My Little Town

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

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

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

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

Faith hated McIntosh apples.

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

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

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

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

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

Destiny Rules

Sunday, Sunday. It feels cold again outside this morning–you can tell, even inside; the downstairs floor is always the giveaway–but I slept really well last night and feel very rested this morning. I have so much to get done today it’s almost daunting, but I think with the good night’s sleep and feeling rested I should be able to plow through everything I need to do today before leaving tomorrow. And there is a lot. I did make great progress yesterday and did get a lot done, not enough, but progress was made. I avoided the television for the most part–it was one, so I could sit in the living room and see what was going on, but I managed to never allow myself to settle in and get sucked into the games. It was a crazy college football day in which the top four all barely managed to win their games, and then of course Number 5 Tennessee got blown out of the stadium by South Carolina last night. Paul went to the office yesterday and when I knocked off for the day I started watching that game because the LSU game started later, and wow, who saw that coming? Or Arkansas blowing out Mississippi? LSU played well despite poor weather conditions and managed to beat UAB 41-10 for their ninth win of the season, with Texas A&M all that is left in the regular season. LSU could have a rare ten win regular season for the first time since 2019, which nobody saw coming, with an extremely outside shot at the play-offs–which would require beating Georgia for the SEC title, and I don’t think that’s going to happen. But what a marvelous turnaround season for my Tigers. Who knew?

I have groceries to pick up, writing to do, need to pack, need to air up the car tires, and have all kinds of things on the list to do today. Yikes. I cannot let Paul distract me or suck me into a Saints game or anything either before six pm this evening; I have to get everything done in that time frame because that’s when I am calling it a day and taking the rest of the evening off. I don’t want to have to get up super-early tomorrow, but the good news is I don’t think I need to get up at six unless I do so organically, which is, of course, entirely possible. I have to make sure the books I am listening to in the car are downloaded and ready to go when I pull away from the curb tomorrow morning, and I need to pay a bill or two today as well.

I also managed to get better organized yesterday–still not completely there, or as organized as I should be, going forward–but it helped to have the book research and my notes and everything all pulled together into one place for review. I am most likely going to close my browser when I finish posting this for the duration of the day; although I am going to want to spend some time later composing emails to send tomorrow morning before I leave for the trip. It’s never ending being a Gregalicious, I have to say. But this was a good weekend; I feel like I’m getting my head back together and back into the game, and it feels functional again, which is saying something. Maybe it’s just because I feel rested this morning, I don’t know and can’t really say for sure, but it is very nice to wake up and feel rested and relaxed and have my mind working completely.

I hate feeling tired more than anything, really.

But my coffee tastes marvelous this morning and I feel terrific. There’s still some serious cleaning to do as well–isn’t there always? There’s a load of dishes needing to be put away and another load ready to go inside of the dishwasher, too–the endless cycle of use and clean, use and clean, ad nauseum ad infinitum. Will this last and will I get everything off my to-do list before six this evening? It remains to be seen, but I do know that right now I feel great and hope this will last through the day. We’ll see how it all goes, but I am optimistic right now and that’s always a plus, really.

And on that note, I am going to get another cup of coffee and head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader, and I’ll chat with you again tomorrow.

Everybody Finds Out

Saturday!

I allowed myself to sleep in later than usual this morning–despite waking at seven as I inevitably do–but it felt warm and comfortable and cozy in the bed, and I knew it was a cold morning. It’s temperate inside the apartment–I don’t know that I’ll ever get used to being comfortable inside during cold weather, but the floor is cold beneath my socks here in the kitchen, so I need to put my house shoes on. I can also feel a bit of cold from the windows, and it’s not sunny outside but kind of overcast and gray. LSU plays its final home game of the season tonight against UAB, which will be a nice way to cap off the evening before bed tonight. Yesterday was yet another exhausting day, but last night we finished the season of American Horror Story: NYC–not entirely sure how I feel about it, to be honest–and then started the new season of our favorite show, Elité, on Netflix. Not entirely sure where the season is going, but I am here for it. There are, I think, too many new characters (kind of like how uneven season four felt, with the change in cast for over half the show; again, the rest of the original cast departed after last season so again, there were new characters to add and new cast members) but it might work. I like they’ve added a transman to the cast, with an actual storyline–I am curious as to how transpeople feel about the story they’ve given Nico, but I will say this–I’ve never seen the transmasc experience depicted in this much depth. And of course, everyone is stunningly beautiful.

And of course, I am completely vested in the Iván/Patrick relationship as I was last season.

Today is going to be a work day. This morning as I wake up and drink my coffee, I will finish the kitchen and the filing before diving headfirst into my book. I am behind as always, but am hoping that I can make some decent progress this weekend. The story is whirling around in my head and starting to come together, but a strong push this weekend, some work over the week while in Kentucky, and another strong push next weekend means I could possibly actually make the December 1 deadline–or at least take yet another weekend to finish it off that first weekend of December. But I am much more hopeful and confident about it than I was to begin with–just last weekend, in fact–and so today I am going to start pushing my way through to the next part of the book.

I also want to do another BSP post for Streetcar, since I probably won’t have the opportunity to post much from Kentucky. So, so much to do.

And I think I am going to treat myself to a cappuccino this morning. I love my new electric Moka pot–I liked my old espresso machine, but it was too much work, frankly, and it takes up a lot of space in my cupboard, so I decided to get a different style espresso maker, and seeing that Moka pots (which so many people swear by) now come in electric versions (so you don’t have to use the stove, which always made me nervous) kind of made up my mind, so I ordered one and now can have a relatively easily made cappuccino whenever I so choose. I definitely will be taking one in the car with me Monday morning as I set out for the Great Cold North.

I also need to order groceries this morning for pick-up tomorrow. Like I said, soooo much to do before I head out on Monday morning. I just hope that I have time to get to everything, because my preference would be to leave relatively early on Monday morning, but it will also depend on when I feel like waking up. Leaving at seven makes the most sense, despite having to get up so fucking early, but that would get me there around eight pm their time, which would get me through Chattanooga and Knoxville outside of rush hour–both are nightmares when it comes to rush hour–but do I want to get up at six on what is sure to be a very cold Monday morning? Decisions, decisions.

And on that note, I am going to make my cappuccino and head into my day. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and I will check in again tomorrow morning.

Running Through The Garden

Friday morning work-at-home blog!

I have data to enter and things to do today, Constant Reader. I’m leaving on Monday for Kentucky and will be gone for a week, so I have to seriously buckle down over the course of this weekend and get things done. It was cold here last night–in the thirties–and this morning the downstairs floor is cold beneath my feet, and the chilliest spot in the entire Lost Apartment is here at my desk. Heavy sigh. But that’s okay, I can deal with it. I have a load of laundry in the dryer, need to empty the dishwasher and refill it again–and of course the entire place from top to bottom is a complete disaster area. Hopefully I’ll be able to get the house under control as well as get all my work finished that I need to get finished not only today but over the entire weekend. Yesterday I was, not surprisingly, very tired when I got home from work. I did get some laundry folded and another load going, and yes, I loaded the dishwasher last night and stumbled around a bit in my tired state, but eventually Paul came home and we were able to watch the season finale of Half-Bad or The Bastard Son and the Devil Himself or whatever the hell you call it, which felt kind of anticlimactic, to be honest. I enjoyed the show, love the concept and the actors are very appealing–I am especially fond of Gabriel, the pansexual witch, to be honest–and we also watched a new episode of American Horror Story: NYC, which was kind of odd and weird, with a kind A Christmas Carol feel to it. I don’t know, it just seemed more like filler than anything else to me, and of course the AIDS allegory isn’t exactly subtle (why not just make it AIDS? The plague in the 1980s wasn’t horrible enough for a season of American Horror Story? Although AIDS in the first two decades would have been better suited for a season of American Crime Story….) but it is unsettling.

I’ve been doing, if you’ve been paying attention, the occasional Blatant Self-Promotional (BSP) entries for A Streetcar Named Murder, which has been kind of fun. I’m not sure what the next one will be–I’ve done the character, the store, and the neighborhood she lives in; I suppose the supporting cast should be next. I’ll figure it out at some point, I am sure; it’s not like the book drops until December 6th or anything–although I’ve been seeing pictures of already delivered copies on social media, which doesn’t make sense, but I’ve learned to not question things like that. It is what it is, and if people are already getting copies several weeks of release date, who am I to wonder the reasons why? Publishing is one of those businesses you never can completely figure out…because once you think you have a handle on something, it changes almost immediately.

I’m also looking forward to getting a handle on the current Scotty. I’ve been too tired from work this week to get as much done as I needed to get done, so this weekend is going to result in a big push. I have of course all the data to enter for my day job today, and I need to run some errands once I am finished for the day, but I remain hopeful that my energy won’t flag and I’ll be able to dive headfirst into the book this weekend without either having to force myself or for it to be like pulling teeth. As I have mentioned, the LSU game isn’t until the evening and it’s not really a big one; non-conference opponent, and of course I want them to win, but it’s Alabama-Birmingham (although I suppose completing the trifecta of beating Auburn, Alabama and UAB would make LSU state champions of Alabama again) and so there’s not the same urgency as there will be when we play Texas A&M the Saturday after Thanksgiving. What a wild, crazy and all-over-the-place college football season this has been…certainly nothing like I expected.

But I think the cold helped me sleep better last night than I have all week. I didn’t wake up super-early either; wide awake at seven, which is something I absolutely can handle, and feel very rested this morning. I did do one of those “oh you’re getting so old now” things this week–in which I turned my torso to do something here in the kitchen but did it at precisely the right angle to aggravate or irritate something, so now I am vaguely aware of some stiff soreness in my upper body. I can’t describe where exactly it’s located or how it feels, but it’s kind of like how when you have a respiratory thing going on and when you try to take a deep breath it feels tight? It’s kind of like that but not in my lungs, if that makes any sense. I’ll probably try to use the heating pad and the massage roller to work whatever the hell it is out before I leave on Monday morning.

I suppose the clock is ticking on Twitter, but I can’t really muster up enough energy to care much one way or the other. I use it, of course–I remember setting up the account because co-workers suggested that I should have one–and I go there periodically, primarily to waste time when I’m in line at the grocery store or the pharmacy or wherever; or when I am sitting in my easy chair at night with a purring cat in my lap while I am waiting for Paul to come home and I am watching Youtube videos on autoplay. Last night it kind of felt like high school graduation, as people were saying goodbye to everyone and it all had a touch of “signing the yearbook my senior year” to it all. I know a lot of people love Twitter, and I certainly had a lot of fun there over the years–primarily interacting with my friends and readers, mostly–but it’s also a horrific hell-scape with trolls lurking everywhere and nastiness for the sake of nastiness popping up every now and then. I find myself writing horrible responses to horrible people all the time before deleting them, and in some instances it’s too late–yes, you can delete tweets, of course, but that also seems kind of cowardly to me and besides, the Internet is indeed forever; I screen cap bad takes (aka “receipts”) all the time to save them just in case…and as I typed that even now I was thinking just in case? For what? In case I need to remind someone I don’t know of a bad take they had a few years ago? I have little to no desire to learn how to use a new social media service, so I am not migrating to another platform or any such nonsense; perhaps I will if and when the Twitter universe comes to a crashing halt. But while I’ll miss the interactions with my friends–and the opportunity to post that picture of me with the shocked look on my face everyone loves so much–I think I’ll somehow manage to survive.

And on that note, the dryer just stopped so I need to fold some laundry. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader, and I will talk to you tomorrow.

The Irish Channel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But that is a tale for another time.

I love these kinds of double houses!

Smile at You

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

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

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

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

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

Steal Your Heart Away

Wednesday and halfway through the week. It’s cold again this morning–despite the HVAC working beautifully, I can tell it’s cold outside because the downstairs floor is cold–but that’s fine, I can deal with it. As long as I have a hat to cover my head and keep my scalp warm, I’ll be fine. I also don’t have to be out in it for very long, either, which is always an added plus.

I was very tired yesterday when I got home. We were busier than usual yesterday, and the day didn’t go smoothly–or at least didn’t without needing other work in order for it to run smoothly. I also didn’t sleep great last night, either–a toss and turn and wake up fairly regularly throughout the night, which definitely isn’t going to be a great thing for me today. Ah, well, I shall endure and try to get things done. I did manage to get some chores done yesterday once I got home, but that pretty much did me in for the evening and I collapsed into my chair to watch some documentaries on Youtube about queer representation in movies and television shows (I really enjoy James Somerton, check his videos out)–yesterday I was rather enjoying his views on the classic Mommie Dearest when Paul got home, and we watched another two episodes of Half Bad–I am still not sure if that’s the series title or if its The Bastard Son and the Devil Himself, which is aggravating; it shouldn’t be that hard to figure out the name of a show–which is terrific; we’ll be finishing the first season tonight. I imagine this season finale will be pretty intense.

I was right–it’s in the forties this morning. Yikes.

I also really need to take the time today to make a very thorough and engaging to-do list, methinks. I have lots of things to get done before I leave for Kentucky on Monday and I also have to recognize that I will probably get nothing done while I am there; which is usually the case. I generally do have the chance to get some reading done, but writing? Yeah, that’s pretty much a lost cause once I get there. Heavy sigh. The drive is going to be exhausting, too. The older I get the more I miss the Flying Couch, that big old luxury car I used to have that looked like a rolling wreck but had an amazing engine and whose shock absorbers made it feel like I was riding on a sofa. That was the only vehicle I’ve ever owned that didn’t wear me out on long drives–granted, I was much younger then too.

And I probably won’t be writing any blog entries while I am gone, either. I know you’ll miss me, Constant Reader, which is why I am giving you so much notice–so you can prepare for the loss. It too, shall pass; I’ll be driving back to New Orleans on Friday.

I am really pleased with how the book is coming along. The problem of course is I don’t have the time to really get deep into it. I think I can do a lot of work on it this Saturday and Sunday because LSU is playing UAB as a night game Saturday, so my whole day is free, and there really aren’t any college games of much interest to me this weekend, other than possibly Georgia-Kentucky or Arkansas-Mississippi, but I don’t know that I care all that much to ensconce myself into my easy chair with everything I need within reach and stay there, sucked into the games all day. And if I can get a strong push done on it this weekend, I can perhaps spend some time in Kentucky planning the rest of the book and editing what is already done. Why, yes, that does indeed sound like a plan.

And on that note, I am venturing into the spice mines and out into the cold to get there. Stay warm, Constant Reader, and I’ll check in with you again tomorrow.

Rare Things

So, Greg, why did you choose to write about an antique shop when you know nothing about antiques other than they are old furniture and so forth?

In all honesty, I didn’t originally set out to write about an antique shop, and while the book was in progress my utter lack of knowledge about the antiques business did have me incredibly concerned. Even though I had decided that Valerie herself would know nothing about antiques (that way, she and I could learn together), it still made me feel fraudulent and like I didn’t know what I was doing writing about something I didn’t know anything about. But then I went to Crime Bake, and at one of the panels a writer named Barbara Ross, who writes a Clambake New England series, confessed she knew nothing about clam bakes or any of those types of things…so she had to learn as she wrote the series. That was exactly what I wanted and needed to hear from someone and that was the right time for me to hear it, so I felt a lot more confident about the book when I returned home to New Orleans from that trip (it’s always nice to go to a writer’s event and learn something; I feel like I always do whenever I go to one).

Originally, I had wanted to write about a costume shop; which even now seems easier to learn about that antiques, to be honest. There used to be a costume shop in my neighborhood for years, on St. Charles Avenue on the lake side on the same block as Hoshun. I never went inside, but I always thought it was interesting that it was open year-round rather than just being seasonal; I would have thought they wouldn’t have enough business to do so. But it closed and another opened in the CBD near Paul’s office, connected to whatever theater that is in the next block–which means they had an enormous warehouse space to keep their costumes in, and their primary customers were local theater, film and television productions. I thought, yeah, that could be fun so I moved MY shop back to the block and decided to give them a warehouse to store costumes for commercial rentals in, out near the airport. When Crooked Lane wanted something other than a costume shop, I just went to the Starbucks at the corner of Washington and Magazine, got a latte, and walked down the block writing down the kinds of businesses I walked past. I sent those to Crooked Lane and they picked an antique shop, which was a bit daunting but….anything is do-able, right? And since I like to learn…in theory.

I did stop into one of the ubiquitous antique shops in New Orleans to talk to the manager, who gave me some good tips–estate auctions and sales, for example; something that hadn’t occurred to me–and also, highly amused that both Valerie and myself knew nothing about the business, suggested, “Start with Antiquing for Dummies.” I’m still not sure if she was kidding or not, but I thought it a pretty good idea, so I ordered a copy and had Dee–who works at Rare Things–suggest Valerie do the same in the book!

Serendipity, if you will.

And then I needed a name for the business. In the late 1980’s there was a marvelous supernatural syndicated series called Friday the 13th-the Series (because it just used the name, it was not related to the films in any way) in which there was such a shop called Curious Goods. The premise of the show is that the owner of the shop made a deal with the devil and all the items in the shop are cursed; he goes back on his deal and the devil drags him to hell. His niece and nephew inherit the shop and start selling things–only to find out that the items are all cursed –an older man with lots of knowledge tells them; they form a team to track down the objects, which can kill–or can make a wish of some sort for the person owning it come true, but death is required–and each episode focuses on one of the objects. I thought about calling the shop Curious Goods, as an homage, but then thought but the objects in this shop aren’t cursed, so I went with Rare Things. I liked the name, and thought it really fit; it’s really more of a curio shop than an antique shop, anyway.

And the benefits of an antique shop means I can have a lot of fun with future volumes, if there are more. How much fun would it be for Valerie to have to stay at some old manse working on an estate sale, only to be bedeviled by ghosts and secret passages and so on? It also means getting to explore history and areas outside of New Orleans; I am becoming more and more interested in the entire state rather than just New Orleans, too, so this really is kind of cool–more reason to explore Louisiana’s history! Huzzah!

So, that’s how this book came to built around an antique shop on St. Charles Avenue. More to come!

Say You Will

And just like that, it’s Tuesday morning and another exciting day back in the clinic. Huzzah!

Yesterday was a good day. I mentioned it was cold yesterday morning? I turned the heat on to no avail on Sunday evening–it ran for a little while and then went off–so I played with the thermostat with no success yesterday morning and just broke out my old space heater. When I got home from work and running errands yesterday, you can imagine my delight and surprise to walk into a temperate apartment with heat coming from the vents. Paul said it was on when he got home from the gym yesterday afternoon, and we both just shrugged and decided to enjoy the fact that it felt temperate in the apartment rather than questioning whatever happened with the HVAC system. And you know, it’s nice. Our heat never really worked all those years, so we always just layered and used space heaters and blankets and so forth, but this is really lovely. It’s nice to sit at my desk on what I can tell is a cold morning without a hat and gloves and a space heater.

And yesterday was a good day. After the errands I got home, did some laundry and dishes, and then opened up my word files and started revising and revamping and reworking the book. It really is something to reread things you’ve written that makes you question your career choices, you know? I knew it was some seriously bad writing, but I didn’t know it was that bad, LOL. But yes, I knew it was bad when I was writing it but at the same time, yesterday I just started revising and reworking and rewording and ooh, look at this two-page long info dump that’s definitely going to need some fixing. It feels good to strip things down to the bones and rebuild them, and I actually felt like I accomplished something yesterday, which was great. It also picked up my mood–clearly I am in a much better mood this morning than I was before–as writing always does. I hope to get some more shredding and rebuilding done today. And I do think once I get this part of the book reworked and redone, writing the rest of it will be that much easier.

We also watched a few more episodes of The Bastard Son and The Devil Himself–which actually has a different main title, Half Bad, which I didn’t realize until last night; and frankly, calling it Half Bad is much easier. The show is very entertaining, I love the male lead (whose name I should look up, so I did: Jay Lycurgo is his name) and the show is very cleverly plotted. I may have to go back and check out the book it’s based on, even if it is (I checked) written in the second person, which I’ve always found irritating.

We had an amazing thunderstorm last night while I was in my chair revising and waiting for Paul to finish work and come downstairs to watch Half Bad. I am never really entirely sure it if’s thunder or someone moving the heavy iron chairs on the deck upstairs (it really has to be pouring incredibly hard for me to hear the rain over the television), and Paul confirmed, when he came down, that it was a thunderstorm. Shortly after that there was a clap of thunder that sounded like it was right outside the apartment–and lasted for a rather long time. Maybe the storm helped me sleep really well last night? I don’t know what caused it, but I actually slept decently last night. I also think the relaxation over the book–the book stress always builds up to a pressure point inside my head, which also induces paralysis (this book is so bad there’s no saving it so why bother?) but getting deep into the weeds with it yesterday clearly relieved a lot of that pressure and so now the stress has been released (kind of like the steam when you’re making an espresso–great analogy, Greg! Maybe you should try writing?) and am hopeful it will be mostly smooth sailing from here on out. It’s a bit warmer outside today than it was yesterday, too, per the weather app, which probably also has something to do with the rain from last night.

So, I am hoping for a productive morning. I am going to make a cappuccino to take with me and head into the office. Hopefully, I’ll make it through the day with enough energy to come home and finish the chores as well as dive into the book some more. Wish me luck, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow.

Valerie

Seriously, how could I not love this cover?

It literally has everything I love (well, most of it, at any rate): the St. Charles streetcar, Scooter, and all kinds of fun antiques and artifacts–and so brightly colored and beautiful. They even slipped in a strand of beads cleverly disguised as pearls! It is one of my favorite covers, and not just because it doesn’t have a shirtless man on the cover–I know, I know, it’s been awhile since I actually had one–certainly it’s been since Royal Street Reveillon–oops, no, Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories is post Royal Street Reveillon, so I guess it’s just the last two young adults and this one since then. And as I said, I really love the color scheme. I may have to have this blown up into a poster and have it framed–that’s how much I love it.

So, who is this Valerie Cooper and why did I decide to write about her and from her point of view?

I’d written from a female perspective before–under pseudonyms–and since I generally relate easier to women than I do to (straight) men, most of my reading is from a female point of view. I’ve always wanted to do a series from this perspective; on the rare occasions I’ve written from a straight man’s point of view (usually in a short story, although occasionally under a pseudonym for a novel) but not as often. I had thought about trying to write a cozy series from a male perspective (I have a great idea for one that I don’t think anyone would buy or want, but I love the idea and may try to do something with it sometime) but eventually defaulted to a woman. Most cozies are told from the feminine perspective (there are exceptions), and so it felt more right to have a female protagonist. I learned from the Paige series being marketed as cozies (which they weren’t) that the strong, sarcastic, borderline bitchy doesn’t play well within that subgenre, and so since I knew I was specifically writing a cozy this time, I knew to follow the rules.

One of the things I had noticed in the cozy series I read is that usually the first book in the series follows a transition of sorts for the main character (Mia P. Manansala’s flopped in the big city and returned to her small hometown; Raquel V. Reyes’ character has just moved back to the Miami area from New York, so she’s happy about it but concerned on others–read the book, you won’t be sorry; others have just gotten divorced, walked on a cheating partner, etc. etc. you get the drift), and I wanted to do something a little softer and less jarring–so I went with her being a youngish empty nester. Married young to a handsome fireman several years older (six, to be exact) she is left a widow when he is killed on the job to raise their twin sons by herself. She’s not worked outside the home since she was a teenager, and now the boys are off to LSU and she’s home alone in the big Victorian house she and her husband bought as a fixer-upper and then renovated while raising the kids. The house is done, her husband is dead and her kids are at school–so she is now finding herself at loose ends and not really sure what to do with herself. She dropped out of college after her marriage when she found herself pregnant–not planned, but not a disappointment, either–and now is considering going back to get her degree at UNO, or maybe finding a job–but what can she do?

I did worry about her not having finished college and just being a stay-at-home mother. It didn’t seem very pro-woman to me, but then I chastised myself. My sister was a stay-at-home mom, and I remember that when she finally was given the choice, my mother was one as well…and I realized I was falling into the wrong mindset about Valerie to begin with–there’s nothing wrong with a woman deciding to be a stay-at-home mom and not ever really working outside the home; the point of feminism is that women should be able to choose what they want rather than have limitations placed on their decisions (which a lot of non-feminist women do not understand), and why not write about a stay-at-home mother now finding her own way in life? I also wanted to surround her with friends and support–so she lives next door to her best friend (they became friends after the woman moved in next door) and is also close to Stacia, a divorced lawyer who lives down the street. The gay couple next door in a double shotgun, Michael and John, are also friends, as is John’s mother, who lives in the other side of the shotgun. Her own parents have retired to the Gulf Coast of Florida, and she is very close to her late husband’s family, the Coopers.

Her name is Valerie because I’ve always liked the name (it’s one of my favorite female names, along with Laura), and I picked Cooper because it’s a friend’s maiden name. I decided to make her be an actual local; born and raised in the city–but her parents are not from New Orleans; they moved here for the father’s job. So she was born here, but she wasn’t born into any of the many striations of social class here. Her parents weren’t connected to old-line New Orleans, they didn’t belong to any Mardi Gras krewes, and Valerie herself–while going to Sacred Heart–never got involved in any of the Carnival stuff, preferring, as she says, to participate by going to parades and catching throws. She’s also an only child who thinks of her late husband’s older sister Therese as a kind of replacement older sister since she didn’t have one.

I wanted to upset Valerie’s tame, placid, almost boring life with a series of shocks that upend everything about her life and what she believed she knew about her life, her house, her late husband–and what better way than to have her realize, thanks to someone else–that the notice she got from the city about the house being reappraised for taxes and didn’t think too much about could actually become a big catastrophe for her. The house they bought so cheaply and renovated could now be worth vastly more than she and Tony paid for the house (I named her husband Tony because I’ve always liked that name for a man; Scotty was almost Tony) because their neighborhood, sketchy and dangerous when they moved there, has been gentrified (as so much of the city has been) and when someone she knows and doesn’t like (a very thin line there I was worried about crossing by introducing that character–toning it down to a Valerie level of dislike was something I really had to pay attention to) lets her know what the market value of her home might actually be–Valerie instantly goes into financial panic mode. If the house is worth ten times what they paid for it, wouldn’t that mean the tax assessment would also got up times ten? She’s run into the woman while picking up fresh shrimp at Big Fisherman Market on Magazine (right there by what used to be the A&P and now I can’t recall what chain went in there? BREAUX MART. Whew, was getting a bit concerned there about my brain working) and walking back home, turning it over and over again in her mind as she reflects how much the neighborhood has changed since she and Tony first moved in–and then when she gets home, she finds out a registered letter from a lawyer has arrived for her.

And nothing in her life is ever the same again.

Essentially, the letter lets her know that she and her sons have received an inheritance from an uncle of Tony’s she never knew even existed, and it includes Rare Things, an antiques business on St. Charles Avenue in the lower Garden District, and the story is then off and running.

I do really like Valerie. I hope readers do, too–because I’d like to keep writing about her.