Reelin’ in the Years

Sunday morning, and times keeps on slippin’, slippin’, into the future.

I slept in this morning–this life of “sorta leisure” is one that I could easily adapt to–and now sit, inside my condensation-covered windows, sipping my morning coffee and reflecting on what the day ahead has in store for me. I finished both interviews yesterday–despite the best attempts of my computer to thwart me, with freezing programs and even an operating system that locked up at one point, requiring me to force-restart the thing–but this morning, it appears to have updated its operating system overnight and is running quite smoothly this morning. I am not, of course, taking this as a sign that this latest update may have removed the bugs from the operating system–this has been a consistent problem since the Mojave update back in December, which created the Great Data Disaster of 2018, from which I still seem to not be completely recovered from–because it’s still early in the day and there’s plenty of time for this thing to malfunction all over the place yet. It did make doing the second interview difficult, but I finally managed to get it saved and emailed off yesterday. I have to do that group thing yet today–I was going to do it  yesterday but after all the functionality problems I was facing, thought it probably best to not try to do the round table and push it off until today. I also need to work on some fiction writing today as well, and of course, I have a toothache again, one of the few molars I have left, and it’s making chewing a bit of a challenge.

Yay, vacation.

I also want to start reading Laura Lippman’s Lady in the Lake today; alas, while I was watching things on the television yesterday I got sucked into City of Nets–and there’s nothing more distracting for me than Hollywood history. I read about half the book yesterday–sometimes making notes, other times just getting enthralled in the story–and around nine last night I thought, oh, I should be reading Laura’s book but instead couldn’t stop reading about Hollywood corruption and morality. I’ve always been interested in Hollywood history but have never really thought about writing it–I’ve always been reluctant to write much of anything not set in the present day–but I’m slowly coming around to writing recent history. As I said in one of my interviews, I am working on something set in 1994–“Never Kiss a Stranger”–and immersing myself in that period whenever I can, and originally went there for my story “A Whisper from the Graveyard.” As a result I am finding myself vastly interested in writing about the recent past–so much has changed in so quickly a time that it’s really amazing; the 1950’s, for example, might as well have been 1776. (Which, of course, reminds me that my story “The Weight of a Feather” is set in the early 1950’s/late 1940’s; not specifically in any year, but it’s definitely that post-war time.)

But I hope to get my round-table participation finished this morning, and then I am going to work on “Moist Money” for a little while, and then perhaps start Chapter 23 of Bury Me in Shadows. I’d like to get the first draft finished before September 1; and I’d also like to get to work on some other things that are just hanging around. I’ve already been much more productive than I’ve been on any of my previous long weekend vacations, which is a lovely sign, and I absolutely must get moving.

The end of the year will be upon us before we even know it.

I mean, LSU’s first football game is merely a couple of weeks away; and the Saints are already going through their preseason games. Football season is nigh; and shortly behind it will come the cooler weather. This summer hasn’t been that bad–despite the series of heat-advisory days we’ve been dealing with this month–and the river is finally no longer in flood stage, which is lovely and a bit of a relief; when the river is in flood stage there’s always this sense of impending doom hanging over our heads.  I would like it to get cooler, because I do want to spend some time exploring the Quarter–it’s been a hot minute–just to see what down there is different and what has changed; I used to work a block away, for example, from where Scotty lived and I could walk down there and check out his home and the rest of his block from time to time. It’s going to be awhile before I start writing another Scotty novel, and one of the things I do want to address/tackle in the new Scotty is the gentrification/short term rental issue; which will also require bringing back one of the characters from Royal Street Reveillon. (I do this often; bring characters back from previous books to impact the current one. Life kind of does that, too, so it only makes sense from a realistic standpoint to do this periodically.) But I’ll probably write the Chanse before the next Scotty; once I get all these partial novel manuscripts out of the way and submitted I am going to focus on writing Chlorine, then the Chanse, and then the Scotty. So, really, I need to be reading Hollywood history this fall, so I can be prepared to write Chlorine. 

As I love Hollywood history, this is not going to be a horrific chore. I also think I can justify reading James Ellroy’s L. A. Confidential as well for research.

It will also give me an excuse to reread In a Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes, which will always be a pleasure to read. (I also have some other Hughes novels on hand, and the entire canon of Margaret Millar, which I would also like to  finish working my way through)

And on that note, I should probably get back to the spice mines. If I work on the round table for a bit, I can justify spending some time with the new Lippman novel.

Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.

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Dancing in the Moonlight

Friday morning, Barry eve. Paul and I, for those who are curious, are electing to stay rather than go. We may end up regretting that decision, but it’s not like it would be the first time we made a decision we wound up regretting deeply (hello, year in Washington).

It’s sunny yet cloudy outside this morning, giving the morning a weird, yellow-grayish tint to everything (sepia!). I am most likely going to venture out this morning at some point; I still need to fill the car with gasoline, and later I am also going to decide whether to take the precaution of parking in a garage somewhere in the CBD, to get the car above whatever possible floodwaters might be coming. There’s also some things I should pick up at the grocery store–although I imagine the candle and bread aisles have already been decimated. Paul and I both don’t have to go to work today, so we will undoubtedly end up watching a lot of television and getting caught up on our shows–we fell behind while he was at his mother’s. Moving the car to a garage might not be necessary, but I’d rather pay a daily parking rate somewhere than over a thousand dollars making my car operational again–or losing it entirely to water. If experience has taught me anything, getting a car operational after it gets flooded also means it never quite runs right again, and why risk it as I am getting so close to owning it outright?

It’s supposed to rain off and on all day today as Barry gets closer to shore. It’s getting darker even as I type this right now, and so I guess that means it’s getting ready to rain at any moment.

Yesterday was probably the most beautiful day of the summer; low eighties with little to no humidity, and a cool breeze. Wednesday I was pretty tired all day, and that kind of carried over into yesterday. I got nothing done–this entire week has been a bust for the most part, other than reading to edit some things I’ve already written–but maybe I can correct that a bit today. I don’t know, we shall see, won’t we? Right now I am feeling pretty good and well-rested and like I can get some stuff done–but where that will wind up, nobody knows.

Yesterday was also a lovely day for me on Twitter; that’s twice in the last week or so I’ve had an absolutely lovely day on social media. Twitter, and social media, can be lovely places to connect and reconnect and speak (albeit electronically) with friends; I’ve tried for a very long time to keep my social media upbeat and positive, rather than allowing myself to get sucked into the toxicity rampant on all social media sites. I have no desire to argue with anyone, about anything; no one has ever been convinced to change their minds by a social media argument. If anything, it seems to harden people against opposing views, so why even bother? My time and my patience and my emotional investments are limited, as is my energy, and I’d rather use all of them productively and positively, rather than trying to score points on people with opposing views that I find repugnant.

Yesterday, though, was lovely; what social media can be if we avoid toxicity. Alex Segura had been doing some gratitude posts there, thanking people who have helped, encouraged, and supported him on his journey as a crime writer (if you haven’t checked out his Pete Fernandez series, you simply MUST); I thought to myself, self, you really need to do the same thing, and so I started a tweet-thread in which I did the same; thanked people for their support and help and encouragement over the now near-twenty years of my writing career. I naturally forgot some people–there have been so many–and I was trying to do it as I went, but the responses turned out to be a lot of fun and people are still responding to that thread this morning. But the tweets and responses were a lot of fun, and almost every new notification brought yet another smile to my face, and made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside (as opposed to the usual, in which I’m dead inside…KIDDING), and made me feel quite grateful; grateful for my career, grateful for the terrific people I’ve met along the way, grateful for all the help and encouragement and support. Writing can often feel like an incredibly lonely business; most of the time it’s just you and your computer screen and your imagination, typing away while going deep inside your own head. Social media has made it much easier for us to connect outside of the conferences, your Bouchercons and Malice Domestics and Left Coast Crimes and Tennessee Williams Festivals–and helps deepen the bonds formed at those events, and makes you look forward to seeing everyone at the next one. I am already looking forward to seeing everyone in Dallas at this year’s Bouchercon…which will be here sooner than I expect and will also wind up being over much sooner than it should be.

So, I am going to spend this morning trying to sort my kitchen again–it’s astonishing how quickly it gets out of order–and probably reading this book I need to write an introduction for soon. I also have some terrific new books: Clandestine by James Ellroy (which I want to read again); Paper Son by S. J. Rozan; Life After Life by Kate Atkinson; and The Ceremonies by T. E. D. Klein. I may also reread some short stories that need to be edited; I may even try to write on the WIP–but let’s not get too crazy or ahead of ourselves here.

So, I guess it’s time to start getting my act together this morning. Have a great day, Constant Reader; hopefully we’ll still have power at this time tomorrow.

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Delta Dawn

And now, tis time to turn the three days left of my vacation into a productive time.

I have spent the last two days simply doing as I pleased; occasionally stepping up to do some chores around the Lost Apartment, but mostly just reading and watching things on television. I tried, the other night, to watch a movie, but gave up on both Lucky Logan and The Man in the Iron Mask (Leonardo DiCaprio version); I also tried watching a documentary, How the Devil Got His Horns, but quickly bored of each of them. I will probably give Lucky Logan another shot, as I love both Channing Tatum and Adam Driver, and it seems like a subversively brilliant and funny noir movie. (I actually stopped watching, not because I was bored, but because I thought, Paul would probably like this movie so I should wait and watch it with him)

I also watched the original Star Wars trilogy yesterday–well, more like had it on as background noise while I did other things–and while Episode IV has always been my favorite, since it was the first, I have to confess for the most part Episode V is probably the better film. I also have always resisted criticism of Episode VI, but the more I watch the more I tend to agree with the criticism. I mean, really, was the entire opening sequence rescuing Han necessary? It took up a good portion of the film, quite frankly, and to what purpose? And precisely, how did Luke, who never finished his training in Episode V, was far too impatient and wasn’t breaking through, suddenly become a Jedi Master in Episode VI?

Questions. So. Many. Questions.

But today, I need to get moving. I need to write, I need to proof the pages of Royal Street Reveillon AND the cover design and get that turned in. I need to finish cleaning the downstairs–I started and made some lovely headway over the past two days, doing it leisurely, and I’d like to keep that pace going, so by Sunday evening the entire place will be sparkling and clean. I want to read some more of Angie Kim’s Miracle Creek, and I have a lot of cleaning and organizing to do around my desk–balanced around the complaints and whines of Needy Kitty, who wants me to sit in my easy chair so he can sleep in my lap. I’ve also been going to bed ridiculously early every night, around ten, and sleeping until eight every morning, which has also been lovely. I don’t feel a bit slothful, which I usually do when I am getting this much sleep and doing so little. But I chose to look at Wednesday and Thursday as holidays, and now I can get some work done over these final three days of vacation.

A Twitter conversation sometime in the last few weeks with Rob Hart (whose soon-to-be-released The Warehouse–actually being released on my birthday) got me thinking about gay representation in crime fiction over the years, and reading I the Jury (surprise! Mickey Spillane’s first novel is rife with homophobia) made me remember that the only James Ellroy book I’ve ever read also had homophobia in it. I’d always wanted to read Ellroy, just had never gotten around to it, and I’d decided to dip in with a lesser known work. There was a gay character in it–minor–and the way he was talked about, the way he was treated, and the language that was used, was horrific. Despite owning a copy of L.A. Confidential, I’ve never read it…nor read any other Ellroy. I’ve always intended to go back and read some Ellroy; I met him when he was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America and we had a weird bonding experience over the Ken Holt mystery series for boys that we both read as kids. But I could never remember the name of the book of his I’d read. I knew it had a one-word title, which narrowed it down somewhat, and I’d even gotten a copy of Perfidia only to realize it wasn’t the book. For some reason I went digging around on Amazon and realized the book in question was Clandestine, and now I want to read it again.

Honestly. But the Spillane essay I’ve been making notes on would kind of fit into the over-all concept of a larger examination of gay representation, homophobia, and homophobic content in crime fiction; as well as questions of masculinity and toughness in America and American fiction.

It was also be interesting to do an essay comparing/contrasting Megan Abbott’s historical noir fiction with Ellroy’s.

So much writing, so little time, so little desire to actually do any of it.

Heavy heaving sigh.

I’d love to write noir novels about the hidden gay underground of Hollywood’s Golden Age; I had a great idea for one a while back that involved the drowning murder of a young actor who was sleeping with powerful gay men to help his own star rise at a studio in the 1950’s, and how his roommate/best friend/ex-lover, also an actor on the rise, tries to solve the crime since the homophobic cops don’t give a shit about another dead gay man in Los Angeles. It even has a great noir-like title: Chlorine.

I have so many ideas, always.

And now, it’s back to the spice mines. I have a load of laundry to fold, some things to print, and then it’s time to buckle down and start getting things done.

Have a lovely post-holiday Friday, Constant Reader.

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You Are The Sunshine of My Life

Sunday morning. It took me awhile to fall asleep last night; the last time I remember looking at the clock it was around three in the morning and I was still pretty much awake.  I did manage to doze off around that time, though, and while I still woke up around eight thirty, I feel somewhat rested this morning.

I didn’t do any writing yesterday; I wound up cleaning and organizing and doing that sort of thing for most of the day, interspersed with reading. It was, despite having to go out in the heat and humidity of the early afternoon, kind of a lovely day, really. It wasn’t as terribly hot as I feared it would be, and once I was back inside the cool of the inside of the Lost Apartment, I was able to get some things I needed to get done finished; I also need to finish the organizing I started yesterday but never quite finished. I also came up with some amazing and key things for the WIP, which technically I should be finishing up today–big surprise, it’s not finished nor will it be by midnight–so I am also trying to figure out what I want to do; should I follow my schedule and reluctantly put it to the side, to go back and spend the month revising the other I’d planned on working on for July, or should I go ahead and work my way through this first draft, trying to get it finished this week, and then diving back into the other?

Decisions, decisions.

I suspect I’ll keep working on the WIP, if I am going to be completely honest. Yes, it’s been horrible, like extracting teeth by gripping them with my fingers and yanking really hard, but also last night I had some more breakthroughs about the main character as well as the story I am telling. I also remembered some more things I need to go back and litter through the first sixteen chapters I’ve written–not that big of a deal, as they are all early draft and intended to be worked on more any way–but I am always feeling pressed for time, as is always the case.

Paul is departing to visit his mother for a week, starting tomorrow; I am taking a stay-cation of my own built around the 4th of July holiday. I am only working Monday and Tuesday this week before having a delightful five consecutive days off from work; suring which I have deeply ambitious plans to get a lot of cleaning, organizing, and writing done…as well as a lot of reading. I am going to step away from the Diversity Project with my next read–triggered by a Twitter conversation with the amazing Sarah Weinman–and am going to read Mickey Spillane’s I the Jury next. In a way, though, it’s really still a part of the Diversity Project, just not the way I’d originally seen it: a necessary adjunct, or rather, corollary to the Diversity Project should be reading, and examining, and critiquing, the crime genre’s long fascination with a particular type of masculinity; the Mike Hammer novels are certainly the perfect examples of that, almost to the nth degree.

And can I really call myself a student of my genre without reading Spillane?

I am sure the books themselves are problematic; almost everything from that time period is in some ways (I still remember reading a James Ellroy novel–I don’t remember which one–which had some incredibly horrible homophobia in it; it was painful and difficult to read, but absolutely in line with the thinking of cops in the 1950’s; and I do believe sometimes it’s necessary to read these problematic texts, to critique and understand them and the time period from whence they were originally written and published.

A conversation I had on Twitter with Rob Hart (whom you should also be reading; his next novel The Warehouse, sounds absolutely terrific and I am eagerly awaiting its release) also triggered a thought; that perhaps a non-fiction/memoir type book about me, my reading life, and queer representation in mainstream crime novels might be an interesting thing to write; whether or not there’s an audience or a publisher for such a work remains to be seen, of course, but it does sound like an interesting intellectual challenge.

It might also be horrifically difficult, but reading is about learning, isn’t it?

And on that note, none of this stuff is going to get done unless i start doing it, you know?

Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.

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This Used To Be My Playground

GEAUX TIGERS!

I watched the Auburn-Washington game yesterday while I cleaned the downstairs. I did a lot of chores and errands yesterday; and also did some reorganizing and cleaning so the living room doesn’t look quite so…book hoarder-ish. 

I’m getting better about it. I’ve realized that the true value, for me, of the ebook is that if I read a book I really like and think I’ll want to hang on to for one reason or another, I can donate the hardcopy and buy the ebook; if I’m patient enough and pay enough attention to email alerts and so forth, I can usually get it at a much discounted price. I don’t feel quite so bad about buying ebooks at low sale prices as I would had I not paid full price already for a print version. So, I’m really buying the book twice.

(I also find myself taking advantages of sales on ebooks by a particular author whose books I loved and would love to revisit sometime. I have the entire canon of Mary Stewart on my iPad, and a shit ton of Phyllis Whitneys. I’m also occasionally finding books by Dorothy B. Hughes and Charlotte Armstrong and Dorothy Salisbury Davis, which is lovely; I’ve also managed to get some of Susan Howatch’s lengthy family sagas, like Penmarric, The Wheel of Fortune, and Cashelmara. There are many treasures to be found through e-retailers.)

And I also find that, once I’ve let go of the hard copy, I’m not usually all that anxious to buy the e-version. Most of the books I want to keep is because I think it might be something I’d want to write about in a broader, nonfiction sense; like a book about the Gothic romances of the 1960’s thru the 1980’s, what they were inspired by, and how they were books about women’s fears; yes, there was romance involved, but they were also about the dark side of romance. Or a lengthy essay or study about how gay men are portrayed in crime novels written by authors who aren’t gay men, like the rampant homophobia in James Ellroy’s Clandestine or the male/male relationship in James M. Cain’s Serenade or any number of gay male portrayals over the decades of American crime fiction. Then there are, of course, the nonfiction tomes, about periods of history that interest me that I hold onto because I may need them as research for a book or story idea that I have.

I also keep copies of books by my friends, and whenever a friend has an ebook sale I will always grab a copy if I can.

I still haven’t really shifted from reading hard copies to reading electronically, but I am slowly but surely getting there. Anthologies are really helpful in that way; short stories are, of course, self-contained and by definition can usually be completed in one sitting.

I also finished reading James Ziskin’s wonderful Cast the First Stone, and am now eighty percent of the way finished with my Bouchercon homework.

cast the first stone

Monday, February 5, 1962

Sitting at the head of runway 31R at Idlewild, the jet hummed patiently, its four turbines spinning, almost whining. The captain’s voice crackled over the public-address system to inform us that we were next in line for takeoff. I’d noticed him earlier leaning against the doorframe of the cockpit, greeting passengers as we boarded the plane. He’d given me a thorough once-over–a hungry leer I know all too well–and I averted my gaze like the good girl that I’m not.

“Welcome aboard, miss,” he’d said, compelling me to look him in the eye. He winked and flashed me a bright smile. “I hope to give you a comfortable ride.”

I surely blushed.

Now, just moments after the handsome pilot had assured us of our imminent departure, the engines roared to life, and the aircraft lurched forward from its standstill. Juddering at first as it began to move, the plane rumbled down the runway, gathering speed as it barreled toward takeoff. I craned my neck to see better through the window,  holding my breath as I gripped the armrest of my seat and grinned like a fool. I sensed the man seated next to me was rolling his eyes, but I didn’t care. Of course I’d flown before–a regional flight from LaGuardia to Albany on Mohawk Airlines, and a couple of quick hops in a single-engine Cessna with a man who was trying to impress me with his derring-do. Alas, his derring-didn’t. But this was my first-ever flight on a jet plane.

This is a terrific start to a terrific novel. The fifth book in James W. Ziskin’s highly acclaimed and award-winning Ellie Stone series, it is, alas, the first Ellie Stone I’ve read. I met the author at a Bouchercon some time back (I don’t recall which one) and of course, I’ve been aware of the awards and the acclaim, and have been accumulating the books in his series for my TBR pile, but just haven’t gotten to them yet, much to my chagrin. So while I am not a fan of reading books out of order in a series (a crime I committed earlier in my Bouchercon homework with Nadine Nettman’s wine series), I certainly didn’t have the time to go back and read the first four.

Now, of course, I am going to have to–and what a delightful prospect this is.

Ellie is a delight, for one thing. The book/series is set in 1962/early 1960’s; and Ellie is a report for the New Holland Republic, not taken terribly seriously by the men she works with or for (with the sole exception her direct editor), even though she is the best reporter and the best writer on her paper. (It kind of reminds me of Mad Men in that way.) The opening is terrific; Ziskin captures that excitement of your first jet flight in a time period where it wasn’t terribly common to fly beautifully, and using that experience to not only showcase how adventurous Ellie is but to introduce her to the new reader as well as give some of her background. She is flying out to Los Angeles to interview a local boy who’s gone out to Hollywood to be a movie star, and has recently been cast as the second male lead in one of those ubiquitous beach movies the 60’s were known for, Twistin’ at the Beach. But he hasn’t shown up for his first day of shooting on the Paramount lot, placing his job in jeopardy, and soon the producer has been murdered…and the deeper Ellie gets into her story and her search for Tony Eberle soon has her digging through the seaming, tawdrier side of the Hollywood dream and system. Saying much more would be giving away spoilers, but Ziskin’s depiction of the secretive side of Hollywood, what studios were willing to do back in the day to protect bankable stars, and what that meant to those on the seamier side of the business is heart-wrenching and heartbreaking, and sympathetically written.

I can’t wait to read more about Ellie Stone.

And now I have moved on to Thomas Pluck’s Bad Boy Boogie, the last part of my homework. LSU plays tonight (GEAUX TIGERS!), and I want to go to the gym, do some more cleaning, and do some more writing today.

So it’s back to the spice mines with me.

Sussudio

Ah, Thursday.

Yesterday I pulled a couple of wisdom teeth–i.e. worked on two short stories, only managing to drag about two thousand words total out of me between the two–so I suppose, over all,  the day was a win. Two thousand words are two thousand words, but neither story is finished; neither story is half finished; I know how to end them but I don’t know how to get there. So, I need to spend some time with the peacock book, scribbling thoughts and ideas and figuring some things out before going back to work on them In a moment of augh what a fucking mess I organized and filed the stuff piling up around my desk here in the kitchen–being able to file away two stories that are sold, for example, and stacking up the ones in progress. Imagine my surprise to find that right now I am working on–not counting the two I was mentioning previously–nine stories, for a total of eleven in some degree of progress. JFC. That wears me out just thinking about it. But one I think is for an anthology that has a due date coming up, so I need to get it polished and into submission shape; and I’ll start whipping some of these others into shape between now and End of Festivals, at which point I need to seriously focus on WIP and the Scotty book again. I also have another story out for submission right now, and am about to hit send on another this weekend (this one is one of the eleven aforementioned; the other is not). So, since January 1, I have worked on/written somewhere around thirteen or fourteen short stories.

Yeesh.

And, since each story is roughly, on average 4500 words….that’s 63000 words approximately since the beginning of the year…which isn’t counting the Scotty or the WIP.

Fuck me. I guess I can stop beating myself up about being lazy.

That’s another thing about short stories, though; because each is an individual project, all on its own–unless and until you take stock, like I did last night, you don’t realize how much actual work you’ve done. Granted, all of them are in various stages of production; first drafts, second drafts, some are closer to being finished than others, some are finished. But when you’re working on a novel, and know your word count, you always know how much work you’ve done and how much you have left to do. And focusing on writing these stories–which are almost enough for a collection all on their own–which is also something I’m considering. I had already published enough crime and horror short stories to put a book together. Hmmmm.

I also read a couple of short stories. First up is “You’ll Always Remember Me” by Steve Fisher, from Best Noir of the 20th Century, edited by James Ellroy and Otto Penzler.

I could tell it was Pushton blowing the bugle and I got out of bed tearing half of the bedclothes with me. I ran to the door and yelled, “Drown it! Drown it! Drown it!” and then I slammed the door and went along the row of beds and pulled the covers off the rest of the guys and said:

“Come on, get up. Get up! Don’t you hear Pushton out there blowing his stinky lungs out?”

I hate bugles anyway, but the way this guy Pushton all but murders reveille kills me. I hadn’t slept very well, thinking of the news I was going to hear this morning, one way or the other, and then to be jarred out of what sleep I could get by Pushton climaxed everything.

Set in a military school, this is an absolutely chilling story told from the point of view of Thorpe, a student at the school. A girl he is dating’s older brother has been convicted of murdering their father; they are waiting for either a pardon or a commutation of the death sentence. Thorpe comes across, at first, as a typical self-absorbed teenager who sees events and the world only in how they directly affect and impact him. But as the story progresses and we get to know Thorpe better…the suspense and tension builds as the story moves forward to its inevitable, inescapable end. Very well done, and creepya s fuck.

I also read a Shirley Jackson story, from the collection Just an Ordinary Day, “The Smoking Room”:

He was taller than I imagined him. And noisier. Here I was, all by myself, downstairs in the dormitory smoking room with my typewriter, and all of a sudden there was a terrific crash and sort of sizzle, and I turned around and there he was.

“Can’t you be a little quieter?” I said. “I’m trying to work.”

He just stood there, with smoke rolling off his head. “This is as quietly as I can do it,” he said apologetically. “It takes a lot of explosive power, you know.”

“Well, explode somewhere else,” I said. “Men aren’t allowed in here.”

It’s a very short story, and clever and witty in that way only Jackson could manage: it’s a deal-with-the-devil story that turns the traditional trope on its head; not only is the young woman–who never has a name–unimpressed with the devil and what he can do for her, she’s also smarter than he is. I enjoyed this five page story, which leads off this collection, very much.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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New Moon on Monday

I made it to the gym again yesterday, which felt fantastic–despite the fact that I added a set to everything, and upped the speed of the treadmill by .2 miles per hour. The stretching helps; I can’t believe I worked out all those years without bothering to ever take the time to stop and stretch (okay, yes, I was naturally flexible, but I wouldn’t have lost the level of flexibility I had if I’d been stretching all those years). I also organized a bit, did some chores around the house, and wrote the first draft of a story for an anthology with a deadline of February 15th. The story’s not quite there yet, but I think it’s not only a good idea but one that revisions and rewrites will only make stronger. Huzzah! And yay for me!

It was also in the seventies (!!!) yesterday; considering just three days ago we had a hard freeze…yeah, the weather in southeastern Louisiana might be a bit bipolar. I also had a breakthrough on how to revise the first chapter, not only of the WIP but of the Scotty as well. Hallelujah! I really think this focus and positivity mantra might actually be working. Granted, it’s still only January, but between the working out, and the writing…yeah, this is turning into a much better year already than last.

I also read some short stories!

First up was “Music for Chameleons.” by Truman Capote, from his collection Music for Chameleons:

She is tall and slender, perhaps seventy, silver-haired, soigne, neither black nor white, a pale golden rum color. She is a Martinique aristocrat who lives in Fort de France but also has an apartment in Paris. We are sitting on the terrace of her house, an airy, elegant house that looks as if it was made of wooden lace: it reminds me of certain old New Orleans houses. We are drinking iced mint tea slightly flavored with absinthe.

Three green chameleons race one another across the terrace; one pauses at Madame’s feet, flicking its forked tongue, and she comments: “Chameleons. Such exceptional creatures. The way they change color. Red. Yellow. Lime. Pink. Lavender. And did you know that are very fond of music?” She regards me with her fine black eyes. “You don’t believe me?”

During the course of the afternoon she had told me many curious things. How at night her garden with filled with mammoth night-flying moths. That her chauffeur, a dignified figure who had driven me to her house in a dark green Mercedes, was a wife-poisoner who had escaped from Devil’s Island. And she had described a village high in the norther mountains that is inhabited entirely by albinos: “Little pink-eyed people white as chalk. Occasionally one sees a few on the streets of Fort de France.”

I love Truman Capote’s work–I reread In Cold Blood every few years or so, and his short fiction is also pretty compelling. I started reading this story before, but never finished; but in reading it now I realize I kind of borrowed the opening of this one for the opening of a chapter of Garden District Gothic, when Scotty goes to see Vernita Godwin, who is sitting on her front gallery in the Garden District sipping absinthe. I really love that image, of two people on a gallery sipping absinthe while ceiling fans turn overhead. The story isn’t really a story, in the classic definition of what comprises a story; this is more of the slice of life school of short stories, because it’s really just about a conversation between two people after dinner, about life in Fort de France, Guadeloupe. Part of the conversation is about a homophobic hate crime that had occurred on the island in the past; surprisingly, justice was actually served because, as the lady puts it, ‘we don’t tolerate murder here.’ But the strongest image of this poetically written story is the lady, sitting at the piano playing classical music for the iguanas, who listen in the doorway to the terrace and bob their colored heads in time with the music. That’s what I read Capote for–those poetic images.

Next up was “The Intoxicated” by Shirley Jackson,  from The Lottery and Other Stories:

He was just tight enough and just familiar enough with the house to be able to go out into the kitchen alone, apparently to get ice, but actually to sober up a little; he was not quite enough a friend of the family to pass out on the living-room couch. He left the party behind without reluctance, the group by the piano singing “Stardust,” his hostess talking earnestly to a young man with thin clean glasses and a sullen mouth; he walked guardedly through the dining-room where a little group of four or five people sat on the stiff chairs reasoning something out carefully among themselves; the kitchen doors swung abruptly to his touch, and he sat down beside an enormous white enamel table, clean and cold under his hand. He put his glass on a good spot in the green pattern and looked up to find that a young girl was regarding him speculatively from across the table.

“Hello,” he said. “You the daughter?”

“I’m Eileen,” she said. “Yes.”

I’m also a huge fan of Shirley Jackson who, as Stephen King once said, ‘never had to raise her voice.’ This story, like the Capote, is a slice of life type story, with a bit of a bizarre twist to it. The drunk party guest and the teenaged daughter have a lengthy conversation about how his generation has ruined the world and how it is up to hers to burn everything to the ground so it can start over, and be the better for it. It’s unsettling, but the end–when he returns to the party a little more sober than when he left it–leaves you to wonder what is going to become of Eileen–and what that story would be like.

I haven’t read a lot of Jackson’s short fiction–I’ve not read “The Lottery,” although I’ve seen the short film made of it in grade school and in an Acting class in high school we did the play, but I intend to remedy this grave error and lack in my reading history during this Short Story Project.

The third story I read was “Pastorale” by James M. Cain,  included in Best American Noir of the Twentieth Century, by editors  James Ellroy and Otto Penzler;

Well, it looks like Burbie is going to get hung. And if he does; what he can lay it on is, he always figured he was so damned smart.

You see, Burbie, he left town when he was about sixteen years old. He run away with one of them traveling shows, “East Lynne” I think it was, and he stayed away about ten years. And when he came back he thought he knowed a lot. Burbie, he’d got them watery blue eyes what kind of stick out from his face, and how he killed the time was to sit around and listen to the boys talk down at the poolroom or over at the barber shop or a couple other places where he hung out, and then wink at you like they was all making a fool of theirself and nobody didn’t know it but him.

This was Cain’s first published story, and it is not only a macabre, dark little story but it also, as the editors point out, contains themes Cain would return to again and again in his short novels; amoral man has affair with beautiful woman and they plan together to kill her husband. “Pastorale” though, isn’t told from the point of view of the amoral man, like The Postman Always Rings Twice or Double Indemnity; the story is told by a third party, someone who knows what happened and is telling the story to someone–the reader, but it’s told almost entirely in vernacular and in that man’s voice, which is arresting and very strong and very rural; the voice reminded me a lot of his Appalachian saga of incest and murder, The Butterfly, and it also reminded me of Faulkner. The tale teller passes no judgment on Burbie or his lady love for their adultery and murder; if anything, he thinks they were fools because Burbie’s own vanity is what wound up bringing them down. It also gave me some thoughts about voice, and point of view, and story-telling.

If you cannot tell, Constant Reader, I am greatly enjoying my self-education in The Art of the Short Story, and I hope you are enjoying following me on this path half as much as I am enjoying going down it.

And now, back to the spice mines.