Beatnik Beach

Monday morning! Another glorious week here in New Orleans, late July, and it didn’t really feel that obnoxious this morning when I went out to feed the herd. We shall see, shan’t we? Last night was lovely; we finished watching Ozark, which is sooooooo good, and so twisted; I do hope it’s going to be picked up for a second season. It doesn’t seem to be generating the same kind of buzz as other Netflix shows, like Stranger Things, and so I am not as confident it will be back. But I cannot urge you enough to watch it; it’s absolutely brilliant as a crime-driven narrative, the acting and writing are topnotch, and the cinematography is breathtaking. There’s also a particularly brilliant and heartbreaking gay subplot you don’t see coming, that is unlike anything I’ve ever seen depicted on television (or on film, for that matter) before. I will blog more about Ozark, once I’ve let it digest a bit. I also reread Agatha Christie’s brilliant Endless Night yesterday; something else I am going to blog more deeply about, after letting it sit in my head for a bit. So, I have at least three blog entries brewing for the future: Ozark, The Great Gatsby, Endless Night.

I also spent time yesterday reading a bunch of my own short stories for editorial purposes (I think I may have solved some of the problems! Huzzah!) and I also read the other stories nominated for the Macavity Award, which was rather humbling.

As you, Constant Reader, are probably aware (and tired of hearing about), I was nominated for a Macavity Award for my short story, “Survivor’s Guilt” (from the Blood on the Bayou anthology, which I also edited, and the anthology itself was nominated for an Anthony Award). I am still reeling from the shock and surprise; one of the things I did after the Anthony nominations were announced was buy copies of the other nominated anthologies, and slowly started reading them, story by story. This weekend, I discovered that one of the other Macavity nominees, Paul D. Marks, had posted links to the Macavity nominated stories:

Paul D. Marks, “Ghosts of Bunker Hill” http://pauldmarks.com/stories/

Craig Faustus Buck, “Blank Shot”: http://tinyurl.com/BlankShot-Buck

Joyce Carol Oates, “The Crawl Space”: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01N6INC6I

Lawrence Block, “Autumn at the Automat”: http://amzn.to/2vsnyBP

Art Taylor, “Parallel Play”: http://www.arttaylorwriter.com/books/6715-2/

Greg Herren, “Survivor’s Guilt”: https://gregwritesblog.com/2017/07/21/cant-stop-the-world/

I am not being self-deprecating when I say that I am in awe that I am somehow on the same list as these amazing writers and their amazing work. Not to mention this pedigree: Lawrence Block’s story won the Edgar; Joyce Carol Oates’ story won the Stoker, and Art Taylor’s won the Agatha. So, three of the finalists are already award winners; and both Art and Lawrence are also nominated for Anthonys this year, along with Megan Abbott’s stellar “Oxford Girl” from Mississippi Noir (which I read and loved);  Holly West’s “Queen of the Dogs” from 44 Caliber Funk: Tales of Crime, Soul and Payback; and probably my favorite title of all time, Johnny Shaw’s “Gary’s Got a Boner”, from Waiting to be Forgotten. 

So, it’s not being self-deprecating when I say I don’t think I am going to win. (Obviously, I would love to, but seriously, being in this company is literally a dream come true for me.)

Naturally, I decided to go ahead and read the stories. (The Block/Oates links are to the books that contain their stories; I don’t believe you can read them for free anywhere. However, I already own the book with Block’s story in it, as it is an Anthony nominee for Best Anthology; I went ahead and bought the ebook for the Oates story–from her collection Dis Mem Ber.)

And so, yesterday I read them all. Wow. Seriously. Wow.

I thought Paul’s story, “Ghosts of Bunker Hill,” would be set in Boston and have something to do with Revolutionary War history; I was wrong. The story is about the Bunker Hill neighborhood in Los Angeles, and is about the shooting of the point of view character, with nods to LA’s hardboiled, noir past pretty much everywhere you turn around. The story is well written and very compelling; but the nods to the history of crime fiction and the greats who wrote about LA (there are also several nods to the exquisite film Chinatown as well). Check out this opening paragraph:

I stood at the bottom of the hill, staring up at Angels Flight, the famous little funicular railway in the Bunker Hill section of Los Angeles, that brought people from Hill Street up to Olive. I desperately wanted to ride those rails up to the top. But now the two twin orange and black cars were permanently moored in the middle, suspended in midair, ghosts from another time.

Perfect. Paul is an accomplished author; his novel White Heat won the Shamus Award, and he has been nominated for a slew of others. I’ve ordered a copy of White Heat; can’t wait to read more of his work.

december 2016

Craig Faustus Buck’s story, “Blank Shot”, is set during the Cold War in East Berlin; a haunting, hard-boiled remembrance of a time when the world was gripped in a struggle between ideologies; communism vs. capitalism, and both sides had access to nuclear weapons. It was a time where espionage ruled; which spawned amazing novels and writers like Alistair MacLean, Helen MacInnes, Robert Ludlum, and John LeCarre. Buck’s story reminded me of those legendary giants.

Check out this opening paragraph:

His face hit the pavement hard. He tried to recall what just happened, but his thoughts wouldn’t sync. His head felt like he’d been whacked by the claw end of a hammer. Blood flowed into his field of vision, expanding on the ground before him. Must be his. Bad sign. He closed his eyes against a stab of afternoon sun reflecting off the crimson pool.

Saying anything more would be to give away too much; the problem with talking about short stories. Craig has also been honored extensively throughout his career; he has already been nominated for two Anthony Awards, a Derringer, and won the Macavity for Best Short Story. His debut novel, Go Down Hard,  was first runner-up for a Claymore Award–and he has been nominated for an OSCAR. Sheesh.

black coffee

Art Taylor is kind of indirectly responsible for both my nomination for the Macavity and my Anthony nomination for Blood on the Bayou. Art edited the Raleigh Bouchercon anthology, and he was the one who brought it up to me in Raleigh about who was editing the New Orleans one. I asked co-chairs Heather Graham and Connie Perry, who in turn asked me to edit it. So, thanks, Art! Art is an amazing writer, and an incredibly nice guy. He has won more short story awards, and been nominated more times, than just about anyone, really. Case in point: here is his short bio, from his website:

“Art Taylor is the author of On the Road with Del & Louise: A Novel in Stories, winner of the Agatha Award for Best First Novel. He has won three additional Agatha Awards, an Anthony Award, a Macavity Award, and three consecutive Derringer Awards for his short fiction, and his work has appeared in Best American Mystery Stories. He also edited Murder Under the Oaks: Bouchercon Anthology 2015, winner of the Anthony Award for Best Anthology or Collection. He is an associate professor of English at George Mason University, and he contributes frequently to the Washington Post, the Washington Independent Review of Books, and Mystery Scene Magazine.”

And check out the opening to his “Parallel Play,” from the anthology Chesapeake Crimes: Storm Warning (which is also nominated for the Anthony for best anthology):

The Teeter Toddlers class was finally drawing to a close–and none too soon, Maggie thought, keeping an eye on the windows and the dark clouds crowding the sky.

Ms. Amy, the instructor, had spread the parachute across the foam mats and gathered everyone on top of it. The children had jumped to catch and pop the soap bubbles she’d blown into the air. They’d sat cross-legged on the parachute and sung umpteen verses of “Wheels on the Bus” and two rounds of “Itsy Bitsy Spider.” The routine never varied, the children’s delight never waned–at least until the time came to raise the parachute with its spirals of color into the air.

Now, how’s that for an opening? Can’t everyone relate to that scene, those images? Immediately we are taken into a normal, every day, everyone can recognize and relate to it scene at a child care center, with an impatient mom waiting for it to be over so she can race an oncoming storm home. Into that normal, every day scene–things are about to take a turn, obviously, a chilling turn that could have been imagined and written by domestic noir goddesses from Charlotte Armstrong to Margaret Millar to Dorothy L. Hughes. And what can be more frightening, more suspenseful, that a mother and child in danger? Genius, really. Art keeps the reader squirming with suspense and unable to stop reading from first word to last.

chesapeake crimes

I am a bit embarrassed to admit I’ve never read Joyce Carol Oates before. I met her briefly at a BEA sometime between 2001-2005, and thought she was very nice and very charming. She is also incredibly prolific; her output puts me to shame and also puts her up there with Stephen King. I know she’s been nominated for genre awards before, but I’ve never really thought of her as a genre writer. But her Macavity nominated story “The Crawl Space” won the Stoker Award for best short story this year, and the title of the collection it is from (Dis Mem Ber) sounds kind of genre. I bought the book yesterday, and started reading her nominated story.

Please. You make us uncomfortable.

You are always watching us. Like a ghost haunting us…

Though her husband had died seven years before the widow still drove past the house in which they’d lived for more than two decades.

Why?–no reason.

(To lacerate a scar, that it might become a raw-throbbing wound again? To lacerate her conscience? Why?)

The story, about a woman whose husband died and couldn’t then afford to keep their house, is creepy and macabre and incredibly sad all at the same time; it reminded me of some of Daphne du Maurier’s and Patricia Highsmith’s short stories–about a woman trying to deal with a tragedy in her life, unable to let go of her past, and possibly, just possibly, reaching the breaking point. It is exquisitely rendered, beautifully written; I am so going to read more of her work! I can also see why it won the Stoker.

oates eqmm

The last story was Lawrence Block’s “Autumn at the Automat,” which recently won the Edgar as Best Short Story of 2016. It’s from Block’s anthology, In Sunlight or In Shadow: Stories Inspired by the Paintings of Edward Hopper, and the contributors are a who’s who of the best in modern crime fiction, from Megan Abbott to Lee Child to Michael Connelly; Stephen King and Joyce Carol Oates and Robert Olen Butler–I mean, it’s like an anthology editor’s dream of authors to include. The book is also nominated for the Anthony for Best Anthology; I’ve not finished reading all the stories yet, only having read the exquisite Megan Abbott story and now, Block’s.

The hat made a difference.

If you chose your clothes carefully, if you dressed a little more stylishly than the venue demanded, you could feel good about yourself. When you walked into the Forty-second Street cafeteria, the hat and coat announced you were a lady. Perhaps you preferred their coffee to what they served at Longchamps. Or maybe it was the bean soup, as good as you could get at Delmonico’s.

And with that, you are sucked into Block’s story, about a woman fallen on hard times eating at the Automat in New York City; a story that reminded me very much of one of my favorite short stories of all time, Katherine Mansfield’s “Miss Brill,” and like it, this one is more of a character study than a crime story–although there is a quite brilliant crime in the story; one you don’t see coming that suddenly slaps you across the face–and has a neat little resolution that is eminently satisfying to the reader. Block is a master; I’m not as familiar with his work as I should be–that backlist! Just thinking about trying to get caught up on his work makes my head swim–but this story is an absolute gem.

hopper

So, there you have it. Five exceptional, exquisitely honed short stories, all nominated for the Macavity; all of them already recognized as exceptional; all of them written by masters of the art form.

And me. Somehow I managed to slip in there, too.

Thereby proving the adage that anything is possible.

 

Bottle of Wine

Edgar Statues

April 27, 2017 New York, NY – Mystery Writers of America is proud to announce the Winners of the 2017 Edgar Allan Poe Awards, honoring the best in mystery fiction, non-fiction and television published or produced in 2016. The Edgar® Awards were presented to the winners at our 71st Gala Banquet, April 27, 2017 at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, New York City.

BEST NOVEL

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley (Hachette Book Group – Grand Central Publishing)

BEST FIRST NOVEL BY AN AMERICAN AUTHOR

Under the Harrow by Flynn Berry (Penguin Random House – Penguin Books)

BEST PAPERBACK ORIGINAL

Rain Dogs by Adrian McKinty (Prometheus Books – Seventh Street Books)

BEST FACT CRIME

The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer by Kate Summerscale (Penguin Random House – Penguin Press)

BEST CRITICAL/BIOGRAPHICAL

Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin (W.W. Norton – Liveright)

BEST SHORT STORY

“Autumn at the Automat” – In Sunlight or in Shadow by Lawrence Block (Pegasus Books)

BEST JUVENILE

OCDaniel by Wesley King (Simon & Schuster – Paula Wiseman Books)

BEST YOUNG ADULT

Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse (Hachette Book Group – Little, Brown BFYR)

BEST TELEVISION EPISODE TELEPLAY

“A Blade of Grass” – Penny Dreadful, Teleplay by John Logan (Showtime)

ROBERT L. FISH MEMORIAL AWARD

“The Truth of the Moment” – Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine by E. Gabriel Flores (Dell Magazines)

GRAND MASTER

Max Allan Collins
Ellen Hart

RAVEN AWARD

Dru Ann Love

ELLERY QUEEN AWARD

Neil Nyren

* * * * * *

THE SIMON & SCHUSTER – MARY HIGGINS CLARK AWARD

The Shattered Tree by Charles Todd (HarperCollins Publishers – William Morrow)

One of Us

On Sunday, a panel I wasn’t on was asked by its moderator if they had ever met and embarrassed themselves in front of one of their literary heroes? I wasn’t on that panel, but had I been, my answer would have been “Yes, I met Stephen King at the Edgar Award banquet a couple of years ago and was a complete gibbering idiot.”

Although I am pretty sure he is used to that by now, it’s something that I still think about, and am embarrassed by, to this very day.

Then again, what DO you say to someone whose work you’ve admired for over forty years? Who inspired, and continues to inspire, you to this very day?

He won the Edgar Award for Best Novel that night for his book Mr. Mercedes. I have to admit I don’t read King the way I did for years; buy it the day it comes out and shut everything out and do nothing, watch nothing, ignore the entire world until I had devoured the book. I still haven’t read 11/22/63, haven’t finished The Dark Tower (have about four books to go in that series), put aside Doctor Sleep and Black House, and not only hadn’t read Mr. Mercedes, but none of the other two books in the Bill Hodges trilogy either.

Bad fan, bad fan.

But I took Mr. Mercedes with me on this trip, saved it for last, and just finished it a little while ago.

Whoa.

Augie Odenkirk had a 1997 Datsun that still ran well in spite of high mileage, but gas was expensive, especially for a man with no job, and City Center was on the far side of town, so he decided to take the last bus of the night. He got off at twenty past eleven with his pack on his back and his rolled up sleeping bag under one arm. He thought he would be glad of the down-filled bag by three A.M. The night was misty and chill.

“Good luck, man,” the driver said as he stepped down, “You ought to get something for just being the first one there.”

Only he wasn’t. When Augie reached the top of the wide, steep drive leading to the big auditorium, he saw a cluster of at least two dozen people already waiting outside the rank of doors, some standing, most sitting. Posts strung with yellow DO NOT CROSS tape had been set up, creating a complicated passage that doubled back on itself, mazelike. Augie was familiar with these from movie theaters and the bank where he was currently overdrawn, and understood it’s purpose: to cram as many people as possible into as small a space as possible.

As he approached the end of what would soon be a conga-line of job applicants, Augie was both amazed and dismayed to see that the woman at the end of the line has a sleeping baby in a Papoose carrier. The baby’s cheeks were flushed with the cold; each exhale came with a faint rattle.

The woman heard Augie’s slightly out-of-breath approach, and turned. She was young and pretty enough, even with the dark circles under her eyes. At her feet was a small quilted carry-case. Augie supposed it was a baby support system.

“Hi,” she said. “Welcome to the Early Birds Club.”

“Hopefully we’ll catch a worm.” He debated, thought what the hell, and stuck out his hand. “August Odenkirk. Augie. I was recently downsized. That’s the twenty-first-century way of saying I got canned.”

The book deserved its Edgar Award. Wow.

One of the things I love the most about Stephen King’s work is how incredibly well he draws characters; he even manages to make the worst of the worst, characters you absolutely hate, understandable.

The prologue to the book is, as you can see above, set in a line for a job fair outside of an unnamed city in Ohio’s civic center. In the relationship between Augie and Janice, the young mother, he immediately creates two characters you feel like you know–the older guy who’s lost his job and is worried about his future; the young struggling single mother who just wants to work so she can provide for herself and her child. These are working class people who are hurting, who are worried, who are willing to do whatever they have to do. But as the morning sun begins to rise, someone driving a Mercedes jumps the curb and deliberately drives into the crowd–the last we see of Augie is him lying down on top of Janice and her baby to try to protect them from the car.

The book is, actually, a taut, fast moving thriller that begins after the prologue; about a duel of wits between retired police detective Bill Hodges (who was in charge of the Mercedes killer investigation) and Mr. Mercedes himself, the killer. The killer is now stalking Bill–divorced, estranged from his only child, now retired and with nothing to do. Bill sometimes takes out his gun and considers eating it…and the killer’s plan is to drive Bill to suicide.

Instead, Bill is reinvigorated upon receipt of a nasty letter from the killer, and so begins a cat-and-mouse game that kept me turning the pages and up way later then I needed to be. Wow; what a great story! And I’m looking forward to reading the next book in the series–there were some loose ends there that will be tied up in later books in the trilogy.

VERY recommended.