Stuck In the Middle With You

Hello Thursday! It’s been a bit of a week, quite frankly, with me all over the map and trying to get sorted out somehow. Not sleeping well most nights this week did have something to do with my zombie-like staring at the computer screen, watching my email inboxes continue to load up to the point where I felt paralyzed and unable to make any sort of progress on them, and as the hours passed and slipped into days going past, getting absolutely nowhere with anything and getting myself completely worked up and frustrated through the inability to get anywhere this week. I was so tired every night when I got home from work this week that I couldn’t even focus on reading anything.

And yet last night’s sleep was deep and restful and recharging and lovely. This morning I feel rested, my brain doesn’t feel fevered and despair has been shown the door, which is kind of lovely, actually. It’s unfortunate that it’s now Thursday, of course, and most of the week has passed me by already; but I can still try to focus today and tomorrow and get a lot of things done, maybe even this weekend can turn out to be epically productive.

One can certainly hope, at any rate.

Yesterday was a lovely mail day, in which I got an advance reader copy of Steph Cha’s Your House Will Pay, James Polchin’s Indecent Advances, Killing Eve: Codename Villanelle by Luke Jennings, and Eric Beetner’s Dark Duet, a pair of noir novellas that I am indeed looking forward to reading. I still need to finish reading this book I have to write the introduction to; which I want to get done this weekend, and I also need to start writing two short stories I’ve promised to write. I need to at least get them started, at any rate. I know how I want to do them, and I know what I want them to be, but I really need to start writing them so I can get them written and finished on time. And I need to get back to work on Bury Me in Shadows if I want go be finished with it by the end of the month–which I still believe is possible. I also want to revise this first chapter of Chlorine that I wrote last weekend, just to see how it works and looks and if it indeed looks like it could lead to a story of some sort, or if it’s merely another false start.

We’ll see how it all goes. I am not going to assume that I’ll feel as good as I do right now this weekend, either. The matter of sleep is always the most important component to everything. It’s unfortunate I have to go to work today, as I feel like I could be incredibly productive here at home today, but such is life. And at least it’s Thursday, which is one of my two half-days. Tomorrow I am not going to the office at all. I am testing in the Carevan, which will be parked by the New Orleans Athletic Club on Rampart Street from 11-3 to do testing for the Tales of the Cocktail event. My guess is that tomorrow will be a wash for me; I have to take the streetcar down and walk the rest of the way, and probably will end up walking home as well–in the hideous heat of mid-summer New Orleans–so I’ll be too exhausted and drained when I get home to do much of anything. It is my day to launder the bed linen, though, so maybe I can find the energy to do that and some straightening up around the house in the meantime.

We shall see. But it does feel absolutely lovely to be completely rested this morning. And I do get off relatively early today–I need to stop at the grocery on the way home–and should be able to get started on cleaning and straightening, as well as doing some writing, once I get home.

So, on that note, I shall bid you adieu for the day. Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader.

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Take It to the Limit

At the beginning of this year, I decided to start something I called The Diversity Project, whose intended purpose was to read more books and short stories by diverse authors. I’ve gone back and forth on this; the sense that announcing such a thing was, in a way, virtue signaling of the most hypocritical kind; why was it necessary to make such an announcement, or to continue, once it was made, even talking about it? Shouldn’t I have been reading diverse authors all along, and making the corrective to my reading habits that shouldn’t have been necessary in the first place isn’t something that is worthy of praise in the first place. We should all be reading diverse authors, and it isn’t something that we should have to make a point of doing. We shouldn’t even have to think about it, frankly; it should be automatic.

I have always read more female than male writers; my reading aesthetic has never been geared to the straight white male experience. But just reading more women than men was also not something I have ever had to make a conscious effort in order to accomplish; I always have read more women than men traditionally. My shelves are crowded with female names: Hilary Mantel and Laura Lippman, Megan Abbott and Alafair Burke and Lori Roy and Alison Gaylin, Donna Andrews and Elaine Viets and Rebecca Chance, Charlotte Armstrong and Mary Stewart and Margaret Millar, Gwen Florio and Catriona McPherson, J. M. Redmann and Cheryl Head and Lori Rader-Day and so, so many others.

But while some of those women might me lesbians, none of them are women of color.

And that’s kind of terrible, isn’t it? Sure, I’ve read Toni Morrison and Octavia Butler and Maya Angelou and Alice Walker, but that’s kind of it for women of color. No Asians, no Latina/Hispanics, and outside of Butler, the rest all would be considered literary authors.

I also realized earlier this year, at the start of the project, that I’d never read Walter Mosley; so the first book in this project with Devil In a Blue Dress, which was truly terrific–I’m looking forward to reading more Mosley.

So, with this corrective in mind, this reboot of my brain and unscrambling and exposure of unconscious bias, I decided to read Steph Cha’s debut novel, Follow Her Home.

follow her home

It was about ten o’clock on a Friday in mid-July, the Los Angeles night warm and dry, the only wind rising from the whoosh and zoom of traffic on Rossmore. I was wearing a slinky black dress, black patent leather platform pumps, silver cascade earrings, and a black lambskin clutch. I was perfumed, manicured, and impeccably coiffed. I was everything a half-employed twentysomething should be on the sober end of a Friday night. I was calling on an open bar at Luke’s new apartment, ready to spend a little time and respectability on a blurry and colorful evening.

Luke’s place was in the Marlowe Apartments in Hancock Park, a complex towering pretty as a castle just north of the Wilshire Country Club. It stood less than two miles south of Hollywood and Ivar, where its namesake found his vocation. But the Marlowe was a luxury apartment more likely to house the rich degenerates of Chandler’s novels than his wisecracking private eye with a heart of noir gold.

Follow Her Home is Steph’s debut novel, and it’s quite excellent. It’s the first of three novels about her character, Juniper Song, a Korean-American daughter of a single parent with a younger sister. Juniper has graduated from college and is making good money as a highly paid and highly sought after tutor; the book begins with her attending a party at a childhood friend’s apartment, and being asked to ‘see if she can find out whether her friend’s father (a partner in a major law firm where the friend also works) is having an affair with a young Asian-American woman at the party who also works at the firm. Juniper is a huge fan of Chandler, as you can see in the excerpt above, and Juniper also uses her knowledge of Chandler’s novels and how Marlowe conducts his investigations to kind of LARP as a detective. But once she follows the young woman home from the party, Song finds herself involved in something even more dangerous and insidious than she could have imagined in her wildest dreams.

Cha writes in the same hard-boiled style as Chandler, emulating it while giving it a fresh face and voice in Juniper Song and reinvigorating it with a modern flair. The book–the first in a series and therefore required to give a lot of backstory on the character–is done with an interesting structure; bouncing between the modern day and Song’s current investigation to the past, when she first put on her sleuthing shoes and investigated her younger sister’s private life. Saying anything more would be spoiler-ish (always an issue when you’re writing about a crime novel), but this structure makes Song even more relatable, likable, and adds layers and textures to her character that simply focusing on the present day wouldn’t do. It’s masterful, and it would also be incredibly easy for the parallel stories to not be of equal force and value.

I greatly enjoyed reading this, and am looking forward to not only reading the next two books in the series but the stand alone being released this October–Your House Will Pay–also sounds pretty fantastic.

More More More

Monday morning, and I overslept a bit this morning. Not a good start to the week, but the week is also only a four day week, as Good Friday is a city holiday (one has to love Catholic New Orleans, doesn’t one?) and so it’s a short week for me. Perhaps not off to the best start, but it’s off to a start at any rate.

In other exciting news, some of my computer issues have been solved, My friend Stuart, whose company is exclusively Mac and therefore is a sort of non-Apple-employed genius genius, is in town and we spoke on the phone yesterday (we are having dinner tonight) and he explained to me what some of the issues I have been having might have been…and he was correct. I worked on correcting those issues yesterday, to a point, and now my desktop computer is operating a little more normally than it was–it’s certainly faster, and the program crashing issue, at least for the last twenty-four hours, has apparently corrected itself–or my actions have corrected it. We shall see how long this lasts, shan’t we?

I also managed to get back to work on the WIP yesterday. I only managed about 400 words, but it was work and it was progress and I am definitely counting that as moving forward. I also did some brainstorming on the potential new series I am considering writing, which was lovely. The more I think about this new series the more I like it. Hopefully, it will work out and turn into something truly terrific; one can hope, at any rate. We shall certainly see. The goal for this week is to get several chapters on the WIP done, and to get some more work done on the two proposals I am writing. I am excited about both, even though they are both new things that I hadn’t even thought about it two months ago–which is pushing other projects I want to write further back into the ethereal future–but there you have it. That is this writer’s life, and someday–someday–I hope to have written everything I want to write.

I also managed to get some serious cleaning done yesterday. I had a great night’s sleep Saturday night, and therefore yesterday had more energy than I was expecting to have/thought I would have/have had on a Sunday in quite some time. So the kitchen and the living room look really lovely; I am hoping to use the extra day this coming weekend to do some other, more serious cleaning (oy, my ceiling fans are filthy, and I don’t even want to discuss my kitchen windows). So, in other words, Sunday was a much more productive day than I’d thought it would be, and it turned out quite nicely–particularly after I didn’t get anything really accomplished on Saturday, other than finishing Steph Cha’s wonderful book, which I greatly enjoyed (more to come on that later). So…despite my late start to the day–which I am not letting discombobulate me at all, instead of stressing about being late I am going to just get the things done I need to get done before I leave the house this morning and let the day play out as it may.

The premiere of the penultimate season of Game of Thrones  last night was a bit slow, but it was also a set-up episode, setting the stage for the big finish of all the stories that are currently spinning out and coming to their inevitable end. We did get the big reveal about Jon Snow’s true parentage last night, which was incredibly cool, plus the scene of Jon and Dany riding the dragons (BIG hint, as only Targaryens can ride dragons), and I love how Sansa has turned into a Bad Boss Bitch. The evolution of Sansa as a character, from the wide-eyed innocent girl who dreamed of marrying and being a queen to the calculating, suspicious, trust-no-one Lady of Winterfell has been extraordinary, and bravo to Game of Thrones for this. Bravo.

We also watched the season finale of Schitt’s Creek over the weekend and it, too, was enormously satisfying. Watching Stevie on stage coming into her own as Sally in Cabaret singing “Maybe This Time” was one of those in-your-feels moments that the show does so remarkably well. Schitt’s Creek may be one of the best sitcoms in the history of television; it has rarely missed a beat, has always been funny, and no matter how crazy or insane situation develops in each episode, every character remains true to themselves even as they develop, change and grow. I told a friend the other day that the run of Schitt’s Creek has had some of the best character development and growth I’ve ever seen in a television comedy series, and it’s incredibly true. The fact that there is only one more season breaks my heart more than just a little bit–and while I may have been late to watching this show–well, this is indeed another case of better late than never.

I also hope to start reading the ARC of Alison Gaylin’s new novel, Never Look Back, this week, and am most excited about it.

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

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Bohemian Rhapsody

Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? Caught in a landslide no escape from reality.

I do love the song. I wasn’t an enormous fan of the movie–primarily because I wasn’t that interested in the trajectory of the bad so much as I was more interested in Freddie and his life–but it was a perfectly good movie about a rock band.

I did finish reading Steph Cha’s Follow Her Home yesterday and I highly recommend it. The writing is exceptionally done well, and her character, Juniper Song, is terrific. I have some other thoughts about the book in my head, but am going to wait until they fully form before I write about it more. But…while I am sure I would have eventually gotten around to reading Steph–I’ve met her and like her–I am glad that I made a point of moving her up in the TBR pile. As I said when I was talking about the Diversity Project the other day, it’s the unconscious bias against minority writers I am fighting against within my own head and within my own choices, and trying to retrain/rewire my brain to not automatically move toward white writers when selecting the next book to read–even if they are women, who are also historically undermined as ‘not as serious as the men’ by not just the industry but by society itself. (I am really itching to start reading Alison Gaylin’s Never Look Back.)

As I’ve mentioned, my reading has always skewed more toward women than men; as a child, I preferred Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden to the Hardy  Boys (although the Three Investigators are my absolute favorite kids’ series, and they were boys), to the point where I was forbidden to read books either by women or about women for a period of time–which quite naturally made me want to read them even more.

The absolute best way to get me to do something is to either forbid me from doing it, or telling me that I can’t do it. Forbidding me makes me want it all the more, and telling me I can’t do something makes me want to prove you wrong.

I am ridiculously excited that Game of Thrones returns tonight for its final season. I am going to be terribly sorry when the show is over; I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the ride from the time Paul and I got the DVD’s from Netflix and starting binge-watching; loved it so much we paid for the HBO app subscription so we could watch it as it aired, once we were caught up. I do want to finish reading the books–I’ve only finished A Game of Thrones–and maybe if I get a long vacation on a beach somewhere, I can finish the entire series that has been published thus far. I really loved the book, and suspect I’ll feel the same way about the rest of the series. Yesterday I spent some time reacquainting myself with some of my favorite moments from the series over the years, thanks to said HBO app–the Battle of the Loot Train, the end of Ramsey Bolton, the trial of Littlefinger, the big reveal about Jon Snow’s parents, the Battle of Meereen, Daenarys conquering the Dothraki by killing all the Khals, Cersei’s revenge on the Sept–and was again, as always, blown away by the sheer scope and scale of the show, and how fucking fantastic it is from top to bottom. Game of Thrones, whether you love it or hate it, is always going to be considered one of the greatest television series of all time, up there with The Wire, The Sopranos,and The West Wing, and deservedly so. We truly are in a marvelous time for television programming.

Friday I was even more ridiculously excited to see the first trailer for the ninth episode of Star Wars and to learn its title: The Rise of Skywalker. I really cannot wait to see this movie, and I suspect we are going to go see it on opening weekend this December if it kills me. It’s very strange to realize that Star Wars has been a part of my life for over forty years now…and while the second trilogy, episodes one through three, aren’t amongst my favorites (I’ve not rewatched them very much), I still have a big love for all things Star Wars, and frankly, Rogue One just might be my favorite Star Wars film of them all.

So, after a really good night’s sleep and waking up later than I usually do, I am going to clean this kitchen and then I am going to work for a while. I might go to the grocery store; we need a few things, but at the same time I should also be able to get the things we need on the way home from work tomorrow, if they are, in fact, so desperately needed. I think I’m going to do that–wait, I mean–because if I’ve learned anything from the Termite Genocide experience, it’s that I hoard food and really need to use the things I already have on hand rather than go out and buy new things to prepare.

I’m actually looking forward to working today, if you can believe that, Constant Reader. I am determined to get the next chapter of the WIP finished, and then I am going to work on these other two ideas I’ve had, and then I am going to spend a couple of hours with the Gaylin novel.

What a lovely Sunday this will turn out to be.

Have a terrific day, everyone–and in one week, it’s Easter!

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Misty Blue

Happy Saturday everyone! I just got home from doing an event at the Jefferson Parish East Bank Regional library, where I talked with Jean (J. M.) Redmann about characters and writing crime. It was quite fun–the Jean and Greg Traveling Dog and Pony Show always is–and the audience was quite lovely and engaged, which is always lovely. One never knows how those things are going to go, so it’s always lovely when things turn out nice.

I did some brainstorming and note-taking both yesterday and this morning, as a new series (HA! I am not telling you more than that) is starting to form in my mind. When the idea first came to me, I wasn’t sure if it was something I could tackle, or even if it was something I wanted to write…or even if I wanted to write it, if it was something I could write. But yesterday afternoon I decided to start writing some ideas down, and it suddenly started to come together in my head. I knew who my main character was and some of her back story; I began to build her world a little inside my head and in my journal, and I wrote some more about it today before the library event, which was also kind of lovely–I am so glad I started carrying journals around with me again last year! They really do come in handy, and I find just having one with me all the time is most helpful. I’ve done a lot of brainstorming in those journals since January 2018…I may spend some time today going back through them and retrieving stuff and ideas from them.

If you want to be a writer I highly recommend carrying a journal of some sort around with you.

I also read more of Steph Cha’s delightful Follow Her Home yesterday, and when I finish writing this I am going to repair to my easy chair and read some more of it–with my journal and a pen handily nearby. I should do some cleaning–the floors are revolting yet again, and the sink is full of dishes–but on the other hand I am also thinking having a day off is kind of a nice thing. Tomorrow is a free day–and the premiere of the final season of Game of Thrones–and so I have all day tomorrow to clean and write and do things. I need to get back to work on the WIP, and I also want to keep not only making notes for this new series but there’s a stand alone idea I also want to work on. I’ve not yet written any stand-alone novels that weren’t classified as either young adult or “new adult”, this would be something for the “adult” audience, with no adjectives out in front. I am excited about both projects, but also recognize I need to get the first draft of this WIP finished this month so I can move on to revising a final draft of the other WIP. (There’s another WIP out there, as well…languishing in the drawer it’s been in for about five years now; someday.)

And on that note, I am heading over to my chair. Have a lovely Saturday everyone!

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Boogie Fever

Friday morning. Looks like we made it through another week, Constant Reader–and earlier this week it was kind of touch-and-go there for a moment. But we did, and here we are, and life is all the better for it.

I managed to get my tax stuff to my accountant this week and my taxes are filed, huzzah! I actually made less money this past year than I did in 2017, and yet my refund is half of what it was last year–which means my taxes went up.

Clearly, elections matter.

I went to bed early last night, knowing I had to get up extremely early this morning, and I actually feel rested and alive this morning, which is not my norm, you know? But I only have to work a half-day today, which is lovely, and this afternoon I plan to finish reading my Steph Cha novel while I launder the bed linens. I’ve got some other projects to work on as well as the WIP, but I really want to finish Steph’s book. I have definitely decided to read Alison Gaylin’s ARC for Never Look Back when I finish Steph’s, and, to keep the Diversity Project going, I decided that between books by diverse readers to read something by a woman author, with the occasional straight white male thrown in for good measure–I’ve got the new Harlan Coben, for example, and Jeff Abbott’s latest, and then there’s the Michael Koryta backlist to work through.

To be honest, the more I think about the Diversity Project the more uncomfortable it makes me–but that’s a good thing, you know? We have to examine our own biases and prejudices in order to correct them, and you can’t examine something if you aren’t aware that you have them. I may be fifty-seven going on fifty-eight, but there’s still room for personal growth on a lot of issues that I was raised to believe incorrect things about–and as much self-examination and self-education as I have gone through over the last thirty or so years, I still surprise myself when an errant thought pops up from nowhere in my head. It’s a constant process, and I will probably be re-educating myself on my death bed.

The Diversity Project, while good intentioned, is one of those things that when I think more about it, the worse it seems despite the good intentions. I shouldn’t have to make a point of reading marginalized authors, and doing so, and calling attention to the fact that I’m doing it, can read as…I don’t know, maybe virtue signaling? And signaling the fact that I am doing something that I should have already been doing is actually kind of…embarrassing? Sad? Tragic?

But on the other hand, it’s not like I went into this expecting praise for doing it–and I shouldn’t get any, other than for helping spread the word about diverse writers.

WHICH WE ALL SHOULD BE DOING.

*breathes*

And now, back to the spice mines.

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You Sexy Thing

I feel human this morning, which means I can go to work today! Hurray! Thank you, antibiotics and Claritin-D! Huzzah! Hurray!

It’s so lovely to feel normal (or at least what passes for it around here) again. The horrible thing about being sick is you can–or at least I do–often forget what it feels like to be healthy, and then wonder if you’re ever going to feel good again. My throat is still a little bit sore and my lungs still ache a bit from coughing so much, but other than that I am pretty damned good. So I can go to work today, do my half-day tomorrow, and then slide into the weekend. Ordinarily I’d take one more day off just to make sure I don’t relapse or something, but with the weekend so close…I think it’s okay to take the risk and go back to the office.

I just need to make sure I bring my Claritin with me–just in case.

But I also lost two days of productivity, and my mind was too foggy to even be able to focus on the book I am reading, Steph Cha’s wonderful Follow Her Home, which I hope to finish this weekend. I think next I am going to read my ARC of Alison Gaylin’s Never Look Back, and after that, possibly Kellye Garrett’s Hollywood Homicide.

There’s so much good reading in my future!

I am also appearing at the East Jefferson Parish library, talking about creating characters, with J. M. Redmann; the event is free and open to the public, and here’s the schedule:

Fifth Annual JPL               

Mystery Readers / Writers Literary Festival

METAIRIE – Five local authors will make presentations at the Fifth Annual Mystery Readers / Writers Literary Festival at 9:30 a.m., Saturday, April 13, at the East Bank Regional Library, 4747 W. Napoleon Ave., Metairie.

The festival is intended not just for mystery writers but for readers as well. This event is free of charge and open to the public. There is no registration.

9:30 to 10:45 a.m.

Farrah Rochon: “Using Psychology to Create Memorable Characters”

Farrah Rochon gives an interactive deep dive into creating characters using various methods rooted in psychology, including characterization with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and Keirsey-Temperament Sorter, and how to apply them to fiction writing.

USA Today Bestselling author Farrah Rochon hails from a small town just west of New Orleans. She has garnered much acclaim for her Holmes Brothers, New York Sabers, Bayou Dreams and Moments in Maplesville series. The two-time RITA Award finalist has also been nominated for an Romance Times BookReviews Reviewers Choice Award, and in 2015 received the Emma Award for Author of the Year.

11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.

Jean Redmann and Greg Herren:

 The central character in a mystery oftentimes will be a detective who eventually solves the mystery by logical deduction from facts presented to the reader. Through the years, Redmann and Herren have created dozens of characters in their mysteries, and they explain how to create logical, believable, complex characters that readers will love.

J.M. Redmann writes two mystery series, one featuring New Orleans PI Micky Knight, and as R. Jean Reid, the Nell McGraw series, about a Gulf Coast town newspaper editor. Her books have won First Place Awards in the ForeWord mystery category, as well as several Lambda Literary awards.The Intersection of Law and Desire was an Editor’s Choice of the San Francisco Chronicle and a recommended book by Maureen Corrigan of NPR’s Fresh Air. Redmann is an at-large board member for Mystery Writers of America.

Greg Herren is the author of more than 30 novels and has edited more than 20 anthologies. He has won numerous awards, including the Anthony and Lambda Literary Award (twice). His short story collection Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories was released on April 1, and his next novel Royal Street Reveillon will be released this September.

12:30 to 1:45 p.m.

O’Neil De Noux: “The Femme Fatale”

The evolution of this female siren, the femme fatale, in detective literature has a distinct development from the early days of the victim in Poe to the deadly archetype seen in the Chandler and Hammett novels and film noir. O’Neil De Noux explains the femme fatale architype and how it is used today.

O’Neil De Noux is a New Orleans writer with 40 books published, 400 short story sales and a screenplay produced. He writes crime fiction, historical fiction, children’s fiction, mainstream fiction, science-fiction, suspense, fantasy, horror, western, literary, young adult, religious, romance, humor and erotica. His fiction has received several awards, including the Shamus Award for Best Short Story, the Derringer Award for Best Novelette and the2011 Police Book of the Year. Two of his stories have appeared in the Best American Mystery Stories anthology (2013 and 2007). He is a past vice president of the Private Eye Writers of America.

2 to 3:30 p.m.

Writing Seminar with Adrian van Young

Van Young will focus on a number of items: (a) basic methods of characterization in fiction, briefly; (b) building unlikeable, as well as likeable characters (crucial to mystery fiction and crime); and (c) how to establish narrative unreliability, which he says is important in mystery writing, and goes hand-in-hand with the likeable/unlikeable dichotomy. To demonstrate these principles, he will focus on a combination of writing exercises and excerpts from published works.

Adrian Van Young is the author of The Man Who Noticed Everything, a collection of stories, and Shadows in Summerland, a novel. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in publications such as Lumina, The Collagist, Black Warrior Review, Conjunctions, Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading, Slate, VICE, The Believer, and The New Yorker online. He received a Henfield Foundation Prize and has twice been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He teaches creative writing at Tulane, St. Martin’s Episcopal School and The New Orleans Writers Workshop.

For more information regarding this presentation, contact Chris Smith, Manager of Adult Programming for the library, at 504-889-8143 orwcsmith@jefferson.lib.la.us.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines.

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