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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Never Gonna Let You Go

Have you read the comic book co-written by Megan Abbott and Alison Gaylin, Normandy Gold?

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It will come as no surprise that its fantastic. Megan Abbott and Alison Gaylin are two of the best crime writers of our Golden Age of women crime writers.

One of the things that can get confusing with crime fiction is the subgenres and the sometimes slight distinctions between them; take hard-boiled vs. noir as an example. I think the confusion comes because a hard-boiled crime novel, when made into a film, can fit into the film noir category, which is a bit broader than the genre definitions crime novels can use and books can fall into; for example, The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep are hard-boiled detective novels; the films, however, are classic film noir. (Your mileage may vary; I am speaking only for myself and how I classify books.) For me, a detective novel that is dark and brooding and cynical in nature is hard-boiled, Sue Grafton and Sara Paretsky’s novels, for me, fall into this category, as do Hammett’s detective fiction and Chandler’s. James M. Cain’s novels were noir, as are Megan Abbott’s. Alison Gaylin’s detective novels are more hard-boiled; her stand alone novels are more noir. For me, a noir novel doesn’t have a professional investigator as the main character; those are hard-boiled.

Charles Ardai’s Hard Case Crime line of novels contains both noir and hard-boiled fiction; the team-up of Gaylin and Abbott with the graphic serial novel Normandy Gold is a fine addition to Hard Case, and one of the best comics/graphic novels I’ve come across in a long while. As I read the first issue on my iPad, all I could think was how glorious this is; excellent, crisp dialogue and incredible storytelling, along with some amazing artwork. If there are awards for graphic novels, just start sending them along to the team that produced this now!

Normandy Gold firmly straddles the line between noir and hard-boiled with guns blazing. Set in the 1970’s, Normandy is a small town sheriff in rural Oregon. Her mother was a prostitute, and she ran away when she was a teen to try to find a better life for herself, leaving her younger sister behind. One day she gets a call from her sister, and is still on the line with her as her sister is murdered. Normandy comes to Washington DC to find out what she can about her sister’s death; the cops have written it off as just another dead whore no one cares about and unsolvable. But Normandy also finds out her sister wasn’t just a prostitute; she worked for a very elite, high level escort service, and decides to go undercover to find what happened to her sister.

This typical-sounding set-up comes alive in the hands of two master storytellers, and the art itself is stunningly beautiful. The story moves very quickly, and the 1970’s setting is perfectly done; not a false note in the entire first issue. This is the kind of story that, as a film in the 1970’s, would have earned a star like Jane Fonda or Ellen Burstyn or Ann-Margret an Oscar nomination, if not the statue itself. Vividly realized, you keep turning the pages to see what happens next…and when you get to the end of the issue, you’re sorry it’s done but can’t wait to read the next.

Highly recommended.

 

(They Long to Be) Close to You

Laura Lippman famously said on a panel once that in noir fiction, “dreamers become schemers.” It’s probably the best, and most simple, description of noir that I’ve ever heard; it’s broad enough to include James M. Cain’s Mildred Pierce (the book is different from the film) because Mildred does become a schemer, even though there is no crime in the book. That’s the part of noir that most don’t get; there doesn’t really have to be a crime in the story for it to be noir; although most noir has a crime. The first time I ever tried to write noir (which I love) was when I was asked to write a story for New Orleans Noir; that story, “Annunciation Shotgun,” is one of my favorites of my own work, and I was very pleased with my dark, nasty little story. So, you can imagine my horror when one of the other contributors told me, at a reading for the book, how much she loved my story “because it was so funny.” I hadn’t intended it to be funny, of course, but when it became my turn to read, sure enough, the audience laughed in parts. And I learned a valuable lesson: noir can be funny, too.

This is clearly a lesson the Victor Gischler learned at some point in his writing career because his second novel, The Pistol Poets, is noir but at the same time one of the funniest books I’ve ever read.

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Moses Duncan was in the barn up to his elbows in the fried engine of his Harley-Davidson when he saw the girl driving too fast down the dirt road to his ranch, her Toyota pickup kicking up dust, the dogs barking. He knew who it was. The girl, one of those college kids. Sexy.

He looked at himself. Wiry arms sticking out of his sleeveless AC/DC T-shirt, greasy jeans. It was freezing in the barn, but he couldn’t work on the bike in a jacket. He hadn’t shaved or bathed in two days. Damn, he hated to look so shitty when the pretty ones came around to make a buy. He pushed back his shaggy dishwater hair, accidentally smearing  grease on one side of his head.

He wiped his hands on a rag, stepped out of the barn just as she parked her truck. Moses squinted at the sky. Clouds rolling in. It was rain soon, sleet maybe if it got cold enough.

As Constant Reader is aware, plot is probably my weakest point when it comes to my own novels. I can do character, dialogue, scene, setting, place, mood–all of that. But when it comes to plot…well, I just can’t seem to wrap my mind around how to intricately construct a plot and weave the strands and characters together. Carl Hiassen is really good at this (and manages to be funny at the same time); Victor Gischler does the same thing. And The Pistol Poets manages to contain the same level of farce as Hiassen, while being truly hardboiled and noir at the same time. There are any number of characters in The Pistol Poets, and many of them are point of view characters, at least briefly; again, very hard to pull off and make work.

The book begins with a college student buying drugs from Moses Duncan; she is having an assignation later on with one of her instructors at Eastern Oklahoma University, a second (maybe even third) rate college in a bumfuck small town, a visiting professor and published poet named Jay Morgan. Jay is the erstwhile hero/anti-hero of the story; having a sort of midlife crisis as he moves around the country at bad colleges as a visiting professor, filling in for tenured professors on sabbatical, drowning in alcohol and an “i-don’t-give-a-shit” attitude. The story also involves Harold Jenks, a two-bit hoodlum in East St. Louis who becomes accidentally involved in the murder of a young college student, heading for the bus station to attend the MFA program at EOU. Harold is sick of the life and decides to take the student’s place, which just happens to be in Jay’s poetry seminar…and the story is off to the races. It’s hard to imagine, given the high amount of violence and high body count, that the book is also funny; it manages to skewer MFA writing programs, poetry, academic writing/literature conferences, department politics, drug dealing, and so, so much more. It’s highly, highly entertaining, and I highly recommend this without any qualms.

And now, back to my edits.

I Don’t Want to Know

Thanksgiving Eve, and all is well in the Lost Apartment. I’m up early for Wacky Russian, and I actually woke up a half an hour before the alarm went off, well rested and not tired in the least. There’s something to this vacation thing, or it’s the sleepytime tea I’ve been drinking before I go to bed every night (I started that this week, and so far it’s been pretty effective).

Of course, now that I’ve said that, tonight it won’t work.

Last night I finished reading Falling Angel by William Hjortsberg.

It was Friday the thirteenth and yesterday’s snowstorm lingered in the streets like a leftover curse. The slush outside was ankle-deep. Across Seventh Avenue a treadmill parade of lightbulb headlines marched endlessly around Times Tower’s terra cotta facade…HAWAII IS VOTED INTO UNION AS FIFTIETH STATE: HOUSE GRANTS FINAL APPROVAL 232 TO 89; EISENHOWER’S SIGNATURE OF BILL ASSURED…Hawaii, sweet land of pineapples and Haleloki; ukuleles strumming, sunshine and surf, grass skirts swaying in the tropical breeze.

I spun my chair around and stared out at Times Square. The Camels spectacular on the Claridge puffed fat steam smoke rings out over the snarling traffic. The dapper gentleman on the sign, mouth frozen in a round O of perpetual surprise, was Broadway’s harbinger of spring. Earlier in the week, teams of scaffold-hung painters transformed the smoker’s dark winter homburg and chesterfield overcoat into seersucker and panama straw; not as poetic as Capistrano swallows, but it got the message across. My building was built before the turn of the centuryl a four-story brick pile held together with soot and pigeon dung. An Easter bonnet of billboards flourished on the roof, advertising flights to Miami and various brands of beer. There was a cigar store on the corner, a Polerino parlor, two hot dog stands, and the Rialto Theatre, mid-block. The entrance was tucked between a peep-show bookstore and a novelty place, show windows stacked with whoopee cushions and plaster dog turds.

The book was originally published in 1978 and was an Edgar Award finalist for Best First Novel; it didn’t win, losing to Killed in the Ratings by William L. DeAndrea. It was filmed in the 1980’s as the infamous Angel Heart, starring Mickey Rourke, Charlotte Rampling, Lisa Bonet, and Robert DeNiro. I enjoyed the film very much when I saw it, not knowing it was based on a book; it was another one of those films that drew me to New Orleans and Louisiana. Recently (in the last several months) I came across a listing of great crime novels or the ten noir novels everyone should read or something like that; so I thought, oh, I have to read that and there you go.

The plot of the novel itself was adapted almost perfectly for the film; a private eye named Harry Angel is hired by a strange man named Louis Cyphre to find Johnny Favorite, a singer who was apparently severely injured and left with amnesia during World War II; he owes a debt to Mr. Cyphre and he suspects that Favorite may not be in the hospital he is supposed to be. Angel starts looking for Favorite and discovers that Cyphre is right; Favorite is no longer at the hospital, and soon is drawn into a creepy world of black magic, voodoo, and ritual murder. The primary difference between the novel and the film is that the novel takes place entirely in New York; in the book Favorite’s trail leads Angel to New Orleans.

I guess the filmmakers felt voodoo, black magic, and ritual murders fit better in New Orleans that New York. Whatever; I’m glad they did because again, the film was another step in my journey to New Orleans.

The book is very well done, the pacing is great and as I have said in previous entries, that cynical, hard-boiled noir voice is captured perfectly. I myself have never been able to quite get that style down absolutely right; I do intend to keep trying as I love both hard-boiled and noir styles. Having seen the movie I knew the big surprise twist; I can imagine how surprising and shocking it was back in 1978, or if you haven’t seen the film; the twist was one of the reasons I loved the movie. Even knowing it, I still enjoyed the book tremendously because of the writing.

And now, back to the spice mines.