Giving Him Something He Can Feel

GEAUX TIGERS!

I think I have finally, somehow, managed to come back into myself as a Gregalicious, after the long, drawn-out malaise of this past week. Everything conspired against me; I never felt mentally rested,  always felt slightly out of it or disconnected from my everyday life, etc. Bouchercon, and other literary events like it, have that effect on me, but it usually doesn’t take this long to start feeling Gregalicious again. I love my day job–it’s absolutely perfect for me, I can’t imagine doing anything else–and I am very lucky that at least I have a day job that neither makes me crazy nor that I hate.

And having had every shitty job imaginable (or so it seems), this is quite lovely.

I hope that today–since I awoke feeling rested and like myself for the first time this week–will result in me getting a lot done today, around the football games. The LSU-Auburn game this afternoon will be an interesting tell as to how good LSU actually is this year (how good Auburn is as well, for that matter) and has important division implications as well as national ones. The season is young, though, and the Murderer’s Row section of the schedule (Florida, Ole Miss, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi State, Texas A&M) is yet to come. And after the Saints stunk up the Dome last weekend…GEAUX TIGERS.

We got caught up on Castle Rock, which actually took an incredibly interesting turn that I didn’t see coming, and so now I am really curious to see where it’s going to go from here. (I also continue to be blown away by the ridiculous beauty of Bill Skarsgaard.) We also watched the premiere episode of American Horror Story: Apocalypse, which also is off to a terrific and interesting start–but almost every season started off interesting, and so many of them wound up going off the rails (we never finished watching Hotel, for example) that we can never be sure what we’re going to get with the show. We also finished watching Sharp Objects, which was terrific (I see Emmys in the future for Amy Adams and Patricia Clarkson), and there are so many other shows now to watch, and movies released to Netflix and other streaming services, that it’s hard to believe just a few weeks ago we didn’t have anything to watch. I also want to finish reading Circe.

But the house is a mess, and I need to run the suitcase back to storage, and the car tires need air–but other than that and cleaning and writing, I have the weekend relatively free. Paul is going out shopping and running errands with our friend Lisa today–he has some ideas about turning the area outside our stairs into a sitting area for when the weather is better–and they are launching that project today.

It does feel nice being myself again, and I can spend the day doing some reading and cleaning. I am writing a new short story, and I need to read up a little bit on New Orleans history in order for the story to actually work. We shall see.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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My Loving (No You’re Never Gonna Get It)

Saturday morning, and I am feeling rested and relaxed as I sit here by my windows with my second cup of coffee. It looks very still outside, and there’s no condensation on the glass, so I tend to think (wishfully) that it may not be that humid outside. Of course it’s wishful thinking; when I run to the post office and the grocery store later this morning I will no doubt be slapped in the face by the hot damp.

Hurray?

I didn’t get as much cleaning done yesterday as I would have liked, so I am going to try to focus on getting that done today as well as some short story work. I may even continue my voyage through Royal Street Reveillon, making notes and figuring out how to straighten up and tighten that whole mess.

And I’d love to spend some quality time with James Ziskin’s Cast the First Stone today. Bouchercon is looming on the horizon, and I have to finish it and one more before I am finished with my Bouchercon homework.

So, once I am finished here, it’s time to make a to-do list for the day and get a move on.

I may even make it to the gym today–I know, right? Madness.

Next up in Florida Happens is “The Unidentifieds”, by J. D. Allen.

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J.D. Allen’s Sin City Investigations series launched with 19 Souls earlier this year. She is a Mystery Writers of America Freddie Award-winner. She has short stories in the Anthony Award-winning anthology, Murder under the Oaks as well as Carolina Crimes: 20 Tales of Need, Greed, and Dirty Deeds. She’s the chair of the Bouchercon National Board, a member of MWA, PI Writer’s of America, and president of her local Sisters in Crime chapter. She’s an Ohio State Univ. Alum with a degree in forensic anthropology and a creative writing minor.

J. D. says: I attended The Ohio State University and earned a degree in forensic anthropology and a creative writing minor.

Writing Mysteries was not my first career or my second.

Life’s journey meanders.

I feel it’s never too late to reach for the brass ring. With the publication of the Sin City Investigation Series, my dreams of publishing gritty mysteries have been realized.

I believe in giving back to the writing community that has supported me through the years. I’m a member of the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention National board and president of the Triangle Chapter of Sisters in Crime. I speak on the basics of crime scene investigation, voice, and public speaking.

And here’s the opening to her story:

~Saturday 2 p.m. – The Funeral

For Jim, a funeral was about as appealing as removing his own appendix.  Two funerals in as many weeks had him planning a stop at the liquor store on the way home and a look at his choice of occupation. Jim Bean squinted as the Vegas sun reflected off his cousin’s silver casket. Jim had picked it out the coffin and planned the service. With the recent experiences, he’d learned obituaries should be 75 words, and lives could shatter in a moment.

He now stood over the proceedings. He fought Vegas sweat and tears as Alexis’s casket thumped to the bottom of the rectangular gave. She was the only person left from his old life he still called family. The girl in that box had been shot in the chest and burned to cover the identity of her remains.

Jim glared across the casket as the words meant to soothe and heal drifted over to the deceased. He hoped they helped her.

Andrew Zant stood opposite that death divide. His dark glasses and darker suit complemented the smirk on his pale, pointy face. Jim read victory in that smug look. Maybe it didn’t show his eyes, but it was displayed in his presence. Jim wasn’t surprised to see someone from his organization here to confirm the death. The shock was Zant showed up in person. He even let himself be photographed on the way to the graveside service.

A hum of rage and hostility was ready to bust from Jim’s chest as he openly stared at the Vegas tycoon. The man thought himself superior. Thought he’d gotten away with it.

He thought wrong.

Excellent opening, no?

The main character, Jim Bean, is a private eye in Las Vegas, whose cousin Alexis has become involved with a very dangerous and powerful man–and needs to get away from him, with Jim’s help. So they devise an elaborate ruse. Will they get away with it? Allen carefully builds the suspense to the inevitable yet still surprising ending. Great fun, and terrific suspense. I do look forward to reading more of her work.

And, since my errands flatly refuse to run themselves, I am off to the spice mines.

Go Home

Sunday morning, with lots to do and a long, relaxing day ahead in which to do it all. I woke up relatively early this morning, which was a wonderful and pleasant surprise, and feel rested. I have a short story to work on, a reread of Royal Street Reveillon to get through, and I’d also like to make some progress on my reading of Eryk Pruitt’s What We Reckon. I cleaned and did errands and read yesterday; along with some note taking on various projects as well as filing. This coming week should be interesting, to say the least; I am doing some testing on Monday and Thursday at the Blacks in Government conference at the Riverside Hilton, which will be a lovely change from my ordinary routine, and I have a three day weekend next weekend in honor of my birthday.

Yes, the old man officially turns fifty-seven next weekend; although I always change my age on New Year’s. After this next New Year’s, I’ll be telling people I’m fifty-eight. Age has never mattered  much to me; for the early portion of my life I was always younger than everyone else around me; later on I was always older than everyone else I hung around with. I learned early on that age is a relative concept.

Yesterday was kind of a lovely day for me. It rained off and on most of the day, and there really is nothing lovelier than being inside and dry while it rains outside, and our rain is do torrential and tropical–so lovely to deal with when you’re inside rather than when you’re actually outside dealing with it. As the bed linens agitated in the washing machine and the wool blankets tumbled dry in the laundry room, I was filing and getting my desk area organized, listening to the rain and looking out my windows to see all the leaves outside glistening and wet, and water cascading out of the rain spout on the house next door when a phrase formed in my head, and I scribbled into my journal, standing up at the kitchen counter: It was one of those lovely summer Saturdays New Orleans gets sometimes in August–where thunderstorms roll through the city all day, the dark clouds creating an artificial twilight at three in the afternoon. Perfect for staying inside and cleaning, the washing and drying and folding of clothes. The cat sleeps lazily in the desk chair, waking up every now and then to groom before curling up again into a tight ball of differentiated ginger stripes.

I may never use that in something I write, be it a short story or a novel, but it’s a nice piece of writing nonetheless. My notebooks and journals are filled with such scraps of writing, of ideas and thoughts and fragments and character descriptions or settings.

And next up in Florida Happens, for the Short Story Project is “The Fakahatchee Goonch” by Jack Bates.

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Goonch is just another name for a catfish. A really big catfish.  Sometimes it’s called the Devil Fish or Black Demon because it lurks deep down there in the murkiest part of the Fakahatchee Preserve. Bottom feeders mostly. They eat gator leftovers or anything else that might get tossed into the swamps. Back in the mauve and neonMiami Vice days, legend had it the Everglades was a good place to dispose of a problem quick.  People think that’s how the goonch developed a taste for meat.

Of course, the guys who trawl for catfish say those fish are just as apt to eat water weeds and such if the pickings are slim.  Sometimes they feed on their own.  Had some guys drag in twenty to thirty pounders, about three feet long. That ain’t no fish tale.

Neither is this one. The catfish I’m talking about is an eight-man goonch. Know what that is? That’s when eight grown men stand in a line, shoulder to shoulder, and that goonch lays across all of their extended hands from tip to tail. That’s how big the Fakahatchee goonch was said to be. Had a mouth like the gaping orifice of hell, or so I’m told. I ain’t never seen it, but I know it’s there.

There have been nights when I’m frog hunting where the frog croaking will go quiet and the swamp gets real still. Something big enough to rock my aluminum skiff passes through the water. Up ahead in the dark there’ll be a splash and a few ticks off a clock later my skiff will rock a second time except maybe a little more treacherously on the creature’s return pass. and I’ll have to sit down, clutch the sides so I don’t tip out. Only way I know it’s safe to leave is when the frogs start croaking again.

Sometimes though, a frog will puff its chest and blowout its braggadocio regardless of the danger it’s in.

Jack’s bio reads “Jack Bates writes some pretty good crime fiction from the comfort of his loft office. His stories have appeared all around the web, in various anthologies, and in a few magazines. Three have been finalists for the Derringer Award from the Short Mystery Fiction Society. He’s also written award-winning scripts for stage and screen including a short-lived web series. An incomplete list of his works can be found on his blog http://flashjab.blogspot.com/.   When not writing, he plots or travels or runs errands or chats it up with other old movie buffs on twitter. He pens the Harry Landers, PI, series for Mind Wings Audio Books. He’s also released several ebooks with Untreed Reads which launched the Hack Ward PI series with Monkey See, Monkey Murder. In 2012, his YA Steampunk novel, Colt Buchanan and the Weather Walkers, was released by Red Willow Press.”

This short story is quite fun, and in the classic mold of slightly off, wacky Florida noir. Set in a dive bar on the west coast of Florida in a nothing town on the edge of a swamp, a stranger walks in with a wad of cash and an air of mystery about him; two tough rednecks are playing pool with their girlfriends when the two men decide to win some of the stranger’s money off him–and things continue to spiral downward from there. It reminded me of John D. Macdonald with maybe a dash of Hiassen thrown in for good measure, and is a very fun and satisfying read; one that I’m glad is in the book.

And now, I have spice to mine.

I’ll Be Over You

Saturday morning in the Lost Apartment. I have work to do, errands to run, an apartment to clean, and weights to lift. And rather than getting started on any of it this morning, I am rather sitting in my chair, swilling coffee, and wasting time on the Internet.

Meh, it happens.

Today I am going to spend some time writing, and reading–I want to get further along in Eryk Pruitt’s What We Reckon (#boucherconhomework) and last night I had an absolutely brilliant idea of how to structure that panel. Mwa-ha-ha. The panelists may not think it’s brilliant, but do, and am in charge.

Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

MWA-HA-HA-HA-HA!

This is going to be fun.

Next up in the Florida Happens anthology is a story by Debra Lattanzi Shutika. From her website:

“Hello, I’m Debra Lattanzi Shutika, author of Beyond the Borderlands: Migration and Belonging in the United States and Mexico (2011, University of California Press), an ethnography that explores the lives of Mexican immigrants and their American neighbors in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania and the transformation of their home community in Mexico.  Beyond the Borderlands is the winner of the 2012 Chicago Folklore Prize.

I direct the Field School for Cultural Documentation, a collaborative project with the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.  The Field School has completed eight community-based documentation projects, including the occupational culture of Arlington National Cemetery, two years in the Columbia Pike neighborhood in Arlington, VA (2011-12) the Alexandria Waterfront (2014), Arlington County Community Gardens in 2016 & 2017. We have also held two residential field schools in West Virginia. One in Morgan County in 2012 and most recently in the West Virginia Coalfields in 2018.

I also write fiction. My short story “Frozen Iguana” will appear in the 2018 Bouchercon anthology Florida Happens, and “Mirrors” appeared in Richard Peabody’s Abundant Grace: The Seventh Collection of Fiction by D.C. Area Women.  I’m revising a novel, The Other Kate, a mystery about postmodern changelings.

My current academic projects include a book-length ethnography about a documentation project with the National Park Service on the 50th Anniversary of Summers in the Parks.

I teach Folklore, ethnographic writing and ethnographic research methods at George Mason University.”

Her website is here.

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And here is how “Frozen Iguana” opens:

Thunk

Jimmy turned off the water and stood in the shower, shivering.

Thunk

Thunk, thunk thunk.

He looked up at the ceiling tile expecting a dent from the last—

Thunk

He wrapped a towel around his waist and eased out of the steamy bathroom, the trailer floor creaking with every step.

Jimmy pulled the blinds back from the front door window. The thermometer read 36 degrees, the sixth day of the Florida freeze. The iguanas had started to fall out of the trees like junkies after a hit. Across the way a car door slammed. At midnight, Jimmy watched his neighbor Kate, wearing her scrubs, her auburn hair tied back in a ponytail, hop down from her truck and head for her trailer. For the next hour, he made the pilgrimage to the window to watch the comings and goings of the park. Three and a half Buds later, Jimmy fell asleep for the night on the couch.

There is nothing more annoying that the repetitive sound of frozen iguanas hitting the roof of your trailer, with the possible exception of a man hammering at your neighbor’s door. Jimmy stumbled out of bed and looked outside. It was six in the morning and there was a cop. At Kate’s door.

As the unofficial mayor of Paradise Lake trailer park, Jimmy Dickson knew every resident’s story. Jimmy stayed clear of the junkies and pushers, and he watched over the lost souls who somehow ended up here. Kate was one of his favorites.

He grabbed his hat and stepped outside.  Kate hollered, “Calm down!” Her breath rose in small clouds.

“You Kate Lucci?” The cop towered over Kate.

This is a terrific story, and I love so much that she chose to write a story around the south Florida iguana issue. I have a friend who lives on the Wilton River in Fort Lauderdale, and the iguanas–who live on an island just across from his property–drive him insane. They eat the fruit from his trees, they leave piles of iguana shit everywhere, and I have to say, in the morning when you are relaxing alongside the pool with your morning coffee, it’s a bit of a shock to see something moving out of the corner of your eye and then look over and see an enormous iguana just on the other side of the screen.

And yes, during a cold spell there a few years back there was, as Steve said, an ‘iguana holocaust’–most of them freezing to death. But it wasn’t permanent, and they are back.

The story is set in a trailer park in Broward County during a freeze–with frozen iguanas falling out of the trees fairly regularly. Kate works in a rehab facility, and one of her neighbors is in recovery for opioid addiction–and has overdosed. The cops dismiss it as just another relapsed junkie overdosing, but Kate doesn’t believe the story. The victim’s addiction had cost her custody of her kids, who were being brought over for a visit the next day–which means the relapse, at least to Kate, doesn’t make sense. Dismissed by the cops, with the assistance of another resident in the park Kate keeps looking into the strange relapse, continuing to find other indications that it may have been murder, and finally solves the case herself. What a great lot of fun!

And now I suppose I should get back to work.

Love Touch

Sunday morning, as I sit here in my cool workspace swilling coffee, trying to wake up and figure out what to do with the rest of my day. I need to go to the grocery store and I should also probably make an attempt to go to the gym; but I can’t seem to find my iPad, which makes doing cardio pointless (I read or watch TV on my iPad while on the treadmill; perhaps not having my iPad is simply an excuse for not going; what if it’s gone, lost, stolen? I am trying not to think that way and am hoping that I simply left it at the office. If not, I am terribly screwed because I don’t know where it is and I currently don’t have the cash on hand to replace it. So, yes, let’s just continue pretending happily that it’s as the office, shall we?)

I could, of course, just go to the gym and do weights. That always feels good, at any rate. Perhaps once I finish swilling this coffee….

I slept late yesterday, and I slept even later today. I spent most of yesterday not only reading but doing chores around the house, on the pretense that today I would not only go to the grocery store and the gym, but I would also spend some time writing today. I need to finish a short story; I need to revise still another, and there’s that new one struggling to take root in my brain that I haven’t really decided what to do with just yet. There are two others swirling around up there in my head, as well as others I’ve not thought about or have forgotten about in the meantime. But now, now as I wake up I feel more confident about running the errands and going to the gym and actually doing some writing today.

I’ve been reading The History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell, and greatly enjoying it; is there anything quite like well-written non-fiction? It’s why I love Joan Didion and Barbara Tuchman; one of the things I love to do while reading is to learn, and non-fiction fills that need quite beautifully. I also like non-fiction that makes me think; which is why I am looking forward to reading Dead Girls by Alice Bolin. I still would love to do a collection of my own essays, book reviews, and so forth; but egad, what an odious chore pulling all of that together would be. I struggle with essays, but I also think that the writing of essays; the ability to pull thoughts from my head and extrapolate them out to their fullest meaning, is vitally important and a skill-set I wish I had honed more properly. A friend once pointed out to me, as I bemoaned my inability to write essays, that my blog itself is nothing more than years of personal essays. That took me aback, because it was, in many ways, correct; there is definitely some truth to that, but it’s hard for me to take the blog seriously in that fashion, because so much of it is simply written off the top of my head in the morning as I wake up and drink coffee and try to figure out what to do with the rest of my day.

One of the problems for me with personal essays is, ultimately, the issue of self-deprecation, which I’ve addressed in previous blog entries about my writing and my career and my books; who am I to write about this subject? Am I expert enough in this to write about it, or am I simply talking about things that smarter, better-educated people have written about long ago and having the hubristic belief that I am the only person to see this truth for the first time? 

And, in considering myself self-deprecatingly as not that special or particularly smart, I defeat myself and never write the essay.

And of course, there is the problem of all the lies my memory tells me.

But yesterday, I took the afternoon to finish read an ARC of Lou Berney’s new novel, November Road, and was blown away by it.

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Behold! The Big Easy in all its wicked splendor!

Frank Guidry paused at the corner of Toulouse to  bask in the neon furnace glow. He’d lived in New Orleans the better part of his thirty-seven years on earth, but the dirty glitter and sizzle of the French Quarter still hit his bloodstream like a drug. Yokels and locals, muggers and hustlers, fire-eaters and magicians. A go-go girl was draped over the wrought-iron rail of a second floor balcony, one book sprung free from her sequined negligee and swaying like a metronome to the beat of the jazz trio inside. Bass, drums, piano, tearing through “Night and Day.” But that was New Orleans for you. Even the worst band in the crummiest clip joint in the city could swing, man, swing.

A guy came whipping up the street, screaming bloody murder. Hot on his heels–a woman waving a butcher knife, screaming, too,

Guidry soft-shoed out of their way. The beat cop on the corner yawned. The juggler outside the 500 Club didn’t drop a ball. Just another Wednesday night on Bourbon Street.

Lou’s previous novel, The Long and Faraway Gone, won every crime-writing award under the sun that it was eligible for: Edgar, Anthony, Macavity, and I don’t know what all; it was the crime publishing equivalent of the EGOT. It was, obviously, an exceptional novel. I met Lou when we were on a panel together at the Raleigh Bouchercon, along with Lori Roy and Liz Milliron; moderated by the amazing Katrina Niidas Holm. It was funny, because the panel topic was, I think, writing about small towns which, in fact, none of us on the panel really did, but we had fun with the topic and I know I brought up Peyton Place at least once and pointed out that suburbs are small towns with the primary difference being suburbs are bedroom communities for cities while small towns aren’t attached in any way to a larger city. It was fun and spirited and I liked Lou, thought he was incredibly smart, as were Liz and Lori. Lori and Lou went on to win Edgars for that year; and I admire their work tremendously. I’ve not had the opportunity to read Liz’ work; but she did have a terrific story in the New Orleans Bouchercon anthology, Blood on the Bayou.

Anyway, I digress.

I’ve been looking forward to November Road since I finished reading The Long and Faraway Gone, but I still need to go back and read Lou’s first two novels, Whiplash River and Gutshot Straight. 

I also have to admit, I was a little hesitant about Lou’s new book; it’s built around the Kennedy assassination in 1963, which always gives me pause (I have yet to immerse myself in Stephen King’s 11/22/63). I’m not sure why I don’t care to read fiction around the Kennedy assassination, but there you have: an insight into my mind. But the Kennedy assassination, while a primary plot device, is just that: a device to set the story in motion. Frank Guidry is involved with a mob boss in New Orleans, and after the Kennedy assassination he is given instructions to fly to Dallas, retrieve a car, and drive it to Houston to dispose of it. While he is doing this, he realizes that he is getting rid of evidence that may be of vital importance to the investigation into the president’s murder–and as such, is a loose end who knows too much and figures out he’s got to disappear now because they’re going to want to kill him. And sure enough, they do send someone after him, Paul Barone, a remorseless killer and tracker. The cat-and-mouse game between them builds suspense throughout the book.

But it’s not just about Frank, and it is a credit to Berney’s talent, creativity and imagination in that he throws in another primary character, constructed carefully in all the facets and layers that make her live and breathe: Charlotte. Charlotte is a wife and mother in a small town in Oklahoma, married to a useless drunk fuck-up with whom she had two daughters, and her salary working for the local town photographer is the primary thing keeping a roof over their heads. Her own ambitions for being a photographer herself are constantly shat upon by her boss, her society and culture and environment: she is a woman, a wife and mother, and in 1963 that so thoroughly defines her that any other ambition she might have throws her identity as wife and mother into question. Trapped, with the walls closing in on her closer every day, Charlotte takes the president’s assassination as a sign for her to run away with the girls and start over. Charlotte is an extraordinary character;  her relationship with her daughters is the strong backbone of this story. You root for her, you want her to make her escape and make her dreams come true.

Frank and Charlotte cross paths in New Mexico, and Frank sees them as his salvation; his murderous pursuers might be thrown off as they are looking for a single man, not one traveling with his wife and kids; the book becomes even stronger and more suspenseful once they are all together. Frank and Charlotte become close, despite not being completely honest with each other; they are both keeping their cards close to their vests, but yet form a loving bond. WIll they escape, or will they not?

November Road reminded me a lot of Laura Lippman’s Sunburn; the same kind of relationship building between a man and a woman where a lot of information, important, information, is held back from each other, and that lack of trust while falling in love is an important theme in both books: women trying to make their best lives, even if it means making morally questionable decisions, while becoming involved with a man who isn’t completely honest with her. Berney’s writing style, and tone, and mood, also put me in mind of Megan Abbott’s brilliant Give Me Your Hand. If you’ve not read yet the Lippman and Abbott novels, I’d recommend getting them and holding on to them until Berney’s book is released in October and reading them all over the course of a long weekend.

Bravo.

Sleeping Bag

Saturday morning and a lovely night’s sleep was had last evening; today is, I think, going to be a lazy day. We’re in a heat advisory, and I do want to go to the gym this morning, but after that I might have to just stay inside the rest of the day. The heat can be so oppressive; I worry about just how high my power bill is going to be, and it feels like my car never completely cools down when I’m driving here or there, hither and yon.  New Orleans summers are quite brutal; it’s hot and above all else, damp. Hydration is vital because you lose a lot of body fluids through sweating. Just walked to the car from the Lost Apartment, my socks get damp and so do my underarms and forehead. The wetness of the air is, naturally, wonderful for wild plant life; part of the reason New Orleans is so lush with vegetation is nature’s determination to return the city to what it was originally: a swamp. The sidewalk alongside the house is covered in pink crepe myrtle blossoms, like it snowed pink overnight.

I really don’t want to go outside.

But I will always prefer heat to cold. That will never change. I don’t, after all, have to scrape humidity off my car or shovel it off my sidewalk. And really, the anticipation of dealing with the heat is always worse than it ever turns out to be.

The kitchen is a mess this morning, so I definitely need to unload the dishwasher and do another load of dishes this morning. I’ll probably do the floors as well; in for a penny and all that. I may just wind up spending the day reading Lou Berney’s brilliant November Road. My reading has slowed down a bit; I’m not sure why that is, and I also need to read some more short stories this morning, as I only have two that I’ve read left to blog about; but the lovely thing about short stories is they are short, and don’t take a long time to read. I can read three or four in less than an hour, and I’ve got all kinds of anthologies and single-author collections piled up all around the house and in my iPad.

Or…I could just blow everything off and deal with it tomorrow. I’m going to have to make a grocery run anyway.

Weekends.

Next up in the Short Story Project is “The River Styx Runs Upstream” by Dan Simmons, from his collection Prayers to Broken Stones and other Stories:

I loved my mother very much. After her funeral, after her coffin was lowered, the family went home and waited for her return.

I was only eight at the time. Of the required ceremony I remember little. I recall that the collar of the previous year’s shirt was far too tight and that the unaccustomed tie was like a noose around my neck. I remember that the June day was too beautiful for such a solemn gathering. I remember Uncle Will’s heavy drinking that morning and the bottle of Jack Daniels he pulled out as we drove home from the funeral. I remember my father’s face.

The afternoon was too long. I had no role to play in the family’s gathering that day, and the adults ignored me. I found myself wandering from room to room with a warm glass of Kool-Aid, until finally I escaped to the backyard. Even that familiar landscape of play and seclusion was ruined by the glimpse of pale, fat faces staring out from the neighbor’s windows. They were waiting. Hoping for a glimpse. I felt like shouting, throwing rocks at them. Very deliberately I poured the red Kool-Aid into the sand and watched the spreading stain digging a small pit.

They’re digging her up now.

Dan Simmons is a terrific writer. The first of his I read was Carrion Comfort, which I remember fondly, before moving on to (among others) Song of Kali, Summer of Night, and Children of the Night. There was also a really terrific one set in Hawaii whose name I cannot recall right now; but it was about volcanoes and Pele, and I also really enjoyed it. The television adaptation of his The Terror was simply phenomenal television, and while I disagree strongly with his politics–I try as hard as I can to separate the artist  from the work.

This story is absolutely fantastic, and chilling, and creepy. Humanity has developed the technology to revive the dead, but rather than going into any explanations of how that works or why you would do such a thing, Simmons focuses on the point of view of a child whose mother has died and is being brought back…and how other people react to such a thing. This could easily make a terrific novel; and the themes of isolation, being viewed as outsiders and being ostracized by your community, is handled beautifully and can be extrapolated into symbolism about any outsiders. It’s really quite terrific.

And now on to the spice mines.

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R.O.C.K in the USA

Happy Sunday and a good morning to all y’all.

I didn’t get as much done yesterday as I would have liked; running my errands in the pre-rain humidity literally wore me out, and then when I got going again I started cleaning and doing laundry and well, once I start doing that–as well as going through and trying to organize the books–I am pretty much done for the day….especially after I discovered Burnt Offerings was available for streaming on Prime. Oliver Reed! Karen Black! Bette Davis (who was totally wasted in her role)! I’d seen the movie years ago, I think when it first aired on television after it’s theatrical run, and while it’s still has some moments, it overall doesn’t hold up as well as I would have hoped. I read the book for the first recently in the last few years, and it was wonderful. But watching Burnt Offerings put me in mind of an essay about horror in the 1970’s; the 1970’s was a time when the suburbs really developed because of ‘white flight’ from the cities and desegregation; this was this whole movement of back to the country from the urban centers, and at the same time, there was horror that specifically focused on this phenomenon (without the racism and white flight issues); namely this book, Harvest Home by Thomas Tryon, The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin, and even Stephen King lightly touched on this in ‘salem’s Lot; the dangers of the country to people from the city.

One could even argue that James Dickey’s Deliverance also belongs in this category, and it put me in mind of an essay that I may never write. I also thought up another yesterday while running my errands, after car after car after car violated traffic rules and almost caused me to be in in accident (three times, to be exact; which might be a new record): “Right of Way,” in which I would extrapolate the American contempt for traffic rules and laws for everyone’s safety can be directly correlated to contempt for law and order, the system, taxes, everything. I made some notes, and this is one I may actually write. Essays are fun and I do enjoy writing them but I don’t very often, unless one is requested of me for something, and perhaps that’s the wrong approach.

Today I am going to go to the gym and I am going to start rereading Royal Street Reveillon and make notes for the big revision that is coming. I’m also going to start reading Jackson Square Jazz out loud for copy editing purposes, and I’d also like to work on “A Whisper from the Graveyard” today. I should at some point also work on finished “Never Kiss a Stranger,” which means I should also make a to-do list for everything I want to get done in July.

Hmmm. Perhaps not a bad idea, at that.

I also remembered I have notes on a short story I need to read and decide what revisions I need to be make.

It never truly ends, does it? But I am looking forward to Sharp Objects tonight on HBO; I actually liked this book by Gillian Flynn better than Gone Girl, which of course made her hugely famous and hopefully hugely rich. I still haven’t read her Dark Places, but that’s because I still subscribe to the “if I don’t read all the canon then I still have something by her to read” mentality, which is partly why I still have not read the entire canon of either Daphne du Maurier or Shirley Jackson or Patricia Highsmith.

So, I have a lot to do today–only one more day after today before I return to the office, but at least it’s only a four day work week–and so I should probably get back to the spice mines.

The next story up in Promises in Every Star and Other Stories is “Bloodletting”:

The damp air was thick with the scent of blood.

It had been days since I had last fed, and the desire was gnawing at my insides. I stood up, and my eyes focused on a young man walking a bicycle in front of the cathedral. He was talking on a cell phone, his face animated and agitated. He was wearing a T-shirt that read Who Dat Say They Gonna Beat Dem Saints? and a pair of ratty old paint-spattered jeans cut off at the knees. There was a tattoo of Tweetybird on his right calf, and another indistinguishable one on his left forearm. His hair was dark, combed to a peak in the center of his head, and his face was flushed. He stopped walking, his voice getting louder and louder as his face got darker.

I could smell his blood. I could almost hear his beating heart.

I could see the pulsing vein in his neck, beckoning me forward.

The sun was setting, and the lights around Jackson Square were starting to come on. The tarot card readers were folding up their tables, ready to disappear into the night. The band playing in front of the cathedral was putting their instruments away. The artists who hung their work on the iron fence around the park were long gone, as were the living statues. The square, so teeming with life just a short hour earlier, was emptying of people, and the setting sun was taking the warmth with it as it slowly disappeared in the west. The cold breeze coming from the river ruffled my hair a bit as I watched the young man with the bicycle. He started wheeling the bicycle forward again, still talking on the phone. He reached the concrete ramp leading up to Chartres Street. He stopped just as he reached the street, and I focused my hearing as he became more agitated. What do you want me to say? You’re just being a bitch, and anything I say you’re just going to turn around on me.

I felt the burning inside.

Desire was turning into need.

I knew it was best to satisfy the desire before it became need. I could feel the knots of pain from deprivation forming behind each of my temples and knew it was almost too late. I shouldn’t have let it go this long, but I wanted to test my limits, see how long I could put off the hunger. I’d been taught to feed daily, which would keep the hunger under control and keep me out of danger.

Need was dangerous. Need led a vampire to take risks he wouldn’t take ordinarily. And risks could lead to exposure, to a painful death.

The first lesson I’d learned was to always satiate the hunger while it was still desire, to never ever let it become need.

I had waited too long.

“Bloodletting” is an unusual story for me in that it’s actually a short story that bridges the gap between my novella “Blood on the Moon” and the novel Need; I eventually used it as the book’s first chapter. I have always wanted to give vampire fiction a try; I created an entire world that I first wrote about in the novella “The Nightwatchers,” which I always intended to develop into a series. I still would like to develop that series, and when the opportunity came to write “Blood on the Moon” I realized I could simply still use the world I’d created for “The Nightwatchers” and move on to different characters. The second book in the series, the one that was to follow Need, Desire, was going to tie the two story-lines together but Need didn’t sell as well as the publisher would have liked and so Desire died in the water. I may still go back and write it, of course, but I have no publisher for it and I am not particularly interested in self-publishing that much. But…I never say never. I wrote “Bloodletting” for Blood Sacraments, and only had to change the original concept a little bit; in the original idea Cord, my vampire, was actually sitting on the roof of St. Louis Cathedral watching the crowd for his next victim. I still love that image, and may use it sometime, but I did eventually change it to how it reads now.

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