Storybook Love

Sunday morning and I slept incredibly well last night. I haven’t checked the Fitbit, but I would think–it certainly feels–like I slept deeply and got a lot of rest. I think the way I feel is more important than what the Fitbit will show as the actuality, but it’s always nice to know, and I also think I need to start looking into what is a good night’s sleep, per Fitbit and sleep experts, to see if I need to adapt or change or do anything to get better sleep.

Yes, the saga of Greg and sleep–never-ending yet always fascinating, right?

I wasn’t glued to the television all day yesterday, but I did have it on so I could check in periodically, or watch whatever game was on at the moment I chose to take a rest from what I was doing. Could I have gotten more done yesterday? Highly likely, but I don’t play those games of “coulda-shoulda-woulda” anymore. I managed to make groceries, return something I’d ordered, get the mail, and drop off three boxes of books at the Latter Library Sale. I also did a load of laundry, a load of dishes, cleaned places that I usually don’t, and redid the rugs on the kitchen floor (a long story, but now I have all matching rugs and the floor is almost completely covered). There’s still some cleaning and organizing work to get done this weekend–hello, today’s chores and to-do list–and I need to head to the gym at some point today as well (there’s also another sink full of dishes to get done), and perhaps some writing to do and some reading as well.

I reread several things yesterday that are in progress–the first four chapters of Chlorine, which desperately need work–as well as the finished first drafts of both “Never Kiss a Stranger” and “Festival of the Redeemer.” I also took voluminous notes on all of the three–Chlorine is a much bigger mess than I thought it would be, so yikes and yeah–and the linear nature of “Stranger” needs to be redone; I believe the opening of the story is when he finds the apartment to rent in the Irish Channel and everything in the rest of the opening three or four pages can be scattered through the rest of the story, as flashbacks, conversation, or memories. I also made some notes for the revisions of all of them, too.

College football is a mess this year–2021 is going to be one of those weird years of college football, like 2007 and 2014 were–but that makes it interesting to watch rather than the other way around. I certainly didn’t have Alabama losing to a twice-beaten Texas A&M on my scorecard for the season; nor did I have Georgia moving into the Number One spot, either. I just assumed Alabama and Georgia would roll over everyone on their way to the SEC title game, with the loser of that angling for an invitation to the play-offs; but Alabama’s loss makes that game now a must-win for them to have a shot into the play-offs at all. The Arkansas-Mississippi game was simply insane; props to the winners, but my hat is off to the Razorbacks for going for two and the win after they scored on the final play of the game; going for the win rather than overtime is something I will always respect. The Oklahoma-Texas and Penn State-Iowa games were also insanely fun to watch; that loss has got to sting for the Longhorn fans. As for LSU, well, good for you, Kentucky. Your make-or-break game is this coming weekend at Georgia, and while i don’t hold out a lot of hope for you, I kind of want the ‘cats to make a run for the East title this year. I wound up switching over to A&M-Alabama at half-time of the LSU game, and it was so much more fun to watch I kind of got sucked into it and never went back to the LSU game other than to check the score to see how bad it was. Much as love and respect Coach O, I suspect this will be his last season as LSU head coach. Still, he will go down in history as coach of the best LSU team of all time and possibly one of the greatest of all time in general, and as one of our four national championship coaches.

Not the way I wanted to see him go out, but 8-8 over two seasons isn’t going to cut it in Baton Rouge. (Jimbo Fisher definitely saved his own job last night by beating Alabama.)

The Saints game is at noon today–so I’ll probably go to the gym during it.

This morning i am going to try to get the cleaning and organizing and filing of the office space finished so I can go into the serious stretch of writing A Streetcar Named Murder with a productive workspace and a clear conscience of sorts. I feel good about writing again–even if I am not doing it as much as I would have liked–and I am getting excited about this book project. I am going to try to get some editing done today around cleaning and everything else and the Saints game; I think tonight we may watch Everybody’s Talking about Jamie, which I’ve been looking forward to watching for quite some time, and there are some of our shows we need to get caught up on. The weather has been simply stunning lately, and part of what I am going to try to do today is get the outside sitting area cleaned up and functional (it never has been, other than for brief spurts of time, the entire time we’ve lived here) so that I can sit outside and read if I’d like, or take the laptop out there and actually work in the outside fresh air. How lovely would that be? Quite, I’d think.

I also have some more BSP posts to finish writing. Heavy heaving sigh. It never ends.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely and peaceful Sunday, Constant Reader.

I Really Want to Know You

So, last night I was sitting in my easy chair waiting for Paul to come home–he was quite late; I spent the entire evening debating whether or not to just watch a movie while I waited; I never did and wasted the majority of the evening, so tonight when I finish working I am going to just pick something on TCM and start watching–I got tagged by Nikki Dolson on Twitter. Nikki was congratulating me (and Thomas Pluck) for being listed as “Other Distinguished Mystery and Suspense of 2020” in the back of Best Mystery and Suspense Stories of 2020, edited by Steph Cha and guest edited by Alafair Burke! I stared at my phone screen in disbelief for quite a few minutes, trying to process the enormous thrill and honor two women I greatly admire and respect, not just as authors but as intellects and people, had bestowed upon one Gregalicious. The book won’t be released until October 12th, but I am still agog and aglow with the thrill and shock of almost being included in it–with a gay story, no less, about hidden gay American history. Yes, the story was “The Dreadful Scott Decision” from The Faking of the President, edited by Peter Carlaftes, and ironically, I was just telling a friend the other day about how gracious Peter was about my story, which was utterly and completely different from everyone else’s in the book; everyone else set their story during the President’s incumbency and also set them in the White House. Mine was about James Buchanan, theoretically, but was set in the present day and had nothing in the White House, nothing in Washington, nothing in general–so while my story stood out like a sore thumb from the others, Peter never said a word, never asked me to change anything, never asked me to do anything different. In fact, he was incredibly supportive and encouraging.

Three Rooms Press has always been delightful to work with–I worked with them for Florida Happens, as well–and the entire experience was marvelous.

It’s been a good week for me, career-wise. Not only did this happen (aren’t you glad I am not boring you to tears with my usual “short stories are so hard” and “I have no confidence in writing short stories because of my evil college professor” the way I usually do when something good happens to me with a short story?), but I signed a book contract for a new series on Monday–more on that later–AND I also found out yesterday that an anthology I’d written a story for (completely forgotten) is finally being released this fall as well….looking at the contract, I am due a rather nice and hefty fee for my story as well. So, yeah, this has been a great week for me and my career thus far; and now I get to wait for publishing (or life) to pull the rug out from under me again.

Yesterday was a good day, if weird. I kept thinking it was Thursday (likewise I keep thinking today is Friday), but I made a list of things I wanted to get done yesterday (the micro list) and the good news is I made it through the micro list–but the bad news is I haven’t made the macro list yet. But it’s fine, really. I picked up the mail, dropped off a book I am returning, and then stopped in the Irish Channel to take pictures and get a sense of the part of the neighborhood where I am setting the new series. It was sooooo hot yesterday–I mean, furnace level, and I kept thinking, I’m supposed to be hanging out with Wendy this afternoon and having dinner with Laura and Alison and Wendy later…as I walked around taking pictures and sweating. I also realized as I was doing this that I had pictured the neighborhood differently; my primary memory of it was when my friends Lisa and Carrie rented half a big Victorian on Constance Street back in 1995 (the same house I am using for “Never Kiss a Stranger”, actually) and I realized my memories don’t match because they lived further down town in the Irish Channel. It’s not a big deal that my memories were off–I am not using the exact houses on the block I’ve chosen anyway; the pleasure of fiction–but it was a bit of a surprise and a bit of a reminder that I need to not completely count on my memories and sometimes need to actually go look at the area I am writing about. After I got home from my research trip, I changed and walked to the gym in the heat–and my God, it was hot. I was drenched in sweat when I got to the gym (they’ve started getting the new equipment in) and put myself through a Leg Day (which I am still feeling this morning, to be honest), then walked home. I was drenched in sweat by the time I got back to the Lost Apartment, and was also drained of energy by the heat and the sunshine–so I chose to not work on the book yesterday and start doing clean-up and organization stuff around the Lost Apartment, and I did get a lot done, actually. Today I am not leaving the house (I was thinking about doing the gym again, but it looks just as miserably hot out there today as it was yesterday and it can wait until tomorrow, quite frankly). I have some other errands I have to run tomorrow as well, so I am just going to make a micro list for tomorrow as well. I don’t have to go back to the office until Tuesday, which is nice, but I want to get even further in the revisions of the book today (ideally, finishing it tomorrow so I can let it sit for a day or two before going over it again). I also spent some more time brainstorming the new series last night, which I think I am going to try to make funnier than I originally intended it to be.

And as low as I had been feeling about my current manuscript, I have to say the love my writing has been shown this week has really made me feel much better about it. Writing and publishing is always highs and lows, peaks and valleys; a rollercoaster of sorts, if you will–and I seem to spend most of my time in the lows and the valleys for some reason–probably a mental issue of my own having to do with fearing and mistrusting happiness and joy, probably–so yes, positive reinforcement is as necessary for me as it is rare. And of course, even as I am aglow with happiness and joy over this latest bit of positive reinforcement, that ugly little voice in my head is there, whispering its poison: you’re excited about ALMOST making the final cut? My, how pathetic IS your little career?

I fucking hate that voice, for the record.

But I am not letting it harsh my buzz this morning. I am going to finish this, drink some more coffee, eat something, and then I am going to get to work. The book isn’t going to fix itself, after all, and the Lost Apartment most definitely isn’t going to spend a single second cleaning itself…and Megan Abbott’s book is calling me.

Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

It’s Not Right But It’s Okay

Sunday morning and it’s probably about time that I get back to work. I don’t want to–this birthday mini-vacation has been quite lovely–but I have things that need to be finished and turned in by the end of this month (hello, edits and revisions) and I have to stop putting that off. I only have to go to the office twice this week–tomorrow and Tuesday–before my Bouchercon vacation begins–but my plans for that time is to get things done and then take time to myself.

Well, I may take Wednesday as a day off. I need to drive around New Orleans and do some research; Wednesday should be perfect for doing that, methinks….so maybe taking a day off to begin with to get into the groove of getting everything done that needs to be done by the end of the month could wait until Thursday to get started…but then on the other hand, maybe it a sight-seeing research trip around the Irish Channel wouldn’t be a huge distraction from getting things done that day….alas, I was supposed to have dinner with great friends that night (fucking Delta variant anyway) but I am going to try, very hard, not to let these things disappoint or depress me. That’s a sure way to guarantee I’ll get nothing done.

I started reading Megan Abbott’s The Turnout yesterday and was, of course, immediately enthralled. She manages to somehow lure you in with the opening sentence, something cryptic, eerie, and yet compelling. Her books always have this same voice–I’d say mournful, but that’s not accurate either–always a variation that fits the story and the characters, but that lyrical, poetic, economic way of establishing mood and dramatic tension is almost ethereal and dream-like; even if the dream will, as always, eventually bare its teeth at the reader. God, how I wish I could write like that. I always wonder how writers as gifted as she write their books–do they write a sentence and then agonize over how to find the right words that create the right rhythm, or do they agonize over which word to add as they go? Me? I just vomit out three thousand or so words at a time and then go back and try to make it say what I wanted to say how I wanted to say it; nothing poetic, lyrical, or dream-like about my work. But I write the way I write–I used to want to be Faulkner when I was in college; I think it’s fairly safe to say that ship has sailed–and I cannot be terribly disappointed by anything I write anymore. I am pleased with the work I am doing–have been doing–and as long as I remain pleased by everything I write going forward, I am going to be just fine. I am intending to spend some more time with Megan Abbott this morning before diving into the edits/revisions before heading to the gym; and intend to do even more revisions/edits after my brief workout this afternoon.

We started watching The White Lotus last night and I am on the fence. I really don’t care much for any of the characters–the acting is terrific, the writing is fine, but I can’t wrap my mind around a point, if there even is one, you know? I rewatched this week’s Ted Lasso, and one thing I’ve noticed–there are so many lovely little touches to this show–that is one of my favorite things is that Keeley always laughs at Ted’s jokes, no matter how corny, no matter how bad the pun–she always laughs, and she always did, from the absolute beginning. In fact, Keeley was the first character on the show to see and accept and like Ted; which made her even more likable.

I also managed to finally get my TCM app working on the Apple TV yesterday–you’ve always needed a television provider for access; once I let Cox go it wouldn’t allow me to use Hulu, but now it does–and I immediately cued up and watched The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, a terrific noir with Barbara Stanwyck as Martha…and as I watched, I realized how much that plot device–a murder committed and covered up by kids, only to have everything come home to roost when they’re adults–gets used a lot today. I saw this movie for the first time when I was a kid, with my grandmother; WGN used to show old movies after the 10:00 pm news in Chicago as well as every afternoon at 3:30 (which is where my educational grounding in classic old films started). I’d forgotten that the magnificent Judith Anderson played Stanwyck’s horrible old aunt that she winds up killing; Anderson was robbed of Oscars at so many turns in her film career–Rebecca, And Then There Were None, this–it really is a shame; but at least those great performances are preserved forever on film. I am very excited, to say the least, about having access to the full range of TCM again; I can now watch movies instead of getting sucked into watching old LSU games on Youtube or history videos (I’ve been watching a lot of biographies of the Bourbon royal family of France during the seventeenth century, and will ask again: why has no queer biographer/historian/novelist written about Louis XIV’s openly gay brother, Monsieur, Philippe duc d’Orleans?). Just glancing through the app yesterday, there were so many movies I wanted to either see for the first time, or rewatch for the first time since I was a child…and of course, watching old film noir (along with reading old noir novels) works as research for Chlorine.

That’s me, multi-tasking and always finding a way to justify wasting time/procrastination. I am quite good at it as well, in case you hadn’t noticed.

I also woke up earlier–well, I woke up around the time I usually do, just got out of bed earlier than usual. The last few days of not getting up before nine, while lovely and restful, also managed to somehow keep the lethargy going throughout the rest of the day. I am hopeful that will not be the case today. I am going to spend an hour or so immersed in Megan’s new book, and then I intend to straighten things up around the kitchen before digging into the edits/revisions of the Kansas book–which I have allowed to languish for far too long–and I also need to clean out some things (spoiled food) from the refrigerator as well as try to get my lunches prepared for the two days in the office this week.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader, and I will talk to you on the morrow.

Luka

Ah, a lovely lazy Sunday morning, with a lot on my plate to get done.

LSU won again yesterday, taking Mississippi State down in their own stadium 36-13. With about five minutes left in the first half LSU was ahead only 9-7; State had just scored and the cowbells were ringing. As time ran out in the half, LSU was ahead 22-7. Within another five minutes of the second half, we were ahead 36-7, and the game was essentially over. Four touchdowns in less than ten minutes.  Next up is Auburn in Death Valley; Auburn rebounded from their loss to Florida with a blowout of Arkansas, and they’ll be thirsty to beat LSU. Another loss and their championship hopes are over; Auburn has also lost two straight to LSU in the closing minutes.

It will be a tough one.

The Saints are playing later this afternoon, the Bears in Chicago at Soldier Field. I have a lot to get done this morning if I want to watch the game, frankly; I may wind up just working while it’s on in the living room. I managed to get nothing done yesterday; I overslept (it was needed, methinks) and so got a late start to the day. I did manage to make groceries and fill the car with gas, so that’s something, right? Today I have to finish my Sisters column, and I have to also work on Bury Me in Shadows as well as a proposal for another project.

Heavy heaving sigh.

But the weather yesterday was gorgeous, simply gorgeous. I do love when it gets to be mid to late October and we have what we consider fall down here–which means it never gets much hotter than eighty degrees and the humidity is gone. It’s so gorgeous, and the sky is so blue…ah, heavenly.

So I decided to treat myself to a sleeping pill, and after last night’s amazingly deep and restful night’s sleep, I understand completely how addictive these things can be. Yes, my sleep has been rather off and on since I stopped taking them every night, and I actually can feel an emotional difference in myself as well this morning; who wouldn’t want to feel this good every morning on waking up? But addiction is a very real thing, and a very real thing I’m afraid of, so I won’t be taking another one until I feel like I need a special treat.

The demolition of the Hard Rock Hotel construction site, postponed from yesterday to today, is going to happen at some point later this morning. I am feeling less like turning it into a “ripped from the headlines” novel today as I was over the last couple of days; while there would be some interesting points to be made about New Orleans corruption and greedy, shady contractors, for it to be a Scotty novel it would have to be somehow reigned in and made into a personal story of some sort.  I can, of course, see the site from the elevated interstate as I drive to and from work every day; the elevated interstate gives one an interesting view of the city from those heights (it runs along Claiborne Avenue, and its construction destroyed irrevocably the business district for people of color and the neighborhoods that ran along Claiborne Avenue for decades–and yes, racism played a part in where the highway runs).

I started reading Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Certain Dark Things and am already quite enthralled with it. For one thing, she’s creating an entirely new mythology of vampires–at least one that is new to me–and I love that the book is set in Mexico, currently in Mexico City. I also like the way she is carefully doling out plot points and back history for her main character, Atl–who is very interesting, and is involved in something dangerous that we aren’t quite sure what it might be at this point. I also like that the very first chapter, which introduces Atl to the reader, is told from the perspective of a street kid named Domingo. Moreno-Garcia created Domingo completely and in three dimensions, like he’s a main character, rarely than merely the lens through which we meet Atl. (He still might be an important character to the story; I hope so because I liked him, but it also wouldn’t surprise me terribly if he disappears from the story completely. If that is indeed the case, kudos to Moreno-Garcia for making even throwaway characters complete and real. I am really looking forward to reading the rest of the book.

Reading this also made me realize how badly I failed at vampire fiction with my few meager attempts. I didn’t really do anything new with them; I just wrote vampire stories to write vampire stories, without any thought about how to make them realistic, compelling, and original. I did have a big over-arching plan, though–it would have tied them all together and created something big and original in the second novel, Desire, which sadly never happened. But I’m not a horror/supernatural writer, and when I do venture into those realms, what I do best is ghost stories. I am currently writing another novel that is a ghost story; I already did one (Lake Thirteen), and will probably do another one at some point.

And now I should probably clean the kitchen. I am going to run an errand either before or during the Saints game–the city is always a ghost town during Saints games; it’s literally the best time to do errands, and everywhere you go they’re playing the game anyway–but I also need to get some cleaning and writing done long before I leave the house to do so.

I’m also still reading about the Lemana kidnapping in Ready to Hang, which is quite interesting, mainly because the child was held for so long. The history of the Italian immigrants to New Orleans is interesting–and often quite tragic, frankly–and I find it interesting that the Irish immigrants, who were most likely looked on with as much askance as the Italians, who came later, don’t have some horrible stories that appear in histories of crimes in New Orleans. I do know they were primarily confined to the stretch between Magazine Street and the river–which is why it’s still called the Irish Channel–but they don’t seem to be the victims of mob violence or as much intolerance as the Italians were around the turn of the twentieth century.

If they were, it’s not included in these books about historical crimes/tragedies in old New Orleans.

There’s been an idea forming in the back of my head about all this bloodshed and horror in the history of New Orleans; something along the lines of the land being cursed or some kind of cloud over it, like Stephen King’s Derry, which could also explain the prevalence of religion in the region–Catholicism and even voodoo–used primarily to protect the souls of the locals from the dark forces that seem to control New Orleans.

It’s an interesting thought, at any rate.

And now back to the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader!

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All I Need

Sunday, Sunday. Can’t trust that day, especially when an hour was stolen from me during my sleep. Sunday is my sleep-in day, and while it’s not entirely unusual, I absolutely detest that I woke up at just before what-is-now-ten-thirty. Since I can’t drink coffee after noon for fear of its impact on my sleep–but I like my coffee in the morning–I will be able to have only, at most, two cups. This is also infuriating.

It’s not sunny out there this late morning, but more grayish again, as though it might rain. It may just be a cloud cover, but the sun is always bright in New Orleans; the lack of brightness is bizarre and also feels off–in addition sleeping  in until not-really-ten-thirty. But looking on the positive side, I worked out yesterday and the rest seems to have helped my muscles recover; they don’t feel either sore or tired or both this morning. I should be grateful for small victories, I suppose, and stop complaining.

I watched two more episodes of Seven Seconds last night, and it is absolutely riveting. It reminds me a lot of the lamented American Crime, where you saw everyone as three-dimensional characters; I like seeing it from every perspective, and while it’s easy to feel some sympathy for the guy who committed the actual crime and why he covered it up; the pain of the family of the victim is almost unbearable to watch–but Regina King is such an amazing and brilliant actress you can’t help but watch. I’ve always been a fan of hers; she was exceptional in American Crime, but this? Give her all the awards right now, and please cast her in everything; she is so good that as I watched I thought if I ever write a television show or movie I want to write a great part for her to play. As good as the show is, as it progresses it is starting to drift away from the nonjudgmental view that it had in the first episodes, which is fine–I think part of the reason American Crime failed to find an audience was because you didn’t know who to root for, or if you should root for anyone, which makes viewers uncomfortable, as they, for the most part, want to have good guys and bad guys–but I kind of wish they hadn’t gone so far with making the guy who committed the crime a villain. I felt sorry for him before; I am losing sympathy, and that’s why they are doing it; but when he was sympathetic it made the show more layered, complex, and nuanced.

Heavy sigh.

I got all my errands done yesterday, but forgot to get something I need for dinner today–but it’s just a twenty ounce bottle of root beer and I can walk to Walgreens and get that when I’m ready to put everything into the crock pot. The St. Patrick’s/St. Joseph’s Day Irish Channel parade is today, so I’m not moving my car. I decided to wait to go to Costco until next weekend; I am going to take one of my co-workers car shopping that day, and as punishment he’ll have to go to Costco with me when we’re finished.

I started writing yet another Chanse short story yesterday; “Once a Tiger.” It’s an idea for a Chanse novel that I had a long time ago and always wanted to write, sort of like how the Chanse short story I wrote last week was a book idea I never wrote. I had intended to get some other things done, but after the errands and the gym I was tired, so I sat down to watch Seven Seconds (Paul was at the office) and got sucked into it. I also watched two episodes of Versailles–this season is about the Affair of the Poisons–and read short stories. I need to clean today–I’m hoping it won’t rain so I can finally do the damned windows–but I also want to write today. So I should probably wrap this up and get back to work, so I can get the root beer from Walgreens and be done with it all, you know?

Sigh. Heavy lies the head, and all that, you know.

The first story I read was a reread; Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Minister’s Black Veil”:

THE SEXTON stood in the porch of Milford meeting-house, pulling busily at the bell-rope. The old people of the village came stooping along the street. Children, with bright faces, tripped merrily beside their parents, or mimicked a graver gait, in the conscious dignity of their Sunday clothes. Spruce bachelors looked sidelong at the pretty maidens, and fancied that the Sabbath sunshine made them prettier than on week days. When the throng had mostly streamed into the porch, the sexton began to toll the bell, keeping his eye on the Reverend Mr. Hooper’s door. The first glimpse of the clergyman’s figure was the signal for the bell to cease its summons.

“But what has good Parson Hooper got upon his face?” cried the sexton in astonishment.

All within hearing immediately turned about, and beheld the semblance of Mr. Hooper, pacing slowly his meditative way towards the meeting-house. With one accord they started, expressing more wonder than if some strange minister were coming to dust the cushions of Mr. Hooper’s pulpit.

“Are you sure it is our parson?” inquired Goodman Gray of the sexton.

“Of a certainty it is good Mr. Hooper,” replied the sexton. “He was to have exchanged pulpits with Parson Shute, of Westbury; but Parson Shute sent to excuse himself yesterday, being to preach a funeral sermon.”

I read this story either in high school or in college originally; whenever it was that I originally read it, my young mind was bored with it and thought it rather silly. I hated The Scarlet Letter, still do so much that even thinking of rereading it gives me dyspepsia; but I greatly enjoyed The House of the Seven Gables, although I remember nothing much about it except that the old woman’s name was Hepzibah, which I always thought was a great Gothic name for a creepy old lady. Rereading this story, it made a little bit more sense to me; it’s really a parable. Parson Hooper, for a reason unbeknownst to his parishioners and to the reader, has chosen to hide his face for the rest of his life behind a black veil; I remember reading this and being deeply annoyed about never finding out the reason. But rereading it now, I got a stronger sense of it; the parson has done this and the reasons why really aren’t important; what’s important is how uncomfortable it has made everyone else, and why; it’s about human nature and psychology, and is a lot more clever than I thought as a teenager. It still, however, reads in that stilted, archaic early nineteenth century formal style that is grating and annoying to the modern reader, however.

I then moved on to “The Last Temptation of Frankie Lymon” by Peter Blauner, from the anthology Crime Plus Music, edited by Jim Fusilli. I originally bought this anthology because it had a story by Alison Gaylin inspired by a song recorded by the band X, whom I used to love in the 1980’s–the story is quite brilliant, I might add–but had never gone back and read any of the others. So, I picked it up and this is the lead-off story for the collection.

He walked into the bar wearing the jacket that Sam bought for the Ebony photo shoot last year. A mostly wool blazer with two rows of brass buttons, that must have cost–what?–like forty to fifty dollars at Blumstein’s. He felt bad because Sam was living on about two hundred a week as a food inspector in the Bronx, while trying to manage the comeback for him, But what could you do? All the star clothes he used to have in his grandmother’s closet were either child-sized and long ago outgrown or had holes in them because he’d nodded off with a cigarette in his mouth.

So now the jacket felt heavy as a burden on his shoulders as he eyed his surroundings and tried to get comfortable. The bar was around the corner from his grandmother’s and he half recognized some of the people from the neighborhood, where he hadn’t lived since back in the day. There were mailmen and bus drivers wearing turtlenecks or open-collared shirts with jeans. Doormen and janitors in T-shirts and growing out their hair into bushy naturals as they rapped effortlessly to short-skirted former double Dutch girls from the block with sleepy eyes and soft mouths, who kept going “uh-huh, uh-huh, right on” as that Gladys Knight “Grapevine” song played on the jukebox.

Frankie Lymon was a real person; the lead singer for Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, known for their hit “Why Do Fools Fall in Love”. Lymon’s story is one of those cautionary tales about the music industry, fame, and hitting it big when you’re young; he was only twenty-four when he died of an overdose–a has-been at 24. This story, which is basically a fictionalized imagining of his last day, is heartbreaking. He has fallen on hard times but has cleaned up and gotten to a point of recovery from his addiction; he’s trying to make a comeback but makes the sad, fateful decision to go into the local neighborhood bar near where he is staying with his grandmother–and runs into someone from his past, with her own broken dreams and broken life. It’s powerfully written and the characters realized strongly; you can’t stop reading even though you know it’s all a train wreck unfolding in front of you. Kudos to Blauner for such a powerful story.

I then went back to Sue Grafton’s Kinsey and Me collection, where the next offering was the story “The Parker Shotgun.”

The Christmas holidays had come and gone, and the new year was under way. January, in California, is as good as it gets–cool, clear, and green, with a sky the color of wisteria and a surf that thunders like a volley of gunfire in a distant field. My name is Kinsey Millhone. I’m a private investigator, licensed, bonded, insured; white, female, age thirty-two, unmarried, and physically fit. That Monday morning, I was sitting in my office with my feet up, wondering what life would bring, when a woman walked in and tossed a photograph on my desk. My introduction to the Parker shotgun began with a graphic view of its apparent effect when fired at a formerly nice-looking man at close range. His face was still largely intact, but he had no use now for a pocket comb. WIth effort, I kept my expression neutral as I glanced up at her.

“Somebody killed my husband.”

Grafton never disappoints, and as I have mentioned before when talking about these Chanse short stories (it pleases me to no end that I can now talk about them in the plural), reading Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone short stories, along with the Lew Archer short stories by Ross Macdonald and the Tess Monaghan ones by Laura Lippman, have been an education in writing the private eye short story; something I never felt confident about doing before. This story is excellent in that is has a great opening–how can you not keep reading after that–and Kinsey’s detecting skills are put to a great test here. I also learned a lot about shotguns in reading this story. I guess the thing that’s so terrific about reading these private eye short stories is seeing, while reading them, how they could have easily been expanded into novels while also seeing how the author pared down what could have been a novel into a pleasing, satisfying short story.

I also picked up the MWA anthology Vengeance and started reading some more of the stories in there; I believe I may have blogged about one of them already. But when reading Alafair Burke’s “The Mother”, the story began to sound familiar; and sure enough, I was right: I’d read it before. I started paging through the stories and yes, I’d read them all; I read them flying back from a trip to New York on a plane. The book includes Karin Slaughter’s chilling, and Edgar winning, short story “The Unremarkable Heart,” which is one of my favorite short stories of all time. But I had to put Vengeance back up on the shelf because I’d already read those stories, alas; I will only allow myself to reread, and write about, short stories I originally read before I started blogging back in 2004 (!), so as to avoid repetition.

And now, I am going to get my second and final cup of coffee before walking to Walgreens. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader!

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