Take It to the Limit

At the beginning of this year, I decided to start something I called The Diversity Project, whose intended purpose was to read more books and short stories by diverse authors. I’ve gone back and forth on this; the sense that announcing such a thing was, in a way, virtue signaling of the most hypocritical kind; why was it necessary to make such an announcement, or to continue, once it was made, even talking about it? Shouldn’t I have been reading diverse authors all along, and making the corrective to my reading habits that shouldn’t have been necessary in the first place isn’t something that is worthy of praise in the first place. We should all be reading diverse authors, and it isn’t something that we should have to make a point of doing. We shouldn’t even have to think about it, frankly; it should be automatic.

I have always read more female than male writers; my reading aesthetic has never been geared to the straight white male experience. But just reading more women than men was also not something I have ever had to make a conscious effort in order to accomplish; I always have read more women than men traditionally. My shelves are crowded with female names: Hilary Mantel and Laura Lippman, Megan Abbott and Alafair Burke and Lori Roy and Alison Gaylin, Donna Andrews and Elaine Viets and Rebecca Chance, Charlotte Armstrong and Mary Stewart and Margaret Millar, Gwen Florio and Catriona McPherson, J. M. Redmann and Cheryl Head and Lori Rader-Day and so, so many others.

But while some of those women might me lesbians, none of them are women of color.

And that’s kind of terrible, isn’t it? Sure, I’ve read Toni Morrison and Octavia Butler and Maya Angelou and Alice Walker, but that’s kind of it for women of color. No Asians, no Latina/Hispanics, and outside of Butler, the rest all would be considered literary authors.

I also realized earlier this year, at the start of the project, that I’d never read Walter Mosley; so the first book in this project with Devil In a Blue Dress, which was truly terrific–I’m looking forward to reading more Mosley.

So, with this corrective in mind, this reboot of my brain and unscrambling and exposure of unconscious bias, I decided to read Steph Cha’s debut novel, Follow Her Home.

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It was about ten o’clock on a Friday in mid-July, the Los Angeles night warm and dry, the only wind rising from the whoosh and zoom of traffic on Rossmore. I was wearing a slinky black dress, black patent leather platform pumps, silver cascade earrings, and a black lambskin clutch. I was perfumed, manicured, and impeccably coiffed. I was everything a half-employed twentysomething should be on the sober end of a Friday night. I was calling on an open bar at Luke’s new apartment, ready to spend a little time and respectability on a blurry and colorful evening.

Luke’s place was in the Marlowe Apartments in Hancock Park, a complex towering pretty as a castle just north of the Wilshire Country Club. It stood less than two miles south of Hollywood and Ivar, where its namesake found his vocation. But the Marlowe was a luxury apartment more likely to house the rich degenerates of Chandler’s novels than his wisecracking private eye with a heart of noir gold.

Follow Her Home is Steph’s debut novel, and it’s quite excellent. It’s the first of three novels about her character, Juniper Song, a Korean-American daughter of a single parent with a younger sister. Juniper has graduated from college and is making good money as a highly paid and highly sought after tutor; the book begins with her attending a party at a childhood friend’s apartment, and being asked to ‘see if she can find out whether her friend’s father (a partner in a major law firm where the friend also works) is having an affair with a young Asian-American woman at the party who also works at the firm. Juniper is a huge fan of Chandler, as you can see in the excerpt above, and Juniper also uses her knowledge of Chandler’s novels and how Marlowe conducts his investigations to kind of LARP as a detective. But once she follows the young woman home from the party, Song finds herself involved in something even more dangerous and insidious than she could have imagined in her wildest dreams.

Cha writes in the same hard-boiled style as Chandler, emulating it while giving it a fresh face and voice in Juniper Song and reinvigorating it with a modern flair. The book–the first in a series and therefore required to give a lot of backstory on the character–is done with an interesting structure; bouncing between the modern day and Song’s current investigation to the past, when she first put on her sleuthing shoes and investigated her younger sister’s private life. Saying anything more would be spoiler-ish (always an issue when you’re writing about a crime novel), but this structure makes Song even more relatable, likable, and adds layers and textures to her character that simply focusing on the present day wouldn’t do. It’s masterful, and it would also be incredibly easy for the parallel stories to not be of equal force and value.

I greatly enjoyed reading this, and am looking forward to not only reading the next two books in the series but the stand alone being released this October–Your House Will Pay–also sounds pretty fantastic.

Bohemian Rhapsody

Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? Caught in a landslide no escape from reality.

I do love the song. I wasn’t an enormous fan of the movie–primarily because I wasn’t that interested in the trajectory of the bad so much as I was more interested in Freddie and his life–but it was a perfectly good movie about a rock band.

I did finish reading Steph Cha’s Follow Her Home yesterday and I highly recommend it. The writing is exceptionally done well, and her character, Juniper Song, is terrific. I have some other thoughts about the book in my head, but am going to wait until they fully form before I write about it more. But…while I am sure I would have eventually gotten around to reading Steph–I’ve met her and like her–I am glad that I made a point of moving her up in the TBR pile. As I said when I was talking about the Diversity Project the other day, it’s the unconscious bias against minority writers I am fighting against within my own head and within my own choices, and trying to retrain/rewire my brain to not automatically move toward white writers when selecting the next book to read–even if they are women, who are also historically undermined as ‘not as serious as the men’ by not just the industry but by society itself. (I am really itching to start reading Alison Gaylin’s Never Look Back.)

As I’ve mentioned, my reading has always skewed more toward women than men; as a child, I preferred Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden to the Hardy  Boys (although the Three Investigators are my absolute favorite kids’ series, and they were boys), to the point where I was forbidden to read books either by women or about women for a period of time–which quite naturally made me want to read them even more.

The absolute best way to get me to do something is to either forbid me from doing it, or telling me that I can’t do it. Forbidding me makes me want it all the more, and telling me I can’t do something makes me want to prove you wrong.

I am ridiculously excited that Game of Thrones returns tonight for its final season. I am going to be terribly sorry when the show is over; I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the ride from the time Paul and I got the DVD’s from Netflix and starting binge-watching; loved it so much we paid for the HBO app subscription so we could watch it as it aired, once we were caught up. I do want to finish reading the books–I’ve only finished A Game of Thrones–and maybe if I get a long vacation on a beach somewhere, I can finish the entire series that has been published thus far. I really loved the book, and suspect I’ll feel the same way about the rest of the series. Yesterday I spent some time reacquainting myself with some of my favorite moments from the series over the years, thanks to said HBO app–the Battle of the Loot Train, the end of Ramsey Bolton, the trial of Littlefinger, the big reveal about Jon Snow’s parents, the Battle of Meereen, Daenarys conquering the Dothraki by killing all the Khals, Cersei’s revenge on the Sept–and was again, as always, blown away by the sheer scope and scale of the show, and how fucking fantastic it is from top to bottom. Game of Thrones, whether you love it or hate it, is always going to be considered one of the greatest television series of all time, up there with The Wire, The Sopranos,and The West Wing, and deservedly so. We truly are in a marvelous time for television programming.

Friday I was even more ridiculously excited to see the first trailer for the ninth episode of Star Wars and to learn its title: The Rise of Skywalker. I really cannot wait to see this movie, and I suspect we are going to go see it on opening weekend this December if it kills me. It’s very strange to realize that Star Wars has been a part of my life for over forty years now…and while the second trilogy, episodes one through three, aren’t amongst my favorites (I’ve not rewatched them very much), I still have a big love for all things Star Wars, and frankly, Rogue One just might be my favorite Star Wars film of them all.

So, after a really good night’s sleep and waking up later than I usually do, I am going to clean this kitchen and then I am going to work for a while. I might go to the grocery store; we need a few things, but at the same time I should also be able to get the things we need on the way home from work tomorrow, if they are, in fact, so desperately needed. I think I’m going to do that–wait, I mean–because if I’ve learned anything from the Termite Genocide experience, it’s that I hoard food and really need to use the things I already have on hand rather than go out and buy new things to prepare.

I’m actually looking forward to working today, if you can believe that, Constant Reader. I am determined to get the next chapter of the WIP finished, and then I am going to work on these other two ideas I’ve had, and then I am going to spend a couple of hours with the Gaylin novel.

What a lovely Sunday this will turn out to be.

Have a terrific day, everyone–and in one week, it’s Easter!

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Misty Blue

Happy Saturday everyone! I just got home from doing an event at the Jefferson Parish East Bank Regional library, where I talked with Jean (J. M.) Redmann about characters and writing crime. It was quite fun–the Jean and Greg Traveling Dog and Pony Show always is–and the audience was quite lovely and engaged, which is always lovely. One never knows how those things are going to go, so it’s always lovely when things turn out nice.

I did some brainstorming and note-taking both yesterday and this morning, as a new series (HA! I am not telling you more than that) is starting to form in my mind. When the idea first came to me, I wasn’t sure if it was something I could tackle, or even if it was something I wanted to write…or even if I wanted to write it, if it was something I could write. But yesterday afternoon I decided to start writing some ideas down, and it suddenly started to come together in my head. I knew who my main character was and some of her back story; I began to build her world a little inside my head and in my journal, and I wrote some more about it today before the library event, which was also kind of lovely–I am so glad I started carrying journals around with me again last year! They really do come in handy, and I find just having one with me all the time is most helpful. I’ve done a lot of brainstorming in those journals since January 2018…I may spend some time today going back through them and retrieving stuff and ideas from them.

If you want to be a writer I highly recommend carrying a journal of some sort around with you.

I also read more of Steph Cha’s delightful Follow Her Home yesterday, and when I finish writing this I am going to repair to my easy chair and read some more of it–with my journal and a pen handily nearby. I should do some cleaning–the floors are revolting yet again, and the sink is full of dishes–but on the other hand I am also thinking having a day off is kind of a nice thing. Tomorrow is a free day–and the premiere of the final season of Game of Thrones–and so I have all day tomorrow to clean and write and do things. I need to get back to work on the WIP, and I also want to keep not only making notes for this new series but there’s a stand alone idea I also want to work on. I’ve not yet written any stand-alone novels that weren’t classified as either young adult or “new adult”, this would be something for the “adult” audience, with no adjectives out in front. I am excited about both projects, but also recognize I need to get the first draft of this WIP finished this month so I can move on to revising a final draft of the other WIP. (There’s another WIP out there, as well…languishing in the drawer it’s been in for about five years now; someday.)

And on that note, I am heading over to my chair. Have a lovely Saturday everyone!

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You Sexy Thing

I feel human this morning, which means I can go to work today! Hurray! Thank you, antibiotics and Claritin-D! Huzzah! Hurray!

It’s so lovely to feel normal (or at least what passes for it around here) again. The horrible thing about being sick is you can–or at least I do–often forget what it feels like to be healthy, and then wonder if you’re ever going to feel good again. My throat is still a little bit sore and my lungs still ache a bit from coughing so much, but other than that I am pretty damned good. So I can go to work today, do my half-day tomorrow, and then slide into the weekend. Ordinarily I’d take one more day off just to make sure I don’t relapse or something, but with the weekend so close…I think it’s okay to take the risk and go back to the office.

I just need to make sure I bring my Claritin with me–just in case.

But I also lost two days of productivity, and my mind was too foggy to even be able to focus on the book I am reading, Steph Cha’s wonderful Follow Her Home, which I hope to finish this weekend. I think next I am going to read my ARC of Alison Gaylin’s Never Look Back, and after that, possibly Kellye Garrett’s Hollywood Homicide.

There’s so much good reading in my future!

I am also appearing at the East Jefferson Parish library, talking about creating characters, with J. M. Redmann; the event is free and open to the public, and here’s the schedule:

Fifth Annual JPL               

Mystery Readers / Writers Literary Festival

METAIRIE – Five local authors will make presentations at the Fifth Annual Mystery Readers / Writers Literary Festival at 9:30 a.m., Saturday, April 13, at the East Bank Regional Library, 4747 W. Napoleon Ave., Metairie.

The festival is intended not just for mystery writers but for readers as well. This event is free of charge and open to the public. There is no registration.

9:30 to 10:45 a.m.

Farrah Rochon: “Using Psychology to Create Memorable Characters”

Farrah Rochon gives an interactive deep dive into creating characters using various methods rooted in psychology, including characterization with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and Keirsey-Temperament Sorter, and how to apply them to fiction writing.

USA Today Bestselling author Farrah Rochon hails from a small town just west of New Orleans. She has garnered much acclaim for her Holmes Brothers, New York Sabers, Bayou Dreams and Moments in Maplesville series. The two-time RITA Award finalist has also been nominated for an Romance Times BookReviews Reviewers Choice Award, and in 2015 received the Emma Award for Author of the Year.

11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.

Jean Redmann and Greg Herren:

 The central character in a mystery oftentimes will be a detective who eventually solves the mystery by logical deduction from facts presented to the reader. Through the years, Redmann and Herren have created dozens of characters in their mysteries, and they explain how to create logical, believable, complex characters that readers will love.

J.M. Redmann writes two mystery series, one featuring New Orleans PI Micky Knight, and as R. Jean Reid, the Nell McGraw series, about a Gulf Coast town newspaper editor. Her books have won First Place Awards in the ForeWord mystery category, as well as several Lambda Literary awards.The Intersection of Law and Desire was an Editor’s Choice of the San Francisco Chronicle and a recommended book by Maureen Corrigan of NPR’s Fresh Air. Redmann is an at-large board member for Mystery Writers of America.

Greg Herren is the author of more than 30 novels and has edited more than 20 anthologies. He has won numerous awards, including the Anthony and Lambda Literary Award (twice). His short story collection Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories was released on April 1, and his next novel Royal Street Reveillon will be released this September.

12:30 to 1:45 p.m.

O’Neil De Noux: “The Femme Fatale”

The evolution of this female siren, the femme fatale, in detective literature has a distinct development from the early days of the victim in Poe to the deadly archetype seen in the Chandler and Hammett novels and film noir. O’Neil De Noux explains the femme fatale architype and how it is used today.

O’Neil De Noux is a New Orleans writer with 40 books published, 400 short story sales and a screenplay produced. He writes crime fiction, historical fiction, children’s fiction, mainstream fiction, science-fiction, suspense, fantasy, horror, western, literary, young adult, religious, romance, humor and erotica. His fiction has received several awards, including the Shamus Award for Best Short Story, the Derringer Award for Best Novelette and the2011 Police Book of the Year. Two of his stories have appeared in the Best American Mystery Stories anthology (2013 and 2007). He is a past vice president of the Private Eye Writers of America.

2 to 3:30 p.m.

Writing Seminar with Adrian van Young

Van Young will focus on a number of items: (a) basic methods of characterization in fiction, briefly; (b) building unlikeable, as well as likeable characters (crucial to mystery fiction and crime); and (c) how to establish narrative unreliability, which he says is important in mystery writing, and goes hand-in-hand with the likeable/unlikeable dichotomy. To demonstrate these principles, he will focus on a combination of writing exercises and excerpts from published works.

Adrian Van Young is the author of The Man Who Noticed Everything, a collection of stories, and Shadows in Summerland, a novel. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in publications such as Lumina, The Collagist, Black Warrior Review, Conjunctions, Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading, Slate, VICE, The Believer, and The New Yorker online. He received a Henfield Foundation Prize and has twice been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He teaches creative writing at Tulane, St. Martin’s Episcopal School and The New Orleans Writers Workshop.

For more information regarding this presentation, contact Chris Smith, Manager of Adult Programming for the library, at 504-889-8143 orwcsmith@jefferson.lib.la.us.

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

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I’d Really Love to See You Tonight

I never used to have trouble with my sinuses, or allergies, or any of that; at least that I recall. But I would think I would remember having these horrible headaches, that reach down into my jaw, or the constant dripping and coughing and the fevers and the eyes burning and all that comes with sinus infections or allergies. I think it was sometime after 2001 that it happened the first time; the weather changed and spring sprung and suddenly I was feverish and coughing and my nose was running and a friend told me it was sinus-related; and that the best way to deal with it was taking stinging nettles. I thought it was weird, but on my way home I stopped at Walgreens and bought a bottle of stinging nettles in capsule form. I took two and within half an hour all of my symptoms were gone.

Like the whole thing had been a figment of my imagination.

The nettles worked so well that I started taking them every day even if I didn’t sense symptoms; along with my multi-vitamins and my workout supplements and other vitamins and fish oil and so forth, I took two capsules of nettles. It worked for years, but as time passed and I grew older, the nettles stopped being effective and I switched to Claritin-D, which is the only thing since the nettles that I’ve found that helps. But you can break Claritin-D down into something approximating crystal meth (I don’t know how it works or how you do it; I’ve never watched Breaking Bad) and so now the government keeps track of how much you can buy; you have to present ID and if its too soon after the last time you bought some…they won’t sell it to you. I’ve never quite been able to figure out how the limit works–I suppose I could research it on-line–but the bottom line of it is I treat my Claritin-D like gold. I won’t even let Paul have one, in case I need one and I’m out and it’s too soon to buy more. I used to try to buy some every time I pick up prescriptions to stockpile it so I will always have it when I need it; I’ve slacked off on that and this recent sinus infection has reminded me of the importance of having stock.

So, much as I would simply like to take a Claritin-D every day during the spring, I can’t because one-a-day is above the government monthly allowance. So, when my sinuses start reacting and we have heavy weather like we did over the weekend, because I am worried I might run out of it sometime when I really need it, I don’t take it preemptively and wind up with yet another sinus infection. So, note to self: when I can, I am going to buy more. And I am going to put a bottle of stinging nettles on the list, too. It can’t hurt to take it every day, supplementing with a Claritin-D as needed.

It’s also insane that anything I can get with a prescription doesn’t work as well. In all seriousness, make it a prescription medication again. Wouldn’t usage being easier to track and people using it to make drugs be easier to stop if there has to be a prescription filed in order for it to be obtained for use?

I don’t know, just spitballing here.

In case you couldn’t tell, Constant Reader, I still feel lousy and I am feeling pretty damned crabby over the whole thing. I had to use two days of sick time  and probably two days of being productive in other ways by being sick. Heavy heaving sigh.

I actually feel worse this morning than I did yesterday; my hope is this will all clear up somehow before tomorrow so I can go back to work and stop using sick time. My sinuses feel okay today, so that’s something; but it’s the rest that needs to clear up. My joints ache, I’m still feverish, and I had to get up in the middle of the night to throw up–yeah, that was lovely. I am going to be eating chicken soup today for lunch; I tend to not eat when I am sick, which makes me even weaker.

Again, lovely.

But I did get to read some more of Steph Cha’s Follow Her Home yesterday between bouts of dozing off and feeling sick; I’d read until I couldn’t focus and then put it aside. I might just curl up in my easy chair today with a blanket and watch movies; Bonnie & Clyde, All the President’s Men, and Deliverance are all available to stream from Netflix, and I’ve been wanting to see them all again. I’ve never seen Bonnie & Clyde in the theatrical cut, only seeing the badly butchered edited for television version, and since reading Mark Harris’ brilliant Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of New Hollywood I’ve been wanting to see all five films nominated for the Best Picture Oscar for 1967–some again, some for the first time (I’ve never seen In the Heat of the Night, which won). Maybe if I can’t focus on reading…

And on that note, back to the spice mines.

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Love Hurts

I detest being ill.

Sunday night I began to feel slightly off–more off than I’d been feeling since Friday, when the wretched bad weather rolled in–and I began to suspect that the weather was wreaking havoc with my sinuses which would lead to the inevitable sinus infection. Yesterday I didn’t feel great, and as soon as I got home from work last night I started taking antibiotics leftover from the last sinus infection, and woke up this morning feeling absolutely horrible.  I called in sick to work, have taken some more antibiotics this morning, and am hoping that when tomorrow dawns, the antibiotics will have done their job and cleared everything up for me.

One can hope, at any rate.

The Claritin also seems to be helping. I intend on spending the rest of the day retired to my bed, with Steph Cha’s Follow Her Home to keep me company. I managed to read another chapter and I am very impressed indeed with Ms. Cha. She writes in a very hard-boiled, noir style that is reminiscent of Chandler and Hammett–and she does pay homage to Chandler quite a bit in these opening chapters. Juniper Song is an interesting, complex character that I like quite a bit, and am looking forward to getting to know her better. This is also the first in a series, which means there’s more Juniper Song out there for me to read, savor, and enjoy, which is absolutely lovely.

Is there anything more satisfying than discovering a new author whose work you love?

I think not.

When I retire to my bedchamber later on this morning–as soon as I take care of some business here at my desk–I will be taking my Macbook Air with me, along with my novel, so that if the mood strikes me I can work on the WIP whilst ensconced in the comfort of my bed. I don’t remember the last time I spent the day lolling about in bed; I usually move to my easy chair with blankets and heating pads when I am unwell, but it sounds absolutely lovely, despite the pressure in my head and the constant draining and hacking up of phlegm from my lungs. I see chicken noodle soup in my future for lunch as well; it may not help cure what ails me, but it always makes me feel better.

Last night we got caught up on the most recent episodes of both Veep and Schitt’s Creek, both of which were terrific, before I retired to sleep. I slept pretty decently, given that I felt terrible when I went to bed, but this morning I am still feeling kind of worn out, which is no doubt due to the sinus issue. Yay?

So, there will be no spice-mining today, most likely. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader.

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Get Up and Boogie

Blerg. I don’t feel good today.

It’s sinus-related, of course, and this horrible weather we’ve been having over the past few days has not been much of a help in either case. I did sleep extremely well last night, so that’s not it, but man oh man,  I feel like utter shit today. Hopefully I can power through the day at work, and reassess tomorrow when the alarm goes off.

I did manage to get some work done on the WIP yesterday so this week is off to a better start than last week was, and I also managed to get some more reconfiguring of the Lost Apartment’s kitchen done this weekend as well. I think it’s kind of ironic that I was starting to feel reconnected to everything in my life only to start to get sick. Fuckin’ A, man, nothing ever works the way it’s supposed to, does it? But hopefully I can get that next chapter revised and keep chugging through this revision, which will also hopefully get me back into the character’s headspace so I can power through and get the first draft finished this month, which would be very lovely.

Very lovely.

I also started reading Steph Cha’s Follow Her Home last night and am enjoying it thus far. I didn’t, alas, get very far into it because when sleep comes for me I’ve learned not to put it off–and I got drowsy fairly early last evening. NOT BECAUSE OF HER BOOK. I was already drowsy when I decided I would read for a bit before going to bed.

Also, Royal Street Reveillon is already up for preorder at Amazon; the link is here. 

Still no sign of it at other sites, and the ebook is not available there for preorder, either, which is odd, but it is what it is. I will share those other links once they become available; the paperback  isn’t even up for preorder on the Bold Strokes site yet!

And now back to the spice mines.

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