Lonely Days

The first “Gothic” novel I read was Victoria Holt’s The Secret Woman (technically, it was Mary Stewart’s The Ivy Tree, but I don’t really think of Stewart as a Gothic writer–which is a subject for another time), and I fell in love with them. These were the books, usually from Fawcett Crest in mass market paperback, that became famous for the “young woman running away from a spooky house with a light in the window while wearing a long nightgown and having really long hair” covers. Sometimes those covers didn’t belong on the books that had them (Charlotte Armstrong didn’t write Gothics, for one example), but inevitably, you really couldn’t go wrong picking up a book with that kind of cover. My favorites were of course Mary Stewart, Phyllis A. Whitney, and Victoria Holt; I devoured their books, and also enjoyed Susan Howatch, Dorothy Eden, and any number of others. I miss those books, even if sometimes the heroines were incredibly passive to the point where I wanted to shake some self-esteem into them…and have often bemoaned their disappearance from the paperback shelves.

But there are modern Gothics being published–Carol Goodman is a QUEEN of the modern Gothic–and I’ve turned my hand to them from time to time myself (Timothy, The Orion Mask, Bury Me in Shadows) and would like to do more.

So, you can imagine how delighted I was to read (listen) to The Death of Mrs. Westaway.

The girl leaned, rather than walked, into the wind, clutching the damp package of fish and chips grimly under one arm even as the gale plucked at the paper, trying to unravel the parcel and send the contents skittering away down the seafront for the seagulls to claim.

As she crossed the road her hand closed over the crumpled note in her pocket, and she glanced over her shoulder, checking the long dark stretch of pavement behind her for a shadowy figure, but there was no one there. No one she could see, anyway.

It was rare for the seafront to be completely deserted. The bars and clubs were open long into the night, spilling drunk locals and tourists onto the pebbled beach right through until dawn. But tonight, even the most hardened partygoers had decided against venturing out, and now, at 9:55 p.m. on a wet Tuesday, Hal had the promenade to herself, the flashing lights of the pier the only sign of life, apart from the gulls wheeling and crying over the dark restless waters of the channel.

I had heard somewhere that this book had echoes of potentially being a Rebecca homage (hello, Timothy!) so of course I was interested. Ware first exploded on the mystery scene with her The Woman in Cabin 10, which I haven’t read (it’s buried in the TBR pile somewhere) and I had acquired some of her others titles in the years since her debut with In a Dark, Dark Wood (which I also have on hand) and I decided, when picking out audiobooks to listen to on the drive, thought, “Hey, isn’t it about time you checked out Ruth Ware? Overdue, in fact? So I downloaded The Death of Mrs. Westaway and started listening once I pulled away from the curb last Thursday.

Wow.

The main character is Harriet Westaway, who goes by Hal. Hal is poor–very poor. She makes a subsistence-level living by reading tarot cards in a booth on the pier in a seaside resort, and it’s the off-season, where her living is even lower. The book opens with her walking home from a night’s work, trying to figure out how she is going to pay her bills–and which ones can wait, which need immediate attention–and she also owes money to a loanshark, who is getting more threatening with every passing day. Out of the blue she receives a letter from an attorney letting her know she was named in her grandmother’s will, and an invitation to the funeral. Confused–Hal knows that wasn’t her grandmother’s name, and verifies the information by checking her mother’s birth certificate (her mother was killed in a hit-and-run accident when she was a senior in high school–the British equivalent, at any rate–and as such never finished school); it’s a mistake, but…maybe she can fake her way into a bit of an inheritance. She is desperate, after all, and what can it hurt to get away for a little while? And so Hal sets out for the Cornish estate Trepassen–the Westaway fortune has dwindled over the years, and the house is in ill repair, but Hal is very startled after the funeral to discover that her “grandmother” has left everything to her, which now has her on the horns of a dilemma. She knows a mistake has been made about her identity, but doesn’t know how to get out of the pickle she’s now in.

Trepassen reminded me in ways of Manderly, and the Rebecca parallels are there, but this is not a simple homage. Mrs. Warren, the housekeeper, was devoted to the late Mrs. Westaway (whose children despised her) and is perfectly awful to poor Hal. The Westaway family welcomes Hal as the long-last daughter of their long-lost sister Maud, which only adds to her guilt about the deception she is pulling on them. Hal is mousy, like the second Mrs. deWinter, and there were times I wanted to shake her into standing up for herself a bit more…but on the other hand, it kind of fits into the situation she’s in–how do you stand up for yourself when you are literally lying to everyone? There are a lot of family mysteries to explore and unravel. Hal’s arrival at Trepassen starts those threads unraveling, and like any true Gothic heroine, soon her life is in danger…

I enjoyed this book tremendously. It reminded me strongly of Victoria Holt and Phyllis Whitney, and I will certainly be reading more of Ruth Ware going forward.

Amazing Grace

Well, I am home and I am drained–exhausted on every level: emotional, physical, mental. I got home before six last night–I left Kentucky at seven a.m. my time–and of course, the entire time I was there I never slept much or well, so while I did sleep well last night (oh, the comfort and joy of my own bed at last) I am still bone-tired physically this morning as I swill my coffee and wait for clarity of mind to develop. I am glad I took this essentially last minute trip, though. I hate that my family lives so far away from me. Or I live so far away from them? I don’t know which is the proper way to put that. I guess it doesn’t matter.

I did do a lot of reading–I listened to Ruth Ware’s The Death of Mrs. Westaway on the way up and Carol Goodman’s The Night Villa on the way home (I got home so fast that I wasn’t able to finish the latter; I am going to finish listening to it this morning while I get the Lost Apartment back under control), and I also read Alan Orloff’s delightful I Play One on TV and James Kestrel’s Five Decembers, which was amazing. My dad also gifted me two books by Paul Strathern, The Medici and The Borgias. After I finished reading Alan’s book I started reading The Borgias, which is really interesting. (My dad bought them because I talked so much about loving Italy, so he decided to read some Italian history; he really enjoyed them and thought I would as well, and I am like gimme gimme gimme.) He had also cleaned out an area in the basement, purging books (I come by my hoarding tendencies genetically) and found some that were mine when I was a kid so he put them aside for me, if I wanted them. I took them, even though I am trying to purge books myself; ironically, one of the books he gave me was The Rape of the A*P*E*: A History of the Sexual Revolution by Allan Sherman, which I talked about in my erotica writing workshop at Saints and Sinners, and since I have to teach it again at the West Jefferson Parish Library a week from Saturday, I am glad to have it in my hot little hands. I really have to be more prepared this time around.

As I sit here and the coffee works its wiles on me, I am trying to figure out and remember where I am with everything and what needs doing. I am terrified to look at my inbox; I mostly deleted spam the last four days, so that it didn’t get completely out of control. I need to finish the edits on my book and I need to revise a short story, that much I do know, so when I get through this morning I’ll be buckling down here at the work station and trying to get through them. I’ve also got to get the workspace under control, and the Lost Apartment isn’t exactly in great shape either (I didn’t get the chance to clean as thoroughly as I would have liked before I left; I also left a sink full of dishes, which I started working on last night but didn’t quite finish; Paul and I decided a few hours after I got home to relax and watch our shows-in-progress: Under the Banner of Heaven, Hacks, and Gaslit (what they did to Martha Mitchell was so disgraceful–and Julia Roberts is killing the role) because exhaustion was starting to seep in for me and I really was out of steam. My easy chair felt amazing–I really felt like I was one with the chair last night–and there is definitely nothing like my own bed. I woke up at six this morning–my body not knowing it was a holiday and I didn’t need to go to work this morning–but I stayed in bed for another hour before getting up. I really don’t want to figure out what all I have to get done and where I am with everything just yet–and I absolutely should go to the grocery store today, but I don’t have the energy to deal with that today so I’ll probably make a short list and stop on the way home from work tomorrow. I have to go uptown to get the mail anyway.

Yeah, that sounds like a better plan than going today. (Although hilariously last night I said to Paul at one point, “I probably should at least do the dishes and stop putting things off until tomorrow, which is becoming a habit and I don’t like it” and here I am, pushing something off till tomorrow again.)

Some things never change.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Memorial Day, Constant Reader.

Wild World

In a little while I’ll be loading up the car and heading north. Ruth Ware’s The Death of Mrs. Westaway Is cued up on my phone to start streaming as soon as I start the car and head out on the highway. It’s around twelve hours, give or take, to get up there, and of course I lose an hour to time zones when I cross the state line from Alabama to Georgia. I’m not taking a lot–I am only going to be there for two days–but here’s hoping I’ll be able to sleep while I am there and get some rest. I am going to hopefully finish reading James Kestrel’s Five Decembers while I am there, which will be lovely, and I do have some things that I’ll need to work on while I am there as always–I never can go anywhere without having things to do while I am gone–but hopefully leaving this early will help me avoid traffic in Chattanooga, which is always a nightmare at rush hour (I’ve never driven through Chattanooga when traffic wasn’t a nightmare, frankly, but here’s hoping). I think I will be passing through Knoxville during rush hour, and that could be ugly as well. If I am making some decent time I want to stop and take pictures in the Smoky Mountains–a rest stop or a lookout or something–because that could help with my story “Smoky Mountain Rest Stop”–but we’ll have to see how that all goes.

It’s rained all night here–I woke up to a thunderstorm and a downpour–which will, of course, make loading up the car and driving out of New Orleans amazingly fun this morning, but that’s okay. I love rain–another reason I love living here is the amazing rain and thunderstorms we get here (the flash floods, on the other hand, are not nearly as lovable)–and I actually don’t mind driving in it as long as it isn’t a monsoon; there’s something oddly comforting about being inside the car, snug and dry and warm, while it rains outside. (Similar to being in bed during such a storm.) I didn’t sleep all that great last night, to be honest; I kept waking up every hour or so before falling back asleep again only to wake up again about an hour later. Quite strange, actually, particularly since I feel rather well rested this morning now that I am awake and swilling coffee before hitting the road. I packed last night–there’s a few things left that need to go into the suitcase before I leave–and I think I have everything I need already organized and packed, except for a few things. It’s also getting light outside now, which is also a plus. I am leaving behind a messy kitchen–I’d thought about doing the last load of dishes in the sink before leaving, but it doesn’t look like I’ll have the time after all; I’ll probably just fill the stock pot with water and leave everything in it to soak while I am gone.

It’s so weird, yesterday I got contacted by a local news station (WWL, to be exact) about appearing on their Great Day Louisiana segment. If you will recall, I had to step in to teach an erotica writing workshop at Saints and Sinners this year. It went well, I think (despite my paralyzing stage fright), and one of the attendees was the programs manager at East Jefferson Parish Library, out in Metairie just off Clearview Parkway. He said to me afterwards, “I need to have you do this at the library,” and of course I said “sure.” It’s been scheduled now for June, but when the library newsletter went out, WWL contacted him to see if I would come on their show, and of course–despite the fact that I hate the sound of my voice and I don’t like seeing myself on film–I said yes. So yesterday I had to fill out an insane amount of paperwork, but I am, indeed, going to be filming that appearance on the Tuesday morning after Memorial Day.

Yay?

Kind of cool, though. I have to say it’s been weird feeling like I am in demand lately. Weird, and cool at the same time. Certainly not something I am really used to, but when I was doing the interview the other day for Three Rooms Press’ website, it did occur to me–which it does sometimes, always catching me off guard–that I’ve been publishing fiction for twenty-two years now. Twenty-two years. My first book came out twenty years ago; the second nineteen. So Chanse is twenty and Scotty is nineteen. How wild and weird is that? Obviously, when I started I certainly hoped I’d still be doing this all these years later, but it’s so fucking weird when I actually think about it–and cool, let’s not forget that it’s also pretty cool–that it’s sometimes hard for me to wrap my mind around it, you know?

I guess I am an elder in the queer crime community now? YIKES.

And on that note, Constant Reader, I am going to get ready and hit the road. I may not post for the next few days, but don’t worry–at the very least I shall return for Memorial Day. Have a lovely day!

Liar

Look at me, up and awake before seven in the morning on a Sunday! Who would have ever thought that would happen? I feel surprisingly awake and alert and rested this morning, given the early hour and all, but that’s okay. When you’re awake, you’re awake–so I figured I might as well get up and get a jump on the day. I will be going deep into the edits of A Streetcar Named Murder today. I ran the errands I needed to run yesterday, got some organizing and cleaning done around the house, and started the deep dive into the edits yesterday–most of the day was spent planning and figuring out things in the book that I didn’t have time to figure out when I was actually writing it (mistake mistake mistake; how do pantsers do this all the time?) and with my lesson firmly learned, am ready to get cracking on fixing the errors here and clearing up and tightening up the story. I want to be finished with it all before I leave on Thursday, because it will be very hard for me to finish it while I am in Kentucky. (And I’d rather spend whatever time I have free while I’m up there reading, frankly.) I’m getting a bit excited about the trip, if I may be so bold as to say so, which is a good thing; right now I am not even dreading all those hours in the car–I have Carol Goodman and Ruth Ware novels to listen to in the car–and while I do have to go into the office tomorrow, I work at home on Tuesday this week and can packed and ready to go that day so Thursday morning I can get up, have some coffee, and head out on the highway early.

There’s also some straightening and organizing I need to get done this morning–looking around the workspace is making me shudder right now–but it’s nice to feel rested and ready to go, honestly. I wonder what was so different about last night that I slept so much better? I’m not even going to check the Fitbit because I don’t necessarily trust its judgement and evaluation of my sleep, to be honest. I mean, it’s interesting to see how I feel vs. how it thinks I slept–but there are times when I wake up and feel rested and great but I supposedly slept poorly; and then mornings when I get up and feel groggy and tired and exhausted, it claims that I slept very well. I don’t know if I can trust it, and frankly, if it wasn’t part of the complicated system of trying to get cheaper health insurance through my job, I sure as hell wouldn’t wear it. Paul often buys me really nice watches as gifts and I never wear them–mainly because I am clumsy as fuck and inevitably break things that are nice–but the Fitbit…like I said, there’s this really complicated system of scoring points through a program that helps reduce the cost of my health insurance. I’m not entirely sure I understand it–I never really grasped it when it was explained eight or nine years ago–but I know I score points, earn a medal status (bronze, silver, gold) and if I get to silver, I don’t have any “out of paycheck” contributions to my health insurance, and registering my daily steps and how well I slept through the Fitbit scores fifty points per day. (The points also can be cashed in for gift cards; I always get Amazon to buy books, of course. Don’t @ me; the other options don’t really work for me.)

It looks to be a nice day outside my windows this morning, although it’s undoubtedly already incredibly hot outside. I’m hoping to manage to not go out into it much today–maybe taking out the trash or something–and I may be meeting a friend who’s in town for drinks later this evening (not too late, since I have to get up early in the morning), but other than that, I mostly plan to sit here at this desk and edit and revise and rewrite today. I also don’t know how long it’s going to take me to get this finished; I am hoping by focusing and working really hard and not allowing myself to get distracted I can power through and get this back to my publisher before I leave on Thursday.

One can always hope and dream at any rate.

We watched Hacks last night, and the most recent episode of The Offer, although I’m not really sure why we continue to watch the latter. I noticed last night that there are any number of shows we’re in the middle of (Severance, Pieces of Her, Slow Horses) that we forgot we were watching and thus will need to pick up again–it wasn’t that we weren’t enjoying them, but rather that we inevitably ended up having our viewing disrupted by something for several days and when we had time to go back and get caught up on things, we forgot we were watching them (we also never finished Physical either). It is interesting–I thought about this while watching The Offer last night–how many shows we’ve seen lately that were set in the 1970’s (Minx, Candy, The Offer) as well as what a great job they are doing depicting the era. I remember saying during one episode of Candy, “living this kind of life was my biggest nightmare when I was a kid, and they are doing a great job of showing how bleak and ugly and dull suburban life was back then.”

I also have started up again with The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. I’d stopped watching last season because I quickly grew tired of the Erika Jayne/Erica Girardi mess–I’d never particularly liked her very much, but at least she was somewhat entertaining–but given that the great wealth she has flaunted ever since she joined the cast was essentially stolen from settlements for victims of great and horrific tragedies and she was completely unrepentant and tried to play like she was the real victim, I no longer felt any desire to watch a sociopathic narcissist who has knowingly or unknowingly participated in embezzlement, fraud and God knows what else. I’d reached a point where I kept thinking someone just needs to slap the shit out of that fucking crooked bitch and felt that giving them eyeballs and a rating point on Hulu was endorsing the fact that Bravo was enabling her and giving her a platform to try to redeem herself in the public eye, which was shitty. Sure, innocent before proven guilty and all that–but The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills isn’t a court of law; and the fact they milked her potential criminality for ratings was disgusting and craven. I don’t love to hate her, I just fucking hate her. And the rest of the cast–outside the newer ones–are equally garbage. I stopped watching The Real Housewives of New York during its most recent season because I couldn’t watch the blatant racism being offered up as “entertainment.” Fuck you, Bravo, and fuck you, Andy Cohen. The Real Housewives shows have become a microcosm of everything that is wrong with American society and culture: there’s no accountability for anything. In fact, it’s quite the opposite: people are rewarded for being horrible.

It also makes me feel like I’ve always been incredibly naïve about the world, believing that being a good person means you’ll be rewarded and bad people will be punished for their wrong-doing, when the harsh reality is quite the opposite. I feel like I’ve been gaslit most of my life, frankly.

Which, of course, always comes back to me being a crime writer. I want to see justice being done. I want to see evil-doers punished and good people rewarded for their goodness. I want to write about a world where murderers and criminals are caught and punished, their victims avenged; not the real world where the wealthy can hire great lawyers and outspend the prosecution to get off, while so many innocent people who cannot afford great lawyers are convicted or talked into taking plea bargains every day and doing time while having committed no crime other than not being able to afford a great lawyer. (I’ve always wanted to write about a public defender–but who wants to read a book where the public defender loses every case?)

Heavy heaving sigh. And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader–I’ll check in with you again tomorrow morning.

Bring the Boys Home

Thursday and I’ve survived thus far–small victories, regardless of how small they might be, are still victories–and just today and tomorrow in the office before the weekend. I have switched out Monday for Tuesday next week (the guy who works Monday has a doctor’s appointment so we switched days) which should make for an interesting week; in office Monday, at home Tuesday, in office Wednesday, leave on Thursday. I am really dreading going back to five days in the office, but am also hoping that by the time that happens we’ll also have evening hours again so I can give up these wretched mornings.

The good news is I have selected my audiobooks for the drive next week: The Night Villa by Carol Goodman and The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware. I think the books I will take with me to read while I am there will be Five Decembers by James Kestrel (which recently won the Edgar for Best Novel) and probably Rob Osler’s Devil’s Chew Toy, most likely. I won’t have time to read both while I am there–I’ll only be there for two full days, plus two 12 hour drive days (YAY CAN’T WAIT)–but I can certainly make some headway with at least one of them. I also am thinking since I usually get up at six on Thursdays that I can go ahead and get up that early next Thursday and be on the road by seven-ish in the morning. That will help me get past the two biggest logjams on the road (Birmingham and Chattanooga) at off hours, but will put me into Knoxville during the evening rush hour, yay, but better one than all three). I also would like to stop and take some pictures in the Smoky Mountains on the way, which is something I’ve always wanted to do whenever I am driving this trip, but I’m always behind schedule and rushing and its dark outside in the time of year when I usually make it, so….but those gorgeous sunsets in the mountains are marvelous. It’s too bad my story has to be finished long before this trip, alas…at least if I want to make it for this submission call.

If I want to make this submission call. The jury is still out.

I slept decently last night–I haven’t synced the Fitbit to the phone yet for a definitive sleep score yet–but i did wake up a few times during the night but I was able to go back to sleep each time. Ah, a 76–that feels about right. I feel a bit groggy this morning but somewhat rested; we’ll see how good I am at getting things checked off the to-do list today, won’t we? I had drinks with a friend in from out-of-town last night after work, and then when I got home I had to hide everything in the kitchen so I could do a ZOOM meeting, which was productive and nicer than I would have thought, and then I hung out with Paul gossiping and getting caught up on each other’s lives before retiring to bed last evening. I am, however, looking forward to getting through this day so I can sleep a little later tomorrow morning, and then slide nicely through to the weekend. Heavy heaving sigh. And of course, next week I have to go to Kentucky. Yay. But I’m very excited about the audiobooks I downloaded to listen to, and the opportunity to do some reading while I am there. Find the positives in everything is always a good methodology to pursue, especially in times like these where it feels like the entire world is burning to the ground. (I said to Paul last night, “no one told me when I was a kid that everything in the world would just get worse and worse every year once I was an adult. That was one thing I didn’t plan on.”)

But as my coffee is kicking in now, and my mind is becoming less clouded and foggy, I am feeling better about my world and all the things I can get done and need to get done and WILL get done by Monday. I need to remember not to be so hard on myself about everything, and maybe slow down and cut back on everything else that I am doing and be a lot more selective going forward. I also need to recognize and accept that I am older and while the heart might still be willing, the body and brain are older and a bit slower and I can’t do as much as I used to. I need to get back to the gym after I return from Kentucky, and start taking that seriously (the pictures from Ellen’s book launch! Ye Gods, I look terrible). I need to focus and get the Scotty book planned, as well as two other projects organized and ready to go, and I also need to get these edits done (I am hoping to spend some of the weekend doing just that; I’ve got to finish this before I can move on to something else).

And I found another submission call that sounds interesting. Heavy heaving sigh.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Happy Thursday, Constant Reader, and remember–the weekend is nigh.

The Second Time Around

Up early to start another week of work, and I feel pretty good. Obviously, I would have preferred to stay in bed for another hour or so, but that’s just not in the cards so here I am, drinking coffee and writing a blog entry while I wake up.

I only managed to get two more chapters finished yesterday; I still call that a win, and am very happy to be nearly halfway through the manuscript. If I keep up the pace of one chapter per day, with more on the weekends, I’ll be finished long before the end of the month–which was the original goal, and then I can get back to the WIP.

I spent most of the day yesterday reading A. J. Finn’s The Woman in the Window, and I do have some thoughts on it. Was it a great work of art? No, it wasn’t even the best crime novel I read published in 2018. But it was good enough, you know, and it held my attention enough so I wanted to find out what was happening and what was really going on. But…it was also a very paint-by-numbers thriller; as though the author were simply ticking off boxes as he wrote the book. I’ll always wonder if my read of the book was influenced by the back story of the author–that piece in the New Yorker, in particular. It was very Hitchcockian in some ways, with nods to Rear Window and Shadow of a Doubt, among others, and nods to Gaslight and numerous other films…the great black-and-white noir thrillers of the mid-twentieth century. I’ve not read the other blockbuster novels of the last few years (The Girl on the Train and The Woman in Cabin 10) in whose footsteps this novel follows; I did read Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl when it was first released (and before it became a national phenomenon) and greatly enjoyed it.

Here be spoilers.

Continue reading “The Second Time Around”