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.

Second Hand News

I finished reading Gore Vidal’s Thieves Fall Out between bursts of writing on Saturday, and then during the LSU-Arkansas game Saturday night I started reading Lisa Unger’s Crazy Love You, which is just extraordinary. I often say that the best writers and their work are inspirational to me; they give me ideas and make me want to work harder at my own writing and just be a better writer.

So far, the Unger novel is doing just that–and that’s my hallmark for someone being a truly spectacular writer. I just wish I had the time to just sit down and read it through.

That said, as Constant Reader is undoubtedly aware, I’ve been in a writing malaise lately. I don’t know why this happens, nor do I know how to stave it off, but it’s been the reality. I’ve been struggling to write, and even getting 1000 words out in one day has been absolutely like pulling teeth in the Middle Ages. And yet…yesterday I sat down and in less than two hours I wrote over 3000 words. I think–and I am deadly serious–that reading the Unger novel kicked me past it. I also managed to get a lot done over the weekend on top of the writing as well; organizing and cleaning and so forth. So I think I may be past the malaise this time. Here’s hoping.

I wasn’t crazy about the Vidal novel, to be perfectly honest. It seemed like it could be something truly special; international intrigue in 1950’s Egypt, with after effects from the war and all the intrigue from that, as well as some stuff about the antiquities black market. It was one of the many novels Vidal published under a pseudonym in the 1950’s, after publishing The City and the Pillar basically killed his career for a while. I’ve read other works by Vidal and greatly enjoyed them; I am slowly working my way through his epic Empire (one of the multiple books I am currently reading) and so I thought this noirish thriller would be better than it actually was. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not sorry I read it, mind you–I just don’t think it warrants more of a discussion on here.

Although my creativity continues to rage out of control. I had some ideas on how to fix some short stories this weekend, and wish that I could work on them right now–I also got the idea for another novel. Heavy heaving sigh. It really never relents!

Okay, I am going to dive back into the spice mines. Here’s a beefcake shot of Ryan Phillippe, a bonus from 54:

ryan-phillippe-54