We Don’t Get Along

Music has always been a part of my life, and has, in many ways, influenced my writing. I’ve gotten book and short story ideas from songs I’ve enjoyed; I write more effectively and more efficiently when I’m listening to music; and I used to go into what I always referred to as the zone when I was writing with music on. I used to put several CD’s in the stereo and hit shuffle before sitting down to the computer; hours later I’d come out of it with several thousand or so words written and the stereo had stopped playing.

I don’t allow myself a lot of regrets in life–life is too short to spend time mourning things you didn’t get to do–but one I do allow myself is having no musical training. I cannot play any instruments, I cannot read music, and I have no talent for it whatsoever. I thought at one point I could possibly write lyrics…but no, I have no gift for lyrics or poetry, either.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy music, and I do.

Which brings me to our next story in Murder-a-Go-Go’s, Diane Vallere’s “We Don’t Get Along.”

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There’s more than one way to tie a knot, I thought. I yanked on the ropes, putting my weight into the move to increase the tension and tighten the cord. Kristine Chamberlain’s wide, brown eyes watched me in the reflection in the floor-to-ceiling mirror that was propped against the opposite wall. That was about the only thing she could do. The gag in her mouth kept her from a verbal response.

“Does this hurt?” I asked. “I don’t want it to hurt. It’s important to me that you’re not hurt. You’re not hurt, right?”

Kristine shook her head.

“Good. I didn’t want to tie you up.” Kristine raised one eyebrow. “This was Morgan’s idea. He said you wouldn’t be home. I told him to make sure. I told him I’ve been watch- ing your patterns every night for the past two weeks, so I could learn your schedule be- fore we picked a time to break in—a time when you’d be out. We needed to be patient. Morgan is impatient, so here we are.”

Kristine nodded again. Her eyes didn’t indicate fear. That was good. Fear made people do crazy things, and if tonight was going to go off without a hitch, everybody needed to act exactly as expected.

Kristine Chamberlain was a once-hot eighties pop star who’d lost her fame but held onto her wealth. She lived in the Hollywood Hills, where any number of houses fit the profile of potential target. She was like every other formerly famous celebrity hiding out in a too big house with too much stuff that cost too much money.

I was very pleased to see Diane Vallere in the table of contents, as she was an author whose work I’d been wanting to read. I have several of her novels in my TBR pile–I think the first two of her Costume Shop mystery series. She’s quite prolific, as you can see by clicking on that link, and if “We Don’t Get Along” is a barometer of her writing ability, I have a lot of hours of pleasure ahead of me in reading her backlist.

“We Don’t Get Along” is a very tightly written story, and quite a lot of fun. Morgan and Ginger (Ginger is a our POV character) are a married couple who burgle the homes of the wealthy in the Hollywood Hills…but after ten years of marriage they are calling it quits, after one last job–robbing former pop star Kristine Chamberlain’s home. As the burglary progresses, Ginger takes us through their “meet-cute” and then the years of marriage, from the happy early years to the slow growing realization that not only do they not get along, they don’t like each other very much. I love the entire concept of married-couple-as-criminals, and Diane does a great job here of fleshing them out and making Ginger–a criminal–not only likable but someone the reader can root for; we want her to succeed and get away from her loser husband.

And then the story takes a turn.

Great, great fun.

Mercenary

As I have said before, reading Murder-a-Go-Go’s indirectly led me to Spotify, which led me to rediscovering the magic of the Go-Go’s again after many years, and then led me on to rediscovering other 80’s music I loved, like the Cars and, just Friday, Josie Cotton. Josie Cotton is probably best known for her her cover of the Go-Go’s “Johnny Are You Queer?” (which could never be released or recorded today, but at the time was kind of in-your-face and cool) as well as fronting the band playing the prom at the end of the terrific teen movie Valley Girl (which also should have been a much bigger hit than it was; but calling it Valley Girl was an attempt to cash-in on Moon Zappa’s novelty hit “Valley Girl”, but the movie was actually so much better than that; it was one of my favorite teen movies of the 1980’s and also starred a very young and beautiful Nicolas Cage in what may have been his first starring role). I was listening to two of her albums Friday night and yesterday (Convertible Music and From the Hip) and marveling that she wasn’t a bigger star than she was; she certainly had fun, upbeat music with lyrics that bit down hard, and she also had a terrific sense of personal style that should have caught on in the age of Cyndi Lauper and Madonna.

Go figure.

Which leads me to the next story in Murder-a-Go-Go’s, Bryon Quertermous’ “Mercenary.”

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“They asked for my dental records,” Lodi Meyers said, “so they can identify my body if he kills me.”

Andre Taylor sat across from her at a diner on the outskirts of downtown Detroit. “You really want to talk about this now? With me?”

“I don’t have any other options,” she said, tears giving way to an angry flush across her cheeks. “They’re putting together this moronic safety plan for me while insisting there’s not enough evidence to keep him in prison.”

Andre flexed the fingers of his beefy, gnarled hands and picked up his coffee cup without taking a drink. The bleached white of the cup contrasted with the dark black skin of his hands, which were shaking enough to splash a bit of the freshly poured coffee onto the table.

“I’m really not the person you should be talking to about this.”

Lodi reached her hand across the table and clutched Andre’s wrist. “That’s exactly why we’re talking.”

Andre put his coffee cup down and stood up. “This was a mistake.”

Lodi grabbed his wrist again, this time more aggressively. “There’s a reason you showed up even though this is a terrible idea. You want to make sure I haven’t told any- one what you did.”

Bryon Quertermous has published two novels–Murder Boy and Riot Load–which are kind of hard to classify. They’re noir and hard-boiled, but there’s a twisted, slightly demented sense of humor about them that reminds me of Victor Gischler’s work (which you should also read).

“Mercenary” is a terrific tale, built around two people–a woman and a man–who are tied together by the weirdest connection (saying anything more would be spoilerish); she’s a former pain clinic manager and he’s a bail bondsman. Her husband is about to be released on bail–and plans to kill her. The rest of the tale, as she tries to convince the bail bondsman to help save her life, plays out as we find out more about their connection, why the husband is in jail, and see just how far Lodi is willing to go to protect herself and her daughter–who is in a coma. There’s a lot here, and Quertermous tells his story sparingly and carefully, with fewer words than most would have used, and yet I can’t help but feel there’s even more to be mined here; this easily could have been a novel. Instead, it’s an enormously satisfying dark tale with a sardonic sense of humor that was quite fun to read.

All Night Long

Friday afternoon–gloomy and rainy and damp and chilly outside; the high for today was a mere sixty degrees. I went to work this morning, put in my half-day, got in the car and ran errands. Alas, all I wore today was a black V-neck T-shirt over jeans because, you know, it’s been like in the high seventies and eighties all week. Sure it’s cold now, I thought as I walked to the car this morning, but it’ll warm up later.

No, it just got colder with intermittent rain.

Heavy heaving sigh.

But I was home around two, am currently laundering the bed linens, and have already cleaned out a storage tub and put everything that was in it into this really cool wicker trunk the lovely couple who lived in our old carriage house apartment gave us when they moved out a few weeks ago (and yes, if you are thinking the enormous trunk has been sitting in our living room until today, you would be correct). I’m about to head upstairs and put away the load of laundry I did last night before bed, and then I’m coming back downstairs to do some more cleaning and organizing. At some point once this cleaning frenzy has worn itself out, I intend to retire to my easy chair with a glass of Chardonnay and Alafair Burke’s divine The Better Sister, possibly taking the occasional break to watch another episode of Netflix’ The Order. Is anyone else watching? I watched the first episode and was really intrigued by it; I wasn’t expecting it to be funny, for one thing, and it seems self-aware of itself to mock some traditional horror tropes–kind of similar to True Blood, but rather than being set in a small town in Louisiana, it’s set in a town dominated by an elite private university. I’m definitely intrigued enough to watch further, just as I am with Now Apocalypse.

And just now I learned there’s a true crime documentary series on Netflix about the disappearance of Madeleine McCann.

A veritable plethora of riches to be explored, verily.

So, when I tire of this haphazard method of wandering around the apartment from place to place, accomplishing a cleaning task which leads into yet another (and not necessarily in the same room; it occurs to me that my cleaning methodology is remarkably similar to my imagination–wandering, easily distracted, bouncing from one idea to another as I kind of go from putting something away in a cupboard or a drawer, frowning at the scattered mess contained, and start organizing it–forgetting about the books stacked on the coffee table that I was re-shelving, but if you come here regularly you’re probably aware of how scattered my mind is), I shall sit down and let the cat come curl up in my lap and have a nice relaxing evening. Paul is an absentee husband during the weeks leading up to the festivals; I am usually asleep by the time he gets home and I really only see him on the mornings I don’t have to go in early.

It’s my annual period of Festival Widowhood.

Usually I am working on something–a manuscript I am writing, or preparing, or in some sort of progress; I don’t think I can remember a Festival widowhood when I didn’t have some writing to do. Last year I was immersed in the short story project, which eventually turned into Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories–available for pre-order now!–and so, I find myself reading, watching television by myself, and my mind wandering a bit even if I am entertained and enjoying whatever I am watching. I am making lots of notes in my journal, so that’s something, but being home early like today and knowing the evening is stretching out in front of me for hours…yeah, I’m kind of all over the place.

And once this last load of bedding is finished, I can make the bed–and then I will undoubtedly get distracted by something that needs straightening upstairs.

It literally never ends.

Later!

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Breakdown Dead Ahead

Friday, and we made it through another week, Constant Reader–and a full week of work at that, on top of the Daylight Saving Change madness. This weekend is St. Patrick’s Day, which means the obligatory parade (and traffic congestion, complete with closed roads) in Uptown, which also means I need to get everything requiring driving finished and out of the way today. Fortunately, today is a half-day and I get off work at one, so I can cruise uptown and do all those errands and hopefully be safely inside my apartment by two-thirty.

My new MacBook Air arrived yesterday, and I’ve already gotten it all set up and taken care of so that it is usable, and I absolutely love it. I still have an issue with connecting it to the cloud, so this afternoon when I get home I’ll go on-line and talk to Apple Support and get that taken care of, after which it will be absolutely good to go. It’s very fast, has a lot more storage than my previous Air, and it’s rose gold–I didn’t specify a color so it defaulted to that, and it’s actually rather pretty.

I also intend to spend the rest of the day–after getting home–laundering the bed linens and devoting the day to finishing reading Alafair Burke’s superb The Better Sister, which hopefully will mean a review over the weekend. I’m also behind on reviewing the stories in Murder-a-Go-Go’s, so I need to get caught up on that as well.

As for my weekend plans, I need to get the Lost Apartment back into some sort of order. The house is being termite-tented later this month (scheduled while we’re staying at the Monteleone for the Festivals, and Scooter will be off to the Cat Practice for boarding and grooming and so forth), and I also intend to spend the weekend rereading the first ten chapters of the WIP and planning out the rest of the book. If the weather is nice–which it probably will be; the last few days have been spectacular–I may take a walk with my camera and take pictures of the Bead Trees of St. Charles. I think we’ll be getting a pizza from That’s Amore for dinner on Sunday as a treat for ourselves, and I do want to get a lot of cleaning and organizing and so forth taken care of this weekend.

And yes, I may start doing some research for the next Scotty book. I have an amorphous idea–I want to have the boys hired to investigate two different cases that end up being linked (the old Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew trick), but the trick is how to link the cases. I have a vague idea of how to do it, but am still not completely certain it’ll work, but the title will most likely be Hollywood South Hustle. I really like the idea of a local case juxtaposed against a case involving a film production scandal…

And on that note, ’tis back to the mines of spice before I head to the office. Happy Friday, Constant Reader!

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I Wanna Be Your Lover

So, Facebook was apparently wonky yesterday, and so was Instagram. I rarely go to Instagram–I’m not really sure what the point of it is, and I mostly follow male fitness models because I like to look at pictures of pretty men, feel free to judge me for this–but I did have some things I wanted to post on Facebook yesterday which kept failing on me. But the wonkiness kept me off of there for most of the day, and I have to say it was kind of lovely.

I am loving Alafair Burke’s The Better Sister, as I knew I would. This weekend I am going to have to spend most of my free time reading, because I still have two more books to read to prepare for my panel and time is running out.

Yesterday the box o’books for Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories arrived, and it looks fantastic. I can’t tell you, Constant Reader, how pleased I am with what Bold Strokes has been doing with the packaging of my books. Great covers, the interior with Janson (my favorite font); they look terrific, and I couldn’t be more pleased. It’s been a while since I got a box o’books; the last Todd Gregory novel came out in January of 2018, and this is the first fiction I’ve published since then (I don’t count anthologies, even though my name is on the spine). Yeah, I know that’s just over a year, but for me that’s a long time.

And no, the feeling of opening up a box o’books with my name on the cover still hasn’t gotten old.

I am really looking forward to getting the box o’books for Royal Street Reveillon.

I had hoped to have the first draft of the WIP finished by the end of this month, but I don’t really see how I can do that while getting the reading done that I need to do for my panel…which means, I suppose, that I’ll have to rejuggle my calendar for the year. Ha ha ha, like I actually have taken the time to make a to-do calendar for the year. I’ve not even been making to-do lists. Maybe this is why I’ve felt so at-sea this year; I should get back on that and get back to normal.

I started watching The Order on Netflix last night, per the recommendation of some of my co-workers, and I kind of enjoyed the first episode. It is a paranormal show of some sort, but it, like True Blood (and the grandmother of all these shows, Dark Shadows), doesn’t take itself seriously and there are some seriously funny moments on the show. I also watched the first episode of Gregg Araki’s new show on Starz, Now Apocalypse, and also am intrigued enough to watch more. American Gods is also apparently back for its second season, which is something else I can watch during these last few weeks pre-Festival while Paul is working around the clock.

My new computer was delivered yesterday–I did wind up ordering a new MacBook Air on-line on Monday (not that there’s anything wrong with the HP Stream; there’s not, but it’s a long story I won’t bore you with and it doesn’t hurt to use it as a back-up in case of other issues AND this way when we travel we won’t have to share a laptop which is always aggravating), and it did arrive and I am picking it up this morning on my way to the office. Today and tomorrow are, of course, my half-days, which is lovely, and so I can come home tonight and get things started on cleaning around here as well as reading, and then tomorrow I can make groceries on the way home and be in for the weekend. This weekend is St. Patrick’s Day, which means parades and day-drunks roaming around the neighborhood, so not leaving the house is optimal.

And on that note, I should return to the spice mines. Happy Thursday, Constant Reader,

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Fading Fast

When I started looking over the lyrics to the three Go-Go’s songs I was given to choose from as my inspiration for a story–as you well know, I settled on “This Town”–I was amazed, as I have said before in previous entries about these stories in this anthology, at how dark the lyrics actually were when removed from the context of the upbeat music and the cheerful singing voice of Belinda Carlisle.

Needless to say, the songs definitely loaned themselves to serving as inspiration from crime stories.

And Sarah M. Chen wrote perhaps one of the darkest stories I’ve read in a long time, inspired by “Fading Fast.”

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The guttural meow of a feral cat pierced the still night, making Sherry yelp. She stumbled on the gravel road and smacked into Justin, who crept silently in front of her.

“Jesus, what’s with you?” Justin whispered, spinning around. He held a finger up to his lips as if she needed to be reminded that they were supposed to be “stealth-like.” Jus- tin’s exact words because this was all his plan. He didn’t even want her here, but no way was she letting him do this without her.

“Sorry. Damn cat.” She hated cats. Mostly because that’s how they sounded late at night outside her window. Howling in that creepy, blood-curdling way.

His stern look softened into concern. “It’s not too late to back out, babe. Let me handle it.” His eyes traveled down to her bulging belly.

Sherry instinctively put her hand on her round tummy. She shook her head. “No, this is my thing.”

Their eyes locked in the darkness, illuminated by the full moon and the flickering streetlight behind them.

“It’s our thing.” Justin smiled and grabbed her hand. Gave it a squeeze. She squeezed back, and he motioned to the trailer about twenty feet ahead of them. “Ready?”

She nodded. Their footsteps crunched on the gravel as they closed in on the gray aluminum mobile home with the sagging bottom frame. The chilly night seemed to penetrate her bones, as if she weren’t wearing two sweatshirts and a windbreaker. Or maybe it was her nerves. She shivered.

Justin climbed the creaky steps and tried the front door. It was locked, as Sherry knew it would be. Justin pulled out a flathead screwdriver and went to work. Ernie didn’t bother with the deadbolt. Figured the few neighbors around knew better than to screw with him. Tonight, he was wrong.

The story opens with Justin and Sherry breaking into the trailer of Ernie; she is heavily pregnant, so immediately the mind runs to why would a pregnant woman be doing this? But as the story progresses, Chen deftly shows us precisely why a pregnant woman would take such a monumental risk, and why she is so driven. A powerful story about abuse, the damage that results from it, and how that damage can carry on to another generation unless someone breaks the cycle is handled quite expertly here; and the way the story ends is quite a punch in the mouth. Chen is quite gifted, and this is my first experience with reading her work…and it won’t be the last.

Well done!

Blades

Reading these stories, and revisiting the music, has drawn me into something I rarely do: reminisce and think about the past. I generally try not to think too much about the past; it’s the past and there’s nothing to be done about it, after all. Sometimes, though, when writing, I try to draw on my past and my own experience.

The 1980’s were a difficult decade for me, but one of the things I remember fondly about that decade was always the music. I’ve always had a soft spot for 1980’s music, and it was a weird, transitory time for it. MTV changed everything; exposing Americans and young people to new music and bands and artists they might not have ever heard, and the visual medium of the new “music television” channel also allowed us all to experience music visually, and there’s no question that interesting video presentation helped artists like Culture Club, Cyndi Lauper, Duran Duran, and many others to an even greater success than might have otherwise been possible for them.

The Go-Go’s videos were almost always very simplistic; probably “Vacation” was the most complicated video they ever made. Rewatching their videos recently kind of made me laugh–“Head over Heels”, for example, looks like it cost $20 to produce–and I’m not certain if this was because they didn’t care, or the record company thought they were big enough to not need the push from a terrific video.

The next story up in Murder-a-Go-Go’s is “Blades,” by Steve Weddle.

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He was on his fifth Tequila Sunrise when his head hit the table.

“Everything, guys. Everything.”

We’d talked Nick into coming for drinks because he hadn’t been out of his apartment since twenty-nine days back when he and Laura had called it off. We had to get him out. Even without the wedding, the three of us considered ourselves his groomsmen. Until death do us all part, it seemed. Though another few drinks might take care of that.

The Thursday night crowd at Wingin’ It was worried more about the Cowboys-Eagles game than about the four of us concussing ourselves on a table.

Raphael slid the emptied tumblers away from Nick’s head. “She didn’t take every- thing, man.” Raph was the jokester among us, the one we sent in to cause a scene if we needed it, the one thinking he was just one prank away from going viral. When we’d go to games, he was the one who would sneak us in a diaper bag full of White Russians in baby bottles “You’ve still got your health,” he told Nick, pulling a coaster from the side of Nick’s face. “And that nasty cold sore.”

Truth be told, Nick was a bit of a late bloomer. We were all in our late thirties, but he hadn’t even gotten through his first marriage, yet. And with Laura dumping him a month before the wedding, he was even further behind us.

“Look,” Sam said, “if it wasn’t meant to be, it’s best you know now. The two of you can move on, find new people. It’s good news to find out now.”

“We’re still registered,” he said.

Ralph, Sam, and I looked at each other, then back to Nick.

“Sure,” Sam said, “I’m sure she didn’t even think about it. Probably moved on. You should too, man.”

“At Target,” Nick continued, ignoring Sam. “I checked. Target still thinks the wedding is going to happen. On the nineteenth. That’s next weekend.” He’d raised his head, apparently just he could drop it, rattling on the table again. “Next weekend.”

Sam said he’d get the next round, then walked across the room to the bar.

This story is different from the preceding ones in that the crime committed during the course of this story isn’t a felony; and the crime itself, while the driving force behind the story, isn’t really the focus of the story. The story is about friendship, and the things guys do to help out their friends, whether it’s a smart thing or not, and the ending of the story might be a little dark–the story itself is dark, emotionally–but it also leaves the reader with a strong sense of satisfaction; justice, of a sort, has been done, and everyone feels better about things. It’s about male bonding and male friendship, and not done in a way that feels non-relatable to not-straight men.

Quite good, and I loved the change of pace.

And now back to the spice mines.