Higher Love

Since Philip Roth died this week, I decided to get down one of my copies of his work and give it a read. Roth is one of those authors whose work I know intellectually I am supposed to like and admire and aspire to be more like, but…I read his first novel several years ago, Letting Go. I was having another one of those periods where I realized that maybe I needed to not focus on reading so much crime fiction and needed to expand my mind more, read more critically acclaimed literary authors. I go through these phases periodically; I remember this particular phase not only included Roth but also William Styron’s Set This House on Fire, Faulkner’s The Reivers, something by Jonathan Franzen, and Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. As always, I appreciated some of the books and disliked others. My primary takeaway from the Roth, since he is the subject of this paragraph, was this is really well-written but I neither like nor care about any of these characters. The characters were richly drawn, almost intricately so; which is no small accomplishment, but the more I got to know them, the less I liked them and the less I cared about them. Even as I type this I realize how important characters are to my enjoyment of anything; short story, movie, novel, television show. I have to care, or why bother? I got the sense that as I read Roth didn’t much like the characters he was writing about either, which I don’t understand. Perhaps this is why I am not a Pulitzer Prize or National Book Award winner; I cannot write about characters I don’t care about, and I don’t want to watch or read the same.

Why would I invest hours of my time with characters I don’t like when I wouldn’t spend time with them if they were real?

As I said to begin with, I never read Roth again–I tried reading  The Plot Against America, but it lost my interest several chapters in; I do intend to try again–but I do have copies of some of his novels. The one I am going to try to read is When She Was Good. I’ve heard Laura Lippman, one of my favorite writers and intellects, discuss how much she admires Roth while being conflicted about his work; her novel with a similar title, And When She Was Good, is one of my favorite novels of hers. It’s also relatively short–from the looks of things, Letting Go may have been his longest novel–so I will be giving him another shot over the course of this weekend.

So, yesterday on my first day of vacation, I spent the day organizing and cleaning primarily, but I also did some work; I worked on the opening of my short story “A Holler Full of Kudzu,” which, I fear, might actually wind up being a novel; but I am going to continue working on it as a short story in the meantime, I also went to meet a writer friend in town for a few days for drinks at the Saint Hotel bar, which is becoming my go-to. It was fun to talk about writing and laugh about the nonsensical nature of this business with her; one of the best things about being a writer is being able to connect with other writers and in hearing other people are going through the same things.

It really is lovely.

I took the streetcar down there and back, and lugged the Roth with me to start reading. He really is a great writer; I’ve only managed the first chapter and it’s so well-written. I’ll be taking it with me to the Honda dealer today for the car’s oil change, and so I am hopeful the quality will continue; I think it will. I just hope the characters are likable, or at least relatable in some way.

After I finish with the oil change, I’m going to grab lunch over there and then do some errands, and then it’s home to get to work. I have some news brewing, and can’t wait to share it with you, Constant Reader! But until it’s all carved into stone…must say nothing.

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Glory of Love

Saturday morning and it’s chilly in the Lost Apartment; the sun is out and there’s condensation on the windows. Scooter is perched next to my keyboard, staring out the window, watching Kitty TV; I’m not sure what’s on, but he’s fascinated. It rained brutally yesterday with flash floods and so forth throughout the city. It had been a few weeks since it had rained, but there it was; a long overdue downpour. I managed to get home before it got too terribly bad, and spent the evening organizing and cleaning out files, rather than actually writing. I just didn’t feel like I was in a writing place, and so I decided to go with that but demanded of myself to complete this tedious chore that I hate doing so much.

Essentially, it meant cleaning out old files that no longer need accessibility–old book contracts, royalty statements, and even file folders of old short stories now published, etc.–out of the file cabinet and boxing them up to put in storage. This, naturally, has freed up space in the file cabinet for files to be moved into from the ACTIVE files. (Yes, I am aware how insane this all sounds; but I have two small file holders on the small bookcase next to  my desk, where I file new ideas, articles that might lead somewhere, and new stories that I have started or are not immediately working on; on my desk itself I have a metal file rack that contains the folders of what I am immediately working on. I know, I know, but it makes sense to me, and it works for me.) I also gathered all my non-fiction research on being queer in America, as well as my journal (materials for my memoirs, should I ever write them, or at least personal essays about being gay)  to collect in one place: a lovely box that is currently sitting on my kitchen counter, preparatory to going into the storage space. While doing all of this I ran across several of my old journals.

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These are some of my journals–I suspect some of them have been lost to time, through moves and so forth–but the oldest is from 1994; the most recent of these is from 2003. I started my blog in late 2004, and I suspect that’s approximately also when I stopped writing in these. It was an interesting experience, idly paging through these before placing them in the box; some of the earlier ones are from, of course, when I worked at the airport. That’s when I started carrying one with me at all times; I always had a pen, my journal, and whatever book I was reading at the time with me when I was at the airport, on an airplane traveling, etc. The ones from my time at the airport are all written in green ink; because we used green pens at the airport for everything. I wrote on my breaks, I wrote when I was in between flights at the gates, I wrote while I was waiting to board an airplane, I wrote while on airplanes. Later, I wrote between clients at the gym, or while waiting for it to be time for an aerobics class I was teaching; I wrote in coffee shops. There are scenes in these journals, that eventually made it into Murder in the Rue Dauphine or Bourbon Street Blues; there are the openings of short stories I’ve written, scrawled in long hand on these pages. I’ve even found things like when I first had the idea for the book that became Dark Tide many years later; places where I worked on developing characters or plots of themes for the book or story I was currently trying to work on and/or finish; there are also personal moments, moments of frustration or joy or happiness, all recorded in my neat, broadly looping handwriting. Starting to keep another one of these this year has been enormously helpful for me in many ways; it was lovely to reconnect with the bound journal format. (I actually need to buy a new one; I am hoping they have some at Tubby and Coo’s, where I am going this afternoon for Bryan Camp’s book-signing for his brilliant debut novel The City of Lost Fortunes)

This morning I need to finish packing up these boxes, and perhaps work on getting some of the other files moved; it is literally astonishing how much paper I have. One entire file cabinet drawer is filled with short stories and novels-in-progress that I stopped working on at some point, folders with ideas jotted down, characters and names and ideas for stories and books. All this effort, besides keeping me from actually writing anything, is an attempt to declutter my workspace as well as to make it more organized; I had an idea for a story for an anthology call I saw recently, and I knew I’d written a draft of an appropriate story (possibly) years ago–which meant it was probably in the file cabinet and I should probably drag it out to see if there was anything written in it that was usable. The need for this file made me see how desperately flawed and out of control my filing system had actually been allowed to become so as it thundered and lightning lit up the sky and the yard filled with rushing water I started working grimly on fixing this mess.

I did find the file, by the way.

I need to go to the grocery store at some point this morning as well; I could wait to do it tomorrow,  but between the cleaning and the filing and the going to the book signing I don’t see any window for actually writing, so rather than putting it off till the morrow I should probably do it today, since today is going to be shot on that score. Or maybe it won’t be; I may be able to get some things done today on the writing. My writing/editing goal for the weekend is to read “Burning Crosses” aloud and be finished with it; to finish revising Chapter Two of the WIP, and possibly read all fourteen chapters of the Scotty book and see where things sit with it, preparatory to getting back to work on it as well.

I also want to dive into Alex Segura’s Blackout, which is getting rave reviews everywhere.

We started watching the second season of Thirteen Reasons Why last night, and I have to say, I am not overly impressed with it. The first two episodes were terribly uneven–the third began to pick up steam again–but the device of having Hannah appearing as a sort of ghost to Clay isn’t working for me and is something that I hope is used either sparingly as the show moves on, or is eradicated completely. We don’t need Hannah appearing as Clay’s conscience, nor do we need her at all. It derails the show, frankly; them having conversations is, to quote youth culture of some time ago, kinda whack.

So far, we’re disappointed with it. but not so much so that we will stop watching.

That, however, could change.

And now, back to the spice mines.

Party All The Time

Saturday morning. I need to read aloud some stories this morning–“Don’t Look Down,” “This Town,” and “Fireflies”–and I’d like to get some work done on either Scotty or the WIP this weekend. I need to clean this weekend; I got started lasted night, washing the bed linens and blankets, a pre-vacuuming downstairs, organizing books, putting away a load of dishes; I also spent a lot of time in my easy chair reading Lori Roy’s stunning new novel, The Disappearing, which is giving me all kinds of thoughts and things to think about. It’s really extraordinary; you should, by all means, preorder it.

I am also working on a much longer blog piece; about being a gay writer, “own voices,” “we need diverse books”, and various other hashtags and ‘movements’ that have occured over the years on social media. There was an instance lately where an encounter with an albeit well-meaning straight lady kind of took me aback; I wasn’t really sure how to react to what she said. Albeit was well-intended, it was still kind of a backhanded slap in the face.

I find myself thinking weirdly deep thoughts about being a gay writer these days; because no matter what I write and no matter what I do, no matter how hard I might try to run away from it, gay is so inextricably a part of me that I cannot wall it off; no matter what I think or do or write or say, that different point of view is always going to be there; it cannot be turned off. There was, back in the day, a lot of talk about a gay sensibility that queer writers brought to their work; I don’t know if that conversation is still being had. But then, this is all fodder for that other blog entry I want to write; I shouldn’t get that in-depth with it here.

I did finish reading William J. Mann’s Edgar Award-winning Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine and Madness at the Dawn of; Hollywood, last night. Bill is one of my oldest friends in publishing of any kind; we’ve known each other well over twenty years, I would say. I interviewed him years ago for his first publication, the novel The Men from The Boys, and again later with the release of his first Hollywood history/biography, Wisecracker,  a biography of William Haines, the first openly gay movie star; who chose to give up his career when Louis B. Mayer told him he needed to give up his partner and marry a woman. He then went on to have a long career as an interior decorator; he was a close friend of Joan Crawford’s, who said of his long-time partnership, “it’s the only happy marriage in Hollywood.” Tinseltown tells the story of the murder of the director William Desmond Taylor in 1920, and how the big-wigs in Hollywood not only tried to cover up important details of the murder for their own reasons, but how the murder affected the lives of three Hollywood women: major star Mabel Normand (immortalized by Stevie Nicks in song on one of her most recent albums); up-and-coming star Mary Miles Minter; and fringe actress wannabe Patricia Palmer. It’s a well-crafted, well-researched reconstruction of what happened nearly a hundred years ago: it’s also an interesting overview of how Hollywood became what it was; how the Hays Production Code was born as well as the big studio systems; and how hoydenish religious groups have always made a lot of noise and tried to force their point of view down the throats of the rest of the country. I enjoyed it thoroughly, and highly recommend it.

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I’ve always wanted to write a book or two set in old Hollywood; maybe not in the days of the silents, but perhaps one in the 1930’s and another in the 1950’s. The one about the 1950’s has more of a shape in my head; even a title (Chlorine), but there’s so much else I need to write.

But first I need to get my act together today and do all the things I need to get done today; I also need to probably come up with a schedule and list of goals. There are so many books I want to write, so many short stories I want to write, so many short stories I need to revise. There’s only so much time in every day.

And now, back to the spice mines.

PS So far, cutting the cable chord is going swimmingly. I couldn’t be more pleased.

Sentimental Street

It’s Saturday morning! Lots to do today; Chapter Fifteen, read “My Brother’s Keeper” aloud, work on “Don’t Look Down,” revise “Burning Crosses,”–the list goes on and on. It’s supposed to rain today as well; not sure if that’s going to actually be a thing today, but it does look sort of gloomy-esque outside my windows this morning.

And the Apartment is, of course, a complete and total mess.

I was thinking last night, as I started reading Megan Abbott’s extraordinary Give Me Your Hand, about my own writing (reading amazing writers always makes me contemplative) and putting into some perspective. Megan is one of our best writers, and the crime genre is very lucky to have her writing within our boundaries. Reading her work is always very humbling for me, whether it’s a novel or one of her jewels of a short story (hello, publishers! A Megan Abbott short story collection is way overdue! Get! On! It!), as I find myself wondering how does she think of putting these words together? Her sentences are never overly complicated and yet she manages to put them together in such a way as to create a very vivid and complex image, not to mention how she uses her sentence structure to create these characters that are so nuanced and real and complicated…she really is a master of the written word. I will dive back into her novel today, when I am finished with all of the things I must, I have to, do today; it’s always lovely when there’s a wonderful reward waiting for you at the end of tedious writing and editing and cleaning. (I also have ARC’s of Lori Roy’s The Disappearing and Alex Segura’s Blackout; I cannot wait to dive into those as well.)

And while I should be thinking, of course, about where the Scotty novel needs to go in Chapter Fifteen and going forward from there, I was thinking last night about short stories. I always abhorred writing short stories before, thought them incredibly difficult to write, and a discipline of writing that I was not particularly good at (I am also horrible at writing horror fiction, for example). I always believed that whenever I was actually successful at writing a short story, it was purely by accident; not anything conscious that I managed because I wasn’t good at the form. But in writing these reams of short stories this year, I am finding that not to be true; I am having to revise my thinking about so many things I once believed true about me as a writer. Yes, a short story might fail; everyone makes false starts. The Archer Files, with its final section of short story fragments that Ross Macdonald had started yet never finished, taught me that. My own files are filled with fragments of short stories that I began yet never finished; first drafts of stories I never finished because I wasn’t sure, I wasn’t convinced, that I knew how to fix and repair, how to edit and revise to make right. But that doesn’t mean I am a failure at writing short stories. It simply means those stories are ready to be finished; that Ifor whatever reason, am simply not ready to finish them. And there’s nothing wrong with that, of course.

This is, and has always been, just another way my lack of self-confidence in my ability to write manifests itself.

I started writing another story last night, currently untitled; I’m not sure what its title will be but I do have a vague idea of what it’s about. There’s a great little place to eat in my neighborhood, in the same block as my gym, called simply Tacos and Beer; I am meeting someone in town for an early dinner there on Sunday. That, of course, got me thinking about that great simple name for the place, and what a wonderful opening that would make for a story; someone going there to meet someone for dinner and choosing that place because it’s simple, straightforward name pleases them so much. The story is still amorphous, of course. But perhaps I’ll be able to work on it today. I’m also thinking I might even get to work on Muscles  a little bit today.

Who knows? The day is fraught with possibilities still. I may wind up being lazy and not doing a fucking thing.

Here’s the raw opening of “Burning Crosses”:

“Population four thousand four hundred and thirty two,” Leon said as they passed the Welcome to Corinth sign. There were a couple of bullet holes in it, as there had been in every official green sign they’d passed since crossing into Corinth County. “I guess it’s not hard to imagine lynching here.”

“I can come back with someone else,” Chelsea Thorne replied. Her head ached. She needed coffee. Her Starbucks to go cup was long empty. “Can you check on your phone and see if there’s a Starbucks in town?”

Leon laughed. “I don’t have to look to know the answer is no,” he shook his head. “There’s not even five thousand people in this town, girl. There ain’t no Starbucks. I’ll bet there’s a McDonalds, though.”

“It’ll have to do.” The throbbing behind her temple was getting worse. It didn’t help they’d gotten lost trying to find this little town, the county seat of a county she’d never heard of, let alone knew where to find. It wasn’t even near a highway. They’d had to take a state highway out of Tuscaloosa and drive about an hour or so, depending on the roads and depending on traffic. It took longer to get out of Tuscaloosa than they’d planned, thanks to some road work and then another delay because of Alabama Power cutting down some tree limbs, but they’d finally gotten out of town when she was halfway through her latte. Leon had dozed off, snoring slightly with his head against the window as they got out of town on the state road, passing through fields of cotton and corn and orange-red dirt. The state road was stained orange on the edges, the white lines looking like her fingertips after eating a bag of Cheese Puffs. It was supposed to be an easy drive; she didn’t need to make any turns, just keep following the state road that would take them straight to Corinth. But a bridge over a stream was being worked on and there was a detour, taking them down an unpaved road with cotton fields on either side, barely room for her Cooper Mini, and God help them if they met a truck or something coming the other way. Ten minutes down that dirt road and her latte was gone, finished, nothing left. Then she’d turned the wrong way when she’d reached the other state road—but it wasn’t her fault. She’d thought the sign was wrong—how could a right turn take her back to Tuscaloosa? But then she’d figured there must have been more twists and turns on the back road than she’d thought, and turned left. She’d gone almost seven miles before she say the TUSCALOOSA 7 miles sign, and had to make a U-turn in someone’s driveway.

She knew it was wrong, she knew it was stereotyping, but she hated driving on country roads in rural parts of the South.

You can see how rough the story is in its initial stage; it definitely needs work. There are also things missing from it in this draft; things I need to add in to make it stronger, to add nuance, to make the sense of dread and discomfort the characters feel more clear; I want the reader to feel that same sense of unease.

And I do think writing all these short stories this year has been enormously helpful to me, not only as a short story writer but as a writer in general; short stories give you the opportunity to stretch and try things you can’t try in a novel; different themes and voices and styles.

And now back to the spice mines.

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Method of Modern Love

Saturday morning–so lovely to be the weekend! But so many errands to run today, so many chores to do, so much…it’s almost overwhelming. And yet these things need to be done, need to be handled, need to be taken care of; it still doesn’t make doing them any less horrific and horrible, or less time consuming. And really, it’s about the time consumption. There is so much I need to get done, so much I need to do, so much I need I have to get finished and out of the way…that it makes doing the errands seem even less appealing than they usually do.

Sigh.

I just need to get–and stay–motivated.

And isn’t that always the issue?

We started watching a mini-series on Netflix last night, Collateral, starring Carey Mulligan, and it’s quite interesting; every hot button topic you can think of in Britain right now: immigration, crime, drugs, the military and PTSD; it’s quite compelling, and Carey Mulligan is exceptional in it. It all begins with the murder of a pizza delivery boy, and then slowly spreads from there to an enormous conspiracy involving people trafficking and refugees. It’s quite compelling, and all  of the performances are excellent; it’s very similar to Seven Seconds in that the majority of people, no matter what their actions, are understandable through the complexity of their emotional inner lives and who they are…but the underlying villains are quite awful. We watched the first three episodes, and there’s another to watch tonight.

Out of curiosity, we also watched the season finale of The Walking Dead; we didn’t continue watching once the season returned after the winter break because we were, frankly, over it. And while the first part of the show was enormously satisfying, I also understood why there was so much bitter on-line chatter about it afterwards–and I had to agree. I was just glad I hadn’t invested any time on the second half of this season.

I also have some reading to do, and I would like to go to the gym this morning, but I don’t think that’s going to happen, due to that time thing. But perhaps–perhaps--I can get over there after my errands.

We’ll see how it goes.

Meanwhile, for the Short Story Project, I read  “Blood in the Sun” by Justin Scott, from Lawrence Block’s Alive in Shape and Color:

Summer, 1973

New York City

“If you can fly, then this roof is as good as any,” Clyfford Still told Jimmy Camerano.

Jimmy was sitting on the edge of the parapet with one arm hooked around a masonry gargoyle and his legs dangling ninety feet above Tenth Street.

“Zoom from New York. Alight on a calmer island. Paint pictures undisturbed.”

Still was Jimmy’s hero, a unique painter, a founder of abstract expressionism, and a recluse who likened art galleries to brothels, museums to mausoleums, and most of his fellow artists to ambitious backstabbers. Tall, white-haired, and slick in a sharkskin suit, he stood inside the parapet, leaning on his elbows, peering down dubiously at Jimmy’s landing zone.

This is a delightful tale about the world of art in New York City, and how critics apparently wield a lot of power over the work of artists; one of the characters is one of those critics from the New York Times who can either make or break an artist’s career. It’s also a tale of playing a long game for revenge, which seemed a bit much, but only afterwards, when thinking the tale over again–it was enormously satisfying to read but then when you’re finished and remembering you think, well….But the story of an artist on a ledge, ready to commit suicide because a bad review may have destroyed his career, was something a writer (another sort of artist, although I always roll my eyes at writers who call themselves artists and their work art; while i am more than willing to concede that literature is art, styling one’s self an artist always seems pretentious to me) can relate to; although I can honestly admit that while a bad review can make me angry, it never makes me either suicidal or homicidal. But this story was interesting; it held my interest and I was fascinated by the characters and the talk of art, and the twist ending was perfect.

Next up was “Night Windows” by Jonathan Santlofer, from Block’s In Sunlight or in Shadow:

There she is again, pink bra, pink slip, in one window then the next, appearing then disappearing, a picture in a zoetrope, flickering, evanescent, maddening.

Yes, that’s the word. Maddening.

Then he thinks of another: Delicious.

And another: torture.

This story was absolutely chilling, and more than a little disturbing. It’s a stalker story; a man watching a woman from his windows through hers in New York City; watching her undress and move around her apartment in various states of undress, remembering previous victims, thinking about what he’s going to do to her–and the planning stages of how he is going to insinuate himself into her life and destroy her, break her down bit by bit until he has satisfied his disgusting urges. There are surprises here, and twists that tend to catch the reader off-guard; Santlofer delightfully lulls the reader into a sense of security several times about what the story is but actually it isn’t; these twists and turns are wonderful and executed perfectly. I loved Santlofer’s story in the other Block anthology as well; I’m going to have to read more of his work.

And now, best to get those errands and things done.

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Smooth Operator

April Fool’s Eve!

I slept in this morning, after staying up much later than I intended last night. I’d read somewhere that you should stop looking at a screen of any kind–television, computer, phone, iPad–at least half an hour before going to bed to help with sleep, and frankly, I’ll try just about anything that will help in that regard; so I’ve started keeping a non-fiction book on my nightstand, to read for about half an hour every night before attempting sleep. The last two I read were The Black Prince of Florence and Joan Didion’s After Henry; last night I started onJon Ronson’s So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. I couldn’t stop reading it, of course, and before I knew it, I’d read through the first two people he’d interviewed about their public shamings–Jonah Lehrer and Justine Sacco–and wanted to keep going; but I forced myself to put the book down because it was much later than I wanted to stay up and I was worried about not getting up this morning.

I was right.

It’s kind of interesting to be reading the Ronson book about how public shaming destroyed the lives of two people–one who did something terrible (Lerner) and the other who made a really dumb joke on Twitter that went viral–and Ronson is really a good writer; I actually have some sympathy for the people he is writing about. But this is another, perfect example of why Twitter terrifies and fascinates me at the same time. I can’t imagine how horrible it would be to go viral in such a way on social media, but then again, I try to be very careful with social media. Is that cowardly? Perhaps it is, but i also don’t have time for arguing with people on social media, nor do I have an inclination to do so. I am frequently exposed to different viewpoints on my own social media–but as long as it is couched respectfully and is not in any way nasty or vicious, I like seeing points of view that are different than my own. (Homophobia, misogyny, and racism, however, are always deal-breakers. I never have any sympathy or interest in seeing that point of view.)

As you can tell, I am finding the book to be very interesting.

We also finished watching Season 2 of Santa Clarita Diet, which is hilarious. I highly recommend it. I also got caught up on Krypton and Riverdale yesterday, and did some more writing–not very good writing, mind you; for some reason “Don’t Look Down” is becoming increasingly more and more difficult to write, but I am determined to get that first fucking draft done this weekend. I also want to get some revisions done today. I am going to run some errands and go to the gym in a little bit, and then I am hoping to be able to get home and sit down and just write for the rest of the afternoon, which is going to require me shutting down all social media and closing my web browsers. I think I’ll clean the windows today as well, and maybe do some cleaning…which is the best way to deal with getting stuck on writing.

As I said, I finished reading Joan Didion’s After Henry this week.

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It’s a collections of essays she wrote that were published in various places, and tackle various subjects in that amazing style of writing she had; the way she constructs sentences, and puts words and paragraphs together, is so amazing that it’s hard sometimes to drink in what she is actually saying. These essays, about politics in Los Angeles; natural disasters in southern California; the Central Park jogger case in New York; the political conventions in 1988; the Reagan administration and the face it presented to the world; and several others, are pretty amazing and also serve as a kind of time capsule of recent history. I am really looking forward to reading another non-fiction Didion book, and possibly another of her novels.

I had finished reading The Black Prince of Florence before I took up the Didion.

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As Constant Reader is aware, I am fascinated by the Medici family of Florence, who rose from being merchant class to one of the wealthiest banking families in Europe to popes and queens to royalty in their own right. Alessandro de Medici, the little known subject of this biography, was the first Medici to attain royalty on his own; due to the machinations of his uncle, Pope Clement VII (better known to history as the pope who refused Henry VIII’s request for a divorce from Catherine of Aragon), he became Duke of Florence and the republic came to an end. Alessandro was illegitimate, and there is no proof of whom his mother was; his legitimate sister, Catherine, became queen of France. Fletcher does an excellent job of explaining the tumult of the times; how Italy had been riven by a series of wars between different city-states as well as between France and the Holy Roman Empire, both with extensive claims to various places on the peninsula, along with all the machinations in Rome for the papacy. The question of whether Alessandro’s mother was an African slave, or that was simply a slander to discredit him during his lifetime by his enemies, is one that Fletcher takes up; she also explains the differences between modern day views of race as opposed to those of the sixteenth century. I found the book to be endlessly fascinating, and really helped me get a better grasp of just how the Medici family became royalty. Alessandro’s sister Catherine is probably the most famous (notorious?) member of the family; I have numerous biographies of her on my shelves I look forward to reading.

I’ve also read some more short stories for the Short Story Project. First up is”A Poison That Leaves No Trace” by Sue Grafton, from Kinsey and Me:

The woman was waiting for me outside my office when I arrived that morning. She was short and quite plump, wearing jeans in a size I’ve never seen on the rack. Her blouse was tunic length, ostensibly to disguise her considerable rear end. Someone must have told her never to wear horizontal stripes, so the bold red-and-blue bands ran diagonally across her torso with a dizzying effect. Big red canvas tote, matching canvas wedgies. Her face was round, seamless, and smooth, her hair a uniformly dark shade that suggested a rinse. She might have been any age between forty and sixty. “You’re not Kinsey Millhone,” she said as I approached.

“Actually, I am. Would you like to come in?” I unlocked the door and stepped back so she could pass in front of me. She was giving me the once-over, as if my appearance was as remarkable to her as hers was to me.

This story is kind of clever, with a surprise twist at the end that caught me off guard; a woman hires Kinsey to prove that her niece murdered the woman’s sister for the insurance money. It’s fraud, all right, but not what Kinsey was originally led to believe, and the twists and turns are spooled out very cleverly.

The next up was another Sue Grafton tale from Kinsey and Me, “Full Circle.”

The accident seemed to happen in slow motion–one of those stop-action sequences that seem to go on forever though in tryth no mare than a few seconds have elapsed. It was Friday afternoon, rush hour, Santa Teresa traffic moving at a lively pace, my little VW holding its own despite the fact it’s fifteen years out of date. I was feeling good. I’d just wrapped up a case and I had a check in my handbag for four thousand bucks, not bad considering the fact that I’m a female private eye, self-employed, and subject to the feast-or-famine vagaries of any other freelance work.

I glanced to my left as a young woman, driving a white compact, appeared in my driver’s-side mirror. A bright red Porsche was bearing down on her in the fast lane. I adjust my speed, making room for her, sensing that she meant to cut right in front of me. A navy blue pick-up truck was coming up on my right, each of us jockeying for position as the late afternoon sun washed down out of a cloudless California spring sky. I had glanced in my rearview mirror, checking traffic behind me, when I heard a loud popping noise. I snapped my attention back to the road in front of me. The white compact veered abruptly back into the fast lane, clipped the rear of the red Porsche, then hit the center divider and careened directly into my path. I slammed on my brakes, adrenaline shooting through me as I fought to control the VW’s fishtailing rear end.

This story opens with one of the best descriptions of the slow-motion horror of an accident on the highway; how it happens right before your eyes and how you basically have to rely on instinct and automatic reaction to try to avoid the accident because your brain is so busy processing what it’s seeing. The story is worth reading for that alone, but it turns into a case when the mother of the girl driving the compact, Caroline Spurrier, hires Kinsey because it turns out the accident didn’t kill Caroline; she’d been shot. The man driving the truck also has disappeared. From that point on, it’s a great example of a private eye story.

Sigh. I’m going to miss Sue Grafton.

Axel F

GOOD FRIDAY. I slept in, which was absolutely lovely, and am now enjoying my first cup of coffee this morning. The herd of cats are outside my windows, gathered for their morning feeding, and Scooter is firmly ensconced on my desk–it’s going to be a long day of him needing attention, I suspect–and am looking forward to  my three-day weekend. It looks gorgeous outside, honestly; I think I might clean the windows today, as well as work on cleaning the house. I also need to hit the gym; it’s been well over two weeks at this point, and I’m not going to get leaner sitting on my ass thinking about it, quite frankly.

I am also procrastinating running some errands as well as cleaning. I am also planning on getting some writing done, and some reading. I’ve gotten some fantastic ARC’s this week, and there are a couple of other novels I’ve been meaning to get to  as well; I am hoping to get to one of those this weekend. The primary problem here, of course, is that I can’t decide which to read. I am also almost finished with Joan Didion’s essay collection, After Henry, which, despite its bad name, is quite enjoyable. I am still abstaining from buying new books until I get the TBR more manageable and under control, but am itching to get my hands on another Didion non-fiction.

Yesterday I worked some more on “Don’t Look Down” and another one that’s been languishing, “A Holler Full of Kudzu,” but I also realized yesterday as I looked at the unholy mess that is “Don’t Look Down” that I am going to simply approach these stories as I do a novel; in other words, just write everything as it comes to me, and worry about editing and revising later. That quite often works for me when I am writing a novel, so why not apply it to a short story? I also want to get a final first draft of those stories done this weekend, as well as “Once a Tiger” while also revising and reworking “My Brother’s Keeper”; Sunday is not only Easter but it’s also April 1st, which is when I intended to put all short story work aside and dive back into the novels. (I may use Sunday for the short stories, and move on to Scotty on Monday; I may just use Sunday as a buffer day between them all, who knows? We’ll see, won’t we?)

We are also watching the second season of Santa Clarita Diet, which is just as funny, charming and clever as the first. I have also started watching Krypton, the Superman prequel on Syfy, and I am enjoying it. It’s getting some so-so reviews, but I am enjoying it so far; I’ve always loved the Krypton stories, and John Byrne’s comic book mini-series The World of Krypton from the original DC reboot in the 1980’s is still one of my all-time favorite comics. Some of the elements from that mini-series are showing up in this show–not having followed comics as much over the last twenty years or so has limited my knowledge of things; of what is considered canon now and what is not; but some of the things I am seeing in this show were things I first became aware of in The World of Krypton. I also need to get caught up on Riverdale; at least I have things I can watch while doing cardio at the gym!

I also managed to read some short stories. First up is  “The Downward Path to Wisdom” by Katherine Anne Porter, from The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter.

In the square bedroom with the big window Mama and Papa were lolling back on their pillows handing each other things from the wide black tray on the small table with crossed legs. They were smiling and they smiled even more when the little boy, with the feeling of sleep still in his skin and hair, came in and walked up to the bed. Leaning against it, his bare toes wriggling in the white fur rug, he went on eating peanuts which he took from his pajamas pocket. He was four years old.

“Here’s my baby,” said Mama. “Lift him up, will you?”

This is another one of those Porter stories that just wasn’t for me. I mean, I get what she was doing; the entire story is told from the point of view of a small child, and she manages to really get that way children have no sense of time perfectly. The passage of time either seems incredibly slow and other times is really fast; and the way the child observes the clashes and moodiness and volatility of the adults around him is sort of interesting; but the story itself isn’t interesting at all. Not really for me, I guess; I should just park Ms. Porter’s collection back on the shelf and be done with it, frankly. But I also remember that I had a much greater appreciation of “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall” this time around, and keep thinking, well, maybe I’ll appreciate one of the others in a different way this time.

Yeah, well, it didn’t happen with this story.

Next up was another Sue Grafton story from Kinsey and Me, “Falling off the Roof.”

It was six a.m and I was jogging on the bike path at the beach, trotting three miles in behalf of my sagging rear end. I’m thirty-two years old, weighing in at 118, so you wouldn’t think I’d have to concern myself with such things, but I’m a private eye by trade and I’m single on top of that. Sometimes I end up running for my life, so it will never do to get out of shape.

I had just hit my stride. My breathing was audible but not labored, my shoes chunking rhythmically as the asphalt sped away underneath my feet. What worried me was the sound of someone running behind me, and gaining too. I glanced back casually and felt adrenaline shoot through my heart, jolting it up to jackhammer pace. A man in a black sweat suit was closing ground. I picked up speed, quickly assessing the situation. There wasn’t another soul in sight. No other joggers. None of the usual bums sleeping on the grass.

This story is terrific. Kinsey is hired by a man who thinks his brother brother was murdere; he fell off his roof and the police ruled it an accident. However, he was in a really bad marriage that seemed to suddenly settle down some in the weeks before the death, and the brother suspects the wife had something to do with the death–despite her rigid, airtight alibi. Kinsey starts looking into things, and soon becomes fairly certain that it was a murder; the trick is figuring out how she did it and got away with it…which leads Kinsey to going undercover at a Mystery Book Club. This story is clever, clever, clever, and one of my favorites of the Kinsey short stories.

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

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