I Still Can’t Get Over Loving You

Wednesday, and Day 4 of Facebook Jail. You know something? I wonder if they’ve heard of unintended consequences over at the Facebook Community Standards department. I usually spend far too much time scrolling through my Facebook feed and interacting with friends. So far this week, instead of doing that, I’ve revised a short story, worked on an outline, read a book (a wonderful history of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted), read several short stories, and gotten some other things done. As this thirty day sentence continues, I will probably visit Facebook less and less–it’s kind of frustrating being able to see things and not respond to them–and by the end of the sentence, probably will be completely broken of the need to go there, and hopefully my attention span will have snapped back to what it was in the days before social media. I’m also liking Tumblr, INstagram and Twitter–you don’t wind up spending nearly as much time there, at least don’t, at any rate. Once I get used to not being on Facebook and having all this free time…look out.

I also read Lois Duncan’s young adult novel Ransom. Originally published in 1967 as Five Were Missing, it’s clear to see why Duncan was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America shortly before her death. I’ve not read all of Duncan’s work–I’m working my way through them all–but her novels were startlingly original and fresh, particularly when you consider when they were originally published. Ransom, inspired by a true crime in northern California where a school bus was hijacked and the students kidnapped, reads very quickly. The five students on the bus all are fully developed and fleshed out beautifully; and Duncan uses the kidnapping as a way of getting inside the heads of the characters and exposing them for what they are; the golden boy with dark secrets and feet of lead; the spoiled cheerleader who dislikes and resents her stepfather, only to learn that the father she idolizes is unworthy of her love; the military brat, deeply intelligent, who is the first to realize the truth of their situation and finds depths of bravery she never knew she had; the younger brother of the golden boy who realizes his own identity, and finds he has levels of potential strength his brother can only aspire to; and the orphan, being raised by his bachelor uncle with scars of his own to hide who finds out that self-pity only keeps him from enjoying his life. The dialogue is a little stilted and old-fashioned, but as I said, it reads very quickly.

Duncan was definitely a master.

Speaking of masters, I read a short story by Patricia Highsmith yesterday as well, “The Heroine,” which is the lead off story in Sarah Weinman’s Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives; a brilliant anthology of stories written by women crime writers from the 1940’s thru the 1950’s, a time when women dominated the industry and many of these wonderful writers are sadly, overlooked and forgotten.

troubled daughters twisted wives

The girl was so sure she would get the job, she had unabashedly come out to Westchester with her suitcase. She sat in a comfortable chair in the living room of the Christiansens’ house, looking in her navy blue coat and beret even younger than 21, and replied earnestly to their questions.

“Have you worked as a governess before?” Mr. Christianen asked. He sat beside his wife on the sofa, his elbows on the knees of his gray flannel slacks and his hands clasped. “Any references, I mean?”

“I was a maid at Mrs. Dwight Howell’s home in New York for the last seven months.” Lucille looked at him with suddenly wide gray eyes. “I could get a reference from there if you like…But when I saw your advertisement this morning I didn’t want to wait. I’ve always wanted a place where there were children.”

I love Patricia Highsmith, and I have an enormous volume that contains all of her short stories. It’s really criminal that I, like so many other people, don’t read more short stories (hence my short story project, which I might make a year-long thing rather than just a few months), and it deeply shames me that I’ve had Troubled Daughters Twisted Wives sitting on my shelf collecting dust all this time without taking it down and reading it. This Highsmith story, “The Heroine,” is genius, absolute genius, in the cold, slightly detached way that Highsmith uses as her point of view, which makes her stories and novels so much more chilling. It’s very clear, almost from the start–ah, that foreshadowing–that the Christiansens are probably making a terrible mistake in not checking on Lucille’s references. And how the story develops is so much more chilling than you think it is when you get that uh oh feeling in your stomach when Mrs. Christiansen charmingly says she won’t check Lucille’s references. Highsmith’s authorial voice is so distant, so cold and matter-of-fact, and her word choice is always simple and spare…but she always gets that feeling of suspense, of oh my god what is going to happen that you feel amping up as you finish reading each sentence…and her denouements never disappoint.

Weinman has done an excellent job curating this collection; she also did a two-volume collection of novels by these writers called Women Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940’s and 1950s: A Library of America Boxed Set. Some of the novels included in that gorgeous set I’ve already read–Charlotte Armstrong’s Mischief, Margaret Millar’s Beast in View, Vera Caspary’s Laura–but I am definitely going to have to get that set down from the shelf and read the others as well. Weinman is also pretty expert on the crime genre in general; very well read, fiercely intelligent and deeply perceptive, her newsletter The Crime Lady is amazing, and I read it every week for her thoughts on true crimes, the books she’s read and recommends…you can sign up for it here. You can thank for me for it later. She’s also writing a true crime of her own right now that I can’t wait to read.

And now, back to the spice mines.

Self Control

Monday morning, and heading into day two of my Facebook imprisonment. Interestingly enough, I find that I’m not really missing it all that much; I suspect I’m not the first person to suffer a Facebook ban who’s found it surprisingly liberating, and I’m equally certain that is hardly the intent behind the banning. If you think about it, truly, punishing members by banning them is actually kind of arrogant on Facebook’s part, you know? “Oh, you’ve been bad, so you can’t post or interact with anyone on here for a week!” Does it not occur to them that not being able to use Facebook could, in fact, be like going cold turkey on smoking and actually cure one of wasting time on their actual site?

I also find it fascinating that hate speech–rape threats, racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia–doesn’t violate their community standards, but guys wearing speedos or skimpy underwear do. Which has everything to do with the moral rot at the core of our society, frankly; the pearl-clutching mentality that the human body and sexuality is distasteful and not something people should ever talk about. Dorothy Allison wrote a brilliant essay decades ago about how if Americans could ever get over their unnecessary societal prudishness and learn how to talk honestly and openly about sex and sexuality, many of our societal problems would go away.

Thanks, Puritans.

I’m very glad I grew up in a time when there was no social media; and while I certainly don’t ever want to go back to having to write on a typewriter and mail submissions in, I cannot even begin to imagine what it would be like to be a teen today and have to deal with social media. One of the things that makes writing y/a hard for me is my lack of understanding about social media and how it really works; plus not understanding how much teens and young people are addicted to their phones. (I am one to talk; but when I think about being a teen, I can’t comprehend how different my life would have been with a smart phone; and how different that would have made high school in general. One of the issues I have with the WIP–which is a y/a–is precisely that; even when I started writing and publishing y/a back in the day the smart phone wasn’t as prevalent and all-pervasive as it is today.) I remember Lois Duncan talking, at her Grand Master interview for MWA’s Edgar Symposium a few years ago, about updating her y/anovels and having to constantly call her grandchildren because she needed a way to get rid of cell phones in order for the plot to work. I even had to deal with that some in my own books–Lake Thirteen and Sleeping Angel both required isolation; so those parts that required such isolation took place in the back country, in cellular dead spots.

I also sometimes wonder how much social media–and my smart phone–has impacted my ability to focus–and not just while writing or editing, but in general. I can’t think of a single time recently when I’ve watched a television show where I’ve not turned to my phone or my iPad “just to check social media.” This is not a good thing; and perhaps this Facebook-imposed exile is just the thing I needed to get my focus back.

Hmmmm.

And since I do have a lot to do, I should most likely be grateful to Facebook’s ridiculously random enforcement of ‘community standards.’ It’s kind of nice to have the habit broken, in a way. Maybe going forward I should use it merely as a way to promote my books.

Hmmmm.

And on that note, this short story ain’t going to write itself.

So for Monday, here’s a hot guy in his underwear.

 

marcus

Bad Blood

Lois Duncan was probably,one of the most influential y/a writers of the twentieth century. I know of several women crime writers today who consider her an influence; and there are probably dozens more than I don’t know about. I didn’t read Duncan when I was a teenager, but discovered her, ironically, when her novel I Know What You Did Last Summer was turned into a film in the 1990’s. (I say “ironically” because Duncan hated the film; they turned her mystery novel into a slasher picture, and she was unequivocal in her disdain for the film. One of the things I liked about Duncan was she didn’t mince words and was rather salty.) I got to meet her when she was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America, and her on-stage interview by the incomparable Laura Lippman was a highlight of that Edgar Week for me.

I read another one of her books this weekend, for Halloween Horror Month: Gallows Hill.

gallows-hill

The first time Sarah Zoltanne saw Eric Garrett, he was standing out by the flagpole in front of the school talking with a group of friends. Backlit as he was by the afternoon sunlight, everything about him seemed painted in gold–his hair, his skin, and, as far as she could tell from where she stood some distance away at the top of the cement steps,it even appeared that he might have golden eyes. In her literature class back in California she had done a unit on mythology, and the image that immediately leaped into her mind was Apollo.

Great opening, right?

Lois Duncan saw herself as more of a suspense writer than a horror writer; and it was only in a few of her novels for young adults that she crossed the line into the supernatural. Gallows Hill, despite it’s cover, doesn’t have anything to do with witches and/or withcraft in any way other than it’s kind of tied to the Salem witch trials, and that makes it a reincarnation novel; a book about karmic retribution and karmic debt than witchcraft; it’s kind of like Crowhaven Farm that way. Sarah herself has a bit of psychic ability; to look into a paperweight that had belonged to her grandmother (who may have been eastern European; Sarah is often described as looking like a Gypsy) and see things she shouldn’t be able to see. She also has troubling dreams about the past–not her own past, but centuries ago past.

The reincarnation theme tied to Salem and its witch trials has been used before, not only in Crowhaven Farm but in a really terrific novel I read in either the 1980’s or 1990’s called Salem’s Children by Mary Leader (who also wrote a terrific novel called Triad that I read in the 1970’s and loved), which was about the descendants of the people involved in the Salem witch trials and reincarnation (great, now I want to read both of those novels again); I remember the main character’s name was Submit, which struck me as odd at the time.

I really enjoyed Gallows Hill, but I wish it would have been longer, and gone into some of the plot points and the characters, as well as the theme of reincarnation, a little more.

Interesting that I am always drawn to reincarnation stories.