Friday and working at home. I slept in a bit–almost to eight–but of course, the primary problem of getting up at six four mornings per week has of course trained Scooter that he gets breakfast at six every day, so at six every morning if he hasn’t been fed he raises holy hell. For a sweet cuddlebug of a cat, he can certainly yowl quite loudly when he puts his mind to it. So I got up and fed him before going back to sleep for another hour or so. I feel rested this morning, which is quite lovely when you are heading into a weekend with lots and lots to do; it’s nice to not feel tired in such a situation. I am going to try to fix the dryer this morning before I start working–wish me luck–and of course, the Lost Apartment, as always on Friday, has become a disaster area over the course of the week. But the weekend dawns anew, and so maybe, just maybe, I can maybe even get sort of caught up on what I am behind on?
Perish the thought, perchance to dream.
I am also looking forward to digging into Cheryl Head’s Time’s Undoing, which looks fantastic and I’ve been itching to read since I first learned of it, and of course, Bobby Mathews’ Living the Gimmick, which I am also excited to dip into. So many good books on hand to get through, so little time. Heavy heaving sigh. And of course, if I fix the dryer and it actually works–I am very nervous about this, as one can probably imagine; but I am equipped with Youtube videos to help and I do think it’s kind of sad that I am so unskilled with tools and so forth. The three things I wish I could do over? I wish I had taken Auto Shop and Typing in high school, and I wish I’d learned how to build things with, you know, hammers and wrenches and so forth. I hate not being able to feel confident about doing simple repair work, like replacing a fuse in a dryer (which may not be the issue with the dryer, but this is the only thing I can potentially do myself without calling in a repairman, at which point it’s probably less expensive to simply replace it–which is disgusting. We’ve really become, over the course of my life, a disposable society where it’s easier and less expensive to simply replace something rather than get it repaired), but I am also looking at it this way: even if the fuse wasn’t the problem–and I do think that’s what it is–if I can successfully move the dryer out, disassemble the back, and replace the fuse, I am going to take that as a win even if that doesn’t fix the problem, because at least I tried before simply replacing it.
Today feels like it might be a good day. Grief isn’t linear, as I am constantly being reminded by those who have been through this already, and I also instinctively know that; I can remember other traumatic life events in the past being this way; one day or two is a good day, then you have a low, shitty day, and so it goes, on and on ad nauseum, ad infinitum. I also kind of feel like I can actually get something written after work tonight? I do have some errands I need to run at some point later today–which is always exhausting–but I think I can get away with staying in most of the weekend. I do want to wash the car and vacuum it out; I’ve put nearly three thousand miles on it in February, so there’s a lot of wrappers and trash and debris in the floorboards, plus dirt tracked in from rest stops and so forth. I want to be better about taking care of the car, if that makes sense? I am doing a great job with it as far as maintenance (the fact that newer cars don’t require as much regular maintenance as the old ones I am used to is an enormous help in that regard) is concerned, even having the tires rotated regularly. The car is dented and dinged up, and perhaps someday I will get those dents and dings repaired, but on the other that does not keep the car from functioning properly and therefore that’s not a priority for me. Maybe someday, but certainly not now.
Ugh, the kitchen/office is such a disaster area. I really need to do something about that…and that is probably the proper and best way to transition over into the spice mines. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader, and I’ll check in with you again tomorrow morning.
My God, my email inbox is completely out of control.
At one point in mid-January and before February I had it almost emptied; there was blank space at the bottom of the inbox for more emails to be viewed but there weren’t any. It was a glorious feeling, frankly, for the few weeks it lasted before everything went off the rails. I suspect now that I can get through it all even faster than I did back in mid-January, but it’s sooooooo daunting.
Yesterday I swung by Home Depot to buy the fuse I need for the dryer, which they don’t keep in stock. The helpful man in the Appliance Accessories aisle told me of one place I may be able to find it in stock, and so I called them (and Lowe’s) from the parking lot and found that neither do, so I went ahead and ordered it on-line and it should be here Tuesday. The suspense, right? Will we need a new dryer, or will Greg somehow be able to repair the one they already have? There will undoubtedly be an update on this fascinating case on Wednesday; in which we either have a working dryer or have gone ahead and ordered a new one. Sigh. I also swung by the mail and the Fresh Market; I am going to have to actually venture into the grocery store at some point this weekend (Sunday morning most likely) because I also woke up to an email that my grocery order was canceled due to the system at the store being down this morning; it was originally postponed from yesterday to today, so I think the system has been having problems for a hot moment already; although I do suppose I could order them from the store on the West Bank, which means I could stop at Sonic on the way home and…it really takes so little to make me happy.
I finally booked my flights for San Diego Bouchercon! So my two trips for the year–Malice Domestic and Bouchercon–are all booked and ready for me to travel. I also need to do some more organizing and filing this morning, too–I also have to put the dishes away and do another load of laundry, and I really should work on cleaning up around here. My toe was worse yesterday than it’s been in a while, but this morning the swelling seems to have gone back down and while it’s still painful, it’s not throbbing the way it was last night, which was very painful. Adding message doctor tomorrow on medical app to the to-do list. We also watched two more episodes of Class last night, which differs from Elité enough to make it something new, but it’s funny how the personalities of the actors affect the characters. While many of the storylines are the same, the season of this Indian version is a few episodes shorter, so some of the emphasis on secondary storylines isn’t there as much as in the Spanish. But I want to finish it because Outer Banks’ third season dropped last night, and it looks completely insane and over-the-top, which is wild because the entire run of the show has been insane and over-the-top; I’m really glad it hasn’t been one of those Netflix shows that get orphaned after an amazing first season (so many I couldn’t even begin to name them all). So, today I think I am going to spend some time in my easy chair with my toe elevated and an icepack on it. I want to finish reading Body and Soul Food so I can move on to another book in the TBR pile–there are so damned many, Jesus Lord God–and I do want to keep my reading habit satisfied. I’m been struggling not to buy more books–it’s so damned tempting, especially when you have books out there by favorite authors just begging to be bought–and I also need to start writing thank you cards to everyone for their kindnesses these last few weeks.
And of course, there’s that horrible inbox. But if I start answering and saving my answers as drafts this weekend, I can maybe have the entire thing cleaned and cleared out by Monday afternoon? Perchance to dream….
And then of course I am very behind on writing everything I should be writing, but have had little to no desire to even look at anything these last few weeks. I’ve always felt writer’s block had more to do with depression than anything else; an endlessly revolving cycle in which you get depressed about not writing and then can’t and that renews the depression. I do think I need to start writing something for myself about Mom–if for no other reason than to keep the memories fresh–and I do think that could break the logjam in my brain and get me writing again.
And on that note, I am going to make some more coffee and repair to the chair with the icepack and the book. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and I will check back in with you again later.
Work-at-home Friday, during which I also have to get ready to leave town tomorrow. That means making groceries, picking up a prescription, and packing all on top of my work-at-home duties–which means I’ll have to work a little later than usual. I’ll be on Bereavement leave next week, so I don’t have to work again until Friday (which is a work at home day, but it won’t kill me to come into the office that day anyway; I’ll need to pick up my work-at-home stuff at some point–although I could swing by the office on my way home from Alabama…or, I could just drop in on Friday morning next week to pick it all up. I don’t know, I guess I am going to play it all by ear from now on.
January seemed to last forever and a day; yet February is flying past like an Air Force flyover at Tiger Stadium. Granted, I think I lost the thread of time after Mom’s stroke, but I was incredibly startled yesterday at the office writing “02/16/23” as the date on forms. 02/16/23? How weird does that look? It makes me vaguely uncomfortable whenever I see it, thinking that can’t be right, can it? But it is correct, and since I put the reminders in our clients’ files for when they need new paperwork along with the date their current expires, I have to use 2024 which really looks wrong.
It’s going to be weird being back in the part of Alabama where I’m from–I’ve not been there since my grandfather’s funeral at least twenty years ago and more likely even longer ago. I had been wanting to go back out of curiosity more than anything else; wanting to see how different it is now from what I remember, and I’d like to drive around taking pictures of things and so forth–I’d also like to see my maternal grandparents’ graves, since I am there–and just in general remember, you know? See how much of it I got wrong in Bury Me in Shadows, and if there’s anything to inspire my next Alabama book. You never know, right? I am probably going to leave early enough on Saturday so I can do some of that driving around before checking into the hotel–see how lost I can get, right?–because really it’s all not very far away from where I’ll be staying. The nearest motel is about seventeen miles away from the cemetery, and the cemetery itself is in between the county seat and where we’ll be staying. It’ll be interesting to see how differently I remembered things for the book as opposed to the current reality.
I didn’t go out to the parades because I have somehow managed to injure my big toe. This is making walking a bit of a challenge, and I am not exactly sure what I did or when it happened. I don’t think it was an obvious oh my God fucking ouch moment, but more of a little twinge or something that I thought I hope that doesn’t hurt and promptly forgot about until I stood up again, but suffice it to say the toe is painful and swollen. I don’t think it’s broken as I can move it without pain, but putting weight on it is an entirely different story. But Paul managed to get his annual shoe from Muses (a particularly nice one I’ll post a picture of at some point) before the predicted downpour occurred and managed to get home without getting wet. So, all in all Muses was quite a victory for Paul again this year, even though I had to skip it. I doubt that I will go out there at all tonight, either. If my toe is better Monday I may go out for Orpheus, but parade season has been a bust for me this year so far.
I slept late this morning, too–it’s been a hot minute since I had the chance to actually, you know, sleep late–and it did feel rather marvelous. The toe doesn’t hurt as much this morning as it did last night and I think some of the swelling has gone down. Since I’m home I can alternate heat and cold on it for a bit to see if that helps at all. I’d rather not be limping at my mother’s funeral–and seriously, how can I not remember when I did it or how? Sigh. But my coffee is wonderful this morning, and it’s chilly outside, and I have a couple of errands that need running later. Sigh–including a trip to CVS to get stuff to keep the toe wrapped up with. Such terrible timing for this, too. Heavy heaving sigh.
But I’ve downloaded Tara Laskowski’s One Night Gone and two Carol Goodmans (The Other Mother and The Seduction of Water) to listen to in the car on the way up there and back; I’ll take my hard copy of whichever one I decide to listen to in the car with me so I can finish reading it while I am there and can listen to something else on the way back to New Orleans on Monday morning.
And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. May you all have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader, and I’ll probably post here before I leave tomorrow morning before they close the streets for Iris.
Masculinity is something I’ve always felt I viewed from the outside.
It’s very strange; for someone who doesn’t look back very often and has a rather healthy disdain for nostalgia, for some reason since the pandemic started, I’ve been revisiting my past a lot. I don’t know, perhaps it was triggered by having dinner with an old friend from high school a while back (which also inspired me to write a horribly dark short story); or perhaps it’s because of short stories or novel ideas I’ve been toying with, but lately, I’ve been thinking about my past much more so than I usually do, and what it was like for me growing up. I wrote a Sisters in Crime quarterly column several years ago about the first time I realized, once and for all, that I was indeed different from everyone else–it centered the first time I heard the word fairy used towards me as a pejorative, as well as the first time I was called a faggot. I’ve also been examining and turning over issues of masculinity inside my head for quite some time (most of my life). #shedeservedit was itself an examination of toxic masculinity and how it reverberates through a small community when it’s allowed to run rampant and unchecked: boys will be boys. Some short stories I’ve published have also examined the same subject.
What can I say? My not being the American masculine ideal has played a very major part in shaping my life and who I am; how could it not? I used to, when I was a kid, pray that I’d wake up the next morning and magically be turned into the kind of boy I was supposed to be, the kind that every other boy I knew–from classmates to cousins to everything I watched on television and at the movies.
Society and culture have changed in many ways since I was a little boy who didn’t fit so easily into the conformist role for little boys; roles for male and female were very narrowly defined when I was a child, and children were forced into conforming to those roles almost from birth. Boys were supposed to be rough and tumble and play sports and get dirty and like bugs and frogs and so forth; girls were supposed to be feminine and play with dolls or play house, wear dresses and mother their baby dolls. Boys weren’t supposed to read or enjoy reading (but I was also supposed to get good grades and be smart), and that was all I wanted to do when I was a kid. I used to love Saturdays, when my mother would go to the grocery store and drop me off at the library on her way. I loved looking at the books on the shelves, looking at the cover art and reading the descriptions on the back. I loved getting the Scholastic Book Club catalog and picking out a few books; the excitement of the day when the books I’d ordered arrived and I could go out on the back porch when I got home and read them cover to cover. I was constantly, endlessly, pushed to do more “boyish” things; I played Pee-wee baseball (very much against my will), and later was pushed into playing football in high school–which I hated at first but eventually came to love…which just goes to show, don’t automatically hate something without trying it. But yeah, I never loved playing baseball. I was enormously happy when we moved to Kansas and I discovered, to my great joy, that my new high school didn’t have a team.
One less traditionally masculine thing for me to participate in was always a bonus.
The things that I really wanted to do weren’t considered masculine pursuits, and as a general rule I was denied them as much as possible. My parents forbade me from reading books about girls–Nancy Drew, the Dana Girls, Trixie Belden–which, quite naturally, made me want them more (my entire life the best way to get me to do something is to tell me either not to do it or tell me I can’t do it…either always makes me want to do it). Oddly enough, when my reading tastes became more adult–when I moved from children’s books to reading fiction for adults–they didn’t seem to care that I was reading books by women about women quite so much as they did when I was younger; either that, or they gave up trying as they finally saw me as a lost cause–one or the other; I don’t know which was the actual case. Maybe my embrace of football in high school overrode everything else suspect about me. It’s possible. My family has always worshipped at the goalposts…and I kind of still do. GEAUX TIGERS!
I spent a lot of my early life trying to understand masculinity and how it worked; what it was and why it was something I should aspire to–and never could quite wrap my mind around it. The role models for men always pointed out to me–John Wayne, etc.–never resonated with me; I always thought they were kind of dicks, to be honest. The whole “boys don’t cry, men never show emotions, men make the money and the entire household revolves around their wants and needs” shtick never took with me, and of course, as I never had any real sexual interest in women…the whole “locker room talk” thing was always kind of revolting to me, because I always saw girls as people. It probably had something to do with the fact that I was more likely to be able to trust girls than boys; I had so many boys decide they couldn’t be friends with me anymore because at some point other kids calling me a fairy began having an negative impact on their own lives all through junior and senior high school (to this day, I’ve never understood this; why were we friends before, and what changed? It wasn’t me…I didn’t suddenly switch gears from butch boy to effeminate overnight) it’s little wonder I have difficulty ever trusting straight men…but in fairness, I have trouble trusting everyone. But I never quite understood the entire “boys are studs girls are sluts” thing, but I also never truly understood the dynamics of male/female attraction. Yes, I dated in high school; I dated women in college before I finally stopped entirely. And yes, I also have had sex with women, back then–but never really enjoyed it much.
In all honesty, I still don’t understand masculinity, at least not as it was defined in my earlier decades of life. I’ve never understood the cavemen-like mentality of responding with violence (no matter how angry I get, I never get violent); I’ve never understood the refusal to recognize that women are human beings rather than life support systems for vaginas and wombs and breasts; I’ve never understood the mentality that a man’s desires should trump (see what I did there?) bodily autonomy for women. No man has a right to a woman’s body, nor does any man have a right to tell a woman what she can or cannot do with her body. Maybe always being an outsider looking in and observing has something to do with my mindset, maybe my difference and always having mostly female friends most of my life is what shaped me into understanding these things.
I also mostly only read women’s books, to be honest. There are some straight male writers I read and admire (Ace Atkins, Bill Loefhelm, Michael Koryta, Harlan Coben, Chris Holm, Stephen King, Jeff Abbott and Paul Tremblay, just to name a few) but I really have no desire to read straight male fantasies that reduce women to caricatures and gay men, if they do appear, as stereotypes; but after I recently read I the Jury by Mickey Spillane, a comment someone left on my post gave me a whole new perspective on how to read such books from the 40’s 50’s, and 60’s; the perspective of reading these books as examples of post-war PTSD…and that opened my eyes to all kinds of questions and potential critical analyses; that the horrors of World War II and what the veterans saw and experienced shaped the development of the culture of toxic masculinity that arose after the war (not that toxic masculinity didn’t exist before the war, of course, but the war experience certainly didn’t help any and it most definitely reshaped what “being a man” meant). I was thinking about doing a lengthier critical piece, on I the Jury, along with the first Travis McGee novel, and possibly including Ross Macdonald, Richard Stark and possibly Alistair MacLean. There’s certainly a wealth of material there to take a look at, evaluate, and deconstruct–and that’s not even getting into Ian Fleming and James Bond.
I’ve also always found it rather interesting that Mickey Spillane was Ayn Rand’s favorite writer. Make of that what you will.And on that note, I am off to bed. The last two days have been long ones, and tomorrow and Sunday will also be long days. I’m planning on driving back to New Orleans on Sunday–timing it so I get back after the parades are over so I can actually get home–regardless of what happens here. It’s not been an easy time here, and I am very tired.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 YouRun, 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.
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.