The First Noel

Merry Christmas! And if you don’t celebrate, HAPPY DAY OFF WITH PAY! Huzzah!

Later today we’re going to see The Rise of Skywalker in IMAX 3-D; I am very excited. I’ve managed to avoid spoilers completely on social media–an accomplishment only rivaled by my ability to do the same with The Force Awakens many years ago–it was out for weeks before we finally saw it, and I managed to completely avoid spoilers the entire time. And while I’m certainly sad that the Skywalker story is coming to an end at long last–some forty-two years or so since I first sat in a movie theater in Emporia, Kansas, to see the first one–The Mandalorian and Rogue One have proven conclusively that you don’t need a Skywalker to tell a great Star Wars story.

I spent Christmas Eve mostly relaxing. I finished reading Laura Benedict’s The Stranger Inside (it’s fantastic; blog post about it soon to come), and then watched a documentary about Dark Shadows creator Dan Curtis–it mostly focused on Dark Shadows, of course–and that was nice. I also decided that my next read is going to be an actual reread of Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley, which I’ve only read once–back when the film with Matt Damon was released, back in the late 1990’s, whenever that was. I’ve not read any of the other books in what is commonly known as the Ripleyad (Ripliad? I don’t know how they spell it), but I’ve slowly been working my way through the Highsmith canon over the years since (if pressed, I think I’d pick The Cry of the Owl as my favorite of those I’ve currently read; her short stories are also quite marvelous), and have not regretted a single moment of reading her. I decided to reread the first Ripley for any number of reasons–but primarily because I honestly don’t remember much of it, and what memories I do have are mostly of the film, and I am mostly curious to see how Highsmith handled his sexuality in the actual text; was it coded, or was it more obvious?

I also kind of want to watch the Netflix true crime documentary on Aaron Hernandez–also curious to see how they handle the sexuality issues involved with him.

For the record, RWA continues to throw gasoline on the dumpster fire they started on Monday, in case you were wondering–and each new story emerging makes them look even worse. I am so happy I never bothered joining that organization–which I considered, since I was leaning towards writing romantic suspense (The Orion Mask). But its history of problematic treatment of minority writers made me shy away from it, and again, so glad I listened to my gut.

I do have to work tomorrow–and Friday–these middle of the week holidays are a bit disconcerting. I also am taking off New Year’s Eve (Commander’s Palace luncheon, as per tradition) and New Year’s is a holiday, so next week will wind up being the same as this week: work Monday, two days off, and then back in for Thursday and Friday. Weird and unusual, yes–but also discombobulating a bit and will need to recenter and refocus.

And now I am going to retire to my easy chair with Ms. Highsmith for the rest of the morning. Happy day, everyone!

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Will You Still Love Me?

Sunday morning. LSU managed to remain undefeated yesterday, squeaking out a 23-20 nerve-wracking win over Auburn and looking like LSU of old. It was a very tense, stressful afternoon here in the Lost Apartment, believe you me. But they did pull out the win to move to 8-0; with Alabama on the horizon in two weeks in Tuscaloosa. They will most likely be ranked 1 and 2 at the time of the game; the winner takes the lead in the division, becomes the favorite to win the SEC, and make the playoffs. There’s some talk, already, that even if LSU loses to Alabama they might still make the playoffs; Oklahoma’s shocking loss to Kansas State opening that door still wider. There are a number of good one loss teams in the SEC already–Georgia and Florida are about to play next week in a battle of once-beatens to determine who will win the East division, and a shot to play the winner of LSU-Alabama in Atlanta in December.

Likewise, it also wouldn’t be the first time Alabama lost to LSU and got to play for the national title.

I was emotionally spent after the game, so I spent the rest of the evening finishing reading Robert Tallant’s Ready to Hang: Seven Famous New Orleans Murders. Tallant isn’t the best writer, and he’s also, as they say, a product of his time; but I found his retelling of famous New Orleans murders quite entertaining. The last three chapters (“Let the Poor Girl Sleep!”, “The Axman Had Wings”, and “Fit as a Fiddle and Ready to Hang”) were quite interesting, and I can see easily how to translate those real life true crimes into fiction, particularly the last one–about a handsome young man who wanted to be a singer and went around killing older men with money. The book was written and published in 1952 originally, and so the story of Kenneth Neu, as written by Tallant, skirted around what was patentedly obvious to me at any rate–he flirted with older men to see if they might be interested in his looks, and then killed and robbed them. (When he was tried eventually, he was only tried for the murder he committed in New Orleans; a previous crime in New Jersey definitely involved homosexual activity, and they didn’t want to try him for that one in case the jury sympathized with him killing an older gay man…so obviously, the prosecutors in Orleans Parish successfully kept any possibility of homosexuality out of his trial.) Neu is an interesting character to me; originally from Savannah, served in the military, and extremely charming and good-looking. Even throughout his trial he was cheerful, trying to charm people, even singing and dancing for the audience in the courtroom during breaks in the trial. He’s almost like something out of Patricia Highsmith; there’s definitely some Ripley in Neu. And obviously, he would make for a fascinating character in an old time New Orleans noir.

I’m also working on a short story–have been for some months now–called “A Little More Jazz for the Axeman,” which will go into my collection Monsters of New Orleans should I ever finish it; I’d also like to send it out for submission. It’s a Venus Casanova story, and while I got off to a relatively good start on it, it kind of stalled on me–primarily because I didn’t know the particulars of the true Axeman murders. I’d read some of it in Empire of Sin, but Tallant covered it a bit more thoroughly. I do need to come up with a timeline of the original Axeman murders, which should be relatively easy to do now, and see how I can work with that for my Venus short story.

I do intend to write today, Constant Reader, after two days of meaning to but never getting around to it. But the time has come, and I really must stop procrastinating. I don’t know what time the Saints game is today, but regardless, I have to sit here and at the very least finish off Chapter Twelve, whose rewrite has been in stasis now for over a week. I only have thirteen more chapters to go before the damned thing is finished–and while I know I’ll be holed up in a hotel room in Dallas for five days this coming week, well, I also know it’s Bouchercon and I won’t get any writing finished. I won’t even read much, except for the airport coming and going and the plane ride itself. I do want to finish Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Certain Dark Things this week as well; hopefully in time to get another horror novel read by Halloween. I’ve really fallen down on my reading lately–I also have some terrific ARC’s on the pile, including Elizabeth Little’s Pretty as a Picture and Alex Marwood’s The Poison Garden–and I really need to get back to dedicated reading again, rather then falling into Youtube rabbit holes every night. Reading also inspires writing, so there’s that, too.

I think the next non-fiction book I’m going to read is Richard Campenella’s Bourbon Street–as I continue my deep dive into New Orleans history.

And on that note, I think I’m going to get another cup of coffee and sit with Moreno-Garcia’s Certain Dark Things for awhile before i head back into the spice mines.

Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

 

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Why Can’t We Live Together

Wednesday! What a lovely day, as the countdown to my long birthday weekend begins. Just one full day at the office today, and then a partial day tomorrow, and then it’s vacation time for me. Huzzah! Huzzah! Huzzah!

It’s funny–I am doing this Facebook challenge, where you share the cover of a book you enjoyed reading every day for seven days, with no comment, review or explanation. I am doing books I loved the hell out of reading, and started with Valley of the Dolls (of course) and The Other Side of Midnight, and yesterday’s was Grace Metalious’ Peyton Place, which is long overdue for a reread. (For that matter, I should reread both Valley of the Dolls AND The Other Side of Midnight as well; I’ve not read a Sidney Sheldon novel since the 1980’s–I think the last of his I read was Windmills of the Gods.) Another book due for a reread is today’s choice, Thomas Tryon’s The Other, which is, quite simply, superb and remains one of my favorite books of all time to this day (maybe I’ll treat myself to a reread this coming long weekend?).

I wrote nary a word yesterday–not one single word, unless you count yesterday morning’s blog, of course. I never count the blog in my daily writing totals, by the way; I always see it as more of a warm-up exercise for writing, any way, a tool I use to get the words flowing and forming in my head so that throughout the day I can, whenever I can, scribble some words down. I slept deeply and well again last night–huzzah!–and with two successful night’s sleep, should be able to get home and write tonight after work (I was exhausted again last night–the twelve hour days are becoming a bit much for my aged self, methinks). Paul and I relaxed last evening and watched “The 60’s” episode of the CNN docuseries The Movies, which is a very interesting decade of America history, particularly when you look at, for example, the path of American film in that decade. (I also recommend Mark Harris’ Pictures at a Revolution, which is about the five films nominated for Best Picture in 1967, a true turning point for American film, where the last vestiges of the studio system were finally being swept away and a new, uncertain era for American film was set up.)

It’s an interesting journey from the days when Doris Day’s was the biggest box office star with her sex comedies to seeing Midnight Cowboy win Best Picture.

This morning, after I finish this, I need to do the dishes and I need to run get the mail on my way to the office. I have some books arriving, thanks to cashing in my health insurance points (it’s a long dull story; suffice it to say that my health insurance has a program where doing healthy stuff and taking care of yourself properly earns you points, and you can then use those points for gift cards; I chose Amazon so I can get books.) Some have already been delivered, others should be arriving today and hopefully will be there by the time I head down there–I got another copy of Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley, because I want to reread it and write an essay about the sexually fluid Ripley–along with the new Silvia Moreno-Garcia horror novel, Gods of Jade and Shadow, and Richard Wright’s Native Son.  I read Native Son when I was in college for an American Lit class….and I’d really like to give it another read when I am not being constantly bombarded with foolish professorial pronouncements about its meaning and symbolism from an old white man and a bunch of racist white students.

I also need to read more James Baldwin, and I need to read these Chester Himes novels in the TBR stack as well. I also need to finish reading My Darkest Prayer. Perhaps today between clients? Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.

Heavy heaving sigh. There’s simply never enough time to read.

I was thinking the other day that, in a perfect world for me, my days would be get up in the morning, answer emails and do other on-line duties, write for the rest of the morning and the early afternoon, run errands, go to the gym, and then come home to read. Doesn’t that sound absolutely lovely? It certainly does to me. But alas, this is not a perfect Greg-world and I have to go to a day job Monday through Friday, but at least my day job is one in which I help people every day, which does make it a lot more palatable. I can’t imagine how miserable I would be if I had a job that I hated. I actually don’t hate my job, and consider myself lucky as one of the few Americans who don’t; my only resentment is the time spent there could be time spent reading or writing, which would be my preference.

And on that cheery note, tis back to the spice mines with me. I need to get Chapter 23 written and be one step closer to finished with Bury Me in Shadows, and I’d also like to get some words written on “Moist Money” today–“The Spirit Tree” can wait.

Have a lovely Wednesday, all.

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Midnight Train to Georgia

Thursday morning, my first cup of coffee and there’s condensation all over my office windows. There’s mess everywhere in the Lost Apartment this morning–which means, of course, that it’s Thursday. My Monday thru Wednesday work days are lengthy and exhausting so I rarely have the energy to do much of anything on those nights when I get home from work, other than watch a little television, write a bit, and possibly read some. Last night I got home from work, moved a load of laundry from the washer to the dryer, started another load in the washing machine, wrote six or seven hundred words, than escaped to my easy chair. I’m watching a lovely documentary in bits and pieces–Tea with the Dames, on Hulu, which is just Maggie Smith, Judi Densch, Eileen Atkins, and Joan Plowright, talking about their careers, their long friendships, and gossiping about other actors and directors they’ve worked with. It’s quite charming, actually, and then Paul was ready to watch another episode of The Boys, which continues to amaze and impress me.

It’s also now August this morning, so that means there are only nineteen shopping days left before my birthday, so I strongly suggest and recommend you get started looking for my gifts now, okay? It’ll save you so much stress if you do it now, and beat the inevitable crowds that are certain to form the closer the actual day comes.

The big project I’m working on that dropped into my lap lately moves closer to completion; or at least, closer to my part being finished; I’ve acknowledged that after a certain point my assistance is moot and would be useless, but I can get a lot of the groundwork finished to begin with, which is in my wheelhouse, and we’re almost there.

As I said earlier, I only managed 700 or so words on the WIP last night, which isn’t terrific, but there are certainly worse things. Writing this book has been like pulling teeth almost from the very beginning, and doesn’t seem to get any easier the closer I get to the end. But that’s okay; I like the way it’s all coming together, despite the roughness of the words and the writing, it’s just taking me a hot minute to get everything finished, and that’s fine. I’m not so sure I know how to make the Kansas book–which I’ll be revising for the final time once I finish writing this draft–go faster than this; I am doing some heavy revisions and heavy lifting with it (I am literally stunned–and glad I waited on it–to see how many high school tropes and stereotypes I played into with this particular manuscript; I mean, literally–pick one and I can almost certainly let you know that it was included in this book), but I am confident I know what to do with it and am hoping I’ll get through it relatively quickly. I’m kind of glad another project I was scheduled to start working on today has been moved back another couple of months–dealing with it while trying to get this other stuff done (especially the one that dropped out of nowhere into my lap) would have sent me straight to the Xanax bottle. As it is, I have some other odds and ends I need to get done that I don’t seem to have the energy to get to once I do everything else for that day; perhaps one morning this weekend I’ll simply focus on those things and get them out of the way once and for all. I have three short stories promised to write, two of which I haven’t the slightest idea of what the story actually is; I definitely need to set aside some time to brainstorm those as deadlines are looming and drawing nearer and nearer.

And I really need to clean out my email inbox once and for all.

I also agreed to participate in a round table discussion about an aspect of writing–you know me, I never say no since I’m always flattered to be thought of and included in the first place–but yesterday I took a look at the questions and JFC, they are way over my head and slightly too smart for me; answering and participating is going to probably make me look stupid. (Shut up, Bryon.) But I agreed to do it, so I am going to print out the questions this weekend and look them over, because they do require thought rather than off-the-top-of-my-head answers. (Let me put it to you this way; the very first question revolves around an Octavia Butler novel…so you see how far it’s over my head already.)

This morning I feel very rested and very good; I feel like I can conquer the world today, which is always a plus and it’s also been a hot minute since I’ve felt this way.

I got some more books yesterday–Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction by Patricia Highsmith (I am literally drooling to start this); Love and Death in the Sunshine State: The Story of a Murder by Cutter Wood; and The Women of Dauphine by Deb Jannerson, a queer y/a set in New Orleans by a local writer; I don’t recall how I heard about this book, but I did and now I have it. I’ve not read a New Orleans novel in a while, and it might be fun to read another writer’s take on our diverse, vibrant city. I’m actually not sure how I heard about any of these books, to be honest–other than Sarah Weinman was talking about the Highsmith on Twitter last week and convinced me I needed to read it. I generally don’t read how-to-write books anymore (other than John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction, which I primarily read, and reread, for enjoyment because Gardner was such a pompous, pretentious ass, which comes through loud and clear with every sentence–it helps whenever I want to create a character who is a pompous ass literary writer), but Sarah (who has to date never been wrong with recommending something to me) said it’s not only a writing guide but also sort of a memoir, and Highsmith was not only an unpleasant person but she embraced her unpleasantness, which is kind of lovely and fun and admirable–and probably fun to read. I love her novels–I’ve not read the entire canon, and I never finished the Ripley series other than the first one–and I should probably start working my way through the canon at some point. I’ve never been disappointed with a Highsmith, and the last two I read–The Cry of the Owl and The Blunderer, were simply genius and devilishly clever).

I also want to finish reading Steph Cha’s Your House Will Pay, which I’ve been recommending to all my co-workers.

Okay, that’s enough morning reflection. I need another cup of coffee, and I think I’m going to do some chores around answering emails this morning.

Have a lovely Friday Eve, everyone!

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One of These Nights

I have been saying for quite some time that some of the best crime fiction in print is being written by women. This is not to say that there isn’t great crime fiction being written by men these days–there are a lot of amazing male crime writers–but the women don’t ever seem to get the attention–or rapturous praise–that men do. Sistersn in Crime has dedicated itself for over thirty years to put women on the same playing field–recognition, reviews, awards–as the guys, and their hard work is starting to pay dividends.

That isn’t to say we don’t have a long way to go, however; but I do believe in recognizing progress once it’s been made.

I met Jamie Mason I don’t know how many years ago; I do remember it was at Sleuthfest in Orlando (thanks for the invite and another shout-out to MWA-Florida!), and we were on a panel together about place/setting. I think Laura Lippman, who was a keynote speaker/special guest, was also on the panel, and maybe one more person? My memories are hazy these days, my apologies. But I liked Jamie immediately, she was smart and had really insightful things to say. After the panel, Laura and I repaired to the poolside bar for a cocktail and lunch (it was afternoon and no one was out there), and Jamie tentatively asked if she could join us.

From such humble beginnings are friendships born.

I bought Jamie’s first novel that weekend, Three Graves Full, and read it several months later and LOVED it. (It’s still one of my favorite crime novels of this decade, for the record.) She handed me a copy of the ARCs for his second, Monday’s Lie, at Bouchercon in Long Beach either later that year or the next; I treasure that ARC, but as is my wont, didn’t want to read it until there was another Jamie Mason book in print.

That time is now. This summer sees the release of Jamie’s third novel, The Hidden Things, and she very generously send me an ARC of it.

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The video had been watched only forty-four times before Carly Liddell’s attacker was identified to the police. Viewer number forty-four was the prize tipster, and it was a good thing it was all resolved quickly. The young man in the video had killed a turtle over a span of hours one dull Saturday a decade earlier, at the age of nine, in the early weeks of the same summer he’d set his first fire. Since then, matches, rocks, the heel of his shoe, the long drop over the railing of a bridge, and other weapons of juvenile destruction had been urgently fascinating to him in ways that got him into trouble when he was a boy, in ways he’d learned to hide over the years.

He’d been stealing things, lately. And watching women.

He always would have made the news.

The video, a sloppy edit of footage from a home-security system, went on to become something of a phenomenon. It had been cut together in a hurry by a tech-savvy officer in the cybercrimes unit who was good with that sort of thing. It went up on the police website less than twenty minutes after the flash drive, loaded with the raw recordings from the home’s monitoring surveillance, had been plugged into his computer. Backslaps and high fives all around for that one.

I love the way Jamie writes.

She has a very distinct and different style from others writing today, which is, in and of itself, an achievement. She builds her stories from a small kernel, a small thing that might happen at any time any day to anyone, and it builds from there. In Three Graves Full that small thing was the main character’s decision to hire landscapers to redo the flower beds around his nondescript home; in The Hidden Things it’s a little more unique: a high school girl coming from school to an empty house is followed by an assailant who gets into the house behind her. She manages to fight him off and go for help; all of this is captured by security cameras inside the house. The local cops post the video on-line on their Facebook page in order to help identify the assailant, with the unexpected result that the video goes viral.

Videos go viral, after all, every day. So what makes this viral video memorable, different, from other viral videos?

Well, for one thing, neither the girl (Carly Liddell) nor her mother had known there were security cameras in the foyer of their home; so her stepfather has some explaining to do.

Secondly, something caught on video–the corner of a painting hanging in the foyer–catches the attention of some very dangerous people.

You see, Carly’s stepfather of four years has been keeping some seriously dark secrets from both her and her mother…secrets that start coming out now with serious consequences.

I absolutely loved this book. The characters are beautifully sculpted; Mason knows what makes people tick and also understands that small, barely noticeable touches are what make characters come to life as well as making relationships ring with honesty and truth and reality. The book is so good I deeply resented everything else that was keeping me from reading it–being tired, errands, cleaning, doing my own writing, my day job–and I literally had to finally push everything aside one day to read the second half in one sitting. Her style reminds me of a combination of Margaret Millar and Patricia Highsmith; literary but accessible at the same time.

It is officially being released in August; do yourself a favor and preorder it right now. And if you’ve not read her before, do yourself an even bigger favor and go read her back list. You won’t regret it.

Saturday Night

Well, it’s certainly Saturday morning. I woke up around eight, yet remained a lag-a-bed until around nine-ish, and you know what? Not sorry, not sorry in the least. I clearly needed to rest more–the work week seems to take more out of me these days than it used to, thank you, aging process–and now that I’m awake and swilling coffee, I feel more rested and relaxed than I did for most of the week. I still intend to write a lot this weekend, as well as get some serious cleaning done around here, and perhaps this is the time for me to finish reading Jamie Mason’s superb The Hidden Things, which is really fucking fantastic. She reminds me, in voice, style, and plotting, a lot of the great Patricia Highsmith. As I get deeper into the book and the stylish complexity of the plot becomes deeper and more tangled than I could have ever imagined when I read page one, I despair of the things that keep me from having more time to read so I can finish this exquisite gem of a novel. I am perhaps just over half-finished–which should give you an indication of how tired I’ve been lately; it’s taking me a really long time to finish this book–certainly longer than it should, given it’s consistent high quality.

The Anthony nomination this week (I still can’t believe it, to be honest) effectively derailed my entire week–but only because I allowed myself to bask in the glow of the enormous pat in the back from my colleagues, as well as the flood of congratulatory messages, posts, comments, and tweets. But now we’re in the afterglow stage of having to come back to earth and reality and get my life back together and on track yet again, particularly when it comes to writing. I really couldn’t afford to lose the days of writing I lost this week through my self-indulgence, and yet I did lose them. Chapter Eleven of the WIP has been a bitch to write; I started this past week and got about halfway through, and now have to go back to finish it and see if I can get on some kind of roll with writing it. I am going to try something; I am going to try finishing that chapter today and then move on to some short stories that have been languishing in my files for a while. Last night–or more properly, sometime yesterday–I finally figured out how to fix my story “And The Walls Came Down”; it’s a shift in the plot which will require some extreme changing. I also want to revise “This Thing of Darkness” one more time, and I’d like to get some done on my lengthy short story that is turning into a novella, “Never Kiss a Stranger.”

We watched Widows last night, which was good, but could have been better. The acting was topnotch, as were the relationships between the women–but the plot was so complicated and twisted I wasn’t sure I was actually following it and knew what was going on for most of the movie; that could also be entirely my fault. But Viola Davis is one of the finest actresses of our time, and I would watch her in anything, to be honest; her performances are always complex, nuanced, and brilliant.

We also need to catch up on Fosse/Verdonwhich I can’t recommend highly enough, and we have yet to start season two of Killing Eve, which I am also excited about watching; although I am very worried about sophomore slump; season one was so brilliant and fantastic that I have concerns that the second season won’t pass muster.

Today I have to go by the Cat Practice to get another bag of Scooter’s expensive food (no, his Majesty is NOT spoiled, thank you very much), and then have to swing uptown to get the mail and make some groceries (not many, thank you Baby Jesus) before returning home, where I plan to spend the rest of the afternoon writing and cleaning (and probably doing some preparatory cooking for next week, as well). I may get the car washed as well; it’s looking pretty dirty, and the Uptown Car Wash does a lovely job; or perhaps I can put it off until next week, what with the three day weekend and all.

Yes, there’s a three day weekend lurking on the horizon, which is exciting. Huzzah! I am obviously thinking I’ll be able to either get a lot done over its course, or get a lot of rest, or some combination of the two, which would also be incredibly lovely.

I also have to start pulling together an article for Sisters in Crime for my diversity column. I have some ideas for it,  and I know who I want to speak to for it, but at the same time I’ve not been able to come up with an over-all hook for it. Maybe some brainstorming over the course of this particular weekend will do the trick for me.

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

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R.O.C.K in the USA

Happy Sunday and a good morning to all y’all.

I didn’t get as much done yesterday as I would have liked; running my errands in the pre-rain humidity literally wore me out, and then when I got going again I started cleaning and doing laundry and well, once I start doing that–as well as going through and trying to organize the books–I am pretty much done for the day….especially after I discovered Burnt Offerings was available for streaming on Prime. Oliver Reed! Karen Black! Bette Davis (who was totally wasted in her role)! I’d seen the movie years ago, I think when it first aired on television after it’s theatrical run, and while it’s still has some moments, it overall doesn’t hold up as well as I would have hoped. I read the book for the first recently in the last few years, and it was wonderful. But watching Burnt Offerings put me in mind of an essay about horror in the 1970’s; the 1970’s was a time when the suburbs really developed because of ‘white flight’ from the cities and desegregation; this was this whole movement of back to the country from the urban centers, and at the same time, there was horror that specifically focused on this phenomenon (without the racism and white flight issues); namely this book, Harvest Home by Thomas Tryon, The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin, and even Stephen King lightly touched on this in ‘salem’s Lot; the dangers of the country to people from the city.

One could even argue that James Dickey’s Deliverance also belongs in this category, and it put me in mind of an essay that I may never write. I also thought up another yesterday while running my errands, after car after car after car violated traffic rules and almost caused me to be in in accident (three times, to be exact; which might be a new record): “Right of Way,” in which I would extrapolate the American contempt for traffic rules and laws for everyone’s safety can be directly correlated to contempt for law and order, the system, taxes, everything. I made some notes, and this is one I may actually write. Essays are fun and I do enjoy writing them but I don’t very often, unless one is requested of me for something, and perhaps that’s the wrong approach.

Today I am going to go to the gym and I am going to start rereading Royal Street Reveillon and make notes for the big revision that is coming. I’m also going to start reading Jackson Square Jazz out loud for copy editing purposes, and I’d also like to work on “A Whisper from the Graveyard” today. I should at some point also work on finished “Never Kiss a Stranger,” which means I should also make a to-do list for everything I want to get done in July.

Hmmm. Perhaps not a bad idea, at that.

I also remembered I have notes on a short story I need to read and decide what revisions I need to be make.

It never truly ends, does it? But I am looking forward to Sharp Objects tonight on HBO; I actually liked this book by Gillian Flynn better than Gone Girl, which of course made her hugely famous and hopefully hugely rich. I still haven’t read her Dark Places, but that’s because I still subscribe to the “if I don’t read all the canon then I still have something by her to read” mentality, which is partly why I still have not read the entire canon of either Daphne du Maurier or Shirley Jackson or Patricia Highsmith.

So, I have a lot to do today–only one more day after today before I return to the office, but at least it’s only a four day work week–and so I should probably get back to the spice mines.

The next story up in Promises in Every Star and Other Stories is “Bloodletting”:

The damp air was thick with the scent of blood.

It had been days since I had last fed, and the desire was gnawing at my insides. I stood up, and my eyes focused on a young man walking a bicycle in front of the cathedral. He was talking on a cell phone, his face animated and agitated. He was wearing a T-shirt that read Who Dat Say They Gonna Beat Dem Saints? and a pair of ratty old paint-spattered jeans cut off at the knees. There was a tattoo of Tweetybird on his right calf, and another indistinguishable one on his left forearm. His hair was dark, combed to a peak in the center of his head, and his face was flushed. He stopped walking, his voice getting louder and louder as his face got darker.

I could smell his blood. I could almost hear his beating heart.

I could see the pulsing vein in his neck, beckoning me forward.

The sun was setting, and the lights around Jackson Square were starting to come on. The tarot card readers were folding up their tables, ready to disappear into the night. The band playing in front of the cathedral was putting their instruments away. The artists who hung their work on the iron fence around the park were long gone, as were the living statues. The square, so teeming with life just a short hour earlier, was emptying of people, and the setting sun was taking the warmth with it as it slowly disappeared in the west. The cold breeze coming from the river ruffled my hair a bit as I watched the young man with the bicycle. He started wheeling the bicycle forward again, still talking on the phone. He reached the concrete ramp leading up to Chartres Street. He stopped just as he reached the street, and I focused my hearing as he became more agitated. What do you want me to say? You’re just being a bitch, and anything I say you’re just going to turn around on me.

I felt the burning inside.

Desire was turning into need.

I knew it was best to satisfy the desire before it became need. I could feel the knots of pain from deprivation forming behind each of my temples and knew it was almost too late. I shouldn’t have let it go this long, but I wanted to test my limits, see how long I could put off the hunger. I’d been taught to feed daily, which would keep the hunger under control and keep me out of danger.

Need was dangerous. Need led a vampire to take risks he wouldn’t take ordinarily. And risks could lead to exposure, to a painful death.

The first lesson I’d learned was to always satiate the hunger while it was still desire, to never ever let it become need.

I had waited too long.

“Bloodletting” is an unusual story for me in that it’s actually a short story that bridges the gap between my novella “Blood on the Moon” and the novel Need; I eventually used it as the book’s first chapter. I have always wanted to give vampire fiction a try; I created an entire world that I first wrote about in the novella “The Nightwatchers,” which I always intended to develop into a series. I still would like to develop that series, and when the opportunity came to write “Blood on the Moon” I realized I could simply still use the world I’d created for “The Nightwatchers” and move on to different characters. The second book in the series, the one that was to follow Need, Desire, was going to tie the two story-lines together but Need didn’t sell as well as the publisher would have liked and so Desire died in the water. I may still go back and write it, of course, but I have no publisher for it and I am not particularly interested in self-publishing that much. But…I never say never. I wrote “Bloodletting” for Blood Sacraments, and only had to change the original concept a little bit; in the original idea Cord, my vampire, was actually sitting on the roof of St. Louis Cathedral watching the crowd for his next victim. I still love that image, and may use it sometime, but I did eventually change it to how it reads now.

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Alive and Kicking

Tuesday and a short work week! I am working half-a-day tomorrow, and taking off Thursday and Friday; which, coupled with Memorial Day, gives me a lovely mini-vacation which will enable to get some things done that I want to get done and rest and relax and write and…well, we’ll see how it goes, but I am heading into my mini-vac with seriously high hopes to get a lot accomplished.

And if I don’t? Well, at least I’ll be well-rested.

Watch this space for updates.

Seriously, though, we are continuing through Thirteen Reasons Why, with only two episodes left to go in this season, and while it continues to get better with every episode, I think there may have been a little too much conflict in the writer’s room when story-boarding this season. The show has yet to be picked up for a third season, but there are rumblings on line that Season 2 definitely left the door open for a third; possibly with major cliff-hanger endings to the various story-lines running through the show. It just gets frustrating when things are contrived for the plot, you know what I mean? But then, the original season was also contrived, since it was based on the notion that 1) she had access to cassette tapes 2) she was assuming everyone she wanted to listen to the tapes would have access to a cassette player and 3) she also assumed any one of the people wouldn’t just throw the tapes away. There was a bit of a blackmail threat, of course, but at the same time….I still think at least one of the kids would have destroyed the tapes, or at least not passed them on; especially one of the kids who didn’t really have as much to lose as the others.

But…the young cast is very appealing and compelling in their roles.

Also: we can watch the finale of The Terror tonight. Seriously, if you aren’t watching, it’s some of the best television I’ve seen in years.

And now, for a return to The Short Story Project, we have “The Good Cat” by Vicki Hendricks,  from Retreats from Oblivion: The Journal of Noircon:

I had no name till Dad took me home. Now I answer to Lickrish, Buddy, and Son–when I feel like it. I gave up chasing lizards, squirrels, and birds, and climbing trees, for Dad. None of it was as good as his fingers behind my ears, his soft belly-lap, and the tang of his silky armpit slung across out bedsheets where I curl. I am a good boy till I start trouble.

Dad is on the couch and I am in his lap, as we are supposed to be at night. He turns my head toward his snout. “Son,” he says, his fingers massaging the tingly spot above my tail, “You’re the only one Dad needs.” I stretch forward, head down, butt up. I hunker into a cuddly lump and purr, keeping my eyes cracked on a swaying palm frond outside the window. I’m lulled by the movement—happy—as Dad calls it. He rests his hand on my back and watches the picture-screen.

After a while he says, “Buddy, let’s take a drive to my Ami. Wanna?” It is a place with windows in the sky, a world of sand, and salty waves that try to drown you if you stop to dig a hole. I leap to his shoulder and tuck my forepaws into the dark stubble on his neck, scouring the side of his face with my tongue till he pulls me off. He does not understand what I am telling him, that we are happy on the couch. I do not want to go to his Ami, or anywhere, but I do not want to stay home all by myself.

Read the whole story here.

Vicki Hendricks should be one of the biggest names in crime fiction today, without question. I myself am just as guilty as all the rest of you; this is only my second experience reading some of her work, and I really need to remedy that failing. Her debut novel, Miami Purity, is one of the best noir novels of all time, period, no questions, no doubt. The entire time I read it–and if I recall correctly, I indulged in the entire thing one rainy afternoon in my easy chair, riveted from beginning to end, and it is still an accomplishment in noir writing that I can only try to emulate; I doubt, in all sincerity and honesty, that I could write its equal. After reading this short story, I immediately added all the rest of Hendricks’ novels to my list; I strongly urge you to do so as well.

“The Good Cat” reminded me of Patricia Highsmith’s short story “Ming’s Biggest Prey”; both are dark, noir tales from the point of view of a cat–which is not entirely an easy thing to pull off, but once you read the stories they totally make sense: what could be more noir than a cat? Both stories are about a cat’s love for their owner; Highsmith’s is darker because the character of the cat is more dark; Hendricks rather views a dark thing from the cat’s point of view; a cat who loves its owner, which makes the ending all the more heartbreaking and yes, noir. (Highsmith’s story ends with no small feeling of satisfaction in the reader.)

Read Vicki Hendricks. Do it. Now. 

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I Still Can’t Get Over Loving You

Wednesday, and Day 4 of Facebook Jail. You know something? I wonder if they’ve heard of unintended consequences over at the Facebook Community Standards department. I usually spend far too much time scrolling through my Facebook feed and interacting with friends. So far this week, instead of doing that, I’ve revised a short story, worked on an outline, read a book (a wonderful history of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted), read several short stories, and gotten some other things done. As this thirty day sentence continues, I will probably visit Facebook less and less–it’s kind of frustrating being able to see things and not respond to them–and by the end of the sentence, probably will be completely broken of the need to go there, and hopefully my attention span will have snapped back to what it was in the days before social media. I’m also liking Tumblr, INstagram and Twitter–you don’t wind up spending nearly as much time there, at least don’t, at any rate. Once I get used to not being on Facebook and having all this free time…look out.

I also read Lois Duncan’s young adult novel Ransom. Originally published in 1967 as Five Were Missing, it’s clear to see why Duncan was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America shortly before her death. I’ve not read all of Duncan’s work–I’m working my way through them all–but her novels were startlingly original and fresh, particularly when you consider when they were originally published. Ransom, inspired by a true crime in northern California where a school bus was hijacked and the students kidnapped, reads very quickly. The five students on the bus all are fully developed and fleshed out beautifully; and Duncan uses the kidnapping as a way of getting inside the heads of the characters and exposing them for what they are; the golden boy with dark secrets and feet of lead; the spoiled cheerleader who dislikes and resents her stepfather, only to learn that the father she idolizes is unworthy of her love; the military brat, deeply intelligent, who is the first to realize the truth of their situation and finds depths of bravery she never knew she had; the younger brother of the golden boy who realizes his own identity, and finds he has levels of potential strength his brother can only aspire to; and the orphan, being raised by his bachelor uncle with scars of his own to hide who finds out that self-pity only keeps him from enjoying his life. The dialogue is a little stilted and old-fashioned, but as I said, it reads very quickly.

Duncan was definitely a master.

Speaking of masters, I read a short story by Patricia Highsmith yesterday as well, “The Heroine,” which is the lead off story in Sarah Weinman’s Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives; a brilliant anthology of stories written by women crime writers from the 1940’s thru the 1950’s, a time when women dominated the industry and many of these wonderful writers are sadly, overlooked and forgotten.

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The girl was so sure she would get the job, she had unabashedly come out to Westchester with her suitcase. She sat in a comfortable chair in the living room of the Christiansens’ house, looking in her navy blue coat and beret even younger than 21, and replied earnestly to their questions.

“Have you worked as a governess before?” Mr. Christianen asked. He sat beside his wife on the sofa, his elbows on the knees of his gray flannel slacks and his hands clasped. “Any references, I mean?”

“I was a maid at Mrs. Dwight Howell’s home in New York for the last seven months.” Lucille looked at him with suddenly wide gray eyes. “I could get a reference from there if you like…But when I saw your advertisement this morning I didn’t want to wait. I’ve always wanted a place where there were children.”

I love Patricia Highsmith, and I have an enormous volume that contains all of her short stories. It’s really criminal that I, like so many other people, don’t read more short stories (hence my short story project, which I might make a year-long thing rather than just a few months), and it deeply shames me that I’ve had Troubled Daughters Twisted Wives sitting on my shelf collecting dust all this time without taking it down and reading it. This Highsmith story, “The Heroine,” is genius, absolute genius, in the cold, slightly detached way that Highsmith uses as her point of view, which makes her stories and novels so much more chilling. It’s very clear, almost from the start–ah, that foreshadowing–that the Christiansens are probably making a terrible mistake in not checking on Lucille’s references. And how the story develops is so much more chilling than you think it is when you get that uh oh feeling in your stomach when Mrs. Christiansen charmingly says she won’t check Lucille’s references. Highsmith’s authorial voice is so distant, so cold and matter-of-fact, and her word choice is always simple and spare…but she always gets that feeling of suspense, of oh my god what is going to happen that you feel amping up as you finish reading each sentence…and her denouements never disappoint.

Weinman has done an excellent job curating this collection; she also did a two-volume collection of novels by these writers called Women Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940’s and 1950s: A Library of America Boxed Set. Some of the novels included in that gorgeous set I’ve already read–Charlotte Armstrong’s Mischief, Margaret Millar’s Beast in View, Vera Caspary’s Laura–but I am definitely going to have to get that set down from the shelf and read the others as well. Weinman is also pretty expert on the crime genre in general; very well read, fiercely intelligent and deeply perceptive, her newsletter The Crime Lady is amazing, and I read it every week for her thoughts on true crimes, the books she’s read and recommends…you can sign up for it here. You can thank for me for it later. She’s also writing a true crime of her own right now that I can’t wait to read.

And now, back to the spice mines.

Drive

It is cold, gray and wet again this morning in New Orleans; the high is predicted to be 42. 42! Honestly. I turned the heat on yesterday and honestly, forgot to turn it off before i left for the day–and usually this makes the upstairs an inferno. Nope, it was merely comfortable up there when I got home from work last night. So, I turned it off when I went to bed, and turned it back on again this morning as I shiver at my computer. Heavy sigh.

But Paul comes home tonight, hurray! And it’s also Friday, so I have a short day today to usher in the weekend. I got an unexpected royalty check yesterday–it’s so lovely that the Frat Boy books from Kensington are still selling, all these years later–and that altered my weekend errand plans somewhat. There’s also no Saints game on Sunday, nor any college football, so I have absolutely no excuse to not clean and edit and write this weekend. I do hate that college football season is over almost entirely, but hey–what can you do? LSU did far better than I could have hoped after a rocky start, and the Saints did a lot better than I thought they would have, especially after that 0-2 start.

Last night, I finished reading Patricia Highsmith’s The Blunderer, and started rereading Larry McMurtry’s The Last Picture Show, which is my favorite novel of his. I read it the first time when I was about twelve, I think; and have reread it several times since; but I haven’t read it again in over twenty years, and I found a copy when I was cleaning out the storage unit and dragged it out. It’s not the first book people think of when they think of McMurtry–that would most likely be his Pulitzer Prize winning Lonesome Dove–and I’ve read a lot of McMurtry–not all of it, certainly–but I’ve always had a special regard for this novel. But I’ll talk more about that when I’ve finished the reread.

Meanwhile, The Blunderer by Highsmith was quite an interesting read.

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The man in dark-blue slacks and a forest-green sport-shirt waited impatiently in the line.

The girl in the ticket booth was stupid, he thought, never had been able to make change fast. He tilted his fat bald head up at the inside of the lighted marquee, read NOW PLAYING! Marked Woman,  looked without interest at the poster of a half-naked woman displaying a thigh, and looked behind him in the line to see if there was anyone in it he knew. There wasn’t. But he couldn’t have timed it better, he thought. Just in time for the eight o’clock show. He shoved his dollar bill through the scallop in the glass.

“Hello,” he said to the blonde girl, smiling.

“Hello.” Her empty blue eyes brightened. “How’re you tonight?”

It wasn’t a question she expected to be answered. It wasn’t.

And so begins Patricia Highsmith’s third novel. The thing that is so terrific about Highsmith is you really never know what you’re going to get with her; her plots are fiendishly original and clever, and so deliciously dark and relatable in some way. The Blunderer opens with Melchior Kimmel establishing an alibi for himself by going to see a film and being seen…and once seen and recognized, he keeps going and exits, heads for his car and then follows a bus north. At a designated rest stop he parks out of sight, finds his wife, who has gotten off the bus, convinces her to follow him to go and chat, and once they are out of sight he brutally murders her.

He gets away with it, too–he was seen at the movie theater, remember, and no one saw him at the rest stop. His wife’s murder remains unsolved.

Until lawyer Walter Stackhouse sees a notice in the paper about the murder. It intrigues him. He writes essays, or wants to write essays, about what he calls ‘unequal friendships,’ where one friend is lesser than the other and yet the better friend seems to get dragged along by the other. This murder fascinates him, and he starts trying to think how the husband could have done it and gotten away with it…and actually figures it out. Walter is also unhappily married; his wife, Clara, is frankly awful and is trying to ruin his friendships with other people and isolate him; yet she also makes him terribly unhappy. He tried to leave her once before and she threatened to kill herself, so they patched things up. But he is now introduced to another young woman whom he’s attracted to…and somehow Clara has figured this out and continues to make him miserable.

His idle fascination with the Kimmel murder eventually leads him to visit the bookstore Kimmel owns and operates, orders a book, and decides, after having seen Kimmel, that he must be innocent. His own life, meantime, gets worse. He tells Clara he wants a divorce and she attempts suicide. She gets out of the hospital and is just as awful as ever…and then her mother dies and she has to go back to her hometown in Pennsylvania to attend to things. She takes the bus. Obsessed with the Kimmel case, and wondering if he could, in fact, kill his own awful wife…he follows her bus in his car. When they reach a rest stop, he gets out of his car and looks for Clara…and cannot find her. But he’s seen…and later, Clara’s body is found at the bottom of a cliff. Suicide or murder? The police think it’s suicide at first…but the similarity to the Kimmel case is there….and his own fascination with that case now comes back to bite him in the ass.

I greatly enjoyed this book, as I have all of Highsmith’s that I’ve read thus far, and I love how she deftly changes directions in ways the reader cannot see coming. You can’t help but feel for Walter in his horrible dilemma, and the way his life starts to slowly spiral out of control all because he happened to read about an interesting murder in the newspaper. As the weird connections between the two cases slowly come to light, no one believes Walter is innocent–not the police, his friends, his co-workers, his maid, nor even his new love. It’s an extraordinary story, and the way Highsmith heightens the tension until it’s almost unbearable, the two parallel stories crossing and recrossing, is quite exceptional.

Highly recommended.