What Have I Done to Deserve This?

It’s Saturday, and how lovely that feeling is. I am going to try to avoid social media as well as email interactions this weekend, as I want to be productive and I really don’t need any help with getting distracted. I was a condom packing machine yesterday, and Scooter was happily cuddled up to my feet as I had my lap desk and was working. I finally came up with the working system for maximum efficiency, and ultimately I was able to double my productivity in the same amount of time, which was quite impressive. It had been bothering me that I wasn’t as fast at home as I was at the office–or rather, in my old office on Frenchmen Street–but I also didn’t have the proper set-up until yesterday. I also had taken some time on Thursday to fold inserts, which also sped up my time yesterday. I also watched this week’s Real Housewives episodes, rewatched “The Bells” episode of Game of Thrones season eight (it’s quite a spectacle; more on that later) and then Dangerous Liaisons and The Maltese Falcon on the TCM menu on HBO MAX (which I love; there’s so much excellent film on that menu–things I want to rewatch and things I’ve always wanted to see). After dinner we finished off watching Into the Night, which had a lovely cliffhanger, and then started a Mexican Netflix drama, Control Z, which is quite intense. I do have to run an errand today, and I do have to spend some time cleaning out my email inbox–it’s ridiculously out of control again (doesn’t take long!)–and then I am going to reread Bury Me in Shadows and make notes on what to keep and what has to change. I’d also like to spend some time with “A Holler Full of Kudzu,” but there’s only so much time in one day and I only have so much attention span, really.

It’s gloomy and overcast out there this morning; we’re expecting rain off and on for most of the weekend because of now-Hurricane Hannah. I slept fairly decently most of the night, but still woke up feeling a little tired this morning. As much as I would like to be lazy for the day–and really, rereading a manuscript is the epitome of lazy, since I’ll be doing it in my easy chair–but it’s quite interesting and sort of amazing how much of a difference a good night’s sleep makes in my productivity when it comes to writing. The more tired I am, the more snappish I become–so it’s always a good idea to not be on social media or answer emails, as little things really get under my skin when I’m in that condition–but hopefully that won’t be an issue this evening. We shall see, I suppose.

I’m not really sure why I got the bug in my ear to rewatch that episode of Game of Thrones–it’s really amazing, given what a cultural phenomenon the show was while it was airing, how little anyone talks about it anymore. I think this is primarily due to the enormous disappointment the majority of viewers felt with its conclusion, and I certainly can’t disagree with those disappointed feelings. I, too, wasn’t terribly pleased with how the show ended, but at the same time, I wasn’t expected this world–which mirrored actual history with all its gore and good-doesn’t-always-win and evil-sometimes-goes-unpunished reality–to come to a happy ending; although Sansa did wind up as Queen of the North, so at least there’s some sense of justice in that, after everything she went through. And with her red hair, and all the suffering she endured, an argument could be made that she was sort of based on Queen Elizabeth I–who against incredible odds and twenty-five years of living in the shadow of the executioner–finally climbed to the throne. But I want to talk more about “The Bells” and the sack of King’s Landing–which was another episode that had fans disappointed and outraged. I was one of the few fans who was all about the city being destroyed; and I was also really pleased that they showed it from the ground for the most part–with Daenarys and Drogon only seen from below as the city burns and people die. It was exactly how I imagined the sacking of cities throughout history to look–rape and murder, blood in the streets, pillaging, hysterical terrified crowds running for their lives and praying for sanctuary as their world collapses around them. Conquerers never showed mercy; the concept everyone was hoping for that to happen once the bells were rung is very modern. Cities have historically been subject to such sackings throughout history; maybe not with a dragon involved, but read accounts of the many times Rome fell, or the fall of Constantinople–this wasn’t a modern world by any means, and modern concepts of justice and mercy weren’t in play. Cersei herself said it in Season One: “when you play the game of thrones, you either win or you die.” She played, she died, and she took her capital city with her. Power politics in medieval history–the closest proximation to the world of Game of Thrones–were bloody and cruel and merciless, and the Popes and the Church were just as involved and as ruthless as any king or emperor. Arya even alluded to this when she was wearing the face of Walder Frey and wiping out his entire house: “You didn’t kill all of the Starks. You should have ripped them out, root and stem. Leave one wolf alive and the sheep are never safe.” Ergo–if you don’t kill all of your enemies, you have no one but yourself to blame when they kill you.

Dangerous Liaisons is a great movie, and a great story as well. When the film came out, I bought a copy of the novel and was enthralled by the petty games of seduction and revenge that played out in its pages. (I didn’t see the film until years later, when I rented the video; I’ve seen both the Glenn Close version and the Annette Bening, Valmont; and of course the modern day remake with Ryan Philippe and Sarah Michelle Gellar, Cruel Intentions. There was an earlier, modern day version made in the 1960’s I’ve not seen; it’s in French and I’ve always wanted to see it.) The novel is exceptional; originally published (and banned) in France in 1782, it was quite a cause celebre at the time; depicting the immorality and debauchery of the aristocratic class, it has sometimes been described as being one of the initial steps on the road to revolution in 1789. It’s an epistolary novel; you are reading the letters the characters all write to one another, so you see how the Marquise and the Vicomte are playing with their innocent, naive friends and relatives quite well. They are only honest with each other–although, of course, in this modern age the lesson I took from it was never put anything in writing, which is just as true today as it was then–and I had always wanted to do a modern, gay version. I eventually did, with Wicked Frat Boy Ways, but while I am proud of the book I also wish I could redo it some, revise and add to it more.

The film is extraordinary, and Glenn Close was certainly robbed–as she has been many times–of the Oscar for Best Actress.

As for The Maltese Falcon, it’s still a great movie, but I didn’t finish watching–and would prefer to rewatch when I can give it my full attention. It really is marvelously written, acted, directed, and filmed. I should probably reread the novel someday.

And on that note, I am going to dive back into the spice mines. The kitchen and living room are both a mess; I have errands to run, and of course, that manuscript to read. Have a lovely, safe Saturday, Constant Reader, and I will see you tomorrow.

One More Night

Thursday. I overslept this morning and thus didn’t make it to the gym–I’ll have to go tomorrow night after work–but I also had a really great night’s sleep and so am taking that as a win; now that I am out of bed my muscles aren’t tired or sore. I’ll do some stretching and my abs this morning before getting in the shower. I also have to get up tomorrow morning and go to the eye doctor; instead of my usual wimpy not complaining and accepting things, I called them and told them I can’t read in my progressive contacts so I need a stronger prescription. So, I am going in tomorrow to get a new trial pair and perhaps order my new glasses and a year’s supply of the contacts; depending on how the new ones feel.

The decisions have been made on the Bouchercon anthology, and all the people who submitted have been duly noted. This weekend I will read the chosen again and put them in order. I am currently waiting to hear back from all the selected authors. I think we’ll make the announcement of the table of contents next week. Huzzah!

Yesterday I also started writing, of all things, a Chanse MacLeod short story. I know, right? I don’t think I’ll ever write another Chanse novel, but there are ideas I had for him that I don’t want to really waste, and hey, why not write short stories about him? I always had in mind to write about him returning to the town of his birth; I also had a story in mind involving his younger brother; another with him dealing with his fraternity past in Baton Rouge–all stories my publishers were never interested in since they weren’t set in New Orleans. As I have said before, I’ve never really known how to write a private eye mystery short story, but all this short story reading I’ve been doing has kind of opened my eyes in that regard; so thank you, Sue Grafton, Ross Macdonald, Laura Lippman, etc. I’ve already realized that the opening doesn’t work, and it’s just extraneous crap I don’t need. But I am going to soldier on, and hopefully today I will finish the first draft. I also have an idea for a short story involving Chanse’s partner, whose name I cannot recall; I’ve always been interested in writing about her–the straight girl who paid for college by stripping on Bourbon Street. I cannot for the life of me think of her name right now, which is annoying, but I always thought she was interesting. I’d even thought about spinning her off, even using Chanse as a supporting character in the books–but then, is there an audience for a series about a female private eye who used to work as a stripper? But I think I can make it work as a short story. We’ll see.

Last night while I was making dinner I reread some of the short stories I have in progress, and was quite pleased with them. I am going to try to get those revisions done as quickly as I can, so I can get them out of my hair so I can focus on getting the new project done.

I’m still behind on the Short Story Project, but I did manage to read Raymond Chandler’s “Red Wind” yesterday; someone recently talked about it somewhere on social media as the perfect hard-boiled short story. It had been a while since I’d read Chandler–and I haven’t read all of Chandler, either, something I need to remedy–and so I thought it was a great opportunity to read this story, which I wasn’t familiar with.

There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.

I was getting one in a flossy new place across the street from the apartment house where I lived. It had been open about a week and it wasn’t doing any business. The kid behind the bar was in his early twenties and looked as if he had never had a drink in his life.

I’ve not read all of Chandler, or his hard-boiled cohorts Dashiell Hammett, Ross Macdonald, or noir master James M. Cain. What I have read I’ve greatly enjoyed; as I have greatly enjoyed John D. Macdonald. I think I’ve been influenced by all of them to some degree; and there simply isn’t enough time to read. I’d love to go back and not only finish reading all of their works but to reread the ones I’ve already read; The Maltese Falcon, for example, is way overdue for a reread and so are the Travis McGee novels; The Big Sleep, Farewell My Lovely, and The Lady in the Lake, along with Love’s Lovely Counterfeit and of course, the Archer novels (although I am reading the Archer short stories). Anyway, I’ve always loved these writers and their work, and I do need to go back and reread them, problematic as some of them may be to modern eyes.

“Red Wind” is a really good story, complicated and complex, but still moves relatively easily from A to B to C. It opens with Marlowe stopping in at a bar across the street from where he lives in an apartment building, and a murder occurs right in front of him and the other denizens of the bar. After dealing with the police he heads back to the apartment building where he runs into the proverbial ‘dame’ of these types of stories, she lies to him, of course, but also manages to save his life when the murderer shows up to eliminate the witnesses. But while the mystery of the murder is now cleared up, turns out the victim has left some loose ends behind–involving the dame and some others. He was a blackmailer; the murder had nothing to do with the shooting (a very clever shift by Chandler), and Marlowe is on the case, trying to solve the blackmail cases and dealing with the LAPD. The writing is choice, terse, and all throughout the story the Santa Ana wind plays a role, almost like another character, driving people to do things they might not do under normal weather circumstances.

And now, back to the spice mines; since I didn’t go to the gym I need to get other things done.

IMG_3978

You Can’t Hurry Love

I read a lot this weekend! I did work on the writing a little bit, but not nearly as much as I could/should have. I finished reading the Highsmith, reread The Exorcist, and finally got to Ross MacDonald’s The Drowning Pool, which I read yesterday afternoon, and then last night while watching the US Open I started reading Christopher Golden’s Ararat (which is great fun so far; I’m a little less than halfway through and having a great time reading it).

It might interest you to know, Constant Reader, that I’d never read Ross MacDonald until I was on a panel somewhere with Christopher Rice, either in 2002or 2003, and Chris mentioned MacDonald as one of his favorite writers/greatest influences. I’d read John D. MacDonald and Gregory McDonald; but had somehow never gotten around to Ross. I knew of the Lew Archer series, of course, but had never read any of them, nor any of his standalones. Based on Chris’ recommendation, I started reading them, and never looked back–although I have been slowly doling them out, as there is a limited amount of them and no new ones coming anytime soon. I was a little surprised, after finishing The Exorcist, to pick up The Drowning Pool and realize it was one I hadn’t read.

411U1dmvA2L

If you didn’t look at her face she was less than thirty, quick-bodied and slim as a girl. Her clothing drew attention to the fact: a tailored sharkskin suit and high heels that tensed her nylon-shadowed calves. But there was a pull of worry around her eyes and drawing at her mouth. The eyes were deep blue, with a sort of double vision. They saw you clearly, took you in completely, and at the same time looked beyond you. They had years to look back on, and more things to see in the years than a girl’s eyes had. About thirty-five, I thought, and still in the running.

She stood in the doorway without speaking long enough for me to think those things. Her teeth were nibbling the inside of her upper lip, and both of her hands were clutching her black suede bag at the level of her waist. I let the silence stretch out. She had knocked and I had opened the door. Undecided or not, she couldn’t expect me to lift her over the threshold. She was a big girl now, and she had come for a reason. Her stance was awkward with urgency.

“Mr. Archer?” she said at last.

“Yes. Will you come in?”

“Thank you, Forgive me for hanging back. It must make you feel like a dentist.”

“Everybody hates detectives and dentists. We hate them back.”

The Drowning Pool is hard-boiled, borderline noir (based on the fact that Archer works as a private eye), and can’t you imagine the above scene being played, in black-and-white by either Humphrey Bogart or Robert Mitchum, talking to either Gloria Grahame or Ida Lupino or Barbara Stanwyck? The story is simple: Archer is hired by the wealthy-seeming Mrs. Slocum to find out who has written her husband a poison-pen letter accusing her of adultery; back at the time the book was written, adultery was one of the few grounds for divorce recognized in every state. But as Archer begins to investigate, turns out Mrs. Slocum and her husband don’t have money; the money belongs to her mother-in-law, and she keeps them on a tight leash. Her estate is also sitting on a lot of oil, which she refuses to allow anyone to drill for, which would in turn make them even filthier rich. The elder Mrs. Slocum winds up dead in the swimming pool during a party, and soon the case begins twisting and turning left and right–and more bodies continue to pile up as Archer tries to get to the bottom of what is going on at the Slocum estate. It’s a great, fast read–and MacDonald’s grasp of language is extraordinary.

There’s a reason why MacDonald is up there with the greats of crime fiction.

There’s also an interesting subplot–almost a throwaway–about why the second Mrs. Slocum’s marriage is an abject failure. MacDonald doesn’t spend a lot of time on this, but it’s there for the queer reader to pick up on. It would be interesting to compare and contrast this book with MacDonald’s wife, Margaret Millar’s, Beast in View, released a few years later. There’s also an interesting comparison to be made between The Drowning Pool and James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity, in the character of Mrs. Slocum’s daughter Cathy, and the daughter in Cain’s book; also, an interesting comparison between this book could be made with Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon.

Maybe someday when I have more time.

 

Never Gonna Let You Go

Have you read the comic book co-written by Megan Abbott and Alison Gaylin, Normandy Gold?

IMG_1772

It will come as no surprise that its fantastic. Megan Abbott and Alison Gaylin are two of the best crime writers of our Golden Age of women crime writers.

One of the things that can get confusing with crime fiction is the subgenres and the sometimes slight distinctions between them; take hard-boiled vs. noir as an example. I think the confusion comes because a hard-boiled crime novel, when made into a film, can fit into the film noir category, which is a bit broader than the genre definitions crime novels can use and books can fall into; for example, The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep are hard-boiled detective novels; the films, however, are classic film noir. (Your mileage may vary; I am speaking only for myself and how I classify books.) For me, a detective novel that is dark and brooding and cynical in nature is hard-boiled, Sue Grafton and Sara Paretsky’s novels, for me, fall into this category, as do Hammett’s detective fiction and Chandler’s. James M. Cain’s novels were noir, as are Megan Abbott’s. Alison Gaylin’s detective novels are more hard-boiled; her stand alone novels are more noir. For me, a noir novel doesn’t have a professional investigator as the main character; those are hard-boiled.

Charles Ardai’s Hard Case Crime line of novels contains both noir and hard-boiled fiction; the team-up of Gaylin and Abbott with the graphic serial novel Normandy Gold is a fine addition to Hard Case, and one of the best comics/graphic novels I’ve come across in a long while. As I read the first issue on my iPad, all I could think was how glorious this is; excellent, crisp dialogue and incredible storytelling, along with some amazing artwork. If there are awards for graphic novels, just start sending them along to the team that produced this now!

Normandy Gold firmly straddles the line between noir and hard-boiled with guns blazing. Set in the 1970’s, Normandy is a small town sheriff in rural Oregon. Her mother was a prostitute, and she ran away when she was a teen to try to find a better life for herself, leaving her younger sister behind. One day she gets a call from her sister, and is still on the line with her as her sister is murdered. Normandy comes to Washington DC to find out what she can about her sister’s death; the cops have written it off as just another dead whore no one cares about and unsolvable. But Normandy also finds out her sister wasn’t just a prostitute; she worked for a very elite, high level escort service, and decides to go undercover to find what happened to her sister.

This typical-sounding set-up comes alive in the hands of two master storytellers, and the art itself is stunningly beautiful. The story moves very quickly, and the 1970’s setting is perfectly done; not a false note in the entire first issue. This is the kind of story that, as a film in the 1970’s, would have earned a star like Jane Fonda or Ellen Burstyn or Ann-Margret an Oscar nomination, if not the statue itself. Vividly realized, you keep turning the pages to see what happens next…and when you get to the end of the issue, you’re sorry it’s done but can’t wait to read the next.

Highly recommended.