King of Rome

It’s Saturday, and I am feeling better. Yesterday was much better than Thursday; I drank a lot of fluids and didn’t seem to have any stomach issues; the headache came and went, and I coughed what probably was a normal every day amount of coughs–something in my throat that needed clearing–and while I did still have some fatigue and chest tightness, I was able to do some things as long as I took a break after. I did the dishes, and watched The 39 Steps. I did some laundry, and spent some time on Youtube. I moved necessary information from my old journal (now full) into my new one. We also watched Knives Out last night before retiring to bed, which we also enjoyed.

I did try to read, but it was tiring–awful, really, when you are required to stream for entertainment because it’s less taxing mentally–so I wasn’t able to do much of that. So, I put my fiction novel aside–Night Has a Thousand Eyes by Cornell Woolrich, and took down The Proud Tower by Barbara Tuchman, which is quite good; it’s her study of Europe in the generation/decades leading up to World War I. I had started it years ago and never finished–I don’t remember why, quite frankly–but was able to pick up again and read it here and there while I could focus. The lovely thing about non-fiction, and history in particular, is that you don’t have to worry too much about what came before where you’re reading if you pick it up again years later…history is history.

I also downloaded a copy of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which I have never read, and thought perhaps that I should; how does the book that many historians consider partly responsible for the outbreak of the Civil War because it so enflamed abolitionist sentiments in its readers (never, ever doubt the power of fiction to help bring needed change) hold up today? I’ve read some interesting pieces on Gone with the Wind–book and movie, both for and against lately–and that put me in mind of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. I had reread a novel about the Civil Rights movement a few years ago that I read when quite young (The Klansman, by William Bradford Huie, a native Alabaman who taught at the University in Tuscaloosa; and the title was definitely a play on The Clansman, the novel Birth of a Nation was based on) and thought it even more powerful now than I did when I was a child; I saw the justifications of the horrific racist white people for what they were and it was plain to me, even as a child, that they weren’t the heroes of the story, even though they were the central characters of the book. So, I went to Project Gutenberg and downloaded a PDF of the book, and as I started reading the first few paragraphs…well, let’s just say the writing style is very dated and leave it at that. There’s also the use of the N word right there on Page One–which of course was common usage in the 1850’s and pretty much up until the 1950’s or 1960’s…and I started thinking that maybe someone should–since the book is now in the public domain–rewrite it and update for modern times? Or perhaps someone could do something like Alice Randall/The Wind Done Gone with it? Or perhaps it should best be left alone? The debate over these old books, primarily focused on Gone with the Wind lately, (and really, it’s mostly about the movie, not the book) and what should be done with and about them, is one I cannot make up my mind about. There’s probably a blog entry on that coming as well.

So far so good this morning. I don’t know if the fatigue is gone, but I slept for a very long time and very deeply. I still have a headache and my stomach is still bothering me this morning, so I am going to try keep putting in fluids since the dehydration issue seems to still be going on as well. There really are fewer things I loathe more than not feeling well, quite frankly. The weird issue with my stomach is that it literally feels tight and sore, like I did some kind of way too intense, way too long abdominal workout, and everything feels kind of bloated and gross? I’m not making that as clear as I should–use your words, writer boy!–but I’m not really sure what’s going on with it. I keep hoping it’s not anything serious, but…it’s still quite strange. The headache is coming and going; I’ll feel it for about fifteen minutes, and then it goes away before coming back. It’s not excruciating, more of a throb than anything else, and then it’s gone. Not enough to even take Tylenol over, frankly, but maybe I should; it might control it and keep it from coming back.

I’m hoping to have both the energy and the focus to write today; failing that, to at least read for a bit. When I finish this I have some emails to address–when do I not have an absurd amount of emails to answer–and hopefully can get most of that resolved before moving on to a highly productive day. One can dream, can’t one?

I have to say, I was really impressed with The 39 Steps. Yes, it was filmed in 1935 and yes, it’s rather dated now; but you can see how masterful Hitchcock was as a director. There’s not as much suspense in it–primarily due to the datedness of the movie–but it’s interesting, and I’ve always wanted to read the novel. I also found it interesting that Madeleine Carroll, who played the lead, was also the kind of icy beautiful blonde heroine Hitchcock gravitated towards for most of his career. But the concepts of the film–a man (played by Robert Donat) who unknowingly stumbles onto an espionage ring, and a female agent is murdered in his apartment, he is blamed and no one will believe the story he is telling; which she told him when he basically rescued her, and so he has to unmask the conspiracy in order to clear himself of the murder, is also Hitchcock’s favorite kind of story: what I call the “right man in the wrong place at the wrong time” kind of thing. Bourbon Street Blues was originally conceived that way, and let’s face it, almost all of the Scotty books really boil down to that simple concept–Scotty keeps accidentally stumbling into trouble. I do recommend it; other than being incredibly dated it’s quite fun to watch.

And if you haven’t seen Knives Out, you absolutely must. The crime is so amazingly Agatha Christie-like and complex that it’s like she wrote it herself, and the cast is magnificent–like those wonderful all-star film adaptations of Christie they started making in the 1970’s, like Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile (which I want to rewatch but can’t find it streaming anywhere). The cast is absolutely perfect–every last one of them–and I do hope this signals the return of these kinds of films.

And now, I am going to go to my easy chair and wrestle with Woolrich for a bit before answering emails and writing.

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.

Let’s Take The Long Way Around the World

Wednesday morning, and the beginning of a new era for one Gregalicious. I still only work a half-day, but now I work the second half of our testing schedule (4:30-8) rather than the first half (12-330) which I’ve been doing for quite some time now. When I asked my co-worker with whom I shift share if she’d mind switching with me once a month so I can make the monthly MWA board call, said she’d do it whenever necessary–and I realized, after we talked, that 1) it would actually be better for me overall to work the later half permanently and 2) it also worked better with her schedule for her to do the early, so we made the switch permanent (except for that pesky day when the parades get started, when I need to leave the office no later than 3:30 so I can get home before they close St. Charles Avenue. So, today is that first day, and while I do have a conference call this morning. I can spend the rest of the day getting things done around the house and I can even run the errands I need to run at a more leisurely place while still getting to work on time.

I love when things work out well, don’t you?

I was exhausted yesterday when I got home from work; partly because it was the second of my twelve hour shifts and partly because some days, my work is emotionally and physically draining. I’m a counselor, primarily for sexual health, and sometimes–well, sometimes it’s a difficult, draining job. I’m not complaining–I absolutely love my job and the work I do; my job actually makes a difference in some of our clients’ lives, which helps alleviate the fact that I’m actually a pretty awful person at heart. But I was so tired all I could do was, as usual, recline in my easy chair with Scooter curled up in my lap and cycle through Youtube videos. I enjoy Ms. Mojo’s list videos, for the most part, even when I don’t agree with their choices, and I don’t even remember which ones I was watching last night–although I do recall a lot of them had to do with Baby Yoda/The Child/The Asset and others with the Netflix series Thirteen Reasons Why. 

It’s also a bit hard to realize that Carnival parades start relatively soon; the 14th of February, St. Valentine’s Day, to be exact, with all the disruption that entails.

I also this week booked my tickets to fly to the Edgars and Malice Domestic; I’ll be flying into LaGuardia on the Tuesday of that week; attending the Edgar symposium on Wednesday and going to the combination nominees reception/anthology launch for the new MWA anthology that evening, and then helping with last minute things on Thursday before attending the banquet. Friday morning I will Amtrak from Penn down to Union Station in DC before riding on the Metro to Bethesda for Malice. (I’m flying home from Washington National, which will entail taking the Metro again–probably having to change lines once; I’ll have to investigate that further.) But I’m excited to go to Malice–I haven’t been to Malice in years, and I’ve only been once. I had a great time and met a lot of lovely people; I enjoy the Malice crowd very much, and the train trip down from New York the last time was one of the best times I’ve ever had on a train before–since there were many of us traveling down from the Edgars. The train was full of crime writers! (I did have an idea for a book or a story inspired by that trip–“Murder on the Acela Express”, but could never wrap my mind around how to actually write it; the Christie original which of course inspired the title, Murder on the Orient Express, requires the train to be stranded out in the middle of nowhere for a period of time, and I couldn’t figure out how to strand the Acela in the middle of nowhere–even though now it occurs to me that it could just be the title that’s the homage rather than the story). I’ll probably be registering for Bouchercon in Sacramento later today or at some point this week–that’s going to be a rather long haul of a trip, but since I had to miss Dallas this past year I don’t want to miss the 2020 edition.

I’m still reading Dorothy B. Hughes’ delightful Dread Journey, but was too tired to read anything last night.

I also have to start reading some books to prepare for an interview I am doing for the Sisters-in-Crime quarterly, and am hoping to get some work done on the Secret Project today before heading into the errands and the office.

The kitchen is also a disgraceful mess this morning. Heavy heaving sigh. But at least I have time to do something about it before I head into work today.

And on that note, it’s time to head back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader!

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Sledgehammer

We have rain forecast again for today, but right now it’s gorgeous and sunny and blue skies as far as the eye can see outside my windows. Alberto has sped up and shifted east; we are no longer in the Cone of Uncertainty, but Monday evening could be rather unpleasant; the whole day in fact could be rather unpleasant.

Yesterday I broke down and read the first fourteen chapters of the Scotty book. I’d been putting it off–avoidance  having always been one of my top methods of dealing with something I’d rather not–and am pleased to report that while the draft is, in fact and as I’d suspected–terribly rough. But while the writing itself needs to be improved on, and the scenes made better and the dialogue strengthened and the characters deepened; the bare bones of the story are there and they are working precisely the way I wanted them to. Chapter Fourteen is, indeed, terrible and off-track; which means I shall simply have to correct it before moving on to Chapter Fifteen. This was such an enormous relief to me, you have no idea, Constant Reader! I also finally figured out the plot as well, which was equally lovely. Now, I have eleven or so chapters more to do and the first draft is finished; and then it’s just clean-up work.

Huzz-fucking-ah!

I also continued making notes on both “Never Kiss a Stranger” and “A Holler Full of Kudzu,” as well as notes for the y/a I want to write later this year, Bury Me in Satin. I have to say, having this stay-cation has been absolutely necessary and needed; I should probably take these lengthy weekends every few months or so, just to get caught up and reconnect with my writing, rather than just trying to get it done.

I’ve also continued reading Roth’s When She Was Good. Roth is a spectacularly good writer, and he definitely understands character and what to do with it; which is, of course, another way of saying that I am really enjoying reading this book, which I didn’t expect. There is, of course, some casual homophobia in the book, but unfortunately it also fits into the time period and therefore kind of works with the characters…but still kind of jarring to read, while kind of important to remember it wasn’t that long ago that blatant homophobia was so deeply and systemically woven into the fabric of our society that it’s a wonder we’ve made it this far already.

I continue to watch The Shannara Chronicles, and was saddened to see a main character killed off in Episode 8 of Season 2 last night. Shannara is similar to Game of Thrones in that regard; everyone’s life is on the table. I only read the first novel in the series, but it might be interesting to go back and reread the first one and the next two in the series at some point (because I have so much free time).

I also watched the season finale of Krypton, which was terrific. Krypton, which started out kind of ‘meh,’ really hit its stride as the season got going. I rewatched the 1940’s version of And Then There Were None last night, which is terrific other than changing the end of the novel, and the 1974 version of Murder on the Orient Express, which was not as good as I remembered.

I am currently reading two non-fiction books: The Republic of Pirates and The Golden Age of Murder. As my watching of Black Sails no doubt tipped you off, Constant Reader, I am fascinated by pirates and one day hope to write about pirates; whether actually about pirates during their heyday, or about pirate treasure in the present (there’s a Scotty idea in my head somewhere about Jean Lafitte’s treasure I just can’t get my hands on, but someday!), so I am reading The Republic of Pirates as sort of research/for pleasure. Likewise, The Golden Age of Murder is about the Detection Club, and the rise of the British writers who made up the “golden age”: Christie, Sayers, Chesterton, etc. It’s interesting and informative; while I’ve read many of these writers–many of them when I was a teenager–it’s kind of fun finding out what they were like as people; what they thought of their own writing and each other; how they came up with their ideas, and what they did for marketing purposes (Sayers was apparently a tireless self-promoter).

I’ve decided that I have to do more promotion going forward; I am not exactly sure how to do that, but it’s something I need to be more pro-active about. Facebook and Twitter certainly can’t be the be-all end-all of my marketing efforts; however, the gay bookstores are gone as are the gay newspapers, and the mystery bookstores seem to be closing at an equally alarming rate as well. I’ve also come to the conclusion this year, as I’ve mentioned so many times before in past entries this year already, that I need to stop being so self-deprecating and take pride in my work. This is very against my nature; my default is to self-deprecate so I don’t have to worry about other people being deprecating. I’ve always feared that if I say something like I’m really proud of this story someone else will say, well, being proud of THIS isn’t difficult given what you’ve written before; you see how defeating this all can be? Reprogramming my mind isn’t easy, but it is definitely something I need to work on for this year. At the same time I detest arrogance…so it’s a tightrope I have to walk, proud but not arrogant. And I’m not sure I can navigate either properly.

But I am enjoying creating again; enjoying working with my characters and coming up with plots and dialogue and images. Hopefully I’ll do some actually writing–last night I was writing scenes in my journal in long-hand while the television blared in the background; fortunately with the Christie films I’d seen them before and read the novels, so I didn’t miss anything; I may not have been paying as close attention to The Shannara Chronicles as I may have needed to.

Today, I am going to reread the first four chapters of the revision of the WIP (which I have already started revising yet again). I may do some computer-writing today, but then again we’ll see where the day goes, shall we?

I also have been reading some short stories. I’d forgotten that The New Yorker was doing these decades books; showing the decade through collected pieces published in the magazine during that decade. I had purchased the volume for the 1940’s, and forgotten about it. I started paging through it the other day, and came across some great essays as well as some short stories…

The first inThe New Yorker’s The 40’s: The Story of a Decade is”The Second Tree from the Corner” by E. B. White.

\”Ever have any bizarre thoughts?” asked the doctor.

Mr. Trexler failed to catch the word. “What kind?” he asked.

“Bizarre,” repeated the doctor, his voice steady. He watched his patient for any slight change of expression, any wince. It seemed to Trexler that the doctor was not only watching him closely but creeping slowly toward him, like a lizard toward a bug. Trexler shoved his back an inch and gathered himself for a reply. He was about to say “Yes” when he realized that if he said yes the next question would be unanswerable. Bizarre thoughts, bizarre thoughts? Ever have any bizarre thoughts? What kind of thoughts except bizarre had he had since the age of two?

It’s interesting, for one thing, to switch from the crime/horror stories I usually read to read something that’s more along the literary fiction lines; I’ve heard of E. B. White before but never read him other than his collaboration with William Strunk, The Elements of Style, which has become a Bible of sorts, if not to writers then definitely to writing students. So, it was kind of nice to read some of his fiction.

The story itself is rather clever; it’s about the relationship between a psychiatrist and a patient, primarily drawn from the patient’s–Mr. Trexler’s–point of view, and how he sees his own neuroses and if his doctor is actually helping him or not. Mr. Trexler begins to slowly question his therapist during their sessions, which inevitably shifts the dynamic between the two, and Mr. Trexler also has some keen insights into his doctor’s personality. Ironically, this ‘reverse-therapy’ seems to have the most positive effect on Mr. Trexler, and after a session–which may or may not be his final session with this doctor–he’s kind of helped himself; on his walk home from the therapist he is quite buoyant and happy and seeing the world with almost new eyes, seeing everything in a new way.

So, the therapy worked…but just not how it’s intended to work, but does it matter when the final end is the desired outcome?

Interesting.

And now back to the spice mines.

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Twilight Zone

Ugh, my dryer is on the fritz, and I just can’t–in the ultimate of bougie problems–I just can’t function without a working washer and dryer. I can’t decide if it’s worth it to get a repair guy out here, or if we should just go ahead and get a new one. I know I called a repairman once for the washing machine–and it was only slightly less expensive than buying a new one. Heavy heaving sigh. I think we’ve already replaced the dryer once before. It’s so infuriating. I wish I were more handy, because I bet it is something that is really easy to fix; but I am not handy like that. I’m so glad my parents were so focused on my future that they wouldn’t let me take Shop or Auto Shop because they were too easy.

Yeah. They just would have saved me thousands of dollars over the years. But hey, those classes weren’t useful for my future.

Heavy heaving sigh.

So, I spent the evening trying to dry clothes in a faulty dryer–eventually they dried–while filing and washing dishes and also finishing reading Eric Ambler’s Journey Into Fear, which was quite fun.

journey into fear

The steamer, Sestri Levante, stood high above the dock side, and the watery sleet, carried on the wind blustening down from the Black Sea had drenched even the small shelter deck. In the after well, the Turkish stevedores, with sacking tied round their shoulders, were still loading cargo.

Graham saw the steward carry his suit-case through a door marked PASSEGGIERI, and turned aside to see if the two men who had shaken hands with him at the foot of the gangway were still there. They had not come aboard lest the the uniform of one of them should draw attention to him. Now they were walking away across the crane lines towards the warehouses and the dock gates beyond. As they reached the shelter of the first shed they looked back. He raised his left arm and saw an answering wave. They walked on out of sight.

For a moment he stood there shivering and staring out of the mist that shrouded the domes and spires of Stamboul. Behind the rumble and clatter of the winches, the Turkish foreman was shouting plaintively in bad Italian to one of the ship’s officers. Graham remembered that he had been told to go to his cabin and stay there until the ship sailed. He followed the steward through the door.

The man was waiting for him at the head of a short flight of stairs. There was no sign of any of the nine other passengers.

Eric Ambler, considered (per his bio) is considered the father of the modern thriller and was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America in 1975. His novels, focused on intrigue, espionage and spying, have been called influences by many writers, including John Le Carre and Robert Ludlum and Len Deighton. (I loved Ludlum, but am ashamed to admit I’ve never read Le Carre or Deighton; but I do have a copy of The Spy Who Came In From the Cold that I need to get around to reading.) I had never read Ambler; although my friend Pat, a huge fan of the crime genre, has recommended A Coffin for Demetrios to me on several different occasions, and usually one of Ambler’s works winds up on those lists of ‘crime novels everyone should read.’ I bought Epitaph for a Spy and several others a few years ago; I finally sat down and pulled Journey Into Fear out of the TBR Mountain and started reading it. It took me longer than it should have; it’s short, for one thing, but very engrossing. It’s also very…for want of a better term, it’s very British.

I love novels where normal, every day people going about their business and minding their own business are suddenly thrust into peril. Ludlum was a master of this, and I call it Hitchcockian; it was also a staple in many of his films. Journey into Fear also falls into this category; Graham, the main character, is a forty year old British man who works for an engineering firm and was sent to Turkey to help work on updating and refitting the Turkish fleet because of the outbreak of World War II. Graham, who is happily married and generally just goes about his business. What Graham, in his unassuming way, doesn’t realize or understand just how valuable he–and his work–are to the Allied forces; he is just doing his job. Then, on his last night in Istanbul, someone is waiting for him in his hotel room and shoots at him. Fortunately, he is only slightly wounded in his hand but this is when Turkish intelligence gets involved. It is a matter of vital Turkish importance to their defense that Graham make it back to England and his work not be interrupted; Graham doesn’t it take it seriously…at first. But once he is on the freighter traveling through the night to Genoa, he finds out just how much danger he is actually in.

The book is very tightly written, and not very long; but it also falls into the classic trope of suspense in a tight, controlled area with a very small cast of characters; like Murder on the Orient Express. This trope is very hard to pull off–even harder nowadays–and Ambler does it beautifully, even adding the element of “no one will believe me if I ask for help.” The other characters on the ship are richly drawn; Ambler is able to create a character with brief sentences that pretty much tell you everything you need to know about that character to make them real.

I am very much looking forward to reading more Ambler. Now I am going to give Dorothy B. Hughes’ sublime In a Lonely Place  a reread.

And now, back to the spice mines.

 

She Works Hard for the Money

Tuesday.

I had yesterday off, which was most lovely, and I spent the day relaxing, making lists, writing, editing, reading, and cleaning. I made shrimp creole for dinner, which was fabulous, and then we watched the series finale for Orphan Black. I am going to miss the sestras; it was quite a thrill ride for five seasons, and Tatiana Maslany’s talent is truly amazing.

I didn’t get as much writing done as I would have liked, but sometimes just being able to reflect and think is just as effective as actually writing. Plus, I kind of needed a rest. I am going to get some more writing done today, and I am going to finish the second half of the WIP line edit, and then tomorrow (a twelve hour day) I am going to hopefully get started on the first half of the manuscript’s line edit. I can’t believe how long it’s taken me to get this done; and then I am going to have to story edit one more time just to make sure. I want to be able to start sending it to agents after Labor Day. I want to get the first draft of this Scotty finished by mid-September as well, then let it sit for a month or so while I write this noir I’ve been wanting to write for a while. I think the working on something different between drafts is working for me. It doesn’t make sense in any sort of writing universe to write this way, but it’s working for me and as I always tell beginning writers–find whatever system works for you, even if it doesn’t make the slightest bit of sense to anyone else.

I am also way behind–and off the rails–for short stories. I need to get back to “For All Tomorrow’s Lies” soon; it’s due for an edit/revision, and I never did finish that draft of “Quiet Desperation.” Heavy heaving sigh. I think there’s another one I was working on–oh, yes, “This Thing of Darkness,” and some others, too, that never quite got finished. This creative ADD needs to stop.

I need to make a list, is what I need to do.

Heavy heaving sigh.

I’m really enjoying Journey Into Fear. The action has now moved from Istanbul to on board a ship, sailing to Genoa with Our Hero, whose life is in danger. I love these kinds of stories; and miss them. The change from trains and ships as means of transportation has kind of eliminated them as settings for crime novels and thrillers; there will be no more books like this or Murder on the Orient Express, which is really unfortunate. The whole air of being away from everyone else in the world, isolated on a journey with only your fellow passengers, any one of which might be the murderer/spy/assassin,  that whole claustrophobic feeling–an author has to really push themselves and their creativity to come up with a way to isolate the characters and seal them off from the rest of the world these days. Rebecca Chance did this beautifully in her novel Mile High, set on a luxury airliner on a flight from London to Los Angeles; Nick Cutter’s The Deep set his novel on a sealab at the bottom of the Marianas Trench (and that sense of claustrophobia was so beautifully portrayed in that novel that just remembering it makes me shudder). It is still possible, of course, to do something along the lines of And Then There Were None, where the characters are stranded on an island and cut off from the rest of the world; the single season suspense show Harper’s Island did this nicely…I’ve always wanted to do one of those types of novels, and Scotty would be the perfect character for such a book, I think, but I can’t for the life of me figure out how to make it work. I guess I’ll just let it sit in the back of my head until I get one of those a-ha moments that I am always afraid I’ll stop having.

And now, back to the spice mines. Here’s today’s hunk for you:

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Yes or No

Good morning, Sunday people! I slept deeply and well last night, so this morning I feel rested. My muscles don’t feel tight, either–but I am still going to stretch this morning. I gave up on two things yesterday–reading A Feast of Snakes and writing “A Holler Full of Kudzu.” The first because it’s, quite frankly, stupid; I didn’t believe the characters, nor did I believe the story, nor did I care about any of it. Harry Crews did, however, write some terrific paragraphs and create some amazing sentences, but about halfway through–and mind you, the entire novel is less than 200 pages, and it’s taken me over a week to get halfway through it–I just wasn’t buying into it or believing it. The second I gave up on because, while I do think there’s a short story in there, there’s also more than enough story to become a novel; and I am not sure at this point what exactly the short story should be. It was also taking me a really long time to write it; I think in slightly more than a week I’d only managed slightly more than two thousand words. So, I decided to put it to the side, let it percolate for a while, and then I can come back to it. This morning, this day, I am going to try to finish “Quiet Desperation” (which I’d forgotten I was in the process of writing, because I got so caught up in the my recent interest in Southern Gothic), revise “For All Tomorrow’s Lies”, and then start the revision of my WIP. I am going to do something dramatically different with that, as well; I am going to revise the last five chapters first, and then work my way backward through the book. It’s odd, but I always am worried that working in a linear way, which is what I usually do, the first half gets more attention than the second, and the second half of the book always is like a neglected stepchild, when it is really the most important part of the book.

I also started a reread last night of one of my favorite Agatha Christie novels, and one of her lesser-known ones: Endless Night. Some of my favorite Agatha Christie novels are her less-known ones (A Murder is Announced, Death Comes as the End, The Body in the Library, The Mirror Crack’d, N or M, The Man in the Brown Suit, They Came to Baghdad, Cat Among the Pigeons,  and The Secret of Chimneys, among many others), which isn’t to say the more famous ones–The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Murder on the Orient Express, And Then There Were None, and Death on the Nile–weren’t enjoyable. I am actually curious to see the new film version of Murder on the Orient Express, but seriously; is there anyone who doesn’t know the ending of that famous novel at this point?

Endless Night is one of my favorite Christies because it is vastly different than any of her other novels; one of the things that is the most amazing about Christie is she basically did everything first. Endless Night is more Gothic in style and tone; bordering on the noir side. I didn’t get very far into reading it yesterday before it was time to go get our weekend treat (a deep dish pizza from That’s Amore) and then we watched an Andy Samberg mock-documentary, Never Stop Never Stopping, which was really funny, and then it was time for a few episodes of Ozark, which continues to amaze and enthrall us. The way it’s shot is superb, the cinematography Oscar level, and both Jason Bateman and Laura Linney are killing it in their performances; they should be frontrunners for next year’s Emmys. And the Lake of the Ozarks is almost as much a character as the actors themselves, as well as the stunning beauty of the area. And, of course, tonight is Game of Thrones.

I didn’t get as much cleaning done as I would have liked yesterday, but I did reread some stories that need revision, and I think I may have figured out how to revise them and make them stronger; we shall see when I start working on them again, no? I’ve also still be digesting my reread of The Great Gatsby, and that’s a whole other entry in and of itself.

And on that note, I should get back to the spice mines. Here’s a Sunday hunk for you.

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