Blue

So, Saints & Sinners and the Tennessee Williams Festival were a Jeopardy clue on Friday night; how fricking cool is that? I didn’t see it myself–I was cleaning–but any number of people tagged me on Facebook or on Twitter, so I got to see it, which is cool. The Tennessee Williams Festival has been a clue before, but I think this is the first time Saints & Sinners was–and it’s a queer/LGBTQ festival, so even more cool. Way to go, Jeopardy! There’s a reason why you’ve always been my favorite game show!

Hold up your hand if you didn’t think I’d get everything done yesterday that I’d planned. But it was still a good day, and I wrote some new stuff for the first time in a while. I have these horrible stagnant times, when I don’t get any writing done–and as we’ve already established, I always have to force myself to do it (despite loving doing it) and then when I’ve got my writing for the day finished, I wonder why I have to make myself do something I love–and those stagnant times always make me worry that I’ve lost the spark, the desire, to do it; that this time is the time I won’t be able to get back into it and do it. I worked on the Secret Project for a while yesterday, basically completely rewrote everything I wrote to begin with, and moved onto from the first scene to the next scene, which was also quite lovely.

I did get some organizing done–there’s more to be done today; my iCloud drive is so ridiculously disorganized that it’s almost impossible to use, and I probably should back everything up yet again–and some of the filing; I should be able to get more done this morning before I dive back into the Secret Project. I am also planning on heading to the gym for the first time in a very long time (I prefer not to think about just how long that time has been, frankly), which is my first move in my attempt to live a healthier, better organized, better life. I already am thinking of excuses to get out of going, frankly–which is par for the course, as always–but as long as I don’t tie myself to any particular time table, I should be good. I guess the Super Bowl is also tonight, but I don’t really care about either team–the 49ers or the Chiefs–though I suppose if I had to pick one I’d pick the Chiefs, and that’s mainly because they haven’t won a Super Bowl in forever and I think Kansas City could use the boost. We’ll probably spend the evening getting caught up on shows we watch. We still haven’t finished watching Messiah, are way behind on Dare Me, haven’t started the last season of Schitt’s Creek, and so on.

We haven’t even started HBO’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Outsider, which is getting rave reviews. Who would have ever guessed The Hogan Family’s Jason Bateman would become one of our finest actors/directors/writers for television? I really can’t wait for Ozark to come back.

I also finally finished and published my blog post about Victoria Holt’s Kirkland Revels, part of my Reread Project; I still need to do The Talented Mr. Ripley–it’s started, but I need to finish it.

I am resisting the urge to read Dorothy B. Hughes’ The So Blue Marble next; I need to start reading Tracy Clark’s canon so I can interview her for Sisters; but I also have to read Lori Rader-Day’s The Lucky One for the panel I’m moderating this year at the Jeopardy clue Tennessee Williams Festival late next month. Decisions, decisions. Probably the smart thing to do is read Tracy Clark’s first book next, then Lori’s, and then back to Tracy again for her second book.

I’ve also reached the final section of Richard Campanella’s Bourbon Street, which I am looking forward to finally finishing this month. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the book, which is interesting, well-written, and incredibly informative; it’s going to remain on my desk as an important reference guide for any future New Orleans writing I do–which reminds me, I’ve got to start that Sherlock Holmes story–and probably when I finish the Campanella I’ll probably move on to Jason Berry’s City of a Million Dreams: A History of New Orleans at Age 300. 

The plan is to get this work on the Secret Project finished this week, get started on the Sherlock story, and then get back to Bury Me in Shadows. I’d like to get Shadows turned in by the end of March, get back to the Kansas book–maybe with some serious focus I can get that finished and turned in by the end of May, and then I can get to work on Chlorine. I’d like to have the first draft of Chlorine finished by the end of summer.

Must stay organized, and must stay focused.

I also finished reading Dorothy B. Hughes’ Dread Journey yesterday.

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“I’m afraid.”

She had spoken aloud. She hadn’t meant to; she hadn’t wanted those words to come up from her throat to her lips. She hadn’t meant to think them, much less speak them. She didn’t want Gratia to have heard them.

But across the room the girl lifted her eyes from her book.

“What did you say?” she queried.

Dorothy B. Hughes is one of the more unjustly forgotten women writers of the mid to later twentieth century; fortunately Sarah Weinman worked–and has continued to work–tirelessly to bring this women back into the public eye. She wrote the introduction to Dread Journey, and in it she names Hughes as her favorite crime writer of all time. She’s not wrong, frankly; Sarah and my friend Margery are both huge fans of Hughes, and if not for them–and Megan Abbott–I may not have ever started reading Hughes, and for that I shall always be grateful to them. In a Lonely Place and The Expendable Man are both extraordinary; I think, frankly, The Expendable Man should be taught; it’s on my list for the Reread Project, for later in the year. Dread Journey is yet another masterwork by Hughes; I cannot wait to dig my teeth into more of her work.

Dread Journey takes place entirely on a train; the Chief, making its regular run from Los Angeles to Chicago–and you know, at some point, someone really needs to do a book or lengthy essay about crime novels and trains; not only did Hughes write one, but Christie wrote two (the very well known Murder on the Orient Express and the lesser known The Mystery of the Blue Train; as well as others that revolved around trains, like 4:50 from Paddington–called What Mrs. McGillicudy Saw! in the US) and of course, Graham Greene’s wonderful Orient Express comes to mind as well. Trains were part and parcel of the American experience. Trains made travel and connecting the massive distances across this continent much easier in the time before air travel became more commonplace and everyone wasn’t convinced they needed a car; there’s a certain nostalgic romantic element to train travel now, probably a result of these novels. I know that year we lived in Washington, we loved taking the train to Philadelphia and New York, even on to Boston; I’ve always, as I said the other day, wanted to write a book or a story called Murder on the Acela Express, and perhaps someday I will–even though the Acela is more of a commuter train without compartments. One of these days I want to take the City of New Orleans on its twenty-four hour ride to Chicago; it just seems like a lovely thing to do and the reading time! Oh, the reading time.

Anyway, the premise behind Dread Journey revolves around the dysfunctional and borderline abusive relationship between Viv Spender, a self-made Hollywood producer and studio head, and Kitten Agnew, a woman he discovered, became obsessed with, and groomed into a major star–America’s sweetheart, the girl next door. There is a huge difference between Kitten’s public image and who she is–a hard as nails fighter who won’t let go of her stardom in the face of Gratia Shawn, his new obsession, and whom he has decided will replace Kitten as the star of his dream project in the role of Clavdia Chauchat. But Kitten has a contract and isn’t giving up without a fight–and they, along with Viv’s longtime secretary Mike Dana, and several other characters–a journalist returning from the Far East, who drowns his memories of the atrocities and horrors he saw there in alcohol; a snippy, gossipy bandleader; a failed screenwriter returning to New York embittered by his failure; and of course, the car attendant, a man of color named James Cobbett–a decent working man who witnesses almost everything that happens on the car. Will Viv go so far as to kill Kitten to get out of the contract he has signed with her? She’s threatening to sue if she doesn’t play Clavdia; and the tension mounts as the cat-and-mouse game between the two of them slowly draws everyone else in the railroad car in.

It’s a very short read, and a good one. I highly recommend it, and of course, Sarah Weinman’s opening essay is worth the cover price alone.

And now, back to the spice mines.

Sweet Desire

Friday morning and it’s a bit chilly here in the Lost Apartment this morning–but the temperature’s supposedly gradually rising from how cold it was at the beginning of the week.

Hilariously, I have just one jacket–one really doesn’t need more than one in New Orleans–and it’s a wonderful black leather jacket I’ve had since before Katrina, I think. I believe it was a gift from my mother; I’m not entirely sure. I had a great leather jacket before this one, but the sleeve ripped on a door frame nail, and I think I got this jacket to replace it? I don’t know, the jacket is old. I’ve been struggling with the zipper, which would sometimes jam–it did walking in the snowfall in New York Saturday night–but as I waited for the parking lot shuttle here at the airport, I managed to zip it all the way up. (Every time I have trouble with the zipper I think I need to get this zipper replaced, but have never done it because, you know, procrastination) When I got out of the car at home, I realized that the zipper teeth had come apart at the bottom, and had separated all the way up to my chest. I tried to get the zipper teeth back together so I could unzip it, to no avail. Finally I pulled it up over my head like a sweatshirt and ripped the zipper open, thinking, great, now I HAVE to get the fucking zipper replaced. Heavy sigh. But as I emptied my suitcase into the washing machine, Paul–who was upstairs reorganizing our disaster of a shared closet, came down the stairs with a lovely jacket on a hanger. “Is this yours?” he asked. I had no memory of buying it–I still don’t–but it’s gorgeous and my size. We finally had to assume that I bought it at one of our trips to the outlet mall in Gonzalez, probably with the intent to take it to New York for the January board meeting years ago–and then it got swallowed into the closet and completely forgotten.

FOR YEARS.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been wearing this week, and now I have a terrific winter coat to take next January to New York with me.

It also should go without saying that now I am really curious about what else is in that closet that I’ve forgotten about.

This has been a lovely week of getting re-acclimated to my normal existence, and I’ve actually been having a lovely time. My new duties as Executive Vice President of MWA have forced me to get organized and start planning my time better–and I’ve also slept remarkably well all week. I’ve also started setting my alarm to get up at seven on the mornings I don’t have to go in at eight–while the extra sleep is absolutely lovely, I can’t lose that extra hour or two every morning. There’s always a lot of emails that need answering, and keeping up is going to be crucial–I can’t let myself get either overwhelmed or defeated by my emails. And I still need to have time to both write and read; the evenings before sleep just aren’t going to cut it anymore. So now I am determined to get up at seven every morning but Sunday–I’ll allow myself to sleep in on Sunday mornings, since Monday is one of those hellish six a.m. mornings–and I also am aware that once my body is trained to get up every morning at seven, I’ll probably get up at that time on Sundays, too. I need to start going back to the gym as well, and watching my diet again. I’m going to be fifty-nine this year, and so I should probably get back into a healthier lifestyle, which is going to be much harder now than it was when I was thirty-three and originally made that change.

Plus, I actually enjoy working out. But like writing, which I also actually enjoy doing, I always dread it and have to force myself to do it. #madness.

I am also looking forward to finishing Elizabeth Little’s stunning Pretty as a Picture. I am enjoying this book so much, Constant Reader–you have no idea. I’m also learning a lot about how a movie gets made, behind the scenes, which is something I’ve always been interested in. I need to get some serious writing done this weekend too–despite the US Figure Skating Championships, the European Figure Skating Championships, and the Australian Open all taking place over the course of this weekend. Yikes. I also have to go to the grocery store and make plans for trips later in the year and oh my God there’s never enough time but you know what? To-do lists are fantastic, and were always the key to my getting everything done in the past.

We also have to finish watching Messiah, Sex Education, and get caught up on Dare Me. Hilariously, a few weeks ago we had nothing to watch; now we have too much to watch.

And on THAT note, tis back to the spice mines. Happy Friday, everyone!

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It’s All Wrong, But It’s All Right

The first Saturday of the new year, and there’s no college football games today. This of course leaves an enormous hole in my day, which I should be able to fill with things like errands, going to the gym, cleaning, and (GASP) writing. One can hope, at any rate….

Yesterday was a glum, chilly, wet rainy day down here in New Orleans, and yesterday was a more-than-a-little-frustrating day at the office; Friday is my data entry day, and the website where we enter our required data for the CDC was recently redesigned…it was never the easiest data entry system (completely counter-intuitive) and this new version is…worse. When you take pride in your speed and efficiency with data entry…a slow, clumsy not-easy-to-navigate system can prove to be a crushing blow to one’s ego….like the death of a thousand cuts. And then sometimes it just kicks you out of the system, so you don’t know if the data you’ve entered actually took or not…needless to say, when I get off work yesterday I needed a drink. Or two. Or three.

Well, it wasn’t that bad, and once I got used to using it, it wasn’t completely horrible–although it took me a lot longer to get things done than it usually does; ordinarily I would have been able to get everything entered and still had some free time for filing and so forth; instead I didn’t get everything entered by the end of my shift–leaving some for another day, alas–and it certainly wasn’t as annoying as the slow, painful death of my desktop computer. Even as I sit here now, typing, I am watching the wordpress page fail to load–it’s been failing to load for nearly an hour now–while I type this on my laptop. I haven’t upgraded the desktop to the new Apple OS–remembering all too well the horror that ensued the last time I made that mistake, going up to Mojave; God only knows what fresh hells Catalina will inflect on my desktop. But I do have this lovely MacBook Air, and I suspect that at the rate the desktop is going, I’m going to probably slowly but surely be turning this bitch into my main use computer.

I mean, it fucking works and doesn’t make me wait for an hour to load a webpage, so there’s that. I am slowly but surely going from an Apple fan to an Apple hater, quite frankly.

Anyway, after the annoyance that was work yesterday, I stopped at Jean’s for our annual office holiday party, which was lovely, and then swung by Rouse’s on my way home so I don’t have to go this weekend. I also picked up Paul, and then we came home to watch the LSU gymnastics meet against Arizona (LSU has one of the top gymnastics teams in the country every year–did you know that? They are currently ranked #2 in the country and finished second at the Nationals championship meet for the last two years running; they’ve finished in the top six for quite some years running now), and after that, we watched the second episode of Dare Me, which is absolutely amazing. It’s incredibly cinematic, in the way Big Little Lies was, and the story is just so compelling, and the way it’s told…you can’t stop watching. It’s absolutely mesmerizing, and now I want to read the book again. As I watched last night I absolutely was thinking I need to put Megan Abbott on my Reread Project list. (I’ve given up on the desktop ever loading the blog page and have asked it to restart, which also takes forever.)

Today yawns open and free ahead of me; Paul is going to the office to work thus afternoon, so I have the entire day here to myself, with absolutely no excuse to get nothing done. I am currently laundering the bed linens, and have a load in the dishwasher, so as I wake up this morning with my coffee, I think I am going to continue to clean and organize; once that’s finished I am going to head over to the gym I think, get in a nice, ease-my-way-back-into-it workout, and then head home to shower and get down to serious work on writing. I want to get back into the swing of writing on the weekends, particularly with football season coming to a close as we speak, with my weekends free from it all, there’s no reason why I can’t get my shit together again. And this next year is going to be a busy one for me; I definitely need to be structuring my life and planning it out to the nth degree else I won’t get anything done.

I’ve also been sleeping really well lately, too–which also helps with the mood and so forth.

And on that note, I’m going to head back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Saturday, everyone.

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Do They Know It’s Christmas

Christmas Eve, and all through the house–not a kitty is stirring, and we don’t have a mouse.

It’s a bright sunshiny morning here in New Orleans, and I slept very late because we stayed up watching a show on Acorn TV (a streaming subscription I’d forgotten I had) called Loch Ness, which was highly entertaining, fairly well written, beautifully shot, and well acted. I do recommend it–there were some definitely unanswered questions in the resolution, but it pretty much wrapped itself up for the most part, and as I said, we really enjoyed it. Loch Ness also looked incredibly beautiful; I always pictured it as cold and gray and foggy–assuming, of course, that it was shot on location.

I also woke up this morning–late–to see that Romance Writers of America is burning to the ground this morning, having had their board make a decision that being called a racist is much much worse than actually being a racist, or doing and saying racist things. I have my own issues with RWA, of course–a long-standing policy of passively encouraging homophobia and queer exclusion, which I thought they were getting better about, but active institutional support of racists and racism against authors of color has completely and irrevocably erased those thoughts once and for all; because quite naturally pointing out homophobia would mean being punished for doing so–because the only thing worse than homophobia is being accurately accused of it. Shame on you, RWA, shame on you.

Yeah, not going anywhere near that dumpster-fire of an organization.

So, what am I going to do today, with this gorgeous day? Am I going to try to get writing done? Am I going to try to do much of anything on this fine Christmas Eve here in the Lost Apartment? Or am I simply going to curl up in my easy chair with a book? Probably going to just curl up in my chair with my book. I am getting further into Laura Benedict’s The Stranger Inside, and greatly enjoying it the deeper I get into this interestingly twisted tale. I do have some cleaning and straightening up to do around here, but I can save that for later this evening. We are venturing out to see Rise of Skywalker tomorrow–thank you, everyone on my social media feeds for not posting spoilers–and of course, this weekend is the college football play-offs, with LSU facing Oklahoma in one semi-final.

But there’s plenty of time between now and Saturday for me to get stressed about that.

I’ve also been looking through Victoria Holt’s Kirkland Revels, which is one of my favorite romantic suspense novels of the mid-twentieth century (originally published in 1962!) primarily because it has a unique spin on the genre of the preyed-upon heroine: she’s pregnant with the heir to the family fortune and estate. A pregnant romantic suspense heroine? I think Kirkland Revels might even be the only romantic suspense novel with a pregnant heroine–I can’t think of many novels of any kind where the heroine was pregnant almost the entire course of the story, other than Rosemary’s Baby–which is actually an interesting observation. (I also believe that Rosemary’s Baby is perhaps one of the most brilliant studies in paranoia ever written; Levin did much the same with The Stepford Wives; no one wrote paranoia better than Levin, and he is also one of my favorite writers. His canon is well overdue for a revisit.)

I also may rewatch the premiere of Megan Abbott’s television series adaptation of Dare Me. It was really quite good, and a second viewing will possibly enable me to write a post about it that doesn’t simply say “OMG it’s so good you have to watch it.”

GAH. SO little time to do all the things I want to do!

And on that note, I should probably finish this and go do something, anything, else.

Have a merry Christmas eve, everyone.

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Jingle Bell Rock

Monday morning, and I really didn’t want to get up this morning. But I did, here we are, and here we go. Today is weird; I am off tomorrow and Wednesday for the holidays, then have to work on Thursday and Friday before the weekend–next week I only have Wednesday off, so I will most likely be discombobulated for the next few weeks. But that’s okay–life generally leaves me feeling discombobulated on a fairly regular basis, if I’m going to be completely honest

We watched the second-to-last episode of Dublin Murders last night, which continues to entertain–despite the enormous gap in the plot–and then we watched the first episode of Megan Abbott’s new show, based on her novel Dare Me,  which is also called Dare Me. It’s really quite good, and even though it’s about high school cheerleaders, it’s really not for teenagers to be watching–although it’s probably one of the most vivid and realistic shows about teenagers I’ve seen in quite some time. The characters are three-dimensional and real; and the show did quite a good job of letting us seen the lives of the girls so we can understand them better. It’s incredible, and I do encourage everyone to watch it.

The Saints game was stressful, but they did manage to get their act together and pull out a win, which was nice. After that I finished watching the other episodes of The Dark Side of the Ring–episodes about the death of Gino Hernandez, the murder of Bruiser Brody; the tragic story of Randy Savage and Miss Elizabeth, and how Bret Hart left the WWE. It was interesting; Bret Hart was of course the first person to ever officially break kayfabe to the press (kayfabe=behind the scenes information, like how the matches were planned and so forth; one of the more interesting things is that Bruiser Brody’s murderer got away with claiming self-defense because people were convinced wrestling was absolutely real), and of course I didn’t know the full stories about the others. I do remember when Miss Elizabeth died; I also had met both her and Randy Savage when I worked at the airport in Tampa. The Macho Man was really nice–so was she, if a little shy and quiet–but you can imagine the trepidation one would feel when working in Baggage Claim and you realize the passenger whose bag is lost is RANDY MACHO MAN SAVAGE–you could never mistake that voice, for one thing. But he was so gracious and understanding and charming, and so nice. I had them both autograph a ticket folder–people today probably don’t remember ticket jackets, just as no one has a printed out ticket anymore–but it got lost many moves ago.

Not much fodder there for my wrestling noir novel, but nevertheless, interesting.

I didn’t write very much this weekend–I did come up with a better opening for my short story “Once a Tiger,” which has been languishing for quite some time on the back burner–so that’s something, I suppose. It’s hard to call one’s self a writer when you aren’t actually writing anything, you know? We did get our Star Wars tickets for Christmas, though, which will be quite fun and nice as long as I can avoid spoilers in the meantime. I’ve been ignoring reviews and commentary–it’s hard to believe I’ve been following this story and film series for over forty years–but this is the end of the Skywalker story, and while I am looking forward to other stories from this universe, I’m okay with the Skywalker tale ending, particularly if The Mandalorian  and Rogue One are examples of what we can expect from that universe going forward.

I also read more of The Stranger Inside, and am really enjoying it. I love the way Benedict is building her story, and how carefully she plays her cards about just who exactly her main character is–not to mention who the other characters are. One of the most interesting things about the book–interesting perhaps because I don’t recall seeing it in print in a mainstream novel before–is that the main character’s ex-husband is now married to another man–and she’s fine with it…at least, she is so far. Like I said, the twists and turns and surprises are quite well done, and I am definitely adding Laura Benedict to my must-read author list.

It really is hard to believe that this year–and this decade–is coming to a close so soon. I’ve talked, usually around this time, every year about how I’ve never really understood the hubbub and celebratory nature of the New Year; it’s just another day and what, precisely, are we celebrating? The calendar year is, realistically, simply arbitrarily decided by the movement of the earth around the sun, and January was selected as the first month for some reason lost in the mists of antiquity. It merely marks the passage of time, similar to birthdays. And yet we all make resolutions (I set goals), and decide, with each new year’s start, to try to be better.

I mean, shouldn’t we always be trying to be better? Why tie that to a calendar date? Why wait until the New Year and its “new beginning” to make positive change in your life?

I don’t understand it, never have, and have never really seen the big deal of New Year’s Eve as anything other than just another excuse to get wasted. Because in puritanical America, you need to have a reason otherwise you’re an alcoholic or irresponsible or something equally bad.

Many years ago, I had the idea for a book called New Year’s Eve, which would really simply be an interwoven collection of short stories set on that night, but done in a novelistic form; beginning with one character and then the next chapter moves on to someone they’ve come into contact with, and going forward that way, and eventually working its way back to the original characters, all culminating with the stroke of midnight where every one of the characters is at the same New Year’s Eve party.

Not the best idea I’ve ever had, to be honest. But I think the entire point of the book/stories was to get that very point across: it’s kind of silly to try to make effective change based on what is really an arbitrary date.

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

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Sugar Walls

Sunday morning. Yesterday wasn’t nearly as productive as I would have hoped; but I am pleased to report that “My Brother’s Keeper” is finished,  and “Don’t Look Down” isn’t nearly as big of a mess as I thought it was before reading it from beginning to end. It needs some serious polishing before I can consider it to be done–or read it aloud–but I think another push on it today and it will be done. I also started writing yet another story yesterday–“This Thing of Darkness”–which is kind of an interesting idea. We’ll see how it goes. My goal for today is to finish “Don’t Look Down” and “Fireflies” today so they are ready for the read-aloud. And, of course, once “Don’t Look Down” is finished, my collection will be as well–which is kind of exciting.

I didn’t work on Scotty yesterday; I am going to hold off on going back to work on him until tomorrow. I want to get this collection finished, and he needs to sit for another day. I may go back and reread what I’ve already written; the first fourteen chapters, so I can figure out where, precisely, this next chapter needs to go.

I also finished reading Megan Abbott’s amazing Give Me Your Hand last night.

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I guess I always knew, in some subterranean way, Diane and I would end up back together.

We were bound, ankle to ankle, a monstrous three-legged race.

Accidental accomplices. Wary conspirators.

Or Siamese twins, fused in some hidden place.

It is powerful, this thing we share. A murky history, its narrative near impenetrable. We keep telling it to ourselves, noting its twists and turns, trying to make sense of it. And hiding it from everyone else.

Sometimes it feels like Diane was a corner of myself broken off and left to roam my body, floating through my blood.

On occasional nights, stumbling to the bathroom after a bad dream, a Diane dream, I avoid the mirror, averting my eyes, leaving the light off, some primitive part of my half-asleep brain certain that if I looked, she might be there. (Cover your mirrors after dark, my great-grandma used to say. Or they trap the dreamer’s wandering soul.)

Megan Abbott has been a favorite of mine, since years ago when I first read Bury Me Deep as a judge for the Hammett Prize. A period noir, set in the early 1980’s and based on a true story, I was blown away by its deceptive simplicity and hidden complexities. It echoed of the great noirs of James M. Cain and great hardboiled women writers, like Margaret Millar and Dorothy B. Hughes; a tale of desperation and love and murder, crime and ruined reputations, as it delved into the complex emotions that could lead a woman to commit a horrifically brutal murder; its exploration of small-town corruption was reminiscent of Hammett’s Red Harvest. Over the years since that first reading, I’ve gone on to read Abbott’s other brilliances: This Song is You, Queenpin, Dare Me, The End of Everything, You Will Know Me. Her women aren’t victims in the classic sense of victims in crime fiction; her women have agency, they make their decisions and they know their own power; a common theme to all of her novels is the discovery of that power and learning to harness it; whether it’s sexual power (The End of Everything), physical power (You Will Know Me), cerebral (Give Me Your Hand), or inner strength (Dare Me).

And somehow, she manages to continue to grow and get better as a novelist, as a writer, with every book.

She is probably the greatest psychological suspense writer of our time; her ability to create complex inner lives for her characters, to explore the duality of weakness and strength we all carry within us, and the delving into the complicated nuances of female friendships, with all their inner rivalries and passions and jealousies and affections, is probably unparalleled. Her books are also incredibly smart and layered; this one has references, both subtle and overt, to both Hamlet and Macbeth seamlessly woven into the text; the dual, competing themes of inertia despite the knowledge of a crime versus unfettered ambition; and what to do when faced with both. How do you decide? And what does your decisions say about you as a person?

Give Me Your Hand is set in the world of research science, which may seem a weird setting for a crime novel…but competition for research funding and positions, for advancement in career, the thin veneer of civility and camaraderie between co-workers angling for plum research assignments, is at its very heart, noir. One of the characters, Alex, says at one point, jokingly, “we’re a nest of vipers”…and it turns out to be very true.

The novel follows the complex friendship between the main character, Kit Owens and Diane Fleming, who first meet as young teens at Science Camp, and again later their senior year of high school. They become friends, with similar interests; Kit and Diane push each other to be their very best. It is the friendship with Diane that sets Kit on the road to  her career as a research scientist; yet their friendship is blown apart by a secret Diane shares with Kit,  and the knowledge of that shared secret haunts both women for the rest of their lives. Their paths cross again years later, working in the same lab and competing for a limited number of spots on a new, important research project having to do with how excessive premenstrual syndrome: premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). The book also offers two timelines: the senior year, with its heavy influence of the Hamlet theme, and the present, which is more on the lines of Macbeth. Blood also is used, repeatedly, brilliantly, as an image; the study is on a disorder caused by menstruation, and of course, blood as in relatives, as a life-force, as a motivator.

The book is slated for a July release; usually when I get advance copies I wait until the release date is imminent for me to blog about these books. But this one couldn’t wait; I’ve not been able to stop thinking about it since finishing it late last night.

Preorder the hell out of this, people.

 

Straight from the Heart

Well, I tried to make pho last night and it was an absolute disaster. Heavy sigh. But hey, you gotta try sometimes, right? I’m not entirely sure what I did wrong–but it tasted terrible, and I overcooked the noodles, and yes, Gregalicious does have the occasional epic fail in the kitchen. I shall try again another time, of course, but I am certain it will most likely be a really long time before I try again. It was so disappointing, and I really wanted some pho last night. Ah, well.

Paul went to see a local play production last night, so I was left to my own devices. After I trashed the pho, I went on to make tacos–always so reliable–and sat in my easy chair and finished reading Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door.

Well, THAT was disturbing.

the girl next door

You think you know about pain?

Ask my second wife. She does. Or she thinks she does.

She says that once when she was nineteen or twenty she got between a couple of cats fighting–her own and a neighbor’s–and one of them went at her, climbed her like a tree, tore gashes out of her things and breasts and belly that you can still see today, scared her so badly she fell back against her mother’s turn-of-the-century Hoosier, breaking her best ceramic pie plate and scraping six inches of skin off her ribs while the cat made its way back down her again, all tooth and claw and spitting fury. Thirty-six stitches I think she said she got. And a fever that lasted days.

My second wife says that’s pain.

She doesn’t know shit, that woman.

That’s a pretty amazing image for the start of a book, don’t you think?

I was on a panel with the divine Megan Abbott several years ago where she mentioned that the suburbs are incredibly noir; I’d never really thought of it that way before, but I soon realized she was absolutely right (as she so frequently is). One of the major disconnects in our culture and our society is our idealization of children and childhood; as well as the time when children are at the in-between stage between childhood and adulthood, hormones raging and passions and emotions are their height; she has explored this beautifully in novels like The End of Everything and Dare Me. Stephen King writes beautifully about children; idealizing the innocence of childhood against the very real terrors that exist in that time; nowhere is this more evident than in his novel It. That idealized world is partly because of 1950’s sitcoms like Father Knows Best and Make Room for Daddy; a sanitized, unreal world that everyone seems to look back on and thinks was real–when it was anything but.

Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door is also set in that time; 1958, to be exact, in a small suburb/town in New Jersey, a tranquil world of fairs and carnivals and playing pick-up games of baseball in the park; of trying to catch crayfish in the creek and beginning to wonder about the way your body is changing. But this ‘idyllic’ world has some dark edges–there’s a sociopathic bully up the street, beaten by his alcoholic father who also beats his mother and sister; and the three boys next door don’t seem quite right in the head, either. Their single mother, Ruth, is the “cool mom” of the neighborhood, who lets the kids drink beer and smoke in her presence. The death of her brother and his wife brings two more kids–girls–into her home, Meg and Susan. And then the dynamic begins to change…and Ruth’s own sociopathy begins to reveal itself…and soon Meg is tied up and being tortured in the basement…and the other kids in the neighborhood also soon are slowly drawn into the terrifying game in the basement.

And the main character, whose first person POV this is told in, is not exactly innocent. Told in reminiscence; looking back on what happened as an adult, exploring why he didn’t blow the lid off what was going on and how he himself got roped into helping in the torment, is as terrifying as what is going on. The descent of these kids into monsters, how easy it is for that thin line between being decent and moral as opposed to criminal and animalistic to be crossed is what truly makes this horrifying. The fact that it is based on a true story makes it even worse…because this may be fiction, but things like this happen in the real world. Every day.

And it is written beautifully; Ketchum is a great writer, knowing how to build suspense and unease, able to use words and construct sentences and paragraphs to create a chilling mood; and you keep turning the pages not only to find out how the story is going to resolve itself–obviously, it has to–but to see how the main character, Danny,  resolves his own inner conflict about what’s going on…and it is clear, just from the way the story is told, that adult Danny is still damaged by what happened, what he witnessed, what he was involved in.

The book is classified as horror, but it’s more suburban noir than anything else.

It’s also a pretty chilling indictment of how powerless children are.

And now, back to the spice mines.