She Bop

Well, the brake light thing was nothing serious; merely an internal computer malfunction of some sort, so the internal computer had to be reset, which took longer than I would have liked, but I love my dealership and I love my car, and sitting there gave me the opportunity to finish reading the amazing Ivy Pochoda novel, Wonder Valley.

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He is almost beautiful–running with the San Gabriels over one shoulder, the rise of the Hollywood Freeway over the other. He is shirtless, the hint of swimmer’s muscle rippling below his tanned skin, his arms pumping in a one-two rhythm in sync with the beat of his feet. There is a chance you envy him.

Seven a.m. and traffic is already jammed through downtown, ground to a standstill as cars attempt to cross five lanes, moving in increments so small their progress is nearly invisible. They merge in jerks and starts from the Pasadena Freeway onto the Hollywood or the Santa Ana. But he is flowing freely, reverse commuting through the stalled vehicles.

The drivers watch from behind their steering wheels, distracted from toggling between radio stations, fixing their makeup in the rearview, talking to friends back east for whom the day is fully formed. They left home early, hoping to avoid the bumper to bumper, the inevitable slowdown of their mornings. They’ve mastered their mathematical calculations–the distance x rate x time of the trip to work. Yet they are stuck. In this city of drivers, he is a rebuke.

When I was watching the Joan Didion documentary, I was stuck by something that was said about Ms. Didion’s work; that she wrote beautiful sentences about terrible things. It was a terrific quote, and as I was currently savoring Ms. Pochoda’s stunningly brilliant novel, particularly apt: because that is what Wonder Valley is;  beautiful writing about terrible things.

The prose is spare, like James M. Cain’s and Megan Abbott’s; each word chosen with care for its evocative power with an economy of writing that it so much more difficult to do than being overly florid. The novel is complexly structured as well; bouncing around in time between something awful that happened in 2006 and how the ripples from that event are affecting 2010, the current day. She juggles timelines and points of view effortlessly, and changes the rhythm of her words accordingly so that each point of view has a distinctive voice and view point; you can tell by tone and sentence structure what point of view you are seeing the story from without having to know the character.

That is some seriously mad skill.

There were parts of this novel that reminded me of my favorite James M, Cain novel (Serenade); and having been to Palm Springs and that area, she captures the bleak beauty of the desolation of that sun-blasted arid area. Her characters are fully formed, damaged, lost, trying to cope with issues of guilt and damage with varying degrees of success and failure, yet these deeply flawed people are heroic in their simplicity, their desire to move on and affect change in their lives they are somehow powerless to achieve; the shadows of guilt are too long and have consequence. They are so brilliantly drawn and developed that you want them to succeed; whether it’s Britt’s struggle with her own self-destruction; Ren’s attempts to move past a crime he committed when he was twelve; James’ being trapped in a life not of his own design because of a mistake; Blake’s dark desire for vengeance. Their lives cross and intersect on a Los Angeles traffic jam. This is a difficult style of story to pull off; dating back to The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder; which was a Pulitzer Prize award winning novel about a group of people who died in a bridge collapse, and how their interrelated lives all brought them together on the bridge that fateful day. The lazy way to do this kind of story is, of course, the Arthur Hailey formula (Airport, Hotel), but the way Pochoda has done it is worthy of Wilder, maybe even surpasses his own novel which created the trope. She also explores class in how each of the characters have dealt with their own guilt–and only Ren was actually punished by the system, of course; people of color are always punished by our system, while the wealthy white lawyer, the daughter of privilege, even the white son of the cult leader live in prisons of their own mind and guilt–and even those mental prisons are colored by their own levels of privilege.

It’s not an easy read, but it is a book to be read and savored and cherished.

I’d not read her first novel, Visitation Street, but it’s definitely moved closed to the top of the pile. I would be very surprised if Wonder Valley doesn’t make Best of lists and award shortlists. It’s simply extraordinary writing and story-telling.

I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues

My brake light came on in my car yesterday, so I have to take today off to take it in to the dealer for an inspection at eleven this morning. Hardly thrilling, and not how I wanted to spend my day–but Ivy Pochoda’s Wonder Valley will make the trip with me, so there’s that. The book continues to enthrall me; it really is quite remarkable, and I don’t think I’ve read anything quite like it before, either.

That is quite an accomplishment.

Writing/working on that short story the other day seems to have shaken me out of the glumness about writing/career that I’ve been experiencing lately; there will obviously continue to be peaks and valleys, but I am thinking more about being pushed, and pushing myself to do better work. I watched the Joan Didion documentary last night, The Center Will Not Hold, and that, too, was inspirational. Writing should always be about your quest to find the truth, whether it’s about a situation or your characters or your work or your life; a way of learning,  not only about the world but primarily about yourself. I am going to finish that story today–after the car dealership–and then I am going to work on some other things. I am also going to clean the Lost Apartment a bit, possibly run to the gym for a light workout–something I’ve been putting off for quite a while–and get organized, with a plan to get me through the rest of the year.

I am most likely going to read Donna Andrews’ latest, How the Finch Stole Christmas, when I finish reading Ivy’s wonderful book, but I may read Joan Didion’s Miami soon as well; I’ve never read any Didion. I’m aware of her, and her body of work, but I could have sworn I had a copy of Play It as It Lays around her somewhere, but I looked for it last night and couldn’t find it. It also required me to look in a vastly neglected bookcase, the one nestled in the corner where the staircase makes its first ninety degree turn on its way upstairs, and I noticed a lot of books that I’ve not only been meaning to read but others that I’ve forgotten that I owned. It’s always fun, for me, to look at a book and try to remember it’s provenance, how it founds its way into my collection: oh, yes, I met him at a conference and he was lovely; oh, someone mentioned this book on a panel I was on and I was intrigued by it; oh, I was wondering what happened to this book, I remember going to the signing and enjoying the talk immensely; and so on The only Didion I can lay my hands on right now is Miami, which seems like a perfect time for me to read since I am getting ready to start working on the Florida Bouchercon anthology. Didion may just be my muse; I’ve been thinking about writing a sort of memoir lately (because that is what the world needs; another memoir from a writer), but it’s something I’ve unknowingly been gathering material on for many years, and rediscovering my journals will be an immense help in that regard as well. We shall see.

And on that note, it is perhaps time to return to the spice mines; I have many emails to answer and generate before I depart for the dealership on the West Bank this morning.

Here’s a Calvin Klein underwear ad:

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Don’t Let It End

I rested well last night; I am not tired this morning. Yesterday was physical exhaustion, complete and total with mental exhaustion thrown in for good measure; but I rested well. I won’t say I slept well, because I can remember being aware a lot while I was in bed, but this morning my muscles aren’t fatigued and my mind is alert and sharp, which it wasn’t yesterday.

I started reading Linda Joffe Hull’s Eternally 21 yesterday, and got about halfway through. It’s quite charming; the voice of the main character–Maddie–is delightful, and Hull manages to pull off the how does a wife and mother get involved in a murder investigation with aplomb. I don’t know how to describe or categorize the book as far as the crime fiction category goes; whether this would be considered a cozy or a traditional mystery. Maddie is enormously likable; the set-up for the book/series is that she and her husband Frank have had an enormous financial setback; he’s a television financial broadcaster, and he was defrauded, and lost all their money, in a Ponzi scheme. Obviously, if that news got out he’d probably lose his job–who would listen to a financial advisor who lost all his own money–so they are trying to keep up appearances. She’s started a website/blog about how to save money shopping, couponing and so forth, under the name “Mrs. Frugalicious”, which is starting to take off–she also has to keep that a secret because, again, why did the financial advisor’s wife have to start saving money and being more frugal when she used to be extravagant? As the story continues, you start to realize that Maddie is the glue that really holds the family together; Frank would undoubtedly be much worse off without her as his wife; and the cool competence and efficiency she’s developed to run her household also translate to being a successful Coupon Queen; and the skills she’s sharpened saving money actually come in handy for solving a crime.  It’s very charming, and it’s also quite funny; Hull’s got a slightly twisted sense of humor that really works in the book.

I have to work today and tomorrow; tomorrow is the NO/AIDS Walk, which means getting up ridiculously early. But I have Monday off, which is lovely, and my house is an absolute disaster area. I simply haven’t had the energy this week to try to keep up with it; I am going to try to get it into some semblance of order this morning before I head down to the office. Sigh. I also want to get some writing done this weekend; I want to spend Monday rereading and making notes on the now line-edited WIP.

Okay, back to the spice mines. Here’s a Saturday hunk, Tom Hiddleston.

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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.

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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.

Goody Two-Shoes

Friday! I made it through another week! Huzzah!

Have you ever wondered how my mind works? Let me give you an example from yesterday:

Before I started the car to run my errands on my way to the office, I saw a headline on my phone as I was stashing it in the center console. The headline had something to do with Melania Trump; I don’t remember what it was. And this is how my thought process went:

Melania is an interesting name, I’ve never heard that name before, but then Michelle Obama was the first First Lady named Michelle, and Laura Bush was the first Laura…they’ve all had unique names, really, Hillary and Barbara and Nancy and Betty and Pat and Ladybird and Jacqueline and Mamie…Mamie is an odd name, I wonder if it was a nickname…those awful bigots in Auntie Mame called her Mamie..gosh I love that movie and haven’t seen it in a long time…I wonder why no one has ever written a book or made a movie called Auntie Maim? It seems like such a natural.

And after I chuckled over the horror novel/movie Auntie Maim:

Rosalind Russell was so great in that movie, she was friends with Joan Crawford, they were in The Women together, it was that unflattering picture in the paper with Roz that convinced Joan to  never go out in public again…I should write an essay contrasting Baby Jane with Sweet Charlotte..Olivia de Havilland was terrific in that but what a movie it would have been with Crawford in that role, I always wanted to write something like Sweet Charlotte…I remember I had that idea twenty or so years ago, what was it called… oh yes, that, how could you write something like that today, oh maybe instead of having the Charlotte character be a woman she could be a gay man, which would have been equally scandalous to be having an affair with a married man but then how would you do the Miriam character they couldn’t both be gay men because that would be a stretch well maybe instead it could be that the lover was murdered and that outed the character and the character ran away and instead of being her cousin the other character is his sister and now Papa’s dying and the thrown away gay son is coming home to make peace with the dying homophobic father and the old crime was never solved…

And then as I pulled into the parking lot at work I wrote the opening in my head, and typed into the Notes app on my phone on my way into the office.

That’s how my mind works.

If you think that’s scary, imagine having to deal with that imagination all the time.

Heavy sigh.

I have maybe three chapters of line edits to input before this bitch of an edit is finished. Only. Three. More.

And I’ve been keeping notes on what and where to tweak.

And for the record, the last time I looked, I’d trimmed 101, 265 words down to around 78,000, give or take a few.

That was a serious line edit.

So, it will probably end up being around 80-85,000 when it gets queried to agents.

Fingers crossed.

And here’s your Friday hunk to slip you into the weekend:IMG_2769

 

Stand Back

I have to work today, so am spending this morning catching up on chores around the house. After I get off work, we are heading up to Baton Rouge for tonight’s LSU game, which I am quite naturally excited about. It’s also my first time taking the new car to an LSU game in Baton Rouge! Woo-hoo!

GEAUX TIGERS!

I also started reading Donna Andrews’ latest, Gone Gull, last night, and am enjoying it pretty thoroughly already. I’ve already laughed out loud a couple of times in the first few chapters, an excellent sign, and am looking forward to reading more of it. Since I am working today and going to the game tonight, I have to do other errands–get groceries, etc–tomorrow, but I am also hoping to be able to carve out some time tomorrow to do some writing/inputting edits. I am so far behind on the inputting of the edits–it’s such a tedious process–but maybe if I just devote myself to it tomorrow, I can power through it, and then spend next weekend making the necessary tweaks the manuscript needs to have made before I start querying agents.

Ah, the joyous sting of rejection to come. Woo-hoo. But I’m much better about that sort of thing now than I used to be. Now, as long as the rejection is handled professionally, I no longer mind. And by professionally, I mean that you are notified. There’s nothing more infuriating than writing something for a market–say, an anthology–and finding out you didn’t get into the anthology when the book is released. This has happened to me more than once, and I am really tired of it. I am also really tired of the people involved turning around and saying oh, I just don’t time to contact everyone. Um, it’s part of the fucking job. I notified every single person who submitted a story to Blood on the Bayou–in fact, for every anthology I’ve ever been involved with–to let them know I wasn’t able to use their story, and to encourage them to submit it elsewhere.

There’s no fucking excuse, otherwise.

Agents who say on their website that ‘if you don’t hear from us in two months’ or some other time period? That’s different, because they are letting you know right up front they will only contact you if interested, and are giving you a timeline. Personally, I still think you should thank someone for submitting, but I’m also old school, and maybe agencies nowadays simply don’t have the staff or the time to do that anymore. I’m not an agent, have never been one, and have never worked for an agency, so I give them the benefit of the doubt.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines.

Here’s a Saturday hunk for you, actor Caspar Van Dien.

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One on One

Thursday morning, and there’re storms out there putting lots of people and property in jeopardy. Best wishes, everyone–best to batten down those hatches and get the hell out of Dodge. A New Orleans evacuation would be troubling–usually there’s the options of either going west to Houston or north. This time, obviously, the only option is to go north. I will, of course, be making certain that the car is filled with gas at all times now; I filled it up yesterday morning just to be on the safe side; New Orleans still was in the Cone of Uncertainty for Irma, but as the day went on the model shifted completely and we appear to be in the clear–for this one, at least. Jose is out there, though, behind Irma, and Katia may be forming along the Mexican Coast near the Yucatan. Oy.

I did manage to get Chapter Four of the Scotty finished, and started Chapter Five.  I’ve also input another chapter or so of edits into the WIP as well. Pretty cool. I’ve also had some ideas for some new short stories over the last couple of days, but as always Labor Day weekend has sort of disrupted my life and I need to get my bearings back a bit. I did manage to get the bills paid today, and I have to head over to the West Bank to get my driver’s license renewed tomorrow–YAY–and then I have to work Saturday for a few hours, which is fine. I don’t mind working Saturdays that much, as long as I’m home in time to watch the LSU game. (yes, it’s Tennessee-Chattanooga, but what kind of fan would I be if I didn’t watch their games? Although going to see It in the theater is kind of sounding good…)

It’s also very exciting that four American women are all that are left in the draw for the US Open: four American women in the semi-finals. This hasn’t happened since 2002, I think they said–back when the US women were the juggernaut of Venus Williams, Serena Williams, Lindsay Davenport, Jennifer Capriati, and Monica Seles. Venus’ first trip to the semi-finals was twenty years ago. Seriously, the Williams Sisters are without question two of the greatest women tennis players of all time; if not for her sister, Venus would probably have the record for most majors won. So, we are assured an American woman will win the US Open this year, which is very coo. We watched Juan Martin del Potro knock Roger Federer out of the tournament last night; his semi-final with Rafa Nadal should be a final, really.

I do love tennis.

I had a major breakthrough about the WIP this week; long overdue, but better late than never. I realized that my underlying theme wasn’t what I originally thought it was, but rather, something else. It means some more tweaking–but I was going to do some more anyway once these line edits are put in, but knowing what the theme is will  make the query letter writing ever so much easier. I also realized that the crime that’s driving the narrative isn’t necessarily what the story is about; which will make it a trickier sale. But I am very very pleased, and very very excited.

And now, off to the spice mines.

Your Throwback Thursday hunk today–ME! LOL. From a photoshoot I did back in 2004, looking rough and tough. 😉

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