It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels

I cannot say I am not happy to see this past week end; for all intents and purposes, it was much more stressful than any week needs to be and equally disappointing. It was both tiresome and tiring; irritating, really, like an itchy rash that just won’t go away, frankly. By Tuesday night I was so exhausted already it felt like a Friday; and yet there were three more days yet to go and it never really got any better.

Begone, foul week! Get thee behind me, Satan!

I am so far behind on my emails now I may never dig my way out; that’s part of the plan for this weekend, at any rate; to try to get caught up on everything and make some progress. I had some stomach issues yesterday so I wound up staying home rather than heading to the office (the bathrooms aren’t close enough to my desk, and yes, I think you get the picture) so I spent most of the day recalibrating and doing some chores around the house and trying to get caught up on everything. But progress was made; I started getting my electronic files in the cloud better organized (which is quite a chore, I might add; one that is sort of mindless yet time-consuming in the worst way), and did some filing and so forth. There’s still quite a bit more to get done today, of course (isn’t there always?)  but I also want to get some writing done before the month slips away through my fingers. Ideally, I’d like to get a first draft of the Sherlock story finished as well as a revision of the one I’m revising for that anthology; and there’s another one I want to revise to send to the Bouchercon anthology. I’d also like to make some progress on the Secret Project, but that’s also predicated on my getting this short story work taken care of. I cannot believe how many stories I’ve started writing recently; it’s more than a little insane, methinks.

But then again, it seems pretty standard for my life–chaos, disorganization, and more chaos.

One would think I’d be used to it by now.

I also want to finish reading Carol Goodman’s The Sea of Lost Girls today, if I can; so i can get started on Lori Rader-Day’s The Lucky One. I am moderating a panel with her, Elizabeth Little (Pretty as a Picture) and  Laura Lippman (Lady in the Lake) at the Tennessee Williams Festival at the end of the month, and it’s always better to be prepared to discuss their latest works. Don’t worry, I’ll also be asking Lippman about My Life as a Villainess, her essay collection coming out later this year.

We watched another episode of Harlan Coben’s The Stranger last night. It’s a fun, twisty show, with a rather complicated narrative; I think it’s actually better than his last one, The Five. I am way behind on my Coben reading–so far behind I may never catch up–but I do enjoy that he writes suspense novels built around family/friend structures. I’m behind on everyone, so don’t feel special, Harlan! I am also way behind on my reading of Michael Koryta, Jeff Abbott, Stephen King, and any number of other white males; prioritizing diverse writers and women (and a year judging the Edgars) will do that to one, I suppose. I really wanted to read The Outsider (Stephen King) before watching the show; perhaps once I finish the Goodman and the Rader-Day I can move on to the King and we can finally watch the show. I’ve become rather an enormous fan of Jason Bateman, and really can’t wait for Ozark to come back.

We also lose an hour tonight; the part of Daylight Savings Time that I really hate. But I do like having longer days; I like it still being light when I come home from work, or at least, the light fading into night rather than the velvety darkness of a winter nocturne. It’s a bright, sunny day out there today; I am debating whether I do want to go get the mail–it would be my only adventure out into the world today–and am thinking I might do it. I hate only going once in the week, but on the other hand I’m also not expecting any packages or anything urgent (read: a check) in the mail, either. But it looks like a lovely day outside–and perhaps I can do some scouting after I get the mail. We shall certainly see how I feel.

I think this morning I am going to read some more of the Goodman novel while I have my morning coffee, and then after a few hours of that I’ll decide whether I do, in fact, want to leave the house. (odds are I won’t, quite frankly. I know myself all too well)

And on that note, tis time to get back to the spice mines. May your Saturday be bright and happy and full of cheer.

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Blue

So, Saints & Sinners and the Tennessee Williams Festival were a Jeopardy clue on Friday night; how fricking cool is that? I didn’t see it myself–I was cleaning–but any number of people tagged me on Facebook or on Twitter, so I got to see it, which is cool. The Tennessee Williams Festival has been a clue before, but I think this is the first time Saints & Sinners was–and it’s a queer/LGBTQ festival, so even more cool. Way to go, Jeopardy! There’s a reason why you’ve always been my favorite game show!

Hold up your hand if you didn’t think I’d get everything done yesterday that I’d planned. But it was still a good day, and I wrote some new stuff for the first time in a while. I have these horrible stagnant times, when I don’t get any writing done–and as we’ve already established, I always have to force myself to do it (despite loving doing it) and then when I’ve got my writing for the day finished, I wonder why I have to make myself do something I love–and those stagnant times always make me worry that I’ve lost the spark, the desire, to do it; that this time is the time I won’t be able to get back into it and do it. I worked on the Secret Project for a while yesterday, basically completely rewrote everything I wrote to begin with, and moved onto from the first scene to the next scene, which was also quite lovely.

I did get some organizing done–there’s more to be done today; my iCloud drive is so ridiculously disorganized that it’s almost impossible to use, and I probably should back everything up yet again–and some of the filing; I should be able to get more done this morning before I dive back into the Secret Project. I am also planning on heading to the gym for the first time in a very long time (I prefer not to think about just how long that time has been, frankly), which is my first move in my attempt to live a healthier, better organized, better life. I already am thinking of excuses to get out of going, frankly–which is par for the course, as always–but as long as I don’t tie myself to any particular time table, I should be good. I guess the Super Bowl is also tonight, but I don’t really care about either team–the 49ers or the Chiefs–though I suppose if I had to pick one I’d pick the Chiefs, and that’s mainly because they haven’t won a Super Bowl in forever and I think Kansas City could use the boost. We’ll probably spend the evening getting caught up on shows we watch. We still haven’t finished watching Messiah, are way behind on Dare Me, haven’t started the last season of Schitt’s Creek, and so on.

We haven’t even started HBO’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Outsider, which is getting rave reviews. Who would have ever guessed The Hogan Family’s Jason Bateman would become one of our finest actors/directors/writers for television? I really can’t wait for Ozark to come back.

I also finally finished and published my blog post about Victoria Holt’s Kirkland Revels, part of my Reread Project; I still need to do The Talented Mr. Ripley–it’s started, but I need to finish it.

I am resisting the urge to read Dorothy B. Hughes’ The So Blue Marble next; I need to start reading Tracy Clark’s canon so I can interview her for Sisters; but I also have to read Lori Rader-Day’s The Lucky One for the panel I’m moderating this year at the Jeopardy clue Tennessee Williams Festival late next month. Decisions, decisions. Probably the smart thing to do is read Tracy Clark’s first book next, then Lori’s, and then back to Tracy again for her second book.

I’ve also reached the final section of Richard Campanella’s Bourbon Street, which I am looking forward to finally finishing this month. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the book, which is interesting, well-written, and incredibly informative; it’s going to remain on my desk as an important reference guide for any future New Orleans writing I do–which reminds me, I’ve got to start that Sherlock Holmes story–and probably when I finish the Campanella I’ll probably move on to Jason Berry’s City of a Million Dreams: A History of New Orleans at Age 300. 

The plan is to get this work on the Secret Project finished this week, get started on the Sherlock story, and then get back to Bury Me in Shadows. I’d like to get Shadows turned in by the end of March, get back to the Kansas book–maybe with some serious focus I can get that finished and turned in by the end of May, and then I can get to work on Chlorine. I’d like to have the first draft of Chlorine finished by the end of summer.

Must stay organized, and must stay focused.

I also finished reading Dorothy B. Hughes’ Dread Journey yesterday.

dread journey

“I’m afraid.”

She had spoken aloud. She hadn’t meant to; she hadn’t wanted those words to come up from her throat to her lips. She hadn’t meant to think them, much less speak them. She didn’t want Gratia to have heard them.

But across the room the girl lifted her eyes from her book.

“What did you say?” she queried.

Dorothy B. Hughes is one of the more unjustly forgotten women writers of the mid to later twentieth century; fortunately Sarah Weinman worked–and has continued to work–tirelessly to bring this women back into the public eye. She wrote the introduction to Dread Journey, and in it she names Hughes as her favorite crime writer of all time. She’s not wrong, frankly; Sarah and my friend Margery are both huge fans of Hughes, and if not for them–and Megan Abbott–I may not have ever started reading Hughes, and for that I shall always be grateful to them. In a Lonely Place and The Expendable Man are both extraordinary; I think, frankly, The Expendable Man should be taught; it’s on my list for the Reread Project, for later in the year. Dread Journey is yet another masterwork by Hughes; I cannot wait to dig my teeth into more of her work.

Dread Journey takes place entirely on a train; the Chief, making its regular run from Los Angeles to Chicago–and you know, at some point, someone really needs to do a book or lengthy essay about crime novels and trains; not only did Hughes write one, but Christie wrote two (the very well known Murder on the Orient Express and the lesser known The Mystery of the Blue Train; as well as others that revolved around trains, like 4:50 from Paddington–called What Mrs. McGillicudy Saw! in the US) and of course, Graham Greene’s wonderful Orient Express comes to mind as well. Trains were part and parcel of the American experience. Trains made travel and connecting the massive distances across this continent much easier in the time before air travel became more commonplace and everyone wasn’t convinced they needed a car; there’s a certain nostalgic romantic element to train travel now, probably a result of these novels. I know that year we lived in Washington, we loved taking the train to Philadelphia and New York, even on to Boston; I’ve always, as I said the other day, wanted to write a book or a story called Murder on the Acela Express, and perhaps someday I will–even though the Acela is more of a commuter train without compartments. One of these days I want to take the City of New Orleans on its twenty-four hour ride to Chicago; it just seems like a lovely thing to do and the reading time! Oh, the reading time.

Anyway, the premise behind Dread Journey revolves around the dysfunctional and borderline abusive relationship between Viv Spender, a self-made Hollywood producer and studio head, and Kitten Agnew, a woman he discovered, became obsessed with, and groomed into a major star–America’s sweetheart, the girl next door. There is a huge difference between Kitten’s public image and who she is–a hard as nails fighter who won’t let go of her stardom in the face of Gratia Shawn, his new obsession, and whom he has decided will replace Kitten as the star of his dream project in the role of Clavdia Chauchat. But Kitten has a contract and isn’t giving up without a fight–and they, along with Viv’s longtime secretary Mike Dana, and several other characters–a journalist returning from the Far East, who drowns his memories of the atrocities and horrors he saw there in alcohol; a snippy, gossipy bandleader; a failed screenwriter returning to New York embittered by his failure; and of course, the car attendant, a man of color named James Cobbett–a decent working man who witnesses almost everything that happens on the car. Will Viv go so far as to kill Kitten to get out of the contract he has signed with her? She’s threatening to sue if she doesn’t play Clavdia; and the tension mounts as the cat-and-mouse game between the two of them slowly draws everyone else in the railroad car in.

It’s a very short read, and a good one. I highly recommend it, and of course, Sarah Weinman’s opening essay is worth the cover price alone.

And now, back to the spice mines.

You Can’t Walk in Your Sleep (If You Can’t Sleep)

So, Ozark.

It was really the perfect thing to watch at this time, given my revived interest in Southern Gothic (Harry Crews’ A Feast of Snakes notwithstanding; I just need to find better examples of Southern Gothic to read, and every once in a while I’m going to come across something I don’t like; it’s just the odds, really).

But Ozark hit all the right notes, and combining great writing and storytelling with stunning cinematography, terrific acting in complex, multi-layered characters, and complicated relationships between those characters, and you get an amazing show. Ozark is just that; and I do hope it will be renewed.

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Ozark is the latest in a series of television programs focusing on people who could be your friends or neighbors and are actually criminals. There were times when it reminded me of Weeds; I’ve heard other comparisons, like Breaking Bad and The Sopranos  as well. Marty Byrde, our main character, played perfectly by Jason Bateman (and back in the 80’s, who thought Jason Bateman would be the biggest star in that family?), is a numbers guy; he’s a partner in a very successful Chicago financial investment firm; he’s more of a look at the numbers and do the math kind of guy, while his partner is more of a dude bro salesguy; he makes the sales, but Marty is the one who takes care of the clients’ money and investments. In the very first episode, a Mexican drug lord, Dell, shows up with guns and goons, takes everyone in the firm hostage, and starts threatening them for stealing; everyone is killed–but Marty thinks quickly, promises to replace the money that was stolen, and launder it all; he decides to leave Chicago and set up shop at Lake of the Ozarks. His wife, played by the SUPERB Laura Linney (who makes everything better by just showing up), is having an affair and isn’t sure she wants to escape with Marty. Of course, Dell is having her watched as well–and alerts Marty to the fact she’s emptied their accounts and headed over to her lover’s apartment…the end result is her lover is thrown off the high balcony, literally landing at Marty’s feet when he arrives, and the Byrdes flee to Missouri to set up a money laundering business for the drug cartel in Lake of the Ozarks.

The writing is so crisp, the dialogue so real, and the characters are beautifully rendered and portrayed by the cast. Once they are at the lake, the Byrdes run afoul of some locals–the morally challenged Langmores, headed by teenaged Ruth; a star-making role for her portrayer, Julia Garner. Ruth is smart, battered by life, and mean–she wants to get her and her family out of the trailers they live in and into a better life; the developing relationship between her, her cousins, and the Byrdes is one of the strongest prongs of the show. There’s also a gay FBI agent, whose partner was also his partner in their private life but they are no longer together, which makes working together for them a challenge; Agent Roy Petty is one of the more unlikable characters on the show, and it’s very interesting to see such a developed, unlikable gay character on television. He’s also part of one of the most clever and original gay subplots I’ve ever seen; but saying any more than that would give away spoilers.

The plot is so intricate, there are so many twists and turns, ups and downs, changes in direction that you cannot stop watching, nor can you let your mind wander–something small and seemingly insignificant in one episode can turn out to be really important later.

And the cinematography! Lake of the Ozarks, the surrounding forests and topography, are lovingly shot; and it’s also shot through a slightly darker lens, to make it all more beautiful and brooding.

I loved this show, was sorry to see the end of the first season, and can’t wait for it to come back.