Thunder Island

As Constant Reader already is aware, I’ve been trying to diversify my reading this year. The Diversity Project, as I’ve been calling it, has been revelatory for me; I’ve been reading books and authors I should have been reading all along, but somehow, despite having bought the books, they’ve collected dust and cobwebs in my TBR pile as I somehow always manage to reach for something else when it’s time to read something new. But it has been, as I said, revelatory to me; and I’ve been enjoying the hell out of the ride. My endgame, as it were, is that when I finish this “project”, any subconscious bias I might have in deciding on what to read will have been ripped out, root and stem, and it will simply fade away into something I won’t need to call attention to because I’ve bested the worst biases in my psyche–and aren’t the ones we aren’t aware of the worst?

Yes, they are.

So over the last week I read Rachel Howzell Hall’s wonderful They All Fall Down.

they all fall down

The Los Angeles International Airport was the worst place to lose your mind in post-9/11 America. Especially if you perspired like Kobe Bryant in Game 7 of the NBA finals. Especially if you popped Valium twice a day to combat anxiety. And there I was, standing in the TSA security clearance line at LAX, a sweaty, anxious black woman wearing sweaty green silk, sipping air and blinking away tears.

Miriam, keep it together. They’re gonna pull you out of line if you keep on. Calm down. But “calm” was slipping further away, an iceberg on a quick current being pushed by a pod of enthusiastic killer whales.

And so I closed my eyes and I prayed again. God, don’t let them kick me out of LAX today. Please help me stay calm.

“Next.”

In my mind, I said, “Amen,” then opened my eyes. I forced myself to smile at the gray-eyed TSA agent seated behind the little podium, and hoped that she thought I was a slow blinker and not a terrorist praying one last time before setting one off.

The agent flicked her hand at me and said, “ID and boarding pass, please.”

I’m not sure how I became aware of Rachel Howzell Hall, but I think it was while I was serving on the board of directors for Mystery Writers of America and I was chairing the committee to recruit new board members; we were determined to diversify the board and I think the wondrous Margery Flax suggested her to me as a possible, viable candidate. We had a lovely email exchange and I bought one of her books, Land of Shadows, which went into the TBR pile and never came out of it. I’d heard lots of good things about They All Fall Down, so I got a copy, and decided to read it next.

And am I glad I did!

Sometimes I talk about Agatha Christie, but it’s been years since I’ve read any of her books (I did reread a favorite, Endless Night, a few years back; it’s the most noir of Christie’s novels, which are all, frankly, much darker than she gets credit for) but one cannot deny Christie’s rightful place as the greatest mystery writer of all time; she did it all, and she did it first. One of my absolute favorites of hers is And Then There Were None, which was groundbreaking and highly original and has been copied numerous times: the set up of taking a group of people somewhere remote, stranding them without chance of rescue or escape, and setting a murderer loose amongst them. Margaret Millar, for example, used this set-up for Fire Will Freeze; and it’s been the basis for many slasher movies, etc. I thought about doing my own version of this a few years ago–because the set-up is so classic and enduring, I wanted to give it my own spin–but the problem was how to strand a group of people without cell phone service or the Internet or even satellite phones, without using Christie’s “send them to a remote island” trope.

Let’s face it, though–the remote island is the perfect set-up.

They All Fall Down has been compared to And Then There Were None, and it’s apparent, almost from the first: a group of people have been invited to Mictlan Island, a remote location somewhere in the Sea of Cortez; all with different understandings of why they’ve been invited. Miriam Macy, Hall’s main character, believes she’s been invited to join the cast of a Survivor type reality television show; she’s hoping to win and use the prize money to reboot her shattered life. Hall only doles out information about Miriam slowly, over the course of the novel, but it’s a testament to her skill as a writer that there are two mysteries going on at the same time–the mystery of Miriam’s past, and the mystery of who is killing people on the island. The book is full of surprises and twists, the cast of characters is diverse, and the themes Hall explores are original, or given enough of a new spin to make them seem fresh and new.

But the real revelation of the book is the character of Miriam Macy, and the way Hall breathes life into this complicated woman who has done something horrible and yet continues to justify what she did rather than accepting any culpability for it. You can’t help but root for Miriam, an unreliable narrator if there ever was one, and the brilliance of Hall’s talent is that you keep rooting for Miriam as the story goes on, even after you find out the full story and her history, because her experience on the island is helping her to grow and see the darkness she has denied for years.

This book is an extraordinary accomplishment, and I can’t wait to read more of Hall’s work. Buy it, read it, and love it.

Summer

Memorial Day, and I woke up early. Last night wasn’t a deep sleep, but rather a nice restful one that involved some occasional waking from time to time. My eyes are kind of blurry and burning this morning as well–probably not as well rested as the rest of my body feels.

Yesterday was a nice day. I chose to take the day off from writing yesterday and just read–although I have to admit it wasn’t really much of a choice: I decided to spend an hour reading Rachel Howzell Hall’s They All Fall Down, only to not be able to stop reading it until I was finished. It’s quite a book, frankly; I’ll talk more about it in its own blog entry, perhaps even later today. I then started reading Joseph Olshan’s Black Diamond Fall, which is also extremely well written; but the opening reminded me a lot of the opening of Sara J. Henry’s A Cold and Lonely Place, which is one of my favorite books of the decade, quite frankly–do yourself a favor and read it, if you haven’t already. I’m probably going to do some more reading this morning before I embark on the rest of my day–I still have cleaning and straightening up to do, and there’s always more writing that needs to be done–but this four-day weekend has been absolutely lovely. I only have a four day work week as a result–one long day, one normal day, then two short–and then it’s again the weekend, which will be rather lovely. I’ll probably turn the 4th of July into a long weekend as well, which will also be lovely.

We watched the Game of Thrones documentary last night, The Last Watch, and while it was interesting and informative, there were places where it dragged a bit; the problem was scope, at least for me; the show was simply too big to condense a “behind the scenes” documentary into slightly less than two hours. But it did fill the enormous hole in my Sunday evening that the ending of the show has left; I hate the idea there won’t be any more Game of Thrones. We came to the show late, of course; everyone was already talking about it and it was already winning Emmys when Paul and I started watching it all those years ago, with discs from Netflix delivered in the mail; I believe it was Season Three where I finally broke down and started paying for HBO so we could watch the show as it aired on Sunday evenings. I’m still processing this final season, and while I can understand the disappointment a lot of fans had with it, it also kind of worked for me–and I also would like to remind people, it could have been much, much worse. I was glad that the traditional story-telling tropes the show never followed it continued to deny right up to the very end; I mean, wasn’t the show building to Jon Snow killing the Night King and winding up seated on the Iron Throne as the last male Targaryen heir? It certainly looked that way, and I couldn’t really see any other ending. The show constantly surprised and angered us all over the years by consistently doing the unexpected, as the books do as well.

The enormous disappointment and hard feelings held by so many fans kind of tells me the show did its job properly; we were so vested in the characters that not having the expected endings for them embittered so many.

We’ve saved the second season of Killing Eve for a binge tonight; which is why I want to get all of the things done I want to get done today done early. So, once I have finished writing this and answering some emails, I am going to make myself another cup of coffee and adjourn to my easy chair and the Olshan novel, which I will read for a little while before getting up and cleaning the windows. After I clean the windows I am going to try to get some writing done; probably working on the outline for the rest of the WIP, some more work on another project, and I think I am going to dig out “Never Kiss a Stranger” and do some more work on it. I want to send some stories out for submission this week, so I’m going to need to spend some time reading and polishing those stories today as well. Yes, yes, so much to do, and sitting here isn’t getting it done, either.

So, it’s off to mine spice for me. Have a lovely day, everyone.

192787_10150103635452078_648027077_6386930_4516394_o

Baby Face

Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, and I am feeling well rested and lively and energetic and all of that. I always forget how important it is for me to take these mini-breaks, to keep my sanity and recharge my batteries. I woke up just before eight this morning–I stayed up later than I’d planned, but the latest version of Halloween was available to stream on HBO and we didn’t discover it until after nine last night, so my plans of going to bed regularly between ten-thirty and eleven were all for naught. There’s condensation on my windows this morning, which means it’s humid as fuck outside; I’d planned on lugging the ladder outside and cleaning the windows this morning–which I still may do, mind you, I haven’t ruled it out–in addition to some other cleaning.

Yesterday was quite lovely, and I realized, yet again, how my ideal life would be that of a stay-at-home writer; it’s lovely to get up, check emails, bounce around social media a bit, then clean and organize around writing. I finished the laundry room yesterday, with the baseboards and everything in there, and progressed into the kitchen/office area. I did the lower windows on the inside, moved the file cabinet to clean behind it, and reorganized things around my desk. There’s still some debris piled up on the counter that needs to be sorted and filed away properly; that’s a chore for this morning with my coffee, methinks, along with the dirty dishes in the sink. I’m also taking the pictures down and wiping the dust off them; New Orleans is the dustiest place I’ve ever lived, and it’s a constant battle. I was going to be a feather-duster yesterday but they didn’t have any at Rouse’s, which was, as you can imagine, a horrible disappointment to me. I also couldn’t believe I didn’t have one to begin with; I searched high and low for it yesterday morning, certain there was one somewhere….and then I remembered…you have a cat. Skittle destroyed your feather duster years ago, and you saw no point in buying another as long as you still have a cat.

Fortunately, Scooter is not nearly as vicious a hunter/destroyer of worlds the way Satan’s Kitty was, so I think I might be able to get away with having one again.

It’s the little things, you know, that truly make me happy.

I also worked yesterday, shocking as it may seem; little as I wanted to, of course, I still managed to sit down and work. I read the rest of “The Snow Globe” all the way through, and realized I needed to add another scene to it–it ends too abruptly for the new end I have in mind, and so I have to reread the entire thing from beginning to end. I always aim for my short stories to come in around five thousand words as an ideal length (which I also realize is quite silly; it comes from editing anthologies and thinking “twenty stories of five thousand words each is a hundred thousand words and voila, anthology is finished!) and it’s subconscious. The story is now at about just over 4800 words, and there’s no way to add this sequence in only 200 or so words and so I pulled back from the story. This morning, in the cold harsh bright light of a new day, I realized so fucking what if it winds up over five thousand? You can actually make it SIX thousand if you fucking want to. So, I’ll probably be revisiting that as well.

I took a look at Chapter Eleven of the WIP as well; realizing that starting it one week and finishing it the next without rereading what was already done resulted in some repetition of things; yesterday I chose not to deal with it, and instead did some background work. I pulled up the outline, that only went through Chapter Five, and added the next six chapters to the outline, intending to outline the next five as well so as to have something to fall back on without having to create it out of thin air. But I sincerely (not lazily) couldn’t figure out what to do in the next five chapters and so I put it aside as well and worked on something else–something else that I’ve been asked to do and has been hovering in the back of my subconscious creative brain while I struggle to finish this first draft. I am not ready to talk about it completely and openly just yet–still far too nascent for any public commentary/discussion–but I started doing the background work necessary, and realized what I’d been thinking of doing was probably the wrong place to start, and I actually thought of the proper place to start, so I was busily making notes and writing things down and actually creating, which is always kind of fun. I’m probably–we’ll see–going to try to get Chapter Eleven straightened out today, and will work on this new thing for a bit, and I’d also like to work on another story I’ve got hanging around unfinished. If I can get all this writing–and cleaning–done today, tomorrow I may reward myself just a little bit by allowing myself some down time to read–in fact, this morning, I am going to read for a little while before tackling the dishes; I find reading is also a lovely way to wake up the mind, and I really do want to get deeper into Rachel Howzell Hall’s They All Fall Down, which is quite superbly written.

We did watch the newest Halloween last night, and it was quite enjoyable. I love the concept that Carpenter basically threw away everything already filmed as canonical sequels to the original, and simply pretended none of those films had ever happened; instead making a straight-up sequel/reboot of the series; I’m not really sure what you would call this film in terms of the rest of the Michael Myers canon. But it was clear Halloween H20 or whatever it was called never happened; in this world Laurie had a daughter, not a son, and we find Laurie Strode in straight-up Sarah Connor in Terminator 2 mode; someone who has spent her entire life preparing herself for when he comes back to  kill her–and there’s no doubt in her mind that he’s going to, eventually. The trauma of the murders when she was a teenager has damaged her, certainly, and has definitely affected the relationship with her daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter, and she lives in a secure fortress (think Sydney in Scream 3), which also makes sense. I couldn’t help but think as I watched how much better this all would work as a novel; as we could actually get inside the heads of certain point-of-view characters, and how Laurie’s residual trauma has affected/damaged them–wouldn’t that novel, from the point of view of all three women, each a different generation with a different outlook and experience with the trauma, be absolutely fascinating?

I’ve become a lot more interested, I think, as a reader and as a writer, in the aftermath of trauma–how precisely does one deal with that kind of trauma, and what does it do to you as a person, how does it affect the rest of your life and your relationships, etc.  As a writer, I’m becoming less interested in the solving of a crime rather than the actual aftershocks created by the crime; as well as the motivations behind the crime–what drives the criminal to commit the crime in the first place? I think the reason Murder in the Rue Chartres is often considered my best work is because it deals with trauma; the trauma of a  damaged and destroyed city after a major natural disaster, as well as the trauma of getting past the murder of someone you loved.

So, that’s the plan for today, at any rate. Tomorrow I hope to spend the day doing a deep clean of the living room and the staircase, done around the writing and reading I need to get done, and then hopefully we’ll start getting caught up on Killing Eve.

And now back to the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader.

08

This Masquerade

 Yes, I am now beginning a glorious four-day weekend, during which I plan to read and clean and write and rest and watch movies and just have a glorious time relaxing and trying to catch up on things. I started cleaning, for example, out my jump drive yesterday–there’s an absolutely absurd amount of duplicates, old pictures from a million years ago, old files, etc on it–and I am probably going to try to spend some time trying to do that; get better organized with my computer files and so forth. I also intend to spend some time on a deep clean of the apartment–we’ll see how that goes, but my windows are filthy and I really do need to move things and clean beneath them; and it certainly wouldn’t hurt to clean and organize all the cabinets and drawers, either.

Ambition. We’ll see how that works out, won’t we?

But I slept fantastically last night, waking up this morning feeling wonderfully rested. My burnt lips are healing (you have no idea how fun it is to test people for syphilis while warning them of the dangers of the disease while your lips have enormous looking blister/wounds on them) and hopefully by the time I return to work on Tuesday morning, they will have healed completely and I will no longer have to worry about their syphilitic appearance any more. *whew*

So, here I am, just before nine in the morning with four glorious days off stretching out in front of me. I am going to write a little this morning–probably finishing the revision of “The Snow Globe,” and then hopefully revising the latest chapter of the WIP–while cleaning. I am going to try to do a deep dive clean, one that is sorely overdue here in the Lost Apartment–baseboards, floors, windows, window sills and frames, etc–which can, of course, be incredibly tedious, but it also needs to be done. It’s also launder the bed linen day, and so I have that to do as well. I also want to curl up with Rachel Howzell Hall’s They All Fall Down, which I’ve not had the chance to get back to this week, and after that, I’d like to read either John Copenhaver’s Dodging and Burning or Joseph Olshan’s Black Diamond Fall, which are both Lambda finalists (John is also a Strand and Anthony Award finalist). And then I am not sure what I’ll read after that; I got a stack of fabulous books this week to add to the TBR pile, including Owen Laukkanen’s Deception Cove and the new Michael Koryta…and there’s already so many wonderful treasures waiting for me in the the pile already.

An embarrassment of riches, as it were.

We also watched the new Wanda Sykes comedy special on Netflix last night, and she’s just as funny and pointed as ever, which is lovely as I am a big fan.

I’m probably going to watch the finale of Game of Thrones again at some point over this weekend, as well–I have found, this season particularly, that it helps to rewatch the episodes after having some time to digest them; I find that it helps me appreciate the show more; the first time I watch I am so busy watching to see what happens that I miss subtleties I am able to catch on a reviewing. I know a lot of fans hated this final season of the show–some going as far as to hate the last two seasons–but I enjoyed it; I enjoyed it as spectacle, and I enjoyed it even despite holes in the plot and subplots that went nowhere and so on and so forth; primarily because it did the unexpected, and it did from the very beginning. Game of Thrones never gave us what we were expecting because it didn’t follow traditional story-telling arcs–for example, once Jon Snow was identified as the true Targaryen heir to the Iron Throne, I was a little disappointed (despite the thrill); because I thought, ho-hum, here we go, it’s just another telling of the King Arthur legend–but as it turned out, it wasn’t that at all.

And I think that may be why so many fans were so disappointed–they were expecting the traditional story arcs, and Game of Thrones went the other way and rejected those.

Then again, what do I know? The Last Jedi is one of my favorite Star Wars movies, which also apparently renders me suspect as a forty-year Star Wars fan.

And on that note, it’s time to start cleaning and writing which means closing the web browsers.

Hello, spice mines!

23faffb9b8455b8f8468d75c128b9908

Wake Up Everybody

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

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

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

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

I guess they are just loose in Westeros?

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

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

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

I really need to get more stories out.

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

192702_192556024114367_100000799113999_397171_534232_o

Shop Around

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

I fucking hate that.

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

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

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

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

181069_108181685925836_100002020152501_56195_8283315_n

Times of Your Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now back to the spice mines.

169089_490628422077_648027077_6093803_2836785_n