A Different Corner

Very tired today; a late night of bar testing got me home late last night, and so my sleep–always an issue–was not good last night. The end result is that I am very foggy and tired today, with a lot of spice to mine.

Heavy heaving sigh.

But I am very pleased to report that I finished reading Nadine Nettman’s Uncorking a Lie last night, and might I add that my Bouchercon homework is ever so much more fun than any homework I’ve ever had previously in my life?

Scan

PAIRING SUGGESTION:

CREMANT DE LOIRE–LOIRE VALLEY, FRANCE

A sparkling wine made primarily from the Chenin Blanc grape, ideal for beginnings.

When bottles of wine are sold for large amounts of money, they end up in the news. Sometimes it;s because the bottle was rare and other times the final price was noteworthy or even extreme. Yet the seller is never really emphasized in the articles. It’s always the buyer.

The buyer, who paid thousands and thousands of dollars for a bottle of wine, often with the notion to safely tuck it away in a cellar where it might not be moved again. I understand saving special bottles for long periods of time, but to know that a wine would never be released from the bottle, never get to live out its purpose of being enjoyed and savored, always gave me a tinge of sadness.

This time I knew the buyer well. Paul Rafferty was a longtime customer of Trentino and although he had an extensive collection of unique bottles kept safely in his wine cellar, he was also known for occasionally opening rare wines, sometimes at the restaurant where I had the honor of uncorking the bottle and releasing the story.

I never deny the fact that I am, for all intents and purposes, a peasant. There are a lot of things about manners and etiquette, for example, that I neither know nor understand. My family has very poor, rural Southern roots; it was in my parents’ generation that the cycle of poverty was broken and our family moved from blue-collar/working class to comfortably middle class. I am always worried I am committing some social faux pas because I simply don’t know any better; I simply stick to the basic manners of being polite when a guest but there’s always that niggling doubt in the back of my mind that I am going to do something that makes my host or hostess think to themselves oh yes, I always forget Greg is white trash. Smart, but still white trash.

Wine is one of the things I don’t understand or get; something I don’t know a lot about. I am always afraid to order wine with dinner or in a bar setting because I don’t know what I’m looking for; for many years I simply differentiated between wines as “red” or “white”; I still get thrown every once in a while by all the many different varieties that fall under each color–and then, of course, there’s rose. Sigh.

Uncorking a Lie is a terrific traditional mystery, in that the main character, through whose point-of-view we see the story, is not a professional investigator of any type but a sommelier at Trentino, a nice restaurant in San Francisco. Katie has recently passed her certification exam and is studying for her Master Sommelier certification. She is invited to a special dinner at Paul Rafferty’s mansion in Sonoma where he plans on opening and serving a bottle he bought at auction for nineteen thousand dollars; once the bottle is opened Katie realizes that the bottle is, actually, a counterfeit. She informs Paul’s assistant–and less than an hour later the assistant is dead. Paul asks her to get to the bottom of the counterfeit bottle of wine, and now we are off to the races.

This was a very fun read with a likable main character; and even though I don’t know much about wine, Nettman’s discussions about wine were not only not over my head, but made me even more interested in learning more about wine.

Look forward to reading more in this series!

Dreamtime

A rare late night of bar testing has left my day free; I am going to go to the gym, do some cleaning, and maybe even some writing before I head into the office. We’ll see how it goes, shan’t we?

I am still reading Nadine Nettman’s Uncorking a Lie, and am really enjoying it thus far. I have to say, one of the most interesting thing (to me) about this year’s Anthony nominees for Best Paperback Original is how different all the books are–something I will talk about more when I’ve finished reading them all. (I am also making notes of questions to ask each writer as I read their books; best way to prep for moderating a panel!)

Next up for The Short Story Project is the next story in Florida Happens, which happens to be “There’s an Alligator in My Purse” by Paul D. Marks.

The Teaser

She makes a beautiful corpse, doesn’t she?”

“You just kill me.”

“No, I just killed her.”

“You know what they say, live fast, die young and leave a good lookin’ corpse.”

“Or at least a dead one,” I said, with a wink.

I’m a pro. I like to do a competent job. I like to have my marks look presentable, both for themselves and for my clients. It’s good for word of mouth and getting killed is hard enough, on both the mark and their family, so at least they should leave a suitable lasting impression.

I also take a lot of pictures. Much easier in these digital days. Back in the day, it was hard to take pictures of dead bodies to your local photo store to get developed—some of them even called the cops. And I like to add a little art to my work. Give the client a little something extra for their money, so I try to shoot from interesting angles, in low key light, like in an old film noir. I find it works on two levels. It gives me satisfaction and, of course, it gives my clients some kind of closure.

Let me fill you in on some of what led us here. Someone has to tell the story and it might as well be me. I’m probably the only one who can see the big picture. True, I wasn’t there for everything, but I was there for enough of it and I heard about the rest from first person sources. How much of it you should trust, well, that’s another story. You don’t know me and I don’t know you, but I like to think I’m a pretty reliable source. So, this is the tale as best I know it.

Paul D Marks -- _MG_5669Edit-2 d1.jpg

Paul D. Marks is the author of the Shamus Award-winning mystery-thriller White Heat, which Publishers Weekly calls a “taut crime yarn,” and its sequel Broken Windows (dropping 9/10/18). Publisher’s Weekly says: “Fans of downbeat PI fiction will be satisfied…with Shamus Award winner Marks’s solid sequel to… White Heat.” Though set in the 1990s, both novels deal with issues that are hot and relevant today: racism and immigration, respectively. His short stories appear in Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazines, among others, and have won or been nominated for many awards, including the Anthony, Derringer and Macavity. His story “Windward,” has been selected for the Best American Mystery Stories of 2018, edited by Louise Penny & Otto Penzler, and has also been nominated for both a 2018 Shamus Award and Macavity Award for Best Short Story.  “Ghosts of Bunker Hill” was voted #1 in the 2016 Ellery Queen Readers Poll. He is co-editor of the multi-award nominated anthology Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea. You can find him on-line at his website, link right here!

When asked  about how he came up with his story, he replied:

The genesis of my story, “There’s an Alligator in My Purse,” was inspired by the theme of the Bouchercon anthology, which was originally “Sunny Places, Shady People”. So I wanted plenty o’ sun and plenty o’ shady people. I could have gone one of two ways with the story: a serious noirish mystery, which is more what I’m known for…if I’m known. Or, since people seem to make fun of Florida so much the other choice was humor and satire. I chose the latter. I thought it would be fun to get a little crazy. And though I mostly write serious crime stories, I have done some humorous and satirical stories in the past, so it was time for another shot at that.

I started with the title, which just came to me out of nowhere, as these things often do. I thought it was funny. Okay, funny. Now what? Now I have to build a story around it. And hopefully make the rest of the story have at least a chuckle or two. So I had to figure out who would have an alligator in their purse – yes, there really is one! – and why. I just let my mind wander. And had fun with it. This story was a hell of a lot of fun to write and I hope others enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

The story, though he claims otherwise, is both noirish and funny. It’s very clever in the way it takes a classic hard-boiled/noir trope and spins it on its head, while turning it inside out at the same time. It’s also kind of written like a film; there are quick cuts between scenes, so the story flows in a cinematic way, which was a lot of fun. I greatly enjoyed this story–and have enjoyed Paul’s work in the past as well (we were both nominated for the 2017 Macavity for Short Story, which gave me the occasion to read his “Ghosts of Bunker Hill”, which is quite marvelous), and I am looking forward to reading his novel White Heat when it works its way up in my TBR pile.

And now, back to the spice mines.

King for a Day

Ah, Monday. Blue, blue Monday, and yet the beginning of still another work week.

I worked quite a bit yesterday, and even made it to the gym. I was one of six people in the gym, and if you guessed that at one point in my workout four of the other five people had taken up all the options for my next exercise, you’d have guessed correctly. And no one apparently notices the signs posted everywhere that read Please rerack your weights when finished.

No. One.

Back when I used to work in fitness environments, I was always amazed at how people just leave their weights on the machines or dumbbells wherever they used them rather than putting them back–as though they assumed that the staff people working were there to clean up after them. It used to happen in aerobics classes I taught, too–the attendees would finish, then leave their steps, dumbbells, and sometimes their sweaty towels there for me to put away.

It would be so lovely to one day be wealthy enough to have my own workout room in my home. All I want, really–a room that’s a dedicated office space and a workout room. Is that really so much to ask for?

Lately, so many things have been getting on my nerves that I’ve wondered if I am on edge, or if something’s going on in my subconscious that’s bubbling up by making me highly annoyed and irritated with people, or something, I don’t know what; but the more I think about it, the more I tend to think, no, you’re just sick of assholes.

Seriously. And then I remembered the most important thing of why I am a crime writer: I can kill off assholes fictionally.

I also finished Lori Rader-Day’s The Day I Died, and started reading Nadine Nettman’s Uncorking a Lie.

the day i died

On the day I died, I took the new oars down to the lake. They were heavy, but I was saving myself the second trip. The blades rode flat along the ground, flattening two tracks through the wet grass.

It was morning. The air was cool, but down on the dock, the slats were already hot. I noted a lone fishing boat out on the water. Inside, two men hunched silently over their tackle, their faces turned out across the lake. Beyond them, mist rose off the water, nearly hiding the far shore.

This moment. This is what I return to.

Later, I will note the long crack on the new oar, just before my head goes under, just before the flume of blood rises off my skin under the water like smoke. I will come back to othis moment and think, if I had just gone back up the steps to the house immediately. If I had just stayed up at the house in the first place.

If I had just.

Lori Rader-Day’s Anthony Award shortlisted 2017 novel is quite excellent. Thematically, it’s about desperation–what people do when they have no other options. In the case of Anna Winger, Rader-Day’s main character, her childhood was desolate and bleak; the child of an alcoholic abuser, she moved from there to an abusive relationship with a boyfriend before fleeing for her life and that of her unborn child. Now, she lives in a wretched little town in Indiana, working as a freelance handwriting analyst. A child has gone missing in Parks, Indiana, and the local police bring her in for her expertise, bringing her into the case sideways. The case also stirs up dark memories of her own past for Anna, and her child–now thirteen and entering that rebellious stage–is becoming more and more closed off from her, difficult to know; and she has to wonder, as a mother, if this life they’ve led of constantly moving and never establishing roots anywhere, is messing up her own child. The parallels between the missing child case of the present and her own disappearance from her own life brings her to her own breaking point–and to where she can no longer ignore or deny her past, but most confront it.

Rader-Day’s strengths–her depiction of how claustrophobic yet lonely small towns can be; her ability to create sympathetic, damaged characters–are all here, and the book is structured beautifully; each incident and scene flowing into the next until the reader has to keep compulsively turning the page.

And now, back to the spice mines.

Your Wildest Dreams

Good morning! It’s Thursday, everyone, and with a short day at the office ahead of me and just one more day before the weekend, I am feeling good. Not as good perhaps as I should, but I slept really well last night, don’t have to be at work until later this afternoon, and I am going to even go to the gym this morning before it’s time to go to work.

I call that a winning day, don’t you?

I am reading Lori Rader-Day’s The Day I Died as prep work for my moderating duties at Bouchercon next month. I am, in case you weren’t paying attention, Constant Reader, moderating the panel highlighting the Anthony Award finalists for Best Paperback Original. After I finish Lori’s book I’ll be reading Bad Boy Boogie by Thomas Pluck, What We Reckon by Eryk Pruitt, Cast the First Stone by James Ziskin, and Uncorking a Lie by Nadine Nettmann. I’m enjoying Lori’s book–I also enjoyed the previous one of hers I’d read, Little Pretty Things, and as I’ve said before, there’s no one more fun to traverse the back roads of rural Alabama on a rainy morning with. All of these books had been in my TBR pile for quite some time, so it’s great to have an excuse to pull them out and read them.

I worked a little more on “Please Die Soon” yesterday; the story is becoming even creepier the more I work on it–although I think I may have done some overkill with it. But I am going to keep going with it, and once I am finished with the first draft I’ll figure it out in the revision process. I am also letting “A Whisper from the Graveyard” sit for a while–I know there’s some serious tweakage needed in it as well before submitting it–and I am starting to get to work on the August/September project as well. Exciting times for a Gregalicious.

And before I go to the gym this morning, I’m going to try to get the house straightened up a bit.

And while I know I’ve already talked about my story in Florida Happens (“Cold Beer No Flies”) I intend to spend the rest of this month’s focus on The Short Story Project on the stories and authors in the book, to try to whet your appetite for either preordering the book or buying it at Bouchercon. We are doing a launch for the book there on Thursday at 1; all the authors present gathering to sign and/or discuss the book and their story. And of course, it’s just easier for me to start by talking about my own.

Dane Brewer stepped out of his air-conditioned trailer, wiped sweat off his forehead and locked the door. It was early June and already unbearably hot, the humidity so thick it was hard to breathe. He was too far inland from the bay to get much of the cooling sea breeze but not so far away he couldn’t smell it. The fishy wet sea smell he was sick to death of hung in the salty air. It was omnipresent, inescapable. He trudged along the reddish-orange dirt path through towering pine trees wreathed in Spanish moss. The path was strewn with pine cones the size of his head and enormous dead pine needles the color of rust that crunched beneath his shoes. His face was dripping with sweat. He came into the clearing along the state road where a glorified Quonset hut with a tin roof stood.  It used to be a bait and tackle until its resurrection as a cheap bar. It was called My Place. It sounded cozy—the kind of place people would stop by every afternoon for a cold one after clocking out from work, before heading home.

The portable reader board parked where the parking lot met the state road read Cold Beer No Flies.

Simple, matter of fact, no pretense. No Hurricanes in fancy glasses like the touristy places littering the towns along the gulf coast. Just simple drinks served in plain glasses, ice-cold beer in bottles or cans stocked in refrigerated cases at simple prices hard-working people could afford. Tuscadega’s business was fish, and its canning plant stank of dead fish and guts and cold blood for miles. Tuscadega sat on the inside coast of a large shallow bay. The bay’s narrow mouth was crowned by a bridge barely visible from town. A long two-lane bridge across the bay led to the gold mine of the white sand beaches and green water along the Gulf Coast of Florida. Tourists didn’t flock to Tuscadega, but Tuscadega didn’t want them, either. Dreamers kept saying when land along the gulf got too expensive the bay shores would be developed, but it hadn’t and Dane doubted it ever would.

Tuscadega was just a tired old town and always would be, best he could figure it. A dead end the best and the brightest fled as soon as they were able.

 He was going to follow them one day, once he could afford it.

Towns like Tuscadega weren’t kind to people like Dane.

“Cold Beer No Flies” was originally conceived of back when I lived in Kansas, as far back as when I was a teenager. There was a bar in Emporia called My Place, which was an okay place–it had a concrete floor, just like the one in my story–and it also had one of those rolling readerboard signs along the road, and it literally read that: MY PLACE COLD BEER, NO FLIES. I always thought that was funny, and I always wanted to write a story called “Cold Beer No Flies.” I think I wrote the original first draft of the story in the 1980’s, and it languished in my files all these years. When it came to be time to write something for Florida Happens, I picked out “Cold Beer No Flies”, read the first two drafts of what I had written before, and decided to reboot the story and adapt it to the Florida setting. I’d always seen it as a noir story, and in rewriting/adapting it to fit this I needed to obviously move the setting from Kansas to Florida. I also had the bright idea to set it in the panhandle; I figured (rightly) that the majority of stories would be set in the beach communities literally the southern coasts of the state, and not many people would be moved to right about either the interior parts or the panhandle. I picked a dying, rotten little small town and placed it on a panhandle bay, similar to the little town my grandparents retired to in the early 1970’s. I also wanted to look at, and explore, what it’s like to grow up gay and working class in such a place–very redneck, very conservative, very backwards, very religious, very homophobic. The story turned out very creepy, I think, which was precisely what I was going for, and I hope you enjoy it when the time comes, Constant Reader.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Take Me Home

Saturday morning and I feel great. If you think that means I slept well last night, you would be correct in that assumption.  It’s amazing what a difference it makes; those of you who have no trouble sleeping at night and can get amazing rest every night? You have no idea how lucky you are, and how much I envy you.

Today I have errands to run, a house to clean, a workout to do; as long as I stay motivated I can easily get all of these things done. I also have writing to do–I want to finish “A Whisper from the Graveyard” this weekend, and I also want to finish making my notes on the Scotty book, at which point I need to revise the outline I did (after finishing the first draft) so I can start the massive edit/rewrite for the second draft I need to get done. As I also mentioned the other day, I also need to start reading the books on the Anthony shortlist for Best Paperback Original, since I am moderating that panel at Bouchercon this year. To jog your memory, those books are, as follows: The Day I Died by Lori Rader-Day; Bad Boy Boogie by Thomas Pluck; Uncorking a Lie by Nadine Nettman; What We Reckon by Eryk Pruitt; and Cast the First Stone by James Ziskin. I got some good reading ahead of me, don’t I? Yes I do!

Huzzah! This is, after all, always a good thing.

I am, alas, as always, behind on my writing schedule. I had wanted to get Scotty finished this month (ha!) before embarking on an a project that will consume August and September; and then I had wanted to work on the WIP in October and November before starting on Bury Me in Satin in December. I don’t see that happening now, alas, since I got so little done on Scotty this month. Then again, you never know. If I can maintain good sleeping habits and maintain meeting goals and staying motivated every day in the face of the oppressive heat of a New Orleans August, I just might be able to get back on schedule.

Here’s hoping.

I did finished reading Jessica Knoll’s The Favorite Sister this week.

the favorite sister

A man whose name I do not know slides his hand under the hem of my new blouse, connecting the cable to the lavalier mic clipped to my collar. He asks me to say something–sound check–and for a single reckless beat, I consider the truth. Brett is dead and I’m not innocent.

“Testing. Testing. One. Two. Three.” I’m not only dishonest. I’m unoriginal.

The sound guy listens to the playback. “Keep your hair off your left shoulder as much as you can,” he tells me.  I haven’t had my ends trimmed in months, and not because my grief has bested my vanity. I’m hoping viewers are better able to see the resemblance to my sister. I have nice hair. Brett had beautiful hair.

“Thanks,” I reply, wishing I could remember his name. Brett would have known it. She made a point of being on a first-name basis with the crew–from the gaffer to the ever-rotating harem of production assistants. My sister’s speciality was making underappreciated people feel appreciated. It’s a testament to that quality that we are all gathered here today, some of us prepared to tell heroic lies about her.

This is Knoll’s second novel; her first, Luckiest Girl Alive, was stunningly brilliant and I loved it. I also believe she may have made the Edgar shortlist for Best First Novel. In this book, Knoll again takes as her theme ambitious women and the conflicts they have with each other, set against the backdrop of a reality television series which is clearly based, in some ways, on the Real Housewives shows. The show, Goal Diggers of New York, ostensibly focuses on five women who are all entrepreneurs, don’t have kids, and in most cases are also single. Goal Diggers has the same pedigree as the Real Housewives shows; originally intended as a docu-series focusing on real women and the struggles they have running businesses and so forth, it has descended into a ratings-hungry juggernaut predicated on pitting the women against each other emotionally and forcing them into feuds. The ultimate cleverness of the book is it follows, basically, the same trajectory as if it were, indeed, a reality show about women; it reads like a season of a Real Housewives franchise. There are three main point-of-view characters–sisters Kelly and Brett, and Brett’s former best friend, an author of color named Stephanie. Kelly narrates the action in the present, after all the events of the book are finished–the device used is her filming what is known as a ‘talking head’ interview; where the camera is trained on the cast member and asked questions. The rest of the book is about the filming of the most recent season of Goal Diggers, which ended in tragedy; that is shown from the alternating POV’s of Brett and Stephanie, who manufactured a feud for the season as a storyline but the ‘fake feud’ actually runs far deeper, with a far worse betrayal at its heart, than anything that was taped for the series. The book addresses a lot of current hot topics in our culture and society: racism, homophobia, same-sex marriage, sexism. It’s very hard to talk about the book without giving spoilers; like a season of a reality show, the twists and turns the plot takes are part of the joy the reader gets from the story, and to discuss them would spoil it for new readers. But it’s very well-written, and the characterizations are quite strong.

I have to say, I enjoyed every second of reading this book, and I can’t wait for Knoll’s next one.

And now, back to the spice mines.