Friday, May 29, 2009

Un-freakin'-believable

I've been in a snit about my daughter's middle school, whose PTA thinks it's A-OK to spend thousands of dollars for a party to celebrate our kids' graduation from the eighth grade, despite the current economy and the effects rippling outward through many of the students' households.

It's unseemly. It's in bad form. We've been fighting a tough battle for educational funds here in California, and to see money squandered on this ridiculous event (two years ago, when my son graduated, the "games" included an America's Next Top Model stage where moms helped apply makeup and dress the girls in evening wear, as well as a raffle for gift certificates to mall merchants, for which the kids needed merely to show up to qualify - further reinforcement of our dangerous culture of entitlement) when thirty miles away buildings are falling down on the heads of our students' Oakland peers is unconscionable.

But then I saw this: in Montgomery County, Georgia, parents evidently think it's just fine to insist on a segregated prom. No shit - they don't let the black and white kids attend each others' proms - despite the fact that the kids themselves think the "tradition" is absurd.

I tend to agree with my friend Chris (here and here) that politics don't belong in a writer's blog, but one of the gifts of writing fiction is the chance to slip your views into your stories, subtly or not.

My crime series is set in a rural Missouri that differs from the one where I grew up in a key way: all of the key characters - at least the good guys - have pretty progressive views. You won't find a lot of discrimination coming from my heroines. That was an easy choice for me. In a lot of ways it's unrealistic: backwards views still run rampant through much of the midsection of our country - in people who are, in many ways, good in the ways that most of us understand human goodness.

People are a blessed mess. Every one of us has an ugly underbelly and in many - most? - cases, the examination of such is the foundation of good crime fiction. But I've let myself off the hook for trading authenticity for the right character for the book.

I'll tell you one thing, though: Stella Hardesty would laugh her ass off at that fool party they'll be throwing next week...

photo: Gillian Laub

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Hey, I Got a Question Here

What I'm wondering is, do you suppose that sitting around here and wishing my book will write itself will get the job done? Maybe if I whine a little more about how hard it is to get back into the thing after that long hiatus - think that might help? Or how about if I just talk about craft a whole lot with some friends. Especially if I use a lot of convincing jargon. That might do the trick, right?

No ma'am.

No sir.

It's ass in chair time again and no two ways about it.

(Would somebody PLEEEEEASE remind me not to turn my back on a work-in-progress again - and I don't care how dire the circumstances - there is just no excuse in the world for leaving the little sucker in a corner to atrophy and wilt.)

Damn, I'm Running With Neil's Crew


Anthony Neil Smith's one of my heros, a hard and dark writer who doesn't ask permission before he puts his fingers to the keys. His new book, HOGDOGGIN', will be out from Bleak House June 8th.

To say I was thrilled to be part of the rollout is an understatement. Running around with these guys is...well, let's just say that it might not make the Christmas letter, but it's been on my wish list for ages.

My little riff is over on Neil's site today.

And here's what he had to add:

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

In the Last Episode, Victor Gischler helped Steel God and Emerson LaSalle make sweet music together at Blogpocalypse.

When Mar walked into the Virtual Dive Bar with her crew, Smith had the same though he always did when he saw her: I wish Twister would up and die already. But he’d wasted his shot, too shy and too nice too many times. So now they were friends. Good friends. Tore at Smith’s guts.

She walked over to the bar and slapped it a couple of times, her rings like a judge’s gavel. Smith walked over, trying not to smile. Failing. Trying again.

“A round?”

“Fuck them,” she said. “How bout you? Alright?”

He shrugged. “I’ve been up for twelve days straight. Be nice to rest a bit, you know?”

Not like she heard him. She was already casting around, looking for Twister. “He here?”

Smith knew. Regardless of how much he wanted the bastard caught red-handed, it still wouldn’t win him Mar. He said, “Not in days.”

“Get me a Corona.”

He did. She took half of it down I one pull. Then got up and walked out.

*

Smith knocked once and opened the tool shed door to find Twister sitting on the riding lawnmower, jeans around his ankles, while the girl knelt in front of him, bobbing up and down.

“Mar’s here.”

The girl lifted her head and asked, “Who?”

Twister pushed it back down. “Goddamn it, I thought she said tomorrow.”

Smith stood there staring at the girl’s naked back. Not really his type, as she was too blond, too plastic, but something to look at. She had kept on her denim mini and her flip flops, but the t-shirt was tossed in the dust. Like Twister could see those titties--or her head--over his gut anyway. “She’s off looking, so I suppose you’ve got time. Just a head’s up, okay? And clean up that goddamned seat when you’re done. I’ve got to use that thing this weekend.”

Twister put his hands on either side of the girl’s head and pulled her off, her lips actually making a pop when he did. “I’m sorry, sweetie, but I’ve got to go deal with my ex.”

Smith scoffed. Ex. Maybe once a few years ago, for about a week. “Don’t you think you should wash her lip gloss off it, first?”

The girl had reached over for her shirt, but Twister took it from her hands and wiped himself with it.

“Hey!”

“Jesus, either that or your panties. Give me a break.”

He wiped down and tossed the shirt at her, zipped up, and pointed his chin at Smith. “All right. Let’s go.”

Out the door of the shed, and a banshee wail goes up. A flying two-by-four slams Twister on the head and Smith on the shoulder.

On one end of that two-by-four is a red-faced and demon-eyed Mar.

The BJ chcik starts screaming, but Mar points at her, shuts her up.

“Ain’t your fault, hon. Just get the hell out of here.”

And she did, clutching her dirty shirt to her chest and bouncing away.

Smith and Twister stood hunched with their surrender palms showing.

Twister went, “Baby, goddamn! What the fuck?”

“You asshole. You fucking asshole.”

“What? We ain’t never had that sort of relationship.”

She thumped him again in the back. “Oh, haven’t we? I at least expect only one woman a day, and today is my day, you bastard.”

“You said tomorrow!”

“And you were suppose to keep it in your pants til then!”

She dropped the wood and crossed her arms. Watched them both suffer.

Twister didn‘t know when to shut up. “How do you know I wasn’t thinking about you while she--”

“STOP!” She wagged her finger at him. “Sit there and hurt, fucker. Don’t talk.”

After a while or moans and hobbling, the guys got straightened out. Mar didn’t look any happier. She said, “You two want to redeem yourselves, come with me.”

They followed her out to the road in front of the dive bar. She mounted her bike and told Twister to ride bitch. That might have been worse than the beating.

“Mine’s just over there. I can go--”

“Get on.” Reved it. “Smith, follow in the truck.

Twister climbed on behind, wrapped his arms around her waist, and nearly started to cry.

*

When they got back to the store again, it was closed down. Only a few crankheads shuffling around the parking lot, a couple of cars with johns banging whores in the back seats, shocks rocking and squealing.

But no girl.

“She was here.”

“Sure,” Smith said. “When it was open. People leave, you know. Or maybe…”

It looked like Mar was struck by the same thought as Smith. She rushed over to the first car, swung the door open.

“Hey! Fucking close that!”

Not the girl.

On to the other car. Same thing.

The whore said, “Jesus! Is that your wife!”

“Does it look like I’m stopping, bitch?”

Mar close the door and leaned against the trunk while it kept rocking.

Twister went over, rubbed her shoulder. “I’m sorry. I really am.”

“She was just here, though. Why didn’t I…what could I have…”

“Well, the alternative was bringing her to a rally with a bunch of drunk, horny, high bikers. Like that would’ve been a better deal.”

Smith could tell she wanted to give him hell for that. Eyes on fire, oh yeah. But she just shrugged, and Twister embraced her. She didn’t hug him back for a minute. It gave the bar owner some sort of…hope, he guessed that was the word. But then she started to tear up, loosened her grip and slipped her arms around his back.

All Smith could do was stare off into the dark woods, then climb back in his truck and go home.

Once back at the house, he signed up for eHarmony, crossed his fingers, and grinned a little when the first message rolled in…

*
So maybe I didn’t accept “Granny Panties” when it was sent my way awhile back. Too short (I’m not a big fan of short-shorts. Most feel slight to me, like jokes with punchlines rather than stories to lose myself in). But I have to say, I was intrigued. Loved Sophie’s details. Loved the fetishization of the panties, too. Creepy, splendidly drawn work. Just too goddamned short.

But Sophie Littlefield works in the longer forms, too, thank god. And that’s why I’m eagerly awaiting her novel, A Bad Day for Sorry, in August. After reading her work in Pulp Pusher (the lucky mag that got “Granny Panties”) and Thuglit, two of the best bad ass dogs in the arena, I bring away from it a sense of surprise about how the dark things of the world are all around us, and when we’re faced with them, how we react tells a lot about the sort of people we are under the surface. What do we do with fear? Anger? Frustration? I think of the fight between long married Dalton and Marcy in “Decision Day”, and how she went at him with “all the fury of her years of suburban dissatisfaction and the sheer power of that personal-trainer cultivated firm body,” leaving Dalton with a terrible but inevitable decision to make. Or the friendship that blooms between Destinee and Trish in “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon” on a Spring Break trip to Florida, and how that shapes and changes both of them forever.

I’ll order seconds, please. It’s exciting to watch a writer on the rise from our virtual pulp mean streets to the big shot publishers. Go Sophie go! And kick em in the balls once for us, please.

Tonight on the Main Stage: Motorhead, “Orgasmatron”

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Where The Bodies Lie

There's this....thing in our new back yard.

A lump, I guess you'd call it, except it's ivy-covered and seems to be composed entirely of foliage. Inexplicable, a geranium pokes from the top, about five feet off the ground. Bob stabbed the thing a whole bunch of times with a long-handled lopper and eventually declared it empty - empty, that is, of anything except more foliage.

But that can't be right, can it? I mean, who grows a topiary that looks like - well, half a giant upended grapefruit? Me, I'm convinced there's something sinister going on.

Which is what I always choose to believe, incidentally. 'Cause life is just a whole lot more interesting that way.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Feeeeed Meeee

I wonder what the offspring of other species do when their mamas take up a new career midlife and lose interest in feeding them.

In the new place, we have this giant pantry. We just threw everything in there - haven't had time to organize it. My friend who was helping promised to come back and alphabetize the spices - but I haven't seen her around here in a while.

Anyway, the people who live here, myself included, have developed a new habit. Whenever hunger strikes, we go and open the door to the pantry and stare inside.

Just stare.

It's not like anything new has ever sprouted or self-generated since the last mournful visit, but we all just keep trying. That darn irrepressible survival instinct, I guess. Maybe I could eat a few spoonfuls of Bisquick, the thought bubbles above the kids' heads seem to say...sometimes they shake a few crumbs out of the potato chip lock'n'lock or consider a can of Ro-Tel diced tomatoes or vegetable broth before discarding the whole enterprise in defeat.

A fun alternative is to browse the garage fridge. There's a carton of half-and-half from before the move in there - I'm thinking before long it'll be firm enough that we'll be able to saute it or make a sandwich out of it or something.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Astronauts Are Smarter Than the Average Joe

I am related to a pair of astronauts. They have just developed a set of controls for their latest spacecraft, and I'm awed by the genius of their design. I mean, everything you need to get through any possible situation is right here.

Astronaut #1 started by labeling a button "Explode Enemy Ship." Astronaut #2 thought this was a good idea, but after realizing there wasn't enough room to write the labels in full, he took to abbreviating:

TO (Take off)
F (Fly)
L (Land)
M (Medium -- ie, speed)
FASCG (Fast As Ship Can Go)
WFTAFATShCG (Way Faster Than As Fast As The Ship Can Go)
SC (Shoot Cannon)
H (Help!)
EEAS (Explode Enemy Alien Ship)
KASAM (Kill Alien Ship And Martian)
MED (Make Everyone Die)

Friday, May 15, 2009

Heaven Help Us, I Started Drawing Again


I haven't done any drawing since 1987, when I had a very brief membership at the Art Students League of New York. That will always be the high point of my art hobbyism...for a few bucks you could drop in on a figure drawing class after work. There were REAL NUDE MODELS and real WASHED-UP NYC ARTISTS looking to make bar money by wandering around muttering at our drawings, and there were girls with rips in their fish-net stockings and combat boots...and ritzy Connecticut housewives "pursuing a passion"...about all the exoticism this Missouri girl could handle.

Anyway, I started doing it again. Don't know why, it just happened. I'm freakishly insecure about my drawing, but that's just another bear to wrestle to the ground.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Take That, You Stupid Fears


Going through boxes of books (I swear I've given away three hundred books at this point...each successive round cuts a little closer to the core, the books that live in my bloodstream...but there's just no getting around the lack of shelf space...unless I start burning furniture I still have to pare) and I discovered some old calendars and journals.

There was a persistent theme:

July 1997:
"Submit the essay...It can't be that hard...Just do it for God's sake"

November 2003:
"Why I don't write enough...all these layers of avoidance and fear and physical unease..."

Well! Took a while but I kicked ass and got over the writing and submitting fears. Still, I'm thinking that maybe remembering how crushing the fears used to be...might make me more compassionate with people still stuck in the quicksand. Hey you, M, with the beautiful blue eyes...you told me you were trying to get up the nerve to submit that first story...and I just might have given you a glib answer...well, I'm sorry sugar. I forgot, just for a minute, how hard it can be.

(But P.S.: you really can do it. Seriously.)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Hold the Presses - Please


In a cheery little piece titled "The American Press on Suicide Watch," Frank Rich writes in today's NYT that:

Newspaper circulations and revenues are in free fall. Legendary brands from The Los Angeles Times to The Philadelphia Inquirer are teetering...Other papers have died...You know it's bad when the Senate is moved, as it was las week, to weigh in with hearings on "The Future of Journalism..."

Now hang on one blessed minute, guys. I seem to be bursting (optimism mine; perhaps the more realistic word is clambering or even heaving) onto the publishing scene at this strange nether time when everything is in flux - and a rather moribund flux at that.

Listen, could y'all please just keep your shit together long enough to publish a review of one of my books? Don't particularly care if it's this coming one; I'm okay if you want to wait until the next or the one after that - I just want to be able to tell my grandkids that I was once reviewed in a medium that was printed on paper...

...just sayin'.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

bliss with a door

We moved. That sucked. But get this: I now have my own office.

I could just cry with happiness. It's as messy as I want it to be, and I can close the door, or leave it open and call out forlornly to family members during self-imposed imprisonments, siren-like, to try to get them to visit me (but, being good Writer's Loved Ones, they steadfastly ignore me).

I can leave mushy stuff and nasty stuff lying around everywhere, and not have to answer to anyone for my tastes.

I can listen to any darn music I want, too - LOUD, the way I like it.

Happy.

as tidy as it will ever be, if i can help it


gah, I could weep....