thin out a bit so it’s not so bad. I’ve always wondered about Miss Fay and her family; as well as the other families renting out parking spaces in the yards we walk past on our way to the stadium.

That’s what this Lippman story is about; it’s from the point of view of a teenager whose family rents out spots in their yard for parking during the Preakness, and the myriad other ways they try to think of to make bank from the race-goers. The young man works as basically what we called at the airport a skycap; helping people lug their full coolers and so forth to the track. On this particular day he helps a really pretty woman who looks like a black-eyed Susan; and the next day he also works to  help clean up the mess at the track. Her coolers are still there, and therein lies a tale. This story is filled with social commentary and it’s done in an incredibly easy way; it’s about the reality of being lower income and scrambling to find ways to make money; and of course, it takes a turn that has nothing to do with the young man who was only peripherally involved. I was worried he might get pulled into the investigation, but I was very pleased with how Lippman handled the story, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since.

I also read Lippman’s “Ropa Vieja”, from the same collection.

The best Cuban restaurant in Baltimore is in Greektown. It has not occurred to the city’s natives to ponder this, and if an out-of-towner dares to inquire, a shrug is the politest possible reply he or she can expect.

On the fourth day of August, one such native, Tess Monaghan, was a block away from this particular restaurant when she felt that first bead of sweat, the one she thought of as the scout, snaking a path between her breasts and past her sternum. Soon, others would follow, until her T-shirt was speckled with perspiration and the hair at her nape started to frizz. She wasn’t looking forward to this interview, but she was hoping it would last long enough for her Toyota’s air conditioner to get its charge back.

Lippman created the character of Tess Monaghan, an accidental private eye who works the mean streets of Baltimore, in her first novel, Baltimore Blues, and continued writing about her for years before branching out into her brilliant stand alones. The Tess novels are amongst my favorites in private eye fiction, and Lippman began winning awards and making short lists left and right from the very beginning. “Ropa Vieja” is a Tess story; and a good one. It’s been several years since the last Tess novel, Hush Hush, and despite that I slipped easily right back into the rhythm of her voice and her world without issue; it was remarkably easy, like putting on a comfortable old baseball glove or a pair of slippers. This is an interestingly twisted little tale, about a pitcher for the Orioles who got sick on the mound in a late season game; and it had to do with the traditional pre-meal dish of ropa vieja he’d eaten from the afore-mentioned restaurant. The owner hires Tess to somehow prove that it wasn’t the restaurant’s fault–and boy, does this story take some serious turns on its way to its ultimate denouement.

As I’ve mentioned before, Lippman is an extraordinary writer–she’s one of my favorites–and her effortlessly brilliant short stories always are surprising, clever, and smart. I am starting to get a better idea of just how one writes a private eye short story from reading hers; there may actually be a Chanse MacLeod short story brewing in my head–or at least, one featuring his partner that has to do with the recent shutdowns/raids of strip clubs in the Quarter. It would certainly be an interesting experiment to try.

And now, back to the spice mines.

Have a great Sunday, Constant Reader!

tumblr_ololkyEQSm1u3ef6to1_500

Saving All My Love For You

Saturday morning. I have an eye appointment in Metairie this afternoon, but I definitely need new glasses. I also have to get groceries this morning (ugh), and I should probably figure out some time to go get the mail as well. Heavy sigh; the house is also a mess and this kitchen needs a-cleanin’. Paul’s going into the office today, so I’ll be alone; I am hoping, after I get home, to spend some time writing. I was very tired and didn’t feel good yesterday; my throat’s kind of sore this morning as well; I woke up a lot last night, but I did sleep. Tomorrow I am going back to the gym to get my workouts going again, so hopefully that will help in the sleep department. I’ve noticed that I’m not sleeping as well since Carnival started and I stopped having time for working out.

I can’t not sleep. I have too much to do and I can’t be tired. Yesterday was my short day at the office and after I got home, I didn’t feel well and was too tired to do anything besides sit in my easy chair and watch Adam Rippon videos on Youtube. (I told you I was stanning.) Then it was time to watch the Olympic figure skating, which was terrific. Very proud of our US skaters! Nathan Chen had six quads in his program, and made Olympic history, and young Vincent Zhou skated magnificently as well. All three of our skaters wound up in the Top Ten, which was terrific, and Nathan came close to medaling. If only he’d turned that second quad in his short program into a combination jump and gotten points for it, he would have. He had the highest score in the long program. Had they both skated clean short programs, they both would have medaled. So, there’s a lot of hope there for the future. Part of the fun of the Olympics is also seeing the future of the sport out on the ice as well–the silver medalist, Shoma Uno, is very young as well, and there was a young Russian who is very artistic. Worlds this year will be very fun to watch.

Oh, Adam. What would it have meant to fifteen year old me, deeply closeted and terrified someone might find out who I really was, to see you skate at the Innsbruck Olympics in 1976? Watching you this past week brought tears to my eyes every time; my heart was in my throat every time you went into a jump. You made me laugh in your interviews, you made me cry with your oh-so-beautiful skating. I can’t remember the last time I was so emotionally invested in seeing a skater do well? Michelle Kwan, whom I loved and still miss? Rudy Galindo in 1996? And how happy and proud to see all the love for you, to the point where even the trash tweeting shit about you could just make me smile and think he has a bronze medal, and you have your phone and bitterness. I feel SORRY for you that you can’t find joy in this, what a sad, bitter, pathetic life you must lead. Especially the gay Republicans, so desperate for the love and acceptance they’ll never get from their abusive relationship with a party that hates them. Adam is a star; will be a star, and he’ll always, always, have these Olympics, three gorgeous performances, and a bronze medal. No one can ever take that away from him with petty nastiness.

Watching Adam and his great joy in his sport and doing his best also made me realize something; it’s about doing something you love, and doing your best. I had already realized that I had lost my joy in writing sometime ago; I’m not sure when it went from being something I loved doing to an odious chore. But this year I’ve rediscovered how much I love it, how much I’ve missed it; how I love creating characters and telling stories and expressing myself on the page. I was already getting there on my own, but watching Adam, seeing him, took me to that final place. It’s not about medals, it’s not about awards, it’s not even about money; it’s about joy in doing something you love.

Thanks, Adam, for that–and for making me realize how I’ve been neglecting my eyebrows.

DVzJ3fZVoAADMDi

I also read some more short stories.

To be fair, I had already read Daphne du Maurier’s “The Birds”; her Echoes from the Macabre: Selected Stories is one of my favorite single-author collections of all time. But it had been awhile since I’d read this story; I knew it was vastly different from the Hitchcock film based on it, so I read it again.

On December the third the wind changed overnight and it was winter. Until then the autumn had been mellow, soft. The leaves had lingered on the trees, golden red, and the hedgerows were still green. The earth was rich where the plough had turned it.

Nat Hocken, because of a wartime disability, had a pension and did not work full-time at the farm. He worked three days a week, and they gave him the lighter jobs: hedging, thatching, repairs to the farm buildings.

Although he was married, with children, his was a solitary disposition; he liked best to work alone. It pleased him when he was given a bank to build up, or a gate to mend at the far end of the peninsula, where the sea surrounded the farm land on either side. Then, at midday, he would pause and eat the pasty that his wife had baked for him, and sitting on the cliff’s edge would watch the birds. Autumn was the best for this, better than spring. In spring the birds flew inland, purposeful, intent; they knew where they were bound, the rhythm and ritual of their life brooked no delay. In autumn those who had not migrated overseas but remained to pass the winter were caught up in the same driving urge, but because migration was denied to them followed a pattern of their own. Great flocks of them came to the peninsula, restless, uneasy, spending themselves in motion; now wheeling, circling in the sky, now settling to feed on the rich, new-turned soil, but even when they fed it was as though they did so without hunger, without desire. Restlessness drove them to the skies again.

One of the best parts of the film is that there’s no explanation why the birds have turned on humans; they just have, and there’s no way of knowing if they’ll ever go back to normal. The end of the movie is kind of left hanging; when I saw it the first time when I was a kid I was deeply dissatisfied with how the film ended. But there wasn’t really any way to end the film, and du Maurier herself gave no clues to what was going to happen at the end of her story. The story ends much the same as the movie; no end to the menace in sight, and even more chilling–I don’t remember if this was in the movie–but the BBC had stopped broadcasting; the horrifying part of this story is the incredible sense of isolation the family feels–are they the only people left alive in the world? On that level, the story is even more disturbing than the film; in the movie there are other people all around in the town. The story is set out in the country…and du Maurier never lets the reader know. The way the horror builds is almost unbearable; her mastery is truly amazing.

I also went back to the Laura Lippman well for “Easy As A-B-C’, from her collection Hardly Knew Her.

Another house collapsed today. It happens more and more, especially with all the wetback crews out there. Don’t get me wrong. I  used guys from Mexico and Central America, too, and they’re great workers, especially when it comes to landscaping. But some contractors aren’t as particular as I am. They hire the cheapest labor they can get and the cheapest comes pretty high, especially when you’re excavating a basement, which has become one of the hot fixes around here. It’s not enough, I guess, to get the three-story rowhouse with four bedrooms, gut it from top to bottom, creating open, airy kitchens where grandmothers once smoked the wallpaper with bacon grease and sour beef, or carve master bath suites in the tiny middle rooms that the youngest kids always got stuck with. No, these people have to have the full family room, too, which means digging down into the old dirt basements, putting in new floors and walls. But if you miscalculate–boom. Nothing to do but bring that fucker down and start carting away the bricks.

The premise of this story; a guy who owns a construction company is hired to renovate his grandparents’ old house for a young woman he finds attractive, despite his many years of marriage–is pretty clever. It also has a lot to say, in a very sly way, about gentrification and how old neighborhoods and their character are ruined by it; this is something going on to a very large extent in New Orleans, and has been for quite some time, and there’s a strong sense for us locals that with these changes, some of what made New Orleans so special, unique and different, is also being lost. Lippman inhabits the voice of this middle-age blue-collar man perfectly; she never once slips and makes an error that jars the reader out of the voice. And as the story builds to its own inevitable dark climax, you really can’t stop reading because you really aren’t sure how she is going to finish playing her cards. That’s the great joy of Lippman, and what makes her special and unique as a writer; you’re never really sure how this is all going to play out, but she never deliberately misleads you, ever–she doesn’t cheat, and once you get there, you think, yes, that’s the only way this could end.

Seriously, her new novel dropping this week, Sunburn, is definitely one of her best; check it out, if you haven’t already.

And now, I’ve got a jam to get Scotty and the boys out of.

St. Elmo’s Fire (Man in Motion)

Lundi Gras, and the downward slope of the marathon. Huzzah! I have a lot to do today; all trying to get it finished in the window before the streets close for tonight’s parades, Proteus and Orpheus. I need to run to the grocery store, get the mail, and am also hoping to get to the gym as well; I’ve not been since last Sunday, but the combination of all the cardio involved with the walking to and from the office, as well as shortened hours because of the parades, has conspired to keep me from my workouts. I cannot go Wednesday morning, either, because the gym is closed until noon; by then I will be at work. So, if I don’t work out today I can’t get to the gym again until Thursday morning, which would be most inopportune. But I am confident I will get back into the swing of my workouts again; despite the Mardi Gras interruption–that always happened in the past, after all, and I was always able to get back to it.

Exhaustion has also precluded me from writing and/or editing over the last week or so; I have plans to get some writing done today as well as some laundry. I have to decide on a story to write for two anthologies, and I desperately need to rewrite/revise/edit another that is due by the end of the month. I am also behind on revisions of the WIP, and I need to get moving on the Scotty book as well. This will, of course, be a short work week; Wednesday thru Friday, so I am hopeful that I can get a lot accomplished in this time period. I should probably get dressed and head out for the errands; the later I wait, the more likely there won’t be a place to park when I get back.

I started reading Killers of the Flower Moon before bed, but it just didn’t grab me right away; I’ll go back to it, I am sure. Instead I started reading The Black Prince of Florence by Catherine Fletcher (Florence! Medicis! History!), and am loving it so far. I doubt that I’ll ever tire of either Italian history, or the Medici family.

I did manage to get back to reading on The Short Story Project as well this weekend, between parades and physical exhaustion. The first was the title story of Joe Hill’s collection, 20th Century Ghost:

The best time to see her is when the place is almost full.

There is the well-known story of the man who wanders in for a late show and finds the vast six-hundred-seat theater almost deserted. Halfway through the movie, he glances around and discovers her sitting next to him, in a chair that had moments before been empty. Her witness stares at her. She turns her head and stares back. She has a nosebleed. Her eyes are wide, stricken. My heart hurts, she whispers. I have to step out for a moment. Will you tell me what I miss? It is in this instant that the person looking at her realizes she is as insubstantial as the shifting blue ray of light cast by the projector. It is possible to see the next seat over through her body. As she rises from her chair, she fades away.

Then there is the story about the group of friends who go into the Rosebud together on a Thursday night. One of the bunch sits down next to a woman by herself, a woman in blue. When the movie doesn’t start right away, the person who sat down beside her decides to make conversation. What’s playing tomorrow? he asks her. The theater is dark tomorrow, she whispers. This is the last show. Shortly after the movie begins she vanishes. On the drive home, the man who spoke to her is killed in a car accident.

This is a great short story; a ghost story about a haunted movie theater. It moves very quickly, and I love how Hill sucks you in almost immediately. I am greatly enjoying reading Hill’s short stories; and am looking forward to getting back into this collection. It also wraps up perfectly. I’ll be honest; I tried reading two of Hill’s novels and simply couldn’t get into them–which is probably more on me than on him–but as I said, I am loving the short stories, and will undoubtedly go back to the novels; I often find something that didn’t grab me the first time will wind up being something I love when I try it again later.

Then I moved back to Lawrence Block’s Alive in Shape and Color, and the next story up was “Girl with a Fan” by Nicholas Christopher.

On the fifth of June, 1944, a young man stepped off the 9:13 train from Lyon, squinting into the morning light. Tall and slender, he had an asymmetrical face: the right eye higher than the left, the left cheek planed more than the right. He was wearing a brown suit, black shirt, yellow tie, and brown fedora. His suit was rumpled, his boots scuffed. He was carrying a leather briefcase with a brass lock. His pants cuffs were faintly speckled with yellow paint.

He cast a long shadow as he walked down the platform. Halfway to the station, two men in leather coats came up from behind and gripped his arms. One of them pressed a pistol in his side, the other grabbed his briefcase. They veered away from the station, guiding him roughly down an alley to a waiting car. A man in dark glasses was behind the wheel. He was bald, with an eagle tattooed at the base of his skull.

At first, this story seemed a bit off to me; it didn’t really fit with the rest of the stories I’ve read in Block’s ‘inspired by a painting’ anthologies. For one thing, it jumped around in time and place, going from Nazi-occupied France to the south seas back to France in the late nineteenth century again; but linking these three different narratives was Gauguin’s painting, “Girl with a Fan”: where the fan came from, when the work was actually painted, and what happened–was happening–with the painting under the Nazi pillaging of the occupied country. Once I grasped what Christopher was doing with his story, I began enjoying it; it’s not easy to juggle three different stories, locations, and time-lines in the space of one short story. Well done, Mr. Christopher, well done indeed!

I also read some others, and will probably continue reading some more today; but I shall save those for a future entry.

And now, back to the spice mines. Here’s a hunk to get you through your own Lundi Gras.

26239311_1968685823379963_6551530354373772271_n

We Built This City

Mardi Gras is a marathon, not a sprint.

I am already tired and achy, and we’re only on Friday. I live inside the St. Charles parade route–the parades pass by the corner at my house–which can make Carnival a challenge. I can’t get my car home from work–even if I dared brave the horror of parade traffic, I can’t get across St. Charles anyway–so I generally have to walk to and from work (the streetcar isn’t reliable during Carnival, and it’s always packed with tourists like a can of sardines), which is about 2.5 miles in each direction. On the way home, of course, the parades are already rolling which means mobs of people to try to get through, many of them already intoxicated and the rest well on their way. Right now, on Friday morning of the home stretch, my lower back is already sore and I have a blister on one of my toes; my hip and knee joints are achy and tired, and my shoulders are sore from holding them up in the air to try to attract the attention of riders. Heavy sigh. And living in the parade route also means routine chores–grocery store, etc.–require about the same amount of planning and attention to detail as the Normandy invasion. I managed to get that taken care of yesterday morning before heading to the office; and I sure hope we’re good for the weekend, because the next window of opportunity is Monday.

But I love Carnival, I do; I just wish I had the energy and the fit body of my younger self. It does take a toll on you; when I got home from work last night I was so tired and achy and mentally fatigued I seriously considered skipping Muses, which is one of my favorites. But once I was out there and caught my first throw, I forgot about everything and felt like a kid again; laughing and dancing to the marching bands, running out into the street and yelling with my hands up, jumping up and down with a big ole silly grin on my face. We caught everything that makes Muses special: a shoe, a shoe bracelet, a shoe medallion, duck medallions, and the inevitable go-cups. At one point a go-cup landed at my feet and a woman asked me if I minded if she took it: “I have a Muses cup from every year but I haven’t gotten one this year yet.” Not only did we let her have it, but I gave her the ones I’d already caught.

Carnival is about many things, but not the least of them are generosity, civility, and community; I got so annoyed at people who are bitchy or greedy during parades. You’re missing the point of Carnival, I want to say to them, it’s not just about catching things; it’s about our sense of community and that we all have to get along together; a reminder that we’re all in this together.

There’s not enough of that in this country anymore.

The Lost Apartment is in ruins as well; I need to spend this morning creating some semblance of order before the madness of the weekend. If I don’t do it today, it will take the entire day Monday.

Heavy heaving sigh.

And now back to the spice mines.

f309b4fe5192fe5bb79c967294ef344b--hot-hunks-sexy-men

Easy Lover

And lo and behold, my Facebook banning has now ended. Will I go back to wasting a ton of time on there? I am not sure; right now I am feeling doubtful. Although I have to say…I’ve spent a lot of time on there since the ban ended, trying to get caught on everything I’ve been behind on in the meantime. Heavy sigh. And I have so much to do today!

But I will get it all done, you just watch and see! I am feeling confident! I can do anything!

LOL. The deadline for the Bouchercon anthology, Sunny Places Shady People, has ended, and I am doing all the editorial work–logging stories, trying to stay organized, and I have to create a tracking spreadsheet so I know where every story is in the process of reading and being judged by the blind readers–and hopefully by next Monday I’ll have some stories in place to be contracted. Exciting, no? I am pretty jazzed about it. We got well over two hundred stories this time–a lot more than we had for New Orleans–and we also have a tighter turnaround then we did for New Orleans, so I’ll be working my ass off this month–and it’s Carnival. YIKES!

I also agreed to write another book–which I’ll talk more about when I am back on top of things again; which I am hoping to be sometime this week. We’ll see, though; it’s been a crazy month and a crazy weekend.

As I said, I did have the best time in Alabama this past weekend.

And before I head back to the spice mines, I’m going to leave you with one of the more fun pictures from the weekend:

mad catters

Everybody Wants to Rule the World

Monday morning. The weekends never really quite seem long enough, do they? Oh, it’s fine…I do like my job ((even if I don’t like waking up in the morning so much) but I’ve been going to bed earlier to make getting up easier. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but I do feel considerably more rested than I used to in the mornings. This weekend is the first weekend of parades, but I am off to a weekend of events in Alabama, which I am, oddly enough, looking forward to; lovely people will be there, which is always nice.

I do hate missing the first weekend of parades, though.

Although….it’s not like there won’t be plenty of them the next weekend, right? It’s so weird how greedy  we are when we it comes to parades. There’s probably an entire essay in that, as well.

I didn’t get as much writing done as I would have liked this weekend–I never do, of course, I always think I can get more done than I can–but I am rolling with it. I’m not sure how much–if anything–I can get done while I am in Alabama; as I recall last year, we all hung out together all evening and laughed and laughed, and one of the attendees this year is Carolyn Haines….and if you’ve never met her, she’s good energy and she is pretty damned fun and funny. I suppose I can read.

Speaking of which, I did read two short stories yesterday, and I also read a novel over the course of the weekend (I’ll save the novel for another entry).

The first story was Kristen Roupenian’s “Cat Person,” which was published on-line and in print by the New Yorker last month, and rather went viral; it seemed like everyone was reading it and everyone was talking about it, and Roupenian came out of it all with a healthy book contract (GOOD FOR HER! Seriously, I never understand why other writers get so snarky about the success of other writers. I always see it as a win for one is a win for all). I didn’t read the story at the time–discussions and arguments about it were everywhere, and I didn’t want to be influenced in my reading by the social media furor. But yesterday, after my workout (yes, made it to the gym again!) I curled up in my easy chair and read it.

Margot met Robert on a Wednesday night toward the end of h er fall semester. She was working behind the concession stand at the artsy movie theatre downtown when he came in and about a large popcorn and a box of Red Vines.

“That’s an…unusual choice,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve ever actually sold a box of Red Vines before.”

Flirting with her customers was a habit she’s picked up back when she worked as a barista, and it helped with tips. She didn’t earn tips at the movie theatre, but the job was boring otherwise, and she did  think that Robert was cute. Not so cute that she would have, say, gone up to him at a party, but cute enough that she could have drummed up an imaginary crush on him if he’d sat across from her during a dull class–though she was pretty sure that he was out of college, in his mid-twenties at least. He was tall, which she liked, and she could see the edge of a tattoo peeking out from beneath the rolled-up sleeve of his shirt. But he was on the heavy side, his beard was a bit too long, and his shoulders slumped forward slightly, as though he was protecting something.

I thought this story was very well done, myself–but I can certainly see why it upset men, and why women embraced it. I don’t think I’ve ever read before such an honest depiction of a bad date and bad sex in my life. God knows I’ve had bad sex before, but I’ve certainly never written about it; usually when I write about sex its erotica so it kind of has to be hot, you know what I mean? Whoever writes about bad sex? There were times, when reading it, when she encapsulates a conversation into a paragraph of prose (then he said this, and she thought well this but said that, and so forth) where I would have much rather read the actual conversation, but other than that complaint I kind of enjoyed it; although given all the discussion I’d seen on line made me know where it was going–but that ending was so incredibly perfect. Perfect.

Then I read Michael Bailey’s “I Will Be The Reflection Until the End”, from Tales from the Lake Volume 4:

My sister used to collect cherry plum pits in her napkin secretly, under the kitchen table. A strainer full of mixed yellow and red and deep-purple fruits would separate us each spring, with a small bowl next to it to collect the pits–although mine were typically the only ones in there–and a plate beneath the strainer to collect any drips from the rinsed fruit. My sister was coy like that. Her lie had become our lie, and every once in a while she’d throw a pit in the bowl to make it look like we were being honest. She knew I wouldn’t bring it up to Mom, because that meant I could have more if I kept my mouth shut. It was one of the few secrets we kept from Mom in our  youth. Call it a sibling bonding moment.

This story is on the longlist for the Bram Stoker Award for Outstanding Achievement in Short Fiction, and it is a beautifully written, moving short story. It reminded me a little of one of my favorite Stephen King short stories, “The Last Rung on the Ladder”–it’s a gorgeously written tale about a younger brother remembering his older sister, loving childhood memories of closeness that went away as she got older, and things went wrong with her. I absolutely loved it. I met Bailey and his wife several years ago at Stokercon in Las Vegas, and they charmed me completely; this is my first time reading his work, and it certainly won’t be the last. The only reason I can’t see this story not making the short list (or winning) is because I’m not entirely certain it’s horror; it may qualify, but not the in-your-face, jump scare or gross out horror–it’s a quiet horror of the Shirley Jackson kind; the horror of the heart from what life can do to someone we love.

12243211_778719875584463_322279597921766512_n

I Want to Know What Love Is

It’s been raining pretty much most of the weekend, which is fine. I went to get groceries, pick up a prescription, and get the mail before getting home and starting to work on the mess that is my home; I also finished writing a chapter of one manuscript and started writing another–which was my writing goal for yesterday. Today’s is to do second drafts of two short stories to prepare them for submission. I also have to go to the gym and finish the cleaning of the apartment and organizing my office. I started reading the big y/a best seller One of Us Is Lying by Karen McManus yesterday; I can see why it’s a bestseller and I can also see why it’s being developed into a television series a la Thirteen Reasons Why; it’s a deceptively simple yet surprisingly complex story, and likewise–well, I’ll talk some more about it once I’ve finished.

I’m enjoying writing again for the first time in years, which is a good thing, and I am actually putting a lot of thought and planning into what I’m writing, which is a really good thing. What I’ve written over the last six or seven years has been a lot more organic, coming to me as I wrote it from a basic premise and perhaps knowing what the end was; without putting near as much thought into theme and what I am trying to say, what I am trying to explore with the story, than I used to–I mean, it worked, but it also made the work a lot harder than it needed to be. I think this is particularly true of short stories; I think that’s primarily what I’ve been doing wrong in writing them–my entire approach to short stories has been wrong, and I’ve been, as I said, making it a lot harder on myself than it necessarily needs to be.

Which is, sadly, what I always tend to do for myself: make things harder than they need to be.

Heavy heaving sigh.

In addition to cleaning and everything else I did yesterday, I also managed to start watching Season 2 of Black Sails, which continues to enthrall. I am still liking the idea of finally writing my pirate novel (Cutlass), but not as much as before; it remains one of those dreams that I hold on to for when I am making a living as a writer again and able to not have a day job any longer. (There are several of those; they also require not only making a living but making enough money to travel and do research.)

Some day. I never give up on the dream.

The Short Story Project also continues; yesterday I read a story by Ross MacDonald from The Archer Files and one by Karl Edward Wagner from the gorgeous two volume collection The Best Horror Stories of Karl Edward Wagner, produced by Centipede Press maybe seven or eight years ago.

MacDonald’s story, “The Bearded Lady,” was quite good, as everything written by MacDonald is.

The unlatched door swung inward when I knocked. I walked into the studio, which was high and dim as a hayloft. The big north window in the opposite wall was hung with monkscloth draperies that shut out the morning light. I found the switch beside the door and snapped it on. Several fluorescent tubes suspended from the naked rafters flickered and burned blue-white.

A strange woman faced me under the cruel light. She was only a  charcoal sketch on an easel, but she gave me a chill. Her nude body, posed casually on a chair, was slim and round and pleasant to look at. Her face wasn’t pleasant at all. Bushy black eyebrows almost hid her eyes. A walrus mustache bracketed her mouth, and a thick beard fanned down over her torso.

The door creaked behind me. The girl who appeared in the doorway wore a starched white uniform. Her face had a little starch in it, too, though not enough to spoil her good looks entirely. Her black hair was drawn back severely from her forehead.

Lew Archer, on his way from Los Angeles to San Francisco, decided to stop in the small town of San Marcos and look up an old army buddy, inadvertently stumbling into a murder case. The story is interesting, the writing whipcrack smart, with MacDonald’s trademark, cynical short paragraphs immediately getting to the essence of a character. Don’t we, as readers, already have a strong impression of who that young woman is as a person after those three sentences? I’ve often wondered how one solves a murder in a short story–or writes a detective short story. I’ve tried and failed often enough. But the great thing about the Short Story Project is I am starting to understand how to write them, how they work, and how to make them work; which is a lovely thing. I have several ideas for Chanse short stories that I’ve never written because I didn’t know how; now I rather do, or at least have an idea, thanks to The Archer Files and Kinsey and Me (Sue Grafton). Both books are great learning tools for people who want to write detective stories, and MacDonald’s influence on Grafton is clear. (Although I’d still love to see someone do an essay, or book of criticism, comparing and contrasting MacDonald’s work with that of his wife: The Murderous Millars would be a great title.) MacDonald’s stories usually have to do with damaged and dysfunctional families; “The Bearded Lady” is another one of those, and is very well done. I highly recommend it.

The Wagner story I read was from the second volume of he Best Horror Stories of Karl Edward Wagner, which was titled Walk on the Wild Side, and was titled “The Last Wolf.”

The last writer sat alone in his study.

There was a knock at his door.

But it was only his agent. A tired, weathered old man like himself. It seemed not long ago that he had thought the man quite young.

“I phoned you I was coming,” explained his agent, as if to apologize for the writer’s surprised greeting.

Of course…he had forgotten. He concealed the vague annoyance he felt at being interrupted at his work.

Nervously the agent entered his study. He gripped his attache case firmly before him, thrusting it into the room as if it were a shield against the perilously stacked shelves and shelves of musty books. Clearing a drift of worn volumes from the cracked leather couch, he seated himself amidst a puff of dust from the ancient cushions.

I received both volumes of Wagner when I was judging the Bram Stoker Award for Best Single Author Collection, or whatever it is called; it was so long ago that I don’t even recall who the finalists were or who actually won. My memory is perforated like Swiss cheese nowadays, with holes and gaps; it also works like a sieve as new knowledge, and new books I’ve read, tend to pass through it without catching hold (I used to be able to name every book I’ve read, the plot, the main characters–and even some of the minor; over the years that ability has been sadly lost to time). I don’t, for example, remember the titles or the contents of the Wagner stories I read; but the books are beautiful volumes and I remember being impressed by his writing, so I kept them on my shelves. It was only a week or so ago that I realized, that I remembered, them; and that they might make a good addition to my year-long study of short fiction.

I’ve often said that writing about writers, about the business of writing and publishing, sometimes (often) feels masturbatory to me; only other writers would be interested in such a story. And yet writers pop up in my work all the time; Paige is a journalist and wannabe novelist in the Chanse series (and now that I’ve retired that series she’s migrated, apparently, over to the Scotty); another writer character I’ve created has appeared in several novels of mine–one Scotty, The Orion Mask, and one pseudonymous; he also appears to be the voice I used in several first-person short stories, including “An Arrow for Sebastian.” I have another such short story in process; I’ve not quite worked out how to make the story work, but there you have it. I was tempted to write an entire series about a writer, but as I started to develop my gay male writer character more I soon realized I had turned him into a hybrid of Scotty and Chanse; there was nothing new or original about him other than he was a writer and not a private eye. (I really do want to reread Azimov’s Murder at the ABA, though, and Elizabeth Peter’s brilliant Die for Love and Naked Once More.)

“The Last Wolf” is also about a writer, a writer who firmly believes in himself and his work, and that his work is art, and art should never be compromised for commerce. The world in which he lives is one where he is the last (apparently) person attempting to still write fiction; novels have fallen by the wayside and short stories are no longer published; the world has completely changed and his agent wants him to try to write for television shows–which, as described, sound horrifically awful. The writer refuses, the agent leaves, and he goes back to his typewriter. This story could easily be seen as angry, or even whiny; in the hands of a lesser author, the story would be precisely that. But Wagner paints a picture with his words, and maybe it resonated with me more because I am an author myself, but the sympathy rests entirely with the author. (Although I am one of those whose eyes roll so hard that  they almost unscrew when I hear another author speak of their ‘art’; but that’s a topic for another day.) I am looking forward to digging back into Wagner’s work again this year.

And now, I need to file and organize, perhaps vacuum, before I head to the gum. I want to get some things written today, and I need to revise those stories.

Hello, spice mines.

Sigh.

26196451_321860411641954_3040436925599999815_n