Do That to Me One More Time

New Orleans bipolar weather has sadly struck again. And while it certainly hasn’t gotten as cold as it was a few weeks ago, when the sun is down it’s been in the forties only heating up to the high fifties and low sixties in the sunshine; but in the mornings it hasn’t warmed up enough yet as I sit at my computer, shivering in horror. But the coffee is definitely warming me up. I have a short day at work today and a short day tomorrow; I am hoping I can get most of the errands done on these two days so I can spend the weekend (other than a Christmas party on Saturday night) with my nose in my manuscripts.

Must. Get. Them. Done.

In other exciting news, the cover for Murder-a-Go-Go’s, an anthology edited by Holly West, has dropped this morning! You can view it here at BOLO Books. My story is called “This Town,” and is probably one of the most deliciously wicked tales I’ve ever written; probably deeply inspired by the work of the amazing Megan Abbott (read her books, if you haven’t; her Give Me Your Hand is making all the Best of 2018 lists).

Work on the book has slowed to an incredibly passive crawl; I did have a big burst Tuesday night, as I already mentioned, but yesterday was one of those can’t seem to get started days. When I got home from work last night I was both cold and tired; Scooter was incredibly needy, and for lack of anything better to do, I just got into bed and reread an old Barbara Michaels favorite until I got sleepy. I did sleep incredibly well last night, which was lovely, with Scooter curled up with me, purring non-stop. I hated getting out of bed this morning; after he got up and I fed him, he nagged me to come back to bed and finally gave up about twenty minutes ago. But I am being incredibly productive this morning since awakening; already finished folding a load of laundry and a second is in the dryer; once I finish this I will put the dishes away and do the ones in the sink.

Huzzah!

I am also hopeful that I’ll get the next chapter of Bury Me in Satin finished today. One can hope, can’t one?

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

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The Way We Were

Cold and damp. That’s New Orleans this week. Which doesn’t really make me want to do anything other than curl up under a blanket with my love-to-cuddle kitty with a good book. I didn’t do that on Monday night, because I made groceries on my way home and then I had to clean the kitchen preparatory to making dinner when Paul got home and by the time we were finished with dinner, I sat down and tried to finish Chapter fucking Four of the book, to no avail. I did manage to get about another three hundred words done, with the ease of extracting an impacted molar; but last night when I got home from the office I was able to–despite shivering–finish that miserable chapter and try to get started on Chapter Five.

Which went about as well as you might expect. Sigh.

But I did get some good news on another front: I sold a short story! Because I am superstitious I don’t want to say what story and to what market, until the contract is signed…but this hopefully will end the long horrible fallow period of no sales I’ve been working through for slightly over a year. I am really pleased, and I really like this story, so I am glad it has found a home–and one that will actually PAY me for using it.

Yay!

I do have two other short stories that will see daylight in 2019; “This Town” in Holly West’s Murder-a-Go-Go’s, which of course is crime stories inspired by the music of the Go-Go’s, and “The Silky Veils of Ardor,” in Josh Pachter’s The Beating of Black Wings, crime stories inspired by the music of Joni Mitchell. I’m very proud of both stories, and look forward to their publication.

That’s the weird thing about this business. Maybe the upper tier of writers–those who are not only making a living but doing very well–might view things differently, but for me it’s a constant struggle to stay positive and believe in myself and what I’m doing–or rather, trying to do–with my writing and my stories. It can be quite disheartening, like when I am struggling trying to get Bury Me in Satin written, or at the very least, continue moving forward with it; rejections from short story markets or non-responses from agents can be a blow, no matter how hard you try to stay focused and positive. So these small victories–even a fifty dollar sale of a short story–really do help.

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

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Object of My Desire

It is Sunday, and I have again slept later than I intended. I meant to set an alarm, as I have things that must be done today but I also stayed up later than I intended and as such, forgot to set said alarm when I tumbled into bed last evening. It’s fine; I should be able to get everything done today that I want to get done. I just have to be a bit better about planning and wasting time. Clearly, I needed the sleep, don’t you think?

I am reading The Day I Died by Lori Rader-Day, as part of my Bouchercon homework, and enjoying it a quite a lot. This is the second of Rader-Day’s novels that I’ve read (the other being Pretty Little Things; I’ve not read her first, The Black Hour, and she’s just released a new one, Under a Dark Sky), and I am enjoying this even more than I did the first I read. Rader-Day writes about damaged women, makes them the center of her stories, and they work through a lot of their damage over the course of the novels. I will, rest assured, have plenty of other things to say about this novel once I’ve finished reading it.

I cleaned my kitchen floors yesterday; not as thoroughly as they need, of course, but more of a surface thing that will pass muster at a glance, but this surface cleansing would not pass muster with my mother. Her nose would wrinkle, her eyes would narrow, and she wouldn’t say anything to me–but that facial expression would tell me everything I need to know about what she was thinking. She would get on her hands and knees and would scrub the floor, probably more than once, with a hard brush and an abrasive cleanser.

I worked briefly on my story “Please Die Soon” as well yesterday; it is shaping up nicely, but I need to concern myself a bit more thoroughly with the pacing, methinks.

Today, for the Short Story Project, we move on to the second story in Florida Happens, “The Best Laid Plans” by Holly West:

June 1948

Bev Marshall waits anxiously behind the wheel of the Buick, watching for the rest of the crew to emerge from the house. It seems they’ve been gone at least an hour, but her watch shows it’s only 10:45 p.m. Less than ten minutes since they went in. The boys work fast, but not that fast.

There are four of them in the crew. Joe Scullion is their boss and Bev’s boyfriend. Alex McGovern is the brawn, and Sean Cregan is a master lock picker. Bev’s their driver. They earn their living burgling wealthy neighborhoods all over the Eastern Seaboard, coming home to Philly with thousands in cash and valuables. Five years working together and not a single arrest, not that the coppers haven’t tried.

It’s been a good run, but after tonight, Bev will be done with all of them.

She thinks she sees movement out of the corner of her eye and snaps her head toward it. Is it them? She squints into the darkness, her hand resting lightly on the key in the ignition. Everything is still and she concedes it must’ve been her imagination. Wrecked by nerves, she quashes the urge to chew a fingernail and slips her hand into her purse in search of cigarettes. Her fingers brush the thick envelope containing every cent she has—nearly five thousand dollars. Along with whatever money she’s able to get for tonight’s haul, it’s enough to keep her going for a year, maybe more if she lives modestly.

She lights a cigarette and pulls the smoke deeply into her lungs, thinking about Richie O’Neill. She’ll miss him when this is done. He runs a hockshop on Vine Street and fences most of the loot they steal. Over the years, he’s become her trusted friend, so when he let it slip recently that Joe had his eye out for a new driver, she believed him. Turns out Joe had fallen hard for some dame he’d met in Atlantic City and he wants to marry her, maybe have some kids.

Holly West is the author of two novels, historical crime novels set at the court of King Charles II of England; the period popularly known as the Restoration. Those novels, Mistress of Fortune and Mistress of Lies, sound terrific. I also love that period, and look forward to reading these novels; you can find out more information about Holly and her novels here, at her website.  She is also on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. You can also sign up for her newsletter at her website. She is also editing an anthology called Murder-a-Go-Go’s, crime stories inspired by the music of the Go-Go’s, with an introduction by Jane Weidlin; it also contains my story “This Town,” and I personally cannot wait to read the entire thing.

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Holly’s story, “The Best Laid Plans,” is entirely self-contained but also feels like it could be the opening of a great noir novel. The main character, Bev Marshall (I also have a very dear author friend by that name; such lovely serendipity) drives the getaway car for a gang of thieves, and is a bit in love with the leader of the gang–who, however, has recently punched her in the face, changing everything. Bev is now planning on getting away from him, and the gang, and starting a new life…and Florida is a way station on her getaway plan. But things, of course, don’t go quite according to plan. A very very well-written and fun story, with a main character I personally would like to spend with.

Well done, Holly! And now, back to the spice mines.

Secret Lovers

I slept so well last night that I didn’t want to get up this morning, which is perhaps the greatest feeling of all. Huzzah! It also means I am not heading into the weekend feeling tired, which will be yet another great feeling. Hurray! Huzzah! Of course, the kitchen’s a disaster area, but I may have the time to correct that this morning before I head into the office. One can always hope, at any rate.

I do think “Burning Crosses” is ready for a read aloud; there’s one more paragraph I need to add, and maybe a sentence here and there, but other than that, it’s close to done. I have also made progress on “This Thing of Darkness,” and I think, as far as short stories go, I am ready to get back to finish/polish/read out loud “Once a Tiger” and “The Problem with Autofill.” I also want to get back to the WIP and the Scotty; I need to read Scotty from the beginning and make notes; and likewise, Chapter Two of the WIP needs to be rewritten, may even need to be a completely newly written chapter because I need to add a scene. But I am hopeful I am setting myself up for an incredibly productive weekend. I am going to a book signing on Saturday afternoon for Bryan Camp’s The City of Lost Fortunes at Tubby and Coo’s (hello, Five Guys!) and I am also supposed to go to a party on Saturday evening, but we’ll see how that all plays out. I may just make Saturday an errand day and try to spend Sunday focusing on writing.

We shall see.

The Terror continues to enthrall, as it moves along to its inevitable end. The ninth episode, which we watched last night, was just non-stop misery and powerful acting from everyone involved. After we finished watching, Paul and I talked about how much we’re enjoying it and The Handmaid’s Tale, and I made the curious realization that the two shows we’re enjoying the most right now are horrific stories of human beings caught up in the most terrifyingly horrible of circumstance, and how interesting is it that we are so enthralled by what basically are, thematically, stories of survival and how much can you take, how much can you handle without giving up entirely?

The writing, and the acting, always stellar, is Master Class worthy in this heartbreaking episode. I fear The Terror will be overlooked for awards, when that season is upon us; which is absolutely wrong. It should win all the awards; I would be hard-pressed, though, to decide on which actor to vote for; there are all that good.

I have to say, yesterday was a lovely day for me professionally. The table of contents for the Murder-a-Go-Go’s anthology I am in was released, and it’s quite stellar. It was lovely to see the social media response; all the likes and retweets and excitement. I am very pleased to be in this book, and I am equally pleased with the story I wrote for it. The book won’t be available until 2019, alas; but it’s going to be a truly good one.

And on that note, it’s back to the spice mines.

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Greatest Love of All

So, today I am very pleased to announce that my short story, “This Town”–which I’ve shared the opening to with you already, Constant Reader, will be published in the Murder-a-Go-Go’s anthology, edited by Holly West! Watch this space for more news about the anthology as publication date approaches!

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Pretty cool, huh? I’ve loved the Go-Go’s for going on nearly forty years now, and so it’s kind of cool to be in anthology of crime stories inspired by their music. And editors–if you ever do such a volume based on the music of Fleetwood Mac and don’t include me, I can’t be held legally responsible for what happens. Just sayin’.

And so many awesome people to share the pages of the anthology with!

Jane Wiedlin is writing the introduction! Eeeeeeeeeeeee!

So, yesterday I continued to work on revising the WIP and shifting the POV/tense, which isn’t as easy as it may appear on its face; it’s very easy to miss instances where past tense is used and needs to be switched to present. It’s also an excellent exercise for me, anyway, because I almost always use the past tense in my writing. (I think I’ve maybe used the present tense once, in a short story.) I also realized another short story I’m working on–“Burning Crosses”–would work better in the present tense, so I revised it into the present tense and revised it as well. I think it’s ready to be read aloud this weekend, which is pretty flippin’ cool.

And one more tweak, and my short story collection is ready to be turned in to my  publisher. Huzzah!

Last night, I reread Agatha Christie’s short story, “Philomel Cottage,” from her collection Witness for the Prosecution:

“Good-bye, darling.”

“Good-bye, sweetheart.”

Alix Martin stood leaning over the small rustic gate, watching the retreating figure of her husband, as he walked down the road in the direction of the village.

Presently he turned around a bend and was lost to sight, but Alix still stayed in the same position, absent-mindedly smoothing a lock of the rich brown hair which had blown across her face, her eyes far-away and dreamy.  Alix Martin was not beautiful, nor even, strictly speaking, pretty. But her face, the face of a woman no longer in her first youth, was irradiated and softened until her former colleagues of the old office days would hardly have recognized her. Miss Alix King has been a trim business-like young woman, efficient, slightly brusque in manner, obviously capable and matter-of-fact.

I loved this story when I first read it, when I was either eleven or twelve; it’s a classic domestic suspense tale: young married couple lives in a remote location, they married very quickly after meeting–after the woman inherited some money–and, in fact, she’d been rather in love with someone else but her husband just swept her off her feet. This day, after her husband goes off, she has a chat with her gardener…who mentions that he’d come early (on a Wednesday rather than his usual Friday) because he wanted to ask her about the garden trim “and since they were going off to London the next day” (sic) he wanted to check with her before she left. She laughs, and responds that they aren’t going to London; but he is insistent that her husband had told her that. He then also mentions that the former owner of the cottage, which they bought for three thousand pounds, had only wanted two. As she put up two to her husband’s one…she’s certain he must be mistaken. But in a masterpiece of paranoia and psychological suspense, Alix then begins to wonder, and starts putting together the errant pieces of strange behavior from her husband–each individual instance nothing, but when put together make it very much seem like he married her for her money and is planning to kill her…and she keeps finding more and more evidence to convince her she is right.

And the ending is stunningly perfect.

Christie, such a master of suspense and crime!

And now, back to the spice mines.

Never Surrender

’tis Wednesday already; the week is already half over. Next week is the combination Tennessee Williams Festival/Saints and Sinners weekend (AIEEEEE!), which is going to be, literally, insane. But I can hang; it’ll be lovely seeing everyone, but I can’t believe it has come up upon us all again so suddenly. It’s like I wasn’t paying any attention and the next thing you know, BOOM, there it is.

As I continue to work on this plethora of short stories (I started ANOTHER fucking one yesterday), I am, however, pleased to announce that one of the ones I’ve done since the beginning of the year will be appearing in the anthology Murder-a-Go-Go’s. The book’s theme is crime stories inspired by songs of the Go-Go’s, and will be edited by the amazing Holly West, and published by the crew at Down and Out Books. My story was inspired by the song “This Town” and is also, coincidentally enough, titled “This Town.”

Our IDs were fake, but no one seemed to care. Even when a burly bouncer asked to see them, bare meaty arms adorned with tattoos, bored eyes flicking over the laminate before waving us inside. Celia was right about that, like she was right about everything. 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 imitated. 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 was running down our cheeks and perspiration dampened our armpits. 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, wanting her. They only noticed the rest of us once she’d turned her attention elsewhere. We didn’t mind taking second place to her 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, wanting to be her friends, to be 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.

I am so glad they liked this story, because I loved it. It’s soooo dark. When I was going through Go-Go’s lyrics to choose a song, I was really surprised; I knew all the songs by heart–if I heard one I can sing every word–and danced like crazy to them, always thought they were these upbeat cheerful songs…and then yikes! Reading the lyrics without hearing the music? JFC, are these songs dark. I mean, check out this verse from “This Town”:

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

I mean, we’re all dreamers – we’re all whores? As soon as I read that line, the story just jumped into my head; a group of girlfriends, on Fat Tuesday,  wandering around in the Quarter getting wasted…and then the first line of the story popped into my head: Our ID’s were fake but no one seemed to care. That was how it started, and the next thing I knew I had over four thousand words and a very rough first draft.

I love when that happens. And the editor liked it! YAY! Huzzah for good news! It gives me hope for these other short stories I’m writing.

And I also have read some more stories for the Short Story Project. First up is “Damage Control” by Thomas H. Cook, from the MWA anthology Manhattan Mayhem.

She’d been found in the dilapidated Bronx apartment where she’d lived for the past seventeen months. It was a basement apartment and had only a couple small windows, but she’d make it darker still by drawing the curtains. It was so dim inside that the first cop to arrive had stumbled about, looking for a light switch. He’d finally found one only to discover that she’d unscrewed all the light bulbs, even the ones in the ceiling and the fluorescent ones on either side of the bathroom mirror. Neighbors later told police that they hadn’t seen a single sliver of light coming from her apartment for well over a month. It was as if the terrible capacity for destruction that I’d glimpsed in her so many years before had at last grown strong enough to consume her entirely.

This is a truly sad story; in which a man is forced to look back on a painful decision made years earlier, when his family took in a foster child to give their only child a sister. The two girls got along well at first, but the foster child became a problem child, possibly even dangerous, and for the sake of their blood daughter they gave the foster child back to the system. Now an adult, she has died, and he is having to reflect, remember, what happened all those years ago, wonder if things could have been different, if maybe he had tried a little harder maybe things wouldn’t have ended so badly for her. There’s a horrible twist at the end as well, which makes the story all the more poignant and sad; about how a life can be so easily wasted and thrown away, based on a perception that ma or may not be correct.

I then moved on to a Shirley Jackson story, from the recent collection Let Me Tell You. The story is titled “Paranoia.”

Mr. Halloran Beresford, pleasantly tired after a good day in the office, still almost clean-shaven after eight hours, his pants still neatly pressed, pleased with himself particularly for remembering, stepped out of the candy shop with a great box under his arm and started briskly for the corner. There were twenty small-size gray suits like Mr. Beresford’s on every New York block, fifty men still clean-shaven and pressed after a day in an air-cooled office, a hundred small men, perhaps, pleased with themselves for remembering their wives’ birthdays. Mr. Beresford was going to take his wife out to dinner, he decided, going to see if he could get last-minute tickets to a show, taking his wife candy. It had been an exceptionally good day, altogether, and Mr. Beresford walked along swiftly, humming musically to himself.

I absolutely, positively love love LOVE Shirley Jackson. The other night, as I was trying to decide which story to read next, I suddenly realized that I have three short story collections by one of my favorite authors and haven’t read any of them. I immediately grabbed Let Me Tell You and sat down with it. “Paranoia” is brilliant, positively brilliant; to tell you why would spoil it, and if its spoiled the effect is ruined, but it is, with every word and sentence, the perfect fictional story representation of defining the word paranoia. It reminded me, as I kept reading, of precisely why I love Jackson so much. God, what a great story!

And now, tis back to the spice mines with me.

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