Luka

Ah, a lovely lazy Sunday morning, with a lot on my plate to get done.

LSU won again yesterday, taking Mississippi State down in their own stadium 36-13. With about five minutes left in the first half LSU was ahead only 9-7; State had just scored and the cowbells were ringing. As time ran out in the half, LSU was ahead 22-7. Within another five minutes of the second half, we were ahead 36-7, and the game was essentially over. Four touchdowns in less than ten minutes.  Next up is Auburn in Death Valley; Auburn rebounded from their loss to Florida with a blowout of Arkansas, and they’ll be thirsty to beat LSU. Another loss and their championship hopes are over; Auburn has also lost two straight to LSU in the closing minutes.

It will be a tough one.

The Saints are playing later this afternoon, the Bears in Chicago at Soldier Field. I have a lot to get done this morning if I want to watch the game, frankly; I may wind up just working while it’s on in the living room. I managed to get nothing done yesterday; I overslept (it was needed, methinks) and so got a late start to the day. I did manage to make groceries and fill the car with gas, so that’s something, right? Today I have to finish my Sisters column, and I have to also work on Bury Me in Shadows as well as a proposal for another project.

Heavy heaving sigh.

But the weather yesterday was gorgeous, simply gorgeous. I do love when it gets to be mid to late October and we have what we consider fall down here–which means it never gets much hotter than eighty degrees and the humidity is gone. It’s so gorgeous, and the sky is so blue…ah, heavenly.

So I decided to treat myself to a sleeping pill, and after last night’s amazingly deep and restful night’s sleep, I understand completely how addictive these things can be. Yes, my sleep has been rather off and on since I stopped taking them every night, and I actually can feel an emotional difference in myself as well this morning; who wouldn’t want to feel this good every morning on waking up? But addiction is a very real thing, and a very real thing I’m afraid of, so I won’t be taking another one until I feel like I need a special treat.

The demolition of the Hard Rock Hotel construction site, postponed from yesterday to today, is going to happen at some point later this morning. I am feeling less like turning it into a “ripped from the headlines” novel today as I was over the last couple of days; while there would be some interesting points to be made about New Orleans corruption and greedy, shady contractors, for it to be a Scotty novel it would have to be somehow reigned in and made into a personal story of some sort.  I can, of course, see the site from the elevated interstate as I drive to and from work every day; the elevated interstate gives one an interesting view of the city from those heights (it runs along Claiborne Avenue, and its construction destroyed irrevocably the business district for people of color and the neighborhoods that ran along Claiborne Avenue for decades–and yes, racism played a part in where the highway runs).

I started reading Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Certain Dark Things and am already quite enthralled with it. For one thing, she’s creating an entirely new mythology of vampires–at least one that is new to me–and I love that the book is set in Mexico, currently in Mexico City. I also like the way she is carefully doling out plot points and back history for her main character, Atl–who is very interesting, and is involved in something dangerous that we aren’t quite sure what it might be at this point. I also like that the very first chapter, which introduces Atl to the reader, is told from the perspective of a street kid named Domingo. Moreno-Garcia created Domingo completely and in three dimensions, like he’s a main character, rarely than merely the lens through which we meet Atl. (He still might be an important character to the story; I hope so because I liked him, but it also wouldn’t surprise me terribly if he disappears from the story completely. If that is indeed the case, kudos to Moreno-Garcia for making even throwaway characters complete and real. I am really looking forward to reading the rest of the book.

Reading this also made me realize how badly I failed at vampire fiction with my few meager attempts. I didn’t really do anything new with them; I just wrote vampire stories to write vampire stories, without any thought about how to make them realistic, compelling, and original. I did have a big over-arching plan, though–it would have tied them all together and created something big and original in the second novel, Desire, which sadly never happened. But I’m not a horror/supernatural writer, and when I do venture into those realms, what I do best is ghost stories. I am currently writing another novel that is a ghost story; I already did one (Lake Thirteen), and will probably do another one at some point.

And now I should probably clean the kitchen. I am going to run an errand either before or during the Saints game–the city is always a ghost town during Saints games; it’s literally the best time to do errands, and everywhere you go they’re playing the game anyway–but I also need to get some cleaning and writing done long before I leave the house to do so.

I’m also still reading about the Lemana kidnapping in Ready to Hang, which is quite interesting, mainly because the child was held for so long. The history of the Italian immigrants to New Orleans is interesting–and often quite tragic, frankly–and I find it interesting that the Irish immigrants, who were most likely looked on with as much askance as the Italians, who came later, don’t have some horrible stories that appear in histories of crimes in New Orleans. I do know they were primarily confined to the stretch between Magazine Street and the river–which is why it’s still called the Irish Channel–but they don’t seem to be the victims of mob violence or as much intolerance as the Italians were around the turn of the twentieth century.

If they were, it’s not included in these books about historical crimes/tragedies in old New Orleans.

There’s been an idea forming in the back of my head about all this bloodshed and horror in the history of New Orleans; something along the lines of the land being cursed or some kind of cloud over it, like Stephen King’s Derry, which could also explain the prevalence of religion in the region–Catholicism and even voodoo–used primarily to protect the souls of the locals from the dark forces that seem to control New Orleans.

It’s an interesting thought, at any rate.

And now back to the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader!

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You’re So Vain

You probably think this blog post is about you.

Vanity, thy name is Gregalicious.

Vanity is one of the seven deadly sins (which are not mentioned in the Bible, I might add; they are a part of Christian dogma and tradition, but never specifically named as such in their holy book) and I was raised to be humble, not vain; pride is also one of the deadly sins, and pride goes hand in hand with vanity.  The satisfaction of achieving or accomplishing something was theoretically enough of a reward, in and of itself, without getting praised for it; it’s wrong to bask in the glow of people’s compliments. As I have mentioned before, this has made promoting myself as a writer difficult; every time I make a post crowing about succeeding at something or winning something or being nominated for an award I can hear my mother’s voice, in her soft Alabama drawl, saying, “highs are always followed by lows, remember that, life likes to take the air out of people for having too much pride.”

It’s something I still struggle with. I was also told most of my life that self-absorption is also problematic, but a certain degree of self-absorption is necessary if you’re going to succeed at writing. (I think that like with all things, it’s a matter of degrees; some self-absorption is necessary, but anything taken to extremes is never a good thing for anyone.) Most writers have full time jobs and families, so the time they spend actually working on their writing is precious and should be sacrosanct; we give up our free time to write, and many of us get a very small return for that time. I’ve been accused of being self-absorbed by people I know most of my life, and it always used to sting a little bit, because the implication was that being self-absorbed is a bad thing. But as long as it isn’t taken to extremes it’s necessary, and when I began to notice that my “self-absorption” accusations usually came about because I was choosing to be jealous of my spare time and not do something someone else wanted me to do–I stopped caring so much about it and started embracing self-absorption.

“Sorry, I can’t do that, that’s my writing time.”

Having that statement met with anger and accusations of being selfish and self-absorbed, I realized, said more about the person saying it than me, to be honest. I am a writer, and am always in the middle of writing something, or have a manuscript or many short stories in some form of the process. I should, quite literally, always be writing and working, and I also finally realized that if a friend cannot respect my writing time, and gets angry and belligerent and nasty and insulting about me not wanting to give that time up….that person isn’t actually a friend, after all, and is everything they are accusing me of–but because of many experiences and lessons learned in my life (that I am still struggling to unlearn) my automatic default is to feel guilty and blame myself for being a bad person.

I’m learning. I am still learning, and unlearning, my conditioning. I’ll probably go to my grave still wrestling with these kinds of things, but I am getting better about this sort of thing.

My friend Laura suggested the other day that another good thing people should do is write a press release about themselves; channel their inner publicist and write a press release highlighting your achievements and accomplishments in glowing terms, without embarrassment and without shame. I’ve been thinking about that for a few days now, and looking back over my life, there have been quite a few highlights in my writing/publishing career…and I should be proud of myself. I’ve managed to publish over thirty novels and twenty anthologies and an absurd amount of short stories and essays and book reviews and author interviews and fitness columns/articles over the years. I wrote a writing column for the Erotica Writers Association for several years. I am currently writing a column called “The Conversation Continues” for the Sisters in Crime Quarterly, and have been for several years. I’ve been nominated for a Lambda Literary Award fourteen or so times, winning twice. I’ve been nominated for the Anthony Award twice, won it the first time, and will find out in Dallas how I did the second time. I have been nominated for a Macavity Award and a Shirley Jackson Award. I won two Moonbeam Children’s Book Award medals, one gold and one silver. I won a Lesbian Fiction Readers Choice Award for Anthology/Short Story Collection for Women of the Mean Streets: Lesbian Noir, which I co-edited with J. M. Redmann. My first horror anthology, Shadows of the Night, won a queer horror award, and Midnight Thirsts won a Gaylactic Spectrum Award. I won several Best of the Year awards from the Insightout Book Club, which used to be a wonderful queer version of the Book of the Month Club. I’ve published two short stories in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and have been published in both Mystery Weekly and Mystery Tribune. I had a short story in New Orleans Noir. I’ve written for the Mystery Writers of America newsletter and for the Edgar Annual (twice), and even edited and put together the Edgar Annual once.

Wow, right? I do think it’s important, as Laura says, to take stock of everything you’ve achieved periodically, so you can get a better handle not only on your career but as to how other people see you.

You may not like me, you may not like my work, but you cannot deny me my accomplishments. And when I put them down, when I write it all down and look at it and reread it over, it is kind of staggering in some ways…particularly when you consider I’ve worked full-time outside the home since 2008, and if you take into consideration how much editing I’ve done since around 2002/2003…yeah. I’ve done quite a bit.

And seriously, no wonder I am tired all the time.

Today Paul is heading into the office and then is spending the evening with friends; leaving me here all alone by myself in the Lost Apartment for the majority of the day. I have a lot of work to get done here this weekend–not just cleaning and so forth, the usual, but I also have a lot of emails to get through, some writing to do, and some revising/editing to do. I need to get the mail and I’d also like to get some groceries at some point today; I’m not precisely sure how that’s going to play out, frankly, but it’ll get taken care of. I started rereading Bury Me in Shadows while sort-of watching the fifth episode of The Last Czars (“Revolution”), and then after Paul got home we started watching the CNN series The 2000’s on Netflix–the episodes on technology and the first one on television in the twenty-first century, which is, as always, fascinating. (We’ve really enjoyed all of CNN’s decade-documentary series, from The 1960’s on.)

Rereading Bury Me in Shadows also was a bit of a struggle, you see, because while I have talked endlessly about the troubles I am having writing this book, some of them are due to stubbornness and some of them are due to technical challenges for my writing. The stubbornness comes from the refusal to let go of the opening sentence, which I love (The summer before my senior year my mother ruined my life.), but the reread showed me it really doesn’t work and doesn’t fit with the story or the style of writing I am using. The style of writing–remote first person present tense–is a departure from the way I usually write a book and something new and difficult I am trying, and after decades of  tight first or third person past tense, I have to actually pay attention because if I am not I will, by default, slip into the past tense. The first chapter is going to need to be completely redone, almost completely reworded, from start to finish. I’d like to finish reading it and making notes this weekend; I’d also like to finish writing Chapter 18, and also would like to revise some other short stories and other chapters of books in some sort of progress–I want to reread that first Chanse chapter I wrote, for example, and look at the first chapter of Chlorine again–and I should probably start working on some promised short stories I have to write.

It’s daunting, but I need to make a list, keep it handy, and just mark things off as I go.

It’s always worked in the past, so I should stop resisting, do it, and be done with it all.

And on that note, Constant Reader, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Saturday, however you choose to spend it.

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Playground in My Mind

Wednesday morning, and the week is now on its downward slope into the weekend. Paul is going to visit his mother on Monday for a week; I am going on vacation myself starting a week from today through the following Monday–basically a long weekend around the 4th of July. With Paul absent, I am hoping to get a lot–as always–done.

We’ll see how that goes. My track record isn’t the best, after all. But in fairness to myself, I do–frequently–overestimate what I can get done when I am home by myself. But last night I managed another three thousand (terrible) words on the WIP–even though I’ve recognized that this is a story draft, I still wince at how awkward the scenes are and so forth, but the plot is moving forward and I think once I have it all down on paper and it holds together, I can actually make this into something truly terrific. Of course I’m absolutely terrified I am going to put a foot down wrong or something along those lines; it’s a very tight rope one walks when writing about race and homophobia in the South, particularly when one is white–it’s very easy to go wrong, and when one had always benefited from the systemic racism of our society and culture, when one has to retrain and unlearn so much…I’m always worried something will slip through, unnoticed and unrecognized…but I’m also not certain that my work gets enough attention from the world at large to merit a call-out Twitter-storm of fury, either.

There was an interesting discussion on Facebook the other day about sensitivity readers, and whether they are necessary; and what, if any, compensation is due them for reading the work in question. Should it be a professional courtesy, done as a favor and for the greater good, or is not compensating the sensitivity reader for their time and expertise another form of exploitation and devaluing not only their personhood but their experience? I’m hesitant to ask anyone to read my work as a sensitivity reader because I do believe people should be paid for expertise; the biggest mistake made on this issue was branding them as sensitivity readers–the term should be sensitivity editors. Editors, you see, get paid to read manuscripts and find problems, mistakes, errors, things to be corrected; the sense is that readers do it for free, because who gets paid to read? Readers are fans, editors are professionals; the terminology here has been wrong from the get-go (words matter, people!) and this is why the question has arisen in the first place. I can’t afford to pay someone to be a sensitivity editor for me; and I am not the kind of person who likes asking others for favors (the only thing worse than asking for a favor is asking for money), and I certainly would never ask someone to read an entire manuscript for free to give me advice and input. (I have, however, done this before; but I didn’t ask, I merely accepted when other authors have offered to read something for me–and yes, full disclosure, I probably hinted a lot until they offered. Yes, I am a capital H Hypocrite. I will come right out and ask someone to read a short story to get their input; I do this for others as well, so it’s kind of a circle-of-life kind of thing.)  I personally am not terribly comfortable being a sensitivity editor for other writers, to be completely honest; I cannot speak for the entire LGBTQ+ community and say with authority “no one will find this offensive” because my own level of offense is pretty low, and remember, I have been accused of writing gay stereotypes more than once.

So, how could I possibly be a sensitivity editor?

I am also reluctant to ask people for blurbs because I am aware that I am asking for an enormous favor; reading a manuscript takes time–time that could be spent doing something more beneficial to the person being asked–and usually, it’s an electronic file and I, for one, hate reading electronic files….I’m not big on reading print outs, either, to be honest. I don’t want to spend any more time staring at a screen–be it a monitor, a reading device, or a phone–than I already do, which is quite a lot.

Heavy heaving sigh.

This entry sure wound up all over the place, didn’t it?

It’s very strange, because as a gay man, I often get included in discussions about institutional diversity; I served on the board of Mystery Writers of America for four years (which I did specifically to try to make the organization more open to diversity–it was more open than I thought it was when I joined, frankly, and I’m not certain I had much of an impact there but it certainly was an enormous boon to me, personally and professionally); I currently serve on the Bouchercon board (which I joined for that reason and also to assist with the production of the anthologies); and of course, I write the diversity column for the Sisters in Crime quarterly. So, diversity is on my mind a lot; it’s also why I chose to start the Diversity Project this year–alas, I am not reading as much this year as I have in previous years, burn out from being an Edgar judge last year I suspect–but I also cannot escape the fact I am white, with all the privilege that entails; if I were straight I’d have hit the American jackpot, you know: white straight cisgender male. (Which, of course, is infuriating to hear the  you chose to be gay bleatings of homophobes; why would anyone deliberately choose a more difficult path in life, particularly a more difficult path to being a published writer, which is fucking hard enough already as it is?)

I like to think my status as outside-the-status-quo, oh-so-close-but-not-quite-hitting-the-privilege-grand-slam, has made me more empathetic and sympathetic than I would be had I hit the grand slam; but I also believe in the butterfly effect; me being straight would have changed, certainly my life, but would have also dramatically altered the lives of everyone around me, and the ripples would have continued to flow outward from there.

I like my life, thank you very much, and I am most grateful for it.

And today’s three thousand words aren’t going to write themselves, so I’d best get back to it.

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Saturday Night

Well, it’s certainly Saturday morning. I woke up around eight, yet remained a lag-a-bed until around nine-ish, and you know what? Not sorry, not sorry in the least. I clearly needed to rest more–the work week seems to take more out of me these days than it used to, thank you, aging process–and now that I’m awake and swilling coffee, I feel more rested and relaxed than I did for most of the week. I still intend to write a lot this weekend, as well as get some serious cleaning done around here, and perhaps this is the time for me to finish reading Jamie Mason’s superb The Hidden Things, which is really fucking fantastic. She reminds me, in voice, style, and plotting, a lot of the great Patricia Highsmith. As I get deeper into the book and the stylish complexity of the plot becomes deeper and more tangled than I could have ever imagined when I read page one, I despair of the things that keep me from having more time to read so I can finish this exquisite gem of a novel. I am perhaps just over half-finished–which should give you an indication of how tired I’ve been lately; it’s taking me a really long time to finish this book–certainly longer than it should, given it’s consistent high quality.

The Anthony nomination this week (I still can’t believe it, to be honest) effectively derailed my entire week–but only because I allowed myself to bask in the glow of the enormous pat in the back from my colleagues, as well as the flood of congratulatory messages, posts, comments, and tweets. But now we’re in the afterglow stage of having to come back to earth and reality and get my life back together and on track yet again, particularly when it comes to writing. I really couldn’t afford to lose the days of writing I lost this week through my self-indulgence, and yet I did lose them. Chapter Eleven of the WIP has been a bitch to write; I started this past week and got about halfway through, and now have to go back to finish it and see if I can get on some kind of roll with writing it. I am going to try something; I am going to try finishing that chapter today and then move on to some short stories that have been languishing in my files for a while. Last night–or more properly, sometime yesterday–I finally figured out how to fix my story “And The Walls Came Down”; it’s a shift in the plot which will require some extreme changing. I also want to revise “This Thing of Darkness” one more time, and I’d like to get some done on my lengthy short story that is turning into a novella, “Never Kiss a Stranger.”

We watched Widows last night, which was good, but could have been better. The acting was topnotch, as were the relationships between the women–but the plot was so complicated and twisted I wasn’t sure I was actually following it and knew what was going on for most of the movie; that could also be entirely my fault. But Viola Davis is one of the finest actresses of our time, and I would watch her in anything, to be honest; her performances are always complex, nuanced, and brilliant.

We also need to catch up on Fosse/Verdonwhich I can’t recommend highly enough, and we have yet to start season two of Killing Eve, which I am also excited about watching; although I am very worried about sophomore slump; season one was so brilliant and fantastic that I have concerns that the second season won’t pass muster.

Today I have to go by the Cat Practice to get another bag of Scooter’s expensive food (no, his Majesty is NOT spoiled, thank you very much), and then have to swing uptown to get the mail and make some groceries (not many, thank you Baby Jesus) before returning home, where I plan to spend the rest of the afternoon writing and cleaning (and probably doing some preparatory cooking for next week, as well). I may get the car washed as well; it’s looking pretty dirty, and the Uptown Car Wash does a lovely job; or perhaps I can put it off until next week, what with the three day weekend and all.

Yes, there’s a three day weekend lurking on the horizon, which is exciting. Huzzah! I am obviously thinking I’ll be able to either get a lot done over its course, or get a lot of rest, or some combination of the two, which would also be incredibly lovely.

I also have to start pulling together an article for Sisters in Crime for my diversity column. I have some ideas for it,  and I know who I want to speak to for it, but at the same time I’ve not been able to come up with an over-all hook for it. Maybe some brainstorming over the course of this particular weekend will do the trick for me.

And on that note, Constant Reader, it’s back to the spice mines. Have a lovely Saturday!

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Sweet Thing

Wednesday, and the downward slide into the weekend begins.

I somehow managed to pull out another 700 words on the WIP and have now progressed to Chapter 6, so I call that winning. It’s also payday, so at some point I need to continue paying the goddamned bills. Huzzah.

As you can see, paying the bills is not one of my favorite things.

Yesterday was an interesting day. It was a long day at work, and as is my wont, periodically I check social media between clients, to see what’s going on in the world and so forth. Twitter usually is only good for raising my blood pressure–honestly, what a fucking cesspool it usually is–but I stumbled into something that reminded me of what social media could be, and actually can be: The Writer magazine (which I used to read, back in the day; I even subscribed for a few years) had done a joint interview with Lee Child and Paul Doirot. Well and good, but the take the magazine chose to take when tweeting about the piece–and ostensibly what the piece was about–was about how these two male thriller writers were creating women characters that were three dimensional. Again, all well and good–except the tack taken by the tweet, and slightly less so in the piece itself–is that the crime fiction genre primarily traffics in female characters who are little more than either a femme fatale, a damsel in distress, or a combination of the two.

Whoa.

As you can imagine, crime writers were having a field day with this on Twitter. I think the reason I got pulled into this amazing and fun thread was because Jessica Laine, one of my fellow contributors to Murder-a-Go-Go’s, brought up me, and my story “This Town,” as an example of a man getting female characters spot-on correct. This naturally made my day–the rare occasions when one of my short stories gets some love are moments I cherish, as I am incredibly insecure about short story writing–and several other women writers whom I respect also were highly complimentary about the story. Sisters in Crime wrote a wonderful response to the piece, as did Nik Kolokowski in a response essay for Mystery Tribune. And while many of us were having a lot of fun on Twitter making jokes, cracking wise, and finding new ways to use sarcasm, the truth is more serious: the very idea that a major writing publication could be so way off base and uninformed about an entire genre (which has always been heavily populated by women writing about women), shows how much work remains to be done within the genre itself.

If I wrote about even a fraction of the women writing superb crime fiction, I would be here for the rest of the week, month, year, my life. The dismissal of the contributions of stellar women writing powerful books isn’t just a problem in the crime genre, but in fiction, period. (Romance is written primarily by women; thus the entire genre is frequently written off as unworthy.) It’s also indicative of the misogyny that pervades our society and culture; women have been fighting misogyny for millennia. Women writers are often asked about work/life balance, whereas men never are; women often write movingly and powerfully about social injustice and rarely get recognized for it. (Two really good examples of this are Dorothy B. Hughes’ The Expendable Man and Margaret Millar’s Do Evil in Return, both from the early 1960’s and tackling racism and abortion, respectively.) Stories by men about men are seen as “universal” stories, big stories tackling major themes and making commentary on the state of humanity and the world; women’s stories are considered to be insular, small, and in many cases, domestic.

One can almost look at the publishing world as a microcosm of society. Crime fiction is wrestling with the same demons that we are as a culture and a society; the clamor for full equality for women, people of color, and queer people is being pushed back against by those who feel they are being displaced by equal opportunity for all. The loss of an unfair advantage gained simply as a side effect of one’s gender, sexuality and color isn’t really a loss; but for those who are disadvantaged and sometimes disqualified based on any of those things, losing that disadvantage and being judged equally and fairly can make an enormous world of difference.

And now,  back to the spice mines.

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Missing You

Sunday morning, and after a glorious night’s sleep I am wide awake this morning and pretty ready to give the day my best shot. The Lost Apartment needs to be cleaned, as always, and I am wanting to do some writing/editing today as well. I am going to go to the gym later today–it is my experience that going earlier wears me out, despite the endorphin high, with the end result I often don’t get any writing done. I want to work on revising and polishing a story to get it out of my hair–early submission, since the deadline is a long way’s off–and the same with another. I also want to get that Chanse story–the first one–revised and sent off somewhere as well; and in addition to all that revising I want to work on the Italy story.

My work, as it were, is cut out for me today, is it not? I’ll also probably finish watching season 2 of Versailles as well this evening.

Yesterday I got my contacts ordered and did some shopping at Target, which was lovely. I also went car shopping with a friend; he needed a ride and I took him out there. I merely sat there and read short stories from Sue Grafton’s Kinsey and Me; I finished all the Kinsey short stories yesterday, and read some others as well. I was, frankly, worn out by the time I got home but managed to finish the laundry somehow, despite being so tired; I also watched several episodes of Versailles before finally retiring for the evening once the laundry was finished. Paul moves into the hotel this Wednesday; tomorrow morning I am touring the FBI offices in New Orleans with the local Sisters in Crime chapter, and then Tuesday is my usual long day. Then of course the festivals kick into gear, and the rest of the week/weekend is utter and complete madness.

There’s also some filing needing to be done, as always. I’ve also renamed both the Italy story and the Chanse story–the Chanse title, “Glory Days”, only worked if it were his high school reunion, which I dropped from the story–and I think the new title of the Italy story is better.

Here are two of the short stories I read yesterday”

First up is “Trapped! A Mystery in One Act” by Ben H. Winters, from Manhattan Mayhem, edited by Mary Higgins Clark.

Setting

Studio L, an unremarkable rehearsal studio in a warren of unremarkable rehearsal studios, collectively known as the Meyers-Pittman Studio Complex, located on the sixteenth floor of a tall nondescript building in Chelsea, a couple blocks south and one long avenue over from Port Authority. The walls are mirrored; the floor is marked with tape; tables and chairs are clustered to represent the location of furniture on the real set.

Downstage right is a props table, laden with all manner of weaponry. The play in rehearsal is the Broadway thriller “Deathtrap” by Ira Levin, and the table displays the full range of weaponry called for in that show, viz., “a collection of guns, handcuffs, maces, broadswords, and battle-axes.”

This is an incredibly interesting twist on the short story; it’s actually a short story written in play form, and it’s also an homage to the classic thrilled play Deathtrap by Ira Levin. The play was an enormous hit on Broadway, and featured the wonderful Marian Seldes in a supporting role; she set a record for most consecutive performances by one actor in this play. Ira Levin is also one of my favorite writers. Deathtrap was made into a film; not as successfully as the play, alas; the film starred Michael Caine, a young post-Superman Christopher Reeve, and Dyan Cannon. What makes this story/play so clever is it’s a play on Deathtrap; which is a play about a play which basically tells the same story of the play–and this is a play about a murder during a production of a play about a play; complete with the requisite twists and so forth. Winters is an Edgar-winning author (for The Last Policeman), and one of my favorite novels of the last few years, Underground Airlines. if you’re not familiar with Winters, you should make yourself so. I loved this; clever clever clever.

It also reminded me of a crime short story I wanted to write about the production of a play. *makes note*

Next up is  “Fat” by Raymond Carver, from the collection Will You Please Be Quiet Please?

I am sitting over coffee and cigarets at my friend Rita’s and I am telling her about it.

Here is what I tell her.

It is late of a slow Wednesday when Herb seats the fat man at my station.

This fat man is the fattest person I have ever seen, though he is neat-appearing and well dressed enough. Everything about him is big. But it is the fingers I remember best. When I stop at the table near his to see the old couple, I first notice the fingers. They look three times the size of a normal person’s fingers–long, thick, creamy fingers.

When I talked about Barry Hannah several weeks ago, I mentioned that the other writer my professor in my second attempt at taking Creative Writing wanted us to read, whose glory we should bask in, was Raymond Carver. The only texts for the course were Airships by Barry Hannah and Will You Please Be Quiet Please? by Carver. We read two stories before starting on our short stories; I was unimpressed with both writers. Several years ago I decided to repurchase the collections and try them again (I’ll talk about Hannah another time) thinking that perhaps now, as a more mature adult and reader, I might appreciate them more. It wasn’t the case with Hannah, and it certainly isn’t the case with Carver, either.

I am not sure what the point of this story is; waitress waits on a large gentleman, everyone else on staff is mean and cruel about him whereas she is fascinated in him in some way; it’s rather oblique in its meaning, and in its ending; when she says she feels like her life has changed in some way, why? Why did this man have such an effect on her? It isn’t clear and maybe that’s the intent; is it the recognition of the casual cruelty of her co-workers and her boyfriend? Why is she so fascinated by this customer and how much he eats?

It’s a very small story, and rather intimate; I like the way Carver does his writing and tells his story, yet I fail to see the genius here in the actual story itself. I learn nothing about the waitress, not do we learn anything, really, about her customer other than he is polite, well put together, and enormous. Is it about the waitress seeing, and disliking, the casual cruelty of her co-workers and her lover, seeing them in a different way in their inability to see her customer as anything other than enormously fat, that his size somehow strips him of his humanity? Is that what Carver’s intent is, to be so vague and uninvolved with the story that it’s left to our interpretation? I honestly don’t know, and what’s more, I don’t care. I don’t care about this waitress. I don’t care about her friends. The authorial distance just doesn’t work for me. I’ll keep reading his stories, though–I read “Neighbors” for the class, and I remember it fondly–although it didn’t drive me to read more of Carver’s work.

I suppose this is why I am not a literary writer, and could never be one; my purpose is writing a story is to not only to tell the story but to make the reader understand the characters, get to know them, and hopefully empathize with them; to make, in the case of anything I write, to make the inexplicable explicable. I don’t get that from either Carver or Hannah, to be honest. Ah, well.

And now, back to spice-mining.

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