Disco Lady

Sunday morning, and the final day of the Weekend o’Festivals. I am up early because I went to bed early (day drinking may have been involved). I have a reading at one and a panel at two-thirty, and after that I am heading home. Terminix gave us the all clear yesterday, so the TERMITE ARMAGEDDON is over. I think I am going to go ahead and pack up everything and head home in a little bit, just so I can get started cleaning and washing and laundering, to get a jump on it for later….four-thirty/fivish is a bit late to get started for that, really, and it will be lovely to actually be back home.

My panel went very well yesterday–I am such a nervous fool when it comes to moderating panels; and I am always terrified that I’m doing a shitty job of it and disappointing the audience. But it did go well–it always helps when you have smart, intelligent witty panelists–so thank you, Samantha Downing (My Lovely Wife, more on that later), Alafair Burke (The Wife, The Better Sister), and Kristien Hemmerechts (The Woman Who Fed the Dogs, more on that later as well). I strongly encourage you, Constant Reader, to read and enjoy and savor their books. Entertaining yet disturbing, which, of course, I absolutely love.

I actually think I am going to pack up some things and head home this morning; I don’t have to take everything with me now–I can finish taking everything home after my panel is over. I am going to have to skip the closing reception, alas; too much to do at home, I am afraid, in order to make the Lost Apartment livable again so I can bring Scooter home from the kitty spa in the morning. Tomorrow I also have to finish a writing project, get the mail, pick up prescriptions, and get groceries for the week.

The Weekend o’Festivals is always a good time, I always enjoy myself tremendously, but it’s also nice to get back on the right footing and get back into my normal routine again. I’d already decided that since it was the Weekend o’Festivals that derailed my workouts last year (and I never recovered from it) that it was silly to get started before Carnival and the Weekend o’Festivals again. So, tomorrow afternoon I am going to head over to the gym and start working out again…trying to stick to a Wednesday morning, Friday afternoon, and Sunday morning schedule, while also slipping in to try cardio on other days as well. Three days a week is the ultimate goal, going back to my mantra of three times optimal, twice better than once, once better than nothing.

At my check-up on Friday I had apparently lost another three pounds since the last time I weighed myself, so I was down to 208, with only another eight to go to reach goal weight of 200. (Once I get to 200, I will reassess; from there I think I primarily want to simply focus on losing fat while replacing it with muscle; but I also have to see how that is going and reassess. I tend to carry all my extra weight around the waist, and my rib cage is enormous, which means my torso is always going to be enormous; so what I really need to focus on is building my legs up. Sigh–I am going to become obsessed with my body again, aren’t I? But it’s not about aesthetics this time, it really is about improving overall health, getting my blood pressure down, and so forth.)

And so now I am going to go pack up my stuff and get ready to cab home.

Later all!

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A View to a Kill

God, yesterday.

Have you ever had one of those days where you took the morning off from your day job to drive out to the suburbs for an appointment with your eye doctor, only to arrive and find out that you don’t have an appointment after all–and the doctor isn’t even IN–and then after further investigation it turned out that when you called to make your appointment for March 2nd they made it for February 2nd? Yeah, that was how MY day started yesterday. So, I left with a new appointment for next Friday, which means taking ANOTHER morning off from work, and means I still don’t have my new contact lenses and my new glasses are still off somewhere in the future.

Honestly. It’s amazing there was no body count. Seriously. And, as always when something goes wrong in a day, everything else the rest of the day just seemed to go wrong, too. But today is going to be better.

Speaking of better, Alison Gaylin’s new novel comes out this week, and if you haven’t already preordered it, you need to do so. RIGHT NOW.

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From the Facebook page of Jacqueline Merrick Reed.

October 24 at 2:45 am

By the time you read this, I’ll be dead.

This isn’t Jackie. It’s her son Wade. She doesn’t know where I am. She doesn’t even know I can get on her FB page, so don’t ask her. This isn’t her fault. I am not her fault.

I am writing to tell my mom and Connor that I’m sorry. I never meant to hurt anyone. I wish I could tell you the truth of what happened, but it’s not my truth to tell. And anyway, it doesn’t matter. What matters, what I want you both to know, is that I love you. Don’t feel sad. Everything you did was the right thing to do. I’m sorry for those things I said to you, Connor. I didn’t mean any of it.

Alison Gaylin has been nominated for an Edgar Award three times: Best First Novel, Best Paperback Original, and Best Novel. (For the record, let it show there are many many horrible things I would do to be nominated once, let alone three times.) Her most recent novel, What Remains of Me, was a tour-de-force (Best Novel nominee), juggling two different time-lines as she told the story of two murders thirty years apart and yet connected. But somehow she has managed to surpass that novel with her latest, If I Die Tonight, which is powerful, compelling and beautifully written.

The book begins with the above Facebook post, which immediately pulls the reader into the story. Who is Wade? What is he talking about? Why is he going to kill himself? And from there, the book goes back to five days earlier, where the story truly begins. Jackie, mentioned in the post, is a single mother, estranged from her ex-husband and his current wife. The father of her two children has also pretty much abdicated any responsibility for his sons, other than the monthly check. Jackie is a realtor, and struggles to make ends meet. Her eldest son Wade is her primary worry: over the last few years he has withdrawn, become more insular, barely speaks to her. Friends don’t stop by to visit him or hang out, he doesn’t leave the house much. He is also no longer close to his younger brother, Connor. Jackie’s co-worker at the real estate agency is also her best friend; Wade used to be infatuated with her daughter but is no longer.

The peace and quiet of this little town in the Hudson Valley, Havenkill, is abruptly shattered in the early hours of a weekend morning when an attempted carjacking ends with a popular young athlete at the high school, Liam, hospitalized in critical condition; he and a friend came to the rescue of the woman being carjacked, but the car was stolen anyway and the comatose boy was run over. Who would do such a thing? The woman in the car is a one-hit wonder from the 80’s, Aimee En, and yet pieces of her story don’t make sense. What happened that night? And when Liam dies and it becomes a murder investigation, Jackie becomes increasingly more terrified that Wade was involved somehow.

Gaylin’s mastery of character is on full display in this novel; every character is real, believable, and alive. Even when they behave in ways that are either self-destructive or selfish, it makes sense and fits with the character; no one ever does anything that doesn’t make sense in order to advance the narrative. The plot is devilishly complex and layered, with twists and turns that make the truth almost impossible for the reader to ferret out. Gaylin makes you care for and understand every character, even if you don’t approve of what they’re doing.

But the heart of this novel, its true theme, is the relationships between parent and child. Jackie and Wade, police detective Pearl Maze and her estranged father, her co-worker Helen and her daughter–every step along the way Gaylin is examining those relationships: what goes wrong between them? Can distance, once it develops, be overcome? What is and isn’t acceptable for a parent to accept from their child in terms of behavior, and vice versa? How well can a parent know a child, and vice versa? What is enough space, and what is too much?

And every twist in this novel is earned, as it barrels along to its satisfying conclusion.

This is going to be one of the top books of the year; in fact, 2018 has–with Gaylin’s, Laura Lippman’s Sunburn, and Alafair Burke’s The Wife–already gotten off to an amazing start for crime fiction, and there’s a Megan Abbott coming this summer. If these women are indicative of how high the bar is being risen in crime fiction…it’s going to be a great year in our genre.

On the Dark Side

Sunday morning. I didn’t get as much done as I would have liked yesterday, but I did get some things checked off my to-do list, so i call that a win. I finished a first draft of my short story “The Trouble with Autofill,” which will need some serious revision and work–not a problem–but while I am displeased with the result, I am pleased that I got the first draft done. As I always say, you can always fix what you wrote–but you have to have something to fix. 

We finished watching Broadchurch last night, and my, was that series finale, wrapping up not only the story of the Latimers–whose son was murdered in Season One–but also the rape case that opened Season 3. I have to say, the show was really terrific; I greatly enjoyed it, and I thought it did a great job of putting real human faces on terrible tragedies. As I processed what I’d seen once it was finished, I realized that probably the reason I enjoy crime fiction so much is precisely that; it’s exploration of humanity through dealing with the unimaginable; and that’d also kind of what I’m doing with my short stories. I’m also really glad that I made the Short Story Project a year-long thing; I’m learning so much about short stories by reading so many different ones by so many different writers.

I also have to correct myself; I  do have a hard copy of Lawrence Block’s anthology In Sunlight or in Shadow. I was moving books around in the bookcases yesterday–and uncovering more anthologies and single-author collections as I went–and even though I’d spent a lot of time trying to find it over the past week to no avail, yesterday there it was, right next to Cary Elwes’ memoir of filming The Princess Bride, As You Wish. Why I hadn’t seen it or noticed it prior to this moment in time is one of the unsolved mysteries of my life and brain.

We also watched the first episode of American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace, and I wasn’t overly impressed with it beyond the surprisingly strong performance of Darren Criss as Andrew Cunanan. Visually, it’s splendid, but…I’ll give it another episode or two before consigning it to the scrapheap. The beauty of our streaming society is I can always give it another shot later; maybe I’ll like it better at another time. Black Sails, for example, continues to be something I really am enjoying; I watched half of Episode 3, Season 1, on the treadmill Friday and yes, I can’t help but keep asking myself why on earth did you not like this the first time?

The only problem I’m really having with the Short Story Project is that I am not reading any novels; so my TBR pile is not being reduced in any way. I want to read John Morgan Wilson’s Moth and Flame, and it’s been sitting on my side table next to the easy chair for over a week now; but I’m in such a short story groove…anyway.

Tomorrow is the release day for a book I read in ARC (advanced reader copy) form months ago, The Wife by Alafair Burke.

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In an instant, I became the woman the assumed I’d been along: the wife who lied to protect her husband.

I almost didn’t hear the knock on the front door. I had removed the brass knocker twelve days earlier, as if that would stop another reporter from showing up unannounced. Once I realized the source of the sound, I sat up straight in bed, hitting mute on the TV remote. Fighting the instinct to freeze, I forced myself to take a look. I parted the drawn bedroom curtains, squinting against the afternoon sun.

I saw the top of a head of short black hair on my stoop. The Impala in front of the fire hydrant across the street practically screamed “unmarked police car.” It was that same detective, back again. I still had her business card tucked away in my purse, where Jason wouldn’t see it. She kept knocking, and I kept watching her knock, until she sat on the front steps and started reading my paper.

Alafair Burke’s The Ex made my Top Ten list of 2016; it was the first of Alafair’s books I’d read (I have a bunch more in the TBR pile) and it absolutely blew me away. I wasn’t sure what to expect, and having met and liked Alafair, there was an element of worry; what if I don’t like her book? But it wasn’t an issue; from page one on, I was hooked and it was a book I deeply resented having to put down to do other things. Obviously, I was really looking forward to The Wife–maybe I’ll focus this year on reading the rest of her canon–and was thrilled when I got an ARC at Bouchercon this year.

The Wife does not disappoint, either, and boy is it ever timely! Angela Powell, the wife of the title, has a pretty terrific life; married to a very successful man who is getting even more successful every day, a beautiful home in Manhattan, good friends she can rely on, and a son she dotes on. Angela’s almost too-perfect, too-good-to-be-true life slowly but surely begins to unravel when one of her husband’s interns goes to the police and files a criminal complaint for sexual harassment against him. But Angela is not only rocked by the charges against her husband–she’s also worried about any investigation into their lives, particularly by the press…because she has some dark secrets in her own past that she doesn’t want seeing the light of day. No one, other than her husband and her mother, knows anything more about her past other than she was a catering service waitress who eventually started her own business and is a great chef–she met Jason at a party she was working at–but there is a lot more there. And as the truth about Angela’s past slowly is revealed to the reader, each revelation is even more shocking than the last.

The book has a powerful enough story, with just Angela dealing with this assault on their life and having to wonder if her husband has done what he’s being accused of, and if so, how did she not see it–or whether she should believe in his protestations of innocence and stand by his side? The exploration of what does a woman do in this instance might have been enough for a lesser novelist, but it’s not for Alafair Burke; there’s a reason why she has moved onto my ‘must-read’ list.

The Wife is going to be one of the best books of the year, and will be surely nominated for every crime writing award in 2019. I urge you to read it. You won’t be sorry.

Dancing in the Dark

Well, I finished Alafair Burke’s The Wife last night, and wow. Just….wow.

That is three, count ’em, three, amazing novels by women I’ve read recently; all of whom–Alison Gaylin, Laura Lippman, Alafair Burke–were already writing fantastic novels, and yet somehow manage to get better with each new one.  As a writer myself, reading these fantastic novels is a bit daunting–it puts me in mind of why do I bother I will never be this good–but as a reader who loves books, they make me want to send off fireworks.

I also started reading Adam Sternbergh’s The Blinds last night, and it’s also exceptional. I’d read his Edgar Award nominated debut, Shovel Ready, which was amazing, but somehow had missed his second novel; but got a free copy of The Blinds at Bouchercon (thank you, Harper Collins author signing party!) and have heard raves about it, so I decided to tackle it next. And yes, wow. I am also still processing The Wife, and Lippman’s Sunburn, and Gaylin’s If I Die Tonight. I will of course discuss all of these books closer to their release dates, in great detail, on here. But if you love great books, Constant Reader, you need to go pre-order these right the fuck now. You will not be sorry.

You’ll only be sorry if you don’t.

I don’t have to go into the office until late; which is lovely as I have about a gazillion things to do around the house this morning. I also have several errands to run: I have to stop at Garden District Books to pick up a book about the New Orleans Jewish community (more on that later); CVS to pick up a prescription; and of course, as always, I have to get the mail. I need to spend the morning outlining some short stories–one is due at the end of the month, and I am going to have to really get moving if I intend to get it finished–and I also seriously need to get some Scotty stuff finished. I also need, this week, to tear apart the WIP so I can figure out how to restructure it and add in the things that need to be added. I’d like to get that finished by the end of the year, and I think going about doing all of this in an organized fashion makes the most sense. It’s weird how disorganized I am about writing, when I try–almost to the point of being obsessive–I am about everything else in my life. I also need to start restricting my access to social media; that doesn’t help me with my attention span, which seems to be getting shorter and shorter as I get older. I’ve always had trouble focussing and maintaining that focus; I’ve got to be more laser-like in my focus if I’m going to get all of this stuff done by the end of the year.

I know I can do it, and I am actually feeling a lot more confident than I should be. But the busier I am, the more I have to do–the more likely I am to get things done.

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines.

Here’s a Tuesday hunk for you, Constant Reader. Enjoy.

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Let’s Hear It for the Boy

Monday morning. We watched The Walking Dead last night, finished Mindhunter on Saturday (amazing and I already miss it) and got caught up on The Exorcist last night; we were two weeks behind. I have to say, this season is really shaping up as much better than the first (which I enjoyed) and part of it is because of the strong performance of John Cho. (It also didn’t hurt than the exorcist played by Ben Daniels got a male love interest in these episodes as well.) I am still reading The Wife by Alafair Burke, which is extraordinary; she plays her cards out slowly and deftly. I am hoping to get some more of it read today between clients as we are testing pretty much all day; I don’t have to go into the office until noonish, but won’t be done with work until around ten thirty. Tomorrow I have a late night of bar testing as well.

A lovely way to start the week, no?

Next week is Thanksgiving, and I am also debating as to whether to take off that Wednesday as well. I think we are cancelling services that day, so there’s really not much point to my going into the office. Might as well take the day off and run errands and clean and get some writing/editing done, don’t you think? I like that you always agree with me, Constant Reader.

I am also hoping to get through today’s to-do list before I head into the office. I got two more short story ideas yesterday; naturally, neither of them have anything to do with the ones that I am currently obligated to write. Sigh. One is incredibly, incredibly dark, and the other is really more of a short noir novel–which I may end up doing (because I have so much free time) but I really like the idea. It does, however, require research, which is not exactly my favorite thing to do in the world. No, that’s not true–I love doing research; it’s applying it that’s hard. Seriously, how do I have a career?

I also had a thematic breakthrough on the current Scotty, which is absolutely lovely. Now that I know what theme I’m exploring it should make writing the book that much easier–I kind of knew, it just hadn’t really gelled in my mind–and so hopefully i can get a strong draft finished by the end of the year. I also, over this weekend, had an insight on the WIP–which was very important. Again, my bad writing habits and my reluctance to throw things out and write new material have everything to do with bad decisions I’ve made about writing manuscripts before; I so desperately wanted to believe this one was finished–or close to finished–that I wasn’t looking at what was clearly right in front of my face.

Honestly.

And on that note, this spice ain’t gonna mine itself.

Here’s a Monday morning hunk for you, Constant Reader.

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All Night Long (All Night)

Well, it’s Sunday. I made it through another week and it’s grim and gray out there again this morning, with a grocery run staring me down and some serious cleaning, organizing, writing and editing to do ahead of me for the rest of the day. Heavy heaving sigh. But that’s okay; I have a lot on my plate. Some exciting things dropped into my lap recently–pretty much all in the second half of last week–which means I have a lot of things to work on but very little time in which to do them. This also, of course, means all the damned procrastinating I’ve been doing pretty much this entire year needs to come to an end, and I’m already regretting the whatever it was that was allowing me to be lazy all year.

Bad Gregalicious! Bad Gregalicious!

I had wanted to get some more reading done this weekend–Alafair Burke’s The Wife is truly extraordinary and it’s killing me having to read it in bits and pieces–but it doesn’t seem likely. I’ll probably get to finish it this week, as I am doing a lot of testing events this week and can read between clients. We also finished watching Mindhunter last night, which was absolutely amazing, and started watching American Vandal, which is a clever idea…we’ll give it another episode because we’re a bit on the fence about it. Watching Mindhunter also put us behind on our other shows that are currently airing, so we’ll need to get caught up on those tonight.

I do feel extremely motivated today; I slept really well last night so am feeling all I can conquer the world today, which is an absolutely lovely feeling. It’s certainly been awhile since I’ve felt that way, and I really do love the feeling. I have to work late nights tomorrow and Tuesday; the rest of the week is normal, and of course next week is Thanksgiving! Where oh where did this year go?

And I have SUCH a plethora of riches in my TBR pile; the new Donna Andrews, the new Ivy Pochoda, the new Adam Sternburgh…not to mention everything else that’s in my pile and has been for YEARS.

And speaking of which, I need to get back to the spice mines or nothing’s going to get done.

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

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Karma Chameleon

I had some seriously strange dreams last night. The first was a nightmare involving reptile and snakes–that’s all I remember of it–but Paul had to wake me up because I was crying out in terror in my sleep. (Thanks for the rescue.) In the second, more benign but also scary dream that I remember, I was teaching a creative writing class, focusing on short stories. I suppose the subliminal message my mind is telling me is how terrified I am of writing short stories, and I have any number of them on deck that need to be written, and time is rapidly running out before they are due. Heavy heaving sigh. Maybe in the first dream the snakes and reptiles symbolized the deadlines.

Stupid short stories anyway.

We’ve finished watching season 2 of Freakish, and alas, it’s not as good as Season 1. We’ll probably watch the third season, if there is was, to see if it recovers its lost promise; but yeah, jumped the shark and went off the rails in the second season. Plus, it has The Walking Dead problem; to up the ante they have to  keep killing off characters and introducing new ones. The problem (spoiler!)is they keep killing off ones we like and keeping the unlikable, stupid ones…and adding more unlikable, stupid ones. In the first season, part of its charm was that Breakfast Club thing of kids who have nothing in common and are from completely different social circles, for the most part, having to work together and come together and bond to survive. That was lost in the second season; which is a shame as it was one of the show’s strengths; the developing relationships and bonds between the characters.

We’ve also started watching Mindhunter on Netflix, which is fucking amazing. The first episode was a trifle slow, but still interesting; episode 2 really gets the ball moving and when it was finished, I was really disappointed we didn’t have time to stay up and watch another episode. It really is terrific–and the guy who plays the Co-ed Killer should win an Emmy for Best Guest Star. He was absolutely riveting. They also have done a remarkably good job of capturing the late 1970’s; as I said to Paul last night, ‘wow, I had no idea or memory that the late 1970’s were so aesthetically ugly; colors and designs and so forth. Blech.’ Can’t wait to get home tonight and watch another.

I read another chapter of Alafair Burke’s marvelous The Wife last night, and that story is also really starting to pick up. One of the great things about Burke’s writing is her attention to little details that make the story and characters seem absolutely real and authentic.

I also–speaking of short stories and so forth–got some revising of early Scotty chapters in the new book done, and realized that a scene in Chapter Three is eerily reminiscent of one in a short story I am writing. Ah, well, I guess there’s no harm in slightly plagiarizing yourself, is there?

The weather was weird yesterday; it appears to be more of the same out there outside my windows this morning. Heavy heaving sigh. At least today I know to take a Claritin before i leave the house.

And now, back to the spice mines. Here’s a Throwback Thursday hunk for you, Constant Reader, actor/model Gordon Scott:

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