Twilight Zone

Ugh, my dryer is on the fritz, and I just can’t–in the ultimate of bougie problems–I just can’t function without a working washer and dryer. I can’t decide if it’s worth it to get a repair guy out here, or if we should just go ahead and get a new one. I know I called a repairman once for the washing machine–and it was only slightly less expensive than buying a new one. Heavy heaving sigh. I think we’ve already replaced the dryer once before. It’s so infuriating. I wish I were more handy, because I bet it is something that is really easy to fix; but I am not handy like that. I’m so glad my parents were so focused on my future that they wouldn’t let me take Shop or Auto Shop because they were too easy.

Yeah. They just would have saved me thousands of dollars over the years. But hey, those classes weren’t useful for my future.

Heavy heaving sigh.

So, I spent the evening trying to dry clothes in a faulty dryer–eventually they dried–while filing and washing dishes and also finishing reading Eric Ambler’s Journey Into Fear, which was quite fun.

journey into fear

The steamer, Sestri Levante, stood high above the dock side, and the watery sleet, carried on the wind blustening down from the Black Sea had drenched even the small shelter deck. In the after well, the Turkish stevedores, with sacking tied round their shoulders, were still loading cargo.

Graham saw the steward carry his suit-case through a door marked PASSEGGIERI, and turned aside to see if the two men who had shaken hands with him at the foot of the gangway were still there. They had not come aboard lest the the uniform of one of them should draw attention to him. Now they were walking away across the crane lines towards the warehouses and the dock gates beyond. As they reached the shelter of the first shed they looked back. He raised his left arm and saw an answering wave. They walked on out of sight.

For a moment he stood there shivering and staring out of the mist that shrouded the domes and spires of Stamboul. Behind the rumble and clatter of the winches, the Turkish foreman was shouting plaintively in bad Italian to one of the ship’s officers. Graham remembered that he had been told to go to his cabin and stay there until the ship sailed. He followed the steward through the door.

The man was waiting for him at the head of a short flight of stairs. There was no sign of any of the nine other passengers.

Eric Ambler, considered (per his bio) is considered the father of the modern thriller and was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America in 1975. His novels, focused on intrigue, espionage and spying, have been called influences by many writers, including John Le Carre and Robert Ludlum and Len Deighton. (I loved Ludlum, but am ashamed to admit I’ve never read Le Carre or Deighton; but I do have a copy of The Spy Who Came In From the Cold that I need to get around to reading.) I had never read Ambler; although my friend Pat, a huge fan of the crime genre, has recommended A Coffin for Demetrios to me on several different occasions, and usually one of Ambler’s works winds up on those lists of ‘crime novels everyone should read.’ I bought Epitaph for a Spy and several others a few years ago; I finally sat down and pulled Journey Into Fear out of the TBR Mountain and started reading it. It took me longer than it should have; it’s short, for one thing, but very engrossing. It’s also very…for want of a better term, it’s very British.

I love novels where normal, every day people going about their business and minding their own business are suddenly thrust into peril. Ludlum was a master of this, and I call it Hitchcockian; it was also a staple in many of his films. Journey into Fear also falls into this category; Graham, the main character, is a forty year old British man who works for an engineering firm and was sent to Turkey to help work on updating and refitting the Turkish fleet because of the outbreak of World War II. Graham, who is happily married and generally just goes about his business. What Graham, in his unassuming way, doesn’t realize or understand just how valuable he–and his work–are to the Allied forces; he is just doing his job. Then, on his last night in Istanbul, someone is waiting for him in his hotel room and shoots at him. Fortunately, he is only slightly wounded in his hand but this is when Turkish intelligence gets involved. It is a matter of vital Turkish importance to their defense that Graham make it back to England and his work not be interrupted; Graham doesn’t it take it seriously…at first. But once he is on the freighter traveling through the night to Genoa, he finds out just how much danger he is actually in.

The book is very tightly written, and not very long; but it also falls into the classic trope of suspense in a tight, controlled area with a very small cast of characters; like Murder on the Orient Express. This trope is very hard to pull off–even harder nowadays–and Ambler does it beautifully, even adding the element of “no one will believe me if I ask for help.” The other characters on the ship are richly drawn; Ambler is able to create a character with brief sentences that pretty much tell you everything you need to know about that character to make them real.

I am very much looking forward to reading more Ambler. Now I am going to give Dorothy B. Hughes’ sublime In a Lonely Place  a reread.

And now, back to the spice mines.

 

Come on Eileen

Saturday! I managed to finish Chapter One last night and started Chapter Two; huzzah! They are crap, of course, but I’ll worry about that later. I finally got a good night’s sleep today; I have Wacky Russian this morning, have to go to the office to work for a bit, and am going to make a Costco run on the way home. (Just a minor one.) It’s so nice to feel rested; I am hoping that tonight I’ll be so worn out I won’t have any choice but to sleep deeply and well.

I can dream, at any rate.

My weekend this weekend is actually, therefore, Sunday and Monday; it’s going to be strange to have Monday off–next weekend is my birthday, so I am taking a three day weekend to celebrate–so I am, of course, hoping to get some more Scotty written, some more of the line edit finished, and maybe revise a short story or two. Ambitious plans, to be sure, but I am nothing if not overly ambitious. We’re also trying to find a new show to watch; Orphan Black ends this weekend, Game of Thrones only has a few more episodes to run, and  I suspect Animal Kingdom is also approaching its season finale. We never did finish the final season of Bates Motel, though, and there have to be some other shows out there that we just haven’t discovered yet, or forgot we watched.

I want to finish reading Journey Into Fear this weekend so I can get started on my annual reread of The Haunting of Hill House. I think I might read something more noirish after that; not sure what, but there are plenty of things for me to read around the house, believe you me. Maybe I’ll do something I’ve really grown to love over the last year or so–a short story challenge, where I read a short story every day and then blog about it. I do love short stories, and I really would like to write more of them. I’d love to do a collection of my crime and horror short stories…perhaps by the end of the year I would have enough of them on hand to actually put a collection together. (I may already have enough; I’m not sure, but I’d love to have some new, unpublished material.) Maybe I’ll wait and do short-story September, which would be way fun.

And on that note, I think I shall head off to the spice mines. Here’s a Saturday hunk for you viewing pleasure, Constant Reader:

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Maniac

Monday morning in New Orleans, after a crazy kind of weekend that included insane street flooding and torrential rains. My neighborhood doesn’t flood quite as bad as others–we’ve had high water on our street, but it rarely lasts for long–because two blocks from the house is Coliseum Square, which is much lower (as is Camp Street on the far side of it) and serves as a kind of flood basin for the neighborhood (which was WAY fun when we lived on Camp Street; my car flooded once and we got water all the way up to the top step–of six–outside out front door). I didn’t work much on the line edit (read: not at all) because I was too busy reading, first Lyndsay Faye’s brilliant The Gods of Gotham, then Owen Matthew’s epic The Fixes, and then I started reading Eric Ambler’s Journey Into Fear. (I’ve not read Ambler before) We also got caught up on Orphan Black, and continue to muddle along with The Last Tycoon, which is quite visually stunning but more than a little dull. (And just HOW do you make 1930’s Hollywood dull? Nicely done, F. Scott Fitzgerald.)

Game of Thrones was just EPIC last night. Oh my God, was it ever epic. I won’t post spoilers for those who may not have seen it yet, but all I will say is finally. I’ve been waiting for that episode ALL SEASON. Huz-fucking-ZAH.

So, I read Owen Matthews’ The Fixes yesterday. Owen Matthews is the name Owen Laukkanen uses to write young adult fiction (his first was How to Win at High School, which I have but is still in the TBR pile), and as Owen Laukkanen he wrote one of my favorite books of last year, The Watcher in the Wall (I may have read it this year; my memory has truly become a sieve). Owen and I are on a panel at Toronto Bouchercon this year–while the schedule hasn’t been posted yet, I was curious as to why Owen was on a panel called “Reading the Rainbow”; but I haven’t read all of his work as of yet. The panel moderator and I were talking the other day and I brought that up, at which point I was told he does write gay characters, and in fact, one of the main characters in The Fixes is gay. I moved the book to the top of the TBR pile, and tore through it yesterday afternoon: it is a quick read, and moves really fast.

the fixes

This is a story about a boy’s first crush, and how it blew up in his face.

And all of its explosive consequences.

(You know what? Forget it.)

Let’s start over.

Let me tell you why E set off that bomb.

Eric, or E, as he comes to be called by his friends over the course of the novel, is the son of a state senator, the grandson of yet another politician, and has been raised to understand that he isn’t just anyone; he is a CONNELLY MAN and he has to live up to the family name–maybe even so far as eventually running for president. Eric has given up a lot to live up to his father’s expectations, and is more than a little resentful. As a sophomore, Eric had dated Paige but soon realized he was more attracted to guys than girls…which as a CONNELLY MAN could prove problematic. His future is laid out for him completely, and he is giving up the summer before he starts college to intern at a legal firm his father used to work for. And then, a chance encounter in the office at his high school with Jordan Grant, the gorgeous son of a wealthy filmmaker, derails his entire summer….and possibly his future as well.

Soon, Eric (E, as Jordan likes to call him) has a full blown crush on Jordan, even though he seems to be involved loosely with Haley. All four of these kids–they live in a Malibu-like, affluent wealthy town called Capilano–have some damage: Paige’s father is going to be tried for embezzling and misleading investment clients (a la Madoff); Haley’s mother is a model who idealizes her eldest daughter, a successful model, and is always putting Haley down and making her feel bad about herself, which led to an eating disorder and a stay in a hospital; E himself is struggled against the life path his father has chosen for him; and Jordan is…well, what exactly is Jordan’s damage?

I don’t want to spoil anything, but suffice it to say that the group becomes involved in ‘fixing’ things around Capilano; injustices they step up to correct. And as E becomes more deeply involved in the fixes, as his own life path begins to spin out of control and he falls deeper and deeper under Jordan’s spell..the book continues racing along at a frenetic, insane pace that makes it impossible to put down until it’s finished.

It was also lovely to see a novel, published by a mainstream press and written by a non-gay author, that so carefully, conscientiously, and sympathetically explored the struggle and complexity of coming to terms with a sexuality that does not jibe with family expectations, as well as the emotional grappling with how can I not be my true self for the rest of my life?; not to mention the emotional complexity of falling in love for the first time.

The story is intricate as well; this is a fine example of young adult noir, the kind the amazing Jay Bennett used to write.

Highly recommended, and really looking forward to reading How to Win at High School.

 

Baby, Come to Me

Yesterday was had a rather intense storm here in New Orleans; there was flash flooding all over the city, cars ruined, water inside buildings; that sort of thing. I don’t know if my street flooded or not (guess I’ll find out if my car got ruined tomorrow morning when I am ready to go to work), but we certainly were lucky and didn’t get water inside of our house. The rain is going to continue some today; there’s an advisory for everyone to stay inside and off the roads, just in case. We get these kinds of storms and flash floods every once in a while–the price of living in a low lying city surrounding by water where parts of the city used to be swamp and are now floodplains, and our pumping system tends to get overwhelmed when we get a lot of water in a short period of time. I’ve been caught out in these storms before, having to wade through water up to my hips at times. My car was flooded when I was on my way home from work the first year we lived here and I got caught in one of these storms. There’s no point in railing against these storms and short-term floods; they happen periodically and you have to deal with them, unfortunately. Last night was also supposed to be White Linen Night, an annual event every August in the Arts District where all the galleries serve food and alcohol, booths are set up on Julia and Magazine streets to sell food and drink, and people wearing white go from gallery to gallery looking at (and hopefully buying) art. Satchmo Fest was also this weekend; clearly, both annual events were cancelled yesterday because of the deluge. I ran my errands early–thank God–and so intended to spend the rest of my day inside and working on the line edit, doing some writing, and reading as well. I did no line editing and no writing yesterday; instead, I was caught up in the last half of Lyndsay Faye’s staggeringly brilliant The Gods of Gotham, and could not put it down until it was finished.

Scan 1

When I set down the initial report, sitting at my desk at the Tombs, I wrote:

On the night of August 21, 1845, one of the children escaped.

Of all the sordid trials a New York City policeman faces every day, you wouldn’t expect the one I loathe most to be paperwork. But it is. I get snakes down my spine just thinking case files.

Seriously, is there anyone who enjoys paperwork?

The Gods of Gotham is the perfect historical crime novel. I’ve read a number of them, and there are some truly excellent ones (one of my favorite novels of all time is The Affair of the Blood-Stained Egg Cosy, set in the 1930’s), but I’ve also staggered my way through some seriously bad ones. But even with the bad ones, I always have tremendous respect for the writer for even trying; I can’t imagine trying, much as I love history, because there are so many gaps; so many things to research, from small to large, intricate intimate details that may be impossible to find out–or you might find them out when it’s too late. To be truly successful, a historical piece of fiction has to be completely immersive; the author has to bring that world to life but make the reader understand it and how it was to live in that period without giving in to the temptation to put everything you’ve researched into the book/story, aka hitting the reader over the head with a history lesson. Writing a convincing, involving story with characters the reader can identify with, appreciate, and root for, is hard enough without setting it in another time period.

Lyndsay Faye has managed this incredible juggling feat, and pulled it off with aplomb. The Gods of Gotham is set in New York City (obviously) in the late summer of 1845; when the city has newly created a police force, identified by the copper stars they wear (which, obviously, is where the slang term copper, and its derivative, cop, came from; this is clearly made obvious throughout the story without Faye stopping to explain; a lesser writer certainly would have made that egregious take-the-reader-out-of-the-story error). Our hero, Timothy Wilde, is a bartender when the story opens; his older brother, Valentine, is a good-time Charlie who likes to get wasted, frequents whorehouses, and also works as a fireman. The relationship between the brothers isn’t great; they lost their parents to a fire when they were children, and they butt heads alot. Valentine is also involved with the Democratic Party. After an enormous fire leaves Timothy jobless and homeless and broke, he rents a room from a widowed German baker, Mrs. Boehm, and is then pressured by his brother into becoming a copper star; a beat cop in the newly formed city police, which not everyone in the city wants or approves of. Soon, Timothy is wrapped up in a bizarre mystery involving a child prostitute he runs across one night; wandering the streets in a nightdress, covered in blood; and soon the investigation expands to involve a possible serial killer of child prostitutes. Politics, nativism, religious and ethnic and racial bigotry all play a part in this tale; as do sexism.

The truly great historical novels not only shine a bright light on the past, but thematically show how little has changed over time. The Gods of Gotham could easily be set in the present day, with Timothy Wilde as a modern police detective. The bigotry against the Irish and Catholics could easily be translated to Middle Eastern refugees and Muslims; it is truly sad to read and see how we as a society and a people fail to learn from the mistakes of the past, repeating the same errors over and over to our own disgrace. Faye has brought New York of 1845 vividly to life with careful brush strokes that never are too big or too broad or invasive to the story; her city streets are alive with noise and people and sights and sounds and smells. Her characters are all-too-real; even the worst of her villains (particularly the diabolical madam, Silkie Marsh) are believable three-dimensional and live and breathe on the page.

I hated seeing the book end, quite frankly; but there are two more Timothy Wilde novels to savor and look forward to, as well as her Edgar nominated Jane Steele (The Gods of Gotham was also an Best Novel Edgar finalist), and her Sherlock Holmes work. (And yes, my recent interest in Holmes was triggered by Lyndsay’s interest in Holmes…and there were times when this book itself reminded me of, in the best possible ways, of Nicholas Meyer’s Holmes pastiches from the 1970’s, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution and The West End Horror.)

The Gods of Gotham, if you haven’t read it yet, needs to be added to your TBR pile immediately.

Maneater

Is there a male version of the term maneater? I’ve been wracking my brain trying to think of what it could be; which indicates that the answer to that question is obviously, no. I also would imagine maneater and femme fatale are interchangeable; Phyllis from Double Indemnity is one of the best fictional representations of the type. I’ve always wondered what Phyllis was thinking, and how much more interesting the book would be told from her point of view. There has been a so-called trend in crime fiction lately, where the stories are told from the point of view of the maneater, which has also led to lots of opinion pieces about the rise of unlikable women characters in crime fiction, which strikes me as kind of odd, as those types of characters have been around (male or female) since the very beginning of crime fiction. Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl is often credited as the book that started the trend, but I think it’s more accurate to say that Flynn’s book was the first major break out bestseller to have an unlikable woman as the focal point of the story.

I made some great progress on reading The Gods of Gotham  last night, and what a marvelous read it is! This is historical crime fiction done right–the last historical crime fiction novel I read that I enjoyed this much was Louis Bayard’s The Black Tower. Lyndsay has somehow managed to weave a tale involving the founding of the New York police department, Irish immigration, religious/ethnic bigotry, racism, politics, and child prostitution; and this world is alive and breathes. It’s really quite an accomplishment, and it’s written with wit and style and compassion; it’s also written in the style of nineteenth century novels but she has also managed to update the style and make it modern; Dickens, as it were, without the cloying over-sentimentality. Faye’s characters are also developed so strongly they all live and breathe and seem absolutely real; the maneater of the book is a madam named Silkie, who is delightful in her scheming and corruption. I intend to read more of the book later today, after I get the errands and chores done, and more of the goddamned line edit. My to-do list for the weekend is rather ambitious, I do confess; perhaps too ambitious to get everything done, but I’d rather overestimate what I can get done than underestimate.

The kitchen is a mess, the apartment is a disaster area, and of course, laundry laundry laundry. Heavy heaving sigh. Paul’s off playing tennis this morning, and I actually woke up feeling rested this morning. So, getting everything done seems like it’s something that’s actually possible. It’s supposed to rain off and on all day; we’ll see. I also made some progress on the Scotty book yesterday. My goal is to try to get a chapter done every day for the next twenty days–which will be, of course, a complete first draft. By that time, the line edit of the WIP should be finished and input–I can only do line edits on hard copies, which is not eco-friendly, but doing it on the computer has proven to not be as effective over the years. I do think this line edit is going well, and making the book even stronger, which is the entire point, right?

I also had a terrific conversation with the moderator of one of my two panels at Bouchercon, and I am very excited about the panel; this is also the first time I’ve been on two panels at Bouchercon–so probably I’ll be lucky to get one on St. Petersburg next year. I am looking forward to the Toronto trip this year; Bouchercon is always one of the highlights of my year.

I am going to read, I think, The Fixes by Owen Matthews (aka Owen Laukkanen) next, once I’ve finished Gods of Gotham.

And on that night, I should probably get back to the spice mines.

Here’s a Saturday hunk for you, Constant Reader:

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MUSIC: Losing My Religion by REM

MOOD: Cheerful

Fading Fast

Good morning, Saturday! I have Wacky Russian this morning, and we are meeting friends for dinner later on, so I’ll probably spend the day reading, cleaning and doing laundry before that. I’m probably going to try to finish the revision of “For All Tomorrow’s Lies”, and maybe make some progress on the line edit as well. I am putting off making a grocery run until tomorrow; not sure if that’s wise or if I should just get it over with today, so I don’t have to leave the house tomorrow at all…decisions, decisions.

It seems a bit gray out there this morning; Paul is leaving shortly to go play tennis, which might (and most likely will be) rained out at some point. I don’t think it rained yesterday, which might be the first day since May it hasn’t rained here. I just hope it doesn’t rain on me on the way to the gym; that always sucks.

I could also spend some time organizing computer files, which always seems to get out of hand very quickly. I hate that. It comes from being lazy and stashing things quickly, always thinking I’ll straighten this up later. So, in the meantime, it drives me crazy and it builds up and builds up until it takes hours for me to reorganize everything.

Then again, it also helps me procrastinate and not write, so there’s that explained.

And as I glance around the kitchen this morning, it’s such  a mess. Heavy heaving sigh. Stacks of paper, stacks of books, the floor needs cleaning…ad my knives need sharpening, too. It never ends.

As I said yesterday, one of the things I find myself most interested in exploring in my writing now is damage, how people became damaged and how they cope with it, while contrasting their damage with mundanities of life. We all have our own damage; carry the signs of it with us internally all the time. My story “Housecleaning” was inspired by the smell of bleach, which reminded me one day of my mother–and that became the opening line: The scent of bleach always reminded him of his mother. Part of the genius of shows like Weeds and Ozark was the impact of their parents’ criminal behavior on their children; how do kids have a normal life when their parents are criminals and have thus lost their moral compass, as well as the morality of being a parent? “Housecleaning” was about such a kid, who grew up under the thumb of a con artist mother, who as he got older was required to assist in the cons. And when you’re assisting your mother in conning marks as a child, what kind of adult do you become?

I am also very far behind on my schedule for the summer. I’d hoped to have the noir novel’s first draft finished by the first of September, so I could spend the fall writing the next Scotty book while the noir rested. I’ve not even started the noir yet, still am not sure what the true plot is–it’s amorphous and keeps shifting in my head–but if I can get this line edit finished, and start sending that manuscript out to agents, I can buckle down and get the noir written, and still maybe get the Scotty finished by the end of the year.  Depending on how the scheduling works, I may end up having to put the noir aside until the Scotty is finished. And I am fairly certain of what I want to write after the Scotty and the noir are done. I just need to get them done.

Heavy heaving sigh.

All right, I am going to clean the kitchen before the gym.

Here’s a Saturday stud for you, Constant Reader.

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Beatnik Beach

Monday morning! Another glorious week here in New Orleans, late July, and it didn’t really feel that obnoxious this morning when I went out to feed the herd. We shall see, shan’t we? Last night was lovely; we finished watching Ozark, which is sooooooo good, and so twisted; I do hope it’s going to be picked up for a second season. It doesn’t seem to be generating the same kind of buzz as other Netflix shows, like Stranger Things, and so I am not as confident it will be back. But I cannot urge you enough to watch it; it’s absolutely brilliant as a crime-driven narrative, the acting and writing are topnotch, and the cinematography is breathtaking. There’s also a particularly brilliant and heartbreaking gay subplot you don’t see coming, that is unlike anything I’ve ever seen depicted on television (or on film, for that matter) before. I will blog more about Ozark, once I’ve let it digest a bit. I also reread Agatha Christie’s brilliant Endless Night yesterday; something else I am going to blog more deeply about, after letting it sit in my head for a bit. So, I have at least three blog entries brewing for the future: Ozark, The Great Gatsby, Endless Night.

I also spent time yesterday reading a bunch of my own short stories for editorial purposes (I think I may have solved some of the problems! Huzzah!) and I also read the other stories nominated for the Macavity Award, which was rather humbling.

As you, Constant Reader, are probably aware (and tired of hearing about), I was nominated for a Macavity Award for my short story, “Survivor’s Guilt” (from the Blood on the Bayou anthology, which I also edited, and the anthology itself was nominated for an Anthony Award). I am still reeling from the shock and surprise; one of the things I did after the Anthony nominations were announced was buy copies of the other nominated anthologies, and slowly started reading them, story by story. This weekend, I discovered that one of the other Macavity nominees, Paul D. Marks, had posted links to the Macavity nominated stories:

Paul D. Marks, “Ghosts of Bunker Hill” http://pauldmarks.com/stories/

Craig Faustus Buck, “Blank Shot”: http://tinyurl.com/BlankShot-Buck

Joyce Carol Oates, “The Crawl Space”: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01N6INC6I

Lawrence Block, “Autumn at the Automat”: http://amzn.to/2vsnyBP

Art Taylor, “Parallel Play”: http://www.arttaylorwriter.com/books/6715-2/

Greg Herren, “Survivor’s Guilt”: https://gregwritesblog.com/2017/07/21/cant-stop-the-world/

I am not being self-deprecating when I say that I am in awe that I am somehow on the same list as these amazing writers and their amazing work. Not to mention this pedigree: Lawrence Block’s story won the Edgar; Joyce Carol Oates’ story won the Stoker, and Art Taylor’s won the Agatha. So, three of the finalists are already award winners; and both Art and Lawrence are also nominated for Anthonys this year, along with Megan Abbott’s stellar “Oxford Girl” from Mississippi Noir (which I read and loved);  Holly West’s “Queen of the Dogs” from 44 Caliber Funk: Tales of Crime, Soul and Payback; and probably my favorite title of all time, Johnny Shaw’s “Gary’s Got a Boner”, from Waiting to be Forgotten. 

So, it’s not being self-deprecating when I say I don’t think I am going to win. (Obviously, I would love to, but seriously, being in this company is literally a dream come true for me.)

Naturally, I decided to go ahead and read the stories. (The Block/Oates links are to the books that contain their stories; I don’t believe you can read them for free anywhere. However, I already own the book with Block’s story in it, as it is an Anthony nominee for Best Anthology; I went ahead and bought the ebook for the Oates story–from her collection Dis Mem Ber.)

And so, yesterday I read them all. Wow. Seriously. Wow.

I thought Paul’s story, “Ghosts of Bunker Hill,” would be set in Boston and have something to do with Revolutionary War history; I was wrong. The story is about the Bunker Hill neighborhood in Los Angeles, and is about the shooting of the point of view character, with nods to LA’s hardboiled, noir past pretty much everywhere you turn around. The story is well written and very compelling; but the nods to the history of crime fiction and the greats who wrote about LA (there are also several nods to the exquisite film Chinatown as well). Check out this opening paragraph:

I stood at the bottom of the hill, staring up at Angels Flight, the famous little funicular railway in the Bunker Hill section of Los Angeles, that brought people from Hill Street up to Olive. I desperately wanted to ride those rails up to the top. But now the two twin orange and black cars were permanently moored in the middle, suspended in midair, ghosts from another time.

Perfect. Paul is an accomplished author; his novel White Heat won the Shamus Award, and he has been nominated for a slew of others. I’ve ordered a copy of White Heat; can’t wait to read more of his work.

december 2016

Craig Faustus Buck’s story, “Blank Shot”, is set during the Cold War in East Berlin; a haunting, hard-boiled remembrance of a time when the world was gripped in a struggle between ideologies; communism vs. capitalism, and both sides had access to nuclear weapons. It was a time where espionage ruled; which spawned amazing novels and writers like Alistair MacLean, Helen MacInnes, Robert Ludlum, and John LeCarre. Buck’s story reminded me of those legendary giants.

Check out this opening paragraph:

His face hit the pavement hard. He tried to recall what just happened, but his thoughts wouldn’t sync. His head felt like he’d been whacked by the claw end of a hammer. Blood flowed into his field of vision, expanding on the ground before him. Must be his. Bad sign. He closed his eyes against a stab of afternoon sun reflecting off the crimson pool.

Saying anything more would be to give away too much; the problem with talking about short stories. Craig has also been honored extensively throughout his career; he has already been nominated for two Anthony Awards, a Derringer, and won the Macavity for Best Short Story. His debut novel, Go Down Hard,  was first runner-up for a Claymore Award–and he has been nominated for an OSCAR. Sheesh.

black coffee

Art Taylor is kind of indirectly responsible for both my nomination for the Macavity and my Anthony nomination for Blood on the Bayou. Art edited the Raleigh Bouchercon anthology, and he was the one who brought it up to me in Raleigh about who was editing the New Orleans one. I asked co-chairs Heather Graham and Connie Perry, who in turn asked me to edit it. So, thanks, Art! Art is an amazing writer, and an incredibly nice guy. He has won more short story awards, and been nominated more times, than just about anyone, really. Case in point: here is his short bio, from his website:

“Art Taylor is the author of On the Road with Del & Louise: A Novel in Stories, winner of the Agatha Award for Best First Novel. He has won three additional Agatha Awards, an Anthony Award, a Macavity Award, and three consecutive Derringer Awards for his short fiction, and his work has appeared in Best American Mystery Stories. He also edited Murder Under the Oaks: Bouchercon Anthology 2015, winner of the Anthony Award for Best Anthology or Collection. He is an associate professor of English at George Mason University, and he contributes frequently to the Washington Post, the Washington Independent Review of Books, and Mystery Scene Magazine.”

And check out the opening to his “Parallel Play,” from the anthology Chesapeake Crimes: Storm Warning (which is also nominated for the Anthony for best anthology):

The Teeter Toddlers class was finally drawing to a close–and none too soon, Maggie thought, keeping an eye on the windows and the dark clouds crowding the sky.

Ms. Amy, the instructor, had spread the parachute across the foam mats and gathered everyone on top of it. The children had jumped to catch and pop the soap bubbles she’d blown into the air. They’d sat cross-legged on the parachute and sung umpteen verses of “Wheels on the Bus” and two rounds of “Itsy Bitsy Spider.” The routine never varied, the children’s delight never waned–at least until the time came to raise the parachute with its spirals of color into the air.

Now, how’s that for an opening? Can’t everyone relate to that scene, those images? Immediately we are taken into a normal, every day, everyone can recognize and relate to it scene at a child care center, with an impatient mom waiting for it to be over so she can race an oncoming storm home. Into that normal, every day scene–things are about to take a turn, obviously, a chilling turn that could have been imagined and written by domestic noir goddesses from Charlotte Armstrong to Margaret Millar to Dorothy L. Hughes. And what can be more frightening, more suspenseful, that a mother and child in danger? Genius, really. Art keeps the reader squirming with suspense and unable to stop reading from first word to last.

chesapeake crimes

I am a bit embarrassed to admit I’ve never read Joyce Carol Oates before. I met her briefly at a BEA sometime between 2001-2005, and thought she was very nice and very charming. She is also incredibly prolific; her output puts me to shame and also puts her up there with Stephen King. I know she’s been nominated for genre awards before, but I’ve never really thought of her as a genre writer. But her Macavity nominated story “The Crawl Space” won the Stoker Award for best short story this year, and the title of the collection it is from (Dis Mem Ber) sounds kind of genre. I bought the book yesterday, and started reading her nominated story.

Please. You make us uncomfortable.

You are always watching us. Like a ghost haunting us…

Though her husband had died seven years before the widow still drove past the house in which they’d lived for more than two decades.

Why?–no reason.

(To lacerate a scar, that it might become a raw-throbbing wound again? To lacerate her conscience? Why?)

The story, about a woman whose husband died and couldn’t then afford to keep their house, is creepy and macabre and incredibly sad all at the same time; it reminded me of some of Daphne du Maurier’s and Patricia Highsmith’s short stories–about a woman trying to deal with a tragedy in her life, unable to let go of her past, and possibly, just possibly, reaching the breaking point. It is exquisitely rendered, beautifully written; I am so going to read more of her work! I can also see why it won the Stoker.

oates eqmm

The last story was Lawrence Block’s “Autumn at the Automat,” which recently won the Edgar as Best Short Story of 2016. It’s from Block’s anthology, In Sunlight or In Shadow: Stories Inspired by the Paintings of Edward Hopper, and the contributors are a who’s who of the best in modern crime fiction, from Megan Abbott to Lee Child to Michael Connelly; Stephen King and Joyce Carol Oates and Robert Olen Butler–I mean, it’s like an anthology editor’s dream of authors to include. The book is also nominated for the Anthony for Best Anthology; I’ve not finished reading all the stories yet, only having read the exquisite Megan Abbott story and now, Block’s.

The hat made a difference.

If you chose your clothes carefully, if you dressed a little more stylishly than the venue demanded, you could feel good about yourself. When you walked into the Forty-second Street cafeteria, the hat and coat announced you were a lady. Perhaps you preferred their coffee to what they served at Longchamps. Or maybe it was the bean soup, as good as you could get at Delmonico’s.

And with that, you are sucked into Block’s story, about a woman fallen on hard times eating at the Automat in New York City; a story that reminded me very much of one of my favorite short stories of all time, Katherine Mansfield’s “Miss Brill,” and like it, this one is more of a character study than a crime story–although there is a quite brilliant crime in the story; one you don’t see coming that suddenly slaps you across the face–and has a neat little resolution that is eminently satisfying to the reader. Block is a master; I’m not as familiar with his work as I should be–that backlist! Just thinking about trying to get caught up on his work makes my head swim–but this story is an absolute gem.

hopper

So, there you have it. Five exceptional, exquisitely honed short stories, all nominated for the Macavity; all of them already recognized as exceptional; all of them written by masters of the art form.

And me. Somehow I managed to slip in there, too.

Thereby proving the adage that anything is possible.