This Used To Be My Playground

GEAUX TIGERS!

I watched the Auburn-Washington game yesterday while I cleaned the downstairs. I did a lot of chores and errands yesterday; and also did some reorganizing and cleaning so the living room doesn’t look quite so…book hoarder-ish. 

I’m getting better about it. I’ve realized that the true value, for me, of the ebook is that if I read a book I really like and think I’ll want to hang on to for one reason or another, I can donate the hardcopy and buy the ebook; if I’m patient enough and pay enough attention to email alerts and so forth, I can usually get it at a much discounted price. I don’t feel quite so bad about buying ebooks at low sale prices as I would had I not paid full price already for a print version. So, I’m really buying the book twice.

(I also find myself taking advantages of sales on ebooks by a particular author whose books I loved and would love to revisit sometime. I have the entire canon of Mary Stewart on my iPad, and a shit ton of Phyllis Whitneys. I’m also occasionally finding books by Dorothy B. Hughes and Charlotte Armstrong and Dorothy Salisbury Davis, which is lovely; I’ve also managed to get some of Susan Howatch’s lengthy family sagas, like Penmarric, The Wheel of Fortune, and Cashelmara. There are many treasures to be found through e-retailers.)

And I also find that, once I’ve let go of the hard copy, I’m not usually all that anxious to buy the e-version. Most of the books I want to keep is because I think it might be something I’d want to write about in a broader, nonfiction sense; like a book about the Gothic romances of the 1960’s thru the 1980’s, what they were inspired by, and how they were books about women’s fears; yes, there was romance involved, but they were also about the dark side of romance. Or a lengthy essay or study about how gay men are portrayed in crime novels written by authors who aren’t gay men, like the rampant homophobia in James Ellroy’s Clandestine or the male/male relationship in James M. Cain’s Serenade or any number of gay male portrayals over the decades of American crime fiction. Then there are, of course, the nonfiction tomes, about periods of history that interest me that I hold onto because I may need them as research for a book or story idea that I have.

I also keep copies of books by my friends, and whenever a friend has an ebook sale I will always grab a copy if I can.

I still haven’t really shifted from reading hard copies to reading electronically, but I am slowly but surely getting there. Anthologies are really helpful in that way; short stories are, of course, self-contained and by definition can usually be completed in one sitting.

I also finished reading James Ziskin’s wonderful Cast the First Stone, and am now eighty percent of the way finished with my Bouchercon homework.

cast the first stone

Monday, February 5, 1962

Sitting at the head of runway 31R at Idlewild, the jet hummed patiently, its four turbines spinning, almost whining. The captain’s voice crackled over the public-address system to inform us that we were next in line for takeoff. I’d noticed him earlier leaning against the doorframe of the cockpit, greeting passengers as we boarded the plane. He’d given me a thorough once-over–a hungry leer I know all too well–and I averted my gaze like the good girl that I’m not.

“Welcome aboard, miss,” he’d said, compelling me to look him in the eye. He winked and flashed me a bright smile. “I hope to give you a comfortable ride.”

I surely blushed.

Now, just moments after the handsome pilot had assured us of our imminent departure, the engines roared to life, and the aircraft lurched forward from its standstill. Juddering at first as it began to move, the plane rumbled down the runway, gathering speed as it barreled toward takeoff. I craned my neck to see better through the window,  holding my breath as I gripped the armrest of my seat and grinned like a fool. I sensed the man seated next to me was rolling his eyes, but I didn’t care. Of course I’d flown before–a regional flight from LaGuardia to Albany on Mohawk Airlines, and a couple of quick hops in a single-engine Cessna with a man who was trying to impress me with his derring-do. Alas, his derring-didn’t. But this was my first-ever flight on a jet plane.

This is a terrific start to a terrific novel. The fifth book in James W. Ziskin’s highly acclaimed and award-winning Ellie Stone series, it is, alas, the first Ellie Stone I’ve read. I met the author at a Bouchercon some time back (I don’t recall which one) and of course, I’ve been aware of the awards and the acclaim, and have been accumulating the books in his series for my TBR pile, but just haven’t gotten to them yet, much to my chagrin. So while I am not a fan of reading books out of order in a series (a crime I committed earlier in my Bouchercon homework with Nadine Nettman’s wine series), I certainly didn’t have the time to go back and read the first four.

Now, of course, I am going to have to–and what a delightful prospect this is.

Ellie is a delight, for one thing. The book/series is set in 1962/early 1960’s; and Ellie is a report for the New Holland Republic, not taken terribly seriously by the men she works with or for (with the sole exception her direct editor), even though she is the best reporter and the best writer on her paper. (It kind of reminds me of Mad Men in that way.) The opening is terrific; Ziskin captures that excitement of your first jet flight in a time period where it wasn’t terribly common to fly beautifully, and using that experience to not only showcase how adventurous Ellie is but to introduce her to the new reader as well as give some of her background. She is flying out to Los Angeles to interview a local boy who’s gone out to Hollywood to be a movie star, and has recently been cast as the second male lead in one of those ubiquitous beach movies the 60’s were known for, Twistin’ at the Beach. But he hasn’t shown up for his first day of shooting on the Paramount lot, placing his job in jeopardy, and soon the producer has been murdered…and the deeper Ellie gets into her story and her search for Tony Eberle soon has her digging through the seaming, tawdrier side of the Hollywood dream and system. Saying much more would be giving away spoilers, but Ziskin’s depiction of the secretive side of Hollywood, what studios were willing to do back in the day to protect bankable stars, and what that meant to those on the seamier side of the business is heart-wrenching and heartbreaking, and sympathetically written.

I can’t wait to read more about Ellie Stone.

And now I have moved on to Thomas Pluck’s Bad Boy Boogie, the last part of my homework. LSU plays tonight (GEAUX TIGERS!), and I want to go to the gym, do some more cleaning, and do some more writing today.

So it’s back to the spice mines with me.

A Different Corner

Very tired today; a late night of bar testing got me home late last night, and so my sleep–always an issue–was not good last night. The end result is that I am very foggy and tired today, with a lot of spice to mine.

Heavy heaving sigh.

But I am very pleased to report that I finished reading Nadine Nettman’s Uncorking a Lie last night, and might I add that my Bouchercon homework is ever so much more fun than any homework I’ve ever had previously in my life?

Scan

PAIRING SUGGESTION:

CREMANT DE LOIRE–LOIRE VALLEY, FRANCE

A sparkling wine made primarily from the Chenin Blanc grape, ideal for beginnings.

When bottles of wine are sold for large amounts of money, they end up in the news. Sometimes it;s because the bottle was rare and other times the final price was noteworthy or even extreme. Yet the seller is never really emphasized in the articles. It’s always the buyer.

The buyer, who paid thousands and thousands of dollars for a bottle of wine, often with the notion to safely tuck it away in a cellar where it might not be moved again. I understand saving special bottles for long periods of time, but to know that a wine would never be released from the bottle, never get to live out its purpose of being enjoyed and savored, always gave me a tinge of sadness.

This time I knew the buyer well. Paul Rafferty was a longtime customer of Trentino and although he had an extensive collection of unique bottles kept safely in his wine cellar, he was also known for occasionally opening rare wines, sometimes at the restaurant where I had the honor of uncorking the bottle and releasing the story.

I never deny the fact that I am, for all intents and purposes, a peasant. There are a lot of things about manners and etiquette, for example, that I neither know nor understand. My family has very poor, rural Southern roots; it was in my parents’ generation that the cycle of poverty was broken and our family moved from blue-collar/working class to comfortably middle class. I am always worried I am committing some social faux pas because I simply don’t know any better; I simply stick to the basic manners of being polite when a guest but there’s always that niggling doubt in the back of my mind that I am going to do something that makes my host or hostess think to themselves oh yes, I always forget Greg is white trash. Smart, but still white trash.

Wine is one of the things I don’t understand or get; something I don’t know a lot about. I am always afraid to order wine with dinner or in a bar setting because I don’t know what I’m looking for; for many years I simply differentiated between wines as “red” or “white”; I still get thrown every once in a while by all the many different varieties that fall under each color–and then, of course, there’s rose. Sigh.

Uncorking a Lie is a terrific traditional mystery, in that the main character, through whose point-of-view we see the story, is not a professional investigator of any type but a sommelier at Trentino, a nice restaurant in San Francisco. Katie has recently passed her certification exam and is studying for her Master Sommelier certification. She is invited to a special dinner at Paul Rafferty’s mansion in Sonoma where he plans on opening and serving a bottle he bought at auction for nineteen thousand dollars; once the bottle is opened Katie realizes that the bottle is, actually, a counterfeit. She informs Paul’s assistant–and less than an hour later the assistant is dead. Paul asks her to get to the bottom of the counterfeit bottle of wine, and now we are off to the races.

This was a very fun read with a likable main character; and even though I don’t know much about wine, Nettman’s discussions about wine were not only not over my head, but made me even more interested in learning more about wine.

Look forward to reading more in this series!

Dreamtime

A rare late night of bar testing has left my day free; I am going to go to the gym, do some cleaning, and maybe even some writing before I head into the office. We’ll see how it goes, shan’t we?

I am still reading Nadine Nettman’s Uncorking a Lie, and am really enjoying it thus far. I have to say, one of the most interesting thing (to me) about this year’s Anthony nominees for Best Paperback Original is how different all the books are–something I will talk about more when I’ve finished reading them all. (I am also making notes of questions to ask each writer as I read their books; best way to prep for moderating a panel!)

Next up for The Short Story Project is the next story in Florida Happens, which happens to be “There’s an Alligator in My Purse” by Paul D. Marks.

The Teaser

She makes a beautiful corpse, doesn’t she?”

“You just kill me.”

“No, I just killed her.”

“You know what they say, live fast, die young and leave a good lookin’ corpse.”

“Or at least a dead one,” I said, with a wink.

I’m a pro. I like to do a competent job. I like to have my marks look presentable, both for themselves and for my clients. It’s good for word of mouth and getting killed is hard enough, on both the mark and their family, so at least they should leave a suitable lasting impression.

I also take a lot of pictures. Much easier in these digital days. Back in the day, it was hard to take pictures of dead bodies to your local photo store to get developed—some of them even called the cops. And I like to add a little art to my work. Give the client a little something extra for their money, so I try to shoot from interesting angles, in low key light, like in an old film noir. I find it works on two levels. It gives me satisfaction and, of course, it gives my clients some kind of closure.

Let me fill you in on some of what led us here. Someone has to tell the story and it might as well be me. I’m probably the only one who can see the big picture. True, I wasn’t there for everything, but I was there for enough of it and I heard about the rest from first person sources. How much of it you should trust, well, that’s another story. You don’t know me and I don’t know you, but I like to think I’m a pretty reliable source. So, this is the tale as best I know it.

Paul D Marks -- _MG_5669Edit-2 d1.jpg

Paul D. Marks is the author of the Shamus Award-winning mystery-thriller White Heat, which Publishers Weekly calls a “taut crime yarn,” and its sequel Broken Windows (dropping 9/10/18). Publisher’s Weekly says: “Fans of downbeat PI fiction will be satisfied…with Shamus Award winner Marks’s solid sequel to… White Heat.” Though set in the 1990s, both novels deal with issues that are hot and relevant today: racism and immigration, respectively. His short stories appear in Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazines, among others, and have won or been nominated for many awards, including the Anthony, Derringer and Macavity. His story “Windward,” has been selected for the Best American Mystery Stories of 2018, edited by Louise Penny & Otto Penzler, and has also been nominated for both a 2018 Shamus Award and Macavity Award for Best Short Story.  “Ghosts of Bunker Hill” was voted #1 in the 2016 Ellery Queen Readers Poll. He is co-editor of the multi-award nominated anthology Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea. You can find him on-line at his website, link right here!

When asked  about how he came up with his story, he replied:

The genesis of my story, “There’s an Alligator in My Purse,” was inspired by the theme of the Bouchercon anthology, which was originally “Sunny Places, Shady People”. So I wanted plenty o’ sun and plenty o’ shady people. I could have gone one of two ways with the story: a serious noirish mystery, which is more what I’m known for…if I’m known. Or, since people seem to make fun of Florida so much the other choice was humor and satire. I chose the latter. I thought it would be fun to get a little crazy. And though I mostly write serious crime stories, I have done some humorous and satirical stories in the past, so it was time for another shot at that.

I started with the title, which just came to me out of nowhere, as these things often do. I thought it was funny. Okay, funny. Now what? Now I have to build a story around it. And hopefully make the rest of the story have at least a chuckle or two. So I had to figure out who would have an alligator in their purse – yes, there really is one! – and why. I just let my mind wander. And had fun with it. This story was a hell of a lot of fun to write and I hope others enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

The story, though he claims otherwise, is both noirish and funny. It’s very clever in the way it takes a classic hard-boiled/noir trope and spins it on its head, while turning it inside out at the same time. It’s also kind of written like a film; there are quick cuts between scenes, so the story flows in a cinematic way, which was a lot of fun. I greatly enjoyed this story–and have enjoyed Paul’s work in the past as well (we were both nominated for the 2017 Macavity for Short Story, which gave me the occasion to read his “Ghosts of Bunker Hill”, which is quite marvelous), and I am looking forward to reading his novel White Heat when it works its way up in my TBR pile.

And now, back to the spice mines.

King for a Day

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

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

No. One.

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

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

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

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

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

the day i died

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

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

This moment. This is what I return to.

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

If I had just.

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

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

And now, back to the spice mines.

Take Me Home

Saturday morning and I feel great. If you think that means I slept well last night, you would be correct in that assumption.  It’s amazing what a difference it makes; those of you who have no trouble sleeping at night and can get amazing rest every night? You have no idea how lucky you are, and how much I envy you.

Today I have errands to run, a house to clean, a workout to do; as long as I stay motivated I can easily get all of these things done. I also have writing to do–I want to finish “A Whisper from the Graveyard” this weekend, and I also want to finish making my notes on the Scotty book, at which point I need to revise the outline I did (after finishing the first draft) so I can start the massive edit/rewrite for the second draft I need to get done. As I also mentioned the other day, I also need to start reading the books on the Anthony shortlist for Best Paperback Original, since I am moderating that panel at Bouchercon this year. To jog your memory, those books are, as follows: The Day I Died by Lori Rader-Day; Bad Boy Boogie by Thomas Pluck; Uncorking a Lie by Nadine Nettman; What We Reckon by Eryk Pruitt; and Cast the First Stone by James Ziskin. I got some good reading ahead of me, don’t I? Yes I do!

Huzzah! This is, after all, always a good thing.

I am, alas, as always, behind on my writing schedule. I had wanted to get Scotty finished this month (ha!) before embarking on an a project that will consume August and September; and then I had wanted to work on the WIP in October and November before starting on Bury Me in Satin in December. I don’t see that happening now, alas, since I got so little done on Scotty this month. Then again, you never know. If I can maintain good sleeping habits and maintain meeting goals and staying motivated every day in the face of the oppressive heat of a New Orleans August, I just might be able to get back on schedule.

Here’s hoping.

I did finished reading Jessica Knoll’s The Favorite Sister this week.

the favorite sister

A man whose name I do not know slides his hand under the hem of my new blouse, connecting the cable to the lavalier mic clipped to my collar. He asks me to say something–sound check–and for a single reckless beat, I consider the truth. Brett is dead and I’m not innocent.

“Testing. Testing. One. Two. Three.” I’m not only dishonest. I’m unoriginal.

The sound guy listens to the playback. “Keep your hair off your left shoulder as much as you can,” he tells me.  I haven’t had my ends trimmed in months, and not because my grief has bested my vanity. I’m hoping viewers are better able to see the resemblance to my sister. I have nice hair. Brett had beautiful hair.

“Thanks,” I reply, wishing I could remember his name. Brett would have known it. She made a point of being on a first-name basis with the crew–from the gaffer to the ever-rotating harem of production assistants. My sister’s speciality was making underappreciated people feel appreciated. It’s a testament to that quality that we are all gathered here today, some of us prepared to tell heroic lies about her.

This is Knoll’s second novel; her first, Luckiest Girl Alive, was stunningly brilliant and I loved it. I also believe she may have made the Edgar shortlist for Best First Novel. In this book, Knoll again takes as her theme ambitious women and the conflicts they have with each other, set against the backdrop of a reality television series which is clearly based, in some ways, on the Real Housewives shows. The show, Goal Diggers of New York, ostensibly focuses on five women who are all entrepreneurs, don’t have kids, and in most cases are also single. Goal Diggers has the same pedigree as the Real Housewives shows; originally intended as a docu-series focusing on real women and the struggles they have running businesses and so forth, it has descended into a ratings-hungry juggernaut predicated on pitting the women against each other emotionally and forcing them into feuds. The ultimate cleverness of the book is it follows, basically, the same trajectory as if it were, indeed, a reality show about women; it reads like a season of a Real Housewives franchise. There are three main point-of-view characters–sisters Kelly and Brett, and Brett’s former best friend, an author of color named Stephanie. Kelly narrates the action in the present, after all the events of the book are finished–the device used is her filming what is known as a ‘talking head’ interview; where the camera is trained on the cast member and asked questions. The rest of the book is about the filming of the most recent season of Goal Diggers, which ended in tragedy; that is shown from the alternating POV’s of Brett and Stephanie, who manufactured a feud for the season as a storyline but the ‘fake feud’ actually runs far deeper, with a far worse betrayal at its heart, than anything that was taped for the series. The book addresses a lot of current hot topics in our culture and society: racism, homophobia, same-sex marriage, sexism. It’s very hard to talk about the book without giving spoilers; like a season of a reality show, the twists and turns the plot takes are part of the joy the reader gets from the story, and to discuss them would spoil it for new readers. But it’s very well-written, and the characterizations are quite strong.

I have to say, I enjoyed every second of reading this book, and I can’t wait for Knoll’s next one.

And now, back to the spice mines.