Jeopardy

So, yesterday was my birthday. Fifty-six officially; although I always add a year to my age on New Year’s Day for the sake of simplicity. I had some trouble falling asleep on Saturday night; a combination of restlessness and heartburn. I wound up sleeping in till almost ten; which is late for me but since I didn’t really fall asleep until around three in the morning it wasn’t that much sleep. But I had a lovely day, really. I kind of just laid around and reread In a Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes, rewatched The Philadelphia Story on TCM (Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant were both robbed of Oscars), then watched The Nineties and The History of Comedy on CNN before finally watching last night’s Game of Thrones.  I also thought about the new Scotty some; I have today off from work as my birthday gift to myself, so I plan on doing some writing, line editing, and revising, and thinking about what I’m going to write next before actually sitting down at the computer is always a wise thing to do (although usually I never had the time to do that, thanks to deadlines). There’s a serious moral dilemma coming for Scotty in this book; one that really has been needing to be dealt with in the series for quite some time, but I’ve dodged it and avoided it; this is the book where I am finally going to have to have him face up to it, the way I am bringing it to the forefront so he can no longer avoid it is, if I do say so myself, rather clever.

Or it’s just going to be a steaming pile of shit. There’s no middle ground, really.

It was kind of fun to reread the Hughes novel; it is a masterpiece of noir that has been sadly overlooked for many years. Hughes was an exceptional writer, and I do admit that opinion is based on my having read only two of her novels, this and The Expendable Man (which, sadly, was her last and published in 1962). It’s not easy to find Hughes’ novels. I do feel safe in calling Hughes one of the best writers of her generation, and certainly one of the best noir writers of all time, based on those two books because they are just that good. I do have a copy of her The Blackbirder, which I want to read before the end of the year. In A Lonely Place was also filmed, directed by Nicholas Ray and starring Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame; the film is significantly different from the novel, but it’s also outstanding. The new edition of the novel, from New York Review Books (who also have republished The Expendable Man and The Blackbirder), includes an afterward by the wonderful Megan Abbott, who is not only one of this generations greatest writers but also one of crime fiction’s most knowledgeable critics; her literary criticism is intelligent, thoughtful, incredibly well-written, and certainly puts me in my place whenever I am lucky enough to read some of it; I would love to read her study of literary and film noir, The Street Was Mine. (Whenever I read her criticism, any thoughts I might have about pursuing academic criticism–gay noir, gay representation in crime fiction, the heyday of romantic suspense from the 1950’s till its unfortunate death in the 1980’s–go out the window.)

Her all-too-short essay in the back of this edition alone makes the cover price worthwhile.

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It was good standing there on the promontory overlooking the evening sea, the fog lifting itself like gauzy veils to touch his face. There was something in it akin to flying; the sense of being lifted high above crawling earth, of being a part of the wildness of air. Something too of being closed within an unknown and strange world of mist and cloud and wind. He’d liked flying at night; he’d missed it after the war had crashed to a finish and dribbled to an end. It wasn’t the same flying a private little crate. He’d tried it; it was like returning to the stone ax after precision tools. He had found nothing yet to take the place of flying wild.

It wasn’t often he could capture any part of that feeling of power and exhilaration and freedom that came with loneness in the sky. There was a touch of it here, looking down at the ocean rolling endlessly in from the horizon; here  high above the beach road with its crawling traffic, its dotting of lights. The outline of beach houses zigzagged against the sky but did not obscure the pale waste of sand, the dark restless waters beyond.

He didn’t know why he hadn’t come out here before. It wasn’t far. He didn’t even know why he’d come tonight. When he got on the bus, he had no destination. Just the restlessness. And the bus brought him here.

Isn’t that an incredible opening?

Not being an expert in crime fiction–there’s so much of it to read, and there’s more new stuff all the time, so it’s hard to keep up with the new let alone trying to read everything already published–I am unable to place In A Lonely Place into any kind of context as far as the history of crime fiction is concerned, but Abbott does this beautifully in her afterward. But it’s very clear in this opening paragraphs that Hughes is addressing alienation in this book, and toxic masculinity, which may have seen its ultimate pinnacle in the second World War (the alienation of returning veterans, and the difficulty of readjusting from war to peace was also being addressed in films like The Best Years of Our Lives) and by having Dix, her main character, pretend to be writing a novel also took on the glut of post-war war novels that so many returning soldiers were writing; novels that continued to proliferate for several decades beyond the war.

The first time I read the book, having already seen the film, I was more focused on the story itself rather than an examination of how deftly Hughes creates her story, the language and imagery she chooses, and the nuanced way she creates her character. On this read, knowing how it’s going to end, I was able to pay more attention to these things, and was able to marvel at how brilliant the entire package is.

A recurring motif in the novel is fog; Hughes uses the fog as a metaphor for the fog in Dix’s brain; and we are never sure when Dix’s mind changed, making him lethal. He was raised by a puritanical uncle, Fergus, who is currently supporting him while he writes his novel–but there is a limit to the support, and while in our time $250 a month may not seem like much, at the time of the novel it was a fortune, just over $2500 in today’s dollars. Dix’s resentment of the uncle–we never learn what precisely happened to his parents–who is rough on him and has always made him work, even when he was in college at Princeton trying to fit in with the idle rich sons of privilege and then goes into detail how humiliating it all was, doing things for them for ‘tips’ until he could manipulate events to make it look as though he were the wealthy one and the sad unfortunate, unpopular boy he used for money were the dolt. In this way, Hughes also makes a sly commentary about class and privilege (which, in my opinion, she does far better than Fitzgerald did in an entire novel with The Great Gatsby, and she does it only in a few pages). So, there was always some kind of a chip on Dix’s shoulder; the war simply gave him a way to channel that anger and discontent and alienation. Now the way is over, and Dix is having to find a new way to channel those diabolical energies–and he does, in committing murder.

The entire tale is told through Dix’s perspective, which also makes him one of the first unreliable narrators in crime fiction. (It was done before, but never quite so lethally.) So, when we see the other characters–and there are only three: his old war buddy Brub, now a police detective; Brub’s wife Sylvia, whom Dix despises on first sightl and of course, the love interest, Laurel Gray–is she the femme fatale he thinks she is, or is that just a product of his own warped sense of right and wrong? Who is Laurel, of the reddish gold hair and the tempting figure? Is she the hard-as-nails user he thinks she is, or is she an entirely different character altogether?

In  A Lonely Place is a masterpiece of noir, and hopefully, this edition will elevate Hughes to the position both she and the book deserve in the annals of our genre.

And now back to the spice mines.

 

Let’s Dance

I managed, yesterday, to polish off Chapter Two; I wrote 1700 words or so in about an hour and fifteen minutes and voila! The pesky chapter was finished. I also started Chapter Three this morning; alas, maybe about a paragraph was all I was able to get done, but it was a start, and a start is always lovely. This weekend is my birthday; I will officially be fifty-six; but I’ve been saying I’m fifty-six for quite a while now. (I usually add the year after New Year’s; it’s just easier and I don’t really think of my birthday as a big deal, quite frankly). Paul and I are going to go see Dunkirk tomorrow night, and then out for dinner afterwards. I’ve taken Monday off, and I am working a late night on Tuesday, so I won’t have to be in to work until around three, which means I basically have a three and a half day weekend, which is lovely. I am hoping to be able to get a lot done this weekend; I want to finish reading the Ambler, which I am loving, then I am going to reread Dorothy B. Hughes’ In a Lonely Place, and then I am going to reread The Haunting of Hill House. After that, it’s either Jeff Abbott’s Blame or my advance copy of Laura Lippman’s newest, Sunburn.

One of the best perks of being a writer is that I get advance copies of books, or know people who do that can pass them along to me. My dear friend Lisa recently gave me an advance copy of this:

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I don’t consider myself to be a horror writer (SHUT UP BACK THERE! I said horror, not horrible), but I do consider myself to be a big fan of the genre. I read a lot of these books–not all, who knew there were so many? But I was a voracious reader, and I loved to read horror. The first horror novel I read was The Other–I still have the hardcover copy I originally read in junior high; I’m not sure I remember how I got a hardcover copy of it, maybe it was my grandmother’s–and I also read The Exorcist in junior high; everyone was reading it, and as all tweens (although we weren’t called that then) are wont to do, all we talked about was the crucifix masturbation scene. I always liked horror–I remember watching old black and white scary movies with my grandmother (she also likes mysteries) when I was a kid, but I never thought I could write it. I certainly never tried until the 1980’s, when my fandom of Stephen King made me give it a try. I still love reading horror, and there are certainly some amazing horror writers being published today whose books I greatly enjoy.

My inability to get any of it published is an indicator that crime was a better fit for my talents.

But what a wonderful resource this is! And a lovely trip down memory lane. To be honest, I thought I hadn’t read much horror throughout my life outside of the usual suspects (Stephen King, Peter Straub, Poppy Z. Brite) and some others that have come along more recently, but in going through this, I saw many titles I’d forgotten I’d read, and authors I’d forgotten.

This is a must for all horror fans; even those who are too young to remember the glory days of the mass market paperback boom of the 70’s and 80’s.

And now, back to the spice mines.

 

Hungry Like the Wolf

Ah, Thursday. I am very tired this morning; my sleep last night was restless and of course, after a long day yesterday (twelve hours), which included bar testing and all the walking that entails, I am very low energy this morning. I didn’t get much writing done yesterday morning; I am still in the midst of Chapter Two of the new Scotty but part of that problem is trying to make sure I have the voice and tone right–which is, of course, ridiculous; it can always be fixed in a later draft. I need to plow through this first draft and get the story done. Everything else can be repaired later.

Why do I always try to make it right the first time? So stupid. How many books have I written? Some people seriously never learn, you know what I mean?

The line edit continues as well, and is beginning to feel like my own personal invasion of Afghanistan; an endless quagmire I’m never going to get out from under. I still want to have it all finished by the end of the month and the clock is seriously ticking. Heavy heaving sigh.

The lovely thing is I have a three day weekend to look forward to; my birthday is this weekend and as such, I took Monday off as a treat for myself. We’re going to go see Dunkirk Saturday evening, and have a lovely dinner out afterwards. I also hope to be able to use the extra time off to get some work done and do some reading; I want to get the Ambler novel read this weekend so I can reread Dorothy B. Hughes’ sublime In a Lonely Place in its new edition with an afterward by the sublime Megan Abbott. I read it several years ago on the recommendation of Megan, Margery Flax and the wonderful Sarah Weinman, and I became a huge fan of Hughes as a result. I went on to read everything she’d written that was still in print, and started hunting down used copies of the rest on eBay and second hand booksellers on-line. If you’ve not read Hughes and are a fan of crime fiction, you really should read In a Lonely Place. You owe it to yourself to read it.

The film, while different from the book, is also extraordinary. You can’t go wrong with Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame.

All right I need to hit the spice mines. Your Throwback Thursday hunk is actor/model Ed Fury.

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She Works Hard for the Money

Tuesday.

I had yesterday off, which was most lovely, and I spent the day relaxing, making lists, writing, editing, reading, and cleaning. I made shrimp creole for dinner, which was fabulous, and then we watched the series finale for Orphan Black. I am going to miss the sestras; it was quite a thrill ride for five seasons, and Tatiana Maslany’s talent is truly amazing.

I didn’t get as much writing done as I would have liked, but sometimes just being able to reflect and think is just as effective as actually writing. Plus, I kind of needed a rest. I am going to get some more writing done today, and I am going to finish the second half of the WIP line edit, and then tomorrow (a twelve hour day) I am going to hopefully get started on the first half of the manuscript’s line edit. I can’t believe how long it’s taken me to get this done; and then I am going to have to story edit one more time just to make sure. I want to be able to start sending it to agents after Labor Day. I want to get the first draft of this Scotty finished by mid-September as well, then let it sit for a month or so while I write this noir I’ve been wanting to write for a while. I think the working on something different between drafts is working for me. It doesn’t make sense in any sort of writing universe to write this way, but it’s working for me and as I always tell beginning writers–find whatever system works for you, even if it doesn’t make the slightest bit of sense to anyone else.

I am also way behind–and off the rails–for short stories. I need to get back to “For All Tomorrow’s Lies” soon; it’s due for an edit/revision, and I never did finish that draft of “Quiet Desperation.” Heavy heaving sigh. I think there’s another one I was working on–oh, yes, “This Thing of Darkness,” and some others, too, that never quite got finished. This creative ADD needs to stop.

I need to make a list, is what I need to do.

Heavy heaving sigh.

I’m really enjoying Journey Into Fear. The action has now moved from Istanbul to on board a ship, sailing to Genoa with Our Hero, whose life is in danger. I love these kinds of stories; and miss them. The change from trains and ships as means of transportation has kind of eliminated them as settings for crime novels and thrillers; there will be no more books like this or Murder on the Orient Express, which is really unfortunate. The whole air of being away from everyone else in the world, isolated on a journey with only your fellow passengers, any one of which might be the murderer/spy/assassin,  that whole claustrophobic feeling–an author has to really push themselves and their creativity to come up with a way to isolate the characters and seal them off from the rest of the world these days. Rebecca Chance did this beautifully in her novel Mile High, set on a luxury airliner on a flight from London to Los Angeles; Nick Cutter’s The Deep set his novel on a sealab at the bottom of the Marianas Trench (and that sense of claustrophobia was so beautifully portrayed in that novel that just remembering it makes me shudder). It is still possible, of course, to do something along the lines of And Then There Were None, where the characters are stranded on an island and cut off from the rest of the world; the single season suspense show Harper’s Island did this nicely…I’ve always wanted to do one of those types of novels, and Scotty would be the perfect character for such a book, I think, but I can’t for the life of me figure out how to make it work. I guess I’ll just let it sit in the back of my head until I get one of those a-ha moments that I am always afraid I’ll stop having.

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

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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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Just You and I

Thursday morning, and it looks like rain again.

I got some work done on the Scotty book yesterday; the first chapter isn’t going very easy but that’s partly because I am trying to cram so much into it, I think. I plan on getting that first draft finished today and moving on to Chapter Two tomorrow. I hate that I am behind schedule; I am kind of behind on everything at the moment and it’s making me crazy. I have to try to remember to breathe and not get stressed. I want to honor my self-imposed deadlines, but one of the reasons I decided not to have contractual deadlines was primarily to eliminate the stress of them, and that’s worked beautifully so far. But it’s self-defeating to make myself crazy over self-imposed ones…while at the same time I do want to make sure I get things done.

Heavy heaving sigh.

I am feeling spectacularly unmotivated this morning, but that must cease and desist immediately. I have too much to do to just sit around scrolling through social media and hoping to find something to entertain me there.

Procrastinate, procrastinate, procrastinate.

There’s thunder rumbling outside. Heavy heaving sigh. I do love thunderstorms, but only when I’m able to stay home, grab a blanket and a book, and get snug and cozy in my easy chair. Having to go to work, or be out in it? Not so much.

All right, I am boring myself so it’s time to get back to work.

Here’s a Throwback Thursday hunk for you, Dick DuBois:

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Do You Really Want to Hurt Me

Wednesday; the week is half-over–although I am also working on Saturday; my weekend this week will be Sunday and Monday, which is lovely. My birthday is also nigh; I shall be fifty-six! Closer to sixty than fifty, but hey, there you go, you know? Getting older is not for the faint of heart, someone once said, and while there are definitely more aches and pains, and my memory isn’t what it used to be, and I don’t quite have the energy I once had–I ain’t doing too badly. Yesterday I managed to get some significant work done on Scotty; the book is really taking shape in my mind, and I also got some work done on the line edit. I am not as far along on the line edit as I would like to be, but I am getting closer to being done with each bit that I do.

Progress. It’s everything, really.

I’m enjoying the Eric Ambler novel, Journey Into Fear, that I’m reading, and am hoping to get some more of that read today at some point. I like the way Ambler writes, and there’s just this amazing sense of 40’s noir to the story and the writing; I can visualize everything in my head really easily. Writing something in a different time period–one that I didn’t live through–is kind of intimidating to me; I’ve only written one story that is set in a time period before I was alive; set ambiguously in either the late 40’s or early 50’s, it’s a noir story that still need some work. The title, “The Weight of a Feather,” is one of my favorite titles, so I am pretty determined to do something with the story.

So many stories, so little time. Seriously.

Football season looms on the horizon as well; not sure how well LSU is going to do this year, but as always we have high hopes down here in Bayou Country. New coaches, new offense and defensive plans…I guess we’ll see how it’s going to play out at the season opener over Labor Day weekend in Houston when we play BYU. And football season is, as a general rule, kind of exciting. Ten years ago was the last time LSU won the national championship, in that insane year of 2007 which was one of the wackiest football seasons of all time; from week to week no one had any idea of who was going to win and who was going to lose; Top Ten teams would get beaten by someone unranked every week. SBNation has a great website about that crazy year; I wasted some serious time reading and remembering the other day.

And on that note, ’tis time to return to Ye Olde Spice Mines.

Here’s your Wednesday hunk.

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