On the Road Again

Yesterday was another awful, low energy day. I got something lovely in the mail–thank you again, Penni Jones, that was so incredibly kind and thoughtful of you–and I got caught out running errands in a wonderful thunderstorm; I eventually had to make a mad dash through the pouring rain to the apartment with bags of groceries and the mail. After getting into the house I was very tired and cranky and out of sorts, and looking at Bury Me in Shadows just made my stomach clench and my nerves fray. I wasted some time writing an entry about writing about vampires, which I will post at some point this morning (if I haven’t already) and looked through some of that writing. I was also enormously pleased, despite the frayed nerves and the stomach clenched in knots, to see that the writing of said vampire fiction was actually quite good, which was nice; I have such a tendency to avoid looking at my old work (for any number of reasons, none of which speak well to my self-confidence) that it was kind of a pleasant surprise to read it and think, hey, this was from really early in my career and this isn’t bad at all, well done, earlier-in-his-career Greg!

So, tired and with low energy, I decided to retire to my recliner with Blacktop Wasteland, figuring that finishing that book was one of my goals for the weekend, and that was probably the easiest goal to reach.

Nor do I regret one second of the time I spent with the book.

Beauregard thought the night sky looked like a painting

Laughter filled the air only to be drowned out by a cacophony of revving engines as the moon slid from behind the clouds. The bass from the sound system in a nearby Chevelle was hitting him in his chest so hard, it felt like someone was performing CPR on him. There were about a dozen other late-model cars parked haphazardly in front of the old convenience store. In addition to the Chevelle, there was a Maverick, two Impalas, a few Camaros and five or six more examples of the heyday of American muscle. Yhe air was cool and filled with the scent of gas and oil. The rich, acrid smell of exhaust fumes and burnt rubber. A choir of crickets and whippoorwills tried in vain to be heard. Beauregard closed his eyes and strained his ears. He could hear them but just barely. They were screaming for love. He thought a lot of people spent a large part of their life doing the same thing.

The wind caught the sign hanging above his head from the arm of a pole that extended twenty feet into the air. It creaked as the breeze moved it back and forth.

Laura Lippman describes noir as “dreamers become schemers,” and that’s always the closest description of what noir actually is that I’ve ever heard. Like all definitions of noir, it’s not quite everything, but nothing else anyone has written or said about noir comes as close to it, in my mind, as that. For me, noir is like pornography; I maybe can’t tell you what it is, but I know it when I see it. I personally love noir; it’s probably one of my favorite things to read (or styles of film to watch). I try to bring a noir sensibility to almost everything I write, no matter what label it’s given as an important keyword on Amazon. (I still believe that Timothy is the most noir thing I’ve written to date; but I am looking forward to delving more deeply into it with future work.)

Blacktop Wasteland is called a ‘heist’ novel by people who know the genre probably better than I do; and they are not incorrect; it is a heist novel. But it’s also so much more that I feel calling it that is, in some ways, a disservice to it–and I don’t mean to imply by that statement that there is anything wrong with heist novels. I haven’t read many of them, and I haven’t seen many heist films. Rob Byrnes writes truly clever, intricately plotted ones with a wide variety of distinct and well-developed characters that are also witty and funny as well as smart. But Blacktop Wasteland is also noir of the purest sort, the kind that Cain and Thompson and the other greats wrote; about working class people who can’t quite catch the break they need to be upwardly mobile, who believe that in a society and culture where everything is stacked against them, the only answer is criminality–and knowing when to walk away from that life. It’s about wanting more for your kids and your family than you had; it’s about grabbing for the American Dream and the brass ring. It’s also about family, and the damage done by wrong decisions and believing mythology you’ve invented rather than facing harsh and painful truths.

The main character of Cosby’s novel, Beauregard Montage (more commonly known as Bug) has tried, throughout his adult life, to build a better life for his wife and kids, and the child he rarely sees he fathered when he was a young teenager with a white girl whose family keeps her away from him. He’s opened his own business–a garage doing car repair and oil changes, etc–but the opening of a franchise oil change place has eaten into his business and has put him in danger of losing it all. A complication with his mother’s Medicare has resulted in a vast amount of money due to the retirement home where she makes everyone’s life miserable. That oldest daughter needs money for college and is dating a guy who might not be good for her. The bills are all overdue and the mortgage on the garage is so overdue it could lead to foreclosure.

Is there anything more American or relatable in these troubled times than financial distress?

But what Bug is best at is driving; he was in the Life before he decided to walk away from it for the sake of a straight life for his wife and kids. His own father walked away from his family when Bug was a teenager–for their sake, since he couldn’t escape his own criminal past. And the carefully constructed life Bug has put together for his family is slowly coming apart at the seams; and he needs money, and fast. So when a driving job in the life comes available, he grits his teeth and agrees to it. But nothing is ever as easy as it seems, and this job leads to other bills that have to be paid–with blood and bone.

The story alone is riveting, but what makes this novel so strong and powerful is the voice and the development of Bug as a character. The struggle within him between the desire for a normal family life and to do right by his children versus the thrill he gets from being in the life; from getting to flex and use his driving skills to skirt the law and get away with it is what takes this book to another level–and then the realization, the coming to terms with his feelings for his own father and that abandonment, as well as coming to terms with his complicated relationship with his mother, as he tries to do the right thing by his own family was breathtaking in its complexity and how agonizingly real it all seemed.

And those actions scenes are masterfully crafted, and keep you on the edge of your seat the entire time. Even had I wanted to put the book down, to take my time with it and read it more slowly, to draw the pleasure out, I couldn’t have once the kicked into high gear.

The writing is also deceptively simple yet honed to a sharpness and beauty worthy of compare to the grand masters of crime writing.

And while it was an accident of my TBR pile, I am very glad I read Kelly J. Ford’s Cottonmouths and S. A Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland back to back, as both are surely writing some of the best contemporary rural noir of our time; they should be paired, really, and read back to back, much the same as how Megan Abbott’s Dare Me and Michael Koryta’s The Prophet should be paired together.

What a terrific time to be living in for a fan of crime fiction this is!

Electricity

Good morning, Tuesday, how it’s going with you, Constant Reader, on this lovely early May morning?

I sent out another story yesterday–why, yes, I am on a roll, kind of, thank you for asking. I could also easily go 0 for 4, which is certainly more likely than 4 for 4 (I know, I know, self-deprecation there, and yes, it’s a very hard habit to break but I am working on it).

Last night I managed to work througb some of my my computer frustrations. Apparently, at some point in the last few months or so, there was yet another Mohave update–I remember when it happened, and I didn’t install it, it somehow just happened–that rendered my flash drive unreadable or unworkable with Mac computers. Fortunately I have that shitty little PC laptop, which can still read it. So I then had to download a Cloud for PC app, which needed a Windows update to work, and–long story short, I found a backup to the flash drive from November backed up in the Cloud, and I honestly don’t think I worked on anything on the flash drive that wasn’t backed up to the Cloud already, so it was simply a matter of moving the working files from the back-up folder in the Cloud to the active area. An enormous pain in the ass, but there you have it–and I now have the files I need accessible. At some point I’ll be able to get that PC Cloud app working and save yet another back-up, but until then I am able to work with what I have, thank you.

Today is another early morning for me, but truth to be told, I’m pretty much starting to adapt to these mornings and they aren’t nearly as painful as they used to be. I’m actually getting rather used to this sort of 9 to 5 thing, which I never expected to ever happen in a million years. Last night I was home shortly after five, and had some time thus to work on these computer issues. And since it was May 4th, and Rise of Skywalker was newly available to stream last night on Disney, I decided to watch it again–more critically this time than when I saw it in the theater, and yeah. I enjoyed it on the big screen—I always enjoy Star Wars on the big screen, as a general rule, but when I was rewatching it, it seemed disjointed, poorly written and planned, and kind of all over the place. So, all those people who were so critical of it? Yeah, they were probably right, but this sequel trilogy didn’t “ruin my childhood” or anything; it was just disappointing on a rewatch. I’ll probably have some more thoughts about the whole thing later.

I also finished reading Scott Heim’s Mysterious Skin last night, and it really is quite a wonderful book. Reading it as a crime novel was an interesting take, and I think I can quite solidly back up my theory that it is, in fact, while a very literary book to be sure, a crime novel. It certainly is structured and written kind of like one, and the mood and tone of the book is very dreamlike yet terrifying, like Megan Abbott’s The End of Everything, which I think is a good companion book for Mysterious Skin. There will, of course, be a blog entry devoted to the book; I’m still gathering my thoughts about it and trying to order them in some way. Afterwards, I tried to find my copy of We Disappear, but couldn’t put my hands on it–even though I am absolutely positive I located it the moment I started rereading Mysterious Skin…it’ll turn up, I’m sure.

I also started rereading Mary Stewart’s Thunder on the Right, which has some rather razor-sharp wit going on in the very beginning, which immediately (to me) added to its charm, and drew me in already. I also remember Thunder on the Right as being a “lesser” Stewart novel–kind of like The Moon-spinners and This Rough Magic, both of which I loved on the reread.

Tonight we’ll probably go back to watching Defending Jacob; I was already watching Skywalker when Paul got home, and he just fell asleep while watching that–he also pointed out that he doesn’t remember watching it in the theater at all; which is really not a sign of a movie that resonated with the viewers, really–so tonight it’ll be back to Defending Jacob. Apple is really putting a lot of cash into their streaming service, a and there are certainly a lot of impressive names being put to work on their shows, so who knows? I also need to sign into my CBS app so we can start watching their All Access Star Trek shows, as well as the reboot of The Twilight Zone from Jordan Peele.

There’s really so much good stuff to watch–and that’s only the stuff I know about. We’ve stumbled onto so many good shows over the years that we’d not heard about, and of course, season 3 of Killing Eve is also up now.

And on that note, tis time to get ready for the spice mines. Have a most lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader, and I’ll talk to you later.

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And just like that, the weekend is over and a new work week has begun; what fresh hells and wonders will this week bring? One thing is for certain–the monotony of every day work life is a thing of the seemingly distant past now. Whatever one wants to say or think or feel about a new work week, it’s not the way it was before. Each work week brings some new change, some new shift in the current reality–which was unthinkable as recently as early February; who could have foreseen a lockdown as big and as extensive as this? Our naïveté at being so delighted to see the hell of 2019 come to an end, and people thinking 2020 has got to be better–yeah, I’ve made that precise fucking mistake before, and never again; we had no idea how good we actually had it in 2019, did we?

Seriously.

I’m not missing the twelve hour days on Mondays and Tuesdays, quite frankly, and I believe those are going to be relegated to the scrap heap of history once this has passed–whenever that will be; I’m thinking November, seriously, and at that am being optimistic–and working five eight hours days is actually much more palatable than it ever seemed before, quite frankly. I like getting home every day shortly after five–closer to six if I have to stop somewhere, like the grocery or to get gas–and I like having my evenings free, to make dinner, write, read, and watch television, and it’s actually nice not being completely exhausted once five pm on Friday rolls around, as well. I need to remember this going forward, and adjust my future work schedule appropriately.

I continue reading Mysterious Skin in dribs and drabs; I’d love to steal more time away from everything else to spend on it, as it is absolutely wonderful, and even better than I’d remembered; and reading it as a crime novel was definitely a smart choice. It’s also reminding me about poetry in language choices, and how sometimes stark simplicity says so very much; something James M. Cain knew, and Megan Abbott knows, intimately; how the correct choice of a single word in a very short sentence can speak volumes, provoke insight, and a sense of wonder in the reader at the art and intelligence at work. I’m in the final third of the book now, and should have it finished by the end of the week.

I also managed to revise two more short stories, which are going to be sent off to submission queues this morning; “Night Follows Night” and “This Thing of Darkness”, and here’s hoping they will find a very happy home somewhere. This pleases me to no end; this flurry of work–even if it’s not actual writing, but revising and polishing counts–and get it out there is a good feeling. I feel like I’m actively chasing this crazy dream again. I doubt all five stories will get taken–they might all be rejected, who knows?–but at least I’m getting my work out there again. Now, to select two more stories for the big ones–Alfred Hitchcock and Ellery Queen. I may actually have to finish writing two stories–I’m not sure what else I have on hand that’s just in need of revision–but hey, you never know.

We started watching the HBO show Run–not sure about it yet, but love Merritt Weaver, and started Defending Jacob on Apple Plus last night, with Chris Evans and Michelle Dockery, and it’s really good; very well done. We also caught the new episode of City of Angels, which led me to comment, “we’re watching a lot of period pieces lately, what with this and The Plot Against America and Hollywood.” But I am also really enjoying City of Angels; the styling and way it’s filmed reminds me somewhat of Chinatown.

And now, tis back to the spice mines for me. When I get home tonight, I hope to get some more writing accomplished. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

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Sweet Dreams (of You)

It saddened me to see Left Coast had cancelled; even if I am not at a conference or some gathering of writers I can always look at the pictures of my friends and smile a little wistfully, wish I was there, and then get on with it. As one does,

This has been a rough week, Constant Reader, and I cannot lie. I’ve been all over the map emotionally, eventually I got to the usual tipping point of numbness. Yesterday I got some amazing book mail; copies of some of the Edgar finalists, which is way fun. Of course, I already have an enormous TBR pile; this only expands it and makes it bigger–way bigger, but it’s lovely, always lovely, to get books. If worst comes to worst and we would up quarantined or trapped inside for a few weeks or so, I have plenty of books. And as long as we have power, there’s so much television to catch up. Books are, of course, my  happy place; I’ve always found solace and escape in reading. I think that might be why I hoard books the way I do; it’s comforting to know that I’ll never run out of things to read.

I’ve gotten no writing done, or very little; I’ve also not read a word of anything. I am debating whether it’s okay to go to the gym if I take rubber gloves with me; if I am not touching any surface with bar hands, right, and definitely cannot touch my face except with a hand towel (brought from home) and I should be okay, I think, I hate getting out of the habit of going, and I also worry that at some point I’ll be forbidden from going to the gym, so there’s that as well. At some point today I have to make a run to the grocery store–although at this point I feel certain everything is picked over and the shelves are bare. I stopped at Rouse’s on my home last night in the CBD, and while it wasn’t completely insane, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. I managed to get what I was after–two loaves of bread–and Paul and I just decided to escape the world and watch The Outsider last night, which was quite entertaining. We still have two episodes to go before we’re finished, but they seem to be dragging the story out with some seriously bad filler scenes that neither advance the plot or really teach us anything new about the characters–and these filler scenes are very amateurishly done, poorly written, and essentially pointless as anything other than padding to get the show out to ten episodes. We’ll finish that today, and then go on to Dare Me, which we’ve been saving to binge. We’d watched the first two episodes before Paul started having to work late all the time and so fell behind; but I am excited to get to see it in its entirety. It already looked like it was going to be one of the best shows to ever air on television; the source material is certainly one of my favorite books of all time.

One can never go wrong reading Megan Abbott.

The Lost Apartment is a mess, frankly, and I will probably spend some time cleaning it today; it’s well overdue and I’ve not had the energy to keep up with it this week. I imagine, looking back at the week in retrospect, that I probably had some depression–I’m never really aware of it until it has passed–which explains a lot. It’ll probably come and go–there’s probably also some PTSD mixed into it, both from the days when HIV/AIDS was decimating the gay community and, let’s be honest, Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. I was thinking, as I was reading articles this past week with headlines like Life is going to change forever and so forth, that I am kind of tired of life-changing events.

I also can’t help but wondering how this will change writing, and the publishing industry, and if there will be a new genre of fiction rising out of all of this. I want to think this won’t be as bad as it seems like it’s going to be–but you know, any death will cause grief and suffering, let alone on a great scale. Katrina fiction never really became a thing, although there were several novels (including my award-winning Murder in the Rue Chartres–see what I did there?) about the aftermath, and I think Katrina stories still continue to be published to this day, but to be honest I avoid them for the most part. I suppose its more like 9/11, in that the impact is actually more national than local, but even 9/11–while certainly a national trauma–was also primarily a local one. This is everywhere, and will impact everyone, and not just as witnesses, like 9/11 or Katrina. Will this be addressed in the future? Will there be a rash of books released beginning in 2021 the center this happening? How do you write a series and pretend like this didn’t happened? New Orleans series writers couldn’t ignore Katrina, pretend like it didn’t happen; we had to address it and as such anchored our series and our series characters in time. My two short stories “Survivor’s Guilt” and “Annunciation Shotgun” also dealt with the storm and the aftermath, and I’ve kind of let go of writing about it.

So, I think after running the errands today I am going to try to get some writing done. I have three stories I’d like to get finished by the end of the month, which is their deadlines, and one has to be entirely constructed from scratch–which is of course the most interesting and challenging one for me to write so I keep pushing it to the back of the queue.

And maybe it’s time to get back to work. Have a lovely, germ-free day.

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He’ll Have to Go

Saturday morning, and I slept in until nearly eight thirty! Living large here, I have to say.

Yesterday was one of those days; the temperature dropped, as you may recall, and once again when turning on the heat Thursday night, it didn’t really come on–it did, but it never truly got warm in the Lost Apartment, either upstairs or down. So, I wound up having to stay home from work to wait for the HVAC guys, who actually arrived dutifully when they said they would (this is so rare as to merit mention), and worked on it for a while. They did eventually leave, and I went to the gym and ran my errands.  I don’t know if the heat is actually fixed or not; we didn’t need it last night anywhere other than the kitchen, and I have a space heater for in there (it never warms up in the kitchen, ever) but I did manage to get a lot of cleaning and organizing done. I also managed to start watching the film of The Talented Mr. Ripley on the iPad yesterday at the gym (the Anthony Minghella version) and it veers away from the book’s narrative much more than I ever had supposed; the character of Meredith (played by Cate Blanchett) doesn’t exist in the book, nor does the entire subplot about Dickie’s affair with the village girl in Mongibello. But the one thing I will say about this film–and the thirty or so minutes of it I watched–Matt Damon is exceptionally great in the role of Tom; far more so than Jude Law as Dickie (he was nominated for an Oscar; the film made him a star), and this just might be one of Damon’s best performances.

Paul, I believe, is off to the office later today, and has plans with friends to go watch Krewe de Vieux tonight; I intend to stay home and work on the Secret Project, get my taxes together and sent off to the accountant, and emails to answer. There’s also organizing and filing to do, and I need to do the floors; I always leave the floors for Saturday vacuuming. Paul’s absence also gives me no excuse for not reading and writing for most of the day; around the cleaning, at any rate–and I am actually looking forward to getting a lot of both done today.

I’m still reading Tracy Clark’s Broken Places, which is really good, and in fact, once I finish writing this I am most likely going to  head over to the easy chair and spend a few hours with it this morning before moving on to the Secret Project. I am also really enjoying Jason Berry’s City of a Million Dreams, which I am not very far into, but I feel confident in recommending just based on the introduction and part of the first chapter. I’ve not read Berry before–he’s local, and has written quite a few books, including taking the Archdiocese to task for covering up the sexual abuse of children–but I am impressed enough to start adding his canon to my TBR list. We started watching Avenue 5, which was much funnier than I thought it would be–and Hugh Laurie is terrific as the captain; the entire cast is actually quite good. We’re probably going to also start watching The Outsider on HBO, which presents a conundrum for me; I generally like to read the book while I am watching the TV series based on it (I did this with Big Little Lies, and found it to be incredibly enjoyable; I’ve not read the King yet, but once I am done with the Clark, I am definitely going to pull The Outsider down from the shelf and give it a go)., but I guess pulling down The Outsider and moving it up to the top of the TBR list won’t hurt anyone or anything.

Parades also start this coming Friday on the St. Charles Avenue route; the challenge is going to be continuing to write and go to the gym around my job and the parades; parade watching is always a blast–it will probably never get old for me–but it’s also exhausting and keeps me up later at night than I probably need to be awake, given how early I will have to get up the following mornings.

It’s also lovely to wake up and sit at my desk and glance around and see clean, clear counters and a sink that is primarily empty of dirty dishes. There’s a load in the dishwasher that needs to be put away, and a load of laundry in the dryer that also neede to be fluffed and folded, but like I said, other than that and the floors (and these stacks of file folders and scribbled notes scattered around my desk), there’s no cleaning to be done this morning. My muscles are tired this morning from the gym yesterday, but I’m not sore, and I feel more stretched than I usually do, which also actually feels good–I may just stretch out a bit a little later; I’d forgotten how good it feels to have stretched muscles as opposed to tight ones.

So, that’s the plan for today, at any rate. I’m going to go pour yet another cup of coffee, take my book and repair to the easy chair; after that, it’s back to the desk to do some writing and answer some emails (I never actually send them until Monday morning; emails beget emails, and I’d rather not wake up Monday morning at the crack of dawn with an insane amount of emails to answer; it’s too, too daunting to deal with on a twelve hour day).

I was also thinking the other day–thanks to a post by someone on Facebook–about books that should be paired together, like a good wine and some good cheese; how reading the two back-to-back can enhance the reading pleasure of both. Michael Koryta’s The Prophet (which is one of my favorite books), for example, pairs beautifully with Megan Abbott’s Dare Me (and you need to be watching the television adaptation of Dare Me); Alafair Burke recommends pairing Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent with Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, and there was one more I can’t quite remember, but it was also quite brilliant. (I also think pairing Stephen King’s Carrie and Christine together enhances the pleasure of reading each even more.)

I was also thinking about “event” books; Gone Girl was probably the most recent “event” book–a book that sold a gazillion copies and everyone was talking about. There have always been “event books”, which in the pre-Internet, pre-social media days was harder to have happen, and yet it did, all the time. Two such books from the 70’s include Thomas Tryon’s The Other and Peter Benchley’s Jaws; the fame of Jaws was spread even further by an event film based on it that has almost entirely eclipsed the book. Robin Cook’s Coma was another one of these; I intend to include The Other in my Reread Project this year, but rather than Jaws I am going to reread Benchley’s second novel, The Deep, and Cook’s second novel, Sphinx–which was Cook’s only non-medical thriller thriller.

And on that note, I am going to repair to the easy chair with my coffee and Tracy Clark. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader; I certainly intend to.

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Something in Red

Well, we made it to Friday yet again, did we not? One week from today the St. Charles parades kick back into gear again; and the madness of Carnival season descends on those of us who live inside the box. (“The box”, for those of you Not From Here, designates the most common parade route: Tchoupitoulas up Napoleon to St. Charles to Canal to Convention Center Boulevard; the river/Tchoupitoulas forms the one side of the box–it’s usually open somewhat to traffic, but when the parades are lined up…it’s best to avoid. Living inside the box means you have to be home and parked at least an hour to two hours before the start time of the first parade, else you’ll be unable to get home.) So, yes, for a total of about seven or eight days scattered over two weekends, the parade schedule will dominate my life and force me to accommodate my life around them. It’s a very fun, if exhausting, time.

The weather changed dramatically, as it always does at this time of year when it rains. It was in the thirties overnight, and while it is supposed to be in the fifties today–it’s going back up to sunny and warm this weekend–it still feels like its in the thirties inside the Lost Apartment today, which is rather unpleasant. I’m layered, and the space heater is one, but it’s still unpleasant and I really didn’t want to get out of bed this morning at all. But I did get up, and I am going to go to the gym–it’s gym morning–around ten; I’d set the alarm for seven but the bed felt simply too delicious to get out of, so instead of nine I’ll go at ten. Compromise. I am resisting the urge to say I’ll go when I get home from work because I think we all know that will turn into well, I went twice this week and I’m tired and home now.

Which is how it always starts, you know.

I finished reading Bourbon Street this week, and have moved on to City of a Million Dreams, which opens in a prologue about the Confederate monuments tied into Allen Toussaint’s funeral. Jason Berry is a very good writer, and I am already drawn into his (nonfiction) story; which is incredibly cool. I am also enjoying Tracy Clark’s Broken Places, which is also cool. I’ll probably spend some more time with it tonight when I get home from work.

We finished watching the second season of  Sex Education, and of course it sort of ended the way I feared it might; while everyone else’s story-lines came to a rather lovely close, others had to be seeded in order for there to be a third season, and of course the core storyline is Otis and Maeve’s relationship. Otis and Maeve are the odd couple we can’t help but root for to get together; the poor but extremely smart daughter of a drug addict with a sharp tongue and the awkward son of the sex therapist; we’ve seen them grow beyond their original selves and develop as people as well as fall in love with each other; so wanting them to get together is the pull of their story–and even if they did somehow wind up together, for purposes of the show they would have to be pulled apart anyway so we could root for them to get back together again.

I’ve also gotten moving on the Secret Project again; this new opening was the right choice, and I’ve actually found the character’s voice. As I worked on it last night after work, getting in a very difficult four or five hundred words, despite that struggle I also couldn’t help but realize my mind was filling in other details, and both the story and the characters were beginning to expand inside my mind, which is terribly important–and also caused a breakthrough regarding the two unfinished manuscripts languishing in files in my computer: I don’t believe I ever found the core of the main characters in either of them, and that’s why I am so deeply dissatisfied with both manuscripts, and why they never feel right. I do think this last, third revision of Bury Me in Shadows is the closest I’ve gotten to getting his voice right; but this breakthrough on the Secret Project last night also opened the door to what is going wrong with the others. So, once I get the Secret Project finished–the goal is to have it finished by Valentine’s Day/first day of St. Charles parades–I can spend that following weekend primarily working on who my main character is, and reviewing this most recent rewrite, with an eye to making sure I have his voice right.

And then perhaps I can get it finished, once and for all.

I also have to write blog entries about Bourbon Street and another book I finished reading for the Reread Project; if nothing else, I can always say I have the blog entries finished.

I also found The Talented Mr. Ripley on Netflix, so I am going to start watching that while I walk on the treadmill at the gym. I also want to watch this new true crime Netflix series, The Pharmacist, about the drug problem in New Orleans. I watched the trailer for it last night, and it looks quite interesting, to say the least. We also need to get caught up on Megan Abbott’s Dare Me, which of course has been DVRing merrily; I think it might be more fun to binge it, quite frankly.

I’ve also got a short story to start writing–not to mention all the ones languishing in their folders, begging to be finished or desperate for revisions–but this particular one has a due date, and I’d really like to get it started; which means more Sherlock reading tonight when I get home from the office, interspersed with Tracy Clark.

And on that note, I need to eat some carbs for energy before I head to the gym this morning; y’all behave and have a lovely Friday, okay?

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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.

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“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.

Do They Know It’s Christmas

Christmas Eve, and all through the house–not a kitty is stirring, and we don’t have a mouse.

It’s a bright sunshiny morning here in New Orleans, and I slept very late because we stayed up watching a show on Acorn TV (a streaming subscription I’d forgotten I had) called Loch Ness, which was highly entertaining, fairly well written, beautifully shot, and well acted. I do recommend it–there were some definitely unanswered questions in the resolution, but it pretty much wrapped itself up for the most part, and as I said, we really enjoyed it. Loch Ness also looked incredibly beautiful; I always pictured it as cold and gray and foggy–assuming, of course, that it was shot on location.

I also woke up this morning–late–to see that Romance Writers of America is burning to the ground this morning, having had their board make a decision that being called a racist is much much worse than actually being a racist, or doing and saying racist things. I have my own issues with RWA, of course–a long-standing policy of passively encouraging homophobia and queer exclusion, which I thought they were getting better about, but active institutional support of racists and racism against authors of color has completely and irrevocably erased those thoughts once and for all; because quite naturally pointing out homophobia would mean being punished for doing so–because the only thing worse than homophobia is being accurately accused of it. Shame on you, RWA, shame on you.

Yeah, not going anywhere near that dumpster-fire of an organization.

So, what am I going to do today, with this gorgeous day? Am I going to try to get writing done? Am I going to try to do much of anything on this fine Christmas Eve here in the Lost Apartment? Or am I simply going to curl up in my easy chair with a book? Probably going to just curl up in my chair with my book. I am getting further into Laura Benedict’s The Stranger Inside, and greatly enjoying it the deeper I get into this interestingly twisted tale. I do have some cleaning and straightening up to do around here, but I can save that for later this evening. We are venturing out to see Rise of Skywalker tomorrow–thank you, everyone on my social media feeds for not posting spoilers–and of course, this weekend is the college football play-offs, with LSU facing Oklahoma in one semi-final.

But there’s plenty of time between now and Saturday for me to get stressed about that.

I’ve also been looking through Victoria Holt’s Kirkland Revels, which is one of my favorite romantic suspense novels of the mid-twentieth century (originally published in 1962!) primarily because it has a unique spin on the genre of the preyed-upon heroine: she’s pregnant with the heir to the family fortune and estate. A pregnant romantic suspense heroine? I think Kirkland Revels might even be the only romantic suspense novel with a pregnant heroine–I can’t think of many novels of any kind where the heroine was pregnant almost the entire course of the story, other than Rosemary’s Baby–which is actually an interesting observation. (I also believe that Rosemary’s Baby is perhaps one of the most brilliant studies in paranoia ever written; Levin did much the same with The Stepford Wives; no one wrote paranoia better than Levin, and he is also one of my favorite writers. His canon is well overdue for a revisit.)

I also may rewatch the premiere of Megan Abbott’s television series adaptation of Dare Me. It was really quite good, and a second viewing will possibly enable me to write a post about it that doesn’t simply say “OMG it’s so good you have to watch it.”

GAH. SO little time to do all the things I want to do!

And on that note, I should probably finish this and go do something, anything, else.

Have a merry Christmas eve, everyone.

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Jingle Bell Rock

Monday morning, and I really didn’t want to get up this morning. But I did, here we are, and here we go. Today is weird; I am off tomorrow and Wednesday for the holidays, then have to work on Thursday and Friday before the weekend–next week I only have Wednesday off, so I will most likely be discombobulated for the next few weeks. But that’s okay–life generally leaves me feeling discombobulated on a fairly regular basis, if I’m going to be completely honest

We watched the second-to-last episode of Dublin Murders last night, which continues to entertain–despite the enormous gap in the plot–and then we watched the first episode of Megan Abbott’s new show, based on her novel Dare Me,  which is also called Dare Me. It’s really quite good, and even though it’s about high school cheerleaders, it’s really not for teenagers to be watching–although it’s probably one of the most vivid and realistic shows about teenagers I’ve seen in quite some time. The characters are three-dimensional and real; and the show did quite a good job of letting us seen the lives of the girls so we can understand them better. It’s incredible, and I do encourage everyone to watch it.

The Saints game was stressful, but they did manage to get their act together and pull out a win, which was nice. After that I finished watching the other episodes of The Dark Side of the Ring–episodes about the death of Gino Hernandez, the murder of Bruiser Brody; the tragic story of Randy Savage and Miss Elizabeth, and how Bret Hart left the WWE. It was interesting; Bret Hart was of course the first person to ever officially break kayfabe to the press (kayfabe=behind the scenes information, like how the matches were planned and so forth; one of the more interesting things is that Bruiser Brody’s murderer got away with claiming self-defense because people were convinced wrestling was absolutely real), and of course I didn’t know the full stories about the others. I do remember when Miss Elizabeth died; I also had met both her and Randy Savage when I worked at the airport in Tampa. The Macho Man was really nice–so was she, if a little shy and quiet–but you can imagine the trepidation one would feel when working in Baggage Claim and you realize the passenger whose bag is lost is RANDY MACHO MAN SAVAGE–you could never mistake that voice, for one thing. But he was so gracious and understanding and charming, and so nice. I had them both autograph a ticket folder–people today probably don’t remember ticket jackets, just as no one has a printed out ticket anymore–but it got lost many moves ago.

Not much fodder there for my wrestling noir novel, but nevertheless, interesting.

I didn’t write very much this weekend–I did come up with a better opening for my short story “Once a Tiger,” which has been languishing for quite some time on the back burner–so that’s something, I suppose. It’s hard to call one’s self a writer when you aren’t actually writing anything, you know? We did get our Star Wars tickets for Christmas, though, which will be quite fun and nice as long as I can avoid spoilers in the meantime. I’ve been ignoring reviews and commentary–it’s hard to believe I’ve been following this story and film series for over forty years–but this is the end of the Skywalker story, and while I am looking forward to other stories from this universe, I’m okay with the Skywalker tale ending, particularly if The Mandalorian  and Rogue One are examples of what we can expect from that universe going forward.

I also read more of The Stranger Inside, and am really enjoying it. I love the way Benedict is building her story, and how carefully she plays her cards about just who exactly her main character is–not to mention who the other characters are. One of the most interesting things about the book–interesting perhaps because I don’t recall seeing it in print in a mainstream novel before–is that the main character’s ex-husband is now married to another man–and she’s fine with it…at least, she is so far. Like I said, the twists and turns and surprises are quite well done, and I am definitely adding Laura Benedict to my must-read author list.

It really is hard to believe that this year–and this decade–is coming to a close so soon. I’ve talked, usually around this time, every year about how I’ve never really understood the hubbub and celebratory nature of the New Year; it’s just another day and what, precisely, are we celebrating? The calendar year is, realistically, simply arbitrarily decided by the movement of the earth around the sun, and January was selected as the first month for some reason lost in the mists of antiquity. It merely marks the passage of time, similar to birthdays. And yet we all make resolutions (I set goals), and decide, with each new year’s start, to try to be better.

I mean, shouldn’t we always be trying to be better? Why tie that to a calendar date? Why wait until the New Year and its “new beginning” to make positive change in your life?

I don’t understand it, never have, and have never really seen the big deal of New Year’s Eve as anything other than just another excuse to get wasted. Because in puritanical America, you need to have a reason otherwise you’re an alcoholic or irresponsible or something equally bad.

Many years ago, I had the idea for a book called New Year’s Eve, which would really simply be an interwoven collection of short stories set on that night, but done in a novelistic form; beginning with one character and then the next chapter moves on to someone they’ve come into contact with, and going forward that way, and eventually working its way back to the original characters, all culminating with the stroke of midnight where every one of the characters is at the same New Year’s Eve party.

Not the best idea I’ve ever had, to be honest. But I think the entire point of the book/stories was to get that very point across: it’s kind of silly to try to make effective change based on what is really an arbitrary date.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines.

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Do It Again

Here it is, Saturday morning and I am awake and on my first cup of coffee. I have things to get done today–two interviews and a roundtable (the round table is terrifying; I looked at the questions and I’m not really certain I am smart or knowledgeable enough to participate, but I said I would and I never back out of things I agree to–or rarely). It’s weird, one would think I would love the chance to talk about myself and my writing as they are basically my favorite subjects, but it always makes me feel, at best, awkward and at worst, deeply uncomfortable.

All that childhood conditioning against arrogance and bragging, I suppose.

I didn’t quite finish cleaning out my inbox yesterday–in fact, I didn’t get even remotely close to cleaning it out, so it’s going back to the list for today. I need to get the mail and I need to make a short grocery run this afternoon, and I would like to go to the gym and try to get started on a regular workout routine again, but that becomes even more difficult given the heat advisory. But thinking about going to the gym, while not the same thing as actually going, is a step closer to getting there, I suppose. I also need to stop by Office Depot to buy some padded envelopes; the arrival of the box o’books also means signing and mailing out copies I owe to friends and reviewers and so forth. Signing and packaging the books is a chore, but I don’t find it as odious as one might think.

Yesterday, as you already know, Constant Reader, I finished reading S. A. Cosby’s delightful My Darkest Prayer, and I am very thrilled and happy to know that he recently signed a two-book contract, so I can look forward to new work from Shawn in the future. Yay! I love discovering new writers, and I love when they have new work. I do have this insane thing where I try not to finish reading everything an author has published so I always know there’s one more book by them to read–I was looking at my bookshelves yesterday as I reorganized the living room, realizing there are still three Kinsey Millhone books by Sue Grafton I haven’t read yet, and was saddened again to know that those will always be the last three Sue Grafton novels, and actually was thinking I should, at some point, start reading the books to clear them off the shelves. I am already at the point with some of my favorite authors, like Laura Lippman and Megan Abbott, where I have finished everything they’ve published (Lippman’s new one, Lady in the Lake, is on deck and I am probably going to start reading it today). I am also behind on some of my favorite authors–I was caught up on Donna Andrews, but I read for the Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original last year, which put me behind on everyone who wasn’t in that category last year (some of which I want to go back and reread, taking my time to savor them the way I ordinarily would), and I am also years behind on numerous authors I enjoy…but new books are being released every damned day. Sigh. There’s simply never enough time.

In my review of Shawn’s book, I wrote about something I truly believe–and the more I diversify my reading in my own genre, the more I believe it to be true. I believe that women writers saved the crime genre in the 1980’s, and while they are still doing some serious heavy lifting, the diverse voices of authors like Shawn are reinvigorating and reinventing the crime genre, and breathing new life into it. (I’m really looking forward to October, when I will switch to reading horror, and reading novels by diverse voices in that genre–there are some new and exciting people of color writing in that genre…plus, reading horror will further diversify my reading by taking me outside of crime for a month.) Some of the diverse voices I’ve read thus far this year–Kellye Garrett, Rachel Howzell Hall, Walter Mosley, Steph Cha, Angie Kim, etc.–are doing extraordinary work that needs to be recognized, promoted, and pushed by all of us; they are breathing new life into our genre, as are women writers like Laura Lippman, Alison Gaylin, Megan Abbott, Jamie Mason, Elizabeth Little, and many, many more. And while I often generically refer to the “straight white men”–let’s face it, some of today’s men are writing exceptional work, too–Ace Atkins, Bill Loefhelm, Michael Koryta, to name a few amongst many. I think this is a very exciting time for crime fiction, and I look forward to reading more work by queer writers, as well. I’ve not gotten to some of the newer queer crime writers yet, which I am going to try to focus on more in the latter part of the year. I am really looking forward to Kelly Ford’s Cottonmouths, as it is a queer novel by a queer woman set in the rural South; something I can certainly relate to.

I kind of had a lackadaisical day of rest yesterday, really, where I accomplished little other than reading my book and doing the laundry, and couldn’t really motivate myself to do much more than that–I did make a delicious shrimp stir-fry for dinner last night, though–and we watched two episodes of The Movies last night, “The 80’s” and “The 90’s.” There’s only one more episode left, unless they release “The 50’s,” which is also a rather interesting period in the history of film. I started reading, for research, City of Nets: A Portrait of Hollywood in the 1940’s, by Otto Friedrichs (recommended by Megan Abbott), and it has a lovely bibliography in the back which should be enormously helpful for further research into the time period. I also have a copy of E. J. Fleming’s The Fixers, which should also come in handy for research; again, as a starting place with the gold mine of a bibliography in the back.

So, here’s hoping that today will be that unusual thing; a highly productive, but at the same time, a restful day. Last night’s wonderful sleep is, of course, a wonderful basis for the rest of my day.

Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader.

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