Missing You

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

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

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

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

Here are two of the short stories I read yesterday”

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is what I tell her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now, back to spice-mining.



Never Surrender

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Freeway of Love

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

But I kind of like that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now, back to the spice mines.

Here’s a hunk.


All I Need

Sunday, Sunday. Can’t trust that day, especially when an hour was stolen from me during my sleep. Sunday is my sleep-in day, and while it’s not entirely unusual, I absolutely detest that I woke up at just before what-is-now-ten-thirty. Since I can’t drink coffee after noon for fear of its impact on my sleep–but I like my coffee in the morning–I will be able to have only, at most, two cups. This is also infuriating.

It’s not sunny out there this late morning, but more grayish again, as though it might rain. It may just be a cloud cover, but the sun is always bright in New Orleans; the lack of brightness is bizarre and also feels off–in addition sleeping  in until not-really-ten-thirty. But looking on the positive side, I worked out yesterday and the rest seems to have helped my muscles recover; they don’t feel either sore or tired or both this morning. I should be grateful for small victories, I suppose, and stop complaining.

I watched two more episodes of Seven Seconds last night, and it is absolutely riveting. It reminds me a lot of the lamented American Crime, where you saw everyone as three-dimensional characters; I like seeing it from every perspective, and while it’s easy to feel some sympathy for the guy who committed the actual crime and why he covered it up; the pain of the family of the victim is almost unbearable to watch–but Regina King is such an amazing and brilliant actress you can’t help but watch. I’ve always been a fan of hers; she was exceptional in American Crime, but this? Give her all the awards right now, and please cast her in everything; she is so good that as I watched I thought if I ever write a television show or movie I want to write a great part for her to play. As good as the show is, as it progresses it is starting to drift away from the nonjudgmental view that it had in the first episodes, which is fine–I think part of the reason American Crime failed to find an audience was because you didn’t know who to root for, or if you should root for anyone, which makes viewers uncomfortable, as they, for the most part, want to have good guys and bad guys–but I kind of wish they hadn’t gone so far with making the guy who committed the crime a villain. I felt sorry for him before; I am losing sympathy, and that’s why they are doing it; but when he was sympathetic it made the show more layered, complex, and nuanced.

Heavy sigh.

I got all my errands done yesterday, but forgot to get something I need for dinner today–but it’s just a twenty ounce bottle of root beer and I can walk to Walgreens and get that when I’m ready to put everything into the crock pot. The St. Patrick’s/St. Joseph’s Day Irish Channel parade is today, so I’m not moving my car. I decided to wait to go to Costco until next weekend; I am going to take one of my co-workers car shopping that day, and as punishment he’ll have to go to Costco with me when we’re finished.

I started writing yet another Chanse short story yesterday; “Once a Tiger.” It’s an idea for a Chanse novel that I had a long time ago and always wanted to write, sort of like how the Chanse short story I wrote last week was a book idea I never wrote. I had intended to get some other things done, but after the errands and the gym I was tired, so I sat down to watch Seven Seconds (Paul was at the office) and got sucked into it. I also watched two episodes of Versailles–this season is about the Affair of the Poisons–and read short stories. I need to clean today–I’m hoping it won’t rain so I can finally do the damned windows–but I also want to write today. So I should probably wrap this up and get back to work, so I can get the root beer from Walgreens and be done with it all, you know?

Sigh. Heavy lies the head, and all that, you know.

The first story I read was a reread; Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Minister’s Black Veil”:

THE SEXTON stood in the porch of Milford meeting-house, pulling busily at the bell-rope. The old people of the village came stooping along the street. Children, with bright faces, tripped merrily beside their parents, or mimicked a graver gait, in the conscious dignity of their Sunday clothes. Spruce bachelors looked sidelong at the pretty maidens, and fancied that the Sabbath sunshine made them prettier than on week days. When the throng had mostly streamed into the porch, the sexton began to toll the bell, keeping his eye on the Reverend Mr. Hooper’s door. The first glimpse of the clergyman’s figure was the signal for the bell to cease its summons.

“But what has good Parson Hooper got upon his face?” cried the sexton in astonishment.

All within hearing immediately turned about, and beheld the semblance of Mr. Hooper, pacing slowly his meditative way towards the meeting-house. With one accord they started, expressing more wonder than if some strange minister were coming to dust the cushions of Mr. Hooper’s pulpit.

“Are you sure it is our parson?” inquired Goodman Gray of the sexton.

“Of a certainty it is good Mr. Hooper,” replied the sexton. “He was to have exchanged pulpits with Parson Shute, of Westbury; but Parson Shute sent to excuse himself yesterday, being to preach a funeral sermon.”

I read this story either in high school or in college originally; whenever it was that I originally read it, my young mind was bored with it and thought it rather silly. I hated The Scarlet Letter, still do so much that even thinking of rereading it gives me dyspepsia; but I greatly enjoyed The House of the Seven Gables, although I remember nothing much about it except that the old woman’s name was Hepzibah, which I always thought was a great Gothic name for a creepy old lady. Rereading this story, it made a little bit more sense to me; it’s really a parable. Parson Hooper, for a reason unbeknownst to his parishioners and to the reader, has chosen to hide his face for the rest of his life behind a black veil; I remember reading this and being deeply annoyed about never finding out the reason. But rereading it now, I got a stronger sense of it; the parson has done this and the reasons why really aren’t important; what’s important is how uncomfortable it has made everyone else, and why; it’s about human nature and psychology, and is a lot more clever than I thought as a teenager. It still, however, reads in that stilted, archaic early nineteenth century formal style that is grating and annoying to the modern reader, however.

I then moved on to “The Last Temptation of Frankie Lymon” by Peter Blauner, from the anthology Crime Plus Music, edited by Jim Fusilli. I originally bought this anthology because it had a story by Alison Gaylin inspired by a song recorded by the band X, whom I used to love in the 1980’s–the story is quite brilliant, I might add–but had never gone back and read any of the others. So, I picked it up and this is the lead-off story for the collection.

He walked into the bar wearing the jacket that Sam bought for the Ebony photo shoot last year. A mostly wool blazer with two rows of brass buttons, that must have cost–what?–like forty to fifty dollars at Blumstein’s. He felt bad because Sam was living on about two hundred a week as a food inspector in the Bronx, while trying to manage the comeback for him, But what could you do? All the star clothes he used to have in his grandmother’s closet were either child-sized and long ago outgrown or had holes in them because he’d nodded off with a cigarette in his mouth.

So now the jacket felt heavy as a burden on his shoulders as he eyed his surroundings and tried to get comfortable. The bar was around the corner from his grandmother’s and he half recognized some of the people from the neighborhood, where he hadn’t lived since back in the day. There were mailmen and bus drivers wearing turtlenecks or open-collared shirts with jeans. Doormen and janitors in T-shirts and growing out their hair into bushy naturals as they rapped effortlessly to short-skirted former double Dutch girls from the block with sleepy eyes and soft mouths, who kept going “uh-huh, uh-huh, right on” as that Gladys Knight “Grapevine” song played on the jukebox.

Frankie Lymon was a real person; the lead singer for Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, known for their hit “Why Do Fools Fall in Love”. Lymon’s story is one of those cautionary tales about the music industry, fame, and hitting it big when you’re young; he was only twenty-four when he died of an overdose–a has-been at 24. This story, which is basically a fictionalized imagining of his last day, is heartbreaking. He has fallen on hard times but has cleaned up and gotten to a point of recovery from his addiction; he’s trying to make a comeback but makes the sad, fateful decision to go into the local neighborhood bar near where he is staying with his grandmother–and runs into someone from his past, with her own broken dreams and broken life. It’s powerfully written and the characters realized strongly; you can’t stop reading even though you know it’s all a train wreck unfolding in front of you. Kudos to Blauner for such a powerful story.

I then went back to Sue Grafton’s Kinsey and Me collection, where the next offering was the story “The Parker Shotgun.”

The Christmas holidays had come and gone, and the new year was under way. January, in California, is as good as it gets–cool, clear, and green, with a sky the color of wisteria and a surf that thunders like a volley of gunfire in a distant field. My name is Kinsey Millhone. I’m a private investigator, licensed, bonded, insured; white, female, age thirty-two, unmarried, and physically fit. That Monday morning, I was sitting in my office with my feet up, wondering what life would bring, when a woman walked in and tossed a photograph on my desk. My introduction to the Parker shotgun began with a graphic view of its apparent effect when fired at a formerly nice-looking man at close range. His face was still largely intact, but he had no use now for a pocket comb. WIth effort, I kept my expression neutral as I glanced up at her.

“Somebody killed my husband.”

Grafton never disappoints, and as I have mentioned before when talking about these Chanse short stories (it pleases me to no end that I can now talk about them in the plural), reading Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone short stories, along with the Lew Archer short stories by Ross Macdonald and the Tess Monaghan ones by Laura Lippman, have been an education in writing the private eye short story; something I never felt confident about doing before. This story is excellent in that is has a great opening–how can you not keep reading after that–and Kinsey’s detecting skills are put to a great test here. I also learned a lot about shotguns in reading this story. I guess the thing that’s so terrific about reading these private eye short stories is seeing, while reading them, how they could have easily been expanded into novels while also seeing how the author pared down what could have been a novel into a pleasing, satisfying short story.

I also picked up the MWA anthology Vengeance and started reading some more of the stories in there; I believe I may have blogged about one of them already. But when reading Alafair Burke’s “The Mother”, the story began to sound familiar; and sure enough, I was right: I’d read it before. I started paging through the stories and yes, I’d read them all; I read them flying back from a trip to New York on a plane. The book includes Karin Slaughter’s chilling, and Edgar winning, short story “The Unremarkable Heart,” which is one of my favorite short stories of all time. But I had to put Vengeance back up on the shelf because I’d already read those stories, alas; I will only allow myself to reread, and write about, short stories I originally read before I started blogging back in 2004 (!), so as to avoid repetition.

And now, I am going to get my second and final cup of coffee before walking to Walgreens. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader!


Things Can Only Get Better

It’s Friday, and I have the morning off in order to once again have an eye appointment. Here’s hoping nothing goes wrong with that one, right? Oy. But…it’s also Friday. Hooray!

I managed to finish the first draft of my story “The Carriage House,” clocking in another 2500 words or so; the story in first draft now sits at about 5350 words, most of them written over the last two days. I had hoped to finish my Italy story yesterday as well, and get started on another Scotty chapter, but alas, that was not to be. It also occurred to me last night that I’ve written a lot of short stories so far this year; certainly more this year than I have in any previous year, and it’s early March only. Three were written to submit to anthologies, and the others were simply written because I wanted, felt the need, to write them. I’ve written a Chanse short story, which is also a first; and that’s kind of cool. I know how to fix it; I actually know how to fix all of the stories that now sit in a first draft form, which is also a first. Usually I have nary a clue on what to do with these stories once the draft is written. I also know how to fix another story that’s just been sitting in my files for years; mayhap I shall work on fixing it this weekend, who knows? I also can’t help but think that all these short stories are happening now because of the Short Story Project.

So, today it’s off to Metairie for the eye doctor, then it’s to the office for testing, and then it’s time to come home (it’s my short day) and hopefully to the gym for a workout. I’d like to spend the evening cleaning the Lost Apartment as well, so I can spend the weekend writing (other than the errands that must be run tomorrow).

Well, I never finished that, did I? Nope; my bad. Before I finished it was time to go, and off I went. I am now home, it’s later on in the day, and I’m a bit tired.

I’ll finish in the morning; sorry, Constant Reader!

I didn’t want to get up this Saturday morning, but I did–I have things to do today, errands and such, and must go to the gym–so I’ll sleep in tomorrow, which is when we lose an hour of sleep anyway. It’s not light out; it’s cloudy. I am not sure if that means it’s going to rain or something, but whatever it means…I’ll be out there dealing with it soon enough.

I also have some chores around here that I have to complete before heading out to face the day.

I am going to take today off from writing, despite being behind. I am very pleased with “The Carriage House,” as I said earlier in this missive, and I am relatively pleased with the Chanse story. It needs some more work, of course–there’s at least one scene missing that I need to put into it, as well as some more layers–but overall, I am quite well pleased with it, as well. I am more pleased, I think, that I’ve written a private eye story; I may write more now that I know I can actually do it. I doubt if I’ll do Scotty stories–there’s just way too much backstory necessary–but I have an idea for another Chanse story, this time set on the LSU campus in Baton Rouge. Oh! The title just came to me! “Once a Tiger.” I kind of like that. (The Chanse story needs not only revision but a new title; “Glory Days” doesn’t work with the story as it wound up. I originally set it at a reunion of sorts, but wrote that out of the story.) I do want to finish my Italy story, and perhaps work on a revision of either “The Weight of a Feather” or “The Problem with Autofill.” I also would like to get another Scotty chapter finished. We’ll see.

I’ve done quite a few short stories this year, as I mentioned earlier; even more than I originally thought I had done. I am thinking more about placement for said stories; I worry that some of the better paying markets–there aren’t many of those any more–won’t want a story with a gay male lead, even if the story itself isn’t particularly gay; “The Carriage House,” while not having anything particularly gay about it’s story line, also has gay character and involved murders of gay men. And you know, that’s really the thing about writing gay stories and novels; when you get rejected, when you don’t get reviewed or recognized–you always wonder. Was it really not good enough to get published/reviewed/recognized, and was it because of the gay factor? If I assume it’s the gay thing, am I not being honest with myself as a writer and rather than accepting that it needed more work or wasn’t good enough, am I using that as a crutch/excuse?

Heavy sigh.

All right, back to my chores. Here’s a Saturday hunk for you.




Yesterday I kind of hit a writing wall; not a big deal, really, just that I was mentally and physically tired for some reason (I suspect upsetting my usual routine by having to go have blood work done in the morning, and now of course I want to write a story called Blood Work), and so I was only about to get about 2300 words out on a short story. I had hoped to not only finish the draft of that particular short story but also get another one done, perhaps even getting to work on a Scotty chapter. Heavy heaving sigh. Ah, well. I’m not going to beat myself up over the lack of productivity here; I am simply going to embrace that I got a pretty decent 2300 words done. So, that is a victory, and one that I am very pleased to have. Each word is another step closer to finished, after all, and once should never berate one’s self for not getting everything done you wanted to as long as you got something done.

I’d intended to go to the gym this morning but didn’t want to get out of bed. I had a good night’s sleep for the first time this week so, well, yeah, that happened. I’ll just have to go after work tomorrow; I have to keep my eye appointment tomorrow morning before work. It’s getting increasingly harder to keep to three times a week; primarily because of my problems sleeping. Heavy heaving sigh.

But…I am liking what I am writing, and I do enjoy going to the gym. (I was wondering what to watch now that Black Sails is over, only to discover season 2 of Versailles is up on Netflix, and I believe this is the season of the Affair of the Poisons!) I just wish I didn’t always get off so late at night that I can’t make it to the gym. There has to be a more efficient way of doing this; there simply has to be.

So,  my plan is to get these two short story drafts finished this week, as well as another chapter of Scotty; I want to have this finished by the weekend, which means a lot of writing today and tomorrow. I also need to get some short stories read for the Short Story Project, and then I think I want to read a novel. (I’ll still read short stories, but I want to read a novel; it’s been awhile since I’ve plunged into the pages of one. Kellye Garrett’s Hollywood Homicide is calling to me, for one thing, and there are any number of wonderful novels in the TBR Pile, you know.) I also want to get the order of the Bouchercon anthology stories finished this weekend, and I need to get my taxes finished and off to my accountant: MUY IMPORTANTE.

The Lost Apartment is again a pigsty; it’s amazing how easily that happens. It’s not as bad today as it was last Thursday, but still. I just don’t seem to be able to manage time properly anymore. I don’t know what that’s all about, but it definitely needs to STOP.

All right, I need to get some things done before I leave for the office this morning; I need to run errands as well before I head in.

For today’s short story discussion, we are going to look at a crime story by Lia Matera, and a literary fiction story by Irwin Shaw.

Lia Matera’s story is “Destroying Angel,” copyright Lia Matera, 1990, and this short story was first published in Sisters In Crime Volume II, 1990, edited by Marilyn Wallace.

I was squatting a few feet from a live oak tree, poison oak all around me (an occupational hazard for mycologists). I brushed wet leaves off a small mound and found two young mushrooms. I carefully dug around one of them with my trowel, coaxing it out of the ground.

I held it up and looked at it. It was a perfect woodland agaricus. The cap was firm, snow white with a hint of yellow. The gills under the cap were still white, chocolate-colored spores hadn’t yet tinged them. A ring of tissue, an annulus, circled the stipe like a floppy collar. A few strands of mycelia, the underground plant of which the mushroom is the fruit, hung from the base. I pinched the mycelia off and smelled the gills. The woodland agaricus smells like it tastes, like a cross between a mushroom, an apple, and a stalk of fennel.

Lia Matera is one of my favorite crime writers, and her Star Witness is one of my favorite crime novels; deliciously sly and incredibly witty and clever. As I was reading this short story of hers, I also lamented that she’s not published a novel in quite a while. This story is incredibly well-constructed, and devious as well; there’s a lot of information in it about mushrooms, as Our Heroine is a mycologist who works at a local nature museum and is dramatically underpaid; as she talks about her work and her mushrooming and working at the museum, and of course how careful one must be to differentiate between the deadly ones and the safe ones…well, you just know someone is going to be poisoned by mushrooms, don’t you? Matera pulls off a delightful sleight of hand in that regard, though, and the overwhelming sense of melancholy and sadness she permeates the story with is masterful. Her novels are available as ebooks now; treat yourself to one and you’ll never look back.

The Irwin Shaw story I read (reread, actually) was “The Girls in their Summer Dresses” by Irwin Shaw.

Fifth Avenue was shining in the sun when they left the Brevoort and started walking toward Washington Square. The sun was warm, even though it was November, and everything looked like Sunday morning–the buses, and the well-dressed people walking slowly in couples and the quiet buildings with the windows closed.

Michael held Frances’ arm tightly as they walked downtown in the sunlight. They walked lightly, almost smiling, because they had slept late and had a good breakfast and it was Sunday. Michael unbuttoned his coat and let it flap around him in the mild wind. They walked, without saying anything, among the young and pleasant-looking people who somehow seem to make up most of the population of that section of New York City.

“Look out,” Frances said, as they crossed Eighth Street. “You’ll break your neck.”

You never hear much about Irwin Shaw anymore, but he was one of the more successful American writers from the 1950’s to the 1970’s; his books were critically acclaimed and best sellers; the novels in included The Young Lions, Rich Man Poor Man and its lesser sequel Beggarman Thief, Evening in Byzantium, and Aurora Dawn (which was lesser known but one of my favorites; it was about a radio show sponsored by Aurora Dawn soap and was clever and biting satire about art vs. commerce). I read most of Shaw’s work in the 1970’s when I was a teenager; I would love to reread some of them again.

I read “The Girls in their Summer Dresses” for an English course in college; I don’t remember which course or which college; but the fact the story was taught gives you an indication of how well-regarded Shaw was. The insights the instructor gleaned from the story–a switch of roles between the young couple, where she took on the more traditionally masculine role while the husband took on the more passive, traditionally feminine role–struck me, at the time and on this reread some thirty years later as more of that MFA program claptrap taught and regurgitated by people who don’t really understand and appreciate the art of fiction. (Yes, as you can tell, I embrace my role as a non-intellectual.) At the time I read the story in college it struck me as a really sad story about a newly married couple whose relationship was, in fact, doomed to fail; and the point of the story showed how it was either doomed to fail, or if it was going to last, how the wife was going to have to completely subsume herself and sublimate her own needs and desires to his, constantly biting her tongue and becoming increasingly bitter about those compromises as the years pass. The young husband is a narcissist and an asshole, who, despite his wife very clearly telling him how much his ‘window shopping’ of every woman they pass on the street bothers and disturbs her–cares so little about how this behavior hurts and disturbs her that his attitude is too bad so sad I’m the man and I’m not going to change so you need to get over it. This is kind of the prequel, in some ways, to Susan Glaspell’s “A Jury of Her Peers”–I can see this woman gladly strangling her husband in his sleep in the future after twenty years of being beaten down and humiliated over and over again.

Of course, I always tend to look at stories from the perspective of a crime writer now; so there’s that, too.

And now, back to the spice mines. Here’s a Throwback Thursday hunk for you:


The Wild Boys

Sunday morning. We finished watching Altered Carbon last night, and thoroughly enjoyed it; hardboiled private eye story with an interesting concept about the future, gorgeously filmed, and well acted. I also only have one episode left of Black Sails, which I am still loving, and definitely am going to hate to see come to an end.

I didn’t write enough yesterday, but I finished revising two short stories, one of which I turned into the anthology that asked for it. Today I need to write, write, write. I also need to go to the gym, and I need to clean the living room. I’d also like to finish the Chanse short story I’m working on, but we’ll see how that develops. I have also fallen way behind on the Short Story Project, but feel confident that I will find the time today to read some more of them. There’s some others that I should edit as well. Paul is going to be gone all afternoon, so I should go to the gym this morning so I’ll have the apartment to myself this afternoon so I can focus on getting these things done. I’m not going to stress out about anything–I refuse to get stressed about things anymore, I get done what I can get done, which is helping dramatically with my moods and my sanity–but that doesn’t change the fact that things need to get done.

Paul might go visit his mom later this spring; I may take the same week off and just have a staycation. I tried this once before, with the good intentions of getting a lot done, and failed; but I do feel now that somehow things are different than they were at any point in the last four or five or six years; I feel as though I am rededicated, able to get things done; this year alone I’ve written five or six short stories from scratch already, five chapters of the Scotty book and four chapters of the revision of the WIP; which is quite  a lot for the eight or nine weeks we’ve had so far this year. I know I used to produce quite a bit back in the day, but it’s been awhile since I’ve written so much and been so productive; I am really enjoying it more than I remember doing so before, so I feel like this year is different somehow; I am enjoying working out again, I am enjoying writing again; and my self-confidence is coming back with a vengeance, which is, of course, absolutely lovely.

And on that note, I should get back to the spice mines. I want to clean the kitchen and revise another short story before I go to the gym for my workout; the windows also need cleaning, but that can wait until I get home from the gym.

Here’s a hunk to get you through your Sunday: