Are You Ready for This?

Tuesday and back to the day job for a shortened week of work, in which I will only have to get up at six twice, praise be to the baby Jesus.

I am still basking a bit in the afterglow of reading Laurie R. King’s remarkable The Beekeeper’s Apprentice (and there are VOLUMES of Mary Russell cases! VOLUMES!). Wow, what an achievement that was, and one that I certainly envy. It’s very daunting, too–as a writer, I am never more aware of my failings as when I am reading the words of a far more gifted author–and am still feeling a little daunted as I move deeper into the prep work for the final draft of the Kansas book and its ultimate completion. But I got a lot of rest over the long weekend, football is over so my weekends are completely free going forward, and I have a lot of writing that I want to get done this year–hell, I want to get a lot of things done this year, and full steam ahead, I say. As the dark presses up against my windows and I sip my cappuccino, I don’t feel worried or stressed or upset about anything; my mantra it is what it is should help keep me moving forward. I need to stop stressing and worrying about finding the time to do things because the reality is all the stressing and worrying does is kill time and prevent me from doing things, so I need to just try to let go of worry and strife and hunker down and get shit done.

I always feel like I can conquer the world when I am properly rested, don’t I?

But the restful weekend was nice, and nourishing, and lovely. Last week–well, every moment since our nation’s Capitol came under attack–has been insanity, utter insanity, and I was doing the old doom-scroll and watching the news at every opportunity lately as well (it’s been years since I turned on either MSNBC or CNN) and while I am still deeply concerned about the country, the inauguration, and our imminent near-future, I get all tensed up inside and stressed again, so I am, for my own mental health and creativity, going to have to. back away from it and just check in randomly and periodically and resist the urge to keep scrolling or watching. American politics and history–always of such interest to me–have become so toxic that even observing history occurring sends my blood pressure sky-rocketing and twists my stomach into knots.

But it does seem as though the majority of people not lost to Q-Anon conspiracy has finally awakened to what I’ve been screaming about for about thirty years–the depth of these people’s hatred for anyone who disagrees with them on anything. They do not and have not seen as Americans; they do not see us as equals. They only see us as an enemy who must be destroyed at all costs, and woe be to they who do not goose-step in line with their authoritarian values and beliefs. Maybe it was easier to see for me because as a gay man I have been in their rifle-sights for as long as I can remember, I don’t know–but I can remember being dismissed in 2008 and 2009 when I said that they weren’t interested in working together or bridging the divide; they just wanted to obstruct and undermine and paralyze. The Q-Anon traitorous mob that sacked the Capitol on January 6 had its roots in the Tea Party and their racist hatred of Barack Obama, and this was their inevitable path–just as their seditious ancestors refused to compromise on any level about slavery to the point they were willing to destroy the country. Their descendants are no different–and believe you me, part of the Lost Cause mythology holds that the Confederacy was the true American democracy, and those who believe in the Lost Cause still believe it today.

The cognitive dissonance inside their brains must be staggering, absolutely staggering.

We watched two more episodes of Bridgerton last night, which is strangely addicting–but one can always expect that from a Shondaland show, can’t one? Who would have ever thought the highly restrictive societal expectations of the upper, privileged class when it came to marriage for women would make for such riveting television? Part of the American fascination with the aristocracy, I suppose–the same mentality that made Dallas and Dynasty ratings champions back in the day and drove the careers of Harold Robbins, Sidney Sheldon, Jacqueline Susann, and Jackie Collins into the bestselling stratosphere: we like to see rich people suffering. But Bridgerton is an absolute delight, from its writing to its excellent diverse casting choices to every bit of its high production values, from costumes to sets. (There’s an absolutely lovely scene in which Daphne and her brother–the fourth episode, perhaps, or the third?–decide to not wake the servants to make them warm milk in the middle of the night, realize they don’t know how to work the stove, and end up drinking it cold, which tells us all about the class divide–imagine not being able to work a stove! But I daresay there are wealthy people in the country today who wouldn’t know how to light a pilot light or how to work their kitchen appliances)

Tonight, after work, I have to dive headfirst into the revision of the book, which, while daunting, needs to be done. February is a short month which means I don’t have as many days before March 1 to get the book finished; there is the Fat Tuesday holiday coming up as well–I may take off Lundi Gras for a longer weekend–so I can focus on the book writing during that time as well, which should help dramatically. I am not as stressed about this book as I perhaps might (or should) be; I am also relatively certain that can be chalked up to pure denial. I am also trying to decide what to read next–I am still all aflutter from the brilliance of the Laurie R. King novel I read over the weekend; and I have so many options to choose from (the advantage and curse of a deep TBR pile, I suppose) that it’s going to be a difficult decision. I may resort to short stories for the week and wait until the weekend, when I have more time, to get involved in a wondrous read, whatever that may prove to be.

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader! I certainly intend to do so.

Head over Heels

There was an article somewhere recently that described a new trend in literary fiction, inspired by Elena Ferrante: writing about women’s friendships. I literally did a double-take when I saw it; because there have been books, across all genres, about female friendships for many, many years–for example, the examination of women’s friendships and relationships with other women were at the root of every Rona Jaffe novel; the primary strengths of both Peyton Place and Valley of the Dolls lie in the friendships between the women; going back to Jane Eyre, there are always friendships between women at the heart of novels (hello, Jane Austen?). The point is this is nothing new, so to describe this as a ‘new trend’ is short-sighted to say the least, lazy writing at the worst.

Rebecca Chance novels kind of defy description, to be honest. They are called ‘bonkbusters’ in her native England (where they are runaway bestsellers); some call them ‘glamorous thrillers.’ She writes about what used to be called ‘the jet set’, or ‘the beautiful people’, or the ‘rich and beautiful’; territory that used to be mined by Jackie Collins, Judith Krantz, Sidney Sheldon, Harold Robbins, and Jacqueline Susann. And while I don’t mean to demean her predecessors in the field, who were quite good at what they did and wrote yarns you simply could not put down, Chance’s novels are different; in that they combine sharp social commentary, wit (at times, they are laugh out loud funny), and characters that you can’t help but like and identify with.

Her latest, Killer Affair, is no exception.

killer affair

It was an ocean liner come to rest in the heart of London, its glittering, prow-shaped facade jutting towards the Thames. From its terraces and balconies, the view was unparalleled: the beautiful curve of the Playhouse Theatre with its glowing lights, the flow of boats along the wide river, the sprawl of the South Bank beyond, London’s bounty spread like a fabulous offering of endless possibilities to the gilded, privileged guests who occupied the penthouse suites.

However, the young woman who was climbing out of the black cab outside the hotel entrance in Whitehall was in no mood for relaxing on a private balcony with a glass of champagne, resting her arms on the rail, gazing down over the glittering city as she made plans for that evening. Her jaw was set determinedly, her eyes hard. The liveried doorman, reaching into the can for her two suitcases, asked if she was a guest at the hotel, to which she responded curtly that no, she had a booking at the spa and needed to check her luggage.

If the doorman thought it was strange for a day spa visitor to arrive with a pair of large, battered suitcases, there was not a hint of that reaction on his face; his demeanour remained entirely polite and neutral as he carried them inside.

And so begins the latest Rebecca Chance novel–who is this woman, and what is she doing at the spa? The prologue ends with her discovering her target–another woman with whom she is angry–and dumping ice all over her recumbent figure as she spits out angrily, “You bitch! You’ve ruined my life!” (With hints of Shirley Conran’s brilliant, memorable opening to her novel, Lace: “Which one of you bitches is my mother?”)

The book then flashes back to the beginning of the story; how the two women met and became involved with each other’s lives. One of them is Lexy O’Brien, a reality television superstar in the UK who quite literally and ruthlessly climbed to the top of the pile of reality stars by carefully planning her every move, maximizing every bit of publicity she could gather, and is now quite happily married to a sexy former footballer who now is a TV commentator. The two live with their two children and various staff in a beautiful mansion in Sandbank, one of the most expensive places to buy property in the world, and Lexy is planning her next assault on the tabloids/entertainment journalism: writing a memoir. Of course, Lexy isn’t going to write it herself but needs a ghostwriter, which is where young, chubby Caroline comes in. Caroline works writing press releases and also writes a blog, shares a flat with four other broke young people, and dreams of becoming a successful novelist. She is quite dazzled at first by Lexy and her life; Lexy, while immensely narcissistic and self-absorbed (two vitally necessary personality traits for any reality star) is not a bad person–she just sees everyone around her as tools for her stardom and vehicles for publicity. She is actually quite generous with the bedazzled Caroline, and the young woman is grateful at first…but the more she writes, the less dazzled by Lexy she is…and the little nickname Lexy gives her at first–“Ghost Mouse”–begins to rankle…especially as Caroline, by being quiet, listening, and paying attention, learns a lot more than Lexy could ever imagine. And soon, she begins to not just envy Lexy her life, but to believe Lexy doesn’t deserve it.

To tell anymore would spoil the twisty, clever and wickedly funny plot (although it has strong elements of All About Eve), and despite all appearances to the contrary, neither Lexy nor Caroline is a villain. Chance, as always, has created three dimensional characters, strong women with good and bad sides, whose behavioral motivations make complete sense–and her keen insights into reality television, writing and publishing, and how intricate and delicate relationships between friends, family, and lovers can be, make the book completely un-put-down-able. I deeply resented having to put the book aside to work on my own writing, or go to work, or to go to bed. Yesterday I sat down in my easy chair to read for an hour before doing my own writing–and seven hours later put the book down with an enormously satisfied sigh.

Americans, you can either order the book from Amazon.co.uk; the Book Depository; or from Murder by the Book in Houston. It’s soooooo worth it, believe me.