Move This

Tuesday!

The weather here in New Orleans has changed slightly; not much, and probably wouldn’t be noticeable if you didn’t live here. The humidity is still here, surprisingly, but we’ve been getting a lot of rain lately, which of course would explain the thick damp air. My goal for today is to get back on track with the Scotty–I’m partway through Chapter Four, with only another twenty-one to go–but even with laziness and procrastination, there’s simply no way I shouldn’t be able to get this draft finished, read aloud, and line edited and turned in, by the end of October/early November.

She’s been a long-time a-birthin’, but the end is near.

I want to write either Bury Me in Satin or Muscles next; I am leaning more toward Bury Me in Satin for some reason; even though I’ve been meaning to write Muscles for years, and it would probably be an easier book for me to write, honestly. There’s another idea brewing in my head as well…isn’t there always? But I am not sure I am ready to even start that one, and I kind of have an idea for a paranormal series set in Louisiana–think Dark Shadows crossed with True Blood as written by Lisa Unger; that’s the direction I am thinking about taking with it. I’d originally thought to do it more cozy/Gothic; but my mind just doesn’t go that way–I’m too snarky and too dark at heart. Sigh. The story of my life in a nutshell. Anyway, a book I started writing in the 1980’s, The Enchantress, could easily be re-purposed for this; I do love to recycle.

We started watching Season 5 of How to Get Away with Murder last night; we still highly enjoy it, even though the past plots are so complicated and layered we don’t really remember what has happened; fortunately it’s written well enough so it’s easy to get back up to speed with what’s current–although I do believe every single person in the cast has killed at least one person, although I cannot remember whether Annelise has or not.

Probably has, but then again, it would be interesting if she was the only one who hasn’t, you know what I mean?

My short stories have all stalled out again; I also realized last night that this year’s Short Story Project has completely stalled out. I need to finish reading Circe and get back to my short story reading!

And on that note, it’s back to the spice mines.

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You Might Think

Friday night I finished reading Lisa Unger’s exceptional The Red Hunter. I don’t remember who originally told me to read Lisa Unger’s work, but whoever it was, I really need to say thank you again! She is an exceptionally terrific writer, and as I make my way through her canon, it is startling how fresh, new and completely original every single volume is.

Take The Red Hunter, for example, her April 2017 release. Unger’s books are always about the damage humans do to each other, and how that damage and/or abuse creates ripples that eventually become waves that affect the present, and the necessity of coming to terms with that past in order to solve the problems of the present. The Red Hunter is, at it’s core, the story of a house in rural New Jersey; an old derelict place that is falling to pieces. Claudia, a publishing executive whose personal life is in shambles, decides to renovate the house as a project and blog about it, moving into it with her daughter, Raven. But the house has some terrible secrets.

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There’s nothing about me that you would ever notice. I am neither especially thin, nor overweight. My face will not be one you remember. With dark eyes and pale skin, hair the color of straw, cheeks round and just rosy enough that you won’t wonder if I’m ill, I will blend into the sea of other plain faces you saw before and after as you went about your day. nothing about my clothes will capture your notice. No brands that incite jealousy, or anything revealing, no stains, maybe just wrinkled or worn enough that you’ll dismiss me as someone without much money, though not poor enough to be in need. If I’m wearing a uniform, I don’t even exist. I am the checkout girl at the grocery store, or the maid that cleans your hotel room, the girl woh answered the phone, or the young lady at the information desk. No, you would say later, you can’t recall her name or what she looked like, not really. The truth is you don’t see me; your eyes glance over me, never coming to rest. But I see you.

This is Zoey Drake, one of Unger’s point of view characters. Zoey is a young college student at NYU, who studies martial arts and works in a coffee shop; she house and cat sits for a place to stay. Zoey sees herself as the Red Hunter, a vigilante/Batman of sorts, who stops crimes from happening when she comes across them and always dresses nondescriptly; she is trying to right a cosmic wrong. When she was a young girl, her parents were brutally murdered in front of her, and she too was injured and left for dead; she survived that horrible night, but has always been looking, ever since, for answers to the question of who murdered her parents and why.

Claudia herself is surviving a brutal attack; she was assaulted and raped brutally years earlier, which wound up damaging her and her own marriage in ways she couldn’t even comprehend at the time. There has always been a question as to whether her daughter, Raven, is her husband’s or her rapist’s. This is part of the reason why Claudia has brought Raven the old house in the New Jersey countryside; she is trying to rebuild the house and their lives at the same time. Raven has her own curiosity about the question of her paternity.

Their lives are destined to cross because of the house; you see, the house is where Zoey lived with her parents and where they died in front of her. The killers were looking for something in the house that has never been found…and Zoey’s actions have set everything into motion again so that the tangled skeins of their livers are going to cross again as the mystery of how and why what happened when she was a little girl rears its ugly head again, and now all of them are in terrible, deadly danger.

Wow. This book is a thrill-ride from start to finish; fully developed characters that you care about, a fascinating unfolding of a crime with twists and turns that keep the reader balanced firmly on the edge of their seat.

Seriously, if you aren’t reading Lisa Unger, what the hell is wrong with you?

State of Shock

Good morning, Constant Reader, and everyone who only occasionally stops by, should you happen to stop by this chilly late December morning. It’s very gray outside, and the Lost Apartment is cold, and I have a slight sinus headache, but nothing I can power my way through. I still am not feeling at 100% yet, but am getting there; maybe by this weekend? One can hope.

I feel slightly cotton-headed this morning, and am trying to decide what to read next. I’m definitely doing a month or two of short story reading for the first two months of the new year, which I am kind of excited about. Yesterday I was tired all day, and never made my to-do list; I’ll have to get that done today. Today is also payday, so I’ll have to pay the bills today as well. I didn’t really want to get out of bed this morning, honestly; the bed was warm and comfortable and it was cold in the apartment–and I would gladly go back to bed if i could. Heavy sigh.

I know I have some short stories to work on, and I need to do some other things as well. I hate this cotton-headed feeling! It makes it really hard to focus. One short story, which is do this weekend, is almost finished; it only needs two quick tweaks and another read-through before I turn it in; the other story isn’t necessarily a big priority; I just wanted to get it done and out of the way months before it is actually due because I don’t want to have to want until the last minute to work on it and have to rush, if that makes sense. It sort of does, doesn’t it? (See what I mean about cotton-headed?)

It’s always something, isn’t it?

I am still enjoying Joan Didion’s Miami, and think I’m going to read, for fiction, Lisa Unger’s The Red Hunter next. I always enjoy Lisa’s work, and while I am still carefully doling it out so I won’t run out of Unger books to read, I think it’s safe to go ahead and read another one. I also suppose I should do a year recap here, as well as a goals-setting entry for 2018. Sigh.

Okay, back to the spice mines.

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Solitaire

Sleep has eluded me all week; I lie in bed all night half-awake and half-asleep, hoping that my mind will stop racing and I will somehow, as I toss and turn, find a position in my bed that will allow me to, at last, find sleep. I grow tired every evening before bed–and have stayed away from screens, since I’ve read in many places that sleeplessness can be caused by the light emitted by computer and device screens–but it is all for naught. I’m not sure what has caused this change, and I am afraid I will never sleep deeply again.

Last night I had to do bar testing, and when I got home I finished reading Lisa Unger’s In the Blood.

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There are twelve slats of wood under my bed. I know this because I count them over and over. Onetwothreefourfivesixseveneightnineteneleventwelve. I whisper the numbers to myself and the sound of it comforts me as I’m sure a prayer would comfort someone who believes in God. It’s amazing how loud a whisper can be. Surrounded down there by the white glow of my bed skirt, the sound of my own voice in my ears, I can almost block out the screaming, the horrible keening. And then there’s the silence, which is so much worse.

In the quiet, which falls like a sudden night, I can hear the beating of my own heart, feel it thudding in my chest. I lie very still, willing myself to sink into the pile of the carpet lower and lower until I don’t exist at all, There is movement downstairs. I hear the sound of something heavy scraping across the dining room floor. What is he doing?

I have come to this place before. Here, I have hidden from the frequent and terrible storms of my parents’ miserable marriage. And I have listened as their voices break through the thick walls and the heavy, closed doors. But usually I can only hear the ugly cadence of their voices, and very rarely their words, which I know to be hateful and spiked with old hurts and bitter resentments. It is a poison in the air, a toxic cloud. Onetwothreefourfivesixseveneightnineteneleventwelve. Sticks and stone can break your bones, but words can break your heart.

Over the last year, I’ve become an enormous fan of Lisa Unger. This is the third book of hers that I’ve read since the first of the year, and like the two before it, it’s absolutely stunning. The cadence of the words, the way the story is structured to build, and the words themselves, chosen with infinite care, create a thing of beauty about a terrifying darkness.

The book is set in The Hollows, a small town in upstate New York which Unger has visited before; the two previous works of hers that I’ve read were also set in this strange town where bizarre things happen; where it is not unusual for ghosts to appear, and madness is only a short step away. The Hollows is Unger’s Castle Rock, her Collinsport, her Bon Temps; a town where violent death and passionate love are possible; where the veil between the world of the living and the dead is as thin as the wall between sanity and madness.

In the Blood is the tale of Lana Granger, a damaged young college student who has come to The Hollows to attend Sacred Heart College and completely disappear from a horrific past that is slowly revealed to the reader; each revelation even more horrific than the last. Lana is heavily medicated, “flat”, as she calls it; Unger exploration of that state of mind, a drug-induced emotionless existence, seems not only realistic but tragic and sad at the same time. Lana is convinced by her faculty advisor to take a job as babysitter/nanny for a troubled twelve year old named Luke, who lives with his mother in a big Victorian house a short bike ride from the campus. Two years earlier, a young female student disappeared from the campus and was found dead a few days later; one of Lana’s roommates, Beck, with whom she has a challenging relationship, disappears after a public argument with Lana in the library.  Luke isn’t just troubled, he’s dangerous, and the two begin a dangerous dance, as he dangles bait in front of her to lure her into his games.

As Lana’s story unfolds, every other chapter is a diary excerpt; the diary of a woman trying to maintain her own sanity as she realizes, almost from birth, that there’s something wrong, something horrifically off, about her son. Is Luke’s mother’s diary, with Unger showing the reader the horror of what being a mother to a budding psychopath must be like? Or is it something else?

And there is history here as well; murder tangled up in the DNA Lana has gotten from both of her parents. And as the reader learns more and more of Lana’s secrets, the more terrifying the story becomes.

Much has been made lately of the use of the Unreliable Narrator; Unger’s main characters are always unreliable, but she manages to not make it a cliche, nor does she seem to do it in order to pull off unforeseen, out-of-the-blue plot twists on her readers; she manages to do this in a wholly organic way that completely makes sense. She is a master; her books are stunning works of art, as complexly constructed as a human personality, with all of its quirks and tics.

I was troubled by one particular plot twist; but I cannot write about that without undermining the pleasure of reading the book; pulling that thread will unravel the entire story and ruin the book for anyone who hasn’t read it, which is a pity; it’s something that I feel should be discussed, and I also see not only why it was a necessary turn for the story–it completely made sense and pulled everything together–but at the same time it made me a bit uncomfortable.

Read this book. Read Lisa Unger. And cherish the experience.

Affair of the Heart

Wednesday. It’s also Pay Day, or rather, Pay the Bills Day. Hurray. Although none of them are actually do until next week, so I may wait to pay them so I can savor the feeling of having actual money in my checking account for a couple of days.

Apparently we’re in a boil water advisory this morning in New Orleans. Fortunately I have an entire shelf full of bottled water in my refrigerator that have been through the Brita filter–I don’t trust that our water pipes aren’t lead–and showering isn’t an issue in this particular advisory, but this seems to happen more regularly than it really should, you know? I love this city, but our old infrastructure leaves so much to be desired. And no matter how many luxury condo buildings go up over parking lots, this is still an old, fragile, crumbling city.

I continue to work my way through Lisa Unger’s In the Blood, and I got rolling on Chapter Six of Scotty yesterday (I know, I meant to outline the next five chapters but I had an idea for how to get it started and then it just kind of started going), but last night was bar testing and so I am a little frazzled/tired this morning. My mind is certainly all over the place. I had some terrific book mail yesterday–including the ARC for the fabulous new Alison Gaylin coming out in March, If I Die Tonight, which I am itching to get into. (I may have picked out a stack of horror novels to read for Halloween/October, but it’s still September, don’t you know). I think I’ll be able to get the Unger finished this weekend and then move onto the Gaylin. I also have an electronic ARC of Laura Lippman’s Sunburn I keep forgetting I have–the curse of pesky ebooks is that I don’t think about “oh, I should check the iPad and see what I have to read in there” very often, if at all.

Here’s my rather ambitious stack of books to read for October/Halloween:

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It is a bit overwhelming in its length, but the lovely thing is it’s a reread; so I don’t have to gobble it all down at one time. I can read it here and there, slip another in for a break, and then go back. I am very curious as to how well it holds up, and as I’ve previously mentioned, I’ve not reread It since I read it the first time. I do want to see the movie, but may end up waiting to see it once it’s streaming. I am excited, though, for it–as most people whose opinion I respect have greatly enjoyed it. There are so few King adaptations that are good–Carrie, Misery, Dolores Claiborne, Christine–that when a good one comes along, it must be embraced.

All right, it’s off to the spice mines with me.

Gloria

Tuesday! I have a long day of testing facing me, capped off with bar testing tonight at Good Friends. I have my morning free, at least before I have to run my errands, so I am going to try to get some writing done. I did finish Chapter 5 yesterday, and am trying to get the next five chapters outlined before I get moving on Chapter 6. I think I know what’s going to happen next; but everything’s kind of amorphous and I really want to sit and think it all through before I try writing. Some of the stuff in the first five chapters is going to need to be redone–there’s some stuff that I might have to cut out entirely–and I am going to seriously consider that before just trying to make it all work together.

I printed out another, trimmed copy of the WIP, which is now 276 pages instead of 340. That was some serious editing I did there. I am going to wait until this weekend to read it again; although I have lots of notes about what needs to be done with it.

I also started writing another short story yesterday, “The White Knuckler.” Not sure how it turns out, but right now in my head it’s just another variation on my theme of ‘running into someone from your past on a vehicle of mass transportation,” like my story “A Streetcar Named Death.” I do seem to return to the same themes, or variations on the same type of story, an awful lot. So, I am just going to rough draft it out, and then try to figure out how not to make it just another variation on a theme. I don’t want to be reductive.

Short stories are hard.

Lisa Unger’s In the Blood continues to enthrall. We are also watching a Netflix original series, Atypical, which is about a highly functional autistic teenager and his family. His parents are played by Michael Rappaport and Jennifer Jason Leigh (of whom I’ve been a fan since Fast Times at Ridgemont High); Sam the teen is played by Keir Gilchrist, who played the gay son on United States of Tara. It’s actually a very sweet show, with strong characters played by actors very good in the roles; its focus is that Sam is now ready to start dating, or rather, thinks he should start dating. The show is both funny and touching, and we are enjoying it quite a bit.

So, this morning I am going to sign out of here, do some filing, and basically figure out what I need to do (in other words, get organized), and perhaps curl up in the easy chair with some more Lisa Unger to get inspired, as I always am by brilliantly talented people.

Here’s a Tuesday hunk for you:

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Is There Something I Should Know?

It rained last night; it was kind of a shock as there was no thunder and/or lightning, and the sun was actually shining. I only knew it was raining when I took out the trash; and it was pouring. Quietly. It was eerie; there wasn’t any wind so the rain was coming straight down, slowly–the way it does in the jungle. And then I remember, as I seem to forget at times, oh, yes, we live in the tropics. It’s easy to forget that when you live in a city that should be a tropical swamp.

I am working both days this weekend; both Saturday for testing and Sunday for the NO/AIDS Walk. I get to take next Monday off, and then go in late on Tuesday, which will be lovely. But ugh, staring down seven consecutive days of work is horrific. But, you know, it happens. And it’s not like it’s every week, you know?

The new Scotty is taking shape, which is lovely. It’s so vastly different than it’s source material, even if it using the same framework, and I am actually enjoying myself as the plot broadens, expands and takes shape. I am hopeful to have a first draft finished around mid-October, if all goes well and the creek don’t rise; November 1 if I get distracted, as I am wont to do.

Lisa Unger’s In the Blood continues to enthrall me; if you haven’t read her work, Constant Reader, you really need to. She defies classification as well; there are crimes in her novels, but there’s also a touch of the paranormal–but you’re never really sure if the paranormal stuff is real or not; she dances a fine line, but the writing is so incredibly strong she never falls off the beam. In that way, she is kind of Shirley Jackson-ish–thematically and plotting and character-wise; she doesn’t write in Jackson’s style, which would be incredibly difficult to master. She’s just bloody fantastic.

September is drawing to a close, and I am already lining up my reading for Halloween Horror: the annual reread of The Haunting of Hill House,  a reread of It, and I have some horror anthologies and other horror novels in my TBR stack that I’ll be pulling out and diving into.

And on that note, it’s back to the spice mines.

Here’s a hunk to get you through your Monday!

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