Always on My Mind

And the longest week in the history of humanity has finally reached its final day, thank you Baby Jesus.

I woke up this morning feeling good. I haven’t had to sneeze or cough or blow my nose yet, so perhaps whatever malady I was experiencing –sinuses, flu, COVID 19–the last couple of weeks seems to have passed, finally? But I actually feel pretty good this morning, which is a good thing. I am working a screening shift at the office this afternoon–I am going to run a couple of errands on my way into the office–and they need me to help out during screenings next week as well. I think it’ll do me good to get out of the house, frankly–as much as I’ve been wanting to be a work-at-home person for the last thirteen or so years (since I had to give it up originally), I’m not entirely certain I am cut out for it, to be honest.

Then again, these aren’t normal times, either.

I do miss going to the gym, so this morning I am going to take some time to do my stretching. It’s something physical, at any rate, and while it might not burn fat or build muscles, it’s something and it helps to make my muscles more pliable. And maybe–just maybe–this weekend I can get back to writing again. One of my deadlines has been extended (huzzah!) and it’s for the Sherlock story, so I can spend this weekend finishing a draft of it while revising the other two to make the March 31 deadlines. This is probably good news, for me at least. Who knows what is going to happen to the publishing industry, you know? I saw an article on-line yesterday about the sudden sharp decrease in book sales; which was to be expected, as people lose their sources of incomes and books have become luxury items suddenly. Libraries are closed, but you can still check out ebooks, of course, and every voracious reader (including me) has an enormous stack of books that aren’t read as well as a bunch of others to reread, so there’s that aspect of it; my iPad is loaded with books I’ve bought on sale that I’ve never even glanced at. I think I have all of Mary Stewart’s books on there, and I don’t recall if I’ve ever read This Rough Magic. I probably have, but I don’t remember it–although I think it’s the book with the dolphin rescue in it; I’d thought that was The Moon-spinners but I was wrong–and there are several others of hers I don’t recall reading–Thunder on the Right, for one, and Thornyhold, for another–which is quite lovely. I greatly enjoyed my reread of The Moon-spinners, far more than I enjoyed it the first time, and I suspect the Stewarts I recall as “lesser” might be more enjoyable for me now.

But I am going to keep writing, of course–that is, once I put my ass in my chair and start actually doing it. I am assuming there will be some free time during my screening shift today, so I am going to not only bring something to read (probably The Lucky One by Lori Rader-Day; I’d made some headway into before this whole thing blew up) but some of my stories I am working on to reread and see if I can figure out where the necessary tweaks need to be made. I still haven’t gotten myself or my home workspace organized–which is kind of a bad thing, frankly, but there’s been a lot of lethargy over this past week; paralysis from the overwhelming magnitude of this whole situation, primarily. I keep repeating to myself micro micro look at the micro but I don’t always succeed.

I intend to spend this weekend practicing more self-care than I have been; stretching as I mentioned already, as well as going for walks with my camera. I need to get out of the house and try to stay as active as I can; this will someday pass and I can make a run at getting back into a regular schedule with working out and so forth again once this is over–assuming it will be over sooner rather later. I try to stay positive about the future–there are so many unknowns–and it’s not always easy, but I prefer to think this will pass in a few months and some sense of normalcy will return, but even once it does things will never be the same as they were before. That’s the reality New Orleanians learned from Katrina; and New Yorkers learned from 9/11; the crisis doesn’t pass quickly, and things do not go back the way they were before.

It’s horribly depressing, yes, but at the same time clinging to memories of “the good old days” and nostalgia seen through rose-colored glasses isn’t the way to go, either.

And on that note, tis time to get ready to head into the office. Stay safe, Constant Reader, and as always, thank you for being here.

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Independence Day

Sunday, and bleary eyed, having woken up at my normal time which is actually an hour earlier than usual. Yes, I set the alarm, so I won’t have trouble sleeping tonight. I fucking hate Daylight Savings Time, and if anyone ran on a ticket of cancelling it once and forever, that candidate would not only have my vote but my support for the rest of my life.

Probably an exaggeration.

Probably.

I slept in until nine o’clock this morning, which is really only eight, but you know how that goes. We stayed up late finishing Harlan Coben’s The Stranger on Netflix, and it was quite good and enjoyable; an extremely complicated plot, but those are always fun–if a little confusing at first when you don’t see how all the various threads are all connect together, but as they begin to come together and you start to see the pattern–it’s pretty cool.

I am still processing Carol Goodman’s The Sea of Lost Girls, and I imagine I will be for quite some time. It really is an exceptional novel, and I am really looking forward to reading the entire Goodman canon. As I said yesterday, it’s always the best writers who inspire me, give me ideas for new stories and new ways to tell stories, and inspire me to do better.

I also got about a hundred pages into Lori Rader-Day’s The Lucky One, which is quite entertaining and a lot of fun to read as well. I hope to have some more time to read it today; but naturally yesterday I didn’t get as much writing done as I needed to get done–I did do some cleaning and organizing STOP LOOKING AT ME LIKE THAT–but the great irony was I had two story documents open and started working on them…only to write about a thousand words between before realizing neither one of these stories is due at the end of the  month, you fucking moron. Yes, I worked on “Festival of the Redeemer” and “You Won’t See Me” instead of the Sherlock story or the others that are due at the end of the month. Why? Because I am a complete and total moron, that’s why. So, today I am going to probably work on the Sherlock story and revise the one I am submitting to the Sacramento Bouchercon anthology; I doubt it will get picked because of the content, but at least I tried, you know? And I am going to do some work on the Secret Project this morning as well.

I also need to make it to the gym today, and today is a raise-the-weights day. Yay? But the great thing about the gym is I don’t have to go until later today–they are open until five, so I might as well get my work done before i head over there, because usually once I am done with the gym I don’t really seem to have the energy to get anything else done once i get back home. I also need to wade through my emails–not something I particularly want to do, frankly, but I can’t put things off forever, no matter how much I want to.

And sometimes I like to pretend they aren’t there, you know?

But it’s time for me to get on with it, I suppose–heading on into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader!

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It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels

I cannot say I am not happy to see this past week end; for all intents and purposes, it was much more stressful than any week needs to be and equally disappointing. It was both tiresome and tiring; irritating, really, like an itchy rash that just won’t go away, frankly. By Tuesday night I was so exhausted already it felt like a Friday; and yet there were three more days yet to go and it never really got any better.

Begone, foul week! Get thee behind me, Satan!

I am so far behind on my emails now I may never dig my way out; that’s part of the plan for this weekend, at any rate; to try to get caught up on everything and make some progress. I had some stomach issues yesterday so I wound up staying home rather than heading to the office (the bathrooms aren’t close enough to my desk, and yes, I think you get the picture) so I spent most of the day recalibrating and doing some chores around the house and trying to get caught up on everything. But progress was made; I started getting my electronic files in the cloud better organized (which is quite a chore, I might add; one that is sort of mindless yet time-consuming in the worst way), and did some filing and so forth. There’s still quite a bit more to get done today, of course (isn’t there always?)  but I also want to get some writing done before the month slips away through my fingers. Ideally, I’d like to get a first draft of the Sherlock story finished as well as a revision of the one I’m revising for that anthology; and there’s another one I want to revise to send to the Bouchercon anthology. I’d also like to make some progress on the Secret Project, but that’s also predicated on my getting this short story work taken care of. I cannot believe how many stories I’ve started writing recently; it’s more than a little insane, methinks.

But then again, it seems pretty standard for my life–chaos, disorganization, and more chaos.

One would think I’d be used to it by now.

I also want to finish reading Carol Goodman’s The Sea of Lost Girls today, if I can; so i can get started on Lori Rader-Day’s The Lucky One. I am moderating a panel with her, Elizabeth Little (Pretty as a Picture) and  Laura Lippman (Lady in the Lake) at the Tennessee Williams Festival at the end of the month, and it’s always better to be prepared to discuss their latest works. Don’t worry, I’ll also be asking Lippman about My Life as a Villainess, her essay collection coming out later this year.

We watched another episode of Harlan Coben’s The Stranger last night. It’s a fun, twisty show, with a rather complicated narrative; I think it’s actually better than his last one, The Five. I am way behind on my Coben reading–so far behind I may never catch up–but I do enjoy that he writes suspense novels built around family/friend structures. I’m behind on everyone, so don’t feel special, Harlan! I am also way behind on my reading of Michael Koryta, Jeff Abbott, Stephen King, and any number of other white males; prioritizing diverse writers and women (and a year judging the Edgars) will do that to one, I suppose. I really wanted to read The Outsider (Stephen King) before watching the show; perhaps once I finish the Goodman and the Rader-Day I can move on to the King and we can finally watch the show. I’ve become rather an enormous fan of Jason Bateman, and really can’t wait for Ozark to come back.

We also lose an hour tonight; the part of Daylight Savings Time that I really hate. But I do like having longer days; I like it still being light when I come home from work, or at least, the light fading into night rather than the velvety darkness of a winter nocturne. It’s a bright, sunny day out there today; I am debating whether I do want to go get the mail–it would be my only adventure out into the world today–and am thinking I might do it. I hate only going once in the week, but on the other hand I’m also not expecting any packages or anything urgent (read: a check) in the mail, either. But it looks like a lovely day outside–and perhaps I can do some scouting after I get the mail. We shall certainly see how I feel.

I think this morning I am going to read some more of the Goodman novel while I have my morning coffee, and then after a few hours of that I’ll decide whether I do, in fact, want to leave the house. (odds are I won’t, quite frankly. I know myself all too well)

And on that note, tis time to get back to the spice mines. May your Saturday be bright and happy and full of cheer.

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Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind)

Ah, Tuesday, with all your promise, dawning bright and early.

The weather has been absolutely stunning these past few days–well, it did get overcast yesterday afternoon, but it was still lovely out–even if it’s too early in March for the weather to be this nice; we are having April weather in early March. Maybe it’s just a passing front, or something–but it is peculiar. I, of course, don’t mind; spring and fall are the two times of the year where the weather is so spectacular we’re reminded why we live here; I wish it was like this year round, but I also recognize that summer is the purgatorial price we must pay for these beautiful days in late March thru early May (and those from mid-September thru Thanksgiving).

I started working on the short story that’s due at the end of the month last night, and it started flowing. I know the voice isn’t quite right, but that’s what the revisions and rewrites are for, you know? One of the problems with being a writer, at least for me, is the conflicting desire to always get something done right the first time you do it; which isn’t really how writing works. As opposed to how you generally do almost everything else in life, writing isn’t required to be done correctly the first time; there are always rewrites, there are always revisions, there is always editing. I do strive to get everything as right as possible in the first draft–something I can’t really help, it’s just who I am–but I often struggle with being tied to what I originally wrote and sometimes stubbornly refuse to see what needs to be fixed within my work. (Part of the reason the Kansas Book and Bury Me in Shadows both still are languishing within the electronic file folders, rather than being out there in the world for my readers to <hopefully> enjoy.)

Plus, you also have to add in the added insecurity which makes me question every word choice, every sentence structure, and every plot development.

It really is a wonder I am not in a strait-jacket.

I slept fairly decently last night, which was lovely; I didn’t want to get up this morning, but I did, knowing that I can sleep a little every day the rest of this week. Tomorrow of course is my late day; an early evening shift so I can get stuff done around here during the day and go to the gym in the late morning. I have all kinds of things to do tomorrow–which means rather than having a relaxing morning, I am probably going to have an irritating one; but again, that’s perfectly fine. I need to carve out some time during the morning to write as well; I also want to get back to Carol Goodman’s The Sea of Lost Girls, which I really shouldn’t have started reading and didn’t really mean to; I just picked it up on Sunday to read the first chapter, to get a sense of it, and the next thing I knew several hours had passed and I was almost to page 100. I need to get it finished, hopefully, maybe, during the rest of this week so I can move on to Lori Rader-Day’s The Lucky One, and then I need to get back to reading Tracy Clark for the interview I am doing with her for the Sisters quarterly.

I am also still reading Jason Berry’s City of a Million Dreams as my current non-fiction; it’s quite exceptionally good, quite frankly.

Tomorrow an anthology I have a story in is having its cover reveal; I am very pleased to be in this anthology and I am very pleased with the story I wrote for it, as well as incredibly flattered to have been asked to be included. I have another story in another anthology that is dropping next month as well, so it’s turning out to be a fairly decent year for me, short story wise, at any rate. The preliminary Anthony ballots have already gone out, and I won’t lie: I’m really hoping my story “This Town” in Murder-a-Go-Go’s makes the short list. It’s probably my favorite story of my own that I’ve ever written and published; one of those few times when I’ve written something that turned out exactly the way I wanted it to, where everything–story, voice, character, mood–all came together in the way I wanted them to, and created a story that I think is one of my best efforts. I think the story in the anthology whose cover is being revealed tomorrow is another one of those instances; I am very proud of that story too–which began as something else completely, but I basically took the story set-up from a failed story and tacked new characters and a new story on it, and it worked beautifully. (I still have fond hopes for the original version of the story and its title; I just have to give those characters and that story a different set-up, is all. I am thinking a faculty cocktail party of some sort.)

I am also going to try to write something for another anthology that is coming to a close at the end of this month; I think some of the things I’ve recently started could actually work for this anthology’s theme, so I am going to go ahead and look them all over and determine which would work for the theme best and try to get it finished by the end of the month as well. I had a really great time working on the Sherlock story yesterday, and I think it’s beginning to coalesce and gel in my mind, so here’s hoping I can get the rough draft finished this week.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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On the Other Hand

We made it to Friday again, didn’t we?

Huzzah, I think. I’m ready for things to calm down, or some semblance of what passes for normalcy to come back around, and the sooner the damned better. I slept well again last night–only have a half-day today–and so I am returning to the gym this morning. It’s also rather cold here in New Orleans this morning; my space heater is on and I’m getting nice and toasty warm here at my desk. Yesterday was another slightly off-kilter day; I know Mercury is in retrograde (I’m not entirely sure I believe in that stuff, but one cannot deny that weird things happen fairly regularly whenever this astronomical thing occurs) and so that might sort of explain how things are off-center. I still think it’s just the entire city currently is in a state of low energy.

I really do have to write another book about Mardi Gras.

It occurred to me the other day that I have probably written more books about New Orleans than anyone else; not that means anything, of course. But eight books into Scotty and seven into Chanse puts me at fifteen books about New Orleans, and i don’t think anyone else has written that many that is a contemporary? Frances Parkinson Keyes was very prolific, and she also wrote a lot about New Orleans and Louisiana, but I don’t think everything she wrote was about New Orleans. But she certainly wrote one of the biggest selling books about New Orleans of all time: Dinner at Antoine’s. (It’s interesting, because I just finished reading about Pere Antoine–another, not famous restaurant in the Quarter is called Pere Antoine’s, and I’d always wondered who he was–in City of a Million Dreams–interestingly enough he was a Spanish priest the local French called Pere Antoine; he was also an Inquisitor, and that eventually led to him being sent away from New Orleans by Governor Carondelet)

This weekend I hope to get back on track with the Secret Project as well as finish some of these short stories I’ve got floating around. I worked a little bit on “Festival of the Redeemer” and “Gossip” yesterday; I also did some work on “You Won’t See Me” that I can’t seem to find anywhere. Heavy sigh. I’ve also fallen behind on my reading. I need to finish the Ali Brandon, and I need to read Lori Rader-Day’s The Lucky One, preparatory to our panel at the Williams Festival towards the end of March. The kitchen and Lost Apartment are yet again a total mess; so tonight when I get home from work I need to get the kitchen and the apartment worked on so I can focus on writing and reading all weekend.

I plan on making white bean chicken chili this weekend as well; I may make it today, before I head into the office, so I can have it for dinner tonight. (Or maybe tomorrow. I don’t know. It depends on how much I can get done this morning around going to the gym, of course.) We’re also still watching the final season of Schitt’s Creek; I am going to be terribly sorry to see this show end. It really is funny and charming, and unlike anything I’ve ever seen on television before.

I do feel a little more like myself this morning; that feeling of being able to do anything and get everything I want out of life, which is kind of lovely. I miss feeling like that, to be perfectly honest, and I need to get everything back on track. It’s always difficult to get things going when Carnival is looming on the horizon, and the thing about Carnival is that it’s just long enough for everyone to be sick of it and ready for it to be over when it finally is; Carnival rarely leaves you wanting more.

It really is the perfect way to lead into Lent.

When I was at the grocery store on Wednesday night I saw someone with the cross of ashes on her forehead, which kind of took me aback–I’ve not seen that in quite some time. When we first moved here, New Orleans was still heavily Catholic, and seeing the ashes on people’s foreheads on Ash Wednesday was pretty common. With the influx of the new people after Katrina–they seemed to come in waves–the Catholicism of the city was diluted; that woman was the first person I’ve seen in years with ashes on her forehead–but then again, that may be because I am generally not out that much in public on Ash Wednesday as I used to be. I’d be curious to know if the percentage of Catholics in the city has dropped at all since the 2010 census.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Friday, everyone.

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Strawberry Wine

Tuesday, Tuesday–can we really trust this day?

I’ve always found Tuesdays to be more questionable than Mondays, if we’re going to be completely honest. At least on Monday–despite the inevitable ring of the alarm, the grudging getting out of bed earlier than you want to, the unpleasantness of the desire and need for caffeine–you’re rested from the weekend. When the Tuesday morning alarm goes off, you have already worn off that weekend glow and are tired from a full day’s work already, with several more still left to go…I daresay that Monday’s blue and Tuesday’s, too.

I got some writing done last night–I’ve found three different versions of the first chapter of the Secret Project, so  I spent some time merging them together; today I am most likely going to edit that chapter and get it revised, polished and pulled together. I also worked on the new short story idea I had, “Festival of the Redeemer”, which is a  noirish Daphne du Maurier-type story with a bit of inspiration from Highsmith, Ripley, and the film; which I will watch another half hour of tomorrow morning at the gym. My writing muscles are much more slack and harder to whip back into shape that the regular muscles of my body. Sunday’s gym trip broke me through the tired-muscle syndrome I was experiencing that first week back; now my muscles no longer feel a bit achy and tired all the time, and I am sleeping ever so much better.

I know I have to push through and the writing muscles will eventually catch up and the words will start coming out of me again, but JFC, what a pain in the ass. I guess the message here is to never let my writing muscles get out of shape ever again–not that I ever remember letting them get out of shape in the first place.

I do think “Festival of the Redeemer” has the potential to be a terrific story, but again–gay main character, gay noir, who’s going to publish that? I currently have a “gay” story out on submission to a mainstream market, but feel relatively confident that story is going to be rejected eventually; they’ve had it longer than they had the one they already published, and delayed response usually means eventual rejection. Every story, of course, is a different animal than the one that came before it; so a quick turnaround on one story doesn’t mean the next one will get that same quick turnaround, of course, and it’s a different story so–

I wonder what it’s like to not have to wonder if your story is going to be rejected because you wrote about gay characters?

But it’s been awhile since i wrote a short story, and I’m writing this one around the Secret Project; once the Secret Project is finished I’ll have to put this story aside to focus on the Sherlock story–which I still can’t believe I’m actually writing a Sherlock story. But this year I know I will have at least two stories for sure in print: my story for The Faking of the President will be out around the same time as my story in The Beat of Black Wings. Which is incredibly cool; both stories have the same kind of noirish dark tone, but I still think “This Town” is the best short story I’ve written over the last few years. I don’t know if it will get an Anthony nomination for this year’s Bouchercon, but you never know; stranger things have happened, and I never thought “Cold Beer No Flies” would have been an Anthony finalist, either.

“Festival of the Redeemer”–well, I’ve wanted to write a story about Venice ever since I visited there, and of course, the film of The Talented Mr. Ripley is reminding me of how much I loved Italy when I was there; I haven’t gotten to the “Tom in Venice” segments yet, but just thinking about it–and the weird friendship between Tom and Dickie–made me finally understand how I could write this story; what the crux of it is, and why it should be told–and where the story should come from within me; and I think I finally can root the story out.

At any rate, I am probably going to have to stop at the grocery store tonight on my way home to start storing provisions for the coming weekend of being trapped inside the parade route for most of the weekend. It’ll be fun, of course, wandering down to the corner to watch the parades and catch some things, watching the crowds and seeing who else from the neighborhood is out there; it always is, if somewhat exhausting. Barkus of course is Sunday afternoon in the Quarter–the dog walking parade–and there’s no parades on Sunday night, I suppose so we can start getting rested for the marathon to come beginning on Wednesday. I decided to do my usual Outreach shift on Friday afternoon, which will mean walking down to the Quarter after doing my workout Friday morning–no need, obviously, to do my cardio since I’ll be walking several miles that day–and then trying to get to the gym Sunday morning before the first parades start arriving in the neighborhood. I don’t remember who is Bacchus this year–nor do I remember who is riding in Orpheus–but I know Jennifer Coolidge is the celebrity guest Muse, riding in the big shoe this year.

I’m probably going to have to write another book about Mardi Gras someday; I think seeing Scotty and the boys through another Mardi Gras is probably a good idea–hell, it might even be worthwhile to take them through Southern Decadence again. I don’t think Scotty’s quite done with his partying ways, frankly, even with sort-of-nephew Taylor around to be badly influenced–although I would imagine it would be relatively awkward for him and Frank to be wasted on Ecstasy on the dance floor at Oz and run into Taylor and some of his friends from Tulane. Hmmm.

But I need to get back to reading Where are the Children? so I can get back to my reading of Tracy Clark; I also need to read Lori Rader-Day’s The Lucky One for a panel I am moderating this year at the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival. And I also have some MWA business I need to work on this week–the life of an executive vice-president is always intended to be, well, interesting–and as such, I should probably head back into the spice mines.

Have a lovely Wednesday Eve, all!

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Amazed

Show of hands: who predicted I wouldn’t get as much done yesterday as I wanted to? I was pretty confident that would wind up the case, as it always is. But I did get a lot done yesterday–some of it even writing-related, so have a seat, guilty conscience!–and that pleases me. I am hopeful I’ll be able to get more done today as well. Granted–it’s easy to say that as I sip my first cup of coffee. I also stayed in bed later this morning than I wanted to–since I woke up at seven on my own yesterday I thought perhaps this morning would be the same so I didn’t set an alarm–but I wound up getting up at eight, so that wasn’t too terrible I also hit a wall yesterday around four thirty–I got very tired–and so I repaired to the easy chair to finish reading my book.

It’s rather gloomy out there this morning, and it’s chilly here in the Lost Apartment–the space heater is on–and I’m a little annoyed by this return of coldness. Yesterday. while starting out chilly, eventually turned into quite a beautiful day; I didn’t even wear a jacket when I went out to run my errands. But that’s okay; I probably won’t have to go out into much today, or at least I hope not.

We watched a lot of the figure skating championships yesterday–will probably do so again today; I think the men’s is on this afternoon and Europeans is on tonight–and Paul’s been watching the Australian Open on his computer. We’re very behind on all the shows we watch, and there are also any number of new shows we want to watch–or shows we watch have returned for another season, which is very cool–and of course, the Williams Festival is approaching, which means late nights at the office for Paul; yes, it’s about that time when I become a Festival widow again. I should be able to get a lot of reading done during this time–which is what I generally use it for. I got a copy of Lori Rader-Day’s new novel yesterday in the mail, The Lucky One, and since I’m moderating that panel, I’ll need to read it soon.

I also have to make travel arrangements today for some upcoming trips in this new year; Bouchercon, Malice Domestic, etc.

Ah, it’s raining. That explains the gloomy grayness outside.

It’s the kind of day, really, where I’d rather curl up under a blanket and read all day, quite frankly, but I can’t do that. I need to work on the Secret Project, and there’s all kinds of other things I also have to get done today–odds and ends, emails to answer, etc. I’d also like to make some headway on getting my taxes at least started; I am missing only one 1099 form, and once I have that I can turn everything over to my accountant and get my return filed, which will be lovely.

I did finish reading Elizabeth Little’s Pretty as a Picture, which is fantastic–and then I started reading Dorothy B. Hughes’ Dread Journey when my energy finally flagged in the late afternoon.

pretty as a picture

They say a picture’s worth a thousand words.

That’s not what I’d say.

I’d say it depends on the picture. I’d say it depends on the size and the color and the subject and the print and the framing and the focus and the composition. I’d say it depends on what you were doing the hour before, the day before, the year before, the life before. I’d say it depends on whether you’re looking at it on a wall or scrolling past it on a screen or cutting it carefully out of a book, digging your knuckle into the gutter of the spine because the margins are so small and the blades are so long and it’s impossible to get a straight line, but you don’t want to dig up a guide and an X-Acto knife because you aren’t willing to wait, you have to have it, you have to have this picture, right now, and your kitchen scissors are close enough and good enough–yes, good enough–and Jesus Christ, Marissa, when will you get it through your thick head: Imperfection is a price happy people pay to cradle the weight of something they love.

That’s what I’d say.

Elizabeth Little’s debut novel, Dear Daughter, is one of my favorite first novels and one of my favorite books of this past decade. Her novels–why they do focus on crime, or criminal activity–are more than just crime novels; they’re stories about women–messy, complicated, complex, interesting women you want to see get past not only their current crisis, but also pull their lives together. One of the most impressive things to me about Dear Daughter is that she didn’t wrap it all up neatly with a bow at the end, with justice being served and our heroine coming out of everything triumphant; she gave the ending a more realistic, this-is-how-it-would-play-out-in-real-life ending.

I’ve been waiting a long time for Pretty as a Picture, and it was worth the wait.

The story is told in a very tight, first person/present tense style that pulls the reader into the action and the head of our main character/narrator–Marissa Dahl, an up-and-coming film editor who has primarily worked on the films of her college best friend and current roommate, Amy,  an up-and-coming director. Marissa is socially awkward–there’s a lovely scene in which she talked about meeting a superstar director, Tony Rees, at the Venice Film Festival and pulls him into a fountain with her when she loses her balance–and very unsure of herself. She meets a guy named Josh, who winds up dating Amy, and having been interested in him herself, she now has become an incredibly awkward fifth wheel and has decided to separate herself from Amy, personally and professionally, to give Amy and Josh’s new relationship room to breathe and grow–and she’s more than just a little resentful about Josh, whom she now actively dislikes (which is also wrapped up in her own social awkwardness), which is why she ends up agreeing to work on a Tony Rees’ new film–a project wrapped in secrecy and sixteen page NDA’s. She heads out to Kickout Island, off the coast of Delaware, and even has a big security man–Isaiah–who picks her up at the local airport and takes her out there.

One of Marissa’s neuroses includes a fear of the water–and we eventually do find out where that fear came from.

The film turns out to be a fictionalized film version of an actual murder that took place on Kickout Island many years ago–the murder of a pretty teenaged girl; a murder that was never solved. Strange things are going on around the set–accidents, cast and crew being fired–and we slowly but surely are made aware, through Marissa’s eyes, that things are not as they seem…and then someone else dies, and Marissa is reluctantly on both cases.

I have to say, though, that my favorite characters–besides Marissa, whom I really liked for all her tics and strangeness and constant film references (which is actually very cool)–are the two teenaged girls she first encounters in the hotel kitchen while she is scrounging for something to eat–Grace and Suzy–who are also trying to solve the original murder case. I’d read an entire series about these two girls.

But Pretty as a Picture is a great read; well-written and clever and witty and snarky at points, but an enjoyable read with a complicated, twisty plot that never condescends to the reader. Well worth the lengthy wait for this second novel by Elizabeth Little–the only problem is now I have to wait (hopefully not as long) for her third.