Last Train to Clarksville

Tuesday and I have survived yet another Monday, which I am putting in the “win” column.

It was a grim, gray, rainy Monday yesterday in New Orleans, and all I wanted to do was curl up under a blanket and nap. But I managed to get quite a bit done yesterday, which is always a joy–I actually had my email inbox down to almost completely empty at one point–and didn’t start getting sleepy until after lunch, when the caffeine from my morning cappuccinos wore off.

Meh, it happens.

It’s raining again–it started last night while I was sort of sleeping (yes, another one of those nights again)–and parts of the city are in a flood warning; eastern New Orleans, which I assume means the East (but then again, compass directions are so completely useless here) and frankly I’m really not looking forward to going out to the car this morning, or the drive to work; rain makes the horrible New Orleans drivers even worse than they normally are…which is pretty fucking bad. I’m also having dinner with a friend in from out of town tonight after work–hoping it doesn’t get canceled because of this weather–but on the bright side, my car will look pretty clean thanks to this non-stop downpour.

We got caught up on Mare of Easttown last night, and my, what an intense and twisty episode this was! Certain shifts and twists we certainly didn’t see coming; and then it was over, all too soon. Kate Winslet and Jean Smart are killing it in this (Smart is also killing it in Hacks, I don’t think it’s going too far out on a limb to predict two Emmy nominations for Smart, one for each show; she could quite easily win both as well–although the actress who played Liza in Halston is going to be hard to beat), and the writing is quite extraordinary. It’s the best crime show I’ve seen in quite some time that isn’t based on a novel.

Speaking of writing, I’ve not been doing any lately of note. I think I’ve started a couple of short stories, as well as a personal essay about being a sixty-year-old Swiftie; but there’s simply no motivation there. It’s entirely possible I’ve fried my writing machine by writing two books back to back; I also know there are more revisions to come on Bury Me in Shadows as well as the initial ones for the Kansas book, so perhaps my subconscious knows better than for me to get going or involved in writing something else before those are completely out of the way. But it’s frustrating as well as worrisome; although I did at least get the outline of the first act of Chlorine written last week. I know I won’t get any writing done while on my trip this week–hopefully From Here to Eternity will engage my mind and keep me entertained; I think I am going to take the iPad with me as well so I have access to all the ebooks I own in case I either hate the book so much I stop reading, or it engages me so much that I tear through it till the end. I’d rather not take another hard copy with me on the trip, but I’ll probably end up doing so because I always need options for reading when I travel. The question is what to take? I certainly don’t want to be at the mercy of the airport bookshops.

Oh yes–Stephen King’s Fever, his latest work for Hard Case Crime. That should do nicely; and I’ve not read any King since I finished the Hodges Trilogy, which is kind of strange for someone who is such a big fan of King’s. I’ve somehow managed to fall way behind on his books–still buying copies, of course–but they are so big and long and daunting I’ve not been able to face one of his big books with my addled, short attention span brain lately–and most of his books are extremely long these days. Perhaps I should make getting caught up on King a project for the summer; after all,. reading King is always inspiring to me; I love how he creates characters and relationships; I don’t think I have ever been bored reading a King book–because he just draws me into the world he creates so easily and effortlessly.

Last night as I was lying in bed with my eyes closed in the dark listening to the rain, my brain dredged up yet another memory of a horrible writing experience I had in college–it really is astonishing how little I was encouraged, and how hard my writing professors tried to extinguish the desire to write in me. I took the basic English course all incoming students take my first semester; it was an hour and a half every Tuesday and Thursday. On the first day, we had to do one of those incredibly tedious writing assignments: if you had to spend the rest of your life on a desert island, what three things would you take with you? or something along those lines. I don’t remember what three things I took; but I can assume they included music and books–because quite frankly I could easily go the rest of my life without human contact if I had both of those and a computer (there were no computers in 1978, obviously, so that wasn’t one of my three things). When I went back to class on Thursday, the professor pulled me aside and told me the assignment was really for him to assess our writing abilities, our grasp of grammar and paragraph construction, etc. etc. etc., and that my skills were too advanced (at sixteen!) for his class and he feared it wouldn’t challenge me enough; he had talked to an Honors English professor, showed her my essay, and she agreed to allow me to enroll in her class late. So after class, he and I walked to the Admin building and effected the shifting of classes, and you can imagine how thrilled I was at this turn of events–a college professor thought I was a good writer!

Unfortunately for me, I was not to experience that feeling again for many years–at least, that was the way I remembered it….

The Honors English class wasn’t hard, but the professor was horrible, absolutely horrible. There were only ten of us in the class, and we all bonded over how awful we thought she was. She had no sense of humor, and we had to construct our essays only in the way she believed essays must be written; she was constantly assigning us to read boring, uninteresting essays “so (we) could learn how to properly write one.” She never gave me higher than a C on anything I wrote for her, and she seemed to take particular relish in ripping my essays apart in class as an example of what not to do for the others. Lord, I despised that woman. The other students would often grab me after class for a soda or coffee or something and try to make me feel better; that is how awful she was. I was just grateful to get out of that class alive with a passing grade, but alas…the second semester of Freshman Honors English wasn’t much better. The professor was much nicer than the first, but she had absolutely no qualms with letting me know how bad of a writer I was–and clearly felt there was nothing to be done about it. Towards the end of the semester, as we had one final paper to do for the class, she called me into her office and told me she was regretfully going to have to fail me. “The only way you can pass this course is if you get an A on your final paper, and frankly, I don’t believe you can do that. But if you retake the class in the fall, it will erase your F for this semester–or I will sign off on you dropping the class.” I had already selected Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes as the subject for my paper, so I told her I was willing to take my chances and write the paper anyway. She was clearly not happy–I will give her credit, she clearly hated failing people and didn’t want to fail me–but I was determined.

I wish I still had a copy of that paper. It was brilliant, if I do say so myself. I had read a biography of Bette Davis (Mother Goddam), and the author actually used her films as a way to write her biography and even gave her the opportunity to comment on her performances. It was a great biography–I’ve always thought that was the best way to do one of a film star, if the star was still alive and able and willing to participate–and Davis had played Regina in the film version of the play (and was nominated for an Oscar). I had never seen the film, but I had read the play and the biography, and Davis’ insights into who Regina was served as the launching pad for my essay.

I got an A on the paper, and the professor actually wrote on it, “Well, I’ll be damned if you didn’t pull this off. Congratulations.”

But given this past history, and my psyche’s uncanny ability to keep the negative and not remember the positive, is it any wonder I have little to no confidence about writing essays? But now I do remember that I finished Honors English with an impressive triumph–the highest grade in the class on the final paper–and with that knowledge, perhaps I will be a little less hard on myself when it comes to writing essays in the future.

And on that note, I need to take a shower and head for the spice mines. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader!

In a Lonely Place

Okay, progress has been made.

I managed to finish reading Laurie R. King’s SUPERB A Monstrous Regiment of Women–I was right, once I got into the story I wasn’t able to stop–yet I did indeed manage to get through my own manuscript yesterday as well. Man, there is some seriously shitty writing in that manuscript, but I have until next Saturday to work my way through it and correct things, clean up language, make things stronger, and make the sentences and paragraphs more cohesive and prettier. I also caught some discrepancies in the story, contradictions, and repetitions. Heavy heaving sigh. But I think I should be able to get this entire thing fixed by next Saturday.

One would hope, at any rate.

It’s hard to believe that this coming weekend sees the end of April and the start of May. I’m not quite sure where the first third of this year has gone, but it has gone, and I’m not really sure what happened to it. I’m sure a lot of it has to do with me finishing writing a different book, and I should be terribly grateful that this year didn’t have the usual first-part-of-the-year distractions, like Carnival, to throw me off and wear me out. This morning, I’m going to write this, clean the kitchen and do some organizing, and then head to the gym. I am hoping when I get home from the gym that I won’t be worn out and sleepy, like last Sunday; I’m also trying to decide what to read as a follow-up to the magnificent Laurie King novel I just finished. There are too many options, I think; which is a lovely position to be in, really–and that doesn’t even take into consideration all the ebooks I have on my iPad to choose from. Inevitably I find myself unable to choose, and then I wind up wasting the day going down Youtube wormholes.

But all the news about the manuscript wasn’t itself bad. I did a decent job creating my main character, Jake Chapman, and the setting is very good. There were some mistakes with the pacing and the timing and there are some superfluous words–quite a few–but that’s fine; it came in long, well over ninety thousand words, so I can easily slash and burn my way through them; eighty thousand words is probably ideal for a book like this, and I also need to revise and redo the final chapter. Ideally, I’ll get through most of the stuff this week so I can spend all day Saturday polishing and revising that final chapter to make it sing. I’m actually kind of pleased with this story, despite all the remaining problems and all the issues I had writing and working on it; it was one of the more unusual experiences I’ve had in my career thus far because of all the indecision and self-doubt I experienced writing it (much the same with #shedeservedit) and I’m not really sure what that was all about; much more so than I’ve ever experienced in my career before writing anything. I mean, there’s always indecision, insecurity and massive amounts of self-doubt involved whenever I am writing anything, really; but for some reason working on these two books over this last year or so those usual issues were exacerbated and much more intense than I remember experiencing with other books I’ve written over the years.

I always wonder what it’s like to sit down and start writing without all those issues, frankly. I suppose I will actually never know, but I cannot imagine those things going away at this point in my life. I am guessing that every neurosis will go with me to the grave; God knows if I haven’t worked my way through them by the time I am nearly sixty, what are the odds I’ll ever get past them? Not bloody likely, right? I had always hoped that the insecurities and self-doubts that plagued my youth would be something I would eventually get over as I got older, and, in the spirit of complete frankness, in some instances aging has eliminated some of them; I no longer worry about not being in the best possible physical condition, or how I look, anymore–which was an insecurity/fear I was more than happy to shed once and for all. (I was thinking about this yesterday for some reason or another; I don’t precisely remember why.)

I think part of the reason I do so much thinking about manuscripts before I actually sit down to write them as a way around the self-doubt and imposter syndrome; if I don’t stop to think about my self-doubt and insecurity about my abilities surrounding my work I can move forward with it; and it’s not until later–the editing process, the galleys, the finished book–that all of the insecurities come flooding back. I thought Bury Me in Shadows, for example, was in pretty good shape when I turned it in; rereading it now I am aghast that I could have ever thought such a thing. This is when my passion for reading undermines me; I know I shouldn’t compare my own work to that of others, but I am sure that my horror at rereading and making corrections and notes for corrections yesterday was not helped in the least by having just finished reading something by Laurie R. King, for example; her mastery of voice and language and character and story, while quite extraordinary and exceptional, is one of those bars that I cannot hope to clear. And of course I am well aware that I shouldn’t compare my work–of which I am not the best judge, ever, and about which I am much too hard on myself–to a New York Times bestselling author whose work I admire and respect and of which I am an enormous fan.

However, reading great writers makes me aspire to do better with my own work, so there’s that.

And on that note, I am going to head back into the spice mines–have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader! It’s certainly beautiful here in New Orleans.

Stand by Your Man

Sunday morning and I’m feeling fine. Yesterday was kind of lovely; I am enjoying this healthy feeling I’m experiencing, and it’s been a while since I’ve not been feeling like shit, so this recovery has been absolutely lovely. Yesterday I managed to be productive yet again–I finished the floors and some odds and ends; there are a few odds and ends that I need to get done today as well–and I got some wonderful reading done; I also managed to get some writing done.

What’s that, you say? Actual writing? Yes, indeed. I wrote about a thousand words on the Sherlock story, give or take; I started writing two new short stories (don’t @ me, I am well aware, but I wanted to get both “Officer Friendly” and “The Pestilence Maiden” started, else I’d forget what they were about or the ideas), and I also did some thinking about all the books and projects that I have in some stage of completion, which was also lovely. It’s nice to slowly be working my way back into my writing again–I was beginning to think I’d never get there, frankly–and yes, it felt really good to be writing again. Today I have to make a run out to get some groceries–my first time leaving the house other than taking out the trash or using the grill–since I got sent home from work over a week ago. I have a mask and gloves, and portable hand sanitizer attached to my key ring. My goal for the morning is to finish this blog, do some other puttering around the house that I need to do before leaving, and then head to the store. When I get back home, I am going to sit down and bang out some more writing, and then at some point I’ll retire to my easy chair to do some more reading.

Now that I’ve actually started to read ebooks, I have to eat a lot of crow. I’ve been resisting reading ebooks for years–I’ve done it, when required, for book award judging, but never really like it and resented having to do it–primarily because I don’t like change, for one thing, and for another, I already spend far too much time looking at screens; the last thing I need to do is read something electronically to relax after staring at a computer screen for a minimum of eight hours a day. My eyes continue to get worse–and it’s a combination of age and blue screen effect, I am fairly certain–and reading electronically was probably not going to help that. But now that I’ve gotten started, I can’t seem to stop. I finished reading This Rough Magic yesterday morning–or was it Friday night? I don’t remember–and yesterday I read a Scott Heim story, “Loam”, and then moved onto another Mary Stewart, Nine Coaches Waiting, which is also fantastic. We watched Zombieland Tap Twice (it was something like that) which was much funnier than I thought it would be, and then the Octavia Spencer horror thriller, Ma–which could have been better, but was perfectly adequate. I do love Ms. Spencer, and wish she would get some better material to showcase her talents more.

I think we’re scheduled to  have shitty weather today, too–rain and so forth–and it looks kind of hazy and sepia-toned out there this morning, and windy–so I should probably get my act together faster this morning and get to the store  so I can not only get it over with, but get back home before the weather turns ugly. Good thing I just looked up the weather–that isn’t going to happen until this afternoon, and I should be able to get there and back before that occurs. It’s also fun to sit at my desk and write during crappy weather, I don’t know why that is, but I like having that tiny barrier of glass between me and the nastiness outside. I’m not sure why that is….but the only thing I like about driving in rain is the coziness of being warm and dry inside my car while only a thin sheet of glass and metal protects me completely from the elements. It’s weird, I know, but everything about me is actually pretty weird; always has been (and for the record, I never became truly happy until I stopped fighting and accepted the weirdness).

I greatly enjoyed Scott Heim’s “Loam”; he’s always been one of the finest writers that our community has produced over the last (gulp) thirty years, and his lack of production has always been a pity and a shame. I read and loved Mysterious Skin years ago, and have always intended to reread it; reading “Loam” got me to find my old copy and place it on the Reread Project pile, which now consists of it, two more Mary Stewart novels (Madam, Will You Talk? and Thunder on the Right), Thomas Tryon’s Harvest Home, Moonraker by Ian Fleming, Sing Me a Death Song by Jay Bennett, Shotgun Opera by Victor Gischler, A Queer Kind of Death by George Baxt, and Harlan Ellison’s collection Strange Wine (I also have Elizabeth Peters’ Crocodile on the Sandbank on deck in my Kindle app).

“Loam” is a long short story about three triplets from the small town of Collingwood, Kansas (is this a nod to Collinwood from Dark Shadows? Perhaps), who are returning for the first time in years, to arrange and attend their father’s funeral. The story begins with the three of them dealing with the rental car arrangements at whatever airport they flew into–I assume Kansas City, which is where I’d fly into if going to visit my part of Kansas–and then slowly, as they make the drive, Heim begins to peel back a trauma the triplets–and the other kids in their first grade class–possibly survived when they were very young; a Satanism scare, in which the teacher and her mentally handicapped son were accused of using (and abusing) the children. This begins to resurface when they stop at a second hand store and find a stack of pictures of their classmates and themselves at that age, possible evidence from the case, which was eventually dismissed as a hoax and a scare–similar to the Satanic scare that happened somewhere else, where the cops basically convinced the children they were abused and to accuse the day care operators of Satanism and abuse–and so we’re never really sure, as are the kids themselves–whether or not it actually happened. It’s very gruesome, and very Gothic, and extremely well written. I recommend it highly; and I wish Scott would write more. I’d never gotten around to his other two novels, In Awe and We Disappear; I’m going to make the time this year, methinks. “Loam” is a Kindle single, part of a group of six stories called “Disorder collection,” whatever that is, and you can get it here for 99 cents. You won’t regret it.

And then I started rereading Nine Coaches Waiting. Again, this is a Mary Stewart novel that I read once, long ago, as I was making my way through the Stewart canon as a teenager; I remember enjoying it, but it didn’t make a strong impression on teenaged me. But as I begin rereading it again yesterday, I could not help but marvel at Stewart’s skill. Nine Coaches Waiting consists of the perfect Gothic romantic suspense set-up; a young orphan girl comes to a huge mansion near the French/Swiss border (she has to fly to Geneva to get there) to be governess to an orphaned young French comte; his estate, Chateau Valmy, is being managed for him by his aunt and uncle; he usually lives with another uncle in Paris, but that uncle, an archaeologist, has been called away for six months to a dig in Greece, and so he has returned to his ancestral home to live with his other uncle. Linda, our twenty-one year old heroine, is half-French and fluent in both languages, but it’s made fairly clear to her during the hiring process that they prefer someone who only speaks English, so that the young Phillippe’s English also will become fluent–as she can only speak to  him in English. Under the cover of that lie Linda comes to Chateau Valmy, and becomes attached to her young charge…while not entirely trusting Phillippe’s aunt and uncle, her employers. What Stewart is doing with this novel is completely subverting the meek governess trope of romantic suspense, that began with Jane Eyre; her employer even mockingly calls her “Miss Jane Eyre” at one point. Victoria Holt went back to the governess well over and over in her novels, from Mistress of Mellyn to The King of the Castle, sticking to, and mirroring, the original trope; I love what Stewart is doing with it, and this is yet another example of what a master writer Mary Stewart actually was.

And on that note, perhaps it’s time for me to get back to the spice mines. Have a lovely Easter Sunday, Constant Reader.

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Space Oddity

So, the eighth Scotty book drops in exactly one week. Those of you who preordered (and thank you!) might even already have Royal Street Reveillon in your hot little hands. Yay, for preorders, and thank you again if you did preorder.

Those of you who have been reading my blog for a long time, or follow me on social media, or do any of those lovely things that make me feel better about myself, are probably aware of one of my primary mantras of writing: never throw anything away because nothing you write is waste. It can, after all, always come in handy later. I’ve repurposed work before; Murder in the Rue Ursulines, the fourth Chanse novel, began life as the fourth Scotty, Hurricane Party Hustle. My short story “Survivor’s Guilt,” nominated for a Macavity Award, began life as a short story called “Blues in the Night,” and so on, and so on, and so on. Fragments removed from a novel have ended up in a short story; short story pieces have wound up inside novels. That’s why I always save everything, including drafts and partials–I never know when that writing might come in handy for something later, and it inevitably always does.

Many years ago, the publishing of fiction as ebooks only exploded with the development, and sales, of Amazon’s Kindle device, as well as those from competitors–I chose to go the iPad route, and use the apps for book reading; Kobo and Kindle and iBooks. A friend had started her own e-publishing company, and was encouraging me to develop a long-dormant idea for a series–the idea I had, almost from the earliest days of the Chanse series, of spinning off his reporter best bud, Paige Tourneur, into her own series. I am always willing to give new things, and new technology, a spin, and so I produced two lengthy novellas with Paige as a main character, out of a proposed five: Fashion Victim and Dead Housewives of New Orleans. The former was originally a short story I sat on for years; the latter an idea born of my interest/borderline obsession with reality television, primarily Bravo’s Real Housewives franchises. It was born of a joke between Paul and I, while he suffered in silence through my watching of these shows (mostly the New York and Beverly Hills editions; I never got into the others quite as much, although Atlanta and now Potomac I”m more hit and miss with) in which we picked women we thought would make interesting choices for a New Orleans franchise, and then would simply laugh and laugh, saying “Can you imagine?” The novellas, however, were on a very tight turn around time, and I was writing them between other novels I had contracted. They were good, but I was never completely satisfied with them, and Paige was, frankly, not as popular with readers as I thought she might be. People either loved the character or hated her; and of course, some Amazon reviewers disliked Paige’s feminist politics and her habit of using foul language.

Also, as it turned out, ebook marketing is a lot of work–work I didn’t have the time or knowledge to put in, and ultimately the return on the investment was simply not worth it. My friend and I agreed to cancel the series and the contracts, and shortly thereafter both novellas were pulled from Amazon.

And that, I thought, was the end of the great Paige experiment of mainstream crime fiction writing for me.

But I still believed, and still do, that the Dead Housewives idea was a good one, and deserved better than it got as an e-novella for Paige.

So…I decided to reboot and repurpose the idea, and develop it into a Scotty novel; and so a forty thousand word novella turned into a Scotty novel of closer to a hundred thousand words; it’s the longest Scotty book since Jackson Square Jazz. If you are an avid Greg reader, and you read Dead Housewives (thank you for that, by the way), some of Royal Street Reveillon might seem familiar; the opening party for the show, some of the characters and their relationships to each other, and so on. But the outcome of the story is different, and there’s a lot more going on in this book than in the original. Royal Street Reveillon is much closer to what I always wanted the story to be, and really, it works much better as a Scotty story than it ever would did as a Paige story. The “Grande Dames of New Orleans” are all the same women; I introduced Serena Castlemaine in Garden District Gothic, and also previewed the filming of the reality show in that book. Margery, Megan, Rebecca, Fidelis, and Chloe are the same women from the original, but their stories and relationships to each other (and in some cases, to their spouses and the men in their lives) are dramatically different. The first murder is different, and there are several more story threads in this final version of the story than there were before. And there is a lot more of Scotty’s personal story, and that of those he loves, in this book than in the original (obviously, as Scotty wasn’t in the original story).

And, for the record, the resolution of the mysteries (yes, plural) are markedly different than what it originally was.

Also for the record;  I am much more pleased with this book than I was with the original story. I hope you’ll like it, too.

I spent my entire Labor Day, well, laboring over a volunteer project; it’s still not quite finished despite the eight or so hours I dedicated to it yesterday, but I feel very confident that it will be finished tonight. So, while I didn’t really get to spend my long weekend relaxing as much as I would have liked, I was able to get some things done, including the draft of Bury Me in Shadows, this volunteer project, and I did sign the contract for that short story, which was lovely.

And so now on to a short week. I don’t have a short day this week until Friday, as I am covering for someone tomorrow evening, but that’s fine. I seem to have my sleep back under control again as well, which is a major plus and very satisfying.

So it’s off to the spice mines with me for the day. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader.

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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.