Some Like It Hot

Our weather forecast for today is grim; thunderstorms and downpours and flash flooding. Happy Saturday! Right now, even at this early hour, it’s already grim and gray outside; yesterday my sinuses were bothering me–another sign, not only of impending heavy weather but that I’m getting old because I am predicting the weather with my body–and I was incredibly tired when I got home. I repaired to my easy chair and read some more of Bryan Camp’s The City of Lost Fortunes (it’s wonderful, preorder it now), and then watched the first episode of two Netflix series, the Lost in Space reboot and Troy: The Fall of a City. I enjoyed both–although of course with Troy, I know how it ends–and there was a moment when Helen was telling Paris the myth of Actaeon and mentioned the goddess Diana and I was all “wrong! Helen would have called her Artemis!” which then sent me into another spiral because Wonder Woman is also from Greek mythology yet her name is Diana…and did the Greeks have the name Diana, or was it Roman? Yeesh, my mind.

It’s getting darker and the wind is picking up.

The plan for today is to do some writing, do some cleaning, and finish reading Bryan’s book. I also need to catch up on Riverdale and Krypton. Heavy sigh. I am really happy with some of the work I’ve been doing this week, and need to stay focused. I want to get “Don’t Look Down” finished, and I need to write an introduction to the short story collection, and there’s another story that needs to be done, and I still haven’t work on that revision based on editorial notes on another story. As you can see, it never ends for one Gregalicious. But as I said, I’m enjoying the work–which I couldn’t say last year–and that’s always a plus. I think the direction in which I am taking the Scotty novel in Chapter Eleven is quite fun and different; whether I am right in that assumption or whether it’s more a symptom of my creative ADHD, I suppose we’ll see once we have the first draft completed. But I have to have a completed first draft in order to see, don’t I?

Heavy heaving sigh.

Anyway I’ve got two more stories read for The Short Story Project. First up is “Office at Night” by Warren Moore,  from Lawrence Block’s anthology In Sunlight and In Shadow:

Margaret heard the train rumble by as Walter looked at the papers on the desk. The cord on the window shade swung, whether from the trains’s vibrations or from the breeze through the window, she didn’t know. She couldn’t feel either, nor did she feel the blue dress–her favorite–clinging to her curves. All she saw was Walter, and all he saw were the files in the pool of light from the desk lamp.

She had put the papers in the file cabinet and rested her arm atop the folders for seemed like–could have been–a lifetime ago. The phrase brought a slight smile to Margaret’s face. Any time could be a lifetime, depending on how long you lived. And she had thought from time to time that she and Walter might have had a lifetime together. Before she had died.

I really enjoyed this story; which is about lost opportunities and melancholy. Margaret was a large woman while alive; tall and big boned, tauntingly called Large Marge by the cruel children in the small town where she grew up. This made her withdrawn and shy. As soon as she was able she moved to New York, moved into a rooming house, and got a job, slowly starting to build a life for herself and leave “Large Marge” behind. Then she accidentally is killed–not in a crime or anything, just an accident–and her ghost visits the office where she worked, and loved her boss–but that past history made her unable to speak up, unable to say anything, unable to make a try for happiness. Like I said, it’s more about that sense of sadness and melancholy than a story with beginning, middle and end; but it’s incredibly well written and that melancholy…wow.

The next story was “Still Life 1931” by Kris Nelscott, also in Lawrence Block’s  In Sunlight and in Shadow.

She first noticed outside Memphis: they didn’t ride segregated in the box cars. At the time, she was standing outside yet abotehr closed bank. The line of aggrieved customers wrapped around the block–men in their dusty pants, stained workshirts, caps on their heads; women wearing low heels, day dresses, and battered hats.

Lurleen looked just different enough to attract attention. Her green cloche hat was a bit too new, her coat a little too heavy. Her shoes were scuffed like everyone else’s. but hers were scuffed from too much travel, not age and wear.

This story is absolutely amazing, and one of the most powerful in this collection, which is saying a lot. Set in the early 1930’s, Nelscott captures the era perfectly; the failing banks and the desperation of people losing their savings; the racial issues in the deep South; and Lurleen’s own sense of who she is, of right and wrong. When the story opens, Lurleen, recently widowed, is taking the train to small towns and cities all over the South, closing bank accounts she’d opened years earlier and withdrawing all the cash. The story opens with her in line at one bank where a run has happened; the bank has closed “temporarily”, but the sign on the door doesn’t indicate any time when the bank might reopen. As the story progress, we learn that Lurleen, before her marriage, worked for the NAACP, going around the South and interviewing witnesses and survivors, documenting lynchings and racial violence in the South. The story is powerful; Lurleen is well developed, and I was sorry when the story ended because I wanted to know more about Lurleen and the work she had done, the work she was going to begin doing again. According to the author bio, Nelscott is planning to write more about Lurleen, which is kind of exciting; I certainly hope she does.

And now back to the spice mines.

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Too Late for Goodbyes

Well, we made it to Friday, didn’t we? I do feel sometimes as though wishing for the weekend, or counting the days until payday, is kind of wishing my life away. (My mother used to tell me that when I was younger, and it’s one of those things I’ve never forgotten. Whether or not that’s a good thing, I’m not sure. Most of my mother’s sayings are like that; my favorite being always expect the worst and you’ll never be disappointed. I’m never sure if that means lower your expectations to avoid disappointment, or if it means the opposite–if you always think the worst is going to happen you’ll make it happen? So confusing. But most of these came from her incredibly pragmatic mother, so I tend to think the former rather than the latter in this case.)

I wrote close to three thousand words yesterday; and yet felt disappointed with my output. Two thirds of them were my short story “Burning Crosses,” which I am enjoying but again am struggling to write and the rest were on the next chapter of the Scotty book, which I actually enjoyed writing. I am hoping to get both this story and maybe two chapters of the Scotty finished this weekend; I want to do some cleaning as well (quelle surprise) and I want to finish reading my Bryan Camp novel so I can blog about it before the release next week. It’s really good, and you NEED to preorder it. Seriously.

I’ve gone back to streaming The Shannara Chronicles, and have seriously gotten sucked into the show. I’ve now watched the first episode of Season Two, and am liking the direction it’s taking. I don’t remember the books; I only read the first two–The Sword of Shannara and The Elfstones of Shannara–and I think the show was culled from the second book on. Paul’s back home now, so it’s going to be tricky watching shows he’s not watching; the Festivals are over and he won’t be home late anymore or working on the weekends.

For the Short Story Project, I offer the following two stories:

First up is “Orange is for Anguish, Blue for Insanity” by David Morrell,  from Lawrence Block’s Alive in Shape and Color.

Van Dorn’s work was controversial, of course. The scandal his paintings caused among Parisian artists in the late 1800s provided the stuff of legend. Disdaining conventions, thrusting beyond accepted theories, Van Dorn seized upon the essentials of his craft to which he’d devoted his soul. Color, design, and texture. With those principles in mind, he created portraits and landscapes so different, so innovative, that their subjects seemed merely an excuse for Van Dorn to put paint upon canvas. His brilliant colors, applied in passionate splotches and swirls, often so thick that they projected an eighth of an inch from the canvas in the manner of a bas-relief, so dominated the viewer’s perception that the person or scene depicted seemed secondary to technique.

Impressionism, the prevailing avant-garde theory of the late 1800s, imitated the eye’s tendency to perceive the edges of peripheral objects as blurs. Van Dorn went one step further and so emphasized the lack of distinction among objects that they seemed to melt together, to merge into an interconnected, pantheistic universe of color. The branches of a Van Dorn tree became ectoplasmic tentacles, thrusting toward the sky and the grass, just as tentacles from the sky and the grass thrust toward the tree, all melding together in a radiant swirl. He seemed to address himself not to the illusions of light but to  reality itself, or at least his theory of it. The tree is the sky, his technique asserted. The grass is the tree, and the sky is grass. All is one.

David Morrell is a long time best selling author, and I’ve met him several times; he’s an incredibly nice man. He’ll always be known as the author of First Blood–he calls himself “Rambo’s Father,” but he’s enjoyed a lot of success throughout his career. This story is one of my favorites from this collection, and perhaps one of the top five new stories I’ve read for the Short Story Project. It’s fan-fucking-tastic; a story about art and obsession and madness and genius; I could devote an entire entry to simply unpacking and deconstructing the themes and symbols and metaphors in this fucking brilliant story. Alive in Shape and Color is a fantastic collection, frankly, that if you like short stories you should definitely read; but this story is so good I would tell you this book is worth the cover price in order to read this story alone. I fricking loved it. LOVED it.

Next up was “The Preacher Collects,” By Gail Levin, from Lawrence Block’s In Sunlight and In Shadow:

They call me “Reverend Sanborn.” I was born Arthayet R. Sanborn, Jr., in Manchester, New Hampshire, sone of Arthayer and Annie Quimby Sanborn. I graduated from Gordon College, a good Christian school in Wenham, Massachusetts, and in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, before I went to Nyack, New York, where I led the First Baptist Church, located on North Broadway. My job came with the security of a home, just next to the church, where I lived with my wife, Ruth, and our four children.

Before long I met at church our neighbor and long-time parishioner, Marion Louise Hopper. An aging spinster, she lived alone in her family’s old house next door to the church. She liked to boast that her younger brother, and only sibling, was a famous artist, named Edward. Edward Hopper, however, appeared to want as little as possible to do with Nyack and his sister.

I didn’t care for this story as much as some others, but it’s well written. It’s about a minister who basically robs Edward Hopper’s work from his sister, who still lives in the family home, but we never really get a sense of why he does this, his justifications for it, and it just moves from this to that to there to this to that to there; it was kind of emotionally flat for me. Of course, I also read this right after the Morrell story in the other collection, and it may very well be that affected my perception of this story. I’ll give it another go at some point, which would be only fair.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Walking on Sunshine

Wednesday. I found my missing copy of The City of Lost Fortunes, which ironically was in my backpack the entire time in a pocket I didn’t check because I wouldn’t have put it in there. Yes, sometimes I wonder about what’s left of my sanity.

Paul returns sometime today; he never tells me his itinerary when he travels, so unless I absolutely pin him down and make him tell me, or forward the itinerary to me, I have no clue when he gets home. It’s usually late in the evening–he is one of those who, no matter how many times I tell him to never do this–always takes the last flight of the day. Rule Number One of traveling is never to take the last flight of the day because disruptions in service can trap you overnight somewhere. And since visiting his family always requires a connection somewhere, it happens almost every single time.

I also finished reading The City of Falling Angels last night; John Berendt’s tome about Venice, and enjoyed it very thoroughly. I have some thoughts about the book, and Venice in general, but I am going to let them percolate for a day or so before talking about them on here.

Yesterday I worked some more on “Don’t Look Down”–again, it is like pulling teeth–and started another short story. I shouldn’t have started writing another story, in all honesty, but “Burning Crosses” has been a story I’ve wanted to write for a really long time, and it starting taking form in my head yesterday so I just kind of dove in headfirst. I also started “Feast of the Redeemer,” my Venice story, which I blame entirely on John Berendt. Today I don’t know what I’m going to write, but I think I am going to start trying to outline the rest of the Scotty book. It may not actually be actual writing,  but it counts as work.

I read two more short stories. First up: “The Daemon Lover” by Shirley Jackson, from The Lottery and Other Stories:

She had not slept well; from one-thirty, when Jamie left and she went lingeringly to bed, until seven, when she at last allowed herself to get up and make coffee, she had slept fitfully, stirring awake to open her eyes and look into the half-darkness, remembering over and over, slipping again into a feverish dream. She spent almost an hour over her coffee–they were to have a real breakfast on the way–and then, unless she wanted to dress early, had nothing to do. She washed her coffee cup and made the bed, looking carefully over the clothes she planned to wear, worried unnecessarily, at the window, over whether it would be a fine day. She sat down to read, thought she might write a letter to her sister instead, and began, in her finest handwriting, “Dearest Anne, by the time you get this I will be married. Doesn’t it sound funny? I can hardly believe it myself, but when I tell you how it happened, you’ll see it’s even stranger than that…”

Sitting, pen in hand, she hesitated over what to say next, read the lines already written, and tore up the letter. She went to the window and saw that it was undeniably a fine day. It occurred to her that perhaps she ought not to wear the blue silk dress; it was too plain, almost severe, and she wanted to be soft, feminine. Anxiously she pulled through the dresses in the closet, and hesitated over a print she had worn the summer before; it was too young for her, and it had a ruffled neck, and it was very early in the year for a print dress, but still…

This story, which is sad and tragic and, like so many Shirley Jackson stories, a real mystery where it’s left up to the reader to interpret what is really is about, is terrific. It resonated with me because I am one of those people who is too excited and restless to sleep the night before something I am looking forward to; and I can never wait until it’s time on that day, having to make myself busy doing things and keeping myself occupied and then, when the appointed time arrives…yeah. One of my neuroses is being stood up; having someone make a date with me for anything, something I am excited about doing, and then never hearing from the person. With this story, we are never entirely sure if this is something she imagined or it was only in her head or if it was real, and this makes it all the more poignant and sad and heartbreaking. There was something of Raymond Carver in this story; in its ordinariness and sadness and poignancy; but Jackson was far superior to Carver–although this story made me want to read something of his again.

Next was “Ampurdan” by Warren Moore, from Lawrence Block’s Alive in Shape and Color.

Alan Bowling was walking again. The golden light of the Colorado autumn played across the rusts and browns of the ground beneath him. Behind him, the city. The air was cool here, away from the shops, the school, the fringes of the city of Ampurdan.

Alan didn’t know why the city–pfft, city. Don’t put on airs; at most, a town, really–was named Ampurdan. He had read that the word was an old name for a place in Spain now called Emporda. He himself privately called it “Ampersand,” a place between two other places, connecting them by force of…by force of what? How did an ampersand connect things, other than by force of will and in the mind of the person connecting them? The and of the ampersand the conjunction, was between whatever two things the speaker, the thinker, chose to conjoin. And since in Alan’s life, the only conjunctions he saw were the compounding of day upin day, there seemed to be little sense of a period to this place, to this life. Merely a string of days becoming ellipsis, until one day each inhabitant reached an end of words.

“Ampurdan” is a perfectly fine story, and similar to the Jackson in its depiction of sadness, loneliness, and poignant in telling the story of lonely Alan Bowling, who goes through his life missing opportunities to be happy through no fault of his own. He knew love once and it wasn’t returned; he was also the kind of person who only loves once. There’s also a bitter horror at the center of the story, but rather than being horrified by what Bowling did, we are sympathetic and understanding because Moore does such an amazing job of painting the picture of who Alan is, what drives him, that aching sadness and loneliness at the core of his being. This isn’t one of my favorite stories in this collection, but it’s certainly a strong story, and an indication of how terrific the entire collection is, honestly.

And now, back to the spice mines with me,

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No More Lonely Nights

Paul returns tomorrow night, so I will return to my usual status as second best to Scooter. I have to say I’ve enjoyed his neediness more than usual this past week, as he cuddles with me in the bed and sleeps in my lap while I read or watch television.

I didn’t get nearly as much done this weekend as I had hoped or wanted to; I did reread the first ten chapters of the Scotty book and got some edits on it done–it does need a lot more work to be smooth–and I am trying to figure out how much I want to have happen here in the second half of the book. I may end up writing it a lot longer than it needs to be–surgically removing the bits that aren’t necessary afterwards. I worked some more on “Don’t Look Down,” which took up the majority of my writing time this weekend, and remained just as difficult and painful to write as I remembered it being. It’s going to be a long story–I am not worried about its length, as it is going into my short story collection rather than being sent out into the open market (gay main character, after all, makes it basically un-publishable).

I also started writing out ideas for three more stories: “Burning Crosses,” “Feast of the Redeemer”, and “Cross Roads.” Not sure if anything will come out of any of them, but there they are.

Today I need to get some things done that are due, and then I can focus on getting back to work on the other writing.

I am drawing to the end of The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt, and really enjoying it; in fact, I am enjoying it more than I enjoyed Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, to be honest. Venice is ultimately more interesting than Savannah, sorry; at least to me. (Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to visit Savannah–but if I had to choose between the two Venice would always win.)

I also read a shit ton of short stories this weekend, and sadly, finished reading both Lawrence Block’s wonderful anthologies, In Sunlight and In Shadow and Alive in Shape and Color. I do hope he’s doing another one this year, because they are quite marvelous.

So, for today’s edition of The Short Story Project, I do have a story up from In Sunlight or In Shadow, Joe R. Lansdale’s “The Projectionist”:

There’s some that think I got it easy on the job, but they don’t know there’s more to it than plugging in the projector. You got to be there at the right time to change reels, and you got to have it set so it’s seamless, so none of the movie gets stuttered, you know. You don’t do that right, well, you can cause a reel to flap and there goes the movie right at the good part, or it can get hung up and the bulb will burn it. Then everyone down there starts yelling. and that’s not good for business, and it’s not good for you, the boss hears about it, and with the racket they make when the picture flubs, he hears all right.

I ain’t had that kind of thing happen to me much, two or three times on the flapping, once I got a burn on a film, but it was messed up when we got it. Was packed in wrong and got a twist in it I couldn’t see when I pulled it out. That wasn’t my fault. Even the boss could see that.

Still, you got to watch it.

This is a marvelous story, about a mentally challenged young man who grew up in an incredibly abusive household and never graduated from high school. He’s gotten a job, through a mentor, as the projectionist at a local movie theater. The job makes him incredibly happy, and the voice! Lansdale has nailed the character’s voice so poignantly and beautifully, you can’t help but care about him and his undoubtedly doomed relationship with the beautiful usherette. The conflict in the story comes when two hoods attempt to shake down the theater owner for protection money, and how the staff, how our main character, tries to deal with that situation. A truly great story. Lansdale is a terrific writer, just terrific, and this short story, as well as the one in Alive in Shape and Color, are both so strong that I really want to start tracking down all of his short stories. A quick Google search shows that there are, in fact, quite a few. How lovely!

And then, I turned to “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson, from The Lottery and Other Stories.

The morning of June 27th was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green. The people of the village began to gather in the square, between the post-office and the bank, around ten o’clock; in some towns there were so many people that the lottery took two days and had to be started on June 26th, but in this village, where there were only about three hundred people, the whole lottery took less than two hours, so it could begin at ten o’clock in the morning and still be through in time to allow the villagers to get home for noon dinner.

The children assembled first, of course. School was recently over for the summer, and the feeling of liberty sat uneasily on most of them; they tended to gather together quietly for a while before they burst into boisterous play, and their talk was still of the classroom and the teacher, of books and reprimands. Bobby Martin had already stuffed his pockets full of stones, and the other boys soon followed his example, selecting the smoothest and roundest stones; Bobby and Harry Jones and Dickie Delacroix–the villagers pronounced this name “Dellacroy”–eventually made a great pile of stones in one corner of the square and guarded it against the raids of the other boys. The girls stood aside, talking among themselves, looking over their shoulders at the boys, and the very small children rolled in the dust or clung to the hands of their older brothers and sisters.

“The Lottery” is probably one of the most famous–if not the most famous. American short story of the twentieth century. It was, in fact, quite a shock when I realized, paging through my copy of The Lottery and Other Stories, that I had in fact actually never read the most famous short story written by one of my favorite writers; we did the play in Acting class when I was in high school, and I have seen the short film based on it. But I had never actually read the story itself. I don’t have to get into what the story is about–who doesn’t know what the story is about–but wow, what an exceptional piece of writing. Jackson, as always, just writes about something terrible in a matter-of-fact, nondescript way, like what she is writing about is nothing extraordinary; these lotteries have always happened and will always happen and she’s just recording one of them. I would be willing to go so far as to say (and bear in mind I am not an expert) that this story firmly established New England as the best setting for horror in this country; Jackson’s influence from this story is clearly evident in everything of Stephen King’s,  some of Peter Straub’s work, and most definitely in Thomas Tryon’s. Even knowing what the story was about didn’t lessen it’s chill, and that has everything to do with the authorial voice, and how powerful it is.

Whew.

And now, on to the spice mines.

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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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Raspberry Beret

I am afraid that the last two short stories I am writing, “Once a Tiger” and “Don’t Look Down,” have stalled for the moment. “Once a Tiger” I just need to step away from for a moment; I am definitely having some issues with that story, and it’s just getting harder. I did start it over yesterday, and do think the changes I made to the beginning make the story stronger, but…yeah, not really sure how to not only end it, but how to get it there. So, I am going to let it sit for a while before getting back to it.

Likewise, “Don’t Look Down”, previously known as the Italy story, isn’t so much that I don’t know how to end it; I do. I really need to go back to the beginning of it and start it over; I didn’t know the ending when I started writing and now that I actually do, I need to go back to the start and weave that story into it. But I opened the file yesterday, looked at it for a hot minute, and then went, not feeling this right now, and closed it again. So, rather than writing anything new, I decided to start editing and rewriting other stories. I also did something that a friend of mine does; I read them out loud to make sure the sentences spoke properly. I do not do that nearly enough, and I found a lot of mistakes in the wording, and I also found a lot of mistakes in the stories that needed correcting. One still needs some more work, but the others are close to being ready for submission. Whether there’s an audience for them or not remains to be seen…because, you see, two of the stories have gay characters.

One of the major problems one faces as a gay author is how limiting writing about gay characters, plots, and themes can be. Yes, we need to tell our stories, but when they are short stories–there’s not really a market for them anywhere. And when you send them to mainstream markets…you’re never sure if they are simply going to be rejected because, you know, gay characters, or if the rejection is because the story’s just not up to snuff. I fucking hate that. Part of the bipolarity of being a gay writer is just that; is my work not good, or is it the gay thing?

But as I was editing the stories and reading them out loud last night, I actually started thinking, you know, you’re actually pretty good at this writing thing. Last year was kind of a bad year for me; it started off with my confidence in my abilities as a writer being shaken to their very core–and let’s be honest, that confidence level has never been particularly high. My parents raised me to always be humble, to never accept compliments without being self-deprecating, to never talk about being good at anything: “if you are, let other people point this out.” As such, the promotional part of being a writer, of having a writing career, has always been difficult for me. Teaching classes about writing has always made me feel like an impostor, always waiting for someone in the back of the room to stand up and scream fraud!

But part of the goals for this year are to stop doubting myself, to stop doubting my abilities, and to believe in myself more. I always tell other writers that rejections don’t necessarily mean you suck, all it means is for whatever reason your work wasn’t right for that editor–as a former editor and an anthologist, I am very well aware that can mean any number of different things, none of which are you suck.

I don’t know why, but reading those stories out loud did something for me, made me recognize that I can, in fact, do this.

And I think the smart thing to do from now on is read my work out loud while editing it.

Thank you, Laura Lippman, for that brilliant advice.

As for the Short Story Project, first up today is  “After Georgia O’Keeffe’s Flower,” by Gail Levin, from Alive in Shape and Color,   Lawrence Block’s anthology I am absolutely loving.

I am so excited that Georgia O’Keeffe has finally agreed to meet with me! Getting her to come around wasn’t easy. At first she wouldn’t even reply to my letters. I kept at it. You know, persisted. Finally I reached her secretary on the phone. When I did get word from O’Keeffe, she complained there had been too many interviewers over the years. When I asked, she admitted that most of them were male journalists.

This story kind of threw me for a loop; it’s really not a crime story at all. It’s about a young feminist art historian meeting one of her idols, and finding that the idol isn’t what she imagined her to be. It’s a poignant story, and one I can certainly relate to: is there anything worse than meeting someone whose work you adore and then discovering that person is nothing like you imagined? That somehow disappoints you, and then you can never enjoy or view their work in the same way again? A really good, thought-provoking story.

Next up is “The Day After Victory,” by Brendan DuBois, from Manhattan Mayhem, edited by Mary Higgins Clark.

It was seven a.m. in Times Square, New York, on Wednesday, August 15, when Leon Foss slowly maneuvered the trash cart–with its huge wheels and two brooms–along the sidewalk near the intersection of Seventh Avenue and West Forty-sixth Street, shaking his head at the sheer amount of trash that was facing him, and the other street sweepers from the Department of Sanitation. He had on the usual “white angel” uniform of white slacks, jacket, and cap–which was stiff and felt new–and never had he seen so much trash. It was almost up to his knees.

Brendan DuBois is one of our genre’s top short-story writers, and his novels are pretty damned good as well. This story, set the day after V-J Day in 1945, is incredibly clever. DuBois gets the period right; I actually felt like I was there on the street with his protagonist that day, and the character is so beautifully drawn that everything he does makes complete and utter sense. He tackles something that I’ve not seen much in WW2 fiction, frankly; how were people who got out of serving viewed? Great, great story; and I would love to see it paired with Joe R. Lansdale’s “Charlie the Barber,” which I talked about earlier this week.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Separate Lives

Well, in typical Greg screw-up fashion, I screwed up this morning. I’d signed up to tour the local FBI office and attend two presentations, all of which I was looking forward to, but I had the time wrong. As Constant Reader knows, I am not good in the mornings. So, I thought I had to be there for nine a.m. No, everything started at nine a.m. I needed to be there for eight thirty. As I was getting ready to shave, I double-checked the address and noticed that on the agenda I needed to be there for eight thirty. It was eight-oh-five; I hadn’t shaved, showered, or dressed, let alone drive across town to the lake front. In other words, I wouldn’t been able, even if I hurried, to leave the house until it was time to be there, and then had to hurry to get there. Sigh. So, I made another cup of coffee and felt like a complete idiot.

And now have my morning free.

And before anyone says anything, no. I won’t show up late. I am not that person. It’s disrespectful to everyone who showed up on time, it’s disrespectful to the FBI, and if they want you to allow half an hour to clear security screening, then I need to be there half an hour ahead of time. Period. Plus, you don’t mess with the FBI. Trust me on this one.

Sigh. I hate when I fuck up. Especially after the chapter went to all the trouble to get this sorted out and put together.

Sigh.

I was really looking forward to it, too.

Anyway.

I finished watching season 2 of Versailles last night, and I have to say, it really ended well. You really can’t go wrong with the Affair of the Poisons and the involvement of the King’s mistress, Madame de Montespan, and her subsequent fall from glory. The show is incredibly well done, and they managed to get the character of the second Duchesse d’Orleans, Elisabeth Charlotte, the Princess Palatine, absolutely correct. Liselotte was always one of my favorite people from this period of French history, and the rapprochement between her and her gay husband, and her gay husband’s lover, was incredibly unique in history. I was worried they’d gloss over it, but no, there it was, front and center. Why no one has done a biography of Monsieur, I’ll never know; I suppose everyone is so dazzled by The Sun King that no one has ever thought that, you know, a view of the French court and Louis XIV through the eyes of his gay brother could be interesting.

Believe me, if I spoke French I’d be all over it.

Then again, were I able to speak French, there are so many things I would have written by now.

Sigh. I often regret my monolinguism.

This weekend I managed to read a lot of short stories, giving me a lot of material for The Short Story Project over the next few days, but the weekend was pretty much a bust for writing. I only managed to eke out slightly over a thousand words on one short story and perhaps one hundred on another, which was, as one would imagine, enormously frustrating for me. I am still choosing to see that as a win; getting closer to being finished and all, but still enormously disappointing. The thousand words or so was basically wheel-spinning, because I don’t know how to end the story yet, and I know I need to go back to the very beginning and start revising it so I can figure that out. It’s so weird; I do this with novels all the time but with short stories, I resist doing it until I’ve got a draft version finished. So incredibly stupid, I know, and yet…here we are.

Heavy sigh.

All right, enough of that nonsense. Here are two of the short stories I read over the weekend, both from Alive in Shape and Color, edited by Lawrence Block.

First up, we have Jeffery Deaver’s “A Significant Find.”

“A crisis of conscience. Pure and simple. What are we going to do?” He poured red wine into her glass. Both sipped.

They were sitting in mismatched armchairs, before an ancient fireplace of stacked stone in the deserted lounge. The inn, probably two hundred years old, was clearly not a tourist destination, at least not in this season, a chilly spring.

He tasted the wine again and turned his gaze from the label of the bottle to the woman’s intense blue eyes, which were cast down at the wormwood floor. Her face was as beautiful as when they’d met, though a little bit more worn, as ten years had passed, many of which had been spent outside under less-than-kind conditions; hats and SPF 30 could only give you so much protection from the sun.

If you’ve not read Jeffery Deaver, you simply must read the Lincoln Rhyme series. I am terribly behind on it, but tore through the available volumes over the course of a month or so when I first discovered him. He’s also a very nice man, and it’s lovely when someone nice enjoys exceptional success.

Anyway, this story is terrific. The couple we see in these paragraphs, whom are the main characters of the story, are an archaeologist team at a conference in France. They, while enormously successful with publications and so forth, have never made what is known in their field as a ‘significant find.’ There’s a very strong possibility that they are about to  make one; based on some information passed on to the husband in casual conversation in the bar; undiscovered cave paintings. It turns out the person passing the information on has his own information, collected from a local boy, wrong; the couple figure out what he had wrong, and are about to go look for the cave. The crisis of conscience is whether or not to share the discovery with the colleague who originally got the information. This is the kind of moral dilemma that characters in Tales from the Crypt episodes find themselves in and almost without fail made the wrong choice; so the story always ends up with their come-uppance. This was what I was expecting out of this story; but Deaver manages some exceptionally clever sleight-of-hand and thus the ending of the story comes out of nowhere and is satisfying in its own way; the pay-off is quite good.

I then moved on to “Charlie the Barber” by Joe R. Lansdale.

Charlie Richards, who thought of himself as a better-than-average barber, was lean and bright-eyed, with a thin smile, his hair showing gray at the temples. He loved to cut hair, and he loved that his daughter, Mildred–Millie to most–worked with him. They were the only father-and-daughter barber team he knew of, and he was proud of that. He was also glad she lived at him with him and her mother, Connie, at least for now.

Next year she was off to the big city, Dallas. Graduated high school a couple years back, hung around, cut hair, but now she was planning to attend some kind of beauty college where she could learn to cut women’s hair as well. Planned to learn cosmetology too. Claimed when she finished schooling she could either fix a woman up for a night out, or spruce up a dead woman for a mortuary production. Charlie had no doubt that would be true. Millie learned quickly and was a hard worker.

This story was inspired by one of those classic Norman Rockwell paintings, with it’s homey, almost propaganda-like charm about American simplicity and virtue. Being a story by Joe R. Lansdale, who is embraced by both the horror and crime writing communities–he won an Edgar for Best Novel, and numerous Stoker Awards–you just know this euphoric American idyll story of a small town barbership in the 1950’s is going to take a truly dark turn. Charlie was a POW during World War II and still suffers from a degree of PTSD; the supply closet in the back of the barn, with its tight, confined space and darkness, always takes him back to the horror of the camp and what he had to do to escape the butchering of the prisoners; he was one of the few survivors. And sure enough, the peaceful charming world of the barbershop is turned upside down just before closing time when something wicked that way came. The story is both horrifying and brilliant; the juxtaposition of the Rockwell Americana painting/world view and the automatic nostalgia the time period conjures, steeped in nostalgia for the 1950’s as a more innocent, charming time (which is completely false), against the horror that walks through the barbershop door and what they have to endure to survive it–the sort of thing that did happen, but without 24 hours news channels and the Internet most people never heard about these things–is stunning. Lansdale is a terrific, terrific writer, and this story is one of the best ones I’ve read thus far in this Short Story Project.

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