The Second Time Around

Up early to start another week of work, and I feel pretty good. Obviously, I would have preferred to stay in bed for another hour or so, but that’s just not in the cards so here I am, drinking coffee and writing a blog entry while I wake up.

I only managed to get two more chapters finished yesterday; I still call that a win, and am very happy to be nearly halfway through the manuscript. If I keep up the pace of one chapter per day, with more on the weekends, I’ll be finished long before the end of the month–which was the original goal, and then I can get back to the WIP.

I spent most of the day yesterday reading A. J. Finn’s The Woman in the Window, and I do have some thoughts on it. Was it a great work of art? No, it wasn’t even the best crime novel I read published in 2018. But it was good enough, you know, and it held my attention enough so I wanted to find out what was happening and what was really going on. But…it was also a very paint-by-numbers thriller; as though the author were simply ticking off boxes as he wrote the book. I’ll always wonder if my read of the book was influenced by the back story of the author–that piece in the New Yorker, in particular. It was very Hitchcockian in some ways, with nods to Rear Window and Shadow of a Doubt, among others, and nods to Gaslight and numerous other films…the great black-and-white noir thrillers of the mid-twentieth century. I’ve not read the other blockbuster novels of the last few years (The Girl on the Train and The Woman in Cabin 10) in whose footsteps this novel follows; I did read Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl when it was first released (and before it became a national phenomenon) and greatly enjoyed it.

Here be spoilers.

Continue reading “The Second Time Around”

We Don’t Talk Anymore

Sunday morning and all is well in the Lost Apartment. My kitchen and living room are clean–there is a load of laundry in the dryer that needs to be refluffed and folded, as well as a load in the dishwasher to put away–but most of my chores are done for the weekend. I can either do nothing chore-related today, or I can do a deep clean on something. I am leaning toward a deep clean on something–I rarely have the opportunity to do a deep clean so carpe diem–and it’s a lovely feeling.

I finally made myself start revising at some point yesterday in the war of wills between Scooter and me. I finally decided I could go read a bit as a break from revising, so as to satisfy his need for attention for a human (or rather having a human serve as a cat bed) and set the alarm on my iPad for an hour each time. This seemed to work, and not only did I revise five chapters I finished reading Devil in a Blue Dress. I then streamed the film through Amazon Prime, and the movie was also quite good. I’ll talk about the book some more, but am thinking it needs its own entry, so when I finish this one I’ll give it a proper review. I then decided to break from both the Diversity Project and The Short Story Project in order to read a book that’s been on everyone’s lips this past week–A. J. Finn’s The Woman in the Window. I am about fifty pages in, and it is indeed giving me something to think about.

The terrific thing about the revising is that the book isn’t nearly as terrible as I’ve convinced myself that it was during the long slogs of writing it. To be sure, I am finding repetitive sentences and badly constructed ones; I also am finding paragraphs that completely repeat information from a previous chapter that must be excised. But tying everything together isn’t nearly as difficult as I had thought it would be, and the behaviors of the characters and how they react to things actually make sense. I don’t know why I’ve been avoiding working on this. It’s going much faster and easier than I thought it would…I guess I was thinking it would be a lot of work. That doesn’t mean it won’t be again as I work my way through the manuscript…but I need to get this done, and I am going to dive back into after I write another entry–my review of Devil in a Blue Dress.

Depending how all the writing and revising goes, I may walk to the AT&T Store and replace my phone today. I’ve been meaning to do it for weeks…maybe today will be the day to get it handled. Or not. I hate dealing with that sort of thing, so I always put it off…hence it’s been weeks. Heavy heaving sigh.

And this is how things get backed up. Okay, I am definitely walking to the AT&T store today and getting my phone replaced.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Better Love Next Time

Hello, Thursday morning, how are you doing?

This week went by pretty fast, I am thinking, and this is the first time in a long time I can recall not being worn out and tired. Usually Monday night I start dragging, Tuesday night I’m exhausted, Wednesday I am a little regenerated but still tired, and by the time Thursday morning rolls around I am pretty much the walking dead. But last night I stopped on the way home from work at the grocery store–where I ran into Jean Redmann AND Wacky Russian–then came home and did the laundry. I also wasn’t all that tired last night. Mentally fatigued, sure–but not physically. And I can deal with mental fatigue much easier than I can with physical.

I feel pretty decent this morning as well, which is lovely. I only have to work half a day today and tomorrow at the office, and so when I get home this afternoon I should be able to get some things done before Paul gets home. I am in the midst of some chores–the dishwasher is full and needs to be emptied; I am in the midst of two loads of laundry, and of course the filing has piled up again, which is ridiculous. I did manage to get some revising done yesterday; not much, but I do feel I am doing a really good job on this round, and Scotty’s voice is starting to emerge at last. I am hoping to get caught up this evening and tomorrow, and really get moving on it this weekend.

Fingers crossed! I also want to finish reading Devil in a Blue Dress this weekend…and since there has been so much recent publicity about it, maybe I’ll read A. J. Finn’s The Woman in the Window next.

Yesterday I got a copy of Norah Lofts’ Hauntings: Is There Anybody There? I read Lofts when I was a teenager, and mostly read her fictional biographies of queens and historical women–The Concubine, The King’s Pleasure, A Rose for Virtue, Eleanor the Queen, Crown of Aloes, How Far to Bethlehem?–and some of her ‘romances’ (I would hardly call them romances, but that was how they were marketed…I defy anyone to read Nethergate and tell me it’s a romance). She also wrote a witchcraft novel called The Little Wax Doll, which I don’t remember much about but I did enjoy reading. Somewhere recently I read an article or something on Lofts and her ghost stories…so started tracking down a copy of her collection. I read the first story yesterday between clients, and it’s called “Mr. Edward”:

If I’d been in the habit of bothering God about trivial, material things, I should have said that Miss Gould’s suggestion came as an answer to prayer. Ever since the Easter holiday I had been worried about the long one in the summer. When Tom died and I found a post as school matron and David went to boarding school, my father had said that we must spend all holidays with him. At first, though dull, they were pleasant enough; but as David grew older Father grew more critical, making outspoken remarks about the behavior of the young nowadays and accusing me of spoiling. I confess I am inclined to be indulgent during the holidays; David’s school is pretty Spartan, I don’t see him often, and I am very fond of him.

This is how the story starts, and our main character agrees to house sit and oversee renovation work being done on Miss Gould’s house for the summer. And once she and her son arrive…she begins having odd experiences around the house; small things, nothing absolutely terrifying, but very Gothic in their smallness…and Lofts shows that the little things can be just as terrifying as the BIG ones horror/supernatural tales seem to favor of late. I love the old Gothic style of scary stories, to be honest, and Lofts’ Gothic, formal writing style, reminiscent of The Turn of the Screw, is very quiet and very unsettling.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Stomp!

I don’t know who today’s picture is, but I feel like I have may have used this image already. He certainly looks familiar. But he’s hot, there aren’t many silver foxes whose images I’ve used, and he could stand to be used again so THERE HE IS.

I didn’t get much of anything done yesterday; which is enormously disappointing. I wasn’t tired all day, the way I sometimes am on Mondays, but by the time I got home from work and made dinner any energy or desire I had to get anything finished and/or done had long since dissipated. Obviously, this is a concern–I was doing so well with the revision over the weekend that I hate to think the momentum has stopped or slowed in some way–but I am very hopeful that today will be different. I did read some more of Devil in a Blue Dress, which I am really enjoying, and look forward to reading some more of it. Today of course is another long day at the office, but as with every week, once I make it through today the rest of the week is rather easy.

Yesterday was actually a rather lovely day; today the high will be seventy-two degrees. I know, right? February weather like this is really something to behold. We had to turn the air conditioning on last night because it was too stuffy and muggy in the apartment…go figure.

I spent a lot of time yesterday enjoying the aftermath of the New Orleans boycott of the Super Bowl–there were some absolutely classic memes on social media–the voodoo one was my personal favorite, with the actual front page of yesterday’s Times-Picayune a very close second. New Orleans is a petty city that you cross at your own peril, and you don’t mess with our Saints. (No one here has forgiven the hateful Chicago Bears fans for how nasty and horrible they were in the NFC championship game in 2007; including the signs reading such lovely sentiments as Finish what Katrina started. I had been a sort of Bears fan till then, growing up in Chicago as I did. NO MORE.)

I also spent more time than I should have on social media reading–and laughing about–the reactions to the New Yorker expose of bestselling author “A. J. Finn”–who is actually former editor Dan Mallory, who has quite the history of odd and bizarre behavior behind him. I do have a copy of his novel The Woman in the Window, but I haven’t gotten to it yet. The piece is long, but definitely well worth the read. Mallory is a sort of Ripley character, apparently, and apparently that Highsmith character was a role model for him…which makes me wonder where the bodies are buried.

Because they are undoubtedly buried somewhere.

I also got the official notice of the publication date for Royal Street Reveillon, the next Scotty book: September 10th. Huzzah!

And on that note–the spice ain’t gonna mine itself.

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Dancing in the Sheets

The sun is shining, and the temperature has climbed to 49 degrees. The boil-water advisory ended finally last evening–it’s just not a crisis in New Orleans unless we have a boil-water advisory!–and here I sit this morning, ensconced at my desk with a cup of coffee, a load of laundry tumbling in the dryer, with great expectations of the day. I went to the gym last evening after work, and my muscles, while a bit tired, still feel stretched and worked and supple, if that makes sense. Probably the best thing about rededicating myself to physical exercise again is how much better I feel; I don’t ache or feel tired the way I did just last week, and the stretching and the treadmill are also making me feel ever so much better. Today, I am going to clean (if it’s Saturday I must be cleaning) but I am also going to write, edit and read today. Paul is going into the office to work (it’s that time of year again) and so I have the day to myself. I want to finish the first draft of “The Trouble with Autofill” and I want to edit “Cold Beer No Flies.”

Among many other things; my to-do list is ridiculous, quite frankly. But the only way to make progress is not to get overwhelmed by the enormity of the list but rather to keep plugging away at it.

I finished reading Miami by Joan Didion earlier this week, and it was quite good. Didion’s writing style is quite amazing, actually, and while the story of the book might seem, at first glance, to be rather dated; the truth is it is still very much appropriate to our modern times. Miami is a look at the Cuban exiles in the city, how they relate to each other, and how they impact south Florida politically; and to a lesser extent, the relationship between the US government with them as well as with Castro’s Cuba. During the Cold War Cuba was a much more terrifying apparition, close as it was to Florida, and it’s amazing how people do not realize the political clout, as a result of their sheer numbers, that the Cuban immigrants weld in that part of the state, and in the entire state as well. The importance of Florida as a swing state cannot be discounted; and therefore the Cuban-American community’s influence on national politics is something that has to always be considered. (A present day comparison would be the Puerto Ricans moving to Florida today in great numbers as a result of the hurricane destruction of their island; the difference being those Puerto Ricans are already American citizens who can register to vote and can impact 2018 already.) Didion’s look at Miami in the 1980’s, as a Caribbean city on the mainland, is also reminiscent of descriptions of New Orleans as the northernmost Caribbean city; the thing I love the most about Didion’s work is how she makes you think. Reading Miami made me want to write about Miami; I’ve been wanting to write about Florida for a long time, as Constant Reader already knows. Something to ponder.

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I also started reading Mark Harris’ Pictures at a Revolution, which is a look at the film industry through the lens of the five films nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1967, and how they were made. Harris’ thesis is that was the year that bridged the gap between old and new Hollywood; and the five Best Picture nominees illustrated that perfectly: an expensive musical flop (Doctor Dolittle); two old style Hollywood pictures about race (Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and In the Heat of the Night), and two films that illustrated new Hollywood and its influence by European filmmakers like Truffaut and Fellini and Antonioni (Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate). I, of course, have always been fascinated by Hollywood history and have been ever since I read Garson Kanin’s Tracy and Hepburn and Bob Thomas’ Selznick as a kid; this book is right up my alley, and since it’s been awhile since I’ve read any Hollywood history, I am looking forward to reading this (and his Five Came Back–I’ve already watched the documentary based on it).

The Short Story Project also moves apace; I am frequently surprised as I look through my shelves for something to read how many single author collections and anthologies dot them. My Ipad also has quite a few loaded onto the Kindle app; I often buy them when they are either free or reduced in price, and so my Kindle app is filled with books I’ve not yet read, primarily because I don’t like to read on it (which I realize is nothing more than stubbornness; if I can watch movies or television programs on it, why resist reading books there?) Yesterday I found my battered old Dell paperback of Agatha Christie’s The Golden Ball and Other Stories, which I remember loving as a child. I was looking for my copy of Lawrence Block’s first anthology inspired by paintings–those of Edward Hopper– In Sunlight or in Shadow, which I would have sworn I’d purchased in hardcover; yet it wasn’t anywhere on the shelves or in any of the TBR piles, before remembering I’d bought it as an ebook when the Macavity nominations come out; Block’s story “Autumn at the Automat” was a finalist, along with mine (I still can’t believe it) and I wanted to read all the other nominated stories for an entry, so the immediacy of the need required buying the ebook. It is a handsome volume, though, so I’ll need to buy a hard copy to pair with the new one. (New bucket list item: write a story for one of these anthologies by Lawrence Block)

Once I’d located it on the iPad, I scoured the table of contents and landed on a Joyce Carol Oates story, “The Woman in the Window.” I have to confess I’ve not read much of Ms. Oates; I am not even remotely familiar with what she writes. But she, too, was a Macavity finalist last year, for her story “The Crawl Space” (which also won the Stoker Award), and that story creeped me the fuck out. I know she’s been a Stoker finalist before, but I also think she tends to write across genre a lot and therefore isn’t pigeon-holed in one way or the other.

Beneath the cushion of the plush blue chair she has hidden it.

Almost shyly her fingers grope for it, then recoil as if it were burning-hot.

No! None of this will happen, don’t be ridiculous!

It is eleven A.M. He has promised to meet her in this room in which it is always eleven A.M.

This story, frankly, isn’t as strong as “The Crawl Space,” but it’s an interesting exercise in how thin the line between lust and loathing is; the woman of the title is a secretary having an affair with a much wealthier man, and as she gets older and older she is feeling more and more trapped in the relationship; he is married and he often has to break plans with her for his wife. There is also a shift occasionally to his point of view, and he’s not so fond of her anymore, either. Passion has cooled but habit has set in; and the way those lines can get crossed is chilling–and how destructive such a relationship can be to both parties, emotionally and mentally, is explored in great detail yet sparse language by Ms. Oates. The story’s not as creepy, as I said, as the other; but the end–which she leaves kind of hanging–you do feel that something awful is going to happen; maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but eventually.

I’ve not read Joe Hill before, and there are several reasons for that; none of which would make any sense to anyone who is not me; I am nothing if not aware of my own eccentricities, which is why I generally don’t share them with people; I don’t need someone else to point out that something doesn’t make sense. But I do have a copy of his short story collection 20th Century Ghosts, which I spied on the shelves as I looked for my copy of the Block anthology. Aha, I thought, perfect. I can read a Joe Hill story for the Short Story Project. So, I curled up under a blanket in my easy chair, waited for Scooter to get settled in my lap, and started reading “Best New Horror.”

A month before his deadline, Eddie Carroll ripped open a manila envelope, and a magazine called The True North Literary Review slipped out into his hands. Carroll was used to getting magazines in the mail, although most of them had titles like Cemetery Dance and specialized in horror fiction. People sent him their books, too. Piles of them cluttered his Brookline townhouse, a heap on the couch in his office, a stack by the coffee maker. Books of horror stories, all of them.

No one had time to read them all, although once–when he was in his early thirties and just starting out as the editor of America’s Best New Horror–he had made a conscientious effort to try. Carroll had guided sixteen volumes of Best New Horror to press, had been working on the series for over a third of his life now. It added up to thousands of hours of reading and proofing and letter-writing, thousands of hours he could never have back.

He had come to hate the magazines especially. So many of them used the cheapest ink, and he had learned to loathe the way it came off on his fingers, the harsh stink of it.

I did not mention the elephant in the room; said elephant, of course, being that Joe Hill is Stephen King’s son. (The Kings are a very literary family; Mr. King’s wife Tabitha is a poet and a novelist; their other son Owen also writes, as does Owen’s wife, Kelly Braffet; I read a novel by Ms. Braffet sometime in the last couple of years–not aware of the King connection–and greatly enjoyed it.)

But simply based on a reading of “Best New Horror,” I have to say Joe Hill is also a terrific writer. And while it, like some of his father’s work, bears a strong resemblance to something I would have read in an Tales from the Crypt or House of Mystery comic book–that is not a criticism. I loved those comics, and the stories I read in them; they had a deep influence on me not only as a writer but as a reader. “Best New Horror”, as you can tell by the opening, tells the tale of Eddie Carroll, a writing teacher and a long-time editor of the Best New Horror series, a chore he has learned to loathe and, basically, phone in every year for the money. This resonated with me; as an anthology editor myself, one of the reasons I stepped away from editing them–or took a break from doing it–was because it was becoming rote; a chore rather than something I found joy in doing. Eddie is an example of why I stopped–I didn’t want to become like him; embittered by the experience and tired of not finding anything fresh or new (unlike Eddie, I was able to keep the experience fresh because each anthology I did was a new topic; if I had done twenty anthologies with the same theme I would have gone on a killing spree). But in the mail comes a story from a new writer that is simply brilliant; original and fresh and resonant and horrifying in its reality; the story reinvigorates Eddie and makes the editing job no longer a chore; he has to have this story, and will do whatever he has to in order to track the writer down…but as with any horror  tale of obsession, it’s not going to end well. But Hill brilliantly keeps stringing the reader along, and the ending is just absolutely brilliant and clever. I am really looking forward to reading more of these stories.

And now, I must get back to the spice mines. There are clothes to fold, dishes to wash, floors to clean, stories to write and edit; I am probably coming back here for another entry later as I am trying to get caught up on posting the stories I’ve read–but I make no promises. I have another story to write as a call for submissions crossed my computer screen on Thursday; I have an unfinished story that I can repurpose, but I also need to get a first draft done so I can work the story out.

Until later, Constant Reader.