Can’t We Try

And just like that, this is the last day of my combination of illness/vacation. The good news is that I think I’m over everything that prevented the trip to Bouchercon in Dallas; the other good news is that I feel remarkably rested, centered, and ready to get back into the world again. I slept deeply and well again last night–and for those of you who can sleep well every night, I hope you appreciate it! I certainly never did back in the days when I could fall asleep simply by putting my head on the pillow and closing my eyes.

That seems so very long ago now.

These little vacations, I think, are very important for me. I need to recharge more frequently than I used to, and the weekends, while helpful, simply aren’t enough anymore. I have another little week-long vacation coming at the end of this month; I always try to take them around office holidays–so I am taking the first three days of Thanksgiving week off. As I said, I do need to take these little vacations every now and then in order to continue functioning; I wear out a lot easier now that I am older.

Paul and I got caught up on Catherine the Great last night, which is quite enjoyable (although as I said to Paul, “Catherine’s life when she was younger, and how she came to power, is a lot more interesting than this part of her life; but since you have Helen Mirren, it has to be about her when she’s older.” And Helen Mirren is absolutely killing it.

We also watched the first three episodes of Watchmen last night, and we are all in on this one, too. Regina King is just a goddess, and one of our best actresses working today. The story is all too apt for this time, as well–it’s themes of racism and white supremacy and fighting it, while exposing all the ugly nastiness of white supremacy, is all too too timely for our present day–and the third episode, which brings the remarkably talented and vastly under-appreciated Jean Smart into the cast, was one of the best. As a federal agent who hates vigilantes, and has come to Tulsa to help fight not only the white supremacy but to also bust “vigilantes”–which would be, in her own words, “some rich asshole with too many toys”–Smart is the anchor the show needed–the first two episodes didn’t seem as cohesive or to make as much sense as they all do now; the addition of her and her character pulled the entire show together and has essentially set up the conflict for the rest of the season. I never read the graphic novel on which the show is based; but it’s another take at superheroes (vigilantes) like Amazon’s The Boys, and it veers away from the path that DC and Marvel set up with their own hero universes.

I started reading another book yesterday, but am not sure I’m going to finish it–too much misogyny and homophobia in it already–it was originally published in 1962–but I might go ahead and finish it; it would tie directly into the essay about toxic masculinity that reading I the Jury inspired, and let’s face it, that essay needs other examples rather than just Spillane. I know I want to reread James Ellroy’s Clandestine because of its remembered homophobia; it’s one of the reasons I never read more Ellroy, despite always wanting to. He’s an MWA Grand Master; deeply respected in the field, and considered one of the giants in the genre, plus LA Confidential alone sounds terrific. And reading Ellroy to get a sense of 1950’s Los Angeles is probably the best way to get a sense for the time, for Chlorine.

I’m also still thinking about Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Certain Dark Things. It’s just that good, Constant Reader. I also saw she has signed to do a novel for Agora, the Polis Books diversity imprint; I seriously can’t wait to read that.

I’ve done very little writing since I went on vacation; I’ve been primarily focusing on resting, doing some cleaning and filing, and getting over being sick. I’ve felt really good the last few days, and I think I can face returning to the office again tomorrow. I’d like to get some writing done today–I also want to get my email inbox emptied out–but I am not going to pressure myself; I am simply going to take the day as it comes and try to get whatever needs to be done finished as it comes along. I kind of need to reread where I am with Bury Me in Shadows anyway; I’ve not even really looked at it much over the last two weeks as I was not feeling myself. Today I feel rested and relaxed and healthy enough to possibly get some work done; and even if I don’t–if I save my energy because I am going back to work again tomorrow–I should be able to get some reading done. I may go ahead and finish reading that book I started to read this weekend; it’s kind of short, and so it shouldn’t take terribly long to read, right?

And then I can move on to something else.

I’m still enjoying Richard Campanella’s Bourbon Street, although I always find the early Colonial period of New Orleans a bit dull and uninteresting…although I am curious to see how the street–and the city itself–eventually became such a rough place. People in Louisiana outside of New Orleans–the ones who comment on newspaper articles and television station websites–always trash New Orleans as being “dangerous” and “full of crime” and “unsafe”; which, to me, I have always considered codewords  for racists, who can’t stand the idea of all the people of color who live and work here. They often will talk, in their little comment/rants, about how New Orleans “didn’t used to be like that” and bemoan the wonderful, lily-white days before desegregation. But my reading of New Orleans history definitely gives the lie to those comments; historically, the city has always been a hotbed of crime and murder. Always. Those lovely “white flight emigrants” are like those people who seem to think the 1950’s was this idyllic period of American history, when it was anything but that; the ones who think Happy Days was a documentary, and Leave It to Beaver was reality television. Frankly, it wasn’t particularly a great time to be white, either–McCarthyism, the widespread fear of communism and the Soviets, the shadow of the mushroom cloud, the rise of the suburbs–it was not the wonderful time we are so often told it was. What was wonderful about the 1950’s? The economy was booming in the post-war period.

Which should tell you all you need to know about white American priorities.

Over this past weekend I got an idea about what to do with a failed short story I’ve done many drafts on and has been rejected everywhere. I do think I can now do something with it, and maybe even get it published somewhere. Stranger things have happened, after all.

And now, I think I’m going to get some more coffee, work on my emails for a bit, and then repair to my chair to read for a little bit while I figure out how to best spend my last day of vacation. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

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Dancing in the Moonlight

Friday morning, Barry eve. Paul and I, for those who are curious, are electing to stay rather than go. We may end up regretting that decision, but it’s not like it would be the first time we made a decision we wound up regretting deeply (hello, year in Washington).

It’s sunny yet cloudy outside this morning, giving the morning a weird, yellow-grayish tint to everything (sepia!). I am most likely going to venture out this morning at some point; I still need to fill the car with gasoline, and later I am also going to decide whether to take the precaution of parking in a garage somewhere in the CBD, to get the car above whatever possible floodwaters might be coming. There’s also some things I should pick up at the grocery store–although I imagine the candle and bread aisles have already been decimated. Paul and I both don’t have to go to work today, so we will undoubtedly end up watching a lot of television and getting caught up on our shows–we fell behind while he was at his mother’s. Moving the car to a garage might not be necessary, but I’d rather pay a daily parking rate somewhere than over a thousand dollars making my car operational again–or losing it entirely to water. If experience has taught me anything, getting a car operational after it gets flooded also means it never quite runs right again, and why risk it as I am getting so close to owning it outright?

It’s supposed to rain off and on all day today as Barry gets closer to shore. It’s getting darker even as I type this right now, and so I guess that means it’s getting ready to rain at any moment.

Yesterday was probably the most beautiful day of the summer; low eighties with little to no humidity, and a cool breeze. Wednesday I was pretty tired all day, and that kind of carried over into yesterday. I got nothing done–this entire week has been a bust for the most part, other than reading to edit some things I’ve already written–but maybe I can correct that a bit today. I don’t know, we shall see, won’t we? Right now I am feeling pretty good and well-rested and like I can get some stuff done–but where that will wind up, nobody knows.

Yesterday was also a lovely day for me on Twitter; that’s twice in the last week or so I’ve had an absolutely lovely day on social media. Twitter, and social media, can be lovely places to connect and reconnect and speak (albeit electronically) with friends; I’ve tried for a very long time to keep my social media upbeat and positive, rather than allowing myself to get sucked into the toxicity rampant on all social media sites. I have no desire to argue with anyone, about anything; no one has ever been convinced to change their minds by a social media argument. If anything, it seems to harden people against opposing views, so why even bother? My time and my patience and my emotional investments are limited, as is my energy, and I’d rather use all of them productively and positively, rather than trying to score points on people with opposing views that I find repugnant.

Yesterday, though, was lovely; what social media can be if we avoid toxicity. Alex Segura had been doing some gratitude posts there, thanking people who have helped, encouraged, and supported him on his journey as a crime writer (if you haven’t checked out his Pete Fernandez series, you simply MUST); I thought to myself, self, you really need to do the same thing, and so I started a tweet-thread in which I did the same; thanked people for their support and help and encouragement over the now near-twenty years of my writing career. I naturally forgot some people–there have been so many–and I was trying to do it as I went, but the responses turned out to be a lot of fun and people are still responding to that thread this morning. But the tweets and responses were a lot of fun, and almost every new notification brought yet another smile to my face, and made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside (as opposed to the usual, in which I’m dead inside…KIDDING), and made me feel quite grateful; grateful for my career, grateful for the terrific people I’ve met along the way, grateful for all the help and encouragement and support. Writing can often feel like an incredibly lonely business; most of the time it’s just you and your computer screen and your imagination, typing away while going deep inside your own head. Social media has made it much easier for us to connect outside of the conferences, your Bouchercons and Malice Domestics and Left Coast Crimes and Tennessee Williams Festivals–and helps deepen the bonds formed at those events, and makes you look forward to seeing everyone at the next one. I am already looking forward to seeing everyone in Dallas at this year’s Bouchercon…which will be here sooner than I expect and will also wind up being over much sooner than it should be.

So, I am going to spend this morning trying to sort my kitchen again–it’s astonishing how quickly it gets out of order–and probably reading this book I need to write an introduction for soon. I also have some terrific new books: Clandestine by James Ellroy (which I want to read again); Paper Son by S. J. Rozan; Life After Life by Kate Atkinson; and The Ceremonies by T. E. D. Klein. I may also reread some short stories that need to be edited; I may even try to write on the WIP–but let’s not get too crazy or ahead of ourselves here.

So, I guess it’s time to start getting my act together this morning. Have a great day, Constant Reader; hopefully we’ll still have power at this time tomorrow.

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Delta Dawn

And now, tis time to turn the three days left of my vacation into a productive time.

I have spent the last two days simply doing as I pleased; occasionally stepping up to do some chores around the Lost Apartment, but mostly just reading and watching things on television. I tried, the other night, to watch a movie, but gave up on both Lucky Logan and The Man in the Iron Mask (Leonardo DiCaprio version); I also tried watching a documentary, How the Devil Got His Horns, but quickly bored of each of them. I will probably give Lucky Logan another shot, as I love both Channing Tatum and Adam Driver, and it seems like a subversively brilliant and funny noir movie. (I actually stopped watching, not because I was bored, but because I thought, Paul would probably like this movie so I should wait and watch it with him)

I also watched the original Star Wars trilogy yesterday–well, more like had it on as background noise while I did other things–and while Episode IV has always been my favorite, since it was the first, I have to confess for the most part Episode V is probably the better film. I also have always resisted criticism of Episode VI, but the more I watch the more I tend to agree with the criticism. I mean, really, was the entire opening sequence rescuing Han necessary? It took up a good portion of the film, quite frankly, and to what purpose? And precisely, how did Luke, who never finished his training in Episode V, was far too impatient and wasn’t breaking through, suddenly become a Jedi Master in Episode VI?

Questions. So. Many. Questions.

But today, I need to get moving. I need to write, I need to proof the pages of Royal Street Reveillon AND the cover design and get that turned in. I need to finish cleaning the downstairs–I started and made some lovely headway over the past two days, doing it leisurely, and I’d like to keep that pace going, so by Sunday evening the entire place will be sparkling and clean. I want to read some more of Angie Kim’s Miracle Creek, and I have a lot of cleaning and organizing to do around my desk–balanced around the complaints and whines of Needy Kitty, who wants me to sit in my easy chair so he can sleep in my lap. I’ve also been going to bed ridiculously early every night, around ten, and sleeping until eight every morning, which has also been lovely. I don’t feel a bit slothful, which I usually do when I am getting this much sleep and doing so little. But I chose to look at Wednesday and Thursday as holidays, and now I can get some work done over these final three days of vacation.

A Twitter conversation sometime in the last few weeks with Rob Hart (whose soon-to-be-released The Warehouse–actually being released on my birthday) got me thinking about gay representation in crime fiction over the years, and reading I the Jury (surprise! Mickey Spillane’s first novel is rife with homophobia) made me remember that the only James Ellroy book I’ve ever read also had homophobia in it. I’d always wanted to read Ellroy, just had never gotten around to it, and I’d decided to dip in with a lesser known work. There was a gay character in it–minor–and the way he was talked about, the way he was treated, and the language that was used, was horrific. Despite owning a copy of L.A. Confidential, I’ve never read it…nor read any other Ellroy. I’ve always intended to go back and read some Ellroy; I met him when he was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America and we had a weird bonding experience over the Ken Holt mystery series for boys that we both read as kids. But I could never remember the name of the book of his I’d read. I knew it had a one-word title, which narrowed it down somewhat, and I’d even gotten a copy of Perfidia only to realize it wasn’t the book. For some reason I went digging around on Amazon and realized the book in question was Clandestine, and now I want to read it again.

Honestly. But the Spillane essay I’ve been making notes on would kind of fit into the over-all concept of a larger examination of gay representation, homophobia, and homophobic content in crime fiction; as well as questions of masculinity and toughness in America and American fiction.

It was also be interesting to do an essay comparing/contrasting Megan Abbott’s historical noir fiction with Ellroy’s.

So much writing, so little time, so little desire to actually do any of it.

Heavy heaving sigh.

I’d love to write noir novels about the hidden gay underground of Hollywood’s Golden Age; I had a great idea for one a while back that involved the drowning murder of a young actor who was sleeping with powerful gay men to help his own star rise at a studio in the 1950’s, and how his roommate/best friend/ex-lover, also an actor on the rise, tries to solve the crime since the homophobic cops don’t give a shit about another dead gay man in Los Angeles. It even has a great noir-like title: Chlorine.

I have so many ideas, always.

And now, it’s back to the spice mines. I have a load of laundry to fold, some things to print, and then it’s time to buckle down and start getting things done.

Have a lovely post-holiday Friday, Constant Reader.

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This Used To Be My Playground

GEAUX TIGERS!

I watched the Auburn-Washington game yesterday while I cleaned the downstairs. I did a lot of chores and errands yesterday; and also did some reorganizing and cleaning so the living room doesn’t look quite so…book hoarder-ish. 

I’m getting better about it. I’ve realized that the true value, for me, of the ebook is that if I read a book I really like and think I’ll want to hang on to for one reason or another, I can donate the hardcopy and buy the ebook; if I’m patient enough and pay enough attention to email alerts and so forth, I can usually get it at a much discounted price. I don’t feel quite so bad about buying ebooks at low sale prices as I would had I not paid full price already for a print version. So, I’m really buying the book twice.

(I also find myself taking advantages of sales on ebooks by a particular author whose books I loved and would love to revisit sometime. I have the entire canon of Mary Stewart on my iPad, and a shit ton of Phyllis Whitneys. I’m also occasionally finding books by Dorothy B. Hughes and Charlotte Armstrong and Dorothy Salisbury Davis, which is lovely; I’ve also managed to get some of Susan Howatch’s lengthy family sagas, like Penmarric, The Wheel of Fortune, and Cashelmara. There are many treasures to be found through e-retailers.)

And I also find that, once I’ve let go of the hard copy, I’m not usually all that anxious to buy the e-version. Most of the books I want to keep is because I think it might be something I’d want to write about in a broader, nonfiction sense; like a book about the Gothic romances of the 1960’s thru the 1980’s, what they were inspired by, and how they were books about women’s fears; yes, there was romance involved, but they were also about the dark side of romance. Or a lengthy essay or study about how gay men are portrayed in crime novels written by authors who aren’t gay men, like the rampant homophobia in James Ellroy’s Clandestine or the male/male relationship in James M. Cain’s Serenade or any number of gay male portrayals over the decades of American crime fiction. Then there are, of course, the nonfiction tomes, about periods of history that interest me that I hold onto because I may need them as research for a book or story idea that I have.

I also keep copies of books by my friends, and whenever a friend has an ebook sale I will always grab a copy if I can.

I still haven’t really shifted from reading hard copies to reading electronically, but I am slowly but surely getting there. Anthologies are really helpful in that way; short stories are, of course, self-contained and by definition can usually be completed in one sitting.

I also finished reading James Ziskin’s wonderful Cast the First Stone, and am now eighty percent of the way finished with my Bouchercon homework.

cast the first stone

Monday, February 5, 1962

Sitting at the head of runway 31R at Idlewild, the jet hummed patiently, its four turbines spinning, almost whining. The captain’s voice crackled over the public-address system to inform us that we were next in line for takeoff. I’d noticed him earlier leaning against the doorframe of the cockpit, greeting passengers as we boarded the plane. He’d given me a thorough once-over–a hungry leer I know all too well–and I averted my gaze like the good girl that I’m not.

“Welcome aboard, miss,” he’d said, compelling me to look him in the eye. He winked and flashed me a bright smile. “I hope to give you a comfortable ride.”

I surely blushed.

Now, just moments after the handsome pilot had assured us of our imminent departure, the engines roared to life, and the aircraft lurched forward from its standstill. Juddering at first as it began to move, the plane rumbled down the runway, gathering speed as it barreled toward takeoff. I craned my neck to see better through the window,  holding my breath as I gripped the armrest of my seat and grinned like a fool. I sensed the man seated next to me was rolling his eyes, but I didn’t care. Of course I’d flown before–a regional flight from LaGuardia to Albany on Mohawk Airlines, and a couple of quick hops in a single-engine Cessna with a man who was trying to impress me with his derring-do. Alas, his derring-didn’t. But this was my first-ever flight on a jet plane.

This is a terrific start to a terrific novel. The fifth book in James W. Ziskin’s highly acclaimed and award-winning Ellie Stone series, it is, alas, the first Ellie Stone I’ve read. I met the author at a Bouchercon some time back (I don’t recall which one) and of course, I’ve been aware of the awards and the acclaim, and have been accumulating the books in his series for my TBR pile, but just haven’t gotten to them yet, much to my chagrin. So while I am not a fan of reading books out of order in a series (a crime I committed earlier in my Bouchercon homework with Nadine Nettman’s wine series), I certainly didn’t have the time to go back and read the first four.

Now, of course, I am going to have to–and what a delightful prospect this is.

Ellie is a delight, for one thing. The book/series is set in 1962/early 1960’s; and Ellie is a report for the New Holland Republic, not taken terribly seriously by the men she works with or for (with the sole exception her direct editor), even though she is the best reporter and the best writer on her paper. (It kind of reminds me of Mad Men in that way.) The opening is terrific; Ziskin captures that excitement of your first jet flight in a time period where it wasn’t terribly common to fly beautifully, and using that experience to not only showcase how adventurous Ellie is but to introduce her to the new reader as well as give some of her background. She is flying out to Los Angeles to interview a local boy who’s gone out to Hollywood to be a movie star, and has recently been cast as the second male lead in one of those ubiquitous beach movies the 60’s were known for, Twistin’ at the Beach. But he hasn’t shown up for his first day of shooting on the Paramount lot, placing his job in jeopardy, and soon the producer has been murdered…and the deeper Ellie gets into her story and her search for Tony Eberle soon has her digging through the seaming, tawdrier side of the Hollywood dream and system. Saying much more would be giving away spoilers, but Ziskin’s depiction of the secretive side of Hollywood, what studios were willing to do back in the day to protect bankable stars, and what that meant to those on the seamier side of the business is heart-wrenching and heartbreaking, and sympathetically written.

I can’t wait to read more about Ellie Stone.

And now I have moved on to Thomas Pluck’s Bad Boy Boogie, the last part of my homework. LSU plays tonight (GEAUX TIGERS!), and I want to go to the gym, do some more cleaning, and do some more writing today.

So it’s back to the spice mines with me.