The Beach

Tuesday!

Yesterday was not nearly as productive as it could have been. Generally, on mornings when I have to get up at six, will invariably have a cappuccino at home while I wake up, and then make another to take with me, which I sip at all morning. This gets me through the day pretty well, and through into my evening when I go home and write or edit or read or do chores. So, Constant Reader, you can only imagine my horror when I got to the office and my travel mug was not in its side holder on my back pack. (It turned out to be in the in the car–it fell out of its pocket when I got my backpack out of the car yesterday morning when I arrived at the office…) So yes, I ran out of steam yesterday afternoon, and was very tired by the time I got home from work. In other words, last night all I managed to do was a load of dishes, and quite frankly, this morning I’m not even sure what I watched last night, other than the final episode of It’s a Sin with Paul; turned out he did want to finish watching. Oh yes, now I remember; I watched this week’s episodes of Allen v. Farrow and John Oliver’s show. Allen V. Farrow continues to be a harrowing watch; this week’s episode was about the custody battle–which ended with Allen getting a massive bitchslap by both the court and the judge; in other words, the judge believed Mia to be a fit mother and Dylan a credible witness, and Allen didn’t prove himself to be a fit parent–in fact, his visitation rights with the two other children he shared with Farrow were limited by the court and had to be supervised. If the goal was to punish Farrow, it failed massively–other than making her miserable for a period of time. Interestingly enough, one of the main takeaways from the show is being blown away by how beautiful Mia still is, today. I never understood the desire to have so many children–not, of course, that my understanding was ever needed or necessary or required; my mentality was always “I don’t get the need for so many kids, but if it makes her happy, more power to her and she is adopting kids, which is terrific.” I don’t think Farrow has worked much since the break-up with Allen; her career was mostly starring in his movies after they became a couple…the real shame is I’d like to watch some of those films now (I’ve never seen many Allen films, not being a fan) but I’m not sure if I should. It’s another one of those Roman Polanski things–ironically, one of my favorite Polanski films also stars Farrow, Rosemary’s Baby–I think, but some of those Allen/Farrow films are considered classics.

In other welcome news, I discovered yesterday that I now weigh 203 pounds; the lowest since around 2011/2012, and just three pounds away from my goal weight. I managed to get down to around 212 last year or the year before, as a process, from the 225 I had ballooned up to about a decade or so ago; I set 200 as my goal weight for the year, but I’d be stuck at 212 for so long I didn’t think I was ever going to break through. A few weeks ago I was delighted to see I’d managed to break through that plateau and had dropped to 208; someone gave me a compliment yesterday which drove me to the scale in the (unused) nurse’s office and to my delight, I discovered that I had somehow dropped another five pounds–whether it’s the working out, the change in diet (which was neither extreme nor dramatic), or the walking to the gym and back and always using the stairs at the office, I am not sure–but it has happened, and it is most pleasing to our eyes. I also made some progress on my emails yesterday, which was a very pleasant development.

This weekend is the virtual Saints and Sinners Festival; I taped a panel about mystery and romance with four amazing writers (Carrie Smith, Carsen Taite, J. M. Redmann, and Cheryl Head), which I think is scheduled to air on Sunday, March 14th, at 3 pm CDT; I am not really sure where, so I will have to find out and post it later. I know that after its original air date it will be available for viewing on the Tennessee Williams Festival’s Youtube channel. I was woefully unprepared, but I also had a group of very smart, savvy, and talented women to give me great answers to simple questions and it was a lovely experience for me–I’m not so sure it was for them, but I didn’t see any eye-rolling on screen to my inane questions so they are also incredibly professional as well.

I don’t think I’ve mentioned it here either, but I also have an essay in the upcoming book from Mystery Writers of America Presents, How to Write a Mystery, edited by Lee Child and Laurie R. King. I know, right? I still have to pinch myself whenever I think about it. I got an ARC recently, and the book looks simply beautiful. And how awesome to be in a collection with some of the top writers in the field? I can now cross “be in an MWA anthology” off my bucket list–but “get selected for an MWA anthology through the blind read process” remains on the list. My essay is called “Writing the Talk” and is about dialogue, and it owes a heavy debt to editor Laurie R. King, who whipped it (and me) into publishable shape after a couple of rewrites and revisions.

And yes, there will be more about that later. ūüôā

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. May your Tuesday be bright and fun and wonderful.

Everyone Everywhere

Happy Mardi Gras everyone!

Yesterday was simply a dreadful day, weather-wise; I imagine today isn’t going to be very much better, in all honesty. It’s 26 degrees in New Orleans right now, give or take. I am sitting at my desk in layers, the space heater going full blast, water is dripping out of every faucet to protect the pipes, and I’m about to go look for my fingerless gloves. FOUND THEM! I am glad Carnival has essentially be canceled for the most part–it’s too fucking cold, seriously. The high for today is predicted to be 36…which would usually be some kind of record low. But looking outside the windows I don’t see snow anywhere—at least we don’t have that to deal with. I am kind of dreading getting up at six tomorrow morning to go to the office. It’s going to be incredibly miserable, but at least then I have two work-at-home days. This cold snap is only supposed to last through the weekend, but during the ays it will get up to the 50’s and finally, by Sunday we’ll be back to the normal winter weather for New Orleans. It won’t be easy, but we’ll make it through somehow.

Our heat doesn’t work, by the way, so if it’s 26 outside it’s about that inside, give or take a few degrees. If I didn’t have to do a ZOOM thing later this morning I’d repair back to the bed with iPad and laptop and a book to read; I still may do that after the class ZOOM thing is finished.

My goal for yesterday was to get caught up some on my emails–I managed to get that accomplished, although even more have shown up this morning–and to print out the manuscript preparatory for the big edit/revise. This last one, while I may have called it the last draft, is actually a part of preparing the final draft; I wanted to get through the entire thing changing it from past tense to present tense, while also reading and getting an idea of what all needs to be added or deleted. This next pass through the printed pages will be where I make the notes to revise the language used, and then figure out where the new pieces I need to write need to go. The last and final pass will be a line edit, basically, where I try to catch all the mistakes and things that got missed when I changed things before. I am on track to be finished by the end of the month, or at least by the end of the first weekend of March, with any luck.

We got deeper into season two of Mr. Mercedes last night, and are still enjoying it; we only intended to watch one episode, and wound up getting through four, with only four left, which at some point today–it’s Fat Tuesday, after all–we will most likely finish the show off. After a slow start the season has really picked up; I didn’t really want to stop watching last night, but it was already past eleven and I needed to get to bed–getting up at six tomorrow is going to be hard enough, given the cold, and sleeping in really late today would not have helped that situation in the least–but it’s nice to know that it’s there waiting for us when we finally are ready today. I’m not sure if Paul is going to work today–well, he’s not going to the office for sure, but whether he is going to make phone calls or send emails remains to be seen. It’s so weird to be up at this hour on Fat Tuesday and not hear a crowd at the corner or the drums of the marching bands. I really do miss the high school marching bands; especially the public school ones and the Marching 100 of St. Augustine’s; “St. Aug’s”, as we call them down here.

While I was printing out the manuscript yesterday morning I did a deep dive into the Internet about the Three Investigators, which, in my humble opinion, is one of the best (if not the best) of the kids’ mystery series. One of the other things I was doing yesterday involved contracts for MWA’s upcoming mystery writing handbook, How to Write a Mystery, edited by the amazing Lee Child and Laurie R. King; so as I was reading an interview with the ghost writer for several of the Three Investigators books–including several of my favorites–and the name seemed familiar, as did that of his wife–so I made notes on the notepad that always sits next to my mouse to look them up and see why the names seemed familiar. Imagine my surprise when someone responded to the emailed contracts with an issue, and it turned out to be the ghost writer’s wife! That was why the name was familiar; I had seen it very recently. One of those weird, synchronistic elements of my life, I suppose, but it was still kind of cool to be corresponding with the wife of a Three Investigators ghost writer. The original author of the series, who created it and wrote ten of the first eleven volumes, Robert Arthur, also deeply interests me.

I also realized that, in some ways, I had mimicked The Three Investigators with the Scotty series: while the series is written in the first person, there are three of them; Scotty, Frank, and Colin. My original plans when I was a child for my own series initially began with a single character to hang the series on; it eventually evolved into three friends solving mysteries–and yes, the concept of there being three was not unique to, or originated by, the Three Investigators–the Hardy Boys and their pal, Chet; Nancy Drew with Bess and George; Judy Bolton and two separate groups of three (either with Irene and Honey, or with Lorraine and Lois); etc. (I’ve also always wondered, in the back of my mind, if having three precluded any notions of homoeroticism; it certainly existed in the Ken Holt series with his best bud Sandy, or in the Rick Brant with his buddy Scotty–which has also made me wonder lately if that’s where the name for my Scotty came from… since having three meant including a chaperone).

So, I intend to spend the rest of the morning straightening up the kitchen to serve as the backdrop for my ZOOM session, swilling coffee and trying to stay warm. So, on that note I am heading back into the spice mines, and will catch you on Ash Wednesday. Have a great day, Constant Reader, as always.

Guilt is a Useless Emotion

Saturday morning and all is well in the Lost Apartment. I certainly hope this day finds you contented and well, Constant Reader! I slept deeply and well last night, after watching the LSU Gymnastics team defeat Arkansas, and then watching the ladies’ figure skating finals at US Nationals. It was a lovely evening–one can never go wrong with a double feature of gymnastics and figure sating, really–and as I said, afterwards I slept like a stone.

I also spend some time polishing and revising my short story for the MWA anthology Crime Hits Home, being edited by the enormously talented S. J. Rozan (if you’ve not read her novels, start. Right. Now. Her Winter and Night is one of my all-time favorites). As always, submitting to the open call for an MWA anthology is a long shot–there are levels of blind-reads to make it through–and I have as yet to make it into one of the fiction anthologies (I do have a piece about writing dialogue in the upcoming Mystery Writer’s Handbook, edited by Lee Child and Laurie R King, and I did have a recipe in the MWA Cookbook a while back) so keep your fingers crossed for me. Inevitably everything I’ve had rejected by an MWA anthology has sold elsewhere, so making myself write a story for the submission calls has always wound up working out for me in the end…I was, however, more than a little bummed when this call came out, because my story “The Carriage House” was perfect for this one….but I had already submitted it to Mystery Tribune (who did wind up buying and publishing it). I think the story is good–although I wish I had finished the drafting sooner, so I could have spent more time on the revisions and polishing. Ah, well–if they reject it I will try to sell it somewhere else.

Today I have to make groceries, get the mail, and go to the gym. I’ve blown off the gym pretty much ever since the weather turned cold last weekend–the stress and pressure of writing the story, as well as what was going on in the country over the last wee or so has precluded any writing or gym visits, which I should have never allowed. I was coming home from work every day and immediately turning on either CNN or MSNBC, being sucked right in and then spending the rest of the evening watching them report the same news, hour after hour after hour–which also needs to stop–and I need to get my focus back again. Not that I am not gravely concerned about the future of the country, of course–that I very much still am–but I need to focus on what I need to get done while paying some attention to the current crisis.

I also need to do some cleaning around here as well…cleaning and filing never seems to have an endpoint, ever–and I also need to get back to my reread of the manuscript. I should have started revising it last week…but a thorough reread/copy edit/line edit of the manuscript in its most recent iteration is probably really the smart thing to do; it was what worked so well with Bury Me in Shadows, and definitely need to stick to the things that actually work for me.

While I was making condom packs yesterday I managed to watch three films: Farewell My Lovely with Robert Mitchum as Philip Marlowe; The Fog with Jamie Lee Curtis and Adrienne Barbeau; and last but not least, a revisit of Creepshow 2, with assorted stars, including George Kennedy and Dorothy Lamour. The first definitely fits into the Cynical 70’s Film Festival–you don’t get more cynical than the film version of a Chandler novel–and the other two are holdovers from the Halloween Horror Film Festival, with the last also fitting into the Stephen King Film Adaptation Festival. Of the three, I had only see the third before; I actually saw it at the drive-in, and then again on what used to be the pay-cable movie channels, whether it was HBO or Cinemax or Showtime I cannot recall. Farewell My Lovely is flawed, but a very good film–very solid noir; I kept thinking it should have been filmed in black and white–and Mitchum projects the world weariness of an older Marlowe quite perfectly….I’d love to see someone like Oscar Isaac or Bill Skarsgard or Adam Driver take on the role. The entire movie was stolen, however, by Sylvia Miles in a terrific supporting performance that earned her an Oscar nomination; and Charlotte Rampling is also perfect as the femme fatale. (A very young Sylvester Stallone also has a small role as a gangster.) I did enjoy it, and I think it was released in the wake of Chinatown, when Hollywood discovered noir would still sell tickets.

The Fog was also a perfectly adequate horror film, directed by John Carpenter, about a hundred-year old curse coming to wreak vengeance and havoc on the coastal California town of Antonio Bay. Jamie Lee Curtis is in the cast–in the midst of her fame as a Scream Queen–but she isn’t the star of the film (if it could be said to have one); if anything, it’s a supporting role at best. The bigger female role belongs to Adrienne Barbeau, playing dee-jay and radio station owner Stevie, who is the first to realize what is actually going on–without knowing the history, she just knows the fog is dangerous and bad. I’d also forgotten Janet Leigh was in the movie as Mrs. Williams, local get-it-done lady who is in charge of the hundred year anniversary of the town. It has all the requisite John Carpenter directorial touches–jump scares, a weird and creepy electronic soundtrack, the growing sense of doom with every scene–and I would recommend it, even if it is dated. It was remade this century–I may watch the remake at some point for a comparison/contrast.

Creepshow 2 was obviously the sequel to the original; written by Stephen King and based on his short stories (some of these may be actually original, as I don’t recall reading the stories for the first and third part of this anthology film), and both films served as an homage to the horror comics King grew up reading and loving and inevitably influenced his writing. The second film didn’t do as well as the first, but the underlying theme of all the stories is paranormal vengeance for bad behavior. The first features an old cigar store wooden Indian (I don’t think if anyone brought up that subject that anyone born after 1970 would even know what one was) that comes to life to wreak vengeance for the brutal murders of the elderly couple who own the store he stands in front of; and the third features an adulterous wealthy wife rushing home from a rendezvous with a paid escort ($25 per orgasm!) who gets distracted by dropping a cigarette in the car and runs over a hitch-hiker, whom she leaves on the side of the road but he just keeps popping up as she debates whether she can live with what she did as she continues on her drive home, trying to kill the hitch hiker as he inevitably pops back up on the road saying thanks for the ride lady–which became a running gag between me and my friends at the time. (The woman is played by Lois Chiles, who came to the TWfest one year and was an absolute delight.) Both are good and macabre; fitting right into the karmic justice theme that ran through almost all horror comics back in the day. The middle story–“The Raft”–is also one of my favorite Stephen King stories; about four college students who go for a late-in-the-season swim because it sounds like a good idea, helped along by weed and beer, and it goes horribly wrong for them. The story is different from the filmed version–it’s told from the perspective of the less-than-perfect male roommate who always lives in the shadow of his roommate who is muscular and handsome and charismatic, who loves his friend but also resents him a little because he always sucks up all the air in the room. In the film the two girls who go with them are just other girls; in the story there’s a different dynamic, in which the stud’s girlfriend senses the other girl, ostensibly the lesser roommate’s date, is making a play for the stud before the dying starts. The main character in the story, though, is a decent guy which winds up ending badly for him; in the movie, he’s more of a dick, because he realizes when the final girl is taken by whatever the thing is in the water preying on them, that he could have used that time to swim for it…but doesn’t realize it until it’s too late. In the movie, he deliberately feeds her to the creature so he can escape…and that decision is what dooms him, and you don’t really feel sorry for him the way you do in the story. The highlight of this segment is Paul Satterfield’s youthful physical beauty in a bright yellow bikini (and while I enjoyed viewing the splendor of his body in a bikini, I also kind of doubted he would have worn one; back in the 80’s the only men who wore bikinis were gay, body builders, Europeans, or guys who’d been competitive swimmers so they were used to them); and the movie is okay. I do wish anthology films would make a comeback–since they inevitably based their “episodes” on short stories (Robert Bloch and Richard Matheson had a lot of their short stories adapted for anthology films as well as for anthology television series), it would be great to see some modern horror short stories filmed.

And on that note, tis time for one Gregalicious to head back into the spice mines. I want to spend some time this morning with Laurie R. King’s The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, which I am loving, before it’s time to hit the errands and the gym. I am also sure there will be figure skating to watch this weekend as well, huzzah! Have a lovely Saturday of a holiday weekend, Constant Reader, and I’ll see you tomorrow.

He Can Put His Shoes Under My Bed Anytime

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Me and Mrs. Jones

So, the vacation is going swimmingly so far. Yesterday I simply ran errands–prescriptions, making groceries, picking up the mail–and once I got home and put the groceries away, I decided to take the rest of the day off. Being out in the heat and humidity, even for that brief period of time, was exhausting and draining.

I also kept thinking it was Saturday–as the above is my usual Saturday routine–and actually went upstairs after putting the groceries away to start stripping the bed linens for laundering them before realizing,¬†dude, it’s only Wednesday.

So, I retired to my easy chair and finished reading Mickey Spillane’s¬†I the Jury.

And wow, do I ever have some thoughts about that book.

When Sarah Weinman brought up Mickey Spillane on Twitter the other day¬† by asking if Mickey Spillane was camp, I responded with¬†oh god yes,¬†which led to¬† further conversation with the end result that I decided to read, at long last, a Mickey Spillane novel; I just happened to have a copy of¬†I the Jury¬†on hand. (My references to Spillane being camp had everything to do with his image, reflecting back when Spillane was a public figure and doing everything from print ads to commercials; I’d also briefly watched the Mike Hammer television series starring Stacy Keach) I’d gotten a copy of¬†I the Jury¬†after reading an appreciation of Spillane somewhere (Crimereads? Perhaps) which made a very strong case that Spillane and his work was dramatically underrated in the crime genre, and was long overdue a study and another look;¬† furthermore, he was vastly more important to the genre than he was ever given credit for. I’d never read Spillane, primarily because as a gay man I was¬†clearly¬†not the target audience for his work; as I’ve said before, many times, I stopped reading crime novels in the 1970’s because I was very tired of the many, over-worn tropes of the genre and the toxicity of the fragile masculinity contained within the majority of the books/series.

The cover of my copy of the book also contains the tag line:¬†Before there was Jack Reacher…there was Mike Hammer.

An intriguing bit of marketing by the publisher, don’t you think? I have greatly enjoyed Lee Child’s Reacher series, and think it is one of the best of our modern times; however, I also stopped reading the series over ten years ago. This has, by the way, nothing to do with the quality of the series or the character or the writing, but more to do with falling behind in my reading of the series and the next thing I knew, I was five or six books behind and I gave up on even attempting to catch up; this has happened with numerous other writers and series I enjoy, so this is¬†not¬†a shot at Lee Child, whom I also like personally.

It’s just one of those things that can happen with prolific writers.

But in reading the book, I don’t really see the correlation between the two characters, other than, perhaps, their size. Reacher is an enormous man who takes up a lot of space; so is Hammer. But Reacher is more of a philosopher than Hammer–I’d say Reacher owes more to John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee than to Mike Hammer; although I suppose it could be argued that MacDonald and McGee may have been influenced by Spillane and Hammer.

I would also argue that Spillane also owes an enormous debt to Dashiell Hammett and The Maltese Falcon, because there are some similarities in plot and structure.

I did start taking notes and writing down ideas, because I would really like to write a critical essay on¬†I the Jury,¬†because there’s an awful lot there–misogyny, homophobia, racism–that, while it may reflect the time in which it was written and published (1947), is problematic for the modern, present-day reader. Hammer is, in some ways, the embodiment of a masculine ideal that is very problematic, a personification of the type of a toxic masculinity that might not have ever truly existed, even in that time. The books were wildly popular, and I also believe the popularity of the books can be tied into the societal and cultural definition of what a man was supposed to be, but so rarely was in reality.

And frankly, the PTSD from World War II drips from every page.

The book is highly reflective of its time, and I think writing about it critically, both as a product of its time as well as through a modern lens, could make for a fascinating and interesting essay. We shall see.

I also started reading Angie Kim’s debut novel,¬†Miracle Creek,¬†yesterday, and while I only managed to get through the prologue, I was blown away by it completely, and look forward to delving more deeply into it during the course of today.

I am rather enjoying this life of leisure. I did do some other things around the house yesterday, starting reorganization/cleaning projects that can be leisurely finished over the course of my vacation.

And now, it’s time to repair to my easy chair with Ms. Kim’s novel.

Have a lovely holiday, Constant Reader, and I will speak with you again on the morrow.

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Sweet Thing

Wednesday, and the downward slide into the weekend begins.

I somehow managed to pull out another 700 words on the WIP and have now progressed to Chapter 6, so I call that¬†winning.¬†It’s also payday, so at some point I need to continue paying the goddamned bills. Huzzah.

As you can see, paying the bills is not one of my favorite things.

Yesterday was an interesting day. It was a long day at work, and as is my wont, periodically I check social media between clients, to see what’s going on in the world and so forth. Twitter usually is only good for raising my blood pressure–honestly, what a fucking cesspool it usually is–but I stumbled into something that reminded me of what social media¬†could¬†be, and actually can¬†be:¬†The Writer¬†magazine (which I used to read, back in the day; I even subscribed for a few years) had done a joint interview with Lee Child and Paul Doirot. Well and good, but the take the magazine chose to take when tweeting about the piece–and ostensibly what the piece was about–was about how these two male thriller writers were creating women characters that were three dimensional. Again, all well and good–except the tack taken by the tweet, and slightly less so in the piece itself–is that the crime fiction genre primarily traffics in female characters who are little more than either a femme fatale, a damsel in distress, or a combination of the two.

Whoa.

As you can imagine, crime writers were having a field day with this on Twitter. I think the reason I got pulled into this amazing and fun thread was because Jessica Laine, one of my fellow contributors to¬†Murder-a-Go-Go’s,¬†brought up me, and my story “This Town,” as an example of a man getting female characters spot-on correct. This naturally made my day–the rare occasions when one of my short stories gets some love are moments I cherish, as I am incredibly insecure about short story writing–and several other women writers whom I respect also were highly complimentary about the story. Sisters in Crime wrote a wonderful response to the piece, as did Nik Kolokowski in a response essay for Mystery Tribune.¬†And while many of us were having a lot of fun on Twitter making jokes, cracking wise, and finding new ways to use sarcasm, the truth is more serious: the very idea that a major writing publication could be so way off base and uninformed about an entire genre (which has¬†always¬†been heavily populated by women writing about women), shows how much work remains to be done within the genre itself.

If I wrote about even a fraction of the women writing superb crime fiction, I would be here for the rest of the week, month, year, my life. The dismissal of the contributions of stellar women writing powerful books isn’t just a problem in the crime genre, but in fiction, period. (Romance is written primarily by women; thus the entire genre is frequently written off as unworthy.) It’s also indicative of the misogyny that pervades our society and culture; women have been fighting misogyny for millennia. Women writers are often asked about work/life balance, whereas men never are; women often write movingly and powerfully about social injustice and rarely get recognized for it. (Two really good examples of this are Dorothy B. Hughes’¬†The Expendable Man¬†and Margaret Millar’s¬†Do Evil in Return,¬†both from the early 1960’s and tackling racism and abortion, respectively.) Stories by men about men are seen as “universal” stories, big stories tackling major themes and making commentary on the state of humanity and the world; women’s stories are considered to be insular, small, and in many cases,¬†domestic.

One can almost look at the publishing world as a microcosm of society. Crime fiction is wrestling with the same demons that we are as a culture and a society; the clamor for full equality for women, people of color, and queer people is being pushed back against by those who feel they are being displaced by equal opportunity for all. The loss of an unfair advantage gained simply as a side effect of one’s gender, sexuality and color isn’t really a loss; but for those who are disadvantaged and sometimes disqualified based on any of those things, losing that disadvantage and being judged equally and fairly can make an enormous world of difference.

And now,  back to the spice mines.

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Glory Days

God, there’s nothing more depressing than paying the bills, is there?

Yesterday was a good writing day; I should be able to finish off Chapter Nine today, which is absolutely lovely. If I can get Chapter Ten done by the weekend–which I should be able to do, no problem–then I’ll be halfway finished with the first draft. Huzzah! All downhill from there, too. Although there’s an awful lot to cram into the last ten chapters…I may have to plan that out a little better. Heavy sigh. But I can also work on outlining it, to have a general idea of what direction I’m going in, which will be enormously helpful. I don’t ever stick to the outlines–ever–but it helps give me a general idea of what direction to go in.

I was also going over an editor’s note on one of my short stories, which were absolutely lovely, in all honesty. I want to get that done over this weekend–I’ve taken Monday as a vacation day, so I have a three day weekend this weekend, the intent to get as much cleaning and writing and editing done as I possibly can; Paul left yesterday morning to visit family for a week, and hey, why not use the time as effectively as possible?

I also read some more of¬†The City of Falling Angels¬†last night; I am really enjoying John Berendt’s views on Venice, and also kept thinking,¬†wow, I’d love to take an apartment in Venice for a couple of months, how awesome would that be?

I intend to finish Bryan Camp’s debut novel this weekend as well, since it’s pub date is coming up, so I can get a review posted on here.

It never ends, really.

I read some short stories, too! First up was¬†“Nighthawks” by Michael Connelly, from Lawrence Block’s seminal¬†In Sunlight or in Shadow:

Bosch didn’t know how people in this place could stand it. It felt like the wind off the lake was freezing his eyeballs in their sockets. He had come totally unprepared for the surveillance. He had layers on but his top layer was an L. A. trench coat with a thin zip-in liner that wouldn’t keep a Siberian husky warm in the Chicago winter. Bosch wasn’t a man who gave much credit to cliches but he found himself thinking: I’m too old for this.

The subject of his surveillance had come down Wabash and turned east toward Michigan and the park. Bosch knew where she was going because she had headed this way on her lunch break at the bookstore the day before as well. When she got to the museum she showed her member pass and was quickly admitted entrance. Bosch had to wait in line to buy a day pass. But he wasn’t worried about losing her. He knew where she would be. He didn’t bother to check his coat because he was cold to the bone, and he didn’t expect to be in the museum much more than an hour–the girl would have to get back to the bookstore.

I’ve not read a lot of Connelly, but I remember meeting him many years ago at the Virginia Book Festival and liking him a lot. I read the first Bosch novel sometime in the last seven or eight years and greatly enjoyed it; I’ve not watched the Amazon series but probably will at some point. There are just so many Connelly novels to get caught up on, it just overwhelms me to even consider reading them all. But this is a Bosch short story, and a good one. In this story, Bosch has retired (or quit) the police force and has become a private eye; which is cool. The story is terrific; he was hired to find a Hollywood bigshot’s daughter, he finds her–and then finds out why she disappeared in the first place…and then faces a moral dilemma. Truly a terrific story!

The next story was¬†“The Incident of 10 November” by Jeffery Deaver, also from¬†In Sunlight or in Shadow:

December 2, 1954

General Mikhail Tasarich, First Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics

Kremlin Senate, Moscow

Comrade General Tasarich:

I, Colonel Mikhail Sergeyivich Sidorov, of recent attached to the GRU, Directorate for Military Intelligence, am writing this report regarding the incident of 10 November, fof this year, and the death associated therewith.

I am way behind on my Deaver reading as well; I greatly enjoyed the Lincoln Rhyme series, but as I said, I fell behind and now am SO far behind on him that I despair of ever catching up; same with Lee Child. This is the second story of Deaver’s I’ve read that has dealt with the Cold War Soviet Union, from the point of¬† view of one of their agents; the other was in the MWA anthology¬†Ice Cold.¬†I don’t know if this is an interest of Deaver’s, or if one story begot the other, or if he’s written novels around this subject, but my interest was piqued. It’s a great story, flows really well, and has to do with a German scientist who was absorbed into the Soviet Union after the end of the Great Patriotic War…and I really enjoyed.

Now, I best get back to the spice mines.

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Loverboy

The ballet last night was exquisite.

I’ve seen ballets–or parts of them–on television or Youtube; and I remember, as a child, being taken to see¬†The Nutcracker¬†(isn’t everyone dragged to that as a child?), which I hated (interestingly enough, many things that most children love are things that I didn’t;¬†The Nutcracker¬†is one;¬†The Wizard of Oz¬†another). But as lovely and awe-inspiring as seeing ballets on Youtube or on television can be, there is nothing like being in an auditorium and watching one being performed live on the stage in front of you. I liken it to the difference between watching figure skating on television and then watching it in person; it’s very different, and you never watch it on television in quite the same way again.¬†Romeo and Juliet¬†is, of course, an ubiquitous story; everyone knows it, to the point that it has become almost trite and hackneyed; it’s been adapted for everything imaginable–opera, ballet, film, and of course¬†West Side Story–but, at its heart, it is still a beautiful and sad story.

The opening sequence of the ballet reminded me so much of the opening of¬†West Side Story¬†that I couldn’t help wonder how much the ballet influenced the musical’s choreography, or vice versa.

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I read¬†Romeo and Juliet¬†when I was a sophomore in high school. I’d taken a class called Dramatic Literature; a class in which we read plays.¬†Romeo and Juliet¬†was paired with¬†West Side Story¬†(it’s also the class where I first read Tennessee Williams;¬†A Streetcar Named Desire¬†and¬†Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,¬†to be exact); we even watched the films (the version of¬†Romeo and Juliet¬†was the 1968 Franco Zeffirelli production, with Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey with the gorgeous score by Michel Legrand). Shakespeare’s language was, to me at fourteen, a mysterious puzzle I couldn’t unlock; archaic references I didn’t understand written in verse, yet somehow beautiful in how the words were put together. At the time, I didn’t understand how two families could feud so bitterly and violently in an Italian city during the Renaissance; of course, now that I’ve read so many Italian histories (I am still greatly enjoying¬†The Black Prince of Florence), I am more than a little surprised that the feud between Capulet and Montague was so bloodless (see the Pazzi-Medici feud, circa fifteen century).

Yet, despite the overwhelming familiarity with the story, it was impossible not to be drawn into last night’s version of it; despite there being no dialogue, no words. The entire story was, as is typical with the ballet, acted out without words and through dance. The choreographer’s choices in telling the story were quite interesting; the stage setting was incredibly minimalist, with emotions and passions being evoked through the movement of the two curved walls that served as set pieces; the long rising ramp that served as not a way to exit the stage but as Juliet’s fabled balcony; and the use of costume and lighting.

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The friar was used as a connective device throughout each scene; he was, if anything, the true star of the show, and its emotional heart. The dancer who played the role was magnificent. The ballet was a thing of beauty; I couldn’t stop marveling at how fantastic the dancers were, the exceptional shapes and lines they could form with their bodies, the almost super-human stretches and leaps and twirls and spins, the intimacy of their lifts and how they could mold their bodies around one another’s.

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It was also my first time inside the Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts since Katrina; ironically, it was also the first time the Ballet des Monte-Carlo performed there since 2005. Both the outgoing and incoming mayor were there; the Honorary Consul for Monaco, and the ambassador from Monaco were all introduced and thanked from the stage.

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And yet, as a crime writer, and someone with a vested interest in group dynamics and politics, who has viewed documentaries about ballet companies, with a knowledge of human nature and interaction,I couldn’t help wondering, as the company took its well-deserved bows to a long standing ovation last night,¬† what turmoils and temperaments boiled beneath the surface of the linked hands and bowing bodies; what slights and grudges boiled behind the smiling faces; which members of the company were friends and which were enemies; who were lovers and friends and who were enemies and rivals, who was gay and who was straight.

I definitely want to write a ballet noir.

And here are two short stories, for the continuation of the Short Story Project.

First up is¬†“Split Second” by Daphne du Maurier,¬† from the¬†New York Review of Books¬†collection of¬†Don’t Look Now and Other Stories:

Mrs. Ellis was methodical and tidy. Unanswered letters, unpaid bills, the litter and rummage of a slovenly writing-desk were things she abhorred. Today, more than usual, she was in what her late husband used to call her “clearing” mood. She had wakened to this mood; it remained with her throughout the morning. Besides, it was the first of the month, and as she ripped off the page of her daily calendar and saw the bright clean 1 staring at her, it seemed to symbolize a new start tom her day.

The hours ahead of her must somehow seem untarnished like the date; she must let nothing slide.

“Split Second” is an exceptional exercise in character. Du Maurier thoroughly examines and exposes Mrs. Ellis’ character from beginning to end, and while she doesn’t go into a great amount of detail, it isn’t hard to figure out exactly whom she is from what we are told as readers. She’s a widow and her entire world revolves around her daughter, who is off at school; she decides, after a thorough cleaning of her home to go for a walk and is almost run down by the laundry truck as she walks back home. But when she gets back to her house, things are different. It is her house, but it’s no longer the house she left behind; other people are living there, her neighbors are gone–the entire world has changed and shifted as she walked home. It’s a horrifying story, even as the reader begins to glean what has actually happened long before Mrs. Ellis does; not that she ever does, even by the end of the story, and that is part of what makes it so sad, so effective, so powerful; no one has ever quite captured that elegant, melancholy sadness the way du Maurier does.

I then moved on to “The Picture of the Lonely Diner” by Lee Child,¬† from the Mystery Writers of America anthology,¬†Manhattan Mayhem:

Jack Reacher got out of the R train at Twenty-Third Street and found the nearest stairwell blocked off with plastic police tape. It was striped blue and white, tied between one handrail and the other, and it was moving in the subway wind. It said: POLICE DO NOT ENTER. Which, technically, Reacher didn’t want to do anyway. He wanted to exit. Although to exit, he would need to enter the stairwell. Which was a linguistic complexity. In which context, he sympathized with the cops. They didn’t have different kinds of tape for different situations.¬†POLICE DO NOT ENTER IN ORDER TO EXIT was not in their inventory.

Lee Child is one of the most successful writers in our genre today; everything he publishes is a¬†New York Times¬†best seller, and his character, Jack Reacher, is one of those ubiquitous characters that will go down in the history of the genre, like Poirot, James Bond, and Kinsey Millhone. I am years behind on Lee’s novels; but if you’ve not read Lee Child, you simply must read¬†The Killing Floor,¬†the first Reacher novel. It is quite superb. This story isn’t Child at his best, but Reacher the character is at his best at novel-length, with the labyrinthian plots Child somehow concocts and manages to keep track of (one of my favorite fanboy moments was having lunch with him and Alafair Burke at the Green Goddess here in New Orleans several years ago; while I just sat there wide-eyed and listened to the two of them talk about writing and publishing, praying that I didn’t have sauce running down my chin), but this story does evoke the melancholy that Child evokes in his novels; the inevitability of fate and the powerlessness of humans to counteract it once the gears are moving. I do recommend the story; there is some amazing imagery in it as well.

And on that note, I am back to the spice mines. There are bed linens to launder, and short stories to edit, and a chapter to write; it is rainy and gloomy outside my windows this morning but I am well-rested and ready to work.

Or maybe it’s just the caffeine kicking in. Who knows?

Tonight

SNOW DAY!

Yes, we had freezing temperatures in New Orleans the last two nights, and when I woke yesterday morning it was only 20 degrees; it’s 21 today. There was snow and ice outside both yesterday and today–not much, it’s New Orleans, seriously–but the exciting news yesterday morning was¬†work was canceled because the roads were closed!¬†The text went out around nine in the morning, but I, good boy who is determined to stick to his goals that I am, was¬†at the gym.¬†Yes, I got up yesterday morning, bundled up against the cold, and went to the gym. There were tumbleweeds blowing through there, of course, but I did my stretches, my workout, and twenty minutes¬† of cardio(okay, it was 17:58, but it was nine and I¬†thought¬†I needed to get home and get ready for work). I came home, did the dishes, packed Paul’s lunch, got cleaned up, packed my own lunch and headed out to the car, which had ice all over its windows. I got inside, started the car and turned the defrosters on, and was about to plug my phone into the stereo when I saw that I had 15 text messages….the initial messages about the office being closed and responses from co-workers. I immediately shut off the car and came inside and put my sweats back on.

Here is the horror that was New Orleans yesterday morning:

Really not much of anything, seriously. But as I told my boss last night, I know how to drive in snow and ice, but these people down here? Not so much.

The problem, apparently, was that the bridges into New Orleans–we’re kind of an island, surrounded by water and swamp and you have to cross a bridge to get into the city no matter from what direction–were icy, and of course, that makes them dangerous because people here don’t know how to drive on ice and the bridges are all pretty high. So the bridges were closed and so commuters couldn’t get into the city; the highways are also raised in many places and therefore dangerous when icy. So basically, the entire city shut down. I could have made it to work, but hey, you know, the office was closed. Today so far I’ve not heard about anything–I doubt very seriously we would close two days in a row, and I have no problem with going in.

But it was nice having a free day to stay home with the cat, you know? I did laundry, and since it was so cold at my desk in the kitchen even with the space heater on, decided to make it a real Snow Day and simply retire to my easy chair with the cat in my lap and work on the Short Story Project. I read a Lee Child story from one of the Lawrence Block painting anthologies, and a Laura Lippman from her collection Hardly Knew Her.

Lee Child’s story was “Pierre, Lucien, and Me”, from¬†Alive in Shape and Color:

I survived my first heart attack. But as soon as I well enough to sit up in bed, the doctor came back and told me I was sure to have a second. Only a matter of time, he said. The first episode had been indicative of a serious underlying weakness. Which it had just made worse. Could be days. Or weeks. Months at most. He said from now on I should consider myself an invalid.

I said, “This is 1928, for fuck’s sake, They got people talking on the radio from far away. Don’t you have a pill for it?”

No pill, he said. Nothing to be done. Maybe see a show. And maybe write some letters. He told me what people regretted most were the things they didn’t say. Then he left. Then I left. Now I have been home four days. Doing nothing. Waiting for the second episode. Days away, or weeks, or months. I have no way of knowing.

I’m a fan of Lee Child, and one of my favorite memories was walking to Green Goddess with Alafair Burke when Romantic Times was here one year, and we ran into Lee on the street. I was a big fan, of course, but had never met him. Alafair, of course, knew him, and she invited him to join us. So I not only got to have lunch with Alafair Burke but also Lee Child. (How awesome are¬†my¬†namedropping skills?)

Anyway, he was as charming and self-deprecating as I’d heard–ridiculously tall and slender as well.

I love his Reacher series, but am many years behind on it, alas–so many books, so little time–but this story was short and quite lovely. The main character, as you can tell from the opening, is dying, and reflecting on his life; thinking back on whom he might need to apologize to or make amends with, and cannot really think of anyone. Then a name pops into his head; a millionaire he rather swindled, and the tale of the swindle makes up the rest of the story. The voice is charming and the swindle itself isn’t really that terrible, as far as these things go; he didn’t cause any harm, really, even if what he did was a crime.

I then moved on to Laura Lippman’s “Hardly Knew Her”, from her amazing collection¬†Hardly Knew Her:

Sofia was a lean, hipless girl, the type that older men still called a tomboy in 1975, although her only hoydenish quality was a love of football. In the vacant lot behind the neighborhood tavern, the boys welcomed her into their games. This was in part because she was quick, with sure hands. But even touch football sometimes ended in pile-ups, where it was possible to steal a touch or two and claim it was accidental. She tolerated this feeble groping most of the time, punching the occasional boy who pressed too hard too long, which put the others on notice for a while. Then they forgot, or it happened again–they touched, she punched. It was a price she was more than willing to pay for the exhilaration she felt when she passed the few yew berry bushes that marked the end zone, a gaggle of boys breathless in her wake.

But for all the afternoons she spent at the vacant lot, she never made peace with the tricky plays–the faked handoffs, the double pumps, the gimmicky laterals. It seemed cowardly to her, a way for less gifted players to punish those with natural talent. It was one thing to spin and feint down the field, eluding grasping hands with a swivel of her nonhips. But to pretend the ball was somewhere it wasn’t struck her as cheating, and no one could ever persuade her otherwise.

Sofia, called Fee by her family and by no one else–she won’t allow it–has a father with a gambling problem; he plays in a game in the neighborhood tavern every Friday night. When he does well, there are gifts for the family on Saturday; when he doesn’t, he takes those gifts in the middle of the night and pawns or sells them, or turns them over as payment for a debt. He’s not a good bluffer, like his daughter, depending on the luck of the draw for his success or failure. But Fee is given a lovely amethyst necklace for her birthday–an heirloom–and when her father takes it to pay a debt, Fee is finished with her father, finished with this existence, and decides she is getting her necklace back. How this all plays out for Fee is a coming-of-age tale like no other I’ve read; one that only a talent like Laura Lippman could write. This collection of short stories is really quite extraordinary; as is the Block anthology; y’all really need to read these two books if you are a fan of short stories.

I also started watching, of all things, original episodes of¬†Scooby Doo Where Are You?¬†through Amazon Prime; I’ve been thinking a lot about¬†Scooby Doo¬†and its predecessor,¬†Jonny Quest,¬†since getting to meet one of the directors/animators for Hanna-Barbera at Comic-Con a couple of weeks ago.¬†Jonny Quest¬†is actually the first memory I have of watching something mystery/adventure related, and my love for¬†Jonny Quest¬†never really abated; I think, therefore, that the show was what triggered my lifelong love of mysteries and the crime genre;¬†Scooby Doo¬†came along around the time I was discovered the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden. I’ll keep watching and musing about this some more, before making a post. I also still owe a post about¬†I Tonya.¬†I also finished reading Joan Didion’s¬†Miami¬†last night; so I’ll have to post about that as well.

So, that was how I spent my Snow Day; resting and relaxing and reading. It was actually quite lovely; we watched two episodes of¬†Broadchurch¬†last night and only have three to go before finishing the show. This third season is also quite good, and it’s cool how they’ve woven characters from the initial story into the present investigation; this entire season is an exploration about sexual assault, sex in genre, and porn. I am looking forward to seeing how it all plays out.

And now, back to the spice mines. As I said, I don’t think we’ll get another Snow Day today, so I have to get back to work. But how lovely to have a day where I didn’t really have to do anything; it’s been a long time. (Okay, I did the dishes and a load of laundry, but overall, it was a light responsibility day.)