Bohemian Rhapsody

Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?

Sorry, couldn’t resist.

Tuesday and my second long day of the week; just like last week, Mondays and Tuesdays coming in as long days. When we move into our new building in October (I am still in denial about that) my schedule will probably be long days on Monday and Tuesday every week, so I am trying to get used to it ahead of time. I wasn’t tired at all yesterday; but remember, Sunday I was drained and worn out from the game Saturday night and went to bed relatively early that night. I’m not necessarily tired today, but more a little on the drained side. Hopefully, I won’t be too tired to finish editing/revising two Scotty chapters tonight when I get home from work.

If so, I’ll try to read some more of Circe. I hate that it’s taking me this long to read it! Not an indication of its quality, people! Buy it! Read it! Savor it!

I’ve always loved Greek mythology, ever since I was a kid and I read a library book, when I was about eight or nine, called The Windy Walls of Troy. I’ve also always wanted to write about the Trojan War; it’s a tale I’ve always loved, and one I have always wanted to try my hand at telling. (Which is why the Troy: Fall of a City series on Netflix was so disappointing; as was the Brad Pitt film Troy.)  I’ve been toying with the idea of writing a y/a set during the last year of the war; the part that the Iliad primarily focuses on, from the point of view of one of Priam’s bastard sons, promised to the priesthood of Apollo and raised in the temple, but still a part of the royal family. (I’ve also tried tracking down a copy of The Windy Walls of Troy, to no avail.) Madeline Miller also covered the Trojan War with The Song of Achilles, one of my favorite novels of this century; it made me weep, and I kind of want to read it again, now that I am enjoying her Circe. She did a really interesting job of weaving the gods and demigods into her narrative; how does one write about the Trojan War without including the gods? My thought, of course, was to try to do it as real, without the gods actually appearing in the story, but rather things that happen being seen as their work. But how do you do the Judgment of Paris without the golden apple and the three vindictive, spiteful, jealous goddesses?

Something to think about, at any rate.

I’m also having a lot of fun doing some slight research into the history of both New Orleans and Louisiana; I had another book idea the other night as a result of a Twitter conversation with Clair Lamb and Rebecca Chance (so it’s THEIR fault), but I think it actually applies and will fit into a paranormal series I want to write set in rural Louisiana in the parish I invented, Redemption Parish–doesn’t that just sound like a perfect name for a parish where supernatural stuff happens? It’s a matter of tying in all the stories and things I’ve already written set there…it also occurred to me the other night that even the novels and stories I write that aren’t connected to others actually are–I realized that my character Jerry Channing, who appears in the Scotty series AND appeared in The Orion Mask, also writes for Street Talk magazine and that awful editor who Mouse worked for originally in Timothy, which ties Timothy to the Scotty series as well. I always thought Timothy was the one book that stood on its own…not so much, as it turns out.

And now back to the spice mines.

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You Give Love a Bad Name

Christ, what an irritating day this has been so far. I had to get something resolved, and I am glad I managed it, but it also wound up taking two hours and I am really annoyed about losing that time that I’d intended to use a LOT more productively. I am now going to try to shake it off so I can get some work done today…

…or there may be a body count.

I got very little done yesterday; I didn’t sleep well on Friday night and tossed and turned, so I was exhausted and more than a little brain dead yesterday. I did get some work done on the afterward to the short story collection, but not good work and I finally just walked away from the computer. I was also ridiculously exhausted after making groceries, so I just retired to my easy chair with my journal and my book and then did some film streaming. I rewatched an old 1980’s noir, Masquerade, starring Rob Lowe, Meg Tilly,  Kim Cattrall and Doug Savant; I’d really enjoyed the film at the time I saw it on the big screen, and wanted to see how well the movie held up. Tilly plays heiress Olivia Lawrence, sheltered and shy and worth over $200 million since her mother passed away several months before she graduated from college. Unfortunately, her “mother’s last husband”, as she calls him, has an income from the estate plus has the use of her family homes….including the one on the Hamptons, where most of the story takes place. To say they do not get along is an understatement. She becomes interested in Rob Lowe’s character, Tim Whelan, who races sailing boats and is currently employed by the wealthy Morrisons; he is also having an affair with the trophy wife, played by Kim Cattrall. Tim and Olivia meet at a party and begin a romance…only it turns out that Tim and the wicked stepfather are out for Olivia’s money. There’s a murder, a cover-up, and things keep twisting and turning and there’s another big surprise twist about two-thirds of the way through the story.

It does hold up well, and watching the movie I realized something I hadn’t realized before; a lot of the imagery I used in Timothy, how I pictured it all in my head–the estate, the beach, the water, everything–was visualized primarily through my memories of this movie. One thing I’m not quite sure that does hold up; the trope of the wimpy, mousy heiress who is married for her money; this was an extremely popular trope of romantic suspense–think Suspicion, or almost everything Victoria Holt wrote–but this was filmed as noir; which means the points of view come out on display. (So many Victoria Holt novels were built around the mousy heiress who thinks her husband married her for hr money and is trying to kill her!) My friend Rebecca Chance one said that romantic suspense was “noir for women” back in the day, which I’ve always thought was a brilliant take, and a great basis for an essay; perhaps someday I’ll write it.

We also watched a really good gay movie last night, Retake, starring Tuc Watkins (whom I remember from One Life to Live) and Devon Graye, both of whom were really quite good; and the plot, which took a while to get going, was pretty compelling, actually. I do recommend the film.

And now I need to get to work.I should have a cover reveal this week for Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories, and I also got the final acceptance of the latest version of “Silky Veils of Ardor,” which is going to appear in The Beat of Black Wings, edited by Josh Pachter. I also need to make a to-do list, and I also need to clean the fuck out of this kitchen today.

Okay back to the spice mines.

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Up Where We Belong

Oh, Florida.

I am connected to Florida, and despite all the negative reactions just saying Florida can often trigger simply by saying the word, I have a genuine fondness for the pork chop shaped state. My grandparents retired there, to the Panhandle, when I was a kid; an aunt owned a summer house a few blocks from the Gulf in Panama City Beach. I spent a lot of time there during the summers when I was young (part of the annual jaunt to Alabama); and I wound up living there in the early 90’s when I worked for Continental Airlines. I visited Miami and South Beach frequently; I have many friends who live (or have residences) in Fort Lauderdale. I’d intended to set my novel Timothy there originally–the house was going to be on one of the islands across the Intercontinental Waterway from Miami. (I did have my couple meet and fall in love on South Beach, although the story moved them back to the beautiful house on Long Island, near the Hamptons.) I’ve always wanted to write about Florida, and I’ve always loved reading about Florida. There’s something noir and gritty and hardboiled about Florida, yet at the same time there’s this zany wackiness to Florida (so people will post link to bizarre news stories about things that happen there on social media and say “Oh, Florida.”)

There are so many wonderful books about Florida; so many amazing writers have set their novels there–from Robert Wilder’s Flamingo Road to John D. MacDonald’s noirs and Travis McGee novels to Elaine Viets’ badass Helen Hawthorne series to Edna Buchanan to the sublime Vicky Hendricks (you MUST read Miami Purity, Constant Reader) to Randy Wayne White’s Doc Ford series–the list could go on and on and on. Everything works in Florida; whether it’s hard-boiled crime or hilariously funny crime or noir.

There’s actually a Florida noir in my mind right now, that I am hoping to get to at some point this year (if I don’t run out of time; if I do, it’ll be next year.)

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On the fifteenth of March, two hours before sunrise, an emergency medical technician named Jimmy Campo found a sweaty stranger huddled in the back of his ambulance. It was parked in a service alley behind the Stefano Hotel, where Jimmy Campo and his partner had been summoned to treat a twenty-two-year-old white female who had swallowed an unwise mix of vodka, Red Bull, hydrocodone, birdseed and stool softener–in all respects a routine South Beach 911 call, until now.

The stranger in Jimmy Campo’s ambulance had two35-mm digital cameras hanging from his fleshy neck, and a bulky gear bag balanced on his ample lap. He wore a Dodgers cap and a Bluetooth ear set. His ripe, florid cheeks glistened damply and his body reeked like a prison laundry bag.

“Get out of my ambulance,” Jimmy Campo said.

“Is she dead?” the man asked excitedly.

And so begins my latest Carl Hiaasen read, Star Island. 

I chose to read another Hiaasen rather something heavier and darker because, quite frankly, this entire past week had been so crazy on every level–what with what was going on in the country in general, madness at home, madness at the office–that I wanted something that would help me escape from it all, and Hiaasen always delivers. His books, which seem so zany and wild and yes, fluffy, on the surface are actually much more; there are layers and depth there that may not be readily apparent. Star Island not only has the trademark Hiaasen wacky wit, but it’s also a very subtle critique of our current celebrity culture,  and how an entire media has built up around ‘entertainment news.’

Star Island focuses on the misadventures of a young pop star who rose to fame by selling sex in her videos at age fourteen: Cherry Pye, and her team of handlers who really see her as a cash cow and not as a human being. Cherry is beautiful and sexy, but not much talent–relying on autotune and back up vocalists being dubbed in and over her own off-tune warblings. Cherry is the worst kind of diva: spoiled, selfish, narcissistic, and used to having her team–which includes her awful parents–clean up her messes so she never has, and is wholly incapable of, taking any responsibility. Because she is so frequently in and out of rehab, her team has had to hire a look-alike, Annie DeLusian, an actress, play her in public to cover up overdoses, etc. The book opens with Cherry on the verge of another comeback with a new album, Skantily Klad, and also overdosing on the combination of things in the excerpt above while partying with a young three-named actor. Annie fills in for her to fool the paparazzi while the team slips the girl out the back–and the story is off to the races. Will her team be able to keep Cherry sober and out of trouble long enough for the investment in her new album put her back on top again? Will the paparazzo completely obsessed with her get the shots he needs to get himself out of the hole? And what about Annie, the only decent person in this whole mess? Tired of playing Cherry and dealing with her horrible team, will she be able to find her way out of this and maybe get some gigs that actually use her talent?

Star Island also brings back two Hiaasen characters from past books: Skink, the ex-governor of Florida who now lives in the wilderness and wreaks havoc on corrupt developers and others who work to destroy the complex Florida ecosystem; and Chemo, the criminal sociopath who lost a hand to a barracuda and had it replaced with a weed whacker. (Yes, it sounds crazy. The first Hiaasen I read, over twenty years ago, was Chemo’s first adventure, and was so silly and over-the-top that I refused to read another Hiaasen until I picked up Bad Monkey off a sale table at a Barnes and Noble in DC a few years ago; now I get what Hiaasen is doing with his work and enjoy it.)

Star Island made me laugh out loud several times, and somehow, with all of its twists and turns, everything was wrapped up at the end in a very satisfying package. Hiaasen novels are intricately and complexly plotted, which I admire–plot is always an issue for me, and I am always afraid I am leaving threads hanging when I finish writing a novel.

The book was exactly what I needed to read this weekend.

 

On the Dark Side

Someone recently pointed out to me that on my website, I described my Chanse MacLeod series as more nourish, but a hilarious typo—which either no one noticed previously or had but were too polite to mention to me— made the sentence read as the Chanse series is more nourish. Yes, it made me laugh for a few moments before I went in and corrected it, but it also made me start thinking about the sentence itself. Is the Chanse series, in fact, more noir than the Scotty series?

 

The Chanse series is darker than the Scotty series, and yes, that was a deliberate choice, but calling the Chanse series noir is probably incorrect; what I should have said was the Chanse series was more hardboiled. That would be factually correct. So, what precisely is the difference between hardboiled and noir?

 

Hardboiled crime fiction is a bit easier to define than noir, and it is possible for a novel or story to be both. Wikipedia says this:

 

Hardboiled (or hard-boiled) fiction is a literary genre that shares some of its characters and settings with crime fiction (especiallydetective stories). Derived from the romantic tradition which emphasized the emotions of apprehensionawehorror and terror, hardboiled fiction deviates from that tradition in the detective’s cynical attitude towards those emotions. The attitude is conveyed through the detective’s inner monologue describing to the audience what he is doing and feeling.

The genre’s typical protagonist is a detective who witnesses daily the violence of organized crime that flourished during Prohibition(1920–1933) and its aftermath, while dealing with a legal system that had become as corrupt as the organized crime itself.[1]Rendered cynical by this cycle of violence, the detectives of hardboiled fiction are classic antiheroes. Notable hardboiled detectives include Philip MarloweMike HammerSam SpadeLew Archer, and The Continental Op.

 

Interesting that Wikipedia doesn’t define it as a subgenre of crime fiction, but defines it as its own genre, separate but sharing characteristics with crime fiction. It also claims that the notion of hardboiled fiction is limited to a specific time period. I don’t think that’s true; I would go so far as to say that there are many authors who are publishing hardboiled crime fiction today. It’s only my opinion, but I do think one could consider Sue Grafton, Sara Paretsky, Ace Atkins, Reed Farrel Coleman, and many others as practitioners of the form.

 

Noir, on the other hand, is a more slippery kind of fish to define. Film noir and literary noir, for example, are completely different things; the classic movie is considered film noir, but the novel itself, to me, is hardboiled; Spade is a cynic but he is not a bad guy. When I was asked to write a story for New Orleans Noir, the assignment, as defined by the editor, was to come up with a description for noir and write a story that fit that definition. My definition was the endless nightmare; for me, noir was about an everyday Joe who makes a bad decision—something amoral or immoral, maybe against the law—and that bad decision sets he/she on a path where things get worse, and the only choices presented from that point on sink the character deeper and deeper into the quagmire of an amoral abyss. To that end, I wrote the story “Annunciation Shotgun”.

I never really felt, though, that my definition was adequate; it scratched the surface, but it didn’t go deep enough to truly define noir. Of course, Laura Lippman defined noir on a panel I was on perfectly: dreamers become schemers. As always, the woman who is often the smartest person in the room nailed it, and I have since stolen that as my definition.

I love noir, both the film and literary versions of it. James M. Cain is one of my favorite writers, and I have always wanted to write a noir novel. I have a couple of ideas, and as always, it’s simply a matter of being able to find the time to sit down and actually write one. I want to read more noir writers; modern day genius Megan Abbott is one of our best writers and her novels are extraordinary. The closest I’ve come to a noir with my novels are Timothy and Dark Tide;

I have a couple of other ideas, as I said, that I may explore. I know how both start, but there’s that slight issue of the plot yet to work out. Once I have a better grasp of the plots, I’ll start writing them.

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

The Streak

Laura Lippman always says that one of the most worn-out, tired cliches/tropes of crime fiction is a beautiful woman dies, and a man feels bad.

On our panel at Bouchercon last week, the subject of cultural appropriation came up, and unfortunately, I didn’t get to answer it–which is unfortunate, because my response was going to be, “I appropriate from straight culture all the time. In fact, I used the trope of a beautiful woman dies and a man feels bad in my first novel, only switched it into a beautiful man dies and a man feels bad.

Because really, you can sum up the plot of Murder in the Rue Dauphine that way.

get-attachment-aspxThe funny thing is, I didn’t realize I was subverting, or appropriating, a trope at the time I wrote the book–but I was also trying to write a gay-themed mystery with a gay main character, and so I wound up using one of the tried-and-true crime tropes without even realizing I was doing it.

When I was a senior editor, one of the things I wanted to see was gay novels that flipped the script on straight tropes–where is the gay James Bond? Indiana Jones? Gay romantic suspense? I honestly believed–and still do–that if the books were well-written and the characters well developed,  a gay or lesbian writer could take a trope/cliche from mainstream publishing and breathe fresh life into it. I tried to do this very thing with both Timothy and The Orion Mask, and once I get through these next books I have to write, I am going to try subverting some more writing tropes–like a gay hard-boiled noir, for example; wouldn’t that be fun? I have an idea for two that have been simmering in my head on the back burner for a while: Muscles and Spontaneous Combustion. 

We shall see, I suppose.

And now, I need to get back to the spice mines, otherwise I will never get any of these things done.