99 Luftballoons

One of the things I managed to do during my Facebook exile was finish reading Adam Sternbergh’s The Blinds, which is, for wont of a better word, simply extraordinary.

the blinds

She’s old enough, at thirty-six, to remember flashes of other places, other lives, but her son is only eight years old, which means he was born right here in the Blinds. She was four months pregnant on the day she arrived, her secret just starting to show. If the intake officer noticed, he didn’t say anything about it as he sat her down at a folding table in the intake trailer and explained to her the rules of her new home. No visitors. No contact. No return. Then he taught her how to properly pronounce the town’s official name–Caesura, rhymes with tempura, he said–before telling her not to worry about it since everyone just calls it the Blinds.

Caesura.

A bad name, she thought then and thinks now, with too many vowels and in all the wrong places. A bad name for a bad place but, then, what real choice did she have?

Reclining now at two A.M. on the wooden steps of her front porch, she pulls out a fresh pack of cigarettes. The night is so quiet that unwrapping the cellophane sounds like a faraway bonfire. As she strips the pack, she looks over the surrounding blocks of homes with their rows of identical cinder block bungalows, each with the slightly elevated wooden porch, the same scrubby patch of modest yard. Some people here maintain the pretense of giving a shit, planting flowers, mowing grass, keeping their porches swept clean, while others let it grow wild and just wait for whatever’s coming next. She glances down the street and counts the lights still on at this hour: two, maybe three households. Most everyone else is sleeping. Which she should be, too. She definitely shouldn’t be smoking.

I read Adam Sternbergh’s debut novel, Shovel Ready, several years ago when I was moderating a panel at the MWA Edgar Symposium which he was on; he was nominated for Best First Novel and I have to say, I was completely blown away by it. (If you haven’t read it, you need to. NOW.) In the years since, I’d lost track of his career and his novels; there is only so much time  and there are so many great novels and great writers. But a friend had read The Blinds in an ARC (advance review copy) and raved about it, so I made a note of it. I was also able to get a copy at the HarperCollins group signing event at Bouchercon in Toronto–where I got so much of the great stuff I’ve been reading lately, well done, HarperCollins–and last week I started reading it.

Wow. I mean, seriously. WOW.

As a reader, I am constantly blown away by some of the amazing writers and books I read. As a writer, I am intimidated and shamed. I cannot even imagine conceiving of something remotely like The Blinds, and even if somehow I could, I couldn’t pull it off.

The premise behinds the book is that a medical science technology company has developed a process which can erase memories. The driving force behind this process development was to work with trauma patients, but the company also came up with a new use for it as well: rather than Witness Protection or life sentences in prison, people could be sentenced to have their memories of what they did or what they witnessed excised, and they could then live in relative freedom (restrained) in this small community of Caesura, in the heat-blasted dry wastelands of west Texas. No one knows who anyone is there; everyone takes a new name on arrival–one name chosen from a list of movie stars and another chosen from a list of vice-presidents–and then they live out their lives in a fairly dull, meaningless way in this town.

It actually sounds quite horrible, to be honest, and Sternbergh captures the bleakness of living there beautifully and chillingly.

The book opens with a murder taking place there…a few weeks after a suicide. And suddenly, the quiet, empty life everyone knows there is no longer quite so quiet and empty anymore. Has the experiment failed? Who could have committed the crime? And as you turn each riveting page, the story gets even more complex and horrifying as the truth slowly begins to unravel and you learn the secrets of Caesura, with the tension and suspense ramping up with every page until the most amazing, horrifying, and terrifying conclusion I have read in any novel in a long time.

The Blinds is going to be nominated for every award under the sun, and deservedly so.

And now, back to the spice mines.

Hold Me Now

Happy Thanksgiving! We have our deep dish pizza in the refrigerator, which we will be heating up later when our friend Lisa comes over to watch some movies; which is what we do every year for Thanksgiving. (Lisa is the one who introduced us to each other.) Today I am going to take a day off from writing and stressing; no news, no worries. Paul is going in to the office tomorrow, so I’ll have tomorrow to do some writing and editing and so forth and I also have Monday off as well. He’s departing to visit his mom for a week one week from today as well. So, yes, today is the day where I am not going to be stressed about anything and just relax and enjoy the day. I’ll probably spend Saturday doing copy edits and working on the Scotty Bible (which means, going through the books with post-it notes to mark pages with references to regular characters so I can check for continuity).

I finished reading Adam Sternbergh’s The Blinds last night, and it is definitely one of the best books I’ve read this year; it’s a remarkable concept, and Sternbergh delivers on it completely. It’s just exceptional. I’m going to review it here, but I am going to let my thoughts on it brew for another couple of days or so. I also started reading Ivy Pochoda’s Wonder Valley last night, and while I am only a few chapters in, it’s already blowing me away. This is some extraordinary writing and character development, people. I have Ivy’s earlier books in my enormous TBR pile, but I wanted to read this one and review it since it’s more current; her books will be moving up in the TBR pile now. I’ve now read some amazing books back to back; If I Die Tonight by Alison Gaylin, Sunburn by Laura Lippman, The Wife by Alafair Burke, and now The Blinds, and as I said, the Pochoda is also exceptional; I’ll be reviewing the others here closer to their release dates.

Glad I am not judging any awards this year or next. Whoa.

After abandoning the other short story I started working on another one. I wrote its first draft about thirty years ago, and of course, it’s terrible, but I liked the main character and I liked the setting, which are about the only things I am keeping for the story. I have, over the years, realized that the story is actually a great noir set up, so I am revising it accordingly, and while the story was originally about unrequited gay desire…I am changing it to something darker. The gay desire will still be there, but it’s just going to be a lot darker. This draft is just to get the story down; after which I will do another draft to deepen the characters, and then another to make the story itself stronger and more horrific/shocking, and then once more for language. This was the problem with the other story; I couldn’t get the story down and it was taking forever. (Although I am now itching to take another run at it, if you can believe that. Lord.)

And on that note I am going back to the spice mines. I need to get this place looking more ship-shape before Lisa arrives, and I have a shit ton of filing and organizing to do.

Here’s something I have always been thankful for: Calvin Klein underwear ads.

644861

Dancing in the Dark

Well, I finished Alafair Burke’s The Wife last night, and wow. Just….wow.

That is three, count ’em, three, amazing novels by women I’ve read recently; all of whom–Alison Gaylin, Laura Lippman, Alafair Burke–were already writing fantastic novels, and yet somehow manage to get better with each new one.  As a writer myself, reading these fantastic novels is a bit daunting–it puts me in mind of why do I bother I will never be this good–but as a reader who loves books, they make me want to send off fireworks.

I also started reading Adam Sternbergh’s The Blinds last night, and it’s also exceptional. I’d read his Edgar Award nominated debut, Shovel Ready, which was amazing, but somehow had missed his second novel; but got a free copy of The Blinds at Bouchercon (thank you, Harper Collins author signing party!) and have heard raves about it, so I decided to tackle it next. And yes, wow. I am also still processing The Wife, and Lippman’s Sunburn, and Gaylin’s If I Die Tonight. I will of course discuss all of these books closer to their release dates, in great detail, on here. But if you love great books, Constant Reader, you need to go pre-order these right the fuck now. You will not be sorry.

You’ll only be sorry if you don’t.

I don’t have to go into the office until late; which is lovely as I have about a gazillion things to do around the house this morning. I also have several errands to run: I have to stop at Garden District Books to pick up a book about the New Orleans Jewish community (more on that later); CVS to pick up a prescription; and of course, as always, I have to get the mail. I need to spend the morning outlining some short stories–one is due at the end of the month, and I am going to have to really get moving if I intend to get it finished–and I also seriously need to get some Scotty stuff finished. I also need, this week, to tear apart the WIP so I can figure out how to restructure it and add in the things that need to be added. I’d like to get that finished by the end of the year, and I think going about doing all of this in an organized fashion makes the most sense. It’s weird how disorganized I am about writing, when I try–almost to the point of being obsessive–I am about everything else in my life. I also need to start restricting my access to social media; that doesn’t help me with my attention span, which seems to be getting shorter and shorter as I get older. I’ve always had trouble focussing and maintaining that focus; I’ve got to be more laser-like in my focus if I’m going to get all of this stuff done by the end of the year.

I know I can do it, and I am actually feeling a lot more confident than I should be. But the busier I am, the more I have to do–the more likely I am to get things done.

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines.

Here’s a Tuesday hunk for you, Constant Reader. Enjoy.

23031630_10159569675910290_4668954140543508975_n

All Night Long (All Night)

Well, it’s Sunday. I made it through another week and it’s grim and gray out there again this morning, with a grocery run staring me down and some serious cleaning, organizing, writing and editing to do ahead of me for the rest of the day. Heavy heaving sigh. But that’s okay; I have a lot on my plate. Some exciting things dropped into my lap recently–pretty much all in the second half of last week–which means I have a lot of things to work on but very little time in which to do them. This also, of course, means all the damned procrastinating I’ve been doing pretty much this entire year needs to come to an end, and I’m already regretting the whatever it was that was allowing me to be lazy all year.

Bad Gregalicious! Bad Gregalicious!

I had wanted to get some more reading done this weekend–Alafair Burke’s The Wife is truly extraordinary and it’s killing me having to read it in bits and pieces–but it doesn’t seem likely. I’ll probably get to finish it this week, as I am doing a lot of testing events this week and can read between clients. We also finished watching Mindhunter last night, which was absolutely amazing, and started watching American Vandal, which is a clever idea…we’ll give it another episode because we’re a bit on the fence about it. Watching Mindhunter also put us behind on our other shows that are currently airing, so we’ll need to get caught up on those tonight.

I do feel extremely motivated today; I slept really well last night so am feeling all I can conquer the world today, which is an absolutely lovely feeling. It’s certainly been awhile since I’ve felt that way, and I really do love the feeling. I have to work late nights tomorrow and Tuesday; the rest of the week is normal, and of course next week is Thanksgiving! Where oh where did this year go?

And I have SUCH a plethora of riches in my TBR pile; the new Donna Andrews, the new Ivy Pochoda, the new Adam Sternburgh…not to mention everything else that’s in my pile and has been for YEARS.

And speaking of which, I need to get back to the spice mines or nothing’s going to get done.

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

IMG_1828

Don’t Cry

Saturday in New Orleans. I have a big to-do list to get through today, and I must get it all done so we can stream season 2 of both Stranger Things and Freakish this weekend, guilt-free. I also want to get some writing/editing/reading done on Sunday before launching into yet another week of work. I also slept late this morning; which felt wonderful–probably because it is a mere fifty two degrees here (AIEEE!) but I feel rested, which is truly the most important thing. I’d wanted to get up earlier, but hey–them are the breaks, kids. So, when I finish this cup of coffee I’ll probably make one to go and start running the errands, so as to get them over and done with. We were going to go see It tonight, but decided to wait and stream things tonight; we can always watch it when it’s available for streaming later.

I did finish my reread of The Haunting of Hill House last night before going to sleep, and as always, it was just a wonderful experience. That final sequence on the tower staircase terrifies me, as it always does; my fear of heights and my fear of spiral staircases no doubt stems from reading this book and seeing the original film, which was fantastic and remains, to this day, one of my top five horror films. (Do NOT under any circumstances watch the horrific, embarrassingly bad remake.) After I finish all my errands today, I am going to dive into End of Watch, which will probably bring my Halloween Horror reading to a close for this year. I am most anxious to dive into some of these books by authors I love (Laura Lippman, Alison Gaylin, Donna Andrews, Alafair Burke, Adam Sternbergh), and then of course there are the books collecting dust for far too long in the TBR pile. I also realized yesterday that I’ve not reread Rebecca this year, but that may wind up being something I tackle over the Thanksgiving holiday season. (I was also thinking last night of the similarities between The Haunting of Hill House and Rebecca last night; which might make for an interesting essay at some point…must make a note of that.)

Heavy heaving sigh.

So much to do, so little time in which to do it.

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines…since I overslept I can’t get more in depth on The Haunting of Hill House  as  I would like to; perhaps later, when the errands are finished.

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

IMG_2986

Steppin’ Out

Home. Sunday night–early evening, really–and I am exhausted. Bouchercon just sucks the life right out of me every year, but I wouldn’t miss it for anything. I have the best time every year: reconnecting with friends I don’t see nearly enough; making new friends; drinking waaaaaaaaaaay too much; and laughing until my abdominal muscles hurt and hurt and hurt. Right now I think if I started laughing I’d also start weeping in agony–that’s how much I laughed this weekend. (And let’s not talk about the ten hours of non-stop drinking that was Friday evening. Oooooooohhhhhh.) I often have trouble sleeping when I’m home; this is exacerbated when I travel, so I’ve not had a good night’s sleep since I left on Wednesday. I am now very close to running out of steam, but am struggling to stay awake so I can hopefully get a good night’s sleep tonight.

And I won the Anthony Award for Best Anthology; rather, Blood on the Bayou: New Orleans Bouchercon Anthology 2016 won. I just edited it. It’s kind of thrilling; it was an incredibly difficult category and I was seriously just honored to be in the company of the other nominees. Art Taylor deservedly won the Macavity Award for Best Short Story; again, I’m just so thrilled that I was even on the shortlist that I really didn’t care about winning, and Art’s story was simply phenomenal.

Okay, I am too tired to think clearly. I’ve been trying to write this for hours now, and I think I should just go to bed and finish in the morning.

Monday morning. I slept so good last night. I woke up several times during the night, and I did wake up much earlier than I thought I would, but I feel rested; it was good sleep, and that’s always a plus. It’s also weird because it’s not light in the mornings anymore; it’s fine, and I’m going to love the extra hour whenever we get it–but I always hate giving it back.

Wow, what a weekend. As I said before, I laughed so hard all weekend; it was almost non-stop. I can’t believe how much I drank…but every year Friday turns into an epic drinking marathon. (This year broke Raleigh’s record.) So many great friends, so many highlights…the only low light was the “not able to sleep in hotels so am always running on accessory” thing, and that’s my low-light of every year and every conference. I met some amazing new people and made some amazing new friends; I was on two glorious panels with fantastic people and fantastic moderators and fantastic audiences; my biggest regret is the same as it is every year–that I didn’t get to spend as much time as I would like with everyone I would like. Toronto was absolutely lovely, and so was the hotel. (The hotel bar was just okay, but the private lounge on the 43rd floor was fantastic.) I read two books on the trip–Burnt Offerings by Robert Marasco and The Vines by Christopher Rice, and started reading Oh, Florida! by Craig Pittman on my way home–which is also fantastic. I got some new books that I’m looking forward to reading: The Blinds by Adam Sternburgh; Sunburn by Laura Lippman; and the new Ivy Pochoda, Wonder Valley. (I finally met Ivy this year, and she told Paul and I a story about visiting Louisiana with her mother that had us both sobbing with laughter.) I had some awesome meals–but I think my favorite was the noodles I had for lunch on Friday, with the fish and chips on Sunday night at Braddock (not sure if that was the place) a close second. I drank wine instead of martinis–the martinis in Toronto were somewhat less than what I would have hoped for–and I got to laugh with so many wonderful friends. Paul, of course, was with me for this entire trip, and he fit in like I knew he would–I swear I think some of my friends like him better than they do me (I’m looking at you, Wendy) and oh, how I could go on.

I even ran into the ChiZine crew–Michael Rowe, Brett Savory, Sandra Kasturi–on Saturday night as two of my writing worlds converged!

And that LSU game on Saturday! That and the books are getting their own posts.

But probably the best–and this is simply because it was bigger than just being a good time for me–part of the weekend was being on the Writing the Rainbow panel. Moderated by Kristopher Zgorski of BOLObooks.com, the other panelists were Owen Laukkanen/Owen Matthews (seriously, buy his books!), John Copenhaver (whose debut novel I can’t wait to get my hands on), Stephanie Gayle (read her books–and she looks like Laura Dern with dark hair), and Jessie Chandler (seriously, read her books). When I was assigned the panel, my first thought was great, three people will show up for this. 

I was wrong, The room was packed. Kristopher had great questions for us, and the answers were all fantastic and thought-provoking. We talked about great queer books and great queer writers, talked about our own experiences writing about queer characters, and the audience was so receptive and amazing. I almost got teary and emotional, honestly; it was the first time I’ve ever be on such a panel at a mainstream event to have such a  great audience and such a great crowd. We’ve come such a long way. I just wish some of the great writers who were publishing when I first was getting started were still publishing so they could have enjoyed this moment as well. It was an honor to talk about Michael Nava and John Morgan Wilson and R. D. Zimmerman and Mary Wings and Katherine V. Forrest and there were so many others we didn’t  get to mention…and there certainly wasn’t enough time to mention all the great people doing the work now–although we were definitely able to plug the two great lesbian writers, Ellen Hart and J. M. Redmann.

And now, I have some things to get done around here while my other blog posts take form in my head, so I will leave you with a picture of me and my partner in crime for the weekend, the always amazing and hilarious Wendy Corsi Staub:

IMG_3048