Fading Fast

When I started looking over the lyrics to the three Go-Go’s songs I was given to choose from as my inspiration for a story–as you well know, I settled on “This Town”–I was amazed, as I have said before in previous entries about these stories in this anthology, at how dark the lyrics actually were when removed from the context of the upbeat music and the cheerful singing voice of Belinda Carlisle.

Needless to say, the songs definitely loaned themselves to serving as inspiration from crime stories.

And Sarah M. Chen wrote perhaps one of the darkest stories I’ve read in a long time, inspired by “Fading Fast.”

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The guttural meow of a feral cat pierced the still night, making Sherry yelp. She stumbled on the gravel road and smacked into Justin, who crept silently in front of her.

“Jesus, what’s with you?” Justin whispered, spinning around. He held a finger up to his lips as if she needed to be reminded that they were supposed to be “stealth-like.” Jus- tin’s exact words because this was all his plan. He didn’t even want her here, but no way was she letting him do this without her.

“Sorry. Damn cat.” She hated cats. Mostly because that’s how they sounded late at night outside her window. Howling in that creepy, blood-curdling way.

His stern look softened into concern. “It’s not too late to back out, babe. Let me handle it.” His eyes traveled down to her bulging belly.

Sherry instinctively put her hand on her round tummy. She shook her head. “No, this is my thing.”

Their eyes locked in the darkness, illuminated by the full moon and the flickering streetlight behind them.

“It’s our thing.” Justin smiled and grabbed her hand. Gave it a squeeze. She squeezed back, and he motioned to the trailer about twenty feet ahead of them. “Ready?”

She nodded. Their footsteps crunched on the gravel as they closed in on the gray aluminum mobile home with the sagging bottom frame. The chilly night seemed to penetrate her bones, as if she weren’t wearing two sweatshirts and a windbreaker. Or maybe it was her nerves. She shivered.

Justin climbed the creaky steps and tried the front door. It was locked, as Sherry knew it would be. Justin pulled out a flathead screwdriver and went to work. Ernie didn’t bother with the deadbolt. Figured the few neighbors around knew better than to screw with him. Tonight, he was wrong.

The story opens with Justin and Sherry breaking into the trailer of Ernie; she is heavily pregnant, so immediately the mind runs to why would a pregnant woman be doing this? But as the story progresses, Chen deftly shows us precisely why a pregnant woman would take such a monumental risk, and why she is so driven. A powerful story about abuse, the damage that results from it, and how that damage can carry on to another generation unless someone breaks the cycle is handled quite expertly here; and the way the story ends is quite a punch in the mouth. Chen is quite gifted, and this is my first experience with reading her work…and it won’t be the last.

Well done!

Blades

Reading these stories, and revisiting the music, has drawn me into something I rarely do: reminisce and think about the past. I generally try not to think too much about the past; it’s the past and there’s nothing to be done about it, after all. Sometimes, though, when writing, I try to draw on my past and my own experience.

The 1980’s were a difficult decade for me, but one of the things I remember fondly about that decade was always the music. I’ve always had a soft spot for 1980’s music, and it was a weird, transitory time for it. MTV changed everything; exposing Americans and young people to new music and bands and artists they might not have ever heard, and the visual medium of the new “music television” channel also allowed us all to experience music visually, and there’s no question that interesting video presentation helped artists like Culture Club, Cyndi Lauper, Duran Duran, and many others to an even greater success than might have otherwise been possible for them.

The Go-Go’s videos were almost always very simplistic; probably “Vacation” was the most complicated video they ever made. Rewatching their videos recently kind of made me laugh–“Head over Heels”, for example, looks like it cost $20 to produce–and I’m not certain if this was because they didn’t care, or the record company thought they were big enough to not need the push from a terrific video.

The next story up in Murder-a-Go-Go’s is “Blades,” by Steve Weddle.

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He was on his fifth Tequila Sunrise when his head hit the table.

“Everything, guys. Everything.”

We’d talked Nick into coming for drinks because he hadn’t been out of his apartment since twenty-nine days back when he and Laura had called it off. We had to get him out. Even without the wedding, the three of us considered ourselves his groomsmen. Until death do us all part, it seemed. Though another few drinks might take care of that.

The Thursday night crowd at Wingin’ It was worried more about the Cowboys-Eagles game than about the four of us concussing ourselves on a table.

Raphael slid the emptied tumblers away from Nick’s head. “She didn’t take every- thing, man.” Raph was the jokester among us, the one we sent in to cause a scene if we needed it, the one thinking he was just one prank away from going viral. When we’d go to games, he was the one who would sneak us in a diaper bag full of White Russians in baby bottles “You’ve still got your health,” he told Nick, pulling a coaster from the side of Nick’s face. “And that nasty cold sore.”

Truth be told, Nick was a bit of a late bloomer. We were all in our late thirties, but he hadn’t even gotten through his first marriage, yet. And with Laura dumping him a month before the wedding, he was even further behind us.

“Look,” Sam said, “if it wasn’t meant to be, it’s best you know now. The two of you can move on, find new people. It’s good news to find out now.”

“We’re still registered,” he said.

Ralph, Sam, and I looked at each other, then back to Nick.

“Sure,” Sam said, “I’m sure she didn’t even think about it. Probably moved on. You should too, man.”

“At Target,” Nick continued, ignoring Sam. “I checked. Target still thinks the wedding is going to happen. On the nineteenth. That’s next weekend.” He’d raised his head, apparently just he could drop it, rattling on the table again. “Next weekend.”

Sam said he’d get the next round, then walked across the room to the bar.

This story is different from the preceding ones in that the crime committed during the course of this story isn’t a felony; and the crime itself, while the driving force behind the story, isn’t really the focus of the story. The story is about friendship, and the things guys do to help out their friends, whether it’s a smart thing or not, and the ending of the story might be a little dark–the story itself is dark, emotionally–but it also leaves the reader with a strong sense of satisfaction; justice, of a sort, has been done, and everyone feels better about things. It’s about male bonding and male friendship, and not done in a way that feels non-relatable to not-straight men.

Quite good, and I loved the change of pace.

And now back to the spice mines.

It’s Everything But Party Time

Since adding Spotify to my life this week, I’ve been having a great time listening to albums I love, and of course the Go-Go’s are on that list. I’d forgotten how much I love having music on while I do things around the Lost Apartment–whether it’s cleaning or editing or writing; music always makes things better, quite frankly.

It certainly makes the time go by a lot faster.

Next up in Murder-a-Go-Go’s is Lisa Alber’s “It’s Everything But Party Time”:

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It’s my humble opinion that nothing says “boondoggle” like a bunch of oddballs running around a hotel dressed in fursuits. Wolves, raccoons, polar bears, and kittens sitting around the Paradise Arms Hotel lounge munching on appetizers and scratching each oth- er’s backs below a banner announcing “Furtopia—Welcome to Party Time!” didn’t bode well for the investigation.

My partner Mac skidded to a halt. “Sully? What the blazing fuck is this? You don’t warn me?”

“Nope. Hotel fully booked for a furry conference.”

The previous morning, paramedics had carted away a guy from room 306. Apparent heart attack. Only, the M.E. cut him open, cried “homicide,” and now here we stood, a day late to the investigation, surrounded by animal wannabes.

“So that lazy turd Weaver screwed up the initial investigation,” Mac said.

“Yep, settled for face value—natural causes. Didn’t lock down the scene properly. I’d probably have done the same thing.”

Mac punched me in the arm, too hard. “Not with me around.”

MacKenzie MacDougal, also known as Double-Mac-and-Cheese, Two-Mac, and Mac Attack, sports an unfortunate name to go with a fortunate tendency to rock her retro pantsuits. Ever more the professional than I, she perused the lobby area with its antique Italian marble, plaster ornamentation, and wrought iron fixtures straight out of Hollywood’s Golden Era and jotted a few notes.

Lisa Alber is another new-to-me author, which is one of the great things about anthologies; the exposure to writers you’ve not read before. She’s published four novels, including the County Clare mystery series.

“It’s Everything But Party Time” is particularly clever in that it’s set at a furry convention hotel, where the only guest not attending the convention died–originally presumed to be from natural causes, but the autopsy turned up peculiarities. This is a fun police procedural, with an interesting homicide detective team in Los Angeles; what makes this more unusual is that the woman is the better detective, the male isn’t threatened by her expertise, and they work very well together. This story is witty and clever and fun, and I had a great time reading it!

An American Dream

I am waiting for the other shoe to drop about Spotify, because I am really enjoying having it. Although I suppose…how do the artists get paid? Obviously, the music has to be paid for at some point–for the right to stream it, right? Then again, that isn’t how radio worked, and this is kind of like “choose your own radio/be a disc jockey”.

Talking about Pat Benatar the other day, of course, led me to make a Pat playlist, and of course the Go-Go’s anthology has led to a Go-Go’s playlist as well. I also made one for the Carpenters (on the Benatar thread I mentioned how noir their music is),Stevie Nicks (was there any doubt?), the Monkees (Peter Tork’s death), and copied some 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s pop hits ones. It’s actually been kind of fun.

Oh! TINA TURNER! Be right back.

So I managed to get two chapters revised yesterday; two more today and the thing is done. Oh, I still need to redo the prologue and write the epilogue, then copy edit one more time, but if I get these two chapters done today, I can do the prologue and epilogue on Monday, and do the final copy edit next weekend.

And then it’s finished.

I’m actually excited to get back to my short stories and my other WIP, to be honest. I want to get the WIP finished in its first draft by the end of March, then put it aside to rework another manuscript for the month of April before returning to the WIP.

Huzzah!

I am also very tired this morning. Muses last night apparently wore me out. My lower back hurts a bit and my legs are tired as well. It may have something to do with I bought a new brand of over-the-counter sleeping pills at Costco yesterday, the Costco brand at that. I tried them out last night and obviously they worked. I didn’t even wake up until almost nine this morning, and am still very sleepy and exhausted. Today’s goals are to wash the bed linens, do some more cleaning, cook some things, and do the last two chapters of Scotty. I doubt I’ll have much of a chance to work on it again until Monday; Paul and I always drink on Iris Saturday which makes the day a total waste, and Sunday is parades all day and recovery. I would like to power through today and get those last two chapters finished today, so I can go ahead and use Monday to write the epilogue, and then do one last copy edit on Fat Tuesday while the rest of the city parties and celebrates, and then I can be done with it.

It’s been a long haul, but I am very pleased with this Scotty book.

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

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This Town

As I have mentioned before, I kind of invited myself to contribute to this anthology. It’s probably the single most brazen thing I’ve ever done as a writer. I’m not sure how it happened, exactly; I just saw it on Twitter or something and shamelessly contacted Holly West, who–rather than saying who the fuck are you? HELL FUCKING NO, was quite gracious and said, “By all means! I have a spot for you!”

The songs I got to choose from were three of my favorites, but I eventually decided on “This Town,” after reviewing the lyrics:

We all know the chosen toys 
Of catty girls and pretty boys 
Make up that face 
Jump in the race 
Life’s a kick in this town 
Life’s a kick in this town
This town is our town 
It is so glamorous 
Bet you’d live here if you could 
And be one of us
Change the lines that were said before 
We’re all dreamers – we’re all whores 
Discarded stars 
Like worn out cars 
Litter the streets of this town 
Litter the streets of this town
This town is our town 
It is so glamorous 
Bet you’d live here if you could 
And be one of us

 

 “We’re all dreamers–we’re all whores”–that was the line that sold me; this was the song I was going to use.

But despite the fact that was the line that convinced me, these lines:

Bet you’d live here if you could 
And be one of us

were the ones that actually inspired my story.

cover-west-murder-go-gos-frontOur IDs were fake, but no one seemed to care. Even when a burly bouncer asked to see them, his bare meaty arms adorned with tattoos, his bored eyes just flicked over the lami- nate before waving us inside. Celia was right about that, like she was right about every- thing. She could always find someone with coke to share or sell, or who was happy to share their blunt with us. She was a golden girl, the kind I used to think only existed in books or movies, the girl that’s too perfect to exist, the one every other girl wants to be friends with, wants to be. The one all the guys notice first, their eyes wide open and their jaws gone slack.

She always had the trendiest new make-up, the first to try out a daring new look we were too cowardly to try but quick to copy, always the first, the one everyone else imitat- ed. She seemed to glow from inside, drawing everyone’s eyes to her effortlessly, and she somehow managed to always look perfect, even when she was drunk, even after dancing for hours when our make-up ran down our cheeks and perspiration dampened our arm- pits. Her skirts were just the tiniest bit shorter than everyone else’s, her tops seemed to fit her in a way they didn’t fit anyone else, her hair thicker and shinier and bouncier. She pulled in guys like night insects to a white light, caught up in her magic. They only no- ticed the rest of us once she’d turned her attention elsewhere. We didn’t mind taking sec- ond place because it seemed like the natural order of things. She always knew the right thing to say—whether kind or insulting—and we all gravitated to her. She was our pledge class president, organized, efficient, determined we be the best pledge class our Omega Psi chapter had ever seen. Even the sisters seemed to be a little in awe of her, grateful she’d picked Omega Psi out of all the offers she’d had—every sorority had offered her a bid, I’d overheard one sister telling another at Monday night dinner, her voice awed as she went on to say that had never happened in the history of the Greek system at Tulane.

And she made us all feel special, whispering “Sisters” to us as we hooked our pinkie fingers and whispered the word back to her, committing to a lifelong bond with her.

She was Celia, and we were better for knowing her, special for being her sisters, like she’d selected us to be pledges and not the actives.

She somehow even knew the best places to catch the parades at our first Mardi Gras and wasn’t from New Orleans.

Haven’t we all known a girl like Celia, the one who somehow always knows what the next thing is, who always wears new styles and fashions before anyone else, who always seems to know where the best parties are, where to find the cute guys, the one everyone is drawn to, who draws the eye, who is the center of attention?

I was in a fraternity in college, and another trope that pops up regularly in my fiction is college Greeks–fraternities and sororities. Chanse was an alum of an LSU fraternity (I have an in-progress short story where Chanse deals with the current day members of his old fraternity after a suspicious death on Big Brother Night, “Once a Tiger”), and of course there are the Todd Gregory fraternity novels. Sororities fascinated me back then, and they still do today; they were a lot stricter than their male counterparts back when I was in college, and still seemed stuck, rules and tradition-wise, in the 1950’s.

Anyway, one day during Carnival last year I was standing under the balcony in front of the praline shop during a Saturday afternoon parade–Iris, I think it was–when a gaggle of sorority girls passed by in front of me. The clear leader of the pack was a beautiful young woman the others were clearly trying to please and impress; the alpha to their betas. They all paused right next to me so the leader could light a cigarette. As she put her cigarette in her purse three men of varying ages immediately stepped up to light her cigarette for her–one was in his fifties, one was slightly older than the girls, and another who might have been in his thirties–and I remembered another golden girl from a sorority back when I was in college…and I wondered what it would be like to be, not the alpha girl, but one of the betas, caught up in her thrall, and what you might be willing to do  for your alpha. Is it peer pressure, is it desire to please, what precisely is it that keeps you in thrall and makes you do things against your nature?

And that night, I started writing “This Town.”

The great irony, of course, was that after I’d written the story and Holly graciously agreed to use it in her anthology, I was reading William J. Mann’s Edgar-winning Tinseltown and realized that “this town” has a specific connotation, one that makes the song itself make even greater sense: “this town” is how people in Los Angeles refer to show business, i.e. “you’ll never eat lunch in this town again.” I’d even know that, from years of reading biographies and memoirs and histories of Hollywood and the studio system, but…my mind and my memory is a sieve these days.

But I’m very proud of my story, and I hope that you will like it, too, when you get a chance to read it.

Good for Gone

Music always brings back memories. One of the greatest disappointments of my life is I have absolutely no musical talent. I can’t read music, I can’t sing, I can’t play any instruments. My singing voice probably curdles milk.

But I love music, and I love all kinds and types and styles of music. I like Top Forty pop music from the 60’s and 70’s to album-only rock to country to jazz to rap to what I used to call ‘Ecstasy music’–gay dance remixes that were clearly mixed to enhance drug-dance marathons at three in the morning. My music collection has always been varied. I listen to music when I write, when I clean, when I do data entry at work, and it has always made the work go better.

The music of the Go-Go’s always brings back fond memories, of the times I saw them in concert, of other friends who were fanatics about them, and of course, from “We’ve Got the Beat,” Go-Go’s music really makes us dance!

Next up in Murder-a-Go-Go’s is Jen Conley’s “Good for Gone.”

cover-west-murder-go-gos-frontI’m going to tell you the truth. You don’t have to believe me, but I need to be heard. I need to tell you what love did to me.

Earlier tonight, I stood over my husband at the side of the bed holding a gleaming butcher knife, my hands shaking, my mind saying, He deserves it. Kill him.

My husband didn’t know I was there. He just snored on. His mouth open. His sleep apnea creating short quick pauses, then the chig chig sound burbling from his throat, followed by the release of breath. Sometimes he put the mask on before bed, looking like he’d emerged from some Rod Serling creation, and I’d once joked about it. “Episode 39, Season 7.”

“There is no season seven in The Twilight Zone,” he snapped, the snark dripping through his mask.

I met Jen at Bouchercon in Toronto; we were on an Anthony Awards Best Anthology Nominees panel, along with Jay Stringer, Sarah Chen, and Eric Beetner, if I am recalling correctly. It was an early morning panel, I think on either Friday or Saturday, and I’d stayed up much later than God intended, drinking with friends, and therefore wasn’t at my best on that panel…and in fact, I don’t remember much of it. I just remember liking them all, and thinking they were all smart and had terrific things to say, whereas I babbled like a complete moron. Jen was also at a disadvantage, in that she was nominated for a single author collection, Cannibals: Stories from the Edge of the Pine Barrens, whereas the rest of us were nominated for editing anthologies–so many of the questions thrown at us had to do with editing, rather than writing. But she was smart, she had terrific things to say, and I remember thinking I should read her collection.

It’s still in the TBR pile, alas, and this is my first time reading her work.

“Good for Gone” is a story about quiet desperation, about choices made and having to live with those choices. The older I get, the more these stories resonate with me, and the more I tend to write stories about bitter disappointment with life, and looking back with regret at the time you possibly chose the wrong path at a fork in the road. I’ve been thinking alot lately about how much the world has changed and evolved, as has society, since crime fiction started being published, and how motives for murder have also evolved. Do people still  kill to get out of bad marriages when divorce is so much easier to obtain these days?

The answer is yes, obviously, we see it in the news every day, and yet what works for real life doesn’t always work for fiction.

But Jen does a very deft job of getting inside her character’s head, of making us see the choices and the life and possibilities wasted and lost, about her wrong choices and regrets, and how that translates into the potential for murder.

Well done, Jen!

Vacation

Vacation was the name of the Go-Go’s second album, and also the first single from the record. The video was instantly iconic; even despite the really bad attempt to convince the viewer that the Go-Go’s were actually doing the water-skiing as the chorus played. But the cheesiness of the blue screen effect actually helped make the video even more fun; and the song was definitely impossible to not sing along to, or dance to, whenever the deejay played it. I always cranked it when it came on the radio.

Vacation was my least favorite of the three original albums, though; outside of the title song, I don’t even remember any of the other songs from the album without having to look them up. My tastes were also kind of evolving at the time; MTV was changing the music industry and exposing Americans to new kinds of music.  The Go-Go’s went on hiatus after this record, due to Gina Schock’s heart condition and a health issue for Charlotte Caffey…and I thought they were kind of done…until they came roaring back with Talk Show a few years later.

Anyway, the next story up in Murder-a-Go-Go’s is S. W. Lauden’s take on “Vacation.”

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The alarm is wailing again, just like every other morning. I was already awake when it started, flipping through this notebook to remember what I wrote last night. I must have been exhausted because I only filled three pages. My handwriting looks like the work of a lunatic toddler, so messy in some places that I can’t figure out what it says. Safe to say the pills they force down my throat are screwing with me. But I have to admit the voices are quieter—not gone, but not screaming, either. Not like that goddamned alarm. That beep-beep-beeping makes me want to murder somebody.

My roomie just hit the snooze button, delaying the inevitable. It’s amazing how some people can go right back to sleep, even when they know the attendants are coming to herd us off. I don’t think we’ve said more than a few words to each other since I came in, which is fine. Nobody talks to me much in this place, not unless it’s their job. I’d be surprised if half the bullshit I spew to my doctor is true.

These pages are the only place where I can be totally honest because I’m the only one who knows they exist for now. Those fuckers wish they could bore their way into my private thoughts, but I’m too smart for them. The words I write in here are for our eyes only. I can’t wait to share them with you, but that has to wait until I earn my mail privileges back.

Speaking of the fuckers, here they are now. Time to hide you away until after lunch. Right now, I have to go see a specialist they brought in just for me. Should I feel special? I already met with him yesterday, one of the worst hours of my life. My regular doctor was there too, but she didn’t say a word to me after “hello.” Just leaned over to whisper in the specialist’s ear every once in a while. He’s an asshole, but it’s nice to have somebody else I can lie to for a change.

I don’t know if I’ve ever met S. W. Lauden in person; it’s entirely possible, given how many drunken nights at Bouchercons I’ve experienced over the last six years. I have a sinking suspicion I may have met him on the now notorious Low-and-Slow Saturday in St. Petersburg, but I cannot be held responsible for any gaps in my memory that occurred that day.

But this story is terrific; it subverts itself over and over again, and while the trope of the unreliable narrator might be getting a bit overdone in crime fiction, the way Lauden toys with the trope to keep his readers on the edge of their seat, reading on and on with an eyebrow raised as they try to grasp what is real and what isn’t, is quite masterful.

Adding Lauden to my must-read-more list!