Run to You

Yesterday I wrote 2700 words, which was lovely. Two more chapters and I will be at the midway point of the first draft of the Scotty book! Huzzah! I do feel like most of those words were crap, but I advanced the plot, I advanced the story, and we’re percolating right along, which was truly, well and indeed, lovely. I hope to reach the midway point of the book by the weekend, which is when I am hoping to finish revising “Don’t Look Down” and “My Brother’s Keeper,” and maybe even “The Problem with Autofill.” Huzzah! I love that I am working again, and I am trying to keep my confidence in my work up. It’s so easy to get distracted, it’s fucking easy to hit that downward spiral, and I WILL NOT HAVE THAT THIS YEAR.

Ain’t gonna happen, bitches.

I finished reading Jon Ronson’s So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed this week, and I really enjoyed it. It really made me think about a lot of things, not the least of which are the on-line social media lynch mobs. I mean, there are so many truly terrible people on Twitter, trolls and bots and so forth, that it’s easy to forget that some of the people we see posting vile things, or things we totally disagree with, are people, just like we are; even though we may not agree with anything they do. I know it surprises people that I have conservative friends, but I do; and as long as they aren’t nasty and trollish, I like having them around on my social media. They do sometimes help me see things in ways that I’ve never thought about before, that may not ever have occurred to me, and I do appreciate that insight. The fact that I can see their posts and comments means that they haven’t blocked me; they may have hidden me–and to be fair, the shirtless men that get me banned all-too-frequently on Facebook might be a bit much for my conservative friends–but I also never see them saying anything homophobic or anything that makes me think they buy into the homophobic bullshit that is so frequent on their side of the spectrum; whether knowing me has anything to do with that, I don’t know. I’d like to think so, at any rate.

My next non-fiction is John Berendt’s The City of Fallen Angels. I’d forgotten I even had the book, to be honest; I was rearranging and reorganizing bookshelves the other day and there it was. VENICE!!! How could I resist? So, it’s on the nightstand for my before-I-go-to-sleep reading. I’m also itching to get back to Bryan Camp’s The City of Lost Fortunes. Seriously, pre-order the hell out of this one. You won’t be sorry.

I also read some short stories. First up is “The Misfits” by Naomi Rand, from Crime Plus Music, edited by Jim Fusilli:

Where would you have been without me, go on, tell me that why don’t you, you ungrateful bitch. I made you.

That was his parting shot to me. Johnny O believed that until the minute he cast his eyes upon you, you didn’t actually exist. My ex-manager thought I was some piece of clay he breathed that lousy cigarette breath into to coax to life.

I believed otherwise. My version is that when we met, I  had already been alive and well and living in Calabasas for seventeen years. I, Julie Weston, was a senior at Calabasas High. I’d already been accepted to my first choice school, UCLA. And why not? I had a 4.0 average. Plus, I was captain of the girl’s swimteam, lynchpin of the debate team, and to top it off, I was dating the boy most likely to be crowned prom king. So really I did exist before. Not only did I exist, I was well on my way to making my doting parents proud. But you be the judge.

I fucking loved this story; it was amazing. A chance encounter in Tower Records, and Julie joins an all-girl band called the Misfits, which begins a quick rise to stardom in the late 1970’s. It kind of reminded me of the true story about the Runaways–the all girl rock band which launched Joan Jett and Lita Ford–and some of the horrible allegations that have come out in recent years about their manager, how the girls were manipulated and/or sexually/emotionally/physically abused; I couldn’t get that out of my head as I read the story. It’s absolutely terrific, with a great ending. I have to say, I am loving reading my way through Crime Plus Music.

Next was “Rooms by the Sea” by Nicholas Christopher, from In Sunlight or in Shadow and editor Lawrence Block:

There were two doors into this house. The first, in a small unfurnished room, opened directly onto the sea. It could only be entered from the water. When it was left wide open on a sunny day, the light slanting into the room illuminated half of the near wall on a diagonal. As the sun descended to the horizon, the wall could be read like a sundial: its illuminated half shrinking until the entire wall had darkened.

The second door, in a foyer on the other side of the house, opened onto a rough path that wound through a forest and ended in an obscure park at the city limits. The fountain in that park, centered by stone mermaids that spout water, had been dry for months. The buildings that lines the city streets were red and brown. The sun ate into their brick, sending up puffs of dust. At dusk their blue windows turned amber. On the fire escapes women were smoking and reading, gazing up occasionally at the river of bruised clouds that flowed to the sea. One of them, a redhead, was reading a slim memoir entitled Rooms by the Sea, written a century ago. The author, Claudine Rementeria, was married to a Basque shipping magnate who had immigrated to America. She herself was Basque, and shortly before her untimely death at thirty, she wrote the book in her native language, Euskera, in order to please her husband. Aside from a small private printing at the time–of which only a few copies have survived–her book hadn’t been translated and published in English until recently. The redhead, Carmen Ronson, the thirty-year-old great-granddaughter of Claudine Rementeria, owned both the English translation and one of the extant Euskera copies.

This story read more as a fable; a literary story rather than a crime story, with a haunting tone to it;  Christopher did a great job creating a mood that carried through the whole story with the rhythm of the words. It’s more of a magical realism story; a fable, if you will, relating the Basques back to Atlantis and…it’s hard to describe. It’s quite good.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Don’t Lose My Number

Easter! April Fool’s Day!

I ran my errands yesterday and got that over with, did some chores around the house and a little bit of writing–a very little bit, which means I must do a lot today–and then settled in to watch some movies: Office Christmas Party, Atomic Blonde, Five Dances, and Alien: Covenant, which was much better than I’d heard it was, although it didn’t make any sense compared to what I remembered of Prometheus, which it theoretically followed in the series. I also started brainstorming another short story, “Malevolence,” while sitting in my easy chair. I may start writing the story today; or I may not. It’ll depend on how I feel once I get home from the gym this morning, and how much progress I make on the disaster area also known as my kitchen.

I also read more of Jon Ronson’s So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, which I am really enjoying. I also read some more short stories, but I am also about to start reading Bryan Camp’s debut novel, The City of Lost Fortune, so I can review it around its publication, which is rapidly coming up. I’ve also got ARC’s of Alex Segura’s new novel, and Lori Roy’s. So many riches…and that doesn’t even take into consideration everything else in my TBR pile. Sigh, I am such a lucky bastard.

But…I also need to get some writing done, I need to get some cleaning done, and I need to be productive today. I haven’t been the last two days, despite running errands and doing chores, and so  yes, I really have got to get my act together today. Next week is a normal, five day work-week, and then things will be normal again for a while, until Memorial Day weekend, at least. Heavy heaving sigh.

But as I head back into the spice mines, I am going to share with you the opening of Vieux Carre Voodoo, which was not only the fourth Scotty book, but the comeback Scotty book, after several years away in the wake of Katrina.

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One of the rules of walking in the French Quarter when the weather’s warm is always look up when you walk underneath a balcony, or you’ll be sorry.

 You’d think having lived in the Quarter all of my life, looking up would be second nature for me by now. But I was lost in thought as I hurried up Governor Nicholls Street. I was really missing Frank and wishing he were here instead of in Ohio. I was on my way to ride on my parents’ float in the Gay Easter Parade, and it felt really strange to be doing it without Frank. I was debating myself as to whether my relationship had descended into an unhealthy level of co-dependency. I was paying absolutely no attention to my surroundings, other than making sure I wasn’t about to walk into a support post for a balcony. I had just decided here was nothing neurotic in missing your boyfriend, and that I should just relax and enjoy myself. It was a beautiful spring day, after all, and riding in a parade was always fun. I took a deep breath, cleared my head of all negativity, and started walking faster so I wouldn’t be late.

And that was when I was completely drenched by a cascade of cold water from above.

My reaction was reflexive and instinctive. “FUCK!” I screamed at the top of my lungs, which got me a really nasty look from the couple pushing a stroller across the street. I sighed, gave them an apologetic shrug, and their disapproving frowns turned into slight smiles at my expense.

I was soaked. Water was running down my back and chest, dripping out of my hair, and to my horror, I realized the white bikini my mother had so thoughtfully provided for me to wear in the parade apparently became see-through when wet. I immediately dropped my hands to cover my crotch as my eyes darted back and forth, looking for other pedestrians. The couple with the stroller shook their heads, gave each other a look, and started pushing the stroller a lot faster.

Obviously, they were tourists.

I shivered. The cool damp breeze coming from the river was much colder on wet skin. I knew I should’ve worn sweats over the costume.

Scotty? Is that you? Oh, dear, I’m so sorry!” a familiar voice said from above me. There was apologetic concern tempered by a slight bit of amusement in the tone.

I looked up and my initial irritation faded away to embarrassment. “Oh, it’s okay, Doc.” I called up to the bald older man peering down at me through gold-rimmed spectacles. “I wasn’t looking, like an idiot.” I sluiced water off my arms and shook my head from side to side. Droplets of water flew away from my hair.

“Well, come in and let me give you a towel.” He shook his head. “I’ll buzz you in.” His head vanished for a moment before reappearing almost instantly. “And you can explain to me what you’re doing in that ridiculous get-up.”  His face broke into a wide grin, and I couldn’t help but laugh as I dashed over to the metal gate at the side of the building in time to open it when the buzzer sounded.

Dr. Benjamin Garrett was a friend of my parents. He’d taught them both when they’d attended the University of New Orleans. He had been a full professor in both history and political science, and my mother frequently credited him for ‘opening her eyes to all the injustice in the world.’ We all called him Doc—well, when we were young we’d called him “Uncle Doc” until he asked us to drop the ‘uncle’ because he said it made him sound like a relative of the former dictators of Haiti. He loved to debate politics with my parents into the wee hours of the morning over bourbon; his eyes twinkling as he deliberately took an opposing viewpoint to wind my mother up.  I’d always liked Doc. He was fiercely intelligent, a bit of a curmudgeon, and one of the funniest people I knew.

No matter the situation, he always managed to have the absolutely perfect, droll thing to say on his lips. He was the epitome of the old-style Southern gentleman, and he was always dressed stylishly and appropriately. In the summer, he wore seersucker suits, bow ties and Panama hats. After Labor Day he switched to navy blue suits and dark red ties. He liked his bourbon and cigars, and he always seemed to have a mischievous twinkle in his blue eyes. He walked with a cane now that he was older, and had been completely bald for as long as I could remember.

I paused long enough to take a look at myself in the plate glass window of the candle shop on the first floor of Doc’s building. I’d been working hard at the gym since Frank left. Now that I was in my thirties, my body seemed determined to develop love handles. Frank said he didn’t mind them, but I did. My goal was to be as lean as I’d been when we first met by the time he came home and I was making progress. The wet white bikini was unforgiving, but I didn’t see any pesky fat hanging over the sides. I winked at myself and dashed down the dark passageway alongside the building until I reached the back stairs. Another blast of wind brought up goose bumps on my skin as I climbed the stairs.  Doc was standing in the door to his apartment holding a huge fluffy white towel, which he handed to me. One of his gray eyebrows went up as he peered at me over his round gold spectacles.

 “It’s for the Gay Easter parade,” I explained as I toweled my hair and wrapped the towel around my waist. “I’m riding on the Devil’s Weed float.” The Devil’s Weed was the tobacco shop my parents ran on Royal Street.

 “And your mother decided you should dress up as a gay Easter Bunny,” he nodded as he stepped aside to let me in. “And to her, that means a white bikini with a cottontail and rabbit ears.” His eyes twinkled. “Now slip off that bikini—I’ll throw it in my dryer for a few minutes.”

Smooth Operator

April Fool’s Eve!

I slept in this morning, after staying up much later than I intended last night. I’d read somewhere that you should stop looking at a screen of any kind–television, computer, phone, iPad–at least half an hour before going to bed to help with sleep, and frankly, I’ll try just about anything that will help in that regard; so I’ve started keeping a non-fiction book on my nightstand, to read for about half an hour every night before attempting sleep. The last two I read were The Black Prince of Florence and Joan Didion’s After Henry; last night I started onJon Ronson’s So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. I couldn’t stop reading it, of course, and before I knew it, I’d read through the first two people he’d interviewed about their public shamings–Jonah Lehrer and Justine Sacco–and wanted to keep going; but I forced myself to put the book down because it was much later than I wanted to stay up and I was worried about not getting up this morning.

I was right.

It’s kind of interesting to be reading the Ronson book about how public shaming destroyed the lives of two people–one who did something terrible (Lerner) and the other who made a really dumb joke on Twitter that went viral–and Ronson is really a good writer; I actually have some sympathy for the people he is writing about. But this is another, perfect example of why Twitter terrifies and fascinates me at the same time. I can’t imagine how horrible it would be to go viral in such a way on social media, but then again, I try to be very careful with social media. Is that cowardly? Perhaps it is, but i also don’t have time for arguing with people on social media, nor do I have an inclination to do so. I am frequently exposed to different viewpoints on my own social media–but as long as it is couched respectfully and is not in any way nasty or vicious, I like seeing points of view that are different than my own. (Homophobia, misogyny, and racism, however, are always deal-breakers. I never have any sympathy or interest in seeing that point of view.)

As you can tell, I am finding the book to be very interesting.

We also finished watching Season 2 of Santa Clarita Diet, which is hilarious. I highly recommend it. I also got caught up on Krypton and Riverdale yesterday, and did some more writing–not very good writing, mind you; for some reason “Don’t Look Down” is becoming increasingly more and more difficult to write, but I am determined to get that first fucking draft done this weekend. I also want to get some revisions done today. I am going to run some errands and go to the gym in a little bit, and then I am hoping to be able to get home and sit down and just write for the rest of the afternoon, which is going to require me shutting down all social media and closing my web browsers. I think I’ll clean the windows today as well, and maybe do some cleaning…which is the best way to deal with getting stuck on writing.

As I said, I finished reading Joan Didion’s After Henry this week.

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It’s a collections of essays she wrote that were published in various places, and tackle various subjects in that amazing style of writing she had; the way she constructs sentences, and puts words and paragraphs together, is so amazing that it’s hard sometimes to drink in what she is actually saying. These essays, about politics in Los Angeles; natural disasters in southern California; the Central Park jogger case in New York; the political conventions in 1988; the Reagan administration and the face it presented to the world; and several others, are pretty amazing and also serve as a kind of time capsule of recent history. I am really looking forward to reading another non-fiction Didion book, and possibly another of her novels.

I had finished reading The Black Prince of Florence before I took up the Didion.

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As Constant Reader is aware, I am fascinated by the Medici family of Florence, who rose from being merchant class to one of the wealthiest banking families in Europe to popes and queens to royalty in their own right. Alessandro de Medici, the little known subject of this biography, was the first Medici to attain royalty on his own; due to the machinations of his uncle, Pope Clement VII (better known to history as the pope who refused Henry VIII’s request for a divorce from Catherine of Aragon), he became Duke of Florence and the republic came to an end. Alessandro was illegitimate, and there is no proof of whom his mother was; his legitimate sister, Catherine, became queen of France. Fletcher does an excellent job of explaining the tumult of the times; how Italy had been riven by a series of wars between different city-states as well as between France and the Holy Roman Empire, both with extensive claims to various places on the peninsula, along with all the machinations in Rome for the papacy. The question of whether Alessandro’s mother was an African slave, or that was simply a slander to discredit him during his lifetime by his enemies, is one that Fletcher takes up; she also explains the differences between modern day views of race as opposed to those of the sixteenth century. I found the book to be endlessly fascinating, and really helped me get a better grasp of just how the Medici family became royalty. Alessandro’s sister Catherine is probably the most famous (notorious?) member of the family; I have numerous biographies of her on my shelves I look forward to reading.

I’ve also read some more short stories for the Short Story Project. First up is”A Poison That Leaves No Trace” by Sue Grafton, from Kinsey and Me:

The woman was waiting for me outside my office when I arrived that morning. She was short and quite plump, wearing jeans in a size I’ve never seen on the rack. Her blouse was tunic length, ostensibly to disguise her considerable rear end. Someone must have told her never to wear horizontal stripes, so the bold red-and-blue bands ran diagonally across her torso with a dizzying effect. Big red canvas tote, matching canvas wedgies. Her face was round, seamless, and smooth, her hair a uniformly dark shade that suggested a rinse. She might have been any age between forty and sixty. “You’re not Kinsey Millhone,” she said as I approached.

“Actually, I am. Would you like to come in?” I unlocked the door and stepped back so she could pass in front of me. She was giving me the once-over, as if my appearance was as remarkable to her as hers was to me.

This story is kind of clever, with a surprise twist at the end that caught me off guard; a woman hires Kinsey to prove that her niece murdered the woman’s sister for the insurance money. It’s fraud, all right, but not what Kinsey was originally led to believe, and the twists and turns are spooled out very cleverly.

The next up was another Sue Grafton tale from Kinsey and Me, “Full Circle.”

The accident seemed to happen in slow motion–one of those stop-action sequences that seem to go on forever though in tryth no mare than a few seconds have elapsed. It was Friday afternoon, rush hour, Santa Teresa traffic moving at a lively pace, my little VW holding its own despite the fact it’s fifteen years out of date. I was feeling good. I’d just wrapped up a case and I had a check in my handbag for four thousand bucks, not bad considering the fact that I’m a female private eye, self-employed, and subject to the feast-or-famine vagaries of any other freelance work.

I glanced to my left as a young woman, driving a white compact, appeared in my driver’s-side mirror. A bright red Porsche was bearing down on her in the fast lane. I adjust my speed, making room for her, sensing that she meant to cut right in front of me. A navy blue pick-up truck was coming up on my right, each of us jockeying for position as the late afternoon sun washed down out of a cloudless California spring sky. I had glanced in my rearview mirror, checking traffic behind me, when I heard a loud popping noise. I snapped my attention back to the road in front of me. The white compact veered abruptly back into the fast lane, clipped the rear of the red Porsche, then hit the center divider and careened directly into my path. I slammed on my brakes, adrenaline shooting through me as I fought to control the VW’s fishtailing rear end.

This story opens with one of the best descriptions of the slow-motion horror of an accident on the highway; how it happens right before your eyes and how you basically have to rely on instinct and automatic reaction to try to avoid the accident because your brain is so busy processing what it’s seeing. The story is worth reading for that alone, but it turns into a case when the mother of the girl driving the compact, Caroline Spurrier, hires Kinsey because it turns out the accident didn’t kill Caroline; she’d been shot. The man driving the truck also has disappeared. From that point on, it’s a great example of a private eye story.

Sigh. I’m going to miss Sue Grafton.