Raspberry Beret

I am afraid that the last two short stories I am writing, “Once a Tiger” and “Don’t Look Down,” have stalled for the moment. “Once a Tiger” I just need to step away from for a moment; I am definitely having some issues with that story, and it’s just getting harder. I did start it over yesterday, and do think the changes I made to the beginning make the story stronger, but…yeah, not really sure how to not only end it, but how to get it there. So, I am going to let it sit for a while before getting back to it.

Likewise, “Don’t Look Down”, previously known as the Italy story, isn’t so much that I don’t know how to end it; I do. I really need to go back to the beginning of it and start it over; I didn’t know the ending when I started writing and now that I actually do, I need to go back to the start and weave that story into it. But I opened the file yesterday, looked at it for a hot minute, and then went, not feeling this right now, and closed it again. So, rather than writing anything new, I decided to start editing and rewriting other stories. I also did something that a friend of mine does; I read them out loud to make sure the sentences spoke properly. I do not do that nearly enough, and I found a lot of mistakes in the wording, and I also found a lot of mistakes in the stories that needed correcting. One still needs some more work, but the others are close to being ready for submission. Whether there’s an audience for them or not remains to be seen…because, you see, two of the stories have gay characters.

One of the major problems one faces as a gay author is how limiting writing about gay characters, plots, and themes can be. Yes, we need to tell our stories, but when they are short stories–there’s not really a market for them anywhere. And when you send them to mainstream markets…you’re never sure if they are simply going to be rejected because, you know, gay characters, or if the rejection is because the story’s just not up to snuff. I fucking hate that. Part of the bipolarity of being a gay writer is just that; is my work not good, or is it the gay thing?

But as I was editing the stories and reading them out loud last night, I actually started thinking, you know, you’re actually pretty good at this writing thing. Last year was kind of a bad year for me; it started off with my confidence in my abilities as a writer being shaken to their very core–and let’s be honest, that confidence level has never been particularly high. My parents raised me to always be humble, to never accept compliments without being self-deprecating, to never talk about being good at anything: “if you are, let other people point this out.” As such, the promotional part of being a writer, of having a writing career, has always been difficult for me. Teaching classes about writing has always made me feel like an impostor, always waiting for someone in the back of the room to stand up and scream fraud!

But part of the goals for this year are to stop doubting myself, to stop doubting my abilities, and to believe in myself more. I always tell other writers that rejections don’t necessarily mean you suck, all it means is for whatever reason your work wasn’t right for that editor–as a former editor and an anthologist, I am very well aware that can mean any number of different things, none of which are you suck.

I don’t know why, but reading those stories out loud did something for me, made me recognize that I can, in fact, do this.

And I think the smart thing to do from now on is read my work out loud while editing it.

Thank you, Laura Lippman, for that brilliant advice.

As for the Short Story Project, first up today is  “After Georgia O’Keeffe’s Flower,” by Gail Levin, from Alive in Shape and Color,   Lawrence Block’s anthology I am absolutely loving.

I am so excited that Georgia O’Keeffe has finally agreed to meet with me! Getting her to come around wasn’t easy. At first she wouldn’t even reply to my letters. I kept at it. You know, persisted. Finally I reached her secretary on the phone. When I did get word from O’Keeffe, she complained there had been too many interviewers over the years. When I asked, she admitted that most of them were male journalists.

This story kind of threw me for a loop; it’s really not a crime story at all. It’s about a young feminist art historian meeting one of her idols, and finding that the idol isn’t what she imagined her to be. It’s a poignant story, and one I can certainly relate to: is there anything worse than meeting someone whose work you adore and then discovering that person is nothing like you imagined? That somehow disappoints you, and then you can never enjoy or view their work in the same way again? A really good, thought-provoking story.

Next up is “The Day After Victory,” by Brendan DuBois, from Manhattan Mayhem, edited by Mary Higgins Clark.

It was seven a.m. in Times Square, New York, on Wednesday, August 15, when Leon Foss slowly maneuvered the trash cart–with its huge wheels and two brooms–along the sidewalk near the intersection of Seventh Avenue and West Forty-sixth Street, shaking his head at the sheer amount of trash that was facing him, and the other street sweepers from the Department of Sanitation. He had on the usual “white angel” uniform of white slacks, jacket, and cap–which was stiff and felt new–and never had he seen so much trash. It was almost up to his knees.

Brendan DuBois is one of our genre’s top short-story writers, and his novels are pretty damned good as well. This story, set the day after V-J Day in 1945, is incredibly clever. DuBois gets the period right; I actually felt like I was there on the street with his protagonist that day, and the character is so beautifully drawn that everything he does makes complete and utter sense. He tackles something that I’ve not seen much in WW2 fiction, frankly; how were people who got out of serving viewed? Great, great story; and I would love to see it paired with Joe R. Lansdale’s “Charlie the Barber,” which I talked about earlier this week.

And now, back to the spice mines.


Missing You

Sunday morning, and after a glorious night’s sleep I am wide awake this morning and pretty ready to give the day my best shot. The Lost Apartment needs to be cleaned, as always, and I am wanting to do some writing/editing today as well. I am going to go to the gym later today–it is my experience that going earlier wears me out, despite the endorphin high, with the end result I often don’t get any writing done. I want to work on revising and polishing a story to get it out of my hair–early submission, since the deadline is a long way’s off–and the same with another. I also want to get that Chanse story–the first one–revised and sent off somewhere as well; and in addition to all that revising I want to work on the Italy story.

My work, as it were, is cut out for me today, is it not? I’ll also probably finish watching season 2 of Versailles as well this evening.

Yesterday I got my contacts ordered and did some shopping at Target, which was lovely. I also went car shopping with a friend; he needed a ride and I took him out there. I merely sat there and read short stories from Sue Grafton’s Kinsey and Me; I finished all the Kinsey short stories yesterday, and read some others as well. I was, frankly, worn out by the time I got home but managed to finish the laundry somehow, despite being so tired; I also watched several episodes of Versailles before finally retiring for the evening once the laundry was finished. Paul moves into the hotel this Wednesday; tomorrow morning I am touring the FBI offices in New Orleans with the local Sisters in Crime chapter, and then Tuesday is my usual long day. Then of course the festivals kick into gear, and the rest of the week/weekend is utter and complete madness.

There’s also some filing needing to be done, as always. I’ve also renamed both the Italy story and the Chanse story–the Chanse title, “Glory Days”, only worked if it were his high school reunion, which I dropped from the story–and I think the new title of the Italy story is better.

Here are two of the short stories I read yesterday”

First up is “Trapped! A Mystery in One Act” by Ben H. Winters, from Manhattan Mayhem, edited by Mary Higgins Clark.


Studio L, an unremarkable rehearsal studio in a warren of unremarkable rehearsal studios, collectively known as the Meyers-Pittman Studio Complex, located on the sixteenth floor of a tall nondescript building in Chelsea, a couple blocks south and one long avenue over from Port Authority. The walls are mirrored; the floor is marked with tape; tables and chairs are clustered to represent the location of furniture on the real set.

Downstage right is a props table, laden with all manner of weaponry. The play in rehearsal is the Broadway thriller “Deathtrap” by Ira Levin, and the table displays the full range of weaponry called for in that show, viz., “a collection of guns, handcuffs, maces, broadswords, and battle-axes.”

This is an incredibly interesting twist on the short story; it’s actually a short story written in play form, and it’s also an homage to the classic thrilled play Deathtrap by Ira Levin. The play was an enormous hit on Broadway, and featured the wonderful Marian Seldes in a supporting role; she set a record for most consecutive performances by one actor in this play. Ira Levin is also one of my favorite writers. Deathtrap was made into a film; not as successfully as the play, alas; the film starred Michael Caine, a young post-Superman Christopher Reeve, and Dyan Cannon. What makes this story/play so clever is it’s a play on Deathtrap; which is a play about a play which basically tells the same story of the play–and this is a play about a murder during a production of a play about a play; complete with the requisite twists and so forth. Winters is an Edgar-winning author (for The Last Policeman), and one of my favorite novels of the last few years, Underground Airlines. if you’re not familiar with Winters, you should make yourself so. I loved this; clever clever clever.

It also reminded me of a crime short story I wanted to write about the production of a play. *makes note*

Next up is  “Fat” by Raymond Carver, from the collection Will You Please Be Quiet Please?

I am sitting over coffee and cigarets at my friend Rita’s and I am telling her about it.

Here is what I tell her.

It is late of a slow Wednesday when Herb seats the fat man at my station.

This fat man is the fattest person I have ever seen, though he is neat-appearing and well dressed enough. Everything about him is big. But it is the fingers I remember best. When I stop at the table near his to see the old couple, I first notice the fingers. They look three times the size of a normal person’s fingers–long, thick, creamy fingers.

When I talked about Barry Hannah several weeks ago, I mentioned that the other writer my professor in my second attempt at taking Creative Writing wanted us to read, whose glory we should bask in, was Raymond Carver. The only texts for the course were Airships by Barry Hannah and Will You Please Be Quiet Please? by Carver. We read two stories before starting on our short stories; I was unimpressed with both writers. Several years ago I decided to repurchase the collections and try them again (I’ll talk about Hannah another time) thinking that perhaps now, as a more mature adult and reader, I might appreciate them more. It wasn’t the case with Hannah, and it certainly isn’t the case with Carver, either.

I am not sure what the point of this story is; waitress waits on a large gentleman, everyone else on staff is mean and cruel about him whereas she is fascinated in him in some way; it’s rather oblique in its meaning, and in its ending; when she says she feels like her life has changed in some way, why? Why did this man have such an effect on her? It isn’t clear and maybe that’s the intent; is it the recognition of the casual cruelty of her co-workers and her boyfriend? Why is she so fascinated by this customer and how much he eats?

It’s a very small story, and rather intimate; I like the way Carver does his writing and tells his story, yet I fail to see the genius here in the actual story itself. I learn nothing about the waitress, not do we learn anything, really, about her customer other than he is polite, well put together, and enormous. Is it about the waitress seeing, and disliking, the casual cruelty of her co-workers and her lover, seeing them in a different way in their inability to see her customer as anything other than enormously fat, that his size somehow strips him of his humanity? Is that what Carver’s intent is, to be so vague and uninvolved with the story that it’s left to our interpretation? I honestly don’t know, and what’s more, I don’t care. I don’t care about this waitress. I don’t care about her friends. The authorial distance just doesn’t work for me. I’ll keep reading his stories, though–I read “Neighbors” for the class, and I remember it fondly–although it didn’t drive me to read more of Carver’s work.

I suppose this is why I am not a literary writer, and could never be one; my purpose is writing a story is to not only to tell the story but to make the reader understand the characters, get to know them, and hopefully empathize with them; to make, in the case of anything I write, to make the inexplicable explicable. I don’t get that from either Carver or Hannah, to be honest. Ah, well.

And now, back to spice-mining.



You Give Good Love

It’s a gorgeous morning here in New Orleans; glorious because I had a deep and restful sleep overnight; relaxing because I am going to run some errands and do a favor for a friend a little later on. I was exhausted yesterday when I got home; I did some laundry, the dishes and some light cleaning, then settled down into the easy chair to watch this week’s Riverdale, and then ran a few episodes of Versailles on Netflix; as the Affair of the Poisons kicks into higher gear the show is becoming more interesting. We have also been introduced to the Duc d’Orleans’ second wife, Elisabeth Charlotte (Liselotte), the Princess Palatine; whose gossipy letters and diaries about life at Versailles are a treasure trove. Madame Scarron has also shown up as governess to the bastard children of Louis XIV and Madame de Montespan; those familiar with Louis’ story will know precisely who she is, and how important she is going to be.

I also watched Peggy Scott Laborde’s WYES show, Steppin’ Out, last night, because Paul made his debut on it talking about Saints and Sinners, alongside Susan Larson, who talked about the Tennessee Williams Festival. It’s hard to believe the events begin in just a few days; I’ve been so wrapped up in my short story writing that the time has simply flown and I was unaware that they were looming so near until some time this past week.

I also read some short stories last night.

Speaking of short stories, I’m trying to develop a plan and a working schedule for myself over the next few months. I was talking to a friend yesterday over lunch–the same friend I am doing a favor for this afternoon–which was more thinking out loud than anything else. The market for short stories has really dried up so much; there are very few paying markets for short stories out there any more–at least ones that pay decently–so that writing them has to be primarily for the love of the form; and of course, crime stories, being genre, have an even more limited marketability; crime stories about gay men even less so. When I started writing these stories back in January I purposely wasn’t writing about gay characters, themes or tropes for precisely this very reason. But the Chanse stories…well, Chanse is gay, even if the stories I am writing aren’t about gay themed; I will be curious to see how that plays out, as I intend to , once they are finished and polished, submit them to mainstream markets. Two of the other stories also have a gay male main character; so we shall see how that plays out. My story in the Bouchercon anthology is also about a gay character and the sexuality plays a factor in the story. Will it be as well received as “Survivor’s Guilt” was two years ago? We shall see; but that is what makes the writer so crazy, you know; maybe the story simply isn’t as good. There’s no way of ever knowing for sure, which, of course, is the path to madness.

So, anyway, the plan is to wrap up all of these stories by the end of this month, which will require focus and work; April I am devoting to the two novels, before diving back into something else for May. I’d love to start writing this noir novel that’s brewing in my head for years; perhaps with focus and hard work I can get it done in May. This does sound terribly ambitious, and I am very much aware of that. And see–if my under-caffeinated fog this morning I forgot all about the y/a manuscript I need to get revised; that was my original plan for May. Heavy sigh.

I also have read two more of the Lew Archer stories by Ross Macdonald collected in The Archer Files. First up was “The Sinister Habit.”

A man in a conservative dark gray suit entered my doorway sideways, carrying a dark gray Homburg in his hand. His face was long and pale. He has black eyes and eyebrows and black nostrils. Across the summit of his high forehead, long black ribbons of hair were brushed demurely. Only his tie had color: it lay on his narrow chest like a slumbering purple passion.

The sharp black glance darted around my office, then back into the corridor. The hairy nostrils sniffed the air as if he suspected escaping gas.

“Is somebody following you?” I said.

“I have no reason to think so.”

“The Sinister Habit” is the more than slightly sordid tale of the Harlans, brother and sister, who have some money and run a private school in Chicago. It is the brother who engages the services of one Lew Archer. His sister has eloped with a man he feels is going to rob her blind and steal all of their money; the sense is given that the brother–who is fussy and prim– is probably gay but it’s never addressed or talked about; it’s that casual homophobia thing I’ve mentioned before. Their mother ran out on them when they were children with another man as well; the mother lives in Los Angeles. The story becomes twisty and turny after that; the man the sister has run off with is one Leonard Lister, who may or not be a four-flusher, as they used to say. People switch sides, Archer keeps digging, there’s a murder and then a gunfight at the conclusion when the true murderer is finally revealed.

This not the strongest story, not one of Macdonald’s best,  but still a pleasant read; while the characters may not always work and the plot itself gets resolved far too neatly at the end, it is a fun read due to Macdonald’s writing style; there are excellent word choices and incredibly clever phrases.

Next came “The Suicide.”

I picked her up on the Daylight. Or maybe she picked me up. With some of the nicest girls, you never seem to know.

She seemed to be very nice, and very young. She had a flippant nose and wide blue eyes, the kind that most men liked to call innocent. Her hair bubbled like boiling gold around her small blue hat. When she turned from the window to hear my deathless comments on the weather, she wafted spring odors towards me.

She laughed in the right places, a little hectically. But in between, when the conversation lagged, I could see a certain somberness in her eyes, a pinched look around her mouth like the effects of an early frost. When I asked her into the buffet car for a drink, she said: 

“Oh, no. Thank you. I couldn’t possibly.”

The vast majority of the Archer short stories begin with someone walking into his office and engaging his services. “The Suicide” is one of those rare cases when a chance encounter somewhere draws Archer into a complicated investigation; in this case, it’s on a train from San Francisco back to Los Angeles where Archer meets a very beautiful young woman who appears to be in some distress. She doesn’t accept the drink offer because she’s not old enough to drink; but when he offers her food, she is more easily persuaded. She winds up eating two sandwiches and pouring out her tale of woe to Archer; she’s worried about her older sister. She is a student at Berkeley, and her weekly check from her sister hasn’t arrived; she has also called and called to no avail. No one seems to know where her sister is, or what has happened to her. Archer decides to help out this damsel-in-distress, and thus begins a wickedly twisting tale that includes a brutal ass of an ex-husband; Las Vegas mobsters; a fortune in missing money; and a horrific, disfiguring beating of a woman. It’s a clever tale; it works better than “The Sinister Habit,” and all of Macdonald’s writing strengths are here; great brief staccato sentences, whip-like descriptions, the world-weary cynicism. Perfection,

And now, back to the spice mines.




It’s overcast here in the Crescent City today; rain in the forecast and a slight damp chill in the air. I didn’t sleep well last night, so am more tired than I should be; not as focused and alert as perhaps I could be. But it’s my short day, which is absolutely lovely, and this afternoon I can get home early and do some cleaning, maybe even some editing or (gasp) writing.

The two currently-in-progress short stories, one a Chanse and the other the Italy story I’ve been itching to write since I was there, have stalled; I know what I want to do with the Italy story, and the Chanse needs to be figured out. I know where it went off track, so I am going to have to go back and start writing again; changing things while keeping the base structure of what I’ve already done. I realized last night what’s wrong with it; it’s very important for me to know the character who is the murder victim, and I don’t know him at all; what I had amorphously had swimming around in the fog of my brain is too cliche and too similar to other things I’ve written; something I’m taking away from The Archer Files, the further I get into them, is how breathtakingly similar Macdonald’s short stories are to each other, which makes reading more than one of them at a time problematic. They are, on the other hand, a master class in writing the private eye short story, as are Sue Grafton’s. The most important take-away from reading them is not just the story structure, which I am starting to understand better, but the importance of the character voice. Grafton and Macdonald had those character voices down, and I worry that part of the issue, the things I have wrong not only in the Chanse story I’ve already written but this unfinished one, is that I am not getting the voice right. But that’s what rewrites and edits are for.

I also know how to fix the one I finished a draft of, which is lovely.

Tomorrow is one of those awful days where I have to run errands throughout the day; I am doing a favor for a friend (I know, right? Who am I?) and that includes leaving Orleans Parish; but I also have to go out there anyway to order new glasses and contact lenses; the rest of the day will involve doing the cleaning and organizing I don’t get done today. I managed to get all my tax info to my accountant yesterday, and I still have a few things left on the to-do list that don’t involve writing/editing; I want to finish the Bouchercon anthology this weekend and get it sent off to the publisher on Monday.

I also need to get back on track with the Scotty book and the WIP. I was thinking of spending the rest of this month working on the short stories, as well as wrapping up some other loose ends, so I can get back to work on both in April and get them finished. We’ll see how that goes. I also have another y/a manuscript to revise, rework, and do something with; and then there’s the gay noir I’ve been wanting to write for years.

And on that note, back to the spice mines.




Ah, Thursday.

Yesterday I pulled a couple of wisdom teeth–i.e. worked on two short stories, only managing to drag about two thousand words total out of me between the two–so I suppose, over all,  the day was a win. Two thousand words are two thousand words, but neither story is finished; neither story is half finished; I know how to end them but I don’t know how to get there. So, I need to spend some time with the peacock book, scribbling thoughts and ideas and figuring some things out before going back to work on them In a moment of augh what a fucking mess I organized and filed the stuff piling up around my desk here in the kitchen–being able to file away two stories that are sold, for example, and stacking up the ones in progress. Imagine my surprise to find that right now I am working on–not counting the two I was mentioning previously–nine stories, for a total of eleven in some degree of progress. JFC. That wears me out just thinking about it. But one I think is for an anthology that has a due date coming up, so I need to get it polished and into submission shape; and I’ll start whipping some of these others into shape between now and End of Festivals, at which point I need to seriously focus on WIP and the Scotty book again. I also have another story out for submission right now, and am about to hit send on another this weekend (this one is one of the eleven aforementioned; the other is not). So, since January 1, I have worked on/written somewhere around thirteen or fourteen short stories.


And, since each story is roughly, on average 4500 words….that’s 63000 words approximately since the beginning of the year…which isn’t counting the Scotty or the WIP.

Fuck me. I guess I can stop beating myself up about being lazy.

That’s another thing about short stories, though; because each is an individual project, all on its own–unless and until you take stock, like I did last night, you don’t realize how much actual work you’ve done. Granted, all of them are in various stages of production; first drafts, second drafts, some are closer to being finished than others, some are finished. But when you’re working on a novel, and know your word count, you always know how much work you’ve done and how much you have left to do. And focusing on writing these stories–which are almost enough for a collection all on their own–which is also something I’m considering. I had already published enough crime and horror short stories to put a book together. Hmmmm.

I also read a couple of short stories. First up is “You’ll Always Remember Me” by Steve Fisher, from Best Noir of the 20th Century, edited by James Ellroy and Otto Penzler.

I could tell it was Pushton blowing the bugle and I got out of bed tearing half of the bedclothes with me. I ran to the door and yelled, “Drown it! Drown it! Drown it!” and then I slammed the door and went along the row of beds and pulled the covers off the rest of the guys and said:

“Come on, get up. Get up! Don’t you hear Pushton out there blowing his stinky lungs out?”

I hate bugles anyway, but the way this guy Pushton all but murders reveille kills me. I hadn’t slept very well, thinking of the news I was going to hear this morning, one way or the other, and then to be jarred out of what sleep I could get by Pushton climaxed everything.

Set in a military school, this is an absolutely chilling story told from the point of view of Thorpe, a student at the school. A girl he is dating’s older brother has been convicted of murdering their father; they are waiting for either a pardon or a commutation of the death sentence. Thorpe comes across, at first, as a typical self-absorbed teenager who sees events and the world only in how they directly affect and impact him. But as the story progresses and we get to know Thorpe better…the suspense and tension builds as the story moves forward to its inevitable, inescapable end. Very well done, and creepya s fuck.

I also read a Shirley Jackson story, from the collection Just an Ordinary Day, “The Smoking Room”:

He was taller than I imagined him. And noisier. Here I was, all by myself, downstairs in the dormitory smoking room with my typewriter, and all of a sudden there was a terrific crash and sort of sizzle, and I turned around and there he was.

“Can’t you be a little quieter?” I said. “I’m trying to work.”

He just stood there, with smoke rolling off his head. “This is as quietly as I can do it,” he said apologetically. “It takes a lot of explosive power, you know.”

“Well, explode somewhere else,” I said. “Men aren’t allowed in here.”

It’s a very short story, and clever and witty in that way only Jackson could manage: it’s a deal-with-the-devil story that turns the traditional trope on its head; not only is the young woman–who never has a name–unimpressed with the devil and what he can do for her, she’s also smarter than he is. I enjoyed this five page story, which leads off this collection, very much.

And now, back to the spice mines.


Never Surrender

’tis Wednesday already; the week is already half over. Next week is the combination Tennessee Williams Festival/Saints and Sinners weekend (AIEEEEE!), which is going to be, literally, insane. But I can hang; it’ll be lovely seeing everyone, but I can’t believe it has come up upon us all again so suddenly. It’s like I wasn’t paying any attention and the next thing you know, BOOM, there it is.

As I continue to work on this plethora of short stories (I started ANOTHER fucking one yesterday), I am, however, pleased to announce that one of the ones I’ve done since the beginning of the year will be appearing in the anthology Murder-a-Go-Go’s. The book’s theme is crime stories inspired by songs of the Go-Go’s, and will be edited by the amazing Holly West, and published by the crew at Down and Out Books. My story was inspired by the song “This Town” and is also, coincidentally enough, titled “This Town.”

Our IDs were fake, but no one seemed to care. Even when a burly bouncer asked to see them, bare meaty arms adorned with tattoos, bored eyes flicking over the laminate before waving us inside. Celia was right about that, like she was right about everything. She could always find someone with coke to share or sell, or who was happy to share their blunt with us. She was a golden girl, the kind I used to think only existed in books or movies, the girl that’s too perfect to exist, the one every other girl wants to be friends with, wants to be. The one all the guys notice first, their eyes wide open and their jaws gone slack.

 She always had the trendiest new make-up, the first to try out a daring new look we were too cowardly to try but quick to copy, always the first, the one everyone else imitated. She seemed to glow from inside, drawing everyone’s eyes to her effortlessly, and she somehow managed to always look perfect, even when she was drunk, even after dancing for hours when our make-up was running down our cheeks and perspiration dampened our armpits. Her skirts were just the tiniest bit shorter than everyone else’s, her tops seemed to fit her in a way they didn’t fit anyone else, her hair thicker and shinier and bouncier. She pulled in guys like night insects to a white light, caught up in her magic, wanting her. They only noticed the rest of us once she’d turned her attention elsewhere. We didn’t mind taking second place to her because it seemed like the natural order of things. She always knew the right thing to say—whether kind or insulting—and we all gravitated to her, wanting to be her friends, to be her. She was our pledge class president, organized, efficient, determined we be the best pledge class our Omega Psi chapter had ever seen. Even the sisters seemed to be a little in awe of her, grateful she’d picked Omega Psi out of all the offers she’d had—every sorority had offered her a bid, I’d overheard one sister telling another at Monday night dinner, her voice awed as she went on to say that had never happened in the history of the Greek system at Tulane.

And she made us all feel special, whispering “Sisters” to us as we hooked our pinkie fingers and whispered the word back to her, committing to a lifelong bond with her.

I am so glad they liked this story, because I loved it. It’s soooo dark. When I was going through Go-Go’s lyrics to choose a song, I was really surprised; I knew all the songs by heart–if I heard one I can sing every word–and danced like crazy to them, always thought they were these upbeat cheerful songs…and then yikes! Reading the lyrics without hearing the music? JFC, are these songs dark. I mean, check out this verse from “This Town”:

Change the lines that were said before 
We’re all dreamers – we’re all whores 
Discarded stars 
Like worn out cars 
Litter the streets of this town 
Litter the streets of this town

I mean, we’re all dreamers – we’re all whores? As soon as I read that line, the story just jumped into my head; a group of girlfriends, on Fat Tuesday,  wandering around in the Quarter getting wasted…and then the first line of the story popped into my head: Our ID’s were fake but no one seemed to care. That was how it started, and the next thing I knew I had over four thousand words and a very rough first draft.

I love when that happens. And the editor liked it! YAY! Huzzah for good news! It gives me hope for these other short stories I’m writing.

And I also have read some more stories for the Short Story Project. First up is “Damage Control” by Thomas H. Cook, from the MWA anthology Manhattan Mayhem.

She’d been found in the dilapidated Bronx apartment where she’d lived for the past seventeen months. It was a basement apartment and had only a couple small windows, but she’d make it darker still by drawing the curtains. It was so dim inside that the first cop to arrive had stumbled about, looking for a light switch. He’d finally found one only to discover that she’d unscrewed all the light bulbs, even the ones in the ceiling and the fluorescent ones on either side of the bathroom mirror. Neighbors later told police that they hadn’t seen a single sliver of light coming from her apartment for well over a month. It was as if the terrible capacity for destruction that I’d glimpsed in her so many years before had at last grown strong enough to consume her entirely.

This is a truly sad story; in which a man is forced to look back on a painful decision made years earlier, when his family took in a foster child to give their only child a sister. The two girls got along well at first, but the foster child became a problem child, possibly even dangerous, and for the sake of their blood daughter they gave the foster child back to the system. Now an adult, she has died, and he is having to reflect, remember, what happened all those years ago, wonder if things could have been different, if maybe he had tried a little harder maybe things wouldn’t have ended so badly for her. There’s a horrible twist at the end as well, which makes the story all the more poignant and sad; about how a life can be so easily wasted and thrown away, based on a perception that ma or may not be correct.

I then moved on to a Shirley Jackson story, from the recent collection Let Me Tell You. The story is titled “Paranoia.”

Mr. Halloran Beresford, pleasantly tired after a good day in the office, still almost clean-shaven after eight hours, his pants still neatly pressed, pleased with himself particularly for remembering, stepped out of the candy shop with a great box under his arm and started briskly for the corner. There were twenty small-size gray suits like Mr. Beresford’s on every New York block, fifty men still clean-shaven and pressed after a day in an air-cooled office, a hundred small men, perhaps, pleased with themselves for remembering their wives’ birthdays. Mr. Beresford was going to take his wife out to dinner, he decided, going to see if he could get last-minute tickets to a show, taking his wife candy. It had been an exceptionally good day, altogether, and Mr. Beresford walked along swiftly, humming musically to himself.

I absolutely, positively love love LOVE Shirley Jackson. The other night, as I was trying to decide which story to read next, I suddenly realized that I have three short story collections by one of my favorite authors and haven’t read any of them. I immediately grabbed Let Me Tell You and sat down with it. “Paranoia” is brilliant, positively brilliant; to tell you why would spoil it, and if its spoiled the effect is ruined, but it is, with every word and sentence, the perfect fictional story representation of defining the word paranoia. It reminded me, as I kept reading, of precisely why I love Jackson so much. God, what a great story!

And now, tis back to the spice mines with me.


Freeway of Love

Tuesday morning. My body is still adjusting to the stupid time change, which I’ve come to loathe with every fiber of my being as I get older. I mean, seriously, does it serve any purpose any more? Can’t it just be done away with once and for all? I was so tired the last two days I could barely function–and functionality is not something I can afford to do without for a couple of days. Sure, I managed to work on some short stories yesterday; but maybe I wrote a thousand words total if I was lucky. I did, however, have a breakthrough on one that I’ve been struggling with, and now I know how to revise it to make it (hopefully) publishable; although it is still incredibly dark–if not darker now.

But I kind of like that.

I finished reading The Black Prince of Florence the other night, and have started reading The Republic of Pirates. I am very excited about reading my pirate book (thank you, Black Sails) and think that my next non-fiction will also be pirate-related; Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean is just sitting there giving me side-eye from my TBR pile.

I also got some good news which I will share when I get the go-ahead.

The goal for this week is to get several Scotty chapters finished, get back to the WIP by editing what I’ve done in this current draft so far, and finish two stories I’ve started and try to edit/revise a couple more to get out there. Heavy sigh. I also have a doctor’s appointment tomorrow morning, and so hopefully I can get to the gym on Thursday morning. I am averaging only twice a week, which isn’t optimal; I need to get to three, but twice is better than once and certainly better than no visits. This next trip is going to involve an increase in weight, which is well overdue. I also tried the elliptical rather than the treadmill on Saturday; it did not go well. I only managed eight minutes rather than the twenty I usually get on the treadmill; but the good news is that I managed to burn the same amount of calories. I am going to try to get ten minutes on the elliptical on the next visit, and then move to the treadmill for ten more. Cardio is clearly the bane of my existence.

I also managed to read two short stories. First up was “Non Sung Smoke” by Sue Grafton, from her collection Kinsey and Me.

The day was an odd one, brooding and chill, sunlight alternating with an erratic wind that was being pushed toward California in advance of a tropical storm called Bo. It was late September in Santa Teresa. Instead of the usual Indian summer, we were caught up in vague presentiments of the long, gray winter to come. I found myself pulling sweaters out of my bottom drawer and I went to the office smelling of mothballs and last year’s cologne.

I spent the morning caught up in routine paperwork, which usually leaves me feeling productive, but this was the end of a dull week and I was so bored I would have taken on just about anything. The young woman showed up just before lunch, announcing herself with a tentative tap on my office door. She couldn’t have been more than twenty, with a sultry, pornographic face and a tumble of long dark hair. She was wearing an outfit that suggested she hadn’t gone home the night before unless, of course, she simply favored lo-cut sequined cocktail dresses at noon. Her spike heels were a dyed-to-match green and her legs were bare. She moved over to my desk with an air of uncertainty, like someone just learning to roller-skate.

I really like how Grafton starts her short stories; they are very similar to the way she starts the novels, and so that Kinsey’s voice is always consistent; slightly snarky, blunt, and definitely cynical. This story, in which a young girl hires Kinsey to find the guy she hooked up with last night, isn’t one of Grafton’s stronger stories, but there’s something about it that hooks the reader and keeps you reading. And like the other stories, nothing is the way it appears at the beginning, and the end…well, it’s more sad than anything else.

Next, I took down my copy of The  Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter, and reread her “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall”.

She flicked her wrist neatly out of Doctor Harry’s pudgy careful fingers and pulled the sheet up to her chin. The brat ought to be in knee breeches. Doctoring around the country with spectacles on his nose! “Get along now, take your schoolbooks and go. There’s nothing wrong with me.”

Doctor Harry spread a warm paw like a cushion on her forehead where the spiked green vein danced and made her eyelids twitch. “Now, now, be a good girl, and we’ll have you up in no time.”

“That’s no way to speak to a woman nearly eighty years old just because she’s down. I’ll have you respect your elders, young man.”

This is another story I was required to read in college that I didn’t get when I was nineteen; I thought it was kind of boring, and listening to a professor go on and on about it was even more tiresome than reading it. This collection won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award; I bought it about ten years ago because I was trying to find a story I loved, and the only thing about I knew for sure was the author’s first name was Katherine (that story turned out to be by Katherine Mansfield, and the story was “Miss Brill”). I plowed through this entire collection, and it was literally like pulling teeth; I skipped this story because I’d already read and disliked it.

But on this reread, this tale of a woman on her deathbed, and how her mind jumps around about the past as she’s dying, resonated a bit more with me. She is reflecting on how happy her life is, and how she wouldn’t have changed anything about it; her happy marriage, the children she bore, the life she created for herself–yet she can’t stop remembering the humiliation of being jilted, of having been left at the altar on her wedding day, by her first love. I could understand it better now–I still remember every humiliation of my life, and never was I so horribly, publicly humiliated in such a way as Granny Weatherall–and can appreciate the poignant sadness of the tale. I also think that a decent professor could have made college students, particularly me, appreciate this story all the more than we actually did.

And now, back to the spice mines.

Here’s a hunk.