He Can Put His Shoes Under My Bed Anytime

As Constant Reader might remember–or if you don’t, here’s the reminder–I’ve been tasked with writing a Sherlock Holmes short story. Being quite mercenary–I rarely turn down opportunities to make money–I of course said yes; I am not a Sherlockian by any means, but it was precisely this lack of knowledge regarding perhaps the greatest private detective in the history of crime fiction (along with the offer of payment) that also was part of my inspiration to respond to the querying email with a most enthusiastic yes, of course I would love tofor there is also nothing such as the combination of payment AND a challenge to my writing skill and ability that I will welcome most gratefully.

Which, of course, was immediately followed by what the fuck were you thinking?

Now, I read most of the Holmes stories when I was in junior high, and they never really took with me. I enjoyed them, don’t get me wrong, but I never became what I call a “Sherlockian”; an enormous fan who devours any and all Holmes-related materials, whether they were written by Doyle himself, or the pastiches/homages, or any of the scholarship. I’ve watched some of the films, yes, and enjoyed both Sherlock and Elementary, even though we gradually lost interest in the latter and stopped watching. I also read the Nicholas Meyer “new cases” published in the 1970’s, The Seven Per Cent Solution and The West End Horror (I believe he’s published yet another one, as well). And a few years ago I bought the definitive annotated Holmes two volume set on eBay. So I figured I could reread some of the original stories, ask some of my friends who are deep into Sherlockiana to help if I needed it (both said yes, because writers are often very kind and generous people–side-eye at Romance Writers of America), and then I remembered a story I meant to read for last year’s Short Story Project, “The Case of Colonel Warburton’s Madness,” by Lyndsay Faye, which was a Sherlock Holmes story originally published in an anthology called Sherlock Holmes in America, and reprinted in The Best American Mystery Stories 2010, edited by Lee Child. I got the book down from the shelves yesterday and started reading.

My friend Mr. Sherlock Holmes, while possessed of one of the most vigorous minds of our generation, and while capable of displaying tremendous feats of physical activity when the situation required it, could nevertheless remain in his armchair perfectly motionless longer than any human being I had ever encountered.  This skill passed entirely unnoticed by its owner. I do not believe he held any intentions to impress me so, nor do I think the exercise was, for him, a strenuous one. Still I maintain the belief that when a man has held the same pose for a period exceeding three hours, and when that man is undoubtedly awake, that same man has accomplished an unnatural feat.

I turned away from my task of organizing a set of old journals that lead-grey afternoon to observe Holmes perched with one-leg curled beneath him, firelight burnishing the edges of his dressing gown as he sat with his head in his hand, a long-abandoned book on the carpet. It was with a view to ascertain that my friend was still alive that I went so far against my habits as to interrupt his reverie.

Isn’t that a wonderful start? And very Doyle-ish, yet uniquely Lyndsay Faye’s style. Lyndsay is a dear friend–and one of the people who agreed to advise me on my story–and we’ve known each other for years. I first saw her at the first Edgar banquet I attended; she was a finalist for Best Novel for The Gods of Gotham, which was fantastic and you should read it–and again more recently for her novel Jane Steele. We later were both on a judging panel for the Edgar for Best Short Story and became friends; I later recruited her for the Mystery Writers of America board of directors, and we’ve been buds ever since.

The story is truly fantastic, and as I read it–it’s a reminiscent story, in which Watson recounts an old story to Holmes from his days traveling in the United States, and this story is set in San Francisco. Colonel Warburton was a war veteran of both the Mexican War and the Civil War who’d made a fortune and built himself a mansion in San Francisco. But now in his latter years he fears he is losing his mind, having flashbacks to his war days, and Watson never really quite figured out what was going on in the Warburton mansion–but in relating his story and observations, he delivers the missing piece to solve the puzzle to Holmes’ brilliant deductive mind.

And thus, I realized that my fears–ever-present, of course–of imposter syndrome and so forth, which had been swirling around in my head about writing this story, began to disappear. I also grabbed one of the annotated volumes and started reading another Holmes story–and the idea that I had, “The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy”, began to take even better shape in my head…and I decided that today, as part of my writing, I would attempt to start writing the story. Which is very exciting, I might add.

Yesterday was a most productive day here in the Lost Apartment. I got a really good night’s sleep Froday night, and woke up aflame to get shit done yesterday. I cleaned, I organized, I filed, I did laundry, I cleaned the floors, I did the dishes and I read and I wrote and I did all kinds of things that made me feel quite accomplished by the time I plopped down in my easy chair to relax for the evening and watch television. Paul had gone into the office for the afternoon, and went out for the evening with friends, so I was pretty much alone all day yesterday and was able to accomplish a lot–not having an LSU football game to get stressed over was a big part of my getting so much done. The Saints are playing Minnesota today in the play-offs; I’m debating whether I should watch with my full attention, or stay here in the kitchen writing, checking in on the score periodically. I should, of course, stay in here writing. I need to get further along with Bury Me in Shadows, of course, and of course there’s the Sherlock story, and some website writing I agreed to do by a week from Monday.

So, on that note, I need to head back into the spice mines. I didn’t sleep as deeply last night as I did on Friday night, but it’s okay; I’m neither tired, nor exhausted; I actually feel rested if not completely awake this morning. Perhaps once I finish my second cup of coffee, and sort through my emails, I’ll be more awake.

So, it is off to the spice mines with me now, Constant Reader. Have a lovely Sunday!

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I Can’t Make You Love Me

GEAUX SAINTS!

So, it’s another chilly Sunday here in the Lost Apartment. It’s sixty degrees now outside, but it dipped into the forties overnight, so it’s going to take awhile for the Lost Apartment to recover–if it ever does. Today I need to pack up for the trip tomorrow morning. I’m not taking the MacBook Air with me, so I am not entirely sure how I’ll be able to crosspost the blog–should I write any entries–to Facebook and other social media because cutting and pasting on the iPad confuses me.

Don’t judge me.

The LSU game last night was a romp; never in doubt from the first snap, and ending with a 42-10 score. It was 28-3 at half-time and was never in doubt. As such, there was very little-to-no tension on my part, so I was able to sit in my easy chair like a millennial, scrolling through apps on my phone while also taking some time to read. I stopped by the Latter Library yesterday to pick up another book I’d reserved (Chariots of the Gods? by Erich von Daniken–more about that later) and also renewed Bibliomysteries Volume 2 for another week. I am taking both books with me to Kentucky, and am also taking A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin; I think it’s time I got started writing A Song of Ice and Fire, now that the end of the television series is in sight with this past week’s announcement that the final season will begin airing in April.

I took yesterday as my day off for the weekend; I didn’t clean anything, nor did I organize or file or edit or write. I was basically just a lazy slug, sitting in my easy chair and flipping between football games while reading. I’m still rereading ‘salem’s Lot but have now reached the end game, the final section of the book called “The Empty Village,” and the tracking down of the vampires concluding with Ben and Mark running away to Mexico while Ben writes his book isn’t as interesting to me as the opening of the book; as I said when I discussed the reread initially, I am more interested in how King depicts the town more than anything else, which was the impetus for the reread. And how much do I love this sentence, which opens section 2, “The Emperor of Ice Cream”:

The town knew darkness.

It’s very Shirley Jackson-esque, and the passage that follows is perhaps my favorite part of the entire book.

I also think I am going to give The Shining  a reread; The Shining is, for most fans, critics and readers, King’s best work. I couldn’t get into it when I first bought the paperback, with the boy’s head with a blank face drawn on a shiny silver cover. I picked it up again a few years later and tore through it in one sitting; but as creepy and horrifying as it was, and how nasty the Overlook Hotel was…it was one of the few I never reread completely. I’ve picked it up and started it again, flipped through it and read sections, but I’ve never read it from beginning to end. I think the complexity of Jack Torrance as a character cut a little too close to home for me, but now that I have over fifty books out there with my name (or a pseudonym) on the spine…I don’t have to be too stressed about the failed author character being too close to home for me anymore.

At least one can hope so.

Tomorrow is the dreaded twelve hour car ride through Mississippi, Alabama, a bit of Georgia, and the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. I need to go get the mail before I leave town and possibly stop by the bank, so I am going to be getting a later start than I would have perhaps wished, but a twelve-hour drive is a twelve-hour drive no matter when you get started, and I am most likely going to shower and go straight to bed when I arrive in Kentucky. I am still trying to figure out what digital book to download and listen to in the car–who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?–but none of A Song of Fire and Ice are available as audiobooks from the library, and the library’s app isn’t as intuitive as I would like (translated: I’m too old to figure out the easiest way to use it). I wanted to start Charles Todd’s brilliant series set during the end of the first world war, but the first book isn’t available from my library (BASTARDS!!!!) and so I have to choose something else. I’ll spend some time on there today–maybe on the library’s website, which is easier for a Luddite like me–and perhaps the second Louise Penny Inspector Gamache novel might do the trick.

Or maybe The Shining. Ooooooh.

Most of today is also going to be spent on odds and ends. I may get some writing work done, or I may not. I think after the Saints game we are going to watch either Love, Simon or Call Me By Your Name; both are available for free streaming on one or another services I pay for now. I also am assuming I’ll finish watching Knightfall while I am in Kentucky, as my parents both go to bed early every night.

And yesterday I also managed to read “The Gospel of Sheba” by Lyndsay Faye, from Bibliomysteries Volume Two, edited by Otto Penzler:

Letter sent from Mrs. Colette Lomax to Mr. A. Davenport Lomax, September 3rd, 1902.

My only darling,

You cannot comprehend the level of incompetence to which I was subjected today.

You know full well I never demand a private dressing room when stationary, as the very notion implies a callous disrespect for the sensitivities of other artists. However, it cannot pass my notice when I am engaged in a second class chamber en route from Reims to Strasbourg. The porter assured me that private cars were simply not available on so small a railway line as our company was forced to book–and yet, I feel justified in suspecting the managers have hoaxed their “rising star” once again. The reek of soup from the dining car’s proximity alone would depress my spirits, even were my ankles not confined one atop the other in a padlock-like fashion.

I do so loathe krautsuppe. Hell, I assure you, my love, simmers with the aroma of softening cabbage.

Lyndsay Faye has twice been nominated for the Edgar Award for Best Novel (for The Gods of Gotham, which I adored, and for Jane Steele, which is still in my ever-growing and enormous TBR pile), and she is also a delight to know in addition to her enormous gift for writing. Lyndsay is an enormous Sherlock Holmes fan (Sherlockian?), and even her first novel, Dust and Shadow, was a Holmes tale; she recently published an entire collection of Holmes short stories. “The Gospel of Sheba” is sort of a Holmes story; both he and Watson do appear in the story, but it’s primarily told from the point of view of a sub-librarian, Mr. Lomax; he is married to a professional singer who at the time of the story is currently on a tour–her presence in the story is either through her husband’s point of view or epistolary; we get to see occasional letters from her. Her husband’s point of view is seen through diary entries where he talks about the mystery of the Gospel of Sheba, a grimoire a member of a private men’s club with an interest in the supernatural has discovered and that makes anyone who reads it ill. One of the things I love the most about Faye is she writes in the formal style of the nineteenth century, but it always reads as organic and never forced. There’s never a sense from the reader of Oh I see what you’re doing here or from her as the author of see how clever I am? She’s somehow modernized that formal style, breathed fresh life into it, and uses it to help set the mood and the time and the setting. You can almost hear the hiss of gas in the lamps, and see the flickering gaslight. This is a terrific story, and reminds me of why I loved The Gods of Gotham so much, and also reminded me I need to dive back into her backlist.

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

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Baby, Come to Me

Yesterday was had a rather intense storm here in New Orleans; there was flash flooding all over the city, cars ruined, water inside buildings; that sort of thing. I don’t know if my street flooded or not (guess I’ll find out if my car got ruined tomorrow morning when I am ready to go to work), but we certainly were lucky and didn’t get water inside of our house. The rain is going to continue some today; there’s an advisory for everyone to stay inside and off the roads, just in case. We get these kinds of storms and flash floods every once in a while–the price of living in a low lying city surrounding by water where parts of the city used to be swamp and are now floodplains, and our pumping system tends to get overwhelmed when we get a lot of water in a short period of time. I’ve been caught out in these storms before, having to wade through water up to my hips at times. My car was flooded when I was on my way home from work the first year we lived here and I got caught in one of these storms. There’s no point in railing against these storms and short-term floods; they happen periodically and you have to deal with them, unfortunately. Last night was also supposed to be White Linen Night, an annual event every August in the Arts District where all the galleries serve food and alcohol, booths are set up on Julia and Magazine streets to sell food and drink, and people wearing white go from gallery to gallery looking at (and hopefully buying) art. Satchmo Fest was also this weekend; clearly, both annual events were cancelled yesterday because of the deluge. I ran my errands early–thank God–and so intended to spend the rest of my day inside and working on the line edit, doing some writing, and reading as well. I did no line editing and no writing yesterday; instead, I was caught up in the last half of Lyndsay Faye’s staggeringly brilliant The Gods of Gotham, and could not put it down until it was finished.

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When I set down the initial report, sitting at my desk at the Tombs, I wrote:

On the night of August 21, 1845, one of the children escaped.

Of all the sordid trials a New York City policeman faces every day, you wouldn’t expect the one I loathe most to be paperwork. But it is. I get snakes down my spine just thinking case files.

Seriously, is there anyone who enjoys paperwork?

The Gods of Gotham is the perfect historical crime novel. I’ve read a number of them, and there are some truly excellent ones (one of my favorite novels of all time is The Affair of the Blood-Stained Egg Cosy, set in the 1930’s), but I’ve also staggered my way through some seriously bad ones. But even with the bad ones, I always have tremendous respect for the writer for even trying; I can’t imagine trying, much as I love history, because there are so many gaps; so many things to research, from small to large, intricate intimate details that may be impossible to find out–or you might find them out when it’s too late. To be truly successful, a historical piece of fiction has to be completely immersive; the author has to bring that world to life but make the reader understand it and how it was to live in that period without giving in to the temptation to put everything you’ve researched into the book/story, aka hitting the reader over the head with a history lesson. Writing a convincing, involving story with characters the reader can identify with, appreciate, and root for, is hard enough without setting it in another time period.

Lyndsay Faye has managed this incredible juggling feat, and pulled it off with aplomb. The Gods of Gotham is set in New York City (obviously) in the late summer of 1845; when the city has newly created a police force, identified by the copper stars they wear (which, obviously, is where the slang term copper, and its derivative, cop, came from; this is clearly made obvious throughout the story without Faye stopping to explain; a lesser writer certainly would have made that egregious take-the-reader-out-of-the-story error). Our hero, Timothy Wilde, is a bartender when the story opens; his older brother, Valentine, is a good-time Charlie who likes to get wasted, frequents whorehouses, and also works as a fireman. The relationship between the brothers isn’t great; they lost their parents to a fire when they were children, and they butt heads alot. Valentine is also involved with the Democratic Party. After an enormous fire leaves Timothy jobless and homeless and broke, he rents a room from a widowed German baker, Mrs. Boehm, and is then pressured by his brother into becoming a copper star; a beat cop in the newly formed city police, which not everyone in the city wants or approves of. Soon, Timothy is wrapped up in a bizarre mystery involving a child prostitute he runs across one night; wandering the streets in a nightdress, covered in blood; and soon the investigation expands to involve a possible serial killer of child prostitutes. Politics, nativism, religious and ethnic and racial bigotry all play a part in this tale; as do sexism.

The truly great historical novels not only shine a bright light on the past, but thematically show how little has changed over time. The Gods of Gotham could easily be set in the present day, with Timothy Wilde as a modern police detective. The bigotry against the Irish and Catholics could easily be translated to Middle Eastern refugees and Muslims; it is truly sad to read and see how we as a society and a people fail to learn from the mistakes of the past, repeating the same errors over and over to our own disgrace. Faye has brought New York of 1845 vividly to life with careful brush strokes that never are too big or too broad or invasive to the story; her city streets are alive with noise and people and sights and sounds and smells. Her characters are all-too-real; even the worst of her villains (particularly the diabolical madam, Silkie Marsh) are believable three-dimensional and live and breathe on the page.

I hated seeing the book end, quite frankly; but there are two more Timothy Wilde novels to savor and look forward to, as well as her Edgar nominated Jane Steele (The Gods of Gotham was also an Best Novel Edgar finalist), and her Sherlock Holmes work. (And yes, my recent interest in Holmes was triggered by Lyndsay’s interest in Holmes…and there were times when this book itself reminded me of, in the best possible ways, of Nicholas Meyer’s Holmes pastiches from the 1970’s, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution and The West End Horror.)

The Gods of Gotham, if you haven’t read it yet, needs to be added to your TBR pile immediately.

Every Breath You Take

I got absolutely nothing done, other than some laundry and a load of dishes, yesterday because I was too engrossed in reading Rebecca Chance’s Killer Affair to put it down. So, today, after I make my grocery run, I simply have to buckle down and clean as well as write and line edit. I’ve decided on my next book to read–Lyndsay Faye’s Gods of Gotham, which was nominated for the Edgar for Best Novel–and I am really looking forward to reading it. Lyndsay has written five novels, and been nominated for the Best Edgar novel twice–no small feat, I might add (her other nomination came this year for Jane Steele, which I am also looking forward to reading).

So, I survived the grocery store, made brunch for Paul and have done the dishes. I’m not feeling particularly motivated at the moment; I also had to walk to Office Depot to get ink for the printer and the six block to-and-from walk (twelve blocks in total) in the heat and humidity has sucked the life and energy right out of me. Just sitting at my desk and letting the air conditioning wash over me feels so lovely that I am tempted to simply blow everything off and read Gods of Gotham, which would be a huge mistake. I simply cannot keep blowing everything off; the kitchen floor is disgusting and so is the living room; perhaps a shower will pick my attitude right up out of the gutter where it has fallen. I’m so very close to being finished with the second draft of “For All Tomorrow’s Lies” that it’s really egregious to keep putting off working on it; and it certainly isn’t going to kill me to drag the hard copy of the WIP out and start marking it up again, either.

This laziness is why I am always playing catch-up on everything.

Heavy heaving sigh.

I did manage to also finish my reread of The Secret of Terror Castle last night; the very first Alfred Hitchcock and The Three Investigators mystery, and despite being dated, the story still holds up. The three young detectives (Jupiter, Bob, and Pete) are much better developed that the main characters in so many other children’s mystery series, with very distinct personalities, and the world in which they inhabit (Rocky Beach, California, close to LA–my assumption is it’s based on Long Beach) is interesting and also pretty well fleshed out: the Jones Salvage Yard, which is run by Jupiter’s aunt and uncle, always was interested and many of their cases came from things that Uncle Titus bought at an estate or yard sale; their headquarters, a battered old mobile home hidden from view by artfully arranged piles of junk and had secret entrances; their ability to use a gold-plated Rolls Royce (Jupiter won the use of the car in a contest), complete with British chauffeur, Worthington; and their relationship with Alfred Hitchcock, originally a bit fractious but came to be one of friendship and mutual respect as the boys proved themselves to be excellent detectives in case after case–all of these things made this a favorite series of mine. Not to mention, that in almost every book the boys had to actually solve a mystery, based on clues they found and observations they made–so the books were a bit smarter than the other series.

I’d love to update this series.

And now, here’s a hunk for your Sunday Funday, as I head back into the spice mines.

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