Little Queenie

Thursday! I survived Pay-the-Bills Day with little incident–by some mysterious quirk of the calendar and pay periods, I only had two bills to pay this time around (which means almost everything will fall due after the next Pay-the-Bills Day) and I also managed to get three thousand words written yesterday–yep, I got back on the horse and was able to dive headfirst into the writing of my next book again. I know it’s silly, but I always manage to do so despite all my worrying to the contrary yet that doesn’t ever stop me from worrying the next time around. I’ve also reached a point where I am no longer dreading having to do it; once I get started I just dig down into it and go for it, you know?

Which is kind of lovely, really.

I was exhausted after I finished writing yesterday, and even dozed off in my chair for a little while (having Scooter sleeping in my lap and purring in his sleep had a lot to do with it). Paul worked late again last night and wasn’t home before I went to bed so of course Scooter was super-needy and wanted to just be in my lap all night–even staying in the chair and waiting for me to come back every time I got up. I slept great again last night, too–I’ve been sleeping marvelously ever since my return home on Sunday (other than Sunday night which is odd), and hope the streak will continue again tonight for my work-at-home day tomorrow. It’s kind of weird that it’s the weekend again (almost) already; this week has kind of flown past, and that’s fine, I suppose. It’ll be February and Carnival before we know it again, which is wild. I’m not in good enough shape for standing at the corner this year, either, but we’ll see how it all goes, won’t we?

I’m still listening to the Hadestown cast recording and I am really enjoying it still. It’s perfect for the car on the ride to work–especially the song “Way Down Hadestown”, which seems particularly appropriate for the drive to work, you know? I also was reminded yesterday that I am appearing at the ALA event here in New Orleans a week from Saturday, and then the next weekend its off to Alabama for my twofer weekend, at the library in Birmingham and then again on Sunday in Wetumpka, which is becoming my favorite town in Alabama (I keep thinking it would be fun to write a cozy series based on Wetumpka), and then after that, of course, we’re in the midst of Carnival madness. Next thing you know it’s March and the Festivals are here…which is how time flies when you’re my age. Next thing you know it’s summer again, and then I’ll be sixty-two and then it’s football season again and so the cycle of time goes. My life generally is measured in terms of deadlines, which makes the time fly even faster. Heavy sigh.

I do think I am going to take a week vacation at some point this spring and not really go anywhere or do anything much other than clean and organize, maybe go see the World War II museum and the Chalmette battleground, or even just take a day to go exploring the river and bayou parishes. The only trips after Alabama at the end of this month I have planned currently are Bouchercon in San Diego and later Kentucky for the holidays again. I am thinking I may go to Boston to visit some friends I’ve not seen in a very long while–way overdue–and I am not sure how my vacation time got so whacked and out of control this last year, but I also traveled a hell of a lot more than I had in the two previous years.

And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines. Have a happy Thursday, Constant Reader, and I’ll check back in with you again later.

Live With Me

Wednesday and Pay the Bills Day has rolled around yet again. Woo-hoo!

Yesterday I was working on cleaning out my inbox–an ongoing struggle, but it’s suddenly gotten easier lately–and around noonish an email from Left Coast Crime dropped in letting me know that A Streetcar Named Murder had been selected as a finalist for the Lefty Awards! I certainly wasn’t expecting anything like that to ever happen, so thanks to everyone who listed me on their ballot. It’s a tough category–the other nominees are Ellen Byron for Bayou Book Thief, Catriona McPherson for Scot in a Trap, Jennifer Chow for Death by Bubble Tea, and A. J. Devlin for Five Moves of Doom. Such a thrill, really, and to be nominated against authors for whom I have so much respect and admiration for their talents and achievements already? And so many other amazing nominees in the other categories as well–including lots of friends! Kellye Garrett, Alex Segura, James L’Etoile, Karen Odden, Laurie R. King, Gigi Pandian, Rob Osler, Eli Cranor, Wanda Morris, and Catriona again (nominated TWICE!!!!). I’m really sorry I won’t be going to Left Coast this year. I had a marvelous time last year, but it’s also the week before TWFest and Saints & Sinners, and there’s no way I could take that much time off so close together–let alone leave the week before the festivals. I’d come home to find the locks changed, seriously. So many amazing reads this past year on this list, and there I am, right there with some of my favorite people.

It’s always lovely to get recognized, of course. Award nominations are always a lovely pat on the back, and yes, while I often joke about always losing everything I am ever nominated for (I love pretending to be bitter and cynical about losing awards), it is indeed a great honor and a thrill and all those things they’re supposed to make you feel like. Being nominated for mainstream awards, like this and the Anthonys, was never in my thoughts or calculations (to be fair, I never think about awards when I’m writing something)–so yes, for the kid who used to give acceptances speeches to the mirror holding a shampoo bottle as a stand-in for an Oscar, it’s an honor and a thrill and a privilege. I mean, winning isn’t really in my control–anyone who’s ever nominated’s control–so I just look at it as a lovely nice job thumbs-up from the community and add it to my author bio.

I slept really well again last night and this morning I don’t feel tired or sore and my mind is completely alert–yesterday there was some residual fog from my trip still, and leftover exhaustion–but today feels absolutely great. I ran errands after I got off work yesterday–some books and other things came in the mail yesterday, including my Rainbow candles (a client gave me one for Christmas; I loved the smell, and then had to go searching on line to find more of them) and the leather-bound copies of Rebecca and Echoes from the Macabre by Daphne du Maurier as produced by the International Collectors’ Library (about time I got two really nice editions of two of my favorite books). I was terribly tired when I got home from work yesterday so I pretty much melted into my easy chair with Scooter asleep in my lap and just watched videos on Youtube (I went down a Rihanna wormhole for a good while–I’d forgotten how amazing her music was–while also looking up videos from Hadestown, whose score I’ve been listening to every since I got home; I cannot tell you how much I loved this show). I need to pay the bills today and get back to work on the book–I’m behind again and am really going to have to work my ass off to get it done by the end of the month now, no time for goofing off or anything other than a major push; I also have a short story to finish that I’ve promised to a friend for an anthology; that will be a nice creative and intellectual challenge to try to get finished around the book, too.

So, yes, Constant Reader, as you can probably tell I’m in a really good place this morning. My coffee is marvelous, I got a lovely pat on the back from the mystery community yesterday (“they like me! they really like me!”), and I am feeling great about my writing and my future. We’ll see how long this happy feeling and inspiration lasts, won’t we? I also think the cold or sinus thing that’s been going on with me since I flew to New York has finally been given the boot by my immune system, which is really nice. (I always feel terrible when I travel–part of it is the lack of sleep and the dehydration caused by the pressure changes required for flying; one of these days I’ll learn to drink water and replenish electrolytes when I travel instead of just drinking Cokes and coffee and alcohol; you’d think I’d know better by now but I clearly do not) But I feel like me again for the first time in what seems like a really long time, and it’s going to take some getting used to and adjusting again. (This weekend especially is going to feel weird as fuck, to be honest.)

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader, and I will chat with you again tomorrow.

Arizona

Holy. Shit.

Lefty Award Nominees

Our thanks to all who submitted their nomination forms. The Lefty Awards will be voted on at the convention and presented at a banquet on Saturday, March 18, at the El Conquistador Resort in the Oro Valley of Tucson, Arizona. We are delighted to announce the Lefty nominees.Lefty Nominees for Best Humorous Mystery Novel

  • Ellen Byron, Bayou Book Thief (Berkley Prime Crime)
  • Jennifer J. Chow, Death by Bubble Tea (Berkley Prime Crime)
  • A.J. Devlin, Five Moves of Doom (NeWest Press)
  • T.G. Herren, A Streetcar Named Murder (Crooked Lane Books)
  • Catriona McPherson, Scot in a Trap (Severn House)

Lefty Nominees for Best Historical Mystery Novel
(The Bill Gottfried Memorial) for books set before 1970

  • Dianne Freeman, A Bride’s Guide to Marriage and Murder (Kensington Books)
  • Catriona McPherson, In Place of Fear (Severn House)
  • Wanda M. Morris, Anywhere You Run (William Morrow)
  • Karen Odden, Under a Veiled Moon (Crooked Lane Books)
  • Ann Parker, The Secret in the Wall (Poisoned Pen Press)
  • Iona Whishaw, Framed in Fire (Touchwood)

Lefty Nominees for Best Debut Mystery Novel

  • Erin E. Adams, Jackal (Bantam Books)
  • Eli Cranor, Don’t Know Tough (Soho Crime)
  • Ramona Emerson, Shutter (Soho Crime)
  • Meredith Hambrock, Other People’s Secrets (Crooked Lane Books)
  • Harini Nagendra, The Bangalore Detectives Club (Pegasus Crime)
  • Rob Osler, Devil’s Chew Toy (Crooked Lane Books)
  • Jane Pek, The Verifiers (Vintage Books)

Lefty Nominees for Best Mystery Novel
(not in other categories)

  • Kellye Garrett, Like a Sister (Mulholland Books)
  • Laurie R. King, Back to the Garden (Bantam Books)
  • James L’Etoile, Dead Drop (Level Best Books)
  • Gigi Pandian, Under Lock & Skeleton Key (Minotaur Books)
  • Louise Penny, A World of Curiosities (Minotaur Books)
  • Alex Segura, Secret Identity (Flatiron Books)

Walking to New Orleans

One thing I do miss about Carnival season is walking home from work along the parade route–and I could tell I was out of practice walking this last weekend in New York, trust me.

For years, I worked on Frenchmen Street, one block downtown from the Quarter. I live inside the Carnival parade route (we call it “inside the box” here–the box boundaries being Tchoupitoulas, Napoleon, St. Charles and Canal–which means those streets generally close to traffic (only the downtown-running side of St. Charles closes; the uptown side does not, but you can imagine how horrific the traffic is on that side when there’s a parade on the other side of the neutral ground) about an hour or so before the first parade rolls, which means if I didn’t have my car “inside the box” before the streets closed, I’d have to wait until after the parades all ended–usually sometime after eleven, and the last thing I’d want to do is walk blocks to where I’d left the car to bring it home through all the after-parade traffic and mess–yeah, no thanks. We also used to do a lot of condom outreach during Carnival nights, setting up a table at the corner of Bourbon and St. Ann. So, on days when I had to actually go into the office I took the streetcar (which doesn’t run on Lundi Gras, so I had to walk the entire way) and walked through the Quarter–then would go do outreach and walk home from there. It was always tricky crossing the parade route itself; if I timed it right and got to Canal between parades, I could cut across to the inside easily; if not, I’d have to walk up Baronne to Harmony (formerly Lee) Circle, and I could always cut across at St. Charles (in the CBD and along Canal Street, barriers are erected to keep people out of the street). I may have been tired, but I always was in a good mood by the time I got home because I’d have a lot of beads already from walking along the parade route.

People used to love my post-parade bead selfiesas you can see, I am wearing my work shirt, so these beads were caught while walking home. Also, disregard the horror show that are my kitchen counters, thank you.

It’s funny, because I used to always bitch about having to walk to the office or condom outreach, and then having to walk home after. So, of course now I miss it.

I also sometimes take selfies when I am out on the parade route, to give everyone an idea how the throw-catching is going.

Obviously, I don’t care how I look as long as the throws are visible. This is from Iris in 2020, the last carnival before the pandemic.

And yes, the correct terminology is “throws,” because the krewes throw more than just beads. They throw candy, bubblegum, plush toys, moon pies, bags of potato chips, boas, and go cups, for starters. And of course some of the krewes have signature throws, such as the Zulu coconut, the Muses shoe, Tucks’ toilet themed throws (sunglasses that look like toilets, rolls of toilet paper) and the King Arthur grails. The signature throws are coveted, by the way; you’d be surprised at the way people will fight and claw and shove to get them.

One of our many Muses shoes. Isn’t it pretty? Paul manages to get at least one every year.

New Orleans is an extremely walkable city in my part of town. Twenty minutes maximum to Canal Street, another twenty minutes the other way to Touro or the Fresh Market, and of course the Marigny is another fifteen minutes past Canal. I don’t walk as much as I should; maybe after work every day from now on when I get home I can take a walk until I’m certain my arm is better and I can go back to the gym again. I love walking to the gym, I love walking through the Garden District–but sometimes it’s way too hot to walk, and of course, there’s always a chance of getting caught in a sudden thunderstorm/downpour (it’s why we own so many umbrellas; you end up getting caught out in a storm without one so of course you buy another). That was something I wanted to stress in A Streetcar Named Murder–that someone who lives where Valerie does, for example, can pretty much just walk anywhere to do her errands; I lived in New Orleans without a car for two years. (Good thing my parents insisted on me taking their old Oldsmobile–the Flying Couch of yore–that summer of 2004, or we would have been trapped here for Katrina.)

And one of the best memories I have of all Carnivals was the 2006 one, when New Orleans briefly flared to life again in the midst of the reconstruction, when for a few brief shining days it felt like New Orleans again, and gave us all hope that someday we would have our beautiful, wondrous, wacky city again. That Fat Tuesday was so beautiful; it was in the 70’s, clear sky, cool breeze, and no humidity. As I said that day, marveling at how gorgeous it was, “To be fair, Mother Nature kind of owes us.”

And I definitely need to spend more time walking around my beautiful city finding hidden treasures.

2000 Light Years from Home

Tuesday morning and back to the office.

I slept incredibly well on Sunday night–there really is nothing like your own bed–but despite feeling rested, my body was still exhausted and tired. I had to run some errands and make groceries, which us always tiring, but i also managed to get some other blog posts done yesterday morning. (After all, I didn’t post on either Saturday or Sunday, so had to catch up and make up for lost time.) I got the laundry caught up, and did some chores around the Lost Apartment–dishes, filing, organizing–and reread the manuscript to get a handle on where I am at so I could plan the next stages of finishing this sucker.

But yesterday was about re-acclimatization into my reality, and I think I did a nice job. I picked up my prescription and the mail, and made groceries. I was very tired still–exhausted, really–but managed to get some things done around the house; little things that are nevertheless time-consuming but need to be done. I think another project for the overall year will be to organize my picture files. They are a mess, always have been, and none of them are actually labeled or have been renamed; they all sit in my back-up drive as IMG-number, and only in a few instances have they been grouped into a labelled folder for ease of discovery. I also went to bed relatively early last night and finally slept through almost the entire night in a good, relaxing sleep. My legs still ache from soreness, a result of all that walking I wasn’t used to (I really do need to start going for walks–even if short–in the evening after work) over the weekend but not to the point of such exhaustion that I want to cry when I have to get up, thank God.

My voice is still raspy, too. But I feel much better this morning, which is a good thing as I have to not only go into the office but I also have to get back to writing the book this week and I can’t afford a single day off from writing or I won’t be finished by 1/31, which is the original plan. But I had suspected that my not feeling 100% and slightly flu-ey was a result of not enough rest, and now that I’ve slept well for an entire night, my suspicions have apparently been correct all along. I was too mentally fatigued still yesterday to do much beyond simple, menial tasks–my mind was too tired to handle any reading, so I won’t be getting back to Other Terrors until tonight after work. We also watched a documentary on Netflix called The Hatchet Wielding Hitchhiker, which was interesting–I’d never heard of this story, but apparently it went viral in 2013–particularly on how some people in the entertainment field tried to cash in on his viral story and success without doing any due diligence or any looking into his past or who he was at all. That was the most interesting part of the story to me–the way people saw him as a way to make money and didn’t care about anything beyond that, and so it’s hard to feel sympathy for any of them when the truth–(no spoilers here)did finally come out.

It inevitably does.

I’ve still not completely wrapped my head around the end of my volunteer work. I spent some time yesterday archiving all the emails from the last three years and deleting the folders they were originally filed away in–which made me realize that my email folders need to be overhauled, as there are any number of them that are no longer needed or necessary, or are actually duplicated–and of course, organizing always makes me incredibly happy. I have a lot of work to do in this first quarter of 2023 (!!!! I still can’t believe it’s this far into the third decade of this century…) and I want to make this a good year for me productivity wise; I am going to start looking for an agent probably come March or April. Nothing ventured, after all, and let’s face it, I’ve never really made much of an effort into finding one, and maybe send out a couple of proposals before giving up and pulling back and hoping for the best. I need to make a blanket effort–going after all of them at the same time–but I am always afraid that they’ll all say no and that’s the end of it. Honestly, the way this business is so brutal on your ego while at the same time requiring you to actually have one (you have to believe in yourself to some degree otherwise you’ll never get going on it and that’s the end of that).

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader!

The Power of Goodbye

At 3:00 pm, Saturday, January 14th eastern time, I officially (and symbolically) turned over my gavel as Executive Vice President of the Board of Directors of Mystery Writers of America.

It’s going to take some getting used to, methinks.

As you get older, your perspective changes on things when you look back. I’ve never been one to look back at my past–I’ve always tried to focus on the present and the future–but once I hit sixty, it was inevitable. January 20th this month is the twenty-first anniversary of the release of my first novel, Murder in the Rue Dauphine, and with the closing of this chapter–my service to MWA–it’s hard not to look back and remember.

When I was first published, my mystery writer friends kept urging me to pursue mainstream markets and join mainstream organizations. A lot has happened since 2002: Lawrence v. Texas still hadn’t been decided so my sex life was still a crime; “don’t ask don’t tell” was still in place; and it’s not like you could get married to your same-sex partner when our sexuality was criminalized. That was a completely different world and society and culture than the one we currently live in. For one thing, for a gay mystery author, there were queer newspapers and magazines and bookstores. It was entirely possible to make a living and a career for one’s self outside of the mainstream–and this situation developed because of the mainstream’s rejection of most things queer. There had been some queer publishing booms, but I came in at the tail end of the last one–as all the New York publishers had started canceling queer imprints and slowly but surely removing queer writers from their lists. I decided that I would try to arrange signings and appearances at mystery bookstores as well as queer ones, and that was a lesson in homophobia I’ve never forgotten. One mainstream bookstore actually hung up on me after nastily cutting me off to say we don’t carry those kinds of books in our store–some variation of which I heard from all of them except one (which is why Murder by the Book in Houston will always hold a place in my heart). A friend bought me a membership in an organization as a gift (I won’t name it) but it was made abundantly clear to me that mainstream spaces weren’t welcoming or safe for a fledgling queer writer, so I didn’t bother joining any others or going to any mystery conferences–my concerns were always poo-poohed by straight mystery writer friends, which now, in reflection, was a kind of gaslighting, but I was inevitably always proven right (it’s always nice to be told you’re “nobody”). But when I emerged from the haze of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the wreckage it made of my life, publishing had significantly changed, as had the rest of the world. The queer stores were closing, and our newspapers and magazines were shuttering–as were some of our publishers. I took a look around and thought, what am I going to do now?

I took a deep breath and joined Mystery Writers of America. Within a year I was asked to run for my chapter board, and then was asked to run for chapter president, which would also give me a seat on the national board. I remember going to New York for my first board orientation, staying at the Roosevelt Hotel–I always loved staying there; it made me feel like an author the way I only really feel when I am in New York, to be honest–and walking into the room where the meeting was being held. I had already met MWA staffer Margery Flax (at the time administrative director, now Executive Director), who had made me feel not only welcomed but like I belonged, which was something I had only rarely ever felt outside of queer publishing. I remember being awestruck that I was in the same (proverbial) room where it happened; the same board meeting that giants of our genre had attended in the past. I was stunned when a beautiful woman asked me if the seat next to me was taken and I was like oh my god, that’s Harley Jane Kozak! (I knew her from my long addiction to daytime, but also from other films she’d done.) I sat there quietly, overwhelmed, absorbing it all, and that night at dinner I had the thrill of sitting next to Jess Lourey, and as we talked over dinner we became friends–something that has lasted to this day; I will always love Jessie–and over the next four years I slowly found my voice and began taking on more and more responsibilities. It became a huge part of my life, and I kept working, as is my wont, to try to achieve equity for everyone in MWA, specifically with the goal to make queer writers feel welcomed and a part of the organization as a vital part of our community. I made a lot of friends that I cherish to this day, and it felt very weird when my time there was finally up and I stepped away. Being involved with MWA, and making friends in the organization (which led to making even more friends in the genre) was what got me to start attending our genre conferences, getting involved and being more active in the community, and becoming better known than I was before.

It would have been easy to give up after the collapse of queer media and outlets. Mystery Writers of America gave me hope that my career could and would continue, and that the best part was yet to come.

So one can only imagine my surprise when four years after I left the board I was asked to return and serve as Executive Vice President (basically, chairman of the board). I was thrilled, flattered, and honored, particularly for being the first openly gay one in the history of the organization. What better way, I thought, to let queer writers know they were welcome than by being in a leadership position? There was admittedly some hubris involved in saying yes–the making history thing, for one, as well as thinking I could handle all that responsibility while maintaining a full time job and a full time writing career. I will never regret saying yes; the only regrets I have are the mistakes I made (there were plenty) and not having as much time to devote to the office as was needed so I could get everything done that I wanted to get done while I served. But I am not going to focus on the regrets, ever; instead I shall take pride in the things we were able to accomplish.

And now, it’s over. I could have served five years total, but bowed out after three. Were we still living in the same world we were in when I was initially approached in the fall of 2019, I probably would have stayed for the full five. But we’re not living in that same world–the pandemic that shut down the world within two months of my taking office overwhelmed every aspect of my life, from day job to running errands to my writing and publishing career to helping to oversee the operations of the organization. (I like to joke about how I was not only the first gay EVP in history but also the first EVP to cancel the Edgar banquet) Navigating an organization through the unknown waters of a pandemic and a changing world, where there was no previous experience to draw from was challenging, especially since I had to worry about my day job, adjust to working from home on some days and helping with the COVID testing at our office, exposing me to something that could quite possibly kill either Paul or myself every day I was there. The years between 2020 and now are all kind of blurry to me now; sort of the way everything from the Katrina evacuation through about 2009 is either a blank or blurry.

It’s going to take some getting used to, and it’s going to take a while before it sinks in that it’s no longer my responsibility.

I wouldn’t trade the experiences–both good and bad–for anything. Even though sometimes it was stressful and disruptive, and there were times when I got incredibly frustrated because I was very short on time and in the middle of a book that I needed to focus on, it’s going to be weird for me for awhile. It was very weird checking my emails this morning and seeing that there were none with (MWA) in the header line. I worked with some great people and made some friends–at least I like to think so, their mileage might vary–that I would have never made had I not served. I learned a lot about myself, and strangely enough I also think serving somehow has made me a better writer somehow; I know the work I am producing now is vastly superior to the work I did before I served. I know I have a stronger sense of the genre after my total of seven years of service.

The hardest part, I think, is going to be remembering that I no longer have anything other than an opinion and that I am now just one of the many members.

Thanks to everyone I served with, the membership, and the community. I no longer feel like an outsider looking in at the community, and maybe, just maybe, I made a small difference.

I can live with that.

A Walk on the Wild Side

When I was a kid, my grandmother got me started watching the 3:30 afternoon movies on WGN (I think); most of them were classic old Hollywood movies (where my affections for Stanwyck, Crawford, Davis and Hepburn began) but essentially, they were usually older films or ones that had already been shown once or twice in prime time before being relegated to afternoon and late night. They were also edited for content and for “appropriate” viewing for kids–since we were all home to watch–and housewives. I remember watching A Walk on the Wild Side with Barbara Stanwyck and Jane Fonda, but it didn’t make a lot of sense–primarily because it was a racy film and they’d shredded it to get it past television censors; every once in a while I think oh you should watch it again because you can probably get the unedited theatrical version through some service or another but never get around to it. A friend recently posted that he was going to watch it that evening, which led me down a rabbit hole which ended with me discovering that it was based on a novel (which I hadn’t known), and that the author was the same man who also wrote The Man with the Golden Arm, which was made into a rather good film with Frank Sinatra, Nelson Algren. Algren was one of those literary lions who was championed and respected by critics and literature professors–The Man with the Golden Arm won the very first National Book Award–but seems to be relatively forgotten today. My pompous and condescending Lit professors in college certainly never assigned us any Algren; so it made me rather curious. I had also forgotten that a significant part of the story is actually set in New Orleans–which was all it took for me to get a copy.

I finished reading it as my flight to New York was taxiing to the gate.

“He’s just a pore lonesome wife-left feller,” the more understanding said of Fitz Linkhorn, “losin’ his old lady is what crazied him.”

“That man in so contrary,” the less understanding said, “if you throwed him in the river he’d float upstream.

For what had embittered Fitz had no name. Yet he felt that every daybreak duped him into waking and every evening conned him into sleep. The feeling of having been cheated–of having been cheated–that was it. Nobody knew why nor by whom.

But only that all was lost. Lost long ago, in some colder country. Lost anew by the generations since. He kept trying to wind his fingers about this feeling, at times like an ancestral hunger; again like some secret wound. It was there, if a man could get it out into the light, as palpable as the blood in his veins. Someone just behind him kept turning him against himself till his very strength was a weakness. Weaker men, full of worldly follies, did better than Linkhorn in the world. He saw with every enviously slow-burning.

“I ain’t a-playin’ the whore to no man,” he would declare himself, though no one had so charged him.

Six-foot-one of slack-muscled shambler, he came of a shambling race. That gander-necked clan from which Calhoun and Jackson sprang. Jesse James’ and Jeff Davis’ people. Lincoln’s people. Forest solitaries spare and swart, left landless as ever in sandland and Hooverville now the time of the forests has passed.

Whites called them “white trash” and Negroes “po’buckra.” Since the first rock has risen about the moving waters there had been not a single prince in Fitzbrian’s branch of the Linkhorn clan.

Sigh, where to being with this?

First, let’s get the obvious out of the way–the book is very, very dated. There’s language and mentalities and attitudes–while probably common usage for the time it is set as well as the time it was written, we’ve progressed a lot since then–that do no hold up today and made me wince as I came across them–and not just about race, either; there’s a lot of misogyny and ableism pervading the manuscript. There’s also not really a story here, either; the book focuses on Ftiz Linkhorn’s son Dove, who becomes involved with a diner owner but then robs her and takes off riding freight trains to New Orleans. He encounters a young runaway–Kitty Pride–on the trains but they become separated, and he gets to New Orleans on his own and becomes one of the con artists who always seem to proliferate here, but the focus of the middle of the book turns away from Dove and to Dockery, who runs a bar and bordello on Perdido Street (where they moved after Storyville was shut down) and the story shifts to some of the hookers, the bordello owner, and Dove exists only on the periphery; Dove actually becomes a sex worker–it kind of glosses over that he gets paid to let people watch him deflower a virgin (who is actually another one of the bordello girls)–while he learns how to read and write, learning from one of the hookers with whom he is kind of involved with, which brings him into conflict with a former professional wrestler and circus worker who has lost his legs–and Dove gradually winds up going back to south Texas, back where he came from, no better off or worse than when he left.

The writing is very good–I marked some pages that had some insightful sentences that were beautifully constructed–but over all, this falls into the category of what I (snidely) refer to as “mid-twentieth century straight white man MFA style.” We don’t need a story with a beginning, middle and end; we don’t need to see character growth or development; Dove is precisely the same person he was when the book opened. There’s also no real depth to any of the characters; it’s written in an omniscient point of view, like someone is telling you the story but because it’s being narrated, we don’t really get to know any of the characters–who they are and what makes them tick and what makes them behave the way they do–and this is something I’ve always taken issue with when it comes to books about the poor and those who lived on the margins; Algren creates these fascinating characters but gives them no complexity or depth, because they are poor, we are led to believe, they are simple and stupid and incapable of growth and since those kinds of people aren’t really people–we don’t need to see any of their humanity, therefore we are unable to identify with any of the characters or even feel empathy for any of them; which we really should. Why write about these characters and this world and this life if we aren’t going to get any insight? For me, it felt like a peepshow; he’s holding back the curtain to give us a peek into the lives of desperate people but in more of a “point and moralize” way which I frankly didn’t like or enjoy. It felt like poverty porn to me (don’t even get me started on The Grapes of Wrath), and he didn’t even remark on the symbolism of these bordellos and bars being located on Perdido Street–perdido means lost in Spanish–and rather than feeling any sympathy or rooting for these characters, they just left me cold since we didn’t understand their motivations or who they were or had any insight into why they were doing the things they were doing.

I don’t regret reading the book–I never even thought about putting it aside and not finishing–so that’s something. I was just disappointed, I guess, by the lack of insight. I guess that’s why I enjoy genre fiction so much; characters are everything in genre fiction, and I want to know the characters I am reading about rather than just having the curtain pulled back and being a passive viewer at the window into their lives.

(And yes, Lou Reed did get the title for his classic song from the title of this book and film.)

We Love You

I got home last night around seven, exhausted, bone-tired, and delighted to be able to sleep in my own bed after four nights of insomnia. I got some sleep while in New York, but not much–and I also exerted myself a lot more than I have in, well, years. Mt Fitbit would let me know every day that I’d reached the goal of ten thousand steps (which never happens, but I do need to start taking walks more regularly, as it’s disturbing how physically out of condition I am–my legs are achy and sore from all the walking), and of course I had cut my heel accidentally the morning I left, so it’s kind of achy and painful. But I slept deeply and well last night, the sleep of the exhausted, and I actually feel rather rested and awake as I re-acclimate to my normal reality. As I expected, I didn’t write hardly anything while I was gone, so I need to climb back up on that horse today. It’s a work holiday–there’s no way I could be functional at the office today (I always take an extra day off to recover from the trip upon my return home), and now I have to figure out what I need to get done to get back in control of my life.

First thing on the list is to get back on track with my writing–so hallelujah for a day off! I don’t even want to think about the horror that is my email inbox just yet, and I may avoid it for another day so I can get my proverbial shit together (oh, my OWN coffee that I made myself just is so much nicer than buying it somewhere). I am most likely going to have to hit the grocery store today, as well as pick up the mail and a prescription and put gas in the car. There’s some filing and sorting that needs to be done this morning, and of course I need to think about what to take for lunch to the office for the rest of the week. So much to think about, so much to do, so much to remember. I believe this may even call for a to-do list. Yay!

I did have a lovely time in New York; it’s always invigorating to spend time in the company of other writers. It was a bit cold for my liking, but I think I walked all over Manhattan, had some amazing food, got to reconnect with friends (some I hadn’t seen in years in person), and of course, the highlight was seeing Hadestown. I’ve already downloaded the cast recording to Spotify; it may be different to listen to than when watching it performed live, but I am looking forward to listening to it on walks–because I’ve decided that walks are de rigeur in my future–and maybe, just maybe, i could also start listening to audiobooks when I am taking my walks. I want my heel to heal first, of course–all that walking in New York probably wasn’t optimal for that, but one of my goals this year to become more physically active, and what better way to get that going than by taking walks? I can also, you know, take pictures with my phone, too, of my neighborhood and the Garden District or wherever I may go for a walk. It also occurs to me that one of these weekends I should spend a day exploring the World War II museum (which could help with some backstory for Chlorine).

As you can see, the trip has rather invigorated me, even as I am physically worn out as I type out these ambitious plans.

I started reading the Horror Writers Association’s latest anthology, Other Horrors (edited by Vince Liaguno and Rena Mason) on my flight home, and am quite enjoying it. The premise of the anthology is for it to be inclusive and to highlight diverse authors and voices; and so far it’s been fun. There are stories I like better than others, of course, but that’s any anthology and it’s very fun to discover new authors and voices that I wasn’t aware of–again, the point of the anthology–and there’s nothing I love more than discovering new voices, you know? Plus, reading it has me itching to write some more short stories–which of course I really can’t do because I’ve got to get this book finished–but I also want to map out the rest of my writing year and come up with a plan for my future. I think I am going to take the plunge and write that romance I was thinking about the second half of last year–just for something different to do and something to sharpen my skills; I think we should always try to write outside of our comfort zone as often as we can, which is why I dabble in horror sometimes. And why not give romance a try? I’ve always liked romance, even if I don’t read very much of it (I can’t keep up with my crime and horror reading, let alone anything else), so why not give a whirl?

And on that note, I need to go fold some laundry and start organizing my life and kitchen and office space again. Have a lovely Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Constant Reader, and I’ll check in with you again later.

Let’s Spend the Night Together

Yesterday was quite a day.

As you will recall, That Bitch Ford got me to come down around eight for coffee, and then we started exploring and eating our way through Manhattan (I’ve now had Irish pub food, Chinese, and Cuban), and of course we saw Hadestown last night, which was FANTASTIC. I knew it was the Orpheus story, and as I said to TBF afterwards, “You know, I was thinking as the show started that writing a musical in which there has to be a song so amazing that it would enchant Hades–a god–and convince him to let Eurydice go is really setting the bar high for the guys writing the score” but you know, it worked. It’s a beautiful show, just gorgeous, and the cast was fantastically talented and the production was incredible–choreographing dancing and singing on a stage that is moving pretty quickly is not easy–but my favorites were Hades and Persephone. He was a hot silver fox daddy, and the voice on Persephone? I kept thinking to myself, how is this talent not a major recording star? They were all wonderful, and ironically the actors playing Orpheus and Eurydice were the understudies, and all I could think was these two weren’t talented enough to be MAIN CAST? WOW. It was a spectacular evening, and as TBF said in his Facebook post of the two of us sitting in the theater before the proverbial curtain going up (they didn’t have one), sometimes it’s nice to be reminded of what humans can create in this world. I also loved that the sets, the costumes, and the music all had a New Orleans/Storyville/jazz age feel to it, as well, and it was very easy for me to believe it was actually set in New Orleans because it works.

Seriously, if you come to New York and have a chance to see Hadestown, do it. You won’t regret it–and you can thank me later.

I generally don’t like movie musicals (there are some exceptions, but it is safe to assume going in that if it’s a musical movie I probably didn’t or won’t like it–Cabaret and Chicago are notable exceptions), but as I was greatly enjoying the show yesterday I realized that musicals really work best (at least in my mind) on stage, where they originated. In a theater, with live performances, it’s much easier to suspend the belief that people will suddenly break into song and everyone around will suddenly turn into a singing and dancing flash mob than it is in a movie–at least that’s the logic in my brain.

And yes, this is me, the one and only Gregalicious, raving about a musical. NOW I WANT TO SEE ALL THE MUSICALS CURRENTLY PLAYING ON BROADWAY. Gah. I guess the Broadway musical gene was always there, it just needed to be activated…

Regardless, when I dragged myself up to my room after walking back from the theater I was exhausted. I had insomnia on Wednesday night, which made yesterday seem even longer than it was. At one point my Fitbit actually went off to let me know I’d made my “step goal” for the day (I never make it, and it’s arbitrarily set for the goal it had when it was made rather than one I set, and I only wear one because it helps with the health insurance costs–having it and syncing it to its app, which feeds into the insurance company’s website, is all that’s necessary. It would make more sense to me if it were more performance based–which would get me to actually go for walks–but it’s not). I did manage to sleep much better last night that the night before, which is lovely. I just went down and had breakfast and a lot of coffee and have some down time. I am going to try to get some writing done before I have to do anything else–yay down time!–and get cleaned up for tonight. Although lying down sounds awfully appealing. Maybe I’ll just read a bit before hitting the shower…I don’t know; I’ve been so on the go since I got here it’s odd to actually have some free time. I definitely do not want to go anywhere or do any walking, so relaxing is probably the way to go here.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Friday, everyone!

In Another Land

My flight was two and a half hours delayed yesterday due to the FAA system crash yesterday morning, which was, of course, tiresome. But I eventually got to board my flight, finished reading A Walk on the Wild Side (I literally finished it when we were taxiing to the gate, so perfect timing, and more on that book later), then collected my bag and got my car service into Manhattan. I checked in, went up to my room, and then had dinner as Connolly’s Irish Pub, where our waiter was stunned and delighted to see my LSU sweatshirt–he was a fan! (That happened again in the elevator on the way up to my room–who knew Manhattan was filled with LSU fans? You got to love it!) I got to have fish ‘n’ chips–they were marvelous–and then we walked back to the hotel and retired early. He ran me ragged today– lunch in Chinatown, and then we are having dinner with our friend Donna, who is also joining us for Hadestown, which I am very excited to see. I also need to write while I am here–hopefully I’ll be able to get some of that done Friday afternoon; I hate that I wasn’t able to keep my momentum going yesterday and knock out another three thousand words, but it was a day, wasn’t it? I got up at six yesterday morning, headed out to the airport around ten thirty, and then didn’t get to the hotel until six New York time. That’s an awful lot of me being out in public.

I also didn’t sleep great last night–first night in a hotel is always an adjustment; I hope tonight it will be a different story–and then was awakened (not really, I was awake but lying in bed with my eyes closed like I always do when I have insomnia) by a text from That Bitch Ford (Michael Thomas Ford, for those of you who are new; buy his books, they’re terrific) and so I washed my face and brushed my teeth and went down for coffee with him while he ate ($29 eggs!) and then we took the subway to lower Manhattan to walk around and see Chinatown (we’d planned on having lunch there all along, and we did!) and had a lovely time. Lunch was terrific, and it was fun catching up in person. We don’t think we’ve seen each other in person for going on ten years (I don’t think it’s been that long but I am not certain enough to argue the point), which is astonishing. We’re also two of the few from out “time” to still be around and writing all these years later, which feels very strange to me. We did a lot “I wonder whatever happened to–” and “who was that who–” types of conversation starters. Mike is one of the few people who is still a part of my life who knew me before I was published*; we met when he came to New Orleans to sign Alec Baldwin Doesn’t Love Me and Other Trials from My Queer Life, and we’ve kind of been friends ever since then. I know I interviewed him for IMPACT News back when I used to write for the local gay paper (shuttered since about 2002 or 2003, methinks) and since we both have the same horrible sick sense of humor…it was inevitable.

And now I am back in my room, exhausted, but with dinner plans at five with Mike and our friend Donna, and then of course we’re making a 7 pm curtain for the show. I’m not entirely sure what tomorrow holds for me; I think we have a breakfast date but I could be wrong, and I know in the late afternoon I start having plans again–and of course I will be tied up all day Saturday before flying home on Sunday. Thank God Monday is a holiday, so I can recover and rest and write and get things taken care of around the house. I had hoped to spend some time writing today but I am too tired, and I need to rest and relax before we get going for tonight. I’ve not been to a Broadway show in years, so am kind of looking forward to it. I know nothing about this show other than it’s the Orpheus myth (I think), so am really interested in hearing what the score sounds like.

And on that note I am going to lie down for a minute or two before I have to get ready for dinner. Till next time, Constant Reader!

*It’s very weird to me that so few people who knew me before I was published are actively still part of my life; I am still connected with people from past phases of my life but primarily through social media; I don’t interact with them very much outside of social media; and it’s not like I am ghosting the people from my past or anything; it’s just how life evolves. And most of the people we both knew back when we got started on this crazy journey into publishing aren’t around anymore.