Homeward Bound

So, when Ellen Byron was preparing to interview me for our live stream event from Murder by the Book, she sent me some questions to prepare myself with. They were good questions, actually, and I thought that taking time to answer them when I can think about the responses would be an excellent BLATANT SELF-PROMOTION post.

So, without further ado, here we go!

What inspired your book? Series premise and the specific story?

That’s an interesting story, actually. I had been toying with the idea of writing a cozy for a long time–I’ve always liked them–but never was sure I could do it; there were rules, after all, and I’m terrible about following rules, always have been. Several friends have been encouraging me for years to do it, but I always hesitated. It was (I thought) outside of my comfort zone, and while I would toy with ideas here and there, none ever came to anything. My partner’s office is near a costume shop, and he’d had to go in there one day for some reason or another, and as is his wont, he struck up a conversation with an employee about the costume business, how they made money, how they stayed open all year, etc etc etc. He’s very curious. Anyway, that night I mentioned to him that someone had yet again suggested I write a cozy, and he wasn’t sure what one was, so I gave him a thumbnail overview, and he said, “Oh, you should do a costume shop” and proceeded to tell me about his conversation with the shop employee. I agreed it was an interesting idea, and stowed it away in the back of my head for future reference, and would think about it now and then, come up with characters and a community for the main character to be a part of, and so on. But at the same time I kept thinking New Orleans wasn’t the right place for a cozy series–basically looking for ways to fail instead of reasons to succeed, which is the underlying theme of my life, really–and so it went. An editor I’ve worked with before was interested in the idea of my writing a cozy series, so I wrote up a proposal and sent it off. They liked it, but couldn’t sign it, and recommended I take it somewhere else, so I did. It evolved from a costume shop to an antique shop during the process of me signing a contract with Crooked Lane; they liked everything about my idea except for the shop itself, so I had to change that. I went down to Magazine Street and walked for a block, writing down every kind of shop I saw, and sent the list in–and we all came to an agreement about the series being structured around an antiques business. As for the story, well, I wanted to talk about and explore the gentrification of New Orleans that has been ongoing almost this entire century, and how real estate has just exploded around here. (It still staggers me that our rent was $450 when we first moved here; the lowest rent I’ve seen advertised in our neighborhood is around $1500 for less than thousand square feet. Our original apartment now rents for $2500 per month now, which is insane.) What happens to Valerie–the fear of a new tax assessment pricing her out of her house–actually happened to a friend of mine; and the prices just seem to keep going up all the time. You can’t even buy a condo in my neighborhood for less than $350, 000 now–the asking prices for houses in the neighborhood are completely insane. Every time I see a new listing in the neighborhood for half a million dollars or more I think, we really should have bought when we moved here–but home-ownership is New Orleans isn’t something Paul or I have ever been terribly interested in. Termites, tornados, hurricanes, floods, black mold–no thanks! But man, what a return on our investment had we bought in 1996!

We both write series set in New Orleans. Why do you find it so inspiring? Especially when you’ve lived in so many other places?

I’ve lived all over the country–we’re from Alabama, and I’ve lived in Chicago on the south side, the suburbs, Kansas, Fresno, Houston, Tampa, Minneapolis and then New Orleans. New Orleans is the only place I’ve ever been to where I felt like I belonged, where I fit in; where I didn’t seem like the eccentric one. New Orleans embraces its eccentrics and doesn’t judge them, and I like that. I knew that first time I came here on my birthday in 1994 that if I moved here all my dreams would come true. And they have, which has been kind of lovely. And no writer could ever exhaust the inspiration New Orleans provides. I’ve written fifteen books set here and countless short stories at this point, and haven’t even scratched the surface. I’ve never written about the music scene here, for one glaring example, or restaurants or the food industry or…you see what I mean? There’s not enough time in my life to write everything I want to about New Orleans.

Tell us about your protagonist. Where did the inspiration for her come from?

My sister never had any interest in going to college or having any kind of career other than being a wife and mother. She was a straight A student and had numerous scholarship offers, but had little to no interest. I used to always think she had wasted her potential, but gradually came to the realization that she has the life she always wanted when she was growing up, and has never missed having a career outside of the home–so rather than feeling bad about her lost potential, I should have been happy that her dreams came true. I started thinking about that more, and thought that would make a great starting place–a woman like my sister who wasn’t really very interested in college but went because it was expected of her…only to fall in love, get married, and drop out when she had twins. I really like the idea of a woman who’s not yet thirty, who wasn’t really sure what she wanted from life and then sidetracked to wife-and-mother, but with her kids now off to college and her husband having died…what do you do for the rest of your life when you’re a widow at thirty-eight and your kids have left for college? And the more I thought about her, the more I liked her and wanted to write about her.

Why did you choose the Irish Channel as the neighborhood?

My Scotty series is set in the French Quarter, and the Chanse series was set in the lower Garden District (where I’ve always lived and always default to it for that very reason), so I wanted to do something different this time out. Before I moved here, I had friends who lived in the Channel and I loved their house and I loved their neighborhood. I had already started writing a novella set in their old house, and I thought, why not use that same house for this series? The Channel did used to be considered a bad part of town, too, when we first moved here (so was the lower Garden District, which we didn’t know), and so I thought the gentrification issue would work better there than in my neighborhood. That part of the Channel is one I used to spend a lot of time in. As my character mentions in the book, I used to hang out at the Rue de la Course coffee shop at the corner of Magazine and Harmony–it was where I would meet friends for coffee. I’m still bitter it closed.

Similarities in our series: both widows, both have family mysteries, both live in the Irish Channel, you have jokes about potholes, I have a plot point about them. Let’s talk about NOLA’s potholes.

Oh, the potholes! Ironically, an active one ate one of my car tires a few weeks ago. Usually, if I am going someplace and have to turn around, there’s usually room for me to make a U-turn or I can turned into a driveway and turn around. This particular day the bar on the corner had reopened after being sold, closed, and renovated for a few months. So, there were cars everywhere, including blocking the driveways, and I thought, fine, I’ll just go around the block, which I hadn’t done in years. Because I hadn’t done that i years, I forgot there’s a massive pothole right when you make the turn so you have to jog left to avoid it. I hit the pothole, hard, and when I did, I thought oh that’s not good and as I continued driving I noticed the car was pulling to the left–which was the tire that hit the pothole. Sure enough, it was flat. It had a nail in it, and I happened to hit the pothole perfectly so that the nail dragged, tearing a hole in the tire. So, yes, New Orleans is a city of potholes–all different shapes, sizes, and depths. When the streets flood the water hides the potholes, and if they are really deep…the one on our street (which is reforming after being filled in and paved over for like the fiftieth time) ate a pick-up truck when that end of the street flooded a few years ago, so our street was blocked until the water went down and a tow truck could get in.

You have a Nolier than thou joke – I have OhNo!LA, an app that’s a runner in the book.

I wish I could claim credit for that joke, but I stole it from Bill Loefhelm, another New Orleans crime writer when we were on a panel together talking about writing about New Orleans and the need to get things right. He responded to a question about accuracy by saying something like “Yes, you really don’t want to set off the Nolier-Than-Thou people” and it still makes me laugh whenever I think about it because it’s so true! In all honesty, I am one of those people–nothing is more infuriating to me than reading something set in New Orleans that doesn’t get it right–but I’ve loosened up some as I’ve gotten older. I was even wondering if that was still a thing while I was writing this book…but since it’s come out I’ve seen any number of locals posting reviews and comments about “how (he) got New Orleans right” so it is still a thing. (And I’m glad and grateful people think I get ir right.)

How would you say your past experiences and jobs in life inform your writing?

I always say that life is material, as is every experience you’ve had. I’ve had so many jobs over the years and have been fired so many times I can’t keep track of them all anymore. But I also had a huge variety of jobs–fast food to retail to food service to banking to insurance to an airline to being a personal trainer to managing a health club to being a magazine editor to my present job working in an STI clinic as a sexual health counselor. Whenever I am creating a character and need a job for them, I inevitably fall back on one of my experiences. The main character in The Orion Mask worked at an airport–I’ve written a lot of characters who work for airlines–and so I try to get away from my own experiences once I catch myself doing it again. I have always had jobs that required interaction with other humans, so I’ve gotten to observe a lot of human behavior. I’ve written about high school students in Kansas (where I went to high school). I’ve written about fraternities because I was in one (hard as it is to believe now). I played football in high school, I’ve written about football players in high school. The only places I’ve lived that I’ve not written about are Chicago, Houston, and Tampa (I have written about Florida, but just the panhandle, where I spent of time as a kid).

I read a blog post where you talked about your relationship with the city. How has it morphed over the years and where does it stand now? It sounded like doing promotion and writing about the city reignited your love for it. What’s your writing process? You write in different genres. Is the process different?

As sad as it is to admit, it’s very easy when you live here to start taking New Orleans for granted. As I said before, I usually am so focused on what I am doing–work, writing, errands, chores, etc.–that I don’t pay much attention to my surroundings as I should (I think we are all guilty of this to some degree). About a year before the pandemic, my day job moved. I had worked in our office on Frenchmen Street for well over ten years–right across the street from Mona’s, in that block between Decatur and Chartres, so I was a block outside the Quarter five days a week, and we also used to do a lot of testing in the French Quarter gay bars and passing out condoms during Carnival, Southern Decadence, and Halloween. So I used to spend a lot of time in and around the Quarter. It was lovely–I could go to the Walgreens or the Rouse’s on Royal and there was a bank branch on Chartres Street, too, by the Supreme Court building. Anytime I didn’t have anything in the house to pack for lunch I could just walk into the Quarter and get something not only amazing but inexpensive. I used to walk past where Scotty lives all the time. After we moved into our new building in the 7th Ward, I don’t go into the Quarter much anymore. So I was starting to feel a bit disconnected from New Orleans already before the pandemic shut everything down. But I realized when I started doing promo for this book that I am not disconnected from New Orleans. I’ve just lived here so long that I don’t take as much note of the unusual or the weird as I used to–it’s become normalized to me. I’ve acclimated. It’s still just as weird and wild and crazy here as it always has been, it just doesn’t strike me as weird and wild and crazy the way it used to. I need to take more walks and spend more time exploring the city and checking things out. I don’t know if all the hidden places I used to take friends to eat in the Quarter are still there, either. Maybe after Mardi Gras…

The Last Time

I made quote again yesterday, which was nice; at this rate while I’ll be killing myself over the course of this weekend to get this finished by the end of day January 1, I should be okay. It’s 52 degrees this morning but it feels pretty chilly in the apartment this morning as I swill my coffee and try to figure out what to write here without boring the hell out of everyone. I ran errands after work yesterday and wasn’t terribly tired when I got home–but for the life of me cannot recall what I did once I did get home. I know I put the dishes away and the laundry was already done, and I didn’t have the brainpower to read anything, so I guess I must have just watched history videos on Youtube until Paul came downstairs and we watched a few more episodes of Sex Lives of College Girls, which remains hilariously funny and clever. I also got some books in the mail yesterday–the ones I ordered with Christmas money–more Ruth Ware, That Summer on Frenchmen Street by Chris Clarkson, Blackwater Falls by Ausma Zehanat Khan, and a nonfiction, Bad Gays: A Homosexual History by Huw Lemmey and Ben Miller–and have a few more on the way.

I feel a little off-kilter this week because of the holiday on Monday; I kept thinking yesterday was Monday and this morning I keep thinking it’s Tuesday. This will probably persist until my work-at-home Friday, and again I’ll be messed up next week because of a holiday on Monday. It takes so little these days to fry my brain and make it unworkable, seriously. I slept really well last night. Scooter continues to get into the bed and cuddle with me once I slip under the covers; last night I was already asleep by the time he joined me, and it wasn’t until Paul got into bed and woke me that I realized the cat was sleeping curled up with me and purring. It’s nice–he’s very particular and only likes one side, and I have to be facing that way or he won’t cuddle. I’m sure it’s nothing more than the cold weather and the bed is probably the warmest place in the apartment when someone is in it, but I’m going to continue to appreciate my cat’s affection in the meantime.

I have some errands to run today after work as well–yay–but tomorrow is the last day I have to get up super-early this week, so I am going to not mind that at all after work today. I also get to leave work early–a vagary of working hours with holidays in the pay week left me with extra time so I can leave early one day, and while perhaps I should have chosen Thursday as my day to leave early, I thought tomorrow made the most sense predicated on our appointment schedule. This week has been a light work week schedule-wise; to the point where I am not sure it makes sense to have the clinic open in the first place. Fortunately, those decisions are well above my pay-grade, and honestly, if I have to be there anyway the clinic might as well be open while we’re at it, you know? This is always a slow week; who wants to get an STI test after Christmas and before New Year’s? (Okay, granted it’s smart to get checked out for anything sexually transmitted before New Year’s Eve, just in case–but it’s already too late for the results to come back in time for treatment, so before Christmas is really the sweet spot for your New Year’s Eve get drunk/get laid plans.)

Heavy heaving sigh.

I should probably spend more time being reflective about the passing of time and the advancing of my age, what with another year turning and all this weekend, but the truth is I barely even remember the beginning of this year! I know I was supposed to go to New York in January and the resurgent pandemic at the time kiboshed those plans; yet I did manage to make it to Albuquerque for Left Coast Crime in either February or March. I traveled quite a bit in 2022, especially considering how little I had traveled in the previous two years. And as I said the other day, I accomplished a lot more this past year than I would have thought once I started thinking about it. The year was bookended by book releases, too–#shedeservedit coming out in January, A Streetcar Named Murder coming out in December–and while I didn’t spend as much time writing this year as I would have liked (which is the case for every year, let’s get honest and real for a moment) I did manage to get some writing done this year. I’d like to get even more done in 2023; one of the goals for the new year is to make writing more of a priority in my life. I want to get at least two, if not three, books written in 2023, as well as finish the novellas and some other short stories.

Ambitions. I have a few.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. I feel good today, rested and relaxed and all that marvelous stuff, and hope to also have a good day. I hope the same for you, Constant Reader, as this year continues to run down like a clock in need of winding (does anyone else remember clocks you have to wind?), and may your day be as bright and lovely as you are at your best.

You Make It Feel Like Christmas

Christmas Eve! It’s warmer today than yesterday by a full six whole degrees; it’s 32 degrees instead of 26, as it was yesterday. The The apartment is over all toasty and warm–but the kitchen and upstairs bathroom are not. They are a bearable degree of cold, but I do have the space heater going this morning in here as I type this and swill coffee and wake-up gradually. I slept magnificently last night, and feel very rested and relaxed this morning, which is quite marvelous. I hit my word count somehow yesterday–three thousand words–and hope to do the same today. Today has a higher goal–I’m feeling rather ambitious this morning–and Paul has his trainer this afternoon and is working on a grant proposal, so I should have the solitude I need to bang out the count I need to achieve today. I picked up the mail and ran some other errands yesterday–including taking Paul to Michaels on Claiborne to pick up a gift for me. You’d think by now I’d know he’s going to flout the “no gift” rule every year, because he has and yet every year I think he’s going to stick to it. I think it’s part of that failing memory thing I have going. Anyway, he had the front page of the New Orleans Times-Picayune/Advocate from the morning after the 2020 National Championship game framed and mounted; it’s a full page shot of Joe Burrow running downfield holding up both hands with his forefingers extended, with the headline PERFECT. It’s mounted on gold paper and the frame is purple, and I absolutely love it. Paul always won Christmas when we used to get plan on getting each other gifts, primarily because he pays attention to things I say and takes notes all year to plan for Christmas; I’ll never forget that marvelous year he got us tickets to see the Monte Carlo Ballet Company’s Romeo and Juliet, which I absolutely loved–all because I’d casually mentioned once that I loved ballet and wanted to write about it one day, despite knowing next to nothing about it. (Aside: I keep thinking I want to write a Sherlock Holmes story built around a Nijinsky performance in New Orleans; someday perhaps.)

We also watched, and greatly enjoyed, Glass Onion last night. I actually liked it better than Knives Out, in all honesty, and I love that this is turning into a film series. It reminds me so much of Agatha Christie at her best, and is there a better compliment to give a mystery film than a Christie comparison? I think not. I think Daniel Craig (whom I’ve loved since he emerged from the surf in that square cut swimsuit in Casino Royale, and quickly became one of my favorite James Bonds) is simply fantastic. The Southern accent grated a bit on me at first in Knives Out, but by the end of the movie it didn’t bother me anymore and it didn’t even make me recoil the first time I heard it last night. I think I’d like to write something along the lines of these films sometime–the big cast of suspects, the great detective unraveling the case–because I’ve always wanted to do an Agatha Christie style/classic vintage mystery type house party murder mystery. (Note to self: reread The Affair of the Blood-stained Egg Cosy)

But mother of God, it was cold yesterday when we were out in it. As I said to Paul–the entire world was out shopping yesterday because of course it was; we had to park a very long way from Michaels–“I can hang with this cold for a couple of days, but months of it would make me homicidal.” My grocery pick-up order ended up being canceled; they were unable to get it together for the time I’d selected, and the message was up to two hours minimum delay. At first I was a bit stunned, but then realized everyone and their mom is ordering groceries for pick-up today, and I bet the orders are a lot larger than usual. So I stopped by Rouses, they had a turkey breast in the freezer section, so I picked it up and carried it to the small order register, canceled my pick-up order (all I really needed with the turkey breast; everything else could wait) and then when I got home, put in another order for pick-up on Monday, since I have the day off.

Picking up the mail also ended up with a great gift to the Lost Apartment from the President: there was a stack of envelopes in the mailbox from the IRS for Paul, thirty in all. Turns out his student loans had all been forgiven, retroactively to 2017; the stack of envelopes were refund checks for every payment he’s made since then. So, yes, only more proof that our votes for President Biden and Democrats down the line was the right choices (and always have been for queer people). So keep your “how fucking dare you forgive student loan debt” shit to your fucking selves, you selfish assholes. This did, and will continue, to make a significant difference in our lives going forward; and can I just say, I can’t remember the last time any government policy had such an impact on us directly? Obviously, the Lawrence v. Texas and Obergefell Supreme Court decisions had a macro impact on us, but this is an intimate micro effect that made us both very happy yesterday. And what lovely timing, too–right before Christmas. Let’s go, Brandon indeed.

I get a text from Entergy this morning warning of potential brownouts because of high demand for energy with the cold weather; I would imagine this is because the cold is effecting everywhere, so there’s nowhere Entergy can borrow power from if the supply runs low. That’s kind of scary, really, because people could literally freeze to death down here; imagine that! How weird would it be for someone to freeze to death down in southeastern Louisiana? It does make me a bit concerned about the homeless population here–we have a considerable one–so I hope they all found shelter and a place to stay warm.

And I think as soon as I finish this I am going to get the turkey started in the slow cooker, and curl up in my easy chair with my coffee, a blanket, and Dashing Through the Snowbirds by Donna Andrews. I think my new Christmas tradition every year will be just that; I’ll read Donna’s Christmas mystery for Christmas every year.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

I’ve actually never watched the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer television special–when I was a kid I hated that kind of animation, so I was uninterested in any animated special that used that kind and never watched–but it’s so ubiquitous in our culture that I know enough about it to continue being uninterested in watching it. So, no, young Greg was never a big fan of Rankin-Bass shows. Sue me. And I’ve heard enough about them that it’s like I watched them loyally and religiously every year. A Charlie Brown Christmas always used to be my favorite that I watched every year–maybe I should watch it again this year on Christmas Eve, for old times’ sake and auld lang syne and all that kind of stuff.

It’s not as cold this morning as it was yesterday, but it’s nice to be inside a nice warm house. I slept well again last night, which was lovely and nice, and I feel relatively well rested this morning. I worked on the book quite a bit yesterday, which felt great, and I ran some errands on my way home. It started raining when I left the office yesterday and was terribly windy; the wind was that biting damp cold that’s just miserable. WE also had a thunderstorm last night that Paul had to walk home in, poor darling, sweeping into the Lost Apartment with his umbrella and the winds like an orphan of the storm. Once he was home we finished off Wednesday, which was delightful and we greatly enjoyed. The entire season was actually a mystery, which I wasn’t expecting and was a clever way to do the show, actually. I hope it’s renewed.

Because it was raining and cold, I did think to check the mailbox here at the house–which I never do, but when I got home I remembered our neighbor in the front was out of town so I needed to bring his mail in so it wouldn’t get wet–which turned out to be a good thing; I’d gotten one of those notorious camera tickets, which ironically I had just been talking about recently with a friend, and I said “I haven’t gotten one in quite some time”–well, I guess I spoke it into being and it manifested. Sigh. So I had to pay that, of course–I am a good citizen, after all–but I hate that they send those things to my home address and not my mailing address; I never think to look in the mailbox here precisely because we have a mailing service. I never get mail here at the apartment–except from the Department of Motor Vehicles or from the state.

But Thursday night is when we’re supposed to have the big temperature drop of thirty to forty degrees. Much as I hate the thought, I could get up Friday morning, Christmas Eve Eve, and go make groceries rather than trying to do it on the way home Friday, but I am leaning toward the old “it’s smarter to get it over with” mentality. I guess it will also depend on how tired I am when I get off work that day. I think when I get home tonight, after I work on the book for awhile I am going to curl up in my chair and read for a while. I’ve not been reading a lot lately because my mind hasn’t been there, really, but I had wanted to get this finished so I could read Donna Andrews’ Christmas mystery for the year on the actual holiday. Wouldn’t that be a great way to spend actual Christmas? Bundled up with my blanket in my easy chair with my coffee and a Donna Andrews mystery? I don’t think there would be any better way to spend the day, actually.

I am really looking forward to this weekend, if for no other reason than being able to have four straight days off from work. Sure, I usually don’t go in on Fridays and work remotely, but I don’t even have to do that this weekend!

And on that totally boring note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Tuesday, and I’ll be here again tomorrow morning.

Carol

I have to go to the West Bank this morning to buy two new tires for the car. An active pothole destroyed my driver’s side front tire the other day, and so I need to get at least one new tire, probably two so their wear pattern will match. The tires are supposed to be good for 50k miles; I don’t even have 30k on my car yet, which makes this even more frustrating. Perhaps this is my punishment for writing about potholes the other day on the Wickeds blog, with “The Orange Cone”? I may have angered the pothole gods, and they must be appeased to the tune of several hundred dollars.

Ah, well, there’s nothing to do but go whip out a credit card and pay for new tires. At least I can take Wanda Morris’ Anywhere You Run with me to read while I wait for the tires to be mounted and put on the car.

I was very tired yesterday when I got home from work. I didn’t sleep well Monday night (did better last night, frankly) and so was already tired going into the day. I was monitoring my blog post at Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen so I could reply to everyone’s comments, and they were keeping me occupied between clients and the end of my shift. When I got home, I had a few hours to make the kitchen presentable before going live with Ellen Byron and Murder by the Book, which was a lot of fun. Paul came home as we were wrapping it up, so we could watch another episode of Victoria’s Secret: Angels and Demons, which moved on to the Epstein/Ghislaine Maxwell connection to Victoria’s Secret, and it seems as though human trafficking and models being pimped out by their agencies might very well have been happening in the industry before Epstein, from the looks of things. B

But the event went really well–it was nice seeing John from the store again, and he said very nice things about my book beforehand, including “After reading it and liking it a lot, I have to ask, why did it take so long for you to write a cozy?” which I thought was the highest compliment I could ever receive. There have been times that I have felt like a carpetbagger in the subgenre; poaching in territory not my own. But one thing I will say about the cozy subgenre–the authors and readers are incredibly kind, supportive and welcoming to new authors entering their territory. It’s been lovely seeing all the support from other cozy writers and readers on social media in the weeks leading up to the book’s release, and it’s also something I’m really not used to, to be honest. I don’t want to make it sound like I haven’t had support from colleagues and readers before–because that wouldn’t be the truth–but this entire experience, from the announcement of the contract to the cover reveal to the release, has been so incredibly lovely and affirming that like John, I wonder why it took me so long to join the ranks of the cozy writers? Ellen and I did agree on camera that my Scotty series was a more of an edgy cozy series that breaks some of the rules (profanity, sex, violence and blood on the page) than anything else; Scotty may be a licensed private eye but no one ever hires him–he just stumbles into bodies and mysteries all the time through no effort of his own.

Christ, I am so behind on my Scotty book. Heavy heaving sigh.

(Even in the midst of self-promotion, I can always feel guilty about the progress of whatever it is I am working on at the moment.)

After I get the tires put on the car and paid for, then it’s off to the office to finish my work day. This week has been a weird one; sick on Monday, flat tire, promotional events, book launch, and now a morning spent at the car dealership. Not exactly how I saw the week going Sunday morning while I was drinking coffee and planning ahead–which is another great example of ‘man plans, the gods laugh”–and now today is even Pay-the-Bills Day and I didn’t really notice because. well, I need to get to the dealership this morning and buy new tires…all the while hoping the spare makes it to the West Bank intact. (It’s supposedly good for fifty miles and I haven’t gotten anywhere close to that kind of mileage since changing the tire.)

But life always has a habit of interfering with your best laid plans, doesn’t it?

And on that note, I am hopping into the shower and heading over to the West Bank. Wish me well, Constant Reader, and that it’s quick and easy to get in and out. Fingers crossed, at any rate.

It’s All Over Now

Well, it’s Tuesday morning and all I have to say about that is good. Monday was a dreadful day, and the less said about it the better. I woke up feeling ill, and it was just all downhill from there. The only good thing I can say about yesterday was I got to spend the entire morning lying down, covered up in blankets, reading Wanda M. Morris’ Anywhere You Run, which is fantastic. I didn’t get to finish reading the book–hopefully that glorious day will come soon–and losing yet another day of work on the book was quite a savage blow. Tonight after work I have to do an on-line event for Murder by the Book with the always delightful Ellen Byron, which will leave me exhausted as those things always do, so tonight is pretty much out. Heavy heaving sigh. But at least college football is over, which frees up my entire day Saturday, which is nice. And I feel well this morning–I knew taking Claritin and resting all day (sort of) would stave off the coming sinus infection (but I’ll take another one today just to be on the safe side). We also started watching the Victoria’s Secret documentary–I think it’s called Victoria’s Secret: Angels and Demons–because the owner of the company was weirdly involved with Jeffrey Epstein? It’s interesting enough. I vaguely remembered the collapse of the brand–and who knew there were so many other stores, all belonging to the same person? Remember Structure?–but I didn’t remember that there was an Epstein connection.

Oh! I am also guesting at Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen, with my slow cooker meatball recipe. Today is also the official release day for A Streetcar Named Murder, so happy release day to me!

It still seems a bit weird to me to have this book out in the world at long last. It feels like I’ve been waiting for this release date for a very long time, and now it is here. Will people like it? Will people buy it? Will my regular readers like this completely different (not really, but you know what I mean) type of book from me? Naturally, I hope so; I’ve been really surprised and delighted by the unexpectedly and overwhelmingly positive response to the book thus far. I’m not used to it.

But just as it occurred to me the other day that my perceptions of New Orleans have changed–i.e. that all the little oddities and eccentricities that used to amuse me and give me things to write about now seem commonplace and normal to me now–I think my perception on my writing has also started changing a little bit–which is really lovely and nice and long overdue. I’ve talked about this before–the dichotomy of how I was raised to always be humble and never, ever brag about myself–and how its really the exact worst way to raise any kind of artist. Being an artist (or writer) is difficult enough with those constant self-doubts and “do I really know what I am doing here” and everyone’s favorite, Imposter Syndrome. If you don’t know what Imposter Syndrome is, consider yourself very lucky. For me, it manifests itself in “I’m really just faking it and don’t really have any insights because I literally don’t know what I am doing, but as long as I can keep fooling people I’ll keep going until they realize the Empress has no clothes.” My perception of my own writing and my own work is slowly starting to shift–yes, Constant Reader, after twenty-odd years and over forty books, etc etc etc, I am starting to feel some confidence in my actually work. Rereading A Streetcar Named Murder the other week–I had to do so because I’d forgotten a lot about the book in the meantime, so I could do some more Blatant Self-Promotional blog entries–and realized it wasn’t, in fact, terrible but was actually an enjoyable read. (This may not seem like much to you, Constant Reader, but for me this was huge.) I do think that this book, along with my last three (Royal Street Reveillon, Bury Me in Shadows, #shedeservedit) is some of the best work of my career thus far. And when I was rereading the old Scottys to prepare me for writing the new one, I was impressed with them rather than wincing. I think maybe I’ve managed to flip the “editorial” switch off when I read my books again? So rather than rereading them and catching errors or thinking oh I could have said this or that better, I read them as they were and for what they are. It was definitely some major progress, methinks, towards a better mental attitude for me, not only for my work but for my life in general.

It only took me over sixty-one years to start getting there.

A lot of it, I think, comes from my determination to not take myself seriously, which probably goes back to my childhood. I know the self-deprecatory shit comes from a mentality of if I make fun of myself I can beat everyone else to it which was a self-defense mechanism I developed to shield myself from being mocked, made fun of, and insulted by other kids. I can’t claim it as a gay experience because I would imagine every queer kid’s experience is different and there are probably some who never were bullied, were never made fun of, were never the butt of everyone else’s jokes as an easy target because I didn’t fit the societal image of what a little boy was supposed to be. I think I was seven or eight the first time someone called me a fairy? (At the time, I didn’t realize they meant fairy as in Tinkerbell and not ferry as in a boat that conveys cars over water; I couldn’t understand the ferry reference until a few years later when it was accompanied by such lovely terms as fag, faggot, femme, homo, cocksucker and so forth; when I was conditioned to be ashamed of myself and of who I was, through no fault of my own….and well, if I make fun of myself I can head them off before they go down that road.) This of course presupposed that people were going to make fun of me or call me names–and I can now see how toxic and self-destructive that actually can be. You should never default to the idea that other people will make fun of you.

You can see how that mentality can be damaging to a writer.

I carried a lot of baggage into this career that I should have discarded a long time ago.

I am, if nothing else, always a work in progress.

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 tomorrow.

Say Goodbye

Christine McVie died yesterday, or it was announced yesterday. It came as a bit of a shock to me, particularly realizing that she was nearly eighty. Eighty. I never really think too much about how old celebrities are (unless someone is making a big deal about it) and like people I know, I think my brain freezes everyone in amber at the age they were when I first found out about them/met them.

I discovered Fleetwood Mac when I was in high school. One of my friends was really into them, to the point where it was almost tiresome, so I was initially resistant to their allure. The fact that the band had three different lead singer/songwriters who all had their own distinctive style didn’t help–I had heard “Dreams” and “Go Your Own Way” and “You Make Loving Fun” all on the radio but had no idea it was all the same band because they sounded like three different ones. One day when I was at my friend’s house, he put the Rumours album on the stereo while we were studying…and I not only liked it, I loved it. I was stunned to learn it was all the same band! The next time I went to a record store (or a department store that had a records section) I bought the first of three copies of the album I owned on vinyl (I wore the first two out, and the third was well on its way to unplayability but we’d moved on to CD’s by then; Rumours was one of the first three CD’s I bought once I had a CD player; that CD is in the glovebox of my car right now because I do have a CD player in the car I bought), and then went back and bought the first Fleetwood Mac album released after Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham joined the band (I also hadn’t know they had recorded “Rhiannon” and “Say You Love Me,” either). From thereon out, I bought every new Fleetwood Mac album on the day it was released, and I’ve enjoyed them all. Rumours is the gold standard, but one of the things I’ve always loved about the Mac was that every album was different, had a different sound and structure, than any of the preceding ones. And of course, while I definitely could tell who wrote and sang which song by simply listening, I never tired of them. Some of the albums aren’t as good as others–we all have preferences–but Rumours has remained my favorite album for almost fifty years.

Fifty years. Fuck.

Stevie Nicks, of course, is the band member I became the biggest fan of–of the three, Lindsey has always been my least favorite, despite the fact my favorite song of theirs is his, “Go Your Own Way,” which is absolute genius–but I always loved Christine’s voice and her songs. Some of the ballads (“Oh Daddy” and “Songbird”) aren’t my favorites–I really have to be in the mood to listen to either–but she is responsible for some great Fleetwood Mac music–“Say You Love Me,” “Little Lies,” “Hold Me,” “Mystified,” “Everywhere,” “Don’t Stop,” among many others–and her voice! So smooth, so beautiful, so calming and capable. She released a solo album in the mid-1980’s called simply Christine McVie which is another one of my favorite albums of all time, too–there’s not a bad track on it, and I have it on my Spotify–listen to it and thank me later–and I actually should listen to it more myself.

I knew eventually the day would come when the door would close on the possibility of any new Fleetwood Mac music from my favorite line-up of the band, but I rather hate that the day has finally come.

But I choose to be grateful to Christine McVie for the legacy of great music she left for us rather than sad that she’s gone. She was a gift we didn’t deserve.

Bleed to Love Her

Monday morning and all is well in the Lost Apartment as I swill coffee and brace myself for the day (and week) ahead.

I returned from Kentucky on Friday. Both the voyage up and back–despite their great length and the brittle stiffness of my aging body–didn’t seem quite so bad or to take as long as they usually do. I did make great time in both directions, while listening to two audiobooks (Ruth Ware’s The Woman in Cabin 10 on the way up, Carol Goodman’s The Disinvited Guest on the way back; both are superb and highly recommended) but of course once I got home on Friday night I was quite exhausted. I spent Saturday trying to get caught up on the apartment itself while football games played in the background (more on that later). I did a lot of laundry, a lot of dishes, ran errands and made groceries, before finally settling in to watch the LSU/Texas A&M game, which was disappointing (more on that later). Yesterday I got up early (I’ve been getting up early a lot lately) and chose to stay off-line for the most part. I did clean out the junk out of my inbox, wrote up the books I read while on my trip for blog entries, and wrote another blatant self-promotion post for A Streetcar Named Murder while also trying to get a handle on everything I need to get done for this coming week. I felt very well-rested yesterday at long last. I didn’t have as much trouble sleeping while I was away as I usually do, which was cool–I found another sleep-aid that seems to be working very nicely–but Friday night I didn’t sleep as well as I thought I would, given how worn out I was from the drive. Saturday night’s sleep, however, was quite marvelous.

Ah, the Insomnia Chronicles. How I long for the day when my sleep isn’t of concern (or at least as not as much interest) to me.

The weather was also kind of terrible when I got back–raining and humid, but cool; the kind where you aren’t sure if you need to turn on the heat or the air, and yesterday there were tornadoes and high winds in the river and bayou parishes outside of New Orleans. Yesterday however was beautiful; sunny with blue skies with the low in the mid-sixties and the high in the mid-seventies. Not bad for Christmas season, is it? It’s also hard to wrap my mind around the idea that it’s Christmas already, to be honest. I got a great Kindle deal on a collection of Christmas crime short stories, which I am really looking forward to digging into–perhaps a story a day for the season? The Christmas Murder Mystery project? (You know I love me some projects to work on.) It’s also weird that it’s the holiday season again, which means Carnival is also right around the block. YIKES. This also means I need to start planning around the parade schedule and when I need to leave work and so forth. Ugh, much as I love Carnival, it’s always stressful and exhausting, if fun and delightful.

It was an interesting weekend of college football. The Mississippi-Mississippi State game on Thanksgiving was a lot of fun, right up to its crazy end; South Carolina somehow managed to beat Clemson; and of course, Michigan blew out Ohio State in Columbus. This kind of set the stage for the LSU game on Saturday night–I had a very queasy feeling about the game, partly because it seemed as though everyone was looking ahead to next week’s SEC title game with Georgia and the possibility of a play-off berth for the Tigers; but Texas A&M always plays LSU hard, no matter how bad their record is, and for some reason they’ve decided LSU is their big rivalry in the conference. The game looked awful; LSU was playing very sloppy on both sides of the ball and my heart and spirit continued to flag with each missed tackle and each missed opportunity. It was disappointing, to be sure, but on the other hand, I am thrilled to death with how the season went. No one gave LSU a shot at having a winning record, let alone beating Alabama and winning the West division, so I am choosing to be grateful for a wonderful winning season after two seasons of mediocrity and looking forward to an even better, more glittering future for the Tigers. I have faith in Coach Kelly, I have faith in what he is building there, and who knows? In a year or two we may win it all again. GEAUX TIGERS!

In other blatant self-promotional news, I also appeared recently on Alexia Gordon’s The Cozy Corner, which was a lot of fun, and I also appeared on Dru’s Book Musing, and how lovely that she gave me such a wonderful view. Thanks to both Dru and Alexia, both being lovely people who have gone out of their way to be kind to me and A Streetcar Named Murder, for which I will always be eternally grateful. It’s hard to believe the book is going to be published soon! And don’t worry, there will be plenty more blatant self-promotion to come.

PLENTY.

I also spent some good time with the book yesterday and it’s not nearly as bad as I thought it might be, as I feared it would be. Yes, the first half needs some work, but not nearly as much as I had thought and I also went through and made a character list as well as outlined the first half. Tomorrow I am going to work on the edits and finishing the outline for the rest of the book; and I am also going to write in and ask for more time. I never finish on time, do I? But the book is good, there’s lots of material for the second half, and I am kind of excited about getting this one completely under control at long last. Huzzah!

We also binged 1899 yesterday; it’s from the same people who did the superlative German series Dark, and had the added bonus of having one of our favorite actors from Elité, Miguel Bernardeau, in the cast as well. It’s delightfully creepy and strange, and you never have a very good sense of what is going on (like Dark), so of course we were glued to the set the entire time. It’s quite good, actually; I’m not sure how I feel yet about the final episode other than curiosity about how that is going to lead into a second season–because the finale raised more questions than it answered (like a good finale), but I’ll be happy to continue watching.

I feel rested this morning, though, which is lovely. I am sure by the middle of the week I’ll be tired and short of temper again, but for now, for this morning, I am going to just enjoy myself feeling rested and relaxed in the meantime. I have, as always, an insane amount of work to get done this week, but right now I am going to enjoy the peace and quiet of this morning before I have to start getting ready to leave for work; I even got up earlier than I usually do on Mondays.

And on that note, I am heading headfirst into the spice mines. Have a lovely Monday morning, Constant Reader, and I’ll chat at you again tomorrow morning.

Come Sail Away

Nothing will get my attention more quickly than a Daphne du Maurier comparison.

I’d been meaning to get around to reading Ruth Ware since her The Woman in Cabin 10 broke her out in the crime writing community. I’d heard lots of good things about her work from reviewers and people on social media, and as her career continued to grow and develop it seemed like all of her books–while similar, in some ways, to each other–were rather dramatically different from each other. I began acquiring copies of her books, unable to decide where to start while each new one joined the TBR pile and began collecting dust. When I saw someone had compared her The Death of Mrs. Westaway to du Maurier and Rebecca, that got my attention and I decided to start there. I listened to it on one of my drives to Kentucky and loved, loved, LOVED it.

So, while planning for my recent trip up, I decided to listen to The Woman in Cabin 10, and have been admonishing myself for the lengthy delay in getting to it ever since finishing. It is quite excellent, and I am finding myself becoming quite a fan of Ruth Ware.

The first inkling that something was wrong was waking in darkness to find the cat pawing at my face. I must have forgotten to shut the kitchen door last night. Punishment for coming home drunk.

“Go away,” I groaned. Delilah mewed and butted me with her head. I tried to bury my face in the pillow but she continued rubbing herself against my ear, and eventually I rolled over and heartlessly pushed her off the bed.

She thumped to the floor with an indignant little meep and I pulled the duvet over my head, but even through the covers I could hear her scratching at the bottom of the door, rattling it in its frame.

The door was closed.

I sat up, my heart suddenly thumping, and Delilah leaped onto my bed with a glad little chirrup, but I snatched her to my chest, stilling her movements, listening.

I might well have forgotten to shut the kitchen door, or I could even have knocked it to without closing it properly. But my bedroom door opened outward–a quirk of the weird layout of my flat. There was no way Delilah could have shut herself inside. Someone must have closed it.

I sat, frozen, holding Delilah’s warm, panting body against my chest and trying to listen.

How’s that for a beginning?

I defy anyone to stop reading after those opening paragraphs, seriously.

Our main character turns out to be Laura Blacklock–nicknamed Lo–who is an aspiring travel journalist working as an assistant at Velocity magazine. Usually her boss is the one who gets to go on trips to write about the experience, but pregnancy has forced her to turn over a rather plum assignment to Lo; taking a cruise on a luxury ship through Scandinavia, including a look at the Northern Lights and exploratory visits to fjords. But as she is preparing for the trip, her flat is broken into while she is in it. This understandably causes her some trauma, and she is already taking medication for anxiety. Shaken up and still having nightmares, she boards the Aurora Borealis in a determined attempt to fulfill her job responsibilities well enough to get a promotion or better assignments. Easier said than done, really; on the first night she hears the toilet in the next cabin–Cabin 10–at the same time realizing she doesn’t have any mascara. She goes to Cabin 10, borrows mascara from a beautiful young woman, and returns to her cabin. Having a few drinks at dinner to calm her nerves even more, she keeps an eye out for the young woman, who never shows. In the middle of the night a sound in the next cabin wakes her, and she goes out onto her veranda to glance around the privacy screen. Before she can get out there she hears a cry, a clank, and a splash; once she is out there she thinks she sees a human hand disappearing into the water, and smear of blood on the glass screen next door. She gets the ship’s security, but Cabin 10 is empty. The man who was staying in there cancelled at the last minute. There is no trace of the girl she met, no trace of anything exceptional having happened in Cabin 10–and the only proof of her story is the mascara tube, which she still has.

No one believes her–and her recent break-in and the anxiety medications, along with the drinking she’s done, make it relatively easy for her claims to be dismissed. Certain she’s a peripheral witness to a murder, Lo starts poking around–eventually finding herself in danger.

I really enjoyed this book. Ware makes you care about Lo, and you root for her to get to the bottom of what’s going on aboard the Aurora. Ware is, indeed, a modern day writer of Gothics in the mid-to-late twentieth century traditions of duMaurier, Victoria Holt and Phyllis A. Whitney, with a generous dash of Mary Stewart as well. Is she being gaslighted, and if so, by whom and why? Who was the woman? What was she doing on board? Why was she murdered? The reader knows Lo is telling the truth, which is a brilliant way of getting reader buy-in for both the character and the story, and the gaslighting is done so well that even the reader sometimes has to question Lo’s sanity; was it alcohol and drug-related PTSD? But as the story progresses and Lo learns more and more about her fellow passengers–this is a press junket, so everyone on board is a professional travel journalist of some sort–she starts putting together the pieces and fragments of information she gathers that gradually reveal the picture of a very clever murderer who won’t stop at anything to get away with their crime, even if it means killing Lo.

Highly recommended–especially if you, like me, love the old books with the woman in a nightgown running away from a scary looking house with a light on in one window on the cover. Cannot wait to read some more of Ruth Ware.

Sidebar: the story itself is very Hitchcockian in style, and of course the gaslighting made me think of the great film Gaslight which defined the word into the vernacular…and made me also think, sadly, of what a greater masterpiece Gaslight might have been had Hitchcock also directed it.

Do You Know

Tuesday and all is well again this morning–at least so far.

Yesterday was very productive. I got some day job things taken care of that needed taking care of, I worked on the book and wrote a chapter, and I managed to get some emails cleaned out of my inbox. I did start feeling a bit fatigued in the later afternoon, so decided to try to take it easy once I got home from the office but managed to plant my ass in my desk chair and get the fucking chapter written. I also managed to read three short stories by Paul Tremblay from his collection Growing Things over the weekend–he’s such a good writer, seriously, you should be reading him–which was nice, and perfect reading for Halloween times.

I had insomnia again last night–which I can’t help but wonder wasn’t tied to the cappuccino I made yesterday morning, but that’s nonsense; I’ve had cappuccinos in the morning and slept well that night, so I don’t know. I guess I was just due for another night of it at some point, and last night just happened to be the lucky night. I don’t feel physically or mentally fatigued this morning, but then again you never know. I have to work in clinic today, face to face with people, and that is usually draining on several levels. Hopefully when I get home tonight I’ll have the energy to write more on the book. But like I said, so far so good this morning. I feel physically rested, at any rate, or no more tired and fatigued than usual when I get up, at any rate.

I can’t believe it’s November already, and there are only two months left in 2022. I am going to Kentucky for Thanksgiving, so I have a lot to get done this month before I leave–I also have to have the heater in my car looked at, because it no longer blows warm air and I cannot drive up there without a working heater in the car because cold–and who knows how much that is going to cost me? Yay. You got to love these out of nowhere extra expenses–I just got a raise so of course now instead of paying down debt I’ll have to add some more, hurray. But it’s necessary, and of course the car is now at that age–almost six–where things might start to go a little wrong here and there. I’ve already had to replace the battery, and I also need a new windshield wiper for the back window.

The good news is I started solving some issues within the book last night after I gave in to Scooter’s demands for a lap to sleep in (he never stays there for longer than half an hour, which makes it even more frustrating to give in to him; he sleeps in my lap long enough to make me lethargic and remove the desire to do anything, which can be a problem. I also did some dishes and am trying to stay on top of the kitchen; I had to stop to make groceries last night on the way home (out of bread, among other things) and will have to again tonight–the store in the CBD didn’t have everything I needed, which was extremely irritating–but I have to go uptown and get the mail after work anyway. I’m still hoping my box o’books of A Streetcar Named Murder are going to arrive soon–I know it seems early since the pub date isn’t until 12/6, but they told me they’d come before the end of the month and….yesterday was the end of the month, and I am nothing if not a completely literal person.

So, anyway, as I was saying, I started solving some issues within the book last night as Scooter purred and slept in my lap and I let my playlist of music videos run on the television, and for the first time in a while I am starting to feel like this book will not be a complete disaster and may actually turn out to be fairly decent. One never knows, does one? And no matter how many books you’ve written in your career, you always fear that somehow the ability to do this is magically going to disappear from your brain overnight, and everything is going to blow up in your face. I literally was considering that very thing this past weekend, thinking that what I really needed to do was just tear up the contract and asked to be released from it and just hibernate in the apartment for a few months. But that was probably chemical–there are so many chemical issues in my brain–and an unconscious or subconscious reaction to Paul not being home, which probably depressed me and imbalanced the delicate balance of everything in my brain, which is why I wasn’t able to get very much done over the weekend the way I had hoped and planned to. Paul won’t get home until Saturday evening, and while yes, this Saturday is the double-header of Georgia-Tennessee followed by LSU-Alabama, I should be able to get up in the morning and get things done before it’s time to start watching the games–and of course, I can always just have the game on while I clean and so forth. Heavy heaving sigh.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines for the morning. Have a great day, Constant Reader and I will check in with you again tomorrow morning, as always.