Making Love Out of Nothing At All

Ah, where has the week gone? Tis now Friday morning, yet another week has somehow slipped through my fingers, and yet my to-do list is a long and large as it has ever been.  Sigh. But I did finish Eric Ambler’s Background to Danger last night; another one of those “hey, I’m just on the train minding my own business and now I’m involved in international intrigue” style stories, and it was done rather well. It was written before the second World War, and the two opposing sides were the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, trying to control who runs Romania and an evil international oil conglomerate was also involved; which was kind of interesting. Even in the 1930’s the capitalist insistence on profit before politics was known; the world has changed, apparently, very little. Were Ambler an American rather than British, making the Soviets the good side (even though the Nazis were the villains) would have made him suspect after the war; the lovely days of virulent anti-Communism, McCarthyism, and hysterical patriotism weren’t that long ago, and the after-effects are still being felt today.

I revised “For All Tomorrow’s Lies” yesterday, and I am not truly certain that the ending works. This is the problem I generally have with short stories (and novels, for that matter): ending them. I’m never completely convinced that my endings work; that they aren’t rushed and sudden. I think, over all, it’s a good story; I am going to reread a hard copy of it and make notes on it today. I like the concept of the story, but I am not sure I’ve pulled off the ending. It may need another thousand words; perhaps in the next version I’ll go ahead and tack on a longer ending, see if it can work. I also worked on “The Brady Kid” a bit yesterday, and I think it, too, is coming along well; I just am not certain that I know how to properly end it either. I think I’ve come up with the proper answer to make “Fireflies” work in it’s next edition; we shall see. I’d like to get them all out into the markets soon; rejections are, of course, to be expected and fine. (I am struggling with Scotty, so am following my own advice and working on something else while I ponder the issues I am having with the Scotty book; I may try to write my way out of those issues this weekend.)

And now, even though October doesn’t really begin until Sunday, I am going to start working through my Halloween Horror reading.  I’m going to start rereading It today; knowing I am most likely going to put it aside from time to time to read other things. I’d like to get through my entire stack of Halloween Horror reading; there is, of course, no guarantee that I will, but I am going to give it the old college try (there’s also the trip to Toronto, which means time in airports which also means more time to read).

And on that note, tis time to get  back to the spice mines.

Here’s a Friday hunk to slide you into the weekend:

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Promises, Promises

Hello, Wednesday! I’ve  been sleeping incredibly well since having to get up so early for the NO/AIDS Walk on Sunday; I’ve also added some more vitamins to my daily regimen that are supposed to help with creating melatonin naturally in my body, and have started drinking tart cherry juice, which is also supposed to assist in that. Has this change in routine had something to do with it? Perhaps. I am also trying to not look at any kind of electronic screen (other than the television) for half an hour before bed. I do feel very relaxed and rested this morning; which is lovely, since I have a very long day on deck.

I meant to take the Ambler novel with me last night to read between clients, but forgot it like a moron. I did work some more on Chapter Six yesterday, and even finished the draft of it, but it’s really terrible. But the framework is there to make it better; and that’s what rewrites are for. I also got started on Chapter Seven, so I may be on track to get this next Scotty book finished by the end of October, which was my hope (the draft, that is). I am, as always, behind on everything–I was so close to being ahead….but then the sleep issues started again last week and BAM! My energy and creativity were knocked flat and here I am, behind on everything again. Hurray.

I need to finish reading the Ambler by this weekend, since I’ve decided to  make October a horror-only reading month. I am going to start my reread of It this weekend, and I am also going to start reading The Elementals by Michael MacDowell, because I promised Katrina Holm I’d read it before Toronto Bouchercon. I also want to get my reread and re-evaluation of The Haunting of Hill House done before Toronto; and I have an enormous stack of horror that I want to get read this month. November I’m going to get back to my eclectic reading patterns, and then, of course, January is going to be Short Story Month again, where I read a short story every day for discussion. I’ve found even more short story collections scattered throughout my book collection, which is incredibly exciting.

All right, I am heading back into the spice mines. Here’s a Hump Day Hunk for your viewing pleasure:

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Come Dancing

Tuesday!

Being off yesterday was kind of nice. I started a project I’ve been meaning to start all year (it was one of my goals set on the first of the year) and went to my storage unit. The goal is to clean a lot out of it, as well as get some more copies of my books out to replenish the supply in the Lost Apartment. I was actually worried that the boxes of my books were in the absolute back, but they weren’t. I was able to assemble three boxes of books to donate, found the copies of my own books I needed (hello, Bourbon Street Blues and Jackson Square Jazz!) and now that I’ve actually done it–it’s not as intimidating as I thought it would be. I’ve also always kept my papers–manuscript drafts, notes, etc–in manuscript boxes or small boxes that approximate a manuscript box; those don’t end up stacking well and you can only imagine how many of those there are. I’ve decided that the smart thing to do is get rid of those small, collapsing, not-so-sturdy boxes and assemble file boxes, and move the papers in there, labelling the new boxes appropriately. That way they’ll stack better, and will most likely create more room. And when I am moving all that stuff around, I can drag out other boxes of stored books to donate. So, yes, I am feeling inordinately proud of myself.

I started reading Eric Ambler’s Background to Danger, which I believe may be his first novel. It’s really quite good; Mr. Ambler certainly knew how to turn a phrase: One sunny morning in July, Mr. Joseph Bhaltergren’s blue Rolls-Royce oozed silently away from the pavement in Berkeley Square, slid across Piccadilly into St. James’, and sped softly eastward towards the City of London.

I so wish I’d written that sentence. While it’s ostensibly about the car and the drive into London, it also tells you everything you need to know about the passenger. That’s pretty masterful.

After taking the weekend off (from writing) I managed to get back to work. I intend to get the reread of the WIP finished over this week, and then the adjustments to the manuscript that need to be made done this weekend, as well as writing the query letter. I also hope to get some of the new Scotty written this week; Chapter Six is sucking big time.

Ah, well. I don’t have to go into the office until later today, so I should be able to get some work on it finished. We are greatly enjoying Harlan Coben’s The Five on Netflix; we’re about four or five episodes in, so about halfway finished. I have an excessively long day tomorrow, but that’s cool.

All right, I’ve got things to do this morning.

Here’s a Tuesday morning hunk for you:

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Twilight Zone

Ugh, my dryer is on the fritz, and I just can’t–in the ultimate of bougie problems–I just can’t function without a working washer and dryer. I can’t decide if it’s worth it to get a repair guy out here, or if we should just go ahead and get a new one. I know I called a repairman once for the washing machine–and it was only slightly less expensive than buying a new one. Heavy heaving sigh. I think we’ve already replaced the dryer once before. It’s so infuriating. I wish I were more handy, because I bet it is something that is really easy to fix; but I am not handy like that. I’m so glad my parents were so focused on my future that they wouldn’t let me take Shop or Auto Shop because they were too easy.

Yeah. They just would have saved me thousands of dollars over the years. But hey, those classes weren’t useful for my future.

Heavy heaving sigh.

So, I spent the evening trying to dry clothes in a faulty dryer–eventually they dried–while filing and washing dishes and also finishing reading Eric Ambler’s Journey Into Fear, which was quite fun.

journey into fear

The steamer, Sestri Levante, stood high above the dock side, and the watery sleet, carried on the wind blustening down from the Black Sea had drenched even the small shelter deck. In the after well, the Turkish stevedores, with sacking tied round their shoulders, were still loading cargo.

Graham saw the steward carry his suit-case through a door marked PASSEGGIERI, and turned aside to see if the two men who had shaken hands with him at the foot of the gangway were still there. They had not come aboard lest the the uniform of one of them should draw attention to him. Now they were walking away across the crane lines towards the warehouses and the dock gates beyond. As they reached the shelter of the first shed they looked back. He raised his left arm and saw an answering wave. They walked on out of sight.

For a moment he stood there shivering and staring out of the mist that shrouded the domes and spires of Stamboul. Behind the rumble and clatter of the winches, the Turkish foreman was shouting plaintively in bad Italian to one of the ship’s officers. Graham remembered that he had been told to go to his cabin and stay there until the ship sailed. He followed the steward through the door.

The man was waiting for him at the head of a short flight of stairs. There was no sign of any of the nine other passengers.

Eric Ambler, considered (per his bio) is considered the father of the modern thriller and was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America in 1975. His novels, focused on intrigue, espionage and spying, have been called influences by many writers, including John Le Carre and Robert Ludlum and Len Deighton. (I loved Ludlum, but am ashamed to admit I’ve never read Le Carre or Deighton; but I do have a copy of The Spy Who Came In From the Cold that I need to get around to reading.) I had never read Ambler; although my friend Pat, a huge fan of the crime genre, has recommended A Coffin for Demetrios to me on several different occasions, and usually one of Ambler’s works winds up on those lists of ‘crime novels everyone should read.’ I bought Epitaph for a Spy and several others a few years ago; I finally sat down and pulled Journey Into Fear out of the TBR Mountain and started reading it. It took me longer than it should have; it’s short, for one thing, but very engrossing. It’s also very…for want of a better term, it’s very British.

I love novels where normal, every day people going about their business and minding their own business are suddenly thrust into peril. Ludlum was a master of this, and I call it Hitchcockian; it was also a staple in many of his films. Journey into Fear also falls into this category; Graham, the main character, is a forty year old British man who works for an engineering firm and was sent to Turkey to help work on updating and refitting the Turkish fleet because of the outbreak of World War II. Graham, who is happily married and generally just goes about his business. What Graham, in his unassuming way, doesn’t realize or understand just how valuable he–and his work–are to the Allied forces; he is just doing his job. Then, on his last night in Istanbul, someone is waiting for him in his hotel room and shoots at him. Fortunately, he is only slightly wounded in his hand but this is when Turkish intelligence gets involved. It is a matter of vital Turkish importance to their defense that Graham make it back to England and his work not be interrupted; Graham doesn’t it take it seriously…at first. But once he is on the freighter traveling through the night to Genoa, he finds out just how much danger he is actually in.

The book is very tightly written, and not very long; but it also falls into the classic trope of suspense in a tight, controlled area with a very small cast of characters; like Murder on the Orient Express. This trope is very hard to pull off–even harder nowadays–and Ambler does it beautifully, even adding the element of “no one will believe me if I ask for help.” The other characters on the ship are richly drawn; Ambler is able to create a character with brief sentences that pretty much tell you everything you need to know about that character to make them real.

I am very much looking forward to reading more Ambler. Now I am going to give Dorothy B. Hughes’ sublime In a Lonely Place  a reread.

And now, back to the spice mines.

 

Do You Really Want to Hurt Me

Wednesday; the week is half-over–although I am also working on Saturday; my weekend this week will be Sunday and Monday, which is lovely. My birthday is also nigh; I shall be fifty-six! Closer to sixty than fifty, but hey, there you go, you know? Getting older is not for the faint of heart, someone once said, and while there are definitely more aches and pains, and my memory isn’t what it used to be, and I don’t quite have the energy I once had–I ain’t doing too badly. Yesterday I managed to get some significant work done on Scotty; the book is really taking shape in my mind, and I also got some work done on the line edit. I am not as far along on the line edit as I would like to be, but I am getting closer to being done with each bit that I do.

Progress. It’s everything, really.

I’m enjoying the Eric Ambler novel, Journey Into Fear, that I’m reading, and am hoping to get some more of that read today at some point. I like the way Ambler writes, and there’s just this amazing sense of 40’s noir to the story and the writing; I can visualize everything in my head really easily. Writing something in a different time period–one that I didn’t live through–is kind of intimidating to me; I’ve only written one story that is set in a time period before I was alive; set ambiguously in either the late 40’s or early 50’s, it’s a noir story that still need some work. The title, “The Weight of a Feather,” is one of my favorite titles, so I am pretty determined to do something with the story.

So many stories, so little time. Seriously.

Football season looms on the horizon as well; not sure how well LSU is going to do this year, but as always we have high hopes down here in Bayou Country. New coaches, new offense and defensive plans…I guess we’ll see how it’s going to play out at the season opener over Labor Day weekend in Houston when we play BYU. And football season is, as a general rule, kind of exciting. Ten years ago was the last time LSU won the national championship, in that insane year of 2007 which was one of the wackiest football seasons of all time; from week to week no one had any idea of who was going to win and who was going to lose; Top Ten teams would get beaten by someone unranked every week. SBNation has a great website about that crazy year; I wasted some serious time reading and remembering the other day.

And on that note, ’tis time to return to Ye Olde Spice Mines.

Here’s your Wednesday hunk.

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Maniac

Monday morning in New Orleans, after a crazy kind of weekend that included insane street flooding and torrential rains. My neighborhood doesn’t flood quite as bad as others–we’ve had high water on our street, but it rarely lasts for long–because two blocks from the house is Coliseum Square, which is much lower (as is Camp Street on the far side of it) and serves as a kind of flood basin for the neighborhood (which was WAY fun when we lived on Camp Street; my car flooded once and we got water all the way up to the top step–of six–outside out front door). I didn’t work much on the line edit (read: not at all) because I was too busy reading, first Lyndsay Faye’s brilliant The Gods of Gotham, then Owen Matthew’s epic The Fixes, and then I started reading Eric Ambler’s Journey Into Fear. (I’ve not read Ambler before) We also got caught up on Orphan Black, and continue to muddle along with The Last Tycoon, which is quite visually stunning but more than a little dull. (And just HOW do you make 1930’s Hollywood dull? Nicely done, F. Scott Fitzgerald.)

Game of Thrones was just EPIC last night. Oh my God, was it ever epic. I won’t post spoilers for those who may not have seen it yet, but all I will say is finally. I’ve been waiting for that episode ALL SEASON. Huz-fucking-ZAH.

So, I read Owen Matthews’ The Fixes yesterday. Owen Matthews is the name Owen Laukkanen uses to write young adult fiction (his first was How to Win at High School, which I have but is still in the TBR pile), and as Owen Laukkanen he wrote one of my favorite books of last year, The Watcher in the Wall (I may have read it this year; my memory has truly become a sieve). Owen and I are on a panel at Toronto Bouchercon this year–while the schedule hasn’t been posted yet, I was curious as to why Owen was on a panel called “Reading the Rainbow”; but I haven’t read all of his work as of yet. The panel moderator and I were talking the other day and I brought that up, at which point I was told he does write gay characters, and in fact, one of the main characters in The Fixes is gay. I moved the book to the top of the TBR pile, and tore through it yesterday afternoon: it is a quick read, and moves really fast.

the fixes

This is a story about a boy’s first crush, and how it blew up in his face.

And all of its explosive consequences.

(You know what? Forget it.)

Let’s start over.

Let me tell you why E set off that bomb.

Eric, or E, as he comes to be called by his friends over the course of the novel, is the son of a state senator, the grandson of yet another politician, and has been raised to understand that he isn’t just anyone; he is a CONNELLY MAN and he has to live up to the family name–maybe even so far as eventually running for president. Eric has given up a lot to live up to his father’s expectations, and is more than a little resentful. As a sophomore, Eric had dated Paige but soon realized he was more attracted to guys than girls…which as a CONNELLY MAN could prove problematic. His future is laid out for him completely, and he is giving up the summer before he starts college to intern at a legal firm his father used to work for. And then, a chance encounter in the office at his high school with Jordan Grant, the gorgeous son of a wealthy filmmaker, derails his entire summer….and possibly his future as well.

Soon, Eric (E, as Jordan likes to call him) has a full blown crush on Jordan, even though he seems to be involved loosely with Haley. All four of these kids–they live in a Malibu-like, affluent wealthy town called Capilano–have some damage: Paige’s father is going to be tried for embezzling and misleading investment clients (a la Madoff); Haley’s mother is a model who idealizes her eldest daughter, a successful model, and is always putting Haley down and making her feel bad about herself, which led to an eating disorder and a stay in a hospital; E himself is struggled against the life path his father has chosen for him; and Jordan is…well, what exactly is Jordan’s damage?

I don’t want to spoil anything, but suffice it to say that the group becomes involved in ‘fixing’ things around Capilano; injustices they step up to correct. And as E becomes more deeply involved in the fixes, as his own life path begins to spin out of control and he falls deeper and deeper under Jordan’s spell..the book continues racing along at a frenetic, insane pace that makes it impossible to put down until it’s finished.

It was also lovely to see a novel, published by a mainstream press and written by a non-gay author, that so carefully, conscientiously, and sympathetically explored the struggle and complexity of coming to terms with a sexuality that does not jibe with family expectations, as well as the emotional grappling with how can I not be my true self for the rest of my life?; not to mention the emotional complexity of falling in love for the first time.

The story is intricate as well; this is a fine example of young adult noir, the kind the amazing Jay Bennett used to write.

Highly recommended, and really looking forward to reading How to Win at High School.

 

Beat It

Throwback Thursday!

Exhausted this morning after a lengthy day yesterday of office testing and then bar testing last night. I slept really well; my back is still a bit sore as are my hips; I may have to preemptively cancel Wacky Russian this week because I don’t think it’s wise to push my muscles when they are still recovering from whatever it was I did to them in the first place. I only managed to get started on another short story yesterday, “The Brady Kid,” and maybe got about eight hundred words of it done; I was too sore and too tired to do anything else. I hate losing work days like that, but at least this morning I don’t have to be into the office until later, and I feel rested and not quite as sore this morning. SO maybe, just maybe, I’ll get to be productive.

A boy can dream, right?

It’s raining right now; a thunderstorm rolled in sometime around five this morning. Thunder woke me into a half-awake state, and I was able to fall back asleep for a few more hours–another sign I was really tired and in need, desperately, of rest. I am awake now, on my first cup of coffee, and could easily slip back beneath the covers and return to sleep; it is truly amazing to me how crucial sleep–something I never really even paid much attention to when I was younger–has become to me as I’ve gotten older.

I’m hoping that I’ll be able to finish The Gods of Gotham by the end of the week. I haven’t decided on my next book–Blame by Jeff Abbott, or something by Eric Ambler (whom I’ve never read), or the new Donna Andrews, Gone Gull, are the most likely picks; I’ve also got an advance copy of Laura Lippman’s Sunburn; so many choices! My TBR pile is a veritable smorgasbord of good reading options.

And on that note, it’s back to the spice mines with me.

Today’s Throwback Thursday hunk, male supermodel of the 90s Marcus Schenkenberg:

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