Strawberry Wine

Tuesday, Tuesday–can we really trust this day?

I’ve always found Tuesdays to be more questionable than Mondays, if we’re going to be completely honest. At least on Monday–despite the inevitable ring of the alarm, the grudging getting out of bed earlier than you want to, the unpleasantness of the desire and need for caffeine–you’re rested from the weekend. When the Tuesday morning alarm goes off, you have already worn off that weekend glow and are tired from a full day’s work already, with several more still left to go…I daresay that Monday’s blue and Tuesday’s, too.

I got some writing done last night–I’ve found three different versions of the first chapter of the Secret Project, so  I spent some time merging them together; today I am most likely going to edit that chapter and get it revised, polished and pulled together. I also worked on the new short story idea I had, “Festival of the Redeemer”, which is a  noirish Daphne du Maurier-type story with a bit of inspiration from Highsmith, Ripley, and the film; which I will watch another half hour of tomorrow morning at the gym. My writing muscles are much more slack and harder to whip back into shape that the regular muscles of my body. Sunday’s gym trip broke me through the tired-muscle syndrome I was experiencing that first week back; now my muscles no longer feel a bit achy and tired all the time, and I am sleeping ever so much better.

I know I have to push through and the writing muscles will eventually catch up and the words will start coming out of me again, but JFC, what a pain in the ass. I guess the message here is to never let my writing muscles get out of shape ever again–not that I ever remember letting them get out of shape in the first place.

I do think “Festival of the Redeemer” has the potential to be a terrific story, but again–gay main character, gay noir, who’s going to publish that? I currently have a “gay” story out on submission to a mainstream market, but feel relatively confident that story is going to be rejected eventually; they’ve had it longer than they had the one they already published, and delayed response usually means eventual rejection. Every story, of course, is a different animal than the one that came before it; so a quick turnaround on one story doesn’t mean the next one will get that same quick turnaround, of course, and it’s a different story so–

I wonder what it’s like to not have to wonder if your story is going to be rejected because you wrote about gay characters?

But it’s been awhile since i wrote a short story, and I’m writing this one around the Secret Project; once the Secret Project is finished I’ll have to put this story aside to focus on the Sherlock story–which I still can’t believe I’m actually writing a Sherlock story. But this year I know I will have at least two stories for sure in print: my story for The Faking of the President will be out around the same time as my story in The Beat of Black Wings. Which is incredibly cool; both stories have the same kind of noirish dark tone, but I still think “This Town” is the best short story I’ve written over the last few years. I don’t know if it will get an Anthony nomination for this year’s Bouchercon, but you never know; stranger things have happened, and I never thought “Cold Beer No Flies” would have been an Anthony finalist, either.

“Festival of the Redeemer”–well, I’ve wanted to write a story about Venice ever since I visited there, and of course, the film of The Talented Mr. Ripley is reminding me of how much I loved Italy when I was there; I haven’t gotten to the “Tom in Venice” segments yet, but just thinking about it–and the weird friendship between Tom and Dickie–made me finally understand how I could write this story; what the crux of it is, and why it should be told–and where the story should come from within me; and I think I finally can root the story out.

At any rate, I am probably going to have to stop at the grocery store tonight on my way home to start storing provisions for the coming weekend of being trapped inside the parade route for most of the weekend. It’ll be fun, of course, wandering down to the corner to watch the parades and catch some things, watching the crowds and seeing who else from the neighborhood is out there; it always is, if somewhat exhausting. Barkus of course is Sunday afternoon in the Quarter–the dog walking parade–and there’s no parades on Sunday night, I suppose so we can start getting rested for the marathon to come beginning on Wednesday. I decided to do my usual Outreach shift on Friday afternoon, which will mean walking down to the Quarter after doing my workout Friday morning–no need, obviously, to do my cardio since I’ll be walking several miles that day–and then trying to get to the gym Sunday morning before the first parades start arriving in the neighborhood. I don’t remember who is Bacchus this year–nor do I remember who is riding in Orpheus–but I know Jennifer Coolidge is the celebrity guest Muse, riding in the big shoe this year.

I’m probably going to have to write another book about Mardi Gras someday; I think seeing Scotty and the boys through another Mardi Gras is probably a good idea–hell, it might even be worthwhile to take them through Southern Decadence again. I don’t think Scotty’s quite done with his partying ways, frankly, even with sort-of-nephew Taylor around to be badly influenced–although I would imagine it would be relatively awkward for him and Frank to be wasted on Ecstasy on the dance floor at Oz and run into Taylor and some of his friends from Tulane. Hmmm.

But I need to get back to reading Where are the Children? so I can get back to my reading of Tracy Clark; I also need to read Lori Rader-Day’s The Lucky One for a panel I am moderating this year at the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival. And I also have some MWA business I need to work on this week–the life of an executive vice-president is always intended to be, well, interesting–and as such, I should probably head back into the spice mines.

Have a lovely Wednesday Eve, all!

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Blue

So, Saints & Sinners and the Tennessee Williams Festival were a Jeopardy clue on Friday night; how fricking cool is that? I didn’t see it myself–I was cleaning–but any number of people tagged me on Facebook or on Twitter, so I got to see it, which is cool. The Tennessee Williams Festival has been a clue before, but I think this is the first time Saints & Sinners was–and it’s a queer/LGBTQ festival, so even more cool. Way to go, Jeopardy! There’s a reason why you’ve always been my favorite game show!

Hold up your hand if you didn’t think I’d get everything done yesterday that I’d planned. But it was still a good day, and I wrote some new stuff for the first time in a while. I have these horrible stagnant times, when I don’t get any writing done–and as we’ve already established, I always have to force myself to do it (despite loving doing it) and then when I’ve got my writing for the day finished, I wonder why I have to make myself do something I love–and those stagnant times always make me worry that I’ve lost the spark, the desire, to do it; that this time is the time I won’t be able to get back into it and do it. I worked on the Secret Project for a while yesterday, basically completely rewrote everything I wrote to begin with, and moved onto from the first scene to the next scene, which was also quite lovely.

I did get some organizing done–there’s more to be done today; my iCloud drive is so ridiculously disorganized that it’s almost impossible to use, and I probably should back everything up yet again–and some of the filing; I should be able to get more done this morning before I dive back into the Secret Project. I am also planning on heading to the gym for the first time in a very long time (I prefer not to think about just how long that time has been, frankly), which is my first move in my attempt to live a healthier, better organized, better life. I already am thinking of excuses to get out of going, frankly–which is par for the course, as always–but as long as I don’t tie myself to any particular time table, I should be good. I guess the Super Bowl is also tonight, but I don’t really care about either team–the 49ers or the Chiefs–though I suppose if I had to pick one I’d pick the Chiefs, and that’s mainly because they haven’t won a Super Bowl in forever and I think Kansas City could use the boost. We’ll probably spend the evening getting caught up on shows we watch. We still haven’t finished watching Messiah, are way behind on Dare Me, haven’t started the last season of Schitt’s Creek, and so on.

We haven’t even started HBO’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Outsider, which is getting rave reviews. Who would have ever guessed The Hogan Family’s Jason Bateman would become one of our finest actors/directors/writers for television? I really can’t wait for Ozark to come back.

I also finally finished and published my blog post about Victoria Holt’s Kirkland Revels, part of my Reread Project; I still need to do The Talented Mr. Ripley–it’s started, but I need to finish it.

I am resisting the urge to read Dorothy B. Hughes’ The So Blue Marble next; I need to start reading Tracy Clark’s canon so I can interview her for Sisters; but I also have to read Lori Rader-Day’s The Lucky One for the panel I’m moderating this year at the Jeopardy clue Tennessee Williams Festival late next month. Decisions, decisions. Probably the smart thing to do is read Tracy Clark’s first book next, then Lori’s, and then back to Tracy again for her second book.

I’ve also reached the final section of Richard Campanella’s Bourbon Street, which I am looking forward to finally finishing this month. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the book, which is interesting, well-written, and incredibly informative; it’s going to remain on my desk as an important reference guide for any future New Orleans writing I do–which reminds me, I’ve got to start that Sherlock Holmes story–and probably when I finish the Campanella I’ll probably move on to Jason Berry’s City of a Million Dreams: A History of New Orleans at Age 300. 

The plan is to get this work on the Secret Project finished this week, get started on the Sherlock story, and then get back to Bury Me in Shadows. I’d like to get Shadows turned in by the end of March, get back to the Kansas book–maybe with some serious focus I can get that finished and turned in by the end of May, and then I can get to work on Chlorine. I’d like to have the first draft of Chlorine finished by the end of summer.

Must stay organized, and must stay focused.

I also finished reading Dorothy B. Hughes’ Dread Journey yesterday.

dread journey

“I’m afraid.”

She had spoken aloud. She hadn’t meant to; she hadn’t wanted those words to come up from her throat to her lips. She hadn’t meant to think them, much less speak them. She didn’t want Gratia to have heard them.

But across the room the girl lifted her eyes from her book.

“What did you say?” she queried.

Dorothy B. Hughes is one of the more unjustly forgotten women writers of the mid to later twentieth century; fortunately Sarah Weinman worked–and has continued to work–tirelessly to bring this women back into the public eye. She wrote the introduction to Dread Journey, and in it she names Hughes as her favorite crime writer of all time. She’s not wrong, frankly; Sarah and my friend Margery are both huge fans of Hughes, and if not for them–and Megan Abbott–I may not have ever started reading Hughes, and for that I shall always be grateful to them. In a Lonely Place and The Expendable Man are both extraordinary; I think, frankly, The Expendable Man should be taught; it’s on my list for the Reread Project, for later in the year. Dread Journey is yet another masterwork by Hughes; I cannot wait to dig my teeth into more of her work.

Dread Journey takes place entirely on a train; the Chief, making its regular run from Los Angeles to Chicago–and you know, at some point, someone really needs to do a book or lengthy essay about crime novels and trains; not only did Hughes write one, but Christie wrote two (the very well known Murder on the Orient Express and the lesser known The Mystery of the Blue Train; as well as others that revolved around trains, like 4:50 from Paddington–called What Mrs. McGillicudy Saw! in the US) and of course, Graham Greene’s wonderful Orient Express comes to mind as well. Trains were part and parcel of the American experience. Trains made travel and connecting the massive distances across this continent much easier in the time before air travel became more commonplace and everyone wasn’t convinced they needed a car; there’s a certain nostalgic romantic element to train travel now, probably a result of these novels. I know that year we lived in Washington, we loved taking the train to Philadelphia and New York, even on to Boston; I’ve always, as I said the other day, wanted to write a book or a story called Murder on the Acela Express, and perhaps someday I will–even though the Acela is more of a commuter train without compartments. One of these days I want to take the City of New Orleans on its twenty-four hour ride to Chicago; it just seems like a lovely thing to do and the reading time! Oh, the reading time.

Anyway, the premise behind Dread Journey revolves around the dysfunctional and borderline abusive relationship between Viv Spender, a self-made Hollywood producer and studio head, and Kitten Agnew, a woman he discovered, became obsessed with, and groomed into a major star–America’s sweetheart, the girl next door. There is a huge difference between Kitten’s public image and who she is–a hard as nails fighter who won’t let go of her stardom in the face of Gratia Shawn, his new obsession, and whom he has decided will replace Kitten as the star of his dream project in the role of Clavdia Chauchat. But Kitten has a contract and isn’t giving up without a fight–and they, along with Viv’s longtime secretary Mike Dana, and several other characters–a journalist returning from the Far East, who drowns his memories of the atrocities and horrors he saw there in alcohol; a snippy, gossipy bandleader; a failed screenwriter returning to New York embittered by his failure; and of course, the car attendant, a man of color named James Cobbett–a decent working man who witnesses almost everything that happens on the car. Will Viv go so far as to kill Kitten to get out of the contract he has signed with her? She’s threatening to sue if she doesn’t play Clavdia; and the tension mounts as the cat-and-mouse game between the two of them slowly draws everyone else in the railroad car in.

It’s a very short read, and a good one. I highly recommend it, and of course, Sarah Weinman’s opening essay is worth the cover price alone.

And now, back to the spice mines.

Amazed

Show of hands: who predicted I wouldn’t get as much done yesterday as I wanted to? I was pretty confident that would wind up the case, as it always is. But I did get a lot done yesterday–some of it even writing-related, so have a seat, guilty conscience!–and that pleases me. I am hopeful I’ll be able to get more done today as well. Granted–it’s easy to say that as I sip my first cup of coffee. I also stayed in bed later this morning than I wanted to–since I woke up at seven on my own yesterday I thought perhaps this morning would be the same so I didn’t set an alarm–but I wound up getting up at eight, so that wasn’t too terrible I also hit a wall yesterday around four thirty–I got very tired–and so I repaired to the easy chair to finish reading my book.

It’s rather gloomy out there this morning, and it’s chilly here in the Lost Apartment–the space heater is on–and I’m a little annoyed by this return of coldness. Yesterday. while starting out chilly, eventually turned into quite a beautiful day; I didn’t even wear a jacket when I went out to run my errands. But that’s okay; I probably won’t have to go out into much today, or at least I hope not.

We watched a lot of the figure skating championships yesterday–will probably do so again today; I think the men’s is on this afternoon and Europeans is on tonight–and Paul’s been watching the Australian Open on his computer. We’re very behind on all the shows we watch, and there are also any number of new shows we want to watch–or shows we watch have returned for another season, which is very cool–and of course, the Williams Festival is approaching, which means late nights at the office for Paul; yes, it’s about that time when I become a Festival widow again. I should be able to get a lot of reading done during this time–which is what I generally use it for. I got a copy of Lori Rader-Day’s new novel yesterday in the mail, The Lucky One, and since I’m moderating that panel, I’ll need to read it soon.

I also have to make travel arrangements today for some upcoming trips in this new year; Bouchercon, Malice Domestic, etc.

Ah, it’s raining. That explains the gloomy grayness outside.

It’s the kind of day, really, where I’d rather curl up under a blanket and read all day, quite frankly, but I can’t do that. I need to work on the Secret Project, and there’s all kinds of other things I also have to get done today–odds and ends, emails to answer, etc. I’d also like to make some headway on getting my taxes at least started; I am missing only one 1099 form, and once I have that I can turn everything over to my accountant and get my return filed, which will be lovely.

I did finish reading Elizabeth Little’s Pretty as a Picture, which is fantastic–and then I started reading Dorothy B. Hughes’ Dread Journey when my energy finally flagged in the late afternoon.

pretty as a picture

They say a picture’s worth a thousand words.

That’s not what I’d say.

I’d say it depends on the picture. I’d say it depends on the size and the color and the subject and the print and the framing and the focus and the composition. I’d say it depends on what you were doing the hour before, the day before, the year before, the life before. I’d say it depends on whether you’re looking at it on a wall or scrolling past it on a screen or cutting it carefully out of a book, digging your knuckle into the gutter of the spine because the margins are so small and the blades are so long and it’s impossible to get a straight line, but you don’t want to dig up a guide and an X-Acto knife because you aren’t willing to wait, you have to have it, you have to have this picture, right now, and your kitchen scissors are close enough and good enough–yes, good enough–and Jesus Christ, Marissa, when will you get it through your thick head: Imperfection is a price happy people pay to cradle the weight of something they love.

That’s what I’d say.

Elizabeth Little’s debut novel, Dear Daughter, is one of my favorite first novels and one of my favorite books of this past decade. Her novels–why they do focus on crime, or criminal activity–are more than just crime novels; they’re stories about women–messy, complicated, complex, interesting women you want to see get past not only their current crisis, but also pull their lives together. One of the most impressive things to me about Dear Daughter is that she didn’t wrap it all up neatly with a bow at the end, with justice being served and our heroine coming out of everything triumphant; she gave the ending a more realistic, this-is-how-it-would-play-out-in-real-life ending.

I’ve been waiting a long time for Pretty as a Picture, and it was worth the wait.

The story is told in a very tight, first person/present tense style that pulls the reader into the action and the head of our main character/narrator–Marissa Dahl, an up-and-coming film editor who has primarily worked on the films of her college best friend and current roommate, Amy,  an up-and-coming director. Marissa is socially awkward–there’s a lovely scene in which she talked about meeting a superstar director, Tony Rees, at the Venice Film Festival and pulls him into a fountain with her when she loses her balance–and very unsure of herself. She meets a guy named Josh, who winds up dating Amy, and having been interested in him herself, she now has become an incredibly awkward fifth wheel and has decided to separate herself from Amy, personally and professionally, to give Amy and Josh’s new relationship room to breathe and grow–and she’s more than just a little resentful about Josh, whom she now actively dislikes (which is also wrapped up in her own social awkwardness), which is why she ends up agreeing to work on a Tony Rees’ new film–a project wrapped in secrecy and sixteen page NDA’s. She heads out to Kickout Island, off the coast of Delaware, and even has a big security man–Isaiah–who picks her up at the local airport and takes her out there.

One of Marissa’s neuroses includes a fear of the water–and we eventually do find out where that fear came from.

The film turns out to be a fictionalized film version of an actual murder that took place on Kickout Island many years ago–the murder of a pretty teenaged girl; a murder that was never solved. Strange things are going on around the set–accidents, cast and crew being fired–and we slowly but surely are made aware, through Marissa’s eyes, that things are not as they seem…and then someone else dies, and Marissa is reluctantly on both cases.

I have to say, though, that my favorite characters–besides Marissa, whom I really liked for all her tics and strangeness and constant film references (which is actually very cool)–are the two teenaged girls she first encounters in the hotel kitchen while she is scrounging for something to eat–Grace and Suzy–who are also trying to solve the original murder case. I’d read an entire series about these two girls.

But Pretty as a Picture is a great read; well-written and clever and witty and snarky at points, but an enjoyable read with a complicated, twisty plot that never condescends to the reader. Well worth the lengthy wait for this second novel by Elizabeth Little–the only problem is now I have to wait (hopefully not as long) for her third.

The Twelfth of Never

God, what a year for crime fiction, and what a year for crime fiction by women. The women are killing it this year–but then, they pretty much kill it every year, and have killed it every year since Agatha Christie’s first novel was released. I’ve read so many amazing crime novels by women this year that I can’t even begin to remember them all; I know there’s been terrific novels by Alafair Burke, Laura Lippman, Alison Gaylin, Lori Roy, Jamie Mason, Steph Cha, Angie Kim and so many, many others that I couldn’t being to name them all or possibly be expected to remember them all, either. (This is in no small part, of course, due to the fact that my memory works about as well as my desktop computer since the Mojave update.) There are so many others as well that I’ve not gotten to read yet–I am way behind on my reading of Catriona McPherson, for example, and Lori Rader-Day–and I’ve also been trying read more diverse books this year as well.

And just this past week, I finished reading Lisa Lutz’ amazing The Swallows.

the swallows

Some teachers have a calling. I’m not one of them.

I don’t hate teaching. I don’t love it either. That’s also my general stance on adolescents. I understand that one day they will rule the world and we’ll all have to live with the consequences. But there’s only so much I’m willing to do to mitigate that outcome. You’ll never catch me leaping atop my desk, quoting Browning, Shakespeare or Jay-Z. I don’t offer my students sage advice or hard-won wisdom. I don’t dive into the weeds of their personal lives, parsing the muck of their hormone-addled brains. And I sure as hell never learned as much from them as they learned from me.

It’s just a job, like any other. It has a litany of downsides, starting with money and ending with money, and a host of other drawbacks in between. There are a few perks. I like having summers off; I like winter and spring breaks; I like not having a boss breathing over my shoulder; I like books and talking about books and occasionally meeting a student who makes me see the world sideways. But I don’t get attached. I don’t get involved. That was the plan, at least.

The Swallows is set at a second-tier elite boarding school in New England called Stonebridge. Alexandra “Alex” Witt has been hired to teach Lit there after leaving her previous teaching job under a cloud of some sort. The daughter of a failed literary writer who has taken to writing crime novels under a pseudonym and an Eastern European fencing Olympic medalist, Alex is a bit of a mess but also has a strong character and equally strong sense of self. The job at Stonebridge is given to her by a friend of her father’s, who is the headmaster, and when she arrives she refuses to live in the dorms and takes up residence in a crappy cabin near campus without power or phone or much along the lines of creature comforts. Alex is the primary point of view character–there are others, including another teacher/writer named Finn Ford (who is writing a book based on the school and what goes on there); a nerd boy who is on the edges of the popular kids, “The Ten”; Gemma, an orphan whose actions primarily drive the story (she is also one of The Ten), and several others. There’s also a dark secret at Stonebridge–a secret website that only a select few have access to, where the boys try to get the girls to give them blowjobs after which the boys score them…with an eye to winning what they call the Dulcinea Prize, awarded to the best blowjob performer at Stonebridge. Gemma has found out about this, and wants to do something about it–and her desire to get back at the boys who–in the most eye-opening and honest statement I’ve ever read, “see the girls as things rather than humans.” The horror of that realization drives the story, which grows darker and more complex and awful with every page.

The book is also darkly witty–there were a few times when its macabre humor made me laugh out loud–and the characters are absolutely, positively real; Lutz has created complicated people who do things that might not make sense on the surface, but that conduct and behavior only adds to their layers and complexity. It’s hard not to root for both Alex and Gemma to bring the rotten boys down, exposing their crimes to the world and the sunlight so they will shrivel up and die. The twists and turns of the story are all earned, all realistic, and all startling. The book is masterfully written, and never has a second-rate boarding school been brought to life in such a vivid fashion.

It reminded me, in some ways, of both Donna Tartt’s The Secret History and Bret Easton Ellis’ The Rules of Attraction, in the best possible way. I enjoyed both of those books, but not in the same way that I enjoyed this one; I think because Lutz’ story is more cohesive and her characters are somewhat likable and believable despite their flaws.

I greatly enjoyed this book, and look forward to reading more of Lisa Lutz’ canon.

Our Lips are Sealed

As Constant Reader is already aware (primarily because I can’t stop talking about it), I have a story in the upcoming anthology Murder-a-Go-Go’s, edited by the sublime Holly West and featuring an intro by the fabulous Jane Weidlin. As a huge fan of the Go-Go’s from the very first time I heard “Our Lips Are Sealed” on the radio of my car (I immediately bought their first album, Beauty and the Beat, on my next pay-day; it remains one of my all-time favorite albums. I also liked Vacation, just not as much…but Talk Show is also brilliant.

Another thing that is exciting for me about being in Murder-a-Go-Go’s is who I am sharing the table of contents with! Some of the best writers in the genre today! Woo-hoo!

And first up in the table of contents is Lori Rader-Day. Lori is currently an Edgar Award finalist for her Under a Dark Sky, and she was nominated for the Mary Higgins Clark award for her first three novels (The Black Hour, Pretty Little Things, The Day I Died); winning for Pretty Little Things. She has won the Anthony Award twice, and been a finalist for the Macavity and the Barry Awards. A most impressive resume, particularly given there are only four novels to her credit thus far. I personally enjoy Lori’s work; which probably would be best classified as domestic suspense, but I’m not sure that’s an accurate classification. Her works are, like Megan Abbott’s, about the darkness inside women and their friendships.

And her story was inspired by “Our Lips Are Sealed”!

cover-west-murder-go-gos-front

When the credits for the movie the girls weren’t supposed to be watching started to roll, Colbie went to check that her mother was asleep, stamping down on the hand of her sister, Alexa, on the way out. Alexa sat up and sniffled into her fist but kept silent with effort. On the floor, Jane and Patricia picked white flecks of popcorn out of the kernels left at the bottom of the bowl. Nori slipped into the bathroom with her pajamas balled up in her fist.

Jane watched her go. “I usually sleep naked.”

“Bullshit,” Patricia said. Jane was older, by almost a full year, already thirteen. But Patricia was taller. If she needed to, she would hold Jane down and force her to say she was a liar.

Colbie returned to the doorway with a six-pack of soda cradled in her arms. “My mom’s either dead or she took one of her pills. Where’s Nori?”

“Peeing,” Jane said. She picked at the chipped blue nail polish on her big toe, leaving a patch of paint on the pink carpet of Colbie’s room.

“Why didn’t you invite boys over? I went to a boy-girl sleepover when I was at my old school—”

Patricia snorted. “For church? That doesn’t count.”

“Let’s do something else,” Colbie said.

“Not a lock-in, bitch,” Jane said. “A sleepover. With boys.”

Patricia rolled her eyes at Colbie. Everything seemed to have already happened to Jane, but out of sight, at her old school, in her old town. She sometimes wanted to ask Jane why she didn’t just go back if everything was so great there. She was sure Jane would say she couldn’t because she was a kid. Which, for once, would be the truth. They were all stuck where they were, being who they were. Patricia turned to Colbie. “What should we do?”

Nori opened the bathroom door an inch. “You guys?”

And seriously, is there anything more noir than a tween girls sleepover? Lori does an excellent job here playing with the power dynamics in a group of girls; girls who are just starting to become women and how they deal with the changes in their bodies and how they relate to each other.

Definitely a great start to the book!

King for a Day

Ah, Monday. Blue, blue Monday, and yet the beginning of still another work week.

I worked quite a bit yesterday, and even made it to the gym. I was one of six people in the gym, and if you guessed that at one point in my workout four of the other five people had taken up all the options for my next exercise, you’d have guessed correctly. And no one apparently notices the signs posted everywhere that read Please rerack your weights when finished.

No. One.

Back when I used to work in fitness environments, I was always amazed at how people just leave their weights on the machines or dumbbells wherever they used them rather than putting them back–as though they assumed that the staff people working were there to clean up after them. It used to happen in aerobics classes I taught, too–the attendees would finish, then leave their steps, dumbbells, and sometimes their sweaty towels there for me to put away.

It would be so lovely to one day be wealthy enough to have my own workout room in my home. All I want, really–a room that’s a dedicated office space and a workout room. Is that really so much to ask for?

Lately, so many things have been getting on my nerves that I’ve wondered if I am on edge, or if something’s going on in my subconscious that’s bubbling up by making me highly annoyed and irritated with people, or something, I don’t know what; but the more I think about it, the more I tend to think, no, you’re just sick of assholes.

Seriously. And then I remembered the most important thing of why I am a crime writer: I can kill off assholes fictionally.

I also finished Lori Rader-Day’s The Day I Died, and started reading Nadine Nettman’s Uncorking a Lie.

the day i died

On the day I died, I took the new oars down to the lake. They were heavy, but I was saving myself the second trip. The blades rode flat along the ground, flattening two tracks through the wet grass.

It was morning. The air was cool, but down on the dock, the slats were already hot. I noted a lone fishing boat out on the water. Inside, two men hunched silently over their tackle, their faces turned out across the lake. Beyond them, mist rose off the water, nearly hiding the far shore.

This moment. This is what I return to.

Later, I will note the long crack on the new oar, just before my head goes under, just before the flume of blood rises off my skin under the water like smoke. I will come back to othis moment and think, if I had just gone back up the steps to the house immediately. If I had just stayed up at the house in the first place.

If I had just.

Lori Rader-Day’s Anthony Award shortlisted 2017 novel is quite excellent. Thematically, it’s about desperation–what people do when they have no other options. In the case of Anna Winger, Rader-Day’s main character, her childhood was desolate and bleak; the child of an alcoholic abuser, she moved from there to an abusive relationship with a boyfriend before fleeing for her life and that of her unborn child. Now, she lives in a wretched little town in Indiana, working as a freelance handwriting analyst. A child has gone missing in Parks, Indiana, and the local police bring her in for her expertise, bringing her into the case sideways. The case also stirs up dark memories of her own past for Anna, and her child–now thirteen and entering that rebellious stage–is becoming more and more closed off from her, difficult to know; and she has to wonder, as a mother, if this life they’ve led of constantly moving and never establishing roots anywhere, is messing up her own child. The parallels between the missing child case of the present and her own disappearance from her own life brings her to her own breaking point–and to where she can no longer ignore or deny her past, but most confront it.

Rader-Day’s strengths–her depiction of how claustrophobic yet lonely small towns can be; her ability to create sympathetic, damaged characters–are all here, and the book is structured beautifully; each incident and scene flowing into the next until the reader has to keep compulsively turning the page.

And now, back to the spice mines.

Object of My Desire

It is Sunday, and I have again slept later than I intended. I meant to set an alarm, as I have things that must be done today but I also stayed up later than I intended and as such, forgot to set said alarm when I tumbled into bed last evening. It’s fine; I should be able to get everything done today that I want to get done. I just have to be a bit better about planning and wasting time. Clearly, I needed the sleep, don’t you think?

I am reading The Day I Died by Lori Rader-Day, as part of my Bouchercon homework, and enjoying it a quite a lot. This is the second of Rader-Day’s novels that I’ve read (the other being Pretty Little Things; I’ve not read her first, The Black Hour, and she’s just released a new one, Under a Dark Sky), and I am enjoying this even more than I did the first I read. Rader-Day writes about damaged women, makes them the center of her stories, and they work through a lot of their damage over the course of the novels. I will, rest assured, have plenty of other things to say about this novel once I’ve finished reading it.

I cleaned my kitchen floors yesterday; not as thoroughly as they need, of course, but more of a surface thing that will pass muster at a glance, but this surface cleansing would not pass muster with my mother. Her nose would wrinkle, her eyes would narrow, and she wouldn’t say anything to me–but that facial expression would tell me everything I need to know about what she was thinking. She would get on her hands and knees and would scrub the floor, probably more than once, with a hard brush and an abrasive cleanser.

I worked briefly on my story “Please Die Soon” as well yesterday; it is shaping up nicely, but I need to concern myself a bit more thoroughly with the pacing, methinks.

Today, for the Short Story Project, we move on to the second story in Florida Happens, “The Best Laid Plans” by Holly West:

June 1948

Bev Marshall waits anxiously behind the wheel of the Buick, watching for the rest of the crew to emerge from the house. It seems they’ve been gone at least an hour, but her watch shows it’s only 10:45 p.m. Less than ten minutes since they went in. The boys work fast, but not that fast.

There are four of them in the crew. Joe Scullion is their boss and Bev’s boyfriend. Alex McGovern is the brawn, and Sean Cregan is a master lock picker. Bev’s their driver. They earn their living burgling wealthy neighborhoods all over the Eastern Seaboard, coming home to Philly with thousands in cash and valuables. Five years working together and not a single arrest, not that the coppers haven’t tried.

It’s been a good run, but after tonight, Bev will be done with all of them.

She thinks she sees movement out of the corner of her eye and snaps her head toward it. Is it them? She squints into the darkness, her hand resting lightly on the key in the ignition. Everything is still and she concedes it must’ve been her imagination. Wrecked by nerves, she quashes the urge to chew a fingernail and slips her hand into her purse in search of cigarettes. Her fingers brush the thick envelope containing every cent she has—nearly five thousand dollars. Along with whatever money she’s able to get for tonight’s haul, it’s enough to keep her going for a year, maybe more if she lives modestly.

She lights a cigarette and pulls the smoke deeply into her lungs, thinking about Richie O’Neill. She’ll miss him when this is done. He runs a hockshop on Vine Street and fences most of the loot they steal. Over the years, he’s become her trusted friend, so when he let it slip recently that Joe had his eye out for a new driver, she believed him. Turns out Joe had fallen hard for some dame he’d met in Atlantic City and he wants to marry her, maybe have some kids.

Holly West is the author of two novels, historical crime novels set at the court of King Charles II of England; the period popularly known as the Restoration. Those novels, Mistress of Fortune and Mistress of Lies, sound terrific. I also love that period, and look forward to reading these novels; you can find out more information about Holly and her novels here, at her website.  She is also on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. You can also sign up for her newsletter at her website. She is also editing an anthology called Murder-a-Go-Go’s, crime stories inspired by the music of the Go-Go’s, with an introduction by Jane Weidlin; it also contains my story “This Town,” and I personally cannot wait to read the entire thing.

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Holly’s story, “The Best Laid Plans,” is entirely self-contained but also feels like it could be the opening of a great noir novel. The main character, Bev Marshall (I also have a very dear author friend by that name; such lovely serendipity) drives the getaway car for a gang of thieves, and is a bit in love with the leader of the gang–who, however, has recently punched her in the face, changing everything. Bev is now planning on getting away from him, and the gang, and starting a new life…and Florida is a way station on her getaway plan. But things, of course, don’t go quite according to plan. A very very well-written and fun story, with a main character I personally would like to spend with.

Well done, Holly! And now, back to the spice mines.