Heaven’s Just a Sin Away

I’m tired.

I think the worst thing of all this is the uncertainty, you know? Every time the fatigue sets in, every time my mind gets foggy, every time I can feel my temperature going up, after the great here we go again thought comes the what if you actually test negative? What does that mean? If you don’t have this, what the hell is wrong with you?

Paul suggested that part of the fatigue could come from the lack of activity, and there’s a possibility that might be true. Once I finish this, I am going to get down on the kitchen floor and stretch, just to see how that feels. I am really not overly comfortable going for a walk, in all honesty; not knowing whether or not I am actually infected makes going out of the Lost Apartment seem like an incredibly foolish and irresponsible thing to do. I do have a mask–an official medical one, and gloves too–I had to buy these when Paul had his heart surgery all those years ago, and my tendency to hoard actually came in handy for once, so I suppose keeping a distance from others while wearing gloves and a mask should be okay, but there’s so much uncertainty about everything–hell, I don’t know if I actually am infected or not–that I just don’t know what I should be doing or should not be doing.

But I am lucky, because if I do indeed have this, at least it hasn’t moved into my lungs, at least not yet. I think it’s the lung part that is problematic for people; the inability to breathe, of course, would be horrifying, as well as feeling like you’re drowning. I go back and forth all the time on everything; it’s horrible to be indecisive, to not know what the right decisions are or even what the consequences of the wrong decisions could even be. This also isn’t like me, and I don’t know if it’s the foggy head or just the times or if I am simply being visited by some good old PTSD. Anything at this point is possible, and there are so many goddamned variables…and being trained since birth to always expect the worst doesn’t help much, frankly.

Yesterday wasn’t too bad, all things considered. I did some chores around the house once I woke up, ate some cereal, and then was exhausted (again, lack of activity, or illness?) and so I collapsed into my easy chair and couldn’t even focus on reading. I did get a few chapters more into Ammie, Come Home but after awhile put it aside and got lost in Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror. ESPNU also decided to replay a series of LSU games from last season–the Mississippi game, then the play-off game with Oklahoma and the national title game–so I had that on while I read and dozed off and on. I never nap; and I always have trouble sleeping–which is the truly weird thing about all of this; the amount of sleep I’m getting, and then again–maybe I’m tired from sleeping too much, I don’t know. After Paul got home and we watched the end of Schitt’s Creek (which I am very sad to say goodbye to; it may be my favorite sitcom of all time), and then I read some more before going to bed.

The exciting life of a gay mystery novelist.

I do have creative bursts, though-which gives me hope that someday soon I might actually start writing again. I’ve been thinking through Bury Me in Shadows, and I think i might have actually solved the mystery of what’s wrong with the story. In fact, rather than reading any of my various books that I have spread out on the end table next to my easy chair (the two afore-mentioned, along with Du Maurier’s The Breaking Point and my iPad, which has a plethora of books in its various book-reading apps) I should probably reread the entire manuscript, perhaps even do an outline, and then figure out how to make it better and revise it, so when I can get back on a roll with writing again I can get back to it. I’ve also been thinking about the Kansas book, and I think I’ve cracked that code at long last–since I started writing it in either 2015 or 2016, about fucking time, wouldn’t you say–and so maybe, just maybe, i can get to that too. I also have to write my Sherlock story. The kitchen is also a mess–there’s a load in the dishwasher that has to be put away and the sink is full of dirty dishes as well, and there are clothes in the dryer as well-and God knows when the last time I did the floors was. I am going to try to get some of this stuff handled at some point today.

And on that note, I am going to try to get started on everything and see how much I can get done before I run out of energy–not that I have a lot right now, but the coffee is helping give me a bit of a boost, which is always nice–and see what can get taken care of before the malaise comes back.

Sorry to be such a downer, and I hope all is well with you, Constant Reader–and stay safe.

grid-cell-12321-1387651354-6

Coal Miner’s Daughter

Wednesday, and here we are, in the middle of the week suddenly. It’s also a new month; didn’t March seem to last forever, to the point where it actually felt like it wasn’t just March but Bataan Death March? Does anyone besides me even know what the Bataan Death March was? Americans’ grasp and knowledge of our own history is astonishingly slender and leaves a lot to be desired–which is why the same policies that have failed, repeatedly, throughout our history–“trickle down economics”, anyone–always end up coming back around and fucking us all over again, repeatedly, as new generations continue to be fooled by the desire of the rich and the corporations to fuck us repeatedly, counting on the knowledge that no one knows it has all happened before.

It is astonishing how no one studies the past so we can learn from mistakes made and not repeat them, isn’t it?

I’m actually not, as today’s title might suggest, a coal miner’s daughter but actually a coal miner’s grandson; my grandfather was a coal miner, and received disability until the day he died for the black lung disease he acquired as a result. Alabama isn’t known for coal mining, and I do know that he used to go away to work in the coal mines, so I’m not exactly sure where it was he went to do the work; as a child I didn’t really listen to the stories as closely as perhaps I should have, or it’s the old memory-sieve thing, but I do remember seeing Coal Miner’s Daughter in the theater when it was released, and thinking, when they showed the shack Loretta Lynn grew up in, how similar it was to my maternal grandmother’s house. The house my father grew up in–where my grandfather lived up till pretty close to when he died, I think–wasn’t as ramshackle as my maternal grandmother’s. It never dawned on me to think about how much poverty my parents grew up as children; my maternal grandfather died when my mother was around eleven, and so the only money they ever got was his military pension from serving in the Pacific during the war–and it wasn’t much. My grandmother used to make most of her children’s clothes as well as her own; when I was a kid I remember my mother had mad sewing skills, but they fell into disuse as we moved up the economic ladder as I got older. My parents were, in fact, a perfect example of the upward mobility, the American dream, as it used to exist in those decades that followed the second world war. They married young and moved to Chicago when they were barely twenty and had two small children; they both worked in factories while my dad went to school at night to finish his engineering degree. By the time they were thirty they owned a house in the suburbs and my father was on his way up the corporate ladder; my mom stopped working when he finally made it to management and we were transferred to Kansas. It was always ironic to me that when I was a small child my parents both worked while everyone else I knew’s mom was a housewife; when the economy shifted in my teens my mother became a housewife while most other families became two income.

I didn’t grow up in Alabama, but I grew up thinking of Alabama as home and was raised to have a fierce, deep pride in not only being Southern but in Alabama. I grew up understanding the importance of both Alabama and Auburn football to the pride of the state, and pride in that the fierce rivalry between the two programs was one of the biggest and best in college football. My love for Alabama has grown more conflicted over the years, as I began to reexamine things I was raised to believe in as moral and right and developed my own code of ethics, morality, and right and wrong. Writing Bury Me in Shadows is, in some ways, an attempt to regurgitate and make sense of that through writing. The vast majority of my writing has always firmly centered New Orleans, and writing about New Orleans is probably what I’m best known for, if I am known at all. I have written bits and pieces here and there about other places I’ve lived; I turned Fresno into Polk for the frat boy books, and Tampa into Bay City for other stories, and of course, with the exception of Dark Tide, which was set in the panhandle of Alabama, I primarily fictionalize where I’m from in Alabama as Corinth County–which is where the main character of Dark Tide was from.

Bury Me in Shadows is my first book-length writing about Corinth County; and I decided to show it from the perspective of a native who didn’t grow up there, whose mother moved away before he was born, and has spent very little time there–and hasn’t, in fact, been there since he was eight years old. I am having some fun with it–you can’t go wrong with a meth lab, a burned out plantation house, and the rural woods in northwest Alabama–but it needs some work, and I think I’ve been away from it long enough now so that when I do have the time to go back and start revising and reworking and getting it ready to turn in, my eyes and perspective will be fresh.

I am starting to get more tired though, and it’s harder to get up in the morning than it was earlier in the week. I am only working the morning shift today; this afternoon I have some errands to run and I am going to do some work at home. I think that will help me with the tiredness–the screening process can be draining–and if I get my work done early, I can maybe spend some time reading or writing. I was too tired to read much more of “The Archduchess,” the du Maurier tale I am trying to get through this week, but it’s very interesting. The darkness that always imbues her work is there as the story goes on, which is about a very small European nation whose spring water has some kind of mystical rejuvenating power, but I haven’t gotten to the meat of the story as of yet. But it’s interesting, and I am curious to see where she is going with the story.

I also have a gazillion emails to try to get answered at some point today.

Just thinking about it makes me tired.

And on that note, it’s off to the spice mines. Have a lovely, lovely day, Constant Reader.

e4ebb2626bb0f2c5677c16d9ac93abbc

The Gambler

Saturday morning, and we’ve made it through yet another week, Constant Reader. It got a little hairy here and there this past week–Wednesday afternoon I was literally hanging by a thread and barely in control of my temper–but having Thursday to stay home and collect myself was absolutely lovely. I got rested, got my equilibrium back, and so yesterday I was fine. I managed to make it through an entire eight hour shift at work with aplomb; I was even able to spend some time getting some of my data entry work accomplished. There were some difficult times yesterday, I cannot lie; it’s going to get harder and harder as the epidemic continues weaving its evil, viral way through our parish, and as more and more people get sick. I also believe the city is reaching its tipping point with the hospitals close to being overwhelmed; they are preparing the Convention Center with beds to turn it into a makeshift hospital ward for those who are sick and need care, but don’t need ventilation. This, of course, brings back horrible memories of the days after Katrina; so far there’s been no word about the Superdome being used in this capacity, primarily because it’s not as easily accessed as the Convention Center–you can walk inside the Morial Center from the sidewalk, whereas at the Superdome you have quite a climb and walk to get inside, so it’s probably not practical for use in that manner.

Yesterday I had to stop at Rouse’s on the way home, and I was expecting–well, I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting. Since I made the Costco run on Lundi Gras (which in hindsight was probably one of the smartest decisions I’ve made in my life; certainly the most important decisions I’ve made in 2020), toilet paper isn’t a concern so I didn’t check that aisle at all; but as picked over as the bread aisle was, I  managed to get two small loaves of Bunny Bread (the local Louisiana version of Wonder Bread, don’t judge me–it makes excellent toast and grilled cheese sandwiches, so back off). I also noticed that Rouse’s bakery is now making fresh bread, cut for sandwiches, and only charging 99 cents per loaf.

I do love my friendly neighborhood Rouse’s.

And as our case numbers and death toll continues to rise in New Orleans, I am pleased to say that the city is doing what it always does in times of crisis: it is pulling together. No matter how scared people might be, no one we have to turn away from getting tested for not having the applicable symptoms becomes irate or angry, even out of a sense of being scared or frustrated–they all accept it with aplomb, thank us for helping the sick, and promise to keep checking to see when we have more testing capacity.  Restaurants are feeding service workers who no longer have incomes. One of the hotels in the CBD has opened itself to the homeless population, to get them off the streets and put a roof over their heads and giving them access to running water and a bed. Everyone in Rouse’s, from the customers to the staff, were all pleasant and polite and kind to each other.

I don’t think I will ever get used to getting on I-10 at 5 pm and seeing no traffic–I certainly hope I don’t ever get used to it, at any rate.

Last night, we continued our binge-watch of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and my God, how addicted are we to this show? It doesn’t hurt, of course, that all of the men are incredibly hot, but the character of Sabrina, and the way Kiernan Shipka plays her, is the heart of the show. It’s become increasingly more and more fantastic, as any show dealing with the supernatural inevitably does; but Shipka manages to root her performance–and thus carry the show–in reality, which makes it work perfectly. All of the acting is stellar and top-notch, and while it plays fast-and-loose with a lot of things having to do with the dark arts and dark magic–it’s still kind of cool to see the world-building taking place, and that it all seems to come together and work on the show. I also have a HUGE crush on Luke Cook, the Australian actor who plays Lucifer. (Do yourself a favor and do a google-image search for “Luke Cook shirtless.”)

I also love the way Sabrina is the center of the show–and the way the men inevitably wind up doing what she tells them to.

And–as weird as this may sound–I find that my best coping mechanism to get back to my own center after getting home from a tough day at work is to watch highlights of LSU games from this past season. I also particularly enjoy watching the last five minutes of the first half of the Alabama game (as LSU took a 16-13 lead and in under five minutes turned it into an unsurmountable 33-13 half-time lead) or the final ten minutes of the first half of the national championship game against Clemson (when LSU went from trailing 17-7 to a 28-17 half-time lead; scoring enough points to win the game before half-time). As I said to Paul last night as I cued up that Clemson game yet again, “You know, this is the last time I remember being completely happy.”

These are, indeed, strange times in which we are living.

Today I am going to step away from the Internet (once I finish this) while checking in periodically on social media, and instead I am going to spend most of the day organizing and cleaning and hopefully getting some writing work done. I have the tops of the other cabinets to organize and make tidy; and I may start working my way through the kitchen drawers. I slept extremely well last night and I slept till nine this morning, so I feel rested; I am going to use my massage roller to loosen up the tightness in my back and I am also going to do some stretching this morning; just because I can’t go to the gym doesn’t mean I can’t do stretching exercises. I also forgot two things at Rouse’s yesterday–cat food and charcoal–so I am going to walk over to Walgreens at some point and see if they have both at a reasonable price; if they don’t, I am going to walk to the Rouse’s in the CBD and take pictures of the deserted streets as I go. I feel like I should be documenting these strange times here in the river city; and am probably missing golden opportunities to take pictures of landmarks and so forth that could be used for book covers and so forth because there are no tourists to photo shop out of them.

Maybe I should walk down to Woldenberg Park and also take some pictures of the river. Lost in all this COVID-19 stuff is the fact that the river is very high right now–we may need to open the spillway again this year–and of course, hurricane season is just around the corner….but I am not allowing myself to think about that just yet; there’s plenty of time to worry about storms when the time comes.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and STAY SAFE.

augRhysTylerCalvin2

Go Rest High on that Mountain

Saturday morning in New Orleans, and all is well. I slept really well last night–the deep dead sleep I love so much, because it’s so revitalizing–and can’t help but notice that I’ve been enjoying that kind of sleep a lot more since I started back to the gym. Coincidence? I think not.

Yesterday, I’m not going to lie, started out pretty fucking shitty. I got up feeling terrific. Well rested, ready to get out and kick some ass this weekend; as evidenced by yesterday morning’s blog entry. I went to the gym, had a tough workout–the motivation was there, but missing Wednesday had put my body out of sync with the weight-lifting, which made it more of a struggle than it should have been–then I came home. I started doing the laundry (I do the bed linens every Friday), made myself a protein shake, started getting the dishes taken care of, and then sat down at my desk to check my emails and social media. My twitter feed was filled with homophobic micro-aggressions from people who should, actually know better; as I read through I felt my anger and gorge rise. I was just about to send a PM to a friend (who definitely should know better) when Scooter jumped up onto my desk and knocked over my protein shake….all over my desk, my keyboard, my checkbook, my wallet, the research books I’ve been using for a writing project, my lap, and various file folders.

I was not pleased.

That took about half an hour to get cleaned up (thanks again, Scooter) and by the time I was finished I was already behind schedule for getting to work and running errands. I have a tire with low air, so I stopped at a convenient gas station (there is literally only one that’s convenient, and even it is out of the way) and of course, it was filled with morons. WHY WOULD YOU TAKE THE BACK PUMP INSTEAD OF PULLING TO THE FORWARD ONE?

I suspect her name was Karen.

The gas station turned out to be an exercise in aggravation and frustration, so I decided to say fuck it and do it over the weekend sometime. Then I got stuck behind a garbage truck, and when finally–after driving all the way uptown behind this idiot going 14 miles per hour–I got stuck behind a street cleaner on Jefferson on my way to Claiborne. We’ll just pretend there were no idiots on their cell phones on I-10 because I just can’t with people who think a phone call is more important than their life and the lives of everyone else on the highway.

Seriously, days like yesterday make me long for the next meteor and extinction event.

By the time I finally got home from work,  I was essentially done-in and exhausted. I later attributed it to the lack of a protein shake–I mean, the protein shakes I generally have after working out are enormous and have a lot of protein in them; because it spilled I had to have one of those prepackaged ones, which only had about half the protein in it that I usually rebuild with after a good workout–so note to self: should there ever be a repeat of the Protein Shake Incident, drink two of the pre-packaged ones, or you will suffer later.

So, it’s a gorgeous and sunny day outside; it’s a bit chilly here in the Lost Apartment, but that probably means it’s warmer outside. I have to walk over to the Home Depot (I need to get file folders and a new little notebook to replace my check register; yes, I still balance my checkbook, and yes, I still write everything I spend down), and the Lost Apartment  needs cleaning. I am way behind on my emails again (what else is new) and I have some things I need to get taken care of today; I want to finish reading my Ali Brandon novel this weekend, and I also want to pick out my next Reread Project read. I decided that since it’s Leap Day I shall also spend the day working on the numerous in-progress short stories I have; I am also going to try to get the Secret Project planned out and back on track again today, so I can launch myself full force into it again tomorrow. I also want to try to use today (and my new file folders) to get better organized. One of the worst things about Carnival is you literally just try to tread water with everything and you inevitably get scattered, disorganized and behind…and then it’s so hard to get everything back under control yet again once it’s over. I may not get much writing done today–certainly I know I won’t get as much done as I would like to get done–but the most important thing is to ensure that I am organized, know what I need to get done, and that way I can start organizing tasks and start getting them done.

I also got a shit ton of books in the mail this week; some definite treasures, some from authors I’m not familiar with, and once again, I weep at the idea of all the books I will never have the time to read. I am perhaps most excited about Alabama Noir, from the Akashic noir series; edited by Don Noble, it has stories from some of my favorite writers (Ace Atkins, Carolyn Haines, and Suzanne Hudson, among others) and of course, it’s ALABAMA, which I still feel such a strong pull towards, despite having never lived there and knowing deep in my bones and my soul that New Orleans is my home. Do other people feel that way about the states where they were born, where their parents and family are from? Or is it just a Southern thing? One of the reasons I started writing Bury Me in Shadows was because I wanted to write about Alabama, and the complexity of my feelings for the state. I’ve done some Alabama short stories, and I’ve set one book in Alabama–Dark Tide, which was mostly set down in the Gulf beach area–but I’ve always wanted to write more about Alabama. I think the reason Bury Me in Shadows has been so difficult to write for me is because I’m really not sure what the state is like now; and yes, of course it’s fiction, but I also don’t want to indulge in stereotyping and I want to be able to write honestly. I don’t have the time or the money to drive up there, look around, and get a better sense of place than my memories–plus, the part of the state I’m from isn’t the most friendly for people like me–but you never know. All it would really take is a long weekend and a cheap motel somewhere.

And on that note I just heard the dryer click off, so perhaps it’s time for me to get going on everything.

Have a lovely Saturday/Leap Day, Constant Reader!

1621981_10152213121411473_280855996_n

Kiss An Angel Good Morning

Ash Wednesday and solemnity has descended upon New Orleans, after two weeks of fun and frivolity. Carnival season actually begins on January 6th, on Twelfth Night–but it truly only kicks into major gear during parade season, which mercifully ended yesterday. Now I can drive my car without fearing I’m gone too late to get home or worrying about finding a place to park (the Carnival parking gods were definitely on my side this year; I was able to get groceries and park on my block AND made a Costco run and was able to park near the Lost Apartment, neither of which is a small accomplishment), and having to adjust my work schedule accordingly.

It’s gray outside the Lost Apartment windows this morning, and all is quiet on the Lower Garden District front. I haven’t checked the weather yet, but I am sure rain is part of the forecast; that’s usually what gray skies in the morning mean. I’m not as tired this morning as I thought I would be, and I’m also a little bummed I have to miss my workout today–the gym doesn’t open until noon, and there’s no way I could get home in time and make it to the gym before it closes after work tonight. But two workouts in one week is better than one workout, and so I guess missing the once isn’t really going to kill me. But I’ve gotten into such a great routine of following the regimen…again, I guess we’ll see on Friday morning if I don’t want to get up and go.

And yes, I started writing yet another short story yesterday evening, “You Won’t See Me.” It’s a similar tale, I suppose, to “Festival of the Redeemer”; unreliable gay male narrator who’s madly in love with someone who doesn’t return that affection–but at least that’s how they both start, at any rate. I have to get back to work on the Secret Project this week as well; so that’s at least five or six short story fragments I am working on in addition to the Secret Project. And yes, I am well aware that is complete madness.

We managed to watch McMillions over the past few days; we’d thought the entire series had finished airing so we were, needless to say, completely shocked to reach the end of episode 4 and realize we couldn’t watch anymore. I remember the scandal, vaguely, when the story broke; but I didn’t pay a lot of attention to it–and am amazed at how far-reaching and complicated it became–not to mention all the unfortunate people who got suckered into the con and played along, for various reasons. One of the FBI agents discussed how he was constantly amazed at how people didn’t think they had done anything wrong, and how they could justify and explain committing fraud to themselves–the bottom line was whatever the circumstance or the reason, they committed a crime.

True crime–you really can’t beat it for real drama.

I also got some incredible book mail on Monday–Blanche Among the Talented Tenth by Barbara Neely; an old children’s book about the Nazi invasion of Norway and the resistance, Snow Treasure, that I read when I was a kid; Alabama Noir, which I am really interested in reading; and the new Ivy Pochoda, These Women. I somehow managed to finish rereading Mary Stewart’s The Moon-spinners around the insanity (there will be more to come on that front), and got a little further into Ali Brandon’s Double Booked for Death, which I am really enjoying. I’m also still reading Jason Berry’s City of a Million Dreams, which is also quite good.

It doesn’t feel like Wednesday, which means this short work week is going to be weird, and feel weird, the entire time. I do have to put in longer days today and tomorrow than I usually do, because of the holiday yesterday and taking Monday off, but Friday will be my usual half-day and after that, we’re back to normal again. Huzzah? But February is on its way out and March is on its way in, which means the one-two punch of Saints & Sinners/ Tennessee Williams Festival is on its way as well. Kind of hard to believe that’s just right around the corner, but here we are, you know? And then at the end of April I’m off to New York and Maryland for the one-two punch of the Edgars and Malice Domestic. But after that, I’ll be done with travel until it’s time to head to Sacramento for Bouchercon, and then I won’t be doing much traveling unless I go visit my parents this year–which I kind of should. It’s just that the drive is so exhausting, but flying is equally awful, takes nearly as long, and is much more expensive. I suppose I could use Southwest points and fly into Louisville, but there’s no longer a non-stop flight from New Orleans to Louisville, and the things about connections is there’s always, always, a screw-up somewhere at that time of year that delays the return.

I also have an obscene amount of emails to read and reply to, which will engender more emails, of course–the endless cycle of cyber-communication–but I will eventually get dug out, slowly get caught up on everything, and somehow manage. I always somehow manage to do so, at any rate.

And now, back to the spice mines, Have a lovely Ash Wednesday, everyone.

1800231_10152224116731575_467610062_n

Every Time Two Fools Collide

So I finally went back to work on the book last night when I got home from the office. Huzzah! I was beginning to think I never would work on the damned thing again, but maybe there is something to this “arbitrary date chosen by Julius Caesar to start the new year” thing, after all. I started writing two new short stories, I got back to work on the book–pretty amazing, I have to say, especially taking into consideration that I’ve been such a fucking slug about writing for quite some time now.

Huzzah for the end of that nonsense!

Whether it actually means something remains to be seen, of course, but at least I also started the next chapter as well. It felt good to be writing again, and it felt really good to be making this manuscript better. It’s been so long since I last worked on it that I am going to have to go back to my notes and review them again; but that’s fine. At least I have the notes, you know, and that puts me ahead in a way–look, I’ll take these little victories where I can, thank you very much.

It does seem as though the RWA mess has calmed somewhat on Twitter, and what the future holds for the organization remains to be seen; it’s always sad to see an organization tear itself apart in this way, especially when the real root cause of the whole mess is racism. Sorry, Nice White Ladies, but we’re not going back to the 1950’s–the people of color aren’t going back to the back of the bus and the queers aren’t going back into the closet. And inevitably, there’s going to be issues any independent audit turns up; aren’t there always? I can only theorize the paid staff’s been colluding with the people masterminding this insidious leadership coup, and there are probably irregularities that will turn up in their books once the inevitable independent audit shows up. There’s something terribly rotten at the core of that organization, and it’s just a matter of time before it gets dragged out into the light and exposed.

I am still reading Richard Campanella’s Bourbon Street, and I’ve now reached the period of time–the 1950’s through the 1960’s–where the street truly earned its name and reputation as a strip for sinning. As always, ideas are flooding through my mind for new stories and perhaps a new series; I think the story I originally started writing a while back, “The Blues Before Dawn”, might actually work better as a short (70k-ish) novel set in the late 1950’s/early 1960’s rather than the WWI/Storyville era I was thinking about setting it…and also makes me wonder about my Sherlock Holmes story; perhaps moving it to a more modern era might be better? But I must get these other two manuscripts finished before I really even start thinking about other novels–and let’s face it, Chlorine needs to be the next novel I write anyway. I wrote a first draft of the first chapter a few months back, and it turned out better than I’d thought it might; and last night, as we watched John Mulaney stand-up comic specials on Netflix, the second chapter came to me, almost fully formed. It’s lovely when that sort of thing actually happens, you know–it’s so organic and I love it, it makes me feel like a real writer when it does–and it doesn’t really seem to happen all that often.

Although I probably should be spending all this time researching for Chlorine while I finish writing these other two books, shouldn’t I?

I don’t have a timetable for finishing Bury Me in Shadows or the final revision of the Kansas book, either. I probably should set one–although I’ve been doing that for the last year and it never seems to motivate me to get the work done.

OH! I also realized the other day when I was listing my favorite reads of 2019 I forgot two: The Better Sister by Alafair Burke and The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead. Both are frigging fantastic, and you need to read them sooner rather later. Get on it. Don’t make me come over there, because I will.

Tonight after work is the office holiday party, so I’ll be stopping there on my way home from work and probably then proceeding to Rouses so I won’t have to leave the house all weekend. Fingers crossed, at any rate.

I also have some errands to run on my way into the office today. It rained last night–everything is slick and shiny and dripping outside my windows this morning–and I suspect the temperature went south overnight as well; it’s very cold in the Lost Apartment this morning. I always forget how bipolar the weather in southeastern Louisiana is in the winter–it was warm and muggy yesterday. I stand corrected–it’s 62 with a high of 71 forecast for the day, so it’s clearly just cold here inside. Sigh, New Orleans.

I’m still rereading both The Talented Mr. Ripley and Kirkland Revels  as well; once I finish those rereads (and blogs) I’ll go on to my annual reread of Rebecca, I think, and then it’ll be time to read some new things from my TBR pile. The new Elizabeth Little ARC has been taunting me from the top of the TBR pile since I received it (read me, read me, come on and read me, you bitch!), and I was actually thinking about taking it with me as one of my “to reads” for the trip to New York; there will be lots of airport/airplane time involved, after all, and there’s no better time to read then when you’re traveling.

And on that note, I have some laundry to fold before I get ready for work. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

adam hagenbuch

The Closer You Get

At my very first Bouchercon, back whenever it was held in Indianapolis, I was on a panel with a number of other men and one of the questions from the audience at the end was, “Who do you think are the best crime writers today?” Everyone else demurred from answering, but not me. I piped up with “The women are killing it these days” and I went on to name lots of women writers whom I enjoyed reading, and several people came up to me later to thank me for promoting women writers. It wasn’t something I did consciously or deliberately; I was being honest. Most of the writers I read are women; this has always been true, and probably always will be. There are male writers I read and love–Michael Koryta, Stephen King, Ace Atkins, just to  name a few–but for the most part, I enjoy reading work written by women.

And the list of women writers I love to read has only continued to grow since that panel.

I met Laura Benedict in 2018, at the dual Murder in the Magic City/Murder on the Menu event in Alabama–hard to believe it’s been nearly two years–and this year she very graciously sent me a copy of her latest book, The Stranger Inside.

I deeply regret taking so long to get to it.

the stranger inside

The outcropping of limestone on which Michelle Hannon struck her head had been a part of the hillside for three thousand years, before there were trees in sight taller than a scrubby pine. It was thicker and a dozen feet broader back then, but storms and earthquakes came, and chinkapin oaks and butternut trees sank deep roots in the hillside, fracturing the big rock. Chunks of it fell away and tumbled into the timid creek at the bottom of the ravine. Now most of those old trees were gone, long ago sacrificed to logging, and the rock was a little wider than Michelle’s hunched and broken body was tall. She lay wedged between it and the earth, as though she was trying to hide in the rock’s shadow. Her thoughts were caught in a blink, the slow closing of one undamaged eye, and she was at the beginning of her life again, soothed by her mother’s drumming heartbeat. She only felt a quiet joy. There was no unmovable rock, no blood streaking her face, no pain seething through her body. Nothing mattered. Nothing at all. But the moment that lasted both a split second and an eternity ended, and with each frantic beat of her heart, the joy ebbed away. Death was coming for her. She could hear it stalking through the leaves carpeting the hillside, eager to whisper its frigid breath in her ear.

Her eyes closed.

Pretty intense opening, right?

The first chapter opens with our main character, Kimber, arriving at her home after a short vacation to find that not only do her keys not work, but there’s a strange man living in her house, claiming she rented the place to him. He maintains this story even after the police arrive–and he won’t let her into her own home. She finally pushes past him–and he falls, which triggers an assault charge and her being taken down to the police station. Slowly but surely almost every aspect of Kimber’s life begins to fall apart–almost as though the mysterious man in her house–who seems to know her, threatens to expose a dark secret from her past he should have no way of knowing about–somehow is managing to mastermind her complete and utter downfall.

But why?

This book would most likely be classified as domestic suspense, but it also has roots in Gothic suspense: particularly since a major part of the plot has to deal with Kimber being gaslit; made to doubt herself, made to doubt everything about herself and her life, made to question her own sanity. This was a very key part of the Gothic suspense novels of writers like Victoria Holt and Phyllis A. Whitney; heroines who are forced to question whether or not they are in their right minds (the Victoria Holt novel I am sort of re-reading, Kirkland Revels, is perhaps one of the best examples of gaslighting I’ve ever read). Benedict weaves that paranoia beautifully into the classic trope of domestic suspense–the past haunting the present–and winds up giving the reader a page-turning thrill ride that continues to build to its inevitable conclusion.

What is also striking about the book is that Benedict also toys with reader expectations. The unreliable narrator has become almost a trope; as has the unlikable woman character. Readers–particularly of crime fiction–tend to always relate to the main character and root for them to succeed, to solve whatever it is they are being presented with–and we dislike those who stand in their way or are causing them ill. But Kimber is not the kind of woman you would see depicted on the old domestic suspense covers, with the long flowing hair and the long dress and the spooky house with a light on in one of the windows int he far distance. Kimber is real, Kimber is deeply flawed, and Kimber isn’t particularly nice. She can’t stand her boss at the radio station where she works as a sales rep; she’s downright catty about her nosy neighbor; and as we learn more about her and more about her past…yeah, she’s not a nice lady. But she’s incredibly real, and we also understand why she’s done the things she’s done; and in some instances, we never know why. But the tragedies of her childhood, and the bad behavior of her adulthood…would all these terrible things be happening to her if she were, perhaps, a better person?

I highly recommend this novel. I certainly didn’t figure out what was going on–and there are plenty of surprises that just keep on coming as the book progresses. Kimber is not your typical heroine, but her very complexity strengthens and deepens the novel in ways that make it more layered and a stronger read.

I cannot wait to read more Laura Benedict.