Everything’s Gone Green

My memory has truly become amazingly awful and limited as I grow older. Yesterday was one of those days that reminded me just how bad it’s become–and how rarely I follow through on plans I make.

I started writing about Kansas when I was a teenager living in Kansas, and I wrote a long, messy manuscript by hand that was essentially a kind of Peyton Place tip-off, with tons of characters and plots and subplots that meandered about and never really had one cohesive central story. Over the years since that handwritten, almost a thousand page first draft was finished, I came to the realization that as a single novel itself I would need to cut out a minimum of fifty percent of the characters and even more of the subplots while tightening it into one cohesive story. The name of the town changed multiple times, as did the names of the some of the characters, while others remained the same from beginning to end. I had no idea at the time of how to write a novel, or how to structure one…but since it already existed, I began mining it for other novels and short stories, pilfering names and subplots and so forth (the murder story in Murder in the Garden District, and the Sheehan family in the book, were directly lifted from this old manuscript; I changed the family name from Craddock to Sheehan). My young adult novel, Sara, also had a lot of story lifted from this same old manuscript–even characters’ names–so when I started building this iteration of what I’ve taken to calling “the Kansas book” over the years, I knew it was possible I was repeating names from the old original, and at some point I would have to check Sara at some point to get the character names from it, to not repeat them. The Kansas book was also intended to be set in the same world as Sara–Sara being primarily set in the county and the small grouping of three small towns consolidated into one high school; with this book set in the county seat, the small city/large town I called Kahola. Kahola never really sat well with me for the town name; it’s perfectly fine for the name of the county as well as the lake (there actually is a Lake Kahola; it’s where we went when I lived there and “went to the lake”), so I decided to change it to Liberty Center (which I got from Philip Roth’s When She Was Good, so it’s also an homage) and Sara geography be damned. So, yesterday while the Saints played terribly and ended their season (and possibly Drew Brees’ career), I was scanning though the ebook of Sara and pulling out character names–even minor ones– as well as place names and so forth.

I am very pleased to report that there is only one character name that traveled from the original manuscript to Sara and finally into this new iteration of the Kansas book, and obviously that needs to be changed. I am not willing to change the name of the county seat back to Kahola; it never really seemed to fit, and Liberty Center works much better on every level, but I can change the name of the character in #shedeservedit to avoid confusion…not that there would be much, since Sara is my lowest selling book for some reason I certainly don’t get, but it would unsettle me, so it cannot be. As I was pulling names out of the ebook, and place names and places of interest, I also began remembering other things.

I had originally intended for all of my young adult novels to be connected in some way, kind of how R. L. Stine had done his Fear Street series, where all of the books take place in the same town and high school, and a minor character in one would become the hero of another. I was reminded of this because Laura Pryce is mentioned by name in Sara; she was the protagonist of Sorceress, and she was from the same rural part of Kahola County and went to the same consolidated high school. Sorceress tells the story of how Laura goes to live with her aunt in a huge house outside the California mountain town of Woodbridge; Woodbridge is also the setting for Sleeping Angel, and characters overlapped from Sorceress to Sleeping Angel. The Chicago suburb in Sara where Glenn is from is the same suburb that the main character in Lake Thirteen was from; it is the same suburb where Jake’s father, stepmother, and half-siblings live in Bury Me in Shadows; and of course, this latter is set in Corinth County, Alabama–which is where my main character in Dark Tide was also from. As I was picking out the character and place names from Sara, I was also reminded of other books I’d wanted to write, and I had introduced some of these characters in this book intending to revisit them again at another time in another book or story–books and stories I have since forgotten about completely, and yet there are the characters, crying out to me from my Kindle app for me to write about them.

Having triggered my brain into the creative mode yesterday by doing this chore during the Saints game (I started during the men’s finals at the US Figure Skating Championships; congratulations to our world team o Nathan Chen, Vincent Zhou, and Jason Brown) I also began remembering other things I was working on–like “The Rosary of Broken Promises” and “To Sacrifice a Pawn,” two stories I started for a submissions call I didn’t manage to make; or some of my pandemic story ideas (inspired by the pandemic or during it) like “The Flagellants”, “The Arrow in the Cardinal’s Cap”, and “The Pestilence Maiden”; amongst so many, many others. This is why I despair of ever writing everything I want to write during the limited time I have on this earth; I could spend the rest of my life trying to write every story and novel idea I already have and would never be able to finish them all.–and I have new ideas, all of the time; it’s almost ridiculous.

I already know I am most likely going to revisit Corinth County in Alabama again–it’s basically where my already-in-progress novellas “Fireflies” and “A Holler Full of Kudzu” are set, amongst many other ideas for short stories, novellas, and novels. I will undoubtedly return to Liberty Center at some point as well; I have ideas for other Kansas books and stories, too; I’ve revisited Kahola County, Kansas in my short stories numerous times already as well. I’ve also got my own parish in Louisiana–Redemption Parish, which I wrote about in Murder in the Arts District, The Orion Mask, and some other short stories. I’ve also already invented a fictional town on the north shore–similar to Hammond–that showed up in Baton Rouge Bingo and will undoubtedly turn up again in my work, although perhaps not under my own name.

I spent some more time with Laurie R. King’s The Beekeeper’s Apprentice and am thoroughly enjoying the ride. King’s authorial voice is so strong (and reminiscent of the late great Elizabeth Peters) that I cannot wait to read more of the Mary Russell series–it’s so different from her Kate Martinelli series, which I also love–and intend to spend some more time with it this morning with my coffee as well; I see a new tradition for non-working days developing; reading with my coffee in the mornings, which is simply wonderful. I recently acquired Alyssa Cole’s thriller When No One Is Watching, which I am also looking forward to, and I have added both Stephen King’s The Stand and Faulkner’s Sanctuary to the reread pile…and I’d also like to get back to the Short Story Project at some point….and of course there are all those ebooks piled up in my Kindle as well.

We also spent last evening after the Saints’ loss getting caught up on The Stand, which I am enjoying, although it’s made some choices I find questionable. I’m okay with everything having to do with the plague and the characters making their way to either Boulder or Las Vegas being done entirely in flashback, but the focus on the character of Harold Lauder–whom, while important to the story, was at best a supporting character in the novel and the original mini-series–is an interesting choice. They’ve certainly spent more time with him than they have with any of the people who were the novel’s protagonists–Stu, Larry, Glen, Frannie–so the focus of the mini-series seems a bit off to me….but props to them for casting the delightful Alexander Skarsgard as Flagg; his beauty and charisma–so evident as Eric on True Blood–playing perfectly into the role of the dark leader of the other side. Over all, the series is well done and well cast (Whoopi Goldberg as Mother Abagail doesn’t quite work for me; in the book she was old and frail and Whoopi is many things but frail is not one of them; I’d have gone with Cicely Tyson or any of the other gifted Black actresses who are older now) and I am a bit more forgiving than most when it comes to adaptations, I think–especially since the key part of the word is adapt. (I saw some more Hardy Boys enthusiasts bitching about the Hulu series somewhere again yesterday; honestly–I really have to center a book and a mystery around a kids’ series’ overly enthusiastic fans) We still have the rest of the first season of Bridgerton to watch, and season two of Servant has dropped on Apple Plus–do NOT sleep on this creepy-as-fuck show; you will not regret it–and I am also anticipating the release of Apple Plus’ adaptation of Foundation, starring Jared Harris, and we’ve also got a second season of The Terror somewhere to watch, and the second season of Mr. Mercedes on Peacock as well…so we seem to be set for things to watch for a good while.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Today is going to be mostly spent reading Laurie King this morning, and then the rest of the day spent with my manuscript as I try to work out the kinks and figure out what else needs to go into it. Have a happy holiday Monday, and do try to remember Dr. King’s message of equality, unity, and freedom for all.

Lonesome Tonight

Lonesome is such a great word. It really doesn’t get used much nowadays, and may be bordering on archaic, but I think it summons up an entirely deeper (and possibly different) emotion than lonely. It was usually used in songs–“I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” sounds more effective than “I’m So Lonely I Could Cry”, for example–and for some reason (maybe it was country music, I can’t be certain) I’ve always thought of it as a rural, Southern word. But, as I said, there’s something almost poetic to the word for me, and I really do want to write either a story or a book called Kansas Lonesome, because the prairie in rural Kansas, to me, is truly symbolic of the word; whenever I think about it, I think about a house out in the middle of nowhere and the winter winds howling around it.

It’s cold again this morning, and even now the sky is slowly starting to get lighter. It was pitch dark out there beyond the windows as I made my cappuccino this morning, and it should be a good morning/day. I slept very well last night–I did wake up at four briefly, but as able to fall back asleep for another two hours–and I even got some work done on my story yesterday. The first draft still isn’t finished–I was thinking last night, as I binge-watched news, that I’ve never really recovered from finishing the book, which is why I’ve been so lackadaisical and unable to truly focus; this happens a lot in the aftermath of finishing a book, because I actually need to recharge more than I ever did before–but I have every confidence that I will finish it today. Tomorrow I am taking a personal day, as I have medical appointments and so forth (just routine annual maintenance, nothing to be concerned about) and am hoping that around said appointments that I will be able to get some more work on the story finished. I also just realized the 15th, which is the due date, is actually Friday and not Thursday, so that’s definitely promising; a bit of a reprieve, if you will. This is also a three day weekend, so I can actually have a day of resting and cleaning and errands before diving headfirst into the revisions of #shedeservedit, which is going to require a thorough reread first, and then picking it apart from top to bottom (along with the character names) before stitching the whole thing back together again.

Paul’s been busy working the last two nights, so we’ve not been able to pick up on Bridgerton again, which is a shame as we are both thoroughly enjoying it. I really want to get back to reading; next up is Laurie R. King’s first Mary Russell Sherlockian tale, and just from looking at the opening I can tell already I am going to love it, because Mary’s voice reminds me of that of one of my all-time favorite fictional characters, the inimitable Amelia Peabody. And that reminder also served to remind me of one of the greatest influences on my writing career, one whom I never pay enough homage to and never properly credit: one Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Michaels. Reading her works, under either name, is a master class in plot, character, setting and voice; the books are not only entertaining but incredibly smart, and she also had a penchant for some of the best opening lines in crime fiction. The Peters novels all have brilliant first sentences; the Michaels novels incredible opening paragraphs. I’d be hard pressed to select a favorite Peters novel–every Amelia Peabody novel is a joy; same with her stand-clones, Vicky Bliss, and Jacqueline Kirby series–but I can unequivocally state that my favorite Barbara Michaels novel is Ammie Come Home, and her Gothics heavily influenced mine. Bury Me in Shadows and Lake Thirteen are perhaps where the influence are most obvious; I even worried, numerous times, that Shadows was too derivative of Lake Thirteen. I have a New Orleans Gothic in the back of my mind–Voices in an Empty Room–that I may get to sometime over the next few years, but again, I worry that it’s derivative of the earlier ones.

Welcome to the world of the prolific, where you always fear you are recycling plots and characters!

Oh! I got a 12 hour Twitter ban yesterday, and I must say I was enormously disappointed that pundits and right-wingers didn’t immediately rush to defend my freedom of speech. I will admit that I deserved the ban; it’s what I get for being stupid. My standard rule of thumb is whenever I see an incredibly stupid and/or offensive tweet, I allow myself to type out a snarky response. Usually I never finish, thinking better of them before getting to the end and hitting send. Alas, I tried this on my phone yesterday. I’d started typing a truly angry response when I thought, “no, you can’t send that, not cool” and tried to delete the draft but instead accidentally sent it–resulting in an immediate ban. It wasn’t there long enough for someone to report it or for Twitter to actually review it (I am not kidding when I am saying it was immediate), so Twitter is clearly policing itself and what is being allowed on their site. I own it; it was a terrible thing to even think, let alone say in response to someone no matter the provocation, and thus I will not complain about it. I would even go so far as to thank them for reminding me that such angry tweets aren’t cool, and while I am allowed to be angry about the sack of the Capitol, I need to be a better person than I have been lately. So thanks, Twitter.

I’ll do better.

And while perhaps this should have started back in the days of birtherism, I am fine with having such algorithms in place now.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Impeachment Wednesday, everyone, and I will catch you tomorrow.

Someone Like You

TUESDAY!!!!! How are you?

It’s cold again this morning in New Orleans–but one lovely thing about the cold is that I sleep better. I woke up this morning with the alarm, wide awake and feeling surprisingly rested, but stayed in bed because it was so comfortable and warm through several strikes of the snooze button. Even now, as I sip my cappuccino and sit very closely to the space heater, I can feel the cold…and it’s most unpleasant….as will be getting out to the car this morning, and from the parking lot to the office. Ugh. But tis life.

I’m still working on my short story that has to be turned in on Thursday–I think that’s the 15th? Perhaps it’s Friday, I am not sure, but regardless, I have another four thousand words to add to my story and then need to sit and polish and everything else before then. I did manage to get what I had already written very cleaned up, and I like to think I did a good job establishing who my main character is and where he is at in his life; the question is whether the story will turn out to be okay. The nice thing about these stories, of course, is that they can always wind up in a short story collection if the blind readers, for example, turn this one down. I’ve also started working my way through #shedeservedit, and am hopeful I can actually start the revisions as soon as I have this story finished. I have until March 1st to whip it into publishable shape, and then I think I am going to spend some time with short stories in April before spending May writing the first draft of Chlorine. That’s a doable, viable plan for the first half of the year, and I’d also like to spend June and July working on the next Scotty book, before returning to Chlorine. I have some there book projects potentially hanging around out there, floating in the ether, both ideas and potential leads for contracts, and I have a couple of pseudonymous things I’d like to see if anyone has any interest in out there.

Provided, of course, that the country manages to halt all upcoming treason and sedition and doesn’t collapse into an autocratic dictatorship. It’s been very hard for me to focus on anything other than what’s going on in the country since the attack on Congress last Wednesday–the very same one instigated by the president and some of his lickspittle lackeys (who are now calling for conciliation less than a week after they were calling for civil fucking war–looking at you in particular, Hee Hawley and Traitor Ted Cruz), the ones who are now trying to gaslight the country as though last Wednesday was not only a travesty but not one of the major crises of the Republic. The game I play is, what would they be saying and doing had the insurrectionist mob succeeded?

I’ll give you a hint: it most definitely would not be “we need to move on and unify.”

I need to be able to take Donna Andrews’ brilliant advice that I noted last week, about writing on 9/12, and put all of this out of my mind–or find a way to channel my anger into my writing. The story I am currently writing isn’t an angry one; in fact, it’s incredibly important to the story that the main character, and thus the story, remain calm and rational while fighting off rising panic and terror, so this story isn’t the way for me to get the anger out through words…and really, as much fun as I am having (or have been having) on Twitter isn’t really emotionally healthy for me for the most part, but channeling my anger about this outrage into tweets at those who are complicit, or making excuses for treason…well, after being told for decades that I am not a real American patriot while these anti-American fucking nut jobs appropriated the nation’s symbology (for the record, if you don’t understand what those symbols actually stand for, you’re actually fetishizing them and debasing them, along with yourself) while bleating about FREEDOM…yeah, miss me with that, traitors. You appropriated Christianity and perverted it, and you’re trying to do the same with our symbols and ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.

I did watch some of the national title game, going to bed just as Alabama was about to make their first score of the second half. Congratulations, Tide, and thank you for continuing SEC dominance of the college football championships. I’ve lost track of how many titles Alabama has won since 2009, but I know LSU won three, Florida two, and Auburn one since the turn of the century. Only the ACC has two teams to win national titles this century; the SEC has twice that many–and LSU has won as many as both ACC teams have. DOMINANCE.

Hopefully, today I can focus and get things done that need to get done. And in that spirit, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely day–unless you’re a traitor. Then I hope today’s the day you get arrested.

Temptation

A very cold Monday morning in New Orleans, and the sun has yet to peek its head out from under the blankets this morning. I slept deeply and well last night also, which made the getting up even more difficult this morning. My space heater is going on HIGH right now, and my cappuccino feels wonderful to my incredibly cold hands. This morning’s shower is going to be quite the challenge, though. But I do feel rested this morning, which is lovely, and while dealing with today’s cold temperatures will indeed suck, I feel like I am somehow up for the challenge.

Walking to the gym tonight after work will be a considerably different tale, I fear.

We started watching Bridgerton last night (that’s us, always on the cusp and cutting edge of what’s new and exciting) and as I watched, I found the word charming popping up in my head when thinking about the show, which is a word that has fallen out of favor and use as a descriptor for fictions, but I think needs to come back. (Ted Lasso, for example, is also a charming show.) As I watched, I began to understand the pull of romance novels again. It’s been quite some time since I’ve read a romance, and I think this has been a grave disservice, not just to the romance genre in general but to me as a critical thinker and writer. I loved romances when I was younger, with a particular appeal for those novels and authors who carried the label romantic suspense–because those combined my two favorite genres, romance and mystery. I also read an awful lot of historical romances–mostly ones based on true history; romance of queens and empresses and princesses and royal mistresses (one of my all time favorites is Anya Seton’s Katherine, which told of the great love story of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and son of Edward III, and his commoner mistress, Katherine Swynford; whom he had an entire brood of children with and married after the death of his second wife, raising her to be the highest ranking women in England, second only to the Queen herself), and as I watched the show last night, I thought to myself in an alternate universe you would have been a romance writer. The Regency period has never interested me much in England–although the clothes were quite marvelous, and any number of women today would benefit from the Empire style high-waisted dress–primarily because it wasn’t, to me, a particularly interesting period, what with the mad King and his awful sons, who created a succession crisis as they refused royal marriages while living with their commoner mistresses and having hordes of bastard children by them. The show is sumptuous and the attention to details of the period exact; it has the look and feel of care and money, and we were, as I said, quite charmed by it–and we certainly weren’t expecting that.

There is an interesting essay about how Americans enjoy watching rich people suffer as entertainment formulating in my brain as I type this–going back to the 1980’s prime time soaps and mini-series.

I tried working on my short story yesterday, and I did manage to get the 1600 words I’d originally written revised and polished and in better working order, but I did not write into the second act of the story, which is the part I always struggle with on everything, from short stories to essays to novels to novellas. The story is due on Thursday, so I think I am going to have to buckle down, avoid Twitter (yes, I continued trolling right wing politicians and Trump administration appointees yesterday. It’s so endlessly satisfying calling Sarah Huckabee Sanders a fake Christian, a liar, and a traitor to her face…or asking trash like Tomi Lahren why she hates the Constitution, reminding Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio they are cucks and traitors…but effective today I am banning myself from anything other than bantering with friends on there anymore–I have too much to do to bother with stating the obvious to treasonous traitor trash.)

The sun is now rising over the West Bank, and the light is very gray. The sky is covered with clouds–it may even rain today, if I am not mistaken–and this cold spell is supposed to last most of the week, dipping into the low forties after sundown.

I also read a marvelous short story yesterday called “The Fixer”, a collaborative work by Edgar winners Laura Lippman and Alison Gaylin, which was in the Mystery Writers of America anthology Deadly Anniversaries, edited by Grand Masters Bill Pronzini and Marcia Muller–released in the midst of the lockdown last spring, so it didn’t get the attention it truly deserved. The story is quite marvelous–you can never go wrong in the hands of either Lippman or Gaylin, let alone when they collaborate–and I greatly enjoyed it. It’s kind of a “#metoo” story in some ways; it tells the story of a faded child star who appeared in a science fiction television series who now makes most of her living selling signed photos of herself at Comic Cons, who in the present day runs into someone who was her ‘handler’ some years earlier when she was making a movie that eventually was shut done and never finished–ending her career with it–and what happened back then. It’s quite chilling, and a very hard look at how women’s bodies, regardless of age, are seen as property by men in the industry–property those same men have a right to use and abuse how they see fit. There have long been rumors about pedophilia in Hollywood–both Michael Nava and John Morgan Wilson wrote mystery novels around that very subject, which were two of their best books, I might add–and I highly recommend this story, and this anthology; every story in it was written by an Edgar winner, and I will be posting more about the stories as I read them.

The Saints also won yesterday, beating the Bears 21-10 (hey Bears fans, finished what Katrina started yet? Yeah. I have a looooooong ass memory) in an underwhelming game I had on while I cleaned the kitchen and made dinner. Next up are the Buccaneers, whom we’ve already beaten twice; will the third time be the charm for Tom Brady and his new team? Tonight is the Alabama-Ohio State game for the national title in college football, and I don’t find myself caring too terribly about that, to be honest. I might have it on? We’ll probably watch Bridgerton instead, and I’ll see who won when I get up tomorrow morning.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me.

Peace

And we have now slid into Saturday. I have to make groceries today–the first exploration of non-Rouse’s grocery making in over a decade- -get the mail and pick up a prescription, but other than that I have the entire day to myself to work on writing, read, try to get organized, and clean. It’s an ambitious program, but I suspect I can get much of it done today. I want to get the draft of my story for MWA finished this weekend, so I can polish it before I send it in (on the last possible day, of course) and I also have a lot of other work to buckle down and do for MWA.

I just need to focus, keep my head down, and not worry about how much I have to get done; that’s when I’ll get overwhelmed and literally get nothing finished, which I cannot allow to happen.

This also means I need to stop scrolling through Twitter and checking the news–but I have to say, yesterday was one of those days where I alternated between fury at the terrorist attack on the Capitol and laughing at the fucking stupidity of the treasonist traitors and their mea culpas as the terrorists get arrested, lose their jobs, and issue public statements claiming that’s not who I am. Um, it’s is EXACTLY who you are, you fucking treasonous trash, and I do really hope the rest of your life was worth it–because you aren’t heroes, 88% of Americans strongly disapprove of your behavior, and your own family, friends and co-workers are turning you into the FBI and other law enforcement. And Republican enablers? Miss me with that “healing” talk until they are all in jail–and I include Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley in that, as well as the entire Trump family other than Barron. I also think Melania should be stripped of citizenship and deported for committing immigration fraud, not just for herself, but for her parents as well. There needs to be consequences and no leniency, otherwise it will happen again–and next time, they might be better organized and actually succeed.

I seriously can’t wait for the trials to begin, and the Congressional investigations. More people died at the Capitol than at Benghazi.

As I tweeted at Kellyanne Conway, your harvest has come in, Tokyo Rose, and you’re never going to wash the stink off.

But I am going incommunicado today, because as much I feel it’s important to witness history as it occurs, that witnessing isn’t going to pay the bills–and the bill always need to be paid. I also need to do some reading–I’ve got the ebooks of the latest MWA anthology, Deadly Anniversaries; an advance copy of Edgar winner Alison Gaylin’s The Collective, and am about to, at long last, start reading Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell series*, beginning with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice. The threat to our nation from this past week is going to have to be put aside for me this weekend–no promises on next week’s between-client activities–so I can make sense out of the mess the Lost Apartment is in, and try to get some of these other things caught up as well. It’s very cold, if bright, this morning in New Orleans; I slept magnificently last night and feel incredibly well-rested this morning for the first time in a while. (Also, good news from the friend who had to have emergency surgery this week; that had also been weighing heavily on my mind.) Paul and I also need to find some new things to watch…

Yesterday as I made condom packs I watched an HBO MAX documentary called Alabama Snake, which was fascinating. The rural part of Alabama this happened in is a county in northeast Alabama, on the Tennessee state-line and very close to the Georgia. The highway I take when I drive north to Kentucky misses this county by quite a ways–swinging into Georgia, where I switch to I-75 in the lower Appalachians to head north through Chattanooga and Knoxville. It was, obviously, about a snake-handling pentecostal church whose preacher was convicted of trying to murder his second wife with rattlesnake bites. This all happened in the early 1990’s, and while I’d like to think things have changed in the nearly thirty years since, I suspect they haven’t changed that much (I have plans for my Corinth County where Bury Me in Shadows is set; there will be more stories and books set there methinks, and watching Alabama Snake helped a lot with that), which makes me feel a bit better about the manuscript I just turned in.

I seriously keep looking around at this mess and chaos I am in the midst of and every time, I am a little surprised someone hasn’t come along and taken care of it all for me! Which is probably the segue I need to bring this to a close for the day and get started on everything I need to get done around here. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader!

*Laurie R. King’s Kate Martinelli series is one of my favorite mystery series of all time, and I strongly encourage you to read it, Constant Reader.

Girl at Home

So here it is Friday at last, and the first full week of 2021 is coming, mercifully, to a close. It has been a rollercoaster of a week (2020, perhaps, giving us one last taste of her horrors? I certainly hope it wasn’t 2021 laughing and saying, “hold my beer, bitches.”) It has been an emotionally and intellectually exhausting week, a rollercoaster ride of highs and lows and horrors, and one that I am frankly not in the least bit sorry to come to its inevitable end–kind of like 2020.

I also don’t believe the domestic terrorism threat is over, but then I inevitably start from a place of complete distrust to begin with when it comes to my fellow Americans, particularly those who historically come from a place of hate for anyone slightly different and have always been intolerant of anyone and everything that doesn’t conform to their small, incredibly narrow worldview.

Or, to be more succinct, you really can’t fix trash.

I am working from home again today, which is kind of nice. I did so yesterday as well–was able to watch a great, if problematic, movie yesterday–and have a lot to do around my job. Dishes, laundry, bed linens…all need to be taken care of today, and of course there are always more condoms to pack. This weekend I am going to have to make groceries–despite saying farewell forever to Rouse’s, as the co-owner of the company and the former HR director proudly posted pictures of themselves at the anti-democratic treasonous insurrection the other day, so the Rouse family will never see another cent from this household–and so now, with Breaux Mart on Magazine’s owner also outing himself as a traitor who supports treason against the democracy, I will be exploring other grocery options–the Winn-Dixie on Tchoupitoulas, the Fresh Market on St. Charles, the Robert’s at Elysian Fields and St. Claude–and there are others as well. It’s truly sad–I was a loyal Rouse’s customer ever since they came to New Orleans, and I was happy to support a local, Louisiana led company–but sorry, the very thought that any money I worked hard for and paid taxes on going to support the traitorous actions of the company co-owner makes me sick to my stomach. So, I will never pass through their doors again. I don’t know how many other New Orleanians agree with me, but as the city went 84% for Biden and we are probably the biggest market the company is in–yeah, dramatic miscalculation on the traitor’s part, but then if he were truly intelligent, he wouldn’t be a traitor and would see through the con man he’s been throwing money at since at least 2015. Eat a bag of dicks, you treasonous trash.

And the next person who tells me we need to reach out to Trump supporters will get a wad of spittle in their face. The United States does not negotiate with terrorists, period. Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley? Good luck washing this stench off, because the phantom odor will follow your treasonous asses for the rest of your lives and you will never be president, ever, no matter how much you backpedal now. The picture of Hawley holding up a fist in solidarity with traitors and criminals against the state will never ever go away–at least not as long as there is breath in my body.

I need to get to work on writing this weekend, which has been pretty much impossible since the terrorist attack on the Capitol. But I read a wonderful Facebook post yesterday by the amazing Donna Andrews, whose books I love and is also one of my favorite people of all time, about getting back to her writing after 9/11, on 9/12, to be precise, and she was right. As artists, we have to create, even as the world burns around us; and while I dislike calling myself an “artist” (I’ve always seen that as pretentious), in this instance I will allow it without protest; and crime writers in particular have a duty to continue examining society and its problems through the lens of our characters, our voices, and and our work. Hopefully tonight, when I am home from the gym and have finished my work for the day, I am going to be able to sit down and work on my story for the MWA anthology, the blog post I promised to write, and start reading the manuscript for #shedeservedit, so I can get some work done on it this weekend. Things have also been piling up in my email inbox, and I need to get organized if I have any hope of staying on top of everything I need to get done. At least I made my doctor’s appointment for next week, so I can get going on a goal for the year–taking better care of myself and taking full advantage of my insurance.

The film I watched yesterday was L. A. Confidential, and what a great film it was indeed. Set in 1950’s Los Angeles, and based on the novel by MWA Grand Master James Ellroy, it’s a dark story of ambition and murder and corruption within the Los Angeles Police Department of the time–so in a way it counts as research for Chlorine-a time where cops could easily get swayed by the press; when beating confessions out of suspects and planting evidence were de regeur for a day’s work; and the prevalence of racism in an entirely white police force was the norm, not the exception. (And really, given the last few years, can anyone really assert that they are different now?) The performances were excellent, although it was hard to watch Kevin Spacey without thinking rapist–and the irony that the other two stars of the film (Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce) got their start in queer-centered films, playing gay men (The Sum of Us for Crowe and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert for Pearce) going on to play incredibly butch, ambitious tough guy cops is rather sublime. had it not been released in the same year as Titanic it probably would have been a big winner at the Oscars. I wasn’t expecting to like it as much as I did, to be honest. I’ve never been a huge fan of Ellroy–too much casual homophobia and racism in his work–but I have always wanted to try him again (I’ve only read Clandestine, which I do want to read again) because I do appreciate his unique writing style and the depth and density of layers in his novels. (another thing I want to do this weekend is actually read for pleasure; it’s been a hot minute)

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely weekend, Constant Reader–you and I truly deserve one.


Style

And this is the first Tuesday of 2021, how are you all doing?

I was very tired yesterday. I slept well Sunday night, but the stress of finishing the book was messing up my sleep leading into Sunday night, so yesterday wasn’t an easy day for me. I also think my caffeine intake might have gone up while I was on vacation, so I am not really sure if it was book stress or perhaps caffeine messing with my sleep. I didn’t sleep particularly well last night either–and I am going to the gym after work tonight. I’m a little stressed out because I really allowed the Sisyphean task of answering my emails be pushed aside focused on getting my book finished, and it was more than a little traumatizing yesterday to see how out of control my inbox had gotten. But que sera sera, as Doris Day used to sing.

We finished watching The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina last night, and bravo to everyone involved. Sabrina was one of the most fun shows we’ve watched over the past few years, I highly recommend it. Kiernan Shipka is pitch perfect as Sabrina–the entire cast is perfect, really; not a false note anywhere–and of course, the guy who plays Lucifer is fucking gorgeous. The four seasons was a wonderful ride, as Sabrina went from wide-eyed, goody two-shoes half mortal/half witch to owning her own power and using it to save herself, her friends, her family–and eventually, the entire cosmos. I was bummed when I heard the fourth season would be its last…but the final season was perfectly written, and ended all of the story arcs satisfactorily, tying the entire run up with a bow. Sorry to see it go, but absolutely delighted that they clearly planned the show’s end.

I do feel a bit at sea, to be honest; the usual disorientation after the tight focus required to finish a book. I printed out #shedeservedit–it’s at around 100,000 words right now and needs to be trimmed down because there’s some additions that need to be made to it, but it cannot come in at 125+. I also periodically have some fears about Bury Me in Shadows–which is inevitable, I suppose; imposter syndrome never goes away, even after you’ve written over thirty books at this point in your career. I’m not certain why this happens to me still–or what I need to rewire in my brain to stop it happening–if that’s even possible at this point in my life. I rather am who I am, and I doubt that change is possible for me now. I do try to continue to learn and grow–I don’t think I ever want to stop learning and growing, as a person or as a writer–but sometimes I wonder if I am so deeply mired in who I am as a person for that to even be possible anymore. I was also thinking about books and stories I’d like to write in the future, and then wondering, am I the right person to tell that story? As an example, I had an idea I really liked a few years back (probably longer than I remember) which was centered around a family of Vietnamese refugees who owned a small business somewhere along the Gulf Coast, either Florida or Alabama, from the point of view of a teenager who was born in the US and so is torn between his family culture and becoming assimilated, when something from the matriarch’s past in Vietnam–from the war days–comes back into their lives,, affecting everyone and changing everything. It’s a really good idea…but then, am I the right person to tell that story? Wouldn’t a Vietnamese-American write a more authentic story, and would my writing such a book take a publishing slot away from a Vietnamese-American writer?

While I do believe that writers have a right–perhaps even a duty–to write the stories they are compelled to write, I also don’t see that compulsion as a “get out of jail free” card. You have to do the work to make sure you aren’t using cheap stereotypes, are creating authentic characters whose experience lives and breathes and is real to the reader, and are telling honest stories about them. You can’t just shrug and smile and say, “well, if people only wrote from their personal experience we wouldn’t have stories about vampires and werewolves and space aliens”; nothing makes me angrier than seeing someone using that to answer criticism about authenticity in their work.

Because people of color and queers, for the record, aren’t mythological creatures that only exist in fiction and in our imaginations. We all exist, and to have our lives, our experiences, and our very existence compared to “vampires and werewolves and space aliens” is not only insulting, it’s dehumanizing–which is absolutely what racism and homophobia are about when boiled down to their base point: people who are not straight and white aren’t REALLY human beings.

And anyone who uses that excuse most definitely should not be writing outside of their own experience, because they are NOT coming from a good place.

When I was first starting out, there was an ongoing debate/discussion about whether we should identify as gay writers or just as writers. The debate died off as traditional publishing backed away from publishing queer writers–and the ones they did continue publishing weren’t marketed as “queer.” I could see the merits on both sides of the discussion; sure, I’d prefer to be seen as a crime writer and have my works stocked in the mystery section of bookstore–but that was also not a reality. As I would say back then–and it’s still true today–“it doesn’t matter what we consider ourselves and our work to be; the publishers and the booksellers are going to label us and or work however they think best in order to sell it, and no matter what we do, our thoughts and opinions and definitions will always be overruled by Marketing.” That label also trumps everything that comes after it–whether it’s romance or mystery or literary or science fiction or fantasy or horror, gay or queer overpowers everything else. I think that is beginning to change. I see books written by queer writers centering queer characters being published by the big houses to great reviews and getting attention, which is lovely. I love the entire “#ownvoices” conversation, and the move to course-correct the overwhelming white straightness in book publishing.

Ironically, it causes me to doubt myself. When I was writing Bury Me in Shadows, I questioned myself constantly: do I have the right to write this book and tell this story? Can a white Southern gay man write about issues of race in the rural South? Am I writing authentic characters or perpetuating rural Southern stereotypes? Do I have anything really insightful to bring to the discussion, or have I gone completely off the rails? It’s a whole new kind of imposter syndrome I wasn’t expecting!

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me.

We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together

So yesterday was the last day of my vacation. Heavy heaving sigh. It was a bit on the weird side, though, because of the holidays and so forth I kept losing track of what day it was. Friday seemed like Saturday to me, and every day last week I had to really sit down and think about what day it actually was–or look at my Google calendar. #madness

I did finish the book yesterday, and sent it to my publisher two days late. I really thought I was going to get this one in on time–still not certain the final chapter is complete, but the manuscript currently sits at over 90,000 words and I just can’t think about the book anymore. I’m delighted to be finished with it, disappointed it took me an extra two days, and now I am going to breathe a bit as I try to get caught up with everything I let slide while I slogged through finishing this book.

As always, I overestimated how much time I can spend staring at a computer screen and underestimated how long it would take to put the copy edits/corrections into the entire document. And of course, the MacBook Air problems continued this morning as well. I fucking hate this thing, seriously.

But Bury Me in Shadows is finished; and now I can start figuring out how to finish #shedeservedit by March 1 and a short story by 1/15. And oh my God, the emails I’ve been ignoring while I tried to get this done. But I am glad to be going back to work this morning, despite having to get up at a ridiculously early hour, and I feel fairly well rested; I had issues sleeping during my vacation–of course–but now that I am going to go back to my usual schedule, hopefully that will be a thing of the past. I haven’t been to the gym since getting my inoculation (part one); my shoulder was sore and moving my left arm in an upward motion–required for the gym–hurt, so I thought it smart and prudent to skip it. I will go tonight after I get off work, of course, and try to make up for the lost time.

Since I was on deadline for a book, I never really had the opportunity to reflect on the shit-show that was 2020. It’s weird, too, because usually I am looking forward to Carnival–Twelfth Night is Wednesday, which kicks off the season, and there were King cakes already out at Rouse’s yesterday–but the parades are cancelled due to the pandemic, so Carnival is going to be weird this year. I’m kind of glad I don’t have to plan my life around parades, to be honest–but it’s still going to be different and strange…and imagine how insane parade season will be next year! I will eventually recap my 2020 for this blog at some point–favorite books and movies and television shows and so forth–but that isn’t going to happen today, as my memory is shot and I will have to go through old blogs to see what I read and what I watched this past year. I also haven’t really done a goals post for 2021 the way I usually do, either–primarily because there was one goal, and that was to get the book done. It was nice having the holidays and the little bit of vacation time to work on the book; it was one of those ah this is what life would be like if I only had to write books things, and it was quite lovely. One thing I noticed, too, while I was working on the final polish was that one of my biggest worries is that I forget things, or start something and never finish it off, leave subplots dangling without an answer, etc.–or names change for characters, that sort of thing. Partly it’s because when I write and I come to a place in the story where I have to remember something from earlier in the book, I usually don’t remember and guess–and it’s amazing how often my subconscious rises up and makes the correct guess for me. I always used to be able to remember the plot and things like that in my head; my memory is shot now, so I am generally terrified as I give the final a final polish and copy edit…there were only a couple of small minor things–a character’s last name changed once, a location’s name was the incorrect one–so I was pretty well pleased and the final step not nearly as difficult as anticipated or expected. (Thank God, as it took me three days to get through the manuscript and input those corrections and deletions; who knows how long it would have taken if the manuscript was more of a mess?) It also went from a book about a high school student to a college student–almost from the very beginning of its origins as a short story, the main character was young; going from about thirteen in the short story to seventeen in the original draft to twenty in the final. It also went from first-person/present tense to first person/past tense, and it was amazing to me how many verbs I’d missed going through and making those changes. Laziness, probably, being the correct answer to that.

As always, when I am pressed to finish a book my mind becomes very creative. I was scribbling down ideas in my journal almost all of last week, and I even came up with a new Scotty title, which might even be the next book–Twelfth Knight Knavery, which is just so fun I am going to have to do it. I had originally planned on doing a pre-pandemic book (French Quarter Flambeaux, primarily because the shitty Carnival season of 2019 deserved to be recorded for posterity), but this one….I kind of like the idea behind this one, and there’s no reason I can’t do two pre-pandemic books for Scotty before Quarter Quarantine Quadrille. My timeline for Scotty, after all, is completely under my own control. And I suspect people aren’t going to want to be reading about the pandemic for a little while at any rate. I do love the title Twelfth Knight Knavery, though.

We’ve also been watching the final season of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina on Netflix, and my God, how I love this show. I hate that it’s ending, but also get it–this final season has the gang taking on the Eldritch horrors, and where do you go after that? We only have two episodes left to watch, which will most likely occur tonight or tomorrow. The Saints also won yesterday, so football season is theoretically not over yet for Louisiana fans, but while people around here are talking Super Bowl…I dunno.

And on that note, it’s time to get back to the spice mines and try to get caught up on things. Have a lovely first Monday of the new year, Constant Reader.

Ours

And here we are on the second day of the new year. I didn’t not finish polishing the book yesterday; I am doing it old school–editing on paper–because of course there are endless issues with my MacBook Air still; the very problem I tried to get resolved the other day has returned, which means I am going to have to go to the fucking Apple Store in Metairie (because, you know, I have nothing but fucking free time) to get this piece of shit’s problems resolved once and for all. It’s a fucking iCloud issue (of course, the worst and stupidest fucking thing Apple ever came up with–hey, you don’t need any storage in your computer! You can just save everything in the Cloud! Oh, but if you do, it’s going to also somehow eat up the miniscule amount of storage we gave you in a laptop that cost WELL over a thousand dollars.

I will probably be arrested when I do go to the Apple Store.

So I was kicking it old school yesterday–sitting in my easy chair and going through it, line by line, page by page, catching discrepancies and contradictions and mistakes and repetitions. I only have about 100 pages left to go, so I am hoping I can get that done quickly and then start pulling the entire manuscript together so I can get it sent in. I had originally planned on writing a short story for 1/15 deadline this weekend and getting caught up on everything else I am doing (and am woefully behind on) but around eight o’clock last night my eyes started blurring and crossing and I knew better than to keep going with this. The work would just shoddy and sloppy–and the whole point of this polish was to get rid of the shoddy and sloppy writing (of which there is a ridiculous amount). But I should get it finished and turned in this weekend, and then I can move on to the next thing–the short story, and the manuscript due on 3/1.

After I finished last night I also had a bit of a crisis in conscience and confidence about the book–I’m not really sure why, to be honest. I am writing about race in the south, but I am also writing it from the perspective of a gay white college student whose been unexpectedly thrust into the midst of it by spending the summer in Alabama, and his dysfunctional family’s many dark secrets from the past start having an impact on the future. So, of course, last night as I sat in my chair watching the final episode of A Teacher (horrible right to the end; leaving us to question what the entire point of the show was in the first place) and the latest episode of The Stand (also not very good, but as a huge fan of the book I will watch to the bitter end), my mind started racing: am I depicting the people of color in the book properly and inoffensively? Should I be writing about Southern racism while centering a white character? Is the story itself offensive? Is this going to be another one of those “well he meant well but” things? I approached the whole thing respectfully, I think, and while having a main character who was raised not to be racist having to confront the racist past of his own family might come across as preachy–another fear–I think about all the young people I’ve worked with over the years and how open-minded they are; and they give me hope for the future–and that is what I drew from for this character and this book.

And ultimately, if I wind up getting called out for insensitivity, well, all I can do is apologize and try to do better.

But–sloppy and shoddy parts aside–as I read to revise I kept thinking this is actually much better and more cohesive than I thought it was, and things I was thinking I needed to add–about the family history, etc .–I already had, which was kind of lovely; I just need to make sure what’s in the early part of the book matches what’s in the later, and of course, hopefully whatever I may miss will be caught by my editor.

SO, it’s Alabama and Ohio State for the national championship. I watched the games–well, had them on in the background as I edited and read–occasionally looking up and being startled by the scores. They didn’t just win; they pummeled Notre Dame and Clemson, respectively. After the ACC championship game, I kept saying it didn’t make sense nor was it fair to put both Notre Dame and Clemson in the play-offs, giving them a chance to possibly play for the third fucking time, while shutting USC, Oklahoma, Cincinnati, and Texas A&M out of the play-offs entirely. (Well, Cincinnati lost to Georgia in a nail-biter–I also had that one on in the background, and watched the closing two minutes or so as Georgia rallied to win) But I think it is safe to say, yet again, that the four-team play-off just doesn’t work, and it’s maybe time to again look at and consider going to a six or eight team play-off.

I am skipping the gym again today because my shoulder is still sore from the inoculation Thursday.

And on that note, it is back to the spice mines for me. Y’all have a great day, okay?

New Year’s Day

2021 dawns, and theoretically, at any rate, it’s a new year and a fresh start–at least that’s the mentality everyone else seems to embrace. I don’t get it, myself, never really have. But far be it from me to rain on anybody’s parade–or their New Year’s hangovers.

It’s a lovely morning again in New Orleans; blue skies and sunshine. I’m going to swill down some coffee this morning and then head to the gym–they are only open until 2 this afternoon–before coming home to put one last coat of polish on Bury Me in Shadows before I turn it in, on time, later today. I finished it last evening–there are still some holes in the plot that need filling, as well as some contradictory elements I need to catch–but it’s essentially finished. I have not, in fact, finished a book since early 2019, when I turned in Royal Street Reveillon; so it’s very nice to have another one done. I go back and forth between thinking it’s really good or the worst thing I’ve ever written, so there’s that part–par for the course, really.

I also got my first inoculation for the COVID-19 vaccination yesterday. It wasn’t so bad, really–my shoulder is kind of sore still this morning, glad I had them do my left arm–but I felt off for most of the rest of the day; which could have been the inoculation, could have just been the fact that I was tired. I’ve not really slept that great this week, and the fluctuations in the weather have not helped in the least–sinuses, you know–and I’ve not really had much of an appetite lately, either, so I’m probably experiencing low blood sugar and all of that. But the next inoculation will be in 28 days, and then my life sort of can go back to normal? Not really–I’ll still be wearing masks everywhere I go, and washing my hands religiously as often as I can, but at least I no longer have to worry (too much) that I am going to get infected and sick.

2020 was one of those years, like 2005, that we will look back on and wonder about. A lot of my memories of the year just past are foggy and gray; I don’t remember much of the year rather like I don’t really remember much of the year and a half after Katrina. It’s always weird when there’s a major world paradigm shift; Katrina really only affected those of us in Louisiana and Mississippi and coastal Alabama–while the rest of the country and world looked on in horror, they also were able to move on within a few weeks whereas we were not. The COVID-19 paradigm shift affected everyone in the world, and as we (hopefully) are beginning to move past it–which will not finally happen until we achieve herd immunity, and who knows how long that’s going to take–things aren’t going to go back the way they were before the world came to a screeching halt. Things have changed, whether for the better or not remains to be seen; but one lesson that everyone has learned is that almost everyone actually can work from home and be productive, something employers resisted like the plague before, you know, an actual plague forced them to adapt. Now businesses and companies have to ask themselves–do we really need all that overhead of having an actual office, when our staff can do their jobs efficiently and effectively from home? Same with book signings–publishers probably aren’t going to be paying to send their authors on tours anymore since virtual ones actually get a higher attendance. What about conferences? They also became virtual–but in all honesty, I will want to continue to go to in-person conferences once they are feasible; drinking at home on Zoom isn’t the same thing as hanging out in the bar with friends and laughing our asses off.

I do miss seeing my friends.

I usually set goals on New Year’s Day for the new year; I’ve not really put much thought into goals for 2021, to be honest. I did achieve one of my 2020 goals, despite the pandemic: getting back into a regular gym routine and going regularly. I’ve noticed a change in my body, even though I’m not really pushing myself as hard as I could–I don’t want to overdo it, nor do I want to injure myself again, which started the whole spiral ten years ago in the first place–but it’s nice to see my muscles hardening and getting more defined. My weight hasn’t changed at all, but I can see a difference in my face and my pants/shorts/sweatpants, which were already a bit too big, have gotten even bigger (I really need to wear a belt). I do want to continue focusing on taking care of myself a bit more in 2021; dental work and vision exams and new glasses and possibly the occasional massage. I have a number of secret projects lining up as well, which is kind of exciting, and of course, I need to finish the Kansas book now and I want to get to work on Chlorine. I think there’s probably another Scotty or two in my head, and I also want to experiment with novellas–I have at least three or four or five in progress, and I really need to finish them. I also want to get some more short stories finished and out for submission.

I watched a movie for the Cynical 70’s Film Festival yesterday afternoon as I made condom packs: Something for Everyone, starring Michael York and Angela Lansbury, based (or rather, according to the credits, “suggested by”) on the novel The Cook by Henry Kessing (recently brought back into print by Valancourt Books), which I recently read about as “the queerest movie of the 70’s”–and yes, it is indeed very queer. (It’s not streaming anywhere, but there’s a bootleg of it on Youtube, which is what I watched) It reminded me somewhat of The Talented Mr. Ripley in several ways, and it also made me think about how amazing Michael York would have been playing Tom Ripley. York plays Conrad, a drifter from no one knows where and, like Tom Ripley, we really never learn about his past or who he is. He shows up on screen in Bavaria, riding a bicycle and wearing cut off khaki trousers that are cut very high; Daisy Duke-ish in fact, and he looks splendidly beautiful and alluring in the German sun. He decides he wants to get a job working for the local impoverished Countess and her children, who no longer have the money to maintain their castle or live in it, but it’s entailed so they can’t sell it. (Neuschwanstein, the fairy castle of Mad King Ludwig of Bavaria–who was also queer) stands in for their castle.) Angela Lansbury plays the Countess, and she is truly splendid. Conrad begins killing people who get in his way, but is also doing it to help the family he now work for, while slowly seducing and sleeping with everyone in sight in order to get what he wants–he seduces the Countess’ son and eventually the Countess, and York is simply breathtakingly gorgeous to look at in all his youthful, lean beauty. (I had an enormous crush on him in the 1970’s.) But Angela Lansbury is truly fantastic. She’s beautiful and slender and elegant, and those expressive eyes are perfect for expressing the Countess’ malaise and ennui with her situation and with the world. Watching her slink around in gorgeous clothing, I could but marvel an wonder why she was never a bigger film star, and in all honesty, I’ve never really seen her as Mame Dennis before. Yes, I know she played the part on Broadway and it was a huge smash hit, but for me Rosalind Russell was definitive….but having watched this movie now, I am now convinced the casting of Lucille Ball as Mame in the film instead of Lansbury was an even bigger crime than I considered it before–I watched the Lucy version and it was awful; but the crime that was casting Ball is now even more egregious. I could literally imagine Lansbury as Mame as I watched this movie. It’s cynical and a bit cold, but it definitely fits into the Cynical 70’s Film Festival in that Conrad never is punished for any of his own crimes–he’s outwitted in the end, but not really punished…and knowing Conrad, I am also confident that at some point after the film ended he got the upper hand back.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. One more cup of coffee and I am off to the gym; and then its back to home and the grindstone. Happy New Year, everyone!