Overkill

Ugh, my house is a mess. I kind of should go make groceries today, but I also kind of don’t want to leave the house. The cursor on the latest chapter of the book is blinking at me, but I am just not feeling any desire to do any writing today.

But I have to. There is no ‘don’t wanna’ allowed.

Heavy sigh.

What i really want to do is read more of Lisa Unger’s book, In the Blood, which really gets off to a terrific start. I was part of the way through Chapter Three when I realized I was getting too drowsy to focus last night, but didn’t really want to put it aside. I generally either don’t dream, or don’t remember my dreams in the morning, but the last week or so I’ve been dreaming odd things that I still remember when I wake up in the morning. They of course become more vague the more I wake, which is an interesting phenomenon and one I am sure everyone experiences and has been studied and writing up extensively in journals. Yet I still find it intriguing.

I often write about dreams, usually in my work that could considered to fall into supernatural/paranormal/borderline horror–I have a tendency to use dreams to amp up the tension as well as reveal things to the main character, which has become a crutch. In fact, a book idea I’ve been playing with–I wrote a short story years ago which kind of serves as a synopsis of the book–is all about dreams.

Yeah, that will need to go back in the drawer and only pulled out to bring back to the drawing board.

Heavy heaving sigh.

I don’t know why I procrastinate so much about writing, I really don’t. I always enjoy writing, and the feeling of satisfaction I get when I finish for the day is one of my favorite feelings in the world. And yet, here I sit, writing a blog entry while the Saints are getting stomped on the living room television (this is going to be such a long, horrible football season for Louisiana fans….) rather than working on the new Scotty book. I’ve already done some filing, made Paul breakfast, folded clothes…sheesh.

All right, I am going to go make groceries and come home to write.

Here’s a Sunday hunk for you, actor Justin Clynes:

justin clynes

 

Our House

..in the middle of our street.

We will not be discussing the embarrassment that was last night’s LSU “game.”

Friends are in town, and we had lunch with them at Commander’s Palace yesterday, which was lovely. I didn’t read the menu carefully and got something that had fried eggs on the top–which ran with yolk when you broke it; shudder–but I simply pushed them away with my fork and ate everything else. I was very tired after that, and came home, worked for a little while, and then curled up with Liane Moriarty’s The Husband’s Secret. I had read Big Little Lies concurrently with watching the HBO series, and enjoyed both the book and the show, so wanted to read another one of her novels. I wasn’t quite sure what I was expecting with this one–the jacket blurb mentioned that a wife finds a sealed envelope addressed to her from her husband, with the words To be opened only in the event of my death.

I would have opened it immediately, of course.

the husband's secret

It was all because of the Berlin Wall.

If it weren’t for the Berline Wall, Cecilia would never have found the letter, and then she wouldn’t be sitting here, at the kitchen table, willing herself not to rip it open.

The envelope was gray with a fine layer of dust. The words on the front were written in a scratchy blue ballpoint pen, the handwriting as familiar as her own. She turned it over. It was sealed with a yellowing piece of sticky tape. When was it written? It felt old, like it was written years ago, but there was no way  of knowing for sure.

She wasn’t going to open it. It was absolutely clear that she should not open it. She was the most decisive person she knew, and she’d already decided not to open the letter, so there was nothing more to think about.

Although, honestly, if she did open it, what would be the big deal? Any woman would open it like a shot. She listed all her friends and what their responses would be if she were to ring them up right now and ask what they thought.

Liane Moriarty is compulsively readable. And that’s not a quality in an author that should be dismissed lightlyAs I mentioned the other day with Louise Penny, it’s hard to classify Moriarty’s work; there’s a crime involved, but is it really crime fiction? I’m not sure it’s marketed that way; this book has a jacket blurb from Anne Lamott, for example, rather than Sue Grafton or Sara Paretsky. She is an enormous bestseller; which is no small feat for an Australian writer to accomplish in the United States, particularly when she is writing about Australia (although Colleen McCullough was quite successful in the US with The Thorn Birds, before she turned to ancient Rome). She structures her books around three women as the main characters; and she writes about the issues that concern women–I suppose, in a way, her novels could be classified as modern domestic suspense. Like the previous masters of domestic suspense (a classification title I am still not entirely convinced I like), she writes about every day women thrust into extraordinary situations, and she also shoehorns in some brilliant social commentary along with social issues, like Margaret Millar and Charlotte Armstrong and Dorothy B. Hughes did. The books are, as I said, compulsively readable and hard to set aside until you’ve reached the end.

Women writers, no matter their success, are rarely taken as seriously as male writers. I’m not sure if it’s because women writers tend to focus on women and issues that affect them while men, in theory, tackle larger themes. Male characters written by men are off saving the world in genre fiction, bedding fabulous babes and getting into fistfights, surviving by their skills or because their masculinity is superior to that of the bad guys. Or the male characters are finding dissatisfaction and misery in their maleness (I’m looking at you, literary fiction), prisoners of societal expectations of manliness and resenting putting aside their fantasy of what their life should be and having to settle for something that is less than that fantasy. Rarely do you find male characters (I’m not saying they don’t exist, so don’t come after me; I am fully cognizant of the fact that these are all incredibly broad generalizations) who are struggling with the work/home balance, juggling having to have a career and an income with finding time to be participants in their children’s lives or even, for that matter, simply helping around the house.

Men do not drive the story in Liane Moriarty’s novels, but they do impact it. They serve as catalysts for her stories, but her books are about the women whose lives are impacted by the men in them.

The Husband’s Secret,  like Big Little Lies, tells the story of three women whose lives intersect due to a private grammar school, St. Agatha’s in Sydney. Rachel is the aging part-time school secretary, widowed and haunted by the unsolved murder of her teenaged daughter many years before. The loss of her daughter has embittered her, and the only thing she basically has to live for is her grandson. Her story is set into motion when the perfect daughter-in-law she doesn’t much like and her son tell her that Lauren, the daughter-in-law, is being sent by her company to New York for two years, taking the only thing in her life she cares about–the grandson–away from her; just as her daughter was taken from her some twenty-five years or so earlier.

Tess’ world has just been ripped apart by the announcement by her husband and her best friend/first cousin that they are in love and want to be together–but out of respect for her having consummated the relationship. Her cousin, Felicity, is like a sister to her; their mothers were twins and they were born within days of each other. Felicity also used to be overweight; over the past year she has lost weight and become beautiful. Tess, betrayed and hurt, uses her mother’s recent accident in which she broke her ankle as an excuse to grab her son Liam and leave Melbourne, returning to Sydney to sort out her life and her future–enrolling young Liam in St. Agatha’s.

Cecilia, the third woman, is like Madeline in Big Little Lies; married, highly competent and efficient, the organizer that winds up running everything and basically being Supermom. She married a handsome rich man, and they have three daughters together. She’s hardly as confident as she seems; it’s a veneer to protect her and hide her own insecurities as she ruthlessly organizes her life and tries to put the world in order–one of those people who are basically exhausting to talk to; who leave you tired and drained when you finish speaking with them and you aren’t sure why.

Their lives intersect primarily because of the letter Cecilia finds in her attic, although Tess is less involved with the other two women, only peripherally floating into their orbit through the school, but the book’s theme is grief and motherhood and how these three different and incredibly complex women deal with both. What sacrifices do mothers have to make for their children, and what do they owe themselves? What is too far, too much, and where do you draw the line? Rachel’s life was decimated by her daughter’s murder and the lack of a conclusion to the story; to the extent that she walled herself up away from the rest of her family, and her relationship with her son has suffered–it is only through the events of this book that she finally realizes that her son is suffering not only from the loss of his sister and the loss of his father but from the loss of his mother. What does Tess owe to her young son in the wake of the apparent end of her marriage, and the horrific betrayal by her husband and her cousin? Does she try to ride out this love affair, rise above her own hurt and anger and put her child first? Is it better for Liam if she ends the marriage or tries to get past everything and forgive him, if that’s the option? She also is forced to take a long hard look at her own life at who she is and who has become as a person, and who does she want to become?

Cecilia’s journey is, of course, the most shattering. Her husband’s secret, contained in the letter, turns her world upside down and inside out; nothing is what she thought it was, what she believed, and she too is faced with a horrible choice: any decision she makes is going to be incredibly difficult to live with–but what can she live with for the sake of her daughters?

There is some reader manipulation; it’s important for the narrative that Cecilia not read the letter until a certain point, and when she does, the chapter ends with her starting to read–which felt unfair, particularly as the book shifted to another viewpoint in the next chapter. It would have been just as effective, I thought, for the text of the letter to appear and not show Cecilia’s reaction before shifting to the other viewpoint; that’s the editorial and/or authorial I would have made. It just kind of felt manipulative.

The book is very clever, certainly smart–I enjoy the way Moriarty writes, and she has a great way of finding the word rhythm that works, slightly altering those patterns as she shifts from viewpoint to viewpoint to give the reader a stronger sense of the character and their voice; a nice hat trick which is not easy to pull off. The decisions the women make–all affected by the letter Cecilia finds–may not be happily ever afters, but are all things they can, they find, live with. They can go on, they can endure, they can survive.

And maybe that is a happily ever after, after all.

After finishing this, I started reading Lisa Unger’s In the Blood, which immediately grabbed my interest; it was hard to put it down in order to get sleep.

And now, back to the spice mines.

I’m a Believer

Thursday!

Paul leaves this afternoon, so I will come home from work tonight to an empty house, a herd of hungry cats outside, and an incredibly needy one inside. Which is, of course, fine; I can handle Scooter’s neediness, and of course the herd outside just wants to be fed and petted on the head every now and then. But I am always somewhat amazed by how much space Paul takes up; the apartment always seems enormous, silent and empty when he’s gone. Ah, well. I can get started on the Cleaning Project tonight, while watching documentaries or movies on the upstairs television; the upstairs is Paul’s responsibility–so whenever he’s out of town I, of course, give it a thorough cleaning/organizing. After I get off work tomorrow I don’t have to be back at work until 3 pm on Wednesday next week; four-and-a-half glorious days of cleaning and organizing and writing and revising and reading and–let’s face it–being incredibly lazy and just sitting in the easy chair watching shit on television with Scooter sleeping in my lap.

There are worse ways to spend an evening.

I’ve been, alas, too tired when I get home the last few evenings–after making dinner and doing laundry and cleaning the kitchen. etc–to do anything other than sit in my easy chair and watch television, so I’ve not been able to get back to Daniel Woodrell’s amazing Tomato Red; hopefully I can spend some quality time with it this weekend and get it read. I think after that I am going to read a book by a woman; my reading has been overly male lately (other than that wonderful Lisa Unger Ink and Bone, which is going to be on my Top Ten list for the year, along with Dan Chaon’s Ill Will), but I am also thinking I might read The Great Gatsby next.

My Fitzgerald set arrived this week:

IMG_2286

Aren’t they lovely? I can’t wait for the Steinbeck set to arrive.

To be honest, I was stunned to pick it up and see how short The Great Gatsby actually is; it’s less than 200 pages. I should be able to read that relatively quickly.

So, anyway. Back to the spice mines with me.

Time for Me to Fly

I took today off from work; I am starting to wear a little around the edges (it happens more frequently the older I get, alas) and so two long weekends in a row, I felt, might be necessary in order for me to recharge my batteries. I’m not sure why–other than I’m older, which is something I refuse to either accept or accede to–but there it is. I started rewriting a story yesterday–this is the sixth draft, but I think I’ve finally figured out how to make it really work, and last night we watched another episode of Claws, which is really terrific; it’s so nice to see Neicy Nash finally in a complex role and she is tearing it up. We’re also going to start watching the Ellen Barkin series, Animal Kingdom, probably this evening. I can’t seem to find The Mist anywhere, though; but its reviews aren’t good, so maybe that’s a good thing? Pity, because it’s one of my favorite King novellas.

I also finished reading Lisa Unger’s Ink and Bone last night.

ink and bone

Daddy was on the phone, talking soft and low, dropping behind them on the path. Nothing new. He was always on the phone–or on the computer. Penny knew that her daddy loved her, but she also knew that he was almost never paying attention. He was “busy, sweetie,” or “with a client,” or “just a minute, honey, Daddy’s talking to someone.” He was a good story-teller, a bear-hugger, always opened his arms to her, lifted her high, or took her onto his lap while he worked at his desk. Mommy couldn’t lift her anymore, but Daddy still could. She loved the feel of him, the smell of him. He was never angry, always funny. But sometimes she had to say his name like one hundred times before he heard her, even when she was right next to him.

Dad. Dad? Daddy!

Honey, you don’t have to yell.

How could you not hear someone who was right next to you?

If Mommy was out and Daddy was in charge, then she and her brother could: eat whatever they wanted (all you had to do was go into the kitchen and take it; he wouldn’t even notice); play on the iPad forever (he would never suggest that they read a book or play a game together); ride their plasma cars up and down the long hallway from the foyer to the living room. And it was only when they got too loud that he might appear in the doorway to his office and say: “Hey, guys? Keep it down, okay?”

I can’t remember who it was that insisted I read Lisa Unger, but I owe that person a tremendous debt of gratitude.

Ink and Bone is the second Unger novel I’ve read (the first was Crazy Love You, which I read last year and loved), and I enjoyed this one even more than the first one I read, and I loved that one.  Unger is an extraordinary writer; with an uncanny ability to tell her readers who a character is with a few brushstrokes that are so honest and real and true that the reader immediately knows exactly who that person is; and her ‘villains’ are all the more terrifying for being so absolutely real.

Both books I’ve read of hers were set in (or around) a small town in upstate New York known as The Hollows as well as in Manhattan. The Hollows is one of those towns; like Stephen King’s Castle Rock, a town where paranormal things happen: people can see ghosts, commune with the dead, or hear The Whispers in the woods; the dead trying to tell their stories. There is also human evil in The Hollows; whether these people are drawn there by the paranormal force (one character in Ink and Bone calls the town a ‘hellmouth’) that is active there, or if that force draws the evil out from their hearts.

The story at the heart of Ink and Bone is missing children: the Gleason family rented a woodsy cabin in The Hollows for the summer; the marriage between Wolf and Merri is teetering because of his adultery and her Vicodin addiction. Merri is too zonked out on Vicodin to go for a walk in the woods with her family; on that walk both her husband and son are shot, and her daughter Abbey taken. This disappearance, and the fact that both parents are considered suspects by the police, has further shattered the marriage, perhaps beyond repair, and Merri is convinced her daughter is still alive. She goes back up to the Hollows and hires a local private eye, Jones Cooper, to look for her daughter. Jones works with Eloise Montgomery, an elderly local psychic–but in this case, Eloise passes the case along to her granddaughter, Finley.

Finley is a the crowning achievement of this narrative; a young heroine with complicated emotions and a gift she doesn’t quite understand, doesn’t know how to control, and isn’t sure she wants. She is heavily tattooed; the ghosts she sees she has transformed into tattoos on her body. She is sort of involved with a tattoo artist, Rainer, who loves her and followed her to the Hollows from Seattle, setting up shop in the small town. She isn’t sure how she feels about him, or whether she can get more serious with him thanks to her gift/curse. She has a close relationship with her (sometimes maddening) grandmother, who sort of Yodas her about the gift; never really explaining anything and often responding to her questions with ambiguous non-answers. She has a difficult relationship with her own mother, who is estranged from Eloise and has rejected fervently the gift. Finley, though, is seeing things now; things that may lead her to Abbey.

The book is extraordinary, and while Finley is the primary point-of-view character, we get to see things from several others as well; secondary point-of-view characters who not only advance the story but also enhance our understanding of what is going on, who they are, and Unger makes us care about them, warts and all. She is an incredibly gifted storyteller, and I defy anyone to put the book down during the last hundred pages or so.

Unger has written many novels about the Hollows, and about Jones Cooper; having not read them all nor having read them in order, I can’t say whether reading them in order enhances and enriches the reader’s experience or knowledge; maybe reading them in order is a more satisfying experience. But I can say that not reading them in order isn’t a hindrance, like so many other series or interconnected books.

You need to be reading Lisa Unger, Constant Reader.

And I think next I shall read Carson McCullers’ Reflections in a Golden Eye.

And now back to the spice mines.

Time for Me to Fly

Thursday. I guess the storm has passed, as all is calm and sunshiney outside this morning. It actually was last night as well; I wound up with the entire day off because all of our testing events were cancelled, so I got to watch Real Housewives of New York in real time, and then Paul and I started watching Claws, which we really like. I’d forgotten I have the TNT app on our AppleTV, so we can also watch Ellen Barkin’s new series, Animal Kingdom,  as well. Now if I could only find that Nick Jonas playing gay show, Kingdom, we’d be all set for a couple of weeks.

I wound up not working on the WIP yesterday; I needed a day off from it after working so hard to get caught up on it, and I’ll be diving into it again tonight after I get home from work. I am very excited about it–trying not to get that way; one cannot allow oneself to get TOO excited about anything in this business; that is the quickest way to madness–but I am happier with this manuscript than I have been with any other I’ve written in a very long time.

I also spent some time yesterday in my easy chair with a purring kitty sleeping in my lap while I read more of Lisa Unger’s stunning Ink and Bone, which is simply extraordinary. The great thing about discovering Lisa Unger last year with Crazy Love You is there is an extensive backlist; I have a lot of great  reading in my future thanks to Ms. Unger’s talents and work ethic. Huzzah!

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Here’s a Throwback Thursday for you, Peter Barton from his The Powers of Matthew Star days.

peter_barton_1_shirtless

De Do Do Do, Da Da Da Da

Ah, Monday.

I was shameless yesterday; I blew off not only going to make groceries, but didn’t revise or write a damned thing. But I also started reading Lisa Unger’s Ink and Bone, which is wonderful; I’ve quickly become a fan of la Unger. Like Dan Chaon, her work straddles the line between crime and horror; and also like Chaon, her use of language is exceptional and mind-blowing, which of course makes me feel like a rank amateur.

On the other hand, I don’t mind that feeling; it certainly keeps one humble.

But I am now further behind on the revision than I originally intended, and I have a lot of original writing/revising of short stories to do now; I found (while filing) my folder full of submission calls and so forth for short stories–this is how I miss deadlines; I print them out and make notes–even noting on the print out what story is right for that submission call–and then put them in that file and never look at it again for months.

Clearly, my system is flawed. And as I glanced through the folder yesterday, I noted what stories need revising for submission purposes: “Death and the Handmaidens,” “The Scent of Lilacs in the Rain”, “Fireflies”, “The Ditch”, and “The Terrortorium.”

Heavy heaving sigh. I also need to write a new one for another call–for romance short stories; although I won’t mind so much if I miss that one. I’m not very good at romance, as I have repeatedly proven over and over again. But I keep trying.

Last night, we officially gave up on The Magicians. I just didn’t care about any of the characters, nor did I care about the growing conflict between different types of magic that was clearly coming. We started watching a Netflix original called Between, which is set in a small town in Canada called Pretty Lake (how do I know it was Canada? The gang of bully-ish high school jocks are hockey players!), where some strange ailment strikes the town suddenly, and everyone over the age of twenty-two dies quickly and painfully, without showing any symptoms. The town is immediately quarantined by the government, fenced off and guarded by armed soldiers–no one in or out–and while some of the conflict between characters seems a bit forced, and some of the characters aren’t particularly likable..we’re hoping the series picks up as it goes, like that weird mishmash show that combined The Walking Dead and The Breakfast Club that we enjoyed and whose name I can’t think of right now. I will keep you posted, Constant Reader–although I keep forgetting that we also have Amazon Prime streaming on the television and never look for things there very often. #madness

So, that’s where I am on this fine Monday morning; reading Lisa Unger and worrying about how I am going to get all the writing and revising done that I need to.

And as I head back into the spice mines, here’s a hunk to get your week started off properly:

todd sanfield

 

Dreams

I just remembered I am going to be on vacation next week.

It’s not a ‘vacation’ in the sense that I am going anywhere; I simply took the week off from work and am staying home. I have a lot to get done (as always) but rather than being stressed or worried about it, I feel pretty good about it. Odd, I know; who am I and what have I done with Gregalicious? It will be nice, though; I’ll also be able to sleep in and go to the gym; perhaps do some cardio (I can dream, can’t I?) and maybe finally reorganize and clean the kitchen the way I want it to be done.

I finished reading Lisa Unger’s superb Crazy Love You last night, and started reading Owen Laukkanen’s The Watcher in the Wall (which is also superb).

crazy-love-you

As I pulled up the long driveway, deep potholes and crunching gravel beneath my wheels, towering pines above me, I was neither moved by the natural beauty nor stilled inside by the quietude I did not marvel at the fingers of light spearing through the canopy, dappling the ground. I did not admire the frolicking larks or the scampering squirrels for their carefree existence. No. In fact, it all made me sick. There was a scream of protest lodged at the base of my throat, and it had been sitting there for the better part of a year. When it finally escaped–and I wasn’t sure when that might be–I knew it would be a roar to shake the world to its core.

I always say the best writers inspire me; when I read their work, I get ideas for stories of my own and how to improve my own writing. I am now adding Lisa Unger to the list of writers who have that effect on me when I read their books.

Crazy Love You is a rollercoaster ride where you don’t ever know what is real, what is going on, and it’s deeply unsettling to read. But the main character is so well done, you can’t stop reading, you can’t stop caring for him–even when he may (or may not) be doing something truly terrible; you can’t help but hope that it’s not him.

Our hero is Ian Paine, and the story is told in his first person point of view. Ian is the successful artist/writer of a series of semi-autobiographical graphic novels called Fatboy and Priss. Ian grew up in a small town north of New York City called The Hollows, and was fat and unpopular and bullied as a kid. There was a horrible family tragedy when he was young, and that’s when he discovered his friend Priss, a beautiful little girl who lived somewhere in the woods near his own house. Throughout Ian’s life, Priss has taken care of him, when things have gotten bad for him or someone has treated him badly. As the book flashes back and forth in time between the present–where Ian is in love, and engaged to, an almost perfect young woman named Megan and trying to dissociate himself from Priss–to his childhood when Priss stepped in to intervene in his life in some way, we slowly begin to wonder precisely what’s going on. Does Priss really exist, or is she some imaginary friend he’s conjured up to help him deal with his own anger issues? Is she some kind of supernatural creature? Does he have dissociative identity disorder? Is this all some kind of drug-induced hallucination?

This was fascinating to read, and a little heartbreaking; I was bullied when I was young and so of course I can completely empathize with Ian and his absorption into comic books and then graphic novels. And Unger is great at not only her use of language but in building tension, mood, suspense and atmosphere.

I’ll definitely be reading more of her work.

And now back to the spice mines.