Dark Shadows (Josette’s Theme)

I always forget this when I am asked about major influences on my life, writing, and career–but probably the biggest influence on me was the television soap Dark Shadows.

“My name is Victoria Winters…”

So began the first episode, with young heroine Victoria speaking over some rather spooky music, usually with a background scene of a light in the window at the great house of Collinwood in the fog, or waves crashing against the beach, or the family cemetery, or even the Old House.

Dark Shadows is probably the root or seed from which Bury Me in Shadows was grown from, now that I think about it more. A haunted old house, an even older house in ruins nearby in the woods that was the original family home, ghosts and secrets from the past–oh yes, the framework is absolutely there, and it never even occurred to me.

When my sister and I were kids, we moved to Chicago from Alabama. I was about two years old, give or take; I don’t remember moving up there nor do I remember ever living in Alabama; my sister was two years older. My parents both got jobs–the point of the move was for climbing the economic ladder; they both got really good jobs in factories while my dad finished his degree. But because they both worked (our friends and neighbors all felt sorry for us because our mom had to work; their moms all were housewives), we needed to be watched while they weren’t home. Our landlady recommended a woman down the street–a mother of six whose two youngest were in their last years of high school–and so we started spending our days with Mrs. Harris, who fed us breakfast and lunch, and Mom would pick us up on her way home from the bus stop. When we started school, we went there for breakfast and lunch but came home after school; school let out at 3:15 and Mom was usually home by 3:30. But it was Mrs. Harris–and my grandmother, who worked a night shift–who got me started watching soaps in the first place. One Life to Life and General Hospital sort of held my attention, but it was Dark Shadows I couldn’t wait for. I used to run home from school to try to catch the last five or ten minutes during school; it wasn’t a problem during the summer.

I loved Dark Shadows.

I was crushed when it was canceled.

I mean, look at that house!!!!

The show wasn’t canceled, although the ratings were starting to slide a bit in the later years. The truism that Dark Shadows‘ producers and writers discovered is one that practically every other continuing series having to deal with the supernatural and supernatural creatures has had to deal with: how do you keep topping yourself and raising the stakes? True Blood, Supernatural, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, and countless others have all run headfirst into that wall. Once you’ve done time travel and vampires and witches and werewolves and Frankenstein and other dimensions, what is left to do? I admire them for pulling the plug rather than getting more and more desperate to get the ratings up and eventually damaging the legacy of the show.

The show was a phenomenon the likes of which had never really been seen before in daytime–and the lesson learned from its success (go for the young audience!) would soon lead to the creation of youth-oriented shows like All My Children and The Young and the Restless–and of course in the mid-1970’s soaps would be forever changed when General Hospital introduced the character of teenager Laura Webber, played by an actual teenager, Genie Francis–and daytime was never the same. But Dark Shadows managed something that other soaps hadn’t–they created teen idols. Jonathan Frid as Barnabas, David Selby as Quentin, and even David Hennessey as David Collins were often on the covers of teen magazines like Tiger Beat and 16. The show even licensed FAN FICTION–a series of books based on the characters from the show, but thanks to all the fun stuff with time travel and parallel dimensions, Dark Shadows was perfect for spin-off books that took place in other Dark Shadows universe; one could even say Dark Shadows was one of the first shows to make use of a multi-verse.

The books were cheap–as you can see in the picture above (a copy sent to me by a friend with whom I bonded over our mutual love of the show) they ran between fifty cents and seventy-five cents a copy; they all had that same gold bordered cover with an oval image of characters from the show, and they were all written by “Marilyn Ross”, which was a pen name for a very prolific Canadian author named  William Edward Daniel Ross; he wrote over three hundred novels during his career, and Marilyn Ross was the name he used for Gothics–and the Dark Shadows books. (He also wrote as Clarissa Ross, and I read some of those novels as well, including The Spectral Mist.) They also weren’t particularly well written, and while they did take place outside the show’s continuity, there were also moments in some of them that didn’t make sense; in one of them, in which Barnabas shows up at Collinwood in the 1910’s, the only son of the family dies in a tragic accident…but if he was the only son, where did the present day Collinses come from? (The earlier books were told from the perspective of Victoria Winters, and in some cases the gimmick was some member of the family was telling Victoria a story about the family history.)

That’s the kind of shit that drives me insane.

But I remember when one of the off-brand television channels in Chicago (not affiliated with a major network) started running repeats of Dark Shadows from the very beginning when we lived in the suburbs in the evenings while the networks ran the evening news–guess what I was watching instead? Yup, Dark Shadows. (I always found it interesting, too, that the young actress who played Victoria Winters originally–Alexandra von Moltke–eventually became infamous as Klaus von Bulow’s mistress Alexandra Isles, who was, in the prosecutor’s theory, the reason Klaus injected Sunny with enough insulin to induce the coma from which she never woke up. But I digress.

I always wanted to write a vampire story similar to that of Barnabas Collins; I have an entire idea for a rural Louisiana version called Bayou Shadows that I’ve tinkered with off and on since the early 1990’s…but then Charlaine Harris started the Sookie Stackhouse series, which was essentially the same thing. I still might write about Bayou Shadows–the town called that has popped up from time to time in my books about New Orleans and Louisiana; most recently in A Streetcar Named Murder, actually–and if people think I’m ripping off Charlaine, so be it.

I’ll know that I’m really ripping off Dark Shadows.

The show also spawned two feature films, Night of Dark Shadows and House of Dark Shadows, each featuring one of the show’s leading men, Jonathan Frid and David Selby, respectively; the first did far better than the second. The show was revived in prime time for a single season in the late 1980’s; I watched it and loved it, of course–even got Paul to watch when it became available on DVD and I rewatched. I wish that show had been given more of a chance, because it was really quite good, and I was curious to see where the story went from that first season. It also had an excellent cast, including Hammer Film star Barbara Steele as Dr. Julia Hoffman. I did watch the Tim Burton film from this century, which had some clever moments but wasn’t quite as good; it went for the silly parody thing The Brady Bunch movies of the 1990’s did, but it didn’t land. The actress who played villainess Angelique in the original series, Lara Parker, has also written some Dark Shadows novels (I have copies but haven’t read them; I really should). Kathryn Leigh Scott, who played the original Maggie Evans on the soap (and in the first film) also has written novels; she was at Long Beach Bouchercon, where I met her and got a signed copy of her book Down and Out in Beverly Heels. She was lovely and couldn’t have been nicer; I really should read that book someday.

I’ve had Dark Shadows on my mind lately because I bonded with Carol Goodman at Bouchercon over our mutual love of Dark Shadows, and the Scotty book still in draft form takes place mostly in a rural parish outside of New Orleans; not the same parish where Bayou Shadows is located, but the next one over.

Sometimes I think it would be fun to reboot the show again, retelling the original story, or picking up from where the television series ended, or even doing a new generation, some forty years later, with David Collins as an adult with children and so forth…Carol and I have joked about coming up with a concept and trying to sell it and be the showrunners…which would be a dream.

Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)

Well, I’ve decided on my audiobook for the drive to and from Alabama this weekend: Carol Goodman’s The Night Visitors. Carol is one of my favorite writers (and has become a friend! I love my life) and I love her works; if you’re not reading her already you need to get on it–and there’s a healthy canon to dig into as well (always a plus). She also has a new book coming out this spring, called The Bones of the Story, which is a great title. I’m working on a short story this week while I am letting my novel manuscripts rest, and it’s definitely some slow going. I got about two thousand words into this story about a year ago, and I think it works perfectly for this anthology a friend of mine is putting together; I just need to finish the damned thing. But tonight I have a ZOOM call I have to do and I have to pack for my weekend in Alabama, and tomorrow morning I’m getting up, writing a post and hitting the road while listening to the divine Carol Goodman.

Does life get better? I think not.

It’s actually kind of funny; after I finished yesterday I realized I could, for the first time in quite a while, take some down time to myself for a minute or two without guilt or something looming over me needing to be done. After I sent the manuscript (such as it is) in along with my editorial thoughts and analyses, I thought, wow, I’ve sure written a lot since just before Christmas and showed an incredible amount of discipline–the kind of single-mindedness you’ve not had for quite a while, and I should feel drained and tired but I don’t. That was an incredibly over-confident assumption to make, even though it was true at the time I thought it. When I got home from work I realized my candle wick had burned down so far that it needed to rest and be replenished for a while. I am still feeling motivated and creative, though; I was simply drained yesterday. Before I went to bed last night (after watching another episode of The Recruit, which I am really enjoying) I kind of felt like the batteries were already starting to recharge. I feel very tired this morning, too–I slept well, don’t get me wrong, but I think I needed to sleep longer. Ah, well. I don’t have to get up before the sun rises tomorrow, so that’s something.

I always like Thursday nights.

But the kitchen is still a mess. I wasn’t in the mood to clean last night when I got home, either. I just felt disoriented, emotionally and intellectually spent, and physically tired. I used to call it the malaise, because it felt like melancholy brought on by the utter exhaustion of my creativity and drive to write. It’s very weird. Usually, the malaise also brings with it the feeling that I don’t even want to think about writing anything else ever again–which is not the case this time, which is very weird to me. I am champing at the bit to get to work on more things, new things, even to start working on the editing of everything else. It is very weird, and I will keep you posted on how this weird new version of malaise works itself out.

But I’ll have to clean the kitchen before the ZOOM thing tonight. That, or turn off all the kitchen lights.

Heavy heaving sigh.

I watched an interesting documentary on Youtube in my tired malaise last night, a new one from James Somerton called The Death of Queer Privacy, which was interesting. The primary focus of the documentary–Somerton does popular media critiques from a queer perspective–was, to begin with, about outing as well as the potentially problematic tropes in Paul G. Tremblay’s A Cabin at the End of the World and it’s film adaptation, A Knock at the Cabin. It was another look–deconstruction, if you will–if whether a straight identified (I don’t know how he actually does identify) writer centering a gay couple/family at the heart of a horror novel/movie is either good representation (they could just as easily have been a straight couple, a mixed-race couple, lesbians, etc.; sexual orientation didn’t play a part in the plot and if anything, the fact that the gay family was presented as normal and not a big deal tends to undermine any critical analyses of this as intentionally or unintentionally sinister) or if the book/movie, at heart, centers the trauma of a queer family as entertainment for the masses. I may want to watch that again; I wasn’t paying a lot of attention because I was tired and scrolling through social media on my iPad, so I may have missed some things, but the critique and look at the film itself was merely an introduction to the main topic, which was the attack on queer people’s right to privacy–which served as an interesting counterpoint to a lot of the public discourse about queer celebrities and how much of their lives, if any, needs to be shared with the audience. The recent forced outing of Kit Conner from Heartstopper is perhaps the best example of this; the idea that queer people in the public eye need to–nay, must–come out and be publicly queer, no matter how they themselves feel about revealing that much of themselves to the world, is problematic on its face. Somerton then went on to talk about how gossip blogger (and garbage human being) Perez Hilton essentially dragged a couple of people out of the closet. And really, are the personal and private lives of any celebrity any of our business? Simply because we enjoy someone’s performance in film and television, or like someone’s music, doesn’t really give us the right to know intimate details of their personal lives. I’ve never cared, beyond mere idle interest in hearing gossip; but I don’t care that much about it because I don’t know these people. What does who Taylor Swift is dating have to do with her music–other than her break-ups tend to spawn some amazing music–and why do I care? Why would I care who Tom Hiddleston is fucking, unless it’s someone I actually know? (There’s an interesting dialogue to be had about our billion-dollar celebrity gossip industry…) To circle around back to Tremblay, I knew he was publicly identified as straight as far as I knew (and didn’t care to know more). I was a fan of his before reading A Cabin at the End of the World (having greatly enjoyed A Head Full of Ghosts and Disappearance at Devil’s Rock–I’ve not read the others yet–and so I was delightfully surprised that the family the book was centered on was a gay couple and their adopted child. It was yet another entry in the “people go to secluded place and then horrible things happen” trope of horror, but with a remarkable twist that made it even more intense and terrifying. (I’m really looking forward to the film.) I read the book and enjoyed it, and I didn’t read anything sinister into it; but I was also reading it from an entertainment perspective rather than to gain a sociopolitical perspective for writing a critique…which now I kind of want to do, thank a lot, James Somerton–this is how this kind of thing always happens to me.

In fact, an essay exploring three mainstream novels by non-queer writers centering queer characters could prove interesting–and the Tremblay, S. A. Cosby’s Razorblade Tears, and Laurie R. King’s Back to the Garden would be the perfect trio to look at as they are relatively current, critical successes, and often award recognized.

And on that note I am going to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely morning, Constant Reader, and I’ll check in with you again later.

I Don’t Know Why

Wednesday Pay-the-Bills Day has rolled around again, and my goodness, do I have a lot of bills to pay, YIKES. But with another six thousand word push yesterday, the draft is done. All I need to do now is pull it all together into one document, write the explanatory apologetic email about the mess and how I am going to fix it, and send it off and all is finished–for now. But I know it’s going to be a great book once I tie up all the threads, add in the back story and character development it needs, and I think it’s going to be super awesome when it’s done. Yay! I love creating, I really do, and I actually enjoy the writing.

Well, until I hear back from my editor, at any rate.

I finally started listening to Taylor Swift’s latest album, Midnights, and I have to say, I really like it. I’d always liked her–some of the songs I knew I liked, but I didn’t pay a lot of attention to her or her music. Spotify changed that, and I really have been impressed not only with the quality of her music but how different it all is; not to mention the evolution from teen country star to major world pop superstar. (“Red” is still my favorite song of hers, probably always will be.) I find that putting her albums on continual play on Spotify is really great when it comes to cleaning things or doing the dishes and things like that. (Back when I first started writing I always would put three Madonna CD’s in the CD changer and hit shuffle and would start writing. I should go back to that, really.) I had a lot of chores to get done last night around my writing–unloading the dishwasher and doing another load; cleaning the counters and organizing the office area, etc.–but I do like having those opportunities to take a break from the writing to clear my head and see what comes to me while my hands are focused on something mindless and music streams through my ear buds.

I really do like writing, y’all.

I still have a lot of work to do on the manuscripts I’ve written the last couple of months, but it’s nice to have workable, fixable drafts in place; that’s always the hardest part for me, and the ability to focus on the writing without having to worry about anything else outside of my job and whether the books are selling is kind of nice, actually. I think it’s part of the reason why I’m calmer every day, don’t get my anxiety going, and don’t get stressed. I was irritated when I got home Monday–because I knew I had writing to get done, and I had errands to run which seemed to take much longer than anything had any need to take (don’t even get me started on the hell making groceries has turned into since the pandemic started) but once I was home and had everything under control and could sit down and pound away at the keyboard for a while, after which I was finally completely and totally relaxed for the evening. And of course, last night after a very productive day at work in which I got all of my day job responsibilities finished and caught up (huzzah!), I came home and wrote while doing those odious seeming chores that I always wind up enjoying. And Paul didn’t come home until after I’d gone to bed, so there were no distractions for me, but I would have loved to have watched another episode of The Recruit. I don’t like it when Paul comes home that late because I don’t see him for that day (I leave long before he gets up in the morning; which is another reason I hate working these shifts; I like when Paul and I work basically the same schedule.

It’s going to be warm and rainy today, which means I’ll be wearing a sweatshirt to work underneath my Crescent Care T-shirt; it was freezing in the office yesterday; last week the heat was on, but the weather changed, and they finally turned on the air conditioning I guess on Friday (it had been insanely warm in the office all week) and so yesterday it felt like the frozen tundra of the great white north in the office, which of course meant I was pretty much miserable the entire day there. But I was productive and got all my work caught up; today of course is the first which means all kinds of things for me to do this morning; pulling logs and forms for the month, putting out new ones for the new month and so forth, and of course seeing my clients.

After talking about them negatively yesterday, I do feel I need to thank the Horror Writers’ Association, which quickly moved to ban the incredibly insulting member from all their events and kicked him out of the organization. I had mentioned that I had left the organization a while back because one I’m not really a horror writer, and second because I felt that the organization had a ways to go as far as being welcoming to the non-white non-straight part of the community–I had been made to not feel welcome when I actually chaired World Horror Con in New Orleans, and while I didn’t have quite the same experience when I went to Las Vegas…there were enough little things to make me decide that my money and time were better spent in the mystery community, and that’s what I’ve done. I returned in December for some reason or another–I think they sent me a really nice “we want you back” email–and to be honest, this whole mess over the last week or so kind of had me thinking I’d made the wrong decision in coming back. But the swift movement of the HWA board of trustees over this matter was heartening, and while I have no intention of volunteering for anything any time soon for anyone or anywhere, I do not regret my decision. (I am also remembering that the community is also cantankerous and there are all kinds of feuds and things–long-time long-held grudges and so forth, which isn’t fun to navigate in trying to remember who doesn’t like who and so on; I usually don’t care or pay attention to such things and generally remain neutral because I don’t know the people well enough to have an opinion one way or the other.)

And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Wednesday Pay-the-Bills Day, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow morning.

Out of Time

It’s today that I officially run out of time on this draft; tomorrow I need to get it emailed in. I think I’ll be okay; I wrote six thousand words yesterday and only have six thousand more to go before I can call it an official draft that I can send in with an email of apology and explanation. It’s fine, really, everything is fine. I am remarkably calm about everything these days. I’m not sure why that is, but I do like it, and am delighted that it appears to be becoming a theme for me in 2023. But I am very excited to get this draft finished and turned in–I think it’s eventually, with some work, going to be one of my better ones–but now I have the foundation and skeleton of the book finished; soon I will go in and do all the little touches and finishes that will turn it into something fun and readable for readers. But I still have more to write yet–there are two chapters left to write–and while I did get six thousand words down yesterday, I have to do another six in order to get it finished. Which is fine and do-able, of course. And it’s always nice to finish something right before a weekend away.

We watched more of The Recruit last night, which we are really getting into, so I am looking forward to seeing another episode tonight or maybe two? We shall have to see, of course. I was very tired after getting home and writing last night; last night’s sleep wasn’t as deep as my sleep has been lately, but that’s okay; I did sleep decently even if I did have to keep waking up. I have a lot to do tonight, as well–and I would like to get back to doing some reading. But once I have the manuscript finished, I can have my evenings after work free for a few days; I’m not planning on getting into the weeds on editing until I get back from Alabama. Hopefully that will give me the time to do some short story writing that needs finishing, as well. The kitchen is a mess, too–I really don’t like going away for the weekend with the house in a mess to come home to, but I don’t know if I’ll have the time to do anything about it in the meantime. And then of course it’s parade season again the next two weekends, and before you know it it’s Lent and it’s all over again for another year. The first quarter of the year in New Orleans is always a challenge…

Cindy Williams died yesterday–it took me a minute to remember that Penny Marshall had also passed away already–and of course, most of the commentary and posts defaulted to Laverne & Shirley, and why wouldn’t they? It was a highly rated–if sophomoric–comedy series for eight seasons on ABC, and it did make her both rich and famous. But the thing I always thought was kind of sad was that she was actually capable of a lot more than a slapstick lowbrow comedy on television (hey, she got rich from it, and it made a lot of people happy, too) because she’d given some really fine performances in very good films like American Graffiti and The Conversation (both of which I watched during my Cynical 70’s Film Festival; most people remember American Graffiti as a fun comedy about one Saturday night in 1962 in Modesto, California–but it was a lot darker and more serious than people generally remember. It also was set in 1962, not the 50’s, but it was in that weird aftermath period where the music was still very similar–the Beatles hadn’t crossed the sea yet–and until the Kennedy assassination, the early 1960’s seemed very much like a continuation of the 1950’s until everything changed. I always wondered what Cindy Williams may have made of herself as an actress in film had she not taken the Laverne & Shirley gig. And that Tuesday night ABC line-up was something: Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, Three’s Company, SOAP, and Hart to Hart.

Ah, my teen years.

I recently rejoined the Horror Writers’ Association; I am not really sure why, to be honest. They sent me a “we want you back” email and I was talking to That Bitch Ford and I thought, sure, why not? You’re not really a horror writer but you ARE a writer who has written some fiction that could be classified as that and you’re always looking for new places to submit short stories and….so I did. I’d forgotten why I’d initially let the membership go, and it barely took a month for me to be reminded. There was a contretemps on the official Facebook page for the group, and then it just kept spiraling out of control with all the nastiness, bigotry, and hatred. As an author, I would always like to be seen as an author first and treated with the common courtesy that any author should expect from their peers, particularly in a nonprofit organization that serves them. But, as I have been reminded all-too-many times since Murder in the Rue Dauphine was sent out into the world, there will always be those people–in publishing, bookselling, reviewing, etc.–who will always define me by my sexuality and denigrate both me and what I write because of it. As I often say on panels when it comes to genre, the adjective gay trumps anything that follows: mystery, horror, science fiction, romance, etc. I am also very aware that gatekeeping in publishing–while on the decline–has always been there to keep the “undesirables” out. Seeing someone whom I didn’t know–and have no desire to know now–erupting on the HWA page and spewing hate-filled rhetoric, and then doubling-down by appearing on a white supremacist/Nazi’s podcast for several hours…well, you put on the SS uniform, it’s kind of hard to deny your complicity in the Holocaust after the war. And watching it all go down over the last few days reminded me of why I left the organization in the first place–the overt and covert bigotry in the organization.

And for the record, when you’re talking about diversity and you say but it has to be about the writing! that’s a dogwhistle people like me have been hearing for decades. What you are saying is the reason our genre is not more diverse is because the non-white non-straight writers aren’t good enough.

Yeah, that was all I needed to hear to know where I stood with HWA, and so when it was time to renew the next time, I just let it go.

And I am also incredibly proud of myself because usually my response to situations like this one–this most recent blow-up, and that comment all those years ago–is to say okay I have to get involved so I can fix this. I am very happy that instead my thought is, oh yes, this is why I let it lapse and will do so again. I’ve been fighting this kind of shit for decades, and frankly, I’m tired. I just want to focus on me for a while and let everyone else fix all the things that need fixing.

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow, when Pay-the-Bills Day rolls around again.

Sympathy for the Devil

Well, well, well. This morning I woke up to the announcement of this year’s Malice Domestic Agatha Award finalists, and mych to my pleasant surprise, our very own Gregalicious’ #shedeservedit is a finalist for Best Children’s/Young Adult novel. It was a very pleasant surprise, as I figured the Agatha short-list wasn’t in my future for A Streetcar Named Murder (which was only eligible for Best Novel, and there is WAY too much competition for that category to even consider the possibility) and honestly, I didn’t think #shedeservedit, my only other release for 2022, had a prayer of getting enough votes (if any at all), but hey. I put up a couple of “for your consideration” posts on social media, figuring it certainly wouldn’t hurt anything to at least try, and here we are. Wow. Thanks to everyone who voted for me. It’s very exciting to start out the year with what hopefully won’t be my last Lefty and Agatha nominations. The nominations are a very lovely pat on the back, and will make even nicer additions to my author bio and CV. Added to the two Anthony nominations last year for Bury Me in Shadows, and it would appear that I am having a rather lovely period in my career, am I not? Perhaps a Gregnaissance?

Okay, yeah, I hate when people do that and make up words. Forget I ever said that.

It’s work at home Friday and I have data to enter. I also had to roll out of bed and head down to Quest Labs this morning for a blood draw for my bi-annual physical, so now I have a bruise on both arms since I had my PrEP labs drawn on Wednesday. I had a good day yesterday–I managed to get back into the book, but fell 500 words short of quota, so I need to do that today as well as today’s writing so I am back on schedule. I’ve been having some moments of doubts and imposter-syndrome lately, but that always happens at this stage in a book so I dismissed it and put it right back out of my head. I was very tired when I finished yesterday’s writing, and Paul went to the gym last evening, so I went down a Youtube wormhole of research (yes, yes, justify wasting your evening, Gregalicious) until Paul got back and we watched some of the US Figure Skating Championships, particularly the Rhythm Dance. (If someone would have told me back when I moved in with Paul in 1996 that my eventual favorite discipline in figure skating would be the ice dancing, I’d probably still be laughing…) I also was remarkably hungry yesterday, which really never happens. I was so hungry yesterday afternoon when I left the office that I actually came home and ate a piece of King cake, which kept me through the night, but it was still odd. I rarely ever get hungry–which is why I often will forget to eat, especially when I am on a trip (unless you go to New York with That Bitch Ford–I think I ate more that weekend in New York than I have on every trip I’ve taken in the last ten years combined)–so it bears noting when I actually realize that I am hungry. My weird relationship with food and my body is something I should probably write about sometime.

One of the problems I face when I think about writing personal essays (did you enjoy that segue, Constant Reader? I usually struggle with transitions) is, of course, Imposter Syndrome. Whenever I sit and think about writing a personal essay, I immediately start to doubt myself. What insights and perceptions and conclusions can you possibly draw about this that hasn’t already been said, probably better and more eloquently, by many others already? I can be pretty oblivious, too–something that is patently obvious to everyone else is something that startles me when I recognize it, mainly because I never think about it; it’s just something that already is, so I don’t think about it. Like one day when I was visiting my parents in Houston a news promo ran on the television calling Houston the “space city,” which was something I clearly was aware of since my parents lived two exits from NASA, and “Houston we have a problem.” But when I heard it that day, it connected in my head, oh, Houston the space city, that’s why the baseball team is the Astros and the basketball team is the Rockets. I said this out loud and my mother looked at me like I was insane (a look I am quite used to, so no worries on that score) and started laughing. I guess my obliviousness was amusing, but I just had literally never thought about it–they were the Rockets and the Astros, and that was that; didn’t matter why they were called that. But this is the kind of thing that makes me worried about trying to write personal essays–that, of course, and my faulty and failing memory, which is yet another reason why I don’t write a memoir…although I could write a really good one. But the problem–even if I trusted my memory–is that everyone remembers everything differently, so I could write about something the way I remember it but the other people involved could remember it completely another way. Who is right, and what is the truth? That hurdle is something I’m going to have to clear–after all, “I Haven’t Stopped Dancing Yet” is a terrific personal essay, and a piece of work of which I am particularly proud; so I know I can do it. I suppose the true fear is that I won’t strip naked and show myself to the world, and will color and/or distort things to make me not look quite as bad as I actually was in the moment. That’s one of the reasons why I love writing fiction; I can take personal experiences and twist them into something that can fit into a good story, or make them better in some ways.

And believe me, there was a lot of bad behavior in my past.

You learn to live with it.

Sigh. I do have a lot to get done over the course of this weekend–cannot forget the ALA event tomorrow morning–and of course, there’s a lot of writing to be done and the US Figure Skating Championships to watch. I’ll need to make groceries at some point, too, and I have prescriptions to pick up at CVS and of course, next weekend I am off to Alabama (yay!) for two of my favorite events of every year, Murder in the Magic City and Murder on the Menu, which will take me to Birmingham and Wetumpka. Yay!

So, I am feeling a little more confidence this morning about my writing and everything in my life. I’m enjoying my day job and my new responsibilities, my writing career is doing okay, and I can’t really complain about too much. I’m going to return to the gym in April and start working on that part of my physical self. I am getting the hearings aids process started, and at some point I am going to need to have another eye exam later this spring. I have a lead on a dentist to get my teeth fixed so I can stop looking like a hillbilly, and start getting things figured out with a plan for my writing future.

And on that note, this data ain’t gonna enter itself. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader.

Tumbling Dice

Monday morning and all is quiet and dark in the Lost Apartment this morning. I slept well again last night–I’m getting rather spoiled by all this good sleep, really–and yet it’s weird to be up again when it’s so dark outside. Today is my first full week of work this entire year–not bad, really, since it’s the last week of the month–but it’s also going to be weird to be working every day. I have that event this Saturday at the Convention Center, but other than that my entire focus this entire week is going to be writing (just like always). Everything is going the way it’s supposed to –I’ve already started questioning my choices about the story, so we’re right on track–and I am not getting stressed about anything, so that’s also working for me this year. I’d love to have another day off, though.

And parade season is literally right around the corner.

I didn’t write as much this weekend as I would have liked to, unfortunately; that seems to be very much par for the course, sadly. I’ll have a lot to get done this weekend, of course–that’s how it always seems to work, doesn’t it? That last minute push–but it’s fine. I guess the Joey Burrow and the Bengals won again yesterday–I really only pay attention to the Bengals and the Saints; I pull for the Bengals because of Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase, of course. I wish the Saints could have gotten him, seriously, but we had a really good run as Saints fans and so I am not going to complain about their return to mediocrity.

We watched two more episodes of Mayfair Witches and there are some substantial changes to the story from the book, but it’s enjoyable watching and there was one point last night where I kind of had to laugh; one of the most vivid and poignant things in the book is how they always parked drugged out of her mind Deirdre on the side porch every day for everyone and anyone walking past the house to see–it wasn’t until last night that it dawned on me how uniquely New Orleans and Southern Gothic that actually is; of course they put her out on the side porch on display for the entire world to see rather than keeping her hidden away inside the decaying mansion. I’m enjoying the show, much like how I enjoyed Interview with the Vampire. I am not one of those people who inevitably are disappointed with adaptations of novels I enjoyed; I long ago sensed that you can’t compare a television series or movie to a novel as they are completely different media and differences are inevitable–they should be viewed and valued for what they are rather than what they should have been. Changes have to be made–just like how the house they used for filming and converted to look like the house at First and Chestnut isn’t exactly the same; Deirdre’s porch wasn’t the main gallery of the house but a completely separate and different side porch, coming off the living room windows. But you have to adapt to what you are working with, and since they couldn’t use the actual house–obviously there would be differences.

I also have a doctor’s appointment in the afternoon on Wednesday, which means having to leave early that day (so I guess it’s not really a full week of work after all), so I can finally get my arm looked at and possibly start the process of getting hearing aids. Yay for health insurance! I am tired a bit this morning–more like still sleepy more than anything else, it’s funny how the meaning of tired has changed over the years–and could easily climb back into bed and sleep for another two hours or so. I like that I am getting good sleep so that I feel rested; weekend after next will be the weekend in Alabama which means I won’t be sleeping again relatively soon, sigh. (It’s getting to the point where I don’t even want to travel at all anymore because the lack of sleep becomes debilitating.) But I won’t be traveling again after that weekend until San Diego and Bouchercon in August/September, unless I have to go to Kentucky for something in the meantime, and I am really looking forward to the build up of accrued time off. I really do think I may just take a week off in May or June just to stay home and work on things around the house–which will inevitably lead to me being lazy and doing nothing for most of that time, which is not good. I am hoping that the arm check-up will go well and will eventually lead to me being cleared to return to the gym, but I also fear I am being overly optimistic. Visually the arms look vastly different from each other now, which really has me concerned about something like a torn muscle or something like that–but you’d think that would be more painful and wouldn’t have stopped hurting as quickly as this did? It’s always something. I guess I should check into the yoga schedule at the gym and see if there’s any classes that work with my schedule. Stretching, riding the bike, walking on the treadmill…these are all things that don’t require me to actually use my arms much, so….no excuses.

And on that note I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again later.

Promises in the Dark

I grew up loving both horror and crime stories–those wonderful old black and white Universal monster movies used to scare me to death, not to mention all the marvelous ghost stories and mysteries that got filmed back in the day. I also watched a lot of the 1950’s paranoia horror monster movies–Godzilla and its ilk–and those also used to give me horrible nightmares. I also liked how twisted horror comic books like The Witching Hour, House of Mystery and House of Secrets were. I’ve always wanted to write those kinds of stories, but if you think I have zero confidence in my abilities as a crime/mystery writer, there’s even less when it comes to my writing of horror. I never feel like I ever get it right, you know, and my stuff is macabre and peculiar and slightly twisted, but it’s not really scary. But like I did with the mystery novels and movies I watched as a child, I was always looking for myself in those tales and not finding myself. Oh, every once in a while there would be some homoeroticism in some horror I would be reading (Peter Straub’s If You Could See Me Now comes to mind), but for the most part, there wasn’t much. Thomas Tryon’s The Other resonated with me–it wasn’t until decades later that I learned Tryon was gay, and that sensibility infused all of his work, hence my connection with it–but usually when gays showed up in horror they inevitably were effeminate and soon to become victims. (Kill your gays has always been a thing, clearly.)

When I was going through my “I want to be the gay Stephen King” phase in the 1980’s, I didn’t put gay characters or themes in any of my stories–although rereading my attempts at horror from then now, I can see the sensibility was always there–but the horror novel I started writing in about 1986 or 1987, The Enchantress, had a gay point of view character, even though I didn’t really know what I was doing. I was always afraid, you see, to include gay characters in anything I hoped to get published because I was so busy keeping my two lives completely separated that I feared writing sympathetic gay characters would out me. (During my many writings about my high school students from Kansas, one of them was actually gay and was probably the most realistic and honest character in all of those writings) Trying to salvage those stories now, decades later, I sometimes will revise one and make the point of view character gay–which inevitably makes the story work better, incidentally–and they see publication eventually; “Crazy in the Night” was one of those stories, and another morphed into Bury Me in Shadows, actually. Just this morning I was thinking about some more of those old stories and how to make a couple of them work–partly because I spent the last two mornings reading Other Terrors: An Inclusive Anthology from the Horror Writers Association, edited by my friends Vince Liaguno and Rena Mason. The point of the anthology was to focus and highlight horror stories from marginalized writers–where they are marginalized by race or religion or sexual orientation or gender identity, and it includes stories from some of the top names in horror publishing today.

As with any anthology, some stories stick with the reader more than others; this isn’t a dis on any of the contributors to the anthology–every story was incredibly well-written–it’s just that everything is subjective and some stories stick with the reader longer than others. For me, the standouts were Jennifer McMahon (“Idiot Girls”); Alma Katsu (“Waste Note”); Gabino Iglesias (“There’s Always Something in the Woods”); Hailey Piper (“The Turning”); Larissa Glasser (“Kalkriese”), Michael Thomas Ford (“When The Lovelight Gleams”); M. E. Bronstein (“The Voices of Nightingales”); and S. A. Cosby (“What Blood Hath Wrought”). These were the ones that really resonated me, with the connections of strong writing, three dimensional characters, and completeness of the story. For many of the contributors, this is my first experience with their work, and I will definitely look out for more of their work. These were the ones that made me start thinking about ideas and stories and characters; stories that not only were enjoyable and immersive to read but also kick-started my own creativity and inspiration.

And what more can you ask from a reading experience, as a fellow writer?

Now I want to write more horror.

Definitely check the book out, Constant Reader, I think you’ll enjoy it.

Jumpin’ Jack Flash

He’s a gas, gas, gas!

Here we are on another gray weekend morning. It was supposed to rain off and on all day yesterday–it didn’t–but it turned out to be a pretty good day. I wrote about eight thousand words or so, give and take, and made groceries in the afternoon. I did take care of some chores around the Lost Apartment, too, and I spent some time yesterday morning with Other Horrors, which I should finish this morning as I only have three stories left. There have been a couple that puzzled me, but overall, I’ve enjoyed the collection for the most part. I’d be pressed to pick a favorite story, though. Reading it has again reminded me that I am not, no matter how much I wish I was, a horror writer. I just don’t have the imagination, I don’t think, to be a horror writer. I can write Gothic suspense–suspense stories with a touch of the supernatural in them, like Lake Thirteen and Bury Me in Shadows–but I just don’t have the kind of mind that goes to horror when I think about writing.

We also finished off That 90’s Show last night and started watching Mayfair Witches, an adaptation of Anne Rice’s Mayfair trilogy, beginning with my favorite of her novels, The Witching Hour. I am predisposed to like this, since I loved the book so much (the rest of the trilogy not so much), and of course I drove past the house they turned into the Mayfair house for filming on Prytania Street all the time. (They did not use the actual house at First and Chestnut; one thing I did have a problem with was the way they showed Dierdre’s porch, which was different on the actual house than how depicted on the show) There are two more episodes for us to get through tonight, which is cool. I slept extremely well last night again–it’s remarkable how well I’ve been sleeping since getting back from New York–and my psoriasis seems to be under control again for the first time in years. There are a few things I need from the grocery store, but I think I can safely put that off until tomorrow and can stop on the way home from work. This morning I did get up earlier than I wanted to–I am sleeping so well I could stay in bed all day without an issue, I think–but I eel good. My legs have finally stopped feeling sore and tired, thank God, and I think I can safely say that I have completely reacclimated to my day to day life again.

I’m still listening to the Hadestown score, but I also started listening to the Christine McVie-Lindsay Buckingham album the two recorded a few years ago, and it’s quite good. The harmonies! Although I can’t help but think two things while listening: first, I wish Lindsay Buckingham had produced one of her solo albums and second, the one thing missing is Stevie Nicks and this would have made an amazing Fleetwood Mac album, which I think was what it was originally intended to be but Stevie wasn’t available or something or another. It’s also sad to know there will never be another Fleetwood Mac album since Christine’s untimely passing last year (not with my favorite line-up, at any rate). I need to move her solo album from the 1980’s back into my rotation–it’s a great and always underrated record. It’s hard to imagine the band moving on without either Christine or Lindsay (whom they fired), and Stevie already has a band she tours with as a solo act…sigh. Fleetwood Mac was the soundtrack of my teens and twenties and it’s just very weird that it’s finally over after all these years for me. When I write about the 1970’s–which I probably will do either later this year or sometime next–it will indelibly have Fleetwood Mac music all over the score of my work.

When I finish this book, I have to spend February revising Mississippi River Mischief and should spend some time doing a massive copy edit of Jackson Square Jazz so I finally have all of the Scotty series for sale as ebooks at long last. Once I get that done, March will be spent revising the one I am writing now, and then finally come April I can get back to work on Chlorine at long last. I’d like to get a draft of it finished in April so I can write another first draft of something else in May (I already know what it is going to be) and then will probably spend the rest of the year writing short stories and novellas and revising everything to see what can happen with them. Next year I want to write yet another Scotty book and that’s when I am going to try to write my 1970’s Chicago suburb boys-are-disappearing novel, too. None of this is carved into stone tablets, either–things always come up along the way, new ideas or hey Greg want to write a book we’ll pay you xxx for it and I never ever say no to things like that. I’d also like to come up with a new short story collection at some time, or perhaps the three-in-one book novella collection; it’s hard to say. And I kind of want to try to write a romance. There’s always so much I want to write, isn’t there?

Heavy heaving sigh. I don’t think I’ll ever match the days when I used to write four or five novels per year, but I do think I am going to be able to get a lot more writing done now in the next few years. Next weekend I am doing a signing at the ALA event here in New Orleans at the Convention Center, and of course the next weekend I am off to Alabama, and then it’s Carnival. Utter madness!

And now I am going to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader, and I will probably check in with you again later.

Street Fighting Man

Saturday and all is calm within the Lost Apartment, at least so far this morning–who know what will happen later? One can never really be certain.

Heavy sigh. My dryer stopped heating yesterday–a tragedy was averted when I remembered that there was a working dryer in the carriage house so I could dry everything over there, which beats taking it to a laundromat–but rather than let that get me down or upset me at all, I figured out a solution (see sentence between dashes above) and went on with my day. I got my work-at-home duties done around doing some organizing and cleaning in the kitchen/office (I discovered more MWA stuff that can be archived and filed away) and did the dishes, making the kitchen sort of bearable to look at. I got some writing done, which was marvelous, and figured out why my printer kept jamming and fixed it (clearly, it was a solution-driven day for one Gregalicious around the Lost Apartment), so I no longer need to continue looking for a new printer/scanner/copier, which was really super great. (Especially since we now appear to be in the market for a new dryer, damn it all to hell. I think I can probably fix it–its probably a fuse, but the laundry room is really too small and inconvenient to get behind the dryer and try to remove or fix anything; I may give it a try later today to see what can be done. There’s a Lowe’s near the office I can run to after work on Monday if it’s indeed something I myself can handle–and wouldn’t it be easier and cheaper to replace a fuse rather than having to order a new one and have it delivered, making arrangements for me to be on hand for it to arrive and everything? Augh. I kept hoping it would fix itself miraculously to no avail. Heavy heaving sigh.

I slept very well again last night and even slept in a little bit this morning. I’m not sure exactly what changed with the sleep situation around here, but it’s nice. Scooter got me up at seven whining for food, but I went back to bed and fell right back asleep for another hour and a half. I feel rested and relaxed and centered this morning, which is nice. I do have to go pick up groceries I ordered today but other than that I don’t really have to leave the house. It’s gray out there this morning and it feels chilly inside–I turned the heat off yesterday because it was a bit stuffy in the house, but I don’t mind a bit of a chill, seriously. My coffee tastes marvelous this morning, and I do need to get a lot of writing done today–I got some done yesterday but not nearly enough–and of course I think my Saturday morning ritual of doing some reading before starting to write is probably a good idea. I think I am going to finish reading Other Horrors this morning and perhaps tomorrow, and then maybe start in on The Last King of California or one of the myriad of cozies I have on hand. I know I want to read the Edgar finalists I have on hand that I’ve not yet read, too.

After watching the LSU gymnastics meet against Missouri (Tigers win! Geaux Tigers!) and this week’s Servant over on Apple TV (which is really interesting), we decided to give That 90’s Show a whirl on Netflix for a bit of nostalgia. (We watched early seasons of That 70’s Show before finally giving up as it got stale) and actually kind of enjoyed it. The kids are appealing, and who knew Red and Kitty were the anchors of the original show so much so that they could anchor the reboot, too? All they need is goofy hormonal teenagers to play off and you have a show. We only have three episodes left to watch, and while it wasn’t high art by any means, it was enjoyable and entertaining enough–who needs more than that on a Friday night after a long week of reentry into reality? I kind of want to watch The Pale Blue Eye at some point over this weekend.

I’m also trying very hard not to get too giddy over how easy it is for me to deal with my emails now. I’m still not used to it, nor am I used to taking a break from doing anything and not feeling guilty about the massive to-do I’ve yet to master/conquer. (Note to self: you need to make a new one to work on) But while I was working at home yesterday and working around the dryer issue, I also managed to get the kitchen–notably my desk area–back under control, which was a very good thing. I still have more organizing and filing to do, but it’s not the enormous task now that it was yesterday morning, and I am looking forward to having it completely under control today. I was also looking through all the drafts here of my blog and am thinking a good goal for this spring would be to get them all finished and posted. I need to do some more blatant self-promotion for A Streetcar Named Murder too; I am curious, though, as to what else I can do to do New Orleans promotional posts that tie into the book somehow. Hmmmm. Maybe I need to look through the book again? Might be something to do later on after I get my writing for the day finished.

And on that note, I heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow.

Honky Tonk Women

We don’t really hear that word used much anymore, do we–honky tonk? It was used a lot when I was a kid, mostly in country music songs, but it was also one of those words/phrases that for whatever reason grated on my when I was younger. Even now I think honky tonk just sounds silly phonetically; why this bugs me so much I will probably never know. (I think it was because it seemed coy to me when I was a kid; like it was a phrase that stood in for something you couldn’t say on television or in the movies or in a song, like making whoopie or making love when what you mean to say is fuck; I always hated that, even as a kid. Just say what you fucking mean. Seriously, y’all, the days of censorship was just incredibly stupid, and don’t even get me started on that staple of soap operas–making love. Gah.)

I am going to have to use “honky tonk” in a title sometime.

Well, last night was probably the best night of sleep of all time, bar none. I feel like I could have stayed in bed easily all day and just kept sleeping, and that was marvelous. I may not be completely awake yet–hello, coffee!–but I feel marvelously rested and relaxed this morning, and so I feel like I am going to be able to get a lot done today. I didn’t get quota yesterday–fell a thousand or so short, alas–which will have to be made up for over the course of the weekend if I am to get back on schedule. I am, oddly enough, not as stressed about this as I ordinarily would be, to be honest–I am feeling confident these days, which is a strange but lovely feeling, and one I don’t ever remember having before when it comes to writing.

No worries, I am sure it will pass soon.

I had a nice day yesterday. After work I had to run a couple of errands, and found Jordan Harper’s UK release The Last King of California, waiting for me at the post office from Book Depository (my go-to for UK publications), which I am kind of excited about. I want to finish reading the stories in Other Horrors this weekend, and then I think I’m going to read another cozy–I have some really terrific ones lying around here in the TBR stacks just waiting for me to pick up, and of course with the Lefty and Edgar nominations released this week my list of books to buy just continues to grow and grow and grow. I still haven’t read Harper’s Edgar winning debut, She Rides Shotgun, which everyone raves about; but it’s always so hard not only to keep up with what’s current because more and more are released every month and once you’re behind there’s no catching up. After getting home from my errands yesterday I did research for my current project (I love that watching Youtube videos counts as research for this, and I am having the best time with the research, and that is part of why I am enjoying writing this so much (I also love my main character).

It looks gray outside this morning, and I do have an errand that must be run today. Heavy sigh. It’s why I got up, after all–I was perfectly willing to stay in bed for even more time this morning–and my kitchen is a disaster and as always, there is laundry. Heavy heaving sigh. So I am going to go ahead and head into the spice mines this morning, Constant Reader. I may check in again later–but one never knows, does one? Have a lovely Friday, though, and may the odds be ever in your favor.