All Night Long

Friday afternoon–gloomy and rainy and damp and chilly outside; the high for today was a mere sixty degrees. I went to work this morning, put in my half-day, got in the car and ran errands. Alas, all I wore today was a black V-neck T-shirt over jeans because, you know, it’s been like in the high seventies and eighties all week. Sure it’s cold now, I thought as I walked to the car this morning, but it’ll warm up later.

No, it just got colder with intermittent rain.

Heavy heaving sigh.

But I was home around two, am currently laundering the bed linens, and have already cleaned out a storage tub and put everything that was in it into this really cool wicker trunk the lovely couple who lived in our old carriage house apartment gave us when they moved out a few weeks ago (and yes, if you are thinking the enormous trunk has been sitting in our living room until today, you would be correct). I’m about to head upstairs and put away the load of laundry I did last night before bed, and then I’m coming back downstairs to do some more cleaning and organizing. At some point once this cleaning frenzy has worn itself out, I intend to retire to my easy chair with a glass of Chardonnay and Alafair Burke’s divine The Better Sister, possibly taking the occasional break to watch another episode of Netflix’ The Order. Is anyone else watching? I watched the first episode and was really intrigued by it; I wasn’t expecting it to be funny, for one thing, and it seems self-aware of itself to mock some traditional horror tropes–kind of similar to True Blood, but rather than being set in a small town in Louisiana, it’s set in a town dominated by an elite private university. I’m definitely intrigued enough to watch further, just as I am with Now Apocalypse.

And just now I learned there’s a true crime documentary series on Netflix about the disappearance of Madeleine McCann.

A veritable plethora of riches to be explored, verily.

So, when I tire of this haphazard method of wandering around the apartment from place to place, accomplishing a cleaning task which leads into yet another (and not necessarily in the same room; it occurs to me that my cleaning methodology is remarkably similar to my imagination–wandering, easily distracted, bouncing from one idea to another as I kind of go from putting something away in a cupboard or a drawer, frowning at the scattered mess contained, and start organizing it–forgetting about the books stacked on the coffee table that I was re-shelving, but if you come here regularly you’re probably aware of how scattered my mind is), I shall sit down and let the cat come curl up in my lap and have a nice relaxing evening. Paul is an absentee husband during the weeks leading up to the festivals; I am usually asleep by the time he gets home and I really only see him on the mornings I don’t have to go in early.

It’s my annual period of Festival Widowhood.

Usually I am working on something–a manuscript I am writing, or preparing, or in some sort of progress; I don’t think I can remember a Festival widowhood when I didn’t have some writing to do. Last year I was immersed in the short story project, which eventually turned into Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories–available for pre-order now!–and so, I find myself reading, watching television by myself, and my mind wandering a bit even if I am entertained and enjoying whatever I am watching. I am making lots of notes in my journal, so that’s something, but being home early like today and knowing the evening is stretching out in front of me for hours…yeah, I’m kind of all over the place.

And once this last load of bedding is finished, I can make the bed–and then I will undoubtedly get distracted by something that needs straightening upstairs.

It literally never ends.

Later!

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I Pledge My Love

Good morning, Saturday, how are you doing? I’ve been up for over an hour and am just now finishing my second cup of coffee. I slept really well last night, and feel incredibly rested this morning. This is a good thing; I have a few errands to run later this morning (including getting my filthy filthy car washed) and therefore I need a lot of energy. I am also dropping off several bags worth of beads and throws at the Latter Library drop-off for the ARC of Greater New Orleans (attention locals: if you’re looking to get rid of excess beads and throws, here is a list of the drop-off points.). There are also a few odds and ends I need to get at the grocery store, and of course I always need to get the mail.

Yesterday was a bit of an adventure.

So, Thursday afternoon my MacBook Air started…well, acting a little funky. It was working just fine, no worries on that score, but on the left part of the screen, a series of vertical black lines suddenly appeared. I could still see what was behind them, but there was some flickering and the wall paper just turned into flickering blotches of color. Uh oh, I said to myself, that can’t be good. I spoke to Apple Support on-line, and we determined that yes, it wasn’t software but a hardware issue, which is what I suspected all along. We made an appointment for me to take it to the Genius Bar at the Apple Store in Metairie, the earliest available appointment being for 3:15. Terrific, I thought. I get off work at one, can drive out to Metairie and go shopping at Target–which I need to do anyway–and then head to the mall.

So, I did precisely that; I got off work at one, headed over to 610, and took it to where it merges with I-10 just over the parish line and drove out to Clearview Parkway. I spent far too much money at Target (it’s just like Costco in that way; even with a list I buy more than I intended to–oh, look, I need toothpaste but this deal for two is a dollar cheaper than buying two separately at separate times; oh, coffee is on sale? This is too good a deal to pass up…and so it goes) and loaded everything in the hatch of the car (where there were already all the bags of beads and throws to be donated) and headed to Lakeview Mall. I checked in–an hour early–at the Apple Store, then went to eat at the Smashburger in the food court (good, but a little too expensive; I should have stopped at Atomic Burger, which is also expensive but worth it). I returned to the Apple Store and started checking out the MacBook Airs, just in case the old one wasn’t reparable. I really can’t afford to buy a new one at this time, but was prepared to because I can’t do without a laptop.

And long story short, no they couldn’t repair it because it was too old. I bought the Air in 2011–eight years old, and eight years of it working brilliantly whenever I needed it to.

So, I decided to go ahead and get the least expensive one, which was actually very similar to mine. Except…

..they had none in stock, it had to be ordered, and the earliest I could get it would be April 1st.

Um, no. They did have the more expensive models in stock, of course.

But there was no way I was taking that financial hit and then having to wait four weeks to actually get the damned thing, all the while hoping that the current one would continue to work.

But this happened before, I remembered, with my current iPad–the store told me it would take five weeks to get it on back order, then I came home, went on-line, ordered it from Apple.com and had it within a week. So, I decided to come home and do the same thing–order it on-line and see what happened.

But as I was leaving the mall and turning around to head back to New Orleans, I saw there was a Best Buy on my right. What the hell, I thought, and pulled into their parking lot. Long story short, I bought a HP Stream for $251 total and it didn’t cost me any cash out of pocket; the cashier signed me up for Best Buy credit and if I pay it off in six months there’s no interest…which means even if it is a cheap piece of shit and breaks down or turns out to be useless, it should give me at least another year of use while I save up to buy a proper Apple laptop. And I may not even go with the Air next time and might get a MacBook Pro.

This HP Stream also looks just like my old iBook, which I loved and used for six years or so before its motherboard went out. It’ll take some getting used to, of course, but this all kind of worked out really well for me and I am most pleased.

And when I got home, there were no places to park on my street–remember, hatch was full of bags from shopping at Target–but as I drove down the street, resigned to having to lug everything two blocks in the heavy humidity we get before a rain, someone pulled out of a spot right in front of my house.

Seriously.

So, today I am going to run my errands and come back home to clean. I also plan on doing one last copy edit of Scotty before I send it in to my editor, and also get back to work on the WIP. I also need to read some more of Alafair Burke’s The Better Sister, in preparation for our panel later this month at the Tennessee Williams Festival.

And I hope you have a lovely, lovely day, Constant Reader.

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Deja Vu

Ash Wednesday!

Carnival is over for yet another year, and today it’s back to work and farewell to the flesh and all of that. We separated and sorted the beads last night, clearing off the coffee table, and now have several bags I’m going to drop off at the library donation spot this Saturday. Today is about heading back into reality; vacation is over along with Carnival, and today is about getting back on that horse. Heavy sigh. Obviously, my preference would be to stay home.

Yesterday was a day off for me; no social media, no emails, nothing. I spent the morning, after writing yesterday’s blog, reading Lori Roy’s superb Gone Too Long, which I am still digesting. There’s a review to come–the book isn’t released until June or July–but I want to spend some more time digesting the book and thinking about it before I write anything about it. It’s fantastic, as all Lori’s books are, but this one–and I hesitate to say this about books as a general rule–is important in some ways. I do think it’s probably going to be one of the year’s best; again, that usually is the case with any Lori Roy novel.

I also started reading Alafair Burke’s The Better Sister, which is off to a rousing good start. This is part of my homework for the panel I am moderating for the Tennessee Williams Festival this year, and what a curse to have to read some fantastic books this month, you know?

I also scribbled notes in my journal for the WIP and a future Scotty, along with some notes on short stories and so forth. This most recent rejection of a short story has made me realize the stories have to dig deeper, and that’s what I am going to do with the next versions of the stories–I need to figure out who the characters are in my stories and build the stories outward from there. Usually, when I write a story, it begins as a fragment of some sort–an overheard conversation, a sentence defining who a character is–and then I build from there.  I think what I need to do going forward is branch out and write the story from its original kernel, and then break it down into its separate parts.

It’s always a learning process, isn’t it?

I also read another story from Norah Lofts’ Hauntings: Is There Anybody There? 

The story is called “Pesticide”:

“And what about Jennie?” It was an old problem and the question made a kind of chorus through my life. My sister Angela was ten when I was born; my brother Bill, twelve, Margery almost fifteen. My mother had actually resumed work and I can imagine that my arrival caused her considerable inconvenience. Inconvenient–though far from unloved–I had remained; too young to share pastimes, interests, holidays; “a drag” as Angela had once said when Mother urged her to take me on a picnic.

Now, in June, as I was recovering–rather slowly–from having my tonsils removed, both my parents, archaeologists, were invited to join a “dig” in Turkey; Angela was perfecting her Italian in Perugia; Bill was doing a stint of good work with the Labrador Mission and Margery’s exact whereabouts were unknown. The last communication was from Libya, where she had a job as secretary-interpreter to a Dutchman who had a firm in Tripoli. It was a postcard of some splendid Roman ruin and it said, tersely, “Shall not be here long. will write.” No letter had arrived; nobody worried. As a family we were happy-go-lucky as well as cosmopolitan. But even my parents jibbed at the idea of leaving me alone in the house.

Several ideas were discussed and discarded for this reason or that; and then Mother had an inspiration. “I wonder if Effie could have her.”

Effie, it turns out, was the live-in housekeeper/nanny/cook/babysitter who left the family before Jennie was born; she married and moved away. So Jennie now is sent to stay with Effie and her new husband–who is a monster of the worst sort, making Effie completely miserable and Jennie–a rather precocious ten year old–decides to take matters into her own hands.

Not really a ghost story, but it’s definitely Gothic and very chilling.

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Should’ve Never Let You Go

And my first morning of vacation looms bright, with a stunningly blue sky and the sun blinding me through my windows. The clouds will roll in later this afternoon, per the weather forecast, and the thunderstorms aren’t supposed to arrive until around eleven; well after the second parade has passed. Tonight’s parades are Druids and (Stevie) Nyx; so only two, to prep us for the madness of Thursday, which includes Muses.

So much to get done today, should I choose to do any of it; I need to get caught back up on Scotty revising, and there’s always cleaning to do around the Lost Apartment. I also have to make groceries and collect the mail, and I’d like to go to the gym at some point this afternoon as well to begin my reconnection with taking better care of my body. There’s also reading to do; I need to read the next story in the Murder-a-Go-Go’s anthology, and I need to finish the ghost story I’m reading in Norah Lofts’ Hauntings, and of course, the delicious pleasure that is Lori Roy’s Gone Too Long also awaits on the end table next to my reclining chair. I need to set aside some time to finish that because I need to read my homework for the panel I’m moderating at the Tennessee Williams Festival–Alafair Burke’s The Better Sister, Samantha Downing’s My Lovely Wife, and Kristien Hemmerechts’ The Woman Who Fed the Dogs. I am also falling very far behind on the Diversity Project, which is enormously disappointing to me.

I’m sort of in a malaise in which I keep putting things off because I don’t want to do them, which isn’t really like me–or at least, the me I’ve been for the last half of my life. The first half of my life was when I just avoided things I didn’t want to deal with, which never ended well. I’m not entirely sure what’s causing it, and the Great Data Disaster of 2018 was so long ago now (three months, almost four!) that I can’t keep blaming things on it; but I can really trace this back to losing that weekend’s worth of work and getting derailed…because I was also on a roll at that point, and I’ve never quite gotten that momentum back.

Something innocuous I posted on social media blew up in a way I certainly never intended, and no, I don’t mean the post that someone needs to do a noir reboot of The Partridge Family, which I still think is a brilliant idea–after all, we never really know what happened to Shirley’s husband, who is rarely, if ever mentioned; and let’s face it, none of those kids looked even remotely related to each other. I envision Shirley as a not only a black widow going through numerous husbands and baby-daddies, but also being a horrific stage mother, forcing her children into musical careers, while having an affair with their sleazy manager, Reuben.

No, I idly posted that someone needs to do one of those music-inspired crime anthologies based on the music of Pat Benatar…and then came up with the title, Crimes of Passion: Crimes Stories Inspired by the Music of Pat Benatar.

Well, it kind of took off, with people replying to my tweet that they’d write to it, or responding on Facebook that they wanted to, even going so far as to pick the songs they wanted. At first–I was at work–I wanted to say, yo, everyone, it was just a thought, I’m not actually doing this but as the day went on I began to think, more and more, that hey, maybe you should think about doing this. More than enough people have offered to write for it, so many so that if anyone drops out there would still be more than enough stories to fill out a volume and for it to be really good.

So…I’m considering it, and considering publishers to approach. So maybe, just maybe, that will be my next anthology.

MAYBE.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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O Holy Night

The last day of 2018. I can hear the garbage trucks outside getting the trash, which means I’ve actually woken up at a relatively decent hour. Today is our annual lunch at Commander’s Palace with Jean and Gillian, which means very inexpensive martinis and all that entails. I also registered for Dallas Bouchercon yesterday and booked my hotel room. So much getting things done! I also worked on my technology issues yesterday–yes, they continue, Mojave is the stupidest thing Apple has ever done as an operating system–and have also been trying to update my phone, which doesn’t seem to be working. I really don’t want to have to get a new phone, but it seems as though this is what Apple is pushing me to do, which is infuriating.

But the desktop seems to be working the way it’s supposed to. Hmmm.

I read a lot of books last year, but I also judged for an award so I really can’t talk much  about any books that were actually released in 2018; which is unfortunate. I really enjoyed The Gates of Evangeline by Hester Young (for a book not published in 2018). I also read a lot of short stories. The Short Story Project was originally inspired, and intended, for me to read a lot of short stories and work as kind of a master class for me as far as writing short stories are concerned. As a project, I originally began it in 2017, but didn’t get very far with it. As a result, I decided to give it another try in 2018 and was much more successful with the project. Not only was I reading short stories, I wrote a lot of them. Some of those stories were actually sold; “This Town” to Murder-a-Go-Go’s, “The Silky Veils of Ardor” to The Beating of Black Wings, “Neighborhood Alert” to Mystery Tribune, “Cold Beer No Flies” to Florida Happens, and “A Whisper from the Graveyard” to another anthology whose name is escaping me at the moment. I also pulled together a collection of previously published and new stories, which will be released in April of 2019 but will be available for Saints and Sinners/Tennessee Williams Festival, Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories. I also wrote another Scotty (I really need to finish revising it), which will also be out in the new year I think but I don’t have a release date yet. That was pretty productive, and I also managed eight chapters of a young adult novel, the current WIP.

Not bad, coming from someone who wrote practically nothing in 2017. So, on that score, I am taking 2018 as a writing win.

I also edited the Bouchercon anthology for the second time, Florida Happens, and read a shit ton of short stories for that as well. I was very pleased with how that book turned out, in all honesty, and it looks absolutely gorgeous.

I also published my first ever Kindle Single, “Quiet Desperation,” and also finally got the ebook for Bourbon Street Blues up for Kindle. At some point I do hope to have a print edition for sale as well, but I am happy to have the ebook available. I also have to finish proofing Jackson Square Jazz so I can get that ebook up as well.

So, writing and publishing wise, 2018 was a good comeback of sorts; I managed to get back into the swing of writing again, and started producing publishable work, which was absolutely lovely. I started to say I got my confidence back, but that wouldn’t be true; I’ve never had much self-confidence when it comes to  my writing. I also started writing in journals again in 2017, which was enormously helpful in 2018. (I actually went through my most recent one last night–the one I am currently using–and found a lot of stuff that I thought I’d lost in the Great Data Disaster of 2018; things I shall simply need to retype and of course will back-up immediately.

Yesterday, while electronic equipment repaired itself and made itself usable again–we’ll see how usable it is as the days go by–I watched two movies–The Omega Man and Cabaret on Prime, as well as the documentary Gods of Football (I highly recommend this one for eye candy potential; it’s about the shooting of a calendar in Australia to raise money for breast cancer charities, starring professional rugby players in the nude, and yes, the eye candy is delectable). I watched a lot of good movies and television shows over the course of the year–The Haunting of Hill House and Schitt’s Creek probably the best television shows–so it was a very good year for that. (I have some thoughts on both The Omega Man and Cabaret, but will save those for another post at another time.)

I also got my first New Orleans Public Library card this past year, and began reading New Orleans histories, which were endlessly fascinating, which led me into another project, Monsters of New Orleans, which is another short story collection about what the title says, crime stories based on real cases in New Orleans but fictionalized. And there are an incredible amount of them. I read the introduction to Robert Tallant’s Ready to Hang: Seven Famous Murder Cases in New Orleans, and while I am aware that Tallant’s scholarship is questionable (I figured that out reading Voodoo in New Orleans), his books are always gossipy, which makes them perfect for New Orleans reading. What is real, what is true, and what is not is always something one has to wonder when reading anything about New Orleans history; some of it is legend, which is to be expected, and unprovable; some of it is very real and can be verified. Some of the stories in this collection, which I am going to work on, off and on, around other projects, will inevitably be complete fictions; but others will be based on true stories and/or legends of the city, like the Sultan’s Palace and Madame LaLaurie and Marie Laveau. It’s an exciting project, and the more I read of New Orleans history the more inspiration I get, not only for this project but for other Scotty books as well…which is a good thing, I was leaning towards ending the series with Royal Street Reveillon, but now that I’m finding stories that will work and keep the series fresh…there just may be a few more Scotty novels left in me yet.

My goal of losing weight and getting into better physical condition lasted for only a few months, and didn’t survive Carnival season–it was too hard to get to the gym during the parades, and between all the walking, passing out condoms, and standing at the corner, I was simply too exhausted to make it to the gym, and thus never made it back to the gym. I began 2018 weighing 228 pounds, the heaviest I’ve ever been, and have managed, through diet and portion control, to slim down to a consistent plateau of 213. This is actually pretty decent progress; not what I would have wanted to report at the end of 2018, but I am going to take it and put it into the win column, and we’ll see how 2019 turns out.

The day job also had some enormous changes; we moved out of the Frenchmen Street office, after being there since 2000 (I started working there in 2005) and into a new building on Elysian Fields. This also caused some upheaval and change in my life–I’m not fond of change–and it wasn’t perhaps the smoothest transition. But I’m getting used to it, and making the necessary adjustments in my life.

Now we are on the cusp to a new year. Tomorrow, I’ll talk about new goals for the new year. It is, of course, silly; it’s just another day and in the overall scheme of things, a new year really doesn’t mean anything is actually new; but we use this as a measure of marking time, and new beginnings. I’ve always thought that was rather silly; any day is a new day and a new beginning; why be controlled by the tyranny of the calendar and the societally created fiction of the new year?

But it is also convenient. If you set new goals every new year, you then have a way of measuring success and failure as it pertains to those goals. I am not as black-and-white as I used to be with goals–which is why I use goals instead of resolutions, as there is also a societal expectation that resolutions are made in order to not succeed–and a goal is merely that, a goal, and not something that is fixed in stone. The endgame we all are playing with these goals and resolutions is to effect change in our lives and make them, in theory at least, better. So, any progress on a goal is a way of making your life better.

I didn’t get an agent this year; that was on my list of goals yet again. I am not certain what my own endgame with the agent hunt is; I need to come up with a book idea that is commercially viable for an agent to want to represent, and that isn’t easy. Most of my book-writing decisions were made, not with an eye toward the commercial, but with an eye toward I want to see if I can write this story. Was that the smartest path to take as a writer? Perhaps not. I don’t know what’s commercial. The manuscript I was using to try to get an agent never worked as a cohesive story for me, and in this past year I finally realized why; I was trying to make a story into something it wasn’t. If I ever write what I was calling the WIP but is in reality ‘the Kansas book’, I have to write it as I originally intended it, not as what I am trying to make it into. And that’s something that is going to have to go onto the goal list for 2019.

On that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a happy New Year, everyone.

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Obsession

I’ve slept well this entire weekend, which is mostly unusual, but lovely. I generally don’t sleep well during conference/festival weekends; and yet here I am. I’ll be walking down to the Quarter later for my genre panel at Saints and Sinners; then watching some other panels before the closing. It’s always so lovely listening to smart people talk. Yesterday’s highlights, for me, were the Baby Boomer Lesbians panel with Judith Katz, Jewelle Gomez, and Elana Dykewomon; listening to the wisdom of our lesbian elders is absolutely wonderful. This was followed by a great panel on LGBTQ rights, the movement for equality and where we currently stand; it was invigorating, and reminded me that we, as writers, whether we want to or not, do have responsibilities to our community and society. We as queer writers have a particular responsibility; we tend to forget that everything we write, by virtue of who we are as a marginalized people the mainstream tends to try to make invisible, is ultimately political.

I also read from “Quiet Desperation” yesterday; merely a fragment, no more than a few minutes, but the audience reacted perfectly to it, which pleases me to no end. I am very pleased with this story, and can’t wait to make everyone fully aware of it as soon as the revised file is available.

I’m starting to feel excited about writing again; looking forward to the challenges of finishing novels, writing short stories, doing edits, getting shit done, you know? It’s lovely; I can’t tell you how much better I feel and how incredibly awesome this year has been so far already. Self-care is optimal, and I need to remember that; I also need to remember that when it becomes a slog…that talking to other writers about writing is always the tonic that works. Probably in the future I should look into writing events and schedule attendance at one every quarter, so I get my reinvigoration on a regular basis.

All right, I am going to get some things done around here before it’s time to head down to the Quarter.

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You Give Good Love

It’s a gorgeous morning here in New Orleans; glorious because I had a deep and restful sleep overnight; relaxing because I am going to run some errands and do a favor for a friend a little later on. I was exhausted yesterday when I got home; I did some laundry, the dishes and some light cleaning, then settled down into the easy chair to watch this week’s Riverdale, and then ran a few episodes of Versailles on Netflix; as the Affair of the Poisons kicks into higher gear the show is becoming more interesting. We have also been introduced to the Duc d’Orleans’ second wife, Elisabeth Charlotte (Liselotte), the Princess Palatine; whose gossipy letters and diaries about life at Versailles are a treasure trove. Madame Scarron has also shown up as governess to the bastard children of Louis XIV and Madame de Montespan; those familiar with Louis’ story will know precisely who she is, and how important she is going to be.

I also watched Peggy Scott Laborde’s WYES show, Steppin’ Out, last night, because Paul made his debut on it talking about Saints and Sinners, alongside Susan Larson, who talked about the Tennessee Williams Festival. It’s hard to believe the events begin in just a few days; I’ve been so wrapped up in my short story writing that the time has simply flown and I was unaware that they were looming so near until some time this past week.

I also read some short stories last night.

Speaking of short stories, I’m trying to develop a plan and a working schedule for myself over the next few months. I was talking to a friend yesterday over lunch–the same friend I am doing a favor for this afternoon–which was more thinking out loud than anything else. The market for short stories has really dried up so much; there are very few paying markets for short stories out there any more–at least ones that pay decently–so that writing them has to be primarily for the love of the form; and of course, crime stories, being genre, have an even more limited marketability; crime stories about gay men even less so. When I started writing these stories back in January I purposely wasn’t writing about gay characters, themes or tropes for precisely this very reason. But the Chanse stories…well, Chanse is gay, even if the stories I am writing aren’t about gay themed; I will be curious to see how that plays out, as I intend to , once they are finished and polished, submit them to mainstream markets. Two of the other stories also have a gay male main character; so we shall see how that plays out. My story in the Bouchercon anthology is also about a gay character and the sexuality plays a factor in the story. Will it be as well received as “Survivor’s Guilt” was two years ago? We shall see; but that is what makes the writer so crazy, you know; maybe the story simply isn’t as good. There’s no way of ever knowing for sure, which, of course, is the path to madness.

So, anyway, the plan is to wrap up all of these stories by the end of this month, which will require focus and work; April I am devoting to the two novels, before diving back into something else for May. I’d love to start writing this noir novel that’s brewing in my head for years; perhaps with focus and hard work I can get it done in May. This does sound terribly ambitious, and I am very much aware of that. And see–if my under-caffeinated fog this morning I forgot all about the y/a manuscript I need to get revised; that was my original plan for May. Heavy sigh.

I also have read two more of the Lew Archer stories by Ross Macdonald collected in The Archer Files. First up was “The Sinister Habit.”

A man in a conservative dark gray suit entered my doorway sideways, carrying a dark gray Homburg in his hand. His face was long and pale. He has black eyes and eyebrows and black nostrils. Across the summit of his high forehead, long black ribbons of hair were brushed demurely. Only his tie had color: it lay on his narrow chest like a slumbering purple passion.

The sharp black glance darted around my office, then back into the corridor. The hairy nostrils sniffed the air as if he suspected escaping gas.

“Is somebody following you?” I said.

“I have no reason to think so.”

“The Sinister Habit” is the more than slightly sordid tale of the Harlans, brother and sister, who have some money and run a private school in Chicago. It is the brother who engages the services of one Lew Archer. His sister has eloped with a man he feels is going to rob her blind and steal all of their money; the sense is given that the brother–who is fussy and prim– is probably gay but it’s never addressed or talked about; it’s that casual homophobia thing I’ve mentioned before. Their mother ran out on them when they were children with another man as well; the mother lives in Los Angeles. The story becomes twisty and turny after that; the man the sister has run off with is one Leonard Lister, who may or not be a four-flusher, as they used to say. People switch sides, Archer keeps digging, there’s a murder and then a gunfight at the conclusion when the true murderer is finally revealed.

This not the strongest story, not one of Macdonald’s best,  but still a pleasant read; while the characters may not always work and the plot itself gets resolved far too neatly at the end, it is a fun read due to Macdonald’s writing style; there are excellent word choices and incredibly clever phrases.

Next came “The Suicide.”

I picked her up on the Daylight. Or maybe she picked me up. With some of the nicest girls, you never seem to know.

She seemed to be very nice, and very young. She had a flippant nose and wide blue eyes, the kind that most men liked to call innocent. Her hair bubbled like boiling gold around her small blue hat. When she turned from the window to hear my deathless comments on the weather, she wafted spring odors towards me.

She laughed in the right places, a little hectically. But in between, when the conversation lagged, I could see a certain somberness in her eyes, a pinched look around her mouth like the effects of an early frost. When I asked her into the buffet car for a drink, she said: 

“Oh, no. Thank you. I couldn’t possibly.”

The vast majority of the Archer short stories begin with someone walking into his office and engaging his services. “The Suicide” is one of those rare cases when a chance encounter somewhere draws Archer into a complicated investigation; in this case, it’s on a train from San Francisco back to Los Angeles where Archer meets a very beautiful young woman who appears to be in some distress. She doesn’t accept the drink offer because she’s not old enough to drink; but when he offers her food, she is more easily persuaded. She winds up eating two sandwiches and pouring out her tale of woe to Archer; she’s worried about her older sister. She is a student at Berkeley, and her weekly check from her sister hasn’t arrived; she has also called and called to no avail. No one seems to know where her sister is, or what has happened to her. Archer decides to help out this damsel-in-distress, and thus begins a wickedly twisting tale that includes a brutal ass of an ex-husband; Las Vegas mobsters; a fortune in missing money; and a horrific, disfiguring beating of a woman. It’s a clever tale; it works better than “The Sinister Habit,” and all of Macdonald’s writing strengths are here; great brief staccato sentences, whip-like descriptions, the world-weary cynicism. Perfection,

And now, back to the spice mines.

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