Last Song

Sunday morning, and so much on my plate this morning. That’s okay, Constant Reader, I slept really well and once I have enough caffeine in my system, I will be up for the challenge. I still need to do some chores around the apartment today as well, but I am going to be keeping my head down and focussing on the things that need to be finished today–or at least, that’s the plan this morning. Being distracted is, of course, always a possibility; I may even close my web browsers to avoid that once I get started on my work.

Yesterday I spent some time with S. A. Cosby’s My Darkest Prayer, which is absolutely fantastic. That voice, and the influence of writers of color–Walter Mosley and Gary Phillips–are apparent, as are the biggies of crime–Chandler and both MacDonalds (Ross and John  D.) are also there. The result is staggeringly original, a little raw, and completely absorbing. One reason I want to get all my writing and chores done this morning is so I can curl up in my chair with the book later today.

I also started streaming a CNN documentary series last night on Hulu–The Movies, which is very similar in set-up to their decades documentary series; a history of film by decade, which is quite frankly the smartest way to go; you certainly can see the difference in film by decade. It was fun to see films I’ve either not seen nor heard of (or had but forgotten) talked about, along with the blockbusters, the big movies, the award-winners, and how stars built their careers from their big break movie. I highly recommend The Movies, even if you aren’t a film fan; it’s also an interesting look at how films reflected the times they were made, which is always, for me, the best way to examine popular culture. (I really wish someone would write a non-fiction book about the gay publishing boom of the 1970’s, a decade that saw a gay novel, The  Front Runner, hit the New York Times bestseller list; saw the birth of a queer literary sensibility, and also saw the enormous success of the Gordon Merrick novels–and no, please don’t say why don’t you write it, Gregalicious? There’s no time for me to write anything like that, and as it is, I have to start reading VOLUMES of research about gay life in post-war Hollywood, as well as what was going on in Hollywood in that time as well, and again, so very little time.) I think literature also holds up a mirror to society much in the same way as film and television does; it would be interesting to see a series of essays on how books published not only reflected, but influenced the society which produced them.

As I was reading My Darkest Prayer yesterday, I was thinking about how some of our larger cities, with their more cosmopolitan and international feel, should be reflected more in crime novels by, about, and for minorities. I’d love to read some crime fiction about New Orleans about people of color by people of color–whether it’s African-American, or Latino, or Vietnamese, for that matter. I’d love to see the same for cities like New York, Boston, Chicago, Houston and Los Angeles, to name a few. I loved Steph Cha’s Juniper Song novels, as well as her soon-to-be-released Your House Will Pay, which is, simply stated, genius. I’ve always wanted, for example, to give Venus Casanova, the African-American police detective who is both my Scotty and Chanse series (as is her partner, Blaine Tujague) her own story–but at the same time I have never thought myself capable of telling her story, or having the right to do so, at any rate. I have a great idea for such a story–a way of writing the end to her story, as it were, which would of course mean removing her from the two series I already write afterwards, which would probably rank up there with shooting myself in the foot as it would mean introducing a new cop to both series…although that in and of itself might not be such a bad idea, either. Could be just the thing to shake both series up a little bit.

I’ve also thought about writing a stand-alone Colin book. I’d once thought about spinning him off into his own series–wouldn’t a gay undercover operative make for a great series? I had thought, originally, that after the initial Scotty trilogy I would write Colin out of the series (SPOILER) and possibly give him his own series. I thought it would be fun to do a gay kind of Indiana Jones/James Bond hybrid with our boy Colin as the lead of the story. (It’s always fun to revisit ideas I had in the past.) Katrina of course ended that possibility, but I am still thinking it might be an interesting idea to write a Colin stand alone before tackling the next Scotty, which is going to be Hollywood South Hustle. There are–I will tell you this now–some unresolved Colin issues left over at the end of Royal Street Reveillon, and it might be interesting to tell Colin’s story before we get around to getting back to another Scotty book. I’m also probably going to do at least one more Chanse novel as well, but I don’t know when I’m going to get to either of these stories–Chanse, Scotty, or Colin’s.

But the Venus story is reverberating in my brain, and I might just have to write it to get it out of my system. It’s working title is Another Random Shooting and I’m jotting ideas down in my journal as they come to me.

And on that note, tis time to get back to the spice mines. I want to get the Major Project done today, and some work on the book, too.

We’ll see how it goes.

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Sentimental Street

It’s Saturday morning! Lots to do today; Chapter Fifteen, read “My Brother’s Keeper” aloud, work on “Don’t Look Down,” revise “Burning Crosses,”–the list goes on and on. It’s supposed to rain today as well; not sure if that’s going to actually be a thing today, but it does look sort of gloomy-esque outside my windows this morning.

And the Apartment is, of course, a complete and total mess.

I was thinking last night, as I started reading Megan Abbott’s extraordinary Give Me Your Hand, about my own writing (reading amazing writers always makes me contemplative) and putting into some perspective. Megan is one of our best writers, and the crime genre is very lucky to have her writing within our boundaries. Reading her work is always very humbling for me, whether it’s a novel or one of her jewels of a short story (hello, publishers! A Megan Abbott short story collection is way overdue! Get! On! It!), as I find myself wondering how does she think of putting these words together? Her sentences are never overly complicated and yet she manages to put them together in such a way as to create a very vivid and complex image, not to mention how she uses her sentence structure to create these characters that are so nuanced and real and complicated…she really is a master of the written word. I will dive back into her novel today, when I am finished with all of the things I must, I have to, do today; it’s always lovely when there’s a wonderful reward waiting for you at the end of tedious writing and editing and cleaning. (I also have ARC’s of Lori Roy’s The Disappearing and Alex Segura’s Blackout; I cannot wait to dive into those as well.)

And while I should be thinking, of course, about where the Scotty novel needs to go in Chapter Fifteen and going forward from there, I was thinking last night about short stories. I always abhorred writing short stories before, thought them incredibly difficult to write, and a discipline of writing that I was not particularly good at (I am also horrible at writing horror fiction, for example). I always believed that whenever I was actually successful at writing a short story, it was purely by accident; not anything conscious that I managed because I wasn’t good at the form. But in writing these reams of short stories this year, I am finding that not to be true; I am having to revise my thinking about so many things I once believed true about me as a writer. Yes, a short story might fail; everyone makes false starts. The Archer Files, with its final section of short story fragments that Ross Macdonald had started yet never finished, taught me that. My own files are filled with fragments of short stories that I began yet never finished; first drafts of stories I never finished because I wasn’t sure, I wasn’t convinced, that I knew how to fix and repair, how to edit and revise to make right. But that doesn’t mean I am a failure at writing short stories. It simply means those stories are ready to be finished; that Ifor whatever reason, am simply not ready to finish them. And there’s nothing wrong with that, of course.

This is, and has always been, just another way my lack of self-confidence in my ability to write manifests itself.

I started writing another story last night, currently untitled; I’m not sure what its title will be but I do have a vague idea of what it’s about. There’s a great little place to eat in my neighborhood, in the same block as my gym, called simply Tacos and Beer; I am meeting someone in town for an early dinner there on Sunday. That, of course, got me thinking about that great simple name for the place, and what a wonderful opening that would make for a story; someone going there to meet someone for dinner and choosing that place because it’s simple, straightforward name pleases them so much. The story is still amorphous, of course. But perhaps I’ll be able to work on it today. I’m also thinking I might even get to work on Muscles  a little bit today.

Who knows? The day is fraught with possibilities still. I may wind up being lazy and not doing a fucking thing.

Here’s the raw opening of “Burning Crosses”:

“Population four thousand four hundred and thirty two,” Leon said as they passed the Welcome to Corinth sign. There were a couple of bullet holes in it, as there had been in every official green sign they’d passed since crossing into Corinth County. “I guess it’s not hard to imagine lynching here.”

“I can come back with someone else,” Chelsea Thorne replied. Her head ached. She needed coffee. Her Starbucks to go cup was long empty. “Can you check on your phone and see if there’s a Starbucks in town?”

Leon laughed. “I don’t have to look to know the answer is no,” he shook his head. “There’s not even five thousand people in this town, girl. There ain’t no Starbucks. I’ll bet there’s a McDonalds, though.”

“It’ll have to do.” The throbbing behind her temple was getting worse. It didn’t help they’d gotten lost trying to find this little town, the county seat of a county she’d never heard of, let alone knew where to find. It wasn’t even near a highway. They’d had to take a state highway out of Tuscaloosa and drive about an hour or so, depending on the roads and depending on traffic. It took longer to get out of Tuscaloosa than they’d planned, thanks to some road work and then another delay because of Alabama Power cutting down some tree limbs, but they’d finally gotten out of town when she was halfway through her latte. Leon had dozed off, snoring slightly with his head against the window as they got out of town on the state road, passing through fields of cotton and corn and orange-red dirt. The state road was stained orange on the edges, the white lines looking like her fingertips after eating a bag of Cheese Puffs. It was supposed to be an easy drive; she didn’t need to make any turns, just keep following the state road that would take them straight to Corinth. But a bridge over a stream was being worked on and there was a detour, taking them down an unpaved road with cotton fields on either side, barely room for her Cooper Mini, and God help them if they met a truck or something coming the other way. Ten minutes down that dirt road and her latte was gone, finished, nothing left. Then she’d turned the wrong way when she’d reached the other state road—but it wasn’t her fault. She’d thought the sign was wrong—how could a right turn take her back to Tuscaloosa? But then she’d figured there must have been more twists and turns on the back road than she’d thought, and turned left. She’d gone almost seven miles before she say the TUSCALOOSA 7 miles sign, and had to make a U-turn in someone’s driveway.

She knew it was wrong, she knew it was stereotyping, but she hated driving on country roads in rural parts of the South.

You can see how rough the story is in its initial stage; it definitely needs work. There are also things missing from it in this draft; things I need to add in to make it stronger, to add nuance, to make the sense of dread and discomfort the characters feel more clear; I want the reader to feel that same sense of unease.

And I do think writing all these short stories this year has been enormously helpful to me, not only as a short story writer but as a writer in general; short stories give you the opportunity to stretch and try things you can’t try in a novel; different themes and voices and styles.

And now back to the spice mines.

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Who’s Zoomin’ Who

And Chapter Twelve of Royal Street Reveillon is coming along nicely. The draft isn’t terrific–there are holes in the plot that will need to be plugged, and scenes missing, etc.–but it’s moving along. I am actually thinking this could wind up being twenty-five chapters long, making it one of the longest Scottys ever.

Then again, it’s been a while since there’s been a Scotty, hasn’t it?

Paul’s birthday is this weekend, too–it’s actually tomorrow–so that will probably interfere with my plans to get a lot of work done this weekend, but that’s fine. I would prefer to get back on schedule with both the book and the short story collection–and I have another short story to write, as well, for an anthology I’ve been asked to submit to–and of course, as always on Friday morning, the house is an utter disaster area. How does this happen every week? I try to keep up with it, I really do, and yet here I sit this morning in a disaster area, with files and paper and mail piled up everywhere I can see, the sink full of dirty dishes, and a load of laundry needing to be folded. Heavy heaving sigh.

But today is my short day at work, so i can get some of this done before I head in to the office, and hopefully I’ll be able to get some of the cleaning done tonight after work so I can focus on the writing/editing I need to do this weekend.

One can dream, I suppose.

I read two short stories for the Short Story Project as well.

First up is “Sleeping Dog” by Ross Macdonald, from The Archer Files:

The day after her dog disappeared, Fay Hooper called me early. Her normal voice was like waltzing violins, but this morning the violins were out of tune. She sounded as though she’d been crying.

“Otto’s gone.” Otto was her one-year-old German Shepherd. “He jumped the fence yesterday afternoon and ran away. Or else he was kidnapped–dognapped, I suppose is the right word to use.”

“What makes you think that?”

I am very sad to report that with “Sleeping Dog” I finished The Archer Files; the only things left in the book are short story fragments, which I may read, just for the hell of it and to see how those fragments might have been incorporated into other stories or novels of MacDonald’s; God knows I’ve done this any number of times myself. (The most recent example of this is my story “The Silky Veils of Ardor,” which is the story I recently revised from editorial notes and sent in earlier this week. It started as a story called “Death and the Handmaidens,” which no one would publish. I liked the story structure–in which a woman comes to a gathering of people she usually doesn’t see; in the original story it was a writer’s conference hotel bar. However, I took that character and that setting and turned it into a 25 year high school reunion weekend, rather than a writer’s conference, and even used the hotel bar setting. It worked, I have to say, much better in the newer version. I am, however, going to use the title “Death and the Handmaidens”, and the basic premise behind the original story to revise it yet again. I am far too stubborn to ever let something go, as we all know.) “Sleeping Dog” breaks the cardinal rule of crime fiction: never kill a dog or a cat. But the missing dog is the thread that leads to the solving of an old murder, and the disappearance of the dog also sets into motion events that lead to yet another murder in the present day. Terrific story, dead dog aside, and I am rather sad to say goodbye to The Archer Files.

Next up was “Wall Street Rodeo” by Angela Zeman, from the MWA anthology Manhattan Mayhem, edited by Mary Higgins Clark.

“Mr. Emil Bauer, I’d hope to see here. Especially today.”

I had rubbed against a hunchback this noon. Accidentally, of course. I’d never be so crass as to touch the poor fellow on purpose. Besides, everyone knows the luck comes from an accidental touch. Thus, you understand my excitement. Then I positively tripped over little James here, who dropped his five-dollar bill right in my path! Don’t tell ME that’s not luck! So, I hustled him and his cash right here. To Emil’s spot. “Please meet my friend, newly minted, you might say, heh, in this neightborhood.” I flourished my hand toward the child. “Mr. James Conner.”

Emil glanced fuzzily at the boy. “How old is it?”

This is a fine story, about a long ago crime and a hidden cache of stolen money, and it takes a roundabout way to get to the point, but it’s kind of clever in how it dodges and feints and fools the reader. It’s not one of the stronger stories in Manhattan Mayhem, but in fairness, some of these stories are so fantastic it would be hard to compete with them.

And now back to the spice mines.

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Jungle Love

Well, I finally got those story edits done yesterday, and it wasn’t that hard to do. I don’t know why I was resisting looking them over, reading the notes, and looking at the story; and frankly, the story is stronger for them. I now await whether or not there will be further notes–if I did a good enough job correcting things for the editor–and I feel as though a millstone has been lifted from around my neck. I honestly don’t understand myself sometimes. This wasn’t a big deal, and yet I avoided it for at least three weeks, not only letting it hang over my head like the sword of Damocles but it was always there, in the back of my mind as I worked on other things, nagging at me from the darkened recesses of my brain, worrying me the way I’d worry a loose tooth with my tongue.

And getting it done? Such an enormous relief.

And of course, once I conquered that beast, I went back to that pesky chapter and yep, sure enough, I was able to start whipping it into shape and what’s more, it was relatively easy. I guess I’d had so much trouble getting the damned thing done in the first place–and yes, for the record, it wasn’t the mess I thought it was–that I thought fixing it would be nearly as painful as writing it was. Nope, it wasn’t. Sigh. And now I know I can get back on track and on schedule. HUZZAH!

Seriously. This is why writers drink.

So I, for one, am really looking forward to this weekend and getting a lot of things done. Hurray!

I also read two more Ross MacDonald stories, from The Archer Files.

First was “The Angry Man”

I thought at first sheer terror was his trouble. He shut the door of my office behind him and stood against it, panting like a dog. He was a gaunt man in blue jeans, almost black with sweat and dirt. Short rust-colored hair grew like stubble on his hatless scalp. His face was still young, but it had been furrowed by pain and clawed by anger.

“They’re after me. I need help.” The words came from deep in his laboring chest. “You’re a detective, aren’t you?”

“A sort of one. Sit down and take a little time to get your breath. You shouldn’t have run up those stairs.”

Next was “Midnight Blue” :

It had rained in the canyon during the night. The world had the colored freshness of a butterfly just emerged from the chrysalis stage and trembling in the sun. Actual  butterflies danced in flight across free spaces of air or played a game of tag without any rules among the tree branches. At this height there were giant pines among the eucalyptus trees.

I parked my car where I usually parked it, in the shadow of the stone building just inside the gates of the old estate. Just inside the posts, that is–the gates had long since fallen from their rusted hinges. The owner of the country house had died in Europe, and the place had stood empty since the war. It was one reason I came here on the occasional Sunday when I wanted to get away from the Hollywood rat race. Nobody lived within two miles.

Until now, anyway. The window of the gatehouse overlooking the drive had broken the last time that I’d noticed it. Now it was patched up with a piece of cardboard. Through a hole punched in the center of the cardboard, bright emptiness watched me–human eye’s bright emptiness.

“Hello,” I said.

The stories are pretty good; I’m glad I took a break from reading the MacDonald stories because the style and voice were starting to grate on me. Don’t get me wrong; I think MacDonald–despite the occasional casual racism and misogyny–is one of crime’s best stylists, and I love Archer’s voice. But reading story after story consecutively was starting to grate a bit, particularly since some were clearly better than others. Both of these are gems; both of them wind up twisting and turning far away from their simple, casual beginnings.

I also have to say that reading the MacDonald stories, as well as Sue Grafton’s Kinsey and Me collection, along with Laura Lippman’s Tess Monaghan short stories in Hardly Knew Her have not only inspired me but kind of taught me how to write a private eye short story. We’ll see how my Chanse stories turn out, I suppose…but at least now I am willing to try writing them, whereas last year I never would have dared try.

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Do What You Do

Ah, it’s only midweek and I’ve not made much progress on anything; the kitchen is a mess, and time is just slipping through my fingers on a daily basis. It’s a frustrating feeling, made even all the more frustrating because I know, even as I procrastinate, that I am going to deeply regret the procrastination the following day; and yet, I do it. I suppose this would be fodder for my therapist; why do I defeat myself all the time, or set myself up to fail? Is it a fear of failure, so if I do it to myself it won’t feel like failure?

These are the mysteries of Greg that I ponder on a daily basis.

I did work on a story yesterday, rather than the Scotty book or the website writing I’d promised to do, which I need to do, both of which I should just fucking do and get out of the way. Eye roll.  The story isn’t one I am sure about; it’s one that I originally wrote back in the late 1980s during one of my I’m going to take this writing thing seriously even though I have no idea what I’m actually doing periods when I used to write piles of short stories (rather like I have done this year already), and it’s one that I’ve always thought would work. I’ve taken a run at it again several times over the years, but at last I think I have it in a place where it will actually work. The voice is the key to this story, and I think I’m getting it right; the story itself is working itself out, but once I am finished with it this time around I need to go back and make sure I’ve got the voice right. This is, of course, not one of the stories I’m including in the collection, or the one I need to get the edits done on (of course, see what I mean about being self-defeating?), and the irony, of course, is that the edits aren’t that involved; and yet somehow I just can’t make myself do them.

Idiot.

But so it goes, and how it goes every day of my life. I am often called prolific, which always amuses me to a degree; I think of myself as lazy, because I know how much more I could get–or should be getting–done. I also know about all the time I waste, and how that time could have been used ever so much more productively.

In my own defense, however, I will say that I like this story I am working on–“Fireflies”–and I’ve always liked the story, and am glad that I am finally getting to it. I have so many story partials; so many stories that have been dancing around elusively in my brain for so long, yet whenever I try to finish them they dance away just out of the reach of my fingertips; “Fireflies” is one of those stories. It’s nice to finally be getting it finished, even though I should be working on other things. But I’ve diagnosed what’s wrong with both “Don’t Look Down” and “My Brother’s Keeper” this week; I’ve also figured out what’s wrong with “Once a Tiger” and how I can move forward with it. These are good things, really; and I am getting somewhere with the Scotty book as well with my brainstorming.

I just need to get past this feeling that Chapter Eleven is such a sloppy mess that I don’t want to even look at it again. I either need to go fix it, or move on to Chapter Twelve instead of agonizing over it like an idiot.

We started watching Shooter, a really terrific Ryan Philippe series last night; I think it was a limited series–a one-off, because I don’t really see how it could go another season. He plays one of the top Marine sharpshooter/snipers, who has retired; he is dragged back into the business by an old Marine buddy who now works for the Secret Service to figure out how someone is going to try to assassinate the president. He doesn’t realize he is being set up to take the fall for the assassination, and the conspiracy runs pretty fricking deep; but he manages to get away from the authorities and has to prove his innocence. It’s pretty good–and Ryan Philippe never disappoints. I’ve been a fan since his days as gay teenager Billy Douglas on One Life to Live back in the early nineties; and I am glad to see him keeping his career going on television now that he’s no longer in demand for film roles. He really makes a hot dad.

I also read two short stories for the Short Story Project. First up was “A Bus Ticket to Phoenix” by Willy Vlautin, from Jim Fusilli’s Crime Plus Music:

Otis woke that morning to Lenny in the bathroom yelling on the phone. It was past 11 a.m. at Winner’s Casino in Winnemucca, Nevada. Under the covers he shivered in the cold and could his breath fall out and disappear into the room. He got up to find the window open and the heat off.

He set the thermostat to high, shut the sliding glass window, and looked out to see some snow falling. It covered the van and trailer and the houses behind the motel. He stood seventy-seven years old, tall and thin with greasy brown hair. He found his clothes on the floor, dressed, and walked across the street to the casino. He used the toilet, lost five dollars on video poker, and went to the casino restaurant for breakfast.

Vlautin, the author, is a seasoned professional musician, which explains why this story rings so true and authentic, I suspect. Some old guys, professional musicians who are now getting old and have never made it big, just always managed to find work and have spent almost their entire lives on the road, are now touring with some musclebound young up and comer in country music. The crime is that their stuff keeps disappearing, with something being stolen at every stop on this tour. The singer is kind of a dick, and so is his manager…and while the crime aspect of the story isn’t it’s strength, the depiction of the lonely, melancholy life on the road–and coming to the end of your lives without ever having made it big while continuing on because you can’t do anything else, is the most poignant and powerful part of this story.

I then moved back to Ross Macdonald’s The Archer Files, for another Lew Archer story, “Wild Goose Chase.”

The plane turned in towards the shoreline and began to lose altitude. Mountains detached themselves from the blue distance. Then there was a city between the sea and the mountains, a little city made of sugar cubes. The cubes increased in size. Cars crawled like colored beetles between the buildings, and matchstick figures hustled jerkily along the white morning pavements. A few minutes later I was one of them.

The woman who had telephoned me was waiting at the airport, as she had promised. She climbed out of her Cadillac when I appeared at the entrance to the waiting room, and took a few tentative steps towards me. In spite of her height and her blondness, the dark harlequin glasses she wore have her an oddly Oriental look.

“You must be Mr. Archer.”

A man is on trial in this unnamed northern or central California city for the murder of his much older, much wealthier wife. He clearly killed her for her money, or so the prosecution would have you believe. His only defense is at the time of the murder, he was with another woman–another woman whom he will not name, despite her being his only real chance at acquittal since everyone thinks he’s guilty. It is this woman who has hired Archer, and she has her own reasons for not wanting to be named…and so as Archer goes about his investigation, another murder is committed and he finally solves the case by finding the real killer…and yet everyone involved is guilty to some degree; perhaps not legally, but at least morally. This is the kind of case where the detective needs a long hot shower after to wash the stink off; which is of course, for me as a reader, the best kind of story. (Oh, yes, all that time period racism and misogyny is on display in this story; which kind of, as always, put me off–as you can see in the above opening paragraphs of the story.)

And now, to stop procrastinating and get back to the spice mines.

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Be Near Me

It’s a gray Monday, and I have a lot to do today before I return to work tomorrow. Yesterday was a complete waste of a day; I did manage to reread the first half of the first draft of the Scotty novel and spent some time reading/editing “Don’t Look Down”; not really sure how it needs to be fixed but am going to try to get that taken care of today. I need to run an errand at some point, and I must go to the gym today. But I need to get past the schedule I always am stubbornly stuck with; I’ve always done errands/gym around elevenish/noon; which is insane. There’s no required schedule as such; I can do errands or go to the gym at any time I please. So, yes, I am going to  work my way through things this morning, and try not to waste my time with social media, the way I always do.

It really is a time suck.

I’m not sure why I had such low energy yesterday; whether it was the gloom or the cold or whatever; but I had intended to go to the gym yesterday and run the errands. Instead I found myself listless and drained of all energy; I had to force myself to make lunch yesterday afternoon. I spent most of the day lying in bed reading–although I did managed to muster the energy to come downstairs and watch The Ritual on Netflix around eight o’clock last night. I feel better today so obviously the low-energy was something my body insisted on; it’s just been a long time since I’ve had such a day where I couldn’t force myself to do anything. I usually just brush all that aside and make myself do things. It didn’t work yesterday, alas.

I suppose the best thing to do is just accept that it was something my body needed and be done with it.

I also read some some short stories yesterday. First up was  “Taking Care of Business,” by Craig Ferguson, In Sunlight or in Shadow

The Reverend Jefferson T. Adams, beloved and respected minister of this parish for over fifty years, pulled deeply on the long fragile Jamaican-style reefer and held the smoke deep in his lungs. There was no sensation of getting high anymore, or indeed panic or paranoia or any of the other unpleasantness. No sensation at all really but he enjoyed the ritual.

He listened to the music from outside the church. It was too nice a day to go inside. Cold and still with a high milky cataract of cloud diffusing the sunlight enough to flatter the landscape, softening the edges and blanching out the imperfections like an old actor’s headshot.

The sea was guilty and quiet, like it had just eaten.

This is a poignant and sad story, about a minister who is dying from cancer and smoking medical marijuana with an old friend every day as his life fades away from him. The two old men talk about things, reveal secrets to each other they’ve kept hidden away from the world their entire lives, and finally, as every story about death must, it ends with the death of the reverend, but it’s not sad, it’s kind of poignant and beautiful. Craig Ferguson is an actor/comedian/writer; he was on The Drew Carey Show and later hosted The Late Show (or something like that); I was pleased to see he is also quite talented as a writer.

Next up was “Guilt-Edged Blonde” by Ross Macdonald, from The Archer Files.

A man was waiting for me at the gate at the edge of the runway. He didn’t look like the man I’d expected to meet. He wore a stained tan windbreaker, baggy slacks, a hat as squashed and dubious as his face. He must have been forty years old, to judge by the gray in his hair and the lines around his eyes. His eyes were dark and evasive, moving here and there as if to avoid getting hurt. He had been hurt often and badly, I guessed.

“You Archer?”

I’d taken a long break from reading Macdonald’s short stories; while I appreciate and quite like his hard-boiled style, sometimes though it becomes a bit much to deal with, and in the short stories, that is particularly obvious and somehow more difficult to deal with. I do love the way the stories twist and turn and become something far different than they start as; this story has Archer hired as a bodyguard, only to arrive to meet with his client who’s already been murdered, and a blonde woman is seen fleeing the scene. The client had basically been a mob accountant and stole money from them; and was worried they were going to come after him. However, the story has nothing to do with how it’s set up, and it’s quite a twisty and strange tale. This is one of the stronger Archer short stories, but…again, a little of that hardbitten, hard-boiled, macho straight man sensibility goes a long way in my book; so it’ll probably be a while before I return to The Archer Files. I don’t to make it sound like I don’t like Macdonald and these stories…I do. Reading a Macdonald novel is a bit different. Most of the Archer novels are short and they move so quickly you’re so wrapped up in the story–and the focus is on the story more so than the style; the short stories, oddly enough, because they are short the style is more apparent than in the novels. I’m not entirely sure if that makes sense, but I think it does, even if I can’t seem to put it into words properly.

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You Give Good Love

It’s a gorgeous morning here in New Orleans; glorious because I had a deep and restful sleep overnight; relaxing because I am going to run some errands and do a favor for a friend a little later on. I was exhausted yesterday when I got home; I did some laundry, the dishes and some light cleaning, then settled down into the easy chair to watch this week’s Riverdale, and then ran a few episodes of Versailles on Netflix; as the Affair of the Poisons kicks into higher gear the show is becoming more interesting. We have also been introduced to the Duc d’Orleans’ second wife, Elisabeth Charlotte (Liselotte), the Princess Palatine; whose gossipy letters and diaries about life at Versailles are a treasure trove. Madame Scarron has also shown up as governess to the bastard children of Louis XIV and Madame de Montespan; those familiar with Louis’ story will know precisely who she is, and how important she is going to be.

I also watched Peggy Scott Laborde’s WYES show, Steppin’ Out, last night, because Paul made his debut on it talking about Saints and Sinners, alongside Susan Larson, who talked about the Tennessee Williams Festival. It’s hard to believe the events begin in just a few days; I’ve been so wrapped up in my short story writing that the time has simply flown and I was unaware that they were looming so near until some time this past week.

I also read some short stories last night.

Speaking of short stories, I’m trying to develop a plan and a working schedule for myself over the next few months. I was talking to a friend yesterday over lunch–the same friend I am doing a favor for this afternoon–which was more thinking out loud than anything else. The market for short stories has really dried up so much; there are very few paying markets for short stories out there any more–at least ones that pay decently–so that writing them has to be primarily for the love of the form; and of course, crime stories, being genre, have an even more limited marketability; crime stories about gay men even less so. When I started writing these stories back in January I purposely wasn’t writing about gay characters, themes or tropes for precisely this very reason. But the Chanse stories…well, Chanse is gay, even if the stories I am writing aren’t about gay themed; I will be curious to see how that plays out, as I intend to , once they are finished and polished, submit them to mainstream markets. Two of the other stories also have a gay male main character; so we shall see how that plays out. My story in the Bouchercon anthology is also about a gay character and the sexuality plays a factor in the story. Will it be as well received as “Survivor’s Guilt” was two years ago? We shall see; but that is what makes the writer so crazy, you know; maybe the story simply isn’t as good. There’s no way of ever knowing for sure, which, of course, is the path to madness.

So, anyway, the plan is to wrap up all of these stories by the end of this month, which will require focus and work; April I am devoting to the two novels, before diving back into something else for May. I’d love to start writing this noir novel that’s brewing in my head for years; perhaps with focus and hard work I can get it done in May. This does sound terribly ambitious, and I am very much aware of that. And see–if my under-caffeinated fog this morning I forgot all about the y/a manuscript I need to get revised; that was my original plan for May. Heavy sigh.

I also have read two more of the Lew Archer stories by Ross Macdonald collected in The Archer Files. First up was “The Sinister Habit.”

A man in a conservative dark gray suit entered my doorway sideways, carrying a dark gray Homburg in his hand. His face was long and pale. He has black eyes and eyebrows and black nostrils. Across the summit of his high forehead, long black ribbons of hair were brushed demurely. Only his tie had color: it lay on his narrow chest like a slumbering purple passion.

The sharp black glance darted around my office, then back into the corridor. The hairy nostrils sniffed the air as if he suspected escaping gas.

“Is somebody following you?” I said.

“I have no reason to think so.”

“The Sinister Habit” is the more than slightly sordid tale of the Harlans, brother and sister, who have some money and run a private school in Chicago. It is the brother who engages the services of one Lew Archer. His sister has eloped with a man he feels is going to rob her blind and steal all of their money; the sense is given that the brother–who is fussy and prim– is probably gay but it’s never addressed or talked about; it’s that casual homophobia thing I’ve mentioned before. Their mother ran out on them when they were children with another man as well; the mother lives in Los Angeles. The story becomes twisty and turny after that; the man the sister has run off with is one Leonard Lister, who may or not be a four-flusher, as they used to say. People switch sides, Archer keeps digging, there’s a murder and then a gunfight at the conclusion when the true murderer is finally revealed.

This not the strongest story, not one of Macdonald’s best,  but still a pleasant read; while the characters may not always work and the plot itself gets resolved far too neatly at the end, it is a fun read due to Macdonald’s writing style; there are excellent word choices and incredibly clever phrases.

Next came “The Suicide.”

I picked her up on the Daylight. Or maybe she picked me up. With some of the nicest girls, you never seem to know.

She seemed to be very nice, and very young. She had a flippant nose and wide blue eyes, the kind that most men liked to call innocent. Her hair bubbled like boiling gold around her small blue hat. When she turned from the window to hear my deathless comments on the weather, she wafted spring odors towards me.

She laughed in the right places, a little hectically. But in between, when the conversation lagged, I could see a certain somberness in her eyes, a pinched look around her mouth like the effects of an early frost. When I asked her into the buffet car for a drink, she said: 

“Oh, no. Thank you. I couldn’t possibly.”

The vast majority of the Archer short stories begin with someone walking into his office and engaging his services. “The Suicide” is one of those rare cases when a chance encounter somewhere draws Archer into a complicated investigation; in this case, it’s on a train from San Francisco back to Los Angeles where Archer meets a very beautiful young woman who appears to be in some distress. She doesn’t accept the drink offer because she’s not old enough to drink; but when he offers her food, she is more easily persuaded. She winds up eating two sandwiches and pouring out her tale of woe to Archer; she’s worried about her older sister. She is a student at Berkeley, and her weekly check from her sister hasn’t arrived; she has also called and called to no avail. No one seems to know where her sister is, or what has happened to her. Archer decides to help out this damsel-in-distress, and thus begins a wickedly twisting tale that includes a brutal ass of an ex-husband; Las Vegas mobsters; a fortune in missing money; and a horrific, disfiguring beating of a woman. It’s a clever tale; it works better than “The Sinister Habit,” and all of Macdonald’s writing strengths are here; great brief staccato sentences, whip-like descriptions, the world-weary cynicism. Perfection,

And now, back to the spice mines.

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