One of These Nights

I have been saying for quite some time that some of the best crime fiction in print is being written by women. This is not to say that there isn’t great crime fiction being written by men these days–there are a lot of amazing male crime writers–but the women don’t ever seem to get the attention–or rapturous praise–that men do. Sistersn in Crime has dedicated itself for over thirty years to put women on the same playing field–recognition, reviews, awards–as the guys, and their hard work is starting to pay dividends.

That isn’t to say we don’t have a long way to go, however; but I do believe in recognizing progress once it’s been made.

I met Jamie Mason I don’t know how many years ago; I do remember it was at Sleuthfest in Orlando (thanks for the invite and another shout-out to MWA-Florida!), and we were on a panel together about place/setting. I think Laura Lippman, who was a keynote speaker/special guest, was also on the panel, and maybe one more person? My memories are hazy these days, my apologies. But I liked Jamie immediately, she was smart and had really insightful things to say. After the panel, Laura and I repaired to the poolside bar for a cocktail and lunch (it was afternoon and no one was out there), and Jamie tentatively asked if she could join us.

From such humble beginnings are friendships born.

I bought Jamie’s first novel that weekend, Three Graves Full, and read it several months later and LOVED it. (It’s still one of my favorite crime novels of this decade, for the record.) She handed me a copy of the ARCs for his second, Monday’s Lie, at Bouchercon in Long Beach either later that year or the next; I treasure that ARC, but as is my wont, didn’t want to read it until there was another Jamie Mason book in print.

That time is now. This summer sees the release of Jamie’s third novel, The Hidden Things, and she very generously send me an ARC of it.

the hidden things

The video had been watched only forty-four times before Carly Liddell’s attacker was identified to the police. Viewer number forty-four was the prize tipster, and it was a good thing it was all resolved quickly. The young man in the video had killed a turtle over a span of hours one dull Saturday a decade earlier, at the age of nine, in the early weeks of the same summer he’d set his first fire. Since then, matches, rocks, the heel of his shoe, the long drop over the railing of a bridge, and other weapons of juvenile destruction had been urgently fascinating to him in ways that got him into trouble when he was a boy, in ways he’d learned to hide over the years.

He’d been stealing things, lately. And watching women.

He always would have made the news.

The video, a sloppy edit of footage from a home-security system, went on to become something of a phenomenon. It had been cut together in a hurry by a tech-savvy officer in the cybercrimes unit who was good with that sort of thing. It went up on the police website less than twenty minutes after the flash drive, loaded with the raw recordings from the home’s monitoring surveillance, had been plugged into his computer. Backslaps and high fives all around for that one.

I love the way Jamie writes.

She has a very distinct and different style from others writing today, which is, in and of itself, an achievement. She builds her stories from a small kernel, a small thing that might happen at any time any day to anyone, and it builds from there. In Three Graves Full that small thing was the main character’s decision to hire landscapers to redo the flower beds around his nondescript home; in The Hidden Things it’s a little more unique: a high school girl coming from school to an empty house is followed by an assailant who gets into the house behind her. She manages to fight him off and go for help; all of this is captured by security cameras inside the house. The local cops post the video on-line on their Facebook page in order to help identify the assailant, with the unexpected result that the video goes viral.

Videos go viral, after all, every day. So what makes this viral video memorable, different, from other viral videos?

Well, for one thing, neither the girl (Carly Liddell) nor her mother had known there were security cameras in the foyer of their home; so her stepfather has some explaining to do.

Secondly, something caught on video–the corner of a painting hanging in the foyer–catches the attention of some very dangerous people.

You see, Carly’s stepfather of four years has been keeping some seriously dark secrets from both her and her mother…secrets that start coming out now with serious consequences.

I absolutely loved this book. The characters are beautifully sculpted; Mason knows what makes people tick and also understands that small, barely noticeable touches are what make characters come to life as well as making relationships ring with honesty and truth and reality. The book is so good I deeply resented everything else that was keeping me from reading it–being tired, errands, cleaning, doing my own writing, my day job–and I literally had to finally push everything aside one day to read the second half in one sitting. Her style reminds me of a combination of Margaret Millar and Patricia Highsmith; literary but accessible at the same time.

It is officially being released in August; do yourself a favor and preorder it right now. And if you’ve not read her before, do yourself an even bigger favor and go read her back list. You won’t regret it.

Sweet Love

Saturday morning and feeling fine. Another good night’s sleep is in the books, and I am swilling coffee and looking forward to getting some things done today. I have to make groceries (I wound up pretty much effectively blowing most of yesterday off–who saw that coming?) and I need to get some work done on the WIP. I did get all of the laundry–including bed linens–done yesterday, and the dishes, and some cleaning and organizing done. I also pulled the WIP out from the back-up, and sure enough, the 300 words or so I’d one on Chapter Three weren’t there, since they are on the flash drive.

But as I said yesterday, reconstructing the revisions I’d already done turned out to be easier–and better–than the revision I’d done already; and while I simply added a different three hundred words to that chapter, this 300 is better than the last 300 and I also restructured the opening of the chapter so it makes better sense and works better. So leaving the flash drive at the office was, as I thought it might be yesterday, for the best. I intend to get that chapter finished this morning, perhaps move on to the next, and then perhaps get a short story reworked before retiring to my easy chair with Alison Gaylin’s quite superb Never Look Back, which is quite superb, actually. I thought her last two novels–What Remains of Me and If I Die Tonight–were marvelous; this one looks to be even better than both of those….which means hours of reading bliss for me. Gaylin is an author who always outdoes herself with each new work, like her peers Megan Abbott, Laura Lippman, Lori Roy, and Alafair Burke.

And I think the next book up with be something by a gay author, as I continue working on the Diversity Project. I also need to get back to reading Murder-a-Go-Go’s, so I can keep writing up the stories in it. I also should be doing more promotion for Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories. I’ve done a terrible job of pushing the book thus far–even forgetting the publication date–and yeah, it’s a wonder I still  have a career to speak at all in this business.

But it’s great to feel rested and relaxed; that happens so rarely that having several good nights’ sleep under my belt has me wondering, is this how everyone else feels? Don’t take the ability to sleep for granted, Constant Reader, if it is something you are blessed with; it can be taken away from you before you know it and you’ll really, really miss it once it’s gone.

We watched some more of Kim’s Convenience  last night, and continue to enjoy it. I do want to get back to watching You and The Umbrella Academy at some point, but neither show crosses my mind when I am flipping through the Apple TV apps trying to find something to watch. I also never finished watching Pose, and there’s also Fosse/Verdon, which I’d like to take a look at as well. And I barely ever think to go to Amazon Prime…primarily because their television app isn’t really user friendly. (I’ve still never forgiven Hulu for changing theirs from something incredibly intuitive and super-easy to use to the more complicated version they have now.) But there are some terrific films I’d like to see–I still haven’t seen Black Panther, for example–and of course there are some classic films available for streaming.

It’s ever so easy to get distracted, you know?

So, once I finish this I am going to go read for an hour before getting back to work on the WIP, and then I am going to head to the grocery store. I’ll work on it some more when I get back from the grocery store, and then read some more until about five-ish, after which I’ll probably go sit in my chair and scroll through apps looking for something to watch…oh yes, the NCAA women’s gymnastics championships are on tonight, and LSU made it to the final four, along with UCLA, Oklahoma, and Denver. Paul and I are enormous LSU fans, and we watch the gymnastics team compete, whenever possible, on television. And football season will be returning soon…I am already getting emails from Stubhub about buying game tickets. Paul and I are still riding our eight-year streak of never seeing LSU lose when we are in the stadium; let’s hope that streak continues for a ninth year.

And now it’s time to head back into the spice mines. See you on the flip side, Constant Reader!

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Free Your Mind

Well, I slept deeply and well last night, only waking up twice–and both times I was able to go back into a lovely, lovely deep sleep. I also didn’t wake up until almost nine. I know, right? It’s so lovely to feel rested.

LSU’s game isn’t on until tonight, but there are some terrific games on throughout the day. I suspect I can finish the floors and cleaning the living room around and during some of these games; I can also get some writing done as well, methinks. I am leaning towards editing some short stories rather than working on the book–yes, I know that will put me two days behind where I want to be with it, but I am also stuck. (And no sooner did I type that, did I come up with a way to start Chapter Four in a way that will help advance the plot somewhat. Huzzah!)

Yesterday, as I mentioned, I stopped at the Latter Library on my way home from work to pick up a book I’d requested on-line, Volume 2 of Otto Penzler’s Bibliomysteries. If you aren’t familiar with the “Bibliomysteries,” these are slightly longer than your average short stories, written by today’s top crime writers, and have to focus or be centered around a book or a bookstore. I first became aware of them when I was a judge for the Edgar Award for Best Short Story a few years ago (maybe more than a few; time has become so fluid and untethered for me–particularly when I realize it’s fucking 2018 sometimes), and in fact we picked John Connelly’s Bibliomystery, “‘The Caxton Lending Library and Book Depository,” as that year’s Best Short Story winner. Since then, I’ve read others–Megan Abbott’s “The Little Men,” Laura Lippman’s “The Book Thing,” Denise Mina’s “Every Seven Years”–and been blown away by their absolute brilliance (which reminds me, I really need to get back to the Short Story Project, which has sadly fallen by the wayside); so I am very excited to read this second collection of these singles; the stories are, you see, originally published as singles–you can buy them as ebooks or you can get a print copy.

I love the library, and was extremely pleased with myself, as Constant Reader is probably already aware, for finally getting my library card. I haven’t had one since I left Kansas in 1981; and even in Kansas I hadn’t used mine for years when we moved. Libraries were very important to me, as a kid and as a teen; I don’t know why I stopped using them–other than the fact that I often lost library books, or forgot to return them on time, which meant fines, which meant lectures from my mother about irresponsibility and on and on and on it went–but I remember the Tomen Branch of the Chicago Public Library fondly; the library on 6th Street in Emporia, and the little library in Americus, as well as when the Bolingbrook Library opened. I often spent time in my school libraries as well as a kid. Stupidly, I suspect I stopped using libraries when I started working and had my own money to buy books with; I loved owning books, always coveted other people’s, and for years was also sentimentally attached to books and didn’t want to get rid of my copies of them. I still am, and I still hoard books, always buying more when I haven’t read all the ones on hand, and I was the same with the library; always checking out more than I could possibly read because I also wanted choices about what to read. I’m looking forward to reading–and reporting back–on the stories in this book I haven’t already read–the Abbott and Mina stories are also inside this collection of them. Writing a Bibliomystery is a bucket-list thing for me; but I will also need to become more important of a writer to be asked.

Last night, as I laundered the bed lines and blankets and coverlets, it took longer for the dryer to dry things then planned–it was damp yesterday, and damp always affects the dryer–so I had to stay up a little later than I wanted to, so I started streaming an 1980’s classic thru Prime: Night of the Comet, starring Robert Beltran, Catherine-Mary Stewart, and Kelli Maroney. I saw this movie in the theater when it was released; it’s not the greatest movie in the world, but it also recognized that it wasn’t a great movie and embraced its camp sensibility. The premise of the movie is this: a comet with an enormous orbit through space is going to pass close by Earth again for the first time in sixty-five million years (hello, dinosaur extinction event!), and of course, it turns into this thing, with comet-watching parties and so forth. Our two leading ladies manage to miss the comet by falling asleep inside of steel–Stewart in the cinema where she works in a steel-walled room for storing film; Maroney in a steel shed in the backyard–and the comet turns everyone into either dust or murderously insane zombies, and they have to survive somehow. Fortunately, the women–sisters–have a father in the military who taught them how to protect themselves. Beltran plays a truck driver (who passed the night inside his truck) they encounter, and eventually team up with for survival. I was just far enough into the movie to get to the part where they run into Beltran for the first time–having already realized most of the world is dead–when the blankets were finished. I also remembered some trivia–Stewart’s big break was being the original Kayla on Days of Our Lives (her replacement became one of the most-loved and popular stars of the show), and Maroney started out playing a manipulative spoiled bitch teenager on Ryan’s Hope. Stewart was also the female lead in a favorite scifi movie of mine from that same period, The Last Starfighter. Both kind of faded away which I always thought was kind of unfortunate–although watching the movie again last night and seeing their performances clearly, it’s really not that surprising.

And Beltran, of course, was part of the Paul Bartel stable, also appearing in Eating Raoul and Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills. Interesting that Bartel’s films, which were kind of the same style as John Waters movies, aren’t remembered or talked about much anymore. (Bartel and his usual female muse, Mary Woronov, also were in another classic from the period, Rock ‘n’ Roll High School–but I don’t remember if Bartel directed that one.)

I may finish watching Night of the Comet at some point today; we shall see how the day goes.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Tonight She Comes

Reality television.

I started watching in back in the original days of The Real World on MTV; the social experiment of picking vastly different young people from vastly different places with vastly different backgrounds, to see whether or not they can learn from each other and grow; or simply clash and create drama for the cameras. I enjoyed watching, I’m not going to lie–I didn’t lose interest until later seasons, when it became all about the kids getting drunk and hooking up and so forth. But the influence of The Real World–and its sister show, Road Rules–on reality television is unmistakable.

I’ve stuck my toe in the water with several reality shows–I used to be completely addicted to Project Runway, until it left Bravo for Lifetime and I lost interest–and the same with RuPaul’s Drag Race–after the Adore/Bianca/Courtney season I didn’t see how it could be anything other than a disappointment going forward so I stopped (although I did tune in for the glory that was RPD All-Stars Season Two), but I never got into Survivor or The Bachelor or any of the others. But I do watch the Real Housewives–New York is, without question, the gold standard, with Atlanta a close second with Beverly Hills trailing them both substantially; I can’t with Potomac, Orange County, and Dallas. 

I also really enjoyed the first season of Lifetime’ UnReal, but got behind on Season 2, heard bad things, and so never picked it back up again.

My love of (some of) the Housewives shows has resulted in my winding up on two Housewives related panels over the years at Bouchercon (Albany and New Orleans, to be precise), which were enormously fun; and I have also managed to observe what a cultural phenomenon these shows have become. There are recaps everywhere all over the Internet; there’s the Bravo website itself; and these women are often sprawled all over the tabloids I see while in line at the grocery store. (And no, I have only ever watched about twenty minutes of a Kardashian show and it was so horrible I never went back. More power to you if you’re a fan, but they are just not for me.

I even wrote a very short book–which is no longer available anywhere–based on the filming of such a show in New Orleans; it was pulled from availability primarily because I was never truly satisfied or happy with it. I wrote it very quickly in a window between deadlines and never felt I was able to explore all the things, the issues, with reality television that I wanted to with it. And yes, I decided to use that same backstory–a Real Housewives type show filmed in New Orleans–to write the new Scotty book because 1) it’s a great idea and 2) since I am writing off dead-line I can do it the way I want to and hopefully say the things I wanted to say in the first. Some of the original elements of the story I used before still exist in this Scotty book, but there’s a lot of changes I’ve made so it’s not the same story. The draft is very very rough, and since I’ve finished it and put it aside I’ve had a lot of great ideas for it; fixes and changes and so forth.

I think it might be the best Scotty yet, and it’s certainly the most complicated.

I started reading Jessica Knoll’s The Favorite Sister yesterday, and before I knew what happened most of the afternoon was gone and I was about half-way through. Her book is also built around a reality television show, and boy, is this book biting. I loved her debut, Luckiest Girl Alive, and this one is just as good. You’ll get a full report, Constant Reader, when I finish it.

Next up for the Short Story Project: “Don’t Walk in Front of Me” by Sarah Weinman, from Baltimore Noir, edited by Laura Lippman:

I wanted honest work and got it at Pern’s. A Jewish bookstore is a strange place to work for a guy like me, but I didn’t have much choice; a month of job hunting left me frustrated and ready to break things, and the ad stuck on the store’s main window was as close to salvation as I could get.

Thus Sam–we were on a first-name basis from the beginning–was very particular about which items I could handle and which I couldn’t (“Anything with God’s name on it, leave it to me”), he left me to my own devices when it came to  handling teh cash register, stocking the books, and helping out customers. I hadn’t know much at all about Judaism, but I sure learned fast.

When I told my mother where I was working, she was understandably confused, but got over it quickly enough. I had a job, and a pretty decent one, and that was what mattered to her most.

“I worried about you, Danny, the whole time you were incarcerated. She articulated each syllable, just as she did every time she used the word. Which was a lot, because my mother adored big words. It was her way of showing how much more educated she was than the rest of the mamas in Little Italy.

Sarah Weinman is a fine short story writer; her stories in Lawrence Block’s stories-inspired-by-art are two of my favorites. Her upcoming study of the kidnapping case that inspired Lolita, The Real Lolita, will be out this fall and I can’t wait to dig into it. This story is another one of her little gems: a guy with a criminal past takes the only job he can get, and slowly but inexorably gets drawn into trying to help his boss solve a personal problem, and how things get out of hand from there. Brava, Sarah! WRITE MORE SHORT STORIES.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Love Touch

Sunday morning, as I sit here in my cool workspace swilling coffee, trying to wake up and figure out what to do with the rest of my day. I need to go to the grocery store and I should also probably make an attempt to go to the gym; but I can’t seem to find my iPad, which makes doing cardio pointless (I read or watch TV on my iPad while on the treadmill; perhaps not having my iPad is simply an excuse for not going; what if it’s gone, lost, stolen? I am trying not to think that way and am hoping that I simply left it at the office. If not, I am terribly screwed because I don’t know where it is and I currently don’t have the cash on hand to replace it. So, yes, let’s just continue pretending happily that it’s as the office, shall we?)

I could, of course, just go to the gym and do weights. That always feels good, at any rate. Perhaps once I finish swilling this coffee….

I slept late yesterday, and I slept even later today. I spent most of yesterday not only reading but doing chores around the house, on the pretense that today I would not only go to the grocery store and the gym, but I would also spend some time writing today. I need to finish a short story; I need to revise still another, and there’s that new one struggling to take root in my brain that I haven’t really decided what to do with just yet. There are two others swirling around up there in my head, as well as others I’ve not thought about or have forgotten about in the meantime. But now, now as I wake up I feel more confident about running the errands and going to the gym and actually doing some writing today.

I’ve been reading The History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell, and greatly enjoying it; is there anything quite like well-written non-fiction? It’s why I love Joan Didion and Barbara Tuchman; one of the things I love to do while reading is to learn, and non-fiction fills that need quite beautifully. I also like non-fiction that makes me think; which is why I am looking forward to reading Dead Girls by Alice Bolin. I still would love to do a collection of my own essays, book reviews, and so forth; but egad, what an odious chore pulling all of that together would be. I struggle with essays, but I also think that the writing of essays; the ability to pull thoughts from my head and extrapolate them out to their fullest meaning, is vitally important and a skill-set I wish I had honed more properly. A friend once pointed out to me, as I bemoaned my inability to write essays, that my blog itself is nothing more than years of personal essays. That took me aback, because it was, in many ways, correct; there is definitely some truth to that, but it’s hard for me to take the blog seriously in that fashion, because so much of it is simply written off the top of my head in the morning as I wake up and drink coffee and try to figure out what to do with the rest of my day.

One of the problems for me with personal essays is, ultimately, the issue of self-deprecation, which I’ve addressed in previous blog entries about my writing and my career and my books; who am I to write about this subject? Am I expert enough in this to write about it, or am I simply talking about things that smarter, better-educated people have written about long ago and having the hubristic belief that I am the only person to see this truth for the first time? 

And, in considering myself self-deprecatingly as not that special or particularly smart, I defeat myself and never write the essay.

And of course, there is the problem of all the lies my memory tells me.

But yesterday, I took the afternoon to finish read an ARC of Lou Berney’s new novel, November Road, and was blown away by it.

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Behold! The Big Easy in all its wicked splendor!

Frank Guidry paused at the corner of Toulouse to  bask in the neon furnace glow. He’d lived in New Orleans the better part of his thirty-seven years on earth, but the dirty glitter and sizzle of the French Quarter still hit his bloodstream like a drug. Yokels and locals, muggers and hustlers, fire-eaters and magicians. A go-go girl was draped over the wrought-iron rail of a second floor balcony, one book sprung free from her sequined negligee and swaying like a metronome to the beat of the jazz trio inside. Bass, drums, piano, tearing through “Night and Day.” But that was New Orleans for you. Even the worst band in the crummiest clip joint in the city could swing, man, swing.

A guy came whipping up the street, screaming bloody murder. Hot on his heels–a woman waving a butcher knife, screaming, too,

Guidry soft-shoed out of their way. The beat cop on the corner yawned. The juggler outside the 500 Club didn’t drop a ball. Just another Wednesday night on Bourbon Street.

Lou’s previous novel, The Long and Faraway Gone, won every crime-writing award under the sun that it was eligible for: Edgar, Anthony, Macavity, and I don’t know what all; it was the crime publishing equivalent of the EGOT. It was, obviously, an exceptional novel. I met Lou when we were on a panel together at the Raleigh Bouchercon, along with Lori Roy and Liz Milliron; moderated by the amazing Katrina Niidas Holm. It was funny, because the panel topic was, I think, writing about small towns which, in fact, none of us on the panel really did, but we had fun with the topic and I know I brought up Peyton Place at least once and pointed out that suburbs are small towns with the primary difference being suburbs are bedroom communities for cities while small towns aren’t attached in any way to a larger city. It was fun and spirited and I liked Lou, thought he was incredibly smart, as were Liz and Lori. Lori and Lou went on to win Edgars for that year; and I admire their work tremendously. I’ve not had the opportunity to read Liz’ work; but she did have a terrific story in the New Orleans Bouchercon anthology, Blood on the Bayou.

Anyway, I digress.

I’ve been looking forward to November Road since I finished reading The Long and Faraway Gone, but I still need to go back and read Lou’s first two novels, Whiplash River and Gutshot Straight. 

I also have to admit, I was a little hesitant about Lou’s new book; it’s built around the Kennedy assassination in 1963, which always gives me pause (I have yet to immerse myself in Stephen King’s 11/22/63). I’m not sure why I don’t care to read fiction around the Kennedy assassination, but there you have: an insight into my mind. But the Kennedy assassination, while a primary plot device, is just that: a device to set the story in motion. Frank Guidry is involved with a mob boss in New Orleans, and after the Kennedy assassination he is given instructions to fly to Dallas, retrieve a car, and drive it to Houston to dispose of it. While he is doing this, he realizes that he is getting rid of evidence that may be of vital importance to the investigation into the president’s murder–and as such, is a loose end who knows too much and figures out he’s got to disappear now because they’re going to want to kill him. And sure enough, they do send someone after him, Paul Barone, a remorseless killer and tracker. The cat-and-mouse game between them builds suspense throughout the book.

But it’s not just about Frank, and it is a credit to Berney’s talent, creativity and imagination in that he throws in another primary character, constructed carefully in all the facets and layers that make her live and breathe: Charlotte. Charlotte is a wife and mother in a small town in Oklahoma, married to a useless drunk fuck-up with whom she had two daughters, and her salary working for the local town photographer is the primary thing keeping a roof over their heads. Her own ambitions for being a photographer herself are constantly shat upon by her boss, her society and culture and environment: she is a woman, a wife and mother, and in 1963 that so thoroughly defines her that any other ambition she might have throws her identity as wife and mother into question. Trapped, with the walls closing in on her closer every day, Charlotte takes the president’s assassination as a sign for her to run away with the girls and start over. Charlotte is an extraordinary character;  her relationship with her daughters is the strong backbone of this story. You root for her, you want her to make her escape and make her dreams come true.

Frank and Charlotte cross paths in New Mexico, and Frank sees them as his salvation; his murderous pursuers might be thrown off as they are looking for a single man, not one traveling with his wife and kids; the book becomes even stronger and more suspenseful once they are all together. Frank and Charlotte become close, despite not being completely honest with each other; they are both keeping their cards close to their vests, but yet form a loving bond. WIll they escape, or will they not?

November Road reminded me a lot of Laura Lippman’s Sunburn; the same kind of relationship building between a man and a woman where a lot of information, important, information, is held back from each other, and that lack of trust while falling in love is an important theme in both books: women trying to make their best lives, even if it means making morally questionable decisions, while becoming involved with a man who isn’t completely honest with her. Berney’s writing style, and tone, and mood, also put me in mind of Megan Abbott’s brilliant Give Me Your Hand. If you’ve not read yet the Lippman and Abbott novels, I’d recommend getting them and holding on to them until Berney’s book is released in October and reading them all over the course of a long weekend.

Bravo.

Life in a Northern Town

Today is our twenty-third anniversary.

It sometimes seems hard to believe we’ve been together that long, but there it is, you know? When I think back to what my life was like back then, and how much things have changed, not just for me personally but for the culture and country, it seems like a million years ago.

Bill Clinton was president. Same-sex marriage was something we didn’t even dare dream about. I was getting to the stage of my life where I was sort of settled emotionally; figuring out what I wanted from life and realizing I wanted a lot more than working at a ticket counter for an airline in Tampa. I was starting to think about making a serious run at pursuing writing, and boy did I ever weigh a lot less than I do now! It’s been an amazing twenty-three years so far, and it just gets better all the time. We’ve certainly weathered some hard times (levee failure, anyone?), but we are still happy, still together, and every day I wake up grateful that I was lucky enough to find him. Or he found me. Our mutual friend Lisa was the one who thought we’d make a good couple, and I have to hand it to her–she was right. “I know someone who would be perfect for you,” I remember her saying to me, and of course, I took it with the proverbial grain of salt.

Boy, was she right.

I also woke up this morning to discover I am the BOLO Books composite sketch! How fun is that?

What a lovely anniversary!

But I should get started making our anniversary dinner and cleaning this messy apartment. Sigh.

Today’s short story is “The Book Thing” by Laura Lippman,  which is one of the Bibliomysteries published by Mysterious Press:

Tess Monaghan wanted to love the funky little children’s bookshop that had opened almost two years ago among the used bookstores that lined Twenty-Fifth Street in North Baltimore. There was so much to admire about it–the brightly painted miniature rockers and chairs on the converted sun porch, the mynah bird who said “Hi, hon!” and “Hark, who goes there!” and–best of all–“Nevermore!”

She coveted the huge Arnold Lobel poster opposite the front door, the one that showed the bearded man-beast happily ensconced in a tiny cottage that was being overtaken by ramshackle towers of books. She appreciated the fact that ancillary merchandise was truly a sideline here; this shop’s business was books, with only a few stuffed animals and Fancy Nancy boas thrown into the mix. Tess was grateful that gift-wrapping was free year-round and that the store did out-of-print searches. She couldn’t wait until her own two-year-old daughter, Carla Scout, was old enough to sit quietly through the Saturday story hour, although Tess was beginning to feat that might not be until Carla Scout was a freshman in college. Most of all, she admired the counterintuitive decision to open a bookstore when so many people seemed to assume that books were doomed. She just thought it would be nice if the owner of The Children’s Bookstore actually liked children.

Lippman is one of my favorite writers, and has been for quite some time now. Her short stories are also amazing–this one, which is about a book thief, manages to be both smart and clever and touching at the same time. Highly recommended.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Typical Male

The male gaze.

Per Wikipedia (which isn’t always accurate):  In feminist theory, the male gaze is the act of depicting women and the world, in the visual arts and literature, from a masculine, heterosexual perspective that presents and represents women as sexual objects for the pleasure of the male viewer.

Or, as Laura Lippman likes to quip about crime fiction written by men: A beautiful woman is dead and a man feels bad about it.

Lippman is joking, sort of; much of male-centered crime fiction can be boiled down to that sentence. The sexualization of women in crime fiction, particularly in hard-boiled fiction or noir, has been a thing since the early pulp days; classic English crime fiction, like that written by Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers and their other contemporaries, probably didn’t sexualize their women characters…although I do seem to recall that Arlene Marshall in Christie’s Evil Under the Sun was not only sexualized, but also highly misunderstood; it isn’t until Poirot solves the crime at the end of the book that we finally begin to understand Arlene as something other than a sex object who devours men like a praying mantis; the Christie version of a femme fatale being softened, as it were, in the final reel.

It is surprising to read books published in prior decades with their attitudes towards women–sometimes my jaw literally drops at how writers used to describe women, reducing them to their sexuality and their sex appeal; older, or less attractive, women, are written about in an almost contemptuous manner. This still pops up from time to time in modern fiction, but it’s not nearly as common as it used to be.

I was sitting at a literary luncheon, for example, while the speaker was talking about his admiration for John D. MacDonald–an admiration I share–and in particular, about MacDonald’s Travis McGee series. I was nodding and smiling when a female author friend leaned over and whispered to me, “I wonder if he’ll mention McGee’s magic wand.”

I was startled at first, and then I stifled a laugh–it wasn’t the appropriate time in the talk to laugh–but the more I thought about it, the more I realized she was right. One of the major things about Travis McGee, and the novels written about him, was how he ‘sexually healed’ the damaged women he was assisting during the course of the book; even his friend and cohort often referred to him as a ‘knight-errant coming to the rescue of the lady.’ It never really dawned on me, when I was reading the books–either the first time or any of the successive times I’ve reread them–that he was actually fucking them back to good emotional and mental and physical health; I always thought, since it usually involved them going sailing on his houseboat and fishing and doing the mindless, physical work while relaxing and getting tan and enjoying life away from the worries and problems of the world and day-to-day life.

I missed the bit about the magic wand because I’m gay and it never crossed my mind.

Which is doubly ironic, considering how much MacDonald and McGee influenced my Chanse MacLeod character and the series I wrote about him; but despite the influence in the creation of the character/series, my series was dramatically different from MacDonald’s.

Being a gay crime writer, while limiting in many ways, is incredibly freeing in others. I fully acknowledge that my books are firmly centered in the gay male gaze; that when I write either Chanse or Scotty, I often devolve in description of male characters the way male writers used to/sometimes still do write about women; their looks, their sex appeal, their fuck-ability factor. Sometimes I wonder if that’s what people mean when they talk about my books being all about sex; because Chanse and Scotty view men as sexual beings and that is something readers aren’t accustomed to seeing?

Perhaps.

Something to ponder.

Today’s short story is “Born of Man and Woman” by Richard Matheson, from  The Best of Richard Matheson collection:

X–This day when it had light mother called me retch. You retch she said. I saw in her eyes the anger. I wonder what it is a retch.

This day it had water falling from upstairs. It fell all around. I saw that. The ground of the back I watched from the little window. The ground it sucked up the water like thirsty lips. It drank too much and it got sick and runny brown. I didn’t like it.

Mother is a pretty I know. In my bed place with cold walls around I have paper things that was behind the furnace. It says on it SCREENSTARS. I see in the pictures faces like of mother and father. Father says they are pretty. Once he said it.

And also mother he said. Mother so pretty and me decent enough. Look at you he said and didn’t have the nice face. I touched his arm and said it it alright father. He shook and pulled away where I couldnt reach. Today mother let me off the chain a little so I could look out the little window. Thats how I saw the water falling from upstairs.

Richard Matheson isn’t as well known as he should be; he is a giant in the horror community and deservedly so, but he should also be highly acclaimed as one of the great writers of any genre from the twentieth century. His novels were filmed frequently–so even if you don’t think you know his work, you do. SOme of the films based on his novels include The Incredible Shrinking Man, Legend of Hell House, I Am Legend (The Omega Man), Somewhere in Time, Stir of Echoes, What Dreams May Come, and countless others. His short stories were often adapted for episodes of Twilight Zone or Night Gallery–probably the most famous being “Nightmare at 50,000 Feet.” Just a creative genius.

This story is chilling, absolutely chilling. We never really know much about the poor young man (or woman) chained in the basement of this family’s home; other than he was born of their union and something went terribly wrong. He is treated terribly and not educated well and they feed him, but they also are so repulsed and horrified by him that they beat and abuse him and keep him chained against the wall…but as the story progresses his pathetic need for love and company turns.

And it’s hard to feel any sympathy for the rest of his family…who are about to become his victims.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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