The Other Side of the Door

Friday and I am taking the day off from the day job. Yes, I know it was a short week already and I should probably save the vacation day for sometime later in the year when it would really come in handy, but this was a rough week for me and I feel entitled to take a mental healing day, so sue me, okay?

The Lost Apartment is, as always, a disheveled hovel that looks like two college-age males live here, and that always plays a part into my emotional stability. I am not sure why that is, but I simply cannot abide clutter and dust and dirty windows–being raised, no doubt, by a woman who made Joan Crawford look slovenly probably has something to do with it–and it always weighs on my mental stability, which is always tenuous at best. I had hoped to do something about that over Labor Day weekend, and while progress of a sort was definitely made, not enough to really make a difference; rather, it was more like a lick-and-a-promise; a mere surface touching that simply kept it from looking like a condemned property. But the heat has been so horrifically intense this year that doing anything in the kitchen/laundry room is misery, let alone going outside and climbing a ladder to clean the windows. But….if I get up early one morning, it should still be cool enough to be bearable.

Right?

One can dream, at any rate.

This morning is probably the morning I should have done the windows, ironically. It’s not terribly sunny this morning, and it doesn’t feel particularly hot here in the Lost Apartment, either. There are an insane amount of tropical systems being tracked by the Hurricane Center; I’ve seen reports ranging from four to seven; and there’s a low pressure system just off the coast here in the Gulf that apparently is going to bury us with rain even if it doesn’t develop into anything stronger. I also allowed myself to sleep in this morning–note to self: set alarm for tomorrow–and it felt terrific to get rest again. I’ve already started a load of the bed linens, and when I finish this I am going to start filing in an attempt to get the office under control. Today is my day to clean and start working through all the emails that have accumulated; and later this afternoon I will try to get some writing done. I’m also going to read a couple of short stories today, rather than diving into Babylon Berlin; I don’t want to risk getting sucked into it, which I suspect will happen. I’m also reading–and savoring–Gore Vidal’s Lincoln, which is another of his American Empire series; I’ve already read Century–and I’ve always enjoyed Vidal’s work whenever I can bring myself to read it. He has a very distinct writing style that I enjoy, but I also don’t think I would have particularly liked Vidal had we ever met; he seemed like a difficult person, and an intellectual snob–and there are few character traits I despise more than snobbery of any kind. But he was incredibly smart, and a talented writer; I know I’ve enjoyed everything of his that I’ve read–and would, and probably should, like to revisit both The City and the Pillar and Myra Breckinridge again. (I would imagine Myra Breckinridge would not fly today…) I also find some of my reading choices this year thus far, looking back, to be…interesting. I’ve read a lot of plague literature, obviously, and now I seem to be gravitating to Civil War narratives. Curious.

Yes, I just got a local “tropical advisory” alert, and it looks like we’re going to get hit with a lot of heavy rain Tuesday and Wednesday. Huzzah. Of course, I love rain–it’s the risk to my car from street flooding I don’t like very much. I mean, there’s nothing more comforting than sleeping, all warm and dry, inside when it’s pouring outside, is there? I’ve always loved that warm and dry feeling when it’s raining outside, even if I am simply inside a car driving through a storm. (It always reminds me of the Trixie Belden volume The Mystery of Cobbett’s Island, which opens with Trixie and the Bob-Whites being driven by Miss Trask through a storm to a ferry to the island, and I think Trixie says something about that safe, warm feeling during storms, and it’s always stuck in my head as the perfect way to sum up why I love thunderstorms and downpours. And yes, so many things in my life inevitably lead back to the mystery series for kids I read as a child.)

Wednesday is also a work at home day for me, so I can just stay home and watch and listen to the rain while making condom packs and continuing my Cynical 70s Film Festival, which I think may move onto Chinatown and Don’t Look Now. I’ve already seen both of those, but as a lot of the films I am including in this “film festival” could also be considered crime/neo-noir, it only makes sense to rewatch both with an eye to the cynicism of the 1970’s as well as to the neo-noir aspects of both (in all honesty, I’m not really sure what the definition of neo-noir actually is; just as there’s no definition for noir, there really isn’t one for neo-noir, either; I suspect it’s because the classic films noir were black and white films and later noirs were filmed in color. I could be wrong, but that’s my takeaway). Don’t Look Now, is, of course, one of my favorite short stories of all time; and the film is extraordinary.

I’m also rather curious to see this new Netflix adaptation of du Maurier’s Rebecca. Constant Reader knows how much I love me some Daphne du Maurier; and of course, Rebecca is right up there as one of my favorite novels (the original Hitchcock film version is also one of my favorite films of all time; it’s why I generally have avoided remakes and the dreadful sequels to the original novel). Armie Hammer wouldn’t have been my choice to play Maxim de Winter, but the female casting–particularly Kristen Scott Thomas as Mrs. Danvers–is rather intriguing to me. I’ve always seen Mrs. Danvers clearly in my head as Judith Anderson–her performance was so definitive–that it’s hard for me to see anyone else in the role. Hammer is no Olivier, really, and I honestly think that if I were to recast the film currently I would have gone for Kenneth Branagh as Maxim, Saoirse Ronan as his second wife, and probably either Emma Thompson or Maria Doyle Kennedy as Mrs. Danvers…I’ve also always wondered, whatever happened to Mr. Danvers?

Just like I’ve always wanted to delve into the psyche of Veda Pierce.

I kind of want to reread Mildred Pierce and Rebecca now. Sigh.

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

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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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After the Event

I’ve loved, and been fascinated, by ancient Egypt ever since I was a kid. I don’t remember when, precisely, Egypt became so lodged into my brain; but for as long as I can remember, the ancient history of one of our oldest civilization has intrigued me, and held my interest. I’m hardly an expert–not even close–but I remember pestering my parents to subscribe to the Time-Life Great Ages of Man series; the very first volume of which was, naturally,  Ancient Egypt (for the record, I still have my entire set of those books). Cleopatra, of course, also interested me; I’m not sure if my Egyptian interest came before or after watching the Elizabeth Taylor version of Cleopatra on television. (I still am terribly interested in Cleopatra; the court intrigues and politics of the Ptolemy dynasty makes the Borgias and the Medici look like pikers. I always wanted to write a book about–of all things–Cleopatra’s older sister Berenice, who briefly overthrew their father and took the Egyptian crown. The Romans sent legions to support her father, so her reign was very brief. Her younger sister, Arsinoe, who fought Cleopatra for the throne–only to be defeated by Caesar, also interests me.) I’ve always been interested in Akhenaten (loved Allen Drury’s two books about the Amarna revolution, A God Against the Gods and Return to Thebes), Tutankhamun (of course), and Hatshepsut (I read a great Scholastic mystery set during her reign called The Mystery of the Pharaoh’s Treasure, and I think I bought a copy from eBay a while back; I may have the name wrong.)

But as much as I love Egypt, I didn’t love it enough to read Norman Mailer’s Ancient Evenings. I borrowed it from the library, and couldn’t get through the first chapter.

Sorry not sorry.

As a teenager who loved mysteries, I gravitated towards women authors once I’d fairly exhausted the canons of Ellery Queen, Agatha Christie, and Erle Stanley Gardner primarily because I couldn’t relate or identify with the crime novels being written by men at the time. Grim and hard-boiled and toxic masculinity wasn’t a combination I was terribly interested in at the time; I did appreciate noir (discovering James M. Cain when I was about nineteen was wonderful), though–but that was because I associated it with all those great movies I used to watch with my grandmother. I eventually came around, and started enjoying John D. MacDonald and Hammett and Chandler as I got older.

But when I saw this book on the paperback rack at the grocery store in Emporia, I had to get it. It was a mystery; blurbed by one of my favorite writers, Phyllis A. Whitney, and of course, that was the Sphinx on the cover. I bought it, read it, loved it–and forgot about Elizabeth Peters for about a decade or so (I came back to Barbara Michaels in my mid-twenties, and when I discovered she was also Elizabeth Peters, it didn’t register with me.) Then one day I was in the Waldenbooks and More on Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa when I saw a book on the end cap that called to me: The Last Camel Died at Noon, plus an unmistakably Egyptian scene on the cover. The title and the cover alone sold me–and I also knew by then that Elizabeth Peters was the same writer as Barbara Michaels. I bought it and when I got home, I opened to the first page and started reading….about a page in I stopped. Wait, Emerson and Peabody? I turned back to the beginning of the book and there it was, on the BY THE SAME AUTHOR page: THE AMELIA PEABODY SERIES, and the first title was Crocodile on the Sandbank! 

You can only imagine my delight. I loved those characters, loved that first book, and to find out now there was a series? I read The Last Camel Died at Noon cover to cover in about twenty-four hours, and the next day I went back to Waldenbooks and More and bought the entire series, and settled in to get reacquainted with two of my favorite fictional characters of all time.

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When I first set eyes on Evelyn Barton-Forbes she was walking the streets of Rome–(I am informed, by the self-appointed critic who reads over my shoulder as I write, that I have already committed an error. If those seemingly simple English words do indeed imply that which I am told they imply to the vulgar, I must in justice to Evelyn find other phrasing.)

In justice to myself, however, I must insist that Evelyn was doing precisely what I have said she was doing, but with no ulterior purpose in mind. Indeed, the poor girl had no purpose and no means of carrying it out if she had. Our meeting was fortuitous, but fortunate. I had, as I always have, purpose enough for two.

I had left my hotel that morning in considerable irritation of spirits. My plans had gone awry. I am not accustomed to having my plans go awry. Sensing my mood, my small Italian guide trailed behind me in silence. Piero was not silent when I first encountered him, in the lobby of the hotel, where, in common with others of his kind, he awaited the arrival of helpless foreign visitors in need of a translator and guide. I selected him from amid the throng because his appearance was a trifle less villainous than that of the others.

I was well aware of the propensity of these fellows to bully, cheat, and otherwise take advantage of the victims who employ them, but I had no intention of being victimized. It did not take me long to make this clear to Piero. My first act was to bargain ruthlessly with the shopkeeper to whom Piero took me to buy silk. The final price was so low that Piero’s commission was reduced to a negligible sum. He expressed his chagrin to his compatriot in his native tongue, and included in his tirade several personal comments on my appearance and manner. I let him go on for some time and then interrupted him with a comment on his manners. I speak Italian, and understand it, quite well. After that, Piero and I got on admirably. I had not employed him because I required an interpreter, but because I wanted someone to carry parcels and run errands.

My God, that incredible, incredible voice.

By the end of the second page, I was madly in love with Amelia Peabody; by the end of the third, I wanted to be Amelia Peabody. How could you not love her? She’s fiercely intelligent, even more fiercely independent, spoke her mind, got straight to the point, and had no desire whatsoever to deal with frivolities, sentimentality, and so forth. The youngest child and only daughter of a classics scholar, her six older brothers got married and left her home to take care of their father. She speaks four languages fluently, and frequently curses the accident of birth that left her a female. Her father died and left her everything–which her brothers thought was fair, until it turned out he was a lot richer than anyone thought and had left her half a million pounds, which was an insane amount of money in the late nineteenth century. Unmarried at thirty-two, she considers herself to be too plain, too old, and too sharp-tongued to ever marry, and has decided she is going to die a spinster. (I could never respect a man who would allow his wife to dominate him, but at the same time I could never allow any man to dominate me.) She decides to use her fortune to travel to visit the places she’s always dreamed of and read about in books–which is what brings her to Rome, along with her paid companion–whom she doesn’t care for, and just chance puts her in the forum at the same time as Evelyn, who faints and Peabody, of course, takes charge. She decides to help Evelyn–who was seduced away from her wealthy family and “ruined”, as well as cut off, and she’d come to Rome with the man she thought she loved only to be abandoned by him, with no clothes but what she is wearing and not a penny to her name. Peabody and Evelyn hit it off, she sends the paid companion back to England and engages Evelyn as her new companion, and they depart for Egypt.

So, now two of our players are now in place; it’s time to meet the other two. Once they are all checked in at Shepheard’s in Cairo, Peabody is quickly besotted with Egypt, and pyramids, in particular–and reading Peabody’s descriptions of the country, you cannot help but fall in love with it, too (not a problem for me; I was already there before I read the book). They go to the Antiquities Museum one afternoon–the director was a friend of Peabody’s father–and Peabody is put off by how disheveled and disorganized–and dusty–everything is. She picks up a dusty pot and begins to wipe the dust from it, only to have an enormous man explode with rage at her. They give each other what-for–they are suitably matched in that regard–and this is Emerson, archaeologist with a passion for discovery and knowledge and preserving the past. Emerson’s brother makes apologies, and a spark is lit between Walter and Evelyn. Soon, the Emersons are off to their dig at Amarna, and Peabody and Evelyn rent a sailboat–a dahabeeyah, to be exact–and begin their trip down the Nile.

Naturally, they stop at Amarna, and stumble into quite a bizarre mystery, which includes an animated mummy and several attempts on our troop’s lives. But the four are definitely up to the task–there are times when I laughed out loud–and hilariously, while both Peabody and Emerson become quite irritated with Walter and Evelyn, who can’t see that the other is madly in love with them; Peabody and Emerson are also falling in love, and refuse to see it, bickering and fighting and–oh, it’s just wonderful and charming, and I know I am failing to do the magnificent Ms. Peters’ work any kind of justice. Amanda is just so, so wonderfully fearless and courageous and pure, and doesn’t even worry about her own safety when those she loves are in danger. The book has a most satisfying resolution, and I remember putting it down that first (much as I do every time I reread it) with a happy smile on my face. The Peabody and Emerson books bring me a lot of joy.

I devoured the entire series, loving them all–the way Peters deftly ages her characters and deepens their relationships, and of course the children…one thing that will always make The Last Camel Died at Noon special for me was that was also the adventure that introduced our merry band of archaeologists to Nofret–and therein lies another tale, for yet another time.

I am so, so delighted I reread Crocodile on the Sandbank. If you’ve not read this series, you really should treat yourself to it, because it is just that: the most amazing gift you can give yourself.

Diamond Girl

So, how you doin’, Constant Reader?

Well, running the errands yesterday turned into a major challenge. It started raining before I left the house, but despite the heavy rain–those enormous big raindrops we get here in New Orleans, that feel like they’re leaving a bruise–I decided to go for it. I grabbed an umbrella and dashed to the car, getting soaked in the process despite the umbrella (the umbrella that can handle the rain in New Orleans has yet to be invented), and the rain came down even heavier as I headed uptown. At Jefferson Avenue, there was still blue sky and sunshine and no clouds, but while I was inside the postal service the storm arrived (I got some things I needed in the mail, some bills, and an ARC of Alex Marwood’s The Poison Garden, thanks, Erin!) and dashed back out to the car and headed to the grocery store. It was pouring by this point, with thunder and lightning and everyone driving three miles an hour–but in fairness, the street gutters were filling with water. I sat in the car and waited a good five minutes before making a break for the store–but even walking quickly I still got very wet.

But at least while I was doing the shopping the rain let up a bit, and it was only sprinkling as I went out to the parking lot.

Getting home was a challenge as some streets had filled up with water; Felicity Street had a good six inches at least on it, and the gutters on Prytania were also full of water, but it wasn’t that deep. Everyone was driving, of course, like their car was about to drop into a sinkhole and disappear from sight–of course, driving slow rather than faster won’t change that at all, so I don’t really get it. Yes, you should drive slower through standing water–but you don’t have to literally crawl through it, either–and yes, local New Orleanians reading this, I know there are no-wake ordinances in the city (yes, that’s how often our streets flood with water; the city has passed ordinances dictating how fast you can drive through standing water), but when most of the street is not underwater, there’s no wake sending water into people’s homes, businesses or cars parked alongside the street.

It’s interesting that my neighborhood sort-of flooded again–the water on my street had been over the sidewalk but had drained by the time I got home; I could see the dirt and debris on the sidewalk–when it didn’t used to; and there are people alarmed in the city because we are seeing water rising and standing where it never used to before. It occurred to me yesterday that this could entirely be because of all the construction that’s taken place in the city over the last few years. Empty green lots are now paved over for buildings or parking garages; city blocks that used to simply be a ground level parking lot are now five story apartment/condo buildings. So the water used to spread out over the paved lots and also used to soak into the green lots; now that water is draining off those buildings with nowhere to go so it settles in the street. The two vacant lot on our street are about to be paved over and turned into a three story condo complex–which isn’t going to help our street in upcoming rains.

I seriously doubt that anyone–especially on the city permit level–ever took water drainage into consideration when handing out permits. Driving down O’Keefe Street now in the CBD is like driving down a canyon through higher-rising buildings, whereas before those lots were parking lots. I wonder if I am onto something here…

I spent the day yesterday, after getting home, working on getting my email down to a respective amount, and I also started reading Jay B. Law’s The Unfinished, for which I have agreed to write an introduction for the new edition being released by ReQueered Tales. Laws only wrote two books before he died of AIDS in the early 1990’s, this one and Steam, which is one of my favorite horror novels of all time. The Unfinished was released after his death, and isn’t as well-known or well-remembered as Steam; being a posthumous novel undoubtedly had something to do with that. I thought I had read it years ago, but as I am reading it now, it’s all new to me…and while I am well aware that my memory is as reliable now as the water drainage system in New Orleans, this entire story and the character seem completely new to me; usually when I reread a book I’ve completely forgotten the story eventually comes back to me as I work my way through it–that isn’t happening here, and while it saddens me that I’ve not read The Unfinished before, I am actually kind of glad; it means I am experiencing an immensely talented writer’s final work for the first time…and the essay I want to write to introduce the book is already beginning to swirl around inside my head.

Today I have a million things to do–so much writing and editing to do, as well as reading–that it’s not even remotely amusing–although sometimes I do think all I can do, rather than weep when looking at the list, is laugh.

Along the lines of my recent decision to celebrate and own my accomplishments, as an addendum to today’s blog I am going to talk about having a story in Murder-a-Go-Go’s, the Planned Parenthood fundraising anthology from Down and Out Books, edited by Holly West. I’ve loved the Go-Go’s from the first time I heard “Our Lips Are Sealed” on the radio, and have seen them in concert twice. Since I recently discovered the magic of Spotify, I find myself listening to their original three albums a lot lately, and the music doesn’t seem dated at all to me, which I think is the key to their success. One of the things I found interesting was I never listened to their music, or sang along to it, and thought about how dark their lyrics actually are, until Holly agreed to let me write something for this anthology (I basically invited myself to contribute to it, which is something I never do; which is another problem with myself and my career–I don’t assert myself or push myself forward into anthologies. The worst thing that can happen is the editor will say, ‘sorry, got enough people already, but thanks!’ My entire career I’ve worked to make rejection less painful and more of an oh well thing; I’m still working on making that sort of rejection/disappointment something that just rolls off my back rather than derails me for a time.

Sometimes you have to be assertive, and while that sort of thing kind of goes against my nature, you have to do it.

Anyway, Holly gave me a choice of three songs to use for inspiration, and as I looked up the lyrics on-line, I was struck by how dark the songs were. Without Belinda Carlisle’s cheerful, almost chipmunk-ish vocals and the high-energy beat of the music behind them, I couldn’t believe how noir the lyrics actually were. I eventually chose “This Town”–because it was the darkest of the three–and started writing it. I honestly don’t know how the idea came to me, or where I came up with it, but it turned out to be one of my favorite stories of my own; and other people seemed to like it a lot, too. “This Town” will probably wind up anchoring my next short story collection–should I do another one, which I am hopeful I will be able to do–and again, as I said, the feedback on the story has been so overwhelmingly kind and generous that as per usual, I didn’t really know how to respond to the compliments.

The story itself is the perfect illustration of what I think, in my mind, a crime story should be; which is why my work isn’t accepted into places like Ellery Queen or Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazines; I don’t necessarily solve a crime in my stories, even though they are about crimes. (Of course, it could also be that the stories I send them aren’t in their best shape, either.) Getting a story into Alfred Hitchcock is a bucket list item of mine, and I’d also love to get another story into Ellery Queen, but I digress.

Okay, I should get back into the spice mines if I want to get anything done today.

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Delta Dawn

And now, tis time to turn the three days left of my vacation into a productive time.

I have spent the last two days simply doing as I pleased; occasionally stepping up to do some chores around the Lost Apartment, but mostly just reading and watching things on television. I tried, the other night, to watch a movie, but gave up on both Lucky Logan and The Man in the Iron Mask (Leonardo DiCaprio version); I also tried watching a documentary, How the Devil Got His Horns, but quickly bored of each of them. I will probably give Lucky Logan another shot, as I love both Channing Tatum and Adam Driver, and it seems like a subversively brilliant and funny noir movie. (I actually stopped watching, not because I was bored, but because I thought, Paul would probably like this movie so I should wait and watch it with him)

I also watched the original Star Wars trilogy yesterday–well, more like had it on as background noise while I did other things–and while Episode IV has always been my favorite, since it was the first, I have to confess for the most part Episode V is probably the better film. I also have always resisted criticism of Episode VI, but the more I watch the more I tend to agree with the criticism. I mean, really, was the entire opening sequence rescuing Han necessary? It took up a good portion of the film, quite frankly, and to what purpose? And precisely, how did Luke, who never finished his training in Episode V, was far too impatient and wasn’t breaking through, suddenly become a Jedi Master in Episode VI?

Questions. So. Many. Questions.

But today, I need to get moving. I need to write, I need to proof the pages of Royal Street Reveillon AND the cover design and get that turned in. I need to finish cleaning the downstairs–I started and made some lovely headway over the past two days, doing it leisurely, and I’d like to keep that pace going, so by Sunday evening the entire place will be sparkling and clean. I want to read some more of Angie Kim’s Miracle Creek, and I have a lot of cleaning and organizing to do around my desk–balanced around the complaints and whines of Needy Kitty, who wants me to sit in my easy chair so he can sleep in my lap. I’ve also been going to bed ridiculously early every night, around ten, and sleeping until eight every morning, which has also been lovely. I don’t feel a bit slothful, which I usually do when I am getting this much sleep and doing so little. But I chose to look at Wednesday and Thursday as holidays, and now I can get some work done over these final three days of vacation.

A Twitter conversation sometime in the last few weeks with Rob Hart (whose soon-to-be-released The Warehouse–actually being released on my birthday) got me thinking about gay representation in crime fiction over the years, and reading I the Jury (surprise! Mickey Spillane’s first novel is rife with homophobia) made me remember that the only James Ellroy book I’ve ever read also had homophobia in it. I’d always wanted to read Ellroy, just had never gotten around to it, and I’d decided to dip in with a lesser known work. There was a gay character in it–minor–and the way he was talked about, the way he was treated, and the language that was used, was horrific. Despite owning a copy of L.A. Confidential, I’ve never read it…nor read any other Ellroy. I’ve always intended to go back and read some Ellroy; I met him when he was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America and we had a weird bonding experience over the Ken Holt mystery series for boys that we both read as kids. But I could never remember the name of the book of his I’d read. I knew it had a one-word title, which narrowed it down somewhat, and I’d even gotten a copy of Perfidia only to realize it wasn’t the book. For some reason I went digging around on Amazon and realized the book in question was Clandestine, and now I want to read it again.

Honestly. But the Spillane essay I’ve been making notes on would kind of fit into the over-all concept of a larger examination of gay representation, homophobia, and homophobic content in crime fiction; as well as questions of masculinity and toughness in America and American fiction.

It was also be interesting to do an essay comparing/contrasting Megan Abbott’s historical noir fiction with Ellroy’s.

So much writing, so little time, so little desire to actually do any of it.

Heavy heaving sigh.

I’d love to write noir novels about the hidden gay underground of Hollywood’s Golden Age; I had a great idea for one a while back that involved the drowning murder of a young actor who was sleeping with powerful gay men to help his own star rise at a studio in the 1950’s, and how his roommate/best friend/ex-lover, also an actor on the rise, tries to solve the crime since the homophobic cops don’t give a shit about another dead gay man in Los Angeles. It even has a great noir-like title: Chlorine.

I have so many ideas, always.

And now, it’s back to the spice mines. I have a load of laundry to fold, some things to print, and then it’s time to buckle down and start getting things done.

Have a lovely post-holiday Friday, Constant Reader.

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Love Hurts

I detest being ill.

Sunday night I began to feel slightly off–more off than I’d been feeling since Friday, when the wretched bad weather rolled in–and I began to suspect that the weather was wreaking havoc with my sinuses which would lead to the inevitable sinus infection. Yesterday I didn’t feel great, and as soon as I got home from work last night I started taking antibiotics leftover from the last sinus infection, and woke up this morning feeling absolutely horrible.  I called in sick to work, have taken some more antibiotics this morning, and am hoping that when tomorrow dawns, the antibiotics will have done their job and cleared everything up for me.

One can hope, at any rate.

The Claritin also seems to be helping. I intend on spending the rest of the day retired to my bed, with Steph Cha’s Follow Her Home to keep me company. I managed to read another chapter and I am very impressed indeed with Ms. Cha. She writes in a very hard-boiled, noir style that is reminiscent of Chandler and Hammett–and she does pay homage to Chandler quite a bit in these opening chapters. Juniper Song is an interesting, complex character that I like quite a bit, and am looking forward to getting to know her better. This is also the first in a series, which means there’s more Juniper Song out there for me to read, savor, and enjoy, which is absolutely lovely.

Is there anything more satisfying than discovering a new author whose work you love?

I think not.

When I retire to my bedchamber later on this morning–as soon as I take care of some business here at my desk–I will be taking my Macbook Air with me, along with my novel, so that if the mood strikes me I can work on the WIP whilst ensconced in the comfort of my bed. I don’t remember the last time I spent the day lolling about in bed; I usually move to my easy chair with blankets and heating pads when I am unwell, but it sounds absolutely lovely, despite the pressure in my head and the constant draining and hacking up of phlegm from my lungs. I see chicken noodle soup in my future for lunch as well; it may not help cure what ails me, but it always makes me feel better.

Last night we got caught up on the most recent episodes of both Veep and Schitt’s Creek, both of which were terrific, before I retired to sleep. I slept pretty decently, given that I felt terrible when I went to bed, but this morning I am still feeling kind of worn out, which is no doubt due to the sinus issue. Yay?

So, there will be no spice-mining today, most likely. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader.

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Our Lips are Sealed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Definitely a great start to the book!

Breakin’ My Heart (Pretty Brown Eyes)

WE MADE IT! Constant Reader, we have survived another week and it’s finally Friday! Huzzah!

Looking forward to the weekend always reminds me of my mom warning me, when I was an impatient teenager and counting the days till summer vacation, don’t you know you’re just wishing your life away?

But now, whenever I hear her voice in my head reminding me of that, I think, yeah, well, we’re all going to die someday anyway. Not looking ahead to the weekend isn’t going to make me live longer.

Sometimes, when I have those down days and I wonder why I ever thought I should write fiction–or anything, really–I think things like look at all the books you’ve written and published! Look at all these award nominations–you’ve even won a few! And still you have a day job. Why do you try? Why do you keep writing books? If you haven’t broken out and become successful (even by your own modest standard) by now, why do you think it still might happen?

And then I remember John D. MacDonald wrote a lot of books, but didn’t break out and hit bestseller lists until he was about forty or so books into his career, when he hit upon Travis McGee. He was certainly successful prior to McGee; but McGee was the big break that enabled him to stop writing two or three books a year and settle into just one. His pre-McGee pulps were also quite good; I certainly have enjoyed the ones I’ve read. But I hold on to that with both hands: John D. MacDonald didn’t hit the Times best seller list until he was over forty novels into his career.*

So, there’s still hope for me…if I can figure out how to write as well as John D. MacDonald.

So, this is something to keep in mind as I move into the weekend and try to decide what I’m going to write once the Scotty is finished. I think the WIP, which needs to be deconstructed and revised almost entirely from scratch, might have to take a backseat for a while to something else. I’d like to do Bury Me in Satin, but I am also interested in writing a short and nasty noir, which would inevitably be Muscles. 

Sigh.

Seriously.

AH, well, back to the spice mines.

*this may be incorrect; but I believe it’s true.

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Go Home

Sunday morning, with lots to do and a long, relaxing day ahead in which to do it all. I woke up relatively early this morning, which was a wonderful and pleasant surprise, and feel rested. I have a short story to work on, a reread of Royal Street Reveillon to get through, and I’d also like to make some progress on my reading of Eryk Pruitt’s What We Reckon. I cleaned and did errands and read yesterday; along with some note taking on various projects as well as filing. This coming week should be interesting, to say the least; I am doing some testing on Monday and Thursday at the Blacks in Government conference at the Riverside Hilton, which will be a lovely change from my ordinary routine, and I have a three day weekend next weekend in honor of my birthday.

Yes, the old man officially turns fifty-seven next weekend; although I always change my age on New Year’s. After this next New Year’s, I’ll be telling people I’m fifty-eight. Age has never mattered  much to me; for the early portion of my life I was always younger than everyone else around me; later on I was always older than everyone else I hung around with. I learned early on that age is a relative concept.

Yesterday was kind of a lovely day for me. It rained off and on most of the day, and there really is nothing lovelier than being inside and dry while it rains outside, and our rain is do torrential and tropical–so lovely to deal with when you’re inside rather than when you’re actually outside dealing with it. As the bed linens agitated in the washing machine and the wool blankets tumbled dry in the laundry room, I was filing and getting my desk area organized, listening to the rain and looking out my windows to see all the leaves outside glistening and wet, and water cascading out of the rain spout on the house next door when a phrase formed in my head, and I scribbled into my journal, standing up at the kitchen counter: It was one of those lovely summer Saturdays New Orleans gets sometimes in August–where thunderstorms roll through the city all day, the dark clouds creating an artificial twilight at three in the afternoon. Perfect for staying inside and cleaning, the washing and drying and folding of clothes. The cat sleeps lazily in the desk chair, waking up every now and then to groom before curling up again into a tight ball of differentiated ginger stripes.

I may never use that in something I write, be it a short story or a novel, but it’s a nice piece of writing nonetheless. My notebooks and journals are filled with such scraps of writing, of ideas and thoughts and fragments and character descriptions or settings.

And next up in Florida Happens, for the Short Story Project is “The Fakahatchee Goonch” by Jack Bates.

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Goonch is just another name for a catfish. A really big catfish.  Sometimes it’s called the Devil Fish or Black Demon because it lurks deep down there in the murkiest part of the Fakahatchee Preserve. Bottom feeders mostly. They eat gator leftovers or anything else that might get tossed into the swamps. Back in the mauve and neonMiami Vice days, legend had it the Everglades was a good place to dispose of a problem quick.  People think that’s how the goonch developed a taste for meat.

Of course, the guys who trawl for catfish say those fish are just as apt to eat water weeds and such if the pickings are slim.  Sometimes they feed on their own.  Had some guys drag in twenty to thirty pounders, about three feet long. That ain’t no fish tale.

Neither is this one. The catfish I’m talking about is an eight-man goonch. Know what that is? That’s when eight grown men stand in a line, shoulder to shoulder, and that goonch lays across all of their extended hands from tip to tail. That’s how big the Fakahatchee goonch was said to be. Had a mouth like the gaping orifice of hell, or so I’m told. I ain’t never seen it, but I know it’s there.

There have been nights when I’m frog hunting where the frog croaking will go quiet and the swamp gets real still. Something big enough to rock my aluminum skiff passes through the water. Up ahead in the dark there’ll be a splash and a few ticks off a clock later my skiff will rock a second time except maybe a little more treacherously on the creature’s return pass. and I’ll have to sit down, clutch the sides so I don’t tip out. Only way I know it’s safe to leave is when the frogs start croaking again.

Sometimes though, a frog will puff its chest and blowout its braggadocio regardless of the danger it’s in.

Jack’s bio reads “Jack Bates writes some pretty good crime fiction from the comfort of his loft office. His stories have appeared all around the web, in various anthologies, and in a few magazines. Three have been finalists for the Derringer Award from the Short Mystery Fiction Society. He’s also written award-winning scripts for stage and screen including a short-lived web series. An incomplete list of his works can be found on his blog http://flashjab.blogspot.com/.   When not writing, he plots or travels or runs errands or chats it up with other old movie buffs on twitter. He pens the Harry Landers, PI, series for Mind Wings Audio Books. He’s also released several ebooks with Untreed Reads which launched the Hack Ward PI series with Monkey See, Monkey Murder. In 2012, his YA Steampunk novel, Colt Buchanan and the Weather Walkers, was released by Red Willow Press.”

This short story is quite fun, and in the classic mold of slightly off, wacky Florida noir. Set in a dive bar on the west coast of Florida in a nothing town on the edge of a swamp, a stranger walks in with a wad of cash and an air of mystery about him; two tough rednecks are playing pool with their girlfriends when the two men decide to win some of the stranger’s money off him–and things continue to spiral downward from there. It reminded me of John D. Macdonald with maybe a dash of Hiassen thrown in for good measure, and is a very fun and satisfying read; one that I’m glad is in the book.

And now, I have spice to mine.

Something About You

Sunday and it’s my Saturday, which is going to really mess up my body clock, don’t you think? Today is going to be my errands-and-cleaning day; the Lost Apartment is, once again, a disaster area, and the bed linens need a-laundering, and I have to get groceries, and…and…and…

At least I have tomorrow off. Today is going to be one of those days where if I get some writing done, terrific, if I don’t, well, it’s a cleaning-and-errands day and it’s miserably hot. I am going to barbecue later on today–I’m also going to cook things for the week—and so am not really sure how much time I would have for writing today anyway.

I watched another documentary the other night–after the Tab Hunter–which also gave me the answer to the noir novel dilemma I hadn’t been able to figure out for quite some time. It was so obvious I don’t know why it never occurred to me before but whatever the reason, I’m glad I know the answer now. Now that another part of the puzzle has been fitted into place, it’s simply now a matter of figuring out the ending, and I can dive headfirst into writing it, once I’m caught up on everything else I am writing. When I get finished with the Scotty and the WIP, that’s when I’ll decide whether I am going to write the noir next or Bury Me In Satin, the y/a I want to do this year.

So little time! The fact that I lazily waste so much time makes me crazy, yet doesn’t somehow motivate me to not waste time somehow.

Anyway, I’ve always wanted to do a classic noir-style novel with a homme fatale instead of a femme fatale, and this particular story has always really worked for me in terms of something I want to write; I have my main character and some of my supporting characters already in place. The enigma I couldn’t solve was the homme fatale; I can see him in my  head; I know what he looks like an d what his body looks like and the charm and charisma–but the motivation was something I couldn’t quite grasp; and that missing puzzle piece was key to who he is as a character, and now I have that piece. Huzzah!

I suppose I need to get back to the spice mines. Sigh. Now that I’m thinking about these projects, I’m feeling motivated to do some writing.

Heavy heaving sigh.

Anyway, here’s the opening of one of my new short stories from my collection Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories, “The Weight of a Feather”:

It was one of those buildings that went up right after the war, slapped together in a hurry because the city needed more living space.  The soldiers were coming home with their grim memories and the city was booming. People needed places to live if they were going to work in the city and there was money to be had. It was an ugly building, yellow brick and cement and uniform windows, with no charm, nothing that made it any different than any of the other apartment buildings that had gone up, that were still being built.

 The Christmas lights winking in some of the windows didn’t make them look any cheerier.

It was starting to snow, big wet flakes swirling around his head and sticking to his dark coat. There was no sign of life from Rock Creek Park at the end of the street. Max had walked past a small diner on the corner, a few lone customers behind windows frosted from cold. He’d thought about going in, getting coffee, but it was too risky.

Best to get it over with.

He buzzed the apartment, and the door buzzed open. There was a big Christmas tree in the lobby, empty boxes wrapped underneath. The white linoleum floor was already showing signs of wear and tear. He ignored the elevators and headed for the stairs. It was hot inside, steam heat through radiators making him sweat under his layers.

The third-floor hallway smelled like boiled cabbage and garlic and onions. He raised a gloved hand to knock on 3-L.

The man who answered the door smiled. Special Agent Frank Clinton was in his early thirties at most, cold gray eyes, his face battered from boxing Golden Gloves as a teen. He was wearing twill pants held up by suspenders over a white ribbed tank top. He looked up and down the hall. “Get inside, Sonnier.” he said in his thick Boston accent.

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