He Can Put His Shoes Under My Bed Anytime

As Constant Reader might remember–or if you don’t, here’s the reminder–I’ve been tasked with writing a Sherlock Holmes short story. Being quite mercenary–I rarely turn down opportunities to make money–I of course said yes; I am not a Sherlockian by any means, but it was precisely this lack of knowledge regarding perhaps the greatest private detective in the history of crime fiction (along with the offer of payment) that also was part of my inspiration to respond to the querying email with a most enthusiastic yes, of course I would love tofor there is also nothing such as the combination of payment AND a challenge to my writing skill and ability that I will welcome most gratefully.

Which, of course, was immediately followed by what the fuck were you thinking?

Now, I read most of the Holmes stories when I was in junior high, and they never really took with me. I enjoyed them, don’t get me wrong, but I never became what I call a “Sherlockian”; an enormous fan who devours any and all Holmes-related materials, whether they were written by Doyle himself, or the pastiches/homages, or any of the scholarship. I’ve watched some of the films, yes, and enjoyed both Sherlock and Elementary, even though we gradually lost interest in the latter and stopped watching. I also read the Nicholas Meyer “new cases” published in the 1970’s, The Seven Per Cent Solution and The West End Horror (I believe he’s published yet another one, as well). And a few years ago I bought the definitive annotated Holmes two volume set on eBay. So I figured I could reread some of the original stories, ask some of my friends who are deep into Sherlockiana to help if I needed it (both said yes, because writers are often very kind and generous people–side-eye at Romance Writers of America), and then I remembered a story I meant to read for last year’s Short Story Project, “The Case of Colonel Warburton’s Madness,” by Lyndsay Faye, which was a Sherlock Holmes story originally published in an anthology called Sherlock Holmes in America, and reprinted in The Best American Mystery Stories 2010, edited by Lee Child. I got the book down from the shelves yesterday and started reading.

My friend Mr. Sherlock Holmes, while possessed of one of the most vigorous minds of our generation, and while capable of displaying tremendous feats of physical activity when the situation required it, could nevertheless remain in his armchair perfectly motionless longer than any human being I had ever encountered.  This skill passed entirely unnoticed by its owner. I do not believe he held any intentions to impress me so, nor do I think the exercise was, for him, a strenuous one. Still I maintain the belief that when a man has held the same pose for a period exceeding three hours, and when that man is undoubtedly awake, that same man has accomplished an unnatural feat.

I turned away from my task of organizing a set of old journals that lead-grey afternoon to observe Holmes perched with one-leg curled beneath him, firelight burnishing the edges of his dressing gown as he sat with his head in his hand, a long-abandoned book on the carpet. It was with a view to ascertain that my friend was still alive that I went so far against my habits as to interrupt his reverie.

Isn’t that a wonderful start? And very Doyle-ish, yet uniquely Lyndsay Faye’s style. Lyndsay is a dear friend–and one of the people who agreed to advise me on my story–and we’ve known each other for years. I first saw her at the first Edgar banquet I attended; she was a finalist for Best Novel for The Gods of Gotham, which was fantastic and you should read it–and again more recently for her novel Jane Steele. We later were both on a judging panel for the Edgar for Best Short Story and became friends; I later recruited her for the Mystery Writers of America board of directors, and we’ve been buds ever since.

The story is truly fantastic, and as I read it–it’s a reminiscent story, in which Watson recounts an old story to Holmes from his days traveling in the United States, and this story is set in San Francisco. Colonel Warburton was a war veteran of both the Mexican War and the Civil War who’d made a fortune and built himself a mansion in San Francisco. But now in his latter years he fears he is losing his mind, having flashbacks to his war days, and Watson never really quite figured out what was going on in the Warburton mansion–but in relating his story and observations, he delivers the missing piece to solve the puzzle to Holmes’ brilliant deductive mind.

And thus, I realized that my fears–ever-present, of course–of imposter syndrome and so forth, which had been swirling around in my head about writing this story, began to disappear. I also grabbed one of the annotated volumes and started reading another Holmes story–and the idea that I had, “The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy”, began to take even better shape in my head…and I decided that today, as part of my writing, I would attempt to start writing the story. Which is very exciting, I might add.

Yesterday was a most productive day here in the Lost Apartment. I got a really good night’s sleep Froday night, and woke up aflame to get shit done yesterday. I cleaned, I organized, I filed, I did laundry, I cleaned the floors, I did the dishes and I read and I wrote and I did all kinds of things that made me feel quite accomplished by the time I plopped down in my easy chair to relax for the evening and watch television. Paul had gone into the office for the afternoon, and went out for the evening with friends, so I was pretty much alone all day yesterday and was able to accomplish a lot–not having an LSU football game to get stressed over was a big part of my getting so much done. The Saints are playing Minnesota today in the play-offs; I’m debating whether I should watch with my full attention, or stay here in the kitchen writing, checking in on the score periodically. I should, of course, stay in here writing. I need to get further along with Bury Me in Shadows, of course, and of course there’s the Sherlock story, and some website writing I agreed to do by a week from Monday.

So, on that note, I need to head back into the spice mines. I didn’t sleep as deeply last night as I did on Friday night, but it’s okay; I’m neither tired, nor exhausted; I actually feel rested if not completely awake this morning. Perhaps once I finish my second cup of coffee, and sort through my emails, I’ll be more awake.

So, it is off to the spice mines with me now, Constant Reader. Have a lovely Sunday!

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Maniac

Monday morning in New Orleans, after a crazy kind of weekend that included insane street flooding and torrential rains. My neighborhood doesn’t flood quite as bad as others–we’ve had high water on our street, but it rarely lasts for long–because two blocks from the house is Coliseum Square, which is much lower (as is Camp Street on the far side of it) and serves as a kind of flood basin for the neighborhood (which was WAY fun when we lived on Camp Street; my car flooded once and we got water all the way up to the top step–of six–outside out front door). I didn’t work much on the line edit (read: not at all) because I was too busy reading, first Lyndsay Faye’s brilliant The Gods of Gotham, then Owen Matthew’s epic The Fixes, and then I started reading Eric Ambler’s Journey Into Fear. (I’ve not read Ambler before) We also got caught up on Orphan Black, and continue to muddle along with The Last Tycoon, which is quite visually stunning but more than a little dull. (And just HOW do you make 1930’s Hollywood dull? Nicely done, F. Scott Fitzgerald.)

Game of Thrones was just EPIC last night. Oh my God, was it ever epic. I won’t post spoilers for those who may not have seen it yet, but all I will say is finally. I’ve been waiting for that episode ALL SEASON. Huz-fucking-ZAH.

So, I read Owen Matthews’ The Fixes yesterday. Owen Matthews is the name Owen Laukkanen uses to write young adult fiction (his first was How to Win at High School, which I have but is still in the TBR pile), and as Owen Laukkanen he wrote one of my favorite books of last year, The Watcher in the Wall (I may have read it this year; my memory has truly become a sieve). Owen and I are on a panel at Toronto Bouchercon this year–while the schedule hasn’t been posted yet, I was curious as to why Owen was on a panel called “Reading the Rainbow”; but I haven’t read all of his work as of yet. The panel moderator and I were talking the other day and I brought that up, at which point I was told he does write gay characters, and in fact, one of the main characters in The Fixes is gay. I moved the book to the top of the TBR pile, and tore through it yesterday afternoon: it is a quick read, and moves really fast.

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This is a story about a boy’s first crush, and how it blew up in his face.

And all of its explosive consequences.

(You know what? Forget it.)

Let’s start over.

Let me tell you why E set off that bomb.

Eric, or E, as he comes to be called by his friends over the course of the novel, is the son of a state senator, the grandson of yet another politician, and has been raised to understand that he isn’t just anyone; he is a CONNELLY MAN and he has to live up to the family name–maybe even so far as eventually running for president. Eric has given up a lot to live up to his father’s expectations, and is more than a little resentful. As a sophomore, Eric had dated Paige but soon realized he was more attracted to guys than girls…which as a CONNELLY MAN could prove problematic. His future is laid out for him completely, and he is giving up the summer before he starts college to intern at a legal firm his father used to work for. And then, a chance encounter in the office at his high school with Jordan Grant, the gorgeous son of a wealthy filmmaker, derails his entire summer….and possibly his future as well.

Soon, Eric (E, as Jordan likes to call him) has a full blown crush on Jordan, even though he seems to be involved loosely with Haley. All four of these kids–they live in a Malibu-like, affluent wealthy town called Capilano–have some damage: Paige’s father is going to be tried for embezzling and misleading investment clients (a la Madoff); Haley’s mother is a model who idealizes her eldest daughter, a successful model, and is always putting Haley down and making her feel bad about herself, which led to an eating disorder and a stay in a hospital; E himself is struggled against the life path his father has chosen for him; and Jordan is…well, what exactly is Jordan’s damage?

I don’t want to spoil anything, but suffice it to say that the group becomes involved in ‘fixing’ things around Capilano; injustices they step up to correct. And as E becomes more deeply involved in the fixes, as his own life path begins to spin out of control and he falls deeper and deeper under Jordan’s spell..the book continues racing along at a frenetic, insane pace that makes it impossible to put down until it’s finished.

It was also lovely to see a novel, published by a mainstream press and written by a non-gay author, that so carefully, conscientiously, and sympathetically explored the struggle and complexity of coming to terms with a sexuality that does not jibe with family expectations, as well as the emotional grappling with how can I not be my true self for the rest of my life?; not to mention the emotional complexity of falling in love for the first time.

The story is intricate as well; this is a fine example of young adult noir, the kind the amazing Jay Bennett used to write.

Highly recommended, and really looking forward to reading How to Win at High School.

 

Baby, Come to Me

Yesterday was had a rather intense storm here in New Orleans; there was flash flooding all over the city, cars ruined, water inside buildings; that sort of thing. I don’t know if my street flooded or not (guess I’ll find out if my car got ruined tomorrow morning when I am ready to go to work), but we certainly were lucky and didn’t get water inside of our house. The rain is going to continue some today; there’s an advisory for everyone to stay inside and off the roads, just in case. We get these kinds of storms and flash floods every once in a while–the price of living in a low lying city surrounding by water where parts of the city used to be swamp and are now floodplains, and our pumping system tends to get overwhelmed when we get a lot of water in a short period of time. I’ve been caught out in these storms before, having to wade through water up to my hips at times. My car was flooded when I was on my way home from work the first year we lived here and I got caught in one of these storms. There’s no point in railing against these storms and short-term floods; they happen periodically and you have to deal with them, unfortunately. Last night was also supposed to be White Linen Night, an annual event every August in the Arts District where all the galleries serve food and alcohol, booths are set up on Julia and Magazine streets to sell food and drink, and people wearing white go from gallery to gallery looking at (and hopefully buying) art. Satchmo Fest was also this weekend; clearly, both annual events were cancelled yesterday because of the deluge. I ran my errands early–thank God–and so intended to spend the rest of my day inside and working on the line edit, doing some writing, and reading as well. I did no line editing and no writing yesterday; instead, I was caught up in the last half of Lyndsay Faye’s staggeringly brilliant The Gods of Gotham, and could not put it down until it was finished.

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When I set down the initial report, sitting at my desk at the Tombs, I wrote:

On the night of August 21, 1845, one of the children escaped.

Of all the sordid trials a New York City policeman faces every day, you wouldn’t expect the one I loathe most to be paperwork. But it is. I get snakes down my spine just thinking case files.

Seriously, is there anyone who enjoys paperwork?

The Gods of Gotham is the perfect historical crime novel. I’ve read a number of them, and there are some truly excellent ones (one of my favorite novels of all time is The Affair of the Blood-Stained Egg Cosy, set in the 1930’s), but I’ve also staggered my way through some seriously bad ones. But even with the bad ones, I always have tremendous respect for the writer for even trying; I can’t imagine trying, much as I love history, because there are so many gaps; so many things to research, from small to large, intricate intimate details that may be impossible to find out–or you might find them out when it’s too late. To be truly successful, a historical piece of fiction has to be completely immersive; the author has to bring that world to life but make the reader understand it and how it was to live in that period without giving in to the temptation to put everything you’ve researched into the book/story, aka hitting the reader over the head with a history lesson. Writing a convincing, involving story with characters the reader can identify with, appreciate, and root for, is hard enough without setting it in another time period.

Lyndsay Faye has managed this incredible juggling feat, and pulled it off with aplomb. The Gods of Gotham is set in New York City (obviously) in the late summer of 1845; when the city has newly created a police force, identified by the copper stars they wear (which, obviously, is where the slang term copper, and its derivative, cop, came from; this is clearly made obvious throughout the story without Faye stopping to explain; a lesser writer certainly would have made that egregious take-the-reader-out-of-the-story error). Our hero, Timothy Wilde, is a bartender when the story opens; his older brother, Valentine, is a good-time Charlie who likes to get wasted, frequents whorehouses, and also works as a fireman. The relationship between the brothers isn’t great; they lost their parents to a fire when they were children, and they butt heads alot. Valentine is also involved with the Democratic Party. After an enormous fire leaves Timothy jobless and homeless and broke, he rents a room from a widowed German baker, Mrs. Boehm, and is then pressured by his brother into becoming a copper star; a beat cop in the newly formed city police, which not everyone in the city wants or approves of. Soon, Timothy is wrapped up in a bizarre mystery involving a child prostitute he runs across one night; wandering the streets in a nightdress, covered in blood; and soon the investigation expands to involve a possible serial killer of child prostitutes. Politics, nativism, religious and ethnic and racial bigotry all play a part in this tale; as do sexism.

The truly great historical novels not only shine a bright light on the past, but thematically show how little has changed over time. The Gods of Gotham could easily be set in the present day, with Timothy Wilde as a modern police detective. The bigotry against the Irish and Catholics could easily be translated to Middle Eastern refugees and Muslims; it is truly sad to read and see how we as a society and a people fail to learn from the mistakes of the past, repeating the same errors over and over to our own disgrace. Faye has brought New York of 1845 vividly to life with careful brush strokes that never are too big or too broad or invasive to the story; her city streets are alive with noise and people and sights and sounds and smells. Her characters are all-too-real; even the worst of her villains (particularly the diabolical madam, Silkie Marsh) are believable three-dimensional and live and breathe on the page.

I hated seeing the book end, quite frankly; but there are two more Timothy Wilde novels to savor and look forward to, as well as her Edgar nominated Jane Steele (The Gods of Gotham was also an Best Novel Edgar finalist), and her Sherlock Holmes work. (And yes, my recent interest in Holmes was triggered by Lyndsay’s interest in Holmes…and there were times when this book itself reminded me of, in the best possible ways, of Nicholas Meyer’s Holmes pastiches from the 1970’s, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution and The West End Horror.)

The Gods of Gotham, if you haven’t read it yet, needs to be added to your TBR pile immediately.

Maneater

Is there a male version of the term maneater? I’ve been wracking my brain trying to think of what it could be; which indicates that the answer to that question is obviously, no. I also would imagine maneater and femme fatale are interchangeable; Phyllis from Double Indemnity is one of the best fictional representations of the type. I’ve always wondered what Phyllis was thinking, and how much more interesting the book would be told from her point of view. There has been a so-called trend in crime fiction lately, where the stories are told from the point of view of the maneater, which has also led to lots of opinion pieces about the rise of unlikable women characters in crime fiction, which strikes me as kind of odd, as those types of characters have been around (male or female) since the very beginning of crime fiction. Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl is often credited as the book that started the trend, but I think it’s more accurate to say that Flynn’s book was the first major break out bestseller to have an unlikable woman as the focal point of the story.

I made some great progress on reading The Gods of Gotham  last night, and what a marvelous read it is! This is historical crime fiction done right–the last historical crime fiction novel I read that I enjoyed this much was Louis Bayard’s The Black Tower. Lyndsay has somehow managed to weave a tale involving the founding of the New York police department, Irish immigration, religious/ethnic bigotry, racism, politics, and child prostitution; and this world is alive and breathes. It’s really quite an accomplishment, and it’s written with wit and style and compassion; it’s also written in the style of nineteenth century novels but she has also managed to update the style and make it modern; Dickens, as it were, without the cloying over-sentimentality. Faye’s characters are also developed so strongly they all live and breathe and seem absolutely real; the maneater of the book is a madam named Silkie, who is delightful in her scheming and corruption. I intend to read more of the book later today, after I get the errands and chores done, and more of the goddamned line edit. My to-do list for the weekend is rather ambitious, I do confess; perhaps too ambitious to get everything done, but I’d rather overestimate what I can get done than underestimate.

The kitchen is a mess, the apartment is a disaster area, and of course, laundry laundry laundry. Heavy heaving sigh. Paul’s off playing tennis this morning, and I actually woke up feeling rested this morning. So, getting everything done seems like it’s something that’s actually possible. It’s supposed to rain off and on all day; we’ll see. I also made some progress on the Scotty book yesterday. My goal is to try to get a chapter done every day for the next twenty days–which will be, of course, a complete first draft. By that time, the line edit of the WIP should be finished and input–I can only do line edits on hard copies, which is not eco-friendly, but doing it on the computer has proven to not be as effective over the years. I do think this line edit is going well, and making the book even stronger, which is the entire point, right?

I also had a terrific conversation with the moderator of one of my two panels at Bouchercon, and I am very excited about the panel; this is also the first time I’ve been on two panels at Bouchercon–so probably I’ll be lucky to get one on St. Petersburg next year. I am looking forward to the Toronto trip this year; Bouchercon is always one of the highlights of my year.

I am going to read, I think, The Fixes by Owen Matthews (aka Owen Laukkanen) next, once I’ve finished Gods of Gotham.

And on that night, I should probably get back to the spice mines.

Here’s a Saturday hunk for you, Constant Reader:

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MUSIC: Losing My Religion by REM

MOOD: Cheerful

Total Eclipse of the Heart

I love to read.

I am so enormously grateful to my sister for teaching me how to read before I started school. I’ve always enjoyed reading (maybe not textbooks; I’ve never enjoyed being forced to read, which is also why I have so much antipathy for classics I was forced to read for classes); reading, for me, has always been pleasurable. I like reading books and being surprised by the author; the creative part of my mind is always trying to figure out the plot, predict twists to come, etc. I love language, and how writers can piece words together into sentences and paragraphs that paint pictures in my head, create characters that are like people I know and care about and root for (or against, for that matter), that create stories and tales that explain incomprehensible behavior and make me understand it, even sympathize with them.

As I always say when I teach character workshops, “villains don’t think they’re villains.”

It’s been killing me not being able to carve out time for Lyndsay Faye’s The Gods Of Gotham, but Paul is going to a play this evening so I will be able to curl up in my easy chair with it tonight and go to town. I am loving this gloriously written story; and I intend to finish reading it this weekend if it kills me. I am also hoping to get to go see Dunkirk this weekend at some point; it’s playing at the Prytania Theater, which is incredibly easy for us to get to, or we could head out to the parish to see it in Harahan. I’ve not decided which is the better option. My back and hips are still sore this morning, sadly, and I’ve begrudgingly cancelled Wacky Russian for tomorrow morning. But I think letting everything rest is probably the best thing for me, even though I hate missing a workout.

Wasn’t this the year I’d intended to lose weight and get in better shape? Why, yes, as a matter of fact, it was. Heavy heaving sigh.

I started working on my short story “The Brady Kid” the other night; it’s not going well, less than a thousand words, all of which were like pulling teeth, so I’ve decided to put that aside. I also line edited some more of the WIP, which is taking forever, but I think I am doing an incredibly good job with it thus far. I intend to work on it some more this weekend, as well; also intend to get some work on the new Scotty done this weekend. We shall see, shan’t we?

I also need to get our plane tickets for Bouchercon in Toronto.

Sigh. It never ends.

Okay, here’s a Friday hunk to slide you into the weekend.

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Beat It

Throwback Thursday!

Exhausted this morning after a lengthy day yesterday of office testing and then bar testing last night. I slept really well; my back is still a bit sore as are my hips; I may have to preemptively cancel Wacky Russian this week because I don’t think it’s wise to push my muscles when they are still recovering from whatever it was I did to them in the first place. I only managed to get started on another short story yesterday, “The Brady Kid,” and maybe got about eight hundred words of it done; I was too sore and too tired to do anything else. I hate losing work days like that, but at least this morning I don’t have to be into the office until later, and I feel rested and not quite as sore this morning. SO maybe, just maybe, I’ll get to be productive.

A boy can dream, right?

It’s raining right now; a thunderstorm rolled in sometime around five this morning. Thunder woke me into a half-awake state, and I was able to fall back asleep for a few more hours–another sign I was really tired and in need, desperately, of rest. I am awake now, on my first cup of coffee, and could easily slip back beneath the covers and return to sleep; it is truly amazing to me how crucial sleep–something I never really even paid much attention to when I was younger–has become to me as I’ve gotten older.

I’m hoping that I’ll be able to finish The Gods of Gotham by the end of the week. I haven’t decided on my next book–Blame by Jeff Abbott, or something by Eric Ambler (whom I’ve never read), or the new Donna Andrews, Gone Gull, are the most likely picks; I’ve also got an advance copy of Laura Lippman’s Sunburn; so many choices! My TBR pile is a veritable smorgasbord of good reading options.

And on that note, it’s back to the spice mines with me.

Today’s Throwback Thursday hunk, male supermodel of the 90s Marcus Schenkenberg:

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Down Under

So, I started writing a new Scotty book yesterday.

It was, I have to confess, simply so I wouldn’t feel guilty about not working on the line edit, but it also felt good to be back in familiar waters again. There’s something comforting, at least to me as a writer, to going back to a series; I know this world intimately, the characters and the relationships and, of course, the city. And of course, this Scotty isn’t completely new; it’s a reboot of something I’d already written, published, and then withdrawn from sale: the second Paige novel, Dead Housewives of New Orleans. I never felt like that book did what I wanted it to do; I wrote it very quickly, and never believed afterwards that I’d had the time to say what I wanted to about reality television and the types of people that are drawn to appearing on it. I thought, at first, when I decided to reboot it as a Scotty novel that I’d be able to just switch the point of view and add some more things to it…but a reread of the original quickly made me realize the best thing to do was keep the original framework–the reality show itself, and the characters I’d created for it–and just completely start over from scratch. So, it’s not the same book.

I am pretty confident that it will be, actually, a much better one.

The good news is I woke up this morning without any back pain. It’s still a bit stiff–I’m aware something went wrong back there–but it’s clearly muscular, not spinal, which is an enormous relief. My hips–which also ached yesterday–also seem to be fine this morning. Of course, I am staring down a long day of office and then bar testing; twelve hours, woo-hoo! So I imagine tomorrow I will also be waking up sore and achy and tired. Yay! Can’t wait.

I also worked on the line edit yesterday; I guilted myself into it. I actually was enjoying writing the Scotty book, frankly, and I thought, see, writing is fun, remember? and then realized that I really need to stop procrastinating on the line edit. And this morning, waking up feeling rested and not in pain? I am going to tear through that bitch as much as I can today, and  see how much Scotty progress I can make at the same time. Huzzah! Maybe I can even get a first draft of Scotty finished in a month. Stranger things have happened.

I did not, unfortunately, have time for any reading of the brilliant Gods of Gotham. It is, without question, one of the best historical novels I’ve ever read. Clever and sly, witty, with some incredibly strong social commentary that certainly can be applied to today’s world, it is also strongly written and the main character, Timothy Wilde–well, it’s kind of hard not to love him; he’s such a good guy, and even his character flaws only serve to enhance his character. Lyndsay Faye is a towering talent–and she has at least another six books for me to read! HUZZAH!

And on that note, ’tis back to the spice mines with me. Here’s a Tuesday hunk for you:

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