Every Breath You Take

Good morning, Sunday. Facebook and Twitter have both already warned me to ‘stay dry–rain is in the forecast’, but outside my windows here in the Lost Apartment it’s all sunshine, shade, and blue skies. Of course, in New Orleans that means nothing–in five minutes there could be a massive thunderstorm with the streets flooding–but I am going to just sit here for a moment and enjoy the sunshine. I need to get a lot done today–yesterday was sheer madness all day; Wacky Russian in the morning, laundering the bed linens, post office, testing at the office, lunch with a friend who is moving away, home to make mac-n-cheese for a party at Susan’s, and then, of course, the party itself. It wasn’t until well after nine last night that I was able to collapse into the easy chair and relax–and now that The Handmaid’s Tale is finished, and we have finished watching the latest season of Supernatural, we are looking for something new to watch, so we started watching The Magicians. The first episode was okay; but it seemed (with no offense to Lev Grossman, who wrote the novels the show is based on) kind of derivative; like I’d seen it before.

Then again, there have been a lot of books/movies/TV shows set in schools for magic, haven’t there? We’ll keep going, but at least tonight there will be another episode of Orphan Black, and I am STILL waiting for the second season of Versailles to pop up somewhere I can watch it. BASTARDS! I am particularly interested in seeing Versailles because I am getting to the really good part in The Affair of the Poisons…which I am really enjoying. I never understand why people think history is boring…then again, those are the people are responsible for it repeating all of the time.

I’ve also made some progress in reading  Since We Fell, but am still not loving it. I’m intrigued enough to continue reading, but it seems as though the entire first hundred pages or so is just backstory. Which isn’t a bad thing, mind you; I’m just waiting for it to get to the real story.

At some point today I need to go to the grocery store–an odious chore, but one which I usually don’t mind. I think I’m most likely going to go to Cadillac Rouse’s in the CBD; shrimp and grits might be on the menu for tonight, and I want to try maybe some different cheese in it; rather than the usual cheddar that it calls for, I may try gruyere. It was fun making macaroni-and-cheese yesterday; it’s been a long while since I’ve made it (that healthy eating thing; the recipe I make calls for sour cream, heavy cream, half-and-half, butter, and 24 ounces of cheese). If I am going to make shrimp-n-grits, I need green onions and shallots. Or, I could just stop on the way home tomorrow night and get some things–and find something in the kitchen that it already on hand for dinner. Right now, I am feeling pretty lazy, so that may be the route I choose to take. We shall see. They are also filming on my street tomorrow–actually, on the next block, so parking on MY block will be limited since all their stupid trucks and Kraft services and everything will be set up on OUR block. (I wonder if it’s New Orleans NCIS? I’ve always had a crush on what’s his name, from Quantum Leap, who plays the lead) Anyway, I need to get some shit done around the house, I need to revise three chapters today (I’ve done no revising the last two days, and thus am very behind on the revisions), and I’d like to work on my short stories as well.

Heavy heaving sigh.

Always, so much to do. It ain’t easy being a Gregalicious.

All right, best to get back to the spice mines. Here’s your Father’s Day hunk; a hot daddy!

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Spirits in the Material World

It might come as a surprise to many that someone such as myself, who not only writes crime but has spent almost his entire life reading crime books (both fiction and nonfiction), has very little knowledge of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s great character, Sherlock Holmes; a detective whose adventures have never gone out of print and have remained, to this very day, as popular as when they were originally published. Now, don’t get me wrong; I’ve always admired Doyle, and I am incredibly fond of Holmes: I love the modern interpretation of him in Sherlock; I enjoyed the first two (or three?) seasons of the American modern interpretation, Elementary; I read the Nicholas Meyer 1970’s interpretations of Holmes, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution and The West End Horror (which I really should reread), and I do suspect I would have enjoyed the novels more had I been more versed in Sherlockademia); and I both read and loved The Hound of the Baskervilles when I was in junior high school.

And yet, The Hound of the Baskervilles remains, to this day, the only Doyle Holmes story I’ve read.

Shocking, isn’t it? Shocking and appalling. And more than just a little bit embarrassing. I have lots of friends who are devoted Sherlockians–they belong to organizations like the Baker Street Irregulars, have annual meetings to talk and debate all things Sherlock–and yet I’ve kept my lack of knowledge, my complete and utter inexperience with the writings of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a secret from them. But this past week or so, I saw a discussion on Facebook on one of their pages, and on it The Annotated Sherlock Holmes by William S. Baring-Gould was mentioned as a ‘gold standard’, and I thought, ‘perhaps I should get a copy of this and commence my Holmes education with it.’ I dashed over to eBay, found a set in relatively good condition for a low price, and ordered it promptly.

It arrived yesterday, and I am terribly excited.

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I’m not, of course, going to read it straight through; I am still reading Lehane’s Since We Fell, but I can most certainly dive into it here and there.

And let’s face it, my education in things Sherlockian is very overdue.

And is there any more famous character in fiction than Sherlock? I daresay probably not; and since Doyle started publishing his stories in the late nineteenth century, I don’t know that there is another fictional character who has been studied so assiduously, written about more, or around whom an entire academic milieu of study has been built. The volumes are enormous, very thick, but just in paging through there is a wealth of study and information contained within their pages.

It’s very exciting.

And I intend to write about my Sherlockian education on here, sharing it with you, Constant Reader, as I go forth and learn.

And on that note, it’s off to the spice mines with me.

 

King of Wishful Thinking

Friday!

Tomorrow, though, is going to be a little on the heinous side: I have Wacky Russian in the morning, then I have to go into the office for a few hours; meeting a friend who’s moving away for lunch after that; and then I have to come home and make macaroni-and-cheese for a party I am going to in the evening. In other words, I will barely have time to breathe all day. Hardly my idea of a peaceful, relaxing Saturday, but what can you do, right? I don’t usually have crazy Saturdays like this very often, so there is that. And then I have Sunday to get groceries, etc.

Meh, it happens.

The revision proceeds apace; I got more than one chapter–one and a half, say–done yesterday; I am still behind schedule slightly–a chapter a day pretty much adds up to finished right on June 30th. Then, I can spend the 4th weekend adding a coat of polish and then….time to start sending it out to agents. Keep your fingers crossed for me, Constant Reader!

I slept really well last night, which was all kinds of awesome. I’m not groggy or tired this morning, and I also slept late–I don’t have to be at the office until later today; I had thought about going to the grocery store this morning but I think I will wait until Sunday, simply because of the parking situation out on the street is easier to deal with Sunday mornings than it is on Fridays; and I can stop on my way home from work to get the stuff I need for the mac-and-cheese, and a few other things we need to have today. I am working late on Wednesday next week, so that’s when I’ll go to Costco, probably; although I am not entirely sure I need to go for any other reason than wanting to, really.

No, I need Pellegrino, and I also need laundry pods. We’ll see how I feel on Wednesday; i could always wait until the following weekend.

I haven’t had time to read any more on Since We Fell, because what spare time I’ve had the last couple of days has been spent on the revision.

And now, methinks I had best get back to the revision.

Here’s a Friday hunk to get your weekend going:

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Voices Inside My Head

I was whining about hating to do my revisions recently to my friend Laura recently, and she gave me the best analogy: “I look at my manuscripts as a dirty house I need to clean up and organize.”

Best. Advice. Ever.

I know it’s disturbing and odd, but I love cleaning and organizing. It’s so satisfying to work on a mess and have it all be neat and tidy and sparkling when I’m done; I enjoy this so much that I even let things go for a while, rather than cleaning as I go, so that when I have time I can just go to town. Paul has decided to go visit his mom the week of the 4th of July, for example, and having already requested that Monday the 3rd off so I could have a four day weekend–when Paul told me this my immediate first thought was, oh my God, the cleaning I am going to be able to get done…

I do recognize that this is not normal.

Anyway, but approaching the revisions with this mindset had completely changed how I view doing them; my manuscript is my apartment, it’s filthy and disorganized, and I need to get it in order, cleaned up, and organized so that it reads more smoothly and makes more sense. It’s amazing to me, too, how changing the way I look at doing this has turned it into something I am actually enjoying doing–something I never thought I would say. I’m not sure when exactly I decided that I hated doing revisions–it’s probably a leftover from the old “should have gotten it right the first time” mentality that I used to have–but it’s always been something I don’t like doing, and it also plays into my laziness. Do I HAVE to? was what I always used to whine when my mother would make me do something when I was a kid–what an utterly horrible little shit I was; the more I remember my childhood the more sympathy I have for my parents–and do I HAVE to is the mentality I always seem to take into my revisions.

But looking at it as a cleaning/organizing project? Has opened a whole new world to me.

Another writer friend of mine also offered me this critique of the way I write–“you always step on the action.” She then went on to explain that I have a habit of starting a chapter after something has happened, and then have the character flashback to what happened; this kills the suspense and takes urgency out of the story. I had never really noticed this habit, but when she told me this over lunch one day last fall, I began thinking about it and thought, yes, I do that sometimes.

As I revise this manuscript, I realized I DO IT ALL THE TIME. At least, I do in this manuscript, and she’s right; it does slow the pacing, kills off some of the suspense, and cuts back on the urgency. So I am fixing that–reordering my chapters, moving scenes around and having to redirect the structure and flow; and who knew? It’s fun. I am also trying to clean up the language, focus on maintaining a mood, and so forth as I go along, but I think once I get this restructured, I am going to go through and edit for language only in the next draft. I am still hoping to get this all done by 4th of July weekend (another benefit to Paul being gone that weekend) so I can spend that weekend cleaning up the language.

Who knew?

And on that note, this chapter isn’t going to revise itself for me.

For Throwback Thursday, here’s another hunk from my youth, who helped me realize oh, yes, I like boys/men; the wonderful Christopher Reeve:

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Wrapped Around Your Finger

Good morning, Constant Reader, and welcome to Hump Day. I probably shouldn’t have been so excited about my sleep improving, as it hasn’t been that great the last two nights which has resulted in me feeling a bit tired this morning and not being quite awake. Ah, well. The revising on the WIP is going well; my goal is to do a chapter a day and before I know it, it will be finished. I’m actually starting to enjoy myself with this revision, which is also a good sign, which means I may even get on a roll and do more than one chapter a day at times.

On the other hand, I shouldn’t get ahead of myself.

I’ve started reading Dennis Lehane’s latest novel, Since We Fell, after finishing Ill Will, and am curious to see where he goes with his story. It’s the first time he is writing a book solely from the point of view of a woman, which is rare with male writers. I will report back.

I started writing a new short story this week; as I said the other day I have several ideas for new stories swirling around in my head, and finally, when I finished revising Monday I decided to go ahead and get the opening of a new story down. The story is called “Closing Time” (which may change), and it was actually not my idea originally; when I was on a panel at Bouchercon in Raleigh, I was talking about how after Katrina and the flood, for several months those of us who were in New Orleans were subject to a curfew–which was unusual, and as a result the bars closed at midnight, which was eventually moved back to 2 a.m, and then, at New Year’s, they went back to being open round the clock. Some bars simply locked their doors at closing time, and anyone who hadn’t left there was stuck there until the curfew was over, at six in the morning. The moderator, the amazing Katrina Niidas Holm, said “You should write a story about a murder that takes place when everyone is locked inside the bar overnight”–and since then, I’ve never gotten that suggestion out of my head–and for some reason I started really thinking about that lately.

We’ll see how it goes.

But I need to focus on the revisions, and getting “Quiet Desperation” finished.

And now, back to the spice mines. Here’s a Hump Day Hunk for you:

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Walking on the Moon

 When I wrote the introduction to Night Shadows: Queer Horror, I talked about the similarities between crime fiction and horror, as a means to explain how two crime writers (myself and the incomparable J. M. Redmann) found ourselves editing a horror anthology. Make no mistake; there are a lot of similarities between the two genres. Both, for example, are concerned with death and to no less a degree justice; there’s almost always a mystery involved in a horror novel–primarily as the main characters try to figure out what is going on and what they can do about it, but still. So-called slasher films/novels are really just the horror equivalent of serial killer stories; The Silence of the Lambs notably was both crime and horror. I’ve always been interested in both, although I lean more to the crime side, since I really don’t have the imagination or creativity to write horror (or much of it, anyway; and everything I do write that is horror is undoubtedly horribly derivative).

The book I just finished reading, Dan Chaon’s Ill Will, manages to blur the line between horror and dark crime fiction as well. It is, in fact, one of the creepiest and darkest things I’ve ever read; definitely in the top ten, at the very least.

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Sometimes in the first days of November the body of the young man who had disappeared sank to the bottom of the river. Facedown, bumping lightly against the muddy bed below the flowing water, the body was probably carried for several miles–frowning with gentle surprise, arms held a little away from his sides, legs stiff. The underwater plants ran their fronds along the feathered headdress the boy was wearing, across the boy’s forehead and war-paint stripes and lips, down across the fringed buckskin shirt and wolf-tooth necklace, across loincloth and deerskin leggings, tracing the feet in their moccasins. The fish and other scavengers were most asleep during this period. The body bumped against rocks and branches, scraped along gravel, but it was mostly preserved. In April, when the two freshman college girls saw the boy’s face under the thin layer of ice among the reeds and cattails at the edge of the old skating pond, they at first imagined the corpse was a discarded mannequin or a plastic Halloween mask. They were collecting pond-water specimens for their biology course, and both of them were feeling scientific rather than superstitious, and one of the girls reached down and touched the face’s cheek with the eraser tip of her pencil.

During this same period of months, November through April, Dustin Tillman had been drifting along his own trajectory. He was forty-one years old, married with two teenage sons, a psychologist with a small practice and formerly, he sometimes told people, some occasional forays into forensics. His life, he thought, was a collection of the usual stuff: driving to and from work, listening to the radio, checking and answering his steadily accumulating email, shopping at the supermarket, and watching select highly regarded news on television and reading a few books that had been well received and helping the boys with their homework, details that were–he was increasingly aware–units of measurement by which he was parceling out his life.

When his cousin Kate called him, later that week after the body was found, he was already feeling a lot of vague anxiety. He was having a hard time about his upcoming birthday, which, he realized, seemed like a very bourgeois and mundane thing to worry about. He had recently quit smoking, so there was that, too. Without nicotine, his brain seemed murky with circling, unfocused dread, and the world itself appeared somehow more unfriendly–emanating, he couldn’t help but think, a soft glow of ill will.

The book is about, ultimately, damage: how violent crime and trauma affects people, and how that damage can be passed along to the next generation.

When Dustin was a child, his parents, along with his aunt and uncle (two brothers married two sisters) were murdered while the kids slept outside the house in a camper, the night before they were all due to leave for Yellowstone. The blame fell on Dustin’s older, adopted brother, Rusty–in no small part to Dustin’s testimony and that of his older cousin, Kate–who claimed to have resurfaced memories of Rusty forcing them to participate in Satanic rituals (this was actually a big thing in the 1980’s), and Rusty was convicted and went to jail. Recently, DNA evidence over-turned Rusty’s conviction, and he was released. Dustin’s wife has recently died of cancer, and his youngest son Aaron is using heroin while pretending to go to college. And one of Dustin’s patients, a former cop, is convinced that young college boys are being kidnapped and ritualistically drowned by a cult of some sort, and wants Dustin to help him look into it. All of these disparate threads weave in and out of each other; interconnected yet causing more alienation for this complex and completely dysfunctional family as the book careens along to its ultimate denouement, a downward spiral of hopelessness and tragedy.

The writing is spectacular, and Chaon also plays with form and even typesetting to get the feel of the novel across to the reader; this can seem intrusive and distracting at times, but as you continue to read, this style creates an irresistible mood and drive to continue reading; as the Tillmans’ past, present, and future all seem to converge in on their lives and each other, it becomes almost hypnotic.

There’s also a shout out to The Three Investigators in the text, which I also loved.

This book is amazing. It reminded somewhat of Lou Berney’s The Long and Faraway Gone, which was sublime and one of the best novels I’ve read over the past few years. I highly recommend this…and can’t wait to read more of Chaon’s work.

 

 

Message in a Bottle

Monday morning, you gave me no warning–oh, please. I don’t have to go in to the office until around noon this morning, which gives me ample time to finish reading Dan Chaon’s Ill Will before I have to head in; I have less than a hundred pages to go, was prepared to finish it last night before watching television–but that was not to be. Instead, we watched the first episode of Season 5 (and the last) of Orphan Black, and then rented Get Out, which I absolutely loved; and was definitely one of the most original horror films I’ve seen in years. Props to everyone involved–and if you haven’t seen it, you really should–at least, if you enjoy scary/horror films.

I’m also torn as to what to read after I finish the Chaon this morning. I have so many fantastic books to get through–seriously, the TBR pile is like a pirate treasure chest–and I have to work two late nights of bar testing this week; which means going into the office later than usual four days this week, and hopefully means that I’ll be able to get some reading done. As I suspected would happen, I didn’t get nearly as much revising done this weekend as I’d hoped, so I am still behind schedule. But with a bit of focus, I am confident I can get caught up by this weekend. One can hope, at any rate.

I also, as I was reading yesterday, figured out how to write two new short stories–so I need to get writing and rewriting so I can get those two stories done as first drafts, at least.

Note to self: make some notes on both of these stories.

Done. *whew*

And now, back to the spice mines. Here’s a hunk to start your week off correctly:

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