Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves

So we had a major thunderstorm yesterday afternoon, complete with street flooding and thunder and lightning and all the fixin’s. This naturally led me to wonder, as the lights flickered at the office and Elysian Fields (the street, not the Greek afterlife) filled with water, whether or not to wait until the advisory was lifted (in theory at 5:45 pm), or head home when my work day was complete? One can never be certain where and when parts of the city are going to flood; and the last thing in the world I need–being this close to having the car paid off–is to risk flooding it out and possibly ruining it.

Sigh. It’s never easy living in New Orleans.

Getting home was a challenge; Claiborne Avenue’s low-lying areas were filled with water, water was pouring down not just from the clouds but from the I-1o high-rise, and I decided to risk going through the CBD, never the best option, but potentially even worse than usual since the Plaza Tower started falling apart and

And now for some blatant self-promotion, The Queer Crime Fiction roundtable I participated in for Crime Reads can be found here. And my brief appearance on Writer Types recommending queer crime writers can be found at this link right here.

Thanks again to Lisa Levy for the roundtable, and to Eric Beetner for inviting me onto his podcast. Both were a lot of fun, frankly, and it’s always fun for me to have the chance to talk about books and writers and make recommendations of books and writers I admire and enjoyed. I really missed that during the pandemic.

We got caught up on Lisey’s Story last night–we were both dismayed to see that it hasn’t all aired yet, and so no new episode until Friday–and then went on to the second chapter of The Underground Railroad, which was equally as disturbing as the first, but in a completely different way; I do remember, reading the novel and thinking, my God, so many different ways white people have found to punish and hurt black bodies and souls throughout our history. The show, being a visual medium, is even more disturbing than the book, because my imagination wasn’t quite strong enough to erase the imagery from my head I had grown accustomed to throughout a lifetime of privilege, that kept elbowing the stark realities Colson Whitehead so poignantly and beautifully wrote about in his book, out of the way; the show does not allow this, and the beautifully way it is filmed so poetically reflects the beauty of Whitehead’s language, even as the subject matter in truly an abomination.

Laura Lippman’s Dream Girl drops today, and so those of you not fortunate enough to get an advance copy can now indulge yourselves in reading a truly marvelous book by a great thinker and a terrific writer. I need to get back to reading; Robyn Gigl’s By Way of Sorrow needs to be finished, and on deck I have Bath Haus by PJ Vernon, Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, Arsenic and Adobo by Mia Manansala, and several others. So much reading; I really need to focus on getting my reading done and caught up. Now that I’ve finished the novella I can take a look at duMaurier’s “Don’t Look Now” again, as well as her “Ganymede”; I already know, from doing some post-writing research today that there are some major adjustments that need to be made to my novella, and it may wind up being longer than than 20, 430 words it sits at now–not the least of them the days of the week, and so forth. I also have to figure out some way to make the story work a little better, more suspenseful, than it sits right now; but that has a lot to do with figuring out the story as it went. I also want to start pulling together the next short story collection–madness, I know–but I do love when I am basically overwhelmed with projects; so I always have something to be working on if something stalls out or I just don’t want to work on something in particular.

I also took some time and started plotting out another Scotty; yes, I know–I really need to dive into Chlorine again, but I had also decided that I was going to do that in July; it doesn’t hurt to have the Scotty’s various intertwining plots planned and mapped out. I generally don’t do this with Scotty books, primarily because the writing inevitably takes me in much different directions than I had planned, and thus inevitably all the planning turns out to be waste time. Also ironically, despite having any number of possible and potential titles on hand, none of them seems to fit this story–and since I can’t ever really work on anything without a title, and knowing that the title can be eventually changed–I am calling this one, for now, Mississippi River Bottom, which was actually the working title for Jackson Square Jazz. My editor didn’t like Mississippi River Bottom (which I rather thought was a clever play on words) and asked me to change it. I also know that this working title doesn’t really fit the alliteration patterns of the rest of the series, and thus will inevitably have to be changed. Perhaps while I am actually writing it, the title will come to me; stranger things have, indeed, happened before.

Last night’s sleep was terrific–there were strange dreams, of which I’ve been having a plethora of lately; last night was me working at Target for some reason–but I again feel terrific and rested this morning; everything looks wet outside, so I am assuming the rain continued over night. It must not have been terrible or dangerous, as we never got one of those horrible WARNING alerts during the night on our phones. Tonight when I get off work I’ll go uptown and get the mail before heading home and to the gym. The Tuesday night workout is somehow always rushed, with me skipping things–more to do with too many people being there than me being lazy, really; the free weight area is always so crowded I inevitably skip the two exercises I used free weights for–and then it’s back home to watch some television and possibly do some writing. This weekend is going to see weird; I have a broken tooth that needs to be extracted, and I scheduled that for Friday afternoon. That inevitably will mean a strange diet of soft food over the weekend and pain killers; but better that than the dull throb and swollen gums I’ve been dealing with since the molar broke. Ah, the endless saga of Greg and his bad, bad teeth. One thing I definitely envy in other people is good teeth…I also want to get to work on “The Sound of Snow Falling.” I am assuming I’ll be incapacitated this weekend after the tooth extraction, but I am hoping I can at least sit in my easy chair and edit.

And yesterday, the first active roster NFL pro football player to come out came out! Yay, and welcome to the team, as it were. I’m old enough to remember when David Kopay came out in the 1970’s; the first former NFL player to do so.

And on that note–writing ADHD, my bad teeth, NFL player out of the closet–I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely and winning Tuesday, everyone.

Dreams

One of the challenges of being a writer is keeping your work fresh and new and interesting; it becomes easy -for want of a better phrase–to just phone it in and repeat yourself. This is particularly true for crime writers/writers of series; how do you continue writing about the same base foundation of characters without recycling plots or falling into formulaic structure?

One of the primary reasons I stopped writing my Chanse MacLeod series was precisely because of this; as I was writing the last book (thus far) in the series, Murder in the Arts District, I found myself thinking things like okay now it’s chapter five, I need some action here or I need to have a twist in the story before I get to chapter ten…and so on. I didn’t even think about it as I was writing the story–but when I was doing the revisions and edits, I remembered having those thoughts (I generally don’t have them while writing Scotty, but that’s a story for another time…and of course, as a reader pointed out, how many car accidents has Scotty been in, anyway?), and when I turned the book in, I went back and speed-read the entire series over again, and after about the fourth book, the writing pattern became rather obvious to me; and if it was apparent to me, I would imagine it was also fairly obvious to the readers. So, I decided to either end or take a lengthy break from the series unless another great idea for him jumped out at me; I have had several ideas since then, but the longer I go without writing about Chanse the less likely it becomes that I will write about him again. (Caveat: I have written a Chanse short story and have a novella in progress with him as the main character; I guess it is more accurate to say that I am not done with the character completely, yet I cannot see myself writing another novel with him as the point of view character–and will have to go another step forward with that as well to say at least not one set in New Orleans, as I am toying with an idea for a Chanse case in Louisiana but not New Orleans. Yes, that’s me–definitely not definite.)

I have nothing but the utmost admiration for series writers who manage to keep their series going for decades and dozens of books without writing the same book and structure over and over and over again; Ross Macdonald, Ellery Queen, Sue Grafton, Robert B. Parker, and Sara Parestky are just a few of them I can name, and their achievements have made them legends in the field. But other legends who wrote series took a different approach to their careers. Agatha Christie wrote several series–Poirot, Miss Marple, Tommy and Tuppence–but also wrote a lot of stand-alones over the course of the years. (Seriously, when it comes to crime fiction, Christie did everything first) Dennis Lehane and Harlan Coben started out writing series and moved on to stand-alones; as have numerous other authors.

And then there’s Laura Lippman.

Gerry Andersen‘s new apartment is a topsy-turvy affair–living area on the second floor, bedrooms below. The brochure–it is the kind of apartment that had its own brochure when it went on the market in 2018–boasted of 360-degree views, but that was pure hype. PH 2502 is the middle unit between two other duplex penthouses, one owned by a sheikh, the other by an Olympic swimmer. The three two-story apartments share a common area, a most uncommon common area to be sure, a hallway with a distressed concrete floor, available only to those who have the key that allows one to press PH on the elevator. But not even the sheik and the swimmer have 360-degree views. Nothing means anything anymore, Gerry has decided. No one uses words correctly and if you call them on it, they claim that words are fungible, that it’s oppressive and prissy not to let words mean whatever the speaker wishes them to mean.

Take the name of this building, the Vue at Locust Point. What is a vue? And isn’t the view what one sees from the building, not the building itself? The Vue is the view for people on the other side of the harbor, where, Gerry is told, there is a $12 million apartment on top of the residences connected to the Four Seasons Hotel. A $12 million apartment in Baltimore.

Nothing makes sense anymore.

The apartment cost $1.75 million, which Is about what Gerry cleared when he sold his place in New York City, a two-bedroom he bought in the fall of 2001. How real estate agents had shaken their sleek blond heads over his old-fashioned kitchen, his bidet-less bathrooms, as if his decision not to update them was indicative of a great moral failing. Yet his apartment sold for almost $3 million last fall and, as he understood the current was laws, he needed to put the capital gains, less $250,000, in a new residence. Money goes a long way in Baltimore, and it was a struggle to find a place that could eat up all that capital without being nightmarishly large. So here he is at the Vue, where money seems to be equated with cold, hard things–marble in the kitchen, distressed concrete floors, enormous light fixtures.

I’ve been a fan of Lippman’s since I read her debut, Baltimore Blues, mumbledy-mumble years ago. I absolutely loved it; I loved the character of Tess Monaghan, former reporter turned private eye, and the cast of regular characters who she interacted with on a regular basis throughout her amazing series run. Tess remains one of my all -time favorite series characters; the books were always compelling, interesting, and very hard to put down. Lippman is also that writer who can write short stories that are just as powerful as her novels, and over the last few years she has taken up writing personal essays that are also rather exceptional (her collection, My Life as a Villainess, was a bestseller during the pandemic). Her writing is always whip-smart and intelligent; following her on social media one can see how widely and perceptively she reads. About seven years into her career she took the risk to move from her series to stand-alones; a calculated risk, to be sure–but she then spent the next few years alternating between the series and stand-alones (alas, it’s been a while since the last Tess book, Hush Hush, although she has occasionally made guest appearances in her stand-alones when a character needs assistance from a private eye). Her books have explored themes of motherhood, what it means to be a good girl, and have also paid homage to time-honored sub-genres (Sunburn is one of the best noir novels of this century) and classic novels by either flipping the script (for example. Wilde Lake owes an enormous debt to To Kill a Mockingbird, imagining, really, where the characters and story would be decades later). She has also played with form, tense, and character–Lady in the Lake is almost Faulknerian in its use of point-of-view; I lost track of how many different point of view characters were in this book, and every last one of them rang completely true–and she has become, over the years, a true artist.

In my often-benighted first writing class in college (whose scars I still carry to this day),my incredibly pompous professor once berated one of the students for writing a story about a writer. “It’s the laziest form of writing, and character,” he proclaimed from his lectern at the front of the classroom, “and it tells you more about who the writer is more than the character ever will. If you ever start reading anything where the main character is a writer, you should run from it as fast as you can.”

I guess he wasn’t a fan of Philip Roth. (To be completely fair, neither am I. I’ve tried, but have never really got the magic there, but have always accepted that as my failing as a discerning reader rather than his.)

Stephen King often writes about writers; ‘Salem’s Lot has Ben Mears; The Shining has Jack Torrance (and the most deadly and horrifying case of writer’s block in literary history), It has Bill Denbrough, and on and on–but of course the most famous, and best, example would be Paul Sheldon in Misery. While I always have enjoyed King’s writing, and have gleaned things from his writer characters, Sheldon and Misery, for me, has always been the best. Sheldon was perhaps one of the most realistic and compelling writer characters I’ve ever read about–the man with aspirations to becoming a critically acclaimed literary writer, who yet makes a living by writing a bestselling romance series about a character named Misery Chastain whom he has come to hate and despise even as she makes him enough money to live well and focus on simply being a writer (the dream of all of us, really). He has killed her off finally in his most recent book, ending the series at last and finally taking the leap to write what he thinks will be the game changer for his career–until he has a horrific car accident and is rescued by Misery’s biggest fan.

The parallels between Misery and Dream Girl are there, of course, and easy to spot; Lippman’s character Gerry Andersen is an enormously successful literary writer (a la Updike or Roth) who is also kind of a dick in how he has treated the many women who have come through his life, and of course, his ego justifies all of his bad behavior until he, too, has an accident in his home that winds up with him trapped in a hospital bed in his secluded apartment (despite it being in Baltimore; the appeal of the place is its privacy and seclusion). But while Sheldon is being victimized by his sociopathic fan/caregiver in Misery, what is happening to Gerry is very different; he has his original fall that causes his injury because he receives a weird letter from someone claiming to be the real person whom he based the title character in his biggest success, Dream Girl, on, and she wants financial compensation. In his shock and surprise–people have always wondered, and have always asked him, if she was a real person and he has always said no–he falls down his stairs and busts up his leg. Once he is housebound, he has a night nurse AND his personal assistant there–rarely being ever alone in the apartment–but he starts getting strange phone calls from the woman claiming to be the real ‘dream girl’–but there’s never any record of the calls on his called ID, and the original letter disappeared as well. Is his medication playing tricks on his mind, or is there something more sinister at work in his cold, sterile, remote apartment?

As with so many other things, that writing professor was wrong about writing about writers. I’ve stayed away from it myself for most of my career–as I said, the scars are still very much there–but I have started dabbling into it a bit (my Amazon single, “Quiet Desperation,” is one attempt, and I may go even further; I’ve created a character who’s appeared as a minor character in some of my Scotty books who is a writer). The mystery here is quite compelling, and more than enough to keep me turning the pages to see what happens next. But I was also enjoying the insights into another writer’s life, albeit he was a fictional character; I find it incredibly easy to identify with characters who are writers because despite the fact that all writers have different methods and different careers and different mental processes, there are always those little nuggets of oh yes I know that feeling or I thought I was the only person who experienced this or ah yes this is exactly what it’s like.

Dream Girl is an excellent edition to the Lippman canon.

Endless Love

It’s so lovely to be home again. There’s just something about your own bed, isn’t there? I mean, I still have insomnia, but my own bed just feels so better and more relaxing and so forth.

My flight home, with the change of planes in Tampa, went completely smoothly, which was nice. I didn’t think I could handle delays and changes in schedule on the scale of what happened on my trip up there. I’ve pretty much decided not to fly up there anymore; it’s always a weird routing, it’s rarely inexpensive, and most of the times I’ve flown it’s not gone well, either coming or going and sometimes both. Yes, it sucks to spend almost eleven hours on the road driving, but at least then I have control over the trip and if I need to stop, I can. There’s something about that powerlessness when you fly somewhere…and it’s a lovely, if long, drive. I can also listen to books on tape, which is what I did the last time I drove there and back, and that, much more so than music, makes the time go by much more easily and faster, or seem to, at any rate.

I did read some more Purdy short stories on the flights back, and I also read ebooks on my iPad: I had galleys of both Laura Lippman’s Dream Girl (dropping this summer) and Alison Gaylin’s The Collective (dropping this fall) and wow, both are incredible works. I’ve not finished the Gaylin yet–will probably dive back into it this evening after work and writing duties–but I was rather resentful when my flight landed and I had to put the iPad away. The drive home wasn’t bad, and of course the new airport here in New Orleans is pretty amazing; the old one was fine, but it really pales in comparison to the new one. Of course, it’s weird getting there and all–they haven’t done all the off-ramps and on-ramps and so forth for I-10 yet, so there’s congestion and so forth…but the trip home was so much easier than the trip out, and if one had to be fucked up, I would rather it be the trip up.

I feel completely disconnected from my life now–I’ve got to pick up the strands of what I was doing last week before i left and remember what I need to get done in the meantime. The house is in disarray, and that needs to be handled. I’ve also got other things to get taken care of that I need to remember, and I need to decide what I am going to be writing/working on for the moment. (I was thinking while traveling yesterday about several stories in progress I want to get back to, as well as one of the novellas that is stalled for the moment; there were some tweaks that could be made to “Festival of the Redeemer” that came to me yesterday on the plane, as well as some more thoughts about my story “Please Die Soon” that would make finishing it a little easier; this is what happens when I read great writers like Lippman and Gaylin–it inspires me and also unlocks creativity in my own brain, and since the door has been rather firmly shut on my creativity for a while, it’s nice to have the door opened again)

We also got caught up on Mare of Easttown last night–Jesus, what a great show; give Kate WInslet all the Emmys already–and then Hacks (Jean Smart is heading for potentially winning Emmys for each show) which we are also enjoying. Tonight we’ll get to season two of Who Killed Sara? and I also have errands to run after work tonight. Hopefully tomorrow I’ll get back to the gym and get back into the swing of my workouts.

Baby steps back into my life…

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

Bette Davis Eyes

And I am at Louisville Airport ready to fly home to New Orleans. I have to change planes in Tampa–the very airport I used to work in; even the same airside where I used to work–and should be landing at Armstrong around five thirty. I need to make a couple of stops on the way home; I need to put air in a tire and get some things at the store and also need to possibly pick up dinner–the jury has yet to come in on that one. I am going to be pretty tired by the time I get to New Orleans, and having to deal with rush hour traffic isn’t exactly something I am looking forward to, frankly.

But it is what it is. I am a little tired already. I never sleep terribly well when I travel under the best of circumstances, and the insomnia lately has been incredibly brutal at home–so I didn’t have very high expectations for while I was here. I think I got maybe one good night of sleep on Friday–I was so completely exhausted at that point the surprise would have been had I not lapsed into a coma.

Well, my travel day Thursday turned into quite the nightmare, but overall, I handled it as best I could; rolled with it, and just finally had to laugh about it all. I had trouble getting up in the morning and then had even more trouble being awake–the cannabis oil might not have knocked me out, but it really relaxed me–and of course, it was pouring rain as I headed to the airport. I also forgot a mask, but remembered before I got on the highway and was able to get back home quickly, grab two of them, and dash back out in the rain to the car and head for the airport. The parking lot for the airport is now two exits past where we used to get off the highway; which felt weird, but I was able to find the lot in the pouring rain, get the car parked, and head to the airport. I checked my bag, got my boarding passes….and just as I reached the gate I got a text from Southwest that my flight was going to be two hours delayed–and I only had an hour and a half to change planes in Dallas to begin with. I wound up being routed from Dallas to Louisville via Chicago Midway–and arriving almost five hours after originally scheduled. The rerouting also cost me my priority boarding, and I wound up in the C boarding group on the last two flights. Yay. So I was stuck in a middle seat on both of my last two flights…the greatest irony was I had originally booked my ticket to leave on Wednesday with the same itinerary; only to be notified that Southwest had changed it to a 12:30 departure arriving in Louisville at 9:20, with two changes of plane. I didn’t want that, so I changed it to Thursday…yet wound up leaving New Orleans at 12:30 and changing planes twice and not getting to Louisville until 9:20–and the last flight was about twenty minutes late; it took forever to get my bags…we ended up leaving the airport for the ninety mile drive around 10:15 and not getting to my parents’ until almost midnight.

So far so good for the flight home today, though. Fingers crossed that will hold.

I read From Here to Eternity on my travel day down, but wasn’t terribly vested in it. I was about 250 pages into it when I arrived at Louisville, and while it is entirely possible the horrors of the travel day may have influenced how I felt about the book, I wasn’t into it, didn’t like any of the characters–the most likable was Maggio, and he’s barely in the first quarter of the book–and so put it aside. I may try it again another time, but I am not sure I will like it any better the next time around. I then started The Complete Stories of James Purdy–an almost forgotten writer of the 20th century, and the stories are interesting and well written; he reminds me of a hybrid of Shirley Jackson with a dash of Flannery O’Connor filtered through a John Waters sensibility. I read half of the stories, but last night before bed I wanted something else, so I got out the iPad and my ARC of Laura Lippman’s new one, Dream Girl, and the next thing I knew it was past time to go to bed and I regretfully had to put it aside. I will read it on the plane today; hopefully finishing before I land in New Orleans. It’s quite good and interesting and absorbing…but I won’t review it on here until it’s closer to the release date.

I also started writing a short story, “Beauty Sleep,” Saturday night. I got about 700 or 800 words into it–not sure how far–before realizing that I wasn’t sure where the story was going. I hate when that happens; my short story writing methodology clearly needs work. I never really know where the story is going when I start writing them–very rarely do I know how the story will end, or what it is really about–and they inevitably wind up in a computer folder and languishing in the electronic drawer, as it were. It can be annoying and frustrating, sure–I probably should try to work through what the story is about and how it is going to end before starting to write it, even though I inevitably start writing because the opening and the characters are interesting and I want to get that down before I forget them in the mists of my mind–but it’s also a good writing exercise. And sometimes I get lucky and the story starts coming to me as I write. That doesn’t happen as often as they stall out, of course, but often enough that I keep doing this.

Okay, I think I am going to go try to find something to eat. Talk to you tomorrow, Constant Reader!