Get Closer

Several years ago Gillian Flynn published a book that became a runaway bestseller and  was also turned an Oscar nominated film. I read Gone Girl within a few weeks of its release; I remember I was off to Killer Nashville and New Orleans was within the cone of uncertainty for a hurricane whose name I no longer remember. I started reading the book while sitting at my gate at Armstrong International, read it while I flew on Southwest to Nashville, and couldn’t wait to get checked into my hotel room so I could go upstairs, unpack my clothes and get into the bed and keep reading. It was an incredible ride, full of shocking twists and turns, and I also loved Flynn’s writing style. I’d already read and loved Sharp Objects, and the whole time I was reading Gone Girl I was thinking about stories and turns of phrase for my own work; I always think the best writers’ work is inspirational. As with anything that’s enormously popular, after a few months it became fashionable to mock the book and its influence on popular culture.

And like with everything, just as The Da Vinci Code opened the door for dozens and dozens of copycat thrillers with their stories firmly entrenched in actual history, Gone Girl opened the door for dozens of books that may not have been actually inspired by Flynn’s success, but the big publishers were all looking for “the next Gone Girl,” and I suspect many a book was signed based on a short elevator pitch along the lines of “more Gone Girl than Gone Girl.

There was the inevitable slew of books with girl or woman in their title in the publishing seasons after (although to be fair, Steig Larssen’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series preceded Gone Girl, as did Laura Lippman’s The Girl in the Green Raincoat, but Gone Girl is usually given credit for kicking off the trend), and what Sarah Weinman calls “domestic suspense” became the hot ticket in publishing, with even male bestselling suspense writers writing books from a female point of view–which I am all for, frankly; the tired misogynist trope that men’s stories are universal while women’s are contained is almost as tired as societal sexism.

So, when I get an ARC of Samantha Downing’s debut novel, My Lovely Wife, and saw lots of comparisons to Gone Girl I kind of just rolled my eyes and sat down to read.

Well.

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She is looking at me. Her blue eyes are glassy, they flicker down to her drink and back up. I look at my own drink and can feel her watching, wondering if I’m as interested as she is. I glance over and smile to show her I am,. She smiles back. Most of her lipstick is gone, now a reddish smear on the rim of her glass. I walk over and take the seat next to her.

She fluffs her hair. It is unremarkable in both color and length. Her lips move, she says hello, and her eyes are brighter. They look backlit.

Physically, I appeal to her the same way I would appeal to most women in this bar. I am thirty-nine, in excellent shape with a full head of hair and a deep set of dimples, and my suit fits better than any glove. That’s why she looked at me, why she smiled, why she is happy I have come over to join her. I am the man she has in mind.

I slide my phone across the bar toward her. It displays a message.

Hello. My name in Tobias.

And so begins the rollercoaster ride that is Samantha Downing’s superb debut novel. Downing introduces us first to her point of view character, the husband in this marriage, who is pretending to be deaf to pick up a woman in a bar. And from that moment on, the surprises and twists come very quickly; it seems sometimes as though every chapter has a new surprise that changes the story and how we view our main character.

You see, he is not only a successful tennis instructor with a gorgeous wife and two precocious children he adores…he and his wife get their kicks from picking out victims, stalking them, and then taking them prisoner for a while before finally killing them.

That’s how they keep their marriage fresh.

And Downing’s insidious genius is how well these sociopaths (psychopaths?) manage their careers and their family in their upscale gated community; they think they are great parents and are doing a great job with their kids…but that’s only part of the surprises in store for the reader.

I really enjoyed this book a lot. Samantha was the panel I moderated this past year at the Tennessee Williams Festival (joining me, Alafair Burke, and Kristien Hemmerichs), and quite frankly couldn’t put it down. I couldn’t have predicted any of the twists and turns and surprises in this book–and Downing does a great job of making the reader care about her incredibly unsympathetic characters…the ending is very tricky to pull off, but she managed.

I am looking forward to her next book.

Disco Lady

Sunday morning, and the final day of the Weekend o’Festivals. I am up early because I went to bed early (day drinking may have been involved). I have a reading at one and a panel at two-thirty, and after that I am heading home. Terminix gave us the all clear yesterday, so the TERMITE ARMAGEDDON is over. I think I am going to go ahead and pack up everything and head home in a little bit, just so I can get started cleaning and washing and laundering, to get a jump on it for later….four-thirty/fivish is a bit late to get started for that, really, and it will be lovely to actually be back home.

My panel went very well yesterday–I am such a nervous fool when it comes to moderating panels; and I am always terrified that I’m doing a shitty job of it and disappointing the audience. But it did go well–it always helps when you have smart, intelligent witty panelists–so thank you, Samantha Downing (My Lovely Wife, more on that later), Alafair Burke (The Wife, The Better Sister), and Kristien Hemmerechts (The Woman Who Fed the Dogs, more on that later as well). I strongly encourage you, Constant Reader, to read and enjoy and savor their books. Entertaining yet disturbing, which, of course, I absolutely love.

I actually think I am going to pack up some things and head home this morning; I don’t have to take everything with me now–I can finish taking everything home after my panel is over. I am going to have to skip the closing reception, alas; too much to do at home, I am afraid, in order to make the Lost Apartment livable again so I can bring Scooter home from the kitty spa in the morning. Tomorrow I also have to finish a writing project, get the mail, pick up prescriptions, and get groceries for the week.

The Weekend o’Festivals is always a good time, I always enjoy myself tremendously, but it’s also nice to get back on the right footing and get back into my normal routine again. I’d already decided that since it was the Weekend o’Festivals that derailed my workouts last year (and I never recovered from it) that it was silly to get started before Carnival and the Weekend o’Festivals again. So, tomorrow afternoon I am going to head over to the gym and start working out again…trying to stick to a Wednesday morning, Friday afternoon, and Sunday morning schedule, while also slipping in to try cardio on other days as well. Three days a week is the ultimate goal, going back to my mantra of three times optimal, twice better than once, once better than nothing.

At my check-up on Friday I had apparently lost another three pounds since the last time I weighed myself, so I was down to 208, with only another eight to go to reach goal weight of 200. (Once I get to 200, I will reassess; from there I think I primarily want to simply focus on losing fat while replacing it with muscle; but I also have to see how that is going and reassess. I tend to carry all my extra weight around the waist, and my rib cage is enormous, which means my torso is always going to be enormous; so what I really need to focus on is building my legs up. Sigh–I am going to become obsessed with my body again, aren’t I? But it’s not about aesthetics this time, it really is about improving overall health, getting my blood pressure down, and so forth.)

And so now I am going to go pack up my stuff and get ready to cab home.

Later all!

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50 Ways to Leave Your Lover

Saturday morning and I am swilling coffee in the Tennessee Williams Suite at the Monteleone Hotel. I slept much better than I would have thought last night–the bed is ridiculously comfortable here–but that also may have had to do with the dirty vodka martini I had last night with dinner. I have to, once I finish writing this, get a bit cleaned up, swill more coffee, and start trying to work on my moderating duties for my panel this afternoon–a mystery panel at the Muriel’s location, with Alafair Burke, Samantha Downing, and Kirstien Hemmerichts. I’ve read their most recent books (Samantha’s is her debut, My Lovely Wife) and while I’ve not yet met Samantha, I did meet Kirstien at the opening reception at the Historic New Orleans Collection last night. I’m hoping to ask some interesting questions and have a terrific discussion about women in crime fiction–both as characters and as writers. I have been a long time advocate, as Constant Reader should know, of women writers, particularly in the crime genre. So, we shall see how this goes. Tomorrow I have another panel (for Saints and Sinners) and a reading to do (I am going to read “This Town” from Murder-a-Go-Go’s, which I know is probably not the self-promotional thing to do; I should read from Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories, since it’s my new release–again begging the question how do I have a career?)

I also had a lovely dinner at G. W. Fins last night with the amazing Alafair Burke and the equally amazing Sarah Weinman (you really need to read her The Real Lolita); what can I say other than #ilovemylife? The dinner was superb, the service exceptional, and the conversation? The kind of thing I used to dream about when I was a teenager, late at night, before I fell asleep and dreamed my big dreams.

And hopefully, tomorrow after everything is over I’ll be able to head home and start putting the house back together after TERMITE ARMAGEDDON. I’m going to have to do a lot of laundry and a lot of loads for the dishwasher, so the sooner I can get a jump on doing that the better, obviously, since I have to return to work on Tuesday morning. It’s not like I wanted to spend my day Monday cleaning the house thoroughly and doing all that laundry and those loads of dishes, but it has to be done and I don’t really have a choice; supposedly the gas dissipates on its own but doesn’t it get in the fabrics and so forth, and better safe than sorry? Plus, it gives me an excuse to clean out the cabinets and the drawers…so yes, part of my evening tomorrow will be figuring out a more efficient way to use the cabinets and the drawers….because it’s always an ongoing thing, you know? (My spice rack actually might be something I throw away; I don’t use the stuff in it very much and it takes up counter space and collects dust.)

I do have some writing to do–website stuff–that is due on Monday, so I’ll probably get to work on that after my panel this afternoon.

Okay, and on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me!

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Kiss and Say Goodbye

Wednesday morning, and I could have slept until tomorrow. Paul moves into the hotel today for the Weekend o’Festivals, and I get to come home to an empty house and Needy Kitty ™. Tomorrow I get to finish packing things up and moving them out before the Termite Tent arrives sometime on Friday, which is when I get to somehow finagle Scooter into his carrier and get him to the spa for the weekend, move into the hotel, and somehow find the time (and a way) to get to my doctor’s appointment uptown later that same day.

Heavy sigh.

But that’s okay. I can manage it. I also have to start preparing for my panel, so I am going to try to finish reading Samantha Downing’s My Lovely Wife before Saturday. I am enjoying it–it’s quite good, and getting quite a bit of buzz this week–and I also have to decide what I am going to read on Sunday. I should probably read something from Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories–promote promote promote–but I am leaning toward reading “This Town” from Murder-a-Go-Go’s. I feel terribly unprepared for this coming weekend, to be completely honest, primarily because I haven’t had a chance to actually focus on it. I still need to pack, too.

Heavier sigh.

But…that’s okay. I have a half-day on Thursday, as I said before, and all I really have to do before and after work that day is actually get ready for the weekend. I’ve already made my packing list for my suitcase, and sometime today I’ll make a list of the things I have to get done tomorrow. I also need to figure out what I am going to need to get done on Monday–besides go get groceries, restock the house, wash the bed linens and the clothes and all the dishes (hurray!)–while also trying to readjust back to normality while feeling exceptionally tired, as I never sleep well in hotels. I also have a bit of freelance writing that’s due on Monday, and I have to fit getting that done in there somewhere. I’ve also got  to send my tax stuff to my accountant, which I should probably mail today since I am going to the post office.

But I don’t have a lot to do this weekend–I have my panel at TWFest on Saturday, then my reading and a panel at Saints and Sinners on Sunday–and other than that, and dinner with some friends on Friday evening, I can pretty much hang out in the suite for the weekend and relax, maybe get some reading and writing done most of the time. I am not the best at getting things done while staying in a hotel room, but stranger things have happened and so one never knows. Usually we have someone staying with us in the suite, but it’s just us this year.

So, without Paul being home tonight or tomorrow, I should be able to get things done that I need to get done–around dealing with Needy Kitty ™. Some cleaning and organizing, packing…and then I am ready for the weekend.

I did work some on the WIP yesterday–not much; it took me a while to get back into the story–but something is better than nothing.

I’ll just be glad when this weekend has passed and everything has returned to that semblance of normal that passes for normal around here.

And then I can focus on getting the WIP and some short stories finished in April, so I can move on to rewrite the other in May, and maybe–just maybe–start something new in June or July, depending on where things fall. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even stay on schedule.

Stranger things have happened.

And now back to mining spice.

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Don’t Go Breaking My Heart

Last night when I got home from work I was so tired I literally repaired to the easy chair almost immediately, while a purring cat in my lap. I kept dozing off while I waited for Paul to get home, and finally, once he did make it through the front door, I gave up any pretense of being awake still and went directly to bed. I didn’t want to get up this morning (no different than any morning, really, other than it’s dark and rudely early), and would be more than happy to go straight back to bed for another few hours.

I did manage to revise the first chapter of the WIP yesterday; first chapters are always the hardest to do, quite frankly, and so I always end up spending the most time on them. The trick is to introduce your main character without a lot of explanation and back story–the temptation to write an entire chapter of back story is always, always present, and must be resisted; there’s no easier way to lose a reader than explaining back story….but there has to be enough for the chapter to make logical sense to the reader as well. It’s a balancing act; one that I’m not quite sure I’ve managed, but at least today I get to move on to Chapter Two.

Tonight I have to not only pack for the weekend but also continue to move perishable things over to the carriage house. I think the last thing I’m going to do is move things to the back of the car–the cat food, etc.–and since I’m not taking the car to the Quarter for the weekend (the cost of parking down there is absolutely insane) that should work. It’s also going to be a struggle getting Scooter into his travel kennel to take him to the Kitty Spa Friday morning; it’s usually a two-person job, and since he’s a Daddy’s kitty, not having Daddy to help me is going to make it a battle royale, I fear. I also have a doctor’s appointment Friday afternoon that I couldn’t reschedule before July (!), so it looks like the most likely progression here will be drop off the cat, drive back over here, and call a Lyft to take me to the Quarter, then grab another Lyft to the doctor, and take the streetcar back from there.

Madness; a weekend’s worth of utter and complete madness.

But I am feeling better about things; the lovely comments from people about my story in Murder-a-Go-Go’s plus getting some good revision done yesterday has me feeling better about my career and my ability to write again; it’s been a hot minute since I felt good about anything having to do with my writing, so it’s kind of lovely to have some confidence again. Or rather, restore the low confidence I’ve had most of my career. Writing is insane in that way; maybe the big names like Harlan Coben and Jeff Abbott and Lisa Scottoline and Karin Slaughter don’t ever suffer from Imposter Syndrome, but it’s really an integral part of my personality. I’ve had it about everything–not just writing. I constantly question, and have my entire life, whether I am good at my job (whatever it may have been at the time) or whether I am a hard worker or how clean my house is or whether I actually can write or if I am just somehow managing to cost by somehow, being read by non-discerning readers who can’t tell that I’m not a good writer.

And around and around and around it goes.

I started reading Samantha Downing’s wonderful My Lovely Wife yesterday on my lunch break, and it’s really really good. I am looking forward to moderating our “whodunit” panel this Saturday; hope to see you there.

And now back to the spice mines–because if I know anything, it’s that spice won’t mine itself.

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Off the Wall

It’s Saturday morning and the Lost Apartment is close to being clean; I have to work on the kitchen a bit more today and do the living room floors. I also have to start packing up/throwing away perishables for the looming tenting for next weekend. Heavy heaving sigh. But…it’s also going to make me clean out my cabinets, and since everything has to washed after the tenting is over, also make me reorganize them.

Crazy!

I have a couple of errands to run today; I need to get the mail and I also need to get my brake tag taken care of today–it was due in January and now it’s almost April. Not very adult or responsible, I’m afraid; I really need to stop procrastinating about things and just get them done. I am going to clean out my email inbox, respond to Facebook messenger, and I also have to mail some things today. I want to work on the WIP, and I want to clean, and I want to finish reading The Woman Who Fed The Dogs so I can move on to Samantha Downing’s My Lovely Wife, thus completing my Festival homework, and then I need to prepare some questions. Moderating isn’t something I particularly enjoy, in all honesty, but I generally do a fairly decent job at it–at least, no one has ever told me that I suck at it. I know Paul thinks I’m good at it, or he wouldn’t keep trying to make me do it–although I also suspect it’s simply easier for him if I agree to moderate a panel.

So, yes, my plate is rather full today, but that’s okay. Hopefully, tomorrow I can do some writing in the morning and spend the afternoon reading the Downing (which, of course, is completely predicated on finishing Fed the Dogs today). The world figure skating championships are also going on currently, and I’d like to see the men’s competition, which is airing this afternoon. Americans are sitting in first, second and fourth after the short program–which is unlikely to hold through the free skate, but stranger things have happened.

And while next weekend is going to be fun and lovely–the Weekend o’Festivals always is–it’s also going to be exhausting, especially when you add in the fun of having to put the house back together that Monday. And it’s almost April already! When did that happen? How did that happen? Where did the first third of this year go, and what do I have to show for it? Very, very little…although I suppose I did finish writing a book, so that’s something.

And this past week’s episode of Schitt’s Creek was another one of those “get me in my feelings” episodes. Seriously, y’all, if you aren’t watching this show, you really need to be. There was one scene last night that should win Daniel Levy an Emmy, just for that scene alone–and of course Catherine O’Hara is a comedic gift that never stops giving.

All right. This spice isn’t going to mine itself, now is it? Happy Saturday everyone!

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Tusk

As Constant Reader is aware, I’ve always had issues with my weight and, by extension, my body. I am trying–the goal is, anyway–to get down to 200 pounds. I am currently hovering at a plateau of 212, with fluctuations running from 210-215. Tuesday I tried on a pair of pants I’ve not been able to wear for several years and they fit comfortably; yesterday was the true acid test of my black Levi’s–which I haven’t gotten on in almost four years.

Not only did they fit, they fit fairly comfortably…and as the day progressed so began the ever-green struggle to keep pulling them up constantly as they slid down. I don’t know what that means–other than the reality that jeans do stretch when you wear them–but I’d like to think my body shape has changed. That fifteen or so pounds I lost has made a difference.

Huzzah! Now, of course, I should use that as motivation to improve my bad eating habits and start going to the gym with some degree of frequency…and also need to keep reminding myself that no matter how sore I may get, or how tired, or how little I want to lift the weights–I always feel better afterwards.

I worked a little on the WIP yesterday–not as much as I would have like or preferred, but so it goes, you know? I am still reconstructing that first chapter, which, now that I’ve started pulling it apart and trying to put it back together to try to make it more compulsively readable, isn’t quite as good as I may have thought it was when I originally conceptualized, and wrote, it. A lot of that probably has to do with originally conceiving the book as first person/past tense; and now I am shifting it to first person-present tense, so the reflective tone of the opening paragraphs no longer works.

The opening sentence, which I’d loved, has to go: My mother ruined my life the summer before my senior year of high school.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a good opening sentence, but it doesn’t really work anymore. Choosing to write in the present tense–which most y/a fiction I’ve read recently seems to be in–changes that dynamic; plus I always seem, at least in the early draft stages, to have a tendency to create a reflective, looking-back framing device for the story, like my character is remembering how it all happened from the vantage point of the adult he now is–and that’s just reflexive and lazy writing on my part. (It’s not a bad device, I’m not saying that by any means; but I use it too frequently, or try to, at any rate. I blame reading Herman Raucher’s Summer of ’42, which used this device beautifully; as did Pat Conroy’s The Prince of Tides. Perhaps someday I will use it when it is appropriate and will work. I need to reread the Raucher; I bet it doesn’t hold up–primarily since it’s theme is about a teenaged boy who has sex with a woman in her twenties and he basically stalks her; hmmm, there could be a really interesting essay in there…)

I hope to get that first chapter revised, restructured, and rewritten this evening, since it’s one of my two short days this week; and tomorrow I can move on to the next chapters. I  started reading The Woman Who Fed The Dogs, part of my TWFest homework, and I also need to get that finished so I can read the last bit of my homework, Samantha Downing’s My Lovely Wife. 

Always, always, always so much to do!

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me!

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