My new comic novel, DEATH BY CHICK LIT, hotly anticipated by my parents, and cordially welcomed by Pandagon, is out today! It's my second mystery featuring writer/sleuth Lola Somerville who, in MISS MEDIA, pursued her hunch that women's media giant Ovum Inc. was controlled by forces far more powerful than even incompetence. Here's what you need to know for this mid-book excerpt from DEATH BY CHICK LIT: (1) Someone is killing it-girl authors, but Lola is still alive — and, frankly, a little offended; (2) Creepy "Reading Guy," who haunts chick lit booksignings, is her #1 suspect, and (3) Doug — though she could stand to remind him — is her #1 husband.
(See related interview on HuffPost by Rachel Kramer Bussel here!)
"I'm thinking we better enjoy this place while it lasts," said Doug. He and Lola had ridden the F train to its last stop, above ground, fondly watching the Coney Island skyline come into view -- the stubby "space needle," the rickety roller coaster, the red-girdered parachute jump ("Brooklyn's Eiffel Tower!"), all set into relief against a blue-gray ocean and matching sky. Coney's shabbiness, its seediness, was exactly what held wonder for them. So unglamorous it was fabulous, Coney Island was basically Six Flags' little burnout brother. A bit sinister, too: the bars were scarred by shootouts, the boardwalk haunted by souls lost to the brothels. And yet Coney's wanly twinkling lights also held glimmers of its faded glory -- the days when a carousel was all it took to enchant a child, and before that, when the amusement park's 250,000 electric bulbs were themselves the attraction -- like a star whose beams, eons old, have just landed on earth.
But all that was about to change. A mustache-twirling developer had purchased massive swaths of land, from the projects to the shore, and had announced plans for a "Vegas-style" "entertainment destination" including an indoor ski slope, a wild game-hunting range, a "swim with dolphins" pool, the "world's tallest mall," a recreation of the entire French Quarter of New Orleans, and transport from Manhattan by blimp.
"Seriously," said Lola. "When the digging starts, let's lash ourselves to a tree. Or," she added, looking around in vain for a tree, "a funnel cake."
Doug agreed. "Freak show?" he asked.
"Freak show," said Lola.
For some couples, romance means a carriage ride in Central Park. For some, Tavern on the Green. For others, Venice. For Lola and Doug, romance was the famed Coney Island "freak show," a rare vestige of Barnum-esque side shows -- only without the pitiful displays of "human oddities." These human oddities were, shall we say, skillful? Fire eater, sword swallower, escape artist, the guy who hammers the screwdriver into his nose: Lola and Doug loved it all. For them, it wasn't about being grossed out; it was the simple low-rent honesty -- yes, honesty -- of the whole enterprise. No smoke, no mirrors, just a guy eating a light bulb.
So, hand in hand, past the teeny old candy shop shuddering under the weight of the soon-to-expand subway station, past the screaming neon "Bump Your Ass Off" invitation to ride the bumper cars, past the guy selling balloons on sticks and pina coladas in plastic cups, past the teeny taquería with the Magic Marker menu, to the freak show they went. They waved at the barker outside, who was flanked by the Tattooed Man and an alterna-Vanna wearing a live yellow python like a stole. Passing the dented four-seat bar, Lola's favorite bar in all of New York, which served only Genessee Cream Ale and Zima, they entered the dingy "theater" and, squeezing past a family of alarmed tourists, took their seats. The splintered bleachers climbed to a low ceiling; naked light bulbs -- those not yet eaten -- dangled from wires wrapped around exposed pipes. On the scuffed black stage, a dreadlocked woman, tattooed head to toe and her lip pierced clear across like the spine of a spiral notebook, had just slurped up a live worm. A recent addition to the cast, her name was Insectivora. Lola was in heaven.
Insectivora plucked a wriggling cockroach out of a plastic box and licked her lips. The audience gulped, peeking at her from between split fingers. Suddenly, the roach escaped her grasp and fell to the stage, on its back, legs waving. Insectivora shrugged and scooped it up, bringing it hungrily toward her mouth.
"I can't believe she's going to eat that right off the floor!" Lola exclaimed. Everyone laughed.
"You put the 'LOL' in Lola," Doug grinned.
Then came the red-headed "Electra," whom Lola recognized from outside, even without the python. Electra sat gamely on a scary looking chair wrapped in wires and bulbs like vines on Lola's trellises. After a giant switch was thrown -- sending "thousands of volts surging through her body!" -- a fluorescent bulb lit up at the touch of her hand!
"Yeah!" yelled Doug, clapping furiously, though he'd seen the act a thousand times and knew perfectly well, and in fact would happily inform you if you asked him, that the secret was a hidden transformer that, though high in voltage, was harmlessly low in amperage and so, when Electra touched a metal plate on the chair, she received the current without feeling it and thus was able to light the bulb, which was not of the common incandescent variety, but rather a special type of bulb designed precisely for such a high-frequency current.
Lola felt a swell in her heart. She and Doug were just here, just now. Nothing else mattered.
Except the fact that Reading Guy had just walked in.
"DougI'mreallysorryI'llberightback," Lola whispered.
"Whuh?" he said.
But she was gone.
Leaping down to the doorway, Lola looked around. No sign. A guy at the bar with a bull ring in his nose raised a glass. No one else in sight.
She raced out to the street. Still no Reading Guy. Just families, clots of idle teens, and a woman in a sequined smoking jacket on stilts.
I was sure that was him, she thought. Positive.
Really, totally sure.
She leaned against a wall.
Let's say it was. Is it fair to say he's following me now? Is it fair to say I only thought I wasn't thinking about this today?
Doug came around the corner.
"Hey," Lola said. "You didn't have to leave! I told you I'd be right back."
"I know, but the Human Pincushion just isn't the same without you," Doug said. "So what's going on? I figured you were going to the bathroom, but then I saw you run for the door instead, and anyway, you don't throw up before you eat the clams."
"I just ... okay." Lola took a breath. "Can we get a Genessee?"
They clinked paper cups. "Okay," said Lola, popping her hair into a scrunchie and hooking the heels of her clogs on a barstool rung. "Remember that guy from the Mimi night? Reading Guy?"
"Yeah," said Doug.
"I thought I saw him."
"Okay," said Doug. "So?"
"And I feel like he could be involved somehow with the Mimi thing. Or even the Mimi and Daphne thing."
"And see, remember how Quentin asked me to help him out?"
"Yeah, with those files?"
"Mmhmm, but there's more. He actually wants me to help find the killer."
"Help find the killer? Why -- "
"Because he thought I might be good at it?"
"No, duh. I mean, why didn't you tell me? I could help you! That's what we do best together, besides making tempura."
"I... I thought you'd think I was crazy."
"I do think you're crazy, monkey." He kissed her. "So should we go look for this guy, or what?"
"Oh, no, I -- ." Lola took a gulp of ale.
I can't tell him why I need to do this myself, she thought. I need the kudos. I need to not be a 'husband and wife team," other than in real life. I haven't proven myself on my own yet; I need to do that first.
"I -- Nah," said Lola. "I'm sure that wasn't him. Anyway, I'm keeping this 'detective work' to a desk job, pretty much -- you know, Willow-from-Buffy stuff -- thanks to all the hacking skills I learned from my husband."
Doug smiled, proud of his wife. "Lemme know if you run into a particularly thick firewall."
"Totally," said Lola. "But you know what? Susan Thunder is off today." The most famous female hacker. Doug kissed Lola in appreciative delight. "Hey, let's ride the Cyclone!" she said.
Coney Island's famed roller coaster was another monument in Doug and Lola history. It was, in fact, where Doug had proposed.
As they buckled in and waited for the other cars to fill up, Lola felt the ale, inhaled on an empty stomach, start to fizz toward her brain. No wait, it wasn't going to make it all the way to her brain; it was stopping at her mouth.
"I -- " Lola started. Just then, the ride did, too. A cheer went up. Clack clack clack, up the first steep hill. Lola had to raise her voice. "I -- I think I want to do this by myself."
"The roller coaster?"
"No, the -- ." WHOOOSH! They zoomed down the first hill. " -- the helping Quentin."
"Okay ... " said Doug. "Why?"
"Well, because ... ." And suddenly Lola was talking. Talking and talking. Everyone else was screaming and whooping, but she was talking. Out came all her bitterness and frustrations from the past couple of years, her disappointment about her book, her resentment of her more successful peers, all of it. The Cyclone went up, down, around, and up, down, and around again, and, over all the noise, over all the lurching and whooshing, Lola talked.
As they coasted to the end, Lola wound around to her conclusion. "... So I just really feel, I just really feel like I need to get the credit. Myself. And then write a book."
Doug nodded. He helped her out of the seat, and then looked at her.
"I understand," he said. "But just so you know? While we were up there, I was going to re-propose."
For the first time in fifteen minutes, Lola was silent.
She slumped back into the roller coaster seat, only to be glared at by forty teenagers waiting their turn. Doug reached out a hand to help her up, cocking his head toward the exit. They went out to the street and stopped by a cotton candy and chimichanga stand.
"Look, I get it. I know you. All that stuff was on your mind. Majorly, obviously. It had to come out when it had to come out," said Doug. "I'm just glad that wasn't my first attempt at proposing."
Oh good thought Lola, I'm pretty sure he just smiled. Jesus, I suck. "How about a do-over?" she asked, gesturing weakly at the coaster.
"Hmmm, no," Doug said. Ow. "I'll wait for the next right 'the time is right' time."
"Doug," Lola said, "I'm really sorry. I just -- I'm really sorry. I know I've been hard to reach. And my self-absorption just reached new heights."
"85 feet, to be exact," said Doug, looking back at the Cyclone.
He grinned. "I kid!" Serious again. "It's 89 feet."
"Dammit, Doug!" Lola laughed. "Sweetie, please do not ever mistake my self-involvement for lack of love." She wrapped her arms around Doug's waist. "I adore and appreciate you every minute of every day. And I swear I will not let my self-absorption reach Cedar Point Top Thrill Dragster heights."
"Mmmm, the tallest! 420 feet, 90-degree incline, speeds up to 120 mph," Doug murmured. "How did you know that?"
"I'm married to you," said Lola, kissing him.