Vulnerable

Today’s sexy man objectification photo certainly doesn’t seem like the right illustration for today’s title, does it?

He kind of looks like the alternate world Flash from the television show and turned out to be the villain of Season 2, Zoom, Teddy Sears, and I think he is in the second season of Netflix’s The Politician, as part of the throuple relationship Judith Light’s character is involved in. He is really pretty, even if he is not the guy in today’s picture, who is also really pretty.

But then assuming that a big muscular handsome man can’t be vulnerable as well is misandry, I suppose. Everyone, after all, can and should be–and definitely shouldn’t be afraid to be–vulnerable.

Yesterday was a good day–which seems to be par for the course lately, which is absolutely lovely. I got a lot of work done yesterday–granted, most of the day was spent making condom packs, which is my lot in life when it comes to working from home these days–but they are needed and necessary for the works kits we pass out during syringe access, and it’s hard to keep up with the demand. One of the nice things about making condom packs is I can watch something while I make them; the last two Wednesdays I’ve been watching The Mickey Mouse Club production of the Hardy Boys serial, The Mystery of the Applegate Treasure, which is loosely based on the first Hardy Boys adventure, The Tower Treasure. It was interesting to see the changes Disney made to the Hardy Boys to appeal more to their young audience–the Hardy Boys weren’t seventeen and eighteen, as they were in the books (I don’t recall how old they were in the original texts; Nancy Drew went from sixteen in the originals to eighteen in the revisions), and of course, Mrs. Hardy doesn’t exist in the serials. In fairness, their mother was never much of a character in the series–her name even changed from Martha in the original texts to Laura in the revisions–and their father’s sister, Aunt Gertrude, was more of an adult parental figure in their lives than even their father, and she replaces Mrs. Hardy in the Disney serials completely. The basic premise of the book is that the Tower Mansion is robbed, and suspicion falls on the father of their friend, Perry Robinson, who worked there; the burden of being fired means Perry has to drop out of school and of course, everyone in Bayport believes his father is guilty. Even in the revised texts, where a lot of the characterizations and color is dropped from the plot and the Hardys themselves become more two-dimensional, the way the Robinsons are shamed and ostracized by the town is very well-done; naturally, the Hardy boys, who want to be detectives like their famous father, go to work to clear the Robinsons.

In the serial, Perry is a juvenile delinquent from “the city” who is sent to Bayport to get away from bad influences, and works for crazy old Silas Applegate (in the book, his name was Hurd and he had a sister; both were known as “eccentrics”); soon Perry is framed for stealing tools and the Hardys, taking sympathy on him, take him on as a client. The Applegate treasure is an old pirate treasure of Jean Lafitte’s that was stolen from the mansion some ten years before; and no one really believes that it ever existed as Silas isn’t exactly mentally stable. It’s actually not a bad adaptation, and two of Disney’s biggest child stars, Tim Considine and Tommy Kirk, play the Hardys; any flaws it has are flaws of the time and the need for Disney (and pretty much all television shows) to sanitize and clean up small towns (well, life in general); what i always call the “Mayberritization” of American life. (Peyton Place, which was published during this same period, is far more accurate–which is partly why it was so scandalous.)

I started watching the second Hardy Boys serial, The Mystery of Ghost Farm–but I can also see why the Hardy Boys serials ended with this second one. It’s not as well done or as well plotted as the first; primarily because it isn’t based on one of the books and is wholly original…and while I can certainly understand why they didn’t base it on the second boo, The House on the Cliff (the plot of which centers on the boys looking for their father, whose been kidnapped by a gang of smugglers), they could have just as easily used Book Three, The Secret of the Old Mill.

These are, oddly enough, on Youtube rather than Disney Plus, as are some of the other serials, like Annette, and some of the two-part mysteries that originally aired on The Wonderful World of Disney.

And, as I’ve talked about recently, I’m thinking about reviving my middle-grade mystery series that I’ve been tinkering around with ever since I was about eight years old and started reading the kids’ series in the first place.

We also finished Dark Desire last night, and there were a lot of surprising plot twists in those final four episodes, and a great season cliffhanger at the end as well. I do recommend it, because it’s great fun and trashy yet engaging; and of course Alejandro Spietzer is gorgeous and charismatic. It’s apparently been renewed for a second season; Paul discovered this yesterday while searching for other series and/or films starring this gorgeous Mexican actor. Yes, we’re fan, and yes, we’re just that shallow.

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader, and I’ll shout at you again tomorrow morning.

For Your Own Good

As Monday rolls around again–huzzah?–and we’re in the last week of April. These last two months have certainly lasted forever, haven’t they? Christ the Lord.

I did something really strange yesterday morning; or rather, more strange than my usual, which is pretty strange. I started writing another Scotty book. It may come to nothing, but ever since the title Quarter Quarantine Quadrille popped into my head a couple of weeks ago, my mind has toyed with the thought over and over again. And since the intro to every Scotty book opens with an homage to the opening of a truly famous classic novel (Rebecca, The Haunting of Hill House, Lolita, Peyton Place, to name but a few) the thought crossed my mind that I could do an homage to “The Masque of the Red Death”, so I looked it up on-line and cut and pasted the first two paragraphs into a word document, and started playing with it a bit. I’ll probably look at the openings of other pandemic-related fictions, like Death in Venice or The Plague before finally deciding on which one to actually use–or even if a Scotty quarantine book is something the world wants or needs–but the actual opening of the first chapter came to me on Saturday night, while we watched that dreadful Chris Hemsworth as a mercenary movie: as I watched a fight scene where Hemsworth’s character took on basically a team of soldiers by himself and killed them all in less than two minutes, Paul said, “I wonder how long this script was? Two pages of dialogue, maybe?” and I thought to myself, this is probably what a Colin novel would have to look like, and from there I leapt to Scotty, Frank and Taylor sitting around during quarantine, watching a movie like this, and Taylor saying, idly, “This is what Colin actually does when he’s not here, isn’t it?” and then forces the questions I’ve been asking myself over the last few books–especially in the last one–about morality and ethics and how do Scotty and Frank and the family look past what Colin’s source of income is? And since I signaled at the end of the last book that Colin was on his way home…and it did come up, during the book, that being involved with Colin makes them targets…that maybe, just maybe, it was time to deal with that in a Scotty book. So I wrote the first few paragraphs of a first chapter, where exactly that happens: they are watching an action/adventure movie when Taylor makes the observation, and the awkward conversation that ensues from it.

It might be a false start and a dead end–Lord knows I already have enough on my plate without trying to write another Scotty book on top of it–but…stranger things have happened.

I also reviewed my Sherlock Holmes story, which was actually much better than I ever dared dream; revising it and making it stronger will not actually be the odious chore I feared it might. On the other hand, I cannot be certain that the editor will feel much the same way about the story as I do, so it must be honed and refined and polished till it gleams in the light of day. (Ironically, I couldn’t remember the end….) But I did a much  better job than I thought I had–yes, I am my own worst critic, this is absolutely true–and this pleases me to no end. The story itself works, and just needs a little bit of tweaking the language and an added sentence here, a subtracted sentence there…yes, I am very pleased with it. Once I get it in shape, off it goes–and I think my other one that’s due this week only needs a tweak here and there as well.

HUZZAH!

Always good news.

We also watched Hustlers–didn’t care too much for it; sorry, felt like it could have been much better–and then the first episode of the Penny Dreadful spin-off, City of Angels, set in Los Angeles in 1938, and I liked it. A lot. It has a very noir sensibility, crossed over with some supernatural/horror elements, and it addresses not only race but Nazi infiltration into Los Angeles in that year–and pulls no punches. Draw your own conclusions, but I thought it was terrific, and look forward to watching the rest of the season. Nathan Lane is very well cast as a hardboiled LA homicide detective, and you can never go wrong with Natalie Dormer. I then watched–while Paul got ready for the week–watched a historical mini-series on Starz called Maximilian and Marie de Bourgogne, I think a multi-language production? Sometimes it sounded like French, sometimes like German, sometimes like something in between; perhaps Flemish? Anyway, it’s quite well-produced and this royal couple never gets the attention they quite deserve, given their marriage resulted in nearly five hundred years of wars between France and Germany (through its many iterations, from Holy Roman Empire to Austrian Empire to German Empire). The fifteenth century is an interesting time; one of blood feuds between branches of both the royal families of England (the Wars of the Roses) and the French Valois (the Orleans and Burgundy branches, respectively; ending with the Burgundy branch being absorbed into the House of Habsburg…so yeah), and a tighter unifying of the Holy Roman Empire into a hereditary throne for the Habsburgs. It was also the century in which Spain was freed of Moorish occupation and unified into Spain again–and once again, the Habsburgs wound up getting involved there and absorbing another throne. I’d known about the series for quite some time, and was glad to see it finally available to stream on one of my (too many) services. Yay, HISTORY!!!

I woke up feeling tired this morning, so I decided to make today another vacation day, stay home and get some things done around the house. I may venture out to the grocery store, but then again, I may not; those trips always seem to exhaust me, and why push it if I don’t have to? I have to be jealously guard my health these days, and my energy–bearing in mind the subconscious depression and angst can also be wearing down my body fairly regularly; another post-Katrina lesson–sometimes you’re not even aware of the depression bogging you down until it actually does. I spent the weekend pretty much in a complete state of exhaustion; it was very odd, and limiting in what I was able to work on and get done. Don’t get me wrong, I am delighted I reread all these in-progress short stories that have been languishing in my “edit” folder for so long–so much so that I actually got ideas on how to fix and rewrite and revise them all; there may be a massive flurry of submissions coming to the few publications out there that take crime stories–but the lack of energy I experienced for the majority of the weekend wasn’t very helpful, really.

And it seems to have carried over into today as well. Yay? Not really.

But I have about a million emails to reply to, several more to initiate, and then I’ going to probably head first into the spice mines, where I need to stay for most of the day. Since I am taking a vacation day, I need to make it worthwhile.

And so, on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely and productive Monday, Constant Reader. I know I hope to.

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Walking After Midnight

Here I am, up at the crack of dawn–well, not really, but earlier than I usually get up on a Thursday–so I can catch a flight to New York later this morning. And I think I packed the clothes I intended to wear on the plane this morning–which is fine. Not particularly smart, but I’ve been running on accessory all week as it is, so it’s not particularly surprising, either.

I also woke up well before my alarm this morning, too. Not sure what that’s all about, but there you have it.

Today is also my first time flying out of the new terminal at Armstrong, so that’s also kind of exciting.

I am taking probably too many books with me on this trip: The Talented Mr, Ripley; Blanche on the Lam by Barbara Neely; Pretty as a Picture by Elizabeth Little; and Dread Journey by Dorothy B. Hughes. I’ll probably finish Ripley at the airport and get started on the Neely on the plane. I hope to have some free down time periodically in order to do some work on my secret project; but knowing how these trips usually go that’s most likely never going to happen. But hope springs eternal and all that nonsense.

Last night didn’t do much of anything once I got home. I packed and spent the evening in my easy chair, watching videos on Youtube–clips and analysis of the LSU game on Monday, as well as discussions on whether or not this team is one of the best of all time. It’s kind of hard to argue against it, really; given the teams they beat and how they beat them. The last three games of the season were against Number 4 Georgia (37-10); Number 4 Oklahoma (63-28), and Number 3 Clemson (42-25). They beat everyone in the preseason top 4 (Clemson, Alabama, Oklahoma, Georgia). Excluding the LSU losses, those three times they beat at the end of the season totaled 2 losses total; add Alabama into the mix and that would be three; adding Florida would make it 4.

Sorry, I know I tend to run on and on about this LSU team, but damn, they were amazing.

But I’ll be glad when this trip is over and I get home Sunday evening. I have Monday off–Martin Luther King Jr Day–and so I can relax and recover and get some things done before I return to work on Tuesday. Traveling has become more and more of a chore the older I get; I always wonder if getting older has just made me crankier, or if traveling has, indeed, gotten terrible. I suspect it’s a combination of the two–less patience and more stupidity and inefficiency. But I do love New York; I never feel more like a writer then I do when I am in New York; probably because as a child New York was the nexus for authors–and certainly in every book I read that had a writer as a character, that was certainly the case; everything from You Can’t Go Home Again to Youngblood Hawke to Peyton Place, for that matter; and of course the crown jewel, Rona Jaffe’s The Best of Everything. And I will be there this afternoon! It’s not that I mind trips–it’s the getting there, the actual travel, I’ve come to loathe–from getting to the airport to the check-in process to security to the seemingly endless wait at the gate; the gathering of luggage and transporting one’s self to the final destination.

And on that note, tis time to hop in the shower and make my final preparations for the departure. 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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Keep Coming Back

It dropped into the forties overnight, and this morning, it’s struggling to get up into the low fifties. This is utter and complete madness; we even are looking at a possible freeze alert by Tuesday–a freeze alert in November. Utter, total, unquestionable madness.

The LSU game…well, they won and let’s just leave it at that.

The Saints play Cincinnati today at noon; I intend to write all morning and then take a break to watch them play, after which I will try to get some more writing done. I wound up spending most of yesterday relaxing and reading. I dove back into ‘salem’s Lot, my Halloween reread for this year (you see how well that went), intending to only read a chapter, but promptly got sucked into the narrative. I finished reading part one, and chose to stop with Part II, “The Emperor of Ice Cream.” The essay about ‘salem’s Lot that is currently brewing in my head–“Peyton Place, But With Vampires”–is slowly taking shape within my head, which is lovely. Whether or not I am ever going to have the time to write it is an entirely different question, of course.

One of the interesting things about rereading ‘salem’s Lot is also seeing how carefully King structured his novel; the book isn’t–which is the point of my essay–so much about the vampires and the fearless vampire killers (well, they are hardly fearless), as it is about the town. I love that King shows how the other people in the town react to what’s going on; they of course aren’t privy to what the main, core characters (Ben, Mark, Susan, Matt, and the doctor–whose name is escaping me now) are; one of the other things King does so remarkably well in this, only his second novel, is depicting how small towns really work–hence the comparison to Peyton Place. His depictions of small towns only got better and more realistic as his career progressed; I think the secret strength of Needful Things is the honesty and truth in how he depicted Castle Rock; with all the resentments and anger and feuds all simmering just beneath the surface (I also need to revisit Needful Things).

I plan to get back to Bury Me in Satin today. I wrote less than three hundred words yesterday, and this shall not stand; I also need to get back on track with this manuscript. I am a little torn about how to proceed–I am also having questions about the time line and so forth–but these things should sort themselves out as I write and move the story forward. We’ll see how it goes today. I also need to work on these short stories. Heavy heaving sigh.

I also managed to read something yesterday for the Short Story Project: “Remaindered” by Peter Lovesey, from Bibliomysteries Volume 2, edited by Otto Penzler:

Agatha Christie did it. The evidence was plain to see, but no one did see for more than a day. Robert Ripple’s corpse was cold on the bookshop floor. It must have been there right through Monday, the day Precious Finds was always closed. Poor guy, he was discovered early Tuesday in the section he called his office, in a position no bookseller would choose for his last transaction, face down, feet down and butt up, jack-knifed over a carton of books. The side of the carton had burst and some of the books had slipped out and fanned across the carpet, every one a Christie.

Last Sunday Robert had taken delivery of the Christie novels. They came from a house on Park Avenue, one of the best streets in Poketown, Pennsylvania, and they had a curious history. They were brought over from Europe before World War II by an immigrant whose first job had been as a London publisher’s rep. He’d kept the books as a souvenir of those tough times trying to interest bookshop owners in whodunits when the only novels most British people wanted to read were by Jeffrey Farnol and Ethel M. Dell. After his arrival in America, he’d switched to selling Model T Fords instead and made a sizable fortune. The Christies has been forgotten about, stored in the attic of the fine old weatherboard house he’d bought after making his first million. And now his playboy grandson planned to demolish the building and replace it with a space-age dwelling of glass and concrete. He’d cleared the attic and wanted to dispose of the books. Robert had taken one look and offered five hundred dollars for the lot. The grandson had pocketed the check and gone away pleased with the deal.

Hardly believing his luck, Robert must have waited until the shop closed and then stopped to lift the carton onto his desk and check the content more carefully. Mistake.

This is actually my first experience with reading Peter Lovesey.  I mean, I know who he is and that he is in the upper stratosphere of crime writers, but I’ve not read him before. Reading “Remaindered” certainly has made me want to change that. The story is multi-layered, and exceptionally cleverly structured. It begins with the sad and sudden death of a second hand bookstore owner; due to a crate of Agatha Christie novels he’s just purchased, as indicated in the excerpt above. And that is where the story starts to twist and turn, changing shapes and throwing out the occasional surprise, twist after twist after twist; all of them organic and foreshadowed, and the story itself does an excellent, highly honest job of depicting the characters, their needs, their wants, and their incredibly surprising histories. I do highly recommend it.

The entire point of The Short Story Project was intended to be a sort of graduate course in short story writing for me. At the beginning of this year, the intent was for me to write a lot of short stories and to work on my craft with them, to improve as a writer. I’ve not had that much success with any of the new stories I’ve written this year; the rejections continue to stack up. But I shall continue to try writing them. I also realized last night that two stories I have coming out in anthologies next year are similarly themed, and I have like two or three more following not only a similar theme but a similar pattern in the works. Ruh roh.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Venus

My sleep patterns are so messed up. I woke up this morning (several times) before eight (the first time was at three) before finally getting up around seven thirty. This is the first time I’ve gotten up early on my own without an alarm in weeks, maybe even months. I’ve been sleeping later and later every morning, but lately, if I don’t set an alarm I seem to not wake up until sometime between nine-thirty and ten; which is a lot of sleep. I’m not complaining, mind you–the sleep is restful and good when it comes–but at the same time I hate that I always mentally default to oh, I’ve wasted my entire morning in bed.

Sleep is never a waste; nor is my morning wasted because I didn’t get up until almost ten.

And yet this morning, my Sunday this week, I somehow managed to wake up early. Let’s see how much I can get done this morning, shall we? I’d like to get back to the gym today, try to reestablish that workout pattern I slipped so easily out of a few months back. Those months of regular workouts for naught now; I have to start over again and try to get back into the swing of regular workouts before trying to start pushing myself and trying to burn off the fat and gain some additional muscle. I’ve been very dissatisfied now (for years) with how my body shape has changed; and if I don’t start doing something about it soon it might become more permanent; and above all else, it’s not healthy.

And healthy has to be the primary motivating factor now, not appearance.

I did finish reading Philip Roth’s When She Was Good this past weekend, Constant Reader.

I didn’t love it. It’s one of his early novels, like Letting Go, which I also didn’t care for, and am now wondering if I should actually try to read one of his later novels. I am giving him more chances than I usually give an author, but I also do think it’s kind of unfair to judge an author solely based on early works. When She Was Good is about small-town morality and small-town mentality; set in some ambiguous Midwestern state in the small town of Liberty Center (just across the river from the bigger city of Winnisaw), it focuses on the tragedy of young Lucy Nelson, whose life and world views are shaped by being the daughter of an alcoholic failure. The end result is she sets impossibly high standards of success vs. failure, of morality vs. immorality, and she makes people miserable. Her big failure is getting pregnant while in college (which she takes no responsibility for her part in) and proceeds to make her husband miserable. The whole book is about responsibility; and it’s not a terribly exciting read. Lucy is awful but so is her husband and his family; if anything, the book serves as a commentary on the phoniness of small town values, like Peyton Place; the primary difference between the two being Roth’s novel is smaller in scope while Metalious’ has a plot and characters you care about and you want to know what happens to them.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Head over Heels

There was an article somewhere recently that described a new trend in literary fiction, inspired by Elena Ferrante: writing about women’s friendships. I literally did a double-take when I saw it; because there have been books, across all genres, about female friendships for many, many years–for example, the examination of women’s friendships and relationships with other women were at the root of every Rona Jaffe novel; the primary strengths of both Peyton Place and Valley of the Dolls lie in the friendships between the women; going back to Jane Eyre, there are always friendships between women at the heart of novels (hello, Jane Austen?). The point is this is nothing new, so to describe this as a ‘new trend’ is short-sighted to say the least, lazy writing at the worst.

Rebecca Chance novels kind of defy description, to be honest. They are called ‘bonkbusters’ in her native England (where they are runaway bestsellers); some call them ‘glamorous thrillers.’ She writes about what used to be called ‘the jet set’, or ‘the beautiful people’, or the ‘rich and beautiful’; territory that used to be mined by Jackie Collins, Judith Krantz, Sidney Sheldon, Harold Robbins, and Jacqueline Susann. And while I don’t mean to demean her predecessors in the field, who were quite good at what they did and wrote yarns you simply could not put down, Chance’s novels are different; in that they combine sharp social commentary, wit (at times, they are laugh out loud funny), and characters that you can’t help but like and identify with.

Her latest, Killer Affair, is no exception.

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It was an ocean liner come to rest in the heart of London, its glittering, prow-shaped facade jutting towards the Thames. From its terraces and balconies, the view was unparalleled: the beautiful curve of the Playhouse Theatre with its glowing lights, the flow of boats along the wide river, the sprawl of the South Bank beyond, London’s bounty spread like a fabulous offering of endless possibilities to the gilded, privileged guests who occupied the penthouse suites.

However, the young woman who was climbing out of the black cab outside the hotel entrance in Whitehall was in no mood for relaxing on a private balcony with a glass of champagne, resting her arms on the rail, gazing down over the glittering city as she made plans for that evening. Her jaw was set determinedly, her eyes hard. The liveried doorman, reaching into the can for her two suitcases, asked if she was a guest at the hotel, to which she responded curtly that no, she had a booking at the spa and needed to check her luggage.

If the doorman thought it was strange for a day spa visitor to arrive with a pair of large, battered suitcases, there was not a hint of that reaction on his face; his demeanour remained entirely polite and neutral as he carried them inside.

And so begins the latest Rebecca Chance novel–who is this woman, and what is she doing at the spa? The prologue ends with her discovering her target–another woman with whom she is angry–and dumping ice all over her recumbent figure as she spits out angrily, “You bitch! You’ve ruined my life!” (With hints of Shirley Conran’s brilliant, memorable opening to her novel, Lace: “Which one of you bitches is my mother?”)

The book then flashes back to the beginning of the story; how the two women met and became involved with each other’s lives. One of them is Lexy O’Brien, a reality television superstar in the UK who quite literally and ruthlessly climbed to the top of the pile of reality stars by carefully planning her every move, maximizing every bit of publicity she could gather, and is now quite happily married to a sexy former footballer who now is a TV commentator. The two live with their two children and various staff in a beautiful mansion in Sandbank, one of the most expensive places to buy property in the world, and Lexy is planning her next assault on the tabloids/entertainment journalism: writing a memoir. Of course, Lexy isn’t going to write it herself but needs a ghostwriter, which is where young, chubby Caroline comes in. Caroline works writing press releases and also writes a blog, shares a flat with four other broke young people, and dreams of becoming a successful novelist. She is quite dazzled at first by Lexy and her life; Lexy, while immensely narcissistic and self-absorbed (two vitally necessary personality traits for any reality star) is not a bad person–she just sees everyone around her as tools for her stardom and vehicles for publicity. She is actually quite generous with the bedazzled Caroline, and the young woman is grateful at first…but the more she writes, the less dazzled by Lexy she is…and the little nickname Lexy gives her at first–“Ghost Mouse”–begins to rankle…especially as Caroline, by being quiet, listening, and paying attention, learns a lot more than Lexy could ever imagine. And soon, she begins to not just envy Lexy her life, but to believe Lexy doesn’t deserve it.

To tell anymore would spoil the twisty, clever and wickedly funny plot (although it has strong elements of All About Eve), and despite all appearances to the contrary, neither Lexy nor Caroline is a villain. Chance, as always, has created three dimensional characters, strong women with good and bad sides, whose behavioral motivations make complete sense–and her keen insights into reality television, writing and publishing, and how intricate and delicate relationships between friends, family, and lovers can be, make the book completely un-put-down-able. I deeply resented having to put the book aside to work on my own writing, or go to work, or to go to bed. Yesterday I sat down in my easy chair to read for an hour before doing my own writing–and seven hours later put the book down with an enormously satisfied sigh.

Americans, you can either order the book from Amazon.co.uk; the Book Depository; or from Murder by the Book in Houston. It’s soooooo worth it, believe me.

A Beautiful Morning

Well, I finished reading The Underground Railroad yesterday, and will most definitely be blogging about it, once I’ve digested it some and thought about it some more. It was, to say the least, very powerful, and not only did it made me think about the subject matter–it also made me think about a lot of other things, which I will be more than happy to discuss once I’ve digested them. I also started reading The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney, which I am enjoying as well.

We were supposed to get heavy weather yesterday, but it arrived over night instead–everything out there is wet and dripping, which is always a joy. Ah, well.

I didn’t write yesterday, or at all over the weekend, which is, of course, terrible. I did get some cleaning done and some organizing–not as much as I would have liked–but we’re also working on getting caught up on our shows and I did want to power through and finally finish the Colson novel, which I did manage to do, and then we got caught up on The Walking Dead, watched last night’s Feud, and then it was bedtime.

I am greatly enjoying Feud, and am very impressed with how it’s taking on the issue of how Hollywood/entertainment treats women; which also, in some ways, goes along with another show I am looking to finishing watching–the season finale of Big Little Lies was also last night; which we will undoubtedly watch tonight as well as continuing to get caught up on Bates Motel (a show that is KILLING it now in it’s final season). The way two of my favorite old Hollywood actresses–Bette Davis and Joan Crawford–are being depicted is brilliant, and the two women playing them, Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon, are turning in stunning, award-worthy performances. Last week’s episode, in which both Davis and Crawford are still not fielding any offers before the movie opens–and then it becomes a huge hit–was particularly brilliant; the moment when Joan Crawford, leaving the theater after the preview of the film that ended with a standing ovation, is recognized in the lobby and then mobbed with fans–when this happens, the look on her face–surprise evolving into pure joy at being treated like a star again, is so poignant it’s heartbreaking.

Last night’s, Oscar night when Crawford was snubbed in favor of Davis, was also almost painful to watch; the naked need Davis had for that third Oscar, the pain and anguish Crawford felt about being overshadowed once again by her rival (the scenes where Crawford talks to Geraldine Page and Anne Bancroft, asking them if she can accept for them, and the pity and sympathy Page and Bancroft feel for her, agreeing to let her do it because she needs to…wow)–and Judy Davis is also killing it as Hedda Hopper.

And last night, for the first time, Catherine Zeta-Jones actually delivered as Olivia de Havilland.

I got the idea for an essay yesterday about women’s fiction–using three novels to not only compare and contrast to each other but also to talk about how fiction by, for, and about women is so regularly disdained and dismissed as somehow lesser–the three being The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe, Peyton Place by Grace Metalious, and Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann. I’ve been toying with the idea for quite some time, and I thought about it again yesterday, partly because of Feud, but also partly because of Big Little Lies. Of course, I have no idea where to publish the thing…and it’s not like I don’t have a million other things to write as well.

Heavy heaving sigh.

And on that note, back to editing.