That’ll Be The Day

I was never much of a science fiction fan when I was a kid. I think the first science fiction I actually read was Dune (the original trilogy) when I was in high school; the first book was on my English class reading list. I loved Dune; still think of it fondly to this day, although it’s a bit dense and whenever I return to it kind of think the writing is a bit stiff…but it remains a treasured read of mine. Even Star Wars (I will die on the hill of refusing to call Episode IV A New Hope; when I saw it, it was called Star Wars and they didn’t add this abomination of a title until Return of the Jedi was released years later–I still remember my confusion when viewing The Empire Strikes Back and EPISODE V scrawled across the screen…”What the fuck do they mean, EPISODE V?”) didn’t really turn me into much of a science fiction fan; but as more Dune books were released, I would buy them and read them voraciously. I also read the novelizations of the Star Wars movies, but refused to read anything new and not in the films–the bitterness of being burned by Splinter of the Mind’s Eye (in which Luke and Leia were romantic interests….ewwwwww) still stings to this day; and of course when the sequel trilogy started being released all those books stopped being canon, so it was a wise decision on my part.

But Return of the Jedi did inspire me to try to write science fiction. I wrote a short story in which I created an entire universe–the science undoubtedly didn’t make sense–but it was fun to write, and I realized I needed to be better versed in science fiction if I wanted to write it.

So, I went to the bookstore, asked the clerk “if I wanted to start reading science fiction, where would I start?” She smiled, and retrieved Foundation for me from the science fiction shelves. When she handed it to me, she said, “This book is aptly titled, because it’s basically the foundation for everything published in science fiction ever since.”

And she wasn’t wrong.

His name was Gaal Dornick and he was just a country who had never seen Trantor before. That is, not in real life. He had seen it many times on the hyper-video, and occasionally in tremendous three-dimensional newscasts covering an Imperial Coronation or the opening of a Galactic Council. Even though he had lived all his life on the world of Synnax, which circles a star at the edges of the Blue Drift, he was not cut off from civilization, you see. At that time, no place in the Galaxy was.

There were nearly twenty-five million inhabited planets in the Galaxy then, and not one but owed allegiance to the Empire whose seat was on Trantor. It was the last half-century in which that could be said.

To Gaal, this trip was the undoubted climax of his young, scholarly life. He had been in space before so that the trip, as a voyage and nothing more, meant little to him. To be sure, he had traveled previously only as far as Synnax’s only satellite in order to get the data on the mechanics of meteor driftage which he needed for his dissertation, but space-travel was all one whether one travelled half a million miles, or as many light years.

Having read almost all of the Foundation novels (I didn’t read the prequels that came later; ending with Foundation and Earth), I was very excited to see the Apple TV adaptation–while knowing it would be dramatically different (no doubt) from the books. But it was so different I thought it would be wise to go back and reread (or listen) to the original novel again. (It’s also been a very hot minute since I read them all, and I don’t remember everything I’ve read the way I used to…)

(Side note: I had actually read an Azimov novel in the 1970’s–Murder at the ABA–and still have my original paperback copy, purchased at the News Depot on Commercial Street in Emporia, Kansas. I’ve always wanted to revisit it–because it was very insider-y about the American Booksellers Association annual event–now Book Expo America and in decline–as well as about publishing itself, and I wanted to see how spot-on Azimov was with the book. I remember it fondly, and am also curious as to whether or not it still holds up as a mystery novel.)

There are differences; there are characters in the show that don’t exist in the book, there was no Thespin in the book (Anacreon does, however, play an important part in the book), there’s no Genetic Dynasty running the Empire (in fact, little to nothing in the book about the Empire once the Encyclopedists take off for Terminus), and of course, Azimov wrote about white men–the show is much more diverse as well as gender flips both Gaal and Salvor Hardin. If you’re an Azimov purist, you’ll probably dislike the show, I think; I enjoyed it even as I noticed the significant differences. But listening to the audiobook, I also realized that some of those changes were necessary–what worked in the book and was exceptionally clever probably wouldn’t translate well into a visual medium, but listening and getting refreshed in my memory of what the original work actually was made me appreciate the book all the more. I’d remembered it was incredibly smart and clever, particularly in how everything worked out to solve what came to be called “Seldon crises”–a situation where the Foundation was endangered, both from within and without, but the forces working against it eventually led to a point where only one possible action could be taken, and it was inevitably the right one; which meant they had to have an almost religious-like belief in Seldon and his mathematics (and how much did I love that math was the savior of the galaxy?) and trust that taking no action was the proper course of action. I also loved how the Foundation changed and adapted from its original mission (its true purpose was hidden from them to begin with, because foreknowledge would change things and alter outcomes), and how it even developed a religion around its technology to control inhabitants on other planets.

And, as that bookstore clerk all those years ago at the bookstore in Manchester Center Mall told me, the book–and Azimov, really–influenced every science fiction writer and novel that came in his wake. It truly was a foundational text for science fiction. And it’s also not difficult to see where his own influences came from–his Galactic Empire was very similar to the Roman Empire in decline, and the parallels to the decline of the American empire are almost impossible to miss.

I did enjoy the show–the production values are amazing, and it’s a great story as well, if it does get off to a bit of a slow start (but it picks up)–but I am even more glad that the show drove me to revisit the original novel again. It truly is a superb work.

Breathe

Good morning, Friday. How are you today? I am feeling good, thank you for asking.

I got a very good night’ sleep last night, and I have, as always, a lot to get done over the weekend (and today) before I head to Kentucky for the holiday on Monday. I want to drop off more books for the library sale tomorrow, have tons of writing to do (as always), and I would like to be able to finish reading Leslie Budewitz’ Guilty as Cinnamon, which I am deeply enjoying. I have a stack of cozy mysteries to take with me on this trip–Owl Be Home for Christmas by Donna Andrews; Pruning the Dead by Julia Henry; Better off Wed by Laura Durham, and A Disguise to Die For by Diana Vallere, plus any number of them on my iPad as ebooks (I’m taking the iPad with me on the chance that I run out of books, which is a horrible fate to contemplate)–and I also need to figure out how to work the check out audiobooks from the library for the phone thing so I can listen to a book both coming and going. (Eleven hours in the car both directions)

And now that some things have settled and been settled, I can now go ahead and officially announce that I have signed a one-book contract for a potential new series set here in New Orleans with Crooked Lane Books; that is the book I am currently working on, having had to put Chlorine aside yet again to make room to write a new book. This is a series with a straight woman main character–a widow with twin sons who’ve just left for LSU, leaving her with a bit of empty nest syndrome and a beautiful old Victorian house in the Irish Channel that now is much too big for her, who gets an unexpected inheritance from a great-uncle of her late husband’s whom she didn’t know even existed. The book will be published under the name T. G. Herren, to differentiate it from my queer books and series. I just got the sketch art for the book cover, and I love it. The book is called A Streetcar Named Murder, and will be released in the fall of 2022. I will be talking about this book a lot over the course of the next year, so prepare thyself, Constant Reader. (T. G. for those who may be wondering, are my initials only reversed; longtime reader know that I reversed my names for my erotica pseudonym Todd Gregory, hence the initials T. G.) My editor is the exceptional Terri Bischoff, whom I have always wanted to work with, and now I am not only working with her on this but also on the Bouchercon anthology for Minneapolis 2022 (we are co-editors), Land of 10000 Crimes.

Life is pretty good for one Gregalicious at the moment, seriously. And I am really looking forward to my January release, #shedeservedit, while being incredibly nervous at the same time. I also got an invitation to contribute to another anthology that pays well in my inbox this morning, so I am feeling kind of good about myself…I give it a day or two. (Bury Me in Shadows has a great review in the next issue of Mystery Scene magazine, which thrilled me to no end when I saw it last night. More on that later.)

I also booked another trip to New York for January yesterday, which is exciting as well. I also made my hotel arrangements for a return engagement to Murder in the Magic City/Murder on the Menu–the Birmingham/Wetumpka one-two punch I did in consecutive years a while back, so you can see why I feel like my career no longer feels stagnant or in stasis at the moment. And yes, the goal for 2022 is to finally land an agent once and for all. I think Chlorine is the book that will do that for me; we shall see.

I got caught up on Foundation yesterday, and I am really impressed with how well the show turned out, considering how much it has veered away from the books. I’d like to read the books again, frankly–oooh, audiobooks for the car!–and I also watched another episode of The Lost Symbol, which frankly I don’t pay as much attention to as I perhaps should while I am watching. It’s very well done, but the plot is far-fetched (which is about the only thing I do remember from reading the book), but watching the show has made me curious about seeing the Tom Hanks films based on the other Dan Brown novels, which I didn’t really care about before. That’s something, I suppose.

And on that note it’s back to the spice mines. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader, and I will check back in with you again tomorrow.

I Could Fall in Love with You

I have been saying for years–literally years–that when it comes to crime fiction, the women are killing it.

Literally, in some cases.

There’s always been this weird, misogynistic mentality that women don’t write as dark as men; which is absurd on its face. I could easily name any number of women who’ve written noir that makes your skin crawl with its darkness (Christa Faust’s Money Shot remains a favorite to this day), and even more who explore the darkness of relationships–romantic, friends, family–and go places you can’t imagine in your darkest moments. I am also of the school of thought–trained by being an Edgar judge for Mystery Writers of America–that crime novels, mysteries if you will, are any fiction that is driven by a crime; whether it’s the commission, investigation, cover-up, solving, or the impact of a crime on the characters being explored in the narrative. This greatly broadens the umbrella that is crime fiction (technically, To Kill a Mockingbird and The Great Gatsby count as crime novels under this definition). I often, whenever following an actual criminal investigation or trial in the press/media, find myself wondering about the peripheral characters in these tragedies; how do you go on from there? How does this impact and change the rest of their lives? What if you found out your boyfriend/lover/spouse was a serial killer? What if your best friend was murdered in high school? How does that change you, impact you, influence the decisions you make for the rest of your life?

Jar of Hearts is that kind of novel–and fascinating in its exploration of the story of a woman in just that kind of situation–only even darker.

I didn’t read Jar of Hearts when it was released–I don’t even want to look at the copyright page because seeing how long it took me to get to it will only make me sadder (or angrier at myself) for taking so long to get to it. But I do remember how everyone was buzzing about it everywhere on social media, and I know it won the Thriller Award (among many other recognitions Ms.Hillier deservedly received), and I knew I would eventually get to it.

And when I selected this as part of my reading materials for last week’s trip, I had no idea what a joy-ride I was letting myself in for.

The trial has barely made a dent in the national news. Which is good, because it means less publicity, fewer reporters. But it’s also bad, because just how depraved do crimes have to be nowadays to garner national headlines?

Pretty fucking bad, it seems.

There’s only a brief mention of Calvin James, a.k.a. the Sweetbay Strangler, in the New York Times and on CNN, and his crimes aren’t quite sensational enough to be featured in People magazine of be talked about on The View. But for Pacific Northwesters–people in Washington state, Idaho, and Oregon–the trial of the Sweetbay Strangler is a big deal. The disappearance of Angela Wong fourteen years ago caused a noticeable ripple throughout the Seattle area, as Angela’s father is a bigwig at Microsoft and is a friend of Bill Gates. There were search parties, interviews, a monetary reward that increased with each passing day she didn’t come home. The discovery of the sixteen-year-old’s remains all these years later–only a half mile away from her house–sent shockwaves through the community. The locals remember. #JusticeForAngela was trending on Twitter this morning. It was the ninth or tenth most popular hashtag for only about three hours, but still.

Angela’s parents are present in court. They divorced a year after their daughter was reported missing, her disappearance the last thread in a marriage that had been unraveling for a decade. They sit side by side now, a few rows back from the prosecutor’s table, with their current spouses, united in their grief and desire to see justice served.

Georgina Shaw can’t bring herself to make eye contact with them. Seeing their faces, etched with equal parts heartache and fury, is the worst part of this whole thing. She could have spared them fourteen years of sleepless nights. She could have told them happened the night it actually happened.

Geo could have done a lot of things.

The book opens with Geo testifying at the trial of her ex-boyfriend from when she was in high school. Geo knew that he’d murdered her best friend, helped him cover it up, and never told anyone the truth about what happened to Angela Wong…until her remains turn up in the woods behind Geo’s childhood home, where her father still lives. Sadly, it turns out that Geo’s high school boyfriend not only murdered Angela, but turned out to be a serial killer. This, understandably, derails Geo’s life as a pharmaceutical executive, and sends her to prison for five years.

When Geo and Angela were in school they had a third friend, the third side of the triangle: Kaiser, who is now a cop and is the man who arrests Geo; who hated Geo’s high school boyfriend–who turned out to be a serial killer! Kaiser is having an affair with his partner on the force–married to another cop–but has never really gotten over his (unrequited) feelings for Geo. The book sees Geo through her years in a women’s prison, and then as she returns to her life upon getting out and tries to rebuild her life. The primary issue is that Calvin has escaped from prison (Kaiser is convinced Calvin has been in touch with Geo; Calvin is Kaiser’s great white whale, as it were) and now women are being murdered again, and dismembered–the way Angela was, but none of Kaiser’s other victims were–and they are also being buried near the bodies of young children. Is it Calvin? Is Geo involved?

Kaiser himself is a compelling character that you can’t help but root for–and the flashbacks to when they were teenagers are also so well done that it’s slightly disappointing that there wasn’t more.

Geo also has other secrets, dark secrets she doesn’t want anyone to know–but could prove key to catching the serial killer.

It is to Hillier’s credit that Geo is a compelling and likable character the reader can empathize with; not an easy task for any writer, given the horrible thing Geo did as a teenager, and the reader is so drawn into her world, her psyche, her point of view, that you can’t help rooting for her despite the horrific mistake she made as a young girl. It is also to Hillier’s credit and skill as a writer that the reader is forced to face their own prejudices about people who’ve served time for crimes; should they be shunned, turned away from, avoided as we so often do with them, or should we be sympathetic to their plight? They’ve served their time, paid their debt to society as determined by a court of law; shouldn’t they have a second chance? Who are we to judge them yet again, making them continue to pay that debt? When is forgiveness possible, and is atonement ever successful?

Hillier’s writing style is also exceptional; the reader is drawn in from that opening sentence and the entire books reads like a runaway train–one you not only cannot escape from, but don’t want to.

Jar of Hearts is amazing, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. I hate that I was so late to the party–but better late than never.

Freedom

Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose…

Happily, I made it through my first Monday back at work. Usually, I tend to take the day after I travel off from work–so if I fly home on Sunday I don’t work on Monday, so I can get acclimated and readjusted to being home–laundry, make groceries, get the mail, etc.–and usually I am exhausted from traveling so I need to sleep in a bit as well. But…yesterday somehow I managed to get up with the alarm, make some coffee, and got my shit together and wasn’t even the least bit grumpy about it. I was a bit tired–the legs especially; I walked a shit ton last week–but I made it through the day without incident and managed to run some errands on the way home. I had considered making a trip to the gym last night but decided it made more sense to go after work tonight–I know, I know, excuses to fail instead of reasons to succeed, but hey, I took a four hour flight yesterday, had to navigate two airports and so forth, not to mention the horrors of I-10 East through the burbs and into the city–no small feat. But I also started feeling low energy around three yesterday afternoon (nothing new; that’s when it usually hits me right between the eyes with a 2 x 4) so it wasn’t travel related at all, but was enough to make me rethink my gym strategy.

Ironically, once I get readjusted to my schedule, I’m off to Kentucky for Thanksgiving.

Which is not an excuse to not go to the gym this week.

The realization that Murder the Indigenous People Day looms on the horizon is also forcing me to rethink my grocery shopping necessities; I really don’t need to be buying anything perishable, and I need to make sure Paul is all stocked up with things he can easily prepare for himself (although he’ll inevitably simply end up eating out the entire time); but I have this weekend to worry about all of that and get it handled. I made significant progress yesterday on getting caught up on everything–still horribly behind on everything, of course–but at least I feel like I’m getting somewhere, and I don’t feel as terribly stressed out about being so far behind, which is also progress of a sort. I do want to get back to reading Barbara Ross’ delightful Shucked Away, which I started reading on the plane home Sunday, and I think next up will be another Leslie Budewitz; I loved the first in her wonderful Spice Shop series, but haven’t managed to get back to it yet, and of course, after Thanksgiving is the best time to read the next up in Donna Andrews’ Meg Langslow series, Owl Be Home for Christmas–it would actually be kind of great to have an entire season of Christmas books to read, wouldn’t it, and Andrews does one every year, which is also kind of marvelous as well, but I don’t want to read the books out of order.

I also began piecing together and outlining an article I am writing for Crime Reads to help promote the Kansas book when it’s released–I got the hook finally over the weekend at Crime Bake, for which I will always be grateful to that conference, and the New England chapters of MWA and Sisters in Crime–and that definitely counts as writing (I never count the blog as writing, despite the fact that every entry is more than five hundred words and sometimes even longer), so I am getting back into that saddle, which feels really great. I also managed to finish the laundry last night, emptied a load from the dishwasher so I could reload it, and got some filing and organizing done around the Lost Apartment so my desk area isn’t quite as disheveled and scattered as it was when I got home Sunday night. I still have to finish my blog posts on Invisible City by Julia Dahl and Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier (if you haven’t read them, Constant Reader, you really need to get on with it! Don’t wait as long as I did, which was a huge mistake), and I also want to get some boxes prepared to clear out some more books for the library sale. I think Saturday I am going to drag a box down from the attic to dispose of as well; might as well get that project started–because the attic is definitely not ever going to clean itself out at any point in time.

We watched the recent episode of Dopesick last night, and the acting is truly superb; the entire show has been extremely well done and well-written; everyone in the cast should be tapped for an Emmy nomination; the young woman who plays Bets, the lesbian mine worker who gets hooked after a back injury is particularly fantastic, as is Mare Winningham and Michael Keaton. Rosario Dawson is no slouch, either, and if there was ever an oilier, slimier villain–the actor playing Richard Sackler is Bond-villain worthy. We’ll probably get caught up on our other shows the rest of this week–The Sinner, The Morning Show–and there’s some other shows I want to watch as well; I really do need to start making a list. I also want to get back to Chapelwaite, which I don’t think Paul was enjoying as much as I did; we’ll have to have a chat about that tonight when we both get home from the gym.

Yes, I am planning on going to the gym tonight. We’ll see how that turns out, won’t we?

And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader. I know I intend to.

Every Little Bit o’ You

One of the great joys of being a voracious reader is that moment when you find a new author whose work you absolutely love. One of the great drawbacks of being a voracious reader with a couple of jobs and all kinds of volunteer responsibilities is that you don’t have as much time to read as you would like. When I was a kid, I often wouldn’t do my assigned reading from class or my homework because well, I had a book to read goddamnit!

Strangely enough, that never went over well with either my parents or my teachers. Go figure.

A while back, I discovered the Lou Norton series by the amazing Rachel Howzell Hall. I read the first book in the series and thought, oh, wow, here’s someone I need to add to my must-read authors list (which is ridiculously lengthy), but the following books in the series went into the massive TBR pile (Paul sometimes jokes that it’s where “books go to collect dust and stare out sadly into the world, hoping to get picked up and read at long last”). But when she released her 2019 stand alone thriller, They All Fall Down, it went to the top of the pile and I tore through it in a very short time. It was amazing. I loved how she took Christie’s classic And Then There Were None (which was the title of the edition I read, so it will always be that to me) updated it, fit it into the modern world and made it diverse, and managed to also make it an edge-of-your-seat thriller with a despicable protagonist who did terrible things (or had done terrible things) but made her so real and human you couldn’t help but feel for her. It was definitely one of my favorite reads of that year.

And so, when selecting books to take with me to read during my travels this past week, I decided to take this year’s Hall release rather than last year’s And Now She’s Gone.

And not a bit sorry I did, either.

At that time of night, there was peace. No burbles from the water cooler. No ringing telephone or whooshing copiers. Just her hands scratching against paper envelopes, Just her sweet soprano harmonizing with Ariana Grande’s.

At twenty-three years old, and the most junior on the team, Allison Cagle stuffed envelopes as part of her job. Didn’t matter that she didn’t have a car. Didn’t matter than Jessica, her work best friend and regular ride home, has just called three minutes ago–little Conner had a fever and Jessica needed to drive him to the emergency room. (Watch your back! Don’t wanna stress out over you two!) Didn’t matter that Allison had no idea how the hell she was getting home now. None of that mattered because the annual awards luncheon was tomorrow afternoon and three hundred envelopes–containing drink tickets, table numbers, and for fifty VIP’s, parking validations–needed stuffing.

With smoky-blue eyes and a sleek SoulCycle body, Allison hadn’t anticipated this much office work. Filing, collating and stuffing killed her manicure. She preferred driving around Ventura and Los Angeles Counties, picking up in-kind donations from stores and bakeries. The Lakers, once. She’d expected more wooing donors and taking minutes at important meetings as she brushed blonde tendrils from her heart-shaped face. Flirty work, all in the name of charity and for kids caught between the foster care system and juvenile detention.

Allison Cagel is not the main character of this thriller–that would be Michaela “Mickie” Lambert, who has a fascinating job–she creates digital scrapbooks–memory books; a client pays a (large) fee and then Mickie takes objects and/or pictures, anything that might hold a memory for the client, and then puts it all together into a three-dimensional hologram. You go over the memory with Mickie, who records what you say, and she also does research into the items and/or places etc. so that you can summon the memory up and relive that moment forever.

Allison (spoiler) is about to become a victim, so while she does have a role in the story, we never see her beyond that opening chapter.

Mickie has just broken up with her boss–oh, yeah, landmines everywhere at that company–and moved back into an apartment behind her parents’ home, where she lived before she started dating the boss. That relationship is, frankly, toxic–she’s never met his family or many of his friends (the whole set-up just screams side piece!!!! to me), but he doesn’t want to let her go–nor does he want to make the changes necessary for the relationship to progress and grow. (I hated him almost from the get-go, seriously.) Her newest assignment–as she tries to negotiate the minefield of breaking up with a boss who doesn’t want to let go–is working for Nadia Denham, who runs a bizarre curio shop in a strip mall in a rapidly gentrifying area. Nadia has put aside her treasures for Mickie to record for her, as she is suffering from Alzheimer’s and wants to have reminders of her past to access once her brain can no longer do so. Mickie is taken with Nadia, and her strange shop of curios and collectibles (I kept thinking of Stephen King’s Needful Things), so when Nadia ostensibly commits suicide by wrapping a plastic bag around her head (and why, LAPD, would anyone commit suicide in that way?) Mickie is shaken up, and begins to suspect that maybe, just maybe, Nadia didn’t kill herself after all.

But who would have wanted the harmless old lady dead? Her adoptive daughter, Riley, who is clearly emotionally unstable and works in the shop with her? The greedy developer who wants to tear up the strip mall and gentrify it? The strange homeless man in the parking lot who scares the crap out of Mickie? Her son, with his bankruptcies and financial troubles–and fine body that Mickie can’t help but desire? And someone is stalking Mickie as well–but why? Is it the Dashing Devil serial killer, who, after a long absence, has started killing again? Is her boss the one doing the stalking?

Or is someone even closer to home?

And how is this somehow all connected?

This book is a non-stop thrill ride, and Mickie is one of the most compelling heroines I’ve come across in recent memory. Loved her, cared about her, cared about her family and circle of friends, and couldn’t stop reading because I cared so much about her–and there are some moments of suspense so intense I simply could not stop reading. Hall manages to juggle all these characters, all of these plots and subplots, with such expertise that the reader is never confused, or has to page back to figure out what’s going on, or who someone is. The way the book continues to build–and the darker it becomes the further you get into it–should be studied by anyone who wants to write suspense.

You can never go wrong with Rachel Howzell Hall, and this book is just fantastic.

Don’t Say You Love Me

Monday morning and I am back home. It was lovely to travel again, lovely to see people I’ve not seen in far too long, and even more lovely to be in a room full of people listening to writers talking about writing and books. I took voluminous notes during every panel I attended, got inspired about writing again, and it was almost kind of normal, like somehow (despite the masks) I had somehow slipped back into the Before Times.

Planes, trains and automobiles–last week I did them all, and I am still a little worn out from all the things I’m no longer used to; airports, train stations, being around large crowds of people. I am almost painfully shy and socially awkward (always have been) so interacting with new people has always been difficult for me, but Crime Bake was absolutely marvelous and welcoming. It so so nice being back in New York and taking the subway again and just walking around, marveling at the wonderful city. Boston is another place I love, and haven’t been there in many many years. Friends I hadn’t seen in years picked me up at South Street Station when my train rolled in; we then went to the incredible Isabella Stewart Gardner museum (Mrs. Gardner has always been of interest to me since reading Stephen Buckingham’s The Grande Dames a gazillion years ago), and her art collection–and the house itself–were absolutely stunning. We had dinner and they drove me out to my hotel, where Crime Bake was happening, and almost instantly I began running into people I’ve not seen and have long adored. I was very tired by the time I reached Dedham, but somehow found some more energy in the tank to talk and enjoy the company of people I’ve not seen in an eternity.

(I’d also forgotten–it’s been so long–how things tend to pile up when I am away to the point of being overwhelming; but one thing at a time and it will all get done, Gregalicious.)

I also read a lot of terrific books while I was traveling (These Toxic Things by Rachel Howzell Hall; Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier; Invisible City by Julia Dahl; and am halfway finished with Barbara Ross’ Shucked Away) and those reviews will be forthcoming–another thing to add to my now endless to-do list–which reminded me how much I love to read. Reading has always been the one constant love of my life, ever since I was a little boy, and sometimes I need to remember–no matter how tired I am, no matter how little energy I have, and no matter how easy it is to simply allow myself to head into a Youtube wormhole (which I can always justify as research), what I should do every night when I get home to unwind is spend an hour in a book. I was reflecting on that very thing last night on my JetBlue flight back to New Orleans from Boston (this was also my first JetBlue experience and one that I loved very very much; I think I might have a new favorite airline), but what I also remembered by my deep reading dive over this trip was that limiting myself to a mere hour of reading could be very difficult to accomplish when I am reading something I am very much loving. I never want to put the book down once I am caught in its spell–which happened quite a few times over the course of the trip; I wound up staying up later than I should have in order to keep reading.

But oh! What marvelous books I was reading! Is there anything more fun that getting caught in the spell of a wonderful writer? I think not.

But it was also lovely to sleep in my own bed again last night–I really could have stayed in bed most of the day, I think, and were it not for having to head into the office this morning to return to reality, I probably would have slept very late–and it’s lovely to have my own coffee in one of my own mugs this morning; it’s lovely to be sort of back to what passes for normal in the life of one Gregalicious; but now I have a lot of writing and editing and emails and other business to get caught up on; so the first thing I need to do once this is finished and posted is make a substantial to-do list. I need to get back into the swing of going to the gym three times weekly–despite the coming of the Thanksgiving holidays and yet another trip, but I can’t keep putting it off with that excuse else I will never get back into the groove, and my body is getting squishy again. I also need to edit two stories to get them ready for submission/publication and I need to get caught up on the book I am writing. I also have an article to write for promotion for the release of #shedeservedit–while on this trip the hook of the article came to me, which again is why writers’ conferences are so important for me, because I find them to be inspiring and motivating–and of course, I need to get through the endless amounts of emails that have piled up while I was away. I also have to recenter myself with my day job; it feels like I haven’t been to the office in months. I need to make a Costco run at some point this coming weekend, and of course I have to make groceries too. I can make pasta for dinner tonight, but after that I am completely out of ideas and who knows what all is in my kitchen cabinets!

And so, it’s time to get cleaned up and presentable for the office this morning. Sorry to be so brief and short after a rather lengthy absence, but…there’s a lot I have to get caught up on and it ain’t going to do itself, so off to the spice mines again.

Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me)

New York!

It really is a wonderful place, and I love it here. The energy, the rapid pace, the mobs of people everywhere–comparatively speaking, of course–it is all quite exhilarating, frankly. It usually wears me out being here–the constant activity of rushing from one meeting to the next; walking around slow walkers, hearing all the different languages and accents and voices; clambering down the steps to the subway and remembering my age as I climb back up at my stop, the towering buildings, the light show that is Times Square…it’s really quite marvelous, all of it. This time, though, I am not worn to a nub the way I usually feel when I am in the city. My sleep–never great when I travel–has actually not been so bad this time around; I wake up periodically during the night but for the most part I am actually getting some decent sleep, so I feel rested. Last night I did kind of hit a wall, though; I was very exhausted when I managed to make it back to my room and collapse onto the bed, too tired to read or think or much of anything, so I turned on the massive television here (which has Netflix) and it suggested that I watch Glee–soon to be leaving the service–and I hesitated for a moment before starting. I remember loving Glee in the beginning, but it became so bad and off the rails in later seasons that it went from “love it” to “what the fuck” to “hate watching” to “life is too short to watch bad television.” And there’s some weird curse on the show, too–several stars have died, Lea Michele turned out to be a bigger monster in real life than Rachel Berry (which is saying something–although to be fair, I already knew she was awful because I knew someone who went to Yale with her), and of course, Glee is the show that truly launched Ryan Murphy as a television production conglomerate. (His previous shows, Nip/Tuck and Popular were cult favorites; Glee’s huge success is what made him golden). It was interesting to watch it again, and see how subversive the show was for its time: a closeted gay teenager slowly making his way out of the closet, although terrified to admit it because he was already being bullied for being different; the absolute mockery of Chastity Clubs for teenagers; and while the show would probably have difficulties were it a new show starting to air today–playing off bullying for laughs, for one thing–it was still groundbreaking for the time.

It’s so interesting how things change so quickly, isn’t it? Over the course of my lengthy lifetime there has been so much change that things that were groundbreaking and transgressive at the time are now problematic; I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, particularly in the wake of rewatching both Pillow Talk and The Rocky Horror Picture Show (which may be the first time those two films have ever been linked together in this manner–any manner, really; they are actually quite different films but…at their core they both challenged the status quo of their time), and especially now having rewatched the first few episodes of Glee.

And, as always, there’s probably an essay in there. I used to think about how much the world changed over the course of my grandmother’s life–she was born in 1910, during the Taft administration, and died during the Clinton–and all the changes she must have seen over the course of her lifetime, although in remote rural Alabama she might not have been terribly aware of those changes; she wasn’t able to get a telephone line until the early 1980’s–but now that I am past the sixty mark and no matter how much I want to believe otherwise, I cannot deny that I am on the downward side of the mountain of life I also marvel at how different the world is now than it was when I was a child. You never hear anything anymore about nuclear disarmament or the threat or potential of a full-blown nuclear war that could take civilization back into the dark ages again…but I also remember learning very young about atomic weapons and the damage they could do; I remember air raid drills when I was in elementary school and that there was a very large bomb shelter below the basement level of my school–you never forget seeing those triangular symbols on the wall over the staircase down. The right still drags out that cold-war era trope of communists! Communists! that they used to bleat about endlessly; I just saw it from moronic state legislator from Arizona on Twitter just the other day; and to this day they conflate socialism with communism as a scare tactic to drum up the base…who seem to think living as wage serfs from paycheck to paycheck, one medical bill or car accident away from bankruptcy and homelessness is better than any government assistance to ease their lives in any way–because there is nobility in suffering? But then, that also goes hand-in-hand with their embrace of a version of Christianity that tells them the more the suffer in this life the more wealth they will have in Heaven, which is weird. (I’ve never understood why they despise socialism and communism when in fact their ideation of heaven and the afterlife is…socialism.)

I’ve started reading Rachel Howzell Hall’s These Toxic Things, which is also quite marvelous. I am a bit behind on my reading of Hall’s canon; this is her release from last year and I also have her release from this year in the TBR pile as well; and I really want to go back and finish reading her Lou Norton series. The opening chapters of this are quite excellent, and I know what I’ll be reading on the train to Boston tomorrow. (One of the reasons I enjoy traveling as much as I do is because the uninterrupted reading time it gives me…I probably won’t finish all the books I brought with me on this trip–there are two others I’ve been meaning to read for quite some time; I love having time where I have nothing to do but read, although I suppose I could actually try to write on the train….nah. I may write in my journal instead if the mood hits me.)

I guess I should wrap this up so I can start getting ready to head out for my day. Don’t know if I will have time before my train to post in the morning tomorrow, but will definitely check in at some point–it’s weird to not being posting daily this week!

Happy Thursday, Constant Reader, and a shout out to all veterans on this Veterans’ Day as well!

Here I Go Impossible Again

Later today I am leaving on a jet plane. My bags aren’t packed and I’m not ready to go–but eventually this morning I will get to that place. I have already made my packing list, have checked in for the flight on-line, have ground transfers negotiated and hotels booked; appropriate credit cards are in my wallet and I will get cash at the airport ATM. I have some errands to run this morning as well–prescriptions to retrieve from the pharmacy, treating myself to Five Guys because it has been far far too long–and I don’t have to leave for the airport until the mid-afternoon. So I decided to let myself sleep a bit late, futz around the Lost Apartment for a bit, and try to get things together that need to be gotten together before I depart, abandoning Paul and Scooter for far longer than I would prefer.

But I am taking a trip!

It’s almost like the before times.

Almost.

But when I think about how marvelous it felt to be in Tiger Stadium earlier this year, how normal it all felt to be there on Game Day (despite seeing my Tigers lose in person for the very first time in eleven years, but it was going to happen sooner or later and hey, the streak lasted an entire decade), and how that “normal” experience actually translated into feeling better about this world in which we live in general. Airports (and airplanes) generally aren’t pleasant experiences for me in the best of times and circumstances; I have so many horrible memories of nightmarish experiences working for that airline that literally going through the automatic doors of an airport concourse makes my entire body seize up with tension–I can feel the knots forming in my neck, shoulders, and back. But…I am thinking today I may be too happy and excited to feel that tension–not to mention grateful to actually be able to travel again.

Paul had a meeting on Sunday afternoon (!) and so I was left to my own devices after the Saints game ended; I caught up on The Lost Symbol (better than I remember the book) and Foundation, which really picked up steam (I also realized they aren’t following the exact timeline from the book series, either–for example, the existence of the second Foundation isn’t revealed until Book Three, not during the first Seldon Crisis–so much is coming back to me as I watch!) after a slow first two episodes–the Emperor thing is also different than in the books, but I am enjoying this entire idea of a clone threesome who run the empire, in fact embodying it to the point they are simply addressed as Empire, and also loving Lee Pace in the rule of Day, the adult yet not old Emperor (Dawn, Day, Dusk are the three cloned emperors; Dusk eventually dies and is replaced by Day, who is replaced by the no longer a child or teen Dawn, and a new cloned baby because the new Dawn. It’s interesting, and they’ve added a lot of creative flourishes filling in the missing brushstrokes; as though the Azimov novels were merely an outline needing to be expanded.

But when I was finished with Foundation, I still had some time left before Paul would get home and I didn’t really want to start something entirely new-to-me (having to stop when he got home) and my headspace after the Saints game wasn’t really in a place where it should be for reading, so one of the suggestions on my streaming app was The Rocky Horror Picture Show…and yes, I have literally seen it well over two, if not three, hundred times already. I’ve never watched it on television because talking back to the television by yourself is kind of…not sane? Certainly not as fun as being in a movie theater full of people with props and people in costume and so forth. It was interesting to watch it by myself and completely sober…it’s really a crazy movie that makes little to no sense, really, but it’s message resonates very strongly still with me today…I suspect there’s an essay there. I also think there’s a short story or a scene from a book I need to write about viewing The Rocky Horror Picture Show for the first time; I remember being quite taken aback–if completely enamored–by it. I do know that I bought the soundtrack album the day after and still know it all by heart even now, all these years later…

And yes, I did find myself answering the movie back. There are some problematic things in it, of course–what movie from that period doesn’t have something problematic in it?–but at the time…and for quite some time afterward, the movie meant a lot to all of us misfits out here, the square pegs that couldn’t be pounded into a round hole no matter how hard society–or we–tried. In that theater that first night–and all the other theaters on so many other nights–for about an hour and a half I was able to escape the strictures and stresses of a world in which I–and people like me–didn’t belong. As years passed props and toys were slowly but surely banned–who would want to clean up that mess, seriously?–but the loss of water pistols to simulate rain, flying rolls of toilet paper, etc. always seemed to lessen the experience.

Then again, I would have hated to have been the one cleaning the theater at two in the morning for minimum wage, too. Definitely an essay there, for sure–which would have to include the problematic parts that haven’t aged well. But man, did Tim Curry ever commit to that part, and he definitely understood what the movie was.

Last night we watched some more Big Mouth, which is hilarious, although I am never entirely sure if it is actually funny, or if the laughs come from wow I can’t believe they went there shocks. (I’m actually surprised there’s not more right-wing outrage at the show, honestly; maybe there is and I am unaware, but this is precisely the kind of show they would go for–a comedy about junior high students going through puberty that is completely frank about sex and sexuality and masturbation and so forth? You’d think the American Family Association would be eating the outrage with a fucking spoon in both hands.)

And on that note, I should probably start getting it together around here this morning. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you tomorrow morning from New York!

In My Arms

Thursday and working at home today. Data to enter and condoms to pack; but at least I don’t have to go out in public today, which is a blessing both for me and the public when it happens. I decided to stop and make groceries on the way home from work last night, to make this possible, and it’s an absolutely lovely thing to contemplate that I was smart enough to think ahead so I can just work from home and not go anywhere today, other than to the gym later on. My body isn’t happy that I’ve not been to the gym in weeks, and it is most definitely letting me know of its deep disapproval of this conduct. I may not even lift weights–but stretching is definitely on the agenda. I need to really stretch every day, to keep my muscles from tightening and knotting, and all the knots and tightness and tension I am feeling this morning is yet another example of why self-care, particularly in trying times, is so absolutely necessary.

I also really need to get back to writing more regularly. I always feel better when I’m working, writing, than when I am not. You’d think after over twenty years of writing, this would be firmly imprinted on my brain: writing and creating are imprinted into your DNA and when you aren’t doing it, you’re making yourself miserable. I’ve always believed the the so-called trope of “writer’s block” is actually a symptom of depression; there’s something else going on in your brain that is preventing you from creating. (I cannot, as always, speak for writers other than myself; this is my belief and my experience. I’ve also come to recognize that I don’t want to do it mentality when it comes to writing for me is my own personal version of writer’s block–the depression and the imposter syndrome insidiously doing its work on my brain: why do something you love to do when you can not do it and feel bad about yourself and question your ability to do it?) There have been a lot of distractions lately–really, since The Power Went Out–and I need to stop allowing shit to take me out of the mindset that the most important thing to do in my free time from now until January is to write the fucking book.

The book is the most important thing right now.

I did spend some time revising the first chapter last night, despite having the usual “third day in a row up at six” tiredness last night. It felt good, as I knew it would, and spending some doing something I truly love really gave me a rush of sorts; I was able to sleep deeply and well last night, I feel very even and stress-free this morning, and some of the knots in my shoulders, neck and back seem to have relaxed this morning, and I feel rested, more rested than I have felt in quite some time. Untangling the thorny knots of problems in a manuscript–while forcing me to think and use logic and reason while being creative–is perhaps the best cure for anything I have going on at the time. Escaping into writing has always been my solace, going back to the days when I was that lone queer kid in Kansas, and it still works to this day.

It’s actually an interesting challenge for me–writing a book set in New Orleans that doesn’t center a gay man or any gay issues. (There will be queer characters–I can’t write anything without including some; sue me.) The book is also centered in a neighborhood with which I have some familiarity, but I obviously don’t know it as well as the Lower Garden District (where Chanse lives, and where Paul and I have always lived) or the Quarter (where Scotty lives); it’s the same neighborhood where my main character in Never Kiss a Stranger also lives, so I need to get more familiar with how it is NOW…I tend to always think of neighborhoods as they were not as they currently are; which means I need to go walk around and take some pictures and get a sense/feel for who lives there, what it’s like now, etc. This neighborhood used to be considered sketchy when I first started coming here/when we first moved here; the price ranges for rentals and properties now (well, every-fucking-where in New Orleans now) are hard for me to wrap my mind around. (When I was writing my first book, Murder in the Rue Dauphine, I made a reference to “million dollar homes in the Garden District; this was in the late 1990’s. My first reader–beta reader, they’d call it now–highlighted the sentence with the note there are no million dollar homes in New Orleans. The Internet then was not what it is now, of course, so I was surprised to look in the real estate listings in the Times-Picayune to see she was correct. Now, homes in neighborhoods that used to be considered ‘dangerous’ go for over $400k; I just looked at “houses for sale” on Zillow in the neighborhood I am using and was not in the least bit surprised to see that a house like the one my character lives in is listed for 1.15 million…which is actually a plot point I am going to use in the book. And while verifying this just now didn’t surprise me, per se, it did make me shake my head and wonder, who is paying this for a house in New Orleans?)

I don’t see how any working class people can actually afford to live here anymore, really. Sure, there are still neighborhoods that “affordable” when compared to the neighborhoods adjacent to the levees, but the fact that our original apartment, that we paid $495 per month for, now goes for $2100. And that’s something I think I should address in an upcoming book–whether in this new series, or in a Scotty.

I’ve also found myself going down wormholes about Louisiana and New Orleans history a lot lately; I’ve never been conversant in either other than the basics–Bienville arrived and set up camp; why English Turn is called English Turn; Spain takes over from France, and so on. Both city and state have a deep, rich and sometimes horrifying history; it’s little wonder the city is so haunted. So much ugliness, so much violence, so much criminal activity! (Which kind of thematically what I was exploring in Bury Me in Shadows–how the history of violence and ugliness in a particular area can poison it) It’s why I am always amused that the white-supremacists-who-don’t-want-people-to-think-they-are will always cry and whine about crime in New Orleans–when they haven’t lived here in decades and were part of the white flight when the schools were desegregated–they left because of crime, not because they didn’t want their kids to go to school with black kids, oh no! It was the crime! (But if you give them enough rope, they will always bring race into it eventually). New Orleans has always had a dark past, has always had high crime rates, has always had corrupt politicians…but the crime here is why they left…even though the white politicians were also always criminals, and there has always been a lot of violent crime here.

Anyway, I went into a wormhole the other day about the possible murder of Louisiana’s first Black lieutenant governor, Oscar Dunn–who may or may not have been murdered in 1871. What a great historical true crime book that would make, wouldn’t it? Post war, the racial tensions in the city, Reconstruction going on…and on the other hand, it could also make a great historical mystery novel as well! Yet another idea, yet another folder, yet another possibility for the future.

It never ends.

And on that note, tis time for me to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

Don’t Say Your Love Is Killing Me

Ah, Kansas.

Moving between your sophomore and junior years in high school isn’t easy on any teenager. I wasn’t quite as nervous about this move as I had been when we moved from Chicago out to the suburbs–which was a major shift in everything I was used to, moved me away from friends I’d been going to school with since first grade, and made me that thing no one wants to be: the new kid–primarily because I’d already experienced being the new kid once already, and had never really gotten over it. Suburban life wasn’t good for me, really–I got picked on and bullied alot, called gay slurs pretty regularly, kids didn’t want to be my friend because they’d open themselves up to the same bullying I was experiencing. So, while I was going to miss the people I did consider to be my friends–which was yet another eye-opening experience in and of itself, but more on that later–but I wasn’t going to miss the bullying, the being targeted, the snickers after I walked past people in the halls, and worrying about having a place to sit in the cafeteria every day (my sophomore year I joined Choir to get out of the lunch break–we were always dismissed fifteen minutes early so we could eat, so I would grab something quickly and eat it as fast as I could; I still eat fast to this day).

I even thought it could be a fresh start for me, and all of that could stay in the past.

While I sometimes will joke about how glad I was to get out of Kansas five years later, I appreciated my time there. My high school was actually–given its size–a much better school than the enormous one I attended in the suburbs; I actually learned there and participated in class. I was, of course, horribly lonely; it’s never been easy for me to talk to people I don’t know (painful shyness, to the point of anxiety), and as always, when nervous and uncomfortable I resort to humor and jokes and being a clown. I never felt like I fit in there, but it was so much better than my old school experience–and the slurs didn’t start there until the second semester of my senior year. That was fine; I just had to make it through a few more weeks by then and at that point I was ready to get out of there and move on with my life.

Kansas wasn’t a particularly welcoming place for a gay teenager in the mid-1970’s, but then most places weren’t at the time. I remember thinking I was the only gay kid in Kansas, the only one at either school I attended, and there was absolutely no one I could trust to talk to about it. I missed having real friends, ones like I read about in books or saw in movies and television shows; it wasn’t until much later in life that I realized I never had real friends because I never trusted anyone enough to actually be honest with them, tell them the truth about me–and the real basis of friendship is mutual trust. I obviously have always had serious trust issues–the whole no one can find out hell of my first few decades of life–but I never felt close to people because I didn’t trust them enough to not turn on me, walk out of my life, and/or mock me if I told them the truth.

So, for a long time I rather held it against Kansas and the area where we lived for not being more open and welcoming, and it was unfair. Would rural Alabama have been better? New Orleans? Nebraska or Texas or California? Even in the cities with a big queer population at the time–New York, Chicago, San Francisco–I wouldn’t say the life of queer kids going through the hell of being closeted in public school was better there. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t; I don’t know. But when you live in Kansas and are a queer kid in the 1970’s…I felt like I was marooned on a distant planet.

Oddly enough, the little book store in the county seat, the News Depot–they had a massive newspaper/magazine section, and also carried comic books; it was there I started reading them again–that I found the books that were my foundational queer reading: Gordon Merrick’s The Quirk, Patricia Nell Warren’s The Front Runner, and Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Catch Trap (and yes, I am aware of the allegations against her as well as her husband–and his, I believe, actual crimes; but I cannot deny the book was foundational reading for me, either). The clerk didn’t even give me a second glance whenever I bought one of these books; I also had to bury them in my room in stacks of other books so my mom wouldn’t find them (my biggest fear was always one day my mom would get bored, wander into my room to find something to read, and wonder, ‘The Quirk? What’s that about?”). There were sex scenes in them, too–sex scenes I read over and over again, memorizing the page numbers so I wouldn’t have to use a bookmark or turn down a page, which was far too risky. I already had a vague idea of what gay sex was like, gathered from insults and comments in other books; but these were pretty graphic and left no doubt in my mind whatsoever about what was involved.

And boy, I wanted to find out how it actually felt.

(I never actually found a gay bookstore until I moved to Tampa in 1990. But I would spend hours in bookstores in the years prior looking for anything that might even be remotely gay or gay-friendly; and occasionally I would find something like Dancer from the Dance or The Swimming-Pool Library but what I really wanted was something fun to read with positive gay characters. characters who weren’t stereotypes or to be pitied or felt sorry for; gays who lived their lives openly and proudly, and maybe solved crimes, fell in and out of love, experienced life that wasn’t all solemn and dreary and sad. Don’t get me wrong–I am not dogging either of those books; they are wonderful novels and beautifully written, but…I am a genre guy, not a litfic guy, and I wanted to read some gay crime or horror or romance or something entertaining. Once I discovered the wealth of books and authors that actually existed in the genres? There was no turning back.)

I had always felt like I didn’t belong anywhere–my earliest childhood memories are of me being aware I wasn’t like the other kids, in many ways, and how odd and different I felt. That feeling never changed growing up–hell, there are still times when I feel like I am from another planet–and the moving around didn’t help, either…I do remember thinking, every time I moved to a new city and state as an adult, ah, here we go again–no friends, no life, and no idea how to find anyone who is like me–if there are any people like me.

It was often discouraging. I felt like I was going to always be alone.

By the time I was twenty it was time to go, to leave Kansas and never go back. I felt so stunted, and so unhappy, like my potential hadn’t been tapped and never would if I remained there. I knew if I stayed in Kansas I would wind up probably very unhappily married, with kids and a whole life I didn’t want, had never wanted, but was expected of me. I knew I would never be happy there, completely happy–and so when the chance presented itself to move to California (California! You can imagine how exciting that sounded to me), I took it and never looked back.

With the passing of time and more perspective, a lot of the bitterness I used to feel about my experience there has changed. I don’t know that the experience there now would be any different than it was in the 1970’s, but I suspect that even had we stayed in the suburbs of Chicago those last few years of high school and first years of college would have been equally scarring and stifling; that’s pretty much how it was for queer kids everywhere back then. Some of the kids I was friends with, or knew, from my old high school in Kansas have friended me on Facebook, and me being a big ole queer must not bother them too much; it’s not like I hide it anymore (those days are forever gone) and they don’t unfriend or block me (although my feed could be hidden from their walls; I’ve certainly done that). I’ve revisited Kansas some in my work already–some short stories, a novel here and there–but this latest visit there in the world I created for #shedeservedit might be a bit unfair; but in a town where toxic masculinity has been allowed to run unchecked, I can’t imagine it would be a comfortable place for a gay teen.

And that’s enough for today. Hope you have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow.