1, 2, 3, Red Light

Friday morning in the midst of an unusual cold spell for New Orleans. It’s the second weekend of Jazz Fest, and the high today–and yesterday– was merely seventy one degrees. It’s in the frigid low sixties right now; but it’s going to be sunny and clear and lovely all day; no rain in the forecast for the weekend. I have some appointments tomorrow, but am going to stop for groceries on my way home from work tonight so I don’t have to deal with that tomorrow. I’d like to make some further progress on the WIP tomorrow, as well; hope to do so today, too.

As I have said lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about Alabama, primarily due to events I’ve done in that state this year (the first time I’ve ever done anything there). I have written short stories (full disclosure: only two have been published) set in Alabama, and only one book set there. Many years ago, I thought about doing a whole series of books set in Alabama, and all connected (what can I say? I was reading Faulkner) in one way or the other. I created a fictional town and county (thank you, Mr. Faulkner) and families and connections and the whole ball of wax, but never wrote any of them, of course. (I was always big on the ideas phase, not so much on the writing phase.) The town was Corinth, Alabama, and the county had the same name. Recently, as I’ve been doing research into Alabama history (when I’m between clients at work), those ideas have come back to me. Taylor, Frank’s nephew in the Scotty series, is from Corinth; Frank’s mother was from there and that’s the Sobieski connection to Alabama. My favorite short story of all the ones I’ve published, “Small Town Boy,” is also set there, and of course, when I started writing Dark Tide, my main character, Ricky Hackworth, was from Corinth–and somehow related to characters in the short story; we never know what the main character’s name is in the story, but the story focuses on his relationship with a Hackworth whose mother has just shot his father–“those trashy Hackworths.”

Dark Tide is one of my personal favorites of my books, and I think it’s partly because it was a return to Corinth. The book wasn’t set there–Ricky leaves Corinth for a summer job on the Gulf Coast of Alabama as a lifeguard–but Ricky was from there, and I was able to draw on the rich background I’d created for the town in my twenties as backstory for the book. I also tried to do something with the writing style that I’d never done before, which was mimic the pacing of swimming strokes with the pacing of the book. I don’t know if I succeeded, but I know some of the best work I’ve done is contained inside the pages of that book–there’s one particularly creepy scene where Ricky is swimming in the bay and he has this feeling that there are carnivorous mermen down in the depths of the bay beneath him as he swims, and then imagines it as he strokes through the calm morning waters. I also really liked the character of Ricky; he’s grown up relatively poor and motherless (the reader never knows what happened to his mother), and thinks back to how he is treated by the richer kids, how he is picked on for his suspected sexuality, how deeply closeted he is, and how he met, at a swimming camp his father could barely afford to send him to at the University of Alabama, he met and fell in love with someone who basically changed his life and helped him see that he wasn’t a freak. I loved the character of Ricky, and Dark Tide also is one of few novels I ever wrote that has a big twist that flips the story completely–there are hints, of course, I would never cheat–and I am very proud that I pulled it off.

The book was originally conceptualized and titled as Mermaid Inn. When I was a kid, I used to read comic books voraciously; I sometimes wonder how I found the money to buy as many comic books and kids’ series books as I did (I tend to suspect, now that I am in my fifties, that I was a great deal more spoiled as a child then I thought I was). DC Comics used to publish two comics that were more horror/mystery related than super hero oriented; House of Secrets and House of Mystery. EC Comics, which deeply influenced Stephen King, was no longer around by the time I was reading comics, so these two comics–with secret and mystery in their titles, which is what drew me in to them–were the first horror I read, and I loved how the stories always had a big twist at the end (and come to think of it, that’s the way I write horror, which is probably why I don’t sell any horror short stories). There was one issue that was completely devoted to a story called “Bloody Mermaids,” and I remember it to this day. It was an interesting tale; a scholar who was fascinated by the legend of the mermaid was determined to find one and thus prove they were real. He comes to an old inn along the seashore where mermaids have supposedly been sited over the years, only is horrified to discover that rather than beautiful and kind sea creatures, the ones who inhabit the sea at this place were monsters who feasted on human flesh and blood, and only come out at night; kind of like sea vampires. At the very end he finally finds one, he is horrified by the truth of what she is, and she knocks him out and is ready to drink his blood when the sun starts to rise and she has to flee back to the safety of the water. And the narrator–both comics had them–said something along the lines of ‘be careful what you wish for, the reality of what you seek may be something you don’t want to see.’ The story always fascinated me, and it inspired me to create a story of my own.

dark tide

 

The engine of my pickup truck made a weird coughing noise just as I came around a cruve in the highway on the Alabama Gulf Coast and I saw Mermaid Inn for the first time.

My heart sank.

That’s not good, I thought, gritting my teeth. I looked down at the control panel. None of the dummy lights had come on. I still had about a half tank of gas. I switched off the air conditioning and the stereo. I turned into the long sloping parking lot of the Inn, pulling into the first parking spot. I listened to the engine. Nothing odd. It was now running smooth like it had the entire drive down. I shut the car off and kept listening. There was nothing but the tick of the engine as it started cooling.

Maybe I just imagined it.

Hope springs eternal.

I took a deep breath while sitting there, listening closely to make sure.

The last thing I needed was to spend money on getting the stupid old truck fixed. Maybe it just needed a tune-up. I couldn’t remember the last time it had one.

Once Ricky arrives at the Inn and gets settled, he finds out the lifeguard from the summer before disappeared, and the longer he stays, the more he realizes that things in Mermaid Inn–and the nearby town of Latona–are not what they seem.

And now, back to the spice mines.

Nobody But Me

As tired as I was, I didn’t sleep very deeply last night, and I was wide awake this morning by six thirty. Not a bad thing; I’ll probably sleep well tonight, and I am trying to get organized. The kitchen/work space is an absolute disaster area, and I am also doing laundry, having to put away dishes, and file and organize. I am going to be really tired later, but must stay awake and watch Twitter because tonight is THE EDGAR AWARDS, and I have so many friends nominated! I can’t BELIEVE how tense I am, and I’m not even up for anything!

No lie, but if I were ever an Edgar finalist, I would probably cry.

It’s lovely to be back home; this past week or so has literally been crazy. I’ve driven almost a thousand miles (yay for new car!) and had a really nice time reconnecting with my Southern roots. I am an Alabama boy; I used to joke that I still have red dirt between my toes. I love Alabama, and I love the South. But that love doesn’t mean that I also blind myself to the problems down here, and have actually spent a lot of my adult life trying to figure out ways to change things down here. But when you drive through Alabama and Mississippi, you can’t help but be blown away by how beautiful it is down here.

I’m also aware that I can be blown away by the natural beauty as I drive because I don’t have to worry about being pulled over for Driving While Black.

Alabama’s license plates, and welcome signs, all say “Alabama the Beautiful,” and it’s true. So many trees and forests, lush green grass, the sky is beautiful…and I feel so connected there. I always am inspired when I visit Alabama, or even just drive through it. I don’t write much about Alabama, but when I do, I feel like it’s some of my best work. Dark Tide is my only novel set in Alabama, and it’s one of my personal favorites. I do want to write about Alabama, and I do have an idea about how to turn what I consider one of my best short stories into a novel. I may do that next; we’ll see how I feel when I get finished with the current project. I am also leaning towards shelving the Scotty book for a while. I like the idea behind the book, but I don’t really think it fits Scotty. I’m also struggling to find his voice again, so I think it might be best to take a break from him for a while.

I had a lovely time at the Alabama Book Festival. Troy University and the volunteers and staff did a fantastic job, and Old Town Alabama (or is it Old Alabama Town?) is gorgeous. I really liked Montgomery a lot–it’s a charming little city–I just wish I hadn’t been so tired. I worked doing bar testing the night before I drove up, and as such I was tired the entire time I was there–not sleeping well in hotels had a lot to do with it as well. My panel went really well; Lachlan Smith is very perceptive, insightful and smart, and I look forward to reading his books. I started the first in his series, and was really enjoying it before I put it aside for Thirteen Reasons Why; I’ll get back to it when I finish Cleopatra’s Shadows. Our moderator, Jessie Powell, did a really great job as well, and we had a nice audience. It was also lovely to see Carolyn Haines and Dean James and Tammy Lynn from Wetumpka again, and I also got to meet some lovely people whose company I enjoyed tremendously.

I never thought I’d ever be liked in Alabama, frankly–gay writer of gay stories–but that was my own prejudices and buying into the notion that everyone in Alabama is prejudiced and bigoted. It’s easy to make that assumption; just as it is easy to make that assumption about Louisiana. There are progressives in the South; we’re just outnumbered, but we’re fighting the good fight against prejudice and bigotry and discrimination and hate. Sometimes it feels like we’re fighting all alone, and progressives lucky enough to live in states that are more progressive are more than willing to write us off all the time. (Thanks for that, by the way.)

And on that note, I need to get moving on the day and back to the spice mines.

Here’s a Throwback Thursday hunk for you, John Wesley Shipp from when he appeared on Guiding Light in the late 1970’s/early 1980’s, and fueled many a fantasy of mine.JohnWesleyShipp

 

Time Has Come Today

I arrived home from a second trip in less than a week about an hour ago. I made fantastic time from Oxford; I made it back to New Orleans in slightly less than fice and a half hours, including two stops for gas. I had the best time there, as well. I have lots of things to talk about regarding both trips, but right now I am decompressing and trying to get organized because I have to work tonight…and am already running out of steam. Whine. Ah, well, I can sleep late tomorrow. I did fall in love with both Montgomery and Oxford, though, and feel strangely reconnected to my Southern roots.

But I  also want to talk about this fantastic book I read on the trip, Luckiest Girl Alive, by Jessica Knoll.

luckiest girl alive

For the record, Constant Reader, anything blurbed by Megan Abbott is generally going to turn out to be fantastic.

I inspected the knife in my hand.

“That’s the Shun. Feel how light it is compared to the Wusthof?”

I pricked a finger on the blade’s witchy chin, testing. The handle was supposed to be moisture resistant, but it was quickly getting humid in my grip.

“I think that design is better suited for someone of your stature.” I looked up at the sales associate, bracing for the word people always use to describe short girls hungry to hear “thin.” “Petite.” He smiled like I should be flattered. Slender, elegant, graceful–now there’s a compliment that might actually defang me.

And so we meet Ani FaNelli, engaged to a successful businessman from old money, and she herself has her dream job at The Women’s Magazine (read: Cosmo). Ani had a horrific experience in her ritzy private high school in Philadelphia, which her social climbing mother forced her to attend, and after this event, focused on reinventing herself and doing whatever she had to in order to get the great life she felt she deserved after that horrific humiliation. But the facade of pretending to be the perfect fiancee is starting to wear thin…and as the book flashes back and forth between her wedding planning in the present day and what happened to her back at the Butler Academy, the edges begin to wear a little thin and she slowly begins to remember who she is beneath her carefully constructed facade, and the unraveling begins.

Ani is probably one of those characters male reviewers like to talk shit about–you know, the “unlikable woman”, which has apparently become so prevalent in suspense thrillers since the enormous success of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, and this one has the obligatory “girl” in the title, even–but the title phrase does come up during the course of the book, and as the story of Ani’s high school experience unspools…it’s so much much worse than you think it could have been.

This was an Edgar Award nominee for Best First Novel (she lost to Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer, which also won the Pulitzer Prize), and it’s riveting. Highly recommended.

Sealed with a Kiss

Very tired this morning. I only woke up less than an hour ago–I drove home from Montgomery last night, and of course, had trouble sleeping in the hotel on Friday night. Ten hours plus of driving over the course of two days wore me out, and tomorrow I am driving to Oxford, MIssissippi–approximately five and a half hours or so, with stops probably closer to seven hours–and when I drive back Wednesday I also agreed to do two testing events that night for work. Sigh. I am going to be the walking dead by the time I get home Wednesday night, and Thursday is going to suck pretty badly. Ah, well. Such is life, you know? And Paul is going to take the train Thursday up to Hammond for his birthday to see our friends Bev and Butch; I’ll have to drive up there on Saturday to get him, so that weekend is going to be a bit of a mess as well.

Ah, well, I’ll get over it.

The drive up to Montgomery on Friday was nice; it was a beautiful day for a drive, and Alabama is quite beautiful. I did go ahead and make the detour through Chef Menteur Highway and over the Rigolets bridge (which was rebuilt after Katrina and is much more impressive than it was before), and while I didn’t stop, I am glad I did it because it took me through New Orleans East (still showing the wreckage from last year’s horrific tornado) and I also saw Little Vietnam, which I don’t remember seeing the last time (2003) when I was out that way. I am glad I drove out there, as it gave me a better idea of what it’s like out there, and will make writing my story about it even easier. And it really only was an extra fifteen minutes. I’ll go again, when I have time to stop and take pictures, walk around, and get a better idea of the area, but am very glad I went. (And frankly, it was really kind of inspiring. I am going to do a lot more exploring, not just of the city but the area around New Orleans. Seeing it makes me want to write about it, you know?)

I had never been to Montgomery before, and the part of the small city where I was, downtown and near Old Alabama Town (the historic part of the city) was really quite nice and lovely. The Book Festival itself was a lovely event, and everyone was very kind. I signed a lot of books, and the panel I was on was interesting with great questions posed, not only by the moderator but by the audience when it was opened up for questions. After my signing, I got in the car and drove home, getting home just before nine. We finished watching Thirteen Reasons Why, and then the first episode of The White Princess. Jay Asher was at the Alabama Book Festival, and I wanted to meet him/hear hims peak, but during his talks I went to lunch because I was tired and hungry and had to be at my best for my panel. Missed opportunity, but ah, well. I don’t know that I’m quite ready yet to talk about the show–I am still tired and foggy from the trip–and I have to go to the grocery store at some point today, and I need to pack for the Oxford trip. But it was lovely talking about books and writing with book people–it’s very invigorating–and I am hoping when I get back from Oxford I’ll be able to get some more, good, work done.

And on that note, it’s off to the spice mines.

Here’s a Sunday hunk for you.

IMG_1034

 

Bend Me Shape Me

 

In a couple of hours, I’ll be on the road to Montgomery, Alabama, for the Alabama Book Festival. The route takes me on I-10 East to Mobile, where I will then get on I-65 north all the way to Montgomery. It’s a lovely drive, if gas stations and places to eat and rest stops are a bit on the sparse side, and I am going to drive leisurely. I’ve decided to make that detour on Chef Menteur Highway over the Rigolets after all, and maybe even stop at a few places that look nice to take pictures. It’s also a lovely looking day outside, so it should be a great day for a lovely drive through the countryside.

When I got home from bar testing last night we watched the eleventh episode of Thirteen Reasons Why–Clay’s tape–and it was so much more heartbreaking than I feared it would be. Bitter cynical Queen Greg cried a couple of times, and the performance of Dylan Minnette as Clay was not only surprising in its subtle nuance, but perfectly done in an understated way that was much harder to watch–and more heartbreaking and effective–had it been over-the-top histrionic, as most directors and actors seem to choose. The entire young cast is quite effective in their roles, and I’ve also become more impressed by the performances of the adult actors. Perhaps the most impressive thing about the show, though, is the seamless editing, the way the show transitions between past and present. The big reveal of Clay’s tape also explained so much more about the behavior of the others kids, which seemed almost inexplicable before. The last two episodes will probably be just as intense….and I am also looking forward into finishing reading the book. In an odd coincidence, the book’s author, Jay Asher, is also appearing tomorrow at the Alabama Book Festival. I am sure his talk will be jam-packed; but I am going to make the effort to go see him.

I love listening to authors talk about writing, frankly, and 90% of the time they don’t annoy the crap out of me. I am excited also because being around book people is always an inspirational high for me.

I doubt that I’ll have time to work on the outline while I am in Montgomery–I’ll probably arrive with just enough time to check into my room, maybe take a shower, and then head over to the author party. I am looking forward to seeing some of the people I met in Wetumpka there, and of course, the always delightful Carolyn Haines and Dean James are also going to be there this weekend–I do always love seeing them.

And now, I am going to have some more coffee, and get ready to head out. Happy Friday, Constant Reader!

Here’s gorgeous Brandon Larracuente, who plays Jeff on Thirteen Reasons Why, one of my favorite characters on the show.

Brandon Larracuente

Hey, Western Union Man

We continue to watch Thirteen Reasons Why, and last night we got through Episode 10, which was heartbreaking. Tonight when I get home from work we’ll watch Episode 11–spoiler! It’s when Clay listens to his own tape, and while I am absolutely riveted, I am also dreading the episode. I also am getting further in the book, which is different in some ways from the show.  At one point watching last night, I said to Paul, “I’m so glad I’m not a teenager now,” even though I feel relatively certain that the things that happen in the book/show probably happened when I was a teenager–I, like Clay, was probably unaware/oblivious to it all–which is a horrifying thought. I find that I am often unpacking a lot of things from my past, recognizing behaviors that were no big deal back then but now are horrifying.

I’ve been processing a lot of that lately, to be honest, and in no small part because of the manuscript. I didn’t do any reading/outlining yesterday, nor did I touch “Quiet Desperation,” primarily because I felt kind of tired and out of it yesterday (another wretched night’s sleep  Tuesday, followed by Wacky Russian on Wednesday morning), and while I certainly slept better last night, Paul’s alarm and his constant smacking of the snooze button this morning got me up earlier than I would have preferred. Tonight is yet another late night of bar testing, and tomorrow is the drive to Montgomery and the Author Welcome Party. Heavy heaving sigh. But I’ve pretty much decided not to spend the extra Saturday night in Montgomery; Saturday morning I’ll check out and head over to the Book Festival, spend the day there, and then drive back to New Orleans. That way I have Sunday here to run errands and do things, before driving up to Oxford on Monday. After all this travel I am going to get into a regular workout schedule upon my return, as well.

That’s the plan, at any rate.

So, this morning I am going to pack for the trip, clean the kitchen and get some laundry done, do some writing, and maybe read a bit. I am having lunch with a former intern of mine from a million years and several jobs ago–she’s now a lawyer, how bad-ass is that?–before I head to work. We are lunching at the Irish House, a pub-style restaurant whose chef won Chopped  many years ago, and they have pretty awesome fish-and-chips, and it’s a short walk from the Lost Apartment (I’ll take the car, though, so I can take my time and then drive to work from there). So the dryer is spinning, the washer is agitating, and I am sitting here with my second cup of coffee listening to a playlist on my iHome stereo waiting for the clouds to clear out of my head completely before I get up and unload the dishwasher and get the day going.

This morning I also picked out the story I’m going to revise/rewrite for an anthology I want to submit to–getting into it (it’s annual) is on my bucket list and I will keep trying until I do get in. I’ve submitted three or four times so far–failing every time–but two of the rejected stories ended up somewhere else, so that’s always a good thing. I am really taking my short story writing a lot more seriously than I used to; I am no longer allowing myself to think I am not good at it because that is self-defeating (another one of my daily affirmations, which really, as weird as it seems and as ‘new agey/touchy-feely/mumbo-jumbo’ as it feels and I’ve always dismissed it as, actually is seeming to work. 

I just wish I had thought this way twenty years ago. Ah, well, no regrets.

Live and learn.

Here’s a Throwback Thursday hunk for you, Grant Aleksander, who played Philip Spaulding on Guiding Light:

0

 

 

Lady Willpower

What a delightful night of sleep! Although something I ate yesterday didn’t quite agree with me and got me up once, and then I slept on the couch for a couple of hours, but I feel incredibly well-rested this morning. I’d thought about running all of my weekend errands today so as to not have to leave the house the rest of the weekend, but last night I decided that was silly. Today I am going to focus on rereading/editing, reading Stephen King’s Finders Keepers, get caught up on Riverdale, and clean the Lost Apartment–I am going to get this goddamned windows cleaned today if it kills me.

So, last night while I worked in the lab I reread the first three chapters of the super-secret project first draft I wrote in the summer of 2015, and you know what? It’s actually not bad, and as I read it in order to do an outline of it I was also getting ideas of how to make it better, how to rephrase things, how to make it better, and rather than being daunted by the prospect of redoing it I got excited. So I am going to put the Scotty aside for a little while and work on this. I have, after all, been putting it off since I wrote that draft so long ago. I’ve decided that’s the work I am going to do this weekend; rereading and outlining that manuscript, and rereading/editing some short stories that are long overdue for another look-see.

Next week at this time I’ll be getting ready for my drive to Alabama and Montgomery for the Alabama Book Festival, and I am getting a bit excited about it, to be honest. I’ve never stayed in Montgomery; just driven through on my way to and from Atlanta, and I am kind of excited. I go back and forth as to whether I should check out of the hotel on Saturday and drive home to New Orleans that night, or just get up Sunday and come home then–it’s only four hours, give or take, so not really a big deal, but I have another four-to-five hour drive on Monday to Ole Miss, so there is that, but there’s a part of me that thinks I should just go ahead and stay the extra night and explore Montgomery a bit. I have a tendency to zip in and out of places when doing book events and not see much of the place, which is totally the wrong thing to do. I also have a tendency to just stay in my hotel room and read, too–there really is nothing like the seclusion of a hotel room to just curl up with a good book, you know?

I also need to do some local exploring, now that I have the new car. My friend Stuart greatly enjoyed the swamp tour he went on–something I’ve never done–so it occurs to me that might not be a bad idea to try sometime. I’ve also never been to the World War II museum, and it’s in walking distance. I am also thinking about going to see Beauty and the Beast this weekend. I do want to see it on the big screen, and the animated version is one of my favorite movies. Maybe tomorrow night; it’s playing at Canal Place, and I’ve never been there since the theaters were renovated. As you can see, Constant Reader, I am trying to be a little less housebound.

No worries–I am sure going out in public and dealing with people will stomp that desire right out of me.

I am also paring down some of the books. One of the problems I have is books will sound interesting and I’ll want them, and when I am feeling a bit down about something–anything, it doesn’t matter what–buying books always makes me feel better for some stupid reason. I’ve also realized I will never have the time to go back and reread books I enjoyed, so I need to tighten up the criteria for keeping books. Finish reading a book, put it in the donation box. This will help. I am also putting a moratorium on buying books until June 1. We’ll see how it works out. I also need to start cleaning books out of the storage places. Baby steps, Gregalicious, baby steps. (Our staircase also needs to be cleaned. How fortunate that I love cleaning.)

And on that note, Constant Reader, I am off to the spice mines. Here’s a Good Friday hunk for you.

NEW-161220-Royal-Ballet_SHOT-06_030_R-768x1152