Bleed to Love Her

Monday morning and all is well in the Lost Apartment as I swill coffee and brace myself for the day (and week) ahead.

I returned from Kentucky on Friday. Both the voyage up and back–despite their great length and the brittle stiffness of my aging body–didn’t seem quite so bad or to take as long as they usually do. I did make great time in both directions, while listening to two audiobooks (Ruth Ware’s The Woman in Cabin 10 on the way up, Carol Goodman’s The Disinvited Guest on the way back; both are superb and highly recommended) but of course once I got home on Friday night I was quite exhausted. I spent Saturday trying to get caught up on the apartment itself while football games played in the background (more on that later). I did a lot of laundry, a lot of dishes, ran errands and made groceries, before finally settling in to watch the LSU/Texas A&M game, which was disappointing (more on that later). Yesterday I got up early (I’ve been getting up early a lot lately) and chose to stay off-line for the most part. I did clean out the junk out of my inbox, wrote up the books I read while on my trip for blog entries, and wrote another blatant self-promotion post for A Streetcar Named Murder while also trying to get a handle on everything I need to get done for this coming week. I felt very well-rested yesterday at long last. I didn’t have as much trouble sleeping while I was away as I usually do, which was cool–I found another sleep-aid that seems to be working very nicely–but Friday night I didn’t sleep as well as I thought I would, given how worn out I was from the drive. Saturday night’s sleep, however, was quite marvelous.

Ah, the Insomnia Chronicles. How I long for the day when my sleep isn’t of concern (or at least as not as much interest) to me.

The weather was also kind of terrible when I got back–raining and humid, but cool; the kind where you aren’t sure if you need to turn on the heat or the air, and yesterday there were tornadoes and high winds in the river and bayou parishes outside of New Orleans. Yesterday however was beautiful; sunny with blue skies with the low in the mid-sixties and the high in the mid-seventies. Not bad for Christmas season, is it? It’s also hard to wrap my mind around the idea that it’s Christmas already, to be honest. I got a great Kindle deal on a collection of Christmas crime short stories, which I am really looking forward to digging into–perhaps a story a day for the season? The Christmas Murder Mystery project? (You know I love me some projects to work on.) It’s also weird that it’s the holiday season again, which means Carnival is also right around the block. YIKES. This also means I need to start planning around the parade schedule and when I need to leave work and so forth. Ugh, much as I love Carnival, it’s always stressful and exhausting, if fun and delightful.

It was an interesting weekend of college football. The Mississippi-Mississippi State game on Thanksgiving was a lot of fun, right up to its crazy end; South Carolina somehow managed to beat Clemson; and of course, Michigan blew out Ohio State in Columbus. This kind of set the stage for the LSU game on Saturday night–I had a very queasy feeling about the game, partly because it seemed as though everyone was looking ahead to next week’s SEC title game with Georgia and the possibility of a play-off berth for the Tigers; but Texas A&M always plays LSU hard, no matter how bad their record is, and for some reason they’ve decided LSU is their big rivalry in the conference. The game looked awful; LSU was playing very sloppy on both sides of the ball and my heart and spirit continued to flag with each missed tackle and each missed opportunity. It was disappointing, to be sure, but on the other hand, I am thrilled to death with how the season went. No one gave LSU a shot at having a winning record, let alone beating Alabama and winning the West division, so I am choosing to be grateful for a wonderful winning season after two seasons of mediocrity and looking forward to an even better, more glittering future for the Tigers. I have faith in Coach Kelly, I have faith in what he is building there, and who knows? In a year or two we may win it all again. GEAUX TIGERS!

In other blatant self-promotional news, I also appeared recently on Alexia Gordon’s The Cozy Corner, which was a lot of fun, and I also appeared on Dru’s Book Musing, and how lovely that she gave me such a wonderful view. Thanks to both Dru and Alexia, both being lovely people who have gone out of their way to be kind to me and A Streetcar Named Murder, for which I will always be eternally grateful. It’s hard to believe the book is going to be published soon! And don’t worry, there will be plenty more blatant self-promotion to come.

PLENTY.

I also spent some good time with the book yesterday and it’s not nearly as bad as I thought it might be, as I feared it would be. Yes, the first half needs some work, but not nearly as much as I had thought and I also went through and made a character list as well as outlined the first half. Tomorrow I am going to work on the edits and finishing the outline for the rest of the book; and I am also going to write in and ask for more time. I never finish on time, do I? But the book is good, there’s lots of material for the second half, and I am kind of excited about getting this one completely under control at long last. Huzzah!

We also binged 1899 yesterday; it’s from the same people who did the superlative German series Dark, and had the added bonus of having one of our favorite actors from ElitĂ©, Miguel Bernardeau, in the cast as well. It’s delightfully creepy and strange, and you never have a very good sense of what is going on (like Dark), so of course we were glued to the set the entire time. It’s quite good, actually; I’m not sure how I feel yet about the final episode other than curiosity about how that is going to lead into a second season–because the finale raised more questions than it answered (like a good finale), but I’ll be happy to continue watching.

I feel rested this morning, though, which is lovely. I am sure by the middle of the week I’ll be tired and short of temper again, but for now, for this morning, I am going to just enjoy myself feeling rested and relaxed in the meantime. I have, as always, an insane amount of work to get done this week, but right now I am going to enjoy the peace and quiet of this morning before I have to start getting ready to leave for work; I even got up earlier than I usually do on Mondays.

And on that note, I am heading headfirst into the spice mines. Have a lovely Monday morning, Constant Reader, and I’ll chat at you again tomorrow morning.

Come Sail Away

Nothing will get my attention more quickly than a Daphne du Maurier comparison.

I’d been meaning to get around to reading Ruth Ware since her The Woman in Cabin 10 broke her out in the crime writing community. I’d heard lots of good things about her work from reviewers and people on social media, and as her career continued to grow and develop it seemed like all of her books–while similar, in some ways, to each other–were rather dramatically different from each other. I began acquiring copies of her books, unable to decide where to start while each new one joined the TBR pile and began collecting dust. When I saw someone had compared her The Death of Mrs. Westaway to du Maurier and Rebecca, that got my attention and I decided to start there. I listened to it on one of my drives to Kentucky and loved, loved, LOVED it.

So, while planning for my recent trip up, I decided to listen to The Woman in Cabin 10, and have been admonishing myself for the lengthy delay in getting to it ever since finishing. It is quite excellent, and I am finding myself becoming quite a fan of Ruth Ware.

The first inkling that something was wrong was waking in darkness to find the cat pawing at my face. I must have forgotten to shut the kitchen door last night. Punishment for coming home drunk.

“Go away,” I groaned. Delilah mewed and butted me with her head. I tried to bury my face in the pillow but she continued rubbing herself against my ear, and eventually I rolled over and heartlessly pushed her off the bed.

She thumped to the floor with an indignant little meep and I pulled the duvet over my head, but even through the covers I could hear her scratching at the bottom of the door, rattling it in its frame.

The door was closed.

I sat up, my heart suddenly thumping, and Delilah leaped onto my bed with a glad little chirrup, but I snatched her to my chest, stilling her movements, listening.

I might well have forgotten to shut the kitchen door, or I could even have knocked it to without closing it properly. But my bedroom door opened outward–a quirk of the weird layout of my flat. There was no way Delilah could have shut herself inside. Someone must have closed it.

I sat, frozen, holding Delilah’s warm, panting body against my chest and trying to listen.

How’s that for a beginning?

I defy anyone to stop reading after those opening paragraphs, seriously.

Our main character turns out to be Laura Blacklock–nicknamed Lo–who is an aspiring travel journalist working as an assistant at Velocity magazine. Usually her boss is the one who gets to go on trips to write about the experience, but pregnancy has forced her to turn over a rather plum assignment to Lo; taking a cruise on a luxury ship through Scandinavia, including a look at the Northern Lights and exploratory visits to fjords. But as she is preparing for the trip, her flat is broken into while she is in it. This understandably causes her some trauma, and she is already taking medication for anxiety. Shaken up and still having nightmares, she boards the Aurora Borealis in a determined attempt to fulfill her job responsibilities well enough to get a promotion or better assignments. Easier said than done, really; on the first night she hears the toilet in the next cabin–Cabin 10–at the same time realizing she doesn’t have any mascara. She goes to Cabin 10, borrows mascara from a beautiful young woman, and returns to her cabin. Having a few drinks at dinner to calm her nerves even more, she keeps an eye out for the young woman, who never shows. In the middle of the night a sound in the next cabin wakes her, and she goes out onto her veranda to glance around the privacy screen. Before she can get out there she hears a cry, a clank, and a splash; once she is out there she thinks she sees a human hand disappearing into the water, and smear of blood on the glass screen next door. She gets the ship’s security, but Cabin 10 is empty. The man who was staying in there cancelled at the last minute. There is no trace of the girl she met, no trace of anything exceptional having happened in Cabin 10–and the only proof of her story is the mascara tube, which she still has.

No one believes her–and her recent break-in and the anxiety medications, along with the drinking she’s done, make it relatively easy for her claims to be dismissed. Certain she’s a peripheral witness to a murder, Lo starts poking around–eventually finding herself in danger.

I really enjoyed this book. Ware makes you care about Lo, and you root for her to get to the bottom of what’s going on aboard the Aurora. Ware is, indeed, a modern day writer of Gothics in the mid-to-late twentieth century traditions of duMaurier, Victoria Holt and Phyllis A. Whitney, with a generous dash of Mary Stewart as well. Is she being gaslighted, and if so, by whom and why? Who was the woman? What was she doing on board? Why was she murdered? The reader knows Lo is telling the truth, which is a brilliant way of getting reader buy-in for both the character and the story, and the gaslighting is done so well that even the reader sometimes has to question Lo’s sanity; was it alcohol and drug-related PTSD? But as the story progresses and Lo learns more and more about her fellow passengers–this is a press junket, so everyone on board is a professional travel journalist of some sort–she starts putting together the pieces and fragments of information she gathers that gradually reveal the picture of a very clever murderer who won’t stop at anything to get away with their crime, even if it means killing Lo.

Highly recommended–especially if you, like me, love the old books with the woman in a nightgown running away from a scary looking house with a light on in one window on the cover. Cannot wait to read some more of Ruth Ware.

Sidebar: the story itself is very Hitchcockian in style, and of course the gaslighting made me think of the great film Gaslight which defined the word into the vernacular…and made me also think, sadly, of what a greater masterpiece Gaslight might have been had Hitchcock also directed it.

For All We Know

The world shut down in March of 2020, in the face of a deadly new virus that was spreading around the world, and spreading quickly. It was a major paradigm shift; everything changed and the world would never be the same as it was before. As everyone locked down and adapted (or decided it was all a hoax and chafed against the intrusion), the question began being asked of writers: how will you handle the pandemic in your work, or will you address it at all? A lot of authors said that they wouldn’t address it, because they couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to read about it, or revisit it again after it was over. I came down firmly on the side of “we have to address it”; pointing out that Hurricane Katrina was a paradigm shift for New Orleans and Louisiana authors, and we all had faced the same issue and question. Some writers chose not to deal with it at all, some stopped writing entirely, and others–like me–addressed it. I found it incredibly cathartic to write about the disaster by viewing it through someone else’s eyes, and of course, much of what Chanse saw and dealt with was taken directly from my own experience. Writing the book in some ways helped me to heal from the emotional trauma and deep depression I was experiencing, and I don’t think I would have possibly gotten over it had I not written it out of my system. I will undoubtedly deal with the pandemic in a Scotty book at some point–I already have the title for it picked out and a folder created to keep my notes and ideas in–but I am not quite there as yet.

Leave it to Carol Goodman to not only do it, but do it incredibly well.

“We’re here.”

Reed’s voice wakes me from the fitful sleep I’d fallen into somewhere north of Portland, the slap of wipers and the sluice of tires accomplishing what bourbon and sleeping pills had failed to do for the past two weeks. I open my eyes to a wall of sodden gray the color of wet cement. I can feel it pressing down my throat–

I cough.

Reed swivels his head toward me, blue eyes feverish in the gloom above his white surgical mask.

“I’m fine.” I reach for the water bottle and swig lukewarm water that tastes like copper. “The others–“

“Behind us. Crosby’s driving like an old woman, trying to protect his precious Volvo’s paint job. Honestly, for a supposed socialist he likes the trappings of the bourgeoisie.” He grins, his bones sharpening under sallow skin. With all the stress of the recent news and preparations to come to the island, neither of us has been eating much for the past few weeks.

“They could have gotten lost.”

I’ve been a huge fan of Carol Goodman’s since my first dip into her canon, The Sea of Lost Girls. I have since been dipping back into at times as a reward to myself; she’s easily moved into my top ten list of current writers and won’t be dislodged anytime soon. She’s won numerous awards–deservedly–and is, to me at least, the modern incarnation of the great Mary Stewart. Goodman’s novels are decidedly Gothic and extremely smart and literate, with strong characters that are sharply defined and well rounded that the reader can easily identify with as well as like or dislike.

The premise of The Disinvited Guest is that another pandemic has descended upon the world after the 2020 COVID-19 one. Wealthy Reed Harper has decided to quarantine on an island his family owns–Fever Island, off the coast of Maine and near the mouth of the St. Lawrence River–since his wife Lucy has residual health problems since the first pandemic. Invited along are his lesbian sister Liz, a painter; Nico, Liz’ partner, a photographer; Ada, an old college friend of both Reed and Lucy who works now as an ER nurse; and her husband, also a medical professional in hospital administration, Crosby–who’s a bit of a dick. The remaining character is Mac, whose mother was a housekeeper for the Harper family working on the island. Mac knew Reed and Liz as children, and now he lives on the island as a caretaker. Reed, who also suffers from OCD, has carefully planned out every last aspect of this quarantine adventure–and while the quarantine and safety is the primary issue at stake here, any reader of crime or suspense knows that having seven people living together on a remote, isolated island is the perfect set-up for personality clashes and battles and intrigues and, of course, for murder. How many horror films or murder mysteries are set in such locales? (Goodman of course is wise enough to make an Agatha Christie/And Then There Were None reference in the text; the geographic elements of the island–the Dead Pool, the bog, Dead Man’s Cove, etc.–also sound like something out of the Hardy Boys, and she acknowledges that several times as well.)

There’s also some excellent backstory. Fever Island is named this because during the Irish immigration period of the late 1840’s–the potato famine and typhus epidemic–the ships with ill passengers were sent to Fever Island to quarantine before being admitted into Canada. A makeshift hospital is set up on the island, nuns come out to operate it along with several doctors–including a Harper ancestor–and so there is also a makeshift cemetery on the island. There’s also another legend, going back even further than the quarantine days; the earliest settlers believed a woman was a witch and essentially buried her alive on the island. The story claims she placed a curse on the island and summoned the devil. This is enough of a horrible backstory to make easily the possibility of supernatural forces at work on the island completely believable, which only adds to the suspense. There’s also the backstory of Reed and Liz’s own experiences spending their summers on the island with their horrible father and alcoholic mother; Reed’s dead former girlfriend, who died on the island during the first pandemic, along with his parents; and of course the diary of Dr. Nathaniel Reed Harper, who details life on the quarantine island and the growing suspicion amongst the superstitious fever victims and a group of sailors stranded their by a shipwreck that the witch’s curse is haunting them and that maybe even one of their party has been possessed by the witch and has summoned the devil.

Ada and Lucy were best friends and roommates in college, with Reed as the third side of their triangle. Lucy has also written one well-received novel, but hasn’t written anything since…and her discovery of the diary begins to inspire her to write about the island. Goodman is quite excellent at weaving the multiple storylines and multiple time-lines–Lucy is flashing back to the original pandemic, which is what brought her and Reed together as a couple; the incidents from the 1840’s as revealed in Dr. Harper’s journal; and of course, what happened on the island during the original pandemic.

Strange things start happening once they are all safely ensconced on Fever Island, and of course there are the inevitable personality clashes, which amp up the tension and then, of course, the deaths begin. At first Lucy can’t help but wonder if the island is indeed cursed–but slowly begins to realize that there is a very clever murderer on the island pursuing a definite agenda, but who?

And I love how Goodman chose to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. Rather than setting the book during that shutdown, she instead chose to write about a future quarantine/shutdown, with the COVID-19 one in the distant past (ten years or so) but having a lot of impact on what is happening in the present.

I loved every minute and every word of The Disinvited Guest, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

My Little Town

It is quite impossible to have heard of every writer and every book, even in a subgenre; there are simply too many books published in the past, with new ones coming out every day and new ones getting signed for future release every day. When it comes to my own reading, I like to draw from a wide and deep pool of styles, genres, and authors. Most of my reading is generally confined to the crime genre–and I do confess that I need to broaden that pool even further. I need to read more literary fiction, science fiction, horror, romance, and fantasy; more true crime and biography and criticism; and even within my own crime genre I tend to not read as much of some sub-genres as others.

I’ve always liked cozies, and have never understood why they get so much grief and are so readily dismissed by those who neither write nor read them. I don’t read enough of them, to be honest, but again, there are so many terrific cozy writers and there’s only so much time. But recently in a review of my A Streetcar Named Murder, the reviewer mentioned that it was perfect “for fans of Katherine Hall Page.” This intrigued me, because I didn’t know her nor was I familiar with her work. I quickly checked in with some cozy writer friends, who all assured me it was a great compliment, so I decided to check out her Faith Fairchild series.

Faith Fairchild, recently of New York City, paused to catch her breath. Benjamin, her five-month-old son, was sound asleep, securely strapped to her chest in his Snugli. Her aching shoulder blades and the fact she has been focusing on the own path beneath her feet instead of the autumnal splendor to either side reminded Faith that Benjamin was definitely getting a bit too chunky for this mode of transportation. She straightened up and looked around.

It was New England with a vengeance: riotous orange and scarlet leaves beneath enormous, puffy white clouds suspended in a Kodacolor blue sky. A calendar maker’s dream. And of course brisk, clear air as crisp as a bite of a McIntosh apple just off the tree.

Faith hated McIntosh apples.

She walked up the Belfry Hill path a bit farther to a small clearning, which gave her an unobstructed view of the Aleford village green far below. She sat down and sighed heavily.

Her life was becoming terribly quaint, Faith thought. Time was when “village” meant “the Village” and “town” was up or down. And when did she start using phrases like “time was”? She let another sigh escape into the pollution-free landscape and longed for a whiff of that heady combination of roasted chestnuts and exhaust fumes that meant autumn to her.

It didn’t take me very long in reading the book to realize just what an incredible compliment that comparison actually was.

I pointed out in one of my entries about cozies–probably a blatantly self-promotional entry, if I recall correctly–that often-times there’s a “fish out of water” element to a cozy series; the main character is often someone from the big city who has, for whatever reason, found him or herself in a new small town environment that has its charms but at the same time they miss their big city. Faith Sibley Fairchild is no exception to this. Born and raised in Manhattan as the child of a minister and a wealthy heiress, Faith has her own trust fund and her interest in food led her to start her own, hugely successful catering company, Have Faith. But she has since fallen in love with a small-town minister, married him, temporarily shuttered her business and moved to pastoral Aleford in Massachusetts, having now had a baby and is trying to adjust to small town life as the minister’s wife. (I was reminded frequently of the Vicar’s wife in St. Mary Mead in Agatha Christie’s Murder at the Vicarage; the younger woman whom the villagers aren’t quite sure what to make of other than she’s not like any vicar’s wife they’ve ever known.)

On this particular morning she is heading up to the town belfry to just relax and have a little picnic with her baby son–only to discover the body of Cindy Shepherd, a perfectly awful young woman whom no one in the village of Aleford likes very much. Suspicion immediately falls on her long-suffering fiancĂ©, who doesn’t have much of an alibi–and Faith finds herself intrigued by the case and starts asking around. She found the body, after all, and as she starts asking questions and bouncing from villager to villager, she finds herself learning more about her town and the intricate yet almost invisible threads that tie everyone in Aleford together–and soon finds that not only was Lucy unpleasant, she was an outright villain, who only cared about herself and was not above using whatever means at her disposal necessary to get what she wants. The investigation itself is also an excellent way for Page to introduce Aleford (as well as Faith’s own backstory) to the reader in a very organic way that is not only easy to follow but keeps the reader turning the page. Ms. Page also has a lovely, easily accessible and slyly witty voice that engages the reader, and you can’t help liking Faith and rooting for her–as well as looking forward to your next visit. There are currently twenty-six volumes in the series–daunting, to be sure–but I’m excited about that lengthy canon; I won’t be running out of Katherine Hall Page novels to read any time soon.

The Irish Channel

Writing a cozy set in New Orleans seemed, at first, to be a little daunting.

One of the key tenets of a cozy is the sense of community one gets while reading it (see Donna Andrews’ Meg Langslow series for the perfect example; I love Caerphilly, Virginia, and enjoy revisiting twice a year to see how everyone is doing), and it took me a moment to readjust my thinking from “community means a small town” to “no, you moron, anything can be a community; and you can certainly find community in New Orleans.” And then I remembered Leslie Budewitz’ superlative Spice Shop series, which is set in Pike’s Market in Seattle. Seattle is a city, just as New Orleans is; and sure, it might be easier to just invent an entire new fictional small town to set a cozy series in, but if anything, there’s more sense of community in New Orleans than I’ve ever felt in other cities…and it was really about creating a community around my character, Valerie, and picking a neighborhood for her in which to live took me a while as I weighed pros and cons; the only thing that was definite was she was NOT going to live in the French Quarter (there’s a throwaway line where she thinks about how long it’s been since she’s been to the Quarter, and maybe she and her two best friends should arrange to have dinner at Galatoire’s or Antoine’s–yes, I used two of the better known restaurants in the city and the Quarter for the examples, but I also knew I could mention them without needing to explain them to the reader). I did go back and forth about the Marigny or Bywater, but finally decided to put her into a neighborhood that did not flood during Katrina, which narrowed the choices dramatically.

New Orleans is a city of neighborhoods, and those neighborhoods used to be so distinct that knowing what part of the city someone lived would automatically create some assumptions–just as how the ever-popular question of where’d you go to high school used to be another way to connect with someone you’ve just met–there are any number of differences between those who went to Newman or Jesuit or Holy Cross or Ursulines or Ben Franklin or Warren Easton or McMain Magnet. New Orleans is a small enough city that chances were, you’d also know (or ar related to )someone else who’d gone to that high school at the same time, or you also knew other people who lived in their neighborhood. Obviously, the French Quarter is perhaps the most famous neighborhood in New Orleans, followed by the Garden District, working down through the Marigny, the Bywater, Mid-city, Gentilly, Lakeview, Broadmoor, etc. (With the gentrification of the city over the past sixteen or so years, realtors have also started creating new neighborhoods–which can be confusing. For example, they are trying to rebrand the Central Business District–the CBD–into SoMa, South of Market, which makes no fucking sense whatsoever as there is no market for the area to be south of; I often will have someone mention one of these new neighborhoods by name to me and I have no idea what they are talking about. They are also trying to rebrand the 7th Ward as the “new Marigny”…good luck with that.)

Scotty lives in the Quarter, and Chanse lives in the Lower Garden District–I’ve also written a lot of stories set in that neighborhood, which is also where I’ve always lived, and is quite distinct from the actual Garden District–I used to joke that we lived four blocks and three decimal points from the Garden District. So having done those neighborhoods already extensively, I wanted to pick a new place for Valerie to live and for me to write about.

I’ve always kind of been partial to the Irish Channel, although we’ve always lived in the Lower Garden District (distinct from the Garden District). I wrote one book about the Irish Channel already (aptly titled Murder in the Irish Channel), and of course, when I needed a place for Valerie to live, I decided the Channel would be the perfect place for her. Twenty years or so ago there will still blighted and crumbling houses in that neighborhood just waiting to be purchased, renovated and gentrified. The stretch of Magazine she lives near used to be one of my favorite parts of the city–I met any number of people for coffee at the Rue de la Course that used to be there, I used to really enjoy the Semolina’s restaurant as well as the Middle Eastern place whose name I can’t remember now (Byblos? it was the last restaurant meal in New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina), and of course I sometimes shopped at the A&P or the Walgreens–before I realized Prytania and Tchoupitoulas were the easiest and quickest ways to get uptown; I wasted a lot of time stuck in Magazine Street traffic back in the day. Our friends Carrie and Lisa used to rent half of an enormous Victorian house near Third and Constance; I loved that enormous, drafty and dusty old house (it’s actually where my main character in my in-progress novella Never Kiss a Stranger lives), and was very sorry when they moved further uptown. Paul and I used to have a lot of fun looking for costumes and other home decor in the numerous thrift shops on Magazine; the one for St. Vincent de Paul (at the corner of Robert and Magazine, which eventually closed and became a Vitamin Shoppe; I don’t think the space is currently in use) was amazing. They used to sell handmade wooden tables and bookcases, made by monks in a monastery somewhere in northern Louisiana, and this furniture was not only solid, but it was inexpensive. We still have the bookcases and tables–one of them is my desk, the other is Paul’s–and I don’t think we spent much more than a hundred dollars on the two tables and the four bookcases. We must have bought that all after we moved back here after the year that should be forgotten; we didn’t move much furniture there or back.

But oh, how I would love to get some more of those bookcases. They are sooooo solid…

Plus, putting Valerie in the Irish Channel gives me the opportunity to write about St. Patrick’s Day–which I’ve never done with either of my other series–at some point in the future.

The Irish Channel obviously takes its name from the fact that many Irish immigrants settled there when they came to New Orleans. The Historic Landmarks Commission defines its boundaries as Jackson Avenue to Delachaise Street and Magazine Street to Tchoupitoulas. However, the New Orleans City Planning Commission defines the boundaries of the Irish Channel as these streets: Tchoupitoulas Street, Toledano Street, Magazine Street, First Street, the Mississippi River and Napoleon Avenue.

See what I mean about how confusing the city can be? We can even properly define the boundaries of our neighborhoods. I’ve always considered the Channel to start at Jackson (as does the Garden District proper) and end at Louisiana; with the other boundaries Magazine and Tchoupitoulas.

But I did think having her live so close to Louisiana Avenue–between Seventh and Harmony–would put her right smack dab into the heart of that neighborhood and in walking distance of practically anything she might need. I wanted her to be able to be able to do her errands most of the time on foot, because that also (in my mind) cemented the sense that it was a neighborhood and a community, if that makes sense? And once I’d picked where she lived, I was able to start building her community around her.

But that is a tale for another time.

I love these kinds of double houses!

Smile at You

Thursday and my last day in the office until after Thanksgiving, which is rather something if you think about it, you know? It’s cold again this morning–you can tell, even with the heat on and the Lost Apartment itself feeling a little, shall we say, temperate? I’m still not used to having an HVAC system that works effectively and keeps the apartment warm no matter what it’s like outside, you know?

Yesterday was yet another exhausting day at the office. I’d not slept as well as I would have liked Tuesday night, so yes, yesterday was tired and worn down by the end of the day. I had to stop and make groceries on the way home–not much, just a quick in-and-out–and today I am hoping I won’t be too tired when I get home from work to do some chores and some more work on the book. BY the time I got home yesterday I was very tired. Paul didn’t get home until later so we didn’t get to watch any of our shows; instead I spent the evening watching Youtube videos on French history. I think I slept well last night–I only woke up a couple of times during the night–and I feel sort of rested right now as I sip my coffee; we’ll see how long it holds today, shall we?

But for now, I feel good and my coffee is hitting the spot and I did succeed in making a to-do list yesterday, which was a step in the right direction towards getting caught up–or better organized, one of the two. I had forgotten to make my hotel reservation for Bouchercon in San Diego, so I got that taken care of yesterday, and now just have the flights left to get taken care of once Southwest allows us to start booking in late August, probably next month sometime. I am leaving for Kentucky on Monday morning, but I have The Uninvited Guest by Carol Goodman to listen to on the way up and The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware to listen to on the way home. (I listed to Ware’s The Death of Mrs. Westaway on the way up last time, and absolutely loved it.)

I’ve also been doing blog entries attempting to promote the book–which has been fun so far, but am not sure really how effective it actually will be in the long run, but I am enjoying myself, which is perhaps the most important thing, right?–and I also am doing a piece for CrimeReads that is due this weekend–but as I mentioned previously this week, I can pretty much ignore college football for the most part most of Saturday, as LSU’s game isn’t until seven pm (I cannot get over the LSU turnaround this season; I keep thinking I’m going to wake up from this fever dream) so as long as I am not disgustingly and horribly lazy, I should not only be able to get that written but make some serious progress with the book as well. Please, God–make it so.

And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines on this chilly Thursday morning in New Orleans. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow.

Peacekeeper

It is a cold Monday morning in the Lost Apartment and our heater is out again–every year it seems, the moment it gets cold it goes on the fritz the very first time we try to use it, so out came the space heater and I may need a second, just in case–but that’s fine. I sleep best when it’s cold, so last night’s sleep was quite nice. I also woke up at five again this morning, yay, but stayed in bed for another few hours. I probably should have just gone ahead and gotten up–it’s not like I don’t have things to do, you know–but again, cold and the pile of blankets was marvelously warm and comfortable. And now, sitting here at my desk in my sweats with a ski cap on and the space heater blowing warm air on me…I don’t even want to get up out of this warm space.

Sigh.

Paul and I had lunch with friends from out of town yesterday at Lula, the lovely restaurant on St. Charles just a couple of blocks from our house. I didn’t wear a jacket, although it was chilly, but it was nice. I always enjoy these sorts of things, but it’s always hard to get a Greg at rest into motion, you know? I’m not entirely sure why that is, but it just is, and I’ve learned to live with it. I have errands to run tonight when I get off work–prescriptions, mail, groceries–which will be wonderful in the cold, of course; it’s forty-five outside right now with a high predicted to be sixty-five; hardly the dead of winter everyone else is used to, but it is a bit on the extreme side for us here in New Orleans. I got some excellent work done on the book this weekend, which is always lovely when you shut off contact from the outside world for a few days to close off distractions so you can focus. I am still behind, of course, but I am hopeful I can get back on track by the end of this coming weekend.

We finished watching Young Royals last night–it doesn’t have very long seasons, six episodes or so–and I enjoyed it. (Although, as I pointed out several times, being a royal is a symbolic thing and not really necessary for Sweden anymore; it’s funny how these countries hang on to their pasts and traditions, no matter how archaic they may be; scratch a Brit and find a royalist) We also started watching a new supernatural show called The Bastard Son and The Devil Himself, which is actually quite good and we found ourselves enjoying it tremendously. The young male lead is also in Titans, playing a character whose name I cannot recall but I do remember from the comics as being the third Robin. It’s interesting and very well done and the fantasy/supernatural world it builds–two warring clans of witches–is also done pretty well.

It’s also hard to think that at this time next Monday I’ll be on the road, driving to Kentucky and listening to Carol Goodman. I already downloaded a book to my phone, but I don’t remember which one–but it doesn’t matter because they are always excellent. I’ve yet to read a Goodman that wasn’t, frankly, and I think she is definitely one of our finest suspense novelists of this time. Like Mary Stewart, her books are very literate and incredibly smart; they are also incredibly good reads with strongly developed characters and interesting, engaging plots that you can’t step away from–which is truly the mark of a terrific writer. I may listen to another on the way back, too. I am so glad I discovered audio books…it really makes a difference on long drives. Sure, my mind wanders from time to time, but I am always pulled back into the narrative quite easily.

I do feel a little disappointed with myself for not getting more done over the weekend. I really do need to do a deep clean before i leave so I don’t come home to a dirty apartment but the question is, when will I have the time to do it? I I am exhausted every day when I get home from work–but that’s the thing, isn’t it? I need to resist the urge–and the cat howling–to just sit down for a minute to relax because inevitably I wind up stuck there, feeling exhausted and depleted, and nothing gets done. This, of course, leads to self-flagellation as well: why did you blow off the entire evening? Imagine how much MORE relaxed you’d feel if you’d done the dishes or gotten the laundry sorted or picked up some of this mess…

I am a harsh taskmaster for myself, apparently.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader, and I will talk to you later.

The Second Time

Saturday morning and LSU plays at eleven, which means I have an extremely short window to get things this morning. I fell asleep in my chair watching the debut episode of Dangerous Liaisons, which was a great idea for a series in theory, but I wasn’t impressed with the execution. I doubt we’ll continue with it–a shame, because it’s one of my favorite stories of all time; I read the original novel after the Glenn Close film was released in the 1980’s and have loved it ever since. (I also love the Cruel Intentions adaptation of it; I even adapted it into my gay erotic fraternity novel Wicked Frat Boy Ways) It also rained overnight–I slept very deeply and well last night–and of course I woke at five again this morning but napped on and off until rising just before eight.

LSU can actually clinch the West Division of the SEC today with a win over Arkansas–either outright and a share of it; should Alabama beat Mississippi today, it’s theirs if they win. If Mississippi wins, the pressure is back on LSU to win out; both would end up tied for the West if they both win out, but LSU goes to the championship game by virtue of having beaten Mississippi when they played. It’s a very chaotic college football season, folks; the kind that rarely comes around and things happen that never usually happen. (I still can’t believe LSU beat Alabama last week.) Just a month ago, things looked very bleak for the season indeed for LSU, and I am so proud of how they bounced back after that embarrassing loss to Tennessee. Several things happened this year that have never happened before: LSU had never beaten both Auburn and Florida on the road in the same season before, let alone beaten them both on the road AND beat Alabama. LSU hadn’t beaten Alabama in Baton Rouge since 2010 (the last time Alabama had lost twice this early in the season–but I doubt they will go on to lose to Auburn in the Iron Bowl as they did in 2010), hadn’t beat Florida four years in a row since 1977-1980, and the Tennessee loss was the first time the Vols have beat LSU since 2005.

Okay, I’ll stop boring you with my football fandom. GEAUX TIGERS!

Although I have to add I don’t know how I’ll manage to stay calm during the LSU game–and today I find myself rooting for Alabama. College football always gets interesting later in the season…

I’m going to try to work on edits during the games today; I am not sure how well that is going to go. I’m probably not going to leave the house this weekend outside of a lunch date tomorrow; I really need to work on the book and I’m even going to have to (sigh) not watch the Saints game tomorrow and work instead. I’m running out of time on my deadline, which is terrifying to me, and I have a lot of other things I have to write as well. I really need to make a thorough and complete to-do list; maybe after I finish and post this. I did get a lot of chores done yesterday around the work-at-home duties; laundry and dishes and the kitchen are under control this morning, so I don’t need to do anything this weekend on that score. But whoa boy, was I worn out once five thirty rolled around. I repaired to my chair and watched Youtube videos (and yes, I watched the LSU-Alabama highlights again because I still can’t believe LSU beat Alabama)–I watched a really great historical one about the fall of Constantinople in 1204 to the 4th Crusade, and another interesting one about the camp aesthetic of Mommie Dearest–until Paul got home, and we got caught up on Andor, which I am really enjoying; I’ve actually enjoyed all the Star Wars television shows other than The Book of Boba Fett, which I should probably give another chance to, before switching to Dangerous Liaisons, which was, frankly, boring and the revised plot doesn’t make much sense–a wealthy older noblewoman would not be able to confer a title on anyone; that was the prerogative of the King and the King only, especially in absolutist France of the eighteenth century, so yeah–it wasn’t just being tired. I can forgive historical inaccuracies as a necessity for dramatizations, but being so blatant and deliberate in being wrong like that for the purpose of plot and story is something I cannot condone by rewatching. I am not a purist either when it comes to adaptations of novels into series and films, either–I enjoyed Cruel Intentions, after all–but in all honesty, there was so much more to the original story that had to be cut and removed from any film adaptation of Les Liaisons Dangereuses that could have been implemented into telling the story over the course of a season–perhaps even a second–and the fallout and aftermath from the exposure of the Marquise de Merteuil’s letters could have also been interesting.

Ah, well. Great idea, poor execution.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. The game starts in less than two hours (!!!) and I need to get some things done. Have a happy Saturday, Constant Reader!

What’s the World Coming To?

Work-at-home Friday morning and all is quiet in the Lost Apartment so far. There’s a load re-tumbling in the dryer and another in the washing machine waiting for the dryer to free up; the dishwasher needs to be emptied so I can refill it back up again. I have lots of work-at-home duties to get finished today as well as all kinds of other things I have to get done later when I am finished with work. Heavy heaving sigh, but that’s always the way, isn’t it? More to do than I have time to do it in. C’est la vie, y’all.

I was tired when I got home from work yesterday. I started the laundry and had intended to do the dishes as well–but Scooter had been alone for hours and needed attention, so I decided to get the laundry started and give him about twenty minutes of nap time in my lap–which is usually all he wants. I was rather surprised and nonplussed as I cycled through sportscaster conversations on Youtube about this college football season–including wrap-ups of last weekend’s game plus looking ahead to this weekend’s–and the next thing I knew hours had passed and I’d even started drifting in and out of naps. When he finally got up and went upstairs for either water or the litter box, I moved a load from the washer to the dryer and started another one before His Majesty returned, demanding my lap back. Paul came home a little later and we finished off Big Mouth as well as caught up on this week’s episodes of American Horror Story: NYC, which is now, finally, starting to go off the rails after wrapping up a storyline that was actually rather well-composed. I guess the rest of the season will be the usual Ryan Murphy shitshow.

I guess it was too much to hope that the gayest season ever of the show would turn out not to be a pitiful, poorly plotted and paced mess.

But the good news is I feel rested today, so there’s hope for a productive and effective day for me today. Huzzah!

Now, where was I? Oh yes, I’d started talking about A Streetcar Named Murder yesterday, didn’t I, in a blatant attempt at self-promotion hoping to encourage you to preorder my new book! I should probably bring it up every day until Pub Day, or should I simply plan out some promotional posts I can work on and post every few days? I am sure anyone who follows me on social media or reads this would gradually tire of reading about my new, exciting book which takes my career into a new, exciting direction, wouldn’t they? I know I eventually tire of the BSP of others–unless they are friends, in which case I wholeheartedly encourage them to promote the fuck out of themselves–which also governs sometimes how much of it I do. I got very self-conscious about it, which probably goes back to that horrible “don’t praise yourself” mentality I was raised with and have talked about before–and whether or not that is a good message for young people (stay humble), it’s not a great one for someone destined to go into a field that requires you to talk up yourself. Heavy sigh. The need to self-promote and the need to be humble are constantly at war inside my head, which is yet another example of why precisely Greg is not entirely sane.

But I am very proud of this book. It’s a departure in many ways for me, and while writing it was hellish–not the fault of the book or the publisher, simply the timing of its writing–I am very proud of it. I mean, given the hellish circumstances surrounding me when I was writing it, it’s not only a miracle it was written but a miracle there’s not a body count from that period. I think it’s a good book–it did occur to me last night dope, you wrote a book set in New Orleans during football season and didn’t mention the Saints once–and despite that blasphemy, it reads easily and well and it’s a nice little story. I think my main character is relatable and likable, and I think readers can identify with her. I wasn’t sure, but all the advance readers liked it (or said they did) and the prepublication trade reviews have all been positive, so I think I did a fairly good job on it. But more on that later. I think it makes more sense to simply write promotional entries where I talk about the book and inspirations and so forth and keep them separate from these daily “Life of Greg” entries.

And having made that decision I am going to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again later.

When It Comes to Love

If you follow me on social media you will know already that I got my box o’books of A Streetcar Named Murder this week. The book looks stunningly beautiful, seriously; I couldn’t be more pleased with everything about the book’s packaging. The cover is gorgeous; and stacked up together they look especially gorgeous, as you can see in these delightful images from my kitchen counter.

So, Greg, why did you write a cozy mystery?

The same reason I write anything–primarily because I wanted to, and to see if I could, you know. actually write one. I’ve always liked them–I love traditional mysteries, always have–and have always admired how authors pull off the crime aspect of the story. Sure, there’s a bit of an imaginative stretch required to read a series–how realistic is it that an every day citizen will continually get involved in the solving of a crime, through no fault of their own? But…no one bats an eye about the realism of private eye series, and let’s face it: private eyes involved in murder investigations are just as rare. They spend most of their time on insurance claims or, you know, infidelity. Likewise, police investigations are often very straight-forward, without the usual twists and turns and surprises a writer needs to include to keep the reader turning the pages. The Scotty series–despite him actually becoming a licensed private eye, fits more into the cozy genre than it does the private eye; for one thing, it’s funny, and for another, Scotty is never hired, he always stumbles over a body somehow–to the point that it’s almost a running joke in the series.

I had always wanted to write a mainstream series centered around a straight woman, to be honest. I mean, let’s face it, I’ve done that queer mystery, both series and stand-alones, and I always like to keep my work fresh and interesting for me–I cannot imagine the hell writing something that bores me would be. Early on, before I sold my first book, a major figure in the crime fiction world told me that every so often she wished she could write something else, but “all anyone wants from me is *series character*,” but very quickly added, “But I’m still grateful people want that.” I always remembered that–obviously, I still do–and so while I would be eternally grateful were I ever to achieve that level of great success, I tried to always diversify my writing so I’d never get bored. The Chanse series was very different from the Scotty series; the stand-alone novels are rarely set in New Orleans; and so on.

I’ve tried spinning off my Paige character from the Chanse series into her own series; I always liked the character and thought she was a lot of fun and could carry her own stories quite nicely. I still think so, but audiences didn’t respond to her when I did finally give her those own stories–but there could have been any number of reasons why that didn’t work. The books were marketed and sold as cozies–which I think was a mistake, because I didn’t write them as cozies. Sure, Paige was a single woman, working for Crescent City magazine and a former crime reporter for the Times-Picayune, which gave her some credibility as an investigator, but Paige was sharp-tongued and foul-mouthed. Had I known that the books would be marketed to the cozy audience, I wouldn’t have used Paige–she was too centered in my head as who she was for me to change her significantly in her own series–and would have simply come up with someone new. The books were also electronic only, and oddly enough, my readers tend to prefer to read me in print hard copies.

I had actually tried writing a cozy series before–I had this great idea for one, about an English professor at a university in a fictional Louisiana town on the north shore (based on Hammond); I called it A Study in Starlet and wrote a strong introductory chapter, trying to channel my inner Elizabeth Peters/Vicky Bliss; sarcastic but not bitchy, but it never got anywhere. I actually became rather fixated on my fictional Hammond (which I called Rouen, pronounced “ruin”, and I did want to call one of the books The Road to Rouen), which I may still write about at some point–I never say never to anything–but I am digressing. But I always had it in the back of my head that I should try writing a mainstream cozy at some point in my career. And this came about in a very weird way–it’s a long story–but I wound up pitching the idea I had to Crooked Lane and they offered me a contract, which was quite lovely. (Incidentally, I signed the contract electronically on the Friday before Hurricane Ida; the last email I got from Crooked Lane that Friday afternoon after signing the contract said you’re going to be getting some emails from the team next week so keep an eye out for them and welcome aboard! So, of course the power went out on Sunday morning…)

I originally was going to write about a costume shop. There’s one across the street from Paul’s office that has a showroom and an enormous warehouse; they do a lot of costume work for film, theater, and television, which seemed like a great backdrop for a series with all kinds of potential stories for the future. Crooked Lane didn’t like that, and asked me to come up with something else, so I walked down Magazine Street writing down the kinds of businesses I saw. An antique shop was one of them, and that was what they liked. My working title for the book was Grave Expectations, because it involved an inheritance, but they didn’t like that title either, and I reached back into my archives for a title for the original spin-off idea I had for launching the Paige series–I wrote like 100 pages of the first Paige book in 2004 and it never got used–and grabbed the title from it: A Streetcar Named Murder, and hence, the title was born.

And…I had three months to finish the book, as they wanted it by January 15th. And of course there was the power situation in New Orleans, and…

Heavy sigh. I will leave the rest of the story for another day and time.

I slept really well last night; woke up again at five and since it wasn’t the alarm yanking me out of the clutches of Morpheus this morning, I feel rested. I was very tired last night when I got home; I hit the wall around three yesterday afternoon and when I got home it was the easy chair for me. We watched more Big Mouth, and then I retired to bed around ten. I am working at home tomorrow, so am hopeful this will be a good weekend for writing. I do want to watch both the LSU-Arkansas and Alabama-Mississippi games this weekend–as they could determine who wins the SEC West for the season (and I cannot believe that LSU is in the driver’s seat; I was hoping for an 8-4 season and feared that was unlikely), but I also need to get caught up on my writing and everything. Yikes.

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