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.

26904063_2066803340016325_8735152679423967153_n

Walking on Sunshine

Wednesday. I found my missing copy of The City of Lost Fortunes, which ironically was in my backpack the entire time in a pocket I didn’t check because I wouldn’t have put it in there. Yes, sometimes I wonder about what’s left of my sanity.

Paul returns sometime today; he never tells me his itinerary when he travels, so unless I absolutely pin him down and make him tell me, or forward the itinerary to me, I have no clue when he gets home. It’s usually late in the evening–he is one of those who, no matter how many times I tell him to never do this–always takes the last flight of the day. Rule Number One of traveling is never to take the last flight of the day because disruptions in service can trap you overnight somewhere. And since visiting his family always requires a connection somewhere, it happens almost every single time.

I also finished reading The City of Falling Angels last night; John Berendt’s tome about Venice, and enjoyed it very thoroughly. I have some thoughts about the book, and Venice in general, but I am going to let them percolate for a day or so before talking about them on here.

Yesterday I worked some more on “Don’t Look Down”–again, it is like pulling teeth–and started another short story. I shouldn’t have started writing another story, in all honesty, but “Burning Crosses” has been a story I’ve wanted to write for a really long time, and it starting taking form in my head yesterday so I just kind of dove in headfirst. I also started “Feast of the Redeemer,” my Venice story, which I blame entirely on John Berendt. Today I don’t know what I’m going to write, but I think I am going to start trying to outline the rest of the Scotty book. It may not actually be actual writing,  but it counts as work.

I read two more short stories. First up: “The Daemon Lover” by Shirley Jackson, from The Lottery and Other Stories:

She had not slept well; from one-thirty, when Jamie left and she went lingeringly to bed, until seven, when she at last allowed herself to get up and make coffee, she had slept fitfully, stirring awake to open her eyes and look into the half-darkness, remembering over and over, slipping again into a feverish dream. She spent almost an hour over her coffee–they were to have a real breakfast on the way–and then, unless she wanted to dress early, had nothing to do. She washed her coffee cup and made the bed, looking carefully over the clothes she planned to wear, worried unnecessarily, at the window, over whether it would be a fine day. She sat down to read, thought she might write a letter to her sister instead, and began, in her finest handwriting, “Dearest Anne, by the time you get this I will be married. Doesn’t it sound funny? I can hardly believe it myself, but when I tell you how it happened, you’ll see it’s even stranger than that…”

Sitting, pen in hand, she hesitated over what to say next, read the lines already written, and tore up the letter. She went to the window and saw that it was undeniably a fine day. It occurred to her that perhaps she ought not to wear the blue silk dress; it was too plain, almost severe, and she wanted to be soft, feminine. Anxiously she pulled through the dresses in the closet, and hesitated over a print she had worn the summer before; it was too young for her, and it had a ruffled neck, and it was very early in the year for a print dress, but still…

This story, which is sad and tragic and, like so many Shirley Jackson stories, a real mystery where it’s left up to the reader to interpret what is really is about, is terrific. It resonated with me because I am one of those people who is too excited and restless to sleep the night before something I am looking forward to; and I can never wait until it’s time on that day, having to make myself busy doing things and keeping myself occupied and then, when the appointed time arrives…yeah. One of my neuroses is being stood up; having someone make a date with me for anything, something I am excited about doing, and then never hearing from the person. With this story, we are never entirely sure if this is something she imagined or it was only in her head or if it was real, and this makes it all the more poignant and sad and heartbreaking. There was something of Raymond Carver in this story; in its ordinariness and sadness and poignancy; but Jackson was far superior to Carver–although this story made me want to read something of his again.

Next was “Ampurdan” by Warren Moore, from Lawrence Block’s Alive in Shape and Color.

Alan Bowling was walking again. The golden light of the Colorado autumn played across the rusts and browns of the ground beneath him. Behind him, the city. The air was cool here, away from the shops, the school, the fringes of the city of Ampurdan.

Alan didn’t know why the city–pfft, city. Don’t put on airs; at most, a town, really–was named Ampurdan. He had read that the word was an old name for a place in Spain now called Emporda. He himself privately called it “Ampersand,” a place between two other places, connecting them by force of…by force of what? How did an ampersand connect things, other than by force of will and in the mind of the person connecting them? The and of the ampersand the conjunction, was between whatever two things the speaker, the thinker, chose to conjoin. And since in Alan’s life, the only conjunctions he saw were the compounding of day upin day, there seemed to be little sense of a period to this place, to this life. Merely a string of days becoming ellipsis, until one day each inhabitant reached an end of words.

“Ampurdan” is a perfectly fine story, and similar to the Jackson in its depiction of sadness, loneliness, and poignant in telling the story of lonely Alan Bowling, who goes through his life missing opportunities to be happy through no fault of his own. He knew love once and it wasn’t returned; he was also the kind of person who only loves once. There’s also a bitter horror at the center of the story, but rather than being horrified by what Bowling did, we are sympathetic and understanding because Moore does such an amazing job of painting the picture of who Alan is, what drives him, that aching sadness and loneliness at the core of his being. This isn’t one of my favorite stories in this collection, but it’s certainly a strong story, and an indication of how terrific the entire collection is, honestly.

And now, back to the spice mines with me,

milo ventigmilglio

No More Lonely Nights

Paul returns tomorrow night, so I will return to my usual status as second best to Scooter. I have to say I’ve enjoyed his neediness more than usual this past week, as he cuddles with me in the bed and sleeps in my lap while I read or watch television.

I didn’t get nearly as much done this weekend as I had hoped or wanted to; I did reread the first ten chapters of the Scotty book and got some edits on it done–it does need a lot more work to be smooth–and I am trying to figure out how much I want to have happen here in the second half of the book. I may end up writing it a lot longer than it needs to be–surgically removing the bits that aren’t necessary afterwards. I worked some more on “Don’t Look Down,” which took up the majority of my writing time this weekend, and remained just as difficult and painful to write as I remembered it being. It’s going to be a long story–I am not worried about its length, as it is going into my short story collection rather than being sent out into the open market (gay main character, after all, makes it basically un-publishable).

I also started writing out ideas for three more stories: “Burning Crosses,” “Feast of the Redeemer”, and “Cross Roads.” Not sure if anything will come out of any of them, but there they are.

Today I need to get some things done that are due, and then I can focus on getting back to work on the other writing.

I am drawing to the end of The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt, and really enjoying it; in fact, I am enjoying it more than I enjoyed Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, to be honest. Venice is ultimately more interesting than Savannah, sorry; at least to me. (Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to visit Savannah–but if I had to choose between the two Venice would always win.)

I also read a shit ton of short stories this weekend, and sadly, finished reading both Lawrence Block’s wonderful anthologies, In Sunlight and In Shadow and Alive in Shape and Color. I do hope he’s doing another one this year, because they are quite marvelous.

So, for today’s edition of The Short Story Project, I do have a story up from In Sunlight or In Shadow, Joe R. Lansdale’s “The Projectionist”:

There’s some that think I got it easy on the job, but they don’t know there’s more to it than plugging in the projector. You got to be there at the right time to change reels, and you got to have it set so it’s seamless, so none of the movie gets stuttered, you know. You don’t do that right, well, you can cause a reel to flap and there goes the movie right at the good part, or it can get hung up and the bulb will burn it. Then everyone down there starts yelling. and that’s not good for business, and it’s not good for you, the boss hears about it, and with the racket they make when the picture flubs, he hears all right.

I ain’t had that kind of thing happen to me much, two or three times on the flapping, once I got a burn on a film, but it was messed up when we got it. Was packed in wrong and got a twist in it I couldn’t see when I pulled it out. That wasn’t my fault. Even the boss could see that.

Still, you got to watch it.

This is a marvelous story, about a mentally challenged young man who grew up in an incredibly abusive household and never graduated from high school. He’s gotten a job, through a mentor, as the projectionist at a local movie theater. The job makes him incredibly happy, and the voice! Lansdale has nailed the character’s voice so poignantly and beautifully, you can’t help but care about him and his undoubtedly doomed relationship with the beautiful usherette. The conflict in the story comes when two hoods attempt to shake down the theater owner for protection money, and how the staff, how our main character, tries to deal with that situation. A truly great story. Lansdale is a terrific writer, just terrific, and this short story, as well as the one in Alive in Shape and Color, are both so strong that I really want to start tracking down all of his short stories. A quick Google search shows that there are, in fact, quite a few. How lovely!

And then, I turned to “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson, from The Lottery and Other Stories.

The morning of June 27th was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green. The people of the village began to gather in the square, between the post-office and the bank, around ten o’clock; in some towns there were so many people that the lottery took two days and had to be started on June 26th, but in this village, where there were only about three hundred people, the whole lottery took less than two hours, so it could begin at ten o’clock in the morning and still be through in time to allow the villagers to get home for noon dinner.

The children assembled first, of course. School was recently over for the summer, and the feeling of liberty sat uneasily on most of them; they tended to gather together quietly for a while before they burst into boisterous play, and their talk was still of the classroom and the teacher, of books and reprimands. Bobby Martin had already stuffed his pockets full of stones, and the other boys soon followed his example, selecting the smoothest and roundest stones; Bobby and Harry Jones and Dickie Delacroix–the villagers pronounced this name “Dellacroy”–eventually made a great pile of stones in one corner of the square and guarded it against the raids of the other boys. The girls stood aside, talking among themselves, looking over their shoulders at the boys, and the very small children rolled in the dust or clung to the hands of their older brothers and sisters.

“The Lottery” is probably one of the most famous–if not the most famous. American short story of the twentieth century. It was, in fact, quite a shock when I realized, paging through my copy of The Lottery and Other Stories, that I had in fact actually never read the most famous short story written by one of my favorite writers; we did the play in Acting class when I was in high school, and I have seen the short film based on it. But I had never actually read the story itself. I don’t have to get into what the story is about–who doesn’t know what the story is about–but wow, what an exceptional piece of writing. Jackson, as always, just writes about something terrible in a matter-of-fact, nondescript way, like what she is writing about is nothing extraordinary; these lotteries have always happened and will always happen and she’s just recording one of them. I would be willing to go so far as to say (and bear in mind I am not an expert) that this story firmly established New England as the best setting for horror in this country; Jackson’s influence from this story is clearly evident in everything of Stephen King’s,  some of Peter Straub’s work, and most definitely in Thomas Tryon’s. Even knowing what the story was about didn’t lessen it’s chill, and that has everything to do with the authorial voice, and how powerful it is.

Whew.

And now, on to the spice mines.

IMG_1182

Voices Carry

FRIDAY! Huzzah! MY short day of the work week, and I also took this Monday off because I have things to get done. So, I am on the verge of a three-day weekend, and desperately looking forward to it. I’ve been having a great week of getting things done, frankly–I’ve been killing it on the Scotty book, and hope to be half-way finished the first draft today–getting so ridiculously close it’s not even funny–and I have a lot of cleaning to do around the house as well. I want to finish reading Bryan Camp’s The City of Lost Fortunes this weekend, and I also want to get some final revisions done on some short stories. I have errands to run, places to go, people to meet, things to do….

But Paul is also gone for the weekend, so outside of Scooter’s neediness, I will get a lot done out of, if nothing else, a sense of utter boredom.

I started watching this week’s broadcast of Jesus Christ Superstar last night, and actually was liking it before it was time for me to go read in bed–I got all the way up to the Last Supper, and was actually amazed at how quickly it went past. I have some thoughts about this musical/concert/whatever you want to call  it–particularly about how scandalous it was back when it originally debuted, and how appalled Christians were by it, but it will have to wait until I am actually finished watching it.

I am also thoroughly enjoying The City of Falling Angels; it makes me want to write about Venice, which I fell in love with during our brief twenty-fours there several years ago. Paul wasn’t as crazy for Venice as I was; so getting back there isn’t going to be as easy as I would like, but I do want to return there and spend more time there, especially now that I’ve read more history of the city and know what to look for. Interestingly enough, as I was reading the book last night I thought, you know, I think we actually walked by the Fenice Opera House while we were there, and I just looked on Google Maps and sure enough, we had. (I just knew it was the opera house at the time; I didn’t realize it was the opera house, and that John Berendt had built his entire book about Venice around the fire in 1996 that destroyed it.)

And now I cannot stop thinking about writing the Venice story I’ve been thinking about ever since we visited, “Festival of the Redeemer.”

Heavy sigh.

I’ve also fallen a bit behind on my short story reading–between reading the Bryan Camp novel and all the writing I’ve been doing, I’ve simply not found the time to read stories, so I’ll have to devote some time to that this weekend. I read one last night, but I am not ready to talk about it just yet; as a very stubborn creature of habit, since I don’t have a second one to talk about this morning I can’t seem to bring myself to write about just the one. It’s a good one, though–Gary Phillips is the author, and he’s fantastic–and I am hoping to read some more Shirley Jackson as well as get deeper into Crime Plus Music, which is where the Phillips story is from.

I’ve done quite a bit of Scotty writing this week, which pleases me to no end. I am goingto carve out some time this weekend to read/revise/make notes on the first ten chapters, which will help me envision what is going to happen in the final ten. I have an idea, but I am not sure if it’s a direction I want to take…ugh, this Scotty book has been so difficult.

Ah, well, best to get back to it.

IMG_1096

 

Suddenly

Yesterday I finished revisions on four stories, took a deep breath, and submitted them. Now, we wait. I’m not entirely certain the stories were right for the markets I sent them to, but you know what? Letting them just sit in my computer wasn’t getting them out there. Better to try and fail than not to ever try at all.

As I said yesterday, my confidence in my writing, which, despite all appearances to the contrary has never been strong, was dramatically shaken in the last year; I am only now starting to come out of it, and I am coming back out of it by working. I’ve written well over a hundred thousand words thus far in 2018; most of it short stories, some of it work on a new Scotty novel, still other the manuscript I intend to try to lure the ever elusive agent into my web with; and since sitting down and actually taking stock, I am realizing what I’ve accomplished, and am very proud of myself. The stories I worked on again this week, revising and editing and reading aloud, were quite strong; the two I am struggling with perhaps not as strong–although I do like their titles. Forcing myself to continue working on them is futile at this moment; much as I am loath to put them to the side, I am going to; there is nothing more self-defeating and depressing than trying to force yourself to write something that just isn’t coming. The stories are there, of course; I just haven’t yet worked out how to get them down onto paper yet. I think very often we, as writers, get so bogged down in our stubborn determination to finish something we are working on that we just keep fighting, pounding our head determinedly against an immovable wall–when the smart thing is to take a break from it and work on something else; then come back to the wall with fresh eyes and a rested forehead.

A vanity project that I have always had in the back of my mind was to put together a short story collection of my crime stories. I first had the idea several years ago, but didn’t have enough stories and was going to combine my horror and crime together: the folder and table of contents I created at the time was for Annunciation Shotgun and Other Stories. I’ve never forgotten this vanity project; and even now, when I should be preparing the manuscripts of Bourbon Street Blues and Jackson Square Jazz for their long overdue ebook editions, I go back to the vanity project again and again: well, I’ve published THESE stories since then, maybe I can just go ahead and remove these others that don’t fit as well–take these horror stories out, since my horror is clearly not as strong as my crime fiction. I made another table of contents, just the other day; only now I am calling it Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories. Whenever I’ve been stuck this past week or so, for want of anything else to do, I’ve started pulling the stories together into a single document to get a word count. The realization the other day of how many stories I’ve done so far this year already, and adding them casually to the table of contents–today it hit me: the manuscript is already publishable length, is over eighty thousand words, without an introduction  and without all of the stories I’ve done so far. I removed all the horror–goodbye, “Crazy in the Night” and “Rougarou” and “The Snow Queen” and “The Troll in the Basement”–and added some more of the newer material. It was astonishing to realize how much there actually was; that I cannot add much more because there simply isn’t room, and that I might have enough for a second volume in a couple of years.

Mind-blowing, really.

Short story collections don’t sell as well as novels, of course; short stories are the bastard stepchildren of publishing, and crime stories even more shunned at the family holiday dinner table. I don’t know if my publisher will want this collection, and I may end up having to self-publish it. Whereas I would have shrank in horror from that possibility a few years ago, it doesn’t matter as much to me now as it did then to have a traditional publisher pull the book together; although I would like another pair of eyes on it, some copy editing, a cover design and packaging done for me. But I am very proud of all of these stories; each one of them means something to me in some way. And if my fears about crime stories with gay characters in them not being acceptable to mainstream short story publications, well, I can always get them seen this way. And I am proud of the new crime stories I’ve written with gay characters in them.

I didn’t write crime stories for the longest time because of that fear; the fear that no matter how high the quality of the story, gay characters would make them unpublishable. The two stories I published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, “Acts of Contrition” and “The Email Always Pings Twice,” were mainstream–not a gay character in either story. I did publish two stories in Novelists Inc. anthologies with gay characters, “A Streetcar Named Death” and “An Arrow for Sebastian.” My stories in New Orleans Noir and Sunshine Noir (“Annunciation Shotgun” and “Housecleaning”, respectively) were about gay characters. My story in Blood on the Bayou, nominated for the Macavity Award last year, “Survivor’s Guilt,” wasn’t gay in any way, nor was my story “Keeper of the Flame,” published in Mystery Week. Some of the new stories are gay, some are not. Two that went out today were about gay characters, two of them were not. I was originally not intending to write any crime stories with gay characters this year; it just sort of happened. I think the Chanse story I’ve written–which needs a new title–is pretty decent; but am I limiting my chances of getting the stories into print by writing about gay characters? It’s already a difficult haul finding markets that still take short stories, and the competition is obviously fierce.

And again, as I said yesterday, you never can be certain your story was rejected because you wrote honestly about gay characters. It’s all part and parcel of the insanity of being a gay writer, or a writer who is gay, or whatever the hell label fits on my sash as I walk across the stage at the beauty pageant of publishing.

But I’ve got more than enough stories for a collection now, and I am going to keep playing with the manuscript; what is the proper mix of previously published stories versus new material? Should it all be new material, or should it all be previously published material?

Decisions, decisions.

Therein, indeed, lies the path to madness.

I also read some short stories. First was “Still Life with Teapots and Students”, by Shirley Jackson, from the  Let Me Tell You collection.

Come off it, kids, come off it, Louise Harlowe told herself just under her breath. SHe smiled graciously at her husband, Lionel’s, two best students, noticing with an edge of viciousness that they both held their teacups exactly right, and said lightly, “You’re going to have a pleasant summer, then?”

Joan shrugged perfectly, and Debbi smiled back, as graciously as Louise had smiled, but with more conviction. “It will be about the same as the others, I guess, ” Debbi said. “Sort of dull.”

They’re both too well bred to tell me what they’ll be doing, Louise thought, and asked deliberately, “You’ll be together, of course?”

Jackson is one of my favorites, and while she is mostly known for “The Lottery” and The Haunting of Hill House and macabre, Gothic work, she wrote a lot more than people think and not everything she wrote was macabre. This nasty little tale, in which a professor’s wife has two of his students over for tea–during the course of which she lets the rich little bitches she knows about their affair with her husband, and what’s more, doesn’t care because they are nothing more than something of the moment, is quite rich and layered and textured. From a modern day perspective the wonder is why she doesn’t leave him, as it becomes clear this happens regularly; they politely discuss another faculty wife who wasn’t quite as calm in confronting the student her husband was messing around with, and it’s all very polite and reserved…yet, in this modern era of #metoo and power differentials, the agency both Jackson and the wife in the story give the students–and the contempt and hatred for them the wife feels, but never reveals–makes me wonder. I’m still unpacking this story, several days after reading it; which is how amazing it–and Jackson–are.

And then it was time for “The Doll” by Daphne du Maurier, The Doll: The Lost Short Stories.

I want to know if men realize when they are insane. Sometimes I think my brain cannot hold together, it is filled with too much horror–too great a despair. And there is no one; I  have never been so unutterably alone. Why should it help me to write this?…Vomit forth the poison in my brain.

For I am poisoned, I cannot sleep, I cannot close my eyes without seeing his damned face..

If only it had been a dream, something to laugh over, a festered imagination

It’s easy enough to laugh, who wouldn’t crack their sides and split their tongues with laughing. Let’s laugh till the blood runs from our eyes–there’s fun, if you like. No, it’s the emptiness that hurts, the breaking up of everything inside me.

DuMaurier’s story often have a polite, observational distance and formality to them; much like her novels, even in the first person. This story, of obsession and lust and desire, all of which are thwarted, is not only reminiscent of My Cousin Rachel, but also, as I was reading, made me wonder. We never learn the name of the first person narrator, but the object of his obsession is a woman named Rebecca–you see where my mind was going with that, don’t you? And in some ways, it works as an almost prequel for the novel; the deep obsession and need; the mysterious woman who plays out her cards slowly. What of course doesn’t fit is the doll itself; the woman owns a male doll she has a strange attachment to, a doll our narrator despises, hates, is jealous of; it’s a terrific story of darkness and deep passion and obsession and perhaps, madness….a great example of why I love du Maurier so much.

And now, back to the spice mines.

IMG_2256

 

Sussudio

Ah, Thursday.

Yesterday I pulled a couple of wisdom teeth–i.e. worked on two short stories, only managing to drag about two thousand words total out of me between the two–so I suppose, over all,  the day was a win. Two thousand words are two thousand words, but neither story is finished; neither story is half finished; I know how to end them but I don’t know how to get there. So, I need to spend some time with the peacock book, scribbling thoughts and ideas and figuring some things out before going back to work on them In a moment of augh what a fucking mess I organized and filed the stuff piling up around my desk here in the kitchen–being able to file away two stories that are sold, for example, and stacking up the ones in progress. Imagine my surprise to find that right now I am working on–not counting the two I was mentioning previously–nine stories, for a total of eleven in some degree of progress. JFC. That wears me out just thinking about it. But one I think is for an anthology that has a due date coming up, so I need to get it polished and into submission shape; and I’ll start whipping some of these others into shape between now and End of Festivals, at which point I need to seriously focus on WIP and the Scotty book again. I also have another story out for submission right now, and am about to hit send on another this weekend (this one is one of the eleven aforementioned; the other is not). So, since January 1, I have worked on/written somewhere around thirteen or fourteen short stories.

Yeesh.

And, since each story is roughly, on average 4500 words….that’s 63000 words approximately since the beginning of the year…which isn’t counting the Scotty or the WIP.

Fuck me. I guess I can stop beating myself up about being lazy.

That’s another thing about short stories, though; because each is an individual project, all on its own–unless and until you take stock, like I did last night, you don’t realize how much actual work you’ve done. Granted, all of them are in various stages of production; first drafts, second drafts, some are closer to being finished than others, some are finished. But when you’re working on a novel, and know your word count, you always know how much work you’ve done and how much you have left to do. And focusing on writing these stories–which are almost enough for a collection all on their own–which is also something I’m considering. I had already published enough crime and horror short stories to put a book together. Hmmmm.

I also read a couple of short stories. First up is “You’ll Always Remember Me” by Steve Fisher, from Best Noir of the 20th Century, edited by James Ellroy and Otto Penzler.

I could tell it was Pushton blowing the bugle and I got out of bed tearing half of the bedclothes with me. I ran to the door and yelled, “Drown it! Drown it! Drown it!” and then I slammed the door and went along the row of beds and pulled the covers off the rest of the guys and said:

“Come on, get up. Get up! Don’t you hear Pushton out there blowing his stinky lungs out?”

I hate bugles anyway, but the way this guy Pushton all but murders reveille kills me. I hadn’t slept very well, thinking of the news I was going to hear this morning, one way or the other, and then to be jarred out of what sleep I could get by Pushton climaxed everything.

Set in a military school, this is an absolutely chilling story told from the point of view of Thorpe, a student at the school. A girl he is dating’s older brother has been convicted of murdering their father; they are waiting for either a pardon or a commutation of the death sentence. Thorpe comes across, at first, as a typical self-absorbed teenager who sees events and the world only in how they directly affect and impact him. But as the story progresses and we get to know Thorpe better…the suspense and tension builds as the story moves forward to its inevitable, inescapable end. Very well done, and creepya s fuck.

I also read a Shirley Jackson story, from the collection Just an Ordinary Day, “The Smoking Room”:

He was taller than I imagined him. And noisier. Here I was, all by myself, downstairs in the dormitory smoking room with my typewriter, and all of a sudden there was a terrific crash and sort of sizzle, and I turned around and there he was.

“Can’t you be a little quieter?” I said. “I’m trying to work.”

He just stood there, with smoke rolling off his head. “This is as quietly as I can do it,” he said apologetically. “It takes a lot of explosive power, you know.”

“Well, explode somewhere else,” I said. “Men aren’t allowed in here.”

It’s a very short story, and clever and witty in that way only Jackson could manage: it’s a deal-with-the-devil story that turns the traditional trope on its head; not only is the young woman–who never has a name–unimpressed with the devil and what he can do for her, she’s also smarter than he is. I enjoyed this five page story, which leads off this collection, very much.

And now, back to the spice mines.

IMG_2260

Never Surrender

’tis Wednesday already; the week is already half over. Next week is the combination Tennessee Williams Festival/Saints and Sinners weekend (AIEEEEE!), which is going to be, literally, insane. But I can hang; it’ll be lovely seeing everyone, but I can’t believe it has come up upon us all again so suddenly. It’s like I wasn’t paying any attention and the next thing you know, BOOM, there it is.

As I continue to work on this plethora of short stories (I started ANOTHER fucking one yesterday), I am, however, pleased to announce that one of the ones I’ve done since the beginning of the year will be appearing in the anthology Murder-a-Go-Go’s. The book’s theme is crime stories inspired by songs of the Go-Go’s, and will be edited by the amazing Holly West, and published by the crew at Down and Out Books. My story was inspired by the song “This Town” and is also, coincidentally enough, titled “This Town.”

Our IDs were fake, but no one seemed to care. Even when a burly bouncer asked to see them, bare meaty arms adorned with tattoos, bored eyes flicking over the laminate before waving us inside. Celia was right about that, like she was right about everything. She could always find someone with coke to share or sell, or who was happy to share their blunt with us. She was a golden girl, the kind I used to think only existed in books or movies, the girl that’s too perfect to exist, the one every other girl wants to be friends with, wants to be. The one all the guys notice first, their eyes wide open and their jaws gone slack.

 She always had the trendiest new make-up, the first to try out a daring new look we were too cowardly to try but quick to copy, always the first, the one everyone else imitated. She seemed to glow from inside, drawing everyone’s eyes to her effortlessly, and she somehow managed to always look perfect, even when she was drunk, even after dancing for hours when our make-up was running down our cheeks and perspiration dampened our armpits. Her skirts were just the tiniest bit shorter than everyone else’s, her tops seemed to fit her in a way they didn’t fit anyone else, her hair thicker and shinier and bouncier. She pulled in guys like night insects to a white light, caught up in her magic, wanting her. They only noticed the rest of us once she’d turned her attention elsewhere. We didn’t mind taking second place to her because it seemed like the natural order of things. She always knew the right thing to say—whether kind or insulting—and we all gravitated to her, wanting to be her friends, to be her. She was our pledge class president, organized, efficient, determined we be the best pledge class our Omega Psi chapter had ever seen. Even the sisters seemed to be a little in awe of her, grateful she’d picked Omega Psi out of all the offers she’d had—every sorority had offered her a bid, I’d overheard one sister telling another at Monday night dinner, her voice awed as she went on to say that had never happened in the history of the Greek system at Tulane.

And she made us all feel special, whispering “Sisters” to us as we hooked our pinkie fingers and whispered the word back to her, committing to a lifelong bond with her.

I am so glad they liked this story, because I loved it. It’s soooo dark. When I was going through Go-Go’s lyrics to choose a song, I was really surprised; I knew all the songs by heart–if I heard one I can sing every word–and danced like crazy to them, always thought they were these upbeat cheerful songs…and then yikes! Reading the lyrics without hearing the music? JFC, are these songs dark. I mean, check out this verse from “This Town”:

Change the lines that were said before 
We’re all dreamers – we’re all whores 
Discarded stars 
Like worn out cars 
Litter the streets of this town 
Litter the streets of this town

I mean, we’re all dreamers – we’re all whores? As soon as I read that line, the story just jumped into my head; a group of girlfriends, on Fat Tuesday,  wandering around in the Quarter getting wasted…and then the first line of the story popped into my head: Our ID’s were fake but no one seemed to care. That was how it started, and the next thing I knew I had over four thousand words and a very rough first draft.

I love when that happens. And the editor liked it! YAY! Huzzah for good news! It gives me hope for these other short stories I’m writing.

And I also have read some more stories for the Short Story Project. First up is “Damage Control” by Thomas H. Cook, from the MWA anthology Manhattan Mayhem.

She’d been found in the dilapidated Bronx apartment where she’d lived for the past seventeen months. It was a basement apartment and had only a couple small windows, but she’d make it darker still by drawing the curtains. It was so dim inside that the first cop to arrive had stumbled about, looking for a light switch. He’d finally found one only to discover that she’d unscrewed all the light bulbs, even the ones in the ceiling and the fluorescent ones on either side of the bathroom mirror. Neighbors later told police that they hadn’t seen a single sliver of light coming from her apartment for well over a month. It was as if the terrible capacity for destruction that I’d glimpsed in her so many years before had at last grown strong enough to consume her entirely.

This is a truly sad story; in which a man is forced to look back on a painful decision made years earlier, when his family took in a foster child to give their only child a sister. The two girls got along well at first, but the foster child became a problem child, possibly even dangerous, and for the sake of their blood daughter they gave the foster child back to the system. Now an adult, she has died, and he is having to reflect, remember, what happened all those years ago, wonder if things could have been different, if maybe he had tried a little harder maybe things wouldn’t have ended so badly for her. There’s a horrible twist at the end as well, which makes the story all the more poignant and sad; about how a life can be so easily wasted and thrown away, based on a perception that ma or may not be correct.

I then moved on to a Shirley Jackson story, from the recent collection Let Me Tell You. The story is titled “Paranoia.”

Mr. Halloran Beresford, pleasantly tired after a good day in the office, still almost clean-shaven after eight hours, his pants still neatly pressed, pleased with himself particularly for remembering, stepped out of the candy shop with a great box under his arm and started briskly for the corner. There were twenty small-size gray suits like Mr. Beresford’s on every New York block, fifty men still clean-shaven and pressed after a day in an air-cooled office, a hundred small men, perhaps, pleased with themselves for remembering their wives’ birthdays. Mr. Beresford was going to take his wife out to dinner, he decided, going to see if he could get last-minute tickets to a show, taking his wife candy. It had been an exceptionally good day, altogether, and Mr. Beresford walked along swiftly, humming musically to himself.

I absolutely, positively love love LOVE Shirley Jackson. The other night, as I was trying to decide which story to read next, I suddenly realized that I have three short story collections by one of my favorite authors and haven’t read any of them. I immediately grabbed Let Me Tell You and sat down with it. “Paranoia” is brilliant, positively brilliant; to tell you why would spoil it, and if its spoiled the effect is ruined, but it is, with every word and sentence, the perfect fictional story representation of defining the word paranoia. It reminded me, as I kept reading, of precisely why I love Jackson so much. God, what a great story!

And now, tis back to the spice mines with me.

IMG_1984