Save Me a Place

Oddly enough, as I sat in my easy chair the other day watching college football games and letting my body and mind and creativity rest, I had an idea for either a stand alone book or a new series, one way or the other, and it’s something I find interesting enough that I might even consider it. It would be a difficult proposition, to be sure–given the decline in retail sales and everything going to an on-line and electronic model–but I was looking at a map of New Orleans on my iPad because it occurred to me that I didn’t know where Tulane’s not-so-new-anymore on-campus football stadium was; so I pulled up a map to look because I was thinking that was a great line for a Scotty book–I always forget there’s a football stadium in Uptown-so of course I had to go looking for it. The map also brought up businesses in the area and lo and behold, there’s a comic book shop uptown on the lake side of Claiborne and it hit me: no one has ever done a cozy series about a comic book shop and that opened up an entire world of possibilities for me: the main character is an aspiring comic book artist who works in the shop, and of course, you can get into the whole thing about who actually is into comics and the history of comic books and it would give me an excuse to actually learn more about comics and their history and…

You see how this ends up going, don’t you?

I know any number of comics geeks–Alex Segura Jr, author of this year’s brilliant Secret Identity, about the business side of producing comics, is one–and one of my best friends from college owns a comic book shop in central California, or did at some point–and of course my neighbor Michael is also heavily into comics, having gone to Comic Con in San Diego, even. And of course I’d get to make up shit, which is always a huge plus for me. I love making up shit! And of course, it would be fun to write from the point of view of a struggling artist.

I mean, it’s not like I wouldn’t know anything about that…

The Saints played terribly yesterday and logged another “L” in the record book (how bad are the Falcons?) yesterday; I didn’t watch but rather followed on Twitter while I did things around the house. The Saints games sometimes cause me too much stress and then I am emotionally exhausted afterwards–too drained to be of much use, so sometimes I just follow it on Twitter or it’ll be on in the living room while I work in the kitchen. I did get the Costco delivery yesterday, and should probably run some errands at some point today, but it is Work-at-Home Monday and I have work I have to get done. I am behind still from the Bouchercon trip and the ensuing back injury, but am hopeful I will start getting caught up somewhat soon. Emails beget emails, though, and therefore that is a sisyphean task indeed.

We watched the new Star Wars show Andor last night, and I am so happy Deigo Luna’s character is getting an origin story. So far, the only show they’ve done I didn’t buy into completely was The Book of Boba Fett, and am thinking maybe we should give that another try at some point. After those three episodes we moved on to The Serpent Queen and American Gigolo, which I think we’re going to give up on. I love Jon Bernthal, but I’m just not buying this story for the character. It’s an interesting idea–and full props to them for turning it into a sequel series in which Julian actually goes to jail for the murder he was accused of committing in the film, but I’m just not really getting vested into the show, either, no matter how much I want to. The Serpent Queen remains fantastic, and gets better with each episode as Catherine explains to her new maid her philosophy of survival, illustrated with scenes from her past. Samantha Morton is fantastic as the older queen and the actress who plays her as a young woman is also equally good. But it’s a period of history I particularly love, and of course, Catherine de Medici is one of the most fascinatingly complex women to hold power in history. The reality of her life was dramatic enough to drive a series, and they’ve done a pretty decent job of following the actual history, with some adjustments here and there.

Also keeping an eye out for Hurricane Ian, which seems to have Florida’s Gulf Coast clearly in its sights. We are just outside the Cone of Uncertainty, which doesn’t mean we’re safe–there could always be another westward shift to the potential path–but I do concern myself with Florida and friends there. I don’t remember the last time Tampa took a direct hit; I don’t think they have in quite some time, and I can imagine a storm surge into the bay and into the rivers that drain into it would be enormously problematic for the city–as well as for Clearwater and St. Petersburg on the peninsula on the other side of the bay. Stay safe, people.

My podcast interview about Daphne du Maurier, with a particular emphasis on My Cousin Rachel, went really well. It was for my friend Ricky Grove, whom I know from my days in the Horror Writers Association and when I put on World Horror Con back in the day here in New Orleans (he is the author Lisa Morton’s partner–have you read Lisa? You should read Lisa). I can talk about du Maurier all day, and we did continue talking for at least another hour after we stopped recording; I do love to talk books and writing, after all, with the end result that I felt horribly drained when it was over. Ah, yes, the age-old problem of the introvert having to be an extrovert on a day when he usually doesn’t have to do anything of the kind. I retired to my easy chair, but found the draining of my energy to have been far too effective for me to focus clearly on anything. I did do another blog entry about my work–this time my Todd Gregory erotic novel Every Frat Boy Wants It, while starting others about Baton Rouge Bingo and the second Todd Gregory book (Games Frat Boys Play)–but when I tried to work on the book or anything else (including trying to read) I couldn’t get anything done so finally gave up and made myself useful around the house. Hopefully after an eyes-crossing day of data entry and quality assurance on testing logs, I’ll be able to dive back into the Scotty book. I know I am procrastinating with Chapter Three and should probably just stop worrying about it and move on, but that’s just not how my creativity works. Heavy heaving sigh. But that’s okay, the stress of being behind will come in handy as December 1 draws ever more near.

Or so I tell myself.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Hope you have a marvelous and lovely Monday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow.

Brown Eyes

Sunday morning and another lovely night’s sleep. I feel rested and relaxed this morning–yesterday I still felt like I wasn’t completely recharged yet–so I think today will be a good day of getting things done for me. One can hope, at any rate. Once I finish this I have to start getting ready for my podcast discussion on My Cousin Rachel this morning, which I am not certain I am prepared for. I also need to order that Costco delivery I never got around to yesterday–I felt tired after running my errands yesterday, and my brain wasn’t really functioning the way it needed to be to write, so I just sat in my chair and watched Tennessee beat Florida (the one time per year I root for Tennessee) and then LSU dismantle New Mexico 38-0 last night. I’ve not checked other scores, but I don’t think there were a lot of surprises other than Oklahoma’s almost-predictable almost-annual loss to Kansas State. I’ve not been giving college football much attention this season, but there were an awful lot of almost-upsets yesterday, which should make for an interesting season the further along we get into it.

Tropical Storm Ian continues to slightly move his track ever-so-slightly more west, so the Cone of Uncertainty keeps drawing nearer and nearer to New Orleans, but it looks as though landfall is going to be Wednesday–and ironically, being on the western side of the storm means we will get some lovely cooler weather as a result. I hate that about hurricane season, and obviously I worry about people in Florida (although if I were a right-winger, I’d say God isn’t clearly happy with the way Florida is being run) while at the same time being relieved we don’t have to worry about doing without power or having to leave for this one….but just because we’re getting closer to October doesn’t mean we’re done with the season just yet–it runs through December, after all. Hurray.

I got my contributor’s copy of Magic is Murder, edited by Donna Andrews, Barb Goffman, and Marcia Talley yesterday, and what a lovely book it is, too. It’s always lovely to get a copy of your work in print, and as I am sure you’re been made aware by my endless self-promotion on this score, my story here is “The Snow Globe.” It’s another one of my New Orleans paranormal stories–I think there will be three of them seeing print this year (“The Rosary of Broken Promises” and “The Snow Globe” are already out; “A Whisper from the Graveyard” will be out soon) and I am in the process of writing yet another (“Parlor Tricks”) and developing still another (“When I Die”). It’s been a decent year for me and short stories, it appears, and I am hoping once I get this Scotty out of the way and finish the promo for Streetcar’s release that maybe I can focus on writing short stories again for awhile. I’d like to get those novellas finished and out of the way; there are three that are close to being finished and I think I can get them all published into one volume (those would be “Never Kiss a Stranger”, “Fireflies,” and “A Holler Full of Kudzu”–although sometimes I think the first and third might actually work as full-length novels ) and there are a couple of others I’d like to get finished in the new year (and how weird is it that I am already thinking about 2023?). I will probably also try to write another Scotty in the New Year (French Quarter Flambeaux is next up in that series) and I am thinking about maybe another Alabama book. And there’s also that romance I want to write, and the Leonardo mystery, and…

Yeah, I will never run out of ideas, I feel pretty confident in saying that.

We also finished Dahmer last night, which means we can move on to the new Star Wars show, Andor, which is cool because I absolutely loved the character in Rogue One and even though I know how he dies, I am glad they are giving him his own pre-Rogue One series. (I should watch Rogue One again at some point.) And a new episode of The Serpent Queen should drop tonight as well; so many riches to enjoy! And there are some other shows dropping soon that I can’t wait to see–both new shows and new seasons of old favorites (when will Ted Lasso be back? Anyone?)–and I’d also like to finish reading my Donna Andrews, so I can focus on reading horror for the month of October. October is also the month where A Streetcar Named Murder is set, so I should probably be doing some more promo this month to get ready for the release date in early December.

And of course, I need to get some writing done today around the Saints game.

On that note, I need to head into the spice mines so I can get the kitchen ready for the podcast. I am assuming that the podcast is merely an oral recording and not a visual broadcast, so I am not going to shave this morning…I may regret that decision in about an hour and a half. Have a terrific Sunday, y’all, and GEAUX SAINTS!!!

What Makes You Think You’re The One

And now it’s Saturday.

LSU is playing New Mexico this evening (GEAUX TIGERS!) in Tiger Stadium–it should be an easy win but when it’s LSU you can never take anything for granted–and I have a lot I want to try to get done today before the games get started. I have errands to run, Costco to order for delivery; it just never ends for one Gregalicious, does it? It would appear that way.

I did feel a little tired most of the day yesterday; not sure what that was about, to be honest, but there you have it and there it is. But I also got this lovely review in Publisher’s Weekly; another industry journal I’ve not been reviewed in for quite some time now. I am getting more excited AND nervous as time ticks down to the official release date…but it’s really lovely getting all this pre-publication love from industry journals, early readers, and bloggers. I’m quite sure I don’t know how to act anymore! I’m very happy that everyone seems to be embracing the book, which I thought may be a big departure from what I usually do, but maybe it’s not? I don’t know, I’m not the best judge of my own work. It really never occurred to me that my Scotty series was technically a cozy series–despite the weed, swearing, violence and sex–but Scotty, despite being licensed, never actually had a client (the guy up on the fourth floor in Vieux Carré Voodoo does actually hire him before he is murdered) but usually, he’s just going about his day to day existence when he stumbles over a body or some kind of criminal conspiracy. But when I got home from work yesterday I puzzled over that bad bad chapter, and so this morning I am going to try to get it fixed up once and for all before diving headfirst into Chapter Four. I have some errands that must be run today–and I am going to order a Costco delivery–and I also have some cleaning around here that simply must be done; but I am hoping to avoid the allure and pull of college football as much as I can today to try to get as much done as I can on the Scotty today.

I also did the laundry once I was home, and finished clearing the dishes piled up in the sink–which even now are awaiting me to unload them from the dishwasher and put them away once and for all–and once Paul was home we settled in for Dahmer, which continues to be disturbing and hard-to-watch and almost documentary-like in style, tone, look, and story. Evan Peters and Niecy Nash should each take home Emmys for their work here; Niecy is absolutely stealing every scene she is in, and Peters looks so much like Dahmer…it’s also disturbing to watch as a gay man who went home with a lot of people he had just met for the first time. It really is a wonder there aren’t more serial killers in the gay community, and they certainly wouldn’t have much difficulty in finding potential victims thanks to the casual hook-up culture always so prevalent in gay male communities (which has always been something I want to write about; either in essay or fiction form); a sort of Looking for Mr. Goodbar sort of thing only with gay men. (I should reread that book; I haven’t in years–not since it was a thing anyway. I was thinking lately I should reread all the “thing” books from the 1970’s–Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Coma, Looking for Mr. Goodbar, Jaws, Love Story, etc.–to see how they hold up and what, if anything, they have to say or can be said about the culture and society of the time and why those books, all so disparate, were so successful and popular at the time.)

I slept wonderfully last night, which is always a delight and a plus, and my coffee is tasting rather marvelous this morning. It is most definitely hitting the spot, that’s for sure. I feel rested and good this morning, which makes it a great day for getting things done. I am also thinking about taking my car to the coin-operated self-wash while I am out and about today (reminder: check projected path for Tropical Storm Ian; the one off the Cape Verde Islands formed first and took the name Hermine), and I also want to do some cleaning around the writing. We should be able to watch the LSU game tonight, even though it is on a lesser ESPN/SEC Network sub-channel, which is annoying–but I get it; LSU-New Mexico is a “who cares?” game outside of Louisiana.

I also spent some time last night with Every Frat Boy Wants It, my first erotic novel under the name Todd Gregory, and it’s not that bad. I realized that the three “fratboy” books I wrote are of a type, really, and rereading that long-ago written story (I would swear to God it’s been almost since I bought the new car, which was 2017, so it’s been about five years or more since I wrote it in the first place) made me realize that the concordance I want to put together for Scotty needs to be a part of an even larger concordance of all my work; all the different Louisianas I’ve written about and fictionalized over the years, which is even more important now that this Scotty is going to be driven so much by action outside of New Orleans.

I also need to revisit My Cousin Rachel at some point today before tomorrow morning’s podcast taping; I don’t want to rely on my ever-decreasing memory and should at least be somewhat refreshed in my recollections of what is one of my favorite Daphne du Maurier novels, possibly even more favorite than Rebecca. Big words, I know; but while I am certainly more familiar with the text of Rebecca, having read it so many times, I’ve only read My Cousin Rachel once–and came to it within the last decade or so, on the recommendation of Megan Abbott. I’ve seen neither film adaptation, tempting as the original (starring Olivia de Havilland and marking the screen debut of a young Richard Burton) may be; simply because while I know both films are very well-regarded, it’s hard to imagine a du Maurier adaptation finer than either the Hitchcock Rebecca or Nicholas Roeg’s adaptation of Don’t Look Now; with the bar set so high on du Maurier adaptations, how could either version of My Cousin Rachel stand up to them? I recently read a new-to-me du Maurier long story or short novella called “A Border-line Case,” and like all things du Maurier, it is rather marvelously well-written and twists the knife with something obvious that was there in front of you all the time but du Maurier pulls her usual authorial sleight-of-hand that makes the reveal startling and shocking despite being right there in front of the reader the entire time.

I also had wanted to spend some time with my Donna Andrews novel Round Up the Usual Peacocks, but not sure that I’ll have the time necessary. Ah, well. And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines. I need to brew a second cup of coffee, and there are odds and ends around here that need attention. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again either later today or tomorrow morning.

That’s All For Everyone

Yesterday I made a to-do list, and this odd sense of calm came down over all of my neuroses. Sure there’s a lot to be done and not much time to do it, but at least yesterday I felt like I could get it all done…now that I had made a list. I have a lot of writing to do, a lot of promotion to plan, and endless endless emails to send and reply to–and of course it’s football season and the heat is beginning to break a bit. I do like the fall, even though I don’t like it getting dark earlier.

I had to proof the galleys of an anthology I am in (just my story, fortunately) and it was quite an odd experience. I barely remembered anything about the story itself; I know how it came to be and how much money they offered me (seriously, y’all, I am very easy. Make me an offer) and I had a vague sense of what it was about, but I’d forgotten most of it, and I don’t really remember much of writing it, either. I know the anthology took a long time to come out, but the cover is lovely and they’ve done a really nice job of art on the interior of the book as well. It was interesting rereading the story, and weird–it’s very weird to not remember something you’ve written, but I guess I have finally reached that point in my life where I can’t remember everything I’ve written or said or done, for that matter–but it’s not bad. It was supposed to be a pulpy sort of story with a horror bent to it, and “A Whisper from the Graveyard” is what I came up with. They also had instructed us to “write something only a gay man can,” so I went back to 1994 or 1995 and had my big gay private eye hired to find a dead man the same day he finds out he is HIV positive. I’ve never written anything like that before; I’ve never written about HIV/AIDS, which is probably another one of those “I should write an essay about this so I can sort out all of my unresolved and long-buried traumas and fears and potential PTSD from those years” things–especially since I’ve worked as a sexual health counselor for the last fourteen years (my first four years I worked on research projects for NO/AIDS before becoming a counselor). I am also trying to address this in my novella “Never Kiss a Stranger,” which I hope to finish in the next year sometime.

I wasn’t terribly tired when I got home last night, and so I did the dishes and cooked dinner (so I would have something for lunch the rest of this week) before Paul and I settled in to watch Dahmer on Netflix (Paul came home all excited because “the new Star Wars show dropped!” and became even more excited when I replied, “And Dahmer dropped on Netflix”–Paul has long been fascinated by serial killers), which was really good and horribly disturbing; Evan Peters is fantastic as Dahmer, and Niecy Nash is golden in anything she does, but yeah–bleak and disturbing, and of course addicting. (When I get home tonight it’s this week’s Real Housewives of Beverly Hills before Paul gets home.) I slept well again last night, and since I had a productive day yesterday (finished pulling on some loose ends, even started working on the book again–Chapter Three is a mess, and I need to fix it before I can move on to Chapter Four and the rest of the story) and made some progress on my to-do list as well. Tonight I can come straight home from the office, and tomorrow of course is “I don’t have to get up at six Friday”, which is marvelous; one good thing about these “get-up-at-six” mornings is that it makes getting up at seven or eight seem almost vacation-like.

Yesterday’s post about erotica writing and my “sordid” past as a gay porn writer also set me to thinking about a lot of things about my past and my career and the direction it has gone. There’s probably a lot more to be said about it, definitely more to unpack, but I also really need to think some more about it and also, reread some of my earlier erotica writing. Revisiting my past works, as I have done a bit over the past few months, has been much more reassuring than worrisome; I had been concerned that the writing wouldn’t hold up or I would be appalled by its amateurishness or something, I don’t know (I don’t need a logical reason to be concerned about my work, really, especially when it’s old, published long ago work) but was pleasantly surprised to see it’s nowhere near as bad as I had convinced myself it was (it’s really a twisted and strange place here inside my head) and there’s always the possibility that I may have written something that could be seen as problematic by today’s standards…and, for the record, I do not think that is a bad thing; it simply means that culture and society continue to evolve to a place where past prejudices and bigotries are being overcome, albeit slowly, and hopefully we’ll gradually get to a place where no one is ever made to feel less than or that they are not welcomed or embraced in society. If that means periodic corrections, and acknowledging mistakes made in the not-so-distant past so be it. We are all learning more and more every day, and I certainly hope that neither my heart nor my compassion will ever become ossified and stop learning, growing and trying to be better.

So, on this glorious and unusual Thursday morning (because I am not walking around in a coma this morning waiting for the coffee to kick in, and I can also tell it’s humid outside this morning, yay), I am looking at the positives and looking forward to getting things stricken from that to-do list I made yesterday afternoon. I am looking forward to getting some writing done this evening, and some reading this weekend–I need to reread My Cousin Rachel so I don’t sound like a fricking moron on that podcast recording on Sunday morning–and maybe, just maybe, I can get my email inbox down to something that doesn’t make my heart sink and my soul diminish just by looking at it.

Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader, and I’ll check in with you again probably tomorrow morning.

The Ledge

And here it is, Tuesday morning and dark outside my windows as I have my morning coffee preparatory to getting ready for work. It’s getting to be that time of year where I drive to and from work in the dark, which is always a bit debilitating; you feel like you’ve spent the entire day at work when you don’t get to spend any time outside–even if just going to and from work–in the sunshine. The weather has cooled here a bit over the last week, which has been lovely (and early in the season for coolness). My back is much better–there’s still some tightness and slight pain involved–but I think i can actually head to work today and not be in the kind of pain I was in last week, which is kind of nice. It’s still there, but I am learning how to not trigger it–the irony of which is that I am having to use good posture at all times so as not to inflame the pain, which means had I been using good posture most of my life I might not have this problem right now.

But it’s something I can live with today; something I wasn’t so sure about as recently as Sunday. So taking the days of rest, with the alternating hot and cold, was probably a very smart thing to do. I will be taking the generic Ben-Gay with me to work today, too–just in case. But I can sit comfortably without it, which is something I can honestly say was not the case as recently as Sunday. And now of course I have to start digging myself out from under–which is a lot of catching up I need to get done. I also have to do some digging around and figure out what is missing from some projects that I need to get finished, and I also need to get back to writing. There’s an anthology deadline next month–more like three weeks from now–that I wanted to submit something to, but I seriously doubt I am going to be able to have the time or the energy to revise anything the way I want it to be revised to submit to this anthology, so I am probably going to have to let it go once and for all.

We watched Cold Blooded: The Clutter Family Murders last night, a documentary series about the In Cold Blood murders and of course Truman Capote’s famous book that was written about the case (which remains, to this day, one of my favorites) as well as the film made from the book (which I’ve never seen, but Paul’s friend the actress Brenda Curran was in, playing Nancy Clutter). I’ve been to both Holcomb and Garden City, back when I lived in Kansas and when I also had no idea Holcomb was where the crimes happened (I didn’t read In Cold Blood until I lived in California). One of the things I’ve always found interesting about these old rural crimes is how they always talk about how the “community changed” after it happened and how people never used to lock their doors…and everyone could just knock and enter other people’s homes. I wasn’t raised that way; my mother was very obsessive about always making sure everything was locked up–cars, homes, wherever–and used to get mad at me when, as a lazy not really paying much attention teenager used to sometimes leave the car unlocked. Paul is much the same as my mom; sometimes I forget to lock the car, and when I am home by myself I forget sometimes to lock the front door–someone would have to scale the fence, which isn’t easy, to get back to our apartment door–but that’s also a part and parcel of the false sense of security we all have about being safe in our homes. Once I am inside I am safe.

Which really isn’t true.

I spent some more time with Donna Andrews’ delightful new Meg Langslow novel last night while I waited for Paul to finish working so I could make dinner, and it’s delightful. I don’t know how she manages to do this with a series that has lasted as long as hers has; I think there may be more than twenty volumes in the series now? But each one is a delight. I love the town of Caerphilly, I love her family, and most of all I really enjoy Meg. I love highly accomplished, confident, efficient women like her; she’s yet another drily humorous main character in the vein of Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody and Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell (I really am overdue for reading another book in that series) and while my own poor Valerie is hardly in the same vein as these remarkable women characters, I’d kind of like to keep developing her into a series because, well, I kind of grew attached to Valerie and her friends while writing A Streetcar Named Murder, and I’d kind of like to revisit them again in another book. I have a title and an idea for the next book in the series, should Crooked Lane want another, and while I felt fairly confident they’d hate the title, I just this weekend came up with a potentially better title for it…and now that I am writing this, i cannot for the life of me remember what that title was, nor do I think I made a note of it (which is why you should always make a note of it).

Ah, well, perhaps it will come back to me at some point.

I also woke up to proofs of an anthology I contributed a story to that has been in the works for many years now, which means the book is finally going to be released which is great news. My story is called “A Whisper from the Graveyard” and I really don’t remember much, if anything, about the story because it’s frankly been so long. But I will need to proof it–check for typos and missing words and such–which will be a nice way to get reacquainted with the story, at the very least. I vaguely have some idea about the story–I know it’s a private eye story, with a gay detective who has just tested HIV positive and it’s set in the early 1990’s, so it’s a death sentence as far as he knows–and is hired by someone to find someone else? I don’t remember–it really has been a long time since I wrote this story.

But I am also completely overwhelmed with work and being behind on everything and I really need to start making a to-do list so I can sort all this shit out and get things done that need to be done. I know I need to go back to work on Scotty and my other project; there’s any number of other things I need to get done, and I also need to start figuring out promo for A Streetcar Named Murder else no one will buy it and that will be the end of that.

The great joy of being a writer.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Happy Tuesday everyone (except Buccaneer fans)!

Carousel

As Constant Reader should know by now, while my entire identity and ego is wrapped up (probably too much) in being a writer, the truth is I have always been, currently am, and will always be, a reader first. I love to read, always have since I first learning what the little squiggles on the pages actually meant and learned how to decipher the little squiggles first into words, then into sentences, paragraphs and eventually entire stories. Reading was always my escape from a world too harsh for a little creative gay boy surrounded by people who didn’t read much nor cared much about books and so forth; sometimes the fantasy worlds I created in my head–always influenced by my reading–were safer and better places that I preferred to what, to me, was the horror of reality. I also learned a lot from my reading. I learned about other countries and cultures and groups; history and geography and other little odds and ends of information that remain lodged in my head and make me good at both Jeopardy! and Trivial Pursuit (case in point: I learned from Nancy Drew’s 44th adventure The Clue in the Crossword Cipher that the Incas’ language was quechua; I’ve never forgotten that, or that the Nasca Lines play a part in the book, and she and her friends also went to Machu Picchu).

Over the last few years I realized that my reading was primarily white and straight and decided to correct that; since then I have discovered the eye-opening marvel that is the talent of non-white authors and their remarkable story-telling ability. S. A. Cosby, Kellye Garrett, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Mia P. Manansala, Alex Segura Jr, Raquel V. Reyes and many others have opened my eyes to other American experiences, and reading their work has also given me a broader and deeper understanding and appreciation of a different kind of American experience.

And then I read Gabino Iglesias’ 2022 release, The Devil Takes You Home.

Leukemia. That’s what the doctor said. She was young, white, and pretty. Her brown hair hung like a curtain over her left eye. She talked to us softly, using the tone most people use to explain things to a child, especially when they think the child is an idiot. Her mouth opened just enough to let the words flow out. She said our four-year-old daughter had cancer in her blood cells. Our Anita, who waited in the other room, playing with Legos and still wrapped in innocence. Acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Those strange words were said in a voice that was both impossibly sharp and velvety. Her soft delivery didn’t help. You can wrap a shotgun in flowers, but that doesn’t make the blast less lethal.

The young, white, pretty doctor told us it was too early to tell for sure, but there was a good chance that Anita was going to be okay. Okay, that’s the word she used. Sometimes four letters mean the world. She immediately added that she couldn’t make any promises. People fear being someone else’s hope. I understood her, but I wanted her to be our hope.

Jesus.

The opening of the book rips your heart out and rends your soul.

I am not a parent, never have been, never wanted to be, and never will be. I admire and respect parents (for the most part) because when I try to imagine what it’s like to be one, I can’t–it literally wears my brain down. I am a chronic worrier as it is; I get nervous when Paul doesn’t come home from work when he’s supposed to, or dawdles and delays and doesn’t text me. But for the most part, I know he’s an adult and functional and I believe he can, for the most part, navigate the world safely so I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about him.

I don’t think parents ever have a moment’s rest from the time the child is born until the child or the parents die–and I can imagine no greater grief than losing a beloved child.

Losing their child is how this book opens. And you just know in your heart of hearts–things aren’t going to get better any time soon for the father narrating this story. It isn’t a spoiler to let you know, Constant Reader, that by Chapter Three Anita is dead and her parents are swimming in debt and grief and drowning in it all. Before long, the marriage is over and Mario is alone with his grief and his debt and misery.

I don’t think I’ve ever read such a literate and powerful description of rock bottom in my life.

Mario turns back to crime in an attempt to make things right with the world and to somehow fill his horrible emptiness with something, anything. He starts off as a hitman, killing bad people and making money to pay down his debt and maybe, just maybe, somehow get his wife back and they can start over. Mario is desperate–and aren’t desperate characters the essense of noir at its purest distillation? He is then recruited to help liberate some cash from a cartel on its way to Mexico. Success means a cool two hundred grand and the potential to start over. Failure means a bullet in the head.

Both are better options than the life Mario is living at the time.

The pacing is breakneck and the story itself is a trainwreck you can’t look away from; you can’t help rooting for Mario, flaws and all, because the suffering is so intense you want him to find, somehow, both redemption and peace. (The book also serves as a stinging indictment of poverty in this country, and the near-impossibility of bettering yourself while drowning in the debt incurred for the possibility of bettering yourself, as well as our fraudulent health care system. Parents shouldn’t be saddled with insurmountable debt for trying to keep their child alive and especially not when the child passes.)

There are also some fascinating elements of the paranormal/supernatural mixed into the story, too–but while this might throw a typical noir off-track, it works here to heighten the sense of madness and unreality the entire book invokes. The true horror of the book is the system, designed to keep people of color down and to keep the cycle of poverty going.

Here are just a few of the gems in the prose:

The middle of nowhere is remarkably consistent in terms of being unmemorable.

The décor was a mix of a failed attempt at hill-country chic circa 1970 and neon signs for the kinds of beers folks buy at gas station convenience stores on their way to somewhere they wish they could escape.

The Devil Takes You Home is raw, fresh and original, with the kind of crisp smart literate writing that speaks of Lisa Lutz, Megan Abbott, and Jim Thompson.

I marked any number of pages for these writing gems that both awed and inspired me (to do better with my own work).

I highly recommend the book–but be warned: there is violence and gore aplenty, but it all works because it’s not there for shock value.

Oh Daddy

I am not doing well this morning.

Yesterday morning when I got up my back felt like it was on the mend; it was still a bit painful and tight, but better than it had been the day before so I thought, oh thank you baby Jesus–there’s an end in sight. Unfortunately, as the day progresses it began to hurt more and more until the end of the day, when picking up my back pack was agonizing, as was the drive home. I immediately changed into my sweats (which was painful) and repaired to my easy chair. Scooter climbed into my lap and went to sleep immediately while I caught up on this week’s episode of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (which really deserves its own entry or an essay; the phenomenon of these shows fascinates me–which is probably why I explored it in Royal Street Reveillon) and then…I don’t remember much of the rest of the evening, really. Paul came home, gave me a pain killer, and I know we watched the final two episodes of Five Days at Memorial (which posed some pretty interesting ethical questions that I don’t know the answers to) and then another of Bad Sisters (which I really like) before collapsing into bed and praying that this morning would be the same as yesterday….

…for naught. The painkiller didn’t really help all that much (although I can see why the drugs with oxy in their name are so addictive) but made me comfortable–I was still aware of the pain, but it was slightly more bearable. Yesterday afternoon I made the right decision–I told my supervisor I was taking a personal day to let my back get better; all that getting up and sitting down yesterday was no help at all–and so I am literally going to spend the day sitting in my easy chair, slathered in generic Ben-Gay with the heating pad attached to my back.

Getting old really and truly sucks. But I do have some reading to get caught up on–I need to reread everything I am working on, I also need to reread My Cousin Rachel as I am being interviewed on a podcast about it and du Maurier in a couple of weeks (seriously, how fucking thrilling is that?) and of course, I want to read the new Donna Andrews. I never did make the to-do list I’ve been talking about on here all week–the back pain really is excruciating–so maybe I can gather everything around me that I need to get to today while sitting in the chair and letting highlights of old LSU games stream on Youtube in the background (oh yes, I rewatch highlights of old LSU games–only big wins, of course–and it always puts me in a better mood, and yes, I am aware how weird that actually is. Sue me.), and hopefully Scooter will sleep in my lap for most of the day. I need to order groceries for pick-up (and Costco for delivery) but I am a little worried about carrying everything into the Lost Apartment.

I also slept later than usual this morning; I’ve been feeling exhausted all week and figured the world wouldn’t end should I stay in bed for an extra hour or two. The good news is I do not feel tired this morning–I am so tired of feeling tired–but, of course, the back is aching. My desk chair feels much more comfortable than my work chairs, for some reason it just seems to fit my back better so it’s not painful to sit here. I cannot explain it, it makes absolutely no sense, but I am going to take advantage of that fact not only to try to get this entry written but do my reviews of Gabino Iglesias’ The Devil Takes You Home and Laurie R. King’s Back to the Garden, both of which are SUPERB. (5 out of 5 stars, get copies NOW)

I’ve also realized I’ve not done much of a Bouchercon round-up–primarily because all of it was a blur, and maybe, just maybe, I hurt my back from laughing so hard for so long. A laughing injury! It is entirely possible, of course; I noted many times how much it hurt to laugh when I was in the midst of a laughing fit because of something hilarious someone said (I really do know the funniest people), and also all the standing; several times in the evening in the bar I noted that my back was getting sore–so naturally instead of sitting down or doing anything to baby it (because that would be admitting that I am too old to stand for long) I continued doing what made it hurt in the first place.

The uncomfortable airline seats on the flight home also did not help much in that regard.

So, that is the state of the Gregalicious this morning. I just made groceries for pick up tomorrow–I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it–and at some point tomorrow I’ll order Costco for delivery. But for now, I am going to take my heating pad and my aching back to my chair so I can chill for a bit.

Have a happy Friday, Constant Reader.

Songbird

Thursday!

My back, while still a little tight, is more irritating than painful; it’s at that stage where it is so close to not hurting at all anymore that it’s annoying that it hasn’t stopped, if that makes sense at all? I ran errands on my way home from work yesterday–mail and a prescription–and then came home, did a load of dishes, and then collapsed into my chair with the heating pad. I am taking it to work again with me this morning–more heat can’t hurt, after all, and the office is cold–and hopefully will wake up tomorrow morning feeling ever so much better. We got caught up on House of the Dragon last night–it’s getting better, but man was it ever getting off to a slow start–and it’s not as big and epic as Game of Thrones was; it’s more contained, with fewer characters and fewer story-lines, for one thing–and then we watched Archer (it really misses Jessica Walter; Mallory Archer was too great of a character for the show to do without) before calling it a night and heading for bed. I slept well again last night–only woke up a few times–and my back felt better when I got up…but it is slowly starting to make itself known, so yes, definitely bringing the heating pad to the office with me this morning.

I was thinking, last night as I waited for Paul to finish working (whenever he comes home earlier than usual, he inevitably spends a few hours making calls and sending emails once he’s home), about something that has been sticking in my mind for quite a while–and last night it hit me between the eyes.

People talk a lot about crime in New Orleans–it’s usually code for people to be racist without being outright racist; I always laugh at people in the comments section of the local news stations or newspapers, talking about crime in New Orleans and ‘that’s why they left New Orleans’ for the suburbs/West Bank/North Shore, etc. I laugh at this because they will always claim to other people Not From Here that they are, indeed, from New Orleans (bitch, you’re from Metairie) and I always want to ask them, “was it really crime in New Orleans that drove you out of the city, or was it the desegregation of the schools, hmmm?” Every neighborhood in New Orleans, you see, is mixed; the Garden District neighborhood at one time also included the St. Thomas Housing Projects. And sure, crime has been on the rise here lately. But I have lived in New Orleans since 1996, and white people are always talking about crime here and shaking their heads about how the city “has gone downhill.” Um, if you study the history of New Orleans, the city has always been filled with crime; IT’S A GODDAMNED PORT CITY.

Anyway, as I was standing in line waiting to board my flight out of Minneapolis, the woman in front of me turned out to also be from New Orleans (River Ridge). She was absolutely lovely, and we chatted the entire time we waited and as we went down the jetway to the plane–which, for someone whose default is always social awkwardness, was something–and ironically, she was the person in front of me in line for the flight from Chicago to New Orleans. She began talking to me about the crime and I did my usual shrug “there’s always been crime in New Orleans” and when she asked me if I wasn’t afraid, I just shook my head and said “no–no more than usual.”

That, of course, started a thread in my head about why are you not afraid of the rising crime in New Orleans and I realized, as I had also said to the nice lady, “I’m just always hyper-aware of my surroundings and what’s going on around me.” And then last night it hit me: as opposed to the nice straight white people of New Orleans, the rising crime rate doesn’t really bother me because I have never felt completely safe anywhere or anytime in my life–that’s what life is like for queers in this country.

I had to train myself as a kid to always keep my eyes moving and always be aware of what’s going on around me–I look ahead, I look behind, I always am looking from one side to the other and am always on hyper-alert because you never know when the gay bashers are going to come for you. I’m no more afraid now than I have ever been throughout the course of my life, and I had decided a long time ago that I would not live my life in fear anymore–but to always be vigilant.

Straight white people aren’t used to not feeling safe and they don’t like it when they don’t.

Welcome to what it feels like to be a minority in this country–and let’s face it, I still have white male privilege; I can’t imagine what it’s like to navigate this world as a black lesbian or transwoman.

But straight white people? This is their world and it is the world they made. While straight white women are oppressed terribly by straight white men, many of them have been gaslit into thinking they are less than straight white men and it is simply their lot in life, and they accept that in exchange for protection by the patriarchy. So while it is true that for women, car-jackings and muggings are just one more thing to add to their backpack of oppressive fears–usually sexual assaults (physical or verbal) or harassment. Interesting, right?

But for those Stockholm Syndrome suffering straight white women, crime is outrageous and horrifying to them because the system is theoretically set up to protect them from crime.

And what’s a little sexual harassment if it means you won’t get mugged or carjacked by that scary Black man? Boys will be boys, after all; they’re just wired that way.

I’ve always wanted to write from the perspective of someone like Brock Turner, the Stanford swimming rapist–but I don’t think I can. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be so blind about your own child, especially since I don’t (and never wanted) any of my own.

And yes, this is yet another subject for an essay.

But the fog of exhaustion seems to finally be lifting from my head–hallelujah–and so I think–if I am not too tired when I get home tonight, that is–I am going to be able to get back to work on my writing either today or tomorrow. I also want to start reading my new Donna Andrews novel, and I want to read Nelson Algren’s A Walk on the Wild Side before October, when I have to turn my attention to the horror genre again for Halloween.

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

Second Hand News

Labor Day Monday and I have a nice relaxing day ahead of me of writing and reading and who knows what else? We also leave for Minneapolis the day after tomorrow, which is also kind of exciting. I did make a small run to make groceries yesterday and had a small Costco order delivered. I also watched some tennis (Coco Grauff) and then we watched the LSU Game. Jury’s still out; they played very lackadaisically to me, it seemed; not quite gelled as a team yet, but lots of talented players with some kinks to work out yet. They ended up losing 24-23, could have tied and/or won the game at the end, and rallied from 24-10 down in the closing minutes, so that was promising. I am of course disappointed the comeback failed, but at one point it literally looked like we were going to lose 31-17, and that final drive went ninety-nine yards in sixty-five seconds. So, they could continue to improve and get better, which is a good sign. I impatiently was hoping this could be turned around in one year, but….it even took Saban an off-year before turning Alabama into what it is today. It was a fun weekend of football, to be sure, and I am always happier when it’s football season.

I mean, take away the two fumbled punts, the blocked extra point, and the blocked field goal, and LSU would be 1-0 right now.

I am curious to see how the rest of the season shakes out.

I skim-reread Jackson Square Jazz yesterday, and again, I was very pleasantly surprised at how well the book still reads, roughly nineteen years after release, and again–I really did do a great job with the characters. I am writing an entry about it, of course, and then started skim-rereading Mardi Gras Mambo, too. I really wish I could remember what the plot was in the first two failed attempts to write the book, but maybe it’ll come to me while I skim reread, but I rather doubt it; I forgot those original plots years ago. I am glad that reader asked me about the Scotty books, though. I had figured I’d talked about them often enough that Constant Reader didn’t really need me to write the backstories behind the books in this series, but I am having the most wonderful time revisiting the books and remembering the process that produced each one. And these first three are so far back in my distant past that it’s almost like reading new-to-me books; I always wondered if my own work would ever get to that point, and clearly, they have done so. I’m not sure how to feel about it, but I imagine Philip Roth didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about his first couple of books, nor did Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, or Erle Stanley Gardner. (Not that I put myself up there with those greats of crime fiction, but you know what I mean.) We write books and we move on from them to write other books, and the farther in the past those old titles get, the more distance I feel from them and the less I remember about them, which makes them much easier to read (at least for me).

And it’s really helping me get back inside Scotty’s brain and his voice, too. Always a bonus, you know?

Today I am going to take it easy but still get things done. I need to write–which I’ve done woefully little of this weekend–and I also need to overhaul the first three chapters of this book before I can move on with it, which should be taken care of today. (I started to do it yesterday but…Coco Grauff was playing!) I also have some other things to get done today–maybe I should make a list of what all I want to get done today; can’t hurt–including making my packing list for the trip (I checked the weather; I think I can get away with taking a sweat jacket with me rather than a coat; every night it’s supposed to dip into the 60’s, which, as we all know, is the dead of winter to me) and some other loose odds and ends. And the skim-rereading of my books is at least getting me to read again–just wait till Wednesday afternoon at the airport though; I’ll be tearing through that Gabino Iglesias novel like it’s going out of style. I don’t think I’ll finish reading the Iglesias, the King, and the Andrews on the trip, but I am taking a book in reserve just in case–A Walk on the Wild Side by Nelson Algren. I also need to prep myself for reading only horror in October, the way I do every year; I know there are some Paul Tremblay and Stephen King and Christopher Golden and some other great horror novels sitting there waiting in my TBR Piles. There’s also some great short stories I should read, too. I am sitting on a Daphne du Maurier novella–“A Border-line Case”–and maybe I should spend some time today reading that?

I do love me some du Maurier (reminder to self: reread My Cousin Rachel).

So, we’re basically sitting on today and tomorrow as interim days. I think the house is in good enough shape as is for us to leave without doing some more cleaning, but I always do some cleaning while I am writing. There’s a load of dishes that need doing, and some other picking up and things needing to be put away, but that’s always the case, isn’t it?

And on that note, I am going to make a to-do list, finish those dishes, and head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Labor Day, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again later.

7

Dark Tide

I hadn’t been sure that I would keep writing young adult novels after I revised, rewrote and published the first three (Sorceress, Sleeping Angel, and Sara) I didn’t know if it was a direction I wanted to keep going in. I knew I wanted to do stand-alones–always have wanted to do stand-alones–and I also like writing about teenagers and young adults.

If you remember, a few entries back I talked about a horror novel I started writing in the 1980’s called The Enchantress that only got about three or four chapters into before abandoning (because I didn’t know where to go next with it; and the first chapter I specifically remember rereading at some point in the decades since and shuddering in horror at how badly it was written), but one of the places in the book really stuck in my head–an old family owned hotel called Mermaid Inn, which sat on the shores of Tuscadega Bay (which was my stand-in for Choctawhatchee Bay–my grandparents retired to a house on that bay and I’ve always wanted to write about that area). After shelving The Enchantress (which I do think about from time to time, and wonder if I should revisit the idea) I kept thinking, you should write a book and call it Mermaid Inn.

I made a folder for it, wrote a few sketchy notes, and it sat in my files for a very long time.

If you will remember, I had originally planned to write an entire series of interconnected young adult novels, a la the Fear Street series by R. L. Stine, and one of the varied locations they would be spread out over would be Tuscadega, Florida, in the panhandle on a fictional bay. That was part of the note I scribbled for the folder–set this in the panhandle of Florida, and connect it to the fictional Alabama county you’re going to write about somehow.

I decided to write Mermaid Inn sometime after Hurricane Katrina, when I discovered yet again my own ignorance of geography. I’d just never really given it much thought, to be honest; I knew Mobile was on a bay, I knew when you drove on I-10 through Mobile you have to take a tunnel below the Mobile River. I just had always assumed there was nothing south of Mobile in Alabama–I mean, it’s ON water–and figured that those lower prongs of Alabama that reach down along the sides of the bay were uninhabitable wetlands. I discovered this to not be the case when visiting friends for the first time who lived in Alabama south of Mobile. They told me to take an exit off I-10 and drive south, which I didn’t think was possible.

It is.

I don’t remember precisely when or how or why I decided to write Mermaid Inn and set in a small town on the prongs, south of Mobile; I just know now that at some point I decided to do this–and my friend Carolyn Haines might have been involved; I know she told me some stories about closeted society men in Mobile and their hijinks and I thought, I could use this for the book and I think that may have been the impetus? And then I created my character, Ricky Hackworth, from Corinth, Alabama–po’ white trash who needs a swimming scholarship to attend the University of Alabama. (Sidebar: alert readers will recognize that Beau’s last name in Bury Me in Shadows–and at one point in the story he mentions he’s only the second Hackworth to go to college; “besides my cousin who got a swimming scholarship.”)

The engine of my pickup truck made a weird coughing noise just as I came around a curve in the highway on the Alabama Gulf Coast and I saw Mermaid Inn for the first time.

My heart sank.

That’s not good, I thought, gritting my teeth. I looked down at the control panel. None of the dummy lights had come on. I still had about a half tank of gas. I switched off the air conditioning and the stereo. I turned into the long sloping parking lot of the Inn, pulling into the first parking spot. I listened to the engine. Nothing odd. It was now running smooth like it had the entire drive down. I shut the car off and kept listening. There was nothing but the tick of the engine as it started cooling.

Maybe I just imagined it.

Hope springs eternal.

The last thing I needed was to spend money on getting the stupid old truck fixed. Maybe it just needed a tune-up. I couldn’t remember the last time it had one.

Dad gave me the truck when I turned sixteen. It had been his work truck since before i was born–it was two years older than I was. He’d finally broken down and bought himself a new one. This old one was dependable and had almost two hundred thousand miles on it. Dad had taken good care of it. He’d babied it, gotten an oil change every three thousand miles without fail, and I could count on one hand the number of times it had been in the shop to be repaired.

It still had the original transmission.

It might not have been the nicest or prettiest car in my high school parking lot, but it got me where I needed to go and got good gas mileage. Since I was saving every cent I could for college, that was a lot more important than horsepower and cosmetics and a loud stereo that rattled your back teeth. The swimming scholarship I’d accepted from the University of Alabama wasn’t going to remotely cover anything close to the lowest estimate of what my expenses might be, but it was the best offer I’d gotten.

And I was grateful to have it. If they hadn’t offered, I wouldn’t be going at all.

Swimming was my ticket out of Corinth, Alabama.

That opening scene!