I really hate working on my MacBook Air. I mean, I guess it’s okay but it’s really difficult for me to get used to, you know? I really love the bigger screen of my desktop computer–but then, maybe that will change when my new glasses come in–if they ever come in; they were due to come in this week, in fact. Heavy heaving sigh. I’ll end up having to go out to Metairie to pick them up next Saturday, most likely. Yay. It’s always such a joy for me to head to Metairie for any reason.
Heavy heaving sigh.
Well, it’s Friday and I’m in Florida (not as lyrically magical as “Friday I’m in Love,” but this is why I am not a songwriter). I did my reading at Noir at the Bar last night, and yes, I did read from Chlorine, and it went over very well, I think. People seemed to be appreciative of it, or at least very kind, at any rate. The other readers were all fantastic–JD Allen, Tracy Clark, John Copenhaver, Jeffrey Deaver (!!!!), Tori Eldridge, and Alan Orloff. I was quite intimidated when. I got up there as everyone was killing it, but I surprisingly didn’t have my usual stage fright and nerves beforehand, and much to my surprise as I was reading, my hands weren’t shaking and I couldn’t hear my voice shaking either. I did have the big adrenaline crash afterwards, of course–that will never change, methinks–but it was kind of lovely not having my usual stage fright jitters before hand; I think that may have been because I was sitting and chatting with friends before hand? Anyway, it turned out to be a much more pleasant experience than usual, and I can check “Noir at the Bar” off my bucket list.
I have a panel later on today, which should be fun, about point of view; and then I have two back to back tomorrow afternoon. I slept okay last night–more restful physically than actual deep rest, which was odd, given how long I had been up but then again, strange bed and a lot of stimulation during the day. It happens, I suppose. I just figured I would zonk out after getting up so damned early yesterday and flying and everything. Ah, well. Maybe tonight? One can hope.
So I am going to just take it easy this morning, methinks. I will have to go foraging for coffee at some point–they have some in the room, but…yeah, not the greatest and only one cup so a-foraging I will go. I know they had free coffee in the bookshop this morning but I missed that by lounging in bed much too long and now writing this, but I want to be able to be chill and witty on my panel later this afternoon. It’s really nice to come to these kinds of things; it’s always lovely being around people who love books as well as people who also write; we all have that struggle in common–that weird love/hate thing, not to mention the total insanity of publishing and how the business works which we are all trying to figure out somehow even though there really is no way to figure it all out. It’s also nice being inside a conference bubble for a weekend, where I can pretend that nothing is going on in the world outside and everything else is great and hunky dory and I can put off dealing with reality until I go home Sunday.
Ugh, reality. Not my favorite.
Okay, Constant Reader, it’s time for me to go forage for coffee. I’ll probably come back up here and write for a while before it’s time for my panel. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader–I’ll be back to annoy you again tomorrow.
One of the things I’ve greatly enjoyed over the last few years has been the sea change in how publishing views works by non-white and non-straight authors; the push for more diverse voices in the publishing community has already borne wonderful fruit. I’ve been saying for years that the world of crime fiction was in danger of getting stale again, much as it did in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s; particularly the private eye novel. The arrival of Sara Paretsky, Sue Grafton, and Marcia Muller on the scene shook things up and shook things out; the private eye novel got a much-needed shot in the arm of adrenaline with these three women and the others their work inspired; I strongly believe the move toward diversity is going to bear fruit in much the same manner–and it already has, frankly; the works of diverse writers like S. A. Cosby, Kellye Garrett, Rachel Howzell Hall, Alex Segura, Tracy Clark, Cheryl Head, and so many others have joined the great pioneers like Walter Mosley and the wonderful Barbara Neely to open up new perspectives on crime and crime fiction; our society and world; and again, this was desperately needed–and is necessary every so often, for our genre to refresh and expand and become more inclusive. We’re also seeing more queer books being sent out into the world from the big houses in New York, which is also incredibly exciting (another shout out to Yes Daddy By Jonathan Parks-Ramage and A Beautiful Crime by Christopher Bollen).
It’s a very exciting time to be a fan of crime fiction.
Noir has always been one of my favorite sub-genres of crime fiction, and I always enjoy reading modern takes on it. I want to write more noir, quite frankly; Chlorine would be the first of at least four I want to write, if not more (for now, I have ideas for four of them, with Chlorine being the most full formed). I always enjoy modern takes on noir–Laura Lippman’s Sunburn was quite marvelous, as was Christa Faust’s Money Shot and Choke Hold)–and of course, S. A. Cosby is a master of rural Southern noir; both Blacktop Wasteland and Razorblade Tears are destined to be considered classics, I think.
So, I was very curious to read Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s take on modern noir, Velvet Was the Night. It took me a very long time to finish–which is not indicative of the quality of the book, I hasten to add–because after I read so much during the post-Ida power outage, I kind of broke my brain and thus haven’t been able to really focus as much on reading as I would like; yesterday after the LSU game I sat down and finished it with Georgia-Kentucky on as background noise.
And what a fun ride it was.
He didn’t like beating people.
El Elvis realized this was ironic considering his line of work. Imagine that: a thug who wanted to hold his punches. Then again, life is full of such ironies. Consider Ritchie Valens, who was afraid of flying and died the first time he set foot on an airplane. Damn shame that, and the other dudes who died, Buddy Holly and “The Big Bopper” Richardson; they weren’t half bad either. Or there was that playwright Aeschylus. He was afraid of being killed inside his house, and then he steps outside and wham, an eagle tosses a tortoise at him, cracking his head open. Murdered, right there in the stupidest possible way.
Often life doesn’t make sense, and if Elvis had a motto it was that: life’s a mess.That’s probably why he loved music and factoids. They helped him construct a more organized world. When he wasn’t listening to his records, he was poring over the dictionary, trying to memorize a new word, or plowing through one of those almanacs full of stats.
No, sir. Elvis wasn’t like some of the perverts he worked with, who got excited smashing a dude’s kidneys. He would have been happy solving crosswords and sipping coffee like their boss, El Mago, and maybe one day he would be an accomplished man of that sort, but for now there was work to be done, and this time Elvis was actually eager to beat a few motherfuckers up.
He hadn’t developed a sudden taste for blood and cracking bones, no, but El Güero had been at him again.
The recent rise of Silvia Moreno-Garcia has been meteoric, although I am sure to her it has seemed anything but. I read her terrific vampire novel, Certain Dark Things, a while back, loved it, and have been following her career ever since as she has turned out novels at a terrific rate–Gods of Jade and Shadow, Untamed Shore, Mexican Gothic–all of which have been critically acclaimed and sold very well; I love that she bounces from genre to genre–horror to fantasy to crime; even bouncing around in the sub-categories of the crime genre. This is only my second read of her work–I have them all, of course–and had been meaning to get around to her take on noir with a Mexican flourish for quite some time. (I am really sorry I broke my brain with all the reading I did after the power went out; I greatly enjoyed this book, but it was so hard for me to focus for some reason…but am glad I sat down yesterday with the book, determined to finish it at last.)
One of the things that strikes me about Moreno-Garcia’s work is that I am seeing Mexico, a place I greatly love, through a fresh new perspective; like all Yanquis, I always view Mexico through the prism of a tourist. I’ve always wanted to write about Mexico, and have several short stories in the files that are set there (I did write one erotica story as Todd Gregory set in Acapulco; from the perspective of a tourist, of course: “Oh, What A Friend I Have in Jesus”)…but reading Moreno-Garcia makes me aware of how scant my knowledge of our Southern neighbor is–all of the counties south of the Rio Grande, frankly–which is a stinging indictment of our education system. (Don’t even get me started on the concept of Latin America vs. “America”) I know very little of Mexican history after the Spanish conquest, other than the Mexican War and the French empire set up under a Hapsburg by Napoleon III during our civil war. I know very little history of any of the countries that make up the rest of the American continents, really–and isn’t that more than a little bit disgraceful? I also know very little about their cultures, their politics, and what goes on there; a quick glance through the news also will show very little information or news being reported about those non-United States/Canada American countries, which is really a shame.
Velvet Was the Night is set un 1971, a particularly politically rife period in Mexico. The US was terribly concerned about communism being spread by the Soviets in what has always been considered the American soft underbelly–I mean, look at our reaction to Cuba–and there’s no question that CIA operatives and money were working to subvert Communism while supporting borderline Fascist governments because that was preferable to Washington than another potential Soviet satellite state in our hemisphere. The vast paranoia of that time–which really lasted from 1945-1990, really–cannot be underestimated or understated. By rooting her story in actual events of 1971–the crackdown of the Mexican government on dissidents–Moreno-Garcia slyly gives us a taste of how American foreign policy of the time affected everyone in Mexico, as well as a history lesson. (One of the great modern deceptions of our society is this idea that we always act benevolently as a nation; we’re doing this for your own good.) The book has two point of view characters; one, depicted in the opening above, is “Elvis”, a very young man who works as a thug, basically, for an oppressive group of anti-Communists that try to infiltrate dissident groups and haunt protests in order to make them turn violent, so the military can intervene on behalf of the “people.” Elvis grew up very poor and sometimes imagines what his life would be like if he were able to pursue his primary interests–educating himself and music. He doesn’t know what his future holds but is vaguely aware the path he is on–violence and more violence–will not end well. Over the course of the book he begins to question the values he’s been taught to believe in his gang, and begins to aspire to get out of it.
The other main character is Maite, a legal secretary barely getting by on her low salary and barely able to afford food. Her car has been in the shop unclaimed because she cannot afford the mechanics’ bill. She leads a lonely and solitary life, has a very vivid imagination and fantasy world she prefers to inhabit, colored strongly by her love of romance comic books and the music she likes to listen to. Maite’s lovely neighbor, Leonora, asks her to feed her cat while she is away, and when she agreed, Maite unknowingly enters the world of political struggle and upheaval. The riot depicted in the first chapter, that Elvis helps engineer? A friend of Leonora’s has taken pictures that prove that the riot was started by government forces, and those two rolls of film are the McGuffin everyone in the book is after–except poor innocent Maite, who, like any main character in a great Hitchcock film, becomes involved in something life threatening by simply agreeing to feed a neighbor’s cat–something she resents agreeing to do. When Leonora doesn’t come back, Maite starts looking for her–primarily motivated by the fact she can’t afford to keep feeding the car, and Leonora promised her money for feeding it–money she needs to get her car back. Motivated by her own poverty, Maite finds herself getting involved more and more in this clandestine world, and her own life is in danger soon.
The true strength of the book lies in the careful characterizations of both Elvis and Maite; two desperate people trapped by poverty in lives they want to escape, and the parallel journeys they both follow that lead their paths to cross; and the richness of the reality of what life in Mexico City was like during the turbulent time when the book is set. Moreno-Garcia shows us, as she did in Certain Dark Things, what the reality of life is like in one of the world’s largest cities, the reality the tourists rarely, if ever, get a chance to see. And while the hopelessness of both their situations seem unresolvable at times, the pacing is strong and the story construction so tight, and you the readers finds yourself rooting for them both to get out safely.
I really loved this book, and am sorry my inability to focus forced me to take so long to finish reading it. It’s extraordinary, and I recommend it highly.
Ah, Tuesday, with all your promise, dawning bright and early.
The weather has been absolutely stunning these past few days–well, it did get overcast yesterday afternoon, but it was still lovely out–even if it’s too early in March for the weather to be this nice; we are having April weather in early March. Maybe it’s just a passing front, or something–but it is peculiar. I, of course, don’t mind; spring and fall are the two times of the year where the weather is so spectacular we’re reminded why we live here; I wish it was like this year round, but I also recognize that summer is the purgatorial price we must pay for these beautiful days in late March thru early May (and those from mid-September thru Thanksgiving).
I started working on the short story that’s due at the end of the month last night, and it started flowing. I know the voice isn’t quite right, but that’s what the revisions and rewrites are for, you know? One of the problems with being a writer, at least for me, is the conflicting desire to always get something done right the first time you do it; which isn’t really how writing works. As opposed to how you generally do almost everything else in life, writing isn’t required to be done correctly the first time; there are always rewrites, there are always revisions, there is always editing. I do strive to get everything as right as possible in the first draft–something I can’t really help, it’s just who I am–but I often struggle with being tied to what I originally wrote and sometimes stubbornly refuse to see what needs to be fixed within my work. (Part of the reason the Kansas Book and Bury Me in Shadows both still are languishing within the electronic file folders, rather than being out there in the world for my readers to <hopefully> enjoy.)
Plus, you also have to add in the added insecurity which makes me question every word choice, every sentence structure, and every plot development.
It really is a wonder I am not in a strait-jacket.
I slept fairly decently last night, which was lovely; I didn’t want to get up this morning, but I did, knowing that I can sleep a little every day the rest of this week. Tomorrow of course is my late day; an early evening shift so I can get stuff done around here during the day and go to the gym in the late morning. I have all kinds of things to do tomorrow–which means rather than having a relaxing morning, I am probably going to have an irritating one; but again, that’s perfectly fine. I need to carve out some time during the morning to write as well; I also want to get back to Carol Goodman’s The Sea of Lost Girls, which I really shouldn’t have started reading and didn’t really mean to; I just picked it up on Sunday to read the first chapter, to get a sense of it, and the next thing I knew several hours had passed and I was almost to page 100. I need to get it finished, hopefully, maybe, during the rest of this week so I can move on to Lori Rader-Day’s The Lucky One, and then I need to get back to reading Tracy Clark for the interview I am doing with her for the Sisters quarterly.
I am also still reading Jason Berry’s City of a Million Dreams as my current non-fiction; it’s quite exceptionally good, quite frankly.
Tomorrow an anthology I have a story in is having its cover reveal; I am very pleased to be in this anthology and I am very pleased with the story I wrote for it, as well as incredibly flattered to have been asked to be included. I have another story in another anthology that is dropping next month as well, so it’s turning out to be a fairly decent year for me, short story wise, at any rate. The preliminary Anthony ballots have already gone out, and I won’t lie: I’m really hoping my story “This Town” in Murder-a-Go-Go’s makes the short list. It’s probably my favorite story of my own that I’ve ever written and published; one of those few times when I’ve written something that turned out exactly the way I wanted it to, where everything–story, voice, character, mood–all came together in the way I wanted them to, and created a story that I think is one of my best efforts. I think the story in the anthology whose cover is being revealed tomorrow is another one of those instances; I am very proud of that story too–which began as something else completely, but I basically took the story set-up from a failed story and tacked new characters and a new story on it, and it worked beautifully. (I still have fond hopes for the original version of the story and its title; I just have to give those characters and that story a different set-up, is all. I am thinking a faculty cocktail party of some sort.)
I am also going to try to write something for another anthology that is coming to a close at the end of this month; I think some of the things I’ve recently started could actually work for this anthology’s theme, so I am going to go ahead and look them all over and determine which would work for the theme best and try to get it finished by the end of the month as well. I had a really great time working on the Sherlock story yesterday, and I think it’s beginning to coalesce and gel in my mind, so here’s hoping I can get the rough draft finished this week.
Edgar Allan Poe is credited with inventing the detective story, or so the lore of our genre goes, which is why the Mystery Writers of America named their awards for excellence in the field after him. The private detective has gradually evolved over the years from the times of Poe’s Auguste Dupin (“Murders in the Rue Morgue”–which Constant Reader should recognize as the source for my Chanse titles, beginning with Murder in the Rue Dauphine) through Conan Doyle’s terrific Sherlock Holmes to the twentieth century masters of crime-solving: Ellery Queen, Nero Wolfe, Lew Archer, Philip Marlowe, etc. The 1970’s served as a bridge for the post-war detective to the dawning of a new age–which was necessary because by the early 1980’s the genre had become a bit stagnant, repetitive, overloaded with tropes that were deeply misogynistic.
In the 1980’s, three women–Sara Paretsky, Sue Grafton, and Marcia Muller–breathed new life into the genre by introducing three hard-boiled women private eyes; tough women who could hold their own with their male counterparts and were also incredibly well-developed and extremely well written. All three women were named Grand Masters by the Mystery Writers of America in their turn; alas, only Paretsky is still publishing, and we still mourn the loss of Grafton to cancer several years ago, before she finished her alphabet series featuring Kinsey Millhone.
And while there is still great private eye work being produced today by both men and women, it’s also very exciting now to be on the verge of yet another re-invigorization of the private eye novel–and crime fiction in general–with new takes on old tropes, subversion of those tropes, and the exciting arrival of writers of color and queer writers. The passing of Sue Grafton was a great tragedy, but her publisher, Putnam, partnered with Mystery Writers of America to create an award to honor her and her work; by celebrating the series private eye novels with women firmly centered as the investigator. The first Grafton Prize, awarded last year, went to Sara Paretsky for Shell Game; this year there are six finalists: Linda Castillo (Shamed); Tracy Clark (Borrowed Time); Edwin Hill (The Missing Ones); Sujata Massey (The Satapur Moonstone); Gigi Pandian (The Alchemist’s Illusion), and Marcie R. Rendon (Girl Gone Missing)–all books I am looking forward to reading,
Ironically, I had already arranged to interview Tracy Clark for the Sisters in Crime quarterly column I do, “The Conversation Continues”–so I had already obtained copies of all her works.
Yesterday I finished reading the first Cass Raines mystery, Broken Places.
Chicago cops had to be on the lookout for any number of nefarious mopes eager to take a potshot, but this morning my biggest enemy was turning out to be the scorching rays of the summer sun. I slid into the driver’s seat of the unmarked car and cranked the windows down, balancing a rapidly melting iced tea, extra ice, between my thighs. A few feet away, my partner, Detective Ben Mickerson, stood in front of the Dairy Queen basking in the hellfire. “Vitamin D,” he said, ruddy face pointed skyward. “Soak in that Vitamin D.”
“You say Vitamin D, I say skin cancer,” I groused, The hot vinyl seats nearly seared through my blazer and pants–and they were both summer weight. I checked myself in the rearview. The little makeup I’d started the day with was long gone now, melted away by flop sweat. I flicked at the sweaty ringlets at the nape of my neck and wiggled uncomfortably in my bulletproof vest, my breasts pressed flat, as though squeezed between the hot plates of a waffle iron. I looked like I’d gone through a car wash, and it was just ten AM. No great loss, though. Five mintues tops was all I ever invested in primping. I didn’t have the patience for it, and in the long run it seemed rather silly. Thugs and killers didn’t care what I looked like. They spotted the cop car, they ran, then I had to run after them. I’d be thirty-five in the spring. Eyeliner and blush weren’t going to make the running any easier.
“The sun is going to kill you,” I yelled out the window.
Cass Raines, Clark’s private eye, is actually a cop when the book opens; and she and her partner are tracking a problem kid, a gangbanger who killed four members of a rival gang, starting a war of attrition and revenge. They chase him down to a rooftop, and Cass almost has him talked down when another douchebag of an officer–protected by powerful political connections–ruins the situation and she ends up having to shoot the kid. She resigns from the force, haunted by the kid she killed, and become a private eye. This backstory plays out over the first several chapters, and then we flash forward two years to the present day. Cass is a complicated young woman–her mother died when she was young; her father took off and she was raised by her grandparents, whose home she inherited–and she is very solitary. This, her first case, kicks off when her father figure, a local priest (she’s lapsed) hires her to find out who is following and harassing him; but before she can even get truly started on her investigation Pops (as she calls Father Ray Heaton of St. Brendan’s) is found dead in the confessional booth, with the gun in his hand, an apparent suicide–and there’s another body in the church, a young Latino gangbanger named Cesar. The police–including her nemesis, the douchebag who ruined her attempt to bring the kid in several years earlier–are very quick to rule it a murder-suicide, but Cass doesn’t believe it for a minute, and begins her own investigation.
The case itself is full of surprising twists and turns, and Cass takes quite a beating as she tries to find out the true story of what happened that night at St. Brendan’s–and her personal life also starts to grow a little complicated, with the return of her birth father and the introduction of a possible love interest police detective for her. Well written, Cass is the kind of character you love to get behind and root for; she has, like all the best private eyes in fiction, a strong moral code of her own that turns her into a complex and fascinating character, one you can’t help but like even when she maybe isn’t behaving at her best. Clark has done a fantastic job of breathing life, not only into Cass, but into her supporting characters and the people she comes across throughout the course of the case.
Clark also makes Chicago into a very real place. I spent eight years of my childhood growing up on the south side, and she brings Chicago to life, with all of its problems and charms, with a loving but critical eye. It’s not the same Chicago we see through the eyes of Paretsky’s V. I. Warshawski, but it’s to Clark’s credit that she doesn’t try to imitate the queen of Chicago crime, but rather emulate her.
An impressive debut, and I am looking forward to reading further adventures of Cass Raines.
Well, I don’t know about coming down, but it’s definitely Sunday morning.
Then again, I did have to come downstairs, so I guess that’s somewhat applicable.
I wallowed in bed until nine this morning; I woke up originally at approximately seven AM and chose to stay in bed, it was kind of a lovely thing. The nice thing about football season being over is there’s no longer a need to get up early on the weekends in order to get things done before the games start–I’d forgotten how lovely it is to just stay in bed and relax and stay there until you really feel guilty about staying under the covers for so long. I stayed in bed pretty late yesterday morning–eight or nine, I don’t remember–but it is lovely, even if it throws my sleep schedule off a bit, seeing as how I must rise at six the next two mornings. But c’est la vie, right?
I did get some good work done yesterday on the Secret Project–which is going to be my primary focus this morning before I go to the gym–and I also have emails to answer. I also finished reading Tracy Clark’s terrific debut novel, Broken Places, yesterday, and then spent a good while trying to decide what to read next. As a general rule, I don’t like to read more than one book by a solitary author in a row, particularly when I have three of them to read; I’m interviewing Tracy for Sisters in Crimes’ quarterly newsletter, and so it behooves me to read them all. No worries–I am going to devote an entire entry at some point to Broken Places–probably shortly after I finish this one, to be honest.
I also got the lovely news that the Joni Mitchell anthology i contributed to, edited by Josh Pachter, The Beat of Black Wings, will be out and available in time for Malice Domestic! This anthology is a “crime stories inspired by the music of Joni Mitchell,” and the table of contents is a veritable who’s who of crime writers and people I am lucky enough to call friends. My story, “The Silky Veils of Ardor,” is one I particularly am proud of; I feel like I’ve been doing some terrific work on short stories over the past few years, dating back to the Short Story Project (which reminds me, I have another one I need to get started writing, and soon), and I do hope you’ll get a copy of the anthology. The proceeds are going to a charity; one of which Ms. Mitchell approves, and I believe the anthology is even going to promoted and featured on her website, which is very cool. More to come on that front, of course.
Oh, did I mention I am going to Malice Domestic this year? Yes, that’s correct, Constant Reader, I am going go be at Malice Domestic this coming May; I’ll be taking Amtrak down from Penn Station the morning after the Edgars to Malice Domestic. This is my second Malice, and I am really looking forward to it–particularly seeing friends win Agatha Awards two days after the Edgars. I’ll be flying home the following morning (that Sunday), but it’d going to be an absolutely lovely trip, and one which I hope will once again make me feel once again connected to the writing world.
Krewe de Vieux was last night, but I stayed home; Paul went to watch with friends, but I’m reserving my energy and strength for the St. Charles Avenue parade season, which opens this Friday with three parades. There are four or five more on Saturday, and then another two on Sunday; at least Sunday wraps up early in order for there to be rest and relaxation for the two-day break before the final stretch of six days and seemingly endless parades begins.
I can hardly believe it’s parade season again, but here we are.
I’m thinking, since we’re most likely going to start watching HBO’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Outsider this evening, that perhaps it’s time to crack the spine of the first edition hardcover I own and start reading it; I do like to read the book along with the series adaptation whenever I can–this worked really well with Big Little Lies–but I am also thinking that maybe I should read a cozy next? It’s been a while since I’ve dipped my toe into the cozy waters, and perhaps it’s not a bad idea to read one next? But I simply cannot seem to make up my mind, heavy sigh. Maybe a reread of Where Are The Children as a memorial to Mary Higgins Clark?
So many books to read, and so very little time.
Well, I suppose I can put off the decision a little longer…and perhaps it is time for me to get back to the spice mines.
Saturday morning, and I slept in until nearly eight thirty! Living large here, I have to say.
Yesterday was one of those days; the temperature dropped, as you may recall, and once again when turning on the heat Thursday night, it didn’t really come on–it did, but it never truly got warm in the Lost Apartment, either upstairs or down. So, I wound up having to stay home from work to wait for the HVAC guys, who actually arrived dutifully when they said they would (this is so rare as to merit mention), and worked on it for a while. They did eventually leave, and I went to the gym and ran my errands. I don’t know if the heat is actually fixed or not; we didn’t need it last night anywhere other than the kitchen, and I have a space heater for in there (it never warms up in the kitchen, ever) but I did manage to get a lot of cleaning and organizing done. I also managed to start watching the film of The Talented Mr. Ripley on the iPad yesterday at the gym (the Anthony Minghella version) and it veers away from the book’s narrative much more than I ever had supposed; the character of Meredith (played by Cate Blanchett) doesn’t exist in the book, nor does the entire subplot about Dickie’s affair with the village girl in Mongibello. But the one thing I will say about this film–and the thirty or so minutes of it I watched–Matt Damon is exceptionally great in the role of Tom; far more so than Jude Law as Dickie (he was nominated for an Oscar; the film made him a star), and this just might be one of Damon’s best performances.
Paul, I believe, is off to the office later today, and has plans with friends to go watch Krewe de Vieux tonight; I intend to stay home and work on the Secret Project, get my taxes together and sent off to the accountant, and emails to answer. There’s also organizing and filing to do, and I need to do the floors; I always leave the floors for Saturday vacuuming. Paul’s absence also gives me no excuse for not reading and writing for most of the day; around the cleaning, at any rate–and I am actually looking forward to getting a lot of both done today.
I’m still reading Tracy Clark’s Broken Places, which is really good, and in fact, once I finish writing this I am most likely going to head over to the easy chair and spend a few hours with it this morning before moving on to the Secret Project. I am also really enjoying Jason Berry’s City of a Million Dreams, which I am not very far into, but I feel confident in recommending just based on the introduction and part of the first chapter. I’ve not read Berry before–he’s local, and has written quite a few books, including taking the Archdiocese to task for covering up the sexual abuse of children–but I am impressed enough to start adding his canon to my TBR list. We started watching Avenue 5, which was much funnier than I thought it would be–and Hugh Laurie is terrific as the captain; the entire cast is actually quite good. We’re probably going to also start watching The Outsider on HBO, which presents a conundrum for me; I generally like to read the book while I am watching the TV series based on it (I did this with Big Little Lies, and found it to be incredibly enjoyable; I’ve not read the King yet, but once I am done with the Clark, I am definitely going to pull The Outsider down from the shelf and give it a go)., but I guess pulling down The Outsider and moving it up to the top of the TBR list won’t hurt anyone or anything.
Parades also start this coming Friday on the St. Charles Avenue route; the challenge is going to be continuing to write and go to the gym around my job and the parades; parade watching is always a blast–it will probably never get old for me–but it’s also exhausting and keeps me up later at night than I probably need to be awake, given how early I will have to get up the following mornings.
It’s also lovely to wake up and sit at my desk and glance around and see clean, clear counters and a sink that is primarily empty of dirty dishes. There’s a load in the dishwasher that needs to be put away, and a load of laundry in the dryer that also neede to be fluffed and folded, but like I said, other than that and the floors (and these stacks of file folders and scribbled notes scattered around my desk), there’s no cleaning to be done this morning. My muscles are tired this morning from the gym yesterday, but I’m not sore, and I feel more stretched than I usually do, which also actually feels good–I may just stretch out a bit a little later; I’d forgotten how good it feels to have stretched muscles as opposed to tight ones.
So, that’s the plan for today, at any rate. I’m going to go pour yet another cup of coffee, take my book and repair to the easy chair; after that, it’s back to the desk to do some writing and answer some emails (I never actually send them until Monday morning; emails beget emails, and I’d rather not wake up Monday morning at the crack of dawn with an insane amount of emails to answer; it’s too, too daunting to deal with on a twelve hour day).
I was also thinking the other day–thanks to a post by someone on Facebook–about books that should be paired together, like a good wine and some good cheese; how reading the two back-to-back can enhance the reading pleasure of both. Michael Koryta’s The Prophet (which is one of my favorite books), for example, pairs beautifully with Megan Abbott’s Dare Me (and you need to be watching the television adaptation of Dare Me); Alafair Burke recommends pairing Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent with Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, and there was one more I can’t quite remember, but it was also quite brilliant. (I also think pairing Stephen King’s Carrie and Christine together enhances the pleasure of reading each even more.)
I was also thinking about “event” books; Gone Girl was probably the most recent “event” book–a book that sold a gazillion copies and everyone was talking about. There have always been “event books”, which in the pre-Internet, pre-social media days was harder to have happen, and yet it did, all the time. Two such books from the 70’s include Thomas Tryon’s The Other and Peter Benchley’s Jaws; the fame of Jaws was spread even further by an event film based on it that has almost entirely eclipsed the book. Robin Cook’s Coma was another one of these; I intend to include The Other in my Reread Project this year, but rather than Jaws I am going to reread Benchley’s second novel, The Deep, and Cook’s second novel, Sphinx–which was Cook’s only non-medical thriller thriller.
And on that note, I am going to repair to the easy chair with my coffee and Tracy Clark. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader; I certainly intend to.
Well, we made it to Friday yet again, did we not? One week from today the St. Charles parades kick back into gear again; and the madness of Carnival season descends on those of us who live inside the box. (“The box”, for those of you Not From Here, designates the most common parade route: Tchoupitoulas up Napoleon to St. Charles to Canal to Convention Center Boulevard; the river/Tchoupitoulas forms the one side of the box–it’s usually open somewhat to traffic, but when the parades are lined up…it’s best to avoid. Living inside the box means you have to be home and parked at least an hour to two hours before the start time of the first parade, else you’ll be unable to get home.) So, yes, for a total of about seven or eight days scattered over two weekends, the parade schedule will dominate my life and force me to accommodate my life around them. It’s a very fun, if exhausting, time.
The weather changed dramatically, as it always does at this time of year when it rains. It was in the thirties overnight, and while it is supposed to be in the fifties today–it’s going back up to sunny and warm this weekend–it still feels like its in the thirties inside the Lost Apartment today, which is rather unpleasant. I’m layered, and the space heater is one, but it’s still unpleasant and I really didn’t want to get out of bed this morning at all. But I did get up, and I am going to go to the gym–it’s gym morning–around ten; I’d set the alarm for seven but the bed felt simply too delicious to get out of, so instead of nine I’ll go at ten. Compromise. I am resisting the urge to say I’ll go when I get home from work because I think we all know that will turn into well, I went twice this week and I’m tired and home now.
Which is how it always starts, you know.
I finished reading Bourbon Street this week, and have moved on to City of a Million Dreams, which opens in a prologue about the Confederate monuments tied into Allen Toussaint’s funeral. Jason Berry is a very good writer, and I am already drawn into his (nonfiction) story; which is incredibly cool. I am also enjoying Tracy Clark’s Broken Places, which is also cool. I’ll probably spend some more time with it tonight when I get home from work.
We finished watching the second season of Sex Education, and of course it sort of ended the way I feared it might; while everyone else’s story-lines came to a rather lovely close, others had to be seeded in order for there to be a third season, and of course the core storyline is Otis and Maeve’s relationship. Otis and Maeve are the odd couple we can’t help but root for to get together; the poor but extremely smart daughter of a drug addict with a sharp tongue and the awkward son of the sex therapist; we’ve seen them grow beyond their original selves and develop as people as well as fall in love with each other; so wanting them to get together is the pull of their story–and even if they did somehow wind up together, for purposes of the show they would have to be pulled apart anyway so we could root for them to get back together again.
I’ve also gotten moving on the Secret Project again; this new opening was the right choice, and I’ve actually found the character’s voice. As I worked on it last night after work, getting in a very difficult four or five hundred words, despite that struggle I also couldn’t help but realize my mind was filling in other details, and both the story and the characters were beginning to expand inside my mind, which is terribly important–and also caused a breakthrough regarding the two unfinished manuscripts languishing in files in my computer: I don’t believe I ever found the core of the main characters in either of them, and that’s why I am so deeply dissatisfied with both manuscripts, and why they never feel right. I do think this last, third revision of Bury Me in Shadows is the closest I’ve gotten to getting his voice right; but this breakthrough on the Secret Project last night also opened the door to what is going wrong with the others. So, once I get the Secret Project finished–the goal is to have it finished by Valentine’s Day/first day of St. Charles parades–I can spend that following weekend primarily working on who my main character is, and reviewing this most recent rewrite, with an eye to making sure I have his voice right.
And then perhaps I can get it finished, once and for all.
I also have to write blog entries about Bourbon Street and another book I finished reading for the Reread Project; if nothing else, I can always say I have the blog entries finished.
I also found The Talented Mr. Ripley on Netflix, so I am going to start watching that while I walk on the treadmill at the gym. I also want to watch this new true crime Netflix series, The Pharmacist, about the drug problem in New Orleans. I watched the trailer for it last night, and it looks quite interesting, to say the least. We also need to get caught up on Megan Abbott’s Dare Me, which of course has been DVRing merrily; I think it might be more fun to binge it, quite frankly.
I’ve also got a short story to start writing–not to mention all the ones languishing in their folders, begging to be finished or desperate for revisions–but this particular one has a due date, and I’d really like to get it started; which means more Sherlock reading tonight when I get home from the office, interspersed with Tracy Clark.
And on that note, I need to eat some carbs for energy before I head to the gym this morning; y’all behave and have a lovely Friday, okay?
I know, right? And you know what else? Afterward, I felt great. I’d forgotten about the joys of endorphins, how good warmed up and stretched out muscles feel when they’ve worked, how nice it is to get hot and sweaty while working your body to maximize or improve its potential. And yet–when it’s time to go again on Wednesday morning (I’ve decided my work out days will be Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays, per my day job schedule and around my writing and other work) odds are I won’t want to go, like always, having completely forgotten that it actually feels good to go to the gym.
I’ll never stop resenting the back injury in 2010 that took me out of my regular workout routine I’d been following, with few exceptions, since 1995 (I didn’t work out at all during that wretched year we lived in DC, for example).
But I also worked on the Secret Project yesterday, which also felt really good, and did some other things overall to make things easier for me this week–at least, in theory it will make things easier this week. I started reading Tracy Clark’s Broken Places, the first book in her Cass Raines series (the second of which is a Grafton finalist this year), and am really enjoying it. I’m tired this morning–I probably could have used a good two or three hours more of sleep–but my muscles aren’t sore and still feel relatively stretched out. I imagine if I somehow make it through my twelve-hour day, I’ll sleep deeply and well tonight; I thought I did last night but am still tired this morning. Maybe I’m just not fully awake yet? Something like that, at any rate. But I’m drinking cappuccinos this morning, and hopefully that will kick my brain into gear.
I also made a lengthy to-do list, which will be fun to get through this week.
We finished watching the first season of Messiah last night, and I’m not really sure about the ending. I guess they left it open for a second season? But in either case, it didn’t make an awful lot of sense to me; Paul was equally baffled, and I suspect in either case they simply weren’t sure how to end it, honestly. I suppose I wanted the season to answer the question of whether this mystery man was actually a new messiah or not; and they couldn’t decide whether he was or he wasn’t. I’m not sure I’ll go along for the ride on a second season, when or if one should ever surface, but what started out as something with a lot of potential–just how would the world react in such a situation, politically, religiously, and culturally–wound down without any real resolution or answers.
Or, as is often possible, perhaps I am just not intellectual enough to understand.
We also continued watching Sex Education, which is turning from a clever comedy about teen sexuality into something completely different; more of a teen drama/soap, which is fine; as the cast discovers and explores their sexuality and relationships, more focus on drama was inevitable rather than comedy; but I do kind of miss the humor and Otis and Maeve running their underground sex therapist business. This season thus far they are dealing with sexual assault; alternate sexualities; and the development of a strange kind of gay love triangle between two openly gay boys and one of them’s former bully, who is also slowly coming to his own realizations about his own sexuality. I hate the trope of the boy who falls in love with his bully, who was bullying him out of his own fear of his own desires–which seems like a really weird direction for a show relatively determined (at least in its first season) to explore sexuality in all its different forms and types; but, as I said, the focus and center of the show seems to have shifted this season, and not for the better. But the cast is still as appealing as ever, and Gillian Anderson, as Otis’ actual sex therapist mother, is a gem.
So, Saints & Sinners and the Tennessee Williams Festival were a Jeopardy clue on Friday night; how fricking cool is that? I didn’t see it myself–I was cleaning–but any number of people tagged me on Facebook or on Twitter, so I got to see it, which is cool. The Tennessee Williams Festival has been a clue before, but I think this is the first time Saints & Sinners was–and it’s a queer/LGBTQ festival, so even more cool. Way to go, Jeopardy! There’s a reason why you’ve always been my favorite game show!
Hold up your hand if you didn’t think I’d get everything done yesterday that I’d planned. But it was still a good day, and I wrote some new stuff for the first time in a while. I have these horrible stagnant times, when I don’t get any writing done–and as we’ve already established, I always have to force myself to do it (despite loving doing it) and then when I’ve got my writing for the day finished, I wonder why I have to make myself do something I love–and those stagnant times always make me worry that I’ve lost the spark, the desire, to do it; that this time is the time I won’t be able to get back into it and do it. I worked on the Secret Project for a while yesterday, basically completely rewrote everything I wrote to begin with, and moved onto from the first scene to the next scene, which was also quite lovely.
I did get some organizing done–there’s more to be done today; my iCloud drive is so ridiculously disorganized that it’s almost impossible to use, and I probably should back everything up yet again–and some of the filing; I should be able to get more done this morning before I dive back into the Secret Project. I am also planning on heading to the gym for the first time in a very long time (I prefer not to think about just how long that time has been, frankly), which is my first move in my attempt to live a healthier, better organized, better life. I already am thinking of excuses to get out of going, frankly–which is par for the course, as always–but as long as I don’t tie myself to any particular time table, I should be good. I guess the Super Bowl is also tonight, but I don’t really care about either team–the 49ers or the Chiefs–though I suppose if I had to pick one I’d pick the Chiefs, and that’s mainly because they haven’t won a Super Bowl in forever and I think Kansas City could use the boost. We’ll probably spend the evening getting caught up on shows we watch. We still haven’t finished watching Messiah, are way behind on Dare Me, haven’t started the last season of Schitt’s Creek, and so on.
We haven’t even started HBO’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Outsider, which is getting rave reviews. Who would have ever guessed The Hogan Family’s Jason Bateman would become one of our finest actors/directors/writers for television? I really can’t wait for Ozark to come back.
I also finally finished and published my blog post about Victoria Holt’s Kirkland Revels, part of my Reread Project; I still need to do The Talented Mr. Ripley–it’s started, but I need to finish it.
I am resisting the urge to read Dorothy B. Hughes’ The So Blue Marble next; I need to start reading Tracy Clark’s canon so I can interview her for Sisters; but I also have to read Lori Rader-Day’s The Lucky One for the panel I’m moderating this year at the Jeopardy clue Tennessee Williams Festival late next month. Decisions, decisions. Probably the smart thing to do is read Tracy Clark’s first book next, then Lori’s, and then back to Tracy again for her second book.
I’ve also reached the final section of Richard Campanella’s Bourbon Street, which I am looking forward to finally finishing this month. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the book, which is interesting, well-written, and incredibly informative; it’s going to remain on my desk as an important reference guide for any future New Orleans writing I do–which reminds me, I’ve got to start that Sherlock Holmes story–and probably when I finish the Campanella I’ll probably move on to Jason Berry’s City of a Million Dreams: A History of New Orleans at Age 300.
The plan is to get this work on the Secret Project finished this week, get started on the Sherlock story, and then get back to Bury Me in Shadows. I’d like to get Shadows turned in by the end of March, get back to the Kansas book–maybe with some serious focus I can get that finished and turned in by the end of May, and then I can get to work on Chlorine. I’d like to have the first draft of Chlorine finished by the end of summer.
Must stay organized, and must stay focused.
I also finished reading Dorothy B. Hughes’ Dread Journey yesterday.
She had spoken aloud. She hadn’t meant to; she hadn’t wanted those words to come up from her throat to her lips. She hadn’t meant to think them, much less speak them. She didn’t want Gratia to have heard them.
But across the room the girl lifted her eyes from her book.
“What did you say?” she queried.
Dorothy B. Hughes is one of the more unjustly forgotten women writers of the mid to later twentieth century; fortunately Sarah Weinman worked–and has continued to work–tirelessly to bring this women back into the public eye. She wrote the introduction to Dread Journey, and in it she names Hughes as her favorite crime writer of all time. She’s not wrong, frankly; Sarah and my friend Margery are both huge fans of Hughes, and if not for them–and Megan Abbott–I may not have ever started reading Hughes, and for that I shall always be grateful to them. In a Lonely Place and The Expendable Man are both extraordinary; I think, frankly, The Expendable Man should be taught; it’s on my list for the Reread Project, for later in the year. Dread Journey is yet another masterwork by Hughes; I cannot wait to dig my teeth into more of her work.
Dread Journey takes place entirely on a train; the Chief, making its regular run from Los Angeles to Chicago–and you know, at some point, someone really needs to do a book or lengthy essay about crime novels and trains; not only did Hughes write one, but Christie wrote two (the very well known Murder on the Orient Express and the lesser known The Mystery of the Blue Train; as well as others that revolved around trains, like 4:50 from Paddington–called What Mrs. McGillicudy Saw! in the US) and of course, Graham Greene’s wonderful Orient Express comes to mind as well. Trains were part and parcel of the American experience. Trains made travel and connecting the massive distances across this continent much easier in the time before air travel became more commonplace and everyone wasn’t convinced they needed a car; there’s a certain nostalgic romantic element to train travel now, probably a result of these novels. I know that year we lived in Washington, we loved taking the train to Philadelphia and New York, even on to Boston; I’ve always, as I said the other day, wanted to write a book or a story called Murder on the Acela Express, and perhaps someday I will–even though the Acela is more of a commuter train without compartments. One of these days I want to take the City of New Orleans on its twenty-four hour ride to Chicago; it just seems like a lovely thing to do and the reading time! Oh, the reading time.
Anyway, the premise behind Dread Journey revolves around the dysfunctional and borderline abusive relationship between Viv Spender, a self-made Hollywood producer and studio head, and Kitten Agnew, a woman he discovered, became obsessed with, and groomed into a major star–America’s sweetheart, the girl next door. There is a huge difference between Kitten’s public image and who she is–a hard as nails fighter who won’t let go of her stardom in the face of Gratia Shawn, his new obsession, and whom he has decided will replace Kitten as the star of his dream project in the role of Clavdia Chauchat. But Kitten has a contract and isn’t giving up without a fight–and they, along with Viv’s longtime secretary Mike Dana, and several other characters–a journalist returning from the Far East, who drowns his memories of the atrocities and horrors he saw there in alcohol; a snippy, gossipy bandleader; a failed screenwriter returning to New York embittered by his failure; and of course, the car attendant, a man of color named James Cobbett–a decent working man who witnesses almost everything that happens on the car. Will Viv go so far as to kill Kitten to get out of the contract he has signed with her? She’s threatening to sue if she doesn’t play Clavdia; and the tension mounts as the cat-and-mouse game between the two of them slowly draws everyone else in the railroad car in.
It’s a very short read, and a good one. I highly recommend it, and of course, Sarah Weinman’s opening essay is worth the cover price alone.
Thursday rolling into my world like nobody’s business. I cannot believe how quickly time moves the older you get. I mean–parades are starting soon! MADNESS! The lead-up to the parade season part of Carnival always seems to fly past; it’s also interesting that the first parades this year are on Valentine’s Day–talk about your double whammy. Without enough vacation time this year to take the parade days off–I’ll probably wind up taking Lundi Gras as a vacation day–it’s going to be quite interesting trying to schedule my office hours around getting home early enough that the streets aren’t closed off, and of course, parade traffic.
Just thinking about it makes me tired.
But I’ve been making to-do lists this week and tearing through them; a great sign of productivity for me, and there are very necessary; I need those lists to keep me going and aware of what all I have to get done. I even wrote yesterday for a little while–not long–on the Secret Project, but most importantly, I discovered the character’s voice. This is always key for me when I’m writing; until I find my main character’s voice I struggle with the actual writing. I was most pleased to find the voice finally yesterday; I had already started writing the opening but it wasn’t feeling right; so I basically revised/rewrote the 1500 words or so I had already done yesterday, and should be able to get even more done before Monday.
That’s the goal, at any rate.
I also want to finish reading Dorothy B. Hughes’ Dread Journey, which is fantastic, and I can’t wait to get back into it. After that I am going to start reading Tracy Clark’s series (the most recent is a nominee for the Grafton Prize, which is hella exciting–do people still say hella? It always annoyed me, and I think that might be the first time I’ve ever used it?), and then I am going to try to work my way through my TBR list. That list has grown exponentially since award lists have started coming out; heavy sigh. There’s never enough time for me to read, you know? I’ll go to my grave not having finished my TBR list, which is, of course, inevitable, really; there’s always new books coming out that I need/want to read. I am also terribly behind on some of my favorite authors–Donna Andrews, Michael Koryta, etc.–and then of course there’s all the classics I want to read as well, and then there’s the Reread Project and…
Yeah. I’m like Sisyphus and the rock, aren’t I?
And look at me, up so early this morning and a-rarin’ to go! Having my entire day free, and not having to go into the office until four, was amazing. Oddly enough, I think I function best when I go to work later in the morning/early afternoon, even if it means getting off work later. Mornings have traditionally always been my most productive time–going back years to when I worked for the airline and always picked shifts that started at eleven am or later–and I hadn’t realized how much I missed having those mornings free. I still have to be at work early for long days on both Mondays and Tuesdays, but now i feel like with Wednesday as a really late day to play catch-up and then my normal 11-12 start times on Thursday and Friday, this is a schedule that’s going to really work for me.
Then again, we’ll see.
And on that note I am going to head into the spice mines and get through my emails, then do some cleaning and filing and possibly a little reading, possibly a little writing, before I go into the office. I’ve got laundry running right now, and of course, the dishwasher needs to be unloaded and reloaded and run again.