Time Is On My Side

It really isn’t, you know. Each and every day I become more and more aware of how precious time is, how quickly it can pass, and how finite it actually is. That makes the time I am forced to spend recharging my batteries or simply resting–something I need to do more and more of the more that goes by–into something I resent automatically and always have to remind myself that I am no longer not only forty but not even fifty and sixty is in the rearview mirror now, and don’t have the energy or stamina that I used to take for granted.

I’ve taken a lot for granted my entire life, in truth.

Yesterday was one of those work-at-home with tasks that are relatively mindless while doing chores that are also relatively mindless. This was a very tiring, up and down week (I always marvel at how whenever I should be having a good time and enjoying something, I inevitably end up having to deal with something unexpected and irritating. It does keep me grounded, I suppose, and my ego in check–those great reviews won’t pay for a new tire or change this one or heal your arm, will they? As though I actually need anything else to keep my ego in check. I am trying to actually develop more of an ego, and more of a selfish nature. Perhaps ego isn’t the right word? I don’t like it–for me the word has negative connotations–and I think confidence is a better fit and more accurate. I am working to increase my self-confidence, and my belief in my own value and the value of the work that I do.

I was talking to a friend recently about my future–what’s left of it, at any rate–and what I should be doing and focusing on. I’ve not made plans in years, or thought very far ahead much with my career; I think the lack of cogent plan with my writing career is fairly apparent from a quick glance at its history. I think after Katrina I made up my mind that making plans was a waste of energy and/or time, as one has no control over one’s future. Life is always going to be throwing spitballs and curveballs at you, no matter how good your stance or your grip on the bat and the technique of your swing, you’re going to miss more often than you hit one out of the park. It is very easy for me to get distracted and side-tracked–thank you, brain chemistry–anyway, and oft times I will be thinking quite enthusiastically about one idea when I get another and the first one is forgotten, lost in the mists and cobwebs of the farthest reaches of my imagination, only to be stumbled across years later with an oh yeah lightbulb going on over my head. But I am going to carve some time out this weekend to try to plan ahead a bit, or at least try to plan my writing year for 2023. I have so many things in progress already that need to be finished that it’s not even funny–which I should also make a list of; not the short stories (far too many of those unfinished to make a list–it was somewhere over eighty the last time I counted them) but the books and novellas and other things that I’ve made a start on that need finishing at some point.

I allowed myself to sleep in this morning until eight, and then over my coffee I finished reading Wanda M. Morris’ superlative Anywhere You Run, which was simply marvelous and superb and fantastic–it’s hard to believe she is only two books into her career; it will be interesting to see how she continues to grow and develop as a writer as she gets further into her career–and yes, there will be more about this book later. I feel marvelously rested this morning, and the coffee is doing a lovely job of waking me. I am going to do some futzing this morning–dishes, filing, cleaning a bit–before getting cleaned up and diving into my manuscript for the rest of the day. I really need to stop being so goddamned lazy and get on with it, you know? It simply isn’t going to write itself, and I am very hopeful that I can make some terrific progress on the book today. There’s not any college football today–the season is over except for bowl games and play-offs–and so there are no distractions to be had; no “Oh I’ll just turn on the television to check some scores” only to transition to “oh, it won’t hurt to watch the rest of this half” to “oh, well, tomorrow I can work on my writing.”

And the hilarious part of it is that I will always, always, feel enormously satisfied, pleased, and happy when I stop writing for the day. Every single time.

Oh! I also taped Susan Larson’s The Reading Life, which you can click here to listen to if you are so inclined.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Saturday. Constant Reader!

Sentimental Street

It’s Saturday morning! Lots to do today; Chapter Fifteen, read “My Brother’s Keeper” aloud, work on “Don’t Look Down,” revise “Burning Crosses,”–the list goes on and on. It’s supposed to rain today as well; not sure if that’s going to actually be a thing today, but it does look sort of gloomy-esque outside my windows this morning.

And the Apartment is, of course, a complete and total mess.

I was thinking last night, as I started reading Megan Abbott’s extraordinary Give Me Your Hand, about my own writing (reading amazing writers always makes me contemplative) and putting into some perspective. Megan is one of our best writers, and the crime genre is very lucky to have her writing within our boundaries. Reading her work is always very humbling for me, whether it’s a novel or one of her jewels of a short story (hello, publishers! A Megan Abbott short story collection is way overdue! Get! On! It!), as I find myself wondering how does she think of putting these words together? Her sentences are never overly complicated and yet she manages to put them together in such a way as to create a very vivid and complex image, not to mention how she uses her sentence structure to create these characters that are so nuanced and real and complicated…she really is a master of the written word. I will dive back into her novel today, when I am finished with all of the things I must, I have to, do today; it’s always lovely when there’s a wonderful reward waiting for you at the end of tedious writing and editing and cleaning. (I also have ARC’s of Lori Roy’s The Disappearing and Alex Segura’s Blackout; I cannot wait to dive into those as well.)

And while I should be thinking, of course, about where the Scotty novel needs to go in Chapter Fifteen and going forward from there, I was thinking last night about short stories. I always abhorred writing short stories before, thought them incredibly difficult to write, and a discipline of writing that I was not particularly good at (I am also horrible at writing horror fiction, for example). I always believed that whenever I was actually successful at writing a short story, it was purely by accident; not anything conscious that I managed because I wasn’t good at the form. But in writing these reams of short stories this year, I am finding that not to be true; I am having to revise my thinking about so many things I once believed true about me as a writer. Yes, a short story might fail; everyone makes false starts. The Archer Files, with its final section of short story fragments that Ross Macdonald had started yet never finished, taught me that. My own files are filled with fragments of short stories that I began yet never finished; first drafts of stories I never finished because I wasn’t sure, I wasn’t convinced, that I knew how to fix and repair, how to edit and revise to make right. But that doesn’t mean I am a failure at writing short stories. It simply means those stories are ready to be finished; that Ifor whatever reason, am simply not ready to finish them. And there’s nothing wrong with that, of course.

This is, and has always been, just another way my lack of self-confidence in my ability to write manifests itself.

I started writing another story last night, currently untitled; I’m not sure what its title will be but I do have a vague idea of what it’s about. There’s a great little place to eat in my neighborhood, in the same block as my gym, called simply Tacos and Beer; I am meeting someone in town for an early dinner there on Sunday. That, of course, got me thinking about that great simple name for the place, and what a wonderful opening that would make for a story; someone going there to meet someone for dinner and choosing that place because it’s simple, straightforward name pleases them so much. The story is still amorphous, of course. But perhaps I’ll be able to work on it today. I’m also thinking I might even get to work on Muscles  a little bit today.

Who knows? The day is fraught with possibilities still. I may wind up being lazy and not doing a fucking thing.

Here’s the raw opening of “Burning Crosses”:

“Population four thousand four hundred and thirty two,” Leon said as they passed the Welcome to Corinth sign. There were a couple of bullet holes in it, as there had been in every official green sign they’d passed since crossing into Corinth County. “I guess it’s not hard to imagine lynching here.”

“I can come back with someone else,” Chelsea Thorne replied. Her head ached. She needed coffee. Her Starbucks to go cup was long empty. “Can you check on your phone and see if there’s a Starbucks in town?”

Leon laughed. “I don’t have to look to know the answer is no,” he shook his head. “There’s not even five thousand people in this town, girl. There ain’t no Starbucks. I’ll bet there’s a McDonalds, though.”

“It’ll have to do.” The throbbing behind her temple was getting worse. It didn’t help they’d gotten lost trying to find this little town, the county seat of a county she’d never heard of, let alone knew where to find. It wasn’t even near a highway. They’d had to take a state highway out of Tuscaloosa and drive about an hour or so, depending on the roads and depending on traffic. It took longer to get out of Tuscaloosa than they’d planned, thanks to some road work and then another delay because of Alabama Power cutting down some tree limbs, but they’d finally gotten out of town when she was halfway through her latte. Leon had dozed off, snoring slightly with his head against the window as they got out of town on the state road, passing through fields of cotton and corn and orange-red dirt. The state road was stained orange on the edges, the white lines looking like her fingertips after eating a bag of Cheese Puffs. It was supposed to be an easy drive; she didn’t need to make any turns, just keep following the state road that would take them straight to Corinth. But a bridge over a stream was being worked on and there was a detour, taking them down an unpaved road with cotton fields on either side, barely room for her Cooper Mini, and God help them if they met a truck or something coming the other way. Ten minutes down that dirt road and her latte was gone, finished, nothing left. Then she’d turned the wrong way when she’d reached the other state road—but it wasn’t her fault. She’d thought the sign was wrong—how could a right turn take her back to Tuscaloosa? But then she’d figured there must have been more twists and turns on the back road than she’d thought, and turned left. She’d gone almost seven miles before she say the TUSCALOOSA 7 miles sign, and had to make a U-turn in someone’s driveway.

She knew it was wrong, she knew it was stereotyping, but she hated driving on country roads in rural parts of the South.

You can see how rough the story is in its initial stage; it definitely needs work. There are also things missing from it in this draft; things I need to add in to make it stronger, to add nuance, to make the sense of dread and discomfort the characters feel more clear; I want the reader to feel that same sense of unease.

And I do think writing all these short stories this year has been enormously helpful to me, not only as a short story writer but as a writer in general; short stories give you the opportunity to stretch and try things you can’t try in a novel; different themes and voices and styles.

And now back to the spice mines.