Spanish Harlem

Friday morning at last, and I am a more than a little happy to see this reentry week put to rest in the archives, if I am being completely honest. Reentry weeks are always a bit of a disruption, and the older I get the weird transition from one side of my life to the other inevitably becomes more difficult. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the different sides so much–I always feel that the day-to-day life, so disparate and different from the “writer” public life–is good for keeping me grounded as well as keeping my ego in check. After all, you could get whiplash going from being on-stage at the Edgars as the executive vice president of Mystery Writers of America back to lower-level clinic employee (although that’s really not a fair statement about my day job; my day job–while not in management or supervision–is actually important and I do help every one of my clients in a positive way every day; it’s just a vastly different enterprise than my life as a writer and/or everything that is involved, even peripherally, with that).

We finished watching Harry Wild, the new Jane Seymour crime series on Acorn and highly recommend it. Seymour is terrific in the leading role, and everyone in the supporting cast is also good. The young Black teenager who originally mugs her in the first episode eventually becomes her Watson, and they are great together. Paul and I, like so many Americans, are absolute suckers for British crime series, and now that we’ve (alas) finished Harry Wild, we’ll probably go ahead and finish Severance this weekend–we’re very close to the end of the first season, and I do find the show to be both interesting and disturbing at the same time; while I can see why the “severance” would be appealing to people–the utter and complete separation of day-job from personal life–at the same time it would seem incredibly weird and unsettling to me; not knowing what I did the rest of the time? It is interesting, and obviously there are deeper questions about morality and bodily autonomy here as well–and given what’s going on in this country at the current moment, it’s very timely.

I have big plans for this weekend. I have some self-care scheduled for tomorrow morning, and I am also doing an interview/event for Spirit of Ink on Saturday afternoon. I want to finish reading my Carol Goodman novel (it really is quite delicious); I need to do some writing; and of course, there’s always cleaning and organizing that needs to be done. We also had some horrific thunderstorms over night–I don’t remember if I woke up during the storms or not; the same thing happened Wednesday night and I do remember waking up to thunder; I think it was Wednesday night rather than last, honestly. I’ve really been sleeping great lately, and it’s marvelous. I still get terribly tired on the days I have to get up early–I don’t think that will ever change, frankly–but I am adjusting. I actually am planning on returning to the gym this weekend as well; I am hopeful that getting my act together and working out again will also help make me feel better, sleep better, and get more done. I’m really tired of carrying around this extra weight and not being in tip-top shape, but also have to recognize that it will take far longer than it used to now that I am older. It would probably go faster also if I started eating healthier…but I think we know how that is going to go, don’t we?

Yeah, not going to happen. I can try, but make no promises. I like fat and grease and breading and so forth too much to put my vanity (and it’s really not about vanity anymore, really) ahead of what pleasures I get from eating, to be honest. My relationship with food has always been skewed–so has my relationship with my body and my appearance, which I really need to write about sometime–and I always have to worry about my tendency to fall into compulsive/obsessive behavior (I really need to try to continue channeling those quirks of my personality into my writing and promotion of my career) when it comes to exercise and eating and so forth.

Ah, Greg’s personality problems and issues.

I turned my story into the anthology yesterday, and also found another (very short) call for submissions for another anthology I’d like to work on something for. I think my story turned out okay; it needs some tweaking and so forth, perhaps, but I am hoping the editors do like it. I also want to get a couple of other stories I’d also like to starting sending out to various markets to see if anyone wants them; it’s been a hot minute since I’ve sent anything out to other markets rather than the occasional anthology submission call. I wrote a story to submit to Land of 10000 Crimes, the Bouchercon anthology I am currently co-editing, but finally decided to not send in anything for the blind read; I made it past the blind reads in the last two anthologies I edited for Bouchercon, but I kind of got the impression (and it could be wrong; I tend to expect people to be critical and snarky of me and my work) that the fact that I made it past the blind reads on the anthologies I personally edited might look weird and/or suspicious to people on the outside–suuuuuuuure you made it through the blind read–but at the same time, I didn’t help myself by never submitting stories to the Bouchercon anthologies I wasn’t editing. But my story in Blood on the Bayou was a Macavity Award finalist, and my story in Florida Happens was an Anthony finalist, so that sort of makes it seem like my stories were worthy of being published?

But I can certainly get why it’s for the best that I didn’t submit anything to the anthology. But I also really like my story, “The Sound of Snow Falling,” and I’d like to get that out for submission; it’s pretty close to being finished and perhaps maybe one more go-round with it could be in order. There are a few others I’d also like to get out for submission as well–“Death and the Handmaidens” is certainly one of those–and so I am going to add that to my weekend to-do list; look at the some of the almost-completed stories I have on hand, and see which ones can be sent out next week. It’s never a bad idea to keep my hand in, you know.

And now that I am sort of feeling like myself again. I might as well ride this train as far as it will take me before it goes off the rails again.

Have a happy Friday, Constant Reader..

If You Could Read My Mind

Friday morning after the Edgars and I feel very drained emotionally and intellectually. Physically I am fine; I cannot believe how well I’ve been sleeping in a hotel up here in New York. I slept for about ten hours again last night–I’d forgotten how that actually feels, and it’s marvelous, really–so I am simply not going to question it, you know? We fly home tomorrow and today is one of those busy days where I am meeting people for coffee and drinks and trying to get all kinds of other stuff taken care of while I am here, and of course tomorrow we fly home. Sunday is going to be a regrouping kind of day, and I do get to work at home on Monday, so that will help me ease back into the regularity of what is my regular day-to-day life. I think I am already ahead of the game in that I am physically rested rather than exhausted, which is my usual when I travel. I have fallen behind on a great many things–April was simply a terrible month for one Gregalicious, and I think a lot of that had to do with being so tired most of the month. I still can’t wrap my mind around the way the Left Coast Crime trip just blasted me with both barrels; I was literally afraid that I couldn’t handle traveling anymore. But this trip has been marvelous; I’ve slept a lot on this trip (more than I do at home, which is even stranger) than I usually do at home, and the lovely thing is that when I feel rested, I feel like I can get anything and everything done, including taking over the world.

It’s been a long time since I’ve felt like that, too. I’d almost forgotten how amazing it feels.

I feel like me this morning, and I haven’t felt like me in a long time.

I didn’t take a single picture last night, either. I tried to keep my anxiety under control before I had to get up and speak, and I honestly don’t remember what I said when I was up there on stage–I always just kind of go into some weird dissociative state (probably not that extreme, but that’s how it feels) when I have to do things like that (panels and moderating are different; at least those I can remember some things I said and can remember being up there) and afterwards I have to really focus on breathing and so forth to come back into myself. I didn’t do a very good job of managing the anxiety, obviously; certainly not as well as I controlled the travel anxiety the other day when we flew here. (That experience gave me the false hope that I could possibly start being able to control my anxiety in other situations..obviously, I was wrong. But hope will always spring eternal.)

I still can’t get over how late I’ve been sleeping in here. And it’s not that weird half-sleep thing, either; I actually am sleeping. Obviously it something remarkable since I can’t stop writing about it, right?

But now that this is out of the way–I also think the anxiety was subconsciously building all month which helped make April a much worse month than it needed to be–and my mind is clear again, it’s time to start making lists and figuring out where everything stands and clean out the email inbox and start ticking things on the list and making progress again. I feel like, in some ways, I’ve been in this weird holding pattern for a long time without the energy or the drive or the desire to actually accomplish things. I don’t know what caused it; there was an awful lot of burnout I think for some reason. Probably all the juggling and plate-spinning I’ve been doing, and of course the first few months of the year are inevitably overwhelming on many different levels for me. I mean, I was on-boarding a new board of directors for Mystery Writers of America; coordinating and organizing the Bouchercon anthology; writing my own book; and writing several promised short stories (the one due tomorrow the editors graciously gave me another week so I am going to really have to buckle down and do a great job on the story–no pressure there, and of course the festivals and Carnival as well as other transitions at the day job. So yeah, the first third of the year were kind of rough, but I am–at least this morning–feeling like I can get everything done.

There’s nothing worse than that overwhelmed feeling of defeat.

I really don’t like it, because it also starts a spiral into hopelessness and I hate that most of all. That’s the why bother phase, the “why do I try because nothing matters and it doesn’t make any difference anyway” and I absolutely despise that; I call it the Pit of Despair (thanks, The Princess Bride). I seem to have spent a lot more time in the Pit of Despair lately than I have in years, and I don’t like feeling that way.

Or maybe I’m just on a high from the awards last night. It was a bit overwhelming being in such a big crowd, as well as seeing people I’ve not seen in years thanks to the goddamned pandemic; I wanted to see and talk to everyone and chat and laugh and get caught up, but it’s also kind of impossible in that kind of situation and yeah, it can be a bit much, particularly when you’re socially awkward and much more of an introvert than you should be when your job requires you to speak publicly and be social and circulate and all of those things. There are so many weird contradictions and oppositions built in my psyche and personality that are constantly at war with each other…for one example, obviously I would love to be more successful than I am, but success also comes at a price. The more successful you are, the more public events you have to do as well as public speaking (things I am terrible at, cause me stress and anxiety, and drain me completely) not to mention the small talk. One thing I’ve never been good at is receiving compliments. I don’t know what to say to people when they’re complimenting me and my work…I just stammer and blush and say “thanks you’ve very kind” but somehow can’t engage any further than that because I get awkward and feel stupid.

And on that note, I am going to post this and get some work done. Have a great post-Edgar Friday, Constant Reader.

The Morning After

And the winners are…

BEST NOVEL

Five Decembers by James Kestrel (Hard Case Crime)

BEST FIRST NOVEL BY AN AMERICAN AUTHOR

Deer Season by Erin Flanagan (University of Nebraska Press)

BEST PAPERBACK ORIGINAL

Bobby March Will Live Forever by Alan Parks (Europa Editions – World Noir)

BEST FACT CRIME

Last Call: A True Story of Love, Lust, and Murder in Queer New York by Elon Green (Celadon Books)

BEST CRITICAL/BIOGRAPHICAL

The Twelve Lives of Alfred Hitchcock: An Anatomy of the Master of Suspense by Edward White (W.W. Norton & Company)

BEST SHORT STORY

“The Road to Hana,” Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine by R.T. Lawton (Dell Magazines)

BEST JUVENILE

Concealed by Christina Diaz Gonzalez (Scholastic – Scholastic Press)

BEST YOUNG ADULT

Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley (Macmillan Children’s Publishing – Henry Holt and Company BFYR)

BEST TELEVISION EPISODE TELEPLAY

“Boots on the Ground” – Narcos: Mexico, Written by Iturri Sosa (Netflix)

ROBERT L. FISH MEMORIAL AWARD

“Analogue,” Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine by Rob Osler (Dell Magazines)

* * * * * *

THE SIMON & SCHUSTER MARY HIGGINS CLARK AWARD

Clark and Division by Naomi Hirahara (Soho Press – Soho Crime)

* * * * *

THE G.P. PUTNAM’S SONS SUE GRAFTON MEMORIAL AWARD

Runner by Tracy Clark (Kensington Books)

* * * * * *

SPECIAL AWARDS

GRAND MASTER

Laurie R. King

RAVEN AWARD

Lesa Holstine – Lesa’s Book Critiques; Library Journal Reviewer

ELLERY QUEEN AWARD

Juliet Grames – Soho Press – Soho Crime

Help Me Make It Through the Night

I actually slept last night here at my hotel, and slept late this morning, both of which are so unusual it does bear remarking on. I also walked a lot yesterday here in Manhattan; it’s about fourteen blocks from the hotel to the MWA office; a straight shot up Broadway. That’s a lot more walking than my tired old fat-ass is used to, so perhaps that had something to do with the deep sleep. I also met a friend for drinks with Paul last evening (here in the hotel bar), and then we came back up to the room and I read for a bit before I got cross-eyed with sleep (I am really enjoying this Raquel V. Reyes novel tremendously; although I probably won’t get much chance to finish it before the flight home Saturday, which should give me plenty of time to not only finish reading Mango Mambo and Murder but to read (or make good headway on reading) one of the other books I brought along for the ride. (There will also be giveaway books at the banquet tonight…)

It really is remarkable how much I dislike working on a laptop, thought. Mostly it’s because the screen is too small for my aging eyes (note to self: make an eye appointment stat, maybe new glasses will take care of this for me) but I have my wireless keyboard (I hate typing on a laptop most of all) and my wireless mouse with me, which makes it a bit easier for me to deal with.

I was also surprised that I slept so well last night mainly because, well, the banquet is tonight and I have to be up on stage to begin with to welcome everyone and do some thank you’s and introductions, which I have to be stone cold sober to do–which, given there’s an hour of cocktail reception before hand, isn’t going to be easy for one Gregalicious, who never likes passing up free wine or champagne–and of course being stone cold sober is going to make it a bit more stressful, although the days when I used to drink heavily to deal with the stage fright anxiety are long in the past and let’s face it, was never a particularly smart thing to do (ah, the wisdom that comes with age). The awards are going to be broadcast live on our Youtube channel (if I were better at my job as EVP I’d share a link, but I am not better at the job so oh well) which means it will also be recorded and always be up there for all eternity (the Internet is forever, after all) so the possibilities of me doing something stupid and going viral, therefore burning MWA to the ground, are much higher than say, my speaking for a few moments at the Lefty Banquet. But I am trying very hard to manage my anxiety and stress–I handled the travel here very well, after all–and so this new calm centering thing I am doing seems to be working. I feel remarkably relaxed and rested this morning, in fact, which is highly unusual.

After I finish this and do some more emails, I will probably work on my short story a bit more.

Oh! I also did a ZOOM thing yesterday for the Jefferson Performing Arts Society (JPAS) for their upcoming production of Deathtrap; which of course was a huge Broadway hit comedy/thriller written by one of my literary heroes, Ira Levin (who also wrote A Kiss Before Dying, This Perfect Day, Rosemary’s Baby, The Stepford Wives, and The Boys from Brazil, for a few highlights). It was actually quite fun–I love the opportunity to talk about other writers; talking myself up is an entirely different subject–and I am not sure when or where it will be available to view on-line, but I don’t think I made a fool of myself.

I’ve been wrong before.

And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines and get to work on that story some more. You have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and I will recap the banquet for you tomorrow.

Rainy Days and Mondays

Tomorrow we leave for New York.

I’m both excited and nervous for the trip, to be honest; nervous about having to speak at the banquet for one thing, excited to be in New York and to see friends for another. Today is going to be, around clients, last minute attempts to get ready for the trip, making a packing list to make sure I don’t run off tomorrow morning to the airport without things packed that i will need once I am there (I forgot something rather important for Alburquerque), and hoping, always hoping, that I will be able to sleep once I am there. I’ve slept well for the last few days, which has been really nice, and fingers crossed that will continue once I travel. The flight is nonstop on the way there; we have to change planes in Nashville on the way back. I always am hopeful that things will go smoothly whenever I travel; there was some delays involved on my last trip but I think everything ran on time the last time I went to New York.

I continue to obsess about both season 5 of Elité as well as Heartstopper. I actually went ahead and got the graphic novels the show (Heartstopper) is based on (more on that to come), and really enjoyed reading them yesterday. I guess I never realized how much I needed to see a sweet young love story between teenagers? I’ve tried reading the big gay y/a novels over the last few years without much luck; I never was able to really connect with the characters or the stories I was trying to read (without much luck) and even some of the films/TV shows based on them, but they didn’t really engage me. I am happy these books and stories and their adaptations exist–representation matters, believe me, it does–but there’s nothing wrong with my not being able to enjoy them, either. I didn’t like much y/a fiction when I was an actual young adult, and maybe I do somewhat try to write the stories that I would have liked to have read when I was that age with my own work–I don’t know if I succeed with that or not; the jury remains out and probably will remain out until long after I die–but I also enjoy writing them. (Not that I am enjoying writing anything these days, but you know what I mean.)

I also continued to work on my CV yesterday–it’s close enough to complete now to turn over to my friend for the favor they asked for, needing a bit of editing and moving things around–but it’s now eleven or twelve pages long, and I could easily (well, not easily; it would require digging through boxes in storage to get all the fitness columns and book reviews and author interviews out that I wrote over the early years in my career) fill up probably another three to four pages. That’s pretty fucking long, really; I am now up to almost forty novels (there, if you count novellas as novels) and I think I need to count my short stories again as well. I also know I have a lot more essays out there somewhere…but as I said, a twelve page CV more than meets the requirements necessary for this current purpose.

Jesus Christ, I’ve written a lot since 1996–and this doesn’t even count all the drafts, unpublished stories, false starts on books that only got a few chapters in before running out of steam, essays, and most important of all–this fucking BLOG. Even if these only average 500 words per (and many of them run much longer), I’ve been doing this almost every day since December 2004. Eighteen fucking years. Assuming that I miss at least forty-five entries per year, I’ve written 103, 680 words (assuming the blogs are all 500 words). That’s fucking insane.

But I think I am going to read Ernest Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not next; I picked it up and opened to the first page yesterday and kind of actually got sucked into it. So I will read that at the airport and on the flight tomorrow and have a back-up in my backpack. I picked out other books to take with me on the trip, of course–and of course, there will be giveaways after the banquet on Thursday night to bring home–so I am all set on that score. And we watched some more of Severance last night (after a really bad gay movie called The Pass with Russell Tovey; I do not recommend it. It’s full of self-loathing and toxic masculinity and while the actors are good… yeah, the story leaves a lot to be desired), which I am really enjoying. I don’t know what’s going on yet–and I doubt very seriously that any of the questions I have are going to be answered in one season (we’re three seasons in on Servant and still have no fucking clue what is really going on in that household).

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Happy Monday of Edgar week, Constant Reader!

I’ve Found Someone of My Own

Ah, Tuesday, and so much to get done. Heavy heaving sigh.

What else is new? I am trying my hardest not to give in to that overwhelmed feeling I am currently experiencing this morning; I even woke up before the alarm, but while still a bit on the groggy side, I must confess I actually feel rested this morning. We’ll see how long that lasts, but I hope to be able to ride that feeling through the day and get a lot done; at the very least, check things off the list (which is really growing and more than a little out of control). I worked on my story a bit last night–Paul was out having dinner with a friend–and also managed to finish Eli Cranor’s Don’t Know Tough, which I have a lot of thoughts about; I just have to get them cleared up in my head and maybe digest them a bit more. I really enjoyed the book, if you’re wondering; it’s very well done and tightly, beautifully written, with more than a few hints of Megan Abbott, Daniel Woodrell, and some Kelly J. Ford tossed in for good measure. It’s definitely an excellent addition to the canon of Southern rural noir, that’s for sure.

I now have to decide what to read next, and that’s not going to be easy. There are some other amazing and well-reviewed and award-nominated debuts still in my TBR pile. (DAMN, I could have made that a project: The Debut Novel Extravaganza!)

I did some work, as I said, on the short story yesterday; it’s still nowhere near a complete first draft but that’s okay; it will get there eventually, and there’s always this weekend (I am going to be deeply panicked this weekend, pushing to get a lot of things finished before heading off to New York next Tuesday) but that’s okay; I don’t mind. I have to only work on Monday next week, and then have the rest of the week off to travel and do the Edgar banquet and everything else I have to do while I am in New York next week, but even just thinking about it makes me feel very tired. Heavy heaving sigh. But there’s naught to be done but to start tackling the list, is there? After all, ignoring the list only makes it grow exponentially larger…as I have often learned to my great dismay.

So, I feel good this morning. We’ll see how this day plays out as it goes forward, won’t we? I will try very hard to not allow myself to get sidetracked and distracted as I go through my day at the office; I will also need to swing past the mail on my way home from work today–I think more books are waiting for me there, to be completely honest–and when I get home I am going to try to keep my head down, make a protein shake, and spend a few more hours with my short story. I am also getting very excited about my trip to New York next week–although the infection numbers there are not a little unsettling, and the lifting of the mask mandate on airplanes by an unqualified judge isn’t very pleasing for me, either. But I can take rapid tests along with me so Paul and I can test each other every day, and of course, I will definitely have to take one before I return to the office the following Tuesday.

I am trying not to think about the potential irresponsibility of going on this trip, to be honest.

But overall, I think I’ve recovered from the trip to Left Coast at long last–it took longer than necessary–and hopefully I have this New York trip planned perfectly so that there will be recovery time before I have to return to the office.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader, and I will talk to you some more tomorrow.

Love Is Here and Now You’re Gone

Well, hello and good morning, Sunday! I have a shit ton to get done today (what else is new? Same song, next verse) but that’s okay; I feel good and rested and as long as I don’t get sidetracked today, I should be able to get a lot finished. The new heating system continues to make the Lost Apartment livable (it’s almost embarrassing to think how long we just accepted that the Lost Apartment would just be freezing cold when the temperature dropped, without questioning whether the system was actually working properly) and so we watched more Ozark last night; Laura Linney and the rest of the cast continues to kill it every episode. The new season of Apple TV’s bizarre but compulsively watchable Servant also has dropped, I believe, and some other shows we really enjoy are coming back soon. (I also want to get back to Peacemaker.) While I was waiting for Paul to get home last night after I finished my day’s work, I decided to finish watching the reboot of Gossip Girl, which, having now binged the entire original, I can say with complete confidence–the new one is terrible. Too earnest, too determined to be socially conscious in a ridiculously heavy-handed Nancy Reagan way; the writers/producers completely missed out on what made the original a guilty pleasure: the new show simply isn’t any fun.

I also saw on Twitter this morning that Stephen King has yet another book coming out this year, Fairy Tale, which further reminded me of how far behind I am on his novels. Gah. I don’t have the time to read as much as I would like–what else is new–and the books keep piling up. And with the recent release of this year’s Edgar and Lefty nominations, my TBR pile continues to ridiculously increase. Hopefully I will go on a trip soon, so I can get some more reading done. I am driving up to Birmingham in the first weekend of February to do Murder in the Magic City (Saturday) and Murder on the Menu (Sunday in Wetumpka); so I am hoping to listen to a book on tape while driving both ways; it’s about six or seven hours in either direction. Then of course in April I am off to Albuquerque for Left Coast Crime, and later that month (hopefully) to New York for the Edgars–so that’s a lot of time on planes and in airports, so I should be able to get some reading done on those trips. I’m still planning on Sleuthfest in Florida later this summer, and Bouchercon in Minneapolis in October; whether those trips will actually happen remains to be seen.

Heavy heaving sigh.

But the good news is I don’t feel lazy this morning–which is a lovely change of pace; maybe because I made myself get up when I woke up rather than lounging in the comfort of my bed–so maybe, just maybe, I can get everything I need to get done this morning/afternoon. This is the first week where I have to go in four days per week (ugh) which hopefully won’t be a regular occurrence; someone supposedly wants to take over my Mondays, which would be rather lovely if and when it happens. (I am not holding out hope that’s actually going to happen, by the way–it’s something I’ve been told–and I am also expecting to be very tired on Thursday this week)

I am also trying to stay focused and not look beyond the immediately important; which means no thinking about other books I want to write the rest of this year, no more thinking about short stories and/or essays I want to write, no more character inventions or story ideas until this book is finished and emailed off to the publisher. This doesn’t mean I don’t still get ideas or thoughts or stop being creative–I have creative ADHD, after all–it just means that I write the idea down and get it out of my head and go back to work on the book. I have three chapters at least to get done today, and if I can manage that I should be close to being back on track for getting it finished on time (extended deadline by two weeks).

And really, getting up just an hour earlier today than I did yesterday has made a significant difference to my day and the productivity factor–well, that remains to be seen, of course, but when I reached the point yesterday that I almost was finished with the blog it was nearly eleven; and then I had errands to run and by the time I was finished with all of that I was hardly in the mood to do much writing after getting everything put away and the dishes taken care of and all that jazz. It was also much easier to convince myself that I could stop working when I hadn’t reached the day’s goal–which means I have to finish yesterday’s goal as well as get today’s done. (I knew I’d regret quitting early yesterday, but I am always about immediate gratification and tomorrow’s stress be damned–ninety percent of my problem, really.

And on that note, I should probably head into the spice mines for the rest of the day. You have a lovely and restful Sunday, Constant Reader, and I will talk to you again tomorrow morning.

Always

I always learned from reading–which is probably why I was so bad at math, now that I think about it.

And while I’ve certainly read more than my fair share from reading non-fiction (history and biographies), I’ve also learned a lot from fiction (while admitting as an adult that some of what I’ve learned from reading fiction should be viewed with a much more critical eye)–the so-called “travelogue” books in the kids’ series, like Nancy Drew’s The Clue in the Crossword Cipher or the Hardy Boys’ The Mystery at Devil’s Paw was often how I learned obscure facts that frequently come in handy when watching Jeopardy or playing Trivial Pursuit (example: The Clue in the Crossword Cipher was where I learned that the Inca language is called quechua, and I also learned about the Nasca Lines and Macchu Picchu from that book). I love reading books that, through the course of the story, expose me to information about a culture or a society or country that I don’t know much about–I’ve generally heard of it, but don’t have any other knowledge and let’s face it, there’s only so much time in every day and it’s hard enough to keep the plates spinning as is–which is why I love fiction that tells me an entertaining story while at the same time teaching me something.

Julia Dahl’s debut novel, Invisible City, is one of those.

I was in Chinatown when they called me about the body in Brooklyn.

“They just pulled a woman out of a scrap pile in Gowanus,” says Mike, my editor.

“Lovely,” I say. “So I’m off the school?” I’ve spent the past two days pacing in front of a middle school, trying to get publishable quotes from preteens or their parents about the brothel the cops busted in the back of an Internet café around the corner.

“You’re off,” says Mike.

The rest of the press is on the scene when I arrive at the gas station across from the scrap yard. Pete Calloway from the Ledger is baring his crooked teeth at the NYPD’s Deputy Commissioner of Public Information, or as reporters call him, DCPI. DCPI is six inches taller and seventy pounds heavier than Pete. It’s barely twenty degrees out and Pete’s got his hoodie up, his shoulders hunched against the cold, but DCPI is hatless, scarfless, gloveless, coatless. His uniform jacket collar is pulled up, two inches of starched wool-blend against the icy wind.

“We’re hearing she was found without clothes,” says Pete. “Can you confirm that?”

Again, I am late to the Julia Dahl party. This book was an Edgar finalist for Best First Novel, and any number of my colleagues and friends in the mystery/crime community have raved to me about Dahl’s strong gift for writing. Invisible City was the final selection for me to take with me on last week’s trip, and it was a wonderful companion for me on my three and a half hour flight from Boston back to New Orleans. I was so deeply engrossed in the novel that–other than being interrupted by the flight staff to give me a bag of pretzels and a can of Pepsi, and then to collect my garbage–the plane could have caught fire for all I knew or cared; I just wanted to get to the bottom of the murder of the naked woman whose body discovery kicks off this well-written and very fast-paced mystery story.

Our main character here is Rebekah Roberts, and what a gift to the crime world she is! Well rounded, fully developed, and absolutely real, Rebekah is one of the most fascinating and complex series characters I’ve come across in quite a while. Dahl, like all great writers, lets us see Rebekah in all of her glory–with all of her flaws, her personality issues, her raw emotion–and while sometimes she might seem to an outsider as a bit brash or even much as I hate to say it, bitchy–Rebekah’s rawness and vulnerability makes her someone you not only enjoy spending time with as a reader, but you hate to stop spending time with her at the end. She’s fairly young, recently out of the University of Central Florida, and now living in New York trying to make ends meet (as well as build a journalism career) while working as a stringer for a tabloid paper in the big city. She’s not making a lot of money, and her small circle of friends are also terrifically rounded out as fully dimensional characters–and I hope, as the series progresses, we get to know them even better.

The case obviously begins with Rebekah going to cover the discovery of a nude woman’s body at a scrap yard in the dead of winter. But…the scrapyard is owned by Hasidic Jews, and the body is quickly taken away by a Hasidic funeral parlor rather than the medical examiner’s office, which strikes Rebekah as not only strange but not legal.

And this is where Dahl’s genius as a creator kicks in: Rebekah’s mother was Hasidic, questioned her faith, met Rebekah’s father and ran away with him. They were never married, but she gave birth to Rebekah, but the pull of her faith and her old life proved far too strong for her, and so she abandoned father and baby when Rebekah was six months old. She grew up without a mother, her father slowly changing the story of what happened to her mother as he deemed she was old enough and mature enough to handle the truth–from dead to gone to abandoned–and this, naturally, has caused some deep emotional issues for Rebekah to deal with. She hates her mother while longing to meet her and confront her–and gobbles anti-anxiety medication on the regular as she begins digging into the murder of this unfortunate Hasidic wife and mother, having to confront her own conflicted feelings about being not only half-Hasidic herself, but her own issues with that faith and way of life which she feels robbed her of her mother.

Dahl also does a magnificent job of exploring the Hasidic way of life–how alien it appears to the very much modern Rebekah, who cannot grasp why anyone in the modern day would choose such an archaic, ancient way of life, but as Rebekah learns more about why the Hasidim choose to live the way they do, my own understanding grew. The way she brings these Hasidic characters to life, refusing to simply turn them into stereotypical, one dimensional freaks and humanizing them instead, is a gift to her readers. I may not be able to comprehend living that kind of life, but I came away from this book with an understanding and empathy for them; why they self-isolate and remove themselves from the goyim in a way I don’t think I could have without Dahl unlocking that world in such a compassionate, empathetic manner.

And it’s a corker of a mystery too. I couldn’t put it down, and I am very excited to continue reading more in the series. Rebekah is an amazing heroine, destined to be ranked up there with the other great female crime series characters, and I look forward to watching Dahl continue to grow and flex her muscles as a writer–which are already, from this debut, clearly well-trained already.

Read this book. You can thank me later.

Mama’s Pearl

I’ve never much cared for the term domestic suspense, because, as someone whose mind works primarily in playing around with words, it has always seemed to me that the inverse would be international suspense, which, to me, sounds like downplaying the work of women and its importance, since books primarily given this”domestic suspense” label generally are women. (Although one can make an argument that men cannot, or do not, write domestic suspense because they traditionally are more involved outside the home and family? Interesting premise there…)

I know there has been debate over the years about the differences between crime fiction written by men or by women, and that women’s crime fiction isn’t always taken quite as seriously as that written by men. I’ve tried puzzling this out, and have made my own brain hurt trying to come up with reasons for why this injustice has always been perpetrated on women crime writers; it’s almost as though the ideation is that women’s fiction is somehow more internal and more contained and almost smaller; the themes of their work being about relationships and family rather than big universal save-the-world themes in male-written fiction. That might have a small kernel of truth to it, as a starting point for a much broader discussion that should be held by those with bigger brains and more knowledge of our genre than my limited knowledge and experience; I just know that while I can occasionally enjoy one of those BIG style books about saving the world with lots of action and gunplay and danger, I prefer as a general rule the stories where the crime story comes from the fracturing of relationships and the emotional damage inflicted by personal cruelty and thoughtlessness from those we know intimately.

Alison Gaylin has, in the slightly more than a decade and a half since she published her first book, Hide Your Eyes (which is absolutely delightful), has become one of the best in what I suppose would be classified as “domestic suspense.” Her If I Die Tonight won an Edgar Award; she was nominated three or four times before, and her What Remains of Me remains one of my favorite reads of the last decade. She writes about mothers and their children; how families can disintegrate in the face of criminal tragedy, or how the scars from a long ago tragedy can continue to break open and bleed in the present.

But with her latest, The Collective, she has somehow managed to kick it up into another gear.

The ceremony starts in twenty minutes. I’m climbing out of the subway tunnel, a thousand unwanted smells in my hair. I’m not used to being around this many people–the stink of them, the heat, the noise. The noise especially. I just shared a subway car with a group of high school girls, and their laughter still swirls in my ears. I probably should have driven, but it’s been hard for me to drive long distances since Emily’s death. My thoughts start spinning along with the wheels, memories of road trips, of carpools and radio sing-alongs and petty arguments and before I know it, I am aiming straight for the divider.

The venue is just three blocks away. I walk slowly, slower than everyone around me, trying to catch my breath, to still my thoughts, to think of nothing but the sidewalk and the cold night air and where I need to be.

From half a block away, I recognize the Brayburn Club. I know it from the photo I found online. It’s located in a Gramercy Park brownstone with leaded windows and wide, majestic steps. It’s a week past New Year’s. but the Brayburn Club is still decorated for the holiday season, a lush wreath filling the front door, icicle lights dripping from the window sills like fresh beads of sweat.

I pass a group of young women smoking last-minute cigarettes–friends of his, maybe?–and I think back to the time I caught Emily smoking weed with her friend Fiona. She must have been fourteen, always a little old for her years and bored of our small Hudson Valley town. I got so angry with her. Grounded her for two months. Her dad thought it excessive. We smoked pot when we were that age, Matt said, missing the point. Yes, we smoked pot when we were fourteen, but Emily wasn’t us. She was better than us.

I won’t do it again, Mom. I promise. Her voice in my head is as clear an real as the shrieking laughter of the girls on the train. I want to lose myself in it and never come back.

It isn’t until I’m at the top of the stairs, after I’ve handed the boy at the door my invitation and I’m in line for the coat check that Emily’s voice quiets and I remember where I am and why I’m here.

The book focuses on a web designed in the Hudson valley named Camille whose life–and family–has been disrupted by a horrible tragedy; the death of her daughter Emily. Her overwhelming and all-encompassing grief has ended her marriage (her ex-husband has moved far away and remarried; finding solace in alternative spirituality), and made her friends very uncomfortable to be around her so they slowly have dropped away…leaving Camille alone with her anger, her bitterness, and her memories. Unable to handle her grief, she focuses on the boy responsible for Emily’s death–who has gone on to academic success and great popularity at his college–with the end result that she crashes an award ceremony for him, creates a scene, and winds up in jail. After she gets out, a woman who was also present at the ceremony and was sympathetic to her presses a business card with the word Niobe on it (not a spoiler here–anyone who knows Greek mythology will recognize the name of the proud woman with twelve children who dared to compare herself favorably to Leto, mother of Apollo and Artemis; the twin gods who then slay Niobe’s children in front of her). Camille’s actions have gone viral–someone recorded the scene she created at the ceremony, and not the good kind of viral where everyone is outraged at her suffering and goes after the young man who essentially killed her daughter.

Soon, she is lured into the dark web world of Niobe, a collective of women who are all grieving mothers, their children all killed through the misadventures or deliberate acts of others who then got away with it. The collective all work together to make sure that justice–vengeance–is done; it’s actually very clever how it all comes together (no spoilers here) but Camille is assigned tasks to do. She has no idea why, or what they are for, or how they all act in concert with simple chores or errands done by any number of other women, but all together the end result is vengeance.

Or justice, depending on your point of view.

But the further Camille ventures into this exhilarating, if questionable, world, the more questions arise in her head: is this actually justice? The other women she comes into contact with–who can she ask questions of, who can she trust? And of course, the first rule of the Collective is that you don’t ask questions or talk about the Collective…

Camille is a deeply flawed woman, and yet Gaylin taps into the character so deeply that even as you think to yourself, oh no girl don’t do that this will not end well, the reader can also connect with the unsurmountable grief she feels; the wonderful feeling of doing something, even if it’s not legal or moral–there really is nothing worse than that helpless feeling–and you can’t help but root for her as she gets more and more deeply involved…and the suspense! Gaylin is a master of building suspense to the point you cannot stop reading–and resent even having to stop for a bathroom break.

I do recommend this very highly. It’s exceptional, and a master of the form firing on all cylinders.

Mr. Disco

Ah, Friday, and the weekend looms on the horizon.

Last night was odd; there was some sort of power problem in our neighborhood–a problem I’ve never experienced anything like before. The living room had power; everything in there worked fine. The upstairs lights? Flickering, and out most of the time. Same with the kitchen and the laundry room; the refrigerator was barely on, and the HVAC wasn’t working at all; and this was only affecting our block. So, so weird–and then around eleven thirty we got all the voltage we could possibly want. I’ve never experienced “low” power before; didn’t even know it was a thing, to be honest. But at least nothing in the refrigerator spoiled–always a plus.

The Edgars went smoothly yesterday, and there were some lovely surprises. All the nominees were deserving–they always are–and it’s always fun to see the excitement of those who get the statue. Obviously, it’s way more fun in person–fingers crossed for next year–and yesterday morning as I made condom packs and broke down expired test kits for biohazard disposal (seriously, my life is just a non-stop thrill ride) I remembered past Edgar ceremonies I attended and deeply enjoyed. I inevitably drink too much–it’s the free wine, always a danger for one Gregalicious–but my favorite ceremony remains the very first one I attended, when I wore a kilt and then took the train with friends the following morning to Washington for Malice Domestic. As I have mentioned before, my memory–once sterling and dependable–is now in tatters, so am trying to remember that first ceremony and evening and am finding it difficult, to be completely honest. I think that was the year Charlaine Harris was MWA president, and Carolyn Hart and Robert Crais were named grand masters, but I could be wrong. I also don’t remember which year Stephen King won for best novel–but it was the year Sara Paretsky was president of MWA, because I have a great picture of the two of them together from the cocktail reception before the ceremony. The third and final time I went–I think I’ve only attended three times–was the year my friend William J. Mann won for Best Fact Crime for Tinseltown. I always enjoy the Edgars and Edgar week activities; missing out on a ceremony the last two years was disappointing. I am hopeful next year we will be able to have it in person again.

Fingers crossed!

I also managed to get deeper into the revision of the book last evening before Paul got home and we settled in for three episodes of season 4 of Line of Duty–and Acorn loaded the fifth season yesterday as well.So, that’s the weekend pretty sorted. I also want to spend some time with The Butcher’s Boy, perhaps even finishing it–so I can dive into my next Mary Russell adventure. I am also currently reading Barbara Tuchman’s The Zimmerman Telegram–and it occurs to me that all the espionage and so forth that went on before the American entry into the first World War between the Germans and Mexico (trying to keep the US occupied and distracted from what was going on in Europe, as well as disrupting the supplying of the Allies) could make for a wonderful “Holmes in New Orleans” story. New Orleans was a major port (still is, actually) and fairly close to Mexico…hmmm. I was also thinking about the banana intrigues–seriously, that is one of the most fascinating times in New Orleans history!

We really are enjoying Line of Duty, which is an interesting take on your typical crime show. The heroes of the stories–each season is relatively self-contained, although there was an over-all arc that tied all the first three seasons together–are an anti-corruption division; so the good guys are cops, but so are the bad guys. It is chilling to see how easy it is for the cops (at least in the show; I don’t know enough to comment on reality) to corrupt and divert an investigation; falsify evidence and so forth; with no concept of how deep and how high up the corruption actually runs. Thandie Newton is the dirty cop in season four, and like the previous villains/guest stars of previous seasons, she is terrific in the role. Can’t wait to see how this one turns out.

Yesterday afternoon as I made condom packs, I watched North Dallas Forty. This is a 1979 film starring Nick Note and Mac Davis (!), and was adapted from Peter Gent’s novel. I had read the novel, but had never seen the movie; it came up on Twitter a week or so ago when someone asked people for the best sports movie (I said Brian’s Song, and stand by my answer). Laura Lippman brought up North Dallas Forty, which made me think of Semi-Tough, another pro football novel and movie from the same period (remember? I tried to reread it and the blatant racism was so horrific I put it in the donate box after rereading the first page?). I’d like to reread the Gent novel–it was very dark; painkillers and drugs and alcohol and rapes and sexual assaults and racism and all kinds of horrible behavior–but unlike Semi-Tough, the Gent took those issues seriously and didn’t try to play them for laughs. The movie takes the same tone as the book–dark–and Nolte is really good as the wide receiver whose years playing have battered and broken his body and left him needing painkilling shots to play and swallowing pain killers to get through the day, and the alcohol and drug abuse. Mac Davis is surprisingly good as his best friend, the quarterback–who eventually betrays him in the end to keep his own contract alive. The game scenes are particularly funny; even in the 1970’s professional football stadiums were better than where these scenes were filmed; the “stadiums” they play in look like high school football fields–and not even the better ones. It definitely fits into the Cynical 70’s Film Festival–it exposes the “team as a family” mentality as the crock that it is, and that the players are all just cogs in a money-making machine for the owners, and the coaches don’t give two shits about their players, either.

I still stick with Brian’s Song as the best sports movie, though.

And on that note, this data isn’t going to enter itself nor are these condoms going pack themselves, so it’s off to the spice mines with me.