Tears in Heaven

Friday, and this slightly odd, off-kilter week is finally coming to an end.

 I slept deeply and well last night, but am looking forward to sleeping in tomorrow. Because of the flea situation, I spent most of yesterday laundering things and cleaning and vacuuming, so the weekend’s chores are already finished before the weekend rolls around, which is absolutely lovely; and also means that, if I am feeling ambitious, I can do more advanced cleaning; i.e. the cleaning I never get to because I only have time for a surface clean–so baseboards, cabinets, ceiling fans, etc–can be gotten to this weekend.

I am still revising “A Whisper from the Graveyard,” which I hope to read aloud this weekend and thus be finally finished with the story. I am pleased with how the revision is going; how the story and the character are taking shape on my computer screen; we shall see how it turns out. I also want to finish a strong revision/read-aloud of “This Thing of Darkness,” and I also want to work on “Please Die Soon” and maybe even get back to “Never Kiss a Stranger” this weekend. “Never Kiss a Stranger” is longer; it’s going to end up as a Kindle single, which is the entire point of writing it, and it’s terribly freeing to not have that word limit that limit short stories. I am also working my way through the manuscript of Royal Street Reveillon, and may even get to work on inputting edits and revisions and changes this weekend.

We shall see.

Next up in Florida Happens is a lovely story called “Muscle Memory,” by Angel Luis Colon.

Angel Luis Colón is a Derringer and Anthony Award shortlisted author. His published works include the titles: Pull & Pray,  No Happy Endings, the BLACKY JAGUAR series of novellas, the short story anthology; Meat City on Fire (And Other Assorted Debacles), and the upcoming Hell Chose Me(2019).

His short fiction has appeared in multiple web and print publications including Thuglit, Literary Orphans, and Great Jones Street. He also hosts the podcast, the bastard title.

Keep up with him on Twitter via @GoshDarnMyLife

Angel-Luis-Colon-640x512

You don’t like it.” Katie gives me this look I’d swear her mother used to give me whenever I lied but it’s been so many years that a passing glance could evoke the same memory.

Got a laundry list of reasons why I don’t like it here but I keep my mouth shut. I’m sitting on a bed that reeks of old piss and medicine—room’s about the size of a nice bathroom, so it makes sense. Better than a jail cell but not much better. I don’t feel this old. I don’t like Florida.

Single window behind me with faded curtains. Laminate floor. Don’t think there’s a word for the color but if depression had a color, this floor would suffice. Wood panel walls. Framed photographs of people I love without me in them. I shift on the bed. Back hurts. Knees hurt. Head hurts. All the pills I take and not a one seems to dull things enough for me to focus.

I raise a hand and find myself wondering if I always so slow or if my perception’s fucked from the new pills. “It’s fine,” I slur, “Besides, this is where I sleep. They got a bunch of tables and shit out there where I can occupy myself.”

Katie frowns. “I tried to find a spot at the nicer place a few miles up the highway, you know, by the girls’ school. They—”

“Muscle Memory” is, as I said, a lovely story that deals with several issues, but never in a preachy way. The main character is Sean Clarke, a former criminal who did some time for manslaughter, whose wife is dead and is now reaching the end of his life. His daughter Katie has found a senior facility for him to live in, where he befriends an old gay man named Manny and he spends times missing his daughter and granddaughters and wishing life had turned out better for him–but there’s a weary acceptance there. Something is going on with Manny, and Sean is the only one who can do anything about it–or thinks he is. Poignant and sad without crossing into sappy sentimentalism, Colon captures Sean’s voice perfectly. I’d actually like to read more about him, to be honest.

And now back to the spice mines.

Save the Best for Last

Thursday!

My Bouchercon homework continues, with me now reading James Ziskin’s Cast the First Stone. I am very excited to read this; I’ve heard nothing but great things about his books, plus he’s a pretty good guy. I had bought the first in his series–still in the TBR pile, alas–so am kind of glad that this book became a homework assignment. I am really enjoying it thus far, and if it’s going where I think it may be going–well, that would be awesome, but I am sure I am going to love it even if it doesn’t.

I started watching the BBC series The Musketeers on Hulu this evening. I did a half-day today; one of my co-workers and I tested at a conference at the Riverside Hilton for four hours, after which I walked home on an afternoon in August. Heavy sigh. Any way, ’tis a good thing I did work only half-a-day, because alas we are having to clean everything in the house because Scooter had a couple of fleas. His medication is working–the fleas we’ve found were dying or dead–but it’s August and we live in a swamp, and so while there have been no signs of infestation thus far, we aren’t going to take the risk. So I’ve been cleaning all day ever since I got home; taking breaks now and then to watch something on the television, and having it on as I launder things and vacuum things and well, it needed to be done, didn’t it?

That’s a rather tired and round about way of getting to the point, isn’t it? Long story short: I’ve always been a big fan of The Three Musketeers, ever since I was a kid, and I’ve been meaning to watch this BBC series for years…but kept forgetting about it. Someone posted somewhere on Facebook last night asking people to name their favorite d’Artagnan, and as I always do, whenever I get the chance, I replied Always Michael York. Always. But someone else posted a picture of the young actor who plays him in the television series and I thought, yes, I’d been meaning to watch that, hadn’t I? So I watched a couple of episodes as I cleaned–and am intrigued. More watching is most definitely called for.

Next up in Florida Happens is “A Postcard for the Dead”, by Susanna Calkins.

Born and raised in Philadelphia, Susanna Calkins lives outside Chicago with her husband and two sons. Holding a PhD in history, Susanna writes the award-winning Lucy Campion historical mysteries as well as the forthcoming Speakeasy Murders, both from St. Martin’s Minotaur. Murder Knocks Twice, set in Prohibition-Era Chicago, will be out Spring 2019. Her first short story, “The Trial of Madame Pelletier,” featuring a 19th century poisoning case, is up for an Anthony Award (and can be read on her website at www.susannacalkins.com).

Susanna says: “A POSTCARD FOR THE DEAD” is my second published short story. When I saw the call for the Bouchercon anthology, on a whim I began to read through 1920s Florida newspapers, since I was already researching the Roaring Twenties for my Prohibition-Era novels. There, I stumbled across the rather odd story of Lena Clarke, a postmistress who had embezzled huge amounts of money from the Post Office and then framed a local playboy for the crime. What struck me most about this story was how Lena gave her testimony in court using a crystal ball, having been part of a wild West Palm Beach Bohemian set, before being declared insane. Although I altered the case substantially in my version, I retained the embezzlement aspect and of course the crystal ball. After a little more digging, l discovered that Lena’s brother had died of a snakebite, which just seemed too Florida of a detail not too include. I thought about setting the story in a courtroom, but given that my FIRST short story, “The Trial of Madame Pelletier” featured, well, a trial, I thought I’d better frame it a little differently.

Calkins author photo outside

West Palm Beach, Florida

July 1921

Lily Baker peered inside her mailbox before reaching in to retrieve her mail. Back when her half-brother had been West Palm Beach’s postmaster, he had delighted in leaving snakes in mailboxes as pranks. Of course, the last laugh had been on him, when he had died of a snake bite last Christmas.

There was only one piece of mail today, though—a postcard featuring a swanky hotel in Orlando, a city she’d never been. She turned it over to read the message but was surprised to find it blank. Only her name and address had been printed on the postcard, in careful block letters.

Curiously, she studied the card. The stamp had been cancelled in Orlando two days before. July 27, 1921. Flipping the card back over, she looked at the picture more closely. The hotel was the San Juan, which the postcard informed her had been built in 1885 by C.E. Pierce. Built for the filthy rich, from the looks of it.

#

Lily was still by her mailbox when she saw Officer Danny Jamison coming down the street on his bicycle.  She had known Officer Jamison since they were kids—he’d been just one year ahead of her in school. After high school they’d gone in different directions, although on occasion their paths crossed. She was about to wave as he passed by, when instead he stopped in front of her and dismounted his bike in one easy move.

“Hey Lily,” he said, leaning his bike against her palm tree. “Your sister around?”

Lily shifted from one foot to the other. Why was Danny asking after Junie? Though she and her older half-sister had lived together since their parents had passed away a few years before, Junie tended to be tight-lipped about her goings-on. But Lily would catch whispers about illicit gin, late night séances, Ouija parties, and other secret doings connected with West Palm Beach’s furtive Bohemian scene. A far cry from her day job heading the town’s Post Office, which Junie had taken over from their brother some eight months before.  “She must have left for work early,” Lily said.  “I didn’t see her this morning.”

“I see. But you saw her last night?”

Great beginning, right? It’s a terrific story, but what I think I enjoyed the most about it was the narrator’s voice; I really liked the character of Lily, how Calkins gradually let us into Lily’s life, and through character, built a very clever crime story.

Baby-Baby-Baby

John D. MacDonald is one of my favorite authors. Period.

I first read MacDonald when I was about thirteen: The Dreadful Lemon Sky. I didn’t care too much for it on my first read; I was coming off reading Agatha Christie and Ellery Queen and Erle Stanley Gardner and Charlotte Armstrong, and was deep into my Victoria Holt/Phyllis Whitney phase, so I was confused–this isn’t a mystery at all, I remember thinking as I read it…and ironically, it was this enormous disappointment that led to me moving away from reading mystery/crime novels for a very long time.

When I was about sixteen, I bought a couple of ratty old MacDonald paperbacks for a dime each at a flea market: Murder in the Wind, The Crossroads, and The Drowner. These were three of his stand-alones from his pulp days, before he started writing the Travis McGee series, and I loved all three of them. This was my first experience with pulp fiction/noir; it was shortly after this that I went on my James M. Cain kick, and slowly came to an appreciation of the less-traditional style  of  crime novel. Years later, when Grafton, Muller and Paretsky brought me back into reading crime, I remembered how much I’d enjoyed those pulpy MacDonalds and decided to give Travis McGee another try. I bought another copy of The Dreadful Lemon Sky, and this time, the character caught on with me–and soon I was tearing through the entire series. The earlier MacDonald novels had all mostly gone out of print, but he periodically was still writing stand-alones; still dark and twisty and noir and pulpy, but these novels had more heft–Condominium, One More Sunday, Barrier Island–and I think those later three don’t get the credit they deserve.

In the last few years I’ve been acquiring used copies of those old MacDonald pulp stand-alones–and while they are dated, they are still compelling reads. And yes, as I have said before, Chanse MacLeod owes a lot to Travis McGee.

So, you can IMAGINE my thrill that the MacDonald Estate allowed me to reprint one of his stories in Florida Happens.

image-2_med_hr

From his website: This website is devoted to John D. MacDonald, author of 78 books, including the famous Travis McGee series.  JDM is well-known in mystery fiction writing, especially for his books with Florida as a setting.  Most of the current Florida mystery writers acknowledge JDM’s impact on their writing.

Born In Sharon, Pa., MacDonald , as a young boy, wished he had been born a writer, believing that they were a separate “race,” marked from birth.  But two years of  writing 10 to 12 hours a day, 6 to 7 days a week, in 1945 and 1946, convinced him otherwise.

By the time he died he had published 78 books, with more than 75 million copies in print.

He married Dorothy Prentiss in a secret ceremony in 1937 in Pennsylvania  and a public wedding was held in Poland, N.Y.  in 1938.

He graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in business in 1939 and then went to Harvard to work on an MBA. His son, Maynard, was born that year.

He worked at several menial jobs after earning his MBA in 1939.

MacDonald then served in the Army beginning in 1940 at the Rochester N.Y Ordnance station.  He was sent to  India in late 1943, and was accepted in the OSS in late 1944 . He  was sent  to Ceylon  where he was the Commander of Detachment 404.  He was not a spy, however, but served in the Ordnance areas.

He wrote nearly 450 short stories, and published his first novel ,The Brass Cupcake, in 1950 (complete bibliography here) He continues to earn praise from millions of readers and lasting respect from fellow authors. He was given the Grandmaster Award in 1972 by the Mystery Writers of America; the Ben Franklin Award (1955);and was Guest of Honor at Bouchercon in 1983. Numerous other awards and Honorary Doctorates were given to him as well.

Perhaps the greatest testament to his writing, now decades  after his death in 1986, is that his books continue to sell, movies continue to be planned, and the internet continues to serve as a place to discuss his work and related matters.  See the Facebook Busted Flush group.

quote-integrity-is-not-a_med_hr

The story is “Hangover.”

He dreamed that he had dropped something, lost something of value in the furnace, and he lay on his side trying to look down at an angle through a little hole, look beyond the flame down into the dark guts of the furnace for what he had lost. But the flame kept pulsing through the hole with a brightness that hurt his eyes, with a heat that parched his face, pulsing with an intermittent husky rasping sound.

With his awakening, the dream became painfully explicable—the pulsing roar was his own harsh breathing, the parched feeling was a consuming thirst, the brightness was transmuted into pain intensely localized behind his eyes. When he opened his eyes, a long slant of early morning sun dazzled him, and he shut his eyes quickly again.

This was a morning time of awareness of discomfort so acute that he had no thought for anything beyond the appraisal of the body and its functions. Though he was dimly aware of psychic discomforts that might later exceed the anguish of the flesh, the immediacy of bodily pain localized his attentions. Even without the horizontal brightness of the sun, he would have known it was early. Long sleep would have muffled the beat of the taxed heart to a softened, sedate, and comfortable rhythm. But it was early and the heart knocked sharply with a violence and in a cadence almost hysterical, so that no matter how he turned his head, he could feel it, a tack hammer chipping away at his mortality.

His thirst was monstrous, undiminished by the random nausea that teased at the back of his throat. His hands and feet were cool, yet where his thighs touched he was sweaty. His body felt clotted, and he knew that he had perspired heavily during the evening, an oily perspiration that left an unpleasant residue when it dried. The pain behind his eyes was a slow bulging and shrinking, in contrapuntal rhythm to the clatter of his heart.

He sat on the edge of the bed, head bowed, eyes squeezed shut, cool trembling fingers resting on his bare knees. He felt weak, nauseated, and acutely depressed.

This was the great joke. This was a hangover. Thing of sly wink, of rueful guffaw. This was death in the morning.

Great, terrific writing.

And now I can say I edited an anthology with John D. MacDonald as a contributor.

I may never stop being thrilled.

Jump

Wednesday!

The week is at its halfway point. I am also taking a three day weekend to honor my fifty-seventh birthday (it’s on Monday; there’s still plenty of time to shop for a gift–although cold hard cash is always welcome), and who knows what else I’ll get up to this weekend? We shall see, but if anything I am looking forward to just having three days off from work.

I’ll probably end up cleaning a lot, which is what I always tend to do.

Last night I broke down and took a sleeping pill, so today I feel amazing and rested. I’ll try to sleep tonight again without one.

Next up in the Florida Happens short stories would be Craig Pittman’s “How to Handle a Shovel.”

Per  his website: Craig Pittman is a native Floridian. Born in Pensacola, he graduated from Troy State University in Alabama, where his muckraking work for the student paper prompted an agitated dean to label him “the most destructive force on campus.” Since then he has covered a variety of newspaper beats and quite a few natural disasters, including hurricanes, wildfires and the Florida Legislature. Since 1998, he has covered environmental issues for Florida’s largest newspaper, the Tampa Bay Times. He has won the Waldo Proffitt Award for Distinguished Environmental Journalism in Florida four times, and twice won the top investigative reporting award from the Society of Environmental Journalists. Stories he has written for Sarasota magazine have won three first-place awards from the Florida Magazine Association.He’s the co-author, with Matthew Waite, of Paving Paradise: Florida’s Vanishing Wetlands and the Failure of No Net Loss, (2009), which won the Stetson Kennedy Award from the Florida Historical Society. His second book was Manatee Insanity: Inside the War Over Florida’s Most Famous Endangered Species (2010), which the Florida Humanities Council named one of 21 “essential” books for Floridians. His latest book The Scent of Scandal: Greed, Betrayal, and the World’s Most Beautiful Orchid, was just published. His latest book, Oh, Florida! How America’s Weirdest State Influences the Rest of the Country, hit stores in July 2016.

53dbc192e8e2a01ad7a24aeb91c92d1c

The green Ford pickup truck jounced along the washboard road, a cloud of dust swirling in its wake. The radio was on. Carrie Underwood faded in and out of the static like she was about to disappear.

Billy, the skinny kid sitting in the passenger seat, peered over his shoulder into the bed of the truck to check on their load. As the truck rumbled on, the twelve gopher tortoises were all of bouncing around in their shells and probably wondering what the hell happened to them.

The driver, a heavyset man everybody called J.T., noticed what Billy was doing and smiled to himself.

“It ain’t fair,” Billy said, turning back around.

A sunburn blossomed on Billy’s cheeks. The wind from the open truck window plucked at his straw-colored hair. Sweat had bled through his  T-shirt, and globs of dirt stuck to his ragged sneakers and the sweaty parts of his shirt and faded jeans. It even adhered in spots to the sweat that had run down his face, creating splotches of salty mud.

“What ain’t fair?” asked J.T. He wore a sweat-stained camo cap pulled down low his bald head. His short-sleeve shirt strained at its buttons. It had once been dark blue but it had faded until it matched the sky. J.T. kept the shirt tail untucked to accommodate his bulk, and now it lay across his lap like a table cloth, parted in the middle for the spit cup he held between his meaty thighs. J.T.’s graying beard started around his earlobes and hung down to his belly like a pennant, and around one side of his mouth were a few stray flecks of tobacco. He kept his sun-baked elbow leaning on the truck window, steering with two fingers on his left hand. With his right, he grabbed the cup and held it up so he could spit a stream of brown juice into it, still keeping his eyes on the road. Then he shoved the cup back where it had been.

“What ain’t fair is how I’m doin’ all the work and takin’ all the risk, and you keep about all the money, that’s what,” Billy said. He knew he sounded like a whiner. He didn’t care. He was just trying one more time to persuade J.T. to hand over his money before he was forced to off the fat man.

This is a fun dark little story about two small-time crooks–redneck Floridians, which are a breed apart from other rednecks–poaching gopher turtles and the rise of conflict between them; a charming if grim little tale. Craig gets both characters pitch-perfect, and the voice is also terrific. I read his Oh, Florida book and loved it; full of insights about Florida and how the crazy state came to be the way it is, it also brought back a lot of my own memories about summers in Florida when I was a kid–back in the 1970s, before it turned into the beachfront condo hell it is now.

And now, back to the spice mines.

Baby Got Back

Tuesday!

I am trying to gradually wean myself off prescription sleep assistance–the last thing in the world I need is an addiction–and so my sleep on Sunday night wasn’t terribly deep or restful; I wound up spending most of Monday wishing I could just curl up somewhere and go back to sleep. No such luck, nevertheless, so I soldiered through the day, knowing that Tuesday would be my long day and hoping that the sleepiness I endured all day Monday would enable me to sleep deeply and restfully on Monday night.

And no, that wasn’t the case. Yay, another long day of feeling tired, sleepy and basically out of it. Huzzah.

I started working my way through Royal Street Reveillon last night, making notes and catching things that need to be corrected in the next draft–and frankly, there’s not as much as I would have thought there would be. Granted, it’s much easier as you read through a hard copy, making notes on the manuscript–going into the electronic files and making those changes and updates is a whole other story. But I am hoping I’ll get it finished by mid-September, and turned in then as well. Fingers crossed.

I also finished Part 3 of my Bouchercon homework; Eryk Pruitt’s What We Reckon:

Scan

It will end much like this, thought Grant as the fire flickering up his nostrils gave way to a slow, mellow drip down the back of his throat. No sooner had he chased away the sweats, the whispers, the steady but fevered panic that so often wrapped its fingers tight around his windpipe than did he eyeball the rest of the kilo–still shrink-wrapped with only a jagged hole, hardly big enough–and consider into what further mayhem he might find himself.

It was good coke, sure, but Grant had not reason to think it wouldn’t be. Back in South Carolina, Bobby had been his best friend and would hardly look sideways at shit that wasn’t of a particular quality. You want to put bullshit powder into your face, Bobby used to say, then go down past Decker Boulevard. Bobby had a reputation. Folks around town knew he had the good shit. They knew how to get a hold of him night or day. What they didn’t know was where he stashed it, but Grant did, so a fool and his narcotics were quickly parted.

The only thing better than good cocaine, he thought as he plucked another pinch from the hole in the package, is stolen cocaine.

Any tranquility, perceived or otherwise, came crashing to a halt with a knock at the motel room door. Grant quickly shuffled away the brick of cocaine into a hollowed-out King James Bible, then scooted it beneath the bed. He perked an ear. Listened. Held his breath.

“Hey, Grant,” called a voice from outside. “Open up. I ain’t standing out here all day.”

What We Reckon is a fun ride; a tale of two ne’er-do-wells on the fringes of society, changing names and identities as they move across the South, dealing and doing drugs; crossing people and turning on each other depending on the drug and their mood at the moment. It reads as a very raw, very 70’s style noir; a cross between Barry Hannah and James Crumley, and also very visual: I kept seeing this as one of those dark and gritty 70’s films.

Now I move on to James Ziskin’s  Cast the First Stone.

End of the Road

I started researching new markets to potentially submit short stories to–after my breakthrough that my stories cannot be described, as a rule, as ‘mystery’ tales–and I was very surprised to see how few magazines actually are interested in stories that could be considered mysteries. The stories I have–that I am thinking about sending out into the void–are technically not mysteries, but then again…will markets not looking for mystery stories consider them to be mysteries?

I guess the only way to find out it to actually submit stories.

What was also really interesting to me was that there are still markets that want you to send them hard copies through the mail, with the SASE for response. Ten years or so ago, when I was doing an open call for Blood Sacraments, I wanted hard copy submissions, and was surprised (and more than a little appalled) at some of the emails I received from authors who demanded to know how very dare I not want to take electronic submissions? Needless to say, those were writers I put on the “never work with” list; I would never presume to write an editor and demand an explanation for their submission guidelines, never ever ever ever. But with the passage of time, my own reluctance to read submissions electronically and get them in my inbox has gradually eroded away; times change and you have to change with it. If I want to submit to those markets, I will have to get large envelopes, print out copies, and purchase postage.

I am certainly not going to send them a pompous email demanding they explain why they don’t take electronic submissions.

And, FYI? Blood Sacraments was the last time I did an open call for submissions untilt he Bouchercon anthologies. And yes, the entitled attitude in the emails from people who saw the call and “had questions” about my guidelines is entirely why.

Helpful hint: editors and publishers don’t owe anyone explanations for why they set their guidelines the way they do. And when you send snarky emails questioning them, all you do is point out to them that you would be an enormous pain in the ass to work with. And unless you have the kind of star power that will guarantee lots of sales, you aren’t worth it.

Sad, perhaps, but true.

And I have absolutely no problem whatsoever with disqualifying stories that are not submitted properly or ignored the guidelines in any way, shape or form. That’s my first system of weeding out stories from “possibles” to “rejects”: did they follow the guidelines?

I won’t read anything that doesn’t–nor will I write the person back to tell them they need to. You get one chance.

I have myself submitted things and not followed the guidelines–primarily out of stupidity–and you know what? If that got me rejected without being read, it’s only fair and I have no one to blame but myself.

Next up in Florida Happens is Barb Goffman’s story “The Case of the Missing Pot Roast.”

Barb Goffman
 

Barb Goffman has no idea how to cook pot roast, but it sure was fun to write about. She’s won the Agatha, Macavity, and Silver Falchion awards for her short stories, and she’s been a finalist for national mystery short-story awards twenty-two times, including eleven times for the Agatha (a category record). Her book Don’t Get Mad, Get Even won the Silver Falchion for the best collection of 2013. Barb is thrilled to be a current Macavity and Anthony award finalist for her story “Whose Wine is it Anyway?” from the anthology 50 Shades of Cabernet.  She works as an independent editor and proofreader and lives with her dog in Winchester, Virginia. Learn more at www.barbgoffman.com.

About her story, Barb says, “My story is about a woman whose husband has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. She wants to care for him at home, but it’s proving challenging, with strange things going on, including a missing pot roast. I can’t say any more about the plot without giving things away, but I will say that I loved writing this story. It’s heartfelt but also funny and–perfect for an anthology about Florida–also a little bit weird.”

Looking back, I should have known something was wrong when the pot roast disappeared. Sure, everyone misplaces something sometime. I once searched for the remote control for an hour till I spotted it in the bathroom. And for years I’ve found my husband, Charles’s, false teeth all over the house—they’ve never fit quite right so when they bother him he takes them out and puts them down, never paying attention where. But the pot roast? I was sure I’d left it defrosting on the counter when I went to get my hair done, yet when I came home, it was gone.

I searched for it in vain. It wasn’t in the fridge or freezer. Not in the garbage. Not in the oven. Charles was clueless. There was no way he’d cooked and eaten it in the hour I was gone. So what happened to that pot roast was a mystery. In the back of my mind, I wondered if I’d only dreamed I’d bought the roast. But I couldn’t admit my faculties might be failing. So I dismissed the missing pot roast as weirdness and whipped up some pasta.

That was a month ago. Perhaps if I’d forced myself to figure out what happened to the pot roast, I wouldn’t be in this position now. But back then, I had bigger problems. Charles had started suffering from short-term memory loss and personality changes, and he was getting worse every day. One minute he’d be the man I’d loved for decades, optimistic and kind; the next, he’d be surly and paranoid, acting like a wary stranger. He’d accused me of stealing from him—me, his wife of fifty-one years. And then, in a heartbreaking moment, he’d accused me of trying to kill him.

“Alzheimer’s,” his doctor had diagnosed.

I’d figured that was the problem, but having it confirmed was a terrible blow. His doctor gave me all kinds of pamphlets and urged me to look into long-term care for Charles. I cried when he did that. I knew eventually such care would be necessary. But not yet. I was only seventy-one years old and in relatively good health. I was determined to care for Charles in our home for as long as I could. He was my husband. My love. I owed him that.

It’s easy to see why Barb’s work is so award-worthy with this tale. She really gets inside the head of her main character, who is dealing with a raeally difficult situation–complicated with her own issues of dealing with her husband’s illness in addition to questioning, at times, her own sanity and whether the things her husband says to her when in the grips of his dementia are true, real, or based in anything even slightly reality based. Can she trust the home health-care worker who is helping out with things around the house? Where are the pot roasts going?

And that last paragraph is chilling, absolutely chilling. Well done, Barb!

Go Home

Sunday morning, with lots to do and a long, relaxing day ahead in which to do it all. I woke up relatively early this morning, which was a wonderful and pleasant surprise, and feel rested. I have a short story to work on, a reread of Royal Street Reveillon to get through, and I’d also like to make some progress on my reading of Eryk Pruitt’s What We Reckon. I cleaned and did errands and read yesterday; along with some note taking on various projects as well as filing. This coming week should be interesting, to say the least; I am doing some testing on Monday and Thursday at the Blacks in Government conference at the Riverside Hilton, which will be a lovely change from my ordinary routine, and I have a three day weekend next weekend in honor of my birthday.

Yes, the old man officially turns fifty-seven next weekend; although I always change my age on New Year’s. After this next New Year’s, I’ll be telling people I’m fifty-eight. Age has never mattered  much to me; for the early portion of my life I was always younger than everyone else around me; later on I was always older than everyone else I hung around with. I learned early on that age is a relative concept.

Yesterday was kind of a lovely day for me. It rained off and on most of the day, and there really is nothing lovelier than being inside and dry while it rains outside, and our rain is do torrential and tropical–so lovely to deal with when you’re inside rather than when you’re actually outside dealing with it. As the bed linens agitated in the washing machine and the wool blankets tumbled dry in the laundry room, I was filing and getting my desk area organized, listening to the rain and looking out my windows to see all the leaves outside glistening and wet, and water cascading out of the rain spout on the house next door when a phrase formed in my head, and I scribbled into my journal, standing up at the kitchen counter: It was one of those lovely summer Saturdays New Orleans gets sometimes in August–where thunderstorms roll through the city all day, the dark clouds creating an artificial twilight at three in the afternoon. Perfect for staying inside and cleaning, the washing and drying and folding of clothes. The cat sleeps lazily in the desk chair, waking up every now and then to groom before curling up again into a tight ball of differentiated ginger stripes.

I may never use that in something I write, be it a short story or a novel, but it’s a nice piece of writing nonetheless. My notebooks and journals are filled with such scraps of writing, of ideas and thoughts and fragments and character descriptions or settings.

And next up in Florida Happens, for the Short Story Project is “The Fakahatchee Goonch” by Jack Bates.

jack bates

Goonch is just another name for a catfish. A really big catfish.  Sometimes it’s called the Devil Fish or Black Demon because it lurks deep down there in the murkiest part of the Fakahatchee Preserve. Bottom feeders mostly. They eat gator leftovers or anything else that might get tossed into the swamps. Back in the mauve and neonMiami Vice days, legend had it the Everglades was a good place to dispose of a problem quick.  People think that’s how the goonch developed a taste for meat.

Of course, the guys who trawl for catfish say those fish are just as apt to eat water weeds and such if the pickings are slim.  Sometimes they feed on their own.  Had some guys drag in twenty to thirty pounders, about three feet long. That ain’t no fish tale.

Neither is this one. The catfish I’m talking about is an eight-man goonch. Know what that is? That’s when eight grown men stand in a line, shoulder to shoulder, and that goonch lays across all of their extended hands from tip to tail. That’s how big the Fakahatchee goonch was said to be. Had a mouth like the gaping orifice of hell, or so I’m told. I ain’t never seen it, but I know it’s there.

There have been nights when I’m frog hunting where the frog croaking will go quiet and the swamp gets real still. Something big enough to rock my aluminum skiff passes through the water. Up ahead in the dark there’ll be a splash and a few ticks off a clock later my skiff will rock a second time except maybe a little more treacherously on the creature’s return pass. and I’ll have to sit down, clutch the sides so I don’t tip out. Only way I know it’s safe to leave is when the frogs start croaking again.

Sometimes though, a frog will puff its chest and blowout its braggadocio regardless of the danger it’s in.

Jack’s bio reads “Jack Bates writes some pretty good crime fiction from the comfort of his loft office. His stories have appeared all around the web, in various anthologies, and in a few magazines. Three have been finalists for the Derringer Award from the Short Mystery Fiction Society. He’s also written award-winning scripts for stage and screen including a short-lived web series. An incomplete list of his works can be found on his blog http://flashjab.blogspot.com/.   When not writing, he plots or travels or runs errands or chats it up with other old movie buffs on twitter. He pens the Harry Landers, PI, series for Mind Wings Audio Books. He’s also released several ebooks with Untreed Reads which launched the Hack Ward PI series with Monkey See, Monkey Murder. In 2012, his YA Steampunk novel, Colt Buchanan and the Weather Walkers, was released by Red Willow Press.”

This short story is quite fun, and in the classic mold of slightly off, wacky Florida noir. Set in a dive bar on the west coast of Florida in a nothing town on the edge of a swamp, a stranger walks in with a wad of cash and an air of mystery about him; two tough rednecks are playing pool with their girlfriends when the two men decide to win some of the stranger’s money off him–and things continue to spiral downward from there. It reminded me of John D. Macdonald with maybe a dash of Hiassen thrown in for good measure, and is a very fun and satisfying read; one that I’m glad is in the book.

And now, I have spice to mine.