One of These Nights

I have been saying for quite some time that some of the best crime fiction in print is being written by women. This is not to say that there isn’t great crime fiction being written by men these days–there are a lot of amazing male crime writers–but the women don’t ever seem to get the attention–or rapturous praise–that men do. Sistersn in Crime has dedicated itself for over thirty years to put women on the same playing field–recognition, reviews, awards–as the guys, and their hard work is starting to pay dividends.

That isn’t to say we don’t have a long way to go, however; but I do believe in recognizing progress once it’s been made.

I met Jamie Mason I don’t know how many years ago; I do remember it was at Sleuthfest in Orlando (thanks for the invite and another shout-out to MWA-Florida!), and we were on a panel together about place/setting. I think Laura Lippman, who was a keynote speaker/special guest, was also on the panel, and maybe one more person? My memories are hazy these days, my apologies. But I liked Jamie immediately, she was smart and had really insightful things to say. After the panel, Laura and I repaired to the poolside bar for a cocktail and lunch (it was afternoon and no one was out there), and Jamie tentatively asked if she could join us.

From such humble beginnings are friendships born.

I bought Jamie’s first novel that weekend, Three Graves Full, and read it several months later and LOVED it. (It’s still one of my favorite crime novels of this decade, for the record.) She handed me a copy of the ARCs for his second, Monday’s Lie, at Bouchercon in Long Beach either later that year or the next; I treasure that ARC, but as is my wont, didn’t want to read it until there was another Jamie Mason book in print.

That time is now. This summer sees the release of Jamie’s third novel, The Hidden Things, and she very generously send me an ARC of it.

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The video had been watched only forty-four times before Carly Liddell’s attacker was identified to the police. Viewer number forty-four was the prize tipster, and it was a good thing it was all resolved quickly. The young man in the video had killed a turtle over a span of hours one dull Saturday a decade earlier, at the age of nine, in the early weeks of the same summer he’d set his first fire. Since then, matches, rocks, the heel of his shoe, the long drop over the railing of a bridge, and other weapons of juvenile destruction had been urgently fascinating to him in ways that got him into trouble when he was a boy, in ways he’d learned to hide over the years.

He’d been stealing things, lately. And watching women.

He always would have made the news.

The video, a sloppy edit of footage from a home-security system, went on to become something of a phenomenon. It had been cut together in a hurry by a tech-savvy officer in the cybercrimes unit who was good with that sort of thing. It went up on the police website less than twenty minutes after the flash drive, loaded with the raw recordings from the home’s monitoring surveillance, had been plugged into his computer. Backslaps and high fives all around for that one.

I love the way Jamie writes.

She has a very distinct and different style from others writing today, which is, in and of itself, an achievement. She builds her stories from a small kernel, a small thing that might happen at any time any day to anyone, and it builds from there. In Three Graves Full that small thing was the main character’s decision to hire landscapers to redo the flower beds around his nondescript home; in The Hidden Things it’s a little more unique: a high school girl coming from school to an empty house is followed by an assailant who gets into the house behind her. She manages to fight him off and go for help; all of this is captured by security cameras inside the house. The local cops post the video on-line on their Facebook page in order to help identify the assailant, with the unexpected result that the video goes viral.

Videos go viral, after all, every day. So what makes this viral video memorable, different, from other viral videos?

Well, for one thing, neither the girl (Carly Liddell) nor her mother had known there were security cameras in the foyer of their home; so her stepfather has some explaining to do.

Secondly, something caught on video–the corner of a painting hanging in the foyer–catches the attention of some very dangerous people.

You see, Carly’s stepfather of four years has been keeping some seriously dark secrets from both her and her mother…secrets that start coming out now with serious consequences.

I absolutely loved this book. The characters are beautifully sculpted; Mason knows what makes people tick and also understands that small, barely noticeable touches are what make characters come to life as well as making relationships ring with honesty and truth and reality. The book is so good I deeply resented everything else that was keeping me from reading it–being tired, errands, cleaning, doing my own writing, my day job–and I literally had to finally push everything aside one day to read the second half in one sitting. Her style reminds me of a combination of Margaret Millar and Patricia Highsmith; literary but accessible at the same time.

It is officially being released in August; do yourself a favor and preorder it right now. And if you’ve not read her before, do yourself an even bigger favor and go read her back list. You won’t regret it.

Wake Up Everybody

Well, I finished reading Jamie Mason’s The Hidden Things yesterday (spoiler: it’s terrific and you should pre-order it, like right now; more on it later) and then started Rachel Howzell Hall’s They All Fall Down, which is also off to a terrific start.

You really can never go wrong with a crime novel written by a woman, frankly.

So, of course last night Game of Thrones ended, and I have to say I was satisfied, if not thrilled, by how it ended. Some of it was inevitable, and to be honest, I couldn’t wrap my mind around how it would all end; I absolutely hated the idea of Jon as king–he’s not the type, quite frankly, but will admit I was also all in for Sansa. So, in a way, I got what I wanted with Sansa being Queen in the North–but having a separate kingdom to the north will inevitably lead to problems with the Six Kingdoms; and what exactly ever happened to the cities Dany conquered in Essos? I was more sad to see the show end than I could ever be disappointed in how it ended; as I said to Paul, “You know, when we first started watching this show, we still had cable, didn’t stream anything, and we watched this on DVD’s that came in the mail from Netflix before giving in and paying for HBO again. We didn’t have Scooter yet, and we still  had our old television with a DVD player.”  Game of Thrones, no matter what you thought of it to begin with, whether you watched it or you didn’t, was a cultural event in this country (I am reluctant to say world, as that reeks of American exceptionalism, but I do believe the show was a world-wide phenomenon) that had everyone talking about it almost from the very beginning, and maybe was the last show of its kind–the kind where everyone waits patiently to watch, week after week, and everyone talks about and discusses and argues about. I don’t think we’ll see its like again; I doubt another show will ever take up as much room in the public discourse as Game of Thrones did.

And while everything was sort of tied up nicely with a ribbon last evening, as the credits rolled I turned to Paul and said, “What happened to the Dothraki? We know what happened to the Unsullied…but they never said what happened to the Dothraki.”

I guess they are just loose in Westeros?

I started working on one of my short stories yesterday; I couldn’t find the motivation to do much else of anything, to be honest. I did clean some and get some things organized, and of course, I was also busy reading, as I mentioned above, and I am kind of excited to be reading They All Fall Down, which is off to a really good start. I was feeling a bit overwhelmed this past weekend, if I am going to be completely honest, and while I am not feeling as overwhelmed this morning as I’ve been feeling, I am still in one of those “how am I going to get all of this done?” places this morning. But you know, it will all get done and I will handle everything that needs handling because I somehow always manage to do so.

As you might recall, I sold my story “Neighborhood Alert” to Mystery Tribune magazine; I am proud to say it appears in the quarterly issue that is now available as e-magazine or print editions; you can order it right here.

I like the story, and I hope you will like it, too.

I really need to get more stories out.

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

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Saturday Night

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Shop Around

Ugh. Yesterday I was sooo tired my brain was barely functional. There’s nothing worse than being tired on one of your long days and counting down the hours until you get off work…and thinking, oh, yay, only SEVEN hours left to my shift. I drank my usual coffee, but it just gave me that “oh you’re tired but you’re wired” feeling that makes your eyes ache a little bit and leaves that nasty taste in your mouth.

I fucking hate that.

I am choosing to believe that’s why I wasn’t able to get anything written yesterday; brain was too tired and so was my body in order to be functional, which is irritating. I slept much better last night–don’t even feel tired or sleepy this morning, HUZZAH–so hopefully today I’ll be able to get things done. AT least the thought of my long day doesn’t make me want to curl up into a ball and sob…which is a vast improvement over yesterday. Thank you, baby Jesus.

But while I was too brain-tired/dead/numb to be creative, I wasn’t too tired to spend some time lost in the stunning new novel by Jamie Mason, The Hidden Things. I can’t believe, for one thing, that it’s taking me so long to read this book, which is fantastic. I have been doling out chapters to myself as a reward for getting things done, but obviously, I am not getting enough done and have decided to abandon the entire “use reading chapters as a reward” thing since it’s not working out so well for me after all. Also, the story has started to pick up steam–one of the truly fun things about Jamie’s work is how she peels away the onion to reveal the darkness within her interconnected characters–but it seems organic rather than staged, if that makes any sense? I’m afraid to try this method of telling a story because I am not confident enough in my abilities to do it and make it seem organic, the way Jamie Mason manages (in the same way that Lori Roy does as well) to make look so damned easy–she reminds me a lot of Patricia Highsmith. I am hoping to get this book finished within the next couple of days. I am also excited about my next book in the pile, They All Fall Down by Rachel Howzell Hall.

I did write the opening sentence of a short story yesterday that’s been brewing in my head for quite some time now, so I did get something of note done…I take my victories, no matter how small, as worth celebrating.

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

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Times of Your Life

Ah, the long workday part of my week is finished, and all I have to do is get through my two half-days before sliding gracelessly into the weekend.

I don’t think I wrecked Chapter Eight, but it is going to need a revisit. I am on target for Chapter Nine today, which is endlessly exciting. I am starting to feel excited about the WIP again–as opposed to the usual Christ this book sucks why did I ever think I could be a writer that I usually feel at this point in a manuscript–which is kind of nice and lovely. I know what I am trying to do with this book, the story I am trying to tell, and I am starting, after all this revising, to feel it again, and again feel like it’s getting me somewhere close to what I wanted to do in the first place, and that’s kind of exciting–or rather, what passes for exciting around the Lost Apartment these days. Oh sure, even after revising these opening chapters I know there’s a lot of cleaning up/mopping up to do with it, to tighten the plot and story and so forth, but it’s also do-able and while I may not want to sit down and actually do it when the time comes, I feel a lot better about it than I did before.

Ah, the crazy rollercoaster of emotion when you’re a writer. This, of course, is why writers drink.

Paul and I started watching the new Christina Applegate show on Netflix, Dead to Me, last night and it’s quite literally amazing. I’ve been a fan of Applegate ever since her days as Kelly Bundy on Married with Children, and I’ve never understood why she was never a major star. She can do comedy or drama with equal flare, she’s quite beautiful, and she lights up the screen whenever she is front of the cameras. The show is quite extraordinary, but difficult to talk about without giving away spoilers, as every episode ends with a startling twist/revelation that completely alters and changes the narrative. The writing is exceptional; it’s both funny and heartbreakingly sad at the same time. To describe it without spoilers of any kind, it’s about two women who meet and become friends at a grief support group; Applegate’s husband was killed in a hit-and-run accident several months before the show starts, and she is still deeply grieving. The supporting cast is also amazing–Ed Asner, James Marsden, to name a few; the young actors who play Applegate’s two sons are also terrific. We watched the first three episodes last night and are hooked completely.

I have to say, props to Netflix. They are doing some amazing work; although I am still angry at them for cancelling The Santa Clarita Diet, which was also terrific.

But as Thursday dawns, and I look ahead to this weekend, I am hopeful I can get some serious writing done. My plan is to do the errands and the cleaning on Friday afternoon, which will open up my weekend to spending it finishing reading Jamie Mason’s superb The Hidden Things, while getting some writing done. My next read is going to be Rachel Howzell Hall’s They All Fall Down, which I’ve been hearing great things about, and we also have season 2 of Killing Eve to watch, and Widows, which I’ve rented on iTunes. (Love Viola Davis, and it was written by Gillian Flynn so you know it’s going to be good.)

And so, now before I have to get ready for work, there are dishes to be put away and laundry to fold, a backpack to unpack and repack, Paul’s lunch to make. (I also get off rather early today as well; but since I am getting off work at a ridiculous time for rush hour traffic…yeah, not sure what time I’ll be home this afternoon.)

But I feel good, I feel rested, and I feel creative and motivated this morning. I guess we’ll see how long that lasts, eh?

And now back to the spice mines.

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Devil Woman

Oddly enough, I wound up not working on the book yesterday.

I did reread Chapter Eight, and it’s actually not bad at all. But it’s good enough for me to have to think about how to revise it and make it stronger; this is one of those situations when writing that I am afraid trying to improve something will actually ruin it–and even the fact that it’s only dreadful possibility–after all, the possibility that I actually will improve it is much more likely, and statistically more probable– is still paralyzingly terrifying. So it bears more thought than simply diving right in–and then, of course, I question that judgment–is this simply a stall tactic?–and yes, here is yet another example of why writers drink.

At least this one, anyway.

I had intended to get up early this morning, rather than allowing myself to wallow in bed until I finally got tired of lying there the way I usually do every Wednesday. The alarm went off, I hit snooze a couple of times, and finally turned it off….and yes, wallowed in bed for longer than I should have simply because I was so relaxed and comfortable. I’m not sorry that I did this, now that I am awake–this no regrets thing I am trying out; part of which is listening to myself and listening to my body; my body needed the rest else I would have been wide awake and willing to hop out of bed at the first sounding of the alarm this morning. My body must have needed to rest, so I rested it. When I was a personal trainer I used to advocate this all the time; listen to your body. The problem of course, for me, is that I’ve been told so often throughout my life that I’m lazy that whenever I’ve taken time to rest (my body or my brain) I’m so conditioned and so convinced that I am lazy that it’s my default: you’re just being lazy and making excuses for yourself to be lazy. This is so ingrained into my subconscious that it’s my immediate default; but be told “you’re lazy” enough times…well, you start to believe it. And then have to spend far too many years trying to unlearn that.

But, as I said above, Chapter Eight was in much better shape than I thought it was, and so I am going to reread it again today (along with Chapter Nine) and start working on it again. I don’t regret not working on the book yesterday–not at all. It wasn’t one of those what’s the point days, or I just don’t feel like it; it was more along the lines of I don’t really know what to do, and the chapter wasn’t terrible, so there was no urgency to fix it, if that makes sense? Had the chapter been horrible from start to finish, it would have triggered me to want to fix it, the need to fix it would have been overwhelming. But it was actually kind of good and complete and creepy and the mood and feeling were exactly what I was going for, and trying to force the revision/rewrite was…as I said above, I was more worried about messing it up more than anything else. But perhaps today–as the caffeine from my first cup of coffee begins to flow through my system and my body comes awake, I am beginning to see a way to revise this chapter…and in fact, at the moment I feel as though I will actually have the energy to not only do it but the next chapter as well.

We shall see how that goes, shan’t we?

But I am now on my second cup of coffee, and I also have to recognize that the weather is also changing again; which always has something to do with my energy levels and how I feel. The heat and humidity are coming back–we’re supposedly getting our first major heat wave next week (it’s only MAY)–and of course, the termites are swarming again. May brings the termite swarms; a plague of Egypt that descends on the city every year  around Mother’s Day.

I continue to read Jamie Mason’s wonderful The Hidden Things, and I am marveling at the way she plays her cards; the slow reveal of information that adds to the story. It opens wonderfully; a young girl coming home from school is victim of a home invasion, defends herself, and the attacker runs away, all captured on security cameras within the house. The police post the video on their social media page, hoping to get community help to identify the attacker; the video goes viral. But there’s an issue here–why did the husband/stepfather not tell his wife and stepdaughter there were security cameras inside the house? Why was the alarm pad not connected to the security company in order for help to come? And why is the father so nervous about the footage going viral? It’s fascinating, as a reader, to become so intrigued and curious, wanting to keep reading; as a fellow writer it’s even more interesting to see how she is constructing her story and creating her characters. Her debut novel, Three Graves Full, was quite marvelous, and this one is quite good as well. We have so many amazing women crime writers these days…

I also need to get to work on that article. Heavy heaving sigh.

So, I suppose it’s time to get back to the spice mines.

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Lowdown

I woke up to a major thunderstorm around seven this morning, and quite frankly, curled up under my blankets even more and went back to sleep. I didn’t wind up getting out of bed until after nine, which felt lovely and now I feel wide awake while well rested at the same time, which is actually quite nice. I need to run to the UPS Store today, pick up the mail and a prescription, stop by the bank, and make groceries at some point, but ugh, how horrible to do this in the rain. It’s supposed to rain here all day, alas. But that will certainly encourage me to get them done as quickly as possible so I can get home.

Today I need to also do some more cleaning around the house, and at some point I am going to close the browsers so I can focus on writing. I want to push through these revisions of these chapters of the WIP, and I’d also like to push through and get a strong revision of “And the Walls Came Down” done, so I can submit it to some markets this week. My short story for next week will be the “The Problem with Autofill,” which is a strong story but the ending needs to be altered and changed somewhat. I still like the concept of the story–it’s kind of a Sorry Wrong Number thing, only with email–but I’m still not sure how to make it work completely.  But I still persist in trying to make it work. I also would like to work some more on “Please Die Soon,” which I think is a terrific idea for a story, and I’ve done the requisite research to make it work, methinks. I really want to stick to this goal of either revising a short story or finishing an incomplete first draft of one every week.

Goals. Must stick to goals.

I survived Costco yesterday, my checking account less scathed than usual–although it easily could have become Sherman’s March to the Sea. Yet I was able to resist, and came very close to staying within the budget I set for the trip–and had I not bought two books off the book table (Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, and The Gulf: The Making of an American Sea by Jack E. Davis; the Owens was nominated for an Edgar while the Davis won the Pulitzer Prize) I would have stayed under budget.

The book table is always my downfall.

And while I didn’t accomplish near as much as I probably should have yesterday, I did manage to get some chores done, some of them loathsome, so that’s a win for the end of the week, methinks. The key is what I can get done today and tomorrow…and my primary focus has to be on writing. Once I get the writing gears dusted off and oiled, I am hoping I will be able to get the first draft of the WIP finished by the end of May (there’s a three day holiday this month as well, which I am really looking forward to enjoying).

The Gulf itself looks interesting. Most American histories, of course, focus on the Atlantic colonies and the spread westward from there; there really isn’t anything taught about the history of the Gulf of Mexico–which, once Florida, Louisiana and Texas passed into American hands, basically became an enormous American lake–and I am very interested in becoming better acquainted with this history. It can, after all, only help, since most of my fiction work is focused on the Gulf states. The more Louisiana history I know, and read, the better I feel my fiction will become.

I think once I finish Jamie Mason’s The Hidden Things my next book will be either Rachel Howzell Hall’s All the Way Down or Joseph Olshan’s Lambda nominated mystery, Black Diamond Fall. I’m greatly enjoying the Mason novel, and perhaps at some point today, once I’ve run the errands and done the cleaning and written all I need to write today, I might curl up in the easy chair with The Hidden Things and make some serious headway on it. I also have an article to write and another column to start planning for. And yes, it does all seem a bit overwhelming, but what I need to do is make a list and just start checking off boxes.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader.

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