I Just Want to Love You

Oh, Mondays. The start of a new week, a new beginning–as it were, sort of like a mini-New Year’s in some ways. The cycle of employment. I didn’t sleep particularly well last night–I kept waking up, but feel somewhat rested and not mentally fatigued, the way I usually feel on a morning when I have to get up at the crack of dawn (actually, it’s dark outside and so I am getting up before the dawn) when I didn’t sleep well. AH, well, hopefully tonight I will sleep well–I may even try to go to bed earlier than I usually do to try to make up for last night’s not-so-good sleep.

A good friend passed through New Orleans yesterday, so I met him for a beer at the bar on the corner after I worked all morning. I am such a lightweight–the one beer made me slightly tipsy, and so when I got back home I wasn’t really feeling up to getting back to work. it’s fine–I did manage to get a lot done in the morning, and I never feel like I’ve wasted time if progress is made–and most importantly, I’ve almost managed to get my email inbox almost completely emptied out. Of course, when I send the emails I drafted yesterday this morning, they will beget even more emails in response–which is fine. As long as I keep up with them, and don’t allow myself to get overwhelmed by the volume, I won’t get behind again. There are, however, times when I just can’t face my emails.

We watched the figure skating last night before we went to bed; it’s always lovely to watch Nathan Chen be his usual fantastic self, and then it was off to bed. I didn’t make any progress on the Secret Project, which now becomes a priority going forward. I have to get that finished this week so I can get back to Bury Me in Shadows and the short story I need to write by the end of next month. I also didn’t get a chance to read more of Dorothy B. Hughes’ Dread Journey, but being social, getting out of the house, and spending time with someone I rarely see was actually quite nice. I do wish, though, that I’d cleaned the kitchen. I hate starting the week with the kitchen a mess. But as I make our lunches I’ll see if I can get the sink cleaned out and the dishes in the dishwasher put away. At least tonight I won’t come home to a messy kitchen in that case.

Such excitement, right? It’s no wonder I can’t sleep, given how massively exciting my life is.

But Carnival is coming–the parades start on Valentine’s Day, and my life will become very complicated again. Our office is now too far for me to ever try to get there and back on foot–being old doesn’t help, either–and so I have to either get off work on parade nights early enough for me to get home before the streets close, or I am trapped; destined to be stuck in traffic while trying to take the only possible exit from the highway into my neighborhood–and then of course parking anywhere is completely impossible. I think I can figure out how to do it all without having to take too much time off work–which is a good thing, as I don’t have enough vacation time this year to take the entire second parade week off–but it’s going to be challenging. Very very challenging. I’ve not wanted to deal with it–as well as making my future travel arrangements for upcoming trips and so forth–but this is the week I need to get this all taken care of, and it’s gone on the list.

And frankly, it’s lovely to have to-do lists that I actually pay attention to and use and cross things off from as they get done. I’ve missed that feeling of accomplishment, frankly. I actually think my additional new responsibilities with Mystery Writers of America is going to help me to get better organized as well as be more productive, because I don’t have a choice. I do better when there’s not a choice, as insane as that probably seems.

And now it’s back to the spice mines. I need to make this week’s to-do list, make sure that I don’t miss anything, and get back to work. Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader!

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Amazed

Show of hands: who predicted I wouldn’t get as much done yesterday as I wanted to? I was pretty confident that would wind up the case, as it always is. But I did get a lot done yesterday–some of it even writing-related, so have a seat, guilty conscience!–and that pleases me. I am hopeful I’ll be able to get more done today as well. Granted–it’s easy to say that as I sip my first cup of coffee. I also stayed in bed later this morning than I wanted to–since I woke up at seven on my own yesterday I thought perhaps this morning would be the same so I didn’t set an alarm–but I wound up getting up at eight, so that wasn’t too terrible I also hit a wall yesterday around four thirty–I got very tired–and so I repaired to the easy chair to finish reading my book.

It’s rather gloomy out there this morning, and it’s chilly here in the Lost Apartment–the space heater is on–and I’m a little annoyed by this return of coldness. Yesterday. while starting out chilly, eventually turned into quite a beautiful day; I didn’t even wear a jacket when I went out to run my errands. But that’s okay; I probably won’t have to go out into much today, or at least I hope not.

We watched a lot of the figure skating championships yesterday–will probably do so again today; I think the men’s is on this afternoon and Europeans is on tonight–and Paul’s been watching the Australian Open on his computer. We’re very behind on all the shows we watch, and there are also any number of new shows we want to watch–or shows we watch have returned for another season, which is very cool–and of course, the Williams Festival is approaching, which means late nights at the office for Paul; yes, it’s about that time when I become a Festival widow again. I should be able to get a lot of reading done during this time–which is what I generally use it for. I got a copy of Lori Rader-Day’s new novel yesterday in the mail, The Lucky One, and since I’m moderating that panel, I’ll need to read it soon.

I also have to make travel arrangements today for some upcoming trips in this new year; Bouchercon, Malice Domestic, etc.

Ah, it’s raining. That explains the gloomy grayness outside.

It’s the kind of day, really, where I’d rather curl up under a blanket and read all day, quite frankly, but I can’t do that. I need to work on the Secret Project, and there’s all kinds of other things I also have to get done today–odds and ends, emails to answer, etc. I’d also like to make some headway on getting my taxes at least started; I am missing only one 1099 form, and once I have that I can turn everything over to my accountant and get my return filed, which will be lovely.

I did finish reading Elizabeth Little’s Pretty as a Picture, which is fantastic–and then I started reading Dorothy B. Hughes’ Dread Journey when my energy finally flagged in the late afternoon.

pretty as a picture

They say a picture’s worth a thousand words.

That’s not what I’d say.

I’d say it depends on the picture. I’d say it depends on the size and the color and the subject and the print and the framing and the focus and the composition. I’d say it depends on what you were doing the hour before, the day before, the year before, the life before. I’d say it depends on whether you’re looking at it on a wall or scrolling past it on a screen or cutting it carefully out of a book, digging your knuckle into the gutter of the spine because the margins are so small and the blades are so long and it’s impossible to get a straight line, but you don’t want to dig up a guide and an X-Acto knife because you aren’t willing to wait, you have to have it, you have to have this picture, right now, and your kitchen scissors are close enough and good enough–yes, good enough–and Jesus Christ, Marissa, when will you get it through your thick head: Imperfection is a price happy people pay to cradle the weight of something they love.

That’s what I’d say.

Elizabeth Little’s debut novel, Dear Daughter, is one of my favorite first novels and one of my favorite books of this past decade. Her novels–why they do focus on crime, or criminal activity–are more than just crime novels; they’re stories about women–messy, complicated, complex, interesting women you want to see get past not only their current crisis, but also pull their lives together. One of the most impressive things to me about Dear Daughter is that she didn’t wrap it all up neatly with a bow at the end, with justice being served and our heroine coming out of everything triumphant; she gave the ending a more realistic, this-is-how-it-would-play-out-in-real-life ending.

I’ve been waiting a long time for Pretty as a Picture, and it was worth the wait.

The story is told in a very tight, first person/present tense style that pulls the reader into the action and the head of our main character/narrator–Marissa Dahl, an up-and-coming film editor who has primarily worked on the films of her college best friend and current roommate, Amy,  an up-and-coming director. Marissa is socially awkward–there’s a lovely scene in which she talked about meeting a superstar director, Tony Rees, at the Venice Film Festival and pulls him into a fountain with her when she loses her balance–and very unsure of herself. She meets a guy named Josh, who winds up dating Amy, and having been interested in him herself, she now has become an incredibly awkward fifth wheel and has decided to separate herself from Amy, personally and professionally, to give Amy and Josh’s new relationship room to breathe and grow–and she’s more than just a little resentful about Josh, whom she now actively dislikes (which is also wrapped up in her own social awkwardness), which is why she ends up agreeing to work on a Tony Rees’ new film–a project wrapped in secrecy and sixteen page NDA’s. She heads out to Kickout Island, off the coast of Delaware, and even has a big security man–Isaiah–who picks her up at the local airport and takes her out there.

One of Marissa’s neuroses includes a fear of the water–and we eventually do find out where that fear came from.

The film turns out to be a fictionalized film version of an actual murder that took place on Kickout Island many years ago–the murder of a pretty teenaged girl; a murder that was never solved. Strange things are going on around the set–accidents, cast and crew being fired–and we slowly but surely are made aware, through Marissa’s eyes, that things are not as they seem…and then someone else dies, and Marissa is reluctantly on both cases.

I have to say, though, that my favorite characters–besides Marissa, whom I really liked for all her tics and strangeness and constant film references (which is actually very cool)–are the two teenaged girls she first encounters in the hotel kitchen while she is scrounging for something to eat–Grace and Suzy–who are also trying to solve the original murder case. I’d read an entire series about these two girls.

But Pretty as a Picture is a great read; well-written and clever and witty and snarky at points, but an enjoyable read with a complicated, twisty plot that never condescends to the reader. Well worth the lengthy wait for this second novel by Elizabeth Little–the only problem is now I have to wait (hopefully not as long) for her third.

Old Fashioned Love

Saturday and football is completely over–at least for me, thank you, Saints–until September (or late August, it seems to start earlier and earlier every year), so Saturday spreads out before me like an unpainted canvas, waiting for me to add colors and depth and so forth.

How fucking poetic.

But I woke up without the alarm at just before seven this morning, so hopefully that means I’ve trained myself to get up at that time now so it won’t be an issue going forward. During my most productive periods, I always got up around seven in the morning to accomplish things before going into the office; I can still get things done at night, of course, after work, but now I need the extra time and hopefully I will be able to continue on this productive path. I got up this morning and read through a gift from Paul he left on my desk–a commemorative magazine about the LSU season, the first of many I imagine I’ll be getting over the course of the next few weeks/months–and then finished reading the new Elizabeth Little novel, Pretty as a Picture, which I really loved, and now here I am at my desk, writing my blog and getting ready to start cleaning up this disgrace of an office area before running my usual Saturday errands–mail, cat food from the vet, groceries–and hopefully, getting some writing done. I also still need to write blogs about three books I’ve read recently: the reread of Victoria Holt’s Kirkland Revels, the reread of The Talented Mr. Ripley, and of course, the new Elizabeth Little.

I also have to decide what I am going to read next–something from the Diversity Project, perhaps, or possibly the Reread Project? Or maybe something new from the TBR pile? I do have that new edition of Dorothy B. Hughes’ Dread Journey…and one can never go wrong with Hughes. Added plus: an intro by the divine Sarah Weinman. Or perhaps something non-fiction? Decisions, decisions, decisions, and such a wealth of treasures to choose from, as well. I’m almost finished with Richard Campanella’s Bourbon Street, which is fantastic–and have bookmarked lots of pages for further investigation or ideas for writing other stories, and books. I need to get to work on the secret project, and I also need to get started on a short story I promised that is due on March 31st. And there is ever so much filing that needs to be done–I’ve decided to start on a massive new project that is far overdue; my file cabinet, in which over the years I’ve simply lazily tossed files into without any sense of organization or order, and always push off because, of course, it would take forever. But yesterday at the office I also worked on a filing project I’ve been avoiding for weeks, and it was ever so satisfying.

I’ll never completely understand my reluctance and hesitation about doing things I actually enjoy and find satisfying: organizing, filing, writing, going to the gym. Why is it always an effort for me to do things I enjoy? Why won’t I ever actually, you know, do those things? And without fail, every time I do, when I am finished I feel terrific and feel a sense of accomplishment which is eminently satisfying.

I really don’t get it. Perhaps I should start seeing a therapist again.

Although in fairness, I did get tired of my old therapist looking at me with his eyes wide open and his jaw dropped.

So many things I really need to be working on…but I am definitely leaning towards reading the Hughes next, and I think once I’m finished with Bourbon Street I’ll read John Shelton Reed’s Dixie Bohemia next. I really do enjoy learning about New Orleans history–and by extension, Louisiana’s–and it also inspires me. I’ve made so many notes for potential short stories and novels, which, if I’m lucky, maybe someday I’ll have the time to write to actually turn about ten percent of those ideas into a finished, publishable product.

And on that note, I should probably head back into the mines for spice. Have a lovely Saturday, everyone.

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Walking After Midnight

Here I am, up at the crack of dawn–well, not really, but earlier than I usually get up on a Thursday–so I can catch a flight to New York later this morning. And I think I packed the clothes I intended to wear on the plane this morning–which is fine. Not particularly smart, but I’ve been running on accessory all week as it is, so it’s not particularly surprising, either.

I also woke up well before my alarm this morning, too. Not sure what that’s all about, but there you have it.

Today is also my first time flying out of the new terminal at Armstrong, so that’s also kind of exciting.

I am taking probably too many books with me on this trip: The Talented Mr, Ripley; Blanche on the Lam by Barbara Neely; Pretty as a Picture by Elizabeth Little; and Dread Journey by Dorothy B. Hughes. I’ll probably finish Ripley at the airport and get started on the Neely on the plane. I hope to have some free down time periodically in order to do some work on my secret project; but knowing how these trips usually go that’s most likely never going to happen. But hope springs eternal and all that nonsense.

Last night didn’t do much of anything once I got home. I packed and spent the evening in my easy chair, watching videos on Youtube–clips and analysis of the LSU game on Monday, as well as discussions on whether or not this team is one of the best of all time. It’s kind of hard to argue against it, really; given the teams they beat and how they beat them. The last three games of the season were against Number 4 Georgia (37-10); Number 4 Oklahoma (63-28), and Number 3 Clemson (42-25). They beat everyone in the preseason top 4 (Clemson, Alabama, Oklahoma, Georgia). Excluding the LSU losses, those three times they beat at the end of the season totaled 2 losses total; add Alabama into the mix and that would be three; adding Florida would make it 4.

Sorry, I know I tend to run on and on about this LSU team, but damn, they were amazing.

But I’ll be glad when this trip is over and I get home Sunday evening. I have Monday off–Martin Luther King Jr Day–and so I can relax and recover and get some things done before I return to work on Tuesday. Traveling has become more and more of a chore the older I get; I always wonder if getting older has just made me crankier, or if traveling has, indeed, gotten terrible. I suspect it’s a combination of the two–less patience and more stupidity and inefficiency. But I do love New York; I never feel more like a writer then I do when I am in New York; probably because as a child New York was the nexus for authors–and certainly in every book I read that had a writer as a character, that was certainly the case; everything from You Can’t Go Home Again to Youngblood Hawke to Peyton Place, for that matter; and of course the crown jewel, Rona Jaffe’s The Best of Everything. And I will be there this afternoon! It’s not that I mind trips–it’s the getting there, the actual travel, I’ve come to loathe–from getting to the airport to the check-in process to security to the seemingly endless wait at the gate; the gathering of luggage and transporting one’s self to the final destination.

And on that note, tis time to hop in the shower and make my final preparations for the departure. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

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I Just Wish You Were Someone I Love

So, it’s the last Sunday morning of the year, and the Saints are playing today–I suppose I should look and see what time, but it’s hard to get overly motivated this morning about the Saints after yesterday’s LSU game–which was utterly and completely insane. I thought they’d win, but not even in my wildest dreams did I imagine the final score would 63-28, or that it would be 49-14 at half-time, or that Oklahoma wouldn’t be in it at all. In fact, when the Sooners scored to make it 7-7, I said to Paul, “oh, this is going to be like the Florida game and we’re going to have to outscore them.” Little did I know, right? At some point–maybe when it was 35-7 with seven minutes or so to go in the half, I just started laughing uncontrollably. My mind couldn’t process what I was seeing. LSU was beating the Big XII champion, the fourth ranked team in the country, the way they beat Georgia Southern, Utah State, Vanderbilt–well, actually, Vanderbilt and Mississippi scored more points on LSU than Oklahoma did. LSU made a very good Oklahoma team look like they’d finish, at best, 7-5 in the SEC….and that would be if they were in the Eastern division. But all along, as sportscasters and journalists, in the days leading up to the game, kept talking up the Sooners, I just kept thinking, so you’re saying Oklahoma is better than Alabama, Georgia, Auburn and Florida?

But once I got the uncontrollable laughing under control, I started feeling bad for Oklahoma–the players, the coaches, their fans. I felt bad for Jalen Hurts, whose athleticism and ability I admired even as I cursed at him for leading Alabama to wins over LSU back in the day. The man is a great athlete and a terrific quarterback; he has a  NFL and I only hope this game doesn’t affect his draft stock too negatively. The guy was second in the Heisman voting!

But I’m still glad LSU won and is playing for the national championship again in New Orleans.

Should be a great game.

I slept deeply and well last night, and so today I must get things done. I did run errands yesterday, and then gave myself over to watching the play-offs (I also watched some of the earlier bowl games, but didn’t pay too much attention and couldn’t even tell you who actually played–Penn State and Memphis, maybe?), so today I kind of can’t do that. The kitchen’s a mess, so is the living room, and I haven’t written in days. I have a long day at the office tomorrow, and then am off for two days again, before finishing off the week with two more days…before reality returns on the following week. The New Year is almost upon us, and I’ve already reflected on the year in my writing, so I suppose I need to do the year in my reading, and other things I enjoy, before writing the Happy New Year here are my goals annual post. I also have to proof read a story of mine today, and like I said, this desk area and kitchen are a complete and total, utter mess.

I also got some books this weekend: In the Woods by Tana French (inspired by watching Dublin Murders; I’d tried reading this years ago but for some reason couldn’t get into it and am giving it another try); Blanche on the Lam by new MWA Grand Master Barbara Neely; Owl Be Home for Christmas by the amazing Donna Andrews; Dread Journey by Dorothy B. Hughes, with an intro by the amazing Sarah Weinman; and The Bellamy Trial, by Frances Noyes Hart. I’d already decided to reread Kirkland Revels by Victoria Holt next–and I will follow it up with the Neely, definitely.

We watched the season finale of  The Mandalorian on Friday night, and wow, what a fucking show this is. Seriously, y’all–I did watch Avengers Endgame on Disney Plus on Christmas Eve, but The Mandalorian alone is worth the cost of Disney Plus. I’m thinking I might even spent a nice lazy Sunday sometime rewatching the entire season, and now I cannot wait for Season 2. I also am looking forward to the new show with the Winter Soldier–love me Sebastian Stan–and all future Star Wars content. I may even go back and watch some of the animated Star Wars series.

We’ve also started watching Ms. Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries, and while I still miss Phryne–that original series was just too good–the younger, Peregine Fisher is an admirable stand-in, and we are enjoying the 1960’s setting as well. (I’d forgotten I subscribed to Acorn TV a few years ago; we’re making up for lost time now.)

And of course, HBO is dropping their adaptation of Stephen King’s The Outsider in January; I should probably read the book as I watch the show.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.

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Carrie

Saturday morning and yet another, amazing night’s sleep. I didn’t get up until ten this morning! That’s like two days in a row, and I could have easily stayed in bed had I not realized that I will eventually have to start getting up early again and going to work next week. Tomorrow I’m going to set my alarm and get up around eight or nine, just to get back into the habit.

I’ve also reached the point where I am no longer sad not to be at Bouchercon this weekend anymore. I think I just finally got numb, stopped feeling sorry for myself, and started being happy for my friends and glad they’re having a great time over there. After all, there’s no point in being sad, really–it doesn’t make anything better, does it?–and there’s really no sense in being sad or upset over things you have no control over. Those are the things you just have to accept.

You don’t have to like them, though.

Last night we binged the rest of the available episodes of Castle Rock, and Lizzy Kaplan is just killing it as Annie Wilkes. She should at least get an Emmy nod for the performance; I won’t go out on a limb and say she should win since there are so many incredible television shows and performances out there now, between all the streaming services and so forth. This truly is an extraordinary time for television shows. I love that the writers have dragged Jerusalem’s Lot and the Marsten House into this season; there’s something strange going on in the basement of the Marsten House but we aren’t really sure what it is yet…this season is making me want to revisit Stephen King’s work, which is precisely what I don’t need to do; my TBR pile is massive enough as it is without going back and rereading some of my favorite Stephen Kings. Over the last year or so I’ve reread Pet Sematary, The Shining, and ‘salem’s Lot as it is; I’d love to reread Firestarter before reading The Institute–which I think is going to be my Thanksgiving week treat.

I think my next read–after a careful examination of my bookshelves, is going to be Richard Stark’s The Hunter. Stark of course is one of Donald Westlake’s pseudonyms, and my education in Westlake (and Lawrence Block, while we’re at it) is sadly lacking. I also never read the Ed McBain novels (but I did read Evan Hunter when I was in my twenties). As I said, my education is classic crime writers of the 20th century has been sadly neglected; and I’d also like to read Ross Macdonald’s stand alones, and I’d love to immerse myself in a reread of the John D. Macdonald’s Travis McGee novels (and finish reading through his stand alones as well). I also need to finish the canons of Margaret Millar and Charlotte Armstrong and Dorothy B. Hughes.

And of course, there are all those wonderful writers of color I need to read. And queer crime writers. And…

Heavy sigh.

I did manage to finish reading  Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia yesterday, and I enjoyed it tremendously. It was a very different approach to a vampire novel, and while I don’t know that I would necessarily classify it as a horror novel–not all vampire novels are horror novels–it really is quite good. It’s more suspenseful and, much as I hate to say it, it’s almost closer to a crime/suspense novel with paranormal elements than it is a horror novel. I do highly recommend it–I’ll write an entry about it at some point this weekend, perhaps even later today–and it’s precisely the kind of novel that is needed to reinvigorate the horror genre. I’ve been saying for quite some time that it’s the so-called minority writers (writers of color, queer writers) who are currently injecting new blood into, and revitalizing the crime genre–I would say that’s also the case with horror. The problem with genre fiction is that it tends to stagnate periodically and become repetitive and somewhat stale, until something comes along, shakes it up, and turns it upside down. The rise of the hardboiled female private eye novel in the 1980’s was the kick in the pants crime needed to breathe new life into a genre that was getting a bit stale; I think it’s the marginalized writers who are doing it now.

Look at me, generalizing about horror–a genre I am hardly expert in. As I always say, I’m just a fan with horror.

But I am hardly an expert in crime fiction, either. There are positively libraries of things I don’t know about crime fiction.

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

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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.

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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.