Reelin’ in the Years

Sunday morning, and times keeps on slippin’, slippin’, into the future.

I slept in this morning–this life of “sorta leisure” is one that I could easily adapt to–and now sit, inside my condensation-covered windows, sipping my morning coffee and reflecting on what the day ahead has in store for me. I finished both interviews yesterday–despite the best attempts of my computer to thwart me, with freezing programs and even an operating system that locked up at one point, requiring me to force-restart the thing–but this morning, it appears to have updated its operating system overnight and is running quite smoothly this morning. I am not, of course, taking this as a sign that this latest update may have removed the bugs from the operating system–this has been a consistent problem since the Mojave update back in December, which created the Great Data Disaster of 2018, from which I still seem to not be completely recovered from–because it’s still early in the day and there’s plenty of time for this thing to malfunction all over the place yet. It did make doing the second interview difficult, but I finally managed to get it saved and emailed off yesterday. I have to do that group thing yet today–I was going to do it  yesterday but after all the functionality problems I was facing, thought it probably best to not try to do the round table and push it off until today. I also need to work on some fiction writing today as well, and of course, I have a toothache again, one of the few molars I have left, and it’s making chewing a bit of a challenge.

Yay, vacation.

I also want to start reading Laura Lippman’s Lady in the Lake today; alas, while I was watching things on the television yesterday I got sucked into City of Nets–and there’s nothing more distracting for me than Hollywood history. I read about half the book yesterday–sometimes making notes, other times just getting enthralled in the story–and around nine last night I thought, oh, I should be reading Laura’s book but instead couldn’t stop reading about Hollywood corruption and morality. I’ve always been interested in Hollywood history but have never really thought about writing it–I’ve always been reluctant to write much of anything not set in the present day–but I’m slowly coming around to writing recent history. As I said in one of my interviews, I am working on something set in 1994–“Never Kiss a Stranger”–and immersing myself in that period whenever I can, and originally went there for my story “A Whisper from the Graveyard.” As a result I am finding myself vastly interested in writing about the recent past–so much has changed in so quickly a time that it’s really amazing; the 1950’s, for example, might as well have been 1776. (Which, of course, reminds me that my story “The Weight of a Feather” is set in the early 1950’s/late 1940’s; not specifically in any year, but it’s definitely that post-war time.)

But I hope to get my round-table participation finished this morning, and then I am going to work on “Moist Money” for a little while, and then perhaps start Chapter 23 of Bury Me in Shadows. I’d like to get the first draft finished before September 1; and I’d also like to get to work on some other things that are just hanging around. I’ve already been much more productive than I’ve been on any of my previous long weekend vacations, which is a lovely sign, and I absolutely must get moving.

The end of the year will be upon us before we even know it.

I mean, LSU’s first football game is merely a couple of weeks away; and the Saints are already going through their preseason games. Football season is nigh; and shortly behind it will come the cooler weather. This summer hasn’t been that bad–despite the series of heat-advisory days we’ve been dealing with this month–and the river is finally no longer in flood stage, which is lovely and a bit of a relief; when the river is in flood stage there’s always this sense of impending doom hanging over our heads.  I would like it to get cooler, because I do want to spend some time exploring the Quarter–it’s been a hot minute–just to see what down there is different and what has changed; I used to work a block away, for example, from where Scotty lived and I could walk down there and check out his home and the rest of his block from time to time. It’s going to be awhile before I start writing another Scotty novel, and one of the things I do want to address/tackle in the new Scotty is the gentrification/short term rental issue; which will also require bringing back one of the characters from Royal Street Reveillon. (I do this often; bring characters back from previous books to impact the current one. Life kind of does that, too, so it only makes sense from a realistic standpoint to do this periodically.) But I’ll probably write the Chanse before the next Scotty; once I get all these partial novel manuscripts out of the way and submitted I am going to focus on writing Chlorine, then the Chanse, and then the Scotty. So, really, I need to be reading Hollywood history this fall, so I can be prepared to write Chlorine. 

As I love Hollywood history, this is not going to be a horrific chore. I also think I can justify reading James Ellroy’s L. A. Confidential as well for research.

It will also give me an excuse to reread In a Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes, which will always be a pleasure to read. (I also have some other Hughes novels on hand, and the entire canon of Margaret Millar, which I would also like to  finish working my way through)

And on that note, I should probably get back to the spice mines. If I work on the round table for a bit, I can justify spending some time with the new Lippman novel.

Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.

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Sweet Thing

Wednesday, and the downward slide into the weekend begins.

I somehow managed to pull out another 700 words on the WIP and have now progressed to Chapter 6, so I call that winning. It’s also payday, so at some point I need to continue paying the goddamned bills. Huzzah.

As you can see, paying the bills is not one of my favorite things.

Yesterday was an interesting day. It was a long day at work, and as is my wont, periodically I check social media between clients, to see what’s going on in the world and so forth. Twitter usually is only good for raising my blood pressure–honestly, what a fucking cesspool it usually is–but I stumbled into something that reminded me of what social media could be, and actually can be: The Writer magazine (which I used to read, back in the day; I even subscribed for a few years) had done a joint interview with Lee Child and Paul Doirot. Well and good, but the take the magazine chose to take when tweeting about the piece–and ostensibly what the piece was about–was about how these two male thriller writers were creating women characters that were three dimensional. Again, all well and good–except the tack taken by the tweet, and slightly less so in the piece itself–is that the crime fiction genre primarily traffics in female characters who are little more than either a femme fatale, a damsel in distress, or a combination of the two.

Whoa.

As you can imagine, crime writers were having a field day with this on Twitter. I think the reason I got pulled into this amazing and fun thread was because Jessica Laine, one of my fellow contributors to Murder-a-Go-Go’s, brought up me, and my story “This Town,” as an example of a man getting female characters spot-on correct. This naturally made my day–the rare occasions when one of my short stories gets some love are moments I cherish, as I am incredibly insecure about short story writing–and several other women writers whom I respect also were highly complimentary about the story. Sisters in Crime wrote a wonderful response to the piece, as did Nik Kolokowski in a response essay for Mystery Tribune. And while many of us were having a lot of fun on Twitter making jokes, cracking wise, and finding new ways to use sarcasm, the truth is more serious: the very idea that a major writing publication could be so way off base and uninformed about an entire genre (which has always been heavily populated by women writing about women), shows how much work remains to be done within the genre itself.

If I wrote about even a fraction of the women writing superb crime fiction, I would be here for the rest of the week, month, year, my life. The dismissal of the contributions of stellar women writing powerful books isn’t just a problem in the crime genre, but in fiction, period. (Romance is written primarily by women; thus the entire genre is frequently written off as unworthy.) It’s also indicative of the misogyny that pervades our society and culture; women have been fighting misogyny for millennia. Women writers are often asked about work/life balance, whereas men never are; women often write movingly and powerfully about social injustice and rarely get recognized for it. (Two really good examples of this are Dorothy B. Hughes’ The Expendable Man and Margaret Millar’s Do Evil in Return, both from the early 1960’s and tackling racism and abortion, respectively.) Stories by men about men are seen as “universal” stories, big stories tackling major themes and making commentary on the state of humanity and the world; women’s stories are considered to be insular, small, and in many cases, domestic.

One can almost look at the publishing world as a microcosm of society. Crime fiction is wrestling with the same demons that we are as a culture and a society; the clamor for full equality for women, people of color, and queer people is being pushed back against by those who feel they are being displaced by equal opportunity for all. The loss of an unfair advantage gained simply as a side effect of one’s gender, sexuality and color isn’t really a loss; but for those who are disadvantaged and sometimes disqualified based on any of those things, losing that disadvantage and being judged equally and fairly can make an enormous world of difference.

And now,  back to the spice mines.

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If You Leave Me Now

One of my favorite writers when I was a kid was Charlotte Armstrong.

Armstrong was astonishing, really. The first book of hers I read was The Witch’s House. My parents had allowed me to join the Mystery Guild and I, of course, one month failed to do my duty and send the order card back declining that month’s selections. It was probably one of the best mistakes I’d ever made through my instinct for procrastination; I wound up getting a three volume omnibus of Armstrong called The Charlotte Armstrong Reader, and Elephants Can Remember by Agatha Christie. I shelved the Christie and forgot about it until years later–when I’d started reading Christie–but The Witch’s House sounded interesting to me; it had “witch” in the title and I’ve always been drawn to witches, for some reason, and I was at the age when I was still reading my kids’ mystery series but was slowly beginning to transition to books for adults. I was enthralled by The Witch’s House, and read it very quickly, and followed it up by reading the next, Mischief, which I liked even better. But the local library didn’t have any Armstrong novels in stock–which surprises me even more now than it did then–and so I didn’t continue reading Armstrong until years later. Armstrong is one of my favorite writers, even if the books might seem a bit dated today; whenever I read another one of her novels I greatly enjoy it. Armstrong’s books were–I don’t know how to put this, but I am going to give it a try–were dark without darkness; there was always a sense of optimism in her books no matter how dark they got (there’s one particular scene in The Gift Shop that to this day rattles me when I think about it) and I do think she is overdue for a renaissance. It was the combined work of Jeffrey Marks and Sarah Weinman that reminded me of Armstrong and got me to go back and try to finish reading her canon; they also introduced me to Dorothy B. Hughes and Margaret Millar (among others).

The point is, women have always been some of the greatest writers in the crime genre, and societal and cultural sexism have gone a very long way to ensuring that the men who wrote in the same period as these ladies are now lauded as giants of the genre and must-reads, while the women–who won just as many awards and critical laurels and big sales–faded away into obscurity. Mary Higgins Clark was the bridge from these great women of the past to the modern women who write domestic suspense–and really, has there ever been a greater concept for a domestic suspense novel than Where are the Children?–but the second wave of major women crime writers primarily focused on private eye fiction (Sue Grafton, Marcia Muller, and Sara Paretsky).

But what the great Sarah Weinman calls “domestic suspense” never faded away; and nowadays we have some truly terrific women writing truly terrific novels in this subgenre–Lori Rader-Day, Catriona McPherson, Carol Goodman, Wendy Corsi Staub, Alafair Burke, and so many others–and it’s really become one of my absolute favorite subgenres, primarily because of the work these women are doing. It’s extraordinary; I cannot urge you enough to check out these women’s books, Constant Reader.

I could go on and on about these women and domestic suspense forever; but I’ll spare you and cut to the chase.

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“It was the girl.” The old man leaned forward, bracing against the worn-out armchair as though he were trying to escape its grasp. “April Cooper. She was the real killer.”

Quentin Garrison watched his face. He was very good at describing people, a skill he used all the time in his true crime podcasts. Later, recording the narration segments with his coproducer Summer Hawkins, Quentin would paint the picture for his listeners–the leathery skin, the white eyebrows wispy as cobwebs, the eyes, cerulean in 1976 but now the color of worn denim, and with so much pain bottled up behind them, as though he were constantly hovering on the brink of tears.

The man was named Reg Sharkey, and on June 20, 1976 , he’d watched his four-year-old daughter Kimmy die instantly of a gunshot wound to the chest–the youngest victim of April Cooper and Gabriel Allen LeRoy, aka the Inland Empire Killers. Two weeks later, his wife, Clara, had decided her own grief was too much to bear and committed suicide, after which Reg Sharkey had apparently given up on caring about anything or anyone.

Quentin said, “Wasn’t it LeRoy who pulled the trigger?”

Alison Gaylin has been nominated for the Edgar four times (Best First for Hide Your Eyes, Best PBO for both Into the Dark and If I Die Tonight, Best Novel for What Remains of Me)  and claimed the prize, just this past week, for If I Die Tonight. Her novels encompass a wide variety of subgenres; her first series featured an amateur sleuth; she then wrote two brilliant crime novels built around the entertainment industry; and then did the Brenna Spector trilogy: private eye novels that were, by and large, quite superb. All of her novels were superb, but once the Brenna trilogy was completed she moved on to stand-alones of psychological suspense that also crossover into the domestic suspense category; explorations of families and the dysfunction that leads to damaged people and possibly crimes. What Remains of Me was a throwback to  her earlier stand alone novels about the entertainment industry; only delving more deeply into the friendships and family relationships with the insightful eye of an artist. What Remains of Me juggled two time-lines and two murders; one committed in 1979 and another committed in the present–both linked and connected to the same woman, the same cast of characters, and the big reveal was stunning. If I Die Tonight was all set in the present day, but Gaylin’s family relationships in this novel are just as fractured and dysfunctional on every level; the concept Gaylin explored in this novel was public face private truth–the singular kernel of truth in this book being that things are so rarely what they appear to be in public, whereas the actual truth is far more complicated, far more complex, and far too often not what anyone actually wants to know.

Never Look Back also, like What Remains of Me, juggles two timelines; one in the past, which is expressed and explored through letters a teenaged girl writes to her future child, the other, a present where the aftermath of a brutal killing spree decades earlier by the teenaged girl writing the letters and the “boyfriend” who took her along for the ride; the notorious Inland Empire Killers. In the present day, a happily married gay man whose own childhood and family was actually shattered by the Inland Empire Killers, now works as an adult as a coproducer of true crime podcasts. The book opens with him confronting the father of the youngest victim of the killers–who also happens to be his grandfather, whom he doesn’t know. The interview ends badly, with bitterness and shouting and recriminations; Quentin blames his grandfather for his mother’s tragic, drug addicted, and wasted life, which in turn made his own childhood a mess. Quentin is now happily married…but driven by an obsession to get to the bottom of the killings so many decades ago.

And then comes the tip that April Cooper, the young girl writing the letters and the “Bonnie” to Gabriel LeRoy’s “Clyde”–might not have died in the fire which everyone believed killed them both; that she might actually be still alive and living in the Hudson Valley of New York.

This is a terrific premise, and Gaylin delivers in ways the reader cannot imagine as they ride the rollercoaster of suspense and emotion along with her characters. It’s an enormously satisfying read, with lots of juggled subplots and clues being left in the most casual of ways, so that the careful reader might even be able to figure out the truth long before the characters. Quentin is a terrific character, and so is Robin Diamond, the website  columnist whose mother might–or might not–hold the key to the answers Quentin is so driven to learn. The suspense and the twists are stunning, but the ending is powerful and enormously satisfying…and there’s not a single loose plot thread left behind.

Charlotte Armstrong was dubbed the Queen of Suspense by critics and reviewers during her lifetime; Alison Gaylin is a worthy heir to that title.

The book is available for preorder now; I’d advise you to do yourself a favor and preorder now. You aren’t going to want to miss this one.

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.

Nikita

I read a terrific piece about Mary Higgins Clark the other day; about how her books are really, at the barest bone, about how women cannot even truly trust men. It’s a terrific read, and I do think everyone should read this piece–draw your own conclusions. The brilliant Sarah Weinman then tweeted the piece, positing that she considers Clark the bridge between the domestic suspense thrillers of the past (writers like Dorothy B. Hughes, Margaret Millar, Charlotte Armstrong, and scores of others) to the modern day women who are killing it in the crime fiction world. On that tweet thread, someone (I think Jeff Abbott?) brought up Phyllis A. Whitney.

Now, Phyllis A. Whitney is one of my favorite writers of all time. I first read her children’s/young adult mysteries (the first being The Secret of the Tiger’s Eye, which I checked out from the library at Eli Whitney Elementary School, after which I started tearing through them. Some were available through the Scholastic Book Club, others I got from the library. I loved them all because they were always set in far off places I wanted to visit–Tiger’s Eye taught me about South Africa and apartheid; The Mystery of the Hidden Hand taught me about Greece and the black market for antiquities, etc.

My mom let me join the Mystery Guild when I was eleven, and I was very thrilled and excited to see as one of the choices, a book by Phyllis A. Whitney, Listen for the Whisperer, and I added it to my choices, filling in the little white box with the correct item number. I was also, at this same time, going through my Hollywood period, reading biographies of movie stars and producers and histories of the film industry. So, you can imagine my thrill to discover that Listen for the Whisperer also was sort of about the film industry; the main character’s biological mother, had been a major Hollywood star, even winning an Oscar, when a scandal destroyed her career; her director was murdered one night on the film set of what would ultimately be her last film, a Gothic black-and-white suspense film called The Whisperer.

It was amazing. A romance and a thriller and a murder mystery, with a lot of Hollywood background to it, it’s remained one of my favorite books of all time, and always makes any list I make of books that were important and/or formative to me.

I soon began tearing through her backlist: Thunder Heights, Seven Tears for Apollo, Blue Fire, Black Amber, Skye Cameron, The Trembling Hills, Silverhill, The Winter People, The Quicksilver Pool, Lost Island, The Moonflower, Sea Jade, Columbella, and Hunter’s Green. Mrs. Whitney continued producing work for almost another twenty years, and I read those books as they were released in paperback, later getting them as they were originally released in hardcover: Snowfire, The Turquoise Mask, The Golden Unicorn, The Glass Flame, Spindrift, Rainbow in the Mist, Woman without a Past, and Vermilion, among many others. Like her teen books, the adult novels also were often set in exotic places which Mrs. Whitney described perfectly, and you learned a little something about the places as you read about them. I also began to realize that when Mrs. Whitney went on one of her research trips, she often wrote two books set there–one for kids, and another for adults.

But the primary difference, I think, between Mary Higgins Clark and Phyllis Whitney is this: if, as the article I read (and linked to) is correct, Ms. Clark’s message is a woman can’t trust any man, then Mrs. Whitney’s was a woman can’t trust anyone, ESPECIALLY not family.

Mrs. Whitney’s books were often, not always, about a young woman trying to either obtain closure (like meeting the birth mother she never knew in Listen for the Whisperer, or confronting her estranged husband who finally wants a divorce after several years of separation in Hunter’s Green, or seeking a relationship with the child she gave up in Lost Island) or trying to get to know a family she’s never met or knew existed (Silverhill, Woman without a Past, Thunder Heights, Sea Jade). 

You couldn’t trust anyone in a Whitney novel; sometimes her killers were actually women.

A common trope in Whitney’s work was also the bad girl, who was often either married to, or engaged to, the love interest for the main character; and frequently, particularly in her earlier works, the bad girl wound up as the murder victim (Columbella, Lost Island). There was almost always a “bad girl” archetype in these books; a beautiful, sexually free woman who refused to be a submissive wife, and was sometimes, quite frankly, a nasty bitch to the main character (The Turquoise Mask, Vermilion) but eventually came over the heroine’s side and thus survived the story.

Here’s a list of all her novels (you can see, she was very prolific and her career lasted over fifty years; often publishing more than one book per year–and remember, she had to use a typewriter):

  • A Place for Ann (1941)
  • A Star for Ginny (1942)
  • A Window for Julie (1943)
  • Red is for Murder (1943), Reissued as The Red Carnelian (1965)
  • The Silver Inkwell (1945)
  • Writing Juvenile Fiction (1947)
  • Willow Hill (1947)
  • Ever After (1948)
  • The Mystery of the Gulls (1949)
  • Linda’s Homecoming (1950)
  • The Island of Dark Woods (1951), Reissued as Mystery of the Strange Traveler (1967)
  • Love Me, Love Me Not (1952)
  • Step to the Music (1953)
  • Mystery of the Black Diamonds (1954)
  • A Long Time Coming (1954)
  • Mystery on the Isle of Skye (1955)
  • The Quicksilver Pool (1955)
  • The Fire and the Gold (1956)
  • The Highest Dream (1956)
  • The Trembling Hills (1956)
  • Mystery of the Green Cat (1957)
  • Skye Cameron (1957)
  • Secret of the Samurai Sword (1958)
  • The Moonflower (1958)
  • Creole Holiday (1959)
  • Mystery of the Haunted Pool (1960)
  • Thunder Heights (1960)
  • Secret of the Tiger’s Eye (1961)
  • Blue Fire (1961)
  • Mystery of the Golden Horn (1962)
  • Window on the Square (1962)
  • Mystery of the Hidden Hand (1963)
  • Seven Tears for Apollo (1963)
  • Secret of the Emerald Star (1964)
  • Black Amber (1964)
  • Mystery of the Angry Idol (1965)
  • Sea Jade (1965)
  • Columbella (1966)
  • Secret of the Spotted Shell (1967)
  • Silverhill (1967)
  • Hunter’s Green (1968)
  • Secret of Goblin Glen (1969)
  • The Mystery of the Crimson Ghost (1969)
  • The Winter People (1969)
  • Secret of the Missing Footprint (1969)
  • Lost Island (1970)
  • The Vanishing Scarecrow (1971)
  • Nobody Likes Trina (1972)
  • Listen for the Whisperer (1972)
  • Mystery of the Scowling Boy (1973)
  • Snowfire (1973)
  • The Turquoise Mask (1974)
  • Secret of Haunted Mesa (1975)
  • Spindrift (1975)
  • The Golden Unicorn (1976)
  • Writing Juvenile Stories and Novels (1976)
  • Secret of the Stone Face (1977)
  • The Stone Bull (1977)
  • The Glass Flame (1978)
  • Domino (1979)
  • Poinciana (1980)
  • Vermilion (1981)
  • Guide to Fiction Writing (1982)
  • Emerald (1983)
  • Rainsong (1984)
  • Dream of Orchids (1985)
  • Flaming Tree (1986)
  • Silversword (1987)
  • Feather on the Moon (1988)
  • Rainbow in the Mist (1989)
  • The Singing Stones (1990)
  • Woman Without a Past (1991)
  • The Ebony Swan (1992)
  • Star Flight (1993)
  • Daughter of the Stars (1994)
  • Amethyst Dreams (1997)

She won two Edgars for her mysteries for children, and was eventually named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America.

I did sometimes get frustrated with her heroines for being more wimpy than they needed to be; usually, though, the course of the novel allowed her heroines to become more confident in themselves as well as to work through whatever neuroses they had at the start of the novel. And like I said, a common theme was damaged families. Her books, along with those of Victoria Holt and Mary Stewart, were labelled as romantic suspense, but I think female noir is actually a better label for them; and as an adult, I really don’t think Stewart’s books actually are romantic suspense…but that’s a topic for another time.

And now, 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.

 

Wrapped Around Your Finger

The temperature took a dip here Thursday evening, and has kept falling, even further than was projected. That means the heat is on and my space heater is back at work here in the kitchen/office, as I try to get the kitchen cleaned and the bed linens laundered. I slept later than I’d intended this morning–not a big deal, just got me off to a later start on my day than I’d wanted–and am now in the process of getting the things done that were on my Saturday agenda. I remembered that the last cold snap, coupled with my illness, had knocked me off my daily abdominal workout plan, so I got that started again this afternoon after running my errands, and it really is amazing what a difference that makes. I have an errand to run on Monday, but tomorrow if I rise early enough to get the things done that I want to, I am going to venture out into the cold temperatures and head to the gym to lift weights, stretch, and get on the treadmill. (I have all those lovely films on Starz to watch; movies I want to rewatch and others–like Friday the 13th–that I’ve never seen. Yes, I’ve never seen any  of the Jason movies, can you believe that? Shame on me! Bad, bad Gregalicious!)

Also, when I was talking about watching The Towering Inferno, I neglected to mention that the film was based on two books (I am a firm believer in mentioning the source material; so many people don’t know films were based on books, which is a shame). Two novels about fires in skyscrapers were released in the same year, so when the film was being prepared Irwin Allen bought the screen rights to both books to protect against another similar, competitive film being made. The two books were The Tower by Richard Martin Stern (which I did read) and The Glass Inferno by Thomas N. Scortia and Frank M. Robinson (I didn’t see any need to read a second book about a fire in a skyscraper). Whew. I feel better having giving them credit now.

As you are probably aware, the Short Story Project is really proceeding apace. Last year I tried to read a short story a day for January; I am reading a lot more than two a day this year, particularly since I decided to expand the project to last the entire year. In fact, blogging only once a day (although I blogged twice yesterday) isn’t enough for me to devote an entire entry to simply one story; I am having to at the very least double them up per entry, and I am still getting behind on the blog entries! Madness!

But after these three stories, I am caught up through Saturday.

Whew! The pressure is so intense.

These next three stories, of course, are from Sarah Weinman’s anthology Troubled Daughters Twisted Wives. The first is Helen Nielsen’s “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree.”

It was exactly ten minutes before three when Loren returned to  her apartment. The foyer was empty–a glistening, white and black tile emptiness of Grecian simplicity which left no convenient nooks or alcoves where a late party-goer could linger with her escort in a prolonged embrace, or where the manager–in the unlikely event that he was concerned–could spy out the nocturnal habits of his tenants. Loren moved swiftly across the foyer, punctuating its silence with the sharp tattoo of her heels on the tile and the soft rustling of her black taffeta evening coat. Black for darkness; black for stealth. She stepped into the automatic elevator and pressed the button for the seventeenth floor. The door closed and the elevator began its silent climb. Only then did she breathe a bit easier, reassuring herself that she was almost safe.

There was an apex of terror, a crisis at which everything and every place became a pulsing threat. Loren wore her terror well.

Loren, you see, is a second wife; thoroughly organized and ruthlessly efficient as a secretary, she first became the other woman when he was married to another woman. When that marriage inevitably ended in divorce, Loren not only got her man but she also got a big promotion. But Loren, you see, has a secret past she doesn’t want her husband to know about, lest he might go back to his former wife. And when the man who knows her secrets shows up–in the company of the first wife–she knows she has to do something about it. So, thoroughly organized and ruthlessly efficient, Loren comes up with a plan. But…even the best planner can get caught off-guard by a twist of fate they never foresaw, never considered. And as the suspense rises, as does Loren’s paranoia and fear…well, what a fantastic story.

The next story is by Dorothy B. Hughes, the master of suspense who crafted such brillaint novels as In a Lonely Place, The Blackbirder, and The Expendable Man, amongst others. I can attest to the particular brilliance of the first and third mentioned novels; the middle is in my TBR pile. Her other books are sadly out of print, and hard to find; but I am on a quest to read her entire canon, and I will not be denied.

Her contribution in this collection is a strange little story called “Everybody Needs a Mink.”

One was dusty rose brocade, tranquil as an arras in a forsaken castle. One was a waterfall of gold, shimmering from a secret jungle cache. And there was, of course, the stiletto of black, cut to here and here–the practical one, as it would go everywhere–and she had the black evening slippers from last year, like new for they only went to the New Year’s Eve and Mardi Gras dances at the club, and the annual office executive dinner at the Biltmore. With her pearls, single strand, good cultured, Christmas present two years ago from Tashi–black and pearls, always good.

She selected the gold. She’d dash down to Florida and pick up a copper tan before the Christmas party, or maybe Hawaii. Or a week in Arizona, quite chic. She could buy gold slippers and hunky gold jewelry. When you were selecting, you didn’t have to think practical, you could let yourself go.

This is an excellent character study of the interior life of women, or at least this woman, shopping the before school sales for her children at a department store in Manhattan, pretending that she’s a socialite with money to burn, trying on clothes she couldn’t possible afford and pretending for a moment, before she has to get back to reality, get the sale items for her kids and catch the train to her little suburb north of the city, Larksville-nearly-on-the-Hudson and her life as a middle-class wife and mother who must scrimp and save…but she tries on a mink, encouraged by an older man. an eleven thousand dollar coat, which he buys for her without her knowledge and then disappears. Terrific stuff.

The last story to catch me up on the Short Story Project is a deeply disturbing little tale called “The Purple Shroud” by Joyce Carrington. Originally published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, it won the Edgar for Best Short Story for 1972. Dark, told in a distant, observational voice, it’s the kind of dark little story with a twist that would have been perfect for an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Mrs. Moon threw the shuttle back and forth and pumped the treadles of the big four-harness loom as if her life depended on it. When they asked her what she was weaving so furiously, she would laugh silently and say it was a shroud.

“No, really, what is it?”

“My house needs new draperies,” Mrs. Moon would smile and the shuttle would fly and the beater would thump the newly woven threads tightly into place. The muffled, steady sounds of her craft could be heard from early morning until very late at night, until the sounds became an accepted and expected background noise and were only noticed in their absence.

Then they would say, “I wonder what Mrs. Moon is doing now.”

You see, every summer Mr. and Mrs. Moon come to an art colony at a remote lake in the woods, and Mrs. Moon weaves while her husband George instructs others in art, because he is the best instructor the art colony has ever had. But George has a bad habit of having affairs with young girl students at the colony every summer, ending them when it’s time to go home again, of course, and everyone knows and kind of feels sorry for Mrs. Moon, but this summer…this summer it’s different.

And now back to the spice mines.

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