Guilt is a Useless Emotion

Saturday morning and all is well in the Lost Apartment. I certainly hope this day finds you contented and well, Constant Reader! I slept deeply and well last night, after watching the LSU Gymnastics team defeat Arkansas, and then watching the ladies’ figure skating finals at US Nationals. It was a lovely evening–one can never go wrong with a double feature of gymnastics and figure sating, really–and as I said, afterwards I slept like a stone.

I also spend some time polishing and revising my short story for the MWA anthology Crime Hits Home, being edited by the enormously talented S. J. Rozan (if you’ve not read her novels, start. Right. Now. Her Winter and Night is one of my all-time favorites). As always, submitting to the open call for an MWA anthology is a long shot–there are levels of blind-reads to make it through–and I have as yet to make it into one of the fiction anthologies (I do have a piece about writing dialogue in the upcoming Mystery Writer’s Handbook, edited by Lee Child and Laurie R King, and I did have a recipe in the MWA Cookbook a while back) so keep your fingers crossed for me. Inevitably everything I’ve had rejected by an MWA anthology has sold elsewhere, so making myself write a story for the submission calls has always wound up working out for me in the end…I was, however, more than a little bummed when this call came out, because my story “The Carriage House” was perfect for this one….but I had already submitted it to Mystery Tribune (who did wind up buying and publishing it). I think the story is good–although I wish I had finished the drafting sooner, so I could have spent more time on the revisions and polishing. Ah, well–if they reject it I will try to sell it somewhere else.

Today I have to make groceries, get the mail, and go to the gym. I’ve blown off the gym pretty much ever since the weather turned cold last weekend–the stress and pressure of writing the story, as well as what was going on in the country over the last wee or so has precluded any writing or gym visits, which I should have never allowed. I was coming home from work every day and immediately turning on either CNN or MSNBC, being sucked right in and then spending the rest of the evening watching them report the same news, hour after hour after hour–which also needs to stop–and I need to get my focus back again. Not that I am not gravely concerned about the future of the country, of course–that I very much still am–but I need to focus on what I need to get done while paying some attention to the current crisis.

I also need to do some cleaning around here as well…cleaning and filing never seems to have an endpoint, ever–and I also need to get back to my reread of the manuscript. I should have started revising it last week…but a thorough reread/copy edit/line edit of the manuscript in its most recent iteration is probably really the smart thing to do; it was what worked so well with Bury Me in Shadows, and definitely need to stick to the things that actually work for me.

While I was making condom packs yesterday I managed to watch three films: Farewell My Lovely with Robert Mitchum as Philip Marlowe; The Fog with Jamie Lee Curtis and Adrienne Barbeau; and last but not least, a revisit of Creepshow 2, with assorted stars, including George Kennedy and Dorothy Lamour. The first definitely fits into the Cynical 70’s Film Festival–you don’t get more cynical than the film version of a Chandler novel–and the other two are holdovers from the Halloween Horror Film Festival, with the last also fitting into the Stephen King Film Adaptation Festival. Of the three, I had only see the third before; I actually saw it at the drive-in, and then again on what used to be the pay-cable movie channels, whether it was HBO or Cinemax or Showtime I cannot recall. Farewell My Lovely is flawed, but a very good film–very solid noir; I kept thinking it should have been filmed in black and white–and Mitchum projects the world weariness of an older Marlowe quite perfectly….I’d love to see someone like Oscar Isaac or Bill Skarsgard or Adam Driver take on the role. The entire movie was stolen, however, by Sylvia Miles in a terrific supporting performance that earned her an Oscar nomination; and Charlotte Rampling is also perfect as the femme fatale. (A very young Sylvester Stallone also has a small role as a gangster.) I did enjoy it, and I think it was released in the wake of Chinatown, when Hollywood discovered noir would still sell tickets.

The Fog was also a perfectly adequate horror film, directed by John Carpenter, about a hundred-year old curse coming to wreak vengeance and havoc on the coastal California town of Antonio Bay. Jamie Lee Curtis is in the cast–in the midst of her fame as a Scream Queen–but she isn’t the star of the film (if it could be said to have one); if anything, it’s a supporting role at best. The bigger female role belongs to Adrienne Barbeau, playing dee-jay and radio station owner Stevie, who is the first to realize what is actually going on–without knowing the history, she just knows the fog is dangerous and bad. I’d also forgotten Janet Leigh was in the movie as Mrs. Williams, local get-it-done lady who is in charge of the hundred year anniversary of the town. It has all the requisite John Carpenter directorial touches–jump scares, a weird and creepy electronic soundtrack, the growing sense of doom with every scene–and I would recommend it, even if it is dated. It was remade this century–I may watch the remake at some point for a comparison/contrast.

Creepshow 2 was obviously the sequel to the original; written by Stephen King and based on his short stories (some of these may be actually original, as I don’t recall reading the stories for the first and third part of this anthology film), and both films served as an homage to the horror comics King grew up reading and loving and inevitably influenced his writing. The second film didn’t do as well as the first, but the underlying theme of all the stories is paranormal vengeance for bad behavior. The first features an old cigar store wooden Indian (I don’t think if anyone brought up that subject that anyone born after 1970 would even know what one was) that comes to life to wreak vengeance for the brutal murders of the elderly couple who own the store he stands in front of; and the third features an adulterous wealthy wife rushing home from a rendezvous with a paid escort ($25 per orgasm!) who gets distracted by dropping a cigarette in the car and runs over a hitch-hiker, whom she leaves on the side of the road but he just keeps popping up as she debates whether she can live with what she did as she continues on her drive home, trying to kill the hitch hiker as he inevitably pops back up on the road saying thanks for the ride lady–which became a running gag between me and my friends at the time. (The woman is played by Lois Chiles, who came to the TWfest one year and was an absolute delight.) Both are good and macabre; fitting right into the karmic justice theme that ran through almost all horror comics back in the day. The middle story–“The Raft”–is also one of my favorite Stephen King stories; about four college students who go for a late-in-the-season swim because it sounds like a good idea, helped along by weed and beer, and it goes horribly wrong for them. The story is different from the filmed version–it’s told from the perspective of the less-than-perfect male roommate who always lives in the shadow of his roommate who is muscular and handsome and charismatic, who loves his friend but also resents him a little because he always sucks up all the air in the room. In the film the two girls who go with them are just other girls; in the story there’s a different dynamic, in which the stud’s girlfriend senses the other girl, ostensibly the lesser roommate’s date, is making a play for the stud before the dying starts. The main character in the story, though, is a decent guy which winds up ending badly for him; in the movie, he’s more of a dick, because he realizes when the final girl is taken by whatever the thing is in the water preying on them, that he could have used that time to swim for it…but doesn’t realize it until it’s too late. In the movie, he deliberately feeds her to the creature so he can escape…and that decision is what dooms him, and you don’t really feel sorry for him the way you do in the story. The highlight of this segment is Paul Satterfield’s youthful physical beauty in a bright yellow bikini (and while I enjoyed viewing the splendor of his body in a bikini, I also kind of doubted he would have worn one; back in the 80’s the only men who wore bikinis were gay, body builders, Europeans, or guys who’d been competitive swimmers so they were used to them); and the movie is okay. I do wish anthology films would make a comeback–since they inevitably based their “episodes” on short stories (Robert Bloch and Richard Matheson had a lot of their short stories adapted for anthology films as well as for anthology television series), it would be great to see some modern horror short stories filmed.

And on that note, tis time for one Gregalicious to head back into the spice mines. I want to spend some time this morning with Laurie R. King’s The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, which I am loving, before it’s time to hit the errands and the gym. I am also sure there will be figure skating to watch this weekend as well, huzzah! Have a lovely Saturday of a holiday weekend, Constant Reader, and I’ll see you tomorrow.

Dancing in the Moonlight

Friday morning, Barry eve. Paul and I, for those who are curious, are electing to stay rather than go. We may end up regretting that decision, but it’s not like it would be the first time we made a decision we wound up regretting deeply (hello, year in Washington).

It’s sunny yet cloudy outside this morning, giving the morning a weird, yellow-grayish tint to everything (sepia!). I am most likely going to venture out this morning at some point; I still need to fill the car with gasoline, and later I am also going to decide whether to take the precaution of parking in a garage somewhere in the CBD, to get the car above whatever possible floodwaters might be coming. There’s also some things I should pick up at the grocery store–although I imagine the candle and bread aisles have already been decimated. Paul and I both don’t have to go to work today, so we will undoubtedly end up watching a lot of television and getting caught up on our shows–we fell behind while he was at his mother’s. Moving the car to a garage might not be necessary, but I’d rather pay a daily parking rate somewhere than over a thousand dollars making my car operational again–or losing it entirely to water. If experience has taught me anything, getting a car operational after it gets flooded also means it never quite runs right again, and why risk it as I am getting so close to owning it outright?

It’s supposed to rain off and on all day today as Barry gets closer to shore. It’s getting darker even as I type this right now, and so I guess that means it’s getting ready to rain at any moment.

Yesterday was probably the most beautiful day of the summer; low eighties with little to no humidity, and a cool breeze. Wednesday I was pretty tired all day, and that kind of carried over into yesterday. I got nothing done–this entire week has been a bust for the most part, other than reading to edit some things I’ve already written–but maybe I can correct that a bit today. I don’t know, we shall see, won’t we? Right now I am feeling pretty good and well-rested and like I can get some stuff done–but where that will wind up, nobody knows.

Yesterday was also a lovely day for me on Twitter; that’s twice in the last week or so I’ve had an absolutely lovely day on social media. Twitter, and social media, can be lovely places to connect and reconnect and speak (albeit electronically) with friends; I’ve tried for a very long time to keep my social media upbeat and positive, rather than allowing myself to get sucked into the toxicity rampant on all social media sites. I have no desire to argue with anyone, about anything; no one has ever been convinced to change their minds by a social media argument. If anything, it seems to harden people against opposing views, so why even bother? My time and my patience and my emotional investments are limited, as is my energy, and I’d rather use all of them productively and positively, rather than trying to score points on people with opposing views that I find repugnant.

Yesterday, though, was lovely; what social media can be if we avoid toxicity. Alex Segura had been doing some gratitude posts there, thanking people who have helped, encouraged, and supported him on his journey as a crime writer (if you haven’t checked out his Pete Fernandez series, you simply MUST); I thought to myself, self, you really need to do the same thing, and so I started a tweet-thread in which I did the same; thanked people for their support and help and encouragement over the now near-twenty years of my writing career. I naturally forgot some people–there have been so many–and I was trying to do it as I went, but the responses turned out to be a lot of fun and people are still responding to that thread this morning. But the tweets and responses were a lot of fun, and almost every new notification brought yet another smile to my face, and made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside (as opposed to the usual, in which I’m dead inside…KIDDING), and made me feel quite grateful; grateful for my career, grateful for the terrific people I’ve met along the way, grateful for all the help and encouragement and support. Writing can often feel like an incredibly lonely business; most of the time it’s just you and your computer screen and your imagination, typing away while going deep inside your own head. Social media has made it much easier for us to connect outside of the conferences, your Bouchercons and Malice Domestics and Left Coast Crimes and Tennessee Williams Festivals–and helps deepen the bonds formed at those events, and makes you look forward to seeing everyone at the next one. I am already looking forward to seeing everyone in Dallas at this year’s Bouchercon…which will be here sooner than I expect and will also wind up being over much sooner than it should be.

So, I am going to spend this morning trying to sort my kitchen again–it’s astonishing how quickly it gets out of order–and probably reading this book I need to write an introduction for soon. I also have some terrific new books: Clandestine by James Ellroy (which I want to read again); Paper Son by S. J. Rozan; Life After Life by Kate Atkinson; and The Ceremonies by T. E. D. Klein. I may also reread some short stories that need to be edited; I may even try to write on the WIP–but let’s not get too crazy or ahead of ourselves here.

So, I guess it’s time to start getting my act together this morning. Have a great day, Constant Reader; hopefully we’ll still have power at this time tomorrow.

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How Will I Know

Well, somehow I managed to make it to Friday. This wasn’t a great week; sleep issues, mostly, but last night I finally slept well despite some truly strange dreams…which are fading away from me now. That’s fine, but they were seriously weird; I did wake up a few times during the night thinking okay, that was just weird. But as usual, now that I am awake and drinking my coffee, I don’t really remember any of them. I would have loved to stay in bed longer, but I have a meeting this morning at the office. It’s my short day, which is also incredibly lovely, and I am hoping to  have a nice relaxing weekend of catching up on things, including rest.

I managed to get “Fireflies” revised and ready for a read-aloud this weekend; that’s several stories I get to read aloud this weekend, including “Don’t Look Down” and “This Town”. Three stories to read aloud, even if “This Town” is just to check for extraneous words and trim it down a bit, if possible. I also started writing “This Thing of Darkness” yesterday, and it’s coming along swimmingly. I got about 1400 words or so done. I need to get back to the Scotty book this weekend as well; I am going to reread the entire thing before I get back to it, though. I also have to go to the post office as well as do that grocery store thing.

And of course, the apartment is a disaster area.

Heavy heaving sigh.

But I’m pretty jazzed about getting through this day and getting home to start the cleaning, and get to reading Lori Roy’s The Disappearing. She really is quite an extraordinary writer. If you aren’t reading her, you need to be. Seriously.

I am also going to discuss a short story today, which means we are back to the Short Story Project, and might even be able to get another one knocked out tomorrow.

Today’s is “e-Golem” by S. J. Rozan, from the September/October 2017 issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine:

Bookstore dust was not the same as other dust. Loew had noticed this before, sweeping out the cluttered aisles of his used-book shop. It settled more gently, but at the same time seemed more weighty, each mote carrying both wisdom and whimsy, erudition and imagination. He shook his head. Loew, he told himself, this is why you’re doomed. WHy you’re barely eking out a living, selling forgotten things no one wants in a store you soon won’t be able to afford.

For most of his life, first working after school in his father’s shop in what was then the Jewish, later the Chinese, and lately the gentry’s Lower East Side, and on through the almost imperceptible transition when the shop became his, Loew had found pleasant this sense of gentle churning. Books no longer needed in one place lodged in the shop until they found a home in another, and customers came periodically to discover what treasures had rolled to the surface. This churning and discovering still went on, he understood, but less tenderly and on the Internet that soul-destroying virtual world where all was about price and little about love. People who bought rare books online did so speculatively, hoping their value would increase. How different from Loew’s customers, who held a book, fingered its pages, inspected its cover, to decide whether this book, this copy, was meant to be theirs. A customer who turned a book down was never a disappointment to Loew. It meant the two didn’t belong together. The customer would find his book, and the book would find its owner. Until it did it had a home here on Loew’s shelves.

S. J. Rozan is one of my favorite crime writers, bar none. This story, which is both clever and slightly sly at the same time, is an example of her work at its best. Loew discovers an old book of mysticism in his store, and half-heartedly tries to create a golem to go after his biggest enemy–Amazon. What happens next is why Rozan is one of the greats of our time in crime fiction; clever twists and turns that one never sees coming. But what really struck me the most about this story is how good she is at voice. Never once does she hit a false note in this story; every word is perfect and fits with the character’s voice. Were I ever to teach a class in crime writing, I’d use this story as an example of how to do voice perfectly.

And now back to the spice mines.

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Valotte

Tuesday!

It’s supposed to get up to a high of eighty-one degrees today, which would be lovely, considering how cold it was when I woke this morning. Shiver.  Of course, it didn’t snow here and all things considered, I should be grateful that I live somewhere that snow is an anomaly rather than the norm.

We’re still enjoying The Alienist, and I am now rather curious about the book. I’m not going to have time to read it anytime soon, of course, and it’s not like my TBR pile isn’t higher than Mount Everest, but I am curious about it. I know it was extremely popular, and as I said, we are greatly enjoying the show.

I also watched Southern Charm New Orleans last night. I watch reality television; always have, beginning with The Real World back in the early 1990’s. It was…interesting. I will say this; New Orleans looked absolutely beautiful on the show, but…I will probably continue to watch; and I will say this for it: it’s not as bad as the execrable show The Big Easy was. If you have Amazon Prime and want to watch a truly awful show about New Orleans, The Big Easy is just sitting there, free, on Prime.

Yesterday I managed to work on both “Burning Crosses” and “My Brother’s Keeper”; the latter is getting very close to being finished. I also worked a little bit on “Don’t Look Down,” but I think I am going to focus on working on Chapter Eleven of the Scotty next. I am terribly unhappy with it, and while there’s a big part of me urging me to keep moving forward on the book, I am so eminently dissatisfied with this chapter that I don’t know that I’ll be able to. So, I may just give it a light going over before moving on to Chapter Twelve. Plus, the light going over might help me with Chapter Twelve.

Ah, rationalization.

First up today in the Short Story Project is “The Great Wave” by S. J. Rozan, from Lawrence Block’s Alive in Shape and Color:

The water’s cool silk slipped past her shoulders, her breasts, her hips. Terence permitted her to swim whenever and for however long she wanted, in the tiled pool in the basement just outside her suite. He required her to swim nude, as she had done at the beginning, when she was here by choice and the smooth sluicing delight of her swims always brought her out joyful, aroused, and aching for him. Arousal, ache, certainly joy, were no more, but she was she grateful for the sensation, however temporary, of fluid, enveloping protection.

She drew breath and dove. Powerful kicks and strong strokes propelled her through this underground underwater world, and though she still, always, felt a stab of despair when her fingers found the slick hard wall where the water ended, once she kicked off and turned she was again alone and almost free. Terence couldn’t swim. Her life, her body, the place she now lived, he had and would continue to invade; but in the water she could be without him. She knew he was sitting forward in his rattan chair, watching her, and so when she resurfaced to swim laps she alternated the side of her breathing as she changed direction. The whole time she was in the pool she never saw him.

I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: S. J. Rozan is one of my favorite crime writers–writers in general, really. This is a terrific story; like the Oates from yesterday, it’s about a woman who is being held prisoner by a man, but while it explores the same themes as the Oates story from yesterday, it tackles them in a completely different way, and the story ends perfectly. Two definite thumbs up here, but I have to say I am getting a little weary of “women being held captive” stories–nothing to do with this story, it just seems like I’ve read a lot of them lately. Or perhaps because the Oates and Rozan stories resonated so strongly, I don’t see how another writer could possibly do a better job? The bar definitely has been set pretty high for this theme.

And then there’s “Like Mother Used to Make” by Shirley Jackson, from The Lottery and Other Stories:

David Turner, who did everything in small quick movements, hurried from the bus stop down the avenue to his street. He reached the grocery on the corner and hesitated; there had been something. Butter, he remembered with relief; this morning, all the way up the avenue to his bus stop, he had been telling himself butter, don’t forget butter coming home tonight, when you pass the grocery remember butter. He went into the grocery and waited his turn, examining the cans on the shelves. Canned pork sausage was back, and corned-beef hash. A tray full of rolls caught his eye, and then the woman ahead of him went out ans the clerk turned to him.

“How much is butter?” David asked cautiously.

No one mastered the small short story quite like Shirley Jackson; and what I mean by small is the poignant sadness of a quiet life. David Turner is one of those Milquetoast-y people, but at the same time he is incredibly happy with the quiet, peaceful little life he has made for himself. He is overly fond of a female neighbor, thinks there’s more to the relationship than there really is–and as it turns out, she is actually quite awful–but David is one of those people whose interaction with other people is so limited, so timid, so shy, that he doesn’t even recognize how horrible she really is; and maybe the fact that she treats him so contemptuously when we are seeing everything from his point of view makes her seem much more monstrous. It’s a sad, melancholy little tale, and I couldn’t stop thinking about for quite a while after I finished reading it; wondering about David and where this was going to go from here. Jackson was such a genius.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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One Night in Bangkok

A friend advised me the other day that due to the issues and problems with finding home for short stories about queer characters, that I should consider putting them up as Kindle Shorts, ebooks for sale for a low price. Ah, technology. Is there another word that strikes more terror in my heart than technology? No, I don’t think so.

So, last night I played around with making my story “Quiet Desperation” into an e-single. It was ridiculously easy, of course..I just used a stock image from Amazon, used their converter program and voila! An ebook of “Quiet Desperation” was all loaded into Amazon, for sale for ninety-nine cents, and I would get an email from them as soon as it was live–which could take up to seventy-two hours, depending on the complexity of the file itself. As it wasn’t particularly complex, I didn’t think it would take long; and sure enough, when I woke up this morning there was the congratulatory email from Amazon, letting me know that it was live.

Of course, since I had simply been playing around with the file to see hey, is this something a moron like me can actually pull off, I didn’t go over the document before submitting it, and there were some errors in it I discovered last night after hitting the publish button. Ah, well, I thought to myself, this is another learning experience for you. Once the file is live, you can then walk yourself through the steps of correcting it and republishing it.

Which I did this morning. So as soon as I get the notification that the file is live again, I’ll start sharing it so I can start raking in those quarters, dimes, and nickels.

Again, it was ridiculously easy. Frighteningly so. Let’s face it, I am not the most technologically proficient person in the world, and the fact that I was able to do this so easily–and granted, it was simply a short story; a novel or collection of stories would undoubtedly be a lot more complex and would require a much greater attention to detail.

I am curious to see if this will actually help drive sales of my other books; will giving away a short story or doing promotions for it on Amazon actually do anything? I cannot control the cost of the ebook editions of my novels that are already up; that is the publisher’s call. But when I put up Bourbon Street Blues and Jackson Square Jazz at some point, I can control the price points on those. Will that start driving my sales? Or has the world of the ebook boom come to an end after being flooded?

I am curious about this, as I am curious about so many other things. And now I have a lot to get done today before the opening parties tonight.

I did read some short stories for the Short Story Project. First up was  “Film at Eleven,” by S. J. Rozan, from her limited edition collection of short stories, A Tale about a Tiger.

I had followed the case long before I became a part of it because the dead woman was Chinese. Not Chinatown Chinese, like me: Patricia Lin had been uptown Chinese, a doctor’s daughter raised on ballet lessons and music classes, summer camps and private schools. When she’d enrolled in The College of Communication Arts, where she’d met the man alleged to have murdered her, Patricia Lin had been slumming.

I hadn’t known Patricia Lin. I wasn’t tied to her by blood or marriage, home province or village, but she was Chinese, so I followed the case.

It seemed over, of course, before I ever got involved. There was the finding of the body, the arrest, the trial. There was Mitch Ellman, with his gloating, victorious grin, his short blond hair lifting in the wind outside the courthouse as reporters crowded near him. When we’d seen his arrest on the eleven o’clock news his hair had been shoulder-length, tied in a pony tail. I wondered if he would grow it again, now that he’d been found not guilty of murder.

I am a huge fan of S J. Rozan, and I got a copy of this collection from a promotion she did raising money for the Boston Marathon bombing victims. I love her Lydia Chin/Bill Smith series; some of my favorite private eye novels are from this series, particularly the brilliant, Edgar Award winning  Winter and Night. This is a Bill and Lydia story; primarily told from Lydia’s point of view, and it is a master class in writing a private eye story–particularly when it comes to character. Rozan’s major strength is her ability to create characters, and Lydia Chin is one of the best out there.

I also read “Magic” by Katherine Anne Porter, from The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter.

And Madame Blanchard, believe that I am happy to be here with you and your family becaise it is so serene, everything, and before this I worked for a long time in a fancy house–maybe you don’t know what is a fancy house? Naturally…everyone must have heard sometime or other. Well, Madame, I work always where there is work to be had, and so in this place I worked very hard all hours, and saw too many things, things you wouldn’t believe, and I wouldn’t think of telling you, only maybe it will rest you while I brush your hair. You’ll excuse me too but I could not help hearing you say to the laundress maybe some had bewitched your linens, they fall away so fast in the wash.

After rereading, and appreciating, “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall,” I thought I should give Katherine Anne Porter another go. But this story, which is about  something that happened in a whorehouse when the character telling the story worked there–the premise is the maid is telling her mistress the story while she brushes her hair–and there is literally no point. None. If someone worked for me and was telling me this story while brushing my hair and it got to the end and there was no point, I would fire the person on the fucking spot for wasting my time. Are there good things here? Sure, the voice of the maid is pretty well done and compelling, but the story she is telling has no point, and there is absolutely no reason to tell the story. I’ll  try Porter again, but color me unimpressed here.

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