I Love Music

I’ve always supported women crime writers, and I’ve always read them. From the women who wrote the children’s mysteries for Scholastic (Mary C. Jane and Phyllis A. Whitney, to name two) through the Agatha Christie canon (which essentially includes every subgenre of mystery to come, from serial killers to cozies to spy novels to romantic suspense to Gothic to locked rooms to private eyes to amateur sleuths to unreliable narrators–you get the picture. An argument can be made that And Then There Were None was the original Friday the 13th; a group of people stranded somewhere being targeted by a killer, who goes through them all systematically), moving on eventually to Victoria Holt and Charlotte Armstrong and Dorothy Eden and Mary Stewart, who in turn were followed by Grafton, Paretsky, and Muller…terrific stories and series and stand alones by such terrific writers as Nancy Pickard, Lia Matera, S. J. Rozan, Laura Lippman…the list of women crime writers I love is insanely lengthy, and there isn’t any way that I could possibly, successfully, sit down and make a list of them all without forgetting so many, many others who don’t deserve to be forgotten or left off.

Women are currently some of the top writers in our field–Megan Abbott,  Alison Gaylin, Lori Rader-Day, Jamie Mason, Lisa Unger, Catriona McPherson, Wendy Corsi Staub, Carol Goodman, Gillian Flynn, Lori Roy, Alafair Burke…again, the list could go on forever and I would always manage to forget someone. There’s not, after all, enough time for me to ever read everything I want to read, and there’s fantastic new work being published all the time. And I am finding new to me writers all the time, that I greatly enjoy.

The reason I am even bringing this up is twofold; recently, there was an article in The Writer that acted like women crime writers essentially don’t exist (I don’t think, ultimately, the piece was mean-spirited or this was actually deliberate; the problem was the author of the piece used the angle that there were no women being written accurately, with nuance, in crime fiction today; she simply failed to qualify her thesis by adding by men. Had she done this, her piece–about how Lee Child and Paul Doiron have evolved and are now writing complex, believable women characters–probably would have been applauded rather than the subject of some outrage), and then, yesterday, Sisters in Crime president Sherry Harris wrote a blistering response to the almost non-stop mockage the cozy mysteries–which are kind of the backbone of our genre–are almost always subject to from the non-cozy writers in our genre.

I personally have never understood why some writers are so condescending and rude about any genre, to be honest. Romance novels aren’t for me, really, but I certainly am not contemptuous of romance novels, or the genre as a whole. Writing, and getting published, and maintaining a career as a writer, is fucking hard; I would daresay that writing romance novels would be incredibly difficult. There are the constraints of the formula and the required HEA (happily ever after) ending; you try to make a formula fresh and new and interesting to readers who read dozens of novels a year and are looking for something fresh, that will move them, will keep them reading, and leave them wanting more of your work.

I’ll wait.

Yeah, that’s what I thought.

I hear cozies dismissed and not taken seriously all the time. ALL. THE. TIME. And I don’t understand it. Sure, there are terrible cozies. There are also terrible noirs, terrible private eye novels, terrible police procedurals, terrible psychological thrillers, etc.; not every book in every style of mystery–or writing, for that matter–is good, and not every one is bad. And cozies are, quite frankly, incredibly hard to write. They have to be light, they have to be funny (and no matter how easy it looks–writing funny is fucking hard), and there have to be a lot of suspects and clues and red herrings and so forth. Cozies are also often stories about communities–whether it’s the people who work at a spice shop in Seattle’s Pike Place Market (Leslie Budewitz) or the extended friends-and-family of the Langslow clan in Caerphilly, Virginia (Donna Andrews) or those who live in an art deco Fort Lauderdale apartment complex that used to be a motel (Elaine Viets)–and again, this is incredibly difficult to do, let alone do every goddamned year, managing to keep the stories and characters fresh and new, as well as juggling the need for a plot against the need to include the regular cast members the readers have come to love over the years.

For example, there are characters in the Scotty universe that have kind of dropped away as the years and the series have progressed; every time I write a new Scotty I think, I really need to include David in here somehow and yet it never seems to work. (David was Scotty’s best friend in the first three books; a character I genuinely liked and loved writing about…but in the after-Katrina books, having to juggle Scotty’s two partners and his family grew ever more difficult and David just kind of fell to the wayside.)

I digress.

I always say that cozies aren’t given the respect they deserve for the same reason romance novels aren’t, either; they are seen as books by women about women for women, and therefore couldn’t possibly be as important as the testosterone driven he-man crime novels men write. Even the non-cozy crime novels written by women don’t get the same respect as those by men–its the reason why Sisters in Crime exists, the Malice Domestic conference, and the Agatha Awards.

And let’s face it. Scotty might be a licensed private eye, but his adventures are more cozy than hard-boiled.

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

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(I’ve Been) Searchin’ So Long

Saturday morning. After my morning coffee,  I’m going to run some errands, and then I am going to figure out what time to drive out to Elmwood to see Wonder Woman–shooting for late afternoon/early evening; that way I can get some cleaning and revising done. I’ve not done much revising this week–which is shameful (there is some harsh and ugly truths there about the need for actual contractual deadlines, isn’t there?), and so my goal is to get back on track with all of that for this weekend. I want to get another three or four chapters revised, as well as the second draft of “Quiet Desperation” finished this weekend, so I can move on to revising another short story. I’ve also started a new draft of the eighth Scotty novel, Crescent City Charade, which I am hoping to get finished by the end of the summer (Labor Day is the goal). I absolutely HAVE to get these revisions finished by the end of June, because I want to spend the summer querying agents. I honestly believe this WIP is my best work, and could be an important book.

Whether that proves to be the case or not remains to be seen, of course, but here’s hoping.

The Lost Apartment is a mess, and has been for quite some time. I can’t remember the last time I did the floors, quite frankly, and it’s getting kind of ugly down there, honestly. I mean, our kitchen floor needs to be redone–tiles have come up–which kind of makes it hard to make it look nice anyway, but that’s no excuse for not cleaning, you know? My mother would be so ashamed.

So ashamed.

So, I am going to, as soon as I finish this cup of coffee, start straightening and cleaning up down here. It looks like it’s going to rain all weekend, so I am not going to bother with the windows (which are also long overdue for a cleaning; although I could do the inside. Hmmmm, that could be a plan, actually) and definitely work on these floors. There’s some filing to do–isn’t there always–and some other organizing I need to do, but if I buckle down and stay focused (and make a fucking list) I should be able to get through everything before it’s time to go see Wonder Woman.

I’m really looking forward to seeing the movie. Wonder Woman was always one of my favorite comic book superheroes (although when I started reading DC Comics, she’d given up her powers somehow and was running a clothing boutique and dealing with social issues and was a modern feminist; in retrospect, it was one of the stupidest reboots in DC’s long history of rebooting their characters); I loved the historic Amazon character, and the rebooted non-powered Wonder Woman/Diana Prince character was more of a detective, solving crimes and trained in martial arts. Around the time the television series starring Lynda Carter started, the DC rebooted her again and made her an Amazon princess with her powers again. And the TV show was amazing. Rewatching it now shows it up for its low-budget special effects and bad writing, but Lynda Carter embodied the part so beautifully that she became iconic–and I’ve been a lifelong fan of Ms. Carter. Paul and I stopped watching Supergirl during its first season, before Lynda Carter joined the cast as the president, so I’m sure at some point I’ll go back and binge the series. (I’ve also always been a fan of Supergirl–who also went through an incredibly stupid reboot in the 1970’s; complete with new costumes and a loss of some of her powers–sometimes she had them, sometimes she didn’t; they came and went because of some kind of Kryptonite poisoned drink she was tricked into imbibing; then was killed off during the Crisis on Infinite Earths, and then was brought back as something completely different after Superman was killed off in the early 1990’s. It’s really hard to keep track of all these shifts and changes in DC continuity/universes.)

Interestingly enough, now as I reflect on my fandom of both Wonder Woman and Supergirl, I realize how I’ve always been drawn to fictional depictions of strong women–from Nancy Drew to Trixie Belden to the Dana Girls to Cherry Ames to Vicki Barr to Wonder Woman to Supergirl to Lois Lane (who used to have her own comic book, detailing her adventures as an investigative reporter, which I also loved), to real life women who defied the traditional role of women in our society, like Katharine Hepburn and Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. I’ve certainly always enjoyed reading fiction by and about women; from Charlotte Armstrong to Phyllis Whitney to Victoria Holt to Mary Stewart to Judith Krantz and so on and so forth. Do people still read Rona Jaffe? She was another favorite of mine from the 1970’s. Taylor Caldwell, Evelyn Anthony, Jean Plaidy, Helen MacInnes, Daphne du Maurier, Patricia Highsmith, Shirley Jackson–I’ve always read and enjoyed books written by women. (This is not to say I don’t enjoy books by men; I always have, but at the same time there is a certain style of testosterone driven male novel, complete with angst, that I simply cannot abide, and the crime genre is riddled with them. I recently joked that I wanted to write a noir set in the strip clubs in the Quarter and call it Girls Girls Girls…you get the idea.)

And there are so many wonderful women writers publishing today: Sara Paretsky, Laura Lippman, Sue Grafton, Megan Abbott, Alison Gaylin, Alafair Burke, Alex Marwood, Lisa Unger, Jamie Mason, Wendy Corsi Staub, J. M. Redmann, Kristi Belcamino, Carrie Smith, Sara Henry, Ellen Hart, Donna Andrews, Dana Cameron, Toni Kelner (Leigh Perry), Carolyn Haines, Catriona McPherson, Lori Rader-Day, and Rebecca Chance–just off the top of my head; my TBR pile is filled with books by women, and there are so many wonderful women writers I’ve not gotten to yet, like Lisa Lutz and Shannon Baker and Jennifer MacMahon and Karin Slaughter–the list goes on and on forever and ever, amen. And this is just crime fiction/thrillers…I’ve not even touched on horror or scifi or fantasy or so-called ‘chick-lit.’ (Which reminds me, I really want to read some more Liane Moriarty, and I’ve not read any Jennifer Weiner…sigh.)

There’s just never enough time….and speaking of which, it’s time for me to head back into the spice mines.

Here’s a Saturday hunk for you:

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A Beautiful Morning

Well, I finished reading The Underground Railroad yesterday, and will most definitely be blogging about it, once I’ve digested it some and thought about it some more. It was, to say the least, very powerful, and not only did it made me think about the subject matter–it also made me think about a lot of other things, which I will be more than happy to discuss once I’ve digested them. I also started reading The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney, which I am enjoying as well.

We were supposed to get heavy weather yesterday, but it arrived over night instead–everything out there is wet and dripping, which is always a joy. Ah, well.

I didn’t write yesterday, or at all over the weekend, which is, of course, terrible. I did get some cleaning done and some organizing–not as much as I would have liked–but we’re also working on getting caught up on our shows and I did want to power through and finally finish the Colson novel, which I did manage to do, and then we got caught up on The Walking Dead, watched last night’s Feud, and then it was bedtime.

I am greatly enjoying Feud, and am very impressed with how it’s taking on the issue of how Hollywood/entertainment treats women; which also, in some ways, goes along with another show I am looking to finishing watching–the season finale of Big Little Lies was also last night; which we will undoubtedly watch tonight as well as continuing to get caught up on Bates Motel (a show that is KILLING it now in it’s final season). The way two of my favorite old Hollywood actresses–Bette Davis and Joan Crawford–are being depicted is brilliant, and the two women playing them, Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon, are turning in stunning, award-worthy performances. Last week’s episode, in which both Davis and Crawford are still not fielding any offers before the movie opens–and then it becomes a huge hit–was particularly brilliant; the moment when Joan Crawford, leaving the theater after the preview of the film that ended with a standing ovation, is recognized in the lobby and then mobbed with fans–when this happens, the look on her face–surprise evolving into pure joy at being treated like a star again, is so poignant it’s heartbreaking.

Last night’s, Oscar night when Crawford was snubbed in favor of Davis, was also almost painful to watch; the naked need Davis had for that third Oscar, the pain and anguish Crawford felt about being overshadowed once again by her rival (the scenes where Crawford talks to Geraldine Page and Anne Bancroft, asking them if she can accept for them, and the pity and sympathy Page and Bancroft feel for her, agreeing to let her do it because she needs to…wow)–and Judy Davis is also killing it as Hedda Hopper.

And last night, for the first time, Catherine Zeta-Jones actually delivered as Olivia de Havilland.

I got the idea for an essay yesterday about women’s fiction–using three novels to not only compare and contrast to each other but also to talk about how fiction by, for, and about women is so regularly disdained and dismissed as somehow lesser–the three being The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe, Peyton Place by Grace Metalious, and Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann. I’ve been toying with the idea for quite some time, and I thought about it again yesterday, partly because of Feud, but also partly because of Big Little Lies. Of course, I have no idea where to publish the thing…and it’s not like I don’t have a million other things to write as well.

Heavy heaving sigh.

And on that note, back to editing.