DEAD IS BETTER by Jo Perry
February/March:A brief dispatch from a southern California in winter and a new book
Belated new year’s greetings. I hope your holiday season was restorative and bright. Downpours have greened southern California, buds pierce branches, the candy-pink camellias I like to put near the photos of the dogs I now mourn bloom like crazy, and a fresh storm-snow shines on the mountains’ shoulders under lucid air. If you look just right, you can see the apparitions of the orange groves that used to live here before freeways and glare and sprawl.
My new book, THE WORLD ENTIRE, will be published on March 22nd. You can pre-order it at a discount from Fahrenheit Press who are withholding the synopsis and the cover for publication day reveal. I can share a few blurbs, though, from some early readers:
"This is a monster of a beautiful book. ...A triumph.”-Matt Phillips, author of A Good Rush of Blood and Know Me from Smoke
“Powerful and propulsive, The World Entire is about murder, hatred and love’s redemptive power. A hymn to L.A.’s frustrating and fabulous beauty, it deserves a place alongside Chandler, Ellroy and Mosely.” -Derek Farrell, author of The Danny Bird Mysteries
“Once again, Perry crafts a complete original. Everything happens–murder, mayhem, love and loss–to humans and pets alike. I loved this book." -Steven Cooper, author of the Alex Mills and Gus Parker mysteries
“A witty, touching, ode to LA that perfectly captures its beauty, ugliness and energy. This finely observed and artfully crafted novel shows Perry to be the poet she was and ever will be." -Josh Gidding, author of Failure: An Autobiography and Old White Man Writing (forthcoming)
And I can tell you that TWE is a mix of dark and light––a murder mystery, a love story, a hate story, and a dog story. If you pre-order from Fahrenheit Press, you’ll get a discount. Here’s the link.
Or you can wait until publication day and order from Amazon.com or from Book Carnival where signed copies will be available and also in the Left Coast Crime book room if you are attending in April.
Though the world’s violence and enmity wounds and disorients us, as Wallace Stevens noted in “Sunday Morning,” “April’s green endures. “ So will February’s green, I hope, and so will March’s, etc. Onward to spring.
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Long time no newsletter, I know. I was finishing the book and Lucy’s final struggles took over everything.
We knew what was coming or what we were going to have to do. Lucy had been declining since Lola died in January. And though Lucy recovered from pancreatitis in June, she was left even more diminished. Her days contracted into lying around in the house––no walks, no ball, no runs––although she dream-chased during her evening sleep. Whatever Lucy needed that day or was unhappy or happy about filled each day––hers and ours.
After breakfast, she’d lower herself on the gel mat I left for her in the driveway from which she could watch people and dogs passing. Then she’d bark for her morning treat and water, one of us would help her stand, then she’d walk stiffly and panting to the corner of the patio where I’d piled the towels and blankets and where she’d collapse into sleep. Then lunch, an indoor nap and then in the late afternoon she’d remind Tom take her out front where they’d sit together on the grass.
Sometimes though we really knew her and really loved her, we just couldn’t figure out what she wanted or what she was telling us she needed. In this last phase she adopted a shrill, repetitive bark that she’d repeat until we’d do the right thing––water brought to her in the bowl she liked best, more food, different food, a treat, help getting up to go outside and pee, her pain pill sequestered in a tiny sandwich of two squares of Wonder Bread and human tuna. Or the switching on the T.V. CNN and the human voices that soothed into more sleep. The new routines worked pretty well, but sometimes the barking became relentless––crazy and painful to the ears and to the heart that left the three of us hopeless and stuck.
Then it was October 7th and I understood what Nathan Englander meant when he wrote that, “Harder than waking from a nightmare [is] trying to wake [yourself] into one.”
We are all waking into a nightmare now.
I’m working on getting used to being awake inside the bad dream that wasn’t the one I thought might come, and I’m trying to master being Lucy-less. I have failed at both, but life pushes us forward no matter how leaden or shocked we are. I’m sure you’re experiencing variations of the same feelings, and––if not feeling a fresh loss––aching with the homesickness for the world of October 6th, and the longing for absent loved ones and inaccessible places that accompanies everyone through this time of year no matter how bright and warm the holidays are.
I wish you the happiness now and a good new year––also Starbucks lattes, trees––Christmas or rooted ones haloing sunlight, candles, lights, strings of light, Hanukkah lights, fellowship, friendship, family, books and pets and giving and receiving of love.
I don’t have a precise publication date for the new book––but it’s coming soon from Fahrenheit Press. I call it THE WORLD ENTIRE. The protagonist is Ascher Lieb––whom some of you know from PURE. It’s a layered mystery about a dog accused of murder and a violent, white-supremacist group that targets the man Ascher loves. But love is complicated, and Ascher must discover the murderer on her own––fulfilling an impossible and dangerous promise and risking everything. I hope you like it.
Onward to whatever is going to happen next. May all our memories be blessings.
April, 9 2023 Newsletter
Disappearances and Presences
Though a lot still has to happen, the book has reached the stage where it disrupts sleep and interrupts my thoughts to tell me this or that–always something consequential and interesting–or to ask me a hard question I’ve so far avoided. I really like being in this spot.
And April brought some shock and excitement. First the shock––
My friend, Father Stephen John Miles, died this month. His last earthly act was to design his own funeral. The service he built eschewed eulogies, speeches, descriptions of his scholarship, his rich friendships, his travels, and his priestly care of others. Stephen’s service excluded the personal: There were no eulogies, no praise or photographs. His service was eternity-centered. Despite the time and space separating us, we were there via Zoom and deeply moved once again by Stephen’s goodness, discipline, intellect, courage, and humility.
Now for the excitement–an explosion of wind that sounded like a small bomb broke an old reliable, heavy tree, levitated it into the pool, shattered a fence and destroyed a second tree as it went down. Fewer than twenty-four hours later, chainsaws and a chipper disappeared both trees, the fence, and most of the debris had been removed.
This obliteration was so efficient that I wondered if the wide, spring-blossoming tree that shaded its own corner of the yard had ever really grown there, and if the colorless emptiness its destruction created–one that lets the early light land where it never used to–was what I’d really seen whenever I lifted my eyes from my work.
The tree-thing confused not just me, but also the birds. The morning after the removal they tapped the window close to my desk as if to ask a question–was the tree ever coming back?
I wondered if the gone tree was their tree, and if they were angry, grieving, lost or all three. I got no answer. And all the birds got from gazing at the window was a view of their own alien faces in the strange new light. I worry that they might someday attempt to fly through the glass and into whatever mirror-world the missing tree has built for them.
After death and the loud demonstration of the ricketiness of the now and the real came Passover. The same words breathed in a certain order over the same wine, the same fresh greens dipped in the same mineral tears of suffering ancestors, the familiar bitterness on the tongue, a companionable sweetness smeared on the bread of affliction baked in the haste of escape–these things telescoped time, materialized it and fortified the perishable.
Today marks what would have been my parents’ 73rd anniversary. It’s a quiet Easter with a mild blue sky without enough turbulence to ruffle the just-opening roses. We had Passover leftovers for lunch. And–with our sometimes struggling, lovely, now only dog–we receive the mysteries, disappearances and presences of April.
Newsletter, February 20, 2023
Absence. Silence. Hate. Love. And Warren Zevon
No thread runs through the days. Just stuff. The weather turned unusually cold, a cold that settled in the rooms and refuses to leave. And most days, as the little electric space heater tries and fails to warm the space, I disappear into the new book.
Our little dog died a month ago and I am unable to defend myself against what her absence feels like. It is embarrassing to describe how deeply connected we were or the benevolence of her constant surveillance and comradeship. The surviving dog searches the four directions for her, waits for her at street corners and interrogates shadows for her shadow when the lights are dim.
The veterinarian who performed the little dog’s euthanasia said that when they die, dogs emit the scent of death. The surviving dog watched the proceedings and watched the vet place a rectangular basket on the floor. A violet plush blanket lined it; two stones carved into hearts with LOVE etched in them held the blanket down. The stones and blanket interested the soon-to-be survivor dog who pressed her face into the basket to examine them. More injections and the vet wrapped the now death-scented small, beloved dog in a small floral, quilt, put her in the basket and secured her there with the LOVE stones.
We followed the vet and the basket and our getting-smaller-by-the second it-seemed, bundled, deceased dog out the back door and down the driveway to the vet’s car. A space on the floor of the trunk had been readied for the basket. We watched the basket occupy its space and the trunk thudded shut. We thanked the vet for “everything”: A painless exit. An additional injection after the others took too much time to work. A paw print in a white clay-like substance that couldn’t be touched and wouldn’t be dry for at least five days. A brochure on grief.
What is death except a departure? An absence. A silence. Not absence in the abstract but a negative space–a sinking gap–with a precise shape and texture whose silence has a certain depth and tone that shivers through walls, rooms, air, dogs, trees, dreams, sidewalks and people, filling houses and crossing empty intersections.
This week Jamie Tran, 28, of Cathedral City wanted Jews absent. Twice he drove from Palm Springs to a L.A. where he executed two drive-by shootings of men leaving morning synagogue services. Jamie Tran reportedly identified his target neighborhood through a Yelp search for “Kosher market,” and identified his victims by their “head gear.” One of the shooting victims had recently moved from France to L.A. to escape (drumroll, please) antisemitism. Both men survived.
If you see something, say something.
If someone says you didn’t see what you saw, that’s called gaslighting.
Jamie Tran went “death con 3” [sic] on the Jews—by the way, it’s DefCon––and wished to render them absent. Silent. Dead. He wanted Jewishness expunged. Judaism, Hebrew, Yiddish, Torah, Lenny Bruce, Kafka, “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” the Holocaust, Hanukkah, egg bread—if it was Jewish, Tran wanted it exterminated. He was riding a wave––(Swastika is a famous surf board brand and “surf nazis” were really Nazis**) that a began rumbling before the Middle Ages and it hasn’t peaked yet. You can hear it in the “We are the real Jews” chants at the Barclays Center, see it in the “Ye is right” banner strung up over the freeway, hear it in “You People’s” “Holocaust it down” riff on on “Jewing” something down. You see it the word, “Kike” spray-painted this week on the barracks of Auschwitz or in those flyers declaring that “Everything About Covid Is Jewish” the Goyim Defense League distribute nationwide in baggies with rocks or rice inside to weigh them down.
Who does this shit? What the actual fuck, right? Well, the Actual Fuck is complicated. When Jamie Tran or the guys at the Barclay’s Center, the Auschwitz vandals, surf nazis, Nazis, Kyrie Irving, Louis “Jews are termites” Farrakhan or Ye or the Goyim Defense League or Jew-“ish” George Santos with his fake Holocaust survivor mom or that Camp Auschwitz insurrectionist guy see something bad for real or on the internet, the roaring wave reminds them whose fault it must be, and bingo––it’s Desecrate Auschwitz (a vast complex of 48 concentration/extermination/starvation/slave labor/medical experimentation camps with gassing centers and incinerators that eliminated 1200 problem persons per day)Day; it’s time to bag some hate-flyers and string up some banners and give people the heads up about you-know-who, or like the besieged, garrulous yet “silenced” Dave Chapelle, it’s time to punch Jew-ward, you know–Up as high the (Jewish) HOLLYWOOD sign and beyond into to Jewish Space.*
But what’s not complicated is antisemitism. Insisting that believing and saying bad things about Jews is unavoidable because antisemitism is a minefield is a total evasion. If someone believes Jews are worse than other people, that something is bad because Jews are involved in it, or if they are certain something bad happened because Jews made it happen––they hate Jews. A private tour of the Holocaust Museum led by a friendly Holocaust survivor won’t change that, and a celebrity Jew-hater seeking to rehabilitate his reputation might secretly enjoy it. Only non-Jews can do something about this animus.
Meanwhile, if a dog loves you, love the dog back. Unplug the space heater when not in use. If someone says they hate you or that there are too many of you, then tells you what you heard them say is not what they said, that person hates you. Desecrators of genocide sites are cowards. The man from France who attended morning services at his synagogue in his “head gear” the day after a bullet passed through his arm is not a coward. Be aware of your surroundings. Be careful not to slip on that hate-flyer baggie in the driveway when you go out in your slippers to get the newspaper. Don’t get shot. And don’t fall off the sharp edge of the world that is right now is missing the little dog I loved.
Matt Philips is a writer you should read. Buy his books: https://www.mattphillipswriter.com/
Listen to Matt’s podcast, Roughneck Dispatch, which he invited me to be part of. Here’s the link: https://www.mattphillipswriter.com/https://roughneckdispatch.substack.com/p/roughneck-dispatch-jo-perry#details
Check out my audacious independent publisher’s, Fahrenheit Press’s fabulous crime fiction list and merchandise: www.fahrenheitpres.com #supportindiepublishing
You can cast your fan vote here for Warren Zevon to be inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: https://vote.rockhall.com/en/
**Gidget was Jewish. When her surf buddies found out, they spray-painted a swastika on her driveway. Surf nazis: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/28/opinion/sunday/surf-racism.html Fun fact:
*Chappelle isn’t the first to think there are too many Jews in Hollywood. Los Angeles Nazis plotted to cull the herd by “hang[ing] twenty prominent Hollywood figures such as Al Jolson, Charlie Chaplin, and Samuel Goldwyn, [then] to [drive] through Boyle Heights and machine-gunning as many Jews as possible…” See Pulitzer-nominated Hitler In Los Angeles by Steven J. Ross
Newsletter December 2022
Turning the Corner
I’m not big on Best of The Year Lists, End of Year Highlights or Retrospectives, New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day. I have never felt true New Year’s Eve gaiety, and although I love kitsch, have never enjoyed the Rose Parade’s hokey, expired-futurist, aspirational themes or floats. This year’s theme is “Dream. Believe. Achieve” which “celebrat[es] that childhood dreams can become careers that make the world a better place.” Next year’s theme will be “Turning The Corner,” which reminds me of how often an overambitious float festooned entirely in vegetable products glued on by volunteer labor have gotten stuck turning a corner.
I’m sort of relieved that this “Dream, Believe, Achieve.” year is almost over. I didn’t finish my book, I believe less than I did at the start, and most of my dreams disturbed me. And 2022 has been mixed for the family. It was The Year Of The Great Headache (benign), The Surprise (benign—don’t worry) Brain Thing, The Year Of Planning The Wedding And Then The Wedding (wonderful), The Year Of The Almost-Fifteen Year-Old Dogs Really Slowing Down (longer walks that cover less ground––no problem), The Year Of Not Writing Fast Enough (me, ugh), The Year of Seeing My Husband’s Novel Become A Terrific Television Series Finally (wonderful), and The Year When The Little Dog Began To Limp.
Dream. Believe. Achieve. was also an accidentally reclusive year, a rut year really, the Year When Many Neighbors Moved Away, and when I learned that benign is not exactly benign. I can’t make this blob of a year stop shimmering and shivering long enough to look at it clearly enough to diagnose it. But 2022 was like living inside a moving smudge halted for short periods of clarity that is concluding with the knowledge that one dog––maybe two––yesterday the vet didn’t like the look of a suddenly discovered growth on dog two—will be dying soon.
I spent the days before and after Hanukkah and Christmas learning about canine osteosarcoma––always detected-too-late, always painful and aggressive––and checking out friends’ recommended home pet euthanasia companies. I discovered from their websites and videos that all these places employ the paw print to signify The Dead Pet, all promise peace and comfort for the dying-become-deceased and for the people they leave behind, plus a respectful removal via basket or cart, and for various additional charges, some offer clay paw impressions, scattering of individual cremated or aquafied pet-ashes (there’s a big extra fee for that) or a communal scattering in gardens or at sea, or, for a chunk of dough, an actual burial in a pet cemetery. There are also various ash containers are available to mourners that range from a rectangle with a pretty rice-paper exterior to small, pleasingly plump steel urn with paw prints engraved on them and also memorial plaques and paw-impressions.
Maybe we are given all these choices because the only one that matters has already chosen us.
The dogs do not aspire to be anything, yet they make the world a better place. Though I didn’t know them as puppies––one was dumped at a Home Depot, the other dumped in the alley behind our house––they never strive to inhabit an imaginary future or to improve, nor do they––despite what many dog experts say about dogs and jobs––yearn to move away or have careers. Who they are is not an invention or a construct or a surface thing––they are who they are all the way through––like agates.
Their selves are their best selves. Routine-addicts, they would not resolve to overhaul anything if they could except to wish for more of the same. Tons more.
In their honor I will follow their examples and will not in the new year embark on a step-by-step program of big, fat, ambitious structural and psychic changes involving carbs, fine-tuning my moods and ginning up my motivation. Next year I just hope to maintain my dignity, to do what I have to without bitching about it, to learn something, to go places and to finish what I’ve started.
By the way, Old English meaning of “mood” signifies something deep––not transient––mind, heart, spirit, courage, zeal, will, temper and anger, too. Moods are who we are––hunger, fear, sadness, joy, and pain, anger, love. Right now as I watch the tail end of a winter rain storm and contemplate the limping dog’s forthcoming peaceful, comfortable death and she and her sister-dog sleep and dream-breathe pressed against each other on the dog bed right next to me––I’m grief.
Sick or well, young or old, the dogs I love so much are fully here and with me in their full, unfolding moments. I’m here with them––grateful for their peaceful, loving, doting, sincere, funny presences and already mourning the absences waiting for me when I turn the corner and this moment has evaporated like rain.
Wishing you and yours a very good new year.
What was November 24, 2022 like in your world?
Thanksgiving here was a little disjointed—no pun here—but nothing caught fire and the best things besides being with our kids and dogs (both will be fifteen on Valentine’s Day) was the salad of bitter greens, candied pecans, and ripe Fuyu persimmons from our neighbor’s tree and having finally arrived at peak southern California fall.
The chilly nights pull the stars close and turn Mars into a fat canary diamond. The days shimmer. And, if we’re fortunate enough to receive some winter storms, snow-topped violet mountains will float in blue air heavy with the ghost-scent of blossoming orange groves bulldozed long ago.
The coolness and clarity will evaporate fast. So, it feels like a good time to be ending the first part of my new book, RED. RED will feature two female characters named in honor of winning bidders in the Georgia Loves Mystery auction and centers on the murder of an unlikely victim killed in a shocking way. In the first part the murder is discovered, love is professed, a dog is in danger and huge risks are undertaken. Next comes securing the safety of the dog, the consequences of uncovering truth, and the buildup of pressure that love and identifying the murderer will bring.
This novel, like Pure and all but one of the Dead series, will be gun-free. Not free of violence––I write crime fiction. I read this morning in The Guardian that, “An estimated 6 million American adults carried a loaded handgun with them daily in 2019, double the number who said they carried a gun every day in 2015.” The number of Americans routinely carrying loaded guns while picking up their kids at school, shopping, walking their dogs or mowing their lawns must be even higher now. Gun violence is a staple of American entertainment, especially mysteries; I thought I’d do without them in mine.
Onward to a peaceful month of paper catalogues, fattening TBR piles, string lights, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa candles, gingerbread, fruitcake, latkes and a fresh new year.