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.

For All We Know

The world shut down in March of 2020, in the face of a deadly new virus that was spreading around the world, and spreading quickly. It was a major paradigm shift; everything changed and the world would never be the same as it was before. As everyone locked down and adapted (or decided it was all a hoax and chafed against the intrusion), the question began being asked of writers: how will you handle the pandemic in your work, or will you address it at all? A lot of authors said that they wouldn’t address it, because they couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to read about it, or revisit it again after it was over. I came down firmly on the side of “we have to address it”; pointing out that Hurricane Katrina was a paradigm shift for New Orleans and Louisiana authors, and we all had faced the same issue and question. Some writers chose not to deal with it at all, some stopped writing entirely, and others–like me–addressed it. I found it incredibly cathartic to write about the disaster by viewing it through someone else’s eyes, and of course, much of what Chanse saw and dealt with was taken directly from my own experience. Writing the book in some ways helped me to heal from the emotional trauma and deep depression I was experiencing, and I don’t think I would have possibly gotten over it had I not written it out of my system. I will undoubtedly deal with the pandemic in a Scotty book at some point–I already have the title for it picked out and a folder created to keep my notes and ideas in–but I am not quite there as yet.

Leave it to Carol Goodman to not only do it, but do it incredibly well.

“We’re here.”

Reed’s voice wakes me from the fitful sleep I’d fallen into somewhere north of Portland, the slap of wipers and the sluice of tires accomplishing what bourbon and sleeping pills had failed to do for the past two weeks. I open my eyes to a wall of sodden gray the color of wet cement. I can feel it pressing down my throat–

I cough.

Reed swivels his head toward me, blue eyes feverish in the gloom above his white surgical mask.

“I’m fine.” I reach for the water bottle and swig lukewarm water that tastes like copper. “The others–“

“Behind us. Crosby’s driving like an old woman, trying to protect his precious Volvo’s paint job. Honestly, for a supposed socialist he likes the trappings of the bourgeoisie.” He grins, his bones sharpening under sallow skin. With all the stress of the recent news and preparations to come to the island, neither of us has been eating much for the past few weeks.

“They could have gotten lost.”

I’ve been a huge fan of Carol Goodman’s since my first dip into her canon, The Sea of Lost Girls. I have since been dipping back into at times as a reward to myself; she’s easily moved into my top ten list of current writers and won’t be dislodged anytime soon. She’s won numerous awards–deservedly–and is, to me at least, the modern incarnation of the great Mary Stewart. Goodman’s novels are decidedly Gothic and extremely smart and literate, with strong characters that are sharply defined and well rounded that the reader can easily identify with as well as like or dislike.

The premise of The Disinvited Guest is that another pandemic has descended upon the world after the 2020 COVID-19 one. Wealthy Reed Harper has decided to quarantine on an island his family owns–Fever Island, off the coast of Maine and near the mouth of the St. Lawrence River–since his wife Lucy has residual health problems since the first pandemic. Invited along are his lesbian sister Liz, a painter; Nico, Liz’ partner, a photographer; Ada, an old college friend of both Reed and Lucy who works now as an ER nurse; and her husband, also a medical professional in hospital administration, Crosby–who’s a bit of a dick. The remaining character is Mac, whose mother was a housekeeper for the Harper family working on the island. Mac knew Reed and Liz as children, and now he lives on the island as a caretaker. Reed, who also suffers from OCD, has carefully planned out every last aspect of this quarantine adventure–and while the quarantine and safety is the primary issue at stake here, any reader of crime or suspense knows that having seven people living together on a remote, isolated island is the perfect set-up for personality clashes and battles and intrigues and, of course, for murder. How many horror films or murder mysteries are set in such locales? (Goodman of course is wise enough to make an Agatha Christie/And Then There Were None reference in the text; the geographic elements of the island–the Dead Pool, the bog, Dead Man’s Cove, etc.–also sound like something out of the Hardy Boys, and she acknowledges that several times as well.)

There’s also some excellent backstory. Fever Island is named this because during the Irish immigration period of the late 1840’s–the potato famine and typhus epidemic–the ships with ill passengers were sent to Fever Island to quarantine before being admitted into Canada. A makeshift hospital is set up on the island, nuns come out to operate it along with several doctors–including a Harper ancestor–and so there is also a makeshift cemetery on the island. There’s also another legend, going back even further than the quarantine days; the earliest settlers believed a woman was a witch and essentially buried her alive on the island. The story claims she placed a curse on the island and summoned the devil. This is enough of a horrible backstory to make easily the possibility of supernatural forces at work on the island completely believable, which only adds to the suspense. There’s also the backstory of Reed and Liz’s own experiences spending their summers on the island with their horrible father and alcoholic mother; Reed’s dead former girlfriend, who died on the island during the first pandemic, along with his parents; and of course the diary of Dr. Nathaniel Reed Harper, who details life on the quarantine island and the growing suspicion amongst the superstitious fever victims and a group of sailors stranded their by a shipwreck that the witch’s curse is haunting them and that maybe even one of their party has been possessed by the witch and has summoned the devil.

Ada and Lucy were best friends and roommates in college, with Reed as the third side of their triangle. Lucy has also written one well-received novel, but hasn’t written anything since…and her discovery of the diary begins to inspire her to write about the island. Goodman is quite excellent at weaving the multiple storylines and multiple time-lines–Lucy is flashing back to the original pandemic, which is what brought her and Reed together as a couple; the incidents from the 1840’s as revealed in Dr. Harper’s journal; and of course, what happened on the island during the original pandemic.

Strange things start happening once they are all safely ensconced on Fever Island, and of course there are the inevitable personality clashes, which amp up the tension and then, of course, the deaths begin. At first Lucy can’t help but wonder if the island is indeed cursed–but slowly begins to realize that there is a very clever murderer on the island pursuing a definite agenda, but who?

And I love how Goodman chose to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. Rather than setting the book during that shutdown, she instead chose to write about a future quarantine/shutdown, with the COVID-19 one in the distant past (ten years or so) but having a lot of impact on what is happening in the present.

I loved every minute and every word of The Disinvited Guest, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Destiny Rules

Sunday, Sunday. It feels cold again outside this morning–you can tell, even inside; the downstairs floor is always the giveaway–but I slept really well last night and feel very rested this morning. I have so much to get done today it’s almost daunting, but I think with the good night’s sleep and feeling rested I should be able to plow through everything I need to do today before leaving tomorrow. And there is a lot. I did make great progress yesterday and did get a lot done, not enough, but progress was made. I avoided the television for the most part–it was one, so I could sit in the living room and see what was going on, but I managed to never allow myself to settle in and get sucked into the games. It was a crazy college football day in which the top four all barely managed to win their games, and then of course Number 5 Tennessee got blown out of the stadium by South Carolina last night. Paul went to the office yesterday and when I knocked off for the day I started watching that game because the LSU game started later, and wow, who saw that coming? Or Arkansas blowing out Mississippi? LSU played well despite poor weather conditions and managed to beat UAB 41-10 for their ninth win of the season, with Texas A&M all that is left in the regular season. LSU could have a rare ten win regular season for the first time since 2019, which nobody saw coming, with an extremely outside shot at the play-offs–which would require beating Georgia for the SEC title, and I don’t think that’s going to happen. But what a marvelous turnaround season for my Tigers. Who knew?

I have groceries to pick up, writing to do, need to pack, need to air up the car tires, and have all kinds of things on the list to do today. Yikes. I cannot let Paul distract me or suck me into a Saints game or anything either before six pm this evening; I have to get everything done in that time frame because that’s when I am calling it a day and taking the rest of the evening off. I don’t want to have to get up super-early tomorrow, but the good news is I don’t think I need to get up at six unless I do so organically, which is, of course, entirely possible. I have to make sure the books I am listening to in the car are downloaded and ready to go when I pull away from the curb tomorrow morning, and I need to pay a bill or two today as well.

I also managed to get better organized yesterday–still not completely there, or as organized as I should be, going forward–but it helped to have the book research and my notes and everything all pulled together into one place for review. I am most likely going to close my browser when I finish posting this for the duration of the day; although I am going to want to spend some time later composing emails to send tomorrow morning before I leave for the trip. It’s never ending being a Gregalicious, I have to say. But this was a good weekend; I feel like I’m getting my head back together and back into the game, and it feels functional again, which is saying something. Maybe it’s just because I feel rested this morning, I don’t know and can’t really say for sure, but it is very nice to wake up and feel rested and relaxed and have my mind working completely.

I hate feeling tired more than anything, really.

But my coffee tastes marvelous this morning and I feel terrific. There’s still some serious cleaning to do as well–isn’t there always? There’s a load of dishes needing to be put away and another load ready to go inside of the dishwasher, too–the endless cycle of use and clean, use and clean, ad nauseum ad infinitum. Will this last and will I get everything off my to-do list before six this evening? It remains to be seen, but I do know that right now I feel great and hope this will last through the day. We’ll see how it all goes, but I am optimistic right now and that’s always a plus, really.

And on that note, I am going to get another cup of coffee and head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader, and I’ll chat with you again tomorrow.

Everybody Finds Out

Saturday!

I allowed myself to sleep in later than usual this morning–despite waking at seven as I inevitably do–but it felt warm and comfortable and cozy in the bed, and I knew it was a cold morning. It’s temperate inside the apartment–I don’t know that I’ll ever get used to being comfortable inside during cold weather, but the floor is cold beneath my socks here in the kitchen, so I need to put my house shoes on. I can also feel a bit of cold from the windows, and it’s not sunny outside but kind of overcast and gray. LSU plays its final home game of the season tonight against UAB, which will be a nice way to cap off the evening before bed tonight. Yesterday was yet another exhausting day, but last night we finished the season of American Horror Story: NYC–not entirely sure how I feel about it, to be honest–and then started the new season of our favorite show, Elité, on Netflix. Not entirely sure where the season is going, but I am here for it. There are, I think, too many new characters (kind of like how uneven season four felt, with the change in cast for over half the show; again, the rest of the original cast departed after last season so again, there were new characters to add and new cast members) but it might work. I like they’ve added a transman to the cast, with an actual storyline–I am curious as to how transpeople feel about the story they’ve given Nico, but I will say this–I’ve never seen the transmasc experience depicted in this much depth. And of course, everyone is stunningly beautiful.

And of course, I am completely vested in the Iván/Patrick relationship as I was last season.

Today is going to be a work day. This morning as I wake up and drink my coffee, I will finish the kitchen and the filing before diving headfirst into my book. I am behind as always, but am hoping that I can make some decent progress this weekend. The story is whirling around in my head and starting to come together, but a strong push this weekend, some work over the week while in Kentucky, and another strong push next weekend means I could possibly actually make the December 1 deadline–or at least take yet another weekend to finish it off that first weekend of December. But I am much more hopeful and confident about it than I was to begin with–just last weekend, in fact–and so today I am going to start pushing my way through to the next part of the book.

I also want to do another BSP post for Streetcar, since I probably won’t have the opportunity to post much from Kentucky. So, so much to do.

And I think I am going to treat myself to a cappuccino this morning. I love my new electric Moka pot–I liked my old espresso machine, but it was too much work, frankly, and it takes up a lot of space in my cupboard, so I decided to get a different style espresso maker, and seeing that Moka pots (which so many people swear by) now come in electric versions (so you don’t have to use the stove, which always made me nervous) kind of made up my mind, so I ordered one and now can have a relatively easily made cappuccino whenever I so choose. I definitely will be taking one in the car with me Monday morning as I set out for the Great Cold North.

I also need to order groceries this morning for pick-up tomorrow. Like I said, soooo much to do before I head out on Monday morning. I just hope that I have time to get to everything, because my preference would be to leave relatively early on Monday morning, but it will also depend on when I feel like waking up. Leaving at seven makes the most sense, despite having to get up so fucking early, but that would get me there around eight pm their time, which would get me through Chattanooga and Knoxville outside of rush hour–both are nightmares when it comes to rush hour–but do I want to get up at six on what is sure to be a very cold Monday morning? Decisions, decisions.

And on that note, I am going to make my cappuccino and head into my day. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and I will check in again tomorrow morning.

Running Through The Garden

Friday morning work-at-home blog!

I have data to enter and things to do today, Constant Reader. I’m leaving on Monday for Kentucky and will be gone for a week, so I have to seriously buckle down over the course of this weekend and get things done. It was cold here last night–in the thirties–and this morning the downstairs floor is cold beneath my feet, and the chilliest spot in the entire Lost Apartment is here at my desk. Heavy sigh. But that’s okay, I can deal with it. I have a load of laundry in the dryer, need to empty the dishwasher and refill it again–and of course the entire place from top to bottom is a complete disaster area. Hopefully I’ll be able to get the house under control as well as get all my work finished that I need to get finished not only today but over the entire weekend. Yesterday I was, not surprisingly, very tired when I got home from work. I did get some laundry folded and another load going, and yes, I loaded the dishwasher last night and stumbled around a bit in my tired state, but eventually Paul came home and we were able to watch the season finale of Half-Bad or The Bastard Son and the Devil Himself or whatever the hell you call it, which felt kind of anticlimactic, to be honest. I enjoyed the show, love the concept and the actors are very appealing–I am especially fond of Gabriel, the pansexual witch, to be honest–and we also watched a new episode of American Horror Story: NYC, which was kind of odd and weird, with a kind A Christmas Carol feel to it. I don’t know, it just seemed more like filler than anything else to me, and of course the AIDS allegory isn’t exactly subtle (why not just make it AIDS? The plague in the 1980s wasn’t horrible enough for a season of American Horror Story? Although AIDS in the first two decades would have been better suited for a season of American Crime Story….) but it is unsettling.

I’ve been doing, if you’ve been paying attention, the occasional Blatant Self-Promotional (BSP) entries for A Streetcar Named Murder, which has been kind of fun. I’m not sure what the next one will be–I’ve done the character, the store, and the neighborhood she lives in; I suppose the supporting cast should be next. I’ll figure it out at some point, I am sure; it’s not like the book drops until December 6th or anything–although I’ve been seeing pictures of already delivered copies on social media, which doesn’t make sense, but I’ve learned to not question things like that. It is what it is, and if people are already getting copies several weeks of release date, who am I to wonder the reasons why? Publishing is one of those businesses you never can completely figure out…because once you think you have a handle on something, it changes almost immediately.

I’m also looking forward to getting a handle on the current Scotty. I’ve been too tired from work this week to get as much done as I needed to get done, so this weekend is going to result in a big push. I have of course all the data to enter for my day job today, and I need to run some errands once I am finished for the day, but I remain hopeful that my energy won’t flag and I’ll be able to dive headfirst into the book this weekend without either having to force myself or for it to be like pulling teeth. As I have mentioned, the LSU game isn’t until the evening and it’s not really a big one; non-conference opponent, and of course I want them to win, but it’s Alabama-Birmingham (although I suppose completing the trifecta of beating Auburn, Alabama and UAB would make LSU state champions of Alabama again) and so there’s not the same urgency as there will be when we play Texas A&M the Saturday after Thanksgiving. What a wild, crazy and all-over-the-place college football season this has been…certainly nothing like I expected.

But I think the cold helped me sleep better last night than I have all week. I didn’t wake up super-early either; wide awake at seven, which is something I absolutely can handle, and feel very rested this morning. I did do one of those “oh you’re getting so old now” things this week–in which I turned my torso to do something here in the kitchen but did it at precisely the right angle to aggravate or irritate something, so now I am vaguely aware of some stiff soreness in my upper body. I can’t describe where exactly it’s located or how it feels, but it’s kind of like how when you have a respiratory thing going on and when you try to take a deep breath it feels tight? It’s kind of like that but not in my lungs, if that makes any sense. I’ll probably try to use the heating pad and the massage roller to work whatever the hell it is out before I leave on Monday morning.

I suppose the clock is ticking on Twitter, but I can’t really muster up enough energy to care much one way or the other. I use it, of course–I remember setting up the account because co-workers suggested that I should have one–and I go there periodically, primarily to waste time when I’m in line at the grocery store or the pharmacy or wherever; or when I am sitting in my easy chair at night with a purring cat in my lap while I am waiting for Paul to come home and I am watching Youtube videos on autoplay. Last night it kind of felt like high school graduation, as people were saying goodbye to everyone and it all had a touch of “signing the yearbook my senior year” to it all. I know a lot of people love Twitter, and I certainly had a lot of fun there over the years–primarily interacting with my friends and readers, mostly–but it’s also a horrific hell-scape with trolls lurking everywhere and nastiness for the sake of nastiness popping up every now and then. I find myself writing horrible responses to horrible people all the time before deleting them, and in some instances it’s too late–yes, you can delete tweets, of course, but that also seems kind of cowardly to me and besides, the Internet is indeed forever; I screen cap bad takes (aka “receipts”) all the time to save them just in case…and as I typed that even now I was thinking just in case? For what? In case I need to remind someone I don’t know of a bad take they had a few years ago? I have little to no desire to learn how to use a new social media service, so I am not migrating to another platform or any such nonsense; perhaps I will if and when the Twitter universe comes to a crashing halt. But while I’ll miss the interactions with my friends–and the opportunity to post that picture of me with the shocked look on my face everyone loves so much–I think I’ll somehow manage to survive.

And on that note, the dryer just stopped so I need to fold some laundry. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader, and I will talk to you tomorrow.

The Irish Channel

Writing a cozy set in New Orleans seemed, at first, to be a little daunting.

One of the key tenets of a cozy is the sense of community one gets while reading it (see Donna Andrews’ Meg Langslow series for the perfect example; I love Caerphilly, Virginia, and enjoy revisiting twice a year to see how everyone is doing), and it took me a moment to readjust my thinking from “community means a small town” to “no, you moron, anything can be a community; and you can certainly find community in New Orleans.” And then I remembered Leslie Budewitz’ superlative Spice Shop series, which is set in Pike’s Market in Seattle. Seattle is a city, just as New Orleans is; and sure, it might be easier to just invent an entire new fictional small town to set a cozy series in, but if anything, there’s more sense of community in New Orleans than I’ve ever felt in other cities…and it was really about creating a community around my character, Valerie, and picking a neighborhood for her in which to live took me a while as I weighed pros and cons; the only thing that was definite was she was NOT going to live in the French Quarter (there’s a throwaway line where she thinks about how long it’s been since she’s been to the Quarter, and maybe she and her two best friends should arrange to have dinner at Galatoire’s or Antoine’s–yes, I used two of the better known restaurants in the city and the Quarter for the examples, but I also knew I could mention them without needing to explain them to the reader). I did go back and forth about the Marigny or Bywater, but finally decided to put her into a neighborhood that did not flood during Katrina, which narrowed the choices dramatically.

New Orleans is a city of neighborhoods, and those neighborhoods used to be so distinct that knowing what part of the city someone lived would automatically create some assumptions–just as how the ever-popular question of where’d you go to high school used to be another way to connect with someone you’ve just met–there are any number of differences between those who went to Newman or Jesuit or Holy Cross or Ursulines or Ben Franklin or Warren Easton or McMain Magnet. New Orleans is a small enough city that chances were, you’d also know (or ar related to )someone else who’d gone to that high school at the same time, or you also knew other people who lived in their neighborhood. Obviously, the French Quarter is perhaps the most famous neighborhood in New Orleans, followed by the Garden District, working down through the Marigny, the Bywater, Mid-city, Gentilly, Lakeview, Broadmoor, etc. (With the gentrification of the city over the past sixteen or so years, realtors have also started creating new neighborhoods–which can be confusing. For example, they are trying to rebrand the Central Business District–the CBD–into SoMa, South of Market, which makes no fucking sense whatsoever as there is no market for the area to be south of; I often will have someone mention one of these new neighborhoods by name to me and I have no idea what they are talking about. They are also trying to rebrand the 7th Ward as the “new Marigny”…good luck with that.)

Scotty lives in the Quarter, and Chanse lives in the Lower Garden District–I’ve also written a lot of stories set in that neighborhood, which is also where I’ve always lived, and is quite distinct from the actual Garden District–I used to joke that we lived four blocks and three decimal points from the Garden District. So having done those neighborhoods already extensively, I wanted to pick a new place for Valerie to live and for me to write about.

I’ve always kind of been partial to the Irish Channel, although we’ve always lived in the Lower Garden District (distinct from the Garden District). I wrote one book about the Irish Channel already (aptly titled Murder in the Irish Channel), and of course, when I needed a place for Valerie to live, I decided the Channel would be the perfect place for her. Twenty years or so ago there will still blighted and crumbling houses in that neighborhood just waiting to be purchased, renovated and gentrified. The stretch of Magazine she lives near used to be one of my favorite parts of the city–I met any number of people for coffee at the Rue de la Course that used to be there, I used to really enjoy the Semolina’s restaurant as well as the Middle Eastern place whose name I can’t remember now (Byblos? it was the last restaurant meal in New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina), and of course I sometimes shopped at the A&P or the Walgreens–before I realized Prytania and Tchoupitoulas were the easiest and quickest ways to get uptown; I wasted a lot of time stuck in Magazine Street traffic back in the day. Our friends Carrie and Lisa used to rent half of an enormous Victorian house near Third and Constance; I loved that enormous, drafty and dusty old house (it’s actually where my main character in my in-progress novella Never Kiss a Stranger lives), and was very sorry when they moved further uptown. Paul and I used to have a lot of fun looking for costumes and other home decor in the numerous thrift shops on Magazine; the one for St. Vincent de Paul (at the corner of Robert and Magazine, which eventually closed and became a Vitamin Shoppe; I don’t think the space is currently in use) was amazing. They used to sell handmade wooden tables and bookcases, made by monks in a monastery somewhere in northern Louisiana, and this furniture was not only solid, but it was inexpensive. We still have the bookcases and tables–one of them is my desk, the other is Paul’s–and I don’t think we spent much more than a hundred dollars on the two tables and the four bookcases. We must have bought that all after we moved back here after the year that should be forgotten; we didn’t move much furniture there or back.

But oh, how I would love to get some more of those bookcases. They are sooooo solid…

Plus, putting Valerie in the Irish Channel gives me the opportunity to write about St. Patrick’s Day–which I’ve never done with either of my other series–at some point in the future.

The Irish Channel obviously takes its name from the fact that many Irish immigrants settled there when they came to New Orleans. The Historic Landmarks Commission defines its boundaries as Jackson Avenue to Delachaise Street and Magazine Street to Tchoupitoulas. However, the New Orleans City Planning Commission defines the boundaries of the Irish Channel as these streets: Tchoupitoulas Street, Toledano Street, Magazine Street, First Street, the Mississippi River and Napoleon Avenue.

See what I mean about how confusing the city can be? We can even properly define the boundaries of our neighborhoods. I’ve always considered the Channel to start at Jackson (as does the Garden District proper) and end at Louisiana; with the other boundaries Magazine and Tchoupitoulas.

But I did think having her live so close to Louisiana Avenue–between Seventh and Harmony–would put her right smack dab into the heart of that neighborhood and in walking distance of practically anything she might need. I wanted her to be able to be able to do her errands most of the time on foot, because that also (in my mind) cemented the sense that it was a neighborhood and a community, if that makes sense? And once I’d picked where she lived, I was able to start building her community around her.

But that is a tale for another time.

I love these kinds of double houses!

Smile at You

Thursday and my last day in the office until after Thanksgiving, which is rather something if you think about it, you know? It’s cold again this morning–you can tell, even with the heat on and the Lost Apartment itself feeling a little, shall we say, temperate? I’m still not used to having an HVAC system that works effectively and keeps the apartment warm no matter what it’s like outside, you know?

Yesterday was yet another exhausting day at the office. I’d not slept as well as I would have liked Tuesday night, so yes, yesterday was tired and worn down by the end of the day. I had to stop and make groceries on the way home–not much, just a quick in-and-out–and today I am hoping I won’t be too tired when I get home from work to do some chores and some more work on the book. BY the time I got home yesterday I was very tired. Paul didn’t get home until later so we didn’t get to watch any of our shows; instead I spent the evening watching Youtube videos on French history. I think I slept well last night–I only woke up a couple of times during the night–and I feel sort of rested right now as I sip my coffee; we’ll see how long it holds today, shall we?

But for now, I feel good and my coffee is hitting the spot and I did succeed in making a to-do list yesterday, which was a step in the right direction towards getting caught up–or better organized, one of the two. I had forgotten to make my hotel reservation for Bouchercon in San Diego, so I got that taken care of yesterday, and now just have the flights left to get taken care of once Southwest allows us to start booking in late August, probably next month sometime. I am leaving for Kentucky on Monday morning, but I have The Uninvited Guest by Carol Goodman to listen to on the way up and The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware to listen to on the way home. (I listed to Ware’s The Death of Mrs. Westaway on the way up last time, and absolutely loved it.)

I’ve also been doing blog entries attempting to promote the book–which has been fun so far, but am not sure really how effective it actually will be in the long run, but I am enjoying myself, which is perhaps the most important thing, right?–and I also am doing a piece for CrimeReads that is due this weekend–but as I mentioned previously this week, I can pretty much ignore college football for the most part most of Saturday, as LSU’s game isn’t until seven pm (I cannot get over the LSU turnaround this season; I keep thinking I’m going to wake up from this fever dream) so as long as I am not disgustingly and horribly lazy, I should not only be able to get that written but make some serious progress with the book as well. Please, God–make it so.

And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines on this chilly Thursday morning in New Orleans. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow.

Rare Things

So, Greg, why did you choose to write about an antique shop when you know nothing about antiques other than they are old furniture and so forth?

In all honesty, I didn’t originally set out to write about an antique shop, and while the book was in progress my utter lack of knowledge about the antiques business did have me incredibly concerned. Even though I had decided that Valerie herself would know nothing about antiques (that way, she and I could learn together), it still made me feel fraudulent and like I didn’t know what I was doing writing about something I didn’t know anything about. But then I went to Crime Bake, and at one of the panels a writer named Barbara Ross, who writes a Clambake New England series, confessed she knew nothing about clam bakes or any of those types of things…so she had to learn as she wrote the series. That was exactly what I wanted and needed to hear from someone and that was the right time for me to hear it, so I felt a lot more confident about the book when I returned home to New Orleans from that trip (it’s always nice to go to a writer’s event and learn something; I feel like I always do whenever I go to one).

Originally, I had wanted to write about a costume shop; which even now seems easier to learn about that antiques, to be honest. There used to be a costume shop in my neighborhood for years, on St. Charles Avenue on the lake side on the same block as Hoshun. I never went inside, but I always thought it was interesting that it was open year-round rather than just being seasonal; I would have thought they wouldn’t have enough business to do so. But it closed and another opened in the CBD near Paul’s office, connected to whatever theater that is in the next block–which means they had an enormous warehouse space to keep their costumes in, and their primary customers were local theater, film and television productions. I thought, yeah, that could be fun so I moved MY shop back to the block and decided to give them a warehouse to store costumes for commercial rentals in, out near the airport. When Crooked Lane wanted something other than a costume shop, I just went to the Starbucks at the corner of Washington and Magazine, got a latte, and walked down the block writing down the kinds of businesses I walked past. I sent those to Crooked Lane and they picked an antique shop, which was a bit daunting but….anything is do-able, right? And since I like to learn…in theory.

I did stop into one of the ubiquitous antique shops in New Orleans to talk to the manager, who gave me some good tips–estate auctions and sales, for example; something that hadn’t occurred to me–and also, highly amused that both Valerie and myself knew nothing about the business, suggested, “Start with Antiquing for Dummies.” I’m still not sure if she was kidding or not, but I thought it a pretty good idea, so I ordered a copy and had Dee–who works at Rare Things–suggest Valerie do the same in the book!

Serendipity, if you will.

And then I needed a name for the business. In the late 1980’s there was a marvelous supernatural syndicated series called Friday the 13th-the Series (because it just used the name, it was not related to the films in any way) in which there was such a shop called Curious Goods. The premise of the show is that the owner of the shop made a deal with the devil and all the items in the shop are cursed; he goes back on his deal and the devil drags him to hell. His niece and nephew inherit the shop and start selling things–only to find out that the items are all cursed –an older man with lots of knowledge tells them; they form a team to track down the objects, which can kill–or can make a wish of some sort for the person owning it come true, but death is required–and each episode focuses on one of the objects. I thought about calling the shop Curious Goods, as an homage, but then thought but the objects in this shop aren’t cursed, so I went with Rare Things. I liked the name, and thought it really fit; it’s really more of a curio shop than an antique shop, anyway.

And the benefits of an antique shop means I can have a lot of fun with future volumes, if there are more. How much fun would it be for Valerie to have to stay at some old manse working on an estate sale, only to be bedeviled by ghosts and secret passages and so on? It also means getting to explore history and areas outside of New Orleans; I am becoming more and more interested in the entire state rather than just New Orleans, too, so this really is kind of cool–more reason to explore Louisiana’s history! Huzzah!

So, that’s how this book came to built around an antique shop on St. Charles Avenue. More to come!

Say You Will

And just like that, it’s Tuesday morning and another exciting day back in the clinic. Huzzah!

Yesterday was a good day. I mentioned it was cold yesterday morning? I turned the heat on to no avail on Sunday evening–it ran for a little while and then went off–so I played with the thermostat with no success yesterday morning and just broke out my old space heater. When I got home from work and running errands yesterday, you can imagine my delight and surprise to walk into a temperate apartment with heat coming from the vents. Paul said it was on when he got home from the gym yesterday afternoon, and we both just shrugged and decided to enjoy the fact that it felt temperate in the apartment rather than questioning whatever happened with the HVAC system. And you know, it’s nice. Our heat never really worked all those years, so we always just layered and used space heaters and blankets and so forth, but this is really lovely. It’s nice to sit at my desk on what I can tell is a cold morning without a hat and gloves and a space heater.

And yesterday was a good day. After the errands I got home, did some laundry and dishes, and then opened up my word files and started revising and revamping and reworking the book. It really is something to reread things you’ve written that makes you question your career choices, you know? I knew it was some seriously bad writing, but I didn’t know it was that bad, LOL. But yes, I knew it was bad when I was writing it but at the same time, yesterday I just started revising and reworking and rewording and ooh, look at this two-page long info dump that’s definitely going to need some fixing. It feels good to strip things down to the bones and rebuild them, and I actually felt like I accomplished something yesterday, which was great. It also picked up my mood–clearly I am in a much better mood this morning than I was before–as writing always does. I hope to get some more shredding and rebuilding done today. And I do think once I get this part of the book reworked and redone, writing the rest of it will be that much easier.

We also watched a few more episodes of The Bastard Son and The Devil Himself–which actually has a different main title, Half Bad, which I didn’t realize until last night; and frankly, calling it Half Bad is much easier. The show is very entertaining, I love the male lead (whose name I should look up, so I did: Jay Lycurgo is his name) and the show is very cleverly plotted. I may have to go back and check out the book it’s based on, even if it is (I checked) written in the second person, which I’ve always found irritating.

We had an amazing thunderstorm last night while I was in my chair revising and waiting for Paul to finish work and come downstairs to watch Half Bad. I am never really entirely sure it if’s thunder or someone moving the heavy iron chairs on the deck upstairs (it really has to be pouring incredibly hard for me to hear the rain over the television), and Paul confirmed, when he came down, that it was a thunderstorm. Shortly after that there was a clap of thunder that sounded like it was right outside the apartment–and lasted for a rather long time. Maybe the storm helped me sleep really well last night? I don’t know what caused it, but I actually slept decently last night. I also think the relaxation over the book–the book stress always builds up to a pressure point inside my head, which also induces paralysis (this book is so bad there’s no saving it so why bother?) but getting deep into the weeds with it yesterday clearly relieved a lot of that pressure and so now the stress has been released (kind of like the steam when you’re making an espresso–great analogy, Greg! Maybe you should try writing?) and am hopeful it will be mostly smooth sailing from here on out. It’s a bit warmer outside today than it was yesterday, too, per the weather app, which probably also has something to do with the rain from last night.

So, I am hoping for a productive morning. I am going to make a cappuccino to take with me and head into the office. Hopefully, I’ll make it through the day with enough energy to come home and finish the chores as well as dive into the book some more. Wish me luck, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow.

Valerie

Seriously, how could I not love this cover?

It literally has everything I love (well, most of it, at any rate): the St. Charles streetcar, Scooter, and all kinds of fun antiques and artifacts–and so brightly colored and beautiful. They even slipped in a strand of beads cleverly disguised as pearls! It is one of my favorite covers, and not just because it doesn’t have a shirtless man on the cover–I know, I know, it’s been awhile since I actually had one–certainly it’s been since Royal Street Reveillon–oops, no, Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories is post Royal Street Reveillon, so I guess it’s just the last two young adults and this one since then. And as I said, I really love the color scheme. I may have to have this blown up into a poster and have it framed–that’s how much I love it.

So, who is this Valerie Cooper and why did I decide to write about her and from her point of view?

I’d written from a female perspective before–under pseudonyms–and since I generally relate easier to women than I do to (straight) men, most of my reading is from a female point of view. I’ve always wanted to do a series from this perspective; on the rare occasions I’ve written from a straight man’s point of view (usually in a short story, although occasionally under a pseudonym for a novel) but not as often. I had thought about trying to write a cozy series from a male perspective (I have a great idea for one that I don’t think anyone would buy or want, but I love the idea and may try to do something with it sometime) but eventually defaulted to a woman. Most cozies are told from the feminine perspective (there are exceptions), and so it felt more right to have a female protagonist. I learned from the Paige series being marketed as cozies (which they weren’t) that the strong, sarcastic, borderline bitchy doesn’t play well within that subgenre, and so since I knew I was specifically writing a cozy this time, I knew to follow the rules.

One of the things I had noticed in the cozy series I read is that usually the first book in the series follows a transition of sorts for the main character (Mia P. Manansala’s flopped in the big city and returned to her small hometown; Raquel V. Reyes’ character has just moved back to the Miami area from New York, so she’s happy about it but concerned on others–read the book, you won’t be sorry; others have just gotten divorced, walked on a cheating partner, etc. etc. you get the drift), and I wanted to do something a little softer and less jarring–so I went with her being a youngish empty nester. Married young to a handsome fireman several years older (six, to be exact) she is left a widow when he is killed on the job to raise their twin sons by herself. She’s not worked outside the home since she was a teenager, and now the boys are off to LSU and she’s home alone in the big Victorian house she and her husband bought as a fixer-upper and then renovated while raising the kids. The house is done, her husband is dead and her kids are at school–so she is now finding herself at loose ends and not really sure what to do with herself. She dropped out of college after her marriage when she found herself pregnant–not planned, but not a disappointment, either–and now is considering going back to get her degree at UNO, or maybe finding a job–but what can she do?

I did worry about her not having finished college and just being a stay-at-home mother. It didn’t seem very pro-woman to me, but then I chastised myself. My sister was a stay-at-home mom, and I remember that when she finally was given the choice, my mother was one as well…and I realized I was falling into the wrong mindset about Valerie to begin with–there’s nothing wrong with a woman deciding to be a stay-at-home mom and not ever really working outside the home; the point of feminism is that women should be able to choose what they want rather than have limitations placed on their decisions (which a lot of non-feminist women do not understand), and why not write about a stay-at-home mother now finding her own way in life? I also wanted to surround her with friends and support–so she lives next door to her best friend (they became friends after the woman moved in next door) and is also close to Stacia, a divorced lawyer who lives down the street. The gay couple next door in a double shotgun, Michael and John, are also friends, as is John’s mother, who lives in the other side of the shotgun. Her own parents have retired to the Gulf Coast of Florida, and she is very close to her late husband’s family, the Coopers.

Her name is Valerie because I’ve always liked the name (it’s one of my favorite female names, along with Laura), and I picked Cooper because it’s a friend’s maiden name. I decided to make her be an actual local; born and raised in the city–but her parents are not from New Orleans; they moved here for the father’s job. So she was born here, but she wasn’t born into any of the many striations of social class here. Her parents weren’t connected to old-line New Orleans, they didn’t belong to any Mardi Gras krewes, and Valerie herself–while going to Sacred Heart–never got involved in any of the Carnival stuff, preferring, as she says, to participate by going to parades and catching throws. She’s also an only child who thinks of her late husband’s older sister Therese as a kind of replacement older sister since she didn’t have one.

I wanted to upset Valerie’s tame, placid, almost boring life with a series of shocks that upend everything about her life and what she believed she knew about her life, her house, her late husband–and what better way than to have her realize, thanks to someone else–that the notice she got from the city about the house being reappraised for taxes and didn’t think too much about could actually become a big catastrophe for her. The house they bought so cheaply and renovated could now be worth vastly more than she and Tony paid for the house (I named her husband Tony because I’ve always liked that name for a man; Scotty was almost Tony) because their neighborhood, sketchy and dangerous when they moved there, has been gentrified (as so much of the city has been) and when someone she knows and doesn’t like (a very thin line there I was worried about crossing by introducing that character–toning it down to a Valerie level of dislike was something I really had to pay attention to) lets her know what the market value of her home might actually be–Valerie instantly goes into financial panic mode. If the house is worth ten times what they paid for it, wouldn’t that mean the tax assessment would also got up times ten? She’s run into the woman while picking up fresh shrimp at Big Fisherman Market on Magazine (right there by what used to be the A&P and now I can’t recall what chain went in there? BREAUX MART. Whew, was getting a bit concerned there about my brain working) and walking back home, turning it over and over again in her mind as she reflects how much the neighborhood has changed since she and Tony first moved in–and then when she gets home, she finds out a registered letter from a lawyer has arrived for her.

And nothing in her life is ever the same again.

Essentially, the letter lets her know that she and her sons have received an inheritance from an uncle of Tony’s she never knew even existed, and it includes Rare Things, an antiques business on St. Charles Avenue in the lower Garden District, and the story is then off and running.

I do really like Valerie. I hope readers do, too–because I’d like to keep writing about her.