Bring the Boys Home

Thursday and I’ve survived thus far–small victories, regardless of how small they might be, are still victories–and just today and tomorrow in the office before the weekend. I have switched out Monday for Tuesday next week (the guy who works Monday has a doctor’s appointment so we switched days) which should make for an interesting week; in office Monday, at home Tuesday, in office Wednesday, leave on Thursday. I am really dreading going back to five days in the office, but am also hoping that by the time that happens we’ll also have evening hours again so I can give up these wretched mornings.

The good news is I have selected my audiobooks for the drive next week: The Night Villa by Carol Goodman and The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware. I think the books I will take with me to read while I am there will be Five Decembers by James Kestrel (which recently won the Edgar for Best Novel) and probably Rob Osler’s Devil’s Chew Toy, most likely. I won’t have time to read both while I am there–I’ll only be there for two full days, plus two 12 hour drive days (YAY CAN’T WAIT)–but I can certainly make some headway with at least one of them. I also am thinking since I usually get up at six on Thursdays that I can go ahead and get up that early next Thursday and be on the road by seven-ish in the morning. That will help me get past the two biggest logjams on the road (Birmingham and Chattanooga) at off hours, but will put me into Knoxville during the evening rush hour, yay, but better one than all three). I also would like to stop and take some pictures in the Smoky Mountains on the way, which is something I’ve always wanted to do whenever I am driving this trip, but I’m always behind schedule and rushing and its dark outside in the time of year when I usually make it, so….but those gorgeous sunsets in the mountains are marvelous. It’s too bad my story has to be finished long before this trip, alas…at least if I want to make it for this submission call.

If I want to make this submission call. The jury is still out.

I slept decently last night–I haven’t synced the Fitbit to the phone yet for a definitive sleep score yet–but i did wake up a few times during the night but I was able to go back to sleep each time. Ah, a 76–that feels about right. I feel a bit groggy this morning but somewhat rested; we’ll see how good I am at getting things checked off the to-do list today, won’t we? I had drinks with a friend in from out-of-town last night after work, and then when I got home I had to hide everything in the kitchen so I could do a ZOOM meeting, which was productive and nicer than I would have thought, and then I hung out with Paul gossiping and getting caught up on each other’s lives before retiring to bed last evening. I am, however, looking forward to getting through this day so I can sleep a little later tomorrow morning, and then slide nicely through to the weekend. Heavy heaving sigh. And of course, next week I have to go to Kentucky. Yay. But I’m very excited about the audiobooks I downloaded to listen to, and the opportunity to do some reading while I am there. Find the positives in everything is always a good methodology to pursue, especially in times like these where it feels like the entire world is burning to the ground. (I said to Paul last night, “no one told me when I was a kid that everything in the world would just get worse and worse every year once I was an adult. That was one thing I didn’t plan on.”)

But as my coffee is kicking in now, and my mind is becoming less clouded and foggy, I am feeling better about my world and all the things I can get done and need to get done and WILL get done by Monday. I need to remember not to be so hard on myself about everything, and maybe slow down and cut back on everything else that I am doing and be a lot more selective going forward. I also need to recognize and accept that I am older and while the heart might still be willing, the body and brain are older and a bit slower and I can’t do as much as I used to. I need to get back to the gym after I return from Kentucky, and start taking that seriously (the pictures from Ellen’s book launch! Ye Gods, I look terrible). I need to focus and get the Scotty book planned, as well as two other projects organized and ready to go, and I also need to get these edits done (I am hoping to spend some of the weekend doing just that; I’ve got to finish this before I can move on to something else).

And I found another submission call that sounds interesting. Heavy heaving sigh.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Happy Thursday, Constant Reader, and remember–the weekend is nigh.

Ruby Tuesday

Tuesday and back into the office, which means I am awake waaaaaaay too early for my liking.

Sleep wasn’t great last night–yesterday was a very trying day, to say the least–and so I didn’t expect to sleep particularly well to begin with, and well, I was correct. I don’t feel groggy or tired right now, but I am sure will hit a wall big time later this afternoon. I’m not entirely sure it was that bad of a night’s sleep; I just know I woke up several times during the night and each time had trouble falling back asleep. But the coffee this morning is going down well, and I feel awake in a way, if a little physically tired still. But I shall make it through this day, I am going to power through and get things done. Yesterday I did manage to get work done–even if it wasn’t the greatest–but it was something.

I also got some bad news that I had to process–still processing, really–but life goes on, you know? The world doesn’t stop turning and you still have to go to work, pay your bills, and so forth. Scooter needs to be fed, and his litter box needs to be cleaned, and wallowing in bad news doesn’t get the dishes cleaned or the mail picked up or my clients seen. Or my stories written and edited and so on and so forth. The news did kind of derail me from finishing that short story that was due yesterday, but that’s life and it’s not the first deadline I’ve missed for an anthology or short story call. And at least I got more of the story written–and it could, if I can figure out the middle, be a really good one should I ever finish it.

So that’s something, at any rate.

Last night we caught up on Gaslit (Julia Roberts is really killing the role of Martha Mitchell, and I’m not a big fan of hers, either) and The Baby (a truly bizarre show) and started watching another show whose name I cannot recall right now–which is probably an indication of my brain fog from lack of sleep last night. (Although according to my fitbit I had a much better than average sleep last night, go figure.) Oh, yes, Tokyo Vice, starring Ansel Elgort. The first episode didn’t do much for me, but the story began picking up in the second episode and so we’re probably going to continue watching. The thing about Gaslit –asides from being yet another 1970s set television program–is that as we watched Paul kept saying, “were they really this stupid?” and I had to keep replying, “yes, they actually were this stupid, which is why they got caught. And it was all completely unnecessary–if I’m not mistaken, he won at least 48 states.” Idiot. And really, the country has never completely recovered from Watergate, either; the damage to public trust in our institutions has never been restored, which is part of the reason the country is in the shape it’s in now. Ironically, it was the Republican party responsible for Watergate–and then later they became the “you can’t trust the government” party. Coincidence? Or a pattern?

Definitely pattern.

I’ve not decided what I am going to read next, either. I am having to head up to Kentucky for Memorial Day weekend, so I will be trying to decide what to listen to on the drive up and back, and I also should be able to get some reading in while I am up there. I have a lot of great books on deck–my TBR stack(s) are literally to die for, seriously–which makes the deciding that much harder for me to deal with and make final decisions. But I need to start clearing books out again–an endless struggle–and—and—and–yeah, I have a lot to do. Tonight I am going to turn in the Bouchercon anthology and start diving into my edits on my book, which is going to make it a lot stronger than it currently is; obviously my preference would be to have that finished before I drive up there a week from Thursday (it’s incredibly difficult for me to get much writing work done while I am on a trip) but we’ll see. (Ironically, I still had the submission call for that short story open on my browser tabs and they’ve pushed it back a week so in theory at least I could get that story done as there is more time now…we’ll see how it goes. I am in such a dark space this morning I can’t really picture getting anything done here or in time. Heavy heaving sigh.

And on that cheery note, I am heading into the spice mines. Talk to you tomorrow, Constant Reader, and I hope your Tuesday is as lovely as you are.

Easy Loving

Monday morning and I really didn’t want to get out of bed this morning. I have so much to get done this week it’s kind of overwhelming, to be honest; and the temptation to just stay in bed for the rest of my life and avoid the world was kind of really powerful this morning. Yet the world stops turning for no man, let alone a Gregalicious, so there was naught for me to do other than arise, do my morning ablutions, and start drinking coffee. I did sleep fairly well, despite the enormous stress of a to-do list with incredibly lengthy chores and projects to work on, and feel pretty well rested this morning–if not quite up to dealing with the world at large.

Ellen Byron’s book launch last night was marvelous. I was delighted to see she had a very good turnout and sold a lot of books–and she is the QUEEN of swag. I for once didn’t have stage fright–I knew Ellen would be warm and witty and wise and funny; all I had to do was lob some questions at her and she was off and running (she did try to deflect attention back to me a couple of times, but I was ready to turn the spotlight right back on her after a brief answer and succeeded each time). The book itself is lovely, too; you want to get a copy of Bayou Book Thief, especially if you’re a fan of traditional mysteries. The cover is gorgeous, and it’s a fun story with a likable main character and a likable supporting cast, and Ellen’s adoration of New Orleans spills over on every page–and what more can a New Orleanophile ask for? I also picked up a copy of The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin (I saw it and remembered someone recommending it to me a while back, so I grabbed it immediately) and a copy of Albert Camus’ The Stranger, which I’ve been meaning to read for quite some time now (since Camus was inspired by The Postman Always Rings Twice for his own novel, I thought it only made sense for me to finally read the Camus)–I can never walk into a bookstore and not walk out with more than I intended to buy when I walked in (I had only intended to get a copy of Ellen’s finished book; I read a pdf) but that was fine–I wanted both books and let’s face it, I am always going to buy books at every opportunity, but it is time for me to start donating books to the library again.

I am not familiar with the part of New Orleans where the bookstore is located; Blue Cypress Books is on Oak Street past Carrollton, not far from where Carrollton and Claiborne intersect (and yes, the two streets actually run parallel to each other in my neighborhood; welcome to the wonderful and terribly confusing world of New Orleans’ bizarre geography). I would have, as per my usual, simply driven all the way to Riverbend on St. Charles then turned left on Carrollton…but I decided not to do my usual “this is how I know to get there” thing and used Google maps. Interestingly enough, Google maps took me on to Highway 90 then I-10 before getting off at the Carrollton exit in front of Costco and going that way…and it was faster–a lot faster, which I still kind of can’t wrap my mind around, but then again that’s New Orleans geography for you; my mind always thinks in terms of grids where everything runs north and south or east and west, and that isn’t New Orleans. The only actual grid design to anywhere in this city is the French Quarter–and only the French Quarter, at that. I have lived here twenty-six years and still get confused and mystified by how geography works here…which is one of the reasons I think people believe New Orleans is magical and mystical. Where else does geography make no sense other than here?

After I got home, we finished watching The Outlaws, which we really enjoyed, and started watching Gaslit. Julia Roberts is killing it as Martha Mitchell–I’d really forgotten a lot about her, but she was kind of a celebrity at the time, more so than the wife of Attorney General could ever hope to be, frankly–and she was enormously popular; everyone liked Martha Mitchell, because you never really knew what she was going to say next, which naturally didn’t sit well with the president of the time, Richard Nixon. (And again with a show set in the 1970s; sensing a theme–Minx, Candy, Gaslit–all set in the 1970s as a reminder to us all just how awful the 1970s actually were…pay attention, everyone. There’s a reason you never want to turn the clock back, or bring an era back.) I’d actually forgotten about Martha Mitchell–she’s often left out of books I’ve read about Watergate–and she was actually kind of an important cultural figure of the time. If the Nixon idea was to erase her from history, it kind of worked. The 1970s was definitely an odd decade.

As I was lying in bed dreading getting up and facing the world today, I thought, I would really love to have a vacation, you know. A week where I didn’t have a deadline to meet, or go into the office, or really do anything at all other than relax and read and watch movies or television shows I’ve not had a chance to see. It’s been a hot minute, and most of the traveling I actually do tends to be writing related in some way, which means it’s not really a vacation but a work trip. I don’t think I’ve actually had a vacation-vacation since we went to Italy, and that was eight long years ago. We’re talking about possibly going to Puerto Rico or some place in Central America (Costa Rica, if anywhere), but I think it’s past time…although I could also use some time off to stay home and get the Lost Apartment into some semblance of order, a Sisyphean task if there ever was one.

I didn’t finish my short story–the deadline was today and I know there’s no way I can get it finished in time to email off by midnight tonight, particularly since there would be little to no time to revise and/or edit it. It’s a shame, but at least the story is further along at about just over a thousand words than it was at less than two hundred; it’s a great idea but I’m basically stuck in the middle. I know how it ends, I just don’t know how to get it there, so letting it sit for a while is definitely in order. I did start writing the new Scotty yesterday–don’t get excited, I literally wrote maybe 175 words of the prologue; I found the book opening I wanted to spoof (Pride and Prejudice) and since I didn’t want to forget, I started writing it and it flowed along for another hundred words or so before I ran out of steam. The Scotty prologues are always the hardest part of the book for me to write; they are basically a recap of Scotty’s life thus far to get a new reader caught up without having to go back and read the first eight (!) books in the series as well as not spoiling the first eight books in the series should the reader decide to go back and actually read the first eight books in the series. (Something I actually need to do before I really dig in and start writing this thing…I really need to do the Scotty Series Bible and get that done so I have an easy reference without having to page through the books or do a search in the ebooks) I also did some research over the weekend for the book, which entailed rereading two Nancy Drew mysteries, The Ghost of Blackwood Hall and The Haunted Showboat (both books bring Nancy and her friends to New Orleans/Louisiana) and oh, yes, that bit of research definitely triggered a blog post which I started writing yesterday after I got ready for the event and was waiting for it to be the right time to leave. I kind of slam Nancy Drew in the post–but the truth is, despite my obsessive collecting of Nancy Drew books (trying to get the entire original series, with the yellow spines) I never actually liked the books all that much. (Same with the Hardy Boys.) While I appreciate the two series for their popularity and for getting kids to read (and to read mysteries) neither series was ever my favorite–but once I started reading and collecting, I had to keep reading and collecting because I am obsessive–and that obsession with collecting the books, while slightly tempered as I’ve gotten much older (and don’t have a place to display the collection), still exists. (Periodically I do think about emptying a bookcase and refilling it with my kids’ series books; it’s always satisfying for me to see them on the shelves. And yes, I know how weird that sounds.)

And now back into the spice mines with me. Y’all have a lovely Monday, okay?

Louisiana Bayou

The traditional mystery, to quote Rodney Dangerfield, “don’t get no respect.”

I’m not sure why that is, to be perfectly honest. I do have my suspicions and opinions, most of which inevitably circle back to the root of so many societal ills: misogyny. Traditional mysteries, often called (both respectfully and derisively) cozies, are, as a general rule, primarily written by women, tell women’s stories, and theoretically, the primary market for them is women. So naturally, much like the entirety of the romance genre, it is subject to derision, not being taken as seriously as darker works, and often is shut out during awards seasons (the primary exception being the Agatha Awards, given at Malice Domestic, which is primarily focused on the traditional mystery). They generally also don’t get a lot of review coverage, because women mystery writers also traditionally don’t get their fair share of print reviews in major publications, either–and the ones who usually do trend to the darker side.

I will also admit that I, too, am guilty of being more drawn to the darker, harsher, more noir side of crime fiction in my reading–which is kind of ironic, as one of my favorite series writers of all time is Elizabeth Peters, who didn’t write dark but rather light-hearted and funny; the Amelia Peabody series is one of the all-time greats. I also love Ellen Hart’s and Donna Andrews’ and and Miranda James’ and Elaine Viets’ series; but a few years ago I realized I wasn’t giving the subgenre enough love and attention, so focused on consciously reading more traditional mysteries. I have since discovered other terrific traditional mystery writers by expanding my scope and not just reaching for the next thing that sounds interesting. I discovered Kellye Garrett’s terrific Detective by Day series, Leslie Budewitz, Sherry Harris, Julia Henry, Hannah Dennison, and far too many others to name. (Also, shout outs to Raquel V. Reyes and Mia P. Manansala for outstanding new series over the last year or so.)

And then of course there’s Ellen Byron.

In some cities, a middle-aged woman dancing down the street dressed as a cross between a 1970’s disco queen and Wilma Flintsone would be unusual. But this was New Orleans, where the unusual was the everyday.

The woman dancing past Ricki James-Diaz, dodging the broken concrete in the Irish Channel’s worn sidewalks, happened to be her landlady, Kitty Kat Rousseau, who lived on the other side of Ricki’s double-shotgun cottage on Odile Street. “On your way to rehearsal?” Ricki called to Kitty from the porch. Kitty belonged to the ABBA Dabbo Do’s, one of the Crescent City’s many synchronized dance and marching troupes that entertained at parades and special events.

“You know it, chère.” Kitty did the hustle, then paused. “Whew, spinning made me dizzy.” She leaned against a lamppost, trying to regain her equilibrium. “I’m glad you caught me. I wanted to wish you good luck today.”

Ricki used the back of her hand to wipe a drop of perspiration from her forehead, the result of nervrs, not the mid-August heat. “Thank you so much.”

I’ve been meaning to read Ellen Byron for quite some time now; I’m not really sure why I haven’t. Ellen and I met electronically, but I am not exactly sure I remember precisely how; a Facebook group, or something. I don’t know, but Ellen–who graduated from Tulane University and whose daughter was attending Loyola–wanted to meet for dinner on a trip here to get her daughter settled into an apartment and the rest was history. She has written two series already–the Cajun Country series (which I need to read) and the Catering Hall mysteries as Maria DiRico. She’s doing a prelaunch party for the first in her new series, the Vintage Cookbook series, the first of which is called Bayou Book Thief. She graciously asked me to do the event with her, and as such I spent yesterday afternoon reading the book…which is absolutely charming.

The premise of the book is the Ricki (full name: Miracle Fleur de Lis James-Diaz, thank you very much) has returned to New Orleans to escape two awful experiences: the freak accident death of her husband, a viral Youtube video-maker (think Jackass) who choked to death doing one of his stunts, and of course the video of his death–he filmed it live–has gone viral. If that isn’t bad enough, her employer (she curated his collection of rare first editions) was convicted of a massive Bernie Madoff-like fraud scheme. Having been born in New Orleans and lived there her first seven years of life till her adoptive (yes, she was abandoned at Charity Hospital as an infant) parents moved to Los Angeles, she has decided to return to the city of her birth, maybe find her birth mother, and start a new business–selling vintage cookbooks and vintage serving ware in a shop in the Bon Vee museum, which used to be the home of one of the city’s legendary restauranteurs, Genevieve “Vee” Charbonnet. The board president approves her idea, and the story is off to the races as Ricki gets to know her co-workers, the Bon Vee family, from administration to the tour guides to the docents, as well as those who work in the little café on the grounds.

Soon, one of the more irritating tour guides (let’s face it, he’s a dick) turns up dead in a trunk and dropped off at the mansion with some boxes of donated books for the shop. Ricki herself has had a few run-ins with the victim, and she’s also the one who finds the body. Worried about whether or not she herself is a suspect, as well as what damage the murder might do to her new business, Ricki starts looking into the murder herself–while also developing a weird relationship/friendship with the female police detective looking into the case. But this murder is just one of several mysteries surrounding Ricki and her life at the mansion, and many complications that arise from her working there and her amateur sleuthing.

Bayou Book Thief is a lot of fun, and is filled with endearing, likable characters along with some marvelous observations and truths about New Orleans–watching out for tree roots as you walk along the sidewalks; the horror of your air conditioning going out while it’s still hot; being in a bar during a Saints game; and above all else, that the city is really a very small town at heart. I really enjoyed it, and look forward to the next in the series, Wined and Died in New Orleans.

Join us tonight at five pm at Blue Cypress Books. It’ll be a fun time.

Mercy Mercy Me

Sunday morning and another decent night of sleep. I felt rested this morning, and still have an insane amount of things to get done, but progress was made yesterday. I did my work yesterday–I love when my work consists of reading, especially when the book is as delightful and charming as the one I read yesterday–and so have other things to get done today. Today’s primary task involves reading as well–I also have to come up with clever questions for Ellen Byron for tonight’s (this afternoon’s?) event at Blue Cypress Books, at 5 pm. Come on, come all! There’s also some filing and organizing for me to get done this morning while my mind slowly awakens, and of course, dishes to put away.

But I did get a lot finished yesterday, just not as much as I needed to, which seems to always be the case these days. That’s okay, you see, because I’ve also learned/am trying to be kinder to myself these days, in a successful (some days more than others) attempt to try to keep my stress levels down as well as the anxiety, which will inevitably combine into some sort of depressive, overwhelmed state during which I get nothing done and only compound the problem into a vicious cycle that winds up going around and around and around and where it stops, nobody knows. But my coffee tastes really lovely this morning, which is a good thing, and I feel rested and recuperated, which is also lovely.

Last evening, after we were finished with everything we could do during the day and decided to call it quits for the day, we finished watching Candy–I still am not entirely sure what I think of it, to be honest, but man did they capture the time period absolutely perfectly–and then watched the first two episodes of the second season of Hacks, which is even funnier this time around. Everyone in the show is so perfectly cast, from Jean Smart having the time of her life in a role that is absolutely perfect for her, all the way down to even the most minor characters. It is one of the best comedies on television now, frankly. We then moved on to The Outlaws, a British show on Amazon Prime starring Christopher Walken (who has been working a lot lately, and that isn’t a bad thing at all) which is about a group of disparate characters all brought together from being sentenced to community service together. The first episode wasn’t great, so we were on the fence about continuing but gave it another episode. SO glad we did; the show really kicks into gear in the second episode and the writing is so good, so intricate…definitely recommend it to you, Constant Reader. We also need to get caught up on Severance and The Offer, and there are a few other shows out there we’d like to get started with.

How are y’all doing this morning? I am feeling pretty good, in all honesty. There are some things I need to deal with that I would prefer not, but ripping off the scab and getting it taken care of is better than letting it sit, I suppose. I’m not at all stressed about doing a public appearance tonight–Ellen is a pro, witty and warm and charming, so really all I have to do is lob softballs to her so she can hit them out of the park–because I don’t mind interviewing people (I don’t mind moderating panels so much as I do public speaking; as long as the focus isn’t on me I am more fine than I am with having to give a talk where the focus is entirely on me; I am not sure why I am so uncomfortable in the spotlight). Ellen is also a friend, which makes it easier; it can be like a casual conversation between two friends who also happen to be writers and who both happen to write about New Orleans.

And speaking of New Orleans, I also went down a wormhole of research yesterday. I’m doing some research for the next Scotty book (more on that later), and found myself in yet another wormhole; I don’t even remember how it started (I think with a story that came across my feed about the Mississippi River battures and a street that used to be on other side of the levee, and still is in some places) and then of course one article leads to another leads to still another and so forth and before I knew it a lot of time had passed. There’s so much about New Orleans and its history that I do not know, or knew at one time and have forgotten, and every last thing I find or remember is fodder: oh, this is interesting, I should write about this. This new Scotty book is mostly going to take place outside of New Orleans for the most part; which is a big risk–writing a Scotty that’s not really a New Orleans story, but also is a New Orleans story. (That sounded confusing, even to me and I know what I am talking about.) You’ll just have to trust me, Constant Reader.

And on that note, this morning’s “haven’t completely woken up yet” chores are waiting. Talk to you tomorrow, and have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader–it’s always a pleasure when you check in.

Colour My World

Today’s title song was ubiquitous in the early 1970’s; I would be curious to know how many proms and other high school dances (fraternity formals, etc.) used “Colour My World” as their theme in the first half of that decade. I think my high school in the suburbs used it my freshmen year as the prom theme; my yearbooks were lost many years ago so I cannot verify anything for certain by taking one down from the shelf and looking. At first, I lamented the loss of so much of my high school and childhood memorabilia: letters for sport, letter jackets, scrapbooks, yearbooks, trophies, medals, certificates–you name it, it disappeared years ago. I do have my junior prom photo, some medals, and a plaque I got for something or another when I was in high school–everything else is gone. After the initial sadness at losing memorabilia of my youth, I got over it pretty quickly; it’s just stuff, and really, it’s nothing I’ve ever truly missed. Sure, sometimes I might remember someone or something, and think, oh if I had my yearbooks I could look this person up but it’s always very fleeting…although now that I am thinking about writing about the 1970s those yearbooks would probably come in handy…

Any other sentimental attachments I may have had regarding possessions were ended by Hurricane Katrina and the things we lost then–and we were lucky, we didn’t lose everything–but the mentality of it’s just stuff has really stuck with me since then. Sure, it’s still difficult for me to get rid of books–my storage attic and unit are proof of that–but I am getting there with the books, too. I am really tired of the attic being full and I am really getting tired of paying the storage unit bill. And if I take one box down from the attic every week and go through it–just to be sure–it will eventually be emptied out.

And of course there are other boxes of books stashed around the Lost Apartment, disguised as tables underneath small blankets working as makeshift tablecloths.

Last year Paul and I discussed our hoarder habits and had decided to “clean like we’re moving”–but we have yet to really pursue that goal.

I’ve been depressed and angry alternatively a lot lately; it really does seem sometimes like we are indeed living in the end times; I find my reaction to developing news lately to be all too frequently something along the lines of well, at least I’m old or #teamextinctionevent or something all those lines. I am so tired of having to fight for my rights and those of other non-straight non-white people, seriously. I try not to let this shit get me down by giving myself pep talks: the arc of history bends towards justice, our system often breaks down but always repairs itself, the majority of Americans really don’t want to take rights away from other Americans–all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. But are those things really true? Democracies and republics historically have always collapsed into authoritarianism, going all the way back to Athens and Rome. Organized religion has always been oppressive and monstrous–but we’re supposed to somehow believe that its modern iterations aren’t (yeah, and I’ve got a bridge across the Mississippi River to sell you, too)–and its historical crimes are far too many to mention. Power and money literally corrupt everything, and religion is not free from that stain, despite all the warnings in the Christian Bible. One of my favorite histories to reread is Barbara Tuchman’s The March of Folly, and my favorite part is “The Renaissance Popes Spark the Protestant Reformation”, about how those popes, from Sixtus IV through Clement VII, essentially through their pride, venality, and lust for power (and women) were so excessive that they drove Martin Luther to nail his ninety-odd theses to the cathedral door, changing history forever.

So, yeah, miss me with that “organized religion” is a societal good thing. It’s not, nor has it ever been, and religion is yet another way for people to be controlled–the opiate of the masses, as Karl Marx said. (oooh, I quoted Marx. Cue the accusations that I am a Communist!)

Heavy heaving sigh. I have an entire post about my rage about Roe and how we’re next in the crosshairs of the “supreme” Court, but I don’t know if I’ll ever post it. It might make me feel better to express my rage publicly, but will it actually make a difference in the world if I do? There’s nothing more frustrating than feeling helpless–it’s the absolute worst (and why religion exists in the first fucking place, don’t @ me) and the major issue with the world burning to the ground all around me, for me, is that when I get down or depressed or frustrated, that makes it much harder for me to actually write things. I want to get this story finished; I need to get the edits on Streetcar done; I have to finish the Bouchercon anthology; and I need to start planning out the next Scotty. I have this terrific idea for it–can’t talk about it publicly yet, obviously, but I’ve become incredibly proud of my own cleverness in this case–and I really want to spend some time playing around with it this weekend. if I can get the anthology finished, put in some good thinking about the edits and do some workarounds with the notes from my editor, and finish this story as well as a base synopsis of the Scotty book, I will be most pleased with myself come Monday morning.

I slept very well last night–even slept in a bit this morning, so am a bit groggy but shaking it off with the assistance of my morning coffee, but feel very rested. I did clean and organize a bit when I got home last night, which was lovely; the kitchen/office looks a bit better this morning than it did yesterday and I also managed to do all the bed linen (I did not, however, put away the load of dishes in the dishwasher, but still–progress). Paul and I watched The Lost City last night, which was a fun diversion, but it was ultimately overall a bit disappointing to me. I kept seeing the similarities to Romancing the Stone, and in comparison, The Lost City comes up short. Channing Tatum, though, is so adorable-especially when he’s playing a himbo–he carries most of the film on his back, really. I didn’t quite get it, really–Bullock is always charming in everything (I will always appreciate her, if for no other reason than Miss Congeniality is genius)–but for some reason she kind of wasn’t in this, for some reason. Maybe I was expecting more and was disappointed? But really, my primary response to the film was “I need to watch both Romancing the Stone and The Jewel of the Nile again.” I think the primary reason the movie failed was the power imbalance between their characters, really; Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner were equals, Bullock and Tatum were not, so when Bullock is mean and dismissive of Tatum’s character, it just comes across as mean and bitchy, not funny–and the history between the two isn’t really set up very well, nor is Bullock’s back story as a heartbroken widow how just wants to hide in her house for the rest of her life. A few more scenes could have set this up and built up the dynamic between them better; it just doesn’t play the way it is edited now…which was enormously disappointing for me, because this is precisely the kind of romantic adventure/treasure hunt story I usually love. I wouldn’t say you shouldn’t watch, Constant Reader. Your mileage might vary, of course; but it essentially left me thinking this could have been so much better.

And now, back to the spice mines. Y’all have a lovely day, okay?

Sweet City Woman

Thursday and I survived Pay-the-Bills Day relatively unscathed. It’s lovely to be able to pay the bills and not have any stressors or worries about being able to pay them, you know? I ran some errands after work yesterday–picking up the mail and a prescription–and it was a lovely mail day. I got my copy of Chris Holm’s new better-than-Michael-Crichton Child Zero, which I read in ARC form and loved, as well as the first book in Sherry Harris’ Seaglass Inn series, From Beer to Eternity (which is, let’s face it, a great title). We watched the new episode of Candy last night (they really have nailed the set and costume designs for this show, seriously–this is probably the best depiction of suburban hell circa late 70’s/early 80’s that I’ve seen–I said to Paul last night, “everything about this show is the life I didn’t want when I grew up”) and then started watching The Baby on HBO MAX, which is weirdly disturbing and kind of great? The episodes are short and it’s very macabre, and we are really enjoying it a lot. We watched the first three episodes, and I am not really sure what precisely the show is about…but the central premise: a single woman who doesn’t want children–and resents her friends who have had them–winds up in possession of a baby that is, at best, incredibly bad luck and causes injury and/or death to people around it, and at worst, is some kind of little demon that deliberately causes injury and/or death to the people it selects.

What a great concept!

I slept well again last night–I am starting to get used to this sleeping well thing and it worries me a little; like the insomnia is going to come roaring back unexpectedly the moment I start taking sleep for granted again–so I feel pretty good this morning. We’ll see how long that lasts, won’t we? Anyway, I worked for a bit yesterday on “Smoky Mountain Rest Stop” and I also started working on a potential project on spec; it’s a book idea I’ve had for about ten years or more now (it really scares me to see how fast the last decade or so has passed by–let alone this year) so I feel like I am starting to get someplace again with everything, but then again, it only takes one day to fuck everything up and start the downward spiral again, which is always unpleasant and not helpful in any way. I didn’t make the to-do list yesterday as I originally intended; I’ll have to do that this morning, but I am making progress on emails and on other things I am doing, so I feel like I am actually getting somewhere–even if the to-do list continues to grow exponentially. It’s also starting to get warmer–the temps are into the 80’s and low 90’s again already, but so far the humidity hasn’t swept in like the horror it is, but that will be coming sooner rather than later. I need to start back to the gym again too–I’m starting to feel the tightness of my muscles again, which means they need not only stretching but to be worked again. I do feel scattered–it’s amazing how putting a to-do list can eliminate that feeling, really–which is why I really need to make it a priority this morning between clients.

Heavy heaving sigh. I really am terrible about being organized anymore, so I keep missing things and can’t find them and then have to depend on my memory–which isn’t the greatest anymore, but I probably shouldn’t say that; I’ve always had to write things down and have been making to-do lists since I was in my thirties, when I started buying the hardbound blank books to keep as journals and for writing down book ideas and entertaining myself between flights when I worked at the airport. That seems like a million years ago, doesn’t it? But it terms of technology and so forth, it practically was. Personal computers were still in their infancy, as was the Internet–the best you could do with it was dial-up back then–and everyone still had a landline and voicemail (some people still had answering machines) and the idea of streaming things to your television? We were still renting videos at Blockbuster and Hollywood Videos then, and if someone had told me I would have a phone one day that was basically not only a handheld computer but would also replace the need for a stereo system and could contain not just my entire music collection but a library of books I would have laughed my ass off at them. I still don’t utilize my phone as completely as I could and should, but that’s just the way it is. Maybe someday I’ll learn how to use all the functions of my phone…ha ha ha, just kidding.

But it’s Thursday already and I have a lot to get done before the close of the week. Nothing terrible–edits and so forth, reading Ellen’s book for the event on Sunday (I’m not terribly worried; Ellen is a pro and all I need to do is give her a story prompt and she’ll entertain the audience)–and I’d like to get this story whipped into shape over the course of the weekend as well. Not sure if all of this is indeed possible–certainly not when I get home from work too tired to do much of anything other than become one with the easy chair and watch stuff on Youtube and television–but here’s hoping.

I need to make that to-do list.

And now back to the spice mines. Happy Thursday, everyone!

It Don’t Come Easy

The future’s so bright, we have to wear shades.

I’m referring to the crime fiction world. I’ve been having a marvelous time reading debut authors lately–Mia P. Manansala, Wanda M. Morris, just to name two–and I have to say, the debut authors are simply killing it lately. I am glad I’ve not been asked to sit on any judging panels for best firsts lately, because while it would be amazing to read all of these exceptional debuts for an entire year, having to winnow them down first to five and then to pick a winner would be incredibly difficult. It’s hard enough participating in fan-voted awards, like the Leftys and the Anthonys.

That is also particularly true when it comes to queer crime. Some of the queer crime novels I’ve been reading over the last year or so have been exceptional–and Marco Carocari’s Blackout fits right in with the premise of this post: an exceptional debut novel, and with gay characters, issues and themes front and center; and written by a gay man. Blackout was a Lefty finalist for Best First Novel (a truly packed category, seriously) and I couldn’t have been prouder of Marco–especially once I finished reading the book.

Franco couldn’t deny it any longer. This had been a mistake. “I’m sorry…hold on a second,” he said, gripping the rooftop’s metal railing to keep his balance, his blue gym shorts around his ankles. All around him low hanging pinkish clouds held back SoHo’s city lights, dousing the neighborhood in a muted glow.

The half-naked man behind him grunted and stepped back. “Dude, this isn’t working for me.”

Franco detected frustration in his voice, but found it hard to care. Wiping sweat from his forehead, he scratched the blond stubble on his cheek, his naked skin damp from from the sultry air. “Sorry, I…need a moment. I don’t feel so hot,” he said over his shoulder, straightening up. He spat on the ground, but the strange metallic taste lingered in his dry mouth. He swayed and saw double. “What the hell was in that thing?”

He got no answer and glanced at his bare chested hunk of a date standing there, zipping up.

Okay, considering this had barely taken ten minutes, date was probably grossly overstated. Franco eyed the ripped, olive-skinned stud who went by Pitcher9 on the MeatUp app, but whose real name he’d already forgotten. Pressed, he’d go with Hey since that was an intimate an introduction the situation warranted. A fading, crudely drawn mermaid tattoo on the man’s left oblique, possibly a blast from his youthful past, only increased his bad boy vibe.

Well, that’s an opening, isn’t it?

When I discovered that not only was queer fiction a thing, but that queer crime fiction was a strong and vital force in the genre, I was in heaven. I devoured queer fiction, and especially queer crime fiction of any kind. I discovered the rich history of queer fiction by reading writers like Joseph Hanson, Barbara Wilson, Richard Stevenson, Michael Nava, Ellen Hart, and Katherine Forrest–and any number of others. I was a queer book reviewer for years. I was editor of Lambda Book Report and served as a Lambda judge any number of times. I kind of burned out on it, to be honest…but I kept reading it and I certainly was paying attention. There has been any number of ups and downs in queer crime over the decades, but the flourishing we’re seeing now is pretty amazing for me to witness.

First of all, Marco’s book begins with the above scene (there’s a set-up introduction chapter, that dates back to the New York blackout of 1977), and it’s from a crime fiction small press. Not a small press that is queer owned and operated, but a crime fiction small press. That’s some serious in-your-face gay sexuality going on in those opening paragraphs; a hook-up gone bad on a rooftop in Manhattan. It is both blunt and frank and right there, in your face–and I cannot even begin to express how exciting it is for me, not just as a gay author but as a gay man of a certain age, to see gay sexuality expressed so bluntly and openly from a small crime press. Just as it amazed me that PJ Vernon’s Bath Haus was published (and promoted heavily) by one of the big presses in New York, it’s also lovely to see that small crime fiction publishers are embracing this kind of content.

It’s lovely, frankly.

The book itself is a strong debut novel from someone who will undoubtedly be a force to reckon with in the years to come. Franco smokes a joint with his trick, but the joint is laced with something so Franco becomes what we call an unreliable narrator/unreliable witness. He thinks he sees a murder happen in the window across the street–but the police find nothing to corroborate or back up his story. Did he really see something? Was it the drugs? And slowly, as Franco and his friends try to figure out what is going on and what is happening to Franco, it all seems to lead back in time to that night when the lights went out in New York…

Franco is a terrific character–likable if frustrating from time to time–but how would anyone react in this kind of situation? The trope of “I think I saw a murder but I may not have” isn’t original–Agatha Christie’s brilliant What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw is one of the best of these types of stories, but Carocari giving it a gay twist–and what a gay twist it was, indeed!–made it fresh and original and new. I don’t know if Carocari plans on writing more books with Franco as his protagonist–or if what he writes next will be a crime thriller or gay at all; but whatever it is, I am looking forward to reading it when it comes out.

I am a fan. Well done, Marco, and welcome to the queer crime fiction club!

If

Ah, Tuesday morning. Last night I slept remarkably well–so much so that when the alarm went off and hit snooze the first time, the second time it went off I slept through it and Paul had to nudge me awake. Which was good–I’m glad I slept so well–and a bit scary (what if I had slept through the alarm completely the second time?) at the same time. No matter, I am awake now and feeling rested and not even the teensiest bit groggy. Whether that will last all day or not is an entirely different story, of course, but I feel very well rested this morning–a good thing, since I am going into the office again today. Huzzah? Huzzah.

We started watching Pieces of Her on Netflix, based on the novel by Karin Slaughter, and at first I was a bit taken aback by it; some of what was going on didn’t make a lot of sense, but the second episode cleared a lot of that right up, and we’ve been climbed aboard for the ride. We’re both Toni Collette fans (we decided to give the fictionalization of The Staircase a whirl as well, before giving up because we’d seen the documentary series and so we know everything that’s going to happen. This quite naturally kills any suspense the series might have for people unfamiliar with the case, but alas, I am a crime writer and many of my friends were vested in watching the documentary, with endless discussions as to whether or not Michael Peterson was guilty or not…so despite the excellent casting choices, we gave up on it after the first episode), and she is topnotch as always in this; we’re definitely looking forward to seeing where and how this all works out. We also watched the first episode of Candy on Hulu; not realizing the entire show hadn’t completely dropped yet–they are doling out episodes one day at a time–which we enjoyed; we especially were surprised at how easy it is to make actors look unattractive while watching it. I could swear I’d seen this story before–including the cast–but maybe I just saw a lot of previews of it while watching other shows on Hulu, but it certainly feels like I’ve watched this before with this very same cast, which I know isn’t really possible.

But still, very weird. Has anyone else had deja vu while watching a television program?

How peculiar.

I was going to start reading Ellen Byron’s Bayou Book Thief last night, but alas, Paul came home earlier than expected so we started watching our television shows. Perhaps tonight he’ll either go to the gym or get home from the office later than expected, so I have some time to write and read before he does. I have decided to start embracing things in my life–the things I’ve always certainly dreaded doing–because putting things off that may be unpleasant certainly doesn’t make them go away, and why not just rip the bandage off and get it over with? So, today between my clients, I am going to try to organize myself and make a plan for the rest of the year to make sure everything gets done that I want to get done and try to get things going. First step is to finally get caught up on all of my emails and clean out that messy, sloppy, absolutely hideously full inbox. I also have to generate some emails, which will simply beget more emails–emails are truly what the ancient Greeks had in mind when they came up with the myth of Sisyphus; every time I go into my inbox I think to myself yes, new emails beget more emails as do answering emails so even emptying out the inbox doesn’t really accomplish anything other than a brief–very brief–respite. This of course is self-defeating at its finest; the justification argument I can literally use as an excuse to never do anything.

And have.

But ignoring them and hoping they will go away doesn’t work, so I am going to have to dive in headfirst and start answering, aren’t I? Sigh, I hate being an adult sometimes….most times.

Stay Awhile

Another work-at-home Monday here in the Lost Apartment and I am not feeling especially motivated this morning. Granted, I’ve yet to swill down any coffee (which will undoubtedly make a significant difference) but I also have a lot to do. I wasn’t nearly as productive over the weekend as I would have liked to have been, so the to-do list still has many things to be crossed off of it. But I think the relaxation was necessary in some ways–I did make notes in my journal all weekend, and I did a lot of thinking about writing, and I do think that’s very important; as I mentioned on the Spirit of Ink the other day, it’s crazy to sit down to write something without spending some time thinking about what you are going to write first. There’s this sense, often reinforced by television and movie depictions of writers trying to write, that we simply sit down at the computer (or typewriter, depending on the time period) and then stare in in frustration at the blank page or document before finally giving up. I don’t know any writer who sits down without some idea of what they are going to be writing about when they sit down to start, and it occurs to me that not thinking about what you’re going to be writing before you sit down and start writing it is nothing more than defeating yourself before you even get started.

We wound up watching quite a bit of television over the weekend; Anatomy of a Scandal on Netflix with Siena Miller and Michelle Dockery was how we spent most of yesterday; it wasn’t bad but there was a massive plot hole in the center of it that, once we were aware of it (a surprise twist about halfway through) kind of undermined the story and the character who was committing the deception: it simply did not make any sense. Maybe in the book it was based upon it worked better, I don’t know; but it really undermined the impact of the show and its message; which purported to be about entitled men and the “boys will be boys” dismissal of sexual harassment and assault on women; the old “he said/she said” debate in which the woman is never truly believed in our justice system (or the British one, in this case; sad that both countries have the same issues with toxic masculinity and accountability for entitled male behavior, but not terribly surprising, since one country is basically the mother of the other). The acting was good, but I really didn’t see anything fresh or new to the story; we’ve seen this same story before numerous times: powerful man is accused by underling with whom he is having an affair of sexual assault after the affair ends; wife isn’t sure whether she should believe him or not; and endless surprising revelations from the pasts of everyone involved.

But I did get some things done, so the weekend wasn’t a complete and/or total loss, to be sure. I managed to get most of the dishes done (there’s still another load to put in the dishwasher and run) and most of the laundry, and I did manage to get some organizing done as well. As I already mentioned I got some writing (or thinking about writing) done; I also did some important on-line research for not only my next Scotty but for a sequel to A Streetcar Named Murder if they want one; if they don’t, the research will certainly come in handy for something else. I also did find a couple of submission calls I might, if I have the time, cobble something together for–but the deadlines are very tight, and I don’t have anything in pristine-enough shape to turn in for the calls, either, which would mean needing to find the time to revise and rewrite stories for both, or at the very least trying to figure out which stories might work in either case. I’ll need to review the calls again with an eye to looking at what is in the files.

I also finished reading Carol Goodman’s The Lake of Dead Languages, so Ellen Byron’s Bayou Book Thief is up next for me. I am interviewing her at Blue Cypress Books this coming Sunday, so it’s best that I be prepared to talk to her about her new series don’t you think? I think a week–despite everything I have that needs to get done this week–is more than enough time to make sure I can read the book and be sort of intelligent-sounding while we are at the store. I’m not terribly worried; Ellen is witty and wise and warm and a great story-teller, so I know she’ll run with the ball every time I hand it off to her.

And on that note, this isn’t getting anything crossed off my to-do list, so I’d best head back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader, no matter what it requires you to do.