Take Me Home Tonight

Paul and I drove home last night from dinner with friends during a New Orleans summer thunderstorm, complete with torrential rains and high winds and low visibility and lightning, sometimes three different strikes at the same time lighting up the sky. It was a lovely evening, with an excellent cold meal and wonderful drinks and terrific conversation and much laughter. These types of evenings are too few in our life, I think; I was incredibly relaxed and cheerful when I got home, and slept the sleep of the righteous last night. It does feel lovely to be all rested this morning.

In these trying times, one must always take these spots of comfort and joy when one can find them.

We were supposed to go into a heat advisory today, but I think last night’s storm might have have some effect on that; apparently it’s only in the 80’s and with the heat index, “it feels like the low nineties.” The forecast I’d seen late last week indicated a “feels like 109” for today, so this is a blessed relief. I am going to make it to the gym today later on if it kills me; I have some things I need to get done today and I am determined to do them. Yesterday afternoon I braved the hideous heat to make groceries, and then came home and cleaned the floors and washed the bed linens. The Lost Apartment doesn’t look quite the disgusting mess it has all week; when the exhaustion from the heat kind of had me reeling and not wanting to move when I got home. But today, for the first time in a long time, I feel motivated and ready to get a move on.

Which is, quite frankly, absolutely lovely.

So, there’s definitely some organizing that needs to be done around here, and then some cleaning as well as some writing. I’m very close to being finished with the Scotty draft, and I need to work on a short story, and I also want to make a list of things I need to get done this week.

I’ve also started thinking about the next book I’m going to write. I really want to write Bury Me in Satin this year, but I am also thinking about making developing my story “A Holler Full of Kudzu” into a novel; it seems like it would work better as a novel than as a short story. Both are Corinth, Alabama stories; and of course there’s still the WIP to whip into shape. So, I am thinking September will be my revision of Scotty month while I continue to work on revising the WIP, with an end goal of being finished with both by October 1 and then diving into Bury Me in Satin, which I think is a terrific idea and long overdue for me to write….but the other story also beckons me. We shall see; things always seems to change when situationally and I am trying to be more of a go with what is interesting me at the time kind of writer.

I only have to work two days this week: Monday and Tuesday, then I am taking a stay-cation that has me not returning to the office until Tuesday of the following week, which is absolutely lovely. I need to get a list made of everything I need to get done during that free time as well.

I also am way behind on my reading. Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda hasn’t really grabbed my interest but I’ve also not gotten very far into it, either. Maybe it will pick up; maybe today when I go to the gym I can take it with me and read it while on the treadmill; or I can watch something on the iPad; which was how I managed to get back into and enjoy Black Sails.

I really need to start going to the gym with greater regularity; hell, I just need to start going again, period. I’ve always had an adversarial relationship with my body; and I think part of my lackadaisical/not motivated issue comes from not going to the gym with any regularity. I need to actual focus on trimming the fat-weight down on my body, and focus on eating better and healthier. It’s not going to get easier to lose the weight, and at the same time I don’t want to keep gaining as I get older either.

That would be a disaster.

And so now I will return to the spice mines. I am going to work on Scotty for a bit before I go to the gym.

The next story in Promises in Every Star and Other Stories is “The Sound of a Soul Crying”:

The dream was mild at first, scarcely remembered upon awakening—a vague flash of a blonde man in a pair of tight underwear, wrapped in a blanket of multi-colored wool, almost like a serape, but that flash brought with it a sense of unease, discomfort, that horrible gut feeling that something was wrong. Galen sat up in bed, the slight breeze from the ceiling fan tousling his light brown hair. Rubbing his eyes, he glanced over at the clock. Just before four. He tried for a moment to recapture the dream, the image, but it was just that—an image, nothing more. Not again, he thought, climbing out of bed to get a drink of water. The last time had been too painful, too hard on him. It had taken weeks to get over; he couldn’t afford that again. He took a couple of aspirin. There was no headache this time, but it never hurt to be careful.

More was revealed to Galen the second night, more of a picture of what the blond man looked like: thick blond hair parted in the center, perfectly straight, bleached even whiter by sun exposure. His skin was tanned bronze-gold, his lips a thin, almost austere line drawn above a slightly pointed jaw. The nose was long but not so long as to offset the rest of his face. His eyes were small, frosted with white lashes and crowned with two white brows. Their color was a blue too dark to be called azure. His slender neck connected with heavily muscled shoulders that descended to a hairless, equally impressive chest. He was wearing navy blue cotton sweatpants that hung loosely off his waist, revealing two lines of definition where his hips and torso intersected. Slight lines around his eyes and lips betrayed his age to be early- to mid-forties.

His face looked as though it had forgotten how to smile.

He was watching a video on his television, holding the remote in his long fingered hand. He pressed the FF button, and Galen’s perception of the scene rotated as though a movie camera on a track was moving around until his line of sight was coming from behind the couch the man sat on, enabling him to see the same blurred images on the television moving quickly by that the blond man was watching: images of three naked young men with low body fat, veined muscles, and erect cocks—one getting fucked while sucking the third’s cock. The blond was watching, massaging his crotch, but nothing was happening; there was no physical reaction at all. He finally stopped the tape, turned off the television, and walked into a bedroom. He dropped the sweatpants, revealing a tight pair of thirty-five dollar white briefs. He slid beneath the multi-colored blanket, turned off the light and lay there, staring at the ceiling in the darkness.

This time Galen woke with a headache. It wasn’t the worst he’d ever had after such a dream, but it wasn’t pleasant. There was a dull aching throb in his forehead over his right eye, close to the bridge of his nose. Lying in bed, his breath coming faster and faster as he focused on the pain, he attempted to will it away. He got out of bed and headed toward the bathroom, his erection poking out from beneath the elastic waistband. The dreams always had that affect: headache and hard-on, two things he would ordinarily consider mutually exclusive. He shook two aspirin out, popped them into his mouth and cupped his hands beneath the faucet for water to wash them down. He stared at himself in the mirror. The bags under his eyes were getting thicker, darker, larger. The whites of his eyes were laced with red, and even the white was starting to look yellowed and tired. He splashed water on his face. “It’s only going to get worse, so stop bitching about it,” he told his reflection. “Now is the easy part.” Praying for the aspirin to work their mysterious magic, he got back into bed.

This is another story that was written for an anthology pre-Katrina whose name I don’t recall; but I had the idea for the story when I was in college, and actually wrote a partial draft of it by hand (as I always did for the most part in those horrible pre-computer days), and when I was asked to write a story for this anthology–it had to do with dreams and nightmares; that much I do recall–I remembered this story of an empath who sees people hurting emotionally in his dreams, and started writing. It was, for an erotic story, much longer than they usually run, and there was a lot more story than there was erotica, which often happens in my stories.

I really like what I did with this story; it’s really more about heartbreak and loneliness and isolation than anything else, and it turned out pretty well.

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You’re the Inspiration

Ah, another week.

I finished watching Black Sails this weekend, and wow. Wow. WOW. That was, without a doubt, one of the best series finales I have ever seen. I cried. Yup, I did. There was a twist there at the end that I did not see coming, and it was so incredibly moving and emotionally satisfying…I mean, wow.

I cannot recommend this show highly enough.

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I love pirates, which was part of the reason why the Pirates of the Caribbean movies were so innately disappointing; sure, I enjoyed Johnny Depp’s performance in the first one, but after that they just seemed like parodies of the first, and the plots, such as they were, were ridiculous. I think I was very young when I saw Treasure Island in two parts on The Wonderful World of Disney, and around that same time A High Wind in Jamaica also aired. I became all about the pirates–there were even Nancy Drew (The Haunted Showboat) and Hardy Boys (The Secret of Pirates’ Hill) and Three Investigators (The Secret of Skeleton Island) adventures revolving around pirate treasure; and any number of Scholastic Book Club mysteries about searching for treasure left behind by pirates. I read Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island when I was around ten; it was an illustrated version, and I remember the pictures as if I just saw them yesterday.

So, yeah, I’ve always loved pirates.

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I started watching Black Sails a year or so again, and it just didn’t catch on with me. I don’t know why, nor do I remember why. I gave it two episodes and stopped, and I do remember thinking, meh, it’s visually stunning, but I don’t care. But earlier this year, needing something to keep me entertained whilst on the treadmill, I decided to give it another whirl, and got sucked right in.

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Visually, it is an absolutely stunning show. Set in the Bahamas in the early eighteenth century, Nassau in particular, the scenery is spectacular. The visuals are breathtakingly beautiful; the ships at sail, the water, the island, the beach, the town, the costumes. Visually, it’s a sumptuous feast.

In the first episode we meet Captain Flint, John Silver, and Billy Bones; as soon as I heard the names (I only knew it was a pirate show) I knew what it was: a prequel to Treasure Island. This time around, that really got my interest going. But what was strange was that there were also characters who actually existed in history: Charles Vane, Jack Rackham, Anne Bonny, Edward Teach. The lines between the real characters and the fictional soon became so blurred that I forgot I was watching a prequel to Treasure Island most of the time, and was watching a fictionalized version of history; Nassau and the Bahamas were  a failed British colony basically taken over by pirates; the British Empire was too busy dealing with the War of the Spanish Succession to be bothered with doing anything about Nassau; and Captain Flint’s plan to set up a republic of pirates and escaped slaves was actually based in history; I have a book about it called The Republic of Pirates that I haven’t gotten to read yet (but I’ve moved it up the TBR pile).

And of course, the cast is stunningly beautiful.

I mean, Tom Hopper as Billy Bones:

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Toby Stephens as Captain Flint:

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Luke Arnold as John Silver:

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Zach MacGowan as Charles Vane:

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And my favorite character turned out to be Jack Rackham, played by Toby Schmitz.

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What was also enjoyable to me was that the cast was also diverse; and the women weren’t there simply to look pretty, be ogled, or be used as sexual pawns. They were integral parts of the cast, and drove a lot of the action on the show, and were incredibly strong. Eleanor Guthrie ran Nassau; Max moved from being a mere worker in the brothel to major position of power; Madi was Queen of the Maroons and spoke for/led her people, and of course, Anne Bonney was just a badass.

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I also loved that the show included the Maroons; escaped slaves who made their own community and resisted being recaptured.

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All of the characters were fully realized; and the plot was so intricate as each character formed friendships/romances/alliances, and betrayed others, as they tried to gain the ascendancy, not only in Nassau but also over the treasure of the Spanish galleon Urca de Lima. It was interesting watching the characters change and evolve based on their experiences, what they went through, and what they suffered. The relationships, the friendships, completely made sense–even when it came to the betrayals. I was so caught up in the story that it wasn’t until the fourth season that I started remembering, “oh, no, this is the prequel to Treasure Island, and the pirate republic eventually collapsed,” which meant, to my fear and horror, that most of the cast wasn’t going to get out alive.

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Also, serious props to the characterization of Woodes Rogers, the British man who comes to the Bahamas determined to solve the piracy problem with a good heart and good intentions; watching him slowly evolve into one of the best villains on the show as his ideals are slowly stripped from him by circumstance and reality was mesmerizing.

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All of the characters evolved and changed, which is a rarity in any television series, but the acting and writing in Black Sails was so superb it never hit a false note.

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And it was interesting in that not only were women shown nude, but there was full frontal male nudity as well.

In the first season there was a lesbian relationship–which I figured, of course there is, gotta give the fanboys some hot girl-on-girl action–but again; while there were sex scenes, the relationship wasn’t prurient and was depicted as honestly and as importantly as any of the heterosexual romances.

I don’t want to give spoilers, and I won’t–because some of the most powerful surprises in the show have to come as a surprise, or will lose their impact–but in Season 2 as we get the back story on one of the principle male leads….he’s gay, and that changes, not only the character, but everything that came before. And his story is absolutely heartbreaking, and played brilliantly.

And the ending! Again, no spoilers, but I cried. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen a series finale that felt so right, so perfect, as an end for a story. Where Black Sails succeeded was in making you care about the characters and understanding their relationships, rather than just focusing on story and the size and scope of the show–which, don’t get me wrong, is also pretty amazing.

Bravo, Starz. This is the second series of yours I’ve watched all the way through–the first being Flesh and Bone, which was also brilliant–and I have to say, Starz is kicking ass on the series front. Wow. Loved it.

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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:

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Lovergirl

I wrote a short story yesterday, which was kind of fun; I can’t remember the last time I sat down and wrote 4500 words in three hours, and a short story from beginning to end, to boot. I am very pleased with myself, as I am wont to be. It needs work, of course; but I am very happy that I was able to write it from beginning to end. I can now put it aside for awhile to get back to work on other things; but as its deadline approaches I won’t be pushing to get it written–and then giving up as happens so often.

Today I need to get some things accomplished; I am going to the gym this morning before heading into the office. I am doing happy hour bar testing this evening; so I don’t have to go in until later; which now provides me with a Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday weight lifting schedule, with room for replacement days if that becomes necessary. (I can always, for example, go on Friday evening after work if I don’t want to do Saturday; I can go on Sunday to replace Monday, ,etc.) Flexibility in one’s workout schedule is important, and makes success more likely than rigidity.

I need to get my taxes together this week as well; that’s one of the major things on my schedule this week. Ideally, I would love to have everything to my accountant by Friday, so I can get everything filed next week. I also have to get some work done on the Bouchercon anthology; and I need to finish a grant application by Wednesday. There’s a contest I am considering entering as well; we shall see if I decide to pay the entry fee for that (it’s only thirty dollars, but….thirty dollars is thirty dollars. Before I bought the car I would have thought nothing of spending the money; but now I am watching every cent I spend). So, I definitely have my work cut out for me this week; we’ll see how it all works out. This morning I feel energetic, and I know after I work out I’ll have that lovely endorphin rush going. Huzzah! Everyone wins.

I am on the final season of Black Sails, and it continues to enthrall, although I am very well aware that it won’t end happily; but I also have some idea of who will survive the season and who will not.

All right, I need to get my act together and get to the gym. Till later, Constant Reader.

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I Want to Know What Love Is

It’s been raining pretty much most of the weekend, which is fine. I went to get groceries, pick up a prescription, and get the mail before getting home and starting to work on the mess that is my home; I also finished writing a chapter of one manuscript and started writing another–which was my writing goal for yesterday. Today’s is to do second drafts of two short stories to prepare them for submission. I also have to go to the gym and finish the cleaning of the apartment and organizing my office. I started reading the big y/a best seller One of Us Is Lying by Karen McManus yesterday; I can see why it’s a bestseller and I can also see why it’s being developed into a television series a la Thirteen Reasons Why; it’s a deceptively simple yet surprisingly complex story, and likewise–well, I’ll talk some more about it once I’ve finished.

I’m enjoying writing again for the first time in years, which is a good thing, and I am actually putting a lot of thought and planning into what I’m writing, which is a really good thing. What I’ve written over the last six or seven years has been a lot more organic, coming to me as I wrote it from a basic premise and perhaps knowing what the end was; without putting near as much thought into theme and what I am trying to say, what I am trying to explore with the story, than I used to–I mean, it worked, but it also made the work a lot harder than it needed to be. I think this is particularly true of short stories; I think that’s primarily what I’ve been doing wrong in writing them–my entire approach to short stories has been wrong, and I’ve been, as I said, making it a lot harder on myself than it necessarily needs to be.

Which is, sadly, what I always tend to do for myself: make things harder than they need to be.

Heavy heaving sigh.

In addition to cleaning and everything else I did yesterday, I also managed to start watching Season 2 of Black Sails, which continues to enthrall. I am still liking the idea of finally writing my pirate novel (Cutlass), but not as much as before; it remains one of those dreams that I hold on to for when I am making a living as a writer again and able to not have a day job any longer. (There are several of those; they also require not only making a living but making enough money to travel and do research.)

Some day. I never give up on the dream.

The Short Story Project also continues; yesterday I read a story by Ross MacDonald from The Archer Files and one by Karl Edward Wagner from the gorgeous two volume collection The Best Horror Stories of Karl Edward Wagner, produced by Centipede Press maybe seven or eight years ago.

MacDonald’s story, “The Bearded Lady,” was quite good, as everything written by MacDonald is.

The unlatched door swung inward when I knocked. I walked into the studio, which was high and dim as a hayloft. The big north window in the opposite wall was hung with monkscloth draperies that shut out the morning light. I found the switch beside the door and snapped it on. Several fluorescent tubes suspended from the naked rafters flickered and burned blue-white.

A strange woman faced me under the cruel light. She was only a  charcoal sketch on an easel, but she gave me a chill. Her nude body, posed casually on a chair, was slim and round and pleasant to look at. Her face wasn’t pleasant at all. Bushy black eyebrows almost hid her eyes. A walrus mustache bracketed her mouth, and a thick beard fanned down over her torso.

The door creaked behind me. The girl who appeared in the doorway wore a starched white uniform. Her face had a little starch in it, too, though not enough to spoil her good looks entirely. Her black hair was drawn back severely from her forehead.

Lew Archer, on his way from Los Angeles to San Francisco, decided to stop in the small town of San Marcos and look up an old army buddy, inadvertently stumbling into a murder case. The story is interesting, the writing whipcrack smart, with MacDonald’s trademark, cynical short paragraphs immediately getting to the essence of a character. Don’t we, as readers, already have a strong impression of who that young woman is as a person after those three sentences? I’ve often wondered how one solves a murder in a short story–or writes a detective short story. I’ve tried and failed often enough. But the great thing about the Short Story Project is I am starting to understand how to write them, how they work, and how to make them work; which is a lovely thing. I have several ideas for Chanse short stories that I’ve never written because I didn’t know how; now I rather do, or at least have an idea, thanks to The Archer Files and Kinsey and Me (Sue Grafton). Both books are great learning tools for people who want to write detective stories, and MacDonald’s influence on Grafton is clear. (Although I’d still love to see someone do an essay, or book of criticism, comparing and contrasting MacDonald’s work with that of his wife: The Murderous Millars would be a great title.) MacDonald’s stories usually have to do with damaged and dysfunctional families; “The Bearded Lady” is another one of those, and is very well done. I highly recommend it.

The Wagner story I read was from the second volume of he Best Horror Stories of Karl Edward Wagner, which was titled Walk on the Wild Side, and was titled “The Last Wolf.”

The last writer sat alone in his study.

There was a knock at his door.

But it was only his agent. A tired, weathered old man like himself. It seemed not long ago that he had thought the man quite young.

“I phoned you I was coming,” explained his agent, as if to apologize for the writer’s surprised greeting.

Of course…he had forgotten. He concealed the vague annoyance he felt at being interrupted at his work.

Nervously the agent entered his study. He gripped his attache case firmly before him, thrusting it into the room as if it were a shield against the perilously stacked shelves and shelves of musty books. Clearing a drift of worn volumes from the cracked leather couch, he seated himself amidst a puff of dust from the ancient cushions.

I received both volumes of Wagner when I was judging the Bram Stoker Award for Best Single Author Collection, or whatever it is called; it was so long ago that I don’t even recall who the finalists were or who actually won. My memory is perforated like Swiss cheese nowadays, with holes and gaps; it also works like a sieve as new knowledge, and new books I’ve read, tend to pass through it without catching hold (I used to be able to name every book I’ve read, the plot, the main characters–and even some of the minor; over the years that ability has been sadly lost to time). I don’t, for example, remember the titles or the contents of the Wagner stories I read; but the books are beautiful volumes and I remember being impressed by his writing, so I kept them on my shelves. It was only a week or so ago that I realized, that I remembered, them; and that they might make a good addition to my year-long study of short fiction.

I’ve often said that writing about writers, about the business of writing and publishing, sometimes (often) feels masturbatory to me; only other writers would be interested in such a story. And yet writers pop up in my work all the time; Paige is a journalist and wannabe novelist in the Chanse series (and now that I’ve retired that series she’s migrated, apparently, over to the Scotty); another writer character I’ve created has appeared in several novels of mine–one Scotty, The Orion Mask, and one pseudonymous; he also appears to be the voice I used in several first-person short stories, including “An Arrow for Sebastian.” I have another such short story in process; I’ve not quite worked out how to make the story work, but there you have it. I was tempted to write an entire series about a writer, but as I started to develop my gay male writer character more I soon realized I had turned him into a hybrid of Scotty and Chanse; there was nothing new or original about him other than he was a writer and not a private eye. (I really do want to reread Azimov’s Murder at the ABA, though, and Elizabeth Peter’s brilliant Die for Love and Naked Once More.)

“The Last Wolf” is also about a writer, a writer who firmly believes in himself and his work, and that his work is art, and art should never be compromised for commerce. The world in which he lives is one where he is the last (apparently) person attempting to still write fiction; novels have fallen by the wayside and short stories are no longer published; the world has completely changed and his agent wants him to try to write for television shows–which, as described, sound horrifically awful. The writer refuses, the agent leaves, and he goes back to his typewriter. This story could easily be seen as angry, or even whiny; in the hands of a lesser author, the story would be precisely that. But Wagner paints a picture with his words, and maybe it resonated with me more because I am an author myself, but the sympathy rests entirely with the author. (Although I am one of those whose eyes roll so hard that  they almost unscrew when I hear another author speak of their ‘art’; but that’s a topic for another day.) I am looking forward to digging back into Wagner’s work again this year.

And now, I need to file and organize, perhaps vacuum, before I head to the gum. I want to get some things written today, and I need to revise those stories.

Hello, spice mines.

Sigh.

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Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go

I overslept this morning, which is really fine; I feel very rested, which means I needed the sleep and my muscles, which have felt tired all week, don’t this morning; so there you have it. I have some errands to run in the early afternoon, and I also have some writing to do today; I need to finish a chapter in the WIP and finish one in the Scotty. I should probably do so organizing and of course, the Lost Apartment is a mess. I also need to revise two short stories, whose due dates are rapidly approaching. Next weekend I will be in Alabama for the Murder in the Magic City/Murder on the Menu events, and the next weekend is the final parade weekend of Carnival (yes I am missing the first weekend for the first time in years). I do hate missing the King Arthur parade; I have lots of friends and acquaintances in that one, so I generally get buried in beads. I can’t believe I agreed to miss that weekend, but I also was so busy making sure it wasn’t the final weekend of Carnival that I didn’t notice.

Stupid, stupid, stupid Gregalicious.

Heavy sigh. I finished watching the first season of Black Sails last night, both at the gym and then when I got home after; I am, as I have said, really enjoying the show. I can’t quite figure out why I didn’t like this show when I tried to watch it several years ago, but I am really enjoying it now and glad I gave it another chance. I suspect I didn’t pay enough attention to it as I watched, and you kind of need to pay attention. There’s a lot going on, there are a lot of cross-plots, and lots of scheming. I don’t think I much cared for the way the women were treated in the first episode or two, either; it appeared that the women were all whores or mistreated terribly by men. But that’s not the case; the women are stronger and smarter than the men, and Eleanor Guthrie, who runs Nassau, is developing into quite the cold-blooded manipulative she-devil, which I am also rather loving. And of course, you can never go wrong with a hot, sweaty men in tight leather pants. My favorite, of course, is Tom Hopper, but Zach MacGowan, who plays Captain Charles Vane (and also played Roan on The 100; I thought he looked familiar) isn’t a slouch either.

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I also read two short stories last night, both horror, to keep the Short Story Project going.

The first, “Minuke,” by Nigel Keale, is from a very thick book edited by Marvin Kaye called Ghosts:

The estate agent kept an uncomfortable silence until we reached his car. “Frankly, I wish you hadn’t gotten wind of that,” he said. “Don’t know how you did: I thought I had the whole thing carefully disposed of. Oh, please get in.”

He pulled his car forward and frowned. “It puts me in a rather awkward spot. I suppose I;d better tell you all I know about the case, or you’d be suspecting me of heaven-knows-what kinds of chicanery in your own.”

As we set off to see the property I was interested in, he shifted the cigarette to the side of his mouth,

“It’s quite a distance, so I can tell you on the way there,” he said. “We’ll pass the very spot, as a matter of fact, and you can see it for yourself. Such as there is to see.”

This is a ghost story, or more properly, the story of a haunting;  it was originally written and published in 1950–which makes the story sixty-eight! It’s also told in a classic horror trope that is hardly used anymore, because it’s become cliche–someone is telling the story of what happened to someone else, a disinterested party. Stephen King has used this method a time or two; most notably in his novella “The Breathing Method” from Different Seasons, and sometimes in short stories. It’s a very classic trope–Dracula is an epistolary novel, after all, told in diary entries and letters. But at the time “Minuke” was originally published, horror wasn’t considered a form of literature and as such tropes hadn’t evolved into cliches quite yet, and it’s a well-told tale. The house of the title is merely a bungalow, built in the housing boom of the post-war era, and therefore its tenants are the first to live there; it is too young of a house to have a haunting, and yet it does. It turns out, you see, when the foundations were being dug, they came across some ancient Norse grave markers…(of course, at the time the story was written Poltergeist was many years away in the future, and the ‘never build on an Indian burial ground’ theme hadn’t become deeply engrained in the culture).

(Aside: the collection Ghosts is a gorgeous, leather bound edition with gold inlay and a ribbon page marker that I purchased for a few bucks off a sale table at Borders many years ago; I don’t know why I’ve never dipped into it before, but it’s going to definitely play a role in this year’s Short Story Project.)

The second story I read was “Fallen Boys” by Mark Morris, from Best Horror of the Year Volume Three, compiled and selected by Ellen Datlow, and originally published in Jonathon Oliver anthology The End of the Line:

When the child screamed, Tess Morton felt guilty for having to repress the urge to snap at it. She was aware that it wasn’t Matthew Bellings who should be punished, but his tormentors, and yet the boy’s cry of pain or distress was so whiny that it grated on her nerves.

The reason she felt little compassion for the child was because she knew it took almost nothing to provoke a wail of complaint from him. Matthew would cry out whenever someone barged into him in the school corridor; whenever a football was kicked towards him in the playground; whenever a classmate flicked a paper pellet at him, or snatched a text book out of his hand, or pushed in front of him in the lunch queue. Indeed, the merest slight would cause Matthew’s red-cheeked, strangely wizened face to crumple, his mouth to twist open and that familiar, toe-curling bleat to emerge.

This story, about a class field trip to an abandoned tin mine (now open as a tourist attraction and advertised as an education experience for children), is predicated on a horrific truth about bullying that we don’t like to acknowledge or understand; one that Stephen King exposed and explored powerfully in his own debut novel, Carrie. 

When we read accounts about bullying, and how teachers and other adults look the other way, we are horrified by it; when we read short stories and novels about bullying  our hearts naturally go out to the victims and we loathe the bullies and their enablers; long for their comeuppance, and are infinitely satisfied when it does come. But that bears no resemblance to the reality. That comes from the emotional distance, and the pleasant lies we so often tell ourselves, the lies about who we are as people, and how we would behave in certain circumstances–we identify with heroes and see ourselves as heroes; part of the brilliance of Stephen King’s work is he so often lays bare that horrific truth that we aren’t all heroes.

Take Tess Morton, the teacher taking her kids on this field trip. The story is completely told from her point of view. She knows that kids are bullying Matthew, and she also knows that as the voice of authority she has to try to put a stop to it. She does try, but it’s not taking because Matthew himself irritates her and sometimes she herself wants nothing more than to give him a good slap. This is the same way Miss Desjardin, the gym teacher who stops the shower assault on Carrie White in the opening scene of Carrie, feels about the victim; she has to punish the girls who did it, but Carrie irritates her, she wants to smack her a good one, and she understands why Carrie is bullied.

This is also why school–the hallways, the playground, the cafeteria, the gym–is so scarring for so many people, because they are so evocative of Lord of the Flies or The Hunger Games.

This is a great story; Morris builds his suspense beautifully, and the denouement is rather sudden when it happens–more than a little reminiscent of EC Comics, but it’s also rather satisfying.

And now. back to the spice mines.

On the Dark Side

Sunday morning. I didn’t get as much done as I would have liked yesterday, but I did get some things checked off my to-do list, so i call that a win. I finished a first draft of my short story “The Trouble with Autofill,” which will need some serious revision and work–not a problem–but while I am displeased with the result, I am pleased that I got the first draft done. As I always say, you can always fix what you wrote–but you have to have something to fix. 

We finished watching Broadchurch last night, and my, was that series finale, wrapping up not only the story of the Latimers–whose son was murdered in Season One–but also the rape case that opened Season 3. I have to say, the show was really terrific; I greatly enjoyed it, and I thought it did a great job of putting real human faces on terrible tragedies. As I processed what I’d seen once it was finished, I realized that probably the reason I enjoy crime fiction so much is precisely that; it’s exploration of humanity through dealing with the unimaginable; and that’d also kind of what I’m doing with my short stories. I’m also really glad that I made the Short Story Project a year-long thing; I’m learning so much about short stories by reading so many different ones by so many different writers.

I also have to correct myself; I  do have a hard copy of Lawrence Block’s anthology In Sunlight or in Shadow. I was moving books around in the bookcases yesterday–and uncovering more anthologies and single-author collections as I went–and even though I’d spent a lot of time trying to find it over the past week to no avail, yesterday there it was, right next to Cary Elwes’ memoir of filming The Princess Bride, As You Wish. Why I hadn’t seen it or noticed it prior to this moment in time is one of the unsolved mysteries of my life and brain.

We also watched the first episode of American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace, and I wasn’t overly impressed with it beyond the surprisingly strong performance of Darren Criss as Andrew Cunanan. Visually, it’s splendid, but…I’ll give it another episode or two before consigning it to the scrapheap. The beauty of our streaming society is I can always give it another shot later; maybe I’ll like it better at another time. Black Sails, for example, continues to be something I really am enjoying; I watched half of Episode 3, Season 1, on the treadmill Friday and yes, I can’t help but keep asking myself why on earth did you not like this the first time?

The only problem I’m really having with the Short Story Project is that I am not reading any novels; so my TBR pile is not being reduced in any way. I want to read John Morgan Wilson’s Moth and Flame, and it’s been sitting on my side table next to the easy chair for over a week now; but I’m in such a short story groove…anyway.

Tomorrow is the release day for a book I read in ARC (advanced reader copy) form months ago, The Wife by Alafair Burke.

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In an instant, I became the woman the assumed I’d been along: the wife who lied to protect her husband.

I almost didn’t hear the knock on the front door. I had removed the brass knocker twelve days earlier, as if that would stop another reporter from showing up unannounced. Once I realized the source of the sound, I sat up straight in bed, hitting mute on the TV remote. Fighting the instinct to freeze, I forced myself to take a look. I parted the drawn bedroom curtains, squinting against the afternoon sun.

I saw the top of a head of short black hair on my stoop. The Impala in front of the fire hydrant across the street practically screamed “unmarked police car.” It was that same detective, back again. I still had her business card tucked away in my purse, where Jason wouldn’t see it. She kept knocking, and I kept watching her knock, until she sat on the front steps and started reading my paper.

Alafair Burke’s The Ex made my Top Ten list of 2016; it was the first of Alafair’s books I’d read (I have a bunch more in the TBR pile) and it absolutely blew me away. I wasn’t sure what to expect, and having met and liked Alafair, there was an element of worry; what if I don’t like her book? But it wasn’t an issue; from page one on, I was hooked and it was a book I deeply resented having to put down to do other things. Obviously, I was really looking forward to The Wife–maybe I’ll focus this year on reading the rest of her canon–and was thrilled when I got an ARC at Bouchercon this year.

The Wife does not disappoint, either, and boy is it ever timely! Angela Powell, the wife of the title, has a pretty terrific life; married to a very successful man who is getting even more successful every day, a beautiful home in Manhattan, good friends she can rely on, and a son she dotes on. Angela’s almost too-perfect, too-good-to-be-true life slowly but surely begins to unravel when one of her husband’s interns goes to the police and files a criminal complaint for sexual harassment against him. But Angela is not only rocked by the charges against her husband–she’s also worried about any investigation into their lives, particularly by the press…because she has some dark secrets in her own past that she doesn’t want seeing the light of day. No one, other than her husband and her mother, knows anything more about her past other than she was a catering service waitress who eventually started her own business and is a great chef–she met Jason at a party she was working at–but there is a lot more there. And as the truth about Angela’s past slowly is revealed to the reader, each revelation is even more shocking than the last.

The book has a powerful enough story, with just Angela dealing with this assault on their life and having to wonder if her husband has done what he’s being accused of, and if so, how did she not see it–or whether she should believe in his protestations of innocence and stand by his side? The exploration of what does a woman do in this instance might have been enough for a lesser novelist, but it’s not for Alafair Burke; there’s a reason why she has moved onto my ‘must-read’ list.

The Wife is going to be one of the best books of the year, and will be surely nominated for every crime writing award in 2019. I urge you to read it. You won’t be sorry.