Diamonds

Saturday, and later this afternoon is the SEC championship game (GEAUX TIGERS!). But this morning I am going to focus on cleaning up and straightening things up around here, as well as trying to get some writing done. I’ve been horribly lazy this week; I made some decent progress at the beginning of the week on the Bury Me in Shadows revision–comparatively speaking, I didn’t do that much–and I need to get back on that horse before it escapes the barn and leaves me in the dust.

Last night, we started watching V Wars on Netflix. It’s entertaining, and good enough, but it feels a little…I don’t know, familiar? The premise of the show is that melting ice in the Arctic frees up some biohazard that awakens an inactive gene in human DNA–not everyone has that gene–and turns them into vampires. As the germ (I am calling it a germ; they hadn’t really gotten into what it is yet in the show) spreads, more people become vampires–and these vampires are brutal killing machines, whose victims don’t also become vampires (at least, not so far). It’s okay….entertaining enough but it didn’t grab either one of us, probably because it’s too similar to other shows we’ve watched/seen; The Strain, for one example. Ian Somerholder is gorgeous as ever as the main character–as he gets older he gets better looking; he now looks like he could be Rob Lowe’s brother, and he’s a good enough actor to carry the show. The dialogue was a bit stiff, and some of the situations in the first episode or two seemed a bit over the top, ridiculous, and unbelievable. The problem with plague stories like this is the slow development–the inevitable “only one person who figures out the truth and has to convince everyone else as more people die” trope; who in the cast is going to die, etc. etc. etc. Stephen King brilliantly did this in The Stand; once the plague was spreading he jumped ahead a week or so to the point where most people were dead and the survivors were coming to terms with the end of civilization, trying to figure out what to do next, and then begin having the dreams that drive the rest of the story. The Walking Dead put Rick Grimes into a month-long coma, and when he woke up most of humanity had turned into walkers. Both The Strain and V Wars depend on the “fighting impending doom” narrative to build suspense; but it also makes the story drag a bit. As Paul said, “when do we get to the wars part?” Because the very title makes it abundantly clear that the plague is going to spread and it’s going to come down to a war between those afflicted and those who are not–of course, our noble doctor wants a cure to save the afflicted; the government is more concerned with a vaccine and killing the infected–setting up the inevitable conflict between the forces we’re supposed to be rooting for, even though whether they are on the right side or not remains to be seen. We might come back to it at another time, but it just didn’t grab us. Your mileage might vary. The show is based on a book by Jonathan Maberry, and it apparently became the most-watched show in the world on Netflix the day it dropped–so kudos to all involved. It’s done very well, as I said; it just didn’t grab us. Check it out–you might like it. It’s entirely possible we just weren’t in the right place at the time. And we’ll probably go back to it. Anyway, kudos to Jonathan–who is an incredibly nice and generous man–for having a major Netflix hit.

This morning I have some chores to do around the house before I run to the grocery store to pick up a few things; I really don’t want to go, and am looking for excuses not to. But it won’t kill me to go, and it’s never a bad thing to get out of the house. Today we’re going to have our last “tailgate” of this year’s college football season–barbecuing burgers and dogs for the SEC championship game–and I really need to get this apartment under some sort of control. After I finish this I am going to spend some more time answering my emails and cleaning out that inbox once and for all, and then I am going to work on the manuscript for a little but before I head to the grocery store. I’ve been writing a lengthy entry about this LSU season–I started writing it after the Alabama game, and then realized I should wait until the season is over to post it; that way I can reflect on the entire, magical season; I’ll undoubtedly finish that tomorrow morning and finally post it.

Yesterday I got an ARC of an anthology being released next year that I contributed to: The Faking of the President, edited by Peter Carlaftes and from Three Room Press (who did the Florida Happens anthology and were an absolute dream to work with). It contains my story “The Dreadful Scott Decision”, which, of course, is a play on the Dred Scott Decision, a horrific Supreme Court ruling that made secession and the Civil War just a little bit inevitable; and yes, I wrote about James Buchanan. I’m very pleased with my story, and I am even more pleased to be in this anthology, with co-contributors on the level of Alison Gaylin, Eric Beetner, Sarah M. Chen, Nikki Dolson, S. A. Cosby, S. J. Rozan, Alex Segura, Erica Wright, Angel Luis Colon, Gary Phillips, and several more people whose talents I’ve long admired. You’re going to want to pre-order this one, people.

It’s also the time of the year when everyone is making their best of lists; I am slightly uncomfortable doing that, quite frankly–although I always do qualify my choices by calling such lists The Best Books I Read This Year, which is really what all of those lists boil down to. I read a lot of amazing books this year, and am completely terrified that I’ll miss one in making such a list; but seriously, 2019 was an amazing year in crime fiction–and the women are fucking killing it. Steph Cha, Jamie Mason, Lisa Lutz, Alison Gaylin, Laura Lippman, Kellye Garrett, Rachel Howzell Hall, Angie Kim–I could go on forever.

Which reminds me, I also want to spend some time with Laura Benedict’s The Stranger Inside this weekend.

And on that note, I am going to make another cup of coffee and get going on my day.  Hello, spice mines!

Y’all have a good one, you hear?

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Rhythm is Gonna Get You

Thanksgiving Eve is here, and I am about to make my famous mac’n’cheese for the office potluck. Yes, I am going into the office on one of my vacation days, but there are worse things I could do. I have some errands to run today anyway, so after I leave the office I shall run them. It’s also payday, so I get to spend a moment or two or three paying the bills this morning. Yay? I guess I should just be grateful I can pay the bills, right? I have a book to pick up at the library and the mail, and I should also stop and get some groceries while I am out; not a major shopping expedition–perhaps enough to get us through until Saturday, as I am not going anywhere near any place to shop on Friday.

That would be madness.

And while that will make a dent in my day, it’s fine. I’ll just do some cleaning and organizing–my electronic files, particularly in the cloud, where I just throw things with a flippant I’ll worry about organizing them later mentality on an almost daily basis, with the end result that the files are a complete and utter mess. I also want to get some more work done on reimagining the current book. I’m now torn as to whether the first chapter is necessary or not; or if I should simply start the book with his arrival at Birmingham airport. There’s something a bit cliche about starting a book with your main character arriving at an airport, and that also would mean a shit ton of back story to shoehorn in, so that it all makes sense–so there, I’ve just worked that out in real time, see how a writer works? I struggled with revising the first chapter yesterday, so naturally my mind went to, this is hard maybe I can just cut the chapter. 

Always, always, always looking for the easiest, laziest way to do something. Shameful, really.

I also managed to waste some time yesterday trying to track down George Washington Cable’s stories about Madame LaLaurie. A post by the Preservation Resource Center here about the LaLaurie house on Facebook yesterday led me down into that wormhole; I shared the post along with the comment I am going to write about the LaLaurie house of horrors someday (see: Monsters of New Orleans) and someone commented that Cable had written short stories about Madame LaLaurie (who is probably most famous outside of New Orleans due to her being a character on American Horror Story: Coven, played by Kathy Bates), and so then I went for a deep dive, trying to see if I could find copies of the stories on-line. I got sidetracked into Project Gutenberg for a while, where I found his novella Madame Delphine, which was NOT about Delphine LaLaurie. I did eventually find the stories I was looking for, and will read them at some point.

Cable is not the only writer from the past to write about New Orleans and Louisiana history that I’ve not read; I’ve also not read much of Arnett Kane or Robert Tallant or Lafcadio Hearn or Lyle Saxon; some, but not much. I’m not entirely sure they are completely trustworthy as sources, but I am going to read them for ideas at the very least. I also need to spend some time at the Williams Research Center and the Historic New Orleans Collection, as well as the Louisiana Research Center at Tulane. I’m greatly enjoying these little journeys into New Orleans’ past that I’ve been taking over the last year; I am still reading Richard Campanella’s Bourbon Street, which is giving me a definite feel for colonial New Orleans, which is going to be enormously helpful.

Especially for this Sherlock Holmes in New Orleans short story I’ve agreed to write; which will also entail reading some Holmes stories, to get a feel for the vibe and the tone and the voice. I’m enormously fortunate that I have two dear friends who are Sherlockians, and have agreed to read my story before I turn it in for pointers and notes and so forth.

And on that note, perhaps it’s time for me to head into the spice mines. I have a lot of cheese to grate for the mac’n’cheese….have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

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Meet Me Half Way

LSU won last night, 58-37, over Mississippi at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford; but the defense gave up a lot in the second half–yards and touchdowns–and at times had me wondering if this would indeed turn into a trap game. A couple of offensive mistakes that the Rebels capitalized on, and suddenly they had pulled back within two touchdowns to 44-30 before the Tigers scored twice more to effectively ice the game. I may have sworn at the television a few times, as LSU’s pristine, well-oiled precision in the first half got sloppy in the second.

I suppose it is a measure of LSU’s success this season that a 21 point win in a rivalry game on the road felt disappointing; I guess this is what it means to become a member of an incredibly spoiled fan base. 58 points and over 700 yards on offense–and I was swearing at the television. Lord.

But the defense is going to have to play better than this if LSU is going to win the SEC title game against Georgia, who clinched the East by beating Auburn yesterday.

Yesterday was a good day on many fronts. I cleaned and organized, which of course always makes me happy; I didn’t get to the floors yesterday, but everything else is cleaned and organized, with a few more things to finish off this morning before I get back to work. I did have a relatively good day yesterday–cleaning and organizing capped by an LSU game is always the best Saturday possible for me. I also managed to read some more of The Ferguson Affair, and making notes on it. It’s not one of the stronger MacDonald novels–definitely not as good as some Lew Archers I’ve read–but it’s an interesting story, and I do like how the entire case begins with the main character, an attorney, being called in to represent a young woman accused of stealing, or rather, being part of a burglary gang robbing wealthy residents of the small city–and how it unrolls from there. I also made some notes on my current work-in-progress; dissecting why the story isn’t playing well in my head and realizing that it’s my own stubbornness and refusal to change things–even when they aren’t working. I always try to  make it work somehow before recognizing finally that it’s not working and must be changed; I have to go back and redo the first chapters of the book–which I’ve already kind of done. Part of the reluctance to see things clearly is because I don’t want to redo work I’ve already done—but if the work doesn’t work, accept that the time was wasted and redo it, for fuck’s sake. And so that is the task that lies before me today. I am going to go ahead and finish redoing chapter 13, because I’ve been in the middle of it for quite some time now–not finishing because deep down I knew I was going to have to go back and rework the earlier stuff, and why keep going when you know you’re going to have to revise and edit and rewrite what you are currently revising and editing and rewriting? Not an effective use of time or energy…and sometimes you have to just accept that you’ve wasted the time and be done with it. But I do believe I have now solved the key problem with my story, and it will now work going forward.

The other day I talked about the Stephen King short story “The Raft” (filmed as part of Creepshow 2), primarily in the terms of a book idea inspired by the trope of the story–essentially, four (or more) young people go somewhere no one knows they are, and something bad happens to them there–and they know rescue isn’t coming because no one knows where they are, and even if they did, it would take a while before anyone figured out they needed help–and wouldn’t know where to find them. Because of this, I kept thinking about “The Raft,” and finally at one point yesterday I got down my copy of Skeleton Crew and reread the story.

It’s extraordinary, really, and a good reminder of why Stephen King is one of my favorite writers.

It was forty miles from Horlicks University in Pittsburgh to Cascade Lake, and although dark comes early to that part of the world in October and although they didn’t get going until six o’clock, there was still a little light in the sky when they got there. They had come in Deke’s Camaro. Deke didn’t waste any time when he was sober. After a couple of beers, he made that Camaro walk and talk.

He had hardly brought the car to a stop at the pole fence between the parking lot and the beach before he was out and pulling off his shirt. His eyes were scanning the water for the raft. Randy got out of the shotgun seat, a little reluctantly. This had been his idea, true enough, but he had never expected Deke to take it seriously. The girls were moving around in the back seat, getting ready to get out.

Deke’s eyes scanned the water restlessly, side to side (sniper’s eyes, Randy thought uncomfortably) and then fixed on a point.

“It’s there!” he shouted, slapping the hood of the Camaro. “Just like you said, Randy! Hot damn! Last one in’s a rotten egg!”

“The Raft” is a terrifying story, and one that is all too easy to relate to. Randy is the main character of the story, and we see it all through his point of view. Deke is his best friend and roommate, on a football scholarship, handsome and well-built and holding the world in the palm of his hands; things come easily to him, especially women. The two girls with them on this adventure are Rachel, Deke’s current girlfriend, and LaVerne–who, as it turns out, isn’t a particularly nice girl in how we tend to define that sort of thing. Randy likes Rachel but really is into LaVerne; one of the dynamics of the story is that Deke and Rachel’s relationship is ending (but she isn’t aware) and LaVerne is poised to move in on Deke–and it happens during the course of the story. Randy loves Deke, Deke is his best friend and he admires him and would do anything for him; but he also harbors a bit of resentment for his beloved best friend–for whom everything seems to be easy, and women willing to crawl into his bed are easy to find; he also resents that women don’t seem to notice him when Deke is around. This is excellent character building by King; this makes Randy relatable.

(When I first read this story in the mid-1980’s, I had already become accustomed to being the “friend no one notices”; I always had male friends who were good looking and well-built and a lot of fun to be around, so I always felt eclipsed and that no one noticed me. This continued for many years, even after I came out in every aspect of my life–that weird mixture of love and resentment one can have for a friend who is always the center of attention who doesn’t even try to be; it just happens. It also reminds me of the dynamic at the root of A Separate Peace, which I read as a teenager; I need to go back at some point and reread that book to get a better sense of the novel and the queer undertones that even I–a closeted and terrified thirteen year old–was able to pick up on.)

The building of suspense–and the terror that comes when they realize the weird little oil slick on the water not only has intelligence but is a predator–is phenomenal, and yet another example of King’s story-telling genius.

I also could relate to the story because when I was a teenager in Kansas, there was a nearby lake we often went to, for swimming and so forth; it was out in the middle of nowhere, and it, too, had a raft you could swim out to and sunbathe on. (I used that lake in my novel Sara; in what I think is probably the best, most frightening horror I have ever written–that chapter at the lake is absolutely terrifying–or at least I think so, at any rate.)

But remembering–and rereading–“The Raft” also reminds me of the Short Story Project from last year, which I hadn’t intended to stop doing, but I got sidetracked with this year’s Diversity Project, among other things. But it’s time for me to get back to work on everything this morning, and so, Constant Reader, I bid you adieu as I head back into the spice mines.

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I’ve Been In Love Before

And just like that, it’s Friday again in New Orleans, with a weekend dawning full of promise and potential. How I choose to squander that promise and potential remains to be seen, quite frankly.

But I am sure I will earn another Olympic gold in procrastination and justification. I am getting rather good at it.

So last night we watched the season finale of American Horror Story: 1984. Sigh. Another season of  great potential, an interesting and diverse cast, and a terrific idea….yet the entire season left me feeling meh. Paul and I laughed our way through the finale, which, for a “horror story” is perhaps not the best intended reaction? I guess making an homage to slasher films from the 1980’s, including a summer camp, and then making it completely camp wasn’t what I was expecting, and frankly, when it comes to clever campy homages Scream set a bar so damned high that its sequels couldn’t even clear–but they came close. For a brief moment, as I watched, I did think oh, this is clever–he’s doing a pastiche of an entire series of slasher movies, like following the arc of the Friday the 13th’s first few films or so…but no, I wasn’t right. But that would be a much more clever idea than what we were given, frankly.

I’ve always said that the line between the horror and crime genres–be it film, novels, short stories, or television–is a very thin one that gets crossed rather frequently. The Silence of the Lambs is considered a horror film (I’ve not read the book; it’s in my TBR pile along with Red Dragon, and I will eventually get to them both), but it’s also very much a procedural: Clarice Starling, federal agent, is part of the team trying to catch a brutal serial killer, Buffalo Bill. Filming it as a horror film made it suspenseful and terrifying; much more so than had it been filmed as a straight-up procedural (which is why I am very curious about the novels). I’ve always wanted to do a straight-up novel about a mass, or spree, killing–which is what slasher movies really are at heart–that begins in the aftermath of a night like Halloween, when the police are called to the scene of a mass killing with brutalized, butchered bodies everywhere–or when the state police arrive at the camp at Crystal Lake; the first quarter/third of the book is the discovery of the bodies and the lead detective trying to place together the time-line of the murders. That’s as far as I’ve ever gotten with the idea, honestly; if I can ever figure out where to go from there, I’ll probably write it (although it occurs to me that what would be rather clever would be to alternate between the night before, when it’s happened, and the following morning as the detective puts the time line together….hmmmm *makes note*).

I also have an idea about a novel set in a ghost town in the California mountains–I’ve had this idea for quite some time, going back to the 1980’s (almost all of my California ideas were born in the 1980’s, when I lived there), and my mind keeps coming back to it from time to time. I think the idea was born from reading Stephen King’s short story “The Raft”, and then seeing it on film in Creepshow 2 (Paul Satterfield in that skimpy yellow speedo made quite an impression on me; it even occurs to me now that may have subliminally had a connection to my short story “Man in a Speedo”); the basic concept was the same–five or six college students decide to spend a weekend camping in a ghost town, getting drunk and high and having sex–only to have it all go South in the most terrifying way. I also realize that the “group of young people come to a remote location and all get killed off gradually” is probably the more hoary of the horror tropes; in order to do something like that one has to not only do it exceptionally well,  but say something new. I wanted to call it Sunburst, because that would be the name of the remote ghost town; a town that sprung up around a gold mine that eventually petered out and the town died with it. I also wanted it to be set in the mountains because–well, because the mountains in California are so beautiful–I wanted to set it on a mountain top that had a lovely view across a valley or canyon to Yosemite National Park.

This is why I never get anything done, really–I have so many ideas, and get new ones all the time, and so things get pushed to the side and forgotten until something reminds me of the original idea. I also like to think that I will eventually come back around to the idea and write it…it has happened before, of course–Sara, Sorceress, Sleeping Angel, Dark Tide all come to mind–and so it’s not so hard to believe those ideas’ time will eventually come. Hell, even Bury Me in Shadows was originally conceived of in the 1980’s, as a short story I wrote called “Ruins”–and the idea was always there in the back of my mind; which is partly why I finally decided to write the damned thing.

Finishing it, on the other hand, seems to be an enormous problem thus far. I am hoping to break this lengthy non-writing streak–well, I’ve been writing a bit here and there, just not producing on a daily basis the amount I not only should be but can do as a general rule–this weekend. The LSU game is Saturday night, and while yes, Auburn-Georgia is in the afternoon, I’m not so sure I care that much about watching it. Background noise, maybe, and if it’s a Georgia rout I can always turn it off….and I’m not so sure when the Saints game is on Sunday. I am also falling into the trap of thinking oh I have a week off for Thanksgiving come up and I can finish it then. No, no, NO. I should finish it before then, so I can spend that week polishing it and making it pretty before sending it off on December 1.

I seriously don’t know what to do, to be perfectly honest. I just know I need to be writing more than I am–and if not the book, then a short story or something. AUGH.

And since I don’t have to go in until later, I might as well do some this morning.

Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader.

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Mandolin Rain

Thursday, aka Friday Eve, has arrived and I have a purring kitty interfering with my computer usage this morning before I go to the office. Which is fine; he usually doesn’t want to sit in my lap when I’m at the computer and he seems to be okay with that this morning, which is lovely.

It’s been a week for the publishing world, let me tell you, Constant Reader. I am not going to talk about any of that here; I have another blog entry I am working on, where I talk about reading The Hunter by Richard Stark, which correlates with the crazy publishing week, so it’s best left to there.

Last night we watched perhaps the best episode of Castle Rock that has aired, either season, to date; as we learned about Annie Wilkes’ childhood and her relationship with her parents–and the two actors who played her mother and father were astonishingly good. It was riveting television, and I was truly sorry to see the episode end. It also seriously paid homage to Misery, and a lot of the things we are familiar with Annie saying were all learned from her parents. I know Castle Rock is theoretically set in an alternate universe to King’s novels, which enables them to use his characters, settings, and stories to create new versions–which is genius, really–and doing an entire season with Annie Wilkes as a younger woman was incredibly smart. Lizzy Kaplan is giving an Emmy worthy performance as young Annie, and watching this is making me want to reread Misery, which I still consider one of the best books of the last century.

Ironically, I wasn’t able to finish this entry yesterday; it’s the first blog day I’ve missed in quite a while. There’s been a lot of drama in two writing communities I belong to this week, and I’ve not been able to look away from either–one in particular I described to Paul as a slow-motion train wreck, and just when you think the last car has finally come off the tracks, here comes another train on the same line. Today, however, I am determined to ignore the train wreck as much as possible because I have too much to get done. I’ve not even been able to catch up on my emails, and the inbox just keeps filling up every damned day. So, today I am going to finish paying the bills, clean out my inbox, and do some goddamned writing. I’ll never finish this fucking book if I don’t focus, and I have some short stories that need to be reworked and revised and so forth as well.

Last night we watched the second-to-last episode of American Horror Story: 1984, and have just about decided that the only way one can watch a season of anything produced by Ryan Murphy is to simply not think about it, because once you start thinking about it you see all the holes in the plot and all the contrived behavior that makes no sense in terms of character–because the characters are only there to service the plot, which is the penultimate story-telling sin. But I can’t stop myself from watching–and somewhat enjoying–these shows. Some of the kids at work were streaming the Hotel season, which I’d stopped watching as it aired and never finished; and it seemed a bit more cohesive in a binge. I may go back and rewatch it, just to see if it works better as a binge show where you don’t have time to think about these things.

It certainly worked with The Politician.

I also want to finish reading The Ferguson Affair, which is making me think about some other issues with old works being read through the present-day lens (which also occurred with me reading The Hunter and, a few months back,  I the Jury)–and the age-old question of separating the artist from the art (not in Macdonald’s case; as far as I know he was never problematic, but the attitudes of the time, translated into fiction, are what I am talking about in this case–in particular, women and minorities and how they are represented on the pages of the book).

I am also slowly but surely making my way through Richard Campanella’s Bourbon Street, and enjoying the trip immensely. New Orleans history–dark and bloody as it is–is endlessly fascinating, and I am always finding inspiration for more stories and books the more of it I read.

I’m not really sure how much I am going to get done this weekend–the emotional drains of the LSU-Alabama game on Saturday, followed by the Saints-Falcons game on Sunday–is probably going to be prohibitive of doing any writing–unless I do it in the mornings–all weekend. So, mostly reading will be on the agenda this weekend, methinks.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. I don’t have to head into the office until around noonish, so I have this morning free to write and answer emails and put away dishes and…sigh. I’m getting tired just thinking about it, so I better just do it.

Til tomorrow, Constant Reader.

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Come Go with Me

I’ve always enjoyed horror as a genre, both in film and in novels. One of the greatest joys of the last decade or so has been the rise of horror television, with terrific shows like American Horror Story (despite its many flaws), The Exorcist, Castle Rock, and so many others. I suppose even The Walking Dead sort of counts as a horror program.

I do not consider myself to be anything more than a horror fan, frankly; I am not an expert, I’ve not read (or watched) everything, I’ve never done any comprehensive studying of the genre. I don’t know what are tropes or stereotypes or what-may-have-you, unless they are so obvious it’s like being hit in the head with a baseball bat. The Haunting of Hill House is one of my favorite novels; Stephen King is one of my favorite writers; I could watch all four Scream movies a million times without ever getting bored or not being entertained–I even enjoyed the MTV television series called Scream, which had nothing to do with the films.

I know so little about the genre that I’m not even sure of the sub-genres contained within; I could write pages about the sub-genres in crime fiction, but horror? I’d be hard-pressed to even name them.

I’ve written two vampire novellas (“The Nightwatchers” and “Blood on the Moon”) and an entire gay erotic vampire novel (Need), and a ghost story novel (Lake Thirteen) and a monster novel (Sara), and I suppose Sorceress would be considered gothic horror–I certainly followed the blueprint for Gothic novels with that one, which was kind of the point. And while there are any number of horror short stories in the files, as well as aborted novels, I’ve never really had much luck in publishing horror. Crime is the genre I know best, and you should always, as they say, write what you know; I always fear my horror attempts are ridiculously derivative of Stephen King–but then again, steal from the best.

I also don’t have a much time to read as I would like, and as such, I tend to primarily read within the crime genre, branching out into horror only occasionally–writers like Bracken MacLeod, Paul Tremblay, Christopher Golden, Michael Rowe, and some others spring to mind–and the pile of unread horror in the TBR stacks continues to grow, it seems, by leaps and bounds every year as I never seem to get around to reading any of them.

But this year, as I’ve noted, I’ve made a conscious effort to read more diverse writers, and the end result of that has been me finding any number of terrific writers I might not have read had I not made an effort, had I allowed myself to continue with the ease of white privilege and simply reading other white writers.

I only regret not making the effort sooner.

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Collecting garbage sharpens the senses. It allows us to notice what others do not see. Where most people would spy a pile of junk, the rag-and-bone man sees treasure: empty bottles that might be dragged to the recycling center, computer innards that can be reused, furniture in decent shape. The garbage collector is alert. After all, this is a profession.

Domingo was always looking for garbage and he was always looking at people. It was his hobby. The people were, not the garbage. He would walk around Mexico City in his long, yellow plastic jacket with its dozen pockets, head bobbed down, peeking up to stare at a random passerby.

Domingo tossed a bottle into a plastic bag, then paused to observe the patrons eating at a restaurant. He gazed at the maids as they rose with the dawn and purchased bread at the bakery. He saw the people with the shiny cars zoom by and the people without any cash jump onto the back of the bus, hanging with their nails and their grit to the metallic shell of the moving vehicle.

I’m not sure where I first heard of Silvia Moreno-Garcia; I am friends with members of the horror writing community on social media, and we have friends in common; so I am sure I heard of this book first from one of our mutual friends on Facebook (I have also purchased her next novel, Gods of Jade and Shadow). I decided, as always, to read horror in celebration of Halloween; alas, illness and being overly busy has limited my reading lately, and as such, outside of my annual reread of The Haunting of Hill House, the only horror I was able to squeeze into October was Certain Dark Things, and this is not, by any means, to be seen as any kind of judgment of Ms. Moreno-Garcia’s consummate skill as a storyteller; this has everything to do with me being tired, ill, and unable to focus as a result. Those moments when I was able to focus was when I was able to read this book; and it is, quite frankly, a pleasure and a treasure.

Certain Dark Things is set in a Mexico City that teems with ugliness, darkness, poverty and corruption. As I read the descriptions of the city, I couldn’t help but think damn I bet she could write some brilliant noir set in this version of Mexico City–like I said, my mind always reverts to crime fiction–but this Mexico City, this world Moreno-Garcia has created, is steeped in reality and actual Mexican history–of which I know some, but not nearly enough (my interest in history is colored by, sadly, the white supremacy of American educational systems; focused primarily on the United States and Europe, with some Egyptian thrown in for good measure).

Moreno-Garcia also throws everything anyone who’s ever read about vampires into question from the absolute beginning of the book: perhaps because of Stoker’s Dracula, and every film/television adaptation of some form of it ever since, I have a tendency to always think of vampires as being eastern European/Transylvanian in origin; almost every vampire novel or story I’ve read has been almost entirely white. I myself, when writing my own little vampire stories, fell victim to these same tropes (although I did have Creole witches, which upon new reflection is also kind of problematic). So Certain Dark Things also opened my mind; why would supernatural/paranormal creatures always be white? Are there no supernatural/paranormal creatures or beings from other, non-white cultures?

There are two main characters in the novel: Atl, the female vampire, descended from a long line of vampires going back to Aztec days (and not your typical, Transylvanian vampire, either), and Domingo, a poor young man of the streets who sorts through garbage looking for things to sell to support himself. In this world, there is, like in Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse novels, an awareness that vampires and other creatures like them exist; so Domingo isn’t as terrified when he encounters Atl as he might be, were their reality still in question. Domingo is drawn to Atl, wants to help her and be with her, but it’s not in a romantic way, nor is it a product of being “glamoured” (as Harris called it in her work), either; it’s more along the lines of Atl being the first person to truly see Domingo, and appreciate him, and recognize his humanity despite being of the streets.

And that’s very powerful.

Atl herself is on the run. In this new world Moreno-Garcia has created, Mexico City is an independent city-state where vampires aren’t permitted; she has run there after the annihilation of her clan of vampires in north Mexico. She is on the run and needs to get out of Mexico completely; she has run to the city to hide and to try to find the means to get out of the country. There are many different kinds of vampires in this world; with different abilities and different powers.

There’s a third character, Ana Aguirre, a single mother who works as a police detective in the city, dealing with corruption and sexism every single day, not taken seriously by her superiors, and trying to do whatever she can to ensure a good future for her daughter. Ana is also a strong character, defined and complex; her inner struggle over her own integrity warring with what is the best thing to do for her daughter is masterfully described, and very relatable.

I’d read an entire series about Ana Aguirre in this world, frankly.

Moreno-Garcia doesn’t over-explain this world, either; but somehow, with sparsity of description and a minimal approach to the past few decades that changed the world as we now know it, she manages to create an entire world that is completely believable and easy to become immersed in. The story moves quickly, the characters growing more depth from each experience they have, and it’s all too soon over.

I would love to read more books about Atl and her world; I’d love to read more of Moreno-Garcia’s work.

This is a truly terrific work. I highly recommend it.

Songbird

So, daylight savings time means I didn’t sleep as late as I have the last few mornings–simply because the clocks were turned back an hour. I woke up yet again at ten this morning–I went to bed around ten last night–and slept like a stone yet another night. Sleep really is the best thing, isn’t it? These last few nights of good sleep have been absolutely heavenly, and I feel a million times better than I did before this staycation started. I also can’t help but feel that missing Bouchercon–much as I hated to do so–was probably the smartest thing I could have done; thank you, doctor, for forbidding my travel.

And a belated congratulations to all the Anthony Award winners! I didn’t win for Best Short Story, but couldn’t be happier that Shawn Cosby did! He’s a great guy, a terrific writer, and also supports other writers. His debut novel, My Darkest Prayer, was fantastic; he recently signed a two book contract with Flatiron Books and I can’t wait to see what he does next, quite frankly. The other nominees–Art Taylor, Barb Goffman, and Holly West–are also terrific writers and awesome people who support other writers as well. Being nominated for an Anthony for a short story was one of the biggest thrills of my career so far.

It’s also weird that it’s a Sunday morning and  there’s no Saints game today.  It’s weird that both the Saints AND LSU have bye weeks the same weekend; but next weekend is going to be tough–LSU at Alabama for all the marbles; the Saints playing the hated Atlanta Falcons.

I imagine by the end of that weekend I am going to be quite worn out from emotion and adrenaline.

Angela Crider Neary, who moderated the Anthony Short Story nominees panel yesterday, very graciously sent me the questions she intended to ask me on the panel, so I thought I’d go ahead and answer them today–even though I’ve already lost. 😉

You’ve written in an impressive array of genres – over 50 short stories, two different private eye novel series, young adult novels (some with supernatural elements), and even some erotica as well as some horror and suspense.  Do you like one of these genres or formats (short or long) better than others, and tell us what you enjoy or find rewarding about writing each of them.  Are there any other genres you have written or would like to write?

I’ve also written some romance! I like all the genres I write in pretty equally; I just wish I was better at writing horror than I am. I’ve always had a strong passion for history, so I think historicals is something I’d like to try at some point–it surprises me that I haven’t already. I find writing short to be a lot more difficult than writing long; I always think of ideas in terms of books rather than short stories, and sometimes have to modify the idea down, as I can certainly never write all my ideas as novels unless I have an exceptionally long life. I’ve been experimenting with writing novellas lately–I’m in the process of writing two right now. Of course, there’s little to no market for novellas. I guess I’ll wind up self-publishing them or something.

I love the title of your current Anthony-nominated story, “Cold Beer No Flies.”  Is there a story behind this particular title, and how important do you think titles are for stories or novels?

Thank you, I’m rather partial to that title myself! When I was a teenager in Kansas, there was a bar in the county seat that was very similar to the bar in my story. It was simply called My Place and they had a reader board out on the side of the road and one day it said COLD BEER NO FLIES. That tickled me for some reason, and I never forgot it. About ten years later I wrote the first draft of the story with that title. It sat in my files for a very long time, and about ten years ago I revised it for the first time, shifted the setting from Kansas to the Florida panhandle, and changed the main character from a young woman to a young man. When Florida Happens came about, I revised it one last time and submitted it to the blind read process, and was delighted to have the judges score it highly enough for inclusion. (My story in the Blood on the Bayou anthology also went through the blind read, and was picked.)

You have two PI novel series set in New Orleans.  How would you describe these two series, how they differ from each other, and how you’re able to slip into the separate moods and characters of each of them?

The Chanse series is more hard-boiled than the Scotty series, which is more light and fun. Chanse is a completely different kind of  gay man than Scotty; he was raised working class, his family lived in a trailer park and were evangelical Christians in a small working class town in east Texas. He used football and a scholarship to LSU to get out, and finally came out officially after graduating from college. He’s more scarred emotionally, more bitter and cynical, and has a very low opinion of humanity. Scotty is the polar opposite of Chanse: from a wealthy society family on both sides, he grew up in New Orleans with extremely liberal, progressive parents who never had any issue with his sexuality, and was kind of a fuck-up in some ways, though–flunked out of college, worked as a stripper and a personal trainer, etc. But he has a very positive outlook on life, and has no baggage about his sexuality whatsoever; in fact, he revels in being gay. I’d never read a character like that before, and I felt like there needed to be one. Scotty is much more fun to write than Chanse–I kind of just make up the story as I go, because that’s kind of how Scotty lives his life, up for anything and everything–whereas Chanse is more rigid, more unhappy, and more of a tight-ass, so I have to plan his stories out from the very beginning.

You’re the co-founder of the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival, which takes place in New Orleans every spring.  Tell us about it.

Well, way back in 2002 my partner, myself, and Jean Redmann went out for dinner and drinks one night, and over the course of conversation the subject of writer’s conferences came up–and how queer writers were often not included, and if they were, were put on what we call a “zoo panel”–a panel where all the non-straight writers are gathered together which, no matter the good intentions, always felt like we were zoo animals people came to see and point at, and those panels inevitably devolved into “let’s teach the nice straight people about homophobia.” We thought it would be lovely to have an event of our own–open and welcoming all who wanted to participate–where being queer wasn’t the topic of discussion. We also thought it would be good to stress the importance of queer literature and its importance in its response to the AIDS epidemic, and try to honor the many writers we lost to the plague years. We figured we might be able to pull it off maybe once or twice before interest died down…and here we are, seventeen/eighteen years later, still going strong. I have less to do with the organizing now than I did in the beginning–most of it is my partner and his team–but I still get credit for it.

Your Lambda Literary Award winning Murder in the Rue Chartres was described by the New Orleans Times-Picayune as “the most honest depiction of life in post-Katrina New Orleans published thus far.”  There was such overwhelming personal and community devastation after the hurricane and flooding.  Why did you choose to write about the hurricane and what was that like for you?

It’s so weird to me that it’s been over fourteen years now. But even now, it’s impossible to describe, or talk about, everything that happened because of Katrina. 90% of the city was rendered uninhabitable, and for awhile we weren’t even sure if the city was going to come back–or if we would ever be able to come home. We were lucky, we were able to evacuate when so many couldn’t–and that guilt lasted a really long time. It took me a long time to forgive myself for leaving New Orleans to die. It’s very difficult to describe how New Orleanians feel about New Orleans, that deep love that runs through, and colors, everything. The entire time I was gone I felt unmoored, unanchored, unsure about the future. I also knew I was going to have to write about Katrina, and I didn’t really want to. I was one of the first to come back–I returned to New Orleans on October 11th, about six weeks or so after it happened. I had been blogging at that time for not quite a year–but I was blogging extensively throughout that time, describing what I was feeling and what I was seeing. (I only wish technology had advanced to the point where phones had cameras–I didn’t have a digital camera at the time and so was unable to document everything with pictures; all I have is memories and the blog.) Katrina was such an enormous event, that the entire world was aware of–I didn’t see how I could possibly continue to write fiction about New Orleans without acknowledging Katrina, but at the same time I didn’t want to write about it, either. The Scotty series–I’d finished and turned in the third book in that series, Mardi Gras Mambo, about three weeks before the storm and I’d intended to start writing the fourth almost immediately, after taking about a month off to rest and regroup. Ironically, the idea was called Hurricane Party Hustle and I wanted to write a book set in the city during an evacuation with another near-miss hurricane–which I’d already experienced three or four times at that point. Needless to say that idea was scrapped. I also didn’t see how I could write a light, funny book about New Orleans when we were still in the midst of everything.* I wasn’t even sure I wanted to write a Chanse book. My editor at Alyson Books, Joseph Pittman, kept after me, telling me I was the perfect person to write such a book, and so on and so on, and I finally agreed to write it–but only on the condition that Chanse, like me, had evacuated and returned on the same day I did. I didn’t think survival stories from Katrina were mine to tell.** Writing the book itself was incredibly difficult, and I found myself drinking a lot whenever I finished for the day. But in the end, it was incredibly cathartic to write the book and I am very grateful, to this day, that Joe wore me down and convinced me to write it.
*Of course, now, all these years later, I can actually see how a funny book could be written about New Orleans in the aftermath–particularly in the way New Orleanians who were here reacted. The ruined refrigerators, for example, that everyone dragged out to the curb for disposal and sealed with duct tape–people decorated their refrigerators or wrote slogans on them; some of them were enormously funny. New Orleans has always had a sort of gallows sense of humor about itself; we always laugh, no matter what, and I do regret that I wasn’t in a place where I could examine that.
**I did eventually write a survival story, “Survivor’s Guilt” (my story in Blood on the Bayou, it was nominated for a Macavity Award a few years ago), and while I still didn’t think I had the right to tell a survival story–I kept questioning myself the entire time I was writing it–I based a lot of it on survival stories I’d been told, and given the response to the story, I think I got it right. I have another idea for a noir story set in the aftermath as well–it came to me on a panel at Raleigh Bouchercon several years ago Katrina Niidas Holm was moderating, and she keeps pushing me to write it–and I think I’ll someday get to it.
I also think sometimes I might go ahead sometime and write Hurricane Party Hustle–probably enough time has passed to write a story about an evacuation and near-miss , and sometimes I think I might go back and write a Scotty book set during that time as well…maybe.
And on that note, back to the spice mines. Thanks to everyone who voted for my story for the Anthonys so it made the short-list; that meant a lot, and I appreciate it.
And here’s hoping I won’t miss Sacramento next year.

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