Hollywood Nights

I used to be obsessed with Hollywood when I was younger.

That should have been the tip-off to my family, right? My obsession with old films, the Oscars, and superstar actresses of the past? I lived for awards season; read tons of books about Hollywood history and the making of movies and biographies/memoirs of stars; I read People and Us magazines (Us was a biweekly years ago). I wrote about movie stars in Murder in the Rue Ursulines, and my first Phyllis A. Whitney novel that wasn’t a y/a that I read, about a haunted Hollywood legend (Listen for the Whisperer) remains my favorite of hers to this day. I’m not sure when I stopped being interested in celebrities and gossip about them, and the entertainment industry; but while the interest has somewhat waned (I often skip the Oscars now), I do still enjoy reading fiction set in or around the industry.

So, it’s strange that it took me so long–and that it also took the Diversity Project–for me to finally sit down with Kellye Garrett’s terrific debut novel, Hollywood Homicide.

hollywood homicide

He stared at my resume like it was an SAT question. One of the hard ones where you just bubbled in C and kept it moving. After a minute–I counted, since there was nothing else to do–he finally looked up and smiled. “So, Dayna Anderson…”

He got my name right. The interview was off to a pretty good start. “So what in your previous experience would make you a good fit for this position?”

He smiled again, this time readjusting the Joey, Manager, Ask me about our large jugs! name tage that was prominently placed on his uniform. Since I was sitting in the Twin Peaks coffee shop interviewing to be a bikini barista, said uniform happened to be a Speedo. I pegged him for twenty-two, tops. And it wasn’t just because he didn’t have a centimeter of hair anywhere on his body. I made a mental note to get the name of his waxer.

And so opens Kellye Garrett’s terrific debut novel, which I hope is the first of a long series I will be able to continue to enjoy over the years (the second, Hollywood Ending, was published last year before the publisher, Midnight Ink, announced that it was shutting down, thus orphaning many a terrific crime writer: SOMEONE ELSE NEEDS TO PICK UP THIS SERIES).

Dayna, our main character, is a retired actress with no source of income and running out of cash pretty darned quick. To compound her financial problems (spoiler: she doesn’t get the bikini barista job) her parents are underwater on their house payments and she needs to come up some cash to prevent them from being evicted. One night while out on the town with friends they are almost hit by another car…and as they continue driving, find out that someone has been killed by a hit-and-run driver. As the financial woes continue to compound, Dayna decides to solve the crime in order to win the offered reward  and bail her parents out.

Far-fetched? Maybe. But it’s not the worst premise for an investigation for the first book in a series where the main character is not a professional investigator (cop, PI, reporter, lawyer), and it’s actually much more of a clever take than the standard trope of “stumbling over a dead body/I have to solve this crime because everyone thinks I’m the killer,” which most authors use* (holds up hand–GUILTY AS CHARGED).

And the supporting cast is as interesting and fun as Dayna herself; we don’t get a lot of background on any of them, really–Garrett is guilty of playing her cards close to her vest, as it were–which gives her the opportunity to delve into them all more deeply in the future volumes I hope are coming for us all. The plot twists and turns and winds up very very far from the hit-and-run accident the book opens with…and every step of the way I was rooting for Dayna. She’s likable, has a great sense of humor (not only is she funny but she also has a sense of humor about herself, and about Hollywood as well), and then there’s that love interest–a friend from back home who is just now breaking big on television.

SO MUCH FUN.

COnstant Reader, get thee hither to the book merchant with credit or debit card in hand.

*This isn’t a bad thing, by the way–most authors who do use this trope are incredibly creative and smart in how they use it; the point I am making is I greatly appreciated the originality of Kellye’s methodology of getting her amateur sleuth involved.

Deep Purple

It isn’t much, but I managed to get that bitch of a Chapter Four slogged through yesterday. It was almost like pulling teeth–and then when I was near the end, I remembered that the entire purpose of this chapter was to establish something near the beginning that will come up again later in the chapter and of course I forgot to put that thing in.

Heavy heaving sigh. And this, Constant Reader, is why writers drink.

To excess.

Regularly.

I am also still processing last night’s Game of Thrones. In all honesty, I didn’t really notice that the episode was almost too dark to see things; Game of Thrones has always, to me, been shot very dark so it wasn’t big enough of a change to be necessary. I simply thought I wasn’t able to see because there was literally, in some moments, so much to see and so much going on that my eyes and mind were kind of overwhelmed. It wasn’t until after the episode had ended and I went on social media to see what other people thought that I saw that so many people were complaining about how poorly lit the episode was. I’m also not sure how I felt about the episode itself; as I said, I am still processing it. I’m not sure that making the Great War the prelude to the Final War was necessarily the best way to go; surely it should have been done in reverse? I am not sure, but I guess we’ll see how these final three episodes play out.

Also interesting are the turns Veep is making this season–I honestly can’t believe how spot-on they are in satirizing our current situation and our last election.

I also read a lot more of Kellye Garrett’s debut novel, which I am hoping to get finished this week–either today or tomorrow. I am greatly enjoying this book, and I’m glad I finally got around to it. So…the Diversity Project, despite my slight misgivings about it, is actually doing some good for me.

I also feel well enough to go back to work today. Yesterday was still kind of iffy for me, but I decided to set the alarm for this morning and just see how I felt when it went off. I am awake–maybe not as rested as I might prefer, but I am awake and don’t feel like death, so I am also seeing that as a plus as well. My throat is still sore, but I am not sure why, and it isn’t affecting my voice at all, which is also a plus. I’m not really aware of it unless/until I swallow, but it’s still not very pleasant.

C’est la vie.

And on that note, I suppose I should get in the shower so I can head into the spice mines.

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All By Myself

Friday morning sliding into the weekend…and woke up still sick. The throat is still sore and my voice is a Kathleen Turner-like whiskey-soaked rasp; my eyes still ache and so do all my joints, and the fever is still upon me. I just swigged some DayQuil, so am hoping for some relief; this knot of phlegm lodged into the top of my lungs has to loosen and come out at some point, right?

Ye Gods, how I hate being sick. And the older I get, the more susceptible to these things I seem to be.

The weather was horrible yesterday afternoon, but for once, it was lovely to be covered in blankets while the storm raged outside, with a constant downpour of rain and the occasional blast of lightning and thunder. It is, really, the best time to curl up with a good book, and so yesterday I finished reading Alison Gaylin’s next novel, of which I am fortunate enough to have an advance copy. Never Look Back is probably her best book to date, and given she won an Edgar last night, that’s saying something. I then proceeded to start reading Kellye Garrett’s award-winning debut Hollywood Homicide, which I am also greatly enjoying. I really like her main character, and her voice.

And now that the Edgars are over and the program has been printed and distributed, I can now out myself as a judge for Best Paperback Original. That was the book award I was reading for all of last year–and I do mean reading for all of last year. Once again, the Lost Apartment was buried in an avalanche of books, and since electronic editions of books could also be entered, my Kindle is also incredibly full. Led by our distinguished panel chair Alex Segura, my fellow judges (the always delightful and talented Susanna Calkins and Gwen Florio) read and discussed, read some more and discussed some more, and finally narrowed our choices down to our top five and the winner. I do believe our category this past year just might have been the only (if not the only, but one of the few) times in Edgar history where all the finalists in a category were women; that wasn’t our intent, either; it just played out that way, but it was still amazing and cool. Last night’s batch of Edgar winners was also perhaps the most diverse in Edgar history; with Walter Mosley taking home the statue for Best Novel and Robert Feiseler taking home the award for Fact Crime for his Tinderbox, which is about the Upstairs Fire lounge fire in New Orleans back in 1973; the biggest mass murder of gay men until the Pulse shootings in 2016. I wrote about the Upstairs Fire in Murder in the Rue Chartres, and am really looking forward to reading Robert’s book. Sujata Massey also won the Mary Higgins Clark Award, and I feel that Sara Paretsky’s winning the first Sue Grafton Memorial Award would definitely have Sue’s approval.

And huzzah for the wonderful Art Taylor’s Edgar win for Best Short Story! Art is one of the best short story writers around; I keep hoping he’s going to put out a short story collection–I think he’s won every conceivable mystery award for short story now, which is an indication of just how good he is. He’s also one of the nicest people I’ve ever met–in general, not just the mystery community.

Needless to say, the illness has kept me from doing any writing or pretty much anything, really. Yesterday I spent most of the day swilling chicken soup and sitting in my chair under blankets and reading. I watched the live-stream of the Edgar Awards on my television through the Youtube app on my  Apple TV, which was very cool and surreal at the same time. I felt sorry for the young man with the long hair at the front table who was on camera almost the entire night and probably had no idea! Today I am going to probably swill some more soup while again retiring to my chair with Kellye’s book, and then I have an ARC of Jamie Mason’s The Hidden Things which I will tackle next.

And I did have two ideas for stories yesterday, through the DayQuil and fever induced fogginess of my brain. So that’s something, at any rate.

And now back to my blankets.

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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.

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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