I Love Your Smile

I’m tired this morning.

Yeah, I know. Same old same old for one now officially fifty-seven year old Gregalicious. Bouchercon looms on the horizon and I still need to read two more books to be up to speed on my Best Paperback Original Anthony panel; and I have a lot of writing and editing to do before I leave so I can go with a clear conscience and not do a fucking thing while I am in St. Petersburg.

I really can’t wait for that week off…

A mild cold front passed through overnight, so today is hot and sunny but not humid. Which is lovely, and has helped my mood. I had a bit of a sinus headache this morning, actually, because of the dramatic shift in the barometric pressure, and wound up having to take a Claritin, which I haven’t had to do as much this summer.

Heavy heaving sigh.

The next story in Florida Happens is Brendan DuBois’ “Breakdown.”

BIO: Award winning mystery/suspense author Brendan DuBois is a former newspaper reporter and a lifelong resident of New Hampshire, where he lives with his wife Mona, their hell-raising cat Bailey, and one happy English Springer Spaniel named Spencer. He is also a one-time “Jeopardy!” game show champion, and is also a winner of the game show “The Chase.” He has published over twenty novels, and  has had more than 120 short stories published in such magazines as Playboy, Mary Higgins Clark Mystery Magazine, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, and the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, as well as in numerous original short fiction anthologies. In 1995, one of his short stories — “The Necessary Brother” — won the Shamus Award for Best Short Story of the Year from the Private Eye Writers of America, and the PWA also awarded him the Shamus in 2001 for his short story, “The Road’s End.” He has also been nominated three times — most recently in 1997 — for an Edgar Allan Poe Award from the Mystery Writers of America for his short fiction. One of his short stories in 1997 was also nominated for the Anthony Award for Best Mystery Short Story of the Year. In 2010, the readers of Deadly Pleasures and Mystery News awarded him the Barry Award, for Best Mystery Short Story of the Year, for his story “The High House Writer,” which was published in the July/August 2009 issue of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. He also won the Barry Award in 2007 for for his story “The Right Call,” which appeared in the September/October 2006 issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. In 2005, he received the Al Blanchard Crime Fiction Award for Best Short Crime Fiction Story at the fourth annual New England Crime Bake, a mystery convention organized by the New England Chapter of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime. This short story, “The Road’s End,” appeared in the Windchill crime anthology, published by Level Best Books.

His short stories have also been extensively anthologized, including the 1988, 1990, 1992 and 1995 editions of The Year’s Best Mystery & Suspense Stories, published by Walker Books, as well as the 1995 and 1997 editions of Year’s 25 Best Mystery Short Stories and the 1997, 1999, 2001 and the 2003 editions of Best American Mystery Stories, published by Houghton Mifflin. In addition, his short fiction has also been reprinted in the 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2004 editions of The World’s Finest Mystery and Crime Stories, published by Forge.

An anthology of his short fiction, The Dark Snow and other Mysteries, was published in 2001 by Crippen & Landru press of Virginia. This was followed by a second anthology, Tales from the Dark Woods, published by Five Star.

His stories have also appeared in two short story anthologies published in Germany as well as in South Africa and Japan.

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Visit his website here.

“Breakdown” by Brendan DuBois

It had been a long, long time since Ruth Callaghan had suffered a flat tire while driving, so it came as a bit of a surprise when it happened.  She wasn’t familiar with the Toyota Rav 4 she was driving, and so when the tire let loose, instantly there was a heavy vibration in the steering wheel and the car, which had been driving smooth and fair, was now lurching to the right.

She slowed and pulled the Toyota over to the side of the road.  She checked her watch, and also checked the Rav’s dashboard clock.

Both said the same thing.  She had about forty-five minutes to go before she had to make her appointment.

Not forty-four.  Not forty-six.

Forty-five.

Ruth got out of the car and went to the rear.  The right rear tire certainly was flat.

“Damn.”  She wiped at the back of her neck.  It was hot.  It was incredibly hot.

She looked around at her surroundings.   She was outside of Miami, in a wooded and flat area that had seen better times, just like the old industrial sections she had earlier driven through.  Decades ago those factories had made comfortable livings for hundreds of families.  Now, they were broken, shattered, making comfortable homes only for the homeless or rogue animals living out in the wild Florida landscape.

Like one of her instructors had said, years back, systems break down if they aren’t carefully cherished and maintained.

Breakdown.

The thing I love about Brendan’s stories is you never are quite sure where they are going; he is a master of misdirection and always manages to lead the reader down the wrong path and BAM! There’s a surprise twist–but they are never out of place, and once you’ve arrived at the twist, when you look back you can see exactly how the twist was foreshadowed all along. “Breakdown” is a terrific story, about a woman on her way to an appointment who blows a tire in front of a strange house and has to change it so she can make it on time. As she works on the tire, she observes some strange behavior at the house by its inhabitants–she’s even snapped at by one of them in an incredibly rude way–and then the story changes direction and delivers a terrific pay-off.

And now back to the spice mines.

What About Love

It is a lovely spring morning in New Orleans, and the sun is particularly, almost obnoxiously, bright. I woke up early after a short night’s sleep, but it was also a particularly restful sleep; I also broke out the cappuccino machine this morning and had one of those as I checked my email and prepared to face the day. In other words, I am surprisingly rested and chipper this morning; I’m not sure what that means for the rest of the day, but so be it.

The Edgars are this week, and Malice Domestic is this coming weekend; gatherings of crime writers where many of my friends will also be. I do hate missing gatherings of crime writers, and it is my goal that one of these years I am going to attend as many of these events as I possibly can. I miss New York, for one thing, and all my friends there; it’s been far too long since I’ve dashed up there for a lovely long weekend of martinis and lunches and gossip and dinners and talking about writing. I love talking to writers about writing; and I need to go to these things more often not just because I have a great time, but because I also draw inspiration from them and tend to refocus my energies on my writing afterwards; those events remind me why I do what I do. It’s so easy to get discouraged and feel alone out here in the hinterlands.

And I am luckier than most; New Orleans has a very vibrant literary scene.

Paul and I gave up on Friends from College last night; it’s just too difficult to watch a comedy which is predicated on a long-term affair between two married people, particularly when one of the couples is trying to have a baby. It may sound prudish, but I don’t find adultery particularly entertaining as a plot device for comedy; particularly when it’s straight couples who have supposedly committed to monogamy. I just don’t see how this is going to remain funny when they got caught–and they are obviously going to get caught; and their inability to stop seeing each other on the sly is kind of played for laughs. You just know the season finale is going to be the pregnant wife finding out that not only has her husband cheated on her for twenty years but with a woman she thinks is her friend all this time.

Yeah, I fail to see the humor in that.

The male adulterer is a literary writer who is now determined to sell out for money; there was some humor in that, particularly in scenes with his agent, also one of their friends from college, played by Fred Savage–who is also gay, and whose partner, played by Billy Eichner, is the OB/GYN who is helping them with fertility treatments and the in-vitro process. Yeah, this isn’t going to end well, and with each passing episode it seems even less funny. It’s a pity; they could have eliminated the affair and done the show as a kind of St. Elmo’s Fire update show; with them dealing with middle age and getting older and still not having achieved everything they want from life.

But then that would be thirtysomething, and it’s already been done.

Now, I don’t know what we’re going to try to watch next. But I am also very excited because this is the week I am cutting off the cable. Yes, I am entering the twenty-first century and its time to stop paying the cable bill. We stream everything, and the only thing that had kept me tied to the cable company was college football and the Saints; and I can get that thru Hulu Live for a LOT LESS than what I am paying the cable company. So, this week I am cutting back to wireless service only from the cable company; and if I can find a reliable, less expensive company for that, Cox will be gone for good from my life.

Huzzah!

I also read some short stories.

First up is “The Long Lament” by Brendan DuBois, from Jim Fusilli’s Crime Plus Music:

The word went out that October that the head of the Campbell clan was dying, and for the next few days a steady stream of family members, relatives, and supplicants made their way to the city of Dundee, Maine, where a part of the widespread Campbell family arrived from the Highlands when the world-wide Great Depression had struck nearly ninety years earlier.

They drove in from the rest of the New England states, others took the ferry down from Nova Scotia, and a fair number flew into the Portland International Jetport from across the world, including Duncan Campbell–the younger son of the dying Colin Campbell–who had flown in to Maine from Phoenix, where he had lived for the past twelve years. Duncan’s oldest brother, William,  was already in Dundee, where he had never left. For the past several days, William had been keeping watch over his dying father in the upper floor of his modest two-story home in the Highlands section of Dundee, which offered a grand view of the rocky harbor.

Brendan DuBois is one of those writers you can always count on for a good, well-written story that will surprise you. This story is no different; it starts out with a younger son coming home with his wife to pay his respects to his father before he dies. As the story progresses, we learn the father is a crime lord and his older brother is a monster; the wife is Latina and the entire family are racists. And then the fun begins. As I said, Brendan never disappoints.

Next up in Crime Plus Music was “Unbalanced” by Craig Johnson.

The only part of her clothing that was showing were the black combat boots cuffed with a pair of mismatched green socks. She was waiting on the bench outside the Conoco station in Garryowen, Montana. When I first saw her; it was close to eleven at night and if you’d tapped the frozen Mail Pouch thermometer above her head it would’ve told you that it was twelve degrees below zero.

I was making the airport run to pick up my daughter, Cady, who had missed her connection from Philadelphia in Denver and was now scheduled to come in just before midnight. The Greatest Legal Mind of Our Time was extraordinarily upset but had calmed down when Id told her we’d stay in Billings that night and do some Christmas shopping the next day before heading back home. I hadn’t told her we were staying at the Dude Rancher Lodge, one of my favorites because of the kitschy, old brick courtyard and fifties coffee shop. Cady hated it.

This story is poignant and sad, but not terribly sad; it’s about the bonding of two strangers in a truck during the Christmas season and during a snowstorm; oddly enough, they bond over music and she resets the sound balances on his truck stereo to make the music sound better. It seemed like a Christmas story in some ways; one of those wonderfully sentimental stories that doesn’t cross the line into cheapness and manipulation. Craig Johnson is a superb writer, and this story really shows that.

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Raspberry Beret

I am afraid that the last two short stories I am writing, “Once a Tiger” and “Don’t Look Down,” have stalled for the moment. “Once a Tiger” I just need to step away from for a moment; I am definitely having some issues with that story, and it’s just getting harder. I did start it over yesterday, and do think the changes I made to the beginning make the story stronger, but…yeah, not really sure how to not only end it, but how to get it there. So, I am going to let it sit for a while before getting back to it.

Likewise, “Don’t Look Down”, previously known as the Italy story, isn’t so much that I don’t know how to end it; I do. I really need to go back to the beginning of it and start it over; I didn’t know the ending when I started writing and now that I actually do, I need to go back to the start and weave that story into it. But I opened the file yesterday, looked at it for a hot minute, and then went, not feeling this right now, and closed it again. So, rather than writing anything new, I decided to start editing and rewriting other stories. I also did something that a friend of mine does; I read them out loud to make sure the sentences spoke properly. I do not do that nearly enough, and I found a lot of mistakes in the wording, and I also found a lot of mistakes in the stories that needed correcting. One still needs some more work, but the others are close to being ready for submission. Whether there’s an audience for them or not remains to be seen…because, you see, two of the stories have gay characters.

One of the major problems one faces as a gay author is how limiting writing about gay characters, plots, and themes can be. Yes, we need to tell our stories, but when they are short stories–there’s not really a market for them anywhere. And when you send them to mainstream markets…you’re never sure if they are simply going to be rejected because, you know, gay characters, or if the rejection is because the story’s just not up to snuff. I fucking hate that. Part of the bipolarity of being a gay writer is just that; is my work not good, or is it the gay thing?

But as I was editing the stories and reading them out loud last night, I actually started thinking, you know, you’re actually pretty good at this writing thing. Last year was kind of a bad year for me; it started off with my confidence in my abilities as a writer being shaken to their very core–and let’s be honest, that confidence level has never been particularly high. My parents raised me to always be humble, to never accept compliments without being self-deprecating, to never talk about being good at anything: “if you are, let other people point this out.” As such, the promotional part of being a writer, of having a writing career, has always been difficult for me. Teaching classes about writing has always made me feel like an impostor, always waiting for someone in the back of the room to stand up and scream fraud!

But part of the goals for this year are to stop doubting myself, to stop doubting my abilities, and to believe in myself more. I always tell other writers that rejections don’t necessarily mean you suck, all it means is for whatever reason your work wasn’t right for that editor–as a former editor and an anthologist, I am very well aware that can mean any number of different things, none of which are you suck.

I don’t know why, but reading those stories out loud did something for me, made me recognize that I can, in fact, do this.

And I think the smart thing to do from now on is read my work out loud while editing it.

Thank you, Laura Lippman, for that brilliant advice.

As for the Short Story Project, first up today is  “After Georgia O’Keeffe’s Flower,” by Gail Levin, from Alive in Shape and Color,   Lawrence Block’s anthology I am absolutely loving.

I am so excited that Georgia O’Keeffe has finally agreed to meet with me! Getting her to come around wasn’t easy. At first she wouldn’t even reply to my letters. I kept at it. You know, persisted. Finally I reached her secretary on the phone. When I did get word from O’Keeffe, she complained there had been too many interviewers over the years. When I asked, she admitted that most of them were male journalists.

This story kind of threw me for a loop; it’s really not a crime story at all. It’s about a young feminist art historian meeting one of her idols, and finding that the idol isn’t what she imagined her to be. It’s a poignant story, and one I can certainly relate to: is there anything worse than meeting someone whose work you adore and then discovering that person is nothing like you imagined? That somehow disappoints you, and then you can never enjoy or view their work in the same way again? A really good, thought-provoking story.

Next up is “The Day After Victory,” by Brendan DuBois, from Manhattan Mayhem, edited by Mary Higgins Clark.

It was seven a.m. in Times Square, New York, on Wednesday, August 15, when Leon Foss slowly maneuvered the trash cart–with its huge wheels and two brooms–along the sidewalk near the intersection of Seventh Avenue and West Forty-sixth Street, shaking his head at the sheer amount of trash that was facing him, and the other street sweepers from the Department of Sanitation. He had on the usual “white angel” uniform of white slacks, jacket, and cap–which was stiff and felt new–and never had he seen so much trash. It was almost up to his knees.

Brendan DuBois is one of our genre’s top short-story writers, and his novels are pretty damned good as well. This story, set the day after V-J Day in 1945, is incredibly clever. DuBois gets the period right; I actually felt like I was there on the street with his protagonist that day, and the character is so beautifully drawn that everything he does makes complete and utter sense. He tackles something that I’ve not seen much in WW2 fiction, frankly; how were people who got out of serving viewed? Great, great story; and I would love to see it paired with Joe R. Lansdale’s “Charlie the Barber,” which I talked about earlier this week.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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