Times of Your Life

Ah, the long workday part of my week is finished, and all I have to do is get through my two half-days before sliding gracelessly into the weekend.

I don’t think I wrecked Chapter Eight, but it is going to need a revisit. I am on target for Chapter Nine today, which is endlessly exciting. I am starting to feel excited about the WIP again–as opposed to the usual Christ this book sucks why did I ever think I could be a writer that I usually feel at this point in a manuscript–which is kind of nice and lovely. I know what I am trying to do with this book, the story I am trying to tell, and I am starting, after all this revising, to feel it again, and again feel like it’s getting me somewhere close to what I wanted to do in the first place, and that’s kind of exciting–or rather, what passes for exciting around the Lost Apartment these days. Oh sure, even after revising these opening chapters I know there’s a lot of cleaning up/mopping up to do with it, to tighten the plot and story and so forth, but it’s also do-able and while I may not want to sit down and actually do it when the time comes, I feel a lot better about it than I did before.

Ah, the crazy rollercoaster of emotion when you’re a writer. This, of course, is why writers drink.

Paul and I started watching the new Christina Applegate show on Netflix, Dead to Me, last night and it’s quite literally amazing. I’ve been a fan of Applegate ever since her days as Kelly Bundy on Married with Children, and I’ve never understood why she was never a major star. She can do comedy or drama with equal flare, she’s quite beautiful, and she lights up the screen whenever she is front of the cameras. The show is quite extraordinary, but difficult to talk about without giving away spoilers, as every episode ends with a startling twist/revelation that completely alters and changes the narrative. The writing is exceptional; it’s both funny and heartbreakingly sad at the same time. To describe it without spoilers of any kind, it’s about two women who meet and become friends at a grief support group; Applegate’s husband was killed in a hit-and-run accident several months before the show starts, and she is still deeply grieving. The supporting cast is also amazing–Ed Asner, James Marsden, to name a few; the young actors who play Applegate’s two sons are also terrific. We watched the first three episodes last night and are hooked completely.

I have to say, props to Netflix. They are doing some amazing work; although I am still angry at them for cancelling The Santa Clarita Diet, which was also terrific.

But as Thursday dawns, and I look ahead to this weekend, I am hopeful I can get some serious writing done. My plan is to do the errands and the cleaning on Friday afternoon, which will open up my weekend to spending it finishing reading Jamie Mason’s superb The Hidden Things, while getting some writing done. My next read is going to be Rachel Howzell Hall’s They All Fall Down, which I’ve been hearing great things about, and we also have season 2 of Killing Eve to watch, and Widows, which I’ve rented on iTunes. (Love Viola Davis, and it was written by Gillian Flynn so you know it’s going to be good.)

And so, now before I have to get ready for work, there are dishes to be put away and laundry to fold, a backpack to unpack and repack, Paul’s lunch to make. (I also get off rather early today as well; but since I am getting off work at a ridiculous time for rush hour traffic…yeah, not sure what time I’ll be home this afternoon.)

But I feel good, I feel rested, and I feel creative and motivated this morning. I guess we’ll see how long that lasts, eh?

And now back to the spice mines.

169089_490628422077_648027077_6093803_2836785_n

Get Closer

Several years ago Gillian Flynn published a book that became a runaway bestseller and  was also turned an Oscar nominated film. I read Gone Girl within a few weeks of its release; I remember I was off to Killer Nashville and New Orleans was within the cone of uncertainty for a hurricane whose name I no longer remember. I started reading the book while sitting at my gate at Armstrong International, read it while I flew on Southwest to Nashville, and couldn’t wait to get checked into my hotel room so I could go upstairs, unpack my clothes and get into the bed and keep reading. It was an incredible ride, full of shocking twists and turns, and I also loved Flynn’s writing style. I’d already read and loved Sharp Objects, and the whole time I was reading Gone Girl I was thinking about stories and turns of phrase for my own work; I always think the best writers’ work is inspirational. As with anything that’s enormously popular, after a few months it became fashionable to mock the book and its influence on popular culture.

And like with everything, just as The Da Vinci Code opened the door for dozens and dozens of copycat thrillers with their stories firmly entrenched in actual history, Gone Girl opened the door for dozens of books that may not have been actually inspired by Flynn’s success, but the big publishers were all looking for “the next Gone Girl,” and I suspect many a book was signed based on a short elevator pitch along the lines of “more Gone Girl than Gone Girl.

There was the inevitable slew of books with girl or woman in their title in the publishing seasons after (although to be fair, Steig Larssen’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series preceded Gone Girl, as did Laura Lippman’s The Girl in the Green Raincoat, but Gone Girl is usually given credit for kicking off the trend), and what Sarah Weinman calls “domestic suspense” became the hot ticket in publishing, with even male bestselling suspense writers writing books from a female point of view–which I am all for, frankly; the tired misogynist trope that men’s stories are universal while women’s are contained is almost as tired as societal sexism.

So, when I get an ARC of Samantha Downing’s debut novel, My Lovely Wife, and saw lots of comparisons to Gone Girl I kind of just rolled my eyes and sat down to read.

Well.

9780451491725

She is looking at me. Her blue eyes are glassy, they flicker down to her drink and back up. I look at my own drink and can feel her watching, wondering if I’m as interested as she is. I glance over and smile to show her I am,. She smiles back. Most of her lipstick is gone, now a reddish smear on the rim of her glass. I walk over and take the seat next to her.

She fluffs her hair. It is unremarkable in both color and length. Her lips move, she says hello, and her eyes are brighter. They look backlit.

Physically, I appeal to her the same way I would appeal to most women in this bar. I am thirty-nine, in excellent shape with a full head of hair and a deep set of dimples, and my suit fits better than any glove. That’s why she looked at me, why she smiled, why she is happy I have come over to join her. I am the man she has in mind.

I slide my phone across the bar toward her. It displays a message.

Hello. My name in Tobias.

And so begins the rollercoaster ride that is Samantha Downing’s superb debut novel. Downing introduces us first to her point of view character, the husband in this marriage, who is pretending to be deaf to pick up a woman in a bar. And from that moment on, the surprises and twists come very quickly; it seems sometimes as though every chapter has a new surprise that changes the story and how we view our main character.

You see, he is not only a successful tennis instructor with a gorgeous wife and two precocious children he adores…he and his wife get their kicks from picking out victims, stalking them, and then taking them prisoner for a while before finally killing them.

That’s how they keep their marriage fresh.

And Downing’s insidious genius is how well these sociopaths (psychopaths?) manage their careers and their family in their upscale gated community; they think they are great parents and are doing a great job with their kids…but that’s only part of the surprises in store for the reader.

I really enjoyed this book a lot. Samantha was the panel I moderated this past year at the Tennessee Williams Festival (joining me, Alafair Burke, and Kristien Hemmerichs), and quite frankly couldn’t put it down. I couldn’t have predicted any of the twists and turns and surprises in this book–and Downing does a great job of making the reader care about her incredibly unsympathetic characters…the ending is very tricky to pull off, but she managed.

I am looking forward to her next book.

The Second Time Around

Up early to start another week of work, and I feel pretty good. Obviously, I would have preferred to stay in bed for another hour or so, but that’s just not in the cards so here I am, drinking coffee and writing a blog entry while I wake up.

I only managed to get two more chapters finished yesterday; I still call that a win, and am very happy to be nearly halfway through the manuscript. If I keep up the pace of one chapter per day, with more on the weekends, I’ll be finished long before the end of the month–which was the original goal, and then I can get back to the WIP.

I spent most of the day yesterday reading A. J. Finn’s The Woman in the Window, and I do have some thoughts on it. Was it a great work of art? No, it wasn’t even the best crime novel I read published in 2018. But it was good enough, you know, and it held my attention enough so I wanted to find out what was happening and what was really going on. But…it was also a very paint-by-numbers thriller; as though the author were simply ticking off boxes as he wrote the book. I’ll always wonder if my read of the book was influenced by the back story of the author–that piece in the New Yorker, in particular. It was very Hitchcockian in some ways, with nods to Rear Window and Shadow of a Doubt, among others, and nods to Gaslight and numerous other films…the great black-and-white noir thrillers of the mid-twentieth century. I’ve not read the other blockbuster novels of the last few years (The Girl on the Train and The Woman in Cabin 10) in whose footsteps this novel follows; I did read Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl when it was first released (and before it became a national phenomenon) and greatly enjoyed it.

Here be spoilers.

Continue reading “The Second Time Around”

Why Can’t This Be Love

Wednesday and I am very tired this morning; not sure what that’s all about, but there you have it.

I had yet another breakthrough this week on something I’m working on–which brings the breakthroughs in recent weeks to an almost ridiculous level. I finally recognized, through my own stubbornness, that the story I was trying to tell in the WIP is the wrong story; I kept trying to  make it fit the story I wanted to tell, ignoring the little voice I would hear every once in a while telling me no, this is the real story, why won’t you listen to me? Finally, on Monday night, it hit me upside the head with a two-by-four; and when I finally stopped fighting it and  listened to the voice, the entire plot fell into place and all the problems I couldn’t seem to iron out completely magically answered themselves. And you know what? Once again it all comes down to me being ridiculously stubborn when I didn’t need to be, and not listening to  my inner voices.

Seriously, you’d think I’d know better by this point. But I never seem to learn. And of course, rereading the previous paragraph now I realize it sort of makes me look sort of insane. But you know, I don’t know any other way to say it than a voice in my head. I kept trying to make this manuscript, characters and town fit this story I was trying to tell, with the end result that I wasn’t seeing their real story.

And now I can’t wait to fix it and make it better.

I am so behind on so many things I need to get done–I need to get the Scotty revisions done; I need to get to work on this; I have a short story I need to write….madness. And I have so much reading to do! I need to get back on the Short Story Project, and I want to read Lou Berney’s November Road and Sarah Weinman’s The Real Lolita and Alex Segura’s Blackout and…heavy heaving sigh.

We watched a really good Australian show this weekend, Secret City, which starred Anna Torv (been a fan since Fringe, and she was also terrific in Mindhunter), which had a lot going for it–the cutthroat world of domestic and foreign politics is at the core of the story, which opens with a young man being murdered and a reporter (Torv) happening upon the crime scene and starting to investigate. I do recommend this show highly, and there’s also a wonderful subplot where it turns out that Torv’s ex-husband is a transwoman, and I thought the show handled it beautifully, with one slight quibble.

We also started watching HBO’s Sharp Objects, which I thought was spectacular. I actually preferred this Gillian Flynn novel to Gone Girl, the book that made her famous and a publishing superstar, and I still need to read her other novel, Dark Places.

And now, back to the spice mines.

columbo

R.O.C.K in the USA

Happy Sunday and a good morning to all y’all.

I didn’t get as much done yesterday as I would have liked; running my errands in the pre-rain humidity literally wore me out, and then when I got going again I started cleaning and doing laundry and well, once I start doing that–as well as going through and trying to organize the books–I am pretty much done for the day….especially after I discovered Burnt Offerings was available for streaming on Prime. Oliver Reed! Karen Black! Bette Davis (who was totally wasted in her role)! I’d seen the movie years ago, I think when it first aired on television after it’s theatrical run, and while it’s still has some moments, it overall doesn’t hold up as well as I would have hoped. I read the book for the first recently in the last few years, and it was wonderful. But watching Burnt Offerings put me in mind of an essay about horror in the 1970’s; the 1970’s was a time when the suburbs really developed because of ‘white flight’ from the cities and desegregation; this was this whole movement of back to the country from the urban centers, and at the same time, there was horror that specifically focused on this phenomenon (without the racism and white flight issues); namely this book, Harvest Home by Thomas Tryon, The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin, and even Stephen King lightly touched on this in ‘salem’s Lot; the dangers of the country to people from the city.

One could even argue that James Dickey’s Deliverance also belongs in this category, and it put me in mind of an essay that I may never write. I also thought up another yesterday while running my errands, after car after car after car violated traffic rules and almost caused me to be in in accident (three times, to be exact; which might be a new record): “Right of Way,” in which I would extrapolate the American contempt for traffic rules and laws for everyone’s safety can be directly correlated to contempt for law and order, the system, taxes, everything. I made some notes, and this is one I may actually write. Essays are fun and I do enjoy writing them but I don’t very often, unless one is requested of me for something, and perhaps that’s the wrong approach.

Today I am going to go to the gym and I am going to start rereading Royal Street Reveillon and make notes for the big revision that is coming. I’m also going to start reading Jackson Square Jazz out loud for copy editing purposes, and I’d also like to work on “A Whisper from the Graveyard” today. I should at some point also work on finished “Never Kiss a Stranger,” which means I should also make a to-do list for everything I want to get done in July.

Hmmm. Perhaps not a bad idea, at that.

I also remembered I have notes on a short story I need to read and decide what revisions I need to be make.

It never truly ends, does it? But I am looking forward to Sharp Objects tonight on HBO; I actually liked this book by Gillian Flynn better than Gone Girl, which of course made her hugely famous and hopefully hugely rich. I still haven’t read her Dark Places, but that’s because I still subscribe to the “if I don’t read all the canon then I still have something by her to read” mentality, which is partly why I still have not read the entire canon of either Daphne du Maurier or Shirley Jackson or Patricia Highsmith.

So, I have a lot to do today–only one more day after today before I return to the office, but at least it’s only a four day work week–and so I should probably get back to the spice mines.

The next story up in Promises in Every Star and Other Stories is “Bloodletting”:

The damp air was thick with the scent of blood.

It had been days since I had last fed, and the desire was gnawing at my insides. I stood up, and my eyes focused on a young man walking a bicycle in front of the cathedral. He was talking on a cell phone, his face animated and agitated. He was wearing a T-shirt that read Who Dat Say They Gonna Beat Dem Saints? and a pair of ratty old paint-spattered jeans cut off at the knees. There was a tattoo of Tweetybird on his right calf, and another indistinguishable one on his left forearm. His hair was dark, combed to a peak in the center of his head, and his face was flushed. He stopped walking, his voice getting louder and louder as his face got darker.

I could smell his blood. I could almost hear his beating heart.

I could see the pulsing vein in his neck, beckoning me forward.

The sun was setting, and the lights around Jackson Square were starting to come on. The tarot card readers were folding up their tables, ready to disappear into the night. The band playing in front of the cathedral was putting their instruments away. The artists who hung their work on the iron fence around the park were long gone, as were the living statues. The square, so teeming with life just a short hour earlier, was emptying of people, and the setting sun was taking the warmth with it as it slowly disappeared in the west. The cold breeze coming from the river ruffled my hair a bit as I watched the young man with the bicycle. He started wheeling the bicycle forward again, still talking on the phone. He reached the concrete ramp leading up to Chartres Street. He stopped just as he reached the street, and I focused my hearing as he became more agitated. What do you want me to say? You’re just being a bitch, and anything I say you’re just going to turn around on me.

I felt the burning inside.

Desire was turning into need.

I knew it was best to satisfy the desire before it became need. I could feel the knots of pain from deprivation forming behind each of my temples and knew it was almost too late. I shouldn’t have let it go this long, but I wanted to test my limits, see how long I could put off the hunger. I’d been taught to feed daily, which would keep the hunger under control and keep me out of danger.

Need was dangerous. Need led a vampire to take risks he wouldn’t take ordinarily. And risks could lead to exposure, to a painful death.

The first lesson I’d learned was to always satiate the hunger while it was still desire, to never ever let it become need.

I had waited too long.

“Bloodletting” is an unusual story for me in that it’s actually a short story that bridges the gap between my novella “Blood on the Moon” and the novel Need; I eventually used it as the book’s first chapter. I have always wanted to give vampire fiction a try; I created an entire world that I first wrote about in the novella “The Nightwatchers,” which I always intended to develop into a series. I still would like to develop that series, and when the opportunity came to write “Blood on the Moon” I realized I could simply still use the world I’d created for “The Nightwatchers” and move on to different characters. The second book in the series, the one that was to follow Need, Desire, was going to tie the two story-lines together but Need didn’t sell as well as the publisher would have liked and so Desire died in the water. I may still go back and write it, of course, but I have no publisher for it and I am not particularly interested in self-publishing that much. But…I never say never. I wrote “Bloodletting” for Blood Sacraments, and only had to change the original concept a little bit; in the original idea Cord, my vampire, was actually sitting on the roof of St. Louis Cathedral watching the crowd for his next victim. I still love that image, and may use it sometime, but I did eventually change it to how it reads now.

57921a3ee18a224b7db94cbb1638e3d2

Maneater

Is there a male version of the term maneater? I’ve been wracking my brain trying to think of what it could be; which indicates that the answer to that question is obviously, no. I also would imagine maneater and femme fatale are interchangeable; Phyllis from Double Indemnity is one of the best fictional representations of the type. I’ve always wondered what Phyllis was thinking, and how much more interesting the book would be told from her point of view. There has been a so-called trend in crime fiction lately, where the stories are told from the point of view of the maneater, which has also led to lots of opinion pieces about the rise of unlikable women characters in crime fiction, which strikes me as kind of odd, as those types of characters have been around (male or female) since the very beginning of crime fiction. Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl is often credited as the book that started the trend, but I think it’s more accurate to say that Flynn’s book was the first major break out bestseller to have an unlikable woman as the focal point of the story.

I made some great progress on reading The Gods of Gotham  last night, and what a marvelous read it is! This is historical crime fiction done right–the last historical crime fiction novel I read that I enjoyed this much was Louis Bayard’s The Black Tower. Lyndsay has somehow managed to weave a tale involving the founding of the New York police department, Irish immigration, religious/ethnic bigotry, racism, politics, and child prostitution; and this world is alive and breathes. It’s really quite an accomplishment, and it’s written with wit and style and compassion; it’s also written in the style of nineteenth century novels but she has also managed to update the style and make it modern; Dickens, as it were, without the cloying over-sentimentality. Faye’s characters are also developed so strongly they all live and breathe and seem absolutely real; the maneater of the book is a madam named Silkie, who is delightful in her scheming and corruption. I intend to read more of the book later today, after I get the errands and chores done, and more of the goddamned line edit. My to-do list for the weekend is rather ambitious, I do confess; perhaps too ambitious to get everything done, but I’d rather overestimate what I can get done than underestimate.

The kitchen is a mess, the apartment is a disaster area, and of course, laundry laundry laundry. Heavy heaving sigh. Paul’s off playing tennis this morning, and I actually woke up feeling rested this morning. So, getting everything done seems like it’s something that’s actually possible. It’s supposed to rain off and on all day; we’ll see. I also made some progress on the Scotty book yesterday. My goal is to try to get a chapter done every day for the next twenty days–which will be, of course, a complete first draft. By that time, the line edit of the WIP should be finished and input–I can only do line edits on hard copies, which is not eco-friendly, but doing it on the computer has proven to not be as effective over the years. I do think this line edit is going well, and making the book even stronger, which is the entire point, right?

I also had a terrific conversation with the moderator of one of my two panels at Bouchercon, and I am very excited about the panel; this is also the first time I’ve been on two panels at Bouchercon–so probably I’ll be lucky to get one on St. Petersburg next year. I am looking forward to the Toronto trip this year; Bouchercon is always one of the highlights of my year.

I am going to read, I think, The Fixes by Owen Matthews (aka Owen Laukkanen) next, once I’ve finished Gods of Gotham.

And on that night, I should probably get back to the spice mines.

Here’s a Saturday hunk for you, Constant Reader:

fitness-male-model-photo-men-71-1124x803

MUSIC: Losing My Religion by REM

MOOD: Cheerful